Chapter Nine

Like This I Love You

Kurogane leaned down and touched his forehead to Yuui's, closing his eyes to block out the sight of tears in those beloved blue eyes.

"Come on. Time to say goodbye."

"I can't," Yuui whispered raggedly, clinging to Kurogane's shirt with desperately curled fingers. "I can't."

Kurogane found himself grinding their heads together too hard, painfully. He clenched his teeth and tried to find the breath to say, "You can change your mind, you can still change your mind. I want you to be happy."

Yuui tilted his face up, relieving the bruising pressure, to kiss him. "I will be."

Kurogane didn't want to say goodbye, either. But it was time.

Five days earlier:

The knock at the door was sudden and immediate. He hadn't heard, or maybe just hadn't acknowledged, the footsteps leading up to his door.

Kurogane tried to shake off the heavy feeling that had settled over his shoulders and caused him to sink down to sit on the edge of his bed and sit there slowly turning a soccer trophy in his hands. He noticed that his hands looked kind of . . . freakishly large, with the little golden thing resting in them. Their team had won state just a couple of months ago.

Sonomi-san came in and sat down next to him, clearly thinking that if he wasn't objecting vocally, it meant she could come in. Well. He didn't mind having her here for a minute.

"Hey. Um. I was wondering if there was a, I don't know, donation center or something where I could leave my clothes and books. I started packing," he gestured at the three piles of stuff he'd been sorting his belongings into, "but I didn't really know. What to do with any of it."

"Keep, donate, throw away?" she guessed.

"Yeah," he muttered, looking at the pitiful size of the "keep" pile. He wasn't going to be able to wear the clothes he'd accumulated, he wasn't going to take the school textbooks, there was no point bringing things like soccer trophies.

"I'm sure we can find good homes for everything," Sonomi said.

"Is this gonna be a guest room."

He cleared his throat, wondering why that question had come out so flat and strange. Sonomi's hand landed on his shoulder and patted it.



"It's a little bigger than Tomoyo's, and I thought she might need that, and she'll, she'll want the desk too I think . . ."

The desk was really nice. Kurogane remembered when the delivery truck had dropped it off here, when he was twelve and still trying to figure all this out. It was the first time he'd truly realized that Sonomi was planning to have him for a long time. Was planning for his presence in her house and her life. Had suddenly felt like this really could be his home.

"I think I'd feel very weird about putting anyone in this room who wasn't . . . family," Sonomi said, very quietly.

Kurogane's hands clenched down hard on the little soccer-playing statue. "Yeah."

"Do you need help packing?"

He didn't. "Is that why you came in?"

"No. No, I came in to say something, actually. I came in to say . . . Kurogane, if you don't feel ready to leave, then you don't have to. That land is yours, you have the right to it. I know that what the empress wants is important to you, but what's important to me is how you feel. Suwa will wait for you, if that's what you need. Ashura-san and I can—"

"Uh, no," Kurogane blurted out, horrified at the very idea of Ashura and Sonomi engaging in some kind of battle of wills with the Amaterasu. For one thing, he couldn't predict the winner of that stand-off. "I . . . I know that I'm not ready, but I'm going anyway. I honestly could never be ready for this. What have I been doing the last few years? I've been studying, but mostly I—I play soccer! I pack up delivery trucks! I'm not ready to rule Suwa, not by a long shot, but. But it's my . . . it's . . ."

"It's your home."

"Sonomi-san," he said hoarsely, because this was his home too, this was the family that had let him—no, practically forced him—to become part of them— This was the woman who'd given him so much, and he never wanted her to think he didn't understand and appreciate what she'd done.

"It's fine," she said, smiling and squeezing his shoulder again. "It's all right. What I really came into say . . . is that I unlocked the attic and got the stairs down, but I thought maybe you'd want to go up and get it yourself."

It had been sitting in the back of his mind for two days, ever since the empress had demanded his return. All last night when he'd been sleeping with Yuui clinging to him like a wet plaster, he'd been staring at the growing piles of his stuff and thinking that today he'd go up to the attic. He just hadn't quite decided to get the key from Sonomi yet.

Still smiling, she grabbed his hand and tugged him to his feet. "Why don't we go get it together, then?"

He wasn't sure he wanted her there when he put his hands on it. But then he wasn't sure he could do it alone. He wanted . . . he wanted his real mother.

He stopped dead in the hallway when he understood his own thoughts, and he quickly spread his palm over his face so that Sonomi couldn't see that he'd started to cry. He tried to fight off this confusing sudden pain. He had never been any less than practical about what death meant. He didn't spend time wishing his parents could magically return to him. He didn't dwell on them.

He wanted them now and he could not fight it. He lifted his other hand and hid his face and cried, and finally understood that he was afraid. He was afraid to touch Ginryuu and face memories of loss and pain and teeth in his skin. He was afraid to go back to Suwa, to scrape together ash and memory and rubble and build it up into something meaningful with only his own heart for mortar. He'd been too spoiled by Heian. He was afraid to be alone.

Sonomi had always been so good at understanding him. There was a light hand against his back, nudging him forward, and he went up the stairs blindly knowing that she was following him. Not leaving him alone and not trying to make him explain himself either.

"It's over here," she said quietly, and then she stood back.

