Chapter Eight

Words and Vows

Kurogane's sixteenth birthday had come and passed without much notice made. He could tell Sonomi-san and Tomoyo wanted to make a big deal out of it, but neither of them wanted to make a big deal about Yuui, so they didn't. They just teased him at dinner about the big cake covered in whipped cream and strawberries that they'd made and were going to watch him choke down, practically ruining his whole meal at the thought that he'd have to actually eat some or Tomoyo-chan would give him those sad eyes. Then they'd pulled out a bowl of matcha manju instead, saying that even though they were forcing him to eat something sweet they didn't want him actually choking on it. He didn't mind those, so the three of them shared the bowl together and talked about what Tomoyo was learning at school.

And that was that, and he was relieved. If they'd wanted to invite Yuui-kun over, he didn't know what would have happened.

He was trying to remember the last time they had really talked to each other. They spoke, certainly, trading class notes and calling out to each other on the soccer pitch, and exchanging small talk the few times Kurogane had worked up the nerve to come over to Ashura's house for dinner. But they hadn't . . . it wasn't the same. He came to hear the latest news from the twins and spend time with Syaoran, and Yuui was there but quiet and distant and evasive and Kurogane hadn't seen the inside of Yuui's room since they'd started high school . . . It had been over a year, but it seemed like even longer since that night they'd last slept beside each other.

He was thinking about all this while he was rough-housing with Syaoran-kun. He was still tiny and everything, but he'd been taking some martial arts lessons, and nothing seemed to make him happier than testing out his skills on Kurogane and being soundly trounced by him. He didn't seem to expect to ever beat someone twice his size, but he liked it anyway, for whatever weird reason made sense in his tiny bratty head.

"—and then she said I just need to drink more milk or something, and then she beat me in the long jump, too! And she's always trying to be nice about beating me at everything, it's soooo embarrassing, and— hey, Kurogane-kun? Do you want to stop?"

He'd been blocking the kid's kicks and punches with little effort, barely making a show of pretending he was listening to the trials and turbulence of your best friend being a girl and better than you at sports, wondering if he would really actually finish school and leave for Suwa without ever talking to Yuui about anything important . . .

Kurogane shook off his dark thoughts, like a dog shaking off water. Yuui wasn't even home today, and it was stupid to be dwelling on all this right now. It was a nice day, the windows open and breezes buffeting the curtains, and he'd come over specifically to spend time with Syaoran. He should focus on the kid and stop being such a goddamn embarrassment to himself.

"Naw," he grinned. "This is fun." Then, without warning, he swooped Syaoran up in his arms and swung him around, making the boy screech and squirm, and he threw him down—carefully, obviously, not wanting to actually hurt him—onto the floor and starting wrestling those wiry little limbs to hold him down. He was trying to get in there and tickle the kid, just to make him laugh, but Syaoran was whooping up a storm, showing a surprising gift for breaking holds, and Kurogane was mostly caught up in trying not to get kicked in the groin or punched in the mouth.

"You've got a long ways to go before you can best me!" Kurogane mock-roared.

"No, no, no!" Syaoran shrieked with laughter as Kurogane's fingers dug into his ribs, and he twisted sideways and nearly wriggled free. "Kurogane-kuuuuuuuuuuun!"

"Hold still, midget!" Kurogane laughed, and then whuffed in surprise when a flailing elbow got him right in the stomach. "Oh, I'm gonna get you for that, brat!"

"No way!" Syaoran panted, giggling. "I'll take you do-o-ow-ooooowwwwwwn!"

In all the commotion, they shouldn't have even been able to hear the soft noise in the hallway, but they did. They both paused and rolled over, grinning and red-faced, expecting to see Ashura shaking his head, a ready quip about Kurogane's age on his lips.

It was Yuui, come home from wherever he'd been, and he was just looking down at the two of them in silence, his lips drawn tight and his eyes—

Kurogane surged to his feet.

"What happened?"

Yuui's eyes flicked up to his face, didn't meet his gaze. He started to smile. "Oh, nothing, really. You boys look like you're having fun!"

His voice was hoarse and harsh, sounding tired and overused. He scrunched up his face with a cheerful grin, and Kurogane almost threw up.

He bounded across the room, hands out, barely even aware of what he was doing. He caught Yuui's shirt in his hands and slammed him into the hallway wall.

"Don't," he rasped, feeling short of breath and the corners of his vision going dark. "Don't you— don't you smile and lie and turn into— into that guy, into Fai, don't you ever, that's not you, it isn't, don't pretend you're happy when you're not, don't fucking lie to me, Yuui, I can't— I . . . I can't . . ."

He couldn't even speak past his own desperation. Yuui's eyes were frightened and very blue, and very close to his. He hadn't even noticed. Hadn't even truly realized that as he was shooting up in height, Yuui was doing the same. He was still so terribly thin, but maybe he couldn't help that. He was tall. Kurogane wasn't looking down at him the way he had to look down at everyone else these days. Yuui's lips were parted, trembling as they fought for what to say, but Kurogane was stuck in those eyes that were looking up at him with such sorrow and grief that they stripped him of words.

"Then you don't." Yuui stopped, swallowed, took a breath. "You don't turn into that guy either, okay?" he whispered. "Don't get angry, please. You're hurting m-me."

Kurogane let go of his shirt, slowly. He didn't know what had made him lose control like that. He just couldn't stand the thought of Yuui ever trying to cover up his pain with a smile, like that guy Ashura had showed them. And Yuui was hurting, hurting bad, he could tell.

"I won't," he said, flexing his hands and staring at his fingers, wondering what had possessed them to want to hurt Yuui even a little bit. "I'm sorry. Just . . . Yuui-kun, what's wrong? Just tell me."

Yuui shrugged, the ghost of the smile still on his lips. "It's not that bad," he said placatingly. He had to cough and clear his throat. "I broke up with Mizuki, that's all."

"You did?" Kurogane could feel his pulse too strongly. It was pounding in his head. "How come?"

"Just different reasons," Yuui said evasively, shrugging again. "It's fine. You broke up with Akane, you should know. I mean, why did you break up with Akane? You guys seemed like you were getting along."

That was old news, it Kurogane's mind. That had already been forever ago. Sonomi had already quit teasing him about it.

"Ah, it was just . . . You know, whatever. We just didn't fit together the right way, that's all."

"I guess I could say the same thing. Me and Mizuki, I mean. It just wasn't working out," Yuui said, and coughed again.


"I'm just going to my room for a while," Yuui muttered.

"Turns out I prefer blonds," Kurogane blurted out, hardly loud enough to be heard, but Yuui froze, only half-turned away. His shoulders hunched.

"Is that so? Well, Kuro-chi is a very good-looking guy, I'm sure there are lots of blondes who would like to—"

"Yuui . . . Just don't, okay? If you don't want to talk about it, then fine, whatever, just whatever. But don't, you know, do that."

Yuui paused for a long moment. "Okay."

Kurogane blew out a breath, and that was enough, apparently, to startle Yuui into moving again. He made a beeline for the stairs and disappeared into his room. Kurogane went into the living room and flopped down on the couch and threw his arm over his eyes.

"Hey, Syaoran-kun. Come here."

The kid scurried over, and hovered in front of him anxiously.

"Yuui's pretty sad about breaking up with his girlfriend, so make sure he doesn't spend too much time by himself, okay? Go in there and bother him later. You're his otouto, so he's gonna need you to make him feel better."

Syaoran nodded, Kurogane saw him nodding in agreement when he peeked out from under his arm, but his eyes were still deeply troubled.

"Are you mad at Oniisan?" Syaoran asked softly. "You guys aren't friends anymore, and I . . . did Yuui-kun do something wrong?"

