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The Undreaming: Blades

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Pacing his apartment like a caged animal was a waste of energy, but Hiyuu couldn't make himself stop. He and Satoshi had already talked it out and agreed that the tanuki ought to take only Yuuki and Zero to this meeting. Yuuki because he was, in a sense, their leader. And Zero because he could keep Yuuki in line, keep things from getting too far out of hand from their end. Hiyuu would have rather gone himself for that, but Satoshi had wanted to wait so that he and Hiro could take the pledge together. He didn't fault his logic, but as anxious as he was feeling just then....

“Hiyuu, seriously, if you don't stop pacing, you're going to wear a hole in your own carpet. It's been half an hour, if things were going to blow up, I think they would have by now.”

“You don't know that. Maybe they haven't even started talking about it yet. Yuu-chan can be so unpredictable, you know that.”

“Okay, but how does pacing make anything better?” Ichirou countered. “Come on, have a seat. When's the last time you ate?”

“I'm fine,” he mumbled, still pacing.

“Not actually an answer, Hi-kun,” his friend countered, reaching out to grab him when he paced too close, pulling him down into his lap with a soft chuckle. “Relax. Even if Yuu-chan steps in it again, that doesn't mean we can't just join Jui-senpai's Court on our own, right? Well, you can, not sure there'd be a reason or place for me.”

“Don't be ridiculous. If there's a place for Hiro-kun, there's a place for you, too,” Hiyuu scolded, jabbing his human friend in the chest. “And I know we don't need Yuu-chan's permission, but it'd be easier if we all stayed in this together, you know?”

“No idea,” Ichirou said, grinning before brushing a quick kiss to his cheek. “And you still haven't answered my question.”

“I had breakfast just before you came over. And I fed on Sunday.”

“So due for lunch. Do you have anything besides cup ramen or do I need to go get us some combini bento?”

“Like you have any room to talk about bare cupboards!” Hiyuu said, swatting at his shoulder. Ichirou laughed, giving Hiyuu a quick hug before setting him back on his feet.

“All right, combini bento it is. And no pacing while I'm gone or I'm calling Hiro-kun!”

“He's got work anyway,” Hiyuu countered with a smirk he didn't feel.

“No pacing, I meant it,” the drummer scolded again before stepping out of the apartment. Hiyuu smiled in spite of himself. And then started pacing again. He wasn't going to feel better until he heard from Satoshi and that was all there was to it.

~*~*~

Hiyuu glanced up, relief washing through him when he saw Hiro walking into his apartment. A beat and then his boyfriend was setting down the take out bag before quickly crossing the room to wrap him in a tight hug.

“I thought you said everything was fine,” Hiro chastised, squeezing him tighter for a moment.

“It is. Mostly. I just ... don't be angry....”

“Why would I be angry?”

“Oh, is that our cue?”

Hiyuu bit his lip, feeling Hiro tense at the unexpected intrusion of Satoshi's voice. Hiro's arms dropped from around him and Hiyuu turned around, surprised at the frigid disdain on their senpai's face.

“My lord, may I present Hiyuu-kun and –.”

Satoshi had clearly intended to say more, but Jui was already waving him off. Hiyuu didn't understand what he was seeing on the older youkai's face ... or why it sent fear rocketing through his chest. And the wild mix of emotions in the air was no help at all.

And then Hiro was stepping past him, dropping to one knee as he bowed before Jui.

“I am not the person I was nine months ago, Jui-sama, and this guy's had a lot to do with it. I will do whatever penance you require, only allow me to serve you.”

“It may not be that simple,” Jui murmured. “He was right, you are not ready. You are not free to take such a vow, not when you are still an apprentice. You cannot join the Court until your sins are made clean.”

“Tell me how I might make myself worthy of you, my lord.”

“Finish your training. Make amends to those you have wronged. But do it carefully, yes? If he smites you....”

To Hiyuu's complete surprise, Jui then turned back to him, smiling and clasping his shoulder.

“Your service is already gratefully and most humbly accepted, Hiyuu-san. I know you will continue to take care of these two.”

“But I haven't even...,” he mumbled.

“Sometimes our actions say more than any words,” Jui said, pushing up Hiyuu's long sleeve. There, on the inside of his wrist and faintly glowing with the magic that had pulled it to the surface, was a tiny lotus bud cradled in feathers and flames. Jui's Mark, and yet so different from the one he'd seen on Satoshi. Hiyuu just stared at it for a long moment, trying to make sense of it. Long enough that when he looked up again, it was just him and Hiro in his flat once more.

“That ... didn't go at all how I was expecting,” he mumbled, rubbing his palm on his jeans.

“Is that why you thought I'd be mad? Springing Jui-sama on me like that?”

“Well that, uh, wasn't exactly the reaction I was expecting him to have to you, after what Zero had told me earlier,” he confessed, glancing back down at his Mark. Already it was starting to fade.

“What were you expecting?” Hiro asked, tucking arms around him once more. With a sigh, Hiyuu gratefully leaned into his chest.

“More anger. The way things went with you and Sugizo-sama....”

“I had a feeling that's what put a bug up his butt at seeing me, though I really don't get why. I mean okay, yes, I can see now how I was a shitty boyfriend at points, but what that has to do with Jui-sama....”

“Because Jui-sama is an ally of the Crown Prince and you were kind of a shit to his step-brother?”

Hiro's sigh was especially heavy as he leaned in against Hiyuu, pressing foreheads together.

“I'm going to be paying for that for the rest of my life, aren't I?”

“Hiro-kun, you broke an angel's heart.”

“I don't know, he moved on from us pretty fast,” his lover grumbled, an old and all too familiar bitterness infecting his words. With a growl, Hiyuu stepped back and then tugged hard on a fistful of his lover's hair.

“You stop that right this second, Maeda Hiro,” he muttered, giving his hair another sharp tug.

“Hiyuu....”

“Don't 'Hiyuu' me. In case you've forgotten, Judeo-Christian angels are inherently asexual. I don't know how long Sugizo-senpai has been in a vessel, but it can't be more than a few hundred years.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, despite what you think, he'd still be on the ace spectrum. I guarantee, all the sex you two were having was a result of him trying to make you happy, because he loved you enough to want that for you.”

“You don't –,” Hiro started before cutting himself off, as if realizing how ridiculous it would be to try to say Hiyuu didn't know anything about it when they both knew Hiyuu had seen most if not all of Hiro's memories from that year at this point.

“I ... how do I fix this?

“How hard would you hit me if I said very carefully?

“Hiyuuuuu,” Hiro whined, stepping back and collapsing onto the couch, then scrubbing his face with one hand. “God, I made such a mess of everything.”

“You had help,” Hiyuu said, sitting down next to him and sliding an arm around Hiro's waist. “You were being poisoned and none of them were able to do what I did for you. What I'm still doing.”

