"Nii-san! Would you please pay attention for more than two seconds?" Yukio's scolding broke Rin out of his reverie and he scowled over at his little brother. He was still irritated at that bastard Suguro, who had been on his case again about his carefree lifestyle. It's not like Rin could help it that he fell asleep in class. School and studying had never been his strong points, unless he was actually out doing something practical. Rin learned more from a single battle as an Esquire than he did in a week of reading from boring text books and listening to his teachers drone on and on about some type of demon or other.

Still, the older brother supposed that Yukio, at least, deserved his attention for as long as he could manage it. Sighing, he allowed his face to soften as he met his brother's eyes. "Sorry, Yukio. It's just that…" Cutting himself off, Rin shook his head; he didn't need to burden his younger brother with little problems like his own insecurities. His genius of a brother was already a Middle First Class exorcist and a professor at the Exorcist Cram School. He had enough to worry about without listening to Rin whine about having to sit in a classroom all day.

Once certain that he had his brother's attention, one slender eyebrow arching up at Rin's abruptly cut-off sentence, Yukio continued with his lecture. "You do realize that you have to work harder than everybody else, right?" he asked, frowning lightly. "Just because you're the son of Satan doesn't give you the right to slack off. Rather, it should make you work twice as hard at becoming a Meister. After all, you're the one who wants to defeat Satan, and you can't do that if you don't become Paladin."

Rin winced; he should have never let his brother know about his desire to become the next Paladin, to follow in their father's footsteps. No doubt Shiro was laughing at him from beyond the grave, and he couldn't blame him. Cooking skills aside, all Rin was good at was fighting, and that didn't exactly make for an exemplary track record. And that bastard Suguro just loved to point out each and every one of his faults. Like he didn't know how pathetic he was without the other boy's help.

He heard Yuko sigh again, and grimaced in apology at his twin. He couldn't help it; he had learned years ago to tune out his father's lectures, and the same applied to his teachers and even his brother, when he got that tone. "Sorry, Yukio," he muttered.

The other boy just shook his head, smiling lightly. "It's okay, Nii-san. I suppose there's really no point in lecturing you anyhow. You're going to do what you want to, regardless of what anybody has to say about it. You're strong, so I suppose it's inevitable. You'll be Paladin one day. If anybody can defeat Satan, it'll be you, Nii-san."

Rin grinned up at his brother, his eyes alight with gratitude and pride; his little brother was always the more mature of the two of them. If he believed in Rin, then the older twin wouldn't disappoint him. Not only would he become the Paladin and defeat Satan, but he'd make his younger brother proud to be his twin.

Yukio slipped into his uniform, and Rin watched him curiously. Another mission? As if reading his mind, Yukio smiled back at him. "I have a meeting with Kirigakure-san this morning. In the meantime, you might want to go make up with Suguro-san. And maybe ask him to tutor you." With that parting shot, Yukio slipped out the door, leaving a dumbfounded Rin behind him.

With a huff, Rin grumbled something uncomplimentary under his breath about meddlesome little brothers. Then, a small grin tugging at his lips, Rin gave in. Standing, he decided he might as well hunt Suguro down. Yukio was right about one thing; even though the other boy pissed him off, it wasn't done maliciously. It just bothered Bon that Rin was so powerful, but was such a poor student. Rin really couldn't help it, but he knew that the other boys oftentimes thought that he got special privileges just because he was the son of Satan, and Yukio's older brother. What they didn't realize was that those two facts just made his life harder.

Because he was the son of Satan, everybody expected him to be a good little weapon and do as he was told. He was watched constantly, by his professors and by Headquarters, his every move documented. Should he ever seriously lose control, he had no doubt that they would order his immediate execution. They had already tried it once, and only Mephisto's taunting and a sudden attack from Amaimon had saved his life. Rin wouldn't past it past the high and mighty council members to rescind on their acceptance and order him dead.