Kurogane let his arm slide down so he could give the kid a serious look. "No, he didn't do anything wrong. It's my fault, okay? I'm not mad at him. Don't worry about it. I just need you to cheer him up for me since he doesn't want to talk to me right now."

"Okay," Syaoran said, sitting down next to him and curling up with his knees in his face. "But I think you guys shouldn't date people anymore. You were never mad at each other before you started dating those girls."

Kurogane couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah, maybe you're right," he said, ruffling up Syaoran's hair. He left his hand there, warm on Syaoran's head, pulling the kid close against his side. He was a good kid. He must have been worried about them for a long time.

"Are you going to stay here and have dinner?" Syaoran asked with bright, hopeful eyes.

"No," Kurogane said, and tried not to see the way the kid looked down and away, hiding his hurt. "I don't think Yuui would come downstairs if I stayed," he said quietly. "I'll go home. You and Ashura-san take care of him."

Syaoran was clutching his hands into his knees, so tight that it looked painful, and he whispered something that Kurogane didn't hear.

"Huh?" he asked, leaning closer.

"Taking care of him's your job," Syaoran whispered again.

Kurogane dropped a hand onto Syaoran's head for a minute, then he stood up and hurried out of the house. He went to his kendo studio and he didn't go home until they closed. Sonomi was sipping tea in the kitchen when he came in. She looked at him, clammy with half-dried sweat and shaking with exhaustion, and quietly poured a cup for him. She didn't push him to say anything. They just drank their tea in silence, and then Kurogane went upstairs to shower.

Kurogane was dozing off in his math class, his chin sitting heavily in his hand and his face turned toward the warmth of the sun pouring through the window beside him. He never could pay attention to math anyway, and he was worn out from picking up an extra shift at the warehouse last night in addition to working practically the whole weekend. He allowed himself to do it; he was always aware of the room around him even when he was half-asleep and he was very good at snapping to alertness whenever he felt their sensei's attention falling near him.

Miraculously, he did not have work, kendo, or soccer after school today. He did have quite a lot of homework, but he was contemplating whether or not he could get a nap in before he started. But maybe today was the day he was supposed to watch over Tomoyo-chan and make her something for dinner while Sonomi was working till late to finish a project . . . Or was that tomorrow . . .?

His chin was in danger of slipping off his hand and revealing his impromptu napping when the door to the room opened and a student from another class appeared, bowing low.

"I apologize for the interruption. I'm looking for Daidouji-kun? Is this the right class?"

Kurogane leaped to his feet immediately, feeling his pulse start racing. "Is it Sonomi-san? Tomoyo-chan? Did something happen to them?"

"Who?" the student asked in a brief daze, then shook his head impatiently. "No, I'm from the advanced lit class, it's Yuui-kun, something's wrong and nobody knows what to do, and somebody said we'd better get you . . ."

Kurogane had his bag slung up onto his shoulder and was out the door into the hallway before the other student could finish his sentence, not bothering to bow or apologize as he left. He didn't really know where he was going, but his long legs were eating up the hallway a lot faster than the other kid so he was all but leaving him behind. He only caught up with himself halfway down the hall, his mind screaming at him, nothing but Yuui Yuui Yuui oh shit please be okay Yuui please

"Um, we're not sure what happened," the kid said hesitantly, as if unsure whether or not Kurogane really cared. Kurogane shook his head, trying to calm his panic, and slowed himself down as much as possible to let the student catch up. "He's been sorta . . . weird the past couple of weeks, just really distant and he doesn't look like he's been eating or sleeping much, I mean everybody knows him and Mizuki just broke up, but um, anyway . . ." he trailed off and stuttered under Kurogane's heated glare, but gamely picked up again once Kurogane looked away to hide the shame he felt because he'd recognized Yuui's decline but hadn't known how to stop it. "We have a substitute teacher this week, the regular teacher never would have . . . Yuui-kun looked like he wasn't really paying attention, so the sub sort of raised her voice? Not bad, but you know that sometimes makes Yuui-kun nervous? So he sort of froze up, and she started badgering him, like, getting in his face and he wasn't answering her, it sort of looked like he couldn't talk, it was weird, like he was trying but he . . . Anyway, um, she was yelling and then suddenly she just stopped because he . . ."

Kurogane actually paused and turned to the other student to look at him, his heart hammering in his throat. Had Yuui hurt someone?

The student was holding up his hands as if to surrender. "He just snapped or something. He's just sitting there. It's like he can't see anybody or hear them. We've been trying to get his attention, the teacher even apologized, but he's just sitting there staring at his desk and shaking. Like, shaking. He . . . We didn't know what to do, but somebody said you guys have been friends for a long time, so we thought—uh, this door, we're here, he's in here—"

Kurogane threw open the door and waded in. He shoved at the cluster of people hovering over Yuui's desk with so little care that he probably injured a few of them. Yuui was, as the student had said, just sitting at his desk, his face white and drawn, and his eyes were . . . gone. For a moment, he didn't know what to do but stand there feeling sick. He hadn't seen his friend in such a bad way in years, and he hated that he hadn't been here a few minutes ago to protect him when it counted.

The he stopped being such a useless jerk, and started trying to help. Kurogane slapped his hand onto Yuui's forehead and forced his way inside. Yuui wasn't even blocking him, his mind open and undefended. Kurogane got sucked in so fast that for a moment, he lost everything around him, and Yuui's brain was all there was.










Please stop it hurts




Help me please

Fai no

No no no no




Kurogane yanked himself out with difficulty and saw everyone standing just out of arm's reach, staring and buzzing with conversation, frightened and curious. It was grotesque. He caught the eye of the substitute teacher, who was just sitting at the front of the room with her head in her hands, clearly wondering if she was going to be fired for this.

"You gave him a flashback, you idiot," he said with disgust.

All the people surrounding him could only be making it worse. It was too many faces and voices that would feel too hostile right now.

Kurogane stripped off his uniform jacket and threw it over Yuui's shoulders and pulled it up over his head like a hood. He bent over to put his arm around Yuui, and lifted him up out of his seat, pulling him stumbling out of the classroom. In all honesty, Yuui's feet barely touched the ground. He hugged him close to his side and all but carried him out. He used the physical contact between them to try to communicate.

You're safe

Yuui it's me

It's fine

It's just school

You're here

You're safe

You're with me

Yuui come on it's me I'm here

By the time Kurogane had led him out of the front doors of the building, Yuui was starting to look alert, although his teeth were chattering and there wasn't a hint of colour in his face. Kurogane dragged him to a bench and sat him down. He kept his jacket pulled up high, just a bit of Yuui's face peeping out, trying to block out most of the sensory input around them, and kept his arm tight around Yuui's shoulders.

"Okay, we're outside. I've got you. You know where you are. You don't have to talk, okay? You don't have to, but just do something in my head, let me know you're in there."

Yuui leaned hard into him and released a gusty sigh. "I'm here," he said aloud, then clutched his fingers into Kurogane's shirt and fell silent again.

The rush of relief was overwhelming. Yuui was okay, was leaning against him, was snuggled up in his jacket—and they'd both been too alone for too long, and having this back so suddenly with all this adrenaline coursing through him, it was more than he could bear . . . Kurogane shuddered, down to his bones, and then he turned his head and pressed a kiss on top of Yuui's head before he could stop himself. He got nothing but the fibers of his own jacket against his lips, and he completely froze, half-hoping that Yuui hadn't noticed.

But Yuui did.

And now he was crying.

"I hate this," he said, his voice terribly raspy and weak. "I hate this so much, Kurogane, please, please, we have to stop this, I hate it . . ."

"What do you mean?" Kurogane asked, feeling a terrible dread that Yuui was about to end their friendship forever.