A heavy sigh and Hiro leaned into Hiyuu's side. He could feel the guilt and self-blame rising up inside his lover, tempting him even though he wasn't really hungry, not like that anyway.

“Look, one step at a time, yeah?” he said, stroking fingers through Hiro's dark hair. “Worry about the European tour for right now. If you want, I can see where he is in terms of being willing to talk to you, forgive you for your mistakes, but seriously, don't worry about it right now. Have dinner, stay the night, let me hold you before you disappear from my life for two weeks.”

“This is my mess, I'll fix it,” Hiro grumbled. Rolling his eyes, Hiyuu tugged on his hair again before demanding another kiss.

“Let me help, you stubborn ass,” he countered. A wordless growl and then Hiro scooped Hiyuu up and carried him to his bed. For a brief moment, he wondered if he should really let Hiro distract him this way. But he was completely weak to those hands on his bare skin, happily, eagerly, submitting to his human lover. A low hum of pleasure and he pulled the man down to the bed with him, pressing a slow kiss to his lips. Right or wrong, he couldn't deny how Hiro made him feel, rolling his hips against his lover.

“Hiyuu....”

“Please,” he whispered against Hiro's lips, a familiar ache growing in his chest.

“Please what?” Hiro asked, trailing kisses down the side of his neck. Asshole. As if he didn't know. Hiyuu grumbled as he closed his hand around his lover's cock, squeezing and stroking the hardening length.

“You know what,” he muttered with another squeeze.

“But it's such a turn-on to hear you actually say the words,” Hiro countered, nibbling at his collar bone. Hiyuu shivered, feeling the truth and lust in his boyfriend.

“Fuck me,” he whispered breathlessly.

“Your wish is my command,” Hiro purred, trailing open-mouthed kisses down Hiyuu's chest to lavish wet attention on one nipple. He shivered again, threading fingers into Hiro's short hair. The air between them felt so much better than it had in their earlier conversation, the self-blame replaced with a hungry lust. And something more. He blinked quickly, but not enough to completely contain the tears or the little hiccup. Hiro glanced up, surprise and then worry flickering across his face.

“Hi-chan? Baby? What is it?”

“N-nothing,” he stammered, shaking his head. “Nothing, I'm fine, really. Better than fine.”

Another brief flickering of a frown and then understanding lit in dark eyes, Hiro moving back up the bed to kiss him deeply.

“I really do love you, Hiyuu. I know it's probably too fast, I know it –.”

But Hiyuu stopped him, pressing a finger to his lips.

“Love is what it is, you don't have to.... I know what you had with senpai, I know that feeling is still there inside of you, but I'm not afraid. I'm not, baby.”

“Let me deal with Sugizo-senpai,” Hiro said, huffing and pressing a kiss to Hiyuu's forehead. “That's my cross to bear, okay? Stop thinking about it. Or are you saying I need to fuck you that much harder so you don't have the brains left to think about it?”

“You better fuck me hard, you asshole, if that's all I'm going to have of you for two weeks!”

“You always say the sweetest things. No wonder I fell so fast,” Hiro teased, pressing another loving kiss to his lips. The bitterness was gone completely this time, only warm feelings in the air between them. As much as such emotions were useless to his diet, the truth was, Hiyuu would rather starve than have his loved ones suffering.

~*~*~

It wasn't like Hiro had actually told him not to help. And it wasn't like he intended to do anything, he just wanted to see Sugizo for himself, get a sense of where the angel was on the whole thing. To see if Hiro was even half right about the angel moving on with his life already or not.

Of course he couldn't just walk up to Sugizo and start asking those sorts of questions. It would be too backwards for him to invite his senpai to lunch and he really wasn't sure who he could talk to who might be able to put them in the same room without it being weird.

“Are you ... no, no you're not. Come on, Hi-kun, you can't go out looking like that!”

“What's wrong with how I look?” Hiyuu protested, frowning at Gaku. “And since when are we going out?”

“Uh, all month? Wow, Hi-kun, just ... wow. I can't believe you forgot our date tonight,” the guitarist said, pouting at him. “And after I had to use connections to get us tickets, too!”

“Tickets? Gakkun, what –.”

“Get dressed! Something sexy so everyone can be jealous that I'm out with you and not them.”

“Couldn't you just cast a glamour for that?” he asked the kitsune.

“Probably, but that's not the point. Besides, that could get awkward if a hot senpai decides he just has to get into your pants later, ne?”

“Gakkun! I'm not looking for a hook-up just because Hiro-kun's gone for a couple weeks, you perv,” Hiyuu grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You realize,” Kazi said from where he was suddenly perched on Hiyuu's couch (and when had the drummer even gotten there??), “in the time you've spent arguing with him, you could've just gotten changed and we could be on the way to the venue by now.”

“Venue? What venue? What kind of date is this?” Hiyuu asked, giving both of his friends confused looks. Had he really forgotten plans? That felt unlikely and yet....

“It's a we refuse to let you be miserable for two weeks straight date,” Gaku said, folding his arms across his chest. “Your Hiro-kun probably hasn't even landed in London yet and you're already being a mopey sad-sack, it's shameful. Come on, how often do you get offered backstage access to a Gazette live, hmm?”

Hiyuu huffed again, but Gaku was wearing one of his more stubborn looks. A heavy sigh and he conceded defeat, mumbling at his friends to give him a few minutes before stepping into his bedroom. He had no intention of tarting himself up, not the way he knew Gaku wanted, but he could at least change into something a bit nicer than what he had been wearing. Jeans without holes in the back pockets and a nice shirt, something appropriate for being seen. And okay, a little bit of makeup, in case he got caught on camera, but nothing serious. No matter what Gaku said, he wasn't looking to get laid.

Their actual seats weren't the best in the house by any means, though Hiyuu didn't mind being up in the balcony, away from cameras and some of the more intense bangya. Especially since he was almost certain a couple of fans had recognized him. No one made trouble or said anything to call attention to them, but he still felt better when, after the encore, the three of them snuck backstage. And for a brief moment, he felt safe.

And then they walked into the dressing room and Hiyuu felt the floor go out from under him.

“Gakkun! I was beginning to think you'd stood me up!” Aoi teased and Hiyuu was startled to realize he was picking up traces of youkai magic from his senpai, something he hadn't in previous meetings.

“Oh please, you knew the second we stepped into the building,” Gaku said with a light laugh. “Ah, senpai, I'm not sure if you've met my friends before. This is Kazi-kun, he's in Fest with me of course. And this is Hiyuu-kun, previously of Lycaon. Guys, I'm sure you recognize Sugizo-senpai.”