Ginryuu had been wrapped up and left atop a short stack of boxes full of heirlooms from Sonomi's mother. The sword had been in good company here. He ended up sinking down onto his knees before picking the sword up carefully in both hands. He brought it slowly to his chest and pressed it hard against him as though he could push it right through his skin to meld with his bones. Father's sword. Father's courage. His own. He had slain demons with this blade.

"All right," he breathed out. "Yeah. Let's go home."


The voice startled both of them.

"Sonomi-san? Kurogane-san? Anyone home?"

It was strange. Ashura must have started calling him by that honorific some time ago, but he hadn't noticed until just now.

Kurogane descended from the attic with the wrapped sword tight in his fist, noticing that the weight and length of it were perfect. He hadn't held it since he was ten and he'd quite literally doubled in size since then. He could already feel it, the heft of the blade as he swung it into demon hide and chased the last of the monsters out of his homeland. It already felt good. Syaoran-kun and Ashura-san were at the foot of the main stairs, sort of gaping at him with wide eyes and loose jaws.

"What?" he asked in bewilderment.

Ashura cleared his throat, saw Sonomi just behind him and turned his eyes to address her. "Sonomi-san, I'm here to ask a favor."

Kurogane noticed that the bag on Syaoran's shoulder wasn't his usual school bag; it was stuffed full.

Sonomi smirked at him. "You know you have to tell me what it is before I agree to it."

Ashura's hand fell onto Syaoran's shoulder, and now it was easy to see that both of their guests were looking subdued and uncertain.

"I need you to watch Syaoran-kun for a few days. Normally I wouldn't mind him just staying there with Yuui, but . . ."

Yuui had other things going on right now. They sort of all did. Kurogane was about to leave, and not come back, and suddenly Ashura was taking off for a few days?

"Where are you going?" Kurogane demanded.

Ashura looked at him squarely, but his answer was cryptic. "I won't be in Heian."

. . . what? He was going fucking dimension hopping at a time like this?

"When will you be back?"

"I don't know," Ashura said. "Hopefully no more than two or three days. Possibly as many as five."

"I'm—" Kurogane stopped himself from pointing out that in five days he was leaving for good. It wasn't like Ashura didn't know, and it also wasn't like Kurogane understood why it was so important that Ashura be here when he left.

And yet the thought of not getting to say goodbye to him twisted in his gut just like grief. Ashura seemed to notice, because his face softened for a moment.

"I know," he said gently. "Five days, no more than that. I promise."

Sonomi was massaging her forehead with her fingers. "Fine," she muttered, clearly holding back a lecture with those fingers. "Syaoran, sweetheart, you don't mind sleeping in Kurogane's room right?"

Maybe Kurogane minded the brat sleeping in his room, and yet Sonomi was already fixing him with a wry, knowing look. What?

"That's okay, right?" Syaoran asked nervously, looking up at Kurogane. "I won't get it messy or anything."

Like Kurogane would let him— oh. Ohhhhh. Yeah, why would he care? Yuui was in the orphanage alone for the next two or three days, or possibly five. Yeah, Syaoran could have that room all to himself, in fact. Sonomi had gotten there before he had, and that was just— what kind of a dirty mind would just jump straight there, anyway? She was a sick woman.

"Tch. It's fine, kid."

(It felt like double-vision for a moment, like he was there and also not-there, like this was Syaoran at ten and also Syaoran at fifteen, and it was like drugs but also like drowning)

He blinked to clear the weird blur in his vision and looked down at Ashura ferociously. "You better have a damn good reason to leave him without you right now," he said. He wasn't talking about Syaoran-kun. They both knew it.

Ashura nodded, wearing that funny sad smile he got sometimes, and then he drew spells into the air and they all watched with a feeling of disbelief as the floor turned to smoke and swallowed him up and he was gone. The blast of freezing cold air smelled like ozone.

Syaoran looked tiny and lost down at the foot of the stairs by himself. Kurogane buried his worries for long enough to take care of that. He went down there and snatched up Syaoran's bag to sling it onto his own shoulder, and then he slung the kid up there for good measure. He carried them both up the stairs with a lot of extra jostling to try and elicit at least one good laugh out of him. He deposited the kid and the bag safely on his bed, cuffed him lightly on the head, and said, "Be good for Sonomi-san and just come over if you need anything, you got it?"

Syaoran nodded.

He'd kept the sword rest in his room, and now he laid Ginryuu, still wrapped, into it. "You keep an eye on this for me, okay? You promise?"

Syaoran darted up and hugged him hard. "I will."

Kurogane cleared his throat a few times and ruffled his hair before letting him go.

Sonomi was still waiting in the hallway by the stairs, and she accepted it calmly when he just nodded at her and said "I've got my phone," and walked out of the house.

He'd already meant to spend as much time with Yuui as possible when Yuui wasn't at school. But he really doubted Yuui was going to class today, and he definitely shouldn't be alone. He didn't even bother to pack a bag before heading over. Perks of living a ten-minute walk away.

He headed upstairs and found Yuui exactly where he'd expected to find him. In his room, at his desk, studying. "Hey," he said from the doorway.

Yuui turned his face and said, quiet and bitter, "I always was afraid I'd have to be alone. Still, Ashura could have at least waited until I got used to you being gone."

Kurogane lifted an eyebrow. "Really?" he said dryly.

Yuui let out a little laugh that sounded far from amused. "I'm only about forty percent serious."