Shaking such useless thoughts from his head, Rin shivered as he stepped out into the cold, rethinking his bright idea to go outside in the middle of December without a coat on. Glancing up at the dark clouds, Rin wondered briefly if it was going to snow, but shrugged it off. It hardly mattered either way. Any door would take them to the cram school with the right key, so it's not like they actually had to leave the dorm to get to class. Hmm…maybe he should ask Yukio why, exactly, they had to walk to class at all. His little brother would probably spout something wise and practical about not abusing the power the keys gave them or some such nonsense.

Snorting quietly to himself, Rin trudged outside, heading for the other dorm where the other boys from his class lived. Suguro, Konekomaru, and Renzo all lived with the male students from the day school. Only Rin and Yukio lived separately, due to the need for Rin to be watched at all times, and to protect the remainder of the student body. It's not like he'd hurt them on purpose, but he seemed to attract the bullying types. Getting into fights would get him kicked out of the Academy, and would probably cause a lot of trouble for Yukio, too.

If there was one good thing about being in the same school as his genius of a brother, it was that Rin was learning to reign in his temper. He hadn't threatened Bon with his flames earlier, and he kept most of his matches with the others toned down to verbal sparring. Yukio would scold him for it anyhow, of course, but at least he looked more amused than sad most days. When they were both much younger, Yukio would always watch him with a scared, sorrowful expression that hurt Rin to see. He'd do anything he could think of to make his brother smile at him.

What're you thinking about, Rin? a purring voice sounded behind him right before Kuro jumped onto his shoulder, the cat sith rubbing happily up against his cheek, a low rumble sounding in his chest. Rin smiled, reaching up to scratch the black cat behind his ear, eliciting an even deeper, happier purr.

He answered Kuro as he continued to walk, soaking in the cat sith's heat. "Just remembering some things about when I was little," he replied. "And deciding how best to talk to Bon without getting into another fight," he admitted sheepishly.

Kuro twisted to stare him in the eye, amused and stern all at once. That's easy, Rin. You just have to apologize. Rin nearly choked on air as he stared at the perfectly serious cat sith. Was he for real? Just apologize? But it hadn't been his fault!

"Sometimes, Rin, we have to do things we don't like. Like apologizing to somebody even if we don't think we did anything wrong. They believe different, and at times like those, you must be the better human and bow your head." Shiro's words echoed in his head, spoken long ago, after he had gotten into a fight with half a dozen older bullies in middle school, before he had dropped out. They had started it, but he had finished it, and Shiro had made him apologize to them and their parents after he had hospitalized every last one of them. The only good thing that had come out of that fiasco was that the bigger boys left him and his brother alone after that, choosing weaker, easier targets to torment.

Giving in with a huffing laugh, Rin chucked Kuro lightly under his chin. "You really were the old man's familiar, weren't you?" he asked affectionately. Kuro's eyes lit up at the off-handed mention of his beloved Shiro and butted his head gently against Rin's cheek. "All right already," the boy grumbled good-naturedly. "I'll apologize to Bon, but if he tries to lecture me again, I'm going to deck him."

His mind made up, Rin paused long enough for Kuro to drop to the ground, the cat sith intent on finding Shiemi, who would play with him for a while until dinnertime, when he'd return to eat whatever Rin had decided to cook that night. Continuing into the newer on-campus dormitory, Rin ignored the odd looks and muttered whispers that surrounded him. These people didn't know anything about him, about any of the Exorcists in training. They had no right to judge them based on what they saw in their normal classrooms every day.

Catching sight of a taller boy staring at him through narrowed eyes, as if debating whether or not to start something, Rin grinned to himself. Bring it on, he thought silently, walking up to the older boy. "Where can I find Bon?" he demanded of the other boy, getting straight to the point. When the idiot just blinked down at him, he scowled. "What? Are you stupid or something? Let me ask again. Where's Suguro?"

Recovering, the older boy, who must have outweighed Rin by at least sixty pounds, glared at him. "Who the hell do you think you are, pipsqueak?" he demanded roughly. "You can't just waltz in here like you own the place. There are rules, you know." Rin just rolled his eyes; of course there were rules, probably created on the fly by a bunch of idiots like the one in front of him. Realizing he was being laughed at, the older boy snarled. "You don't belong here, runt. Aren't you one of those freaks who lives in the abandoned dorm? You and your brother, right? Creepy bastards, the both of you."

