It all changed that day, the day that Eri was attacked. They both knew it.

Miyuki hadn't even realized how much he still cared about her, even if only as a friend. Not until that moment. When Darkwing hovered over her and Ren's first reaction was to punch Kanzaki, Miyuki had the sense of mind remaining to run to her side and pull her away from the Monster.

Ren couldn't lay a hand on Kanzaki. He disappeared for a moment, only to reappear right behind him. He'd realize later that he'd transported through the mirrors, but reason ahead of emotion had never been his strong point. He'd counted on Eri and Miyuki for that. Every impulsive decision he made, every time he leapt before he looked, they managed to help him reason his way out of it.

Kanzaki looked at the two men and gave them a choice. Either they continued acting foolishly, or they took his decks and became Kamen Riders.

Either they let Eri die or they destroyed themselves.

Miyuki hesitated, but Ren took the deck immediately, promptly turning on Darkwing and forming a contract. It looked like the same impulsive thing he'd always done, but he'd thought about it deeply in the blink of an eye. He knew the risks he was taking. He knew the consequences of his actions.

It was why when he turned to his best friend, he called him "Tezuka," like a stranger.

When Miyuki took the deck, he only did so because Ren had.

It had been in high school when Miyuki was dating Eri. Ren was the new kid—disinterested, solitary, and troubled. Eri had spotted it right away and invited him to sit with them. Miyuki had known right away that if Ren didn't have any friends to keep him grounded, he'd only get himself in trouble. He wasn't even trying at school, like he was planning to drop out. He had so much trouble at home that it was clear he'd run away the first chance he got.

They kept him safe, helped him grow. And when Miyuki saw the glances Ren and Eri gave each other when they thought no one was looking, he broke up with her. He never explained why, and Ren very nearly started a fight with him over the issue, but it never occurred to them once what the reason was—exactly the way Miyuki had hoped. It took until Eri started college for them to start dating, and Miyuki made it plain that he approved completely.

But it was only at that point that he realized why he'd really done it at all.

You always want what you can't have.

Miyuki didn't realize he wanted Ren until he could no longer have him.

That was the very thing that created a Rider.

The thing about being a Rider is that you're suddenly capable of things you weren't before.

Forming a contract with the Monster that put the woman he loved in a coma. Betraying every promise he'd made not to fight and joining a war against twelve other people.

Having sex with his best friend.

It had started with a fight. That seemed to be how it always started. Ren had overdone it, Miyuki—Tezuka, he couldn't let himself think like that anymore—had saved him, dragged him back home to bandage his wounds, and Ren had fought with him. Told him to stop doing that, stop trying to save him, didn't he know they had to be enemies?

He threw Tezuka against the wall, ready to hit him. Instead, the next thing he knew, they were kissing. Moments later, they were on the floor, tearing off each other's clothes, going way too far to turn back and not caring one way or the other.

It was impulsive. And maybe it wasn't right, but it helped.

He still wouldn't let himself call Tezuka by his given name.

It became a sort of ritual after every battle. Sometimes, they didn't even wait to get home. One memorable day, they were kissing behind an apartment complex, having just fought with Zolda and Ryuki.

It was memorable because Kitaoka and Sakakibara caught them within five minutes.

"Oh?" Kitaoka asked, giving them a smug look as they pulled away from each other. Sakakibara looked surprised, but not judgmental. He watched Tezuka in confusion while Ren glared at Kitaoka.

"What do you want?" Ren challenged.

"More than you can imagine," Kitaoka remarked, "but aside from that—aren't you two a little confused about how things are run in this war? Save your passions. You're supposed to be fighting each other. Unless you're just as foolish as our friend over here."

"I'm nothing like him!" Ren argued, shifting his glare from Kitaoka to Sakakibara. "Go. Nothing you say is going to stop me."

"I can see that," Sakakibara answered.

Nobody was leaving, so Ren made the first move. He stalked past the other two Riders, expecting Tezuka to follow him.

Instead, it was Kitaoka's words behind him: "You have to choose. Lovers or Riders—you can't be both."

It was the last time Sakakibara approached Ren, but it wasn't the last time he saw Miyuki. Ryuki was older than him by about ten years and seemed to understand the world a little better. It was because of this that he wanted to stop the fighting.

It was because of that that Miyuki decided to trust him with his story.

"Our wish is to save Eri," he explained. "Ren's checked with all the doctors. They've done all they can for her. She won't wake without that power."

"Are you sure it's really Eri you're trying to save?" Sakakibara asked. "It sounds to me like you've done this all for Ren's sake."