“It's an honor to meet you, sir,” Hiyuu said, bowing respectfully. And trying not to gape in horror when Kazi practically bounced over and glomped the angel.

“Hah, I knew it! Best hugs!” Kazi announced with a completely unrepentant grin. Sugizo laughed and even ruffled Kazi's hair.

“Side effect of being a father,” the angel said with a warm smile.

“Yeah? And yet your hugs are way better than Aoi-senpai's.”

“Hey!”

“Give him a couple more years of practice, he's still practically brand new to the father thing.”

“Okay, I can't argue with that,” Aoi said, grinning and then pressing a quick kiss to Sugizo's cheek. “I have to shower, do you have plans or are we going out with everyone else?”

“Both, definitely both,” Sugizo replied and was that his imagination or was Sugizo actually flirting with Aoi right there in front of them?

“In that case, whatever you do, don't lose these guys,” Aoi said, brushing another quick kiss to Sugizo's cheek. “I'll be back in ten~”

Hiyuu tried to smother his unease with the little public displays of affection. So maybe Hiro wasn't completely wrong about his ex, though he wasn't in any position to be complaining about how fast Sugizo was moving on with his life, especially after last night. He tried to cover by fiddling with his phone, but he could feel eyes on him as well.

Please tell me Yuu-kun is off showering finally,” a familiar voice pleaded.

“Yeah,” Sugizo said. “He said ten minutes, but if there's a rush....”

“Oh no you don't, I remember what happened the last time,” Kai said, though there was laughter in the drummer's dark eyes. “Kazi-kun, Gaku-kun, and ... Hiyuu-san, right? Are you coming out for drinks with us, too?”

“Yup!” “Absolutely!” Gaku and Kazi said before Hiyuu could think of a way to back out.

“All righty then, I'm trusting the three of you to keep Sugizo-senpai out of trouble for me while I make sure everything's settled here.”

“Sir yes sir!” Kazi said with a cheeky salute. Kai rolled his eyes and then stepped back out of the room. Hiyuu still felt like he should be making an escape, but then the other band members started filtering back in and with everyone just assuming he was staying ... it would be too rude to walk out now, right? Yet when going out for drinks turned into a private dining room in a moderately nice restaurant, Hiyuu found himself revisiting his opinion.

“Hiyuu-kun, relax or I'm going to start making out with you right here in front of everyone.”

“Gakkun!” he hissed, quickly glancing around to see if anyone else had heard the guitarist's outrageous proposal. To his growing horror, Reita was watching them.

“He'll do it,” his senpai said, smirking knowingly. “He's done it before. Who was that when you came to our show in ... Kobe, wasn't it?”

“Hey, it works,” Gaku said, laughing. “And it was Osaka and Koichi-kun.”

“Right, right. I think his cheeks matched his hair at one point.”

“Koichi as in Niiyama Koichi of Mejibray?” Hiyuu asked, trying to picture the wild bassist ever being shy.

“The same,” Ruki said from across the table. “He and I were having a nice, normal chat about design processes and then that one walks in and he completely clams up, couldn't say another word until Gakkun planted one on him. It was pretty fucking adorable, really.”

“It's Rei-kun's special ability, I swear,” Uruha added from further down the table. “He can turn just about any bassist shy, it's weird.”

“I don't even do anything!” Reita protested, laughing again.

“Might as well get used to it, it's only going to get worse,” Sugizo chimed in from the other end of the table. “Wait 'til you're my age and the whole room freezes just because you walked in.”

“Your own fault for being such an amazingly talented guitar god amongst us lesser mortals,” Aoi teased, planting another kiss on the angel's cheek. It was done so casually ... did the whole band know about whatever they were? And yet hadn't they said before that Aoi was a new father? Wouldn't that make the guitarist married to a woman then? And still that aura of youkai magic that he couldn't quite pin down, almost like a glamour, except Aoi looked exactly the same as ever, so how was this his first time ever picking up that trace?

“... problem, Hiyuu-kun?” Reita asked, quirking an eyebrow at him.

“What? N-no,” he stammered. The bassist frowned, using his beer glass to casually gesture at Aoi and Sugizo without actually asking a question aloud.

“What? No, I'm not.... It's not my business, right?”

“Oi, Assbutt,” Reita said as he turned towards the two guitarists.

“... I swear, I'm going to kill him for getting y'all in on that,” Aoi mock-grumbled.

“What's the party line on you?” Reita asked.

“Huh? Oh, for Kazi-kun and Hiyuu-kun?” Aoi asked, head tilting to one side to study them a moment before turning to Sugizo.

“Don't look at me,” the angel replied with a playful grin. “It's your private life.”

“You get a say in this, too, dumbass,” Aoi mock-grumped.

“Sure,” the angel replied, taking a sip of his beer. “But after the last time someone fumbled that question in an interview? No one with sense asks anymore.”

Aoi laughed, play-shoving the angel before turning back to them.

“Unofficially, I'm married with two boyfriends and yes, Sugi-senpai is one of them. And these guys all know cuz I had to take some time to deal with the birth of my kids back in January of last year. Of course in front of bangya, we're all single with zero kids between us.”

“Which is a dirty, dirty lie,” Reita said, grinning. “Three married guys, a divorcee, and Ruki. Unless you did like that fucker and got married behind our backs?”

“I already told you why we did things that way!” Aoi said, throwing a wadded napkin at Reita's head.

“Fuck off, you know I'm not even dating anyone right now,” Ruki growled in faked ire. It wasn't so much that Hiyuu was surprised by the openness of the GazettE's members with each other as, well, seeing that extended to him when he was still basically a stranger. He didn't quite know how to take it.

“Hey, relax, yeah?” Reita said, the smile vanishing for a moment. “I don't know what your experiences have been, but take it from us, this scene? It attracts a lot of people who are rebelling against the mainstream for some reason or another. Me being a straight guy puts me in the minority. A lot of guys, on both sides of the mic, are in the closet, too afraid to live their truths except in very narrow ways. I'm not okay with that, I never have been, and I made it clear to these guys at the beginning that I wanted them to feel safe with me.”

“Before the beginning, really,” Ruki added with a little smile. “Look, this industry is a shit and it'll tear you down and break you if you let it. We've seen it. And we all agreed that we weren't going to be part of that. We give our kouhai the support we should have gotten and largely didn't because we are not, in fact, giant assholes who think they're ~too good~ for the visual scene anymore.”

“Hey now....”

“Ru....”

“Visual is in my blood, I will die before I leave it,” the vocalist growled, seemingly ignoring the protests of his bandmates. “And I will fuck up anyone who thinks they get to make anyone feel unsafe over something they can't control like sexuality.”

“I-I'm not,” Hiyuu stammered, taken aback by the fierceness of his senpai's convictions. “I'm not used to this, that's all. My bandmates know Hiro-kun and I are dating and support it, but I'm pretty sure his bandmates just think it's something we do for the cameras and well....”