"Being apart," Yuui gasped, and then fell silent, grabbing Kurogane's hand tight in both of his.

Can't be apart from you like this, I tried so hard to be strong for so long but it's not working you're my best friend you're everything please please please I can't stand this anymore I can't stand it that you're not always there anymore I can't stand not eating dinner with you I hate this why don't we do homework together anymore what am I doing I shouldn't say this, I shouldn't, Kurogane please please please please please please—

Kurogane butted his forehead gently against Yuui's, trying to avoid the jacket buttons.

"Shut up," he muttered.

you're such an idiot Yuui, I'm right here, I wouldn't have gone anywhere if you hadn't made me, you're my best friend too I hate it just as much as you do I don't want to do this anymore so yeah let's just fucking quit doing this, let's just fucking not, I'm coming over tonight I swear every night Yuui Yuui Yuui just don't do that to me again please—

They both pulled away from each other for a moment, trying to calm themselves down. They both breathed deeply a few times. They just looked at each other for a long time. Then Kurogane's mouth twitched up into a grin, and Yuui's followed suit. Yuui started laughing first, but Kurogane followed soon after. It was weak, and shaky, and only partially from humour, but they laughed in each other's faces and felt the weight of the world drop away.

"We're both fucking stupid," Kurogane said with feeling.

Yuui looked down at his lap. "We had our reasons."

"Yeah, but they're stupid anyway. Yuui . . . You let me in your brain, you can't stop me from seeing shit once I'm in there . . . You . . . You're just as interested as I am. I mean, I know you genuinely liked Mizuki, okay, I'm not denying that, but I could see the way you feel about—about me—" And here he blushed to the roots of his hair, because while he could barely sort out the complicated snarl that comprised Yuui's feelings about him, he knew that they were deep and fierce and included what he looked like when he took his shirt off after soccer practice and went to a faucet to rinse the sweat from his hair. "And you can see— you can see the way I feel—" He tried again, but stuttered when he realized he couldn't sort his own feelings any better than he could sort Yuui's. "Can we just try it? Please?"

"Try what?" Yuui asked, sounding innocent. Bullshit.

"You're really gonna make me say it?" Kurogane asked in dismay. His pulse was pounding so hard and fast that he felt sick and dizzy with it.

"One of us has to, and I'm the cowardly one," Yuui murmured, smiling at his own hands.

Kurogane butted their foreheads together again. "Will you please just go out with me already, you idiot?"

He held his breath. A taste of Yuui's gut-wrenching fear ripped through Kurogane, projected mostly by accident.

"I don't want to ruin things," Yuui whispered.

"We already ruined them," Kurogane snorted, and then suddenly his palm was sliding over Yuui's cheek. He hadn't meant to do that. He held Yuui's eyes. He wondered if his own eyes looked half so desperate and frightened as he felt. "We can hardly make it worse than it's been lately. We both want this. Let's just try it, okay?"

Yuui drew Kurogane's hand into his lap and threaded their fingers together. "Okay."

Kurogane took a breath that felt like his first in hours.

"But. Slowly. Please let me do this slowly."

"Whatever you want," Kurogane muttered, his shoulders sagging suddenly and a strange shudder coursing through his veins and his voice. It was all he could really manage to say around the tightness in his throat. His thumbs stroked the backs of Yuui's hands. "As slow as you want, I promise."

Yuui's genuine smile was really the most breathtaking thing. He couldn't think of anything more marvelous.

"Then let's go home together after school so I can tell Ashura," Yuui said, his smile turning slightly giddy.

"Unless I'm supposed to babysit Tomoyo tonight. But that might be tomorrow."

"You're hopeless," Yuui said fondly, and squeezed his hands before letting him go and jumping up off the bench. "We should probably go back to class before we get in trouble."

"It was that teacher's fault anyway," Kurogane grumbled, getting up with far less enthusiasm. "If anybody should be in trouble, it's her."

Yuui just poked him. "Come on."

Kurogane spent the rest of the day reeling between happiness and worry in equal measure. The two of them were probably going to screw this up. But they were going to try anyway, and he couldn't get over the way Yuui had said "okay" in his scarred-up voice. They were dating. Him and Yuui. Dating. He kept suddenly grinning for no reason and having to duck his head down to hide his face.

When they got to the orphanage that afternoon, they sought out Ashura in his study. They stood in the doorway holding hands, neither one of them wanting to be the one to start the conversation. Their palms were damp with sweat together. Ashura just looked them over for a second and rolled his eyes dramatically.

"Finally," he sighed. "Are you both quite finished moping now?"

Yuui giggled nervously, and Kurogane scowled.

Ashura smiled, and they both felt each other's relief through their joined palms. "Truly, you two, I'm happy. Just be careful with each other."

". . . Thanks," Kurogane said after an awkward pause.

Yuui giggled again. "We're going to my room to study!" he said, dragging Kurogane along behind him.

"Leave the door open!" Ashura called after him. "I mean it!"

Dating was like this:

Teasing each other across the soccer pitch and not caring who heard, and Yuui spraying him with water and running away laughing when he chased him to get revenge.

Kurogane buying canned coffee or fruit milk from the vending machine at lunchtime and giving it to Yuui and feeling ridiculous the whole time.

Walking home from school so they could hold hands and spend an hour talking silently in warm gusts of feelings and snatches of thought.

Staring coldly at people who freaked out or gave them shit about them both being boys, deciding exactly how they'd split up the work of kicking the offender's ass. Someone inevitably reminding the idiot flavour of the week that they were the kids who almost killed that guy and so they never had to actually get in any fights.

Studying together after school (downstairs because apparently they were not allowed upstairs in either of their own homes when they were together) and trying to hide from their guardians that they were mostly just brushing their feet together under the table and little homework was getting done.

Getting paired up to spar at the kendo studio, because they went there together now, and the instructor thought it was fair because they both had such a long reach. They didn't joke around in the studio. They did their level best to wipe the floor with their opponent.

Yuui coming to the warehouse where Kurogane worked just so he could walk home with him.

Kurogane sitting on Yuui's bed, pretending to read when he was just watching Yuui copy down magical runes onto scratch paper, over and over, his forehead furrowed up and his lips moving silently.

Kurogane pretending not to notice that Yuui always suddenly found something to do when he started studying material from Nihon. Yuui pretending the same when he started looking at university options.

Going to the movies together on the rare occasions that they weren't busy, and sitting in the back just so they could move the divider between their seats and sit closer.

Waiting for Yuui to say he was ready for something physical. Kurogane reaching out and being buffeted gently back by anticipatory grief. Both of them thinking about what they had someday coming to an end, and letting it stay there like a barrier between them.

A lot of time in the shower.

A lot.

It was summer before their final year of school that Kurogane noticed Yuui was punishing him.

Anytime he talked about the future, even just to say he was probably going to be taller still when he got older, he was met with a sudden attack of homework that Yuui had forgotten, or Yuui's abrupt need to go talk to someone else for a minute, or a mouthful of some horrible sweet thing he must try, and even on a few occasions, rare and raw and aching, silence.

Yuui even sort of accidentally misplaced his stack of campaign journals during an inspired bout of spring cleaning.

Kurogane had been thinking about home, Nihon, more and more all the time. He couldn't help it. His plan had always been to go back there once he'd got finished with his schooling here—not that he needed the schooling, particularly, although enough had been said on that topic over the years, but simply because it seemed easier to say goodbye during a time that signified endings and beginnings. And now there was only a year left. Yuui was steadily retreating from him the more he thought about Ginryuu, still tucked away in the attic, or how badly he'd embarrass himself getting back on a horse for the first time in so long.