That was what had Kurogane crossing the room to gather Yuui up into his arms. "That's at least thirty five percent too serious," he muttered. "Ashura-san's coming back, stupid."

Yuui hadn't cried yet. He started crying now. "I know he is. I just. Did he really have to take Syaoran to your house, too? It's too quiet. I can't—"

"Idiot," Kurogane murmured, too close to his ear, his breath hot there against Yuui's skin. "They just wanted to let us be alone."

Yuui melted into him, into the heat of his mouth and the vestiges of pain that clung to the front of Kurogane's mind when he let his forehead fall to touch Yuui's. He led them to the bed. They made out for a long time, nothing but slow, sturdy kisses and desperate paths traced over one another's skin. They didn't even undress. They let it devolve into simply being wrapped in one another's limbs and laying with their cheeks pressed together.

"Tonight," Yuui whispered.

Kurogane buried his face into Yuui's neck. "Okay."

They were well-prepared. They'd furtively read something that Yuui had ordered and hidden from Ashura-san. Not because Ashura-san didn't know they were going to have sex, but simply because it was kinder not to let him see which pages they'd marked for personal reference.

They'd gone to the drugstore to get supplies. Twice. Separately. Because Kurogane could handle buying lubricant but could not handle the drugstore clerk seeing both of them at the same time and knowing what they were using it for. He'd probably get over it at some point. Yuui could stand to be a bit less mocking and a bit more gracious about the whole thing, in the meantime.

So now here they were, in the dark in Yuui's bed and naked, damp with sweat from an athletic bout of kissing and groping. Yuui kept breaking into giggles as he picked up and put down the lube. He wasn't even trying, the asshole.

"So maybe we should have talked about this before now. You know. Um. Which one is going to . . ."

Yuui giggled helplessly again. "We can't do it if you can't even say it. Which one of us is going to be taking it up the ass?"

"Yuui," Kurogane said in agony, dragging a pillow over his face. "Don't— don't say it like that."

"Well, what were you imagining, when you . . . you know, thought about this?" Yuui asked, his eyes skittering over the dark room in search of escape. Hah, he was embarrassed.

The first time he'd really envisioned it, he'd thought about what it would feel like to be inside of Yuui. He'd found himself panting alone in his room, rubbing himself, and then he'd envisioned a horrifying scene in which Yuui screamed in pain and he couldn't even do it. And then he'd thought about how terrible it would be if he only lasted thirty seconds again.

After that . . . he'd started imagining it a different way. And he realized only now, with Yuui kneeling on the bed giggling, that it was what he really wanted. Yuui would be perfect, and beautiful. He could bury his face in the mattress and scream himself hoarse and Yuui would be in control . . . that was what he wanted.

And so he turned over to lay on his stomach. "I want you," he said quietly.

"Oh-oh," Yuui stuttered in surprise.


And so that was how it was.

Their mental link had become so strong while they were making love that they'd both felt all of it. It was Kurogane kneeling with his knees tucked under his body and his teeth clenched into the sheet, but he felt the galactic elation and the burn of the muscles in his hips that Yuui was feeling. And Yuui was reveling in the pulse and slide of being inside of him, but he was also trembling and shuddering with the quiet and intense pleasure that Kurogane felt.

They weren't any coherent thoughts, not that he could remember. It was like for a moment they became one person. They breathed in sync. Their hips were perfectly timed. They gasped together. Every time one of them opened their mouth, both of them groaned. It turned into a ritual as they moved, something sacred that only they could do. They didn't have thoughts, but they felt every last aching thing that either of them had ever felt. They felt it together. They dug their fingers into each other's skin and felt as though they were melting and merging.

It was everything there was, for a few minutes, and then it was over. Kurogane felt turned inside-out, like everything he kept hidden under his skin was splayed out on the sweaty sheets. His blood still pulsed so strongly it felt like a drumbeat in his veins. He felt like he couldn't move if he tried, and also like he'd never possibly want to. Yuui's skin was sticky against his. He smelled so alive.

How could he ever want to live without this? It was unthinkable.

Kurogane took a deep breath, let it out. Took another. Sighed it out.

"Yes, Kurogane, what."

"It was so selfish, even thinking about it. It's so fucking selfish of me, Yuui."

"What are you talking about?"

"You need your family, you fucking are your family, you need to be with Ashura and Syaoran, and you—"

"Kuro-sama you have ten seconds before I show you my new spell for making idiots explode."

"Come with me, Yuui."

Yuui sat up, got tangled in the sheet, flung it off of himself with a vicious curse. "What? What? Kurogane, just. What?"

Kurogane curled his hands up, felt his nails bite into his palms. "I wanted to say this three years ago, but it was so selfish. I don't care anymore. I can't go back there alone. I can't go anywhere alone. I can't be without you. I can't. Ever. I can't do anything if I don't have you. Yuui, we're. We're supposed to happen. You saw it, Yuui, you saw it. We were destiny. We always were."

Yuui covered his mouth with his hands.

"Fuck visions of the future. Fuck everything that isn't you. Come to Suwa with me, Yuui. I have demons to slay and I need you at my back. I need you."

Yuui giggled from behind his hands. "You pathetic sap. You certainly do."

Kurogane sat up straight and put his face an inch from Yuui's face and snarled in pain and anger. His heart was beating out of his chest. His skin felt too tight, like he would burst out of it. "Do you honestly think this is funny?!" he shouted.