Hiyuu's gaze slid sidelong towards Sugizo, but while the angel was listening, neither he nor Aoi showed any particular reaction. Maybe they didn't know? After all, Hiro was a pretty common name. And really, what was he expecting? Sugizo and Hiro had broken up nine months earlier, why should either guitarist, obviously happy with their own arrangements, care what Hiro did? Especially when all communication between Sugizo and Hiro had stopped six months ago. Hiyuu had some questions himself about that, but this definitely wasn't the place for them.

“Wait, you used present tense,” Ruki said with a shrewd frown.

“Um....”

“Lycaon broke up last winter, but you used present tense just now, like they're still your bandmates. Or is this something new?”

“We, um, aren't making any official announcements for a couple months,” Hiyuu said, trying not to squirm. “But yeah, we're putting the band back together, under a new name. We just ... it's complicated.”

“Finances?” Kai asked and Hiyuu really wished he could change the subject without being rude. “No, it's fine, you're right, it's none of our business. But I'm sure your fans will be thrilled to hear you're back.”

“Nothing's set yet, so keep it under your hat, yeah?”

“Of course, of course,” Kai said, grinning brightly.

To his relief, conversation move away from him after that and he was finally able to relax. He even forgot to pay attention to the time, swearing softly when he realized there was no way he could make the last train.

“Problem?” Reita asked.

“I should've been paying more attention, there's no way I can make my last train now,” he mumbled, sheepish.

“Ah, I'm sorry, I didn't even think.... Gakkun always hitches a ride home with either Yuu-kun or Kou-kun,” Kai said with a small frown. “But there should be at least four cars between us. Where do you live?”

Hiyuu blushed as he gave his address, almost positive none of his senpai lived in that area.

“That's practically on my way, I can give you a lift,” Sugizo said and for a second Hiyuu thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head.

“I don't want to be any trouble,” he mumbled, shaking his head.

“It's no trouble,” Aoi said. “Tonight was a special bonus because of the live, we were never planning on spending the night together.”

“It's maybe five minutes out of my way,” Sugizo added. “Really, it's no trouble at all.”

So much for being able to argue his way out of it. Smothering an urge to sigh, he instead bowed his head in acquiescence. He had been looking for a reason to talk privately with his senpai. And with Gaku leaving with Uruha and Kazi leaving with Kai, he was indeed going to be alone with the angel. For at least forty minutes. It was the prefect chance ... if he could think of the right words.

Of course, first he was going to have to get over the shock of being casually escorted to a charcoal grey Lamborghini Diablo.

“Y-you ... you actually drive this?”

“Now and then, yes,” his senpai said with a grin. “Only when I'm going some distance, it's no good for too much in-city driving.”

“I'd think someone like you would just use his wings,” Hiyuu mumbled, almost afraid to even touch the car that was probably worth more than he was.

“Depends on what I'm doing. I got the impression you wanted to talk, but if you'd rather invite me in....”

Hiyuu stood beside the car, dithering to himself. On the one hand, it wasn't every day he was offered a ride in such a high-end vehicle. On the other hand, this whole conversation might be easier in the comfort of his own home.

“Get in,” Sugizo encouraged with a gentle smile. “Unless there's no parking by your place, no reason I can't drive and then stay awhile if you need the time to get your thoughts together, yeah?”

“I ... haven't really paid attention? To the parking situation, I mean. I don't have a car, so....”

“Well then, let's find out,” the angel suggested, opening both doors with a touch. Hiyuu was still almost scared to even touch such an expensive car, watching as his senpai got behind the wheel and set his phone in a special cradle, turning on some sort of GPS app. A few taps and....

“Hadano?” Hiyuu blurted, immediately feeling guilty for being so nosy.

“Mm, I have to take this one back out to the garage, trade it for something else for the rest of the month.”

“H-how ... how many cars do you have?” he asked, dismayed at the squeak in his voice as he finally sat down in the passenger seat.

“Oh just a couple. The garage in Hadano is shared with a couple friends who also have several vehicles. This way we share cost on storage and only need parking here in the city for one at a time.”

Well that certainly made sense, even if Hiyuu was having a little trouble imagining what it must be like to have so much money.

“When you've lived as long as we have, well, the investments accumulate over time,” he said softly as he started to drive.

“I ... I suppose I hadn't really thought about that yet,” he admitted, absently rubbing his thumb over the inside of his wrist. “I guess I'm still just a kid in that sense.”

“Nothing wrong with that. We were all your age once,” Sugizo said, flashing him a quick but genuine smile. It was so unexpected that he didn't know how to respond.

They fell into an easy silence after that, kilometers passing with the low rumbling purr of the sports car's engine. Even from where he sat, he could feel the car's energy, the power that wanted to go fast, faster, fastest. The angel was right, this was not a car that could be happy in mundane stop and go traffic. It wanted to be on a highway, asphalt singing under its tires.

“So you and Hiro-kun, huh?”

The question was so unexpected, Hiyuu's first instinct was to panic. And then he realized there was no malic, no jealousy, no anger of any kind in the air. If anything, the feeling he was sensing most was ... relief?

“I tried my best by him, I did, but ... I wasn't reaching him or maybe he just wasn't ready to be helped,” Sugizo said without taking his eyes off the road.

“It ... it wasn't that simple,” Hiyuu said, wringing his hands. He wasn't ready for this, he didn't know what to say, how to have this conversation, not yet.

“Ah, I do seem to have a bad habit of putting people on the spot, forgive me.”

“It's...,” he started, shaking his head as he stopped himself because 'okay' was definitely not the right word. “Maybe it's not my place, but ... he's more fragile than he looks.”

“You aren't telling me anything I didn't already know with that,” the angel said, pulling them off the highway. Hiyuu was startled to recognize his own neighborhood. Had they really been driving that long? He rubbed at his wrist again, his nerves getting worse when he saw Sugizo was parking at his building.

“Despite what he's probably told you, a lack of love had nothing to do with why we broke up. Or why, for that matter, my current relationship status is what it is,” Sugizo said with a low sigh, turning off his car. Hiyuu hesitated another beat, then sighed himself.

“I don't have much, but I can at least offer tea,” he said, glancing shyly at his senpai before exiting the car. He wasn't sure why the angel was chuckling, but it was better than the hints of guilt he kept getting as he lead the way to his apartment.

He was just finishing pouring the tea when Sugizo's fingers brushed against his sleeve.

“As much as I do still care for him, Hiyuu-kun, I need you to understand I would never try to take him from you,” the angel said softly.

“I ... I appreciate that, but ... I'm confused,” he confessed, taking a seat at the opposite end of the couch from his guest, though he didn't feel any comfort in that.