"Maybe I have," Miyuki admitted. "But he's someone worth saving. He just doesn't see it himself."

"Then stop him," Sakakibara insisted. "You're the only one who can."

"It would kill him," Miyuki argued.

"He can survive this," Sakakibara said, holding up a card of a wing surrounded by flame. "Kanzaki gave this to me to try to test my will to survive. I have no doubt that your friend has one too."

Miyuki faltered. "He never told me, if he does."

"Then he hasn't found that will yet," Sakakibara reasoned. "He's walking a path of destruction, and if nobody stops him, he'll find his death waiting for him."

"He won't listen," Miyuki promised.


But Miyuki would never find the strength to destroy his friend and lover. Because every time he thought about stopping him, every time he wanted to say something, he saw the pain behind Ren's eyes and knew he had to try another way.

It wasn't the last time Kitaoka met Ren, and every time after, Ren hated him a little more.

It happened at the hospital. Ren had stupidly left the door open when he was in Eri's room. He didn't say a word—only held her hand.

And that was when Kitaoka walked in, breathing, "I see."

Ren jumped to his feet, but the other Rider beckoned him to sit back down again. Sitting was all he could do—his face was burning with shame, and his throat felt tight.

"How long has she been like this?" Kitaoka asked. When Ren couldn't answer him, couldn't look at him, he nodded in understanding. "Long enough, then. Tezuka knows too, doesn't he?" All Ren could manage was a nod. Sighing, Kitaoka said, "It's not my place to care about your relationships. But you're crossing lines you shouldn't be. You both are Riders—you already know you can't be friends, let alone more. But for you to be with each other, when she's here like this? It's obvious what your wish is."

He waited for a moment, as if expecting Ren to shout at him to leave. When Ren remained silent, he finally said, "You can't have it both ways. Who will you choose? Either way, you have to decide if you're truly committed to being a Rider."

Ren didn't say anything the entire time, and he didn't move until after Kitaoka left.

He removed the ring from Eri's finger and held it tight as he walked out the door.

It could never last.

Another battle came, and Ren was perfect this time, as cold and heartless as any Rider should have been. He was still as Miyuki came to him after, closing his eyes tight as Miyuki kissed him and put his arms around his neck.

It was then that Miyuki felt the chain press between his arm and Ren's neck, and he pulled back in surprise. Ren never wore jewelry. Without a word, Ren reached under his shirt and pulled out the necklace—a ring on a chain. A promise that would bind him until the end of the war.

He didn't need to say anything. The chain said it all.

"I understand," Miyuki answered.

"I can't," Ren insisted. "It's one or the other. I can't be a Rider and be with you, but I can't choose you and leave her to die."

"I would never make you choose," Miyuki insisted.

Ren tucked the ring and chain under his shirt again and turned away. "I managed to track down Kanzaki's sister. She knows some of what's going on, and her aunt's got a spare room. I figured I could stay there and see what else I can find out." Then, looking back at Miyuki, he promised. "I won't get her involved any more than that."

"I know you won't," Miyuki replied.

"This is the last time we'll see each other like this," Ren warned him. "The moment I walk out that door, we're enemies."

It was painful to accept, and Miyuki could tell how hard it had been for Ren to make this decision. There was no more impulsive, selfish behavior anymore. For themselves, for each other, and for Eri, they had to think long and hard about their choices.

"I understand," he admitted at last. "Take care of yourself."

Ren hesitated for a moment before nodded. "I'll survive."

There was something almost like a wind trying to blow inside the apartment, but it wasn't enough. Just like Ren's words seemed hollow—a promise he was keeping for the sake of the promise.

It was a change they knew that would have to come, but one they'd never accepted that day. This was what it meant to be a Rider, and this was the life they'd chosen. There was no turning back.

Kamen Rider Ryuki is the property of Toei and Ishimori Productions. I apologize for the whole "doomed relationship" thing I've got going here; I always got a sense that Tezuka had a bittersweet crush on Ren, especially in the special, and there was no way it was going to turn out well. This is actually my least depressing variation—I shot down every other version I was thinking of before they ever went to paper.

Kitaoka struck me as the perfect person to criticize Ren on this point, since Ren seems to have a special kind of hatred for him in the special, and I always wondered what exactly Kitaoka had done to piss him off. But I took pains to show that he's not critical of Ren and Tezuka being together because they're both men, but because they're both Riders, which is a whole 'nother story. Otherwise, I don't get the sense that Kitaoka would really give much of a damn. Also, Sakakibara is giving Tezuka the kind of talk that the series' version of Tezuka would probably give, if only because that role is sorely lacking here.