Yuui blinked in shock. Then his hands dragged into Kurogane's hair and he smashed their mouths together so hard that Kurogane tasted blood.

"No, I don't," he gasped.

"I'm serious about this."

"I know. I'm going to go with you and fight demons and live in a different dimension and be a foreigner and get made fun of for my hair and never ever be any good at chopsticks, and I'm going to go with you, you stupid asshole and you'll fuck up all the time but I'll always forgive you because I love you so much—"

The kissing, at that point, got to be a little too intense to allow for intelligible speech. Yuui laughed and cried against Kurogane's lips, and Kurogane's hands held him so tight he was afraid he was leaving bruises.

"My stuff is pretty close to packed," Kurogane gasped out after a few minutes. "We'll work on your stuff tomorrow. Wow, you have to start studying. There's so much you need to know."

Yuui snorted. "Where did you think those campaign journals went for three weeks?"

"You said you accidentally stuck them in that weird pocket dimension and couldn't figure out how to get them out."

"I read them, you dolt. I wanted to know what it was I was losing you to."

"You're not losing me," Kurogane said fiercely, fingers clenched in Yuui's hair, teeth scraping at his shoulder. "You never were. I can't believe you were going to give up that easily. Don't you dare just let me go."

Yuui coughed delicately. "I won't, but you might let go of me. Ow."

"Marry me, idiot."

"Can we start with moving to a new dimension for you? And you wanna stop pulling my hair?"

"Not really," Kurogane muttered, but he let go.

"Can we, um, do the cuddling thing now and try to sleep?" Yuui whispered, his kisses softening. "I'm tired, and we need to visit school tomorrow."

"What the hell for?"

"To drop out, of course."

"Ugh. Fine."

"I'm too awake," Yuui complained. "Massage my back."

"You are not serious."

One facial expression, and Kurogane was pushing Yuui to roll over and was digging his fingers in. Yuui sighed with contentment, and he didn't know whether to punch him in the head or just kiss him until he started to hate kissing.

This was too easy, but it was probably just because none of this seemed entirely real yet. Maybe Yuui would panic tomorrow.


It was with new eyes that Kurogane looked at the school building and his (soon to be former) classmates. At first, the unfamiliarity of it had raised in him nothing but disgust and confusion. What was this place, and why? He'd been looking at it with Nihonese eyes.

Now he was looking at it with those eyes again. It didn't feel the same even if the staggering feeling of difference was still there. They didn't do this in Nihon. Childhood was short and happy and then you learned the trade of your father. This building, cramming you in and elongating your childhood and giving you choices, it was so strange and foreign—but wasn't it good? Wasn't that the one thing they pushed more than anything else in their social studies classes, that each land in each world had its own way of doing things and each deserved respect?

He'd miss this, maybe. Casually talking to friends during school breaks about insignificants and trivialities. Getting to play sports just because they were fun. No, it wasn't all bad. It wasn't right for Nihon and it wasn't the way he'd have wanted things if he'd stayed there. But he was glad, in the end, that he'd taken part in this. That he'd gotten to put away that sword and find out what else he was, beyond his father's son.

"Ow," he muttered when Yuui's grip on his arm became too bruising tight.

"Sorry," Yuui muttered in return, letting go.

"Tch." He chased down Yuui's hand and grabbed it in his. He twined their fingers together. "What are you so nervous about?"

"I don't know," Yuui admitted with close-lipped smile, and ran his thumb over the back of Kurogane's hand. "Nothing. You ready to do this?"

"When have I ever not wanted to do this?" Introspection was all well and good, but really there hadn't been a day when he wouldn't have been thrilled to drop out of school. Yuui didn't need it anymore than he did, not really, but Yuui at least loved learning useless things. He'd never complained about the work.

"Are you really sure this is the best decision for your future?" the lady in the office asked hesitantly when Kurogane informed her of their purpose.

"Fine by me if you don't want to give me the paperwork, but I thought I'd save you all some time wondering why we both stopped showing up to classes. We're moving."

"Oh, why didn't you say you needed to transfer?" she asked, brightening a little. "You'll actually need to get that paperwork from the school you're transferring into, but we'd be more than happy to provide copies of—"

Kurogane groaned, and Yuui giggled. "You don't know who we are, and I'm not gonna bother explaining, but trust me when I say the place we're moving doesn't need our transcripts. Just. Take our names off the class list, would you? We are not going to be here next week. At all."

She meekly slid a few forms to him. She'd already taken them out of her filing cabinet before she'd started to argue with him. Yuui snatched them up and went over to some chairs lined up by the door, still laughing.

"Idiot," Kurogane sighed, not even sure who he was talking about. He sat beside Yuui and for a minute things were quiet and filled in only by the sound of computer keys clacking and their own pens scraping over paper.

That's when Taka-kun, an insufferable pig from one of Yuui's advanced classes, came in. Kurogane had never liked the kid, not since Yuui first started high school. The guy bullied and intimidated Yuui all the time, mocking his voice and his magic and later on the fact that he broke up with a cute girl to date Kurogane of all people. Yuui's policy had always been to ignore rather than engage, no matter what Kurogane said or thought. He had to deal with the guy in class every day and he wanted some level of peace. It was Yuui's classmate and it was Yuui that was bearing the brunt of it, so Kurogane deferred to what he wanted in the matter.