“How familiar are you with angelology?”

“You're the only one I've ever met, so just bits of lore traded here and there that may or may not be more truthful that popular media.”

“I was created when Christianity was brought to Nihon, as an archangel, my station is to protect the faithful of this land, though those above sometimes question my methods. This is not my true form, what you see is a vessel, a human of the right genetic line to be able to contain my essence. It is primarily because of my vessels that I have such an understanding of sexuality – my inherent nature is asexual and agender.”

“... you and Hiro-kun were having an awful lot of sex for an asexual,” Hiyuu mumbled, trying not to think too hard about it for fear it would call up those memories.

“Five and a half centuries in human vessels has had a little to do with it,” his senpai said with a small smile. “But I'm still on the ace spectrum, even now. As a demisexual, I have to have a deeper connection with a person in order to really think of them in that way. Because Hiro-kun was uncomfortable with it, I boxed away parts of my heart. That was a mistake, and we both paid the price.”

“The casual flirting and the polyamory,” Hiyuu said, curling into his corner of the couch. “You ... you know it was more than just that he had been verbally and emotionally abused by his ex, yeah?”

“There's more?”

Hiyuu sat back sharply, blinking and licking his lips. No, that was genuine confusion. An angel, a prince of heaven, and who knew how many others and none of them had been able to see the psychic poisoning? How was that even possible? Frowning, he closed his eyes, drawing inward to try to sift through those memories he had gotten from Hiro. Sugizo, Gackt, Hyde ... he could find a couple others, but few Hiro had interacted with more than once or twice and that probably wouldn't have been enough. The nephilim ... she would have had the best chance, but....

“He ... he was being poisoned, for lack of a better word,” he mumbled, licking his lips again before opening his eyes. “Not, like, physically, but ... you know what I am, right?”

“I remember reading a reference once to something called 'yagimono', but Tousan dismissed it as a mistranslation of a mistranslation of a Hebrew text.”

“Um, yeah, there's definitely no goat in me. Well, except that one time, but I'm not sure eating goat actually counts,” Hiyuu said, giggling a little in spite of himself. “Psychic vampire might be better, except I have a restricted diet. I can only feed off negative emotions and memories. Anger, pain, self-loathing, deceit, that sort of thing.”

“... that might explain how it got twisted,” Sugizo said with a little nod.

“The first time Hiro-kun ran into Yuu-chan after the two of you broke up ... Yuu-chan sort of latched on tight and brought him to me. Not that he knew about what Kifumi had been doing to him either, he just thought I could help. I ... I'm sorry, I know he said some really hurtful things before....”

“Before I cut him off?” Sugizo suggested and Hiyuu flinched. “No, that's exactly what I did, though I'm not sure how that could be your fault.”

“He was so tangled in his anger and he'd do better for awhile, then get worse again, and by the time I figured out who was actually responsible, it was too late,” Hiyuu confessed with a low sigh.

“Hiyuu-kun....”

“It's taken months, but ... he's so different now....”

“Hiyuu-kun,” Sugizo said, surprising him by breaching the distance between them to rest a hand on his knee, “I gave you my word. I'm not here to take him from you.”

Hiyuu closed his eyes and took another deep breath. Maybe he should quit while he was still ahead? Maybe it would be better to let Hiro tell Sugizo himself what he felt. He had only intended to find out what Hiro needed to do to make amends, after all.

“So ... you'd be open to maybe talking to him again? Letting him make things right?” he asked without opening his eyes.

“As I said, it was not a lack of love that made me close that door. If forgiveness is what he wants, all he's ever had to do was genuinely ask.”

Hiyuu nodded, exhaling a deep breath. And then startling at the feel of arms hugging him. A beat and he relaxed into it. It had been so long since he had been hugged by someone with any psychic abilities, he had forgotten how much warmer hugs could be.

“He's in Europe for the next two weeks, but after that....”

“My schedule is pretty open for the next couple of months, other than band rehearsals, so just let me know. I'd ... like to have this addressed before October, if possible, but....”

“Um, okay?” he said, sitting back and trying not to be too obvious in his confusion. His senpai wasn't volunteering any more information, though, so maybe it was something private?

“I should give you my number, just in case. Not that it's changed, but if Hiro-kun deleted it....”

Hiyuu nodded, trading phones with his senpai. He didn't think Hiro had done that, but it didn't hurt to have the number anyway.

“If you need help with anything, either professionally or adjusting to Jui-kun, don't be afraid to call, okay?'

“W-wait, how ... how did you...?”

“Five and a half centuries in Nihon, I recognize Suzaku's marks,” the angel said, briefly touching Hiyuu's wrist. “Fire can have a wild, seemingly erratic temper, if you need help handling him....”

“Pretty sure Yo-ka-kun has that covered,” Hiyuu said, though he still gave Sugizo a grateful smile. The angel quirked an inquisitive eyebrow at him, then waved him off.

“Never mind, it's not my business. Good night, Hiyuu-kun, and thank you for the tea.”

In the blink of an eye, Sugizo was just gone. Hiyuu took another deep breath, then got up to clear away the tea service. Fingering the leather bracelet that had been a gift from Hiro, he sighed heavily at how empty his tiny flat felt just then. And wished he had teleportation powers like Satoshi. It was going to be a long two weeks.

~*~*~

Hiyuu more or less lost in the music he was supposed to be arranging as an escape from more mundane concerns, answering his phone without actually checking who it was from first.

“Moshi moshi.”

“Hiyuu-kun, it's Jui. Are you free for lunch right now?”

“Senpai? Um, well, I ... I suppose I could be?”

“Excellent. Oh, any dietary restrictions? Or would a couple of Big Macs be fine?”

“Well, it's not like I actually need to eat all that often, so, um, whatever sounds good to you? Um, I'm working from home today, so it could take me a bit to meet you downtown.”

“Don't worry about it. So, Big Mac, fries, and a drink?”

“Root beer, if they have it,” he said meekly. “Or Dr. Pepper is fine, too.”

“All right, I'll be over in just a little bit then.”

As soon as he was off the phone, Hiyuu threw himself into a flurry of cleaning. Sure, Jui had just seen the place a few days ago, but that was no excuse not to at least try to make it look nice. Still, he wasn't entirely prepared for the knock at the door that turned into Jui with a McDonald's bag. Jui's smile was genuinely warm as he came in, though, and Hiyuu could feel his nerves easing as his senpai started unpacking their lunch.

“How's it going?” Jui asked, nodding towards the half closed laptop.

“Oh, fine I guess,” he said with a shy blush. “Working on making sure everything's ready for everything that's coming up. Yuu-chan has a whole schedule in mind for announcements and recording and all of that. I let him and Toshi figure out the broad strokes, then make the numbers work.”