He didn't think Yuui was doing it on purpose, and he wasn't angry or anything. It made sense. That didn't mean he liked it. Their dating life was hardly different from being best friends, except with the addition of holdings hands and playing footsie and Kurogane sometimes kissing Yuui on the forehead. (There was that one time Yuui had slapped him on the ass when he'd been bent over a drinking fountain after soccer practice, but since there hadn't been a repeat Kurogane figured Yuui regretted it.)

Being best friends was almost good enough—almost—but not when Yuui was slowly retreating back into the silence that had plagued them during their first year of school. Were you really best friends if you couldn't talk about something so important? Kurogane didn't know what to do. He wished they could talk about this, but for the first time in his life, it seemed, he was truly too afraid of something to tackle it head-on. If Yuui didn't want to talk, if Yuui broke up with him . . . There was only a year left. He'd rather have something than nothing. He didn't like that, either. He didn't like knowing there was something he was so afraid of that it actually stopped him from doing what he wanted.

He wondered if it meant that he was afraid of Yuui.

It probably made sense to be afraid of something that could hurt you that much.

There was one day where he'd volunteered to watch Tomoyo for a few hours so Sonomi could go do whatever shit adult women did when they didn't have bratty kids or their random teenaged foster sons hanging around. He wasn't about to be alone with the little terror and get so desperate to keep her entertained that he let her practice makeup on him again, so he ended up taking Tomoyo over to the Kinomoto house so she'd bug Sakura instead of him. Touya and Yukito were there playing a video game, and they'd told him he could stay and hang out with them. He mostly just watched them play, since he'd been told he was frighteningly competitive about video games.

And, well. Even though they didn't talk about it or make an exhibition of it, Kurogane was pretty sure they'd been dating for longer than he and Yuui had. So he did a stupid thing and just asked them what they thought about his problem.

To his surprise, Touya didn't sucker-punch him and Yukito didn't laugh at him. They both just kind of looked at each other like they were having a whole conversation with their eyes. (Hell, maybe they were, Kurogane couldn't really say that was impossible when he and Yuui could have a whole conversation with their hands.) And then Yukito said,

"You should talk to him."

"I should?" he asked, picking up his cheek, flushed with heat, from the arm of the chair he'd plastered his face into while they were silent and thinking.

"Yeah. Even if it doesn't go well, it's better than you guys not understanding each other. You don't know what he's really thinking, and you shouldn't assume until you ask him. Miscommunication is one of the worst things for a relationship."

"I guess," Kurogane muttered.

"Touya agrees with me, don't you Touya."

It wasn't exactly a question. Touya just sort of grunted at him and went back to the game. This was why Kurogane liked Touya.

It wasn't as though he didn't already know that was the right answer. But still, if it went horribly wrong, maybe he could blame it on Yukito or something.

Kurogane knew, intellectually, that having an "ex" usually wasn't a good thing, but it wasn't something he really understood. He knew Sonomi had one, since she had Tomoyo, but the one time he'd tried to ask her where Tomoyo's father was she'd gotten a hard expression and answered that the less said of him the better. Clearly he wasn't in the picture. And Yuui's ex, wow. Mizuki had always been so sweet and kind, but once they broke up, she got nasty. She was one of the ones you could always count on to gag and act disgusted if he and Yuui were so much as holding hands. Kurogane had never thought he'd want to hit a girl, but Yuui started to look hunted whenever she was around and he started fantasizing about punching her in her fat mouth the way he wouldn't have hesitated to if she'd been a guy.

He didn't really get it because he had an ex, and they always got along great.

"Did you do the questions for tomorrow's homework yet?" Akane asked, sweeping her hair aside and taking a nibble out of her lunchbox. She was sitting on his desk, her ankles crossed and her feet swinging lazily. "I did them already but I wanted to see what you had for number seven."

Yuui was across the room with a couple of people from the school festival planning committee. They had all bolted down their food and the others were gesturing and talking loudly about their ideas. Kurogane was watching Yuui, who stayed quiet and took down notes and kept glancing over at him and making faces.

"Hnn?" was his answer to Akane.

She shoved a piece of omelette into his mouth. He glared at her but ate it anyway, because her mom made awesome tamagoyaki while he was personally crap at it. He always made part of the bento for himself and Tomoyo at night, usually just packing rice and some vegetables, and half the time he'd just take off with that in the morning before Sonomi or Tomoyo could throw stupid animal-shaped eggs or apples or whatever in there. Akane had been letting him steal the good bits out of her bento ever since they'd been dating.

Yuui's grimace was particularly gruesome just then. The other committee members were bound to notice that one.

"Whenever you're done mooning at your boyfriend," Akane said patiently, "I wondered if I could see your answer to question number seven on tomorrow's homework."

"I didn't do it yet," he shrugged. "I'm doing it tonight after soccer. I'll show you in the morning. Hey, is that pork?"

Akane rolled her eyes and let him pick out a piece. "I'm going to tell my mother to just pack you a lunch when she makes mine."

"Sonomi-san would kill me," he said with his mouth full.

Yuui looked genuinely angry. Huh. Maybe they weren't listening to his ideas. Kurogane might have to go over there and knock their heads together.

"Hey," he said, suddenly turning his attention to Akane as he remembered something. "Are you dating Hikaru from the archery club?"

"No, of course not, why?" she said, quick and sharp.

"Nothing, just somebody said you were."

"Well, I'm not," she replied, but her cheeks were turning pink and she was trying to hide it with her hair.

Kurogane was stumped. Blushing meant she was into Hikaru, right? And if Hikaru wasn't into her, he wouldn't be talking about her all the time—talking about her with extreme respect, of course. He had almost talked about her in a less respectful way, once, except that Kurogane had walked over to him and towered over him and glared down at him until he turned rather pale and changed the subject.

"Well, you should," he said, scooping up the last of the rice out of his own box and shoveling it down. "He's stupid but he's not a bad guy, and you could probably train him."

Akane giggled. "You think so?"

Kurogane shrugged irritably. "What's it matter what I think, anyway?"

Akane kicked him with her swinging feet, probably on purpose. It didn't hurt at all so he just stole the last piece of pork from her lunch instead of getting upset.

Man, what was wrong with Yuui? He looked really, really upset. Kurogane stood up, not even caring that the planning committee was none of his business, whatever they were doing to make Yuui look so hurt and angry was going to stop, and it was going to stop now. He stalked toward them, and suddenly Yuui slammed his pen down, jumped to his feet, and ran out of the room.

Kurogane looked down at the nearest person. "What the hell were you guys talking about?"

The girl gaped up at him. "I don't . . . Yuui-kun wasn't even talking, he just kept looking over at you. Are you guys having a fight?"

"No," Kurogane said, and immediately took off after his boyfriend feeling rather unsure that this was the correct answer. Maybe they were. Just because he didn't know about it didn't necessarily mean there was no fight. He still hadn't actually talked to Yuui about that avoidance of the future problem. Maybe this was about that conversation they'd had last week, when Yuui said he might have to drop out of kendo so he'd have time for cram school and Kurogane's response was "I don't know who I'm supposed to spar against if you're not there, but if you feel like you have to I guess I'll live." Maybe he was supposed to beg Yuui to stay or something? But that was stupid. Yuui had to start studying for his university entrance exams. Obviously. Why would he be upset that Kurogane wasn't trying to hold him back?

"Hey!" he bellowed when he finally caught sight of Yuui, loud enough to rattle the windows, making sure there was no way Yuui and everybody else within a half mile could miss it.

It was effective. Yuui turned back around, and his face was streaked with tears. Kurogane jogged the last few yards, grabbed him by the arm, and yanked him into a classroom that he knew wasn't being used this term.