But still. Kurogane had fantasized more than once about punching Taka-kun in his fat mouth.

Yuui was sort of silently vibrating, and Kurogane turned to see him trying to contain laughter. He'd sort of not been paying attention to the fact that their arms were pushed together and he'd been spilling his thoughts all over Yuui.

He does have a fat mouth, Kurogane thought at him grumpily. He has weird plump lips. They look like earthworms.

Yuui snorted, and of course that drew Taka-kun's attention.

He sneered at the two of them. "You just do everything together, don't you? How cute."

"Yeah, we're fucking adorable," Kurogane said flatly.

"What are you doing, anyway?"

"Minding our own business," Yuui said in a cool voice. "Same as you should."

Taka-kun came and bent over to read Yuui's forms upside down. Kurogane immediately bristled, but Yuui's arm was still touching his and he kept sending calming sensations at him, asking him to stand down.

"You're leaving, huh? Where are you going?"

"I'm dropping out of school to get married," Yuui said sweetly, blinking up at Taka-kun with the most guileless expression his blue eyes could produce.

Taka-kun snorted in disgust. "Yeah, right."

"No, really," Yuui insisted, still smiling sweetly. "I decided I'm best suited to a domestic life."

Taka-kun's face suffused with red splotches. "You are unbelievable, you know that Ouji-kun? You almost had me convinced you had enough brains in your head to be somebody. Guess you're always just gonna be a coward who hides behind this tree stump."

All the while, Yuui had been pushing Kurogane to stay seated, to shut up, to leave it alone. And now suddenly it was Yuui surging to his feet, Yuui pushing his face close to those earthworm lips and splotchy cheeks.

Yuui's fingers spitting little sparks of purple light.

Yuui burning tiny holes in the office carpet.

Yuui's eyes blazing with light that had no earthly source.

"You know what's really unbelievable?" he snarled. His voice was so hoarse with passion that Kurogane worried he'd tear something in his throat. "That I ever thought I could fit in here, in this world, with you. I am rapidly becoming the most powerful mage in every dimension I know of, and what's unbelievable is that I was going to apply to business school. You have never seen power like mine. You know why I held back? Because it felt like cheating to use it on a little ant like you."

Taka-kun was gulping, his feet stumbling backward, staring with terror at the light coming from Yuui's hands.

Yuui laid his mouth so close to Taka-kun's ear it was practically a lover's caress, and he whispered tenderly. "I have a thousand murders I've stored up in my fingertips and if you don't walk away and leave me the fuck alone, I'm going to start letting them out."

Taka-kun broke. He ran out of the office like Yuui had lit the seat of his pants on fire.

Yuui turned around, looking shocked. He shook his fingers like he was trying to shake off drops of water. Kurogane jumped to his feet and grabbed Yuui by the elbows and felt him shivering.

"I can't believe I did that," Yuui laughed.

"Home. Now."

"What? We still have to finish filling—"

"Home. Bed. I, fuck. That was so fucking hot. I need you. Right now."

The office lady was gaping at them, her mouth moving, her hand frozen on top of her desk phone as if she'd meant to call the police or something. She looked like a fucking carp.

Kurogane pushed Yuui out of the office, hands digging into his hips and teeth scraping at his ear and not even caring who saw it. He had no idea. No idea how sexy Yuui could be when he was threatening somebody. And now that he knew, all he could think was that they were never going to manage to get anything done in Nihon at all.

The next two days were a vicious cycle of sex, sleep, packing, and practice. Yuui and Kurogane were trying to figure out what to say and how to present themselves to the court. As friends? Lovers? Kurogane would first introduce him as a priest who would protect Suwa's borders, but it was going to be tricky to turn down the probably-impending marriage offer to Akane when he had already lined up a replacement.

They practiced kneeling and flowery phrases. Yuui quizzed Kurogane non-stop about cooking in Suwa, about the layout of Shirasagi castle, about the architecture he envisioned for the new provincial manor house, about the hierarchy of nobility. Actually non-stop. Kurogane tried to stutter his way through an explanation of how his mother's dead distant cousin was related to him and why it mattered while getting a handjob in the shower.

They never actually did go back to the school to finish withdrawing from their classes, but really what did it matter? It wasn't like anybody was going to hitch a ride with a wizard to come arrest them for truancy.

They only broke the spell that seemed to have fallen over the orphanage to create a private world for them once. They called Touya and Yukito to thank them for their friendship and say goodbye to them. There was no one else that Kurogane felt merited a phone call. Everyone else he cared about, he wanted them there on the day of his departure so he could see them together just one last time.

Yuui showed off a little bit and made Kurogane watch while he laid a spell on Ashura's locked office door and let himself in. He started poking around in the bookshelves and cubbyholes where Ashura kept scrolls, helping himself to the most advanced study material he could find. He even broke into Ashura's desk looking for two scrolls which Ashura had told him were the lesson plan for the summer after he finished school.

Even knowing that Yuui could be a bit blasé about things like rules and authority, Kurogane still found himself slightly shocked. This was Yuui's father, not the school library.

"Won't he . . . y'know . . . miss those?"

The look Yuui turned his direction was twisted up with so much fear and anger that it made Kurogane's stomach feel tight. "If he's going to leave at a time like this and not be here to choose what he wants to give me, then I'll just have to decide for myself, won't I?"