Rin grit his teeth, his eyes narrowing dangerously as his hands clenched into fists at his side. What he wouldn't give to be able to pull Kurikara right now and show this asshole his blue flames first-hand. He might just burn him to a crisp while he was at it.

A loud snicker sounded behind him, and Rin realized that he was surrounded from the back, with the bigger boy in front of him. "Haha. What do you think, Paul?" a rat-faced boy asked. "Two brothers, living by themselves in a place that was abandoned because it's so old it ought to be condemned. Perhaps they just don't like people. Or maybe there's more going on in that place. A little brotherly love, perhaps?"

The slick way in which the thin boy spoke made Rin's hackles rise, and he growled low in his throat, tensing his body, ready to fight or run as soon as he had an opening, or the other boys forced his hand. The laughter clued him in that what they were talking about was probably a bigger insult than he realized. What did his relationship with his brother have to do with anything?

"Oh? Look at that, would you?" another boy jeered, beady black eyes staring at Rin calculating. "He's so stupid he doesn't even realize when he's being insulted. Or maybe," he added, dragging the sentence out, "it's actually true, and he can't deny it. Is that it, shorty? You and your brother engaging in some guy-on-guy action in that creepy place?" Suddenly, the pieces fell together and Rin howled in rage, his flames held in check only by the fact that he was surrounded by humans, and that he had no need for Satan's blue flames to defeat a bunch of punks like this.

Launching himself at the nearest boy – the tall one he had first approached – Rin was determined to take every last one of them out. They could say anything they wanted to about him, but to insinuate that his brother, who he loved more than anyone, was involved with him romantically, was just too much. It made his brother seem cheap, sullied by his association with the demon half-breed that he called brother.

Suddenly, two bodies were pressed against him, one pulling him backwards from behind, and the other pushing him back from the front, shoving him away from the idiot who had almost lost his life. Well, a few teeth, at the very least. "Okumura-kun!" he heard, and he glanced down to stare at Konekomaru, uncomprehending of what was going on around him. Judging from the desperation in the smaller boy's voice, he had been trying to talk Rin down for a while now.

Two solid thuds, and Rin looked up, staring in dumbfounded silence at Suguro, who had just flattened half a dozen bullies in the minute it had taken for Rin to calm down and realize that it was over. "Bon?" he asked weakly, a part of him angry that his prey had been taken from him. The greater part, though, was just relieved that he had been stopped before he killed someone. He was too strong for most humans to handle, and was nearly impossible to stop when he grew too enraged to be aware of his surroundings.

The blond turned to glare ferociously at the boys on the floor behind Rin. "Well?" he demanded in that rough voice of his, and the boys flinched, then hurriedly clambered to their feet and scampered off. Rin allowed his body to relax as they moved further away, and Konekomaru and Shima released him, watching him warily. But it wasn't fear he saw in their eyes. Instead, they appeared to be concerned for him, and Rin felt something flicker warmly in his belly at the realization that when they claimed to be his friends, they meant it.

Raising his eyes to stare at Suguro, who was obviously still pissed, Rin swallowed. Scratching the back of his head nervously, he stammered, "A-ah, Bon. Thanks for that. I'm not really sure what happened, but you saved me, I think." There, that hadn't been so hard, right? Now if he could just make himself apologize, he could get out of here and back to his dorm to wait for Yukio. Maybe his brother would let him go on a mission soon.

Snorting, Bon reached out and cuffed Rin lightly upside the head. "What the hell were you doing in here?" he demanded, but there was no real heat in his voice as he turned around and walked away. Rin followed him, realizing that they were heading back outside. "You know these guys here don't understand. They're only human." Something about the way he said that caught Rin's attention, and he raised an eyebrow at the other boy.

"And you're not?" When Suguro just turned to glare at him, he shrugged. "What? You're just as human as they are. Just because you got a spirit wound doesn't make you any less human than the rest of them. You're just a better human, that's all. And one day, it'll be you saving them from the demons, right?" It made perfect sense to him. Rin might be human by birth, but even he knew that Shiro had been raising him properly, as a human child. He would do his best to make Shiro proud, to become the next Paladin and to live his whole life as a human, like his father had wanted.