“Well, if you need help making the numbers work, all you have to do is ask, yeah? I can shuffle assets, free up some cash, doesn't even need to be in my name,” Jui said with a small, encouraging smile.

“Ah, I, uh, appreciate the offer, but I think we'll be fine,” Hiyuu stammered. Sure, an influx of additional cash up front would help, but he didn't really want to have to explain where the yen had come from with the way Yuuki had been acting.

They ate in silence for awhile. Or, well, Jui ate while Hiyuu nibbled at a couple fries, curled into his corner of the couch. He assumed Jui had come to see him for a reason and he was pretty sure the band wasn't it. But at the same time he was almost afraid to ask what the real reason was. And he didn't know the man well enough to be able to piece together any hints from the rather human feeling he was getting from him.

“So if it's not money,” Jui said after a bit, “what is bothering you?”

“Eh? Oh no, no, I'm fine,” he insisted with a little shake of his head.

“Hiyuu-kun, I can tell something's bothering you. Trust me, talking helps.”

Hiyuu ducked his head, trying to figure out what would be the right response. If he could get a better read on Jui, it might help, but somehow the kami was making himself read as completely human. Concerned but normal. For the first time, Hiyuu worried he couldn't trust his senses at all.

“Hiyuu-kun....”

“You say you're a kami, but you feel like a regular human. How?”

“Because this is a human body. Kiyono Junichi was born thirty-six years ago, my memories of previous incarnations kept separate until I was old enough to handle it.”

“But ... how? Surely a human vessel isn't enough to contain the power of a god....”

“No, of course not, but it's only a part of Suzaku that resides within me, the rest remains safely locked away in my celestial temple. I can pull more down when I need it, ascend into all of it if the need is great enough, but most of the time I read as human because that's what I am.”

Hiyuu wasn't completely sure that made sense, but ... maybe?

“... you feel much more human than Kisaki-sama....”

“A bigger piece of Seiryu resides in him, for one thing. It's a choice he made. I have chosen to hide myself more,” Jui said with a shrug, a hint of discomfort flickering across his mood and face. “You're deflecting, Hi-kun.”

“What? No, I –.”

Hiyuu stopped short at the feel of Jui's hand closing over his wrist. Warmth pulsed between them and when Jui's hand dropped back, the Mark was glowing on his skin again.

“You are Court, Hiyuu-kun, you don't have to hide from me. Satoshi-kun might have likened you to the party's Thief, but I dare say that's the wrong class, yes?”

Hiyuu groaned and laughed at the same time. Trust Satoshi....

“I can't ... okay, no, I can believe he put it like that, and for everyone else it even mostly fits. Hiro-kun and Ichirou-kun are the heavy fighters, the steel against steel so to speak. Yuu-chan's our delicate glass cannon mage, even if he doesn't always know what he's doing. Ri-chan and Toshi are both rogues, really, though Ri-chan's a little more likely to throw caution to the wind, dash in and out without being seen.”

“Actually, Satoshi-kun described himself more like a bard: flashy and distracting,” Jui said, grinning.

“Yeah, that's Toshi all right. And then there's me, but I'm not ... really like any of them. If someone offered us a quest, I'd be the one running in the opposite direction, more interested in staying home than adventure and glory.”

“So you're a Hobbit?” Jui asked and Hiyuu couldn't help another surprised laugh.

“I guess? Making music is all the adventure I could want, to be honest. I still don't know how I got this or what it even means,” Hiyuu said, holding up his wrist. The feathers and flames seemed sensible enough, but the lotus was not what he had been expecting, neither did he understand why it was there nor what it meant.

“Different Marks for different forms of service, different ranks in the Court. Believe it or not, you're the lynch pin, the quiet force that holds the group together. You're also a healer.”

“I barely even know any basic first aid,” Hiyuu said, shaking his head.

“And yet you have healed Hiro-kun and are still healing Yuuki-kun,” his senpai countered with a small smile. “Or are you going to insist that it's different?”

He frowned a little, but his senpai had a point. Okay, he was still working with Hiro and he wasn't sure how much he had accomplished with Yuuki, but....

“... but all I did was eat the crap,” he mumbled. “Not sure that counts as healing.”

“I think you underestimate yourself,” Jui said. “Hiro-kun was brought to you with psychic wounds and your efforts have been instrumental in healing him, yes?”

“Well ... probably,” he hedged.

“Trust me, he wouldn't be doing as well as he is without you. Regardless of what I've said to Yuuki-kun, I do know Hiro-kun is safe with you, Hiyuu-kun. It's how you got that Mark.”

Hiyuu frowned at his wrist, still not sure he really understood. If he had the Mark for healing members of the Court but the two people he was still healing weren't even members of the Court....

“You'll tie yourself in knots with that thinking,” Jui said, grinning again. “The kami are not time-locked the way humans and youkai like you are.”

“So, what, I earned the Mark by actions I haven't even done yet? I thought the future wasn't written yet.”

“It isn't. And it is. It all depends on your point of view,” Jui said with a wry grin. “If you don't want to tell me what's really bothering you, Hiyuu-kun, all you have to do is say that. I'd still like to help, but....”

“R-really, senpai, I'm fine,” he stammered, annoyed to feel himself blushing again.

“Liar,” the phoenix said with a wry grin, “but thank you for humoring me. Anything I can do to help?”

“Make it be July 26th already?” he replied a bit flippantly. Jui laughed and squeezed his hand in reassurance.

“Sorry, not in my powers. Not sure you'd actually want to be jumped ahead that far anyway. But believe me, I understand the problems with distance. If you need to talk, I'll be here.”

“I'm sure senpai has more pressing matters than me being stupid over my boyfriend,” Hiyuu mumbled at his feet.

“The purpose of my Court is for my Shield to not feel alone, but that assurance goes both ways. And you are surely not a burden just for feeling a little lonely, Hiyuu-kun.”

“Who else is in your Court?” he blurted out without thinking.

“Officially, my Court is Yo-ka, you, Satsohi-kun, Zero-kun, and Ichirou-kun. Yuuki-kun and Hiro-kun aren't ready yet.”

“Unofficially?”

“Junbug is technically Kisaki-kun's Court and Toya-kun hasn't decided. I have other youkai friends and allies, indeed an entire extended family of sorts, but Tousan's clan can be a bit ... overwhelming at first. Especially for someone like you, who isn't used to a big extended family, yeah?”

“... how many youkai are there in Tokyo?”

“As long as Lycaon was active, I'd've thought you'd realized for yourself that there's more than a few in our business alone,” Jui said with a playful smirk. “Or were you so focused on hiding your own nature that you hadn't noticed?”

“I ... Toshi's energy tends to fill whatever venue we've done, I guess I was avoiding looking into it any closer than that most of the time,” Hiyuu said with a soft sigh.