"Yuui, whatever it is, just talk to me," he muttered, wanted to hold him but feeling Yuui's resistance like a physical barrier to his touch. He took a step back.

Yuui slowly sat down on the teacher's desk. He braced his hands on the edge and hunched his shoulders and didn't say anything.

"H-hey. Listen. I don't know if this is about the cram school thing but . . . Whatever I did, I'm sorry, okay?"

They had less than a year left together, and Kurogane was trying to tamp down a rising sense of panic that the little time they had was going to be wasted on this misery.

"You didn't do anything," Yuui said softly. "It's more about what you're going to do."


"I hate it when you two just sit there and eat lunch together."

"What? You mean Akane? Why?"

For a long minute, Kurogane thought he wouldn't answer. He kept dragging in these painful-sounding breaths and then letting them out. He obviously thought talking about it was going to make it worse instead of better. Well, too bad. It wasn't like Kurogane was going to walk away from this. From him. So he crossed his arms and waited, for however long it took. It felt like an hour before Yuui spoke.

"She can't have you," he whispered.

"Huh?" Kurogane responded, so surprised that he uncrossed his arms and took a step closer to hear better.

"I don't— I don't care. I don't care if she dreamed it. I don't care about the ways of your country. She can't have you. You're mine."

Kurogane gaped at him. "This is about that? About how I'm going to get married later?"

Then it struck him. Yuui was too upset to guard his words carefully, and Kurogane suddenly heard in that blurted-out confession the secret that Yuui had been keeping.

"She dreamed . . . that's who I'm going to marry?!" he yelped. "Freaking Akane?"

Yuui almost smiled, an ugly little twist at the corners of his lips. "Not this one. The Tsukiyomi in Nihon knows a different Akane. This one's a miko priestess who serves the princess. Tomoyo-chan told me back when we were kids. Akane's been waiting for you."

Kurogane didn't know how to argue with the visions of a Tsukiyomi. If that was truly what she'd foreseen. . .

"I don't want you to go back there," Yuui rasped out, raw and ugly. "She can't have you."

He was shaking, Kurogane saw. Yuui's hands were clenched into the fabric of his pants, resting on his knees, and they were shaking. He was staring at the ground, either not realizing or not caring that he was crying.

Was that was this had been about, all this time? Not just that Kurogane would leave, but that he was choosing Akane over Yuui. Which was stupid, because he hadn't even known there was another Akane in Nihon. But still. How would Kurogane ever choose anyone over Yuui? He wouldn't.

Oh, but he was, wasn't he? In choosing Nihon, he was.

"Yuui," he muttered hoarsely.

Yuui was so afraid of being alone. He always had been. And Kurogane had always, always been there, ever since they were kids. How did he still not see it? How had he still not understood that nothing else mattered to Kurogane as much as Yuui himself? He knew he had to get married to a miko and produce an heir, if he wanted to be the lord of Suwa. That was how Suwa worked. He hadn't known there was another option. He hadn't had any idea that Yuui wanted him to stay. He'd never said that. Nihon . . . or Yuui.

Kurogane felt like someone had grabbed hold of his lungs and torn them apart from each other. He felt torn open, halved. Nihon was his home, his past, his parents and his people and his culture and his identity. But Yuui was . . . Yuui was . . . Everything, something in his mind whispered. He didn't know what he'd do if he stayed in Heian, but maybe that didn't matter.

"Are you really asking me for that?"

Yuui caught his breath and looked up, a wet shimmering in his already-too-bright eyes. "What?"

"If you," Kurogane said slowly, stepping forward as he spoke, "tell me not to go to Suwa . . . Then I won't go to Suwa. And if you tell me to marry you instead of her, then I will." As he spoke, he came deliberately forward. He stopped mere inches from Yuui. He looked down at him and strained to somehow project all his conviction and willpower into Yuui without actually touching him.

"Why would you do that?" Yuui whispered, looking pinned and helpless.

"Because you are the most— You're the most important person I have."

"I know, but—"

"Don't you get it?" Kurogane said quietly, feeling gutted. "There's everyone else. Then there's you. You're mine . . . and I'm yours, too, stupid." He reached out his hand and touched the back of Yuui's head, threading his fingers into the fine hair that was never combed well enough, and pulled Yuui closer. Yuui's eyes went wide and he ducked his face down, choking on a sob. So Kurogane pressed his kiss into that soft tangle of hair, instead.

"So tell me you don't want me to go back to Suwa," he whispered, his lips tickled by warm hair that smelled like shampoo. "And tell me to follow you where you're going. Tell me to stay with you." He leaned close over Yuui, whose hand rose up toward him and then clenched into a tight fist in the air and lowered again. It was like he could actually feel Yuui's torn-up heart struggling to beat out of his chest. He could feel the dam of words that Yuui was trapping inside his throat and choking himself with. "Tell me what you want, Yuui. And I'll do it."

"No," Yuui whimpered at last. Kurogane closed his eyes and breathed in that skin-shampoo-warm sunlight scent. He honestly didn't know if he was glad or disappointed. "No, I won't tell you what to do."

"You could if you could beat me up," Kurogane said wryly, reminding him of their childhood agreement.

"No," he sniffled, and now his hands clutched into Kurogane's shirt and drew him close. "Because I can't do that to you. I don't even want to know if I can beat you, I won't try."

Then he took Kurogane's free hand, pulling it up and pressing Kurogane's palm to his chest.

"I won't tell you what to do with your life," he said, his voice getting stronger. "But you have to do one thing for me. You have to let me have you before she does."

He didn't mean—shit, he did. Despite the fact that his stomach was swooping so hard he honestly felt like throwing up, Kurogane managed to quirk an eyebrow and smirk at his own big hand splayed out over Yuui's pounding heart.

"Not— It doesn't have to be right now," Yuui said, his face turning red. "But I get you first. I— that's mine."

Kurogane nodded. "Yeah. It is. I promise."

"Bring those over here."

Kurogane obediently brought the skewers of chicken over to the lunchboxes that Tomoyo was making. Sonomi was sitting in the other room sipping coffee and typing notes on a project. She said she'd be working all night and might even go back to the office, so Kurogane had waved away her attempts to pack them lunches and set himself to the task of cooking chicken. He was, at least, better at it than Tomoyo: it was not burned.

Tomoyo carefully packed it away in their lunches with the other dishes they'd already prepared earlier. Kurogane stole a few pieces, regretting nothing because he knew for a fact that Yuui was going to steal most of his tomorrow anyway. His stomach lurched when he thought about it. They were . . . Things were suddenly different now. There was a strange quality to the air, ever since their conversation, a heightened clarity. Kurogane couldn't look away from Yuui's lips most of time, and Yuui would suddenly become uncommunicative and blush without provocation.

He hadn't figured out exactly when or how . . . But he'd promised Yuui. And there was less than a year left. They were going to . . . Well. Things. It was hard enough not thinking about it all the time before, but now they were actually gonna do it soon.

"How come you're all red?" Tomoyo asked, frowning slightly as she cut a stupid cute face into her hardboiled egg.

"What? I'm not—it's warm in here from the oven, so what? Why are you making two of those?"

She tucked one into his box and beamed up at him.

"I'm not taking that to school. Take that back."

Tomoyo hunched her whole body over the box to fend him off. "It's not for you!" she said firmly.

"Why are you putting it in my lunch, then, brat?" he asked in exasperation.

Lacking the necessary conviction to actually move her out of his way, he settled for grabbing some of her hair and pushing it back behind her ear to keep it out of his food. It just slipped right back out again, and he glowered down at her.

"What the hell have you been doing, your hair's all over the place and it's gonna get in the food. You need a new braid."

Tomoyo patted her hair and glared back at him—like it was his fault her stupid hair was going everywhere or something. "I don't want to bother Okaa-san."