Rin shuddered as they moved back into the cold, only now noticing that the other three boys had put on warm winter jackets. Still, he didn't protest as they kept moving, heading towards his and Yukio's dorm. Rin wasn't entirely sure why they were going there, but he wasn't about to complain. He had the feeling that his and Suguro's conversation wasn't done yet, anyhow.

Sure enough, out of earshot of the boys' dorm, Suguro turned to glare at him. "Now, tell me why the hell you waltzed into our dorm, Okumura." Rin winced; whenever the other boy used that tone of voice, he was well and truly pissed. Rin had better come up with a good explanation, and fast!

Sighing, Rin decided to just get it over with. "I came to apologize," he mumbled, his eyes downcast. When Suguro let out a disbelieving snort, his eyes snapped up to glare at the other boy. "I did! I know I'm a poor student, okay? I can't help it. I've never been able to learn from reading boring, moldy old books. If I'm gonna learn anything, then I have to be out there! I've only ever been good at cooking, and at getting into fights. I used to drive my old man and Yukio mad with my constant knack for fighting. I dropped out of school, too, because I was failing at everything. School's boring." Rin cut off his tirade; it was his own problem that he couldn't cope with the routine boredom to be found in a classroom setting.

"Anyhow, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to say some of the things I said. I can't promise not to fall asleep in class again, but I'll try, okay?" he finished, suddenly unsure of himself. He had never apologized like this before; he had never felt the need, unless Shiro was forcing the issue. Even then, he hadn't meant a word he had said. This time, though, he found that he was being sincere, that he actually felt bad about his verbal retaliation to Suguro's nagging.

The older boy blushed lightly, scratching his nose as Shima and Konekomaru grinned at him from behind Rin. "I'm sorry, too," he muttered finally. Rin just blinked, his mouth dropping open. Bon was apologizing to him? Him? The Son of Satan? The bane of his existence? Was this for real?

Reading his rather transparent expression, Suguro scowled. "You had better mean that, Okumura," he growled. "Because if you keep slacking off, you're never going to become a Meister, and you'll never defeat Satan. Which is just as well, because he's mine," he mocked. Rin felt a grin curl his lips upward at the backhanded encouragement.

"Yeah, well, Satan's mine, remember? After all, I gotta pay him back for these flames, don't I?" Rin teased back, and Suguro smiled at him. And just like that, they were okay again, as if their fight had never happened. Shima smacked Rin on the back several times, laughing about something or other, and Konekomaru just watched his friends contentedly, his eyes bright with amusement.

Their moment of camaraderie was interrupted by a loud crashing noise, as if the sky had opened up and rained thunder down upon the Academy. Startled, the boys jumped, looking around wildly for the source of noise. Blue flames flickered high in the sky, Satan's calling card, and they swore as they bolted towards it. After closing the portal to Gehenna, there should have been no way that Satan himself could reappear.

A trickle of ice slid down Rin's spine as a horrifying thought occurred to him. "Yukio!" he cried out desperately, putting on an extra burst of speed and racing towards the source of the flames, leaving his companions behind him, ignoring their shouts for him to wait for the rest of them. He passed several teachers, all of them heading towards the flames as well. Forgetting about everything in his fear for his brother's life and sanity, Rin quickly lost sight of the bodies around him, his focus solely on finding his twin.

Just as suddenly as they had appeared, the flames were gone, and Rin rounded the corner of the fountain, only to stop and stare dumbfounded at the tableau before him. There, in front of his dorm, Yukio sat in a crumpled heap, his head cradled in his hands and his knees curled in front of him. Shura knelt next to him, obviously worried. For once, her easygoing, teasing personality was gone, shoved aside in the wake of fear and concern for the young genius who had inherited at least some of Satan's power.