Kurogane shut up and just helped him stitch together little pockets inside his school bag for safely carrying the scrolls. He almost asked Tomoyo to do it for him—she was frighteningly good at sewing, for a ten-year-old—but he felt absurdly guilty when he thought about how she might dream with the Tsukuyomi and the princess of Nihon might end up knowing they were sort of stealing.

They really had a lot of sex in those couple of days. Enough that Kurogane was starting to feel glad they might not get an opportunity for a few days once they arrived in Nihon.

In fact, they'd just finished having some and were sort of just laying there trying to find the motivation to carry Yuui's things over to join Kurogane's at the Daidouji residence when someone knocked on the door.

Figuring it was probably Syaoran, for one reason or another, but too lazy to care a whole lot about his innocent and tender age, Kurogane tossed a sheet over the two of them and said, "What?"

The door opened, and Ashura strolled in.

A single eyebrow could really say so much, Kurogane thought as he scrambled frantically to somehow drag all the blankets over himself and yank his pants on underneath it all. Yuui was still totally composed, and totally Ashura's son, just giving him The Eyebrow right on back and laying there underneath the sheet wearing nothing but a slight smirk.

"I'll be in my office when you're dressed," Ashura said mildly, and closed the door.

Yuui continued to lay there, although he'd removed both smile and sheet, while Kurogane finished dressing.

"Come on," Kurogane said sharply. "He promised to come back and he did, and we don't leave until tomorrow. At least find out where he went before you get all bitchy with him."

"I. Am. Not. Bitchy."

"Yeah you are."

"Come over here and say it again," Yuui rasped, lifting his fingers with a threatening glow around the edges.

Kurogane stuck his face right above Yuui's. "You're my favorite person and you're completely awesome, but the passive-aggressive thing is bitchy. Kinda cute, though." He leaned over just a bit more to kiss him, then straightened up and smacked him on the thigh with the flat of his hand. "Get dressed already."

He sat down at Yuui's desk and fiddled with Yuui's soccer trophy while Yuui complied. Once finished, Yuui came over and laid a careful, not-very-painful bite into Kurogane's neck.

"You're mean," he complained.


"I love you," Yuui sighed grumpily, and led the way to Ashura's office.

Ashura was sitting at his desk, seeming to be completely unperturbed by the ransacked state of his bookshelves. In fact, he smiled proudly as Yuui came in to sit at the desk with him. Kurogane hung back in the doorway, unsure if his presence was actually required at this meeting or if Ashura was about to send him home so they could talk privately.

"You did well at choosing your study materials," Ashura said kindly. "You got everything I had planned to give you, although I think you might have accidentally taken one I needed to keep. Don't worry about it now. You can check later."

Yuui's cheeks immediately flushed.

"I'm going with him," he blurted out, looking at Kurogane for a stretched-out moment before returning his attention to Ashura. "I'm going to Nihon. He asked me, and I — it's just that I—"

"Yes. I know," Ashura said quietly. He reached down and picked up a huge bag and thunked it onto his desk. "I got these for you."

Yuui peered inside, and Kurogane felt worried when his cheeks went pale. It looked like it was just more study materials, books and journals and scrolls . . .

"Where did you—?"

"I went to Celes," Ashura said, folding his hands together on top of the gleaming wood. "I only meant to be gone for a single day, but there was a lot of other things that had to be factored in. Slight differences in the time between the two dimensions, how long it might take my magic to recover for the return jump, how hard it might be to track some of these down. Well. I knew I'd better tell you I'd be gone at least a few days, just in case. I wanted to return sooner, but I got a little bogged down with . . . arguments."

"Arguments with who?" Yuui asked, looking amused. "Did you steal these?"

"They were mine to begin with, so no I did not. No, it was only a family matter. My nephew is a tolerable king but he's not strong. He is fair and just and well-liked, which is something I suppose. The borders are weaker than they could be. He pestered me the entire time I was there with questions regarding foreign policy and making a show of strength to avoid conflict with a southern neighbor. He frets more than he acts."

Yuui was still pale, and now he looked a little sick. "They asked you to stay. To come back and advise him?"

Ashura's lips were a thin line. "They knew better."

"You could— I mean, you really could do that," Yuui whispered.

"Remove Syaoran from Heian and risk the dissolution of reality? I hardly think so."

"Sonomi would take care of him," Kurogane spoke up from the doorway, although he was stuck with angrily staring at the ground rather than meeting Ashura's eyes. Were they really trying to convince Ashura to do this? It felt cold in his gut, the thought that Ashura might consider his job done here and leave.

"I don't know if the two of you think I'd genuinely be happier to be ruling Celes, but I assure you that I have no intention of returning there," Ashura said. He eyed them both sternly, as if reprimanding them for even suggesting it. "This is my life, and my home, and Syaoran is my son. Did you forget that I am the only father he's ever known outside his dreams? He's been mine since before he was two. You can't possibly think that I would leave him."

Yuui burst into tears. "I'm sorry," he gasped. "Ashura, I'm sorry, I want to stay with you, I love you, but I have to go, I just have to."

"Oh, child, I know," Ashura murmured. He got up and pulled Yuui into his arms, and Kurogane let himself out of the office and closed the door behind him.