"Well, then, don't,' Kurogane said, rolling his eyes and reaching out. "Hold still for a minute."

It wasn't like he actually knew how to braid hair, but he'd watched Sonomi doing it to her often enough, and it wasn't the most difficult concept in the world. He made short work of undoing the remnants of the previous braid and starting a new one. Luckily Tomoyo was standing on a stool so she could better reach the countertop, because she was so short he probably couldn't even reach her head without kneeling down on the floor.

"Grow faster, brat," he muttered. Geez, how was she even going to survive in this world if she didn't get any taller? She was already nine!

"Oh, Kurogane, you're so silly," she giggled, although she (mostly) held still. "Not everybody can be a giant like you."

"I'd rather be a giant than a shrimp. And I didn't forget, so who's the egg for?"

"It's for Akane! You said you eat lunch together all the time, and I didn't want her to forget me! Can you tell her I said hello?"

"Uh, sure," Kurogane said, and fumbled both words and hair. "Um, Tomoyo-chan, um, about Akane . . . You know she and I broke up, and I'm dating Yuui, and so . . ."

"I know," she said peacefully. "But that doesn't mean Akane and I can't be good friends! She's so nice!"

Akane and Yuui. His past, his future, Heian or Nihon, the things he wanted and the things he was born to and maybe those were the same thing but maybe they weren't. He didn't know what to do about it anymore. He didn't want to lose Yuui. And he didn't want to lose Suwa either.


His hands had gone still at the end of her braid. Tomoyo turned around, not caring about the work she was undoing, and grabbed hold of them.

"Yuui told you about the vision of the other Akane, didn't he?" she asked. "He wasn't supposed to." She stamped her little foot for emphasis.

"Then you shouldn't have told him, right?"

Tomoyo pouted. "I know, but that was a long time ago, and I didn't understand yet."

Kurogane felt bad for her, rather suddenly. She'd been seeing visions of someone else's future through shared dreams with a girl in a parallel world, ever since the age of three. And it was because of him, because of him and Yuui and Syaoran coming here. It didn't seem fair, somehow. Wasn't it scary? It was one thing to be the Tsukiyomi, to have been born and raised to her duties as a priestess, although maybe it wasn't really fair to her, either. And maybe it was too much to ask a ten-year-old boy to pick up his father's sword and battle hoardes of demons, too, but that was how Nihon was. Heian was different, and the Tomoyo who lived here . . . was just a little girl. She never seemed to mind, or at least she never complained. But Kurogane kind of wished he could have kept it from happening to her anyway.

"Well, since you told him than it's only fair I should know too. Tomoyo, that princess, is that what she really dreamed? Me and Akane?"

Tomoyo suddenly seemed to grow taller, a little bit. Her small face was so serious, and it looked strange on her. She was usually all smiles and laughter and devious scheming. She didn't look right, all solemn like this.

"Does it matter to you so much what she dreamed?"

"Well, I—huh?"

"We're not supposed to tell people what happens in dreams," Tomoyo said softly, still holding his hands, "because it isn't always true."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The future isn't always clear, that's all."

"So I'm not going to marry Akane?"

"Do you want to?"

Kurogane hadn't really thought about this. He wanted Suwa, he wanted the fields and the fish in the creek and the paper screens by the long porch. Akane came with Suwa, and he honestly hadn't much tried to separate the two in his mind. But that was what Tomoyo seemed to be asking him. Not if he wanted to go home. Just if he wanted to marry her.

Did he? She was pretty and she was smart and she was funny. She wasn't afraid of him. She had an easy laugh and a quick wit. She'd be a good wife. She'd know how to manage a household.

"I can't," Kurogane said, and a rush of relief swept through him just at saying it. "I can't marry her. I don't love her, and I'm not going to marry anybody if I don't . . ."

The breath went out of him and he nearly went to his knees.

"What about Yuui?" Tomoyo asked.

Kurogane gripped the edge of the counter and tried to hang on while his stomach did a complete backflip.

I love you

The thought popped into his head, and then it was there and he couldn't do anything about that. Yuui was his, he was Yuui's, and it was because . . . because he loved him. He loved Yuui's hands when they held a sword and he loved Yuui's eyes when they were silently mocking him. He loved Yuui's voice at the end of a long day when it got tiny and scratchy and nearly wasn't there. He loved when Yuui brushed their fingers together so he could say something sassy without anybody hearing it. He loved Yuui when his forehead wrinkled up while reading something important. He loved Yuui when magic spilled out of him at the dinner table just because he liked using it sometimes. He loved Yuui's face when he slept. He loved Yuui.

He loved him.

There was a soft little hand on his arm, and he looked up and saw Tomoyo smiling at him.

"Kurogane, are you in love with Yuui or are you getting sick?" she asked in a serious voice.

"Very funny," he said hoarsely, although maybe it was a valid question because his stomach was still doing weird things.

She suddenly clapped her hands and giggled. "Kurogane, you have to tell him! You have to do a confession after school!"

"That's stupid, we're already dating," Kurogane objected, straightening up.

"But you are going to tell him, right?" she asked, clasping her hands together and looking up at him like he was her favourite t.v. drama.

"Course I am," he muttered, and bopped her lightly on the head just to bring her down a peg.

"But when?"


don't be an idiot don't be a coward this is so stupid I don't even want to how lame is this I'm so freaking pathetic Yuui would just laugh Yuui always laughs at me that's why I love him oh shit Yuui I think I love you

"Right now," he said suddenly.

Tomoyo squeezed her hands together and practically swooned, but before he could move she was grabbing his arm.

"Not until you fix what you've done to my hair," she said firmly.

Kurogane knew that the first move was his to make. Because of— well, because of everything. Because it was his life being set into motion, and Yuui was trying to respect that. There was a deep hollow place in his belly where Kurogane wished Yuui would simply take what he wanted. But he loved Yuui as he was, and that meant loving his hesitation as much as he loved the rest of him. As nice as it might have been to be surprised, simply knowing what he needed to do brought him the same happiness. Loving him somehow made it fine either way.

Now that he'd attached a word to it, he couldn't stop thinking it. Love. Love was a dumb word, and it didn't mean half of what it was supposed to. But it was the only word people seemed to have, so he'd just think it until it did mean all of it. He'd use the word "love" until he could force it to mean "I need you" and "you're perfect" and "I wouldn't be the same without you." There was more than that, but even he didn't know what it was.


That was the first thing he'd ever said to him, when they discovered the ability to speak without words, back in the beginning when all they had to offer was a storm of emotions, before they learned control. Mine mine mine. You're mine, Ouji Yuui, and Fai Flourite and anything else you might have called yourself in a thousand worlds. I don't care what they call you, I just need to call you "mine."

He'd fixed the braid in Tomoyo's hair in a complete daze, and he didn't notice he'd left the house until he felt the bark of the tree under his palms. He'd gone to the orphanage without paying a scrap of attention and here he was below Yuui's window. He hadn't tried to sneak up this tree since he was eleven. This was ridiculous, it wasn't that late. He could just go in by the front door.

It had been a long time since he'd climbed a tree. He found that his added height only made it that much easier, scaling the branches without even having to stretch. He simply crouched there on the only limb sturdy enough to hold him for a while. Watching Yuui.

He was sitting at his desk, studying something, his back to the window. The lamp on the desk gave his hair a glow of buttery gold and the flutter of his hands over pages cast odd shadows. Kurogane's mouth felt very dry, and he couldn't stop swallowing. He didn't really know why he was here, if he wanted to do this right now. He thought maybe he'd just sit in this tree and watch Yuui all night.