Shaking himself out of his stupor, Rin ran over to them, skidding to a halt on his knees in front of his brother, wrapping his arms around Yukio as if that would keep him from harm. Turning to Shura, he snarled, "They're coming. Keep them out of this!" For the first time ever, Shura just nodded and went to do as she'd been told. She'd have to come up with something quickly, because Rin hadn't exactly made his mad dash across campus secret, so the professors and his friends had to know that it hadn't been him who had shot those flames across the sky. And if it wasn't Satan attacking, then most of them would draw their own conclusions; and they'd be correct.

So now it was up to Rin to figure out what had happened. Pulling on his brother's arms, Rin managed to drag the dazed Yukio to his feet. Throwing the taller boy's arm across his shoulders and wrapping his own arms around his brother's waist, Rin led them, stumbling, up the stairs and into the dorm, trying not to trip and send them both the ground. They didn't have much time to get out of sight, and Rin tried his best to hurry. But he wasn't quite fast enough.

"Need a hand?" Suguro offered roughly as he grabbed Yukio's other arm. The two of them hurried the younger boy into the dorm, their friends covering their backs. Shiemi and Kimiki had joined their ranks, not knowing what was happening, but willing to help nonetheless. Rin found himself more grateful than ever that he had friends that would help him and Yukio without asking questions.

The finally managed to drag Yukio, who was by now nearly unconscious, all the way to their shared room, and Suguro helped Rin to lay the other boy on the bed. Straightening up, he looked around, giving Rin a few precious moments of time to assure himself that Yukio appeared to be okay. His ears weren't pointed, and his irises, while a bit dilated, were at least shaped normally, no sign of possession by Satan anywhere.

Slowly calming down, Rin sat on the bed next to his brother, reaching out instinctively to hold the other boy's hand. "What happened?" Shiemi asked softly, approaching the two brothers, Nii watching from her shoulder. The Green Man hopped down to take a look at Yukio, patting him on the cheek before giving a cheerful chirrup and allowing his Summoner to pick him back up.

Rin shook his head. "I don't know. I just heard a loud thundering noise and saw the blue flames, same as everybody else, I suppose," he replied, unable to keep the worry out of his voice. "When I got here, Yukio was half-conscious. Shura was next to him. Maybe she knows what happened," he offered. It would no doubt be a while before the Upper 1st Class Exorcist could fill them in.

"Nii-san?" Yukio's soft, confused query dragged Rin's attention back to his twin. Ignoring the murmuring behind him, he bent over Yukio, his hands touching his brother's face lightly, reassuring both of them that Yukio was all right. Slowly, Yukio's eyes became more focused, and he struggled to sit up. Rin growled, but helped his brother, wrapping arms around his back and tugging until Yukio was upright.

"Rin?" Shiemi's soft voice was behind him, and Rin looked up to offer the shy girl a smile. She returned the gesture, and said, "We're going to go find Kirigakure-san, okay?" Rin recognized the explanation for what it was, an offer to leave him and Yukio alone for a while, so that he could make sure the other boy was really all right. And maybe get some answers. After all, even if the other Esquires knew that they both had the blue flames, in some way, they accepted the Okumura twins' reluctance to talk about it in front of them.

Nodding, he smiled at the rest of the group. "Thanks, guys," he muttered. Most of them either nodded in acknowledgment or shrugged it off, but they left nonetheless, and Rin turned back to Yukio. "You okay, Yukio?" he asked gruffly, having not had to ask the other boy that in years. "I thought you couldn't use the blue flames unless you were holding onto Kurikara."

Yukio closed his eyes for a moment before reopening them, dark and still slightly confused. He shook his head. "I don't…think it was me. Or at least, not entirely. I don't know." He looked upset at his possible loss of control, and Rin pulled him into a firm hug, holding onto his brother tightly, his heart pounding frantically in his chest. He didn't know what had happened, but it was scaring him right now. Yukio was the only family he had left. If he lost him, then he'd have lost everything. And that was a terrifying thought.

"Satan?" he asked, his voice little more than a whisper, his concern and fear for his brother outweighing his desire to demand answers and then go find someone to blame. Yukio frowned as he pulled back from his brother's embrace, his eyes glazing over for a moment before clearing, then he shook his head.