“Tanuki will do that,” Jui agreed. “It's all right, I'm not going to force you into anything. But I meant what I said, Hiyuu-kun, don't think you have to feel alone, cuz you're not.”

Hiyuu nodded, grateful for that assurance. Still, he didn't want to be a burden on Jui. He could figure this out for himself.

Chapter Text

“I really hate the time difference right now.”

“I know, but it could be a lot worse,” Hiro said, unable to stop a smile at hearing his boyfriend's voice again. “Come on, it's only been a couple days, you can't be missing me that badly.”

Hiyuu's wordless grumble said plenty. Hiro felt a little bad for teasing him, but he wasn't sure what he could do to make his boyfriend feel better. It was too bad they couldn't have been doing this tour together, but the timing was off. And there had been no way to justify bringing another person from Japan when they had already contracted to us local road crew. Maybe if Hiyuu had certification to work as a translator things could have been different, but....

“Maeda-san....”

“Yeah, yeah. Hey babe, I gotta go, I'll call you again tomorrow though, promise.”

Hiyuu's muttered response wasn't exactly encouraging, but Hiro shoved his worry into a box for the moment. He had to focus on band business for right now, clenching a hand into a fist as an apologetic staffer rattled off a list of problems with the venue and equipment. Most of what he was hearing was more nuisance than serious issue, but he could still feel his pulse in his forehead by the time everything was explained. Mostly because he really should not have needed to cut short his conversation with Hiyuu just to tell these people to do their jobs.

“Yikes. Deep breath, Hiro-kun,” Cazqui teased. “Come on, we've got that media availability to get to. I know we're a heavy metal band, but tone down the death glare just a bit for now, yeah?”

“I thought we liked it when I was scaring people,” he teased back, plastering on a playful grin for his friend.

“That's on stage,” the guitarist replied, smirking. “One of the reporters is a woman, by the way, don't flirt too much with her, okay?”

Hiro rolled his eyes at the familiar teasing. Whatever, he knew how not to cross the line.

~*~*~

Hiro scrubbed his face, then glowered at his reflection. The show had gone fine, why did he feel this angry? Okay, yes, there had been a couple technical glitches, but nothing catastrophic. Not like last night, when the whole venue had blown out, throwing everything into pitch darkness and complete silence. The fans had taken both shows in stride pretty well, all three of their lives so far had gone pretty well, technical issues aside, so what was wrong with him? Why was his temper running ragged?

“Hiro-kuuuuun, come on, you're never going to be prettier than me and I'm starving,” Daichi whined. “You're holding up the whole band.”

“I'll be out in a minute,” he called back, scowling at his reflection again. This was ridiculous. Daichi was just being his usual stupid self, so why this burning urge to strangle him? He closed his eyes and forced himself to take a deep, slow breath, counting backwards from ten before letting it out. He missed Hiyuu, his boyfriend would have been able to root this out, make things better.

“Hiro-kun?”

“I said I'll be right out!” he snarled, pulling on a clean shirt.

“Hey, whoa, relax, it's just me,” Masa soothed and he was surprised by how quickly the bassist had come up behind him. His skin tingled at Masa's touch on his bare arm, but he told himself it ignore it, that it was nothing.

“What's wrong, Hiro-kun?”

“Nothing, I'm fine,” he insisted, pulling away from Masa's touch. It was a complete lie, he could taste bile at the back of his throat. He felt like there was static building in his head, buzzing in his ears, which was ridiculous, but he didn't know what else to call it either.

“Hiro-kun....”

Grunting, he tried to wave off Masa's concern, only to stumble and just barely catch himself from slamming into the dressing table. Masa was shouting something, but the words were nonsense in his ears, garbled syllables without meaning. The room wobbled and he closed his eyes, but that only made it worse, his knees trembling then giving out entirely. More voices, pounding footsteps, then someone was draping a damp cloth over his head. In the cool darkness, everything else faded away. Somehow he was sitting in a chair and someone was pushing his head down towards his knees. He pulled his arms into his lap to rest his forehead against his folded hands, trying to just focus on his breathing for the moment. There was something trapped in his chest, but without Hiyuu there to tell him what it was.... Hiro kept his eyes closed and just counted his breaths until he realized the buzzing was gone. Worried he had made a complete idiot of himself – or worse – Hiro slowly pulled the towel from his head as he sat upright. Things were definitely not as they had been. He could smell incense and the only light was from a handful of candles plus the thin strip coming in under the door. Dropping the towel into his lap, he scrubbed his face with his hand, then sat back with a deep sigh. Not one of his better nights, clearly.

“Better?” an unfamiliar voice asked. He was alone in their dressing room with someone he felt he should recognize but couldn't quite put a name to.

“W-what,” he croaked, coughing and then trying again: “What happened?”

“Something tried to turn you into a Scooby snack,” the man said with a slight smirk. “I tried to send your bandmates on ahead, but Natsu-kun insisted on staying, so he's guarding the door. How's the head?”

“Woolly,” he said, frowning a little and rubbing his temples. Out of all of them, Natsu wasn't who he would have expected to stay back, especially since the last thing he remembered clearly was Masa trying to talk to him.

“Sacchan, how is he?”

That voice he knew, though he was beyond confused to see Jui standing there. Particularly when the door hadn't opened. Then again, Jui was supposed to be kami, so maybe....

“He'll live, but he can't finish this tour without some better protection than what he's had.”

“Better protection?” Hiro asked. “Protection from what?”

Instead of answering him, Jui tilted his head in an oddly bird-like manner, as if studying the one he had called Sacchan. A beat and the tattooed man huffed a sigh, shaking his head, then finger-combing shoulder-length black hair back into place.

“You know, technically, Tousan never actually released me, right?”

“Mm, which is fine, really, since his interests and mine align in this. Hiro-kun, allow me to introduce you to your new mage, Ichikawa Satsuki, previously of Rentrer en Soi and a friend of many years. Sacchan, one of my pending Blades, Maeda Hiro of Nokubura, obviously.”

“Wait, what? What are you talking about?” Hiro sputtered.

“... hold on,” Satsuki said, going to the door. “Natsu-kun? How antsy are your staffers getting?”

“Venue wants us out, crew's just about done, if you need more than five minutes....”

“Jui-kun?”

The phoenix pinched the bridge of his nose, then sighed heavily. He did not look happy.

“I trust you, Sacchan. If you need anything, I'll ... be back in Japan, being a good little birdie,” he said with a sardonic twist of the lips.

“You know I'm going to call Tousan first if it comes to that,” Satsuki replied with a little smirk of his own. Jui waved him off and then he was just ... gone.

“Whoa,” Natsu said. “Guess that ... sort of explains how he got past me.”