He found himself smiling, feeling some of the weight on his shoulders disappearing. The warm spring sunshine felt good. He was relieved that Yuui was finally having that breakdown. He was glad Ashura had returned, and obviously he wouldn't really abandon them. He'd known somehow that Yuui would decide to go to Nihon. He'd known before they did. He'd gone to a place he hadn't really wanted to go just to get study materials for Yuui. He wanted Yuui to be a powerful mage, wanted to see him go as far as he could.

He was a really good dad, Kurogane thought warmly, hands in his pockets and a stupid little smile on his face. He hadn't tried to be Kurogane's, but maybe the reason that Kurogane had so often let him fill that role was simply because he didn't. Kurogane had eaten Ashura's cooking and gotten his help with homework and let Ashura be the adult when he and Yuui had gotten into trouble with the law. Ashura had never forced his advice or help, but it was there anytime Kurogane had needed it.

He wasn't the same kind of father that Kurogane's had been, but he was good. And Kurogane wondered if maybe there was some way to meld the two things together. Someday he'd have kids and maybe there was a way to be brave and strong and also wise and caring. If Yuui was going to help raise them, he'd have to be their mother—not that he'd mind that, Kurogane snickered. Those poor children.

"I'm home!" he bellowed as he came in the door of his own house. Well. Not really his house, not anymore. But still, wherever Sonomi and Tomoyo were, it would always be home in some small way.

"Welcome back!" Tomoyo trilled from the living room.

He poked his head in and then immediately retreated, trying to stifle his barking laughter and failing. Syaoran was sitting stonily on the ground with his face drawn into a careful expression of nothing at all. And Tomoyo was sitting on the couch behind him, putting little braids in his hair.

"Sakura-chan's at band practice, and then she's coming over for dinner," Tomoyo said with excitement.

"Nice," Kurogane said briefly, got his face under control, and then rescued Syaoran. "Ashura's back, kiddo. You'd better go home, I think they'll need you there tonight."

Syaoran bolted up from the floor and ran out the door with his fingers already frantically trying to undo the braids. "Bye, thank you!" he hollered.

Kurogane crossed his arms and leaned on the doorjamb as he gave the overly-innocent Tomoyo a wry look. "You are pure evil. I've known it since you put frogs in my bed to welcome me to Heian."

She just grinned.

"Tell Sonomi I'm finishing packing and I'll be down for dinner," he said, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, I'm supposed to tell you!" Tomoyo blurted out. "Tomoyo-hime says she stopped dreaming about you marrying Akane-chan almost three years ago!"

Kurogane stopped, but didn't turn around. After a moment, he started back up the stairs again. Yeah, he probably should have guessed that.

"I'm going to be happy with you," Yuui said insistently against his lips. Kurogane could feel Yuui's heart pounding. Was he afraid to leave, or just excited?

Then Ashura tugged on Yuui's arm. "Come here, let me hold you one last time," he murmured.

Yuui fell on his father with a weird little whimpering noise, and Kurogane nodded a little to himself. Afraid. He was afraid. He was pressing his face into Ashura's shoulder to hide, but Kurogane knew he wasn't crying anymore. Rather, he was trying to compose himself. This was Yuui after all. He'd enter Nihon with a smile on his face even if though he was frightened and ill-prepared, even if it killed him.

And they were such idiots. All of them. Wow.

Kurogane exploded into laughter. He couldn't help it. "Yuui, stop crying, seriously."

Everyone was looking at him with shock or possibly disgust. Like he'd just murdered someone. That made the whole thing seem even funnier, because really. Here he was, the rash and impulsive and emotional one, being the only one somehow who'd managed to come to the adult and rational realization? He dragged Yuui back into his own arms and chuckled at his red eyes.

"Look, you don't have to come now, you know." It honestly did hurt a bit to say it but he did it anyway and laughed his way through it. "What was the point of all this? It was to let us be young, to give us the freedom to make our own choices, to let us be safe and spare us pain. That's what Yuuko and Ashura did for us, and it worked. So why are we acting like we've only got one chance at this? This is really, really dumb. Yuui . . . just stay with Ashura and Syaoran a while longer. If you're not ready to go, then you're not. So what?"

Yuui wasn't saying anything aloud, but mentally he'd started laughing, too. He was sharing it through their skin, letting Kurogane feel the ebb of his fear and the tidal surge of gratitude and relief. He rubbed his tear-streaked cheek playfully on the sleeve of Kurogane's shirt.

Fuck. Fuck he loved this boy so much. Enough for sacrifice and blood, enough for commitment beyond words, enough to find laughter and tears when he wasn't sure he remembered how. Loved him enough to span dimensions and realities and lifetimes and immeasurable losses. He was pretty sure now that he could survive a separation of a few years.

"We're only seventeen," he reminded Yuui with a snort. "We're rushing into this like a pair of idiots. If you're not ready to leave your family, then don't, stupid."

Yuui was smiling and it was not one of those forced, pained things. Just a small one, soft and real. "So I can . . . I can just come when I'm ready, whenever I'm ready, and you— you'll—"

"I'll wait," Kurogane answered strongly. "I'll wait for you. I'm sure I'll be going back and forth between my home in Suwa and Shirasagi Castle all the time, at least for a year or two. We'll find some way to— I can give messages to the princess, and Tomoyo-chan can give them to you."

Tomoyo had been quietly observing the dramatics up until now. She grinned at Kurogane and skipped forward to wrap her arms around his thighs. Sadly, that was the highest she could comfortably reach on him. "Of course we will. If you buy us presents."