"No. I would've known if it was him," he replied finally. "It was more like a sense of something dangerous approaching. All I knew was that I had to protect myself, that I had to fight. I…don't remember anything after that." The confusion has slowly morphed into an expression of irritation, as if Yukio was annoyed with himself for not remembering what had happened to him.

It was odd, Rin mused to himself, watching his brother try and recall what had just happened to him, how used he had gotten to his brother being the more self-assured, mature one of the brothers, even though he was, technically, the younger twin. Becoming an exorcist seemed to have given Yukio confidence in himself that hadn't been there when he'd been a child. Back when he was just a scaredy-cat, terrified of the world around him.

Of course, now Rin knew that his fear had been because he could see demons, something that Rin couldn't do until just before Shiro's death, even though he had been the one to inherit Satan's flames. Even if he had known what Yukio could see, he wouldn't have been able to do anything about it, but it still bothered him that he had never known until they couldn't hide it any longer.

Something was off, but Rin couldn't figure it out. The timing was just too convenient, right when they had stepped outside, heading back towards Rin and Yukio's dormitory. But Rin couldn't place the nagging feeling, and he scowled, sure that the key to what had happened was in there somewhere. Because, by all rights, Yukio should not have reacted to anything with blue flames. They didn't belong to him, weren't part of his inheritance. Yukio was human. Or, at least, more human than Rin, he supposed, his eyes tracing the slight points of his brother's ears. Then again, he had been possessed by Satan, however briefly, and had wielded the flames of Kurikara with Rin to destroy the Gehenna Gate that Satan was sending his power and minions through, so perhaps it wasn't as far-fetched as he had first believed.

Rin sighed, giving it for lost for the moment. He wasn't very good when it came to thinking logically. He was much better when there was an enemy in front of him to fight. Trying to solve mysteries was more his brother's style, anyhow. He'd just be glad that Yukio was okay for now, and would be sure to talk to Shura later. Whatever had happened, she had been there, judging by the worried expression on her face, which meant that she probably had a better idea of what had caused the incident than either Rin or Yukio did.

Pushing his brother back down, despite his protests, Rin stood. Pointing his finger at his prone brother, he snapped, "Stay put! I'm going down to fix some soup. If I come back up here and you're out of that bed, I'm going to knock you out and put you to bed. Got it?" He made sure that Yukio understood that it wasn't an idle threat, then turned to Kuro, who had been curled up silently on the end of the bed at Yukio's feet. "Watch him for me, Kuro, please," he asked.

Of course, Kuro agreed easily, moving to curl at Yukio's side, his large eyes watching the second of Shiro's children intently. Yukio pulled a face at being babysat by the cat sith, but relaxed into the bed, allowing Rin to pull the warm covers up over him. Kuro moved long enough for Rin to tuck his brother in, then curled back up on top of the covers, purring as Yukio idly scratched him behind the ears, his eyes already drooping. Rin had better get that soup into him soon, or he'd have to wake him up to eat. For being a morning person, Yukio certainly didn't deal well with being woken up any earlier than necessary. Rin shuddered, remembering the first, and only, time he had tried to wake Yukio up early. It wasn't an experience he wanted to repeat. Ever.

Greeting Ukobach as he wandered into the kitchen, Rin set about companionably making a hearty soup for his younger brother. Once he had explained to Ukobach what was happening, the familiar was perfectly content to help chop up vegetables and slice the meat. In no time at all, Rin was heading back upstairs with hot soup and some simple sandwiches. He wasn't sure how much Yukio would be up to eating, but he had seemed healthy enough once he had gotten over his dazed state, so perhaps he could manage a full meal before Rin forced him to go to bed for the rest of the day. He'd be allowed up tomorrow to teach class, but Rin would definitely be keeping an eye on the young professor to make sure he didn't show any signs of being ill.

Slipping quietly into the room, Rin wasn't surprised to see Yukio staring blankly at the ceiling, his eyes startlingly bright without the sheen of glasses to cover them up. Not many people knew it, but Yukio had excellent long-distance vision. It was only when things were too close that he had trouble seeing them, hence the need for the glasses.