Maybe he felt the eyes on him, maybe Kurogane inadvertently made some sound that alerted him. Whatever the reason, Yuui suddenly stiffened up and whirled around, his fingers in front of him with a purple glow at their tips.

Instead of trying to get out of the way, Kurogane just smiled at that. He already knew Yuui wouldn't hurt him, and it made him proud in a completely illogical way that Yuui was a budding mage. It wasn't like it had anything to do with Kurogane, and yet somehow his chest got tight when he saw Yuui's talents growing. It was stupid.

Yuui's face when he saw what was outside was priceless. The moment of shock turned to complete withering disdain as he yanked the window up.

"… scared the shit out of me," he was muttering. He glared up at Kurogane when he didn't jump through the window right away. "Well? Are you coming in, you idiot?"

"Maybe if you get out of the way," Kurogane drawled, glad that his voice sounded normal.

Yuui stepped away, and Kurogane clambered inside. He stood up straight and then froze.

". . . Hi."

"Good evening," Yuui returned, lifting a pale feathery eyebrow.

"Yeah," Kurogane said.

Yuui made a clicking noise with his tongue. "I'm studying. Let me know when you're ready to tell me why you're sitting in my tree like a creep."

Kurogane grabbed his arm as he was turning away, feeling his heart beating out of his chest. He couldn't find the words he needed . . . but then, the two of them rarely needed words to begin with. He grabbed Yuui by the chin, twisting his head back, and Yuui was surprised enough to let him. His lips closed over Yuui's too hard to be a kiss, he just wanted to hold him there until Yuui saw.

Ouch. The sharp pain in Yuui's mouth spiked into Kurogane's brain with reproach. What are you doing?

Fine. Slow, then. Whatever it took.

Kurogane pressed into Yuui while the other boy stepped back, one foot at a time, until Yuui was pressed against his desk and Kurogane was wrapping an arm around Yuui's back to keep him from falling onto his study notes. He kept his other hand on Yuui's face, cupping his chin and jaw and angling his face. He kissed him, and kept kissing him, even though Yuui was stunned and not doing anything in return. He'd kiss him until it got through.

Mine. Mine mine mine and I'm yours all that matters is this don't care about anything just mine not letting go not ever never going to let go please don't let go of me I want to be yours I need you you're mine mine mine

He felt it, when Yuui finally understood. The slender body lost its stiff posture. His lips opened. Kurogane plunged forward into the kiss and fell into Yuui as the other boy raised his hand, brushed his fingers over Kurogane's knuckles where he still held Yuui's face. Yuui tilted his head out of Kurogane's grip to get a better angle, and then both hands were sliding over Kurogane's back, scrunching up his shirt, exposing a slice of skin to the cool night air and making him shudder, leaning over Yuui until Yuui had to lean back over the desk. Kurogane pressed him down onto the wooden surface, felt Yuui's legs part so Kurogane could stand between them, bent over him, kissing frantically and sending the lamp skittering to the very edge.

Yes yes of course yours and mine forever please please please

Yuui's brain was erratic with words and sparks of desire that flooded through both of them. Neither of them could get a complete thought together, it was all a tangle of tongues and finally and wet and warm and forever and spikes of heat through their bellies.

They stopped knowing whose head they were in. It didn't matter. It might have been Kurogane who sucked desperately at Yuui's neck and made him release an aborted cry of pleasure, or it might have been the other way around. It might have been Yuui whose hand slid down the back of Kurogane's pants and made him groan with the need for more, but maybe not. They both felt it, all of it, got lost in the dizzying rush of it and didn't care.

It was definitely Yuui who wrapped his legs around Kurogane's waist and his arms about his neck, and it was definitely Kurogane who stood upright and staggered toward the bed with a lithe blond boy kissing him frantically. He pitched them forward onto Yuui's bed, falling on Yuui too hard. They were still kissing, and their teeth knocked together painfully.

Idiot the affectionate word was warm and trailed heat down his belly and he didn't apologize.

I lo

No, this deserved to be said aloud.

"I love you," Kurogane muttered into the curve of Yuui's neck.

Yuui froze in shock. Kurogane waited for some kind of feeling to pass between them, but there was nothing, so he pulled back his head to look at Yuui's face. He was just staring, his eyes huge and his lips slack. Kurogane dived down to kiss him again, frantic that this moment should be over with. He should have waited, he should have said it earlier, he shouldn't have said it at all—

Yuui's hands were grabbing his hair, he was breathing heavy and hot, but he was turning his face away, to the side, away from Kurogane's mouth.

"You . . . You do?"

Kurogane could barely think past his own pulse, and it took him a moment to understand what he was supposed to be responding to.

"Yeah. I do."

Yuui with sunlight in his hair, Yuui cheering at a teammate with his blindingly bright smile, Yuui hunched up on a bed with his knees drawn to his chest, Yuui hugging Syaoran tight against his side . . . Kurogane let it go thundering through him, every stray moment of beauty he'd noticed and everything that made his heart squeeze up tight in his chest. He didn't try to hold it in his own skin. He pressed every inch of himself against Yuui and tried to push it into him, instead.

Yuui gasped, and his clutching hands grew painful. He shuddered. Kurogane didn't say anything about it. He didn't move.

I love you idiot so much always loved you

"Kuro—hah," Yuui gasped, and then he tore Kurogane's shirt off in a spill of purple runes that he called by pure instinct to aid him. He latched his mouth onto Kurogane's collarbone and then it was nothing but heat and white sparks where thoughts should be.

Kurogane began to believe in that moment that even if Yuui rescued entire countries from danger single-handedly and performed moves with a sword that were physically impossible and charmed the Empress of Nihon with nothing more than a wink, even then Kurogane was going to say that the most amazing thing about him was his mouth.

His mouth was—holy hell—everywhere. And perfect. And—oh.

"You're loud," Yuui murmured, even though Kurogane hadn't said a word, and there was a gleam in his eyes that was purely wicked and Kurogane had never seen Yuui do that before, and his mouth went dry and his cock ached so badly that he literally couldn't move. Yuui's hand crept to the waistband of his pants, and for a moment uncertainty shone past the rest. "Are we going to . . .?"

"Are we—" Kurogane choked. "Yes."

Yuui undid his pants and pulled them open and touched Kurogane's cock. It was just the faintest brush of his fingers, but Kurogane briefly worried about passing out. Just looking at Yuui's hand there was already incredible. He slowly wrapped his hand around it, and then he grinned.


"Mine's bigger."

"No it isn't, shut up."

"It is."

"Prove it."

"Oh, I plan to." He stroked experimentally. "Aren't you going to undress me, Kuro-chi?"

"Yuui," Kurogane said hoarsely, and gripped his shoulders. "Uh."

"I'm not saying yours is so bad, you know," Yuui continued to tease, still stroking. "I'm just saying mine is—"


Kurogane jerked, shuddered, and came. Yuui flung up a hand and managed to avoid getting it in the face, but it pretty much just made a huge mess. Kurogane groaned faintly and fell down on the bed and buried his face in a pillow.


"Nope, shut up."

"Kurogane, you didn't even undress me yet."

"Yuui stop talking, I'm trying to die."


"Shut up, Yuui."

"Kurogane do you even know how much you owe me right now."

"A lot. Shut up. Dying."

"Our first time and you lasted like thirty seconds."

"I owe you, I get it. Go away."

"Kurogane, you stupid oaf, I love you too."

And that was how Yuui talked him into their first blowjob. There was zero skill involved but plenty of enthusiasm and really for all his talk Yuui didn't last very long either.