He tugged on her braid and scowled. "Brat."

"Age-appropriate messages only," she added cheekily.

Kurogane found himself laughing again, and he swung her up into his arms so he could give her a proper hug, so tight she squealed in protest. "I'm gonna miss you," he whispered just for her. Then, louder: "Raise hell around here and be sure to torture Syaoran for me, okay?"

Syaoran's wounded expression spoke of ultimate betrayal, but he still obeyed the unspoken request to come forward and get a hug of his own. Yuui stepped back out of the way while the others said their farewells. Kurogane found himself allowing all kinds of things he'd never admit to later—Sonomi kissed his cheek and reminded him he had a home anytime he was in need of one, and Tomoyo somehow managed to get a flower to stay in his spiky hair that she said was "for luck." And Syaoran shyly mumbled that he'd been a good oniisan and he'd miss him, which made him clear his throat and put the boy down because he swore he'd never cry the day he left Heian and he wasn't going back on his word.

Kurogane almost shook Ashura's hand when it was his turn and Ashura almost allowed it, until Yuui snorted in disgust. Then Ashura pulled him into an embrace and quietly said, "Thank you."

What for? Kurogane wondered if he meant for convincing Yuui to stay behind, or for . . . well, for rescuing him from a couple of bullies one long-ago summer afternoon. But then, it didn't matter.

"Two years at most," Kurogane mock-growled. "You'd better send him to me by then, or I'll come take him."

Ashura laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "No promises," he said. But then he held onto his shoulder instead of letting go. "Hold still." His other hand spread out against Kurogane's chest and conjured a glow of light that sank into him. "Forgive the sentimentality. An old Celesian custom. A spell of protection for travelers."

Kurogane touched the spot on his chest and wondered if he was imagining the warmth of it.

Finally, it was Yuui's turn.

When he stepped forward again, Sonomi clapped her handa and ushered the kids to her house. Ashura still had to do the sending, but he retreated out of earshot and pretended not to see them. Yuui laid quietly in Kurogane's arms and ran two fingers over his chest where Ashura had worked the spell.

"I want to live in Nihon with you," he murmured. "I really do."

"And you will." Kurogane didn't have any doubt at all. They'd overcome two realities and a hundred dimensions of obstacles already. This was nothing. "You'll come when you're ready, when you want to. I said I'll wait."

"Yeah, you did," Yuui smiled. He had that mischievous look that struck fear deep into Kurogane's heart. "I'm going to do something incredibly cheesy now, so shut up." He grabbed the hem of his shirt and tore it wide.

"What are you doing?"

"Shhhh. Magic."

Yuui unraveled the string from the hem carefully, one long piece. Then he pinched it between two fingers and with a low-pitched little whistle the string turned from cotton white to vibrant red. Kurogane suddenly understood. Every child knew the story of the red string of fate. So he lifted his hand before Yuui even asked, and let him tie the end around his pinky finger. Yuui left one end long and broke it off to tie the other half around his own pinky. He grabbed the trailing bit on Kurogane's and looped it around a few more times before tucking the end under.

"Don't make fun of me," he muttered.

"I didn't," Kurogane said, and carefully tucked the end of the string more thoroughly under the loops to keep it safe.

He held Yuui by the shoulders while he kissed him goodbye. The kiss was slow and full and their minds were silent and the sunlight was caught in Yuui's hair.

"See you soon," he whispered as he broke the kiss.

He stepped back and went to Ashura. Neither of them spoke. Ashura just nodded and lifted up the staff he'd brought with him, waiting for Kurogane to buckle Ginryuu into place. Kurogane closed his eyes as the mage drew those familiar illegible runes around his head. He couldn't remember what it felt like, beyond terrible and frightening. He'd been in a lot of pain and in shock and lost in grief the first time. He hoped it wasn't as bad as he remembered. He braced his legs and held his breath.

He started to feel a curious sinking sensation, the kind he got in that moment just shy of falling asleep. After a few seconds, it went away and he frowned. Maybe it didn't work, maybe Ashura had done it wrong. He risked a deep breath and found that the faint scent of cherry blossoms coming from a few blocks down had become so thick and cloying that the smell filled his mouth as much as his nose.

He opened his eyes, and drew another choking breath in shock. He was surrounded by a pink and white snowfall. Blossoms from a massive sakura tree rained down on his head and shoulders, and high stone walls topped with tiled roofs rose all around him.

He was in the courtyard of Shirasagi Castle. He'd arrived, and he'd barely felt a thing.

"Damn Ashura, you are good."

He nervously checked to be sure Ginryuu was belted safely to his hip and touched the string on his finger to be sure it had come with him. He breathed out carefully. A fierce grin took over his face.

He'd made it back. Once Yuui got here, he'd finally be able to say he'd come home.

A/N: I pulled a bait-and-switch last minute, because I am a dick. But don't worry! Soon (not like tomorrow, but perhaps by the end of February) I will be posting another story as a companion to this one. I didn't want to tack on an epilogue so much as I wanted to start something new. It will be from Yuui's perspective. That is all I'm going to say about it right now. :3

This story has taken a longer time to write than anything else I have done. Perhaps because of that, I think I can say this is also my best story. Thanks for being here and reading this, everyone. I appreciate every last one of you.