Oceanic eyes turned to meet Rin's much darker ones, and Yukio smiled, his nose twitching appreciatively. "For me?" he asked hopefully, pushing himself back into a sitting position. Kuro meowed once and sat up, his focus on the food, too. Rin laughed; he had made sure to bring up an extra bowl for his familiar. Setting Kuro's food on the floor, where the cat sith eagerly lapped it up, Rin sat next to his brother and handed him a bowl of soup and one of the sandwiches.

Yukio ate eagerly, which pleased Rin. When he had first decided that he'd learn to cook delicious food, it had been for his father and his brother. The people in the church where they had grown up had only known how to cook basic meals that tasted bland, or that weren't edible at all. So Rin had finally decided to do something about it on his own. It had taken a lot of practice, and he had made Shiro sick a few times, but he had succeeded in his goal eventually. It had come in handy quite often, that ability to cook with whatever was at hand.

A distant rumble caught Rin's sharp ears, and he turned to the hallway with a frown. Reaching for Kurikara, Rin stood and braced himself, his hand on the hilt of his demon sword, ready to take on whatever was coming their way. He didn't have an immediate sense of danger, so he decided to wait to see who it was before he decided whether or not to attack them.

Moments later, Shura burst through the door in a whirlwind of color. Rin could hear the others further down the hall, still yelling for her to wait. Rin snorted; they hadn't stood a chance of catching up to the older woman. Glaring hotly at the unwelcome intruder, Rin placed the empty bowls and plates on the desk, then smoothed the fur on a startled, bristling Kuro. He was just glad the cat hadn't decided to shift to his normal size, because the room wasn't really big enough for him in full cry.

"Shura-san," Yukio greeted, his voice as calm and smooth as ever, as if things like this happened every day. Then again, Rin supposed, it pretty much did. Nobody could ever say that Exorcists were a quiet bunch, that was for sure.

Shura took one look at the bedridden Yukio and started cackling, slapping her hand on her thigh in her amusement. "Look at yer, scaredy four-eyes," she drawled, her eyes bright with amusement at Yukio's expense. "Stuck in bed like an invalid. Are yer really that weak?" she demanded, her lips curved upwards in a grin.

Rin snarled, his flames flickering around his body warning, even without having drawn his sword. Placing himself between his brother and the intruder, he growled, "If he had his way, he'd be up and working right now. I'm keeping him there, and if you've got something to say, you can say it to me." He was in no mood to be dealing with Shura right now, even knowing that she could beat the crap out of him if he annoyed her too badly. He was still worried about his brother, and Shura was unwelcome.

Violet eyes narrowed irritably, and before Rin realized what had happened, his back slammed against the nearest wall. "Oww! What the hell was that for?" he demanded, glaring right back at the pushy broad. Shura ignored him and went to check on Yukio, looking at his eyes and ears, much as Rin had done earlier.

"This is all yer fault, idiot," she snapped at him finally, once she was assured that Yukio was safe. Twin cries of confusion greeted her statement, and she stuck a finger in her ear, yawning as she glanced at Rin from the corner of her eye. "I said, it's all yer fault. If you hadn't lost yer temper there, Yukio wouldn't have felt the effects."

Rin blinked, confused, but it was Yukio who spoke first. "What are you talking about, Shura-san?" he asked. His voice was as polite as ever, but it was threatening nonetheless, and Rin swallowed, eyeing his brother warily. He wasn't sure how, exactly, it was his fault, but if it was, then Yukio was not going to be happy with him. At all.

"It's somethin' that Headquarters has been keepin' an eye on," Shura explained idly, as if bored with the whole thing. No doubt she could care less what those bastards were up to. "Ever since you two sent Satan packin', the bond between ya has grown stronger. Since both of yer can wield the blue flames when touchin' Kurikara, it means that both of yer are more demon than human now. When this one," she flicked her glance in Rin's direction, "loses his temper, the other one feels it. Since scaredy four-eyes doesn't know how ta control the flames, he got taken over."