Things progressed slowly but steadily from there. Ashura gave up on the idea of them leaving the bedroom door open relatively quickly— in fact, right after he walked into Yuui's room and found them in the middle of their third-ever blowjob. Presumably he wanted something when he came in, but he walked mechanically into his office and shut the door and didn't answer anyone's knocks for two hours. Kurogane would have apologized for traumatizing him if he'd been able to look him in the eye at any point the following week.

They were content to keep things at that level for the time being. Yuui pointed out that they could only have sex for the first time once, after all, so they should take their time getting there and make sure it was really good. They occasionally did . . . research. They usually spent the whole time looking away from each other laughing helplessly and red in the face, but for all that they did learn a lot and it usually led to a heavy make-out session. Actually, being in the same room for more than five minutes tended to lead to a heavy make-out session.

Everything was perfect. They were in their final year of school, their soccer team was headed for the semi-finals, and they had each other. They studied together and rewarded correct answers with kisses. They spent Sunday afternoons taking quiet walks through their neighborhood, saying nothing and only holding hands. They went places with Yukito and Touya and nobody said it was double dating because it was too embarrassing to say out loud.

There was just the one thing.

Yuui quit kendo and signed up for a cram school. And that was something they just didn't want to talk about yet.

so good so good Kurogane ummm yes more more more please oh god

Kurogane chuckled. Yuui's mental defenses were at an all-time low right now and the only reason Kurogane could even remember which of them was which was his own focus.

fuck you don't laugh oh wow it feels weird but so good don't laugh unless you want me to come right now I might come right now ummm Kurogane I think

Kurogane slid his mouth off Yuui with an obscene popping noise and lazily plucked a t-shirt off the floor to keep Yuui's mess from getting on his bed. Sonomi had just washed all the sheets two days ago. He kept his finger crooked inside of Yuui until the blond's body went slack, spent with pleasure, and then he carefully slid it out. He dropped the shirt into his hamper and hurried into the bathroom to wash his hands. Upon returning, he flopped down beside Yuui on his bed.

Yuui curled up like a shrimp, inviting Kurogane to spoon up behind him. Kurogane was only too happy to oblige.

"Thank you, my darling," Yuui said drowsily.

"'m not your darling," Kurogane muttered against the shell of his ear.

"Thank you, my grumpy boyfriend who just has to be a sourpuss after he sucks me off so I won't think he likes me or anything."

"That's more like it. You're welcome."

"Ummm. I wanna try sixty-nine next time. Can we?"

Kurogane's heart fully skipped a beat. "Holy hell. Yes."

"Okay. Good. Thanks. So what's wrong?"

It was dumb to try to lie to Yuui when he knew him so well and when they were pressed together like this. It was dumb to lie to Yuui at all. So Kurogane didn't try to deny anything was wrong.

"We're graduating in two months," he said promptly. "So we should probably talk."

Yuui shifted restlessly several times, moving his feet and arms and unable to get comfortable. Finally, he flipped around so they were laying face-to-face. His eyes were heavy.


Apparently that meant Kurogane was going to go first. Fine.

"It's just . . . I want to stay here for the summer."

Yuui's hands were on his sides, slowly tracing his ribcage, and they buzzed with hope and trepidation. "Really?" His eyes were looking at Kurogane's chest, but Kurogane could see how bright the blue of them was.

"No job, no kendo, no school . . . I mean, you probably were planning on working to save up money, but we'll have a lot of free time. To just. You know. Be together. I want to spend the summer with you. I . . . I want to see what your university campus looks like. Can I go to your entrance ceremony? I want to stay for your first day. I want to be able to picture it in my mind. If. You know. That's okay."

Yuui pressed his face against Kurogane and inhaled deeply. "You smell good," he muttered. Then, "Yeah, that's okay. I'd like that. I would. I just."

wish I could see what Suwa looked like so I could have something to picture too.

"I could try to do that," Kurogane said aloud. "Right now, the only way I know is for Ashura and the Empress to make contact, but I might be able to find a way to talk to you from Suwa. I'll try."

Yuui was pleased at his sincerity, but not hopeful. He was letting Kurogane have access to his feelings. Maybe it was lazy in some way to do that instead of trying to talk things out, but Kurogane infinitely preferred this. There was so little room for misunderstanding or error when you could literally feel what your lover was feeling.


Aren't you? Kurogane made sure to include the mental equivalent of a scowl. He didn't like being made fun of.

I suppose I am. Is Kuro-pinta turning into a romantic on me?

Do you ever shut up?

I thought you wanted to talk!

I hate you

No you don't

No, I don't

Warmth built up between them, a steady flame cradled between their two chests, filling them until they ached with it. In a few months, just a few short months, Kurogane would be gone. They would never have this again, not with anyone else. Boyfriends, lovers, best friends, two halves of a whole. The thought itself was a bruise that it hurt to press against.

Someone knocked on the door. They both winced.

"Please, please, please have clothes on this time," came a small, muffled voice. Then Syaoran opened the door. "Oh, good," he sighed.

Yuui had put his pants back on, and Kurogane had never taken his off. It was halfway decent, anyway. But Yuui was sitting up, pushing Kurogane's long arm off him.

"Syaoran, what is it?"

"What are you doing at my house, brat?" Kurogane added, with worry more than anger. Sakura wasn't here today, and while Syaoran and Tomoyo might be friends he didn't think Syaoran would ever come over to hang out with her just the two of them.

Syaoran was worrying his thumbnail between his teeth. "Your scary Empress lady called Ashura. It's urgent, she says. She has to talk to you right now. Ashura said come get you and make sure you come right away." Kurogane jumped off the bed and dragged a clean shirt over his head. "Shit. Okay. Run back and tell them I'm coming. Yuui, where did I put my— oh, thanks," he said as Yuui held Kurogane's belt out to him.

Syaoran darted away, hurrying back to the orphanage, and Yuui and Kurogane were only moments behind. They didn't touch each other en route, but Kurogane could feel the worry boiling off Yuui anyway, and no doubt Yuui could feel his mood getting darker every moment too. The Amaterasu wouldn't call for no reason, and she usually told them at least a day ahead of time. Kurogane kicked off his shoes in a hurry and almost tripped over them in his haste to get into Ashura's office and throw himself to his knees in front of the portal.

"Your Majesty," he said, lowering his head and bracing his hands on his knees. "What do you need of me?"

She was wearing something stiff and formal. The Tsukiyomi was behind her, hair all done up in ostentatious ornaments, a grave look on her young little face. Kurogane could see a few other retainers behind them.

"Kurogane, it is my duty to inform you of the death of your mother's cousin. He took ill only days ago and the fever spread rapidly. We employed the best of our physicians, but he passed away this morning." She waited a beat of silence, in case Kurogane needed to process his grief, but he didn't much. He'd never met the man. But his heart was pounding so rapidly that he was worried it would leap from his chest any moment. This cousin had been running things in Suwa. Kurogane knew now why this was so urgent.

"There is now no one from your family to continue managing the estates in Suwa. Kurogane, we must call you home now."


That was Yuui, choking out that one word in a horror so deep that it sounded quiet and calm.

"We understand that you will want to say goodbye and settle your affairs in Heian. You have one week, Kurogane. Seven days from now, you will come back to Nihon to claim your inheritance. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Majesty," he muttered, bowing low again.

"Good. I have much requiring my attention and I must leave you now. I will see you soon."

The curt words abruptly flickered and cut off.

Kurogane remained on his knees, feeling numb. One week. He had one week. He wasn't going to graduate after all. Wasn't going to spend his summer convincing Yuui to go skinny-dipping in the creek where they'd played as kids. Wasn't going to teach Tomoyo and Sakura self-defense moves. Wasn't going to see Yuui's school, wasn't going to lose count of kisses, wasn't going to—

Yuui knelt down beside him and squeezed his hand. "We have a week," he whispered. "Let's make it count, okay?"