Rin frowned, realizing that somehow Shura believed his temporary loss of control in the dorms earlier had sparked that violent burst of blue flames. But if that was the case, then why had the timing been so off? He had lost his temper and calmed down before going outside, where the explosion had happened. He said as much to Shura, who just laughed at him. Rin was aware that Yukio was glaring at him, and he winced.

"That's just 'cause yer younger brother has got better control than ya, Rin!" she exclaimed merrily. "So while Suguro-kun and the rest were tryin' ta keep you from killin' anyone, Yukio here was tryin' ta keep control o' himself! And, even better," she grinned wickedly, "he hollered at me to 'watch out' before he lost it. I wonder wha' he was thinking it was?"

Rin's eyes widened; the sense of danger Yukio had spoken about had been because Rin was about to attack those boys? It hadn't been fear for himself that had sparked the flames, though his brother may have interpreted it that way. It had been worry for his brother, who was quite apparently enraged by something. Yukio had always interpreted Rin's anger as being connected to something dangerous, as if the only time he lost his temper was when he was in trouble.

"Nii-san?" Yukio said slowly, blue eyes narrowing dangerously as his twin pushed his glasses further up his nose, having put them on when Shura had burst in. Rin flinched, biting his lip and watching Yukio warily, like a chastised puppy awaiting its master's punishment. "You did this to me?"

"Hahaha!" Shura cackled, slapping Yukio hard on the back several times. "Nah, he didn't do nothin'. Yer the one who can't control yerself, scaredy four-eyes." Narrowed eyes turned to glare in her direction, through Yukio's calm expression didn't change in the slightest. Shura, apparently realizing that a retreat was in order, headed for the door. "Well, I just came to bring you two the good news. Have a good rest!" Gathering the other Esquires, who were hovering right outside, Shura closed the door behind her and left the two brothers alone.

With a quiet sigh, Yukio turned to face his older brother. Rin flinched, sure he was in for a scolding now. "Was anybody hurt?" Yukio asked. Rin shook his head wordlessly; he had been stopped before he had gotten a chance to hurt anybody. "Was anything destroyed?" Rin took slightly longer to answer this one before shaking his head; he didn't remember any part of the building being destroyed when he had left it. "Then I suppose it's just me that has to get stronger, huh, Nii-san?" Yukio finished.

It took a moment for realization to set in; Yukio wasn't yelling at him. Rin stared at his brother with wide eyes. No lecture? Not even a solid punch for doing something so reckless? Just a, "I have to get stronger?" He realized that Yukio had lay back down, his eyes sliding closed, and shook himself out of his stupor.

Moving forward, he apologized sincerely, the words coming easily. "I'm sorry, Yukio," he murmured. "I make a horrible big brother, don't I?" Blue eyes opened, regarding him seriously for a moment before closing again with a sigh. Shifting, Yukio scooted over, and Rin smiled; just like that, he was forgiven.

Climbing into the bed next to his brother, Rin felt Yukio curl against him, just like they had when they were children and Yukio would have a nightmare and climb into bed with his twin. Rin had always been sure to be closest to the door back then, too, telling his brother that if any monsters came to get him, they'd have to get through Rin first. It had been a comfort for the younger boy then, and apparently it still was, because Rin felt Yukio relaxing against him, until his breathing evened out into sleep.

Kuro curled up on top of them, spread out over across both boys, and Rin smiled to himself. Yukio would no doubt still be pissed in the morning, but for now, everything was okay, right? It might not be perfect; he was still a bad student, after all, and had a rather violent temper. But it was okay just like it was for now. The future was still there, racing ahead of them, and one day, he'd be everything that he'd promised. But right now, all he wanted was to make sure that his brother was okay. After all, Yukio was all he had left, right?

A loud purring rumble reminded him that Yukio wasn't the last person left anymore. There was Kuro, and the other Esquires, even Shura and Professor Tsubaki now. The both of them had friends now, people who would protect them, who worried about them, that accepted them for who – and what – they were.

Smiling contentedly, Rin curled his tail around his brother's waist and drifted off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that no matter what, they'd always have each other. Outside, the first snow of the season began to fall, the white flakes tinted slightly with flickering blue flames.