“Hotel?” Satsuki asked. “Or are your bandmates expecting to meet you somewhere?”

“We were supposed to have dinner together,” Hiro said, frowning a little, “but I'm not sure where. And if the crew's already almost finished here....”

“Plus you look like hell,” Natsu added. “Should probably just go to the hotel and find an intern or something to get you take-out.”

“Let's get to the hotel then, I can take care of food. And we'll need to talk to Cazqui-kun yet tonight.”

“Um, why?” Natsu asked as he started them out of the venue.

“Whoever went after Hiro-kun tonight, they already weren't worried about you. And I doubt my turning up scared them off either,” Satsuki said with a loose shrug. “White Court or Seelie, I can't protect Hiro-kun unless I'm traveling with you. I can pay my own way, but I still need a stage pass.

“... I'm going to need you to explain that better when we're actually at the hotel, I hope you know,” Natsu said, shaking his head a little.

“Can we back up to the part about me being attacked?” Hiro asked. “Cuz I didn't notice anything. I was talking to Masa-kun one minute and then I was sitting in a dark room.”

“It started before that, Jui-kun called me while you guys were still on stage. As badly out of alignment as your chakras are, it was either a Seelie or a vampire of the White Court.”

“I wouldn't take that bet,” Natsu said with a shake of his head. “I mean yeah, they're worse than usual, but they've been pretty wonky for most of the last two years. Not to say that you're wrong, something not human was definitely in the audience for most of the set, but I couldn't tell you what, other than not youkai. I couldn't even say for sure if it was even connected.”

“Two years like this?” Satsuki asked, skepticism evident in his voice. “You can't be serious.”

“Well, this is the worst they've been in awhile,” Natsu conceded. “I mean, he's always been prone to being out of whack, from the first time we met, but it wasn't really bad until ... yeah, the last couple of years.”

“A walking, talking, ticking time bomb,” their senpai said and something about his tone sent a shiver down Hiro's spine.

“With an explosive temper when it goes off,” the drummer agreed. “But he's been doing better. I mean, I can't entirely see what state he's in like this, but ... rough guess, it only feels about ten, maybe fifteen percent worse than I'd've expected for an energetic live like we just had.”

“Do I need to insist you join me for daily meditation, Hiro-kun?” the older singer asked and Hiro couldn't stop the derisive snort if he had tried.

“Sitting or walking?” Natsu asked.

“Running, actually. Usually,” Satsuki replied, grinning. “My onmyoudo sensei works with a couple Buddhist teachers, including a Rinzai monk. I was doing the running anyway, turning it into a meditation was pretty easy.”

“More efficient, too. What distance?” Natsu asked. Hiro rolled his eyes, tuning them out as they continued talking. Distance running was not his idea of a good time and he definitely wasn't going to join those two in such idiocy. Meditation wasn't for him. Sitting quietly and doing nothing? No thanks.

He was pretty sure the other two were still talking about running when they got back to the hotel. It worried him a bit to see Cazqui in the hotel lobby, obviously waiting for them.

“Well, you look like shit, Hiro-kun,” the guitarist said with a worried frown. “What gives? Masa-kun said you just about bit his head off and then Natsu-kun was insisting the rest of us go on without you.”

“Can we call it exhaustion and leave it at that?” he asked.

“Actually,” Satsuki said before Cazqui could answer, “can I see you in Hiro-kun's room?”

“Seeing as he and I are rooming together tonight, that should be pretty easy,” the guitarist said, though Hiro couldn't miss the worry that flickered across his friend's face again.

“I'll explain in the room,” he said with a heavy sigh. It didn't really make things better, Hiro knew that, but at least Cazqui didn't argue or insist on being told immediately.

Even as Cazqui was getting their hotel room door open, Satsuki was on his phone, having a conversation with someone in what sounded like fluent French. Hiro didn't really know what to say about his situation, what lie to use to explain adding their senpai to the tour, so instead he helped himself to a bottle of water and a chair. Satsuki had been the one to ask to see Cazqui, he might as well let him explain things.

“So ... you two ditched us for a senpai?” Cazqui asked at length, frowning again.

“You recognize him?”

“Well yeah. I mean, Rentrer en Soi split up the same year we put Nokubura together, but ... I mean, they were kind of a big deal in the visual scene back in the day, you know? Little surprised to run into you here of all places, senpai, but....”

“I have business contacts here in Europe,” Satsuki said with a relaxed smile. “It's why I was already in place, in fact. So ... I was originally just going to ask for a tour pass, since I'll be joining you guys, but inasmuch as you're rooming with Hiro-kun....”

“Senpai....”

“Secrecy has its place, but this isn't it,” Satsuki said, giving Natsu a sharp look before turning his attention back to Cazqui. “Cazqui-kun, you're going to hear some things you may not want to believe, but hear me out, okay? What Masa-kun witnessed was the after effects of something, possibly a psychic vampire, trying to feed off of Hiro-kun.”

“A psychic vampire,” Cazqui repeated with a disbelieving snort. Hiro couldn't really blame him – he'd been even more skeptical himself the first time someone had tried to explain supernatural things to him.

“For what it's worth,” Hiro said, rubbing the back of his neck, “I've been fed off of by a psy-vamp type before and it didn't feel anything like that. If anything, it felt like the complete opposite of what it's like when Hiyuu feeds.”

“Different creatures feed differently,” Satsuki said. “No offense to Hiyuu-kun, of course. And you may be right, it might have been something else, I didn't get a look at it.”

Hiro didn't really have the energy to argue. Satoshi had warned him getting involved in the supernatural would make his life more difficult, but he hadn't been expecting this. If he had known, he might not have been so willing to let the tanuki talk him into things. Maybe that had been the point? Sucker the ignorant, before they can realize their own mistakes and back out? Sounded rather like something Satoshi would do...

“... Hiro-kun, eyes on me.”

Hiro blinked and jerked back in his chair. When had Satsuki crouched down in front of him like that? And for that matter, why?

“Follow my finger,” the older man murmured. “Just your eyes.”

“I'm fine,” he mumbled, though he did as he was told. It reminded him of the last time he had been given a concussion evaluation, which struck him as especially ridiculous, since he hadn't hit his head on anything, as far as he could remember anyway. The again, apparently he had already blacked out at least once, maybe twice, so maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea to check him out thoroughly.

“And you say this is normal?” Satsuki asked, throwing a frown up at Natsu before pulling out his wallet and sitting back on his heels.

“The fatigue, yeah. The blacking out? Not so much.”

Hiro scowled at them both, an angry demand cut off in his throat when Satsuki pulled a familiar strip of paper from his wallet. The older man murmured something and energy flared into the kanji written on the fuda. Satsuki leaned forward, pressing the rice paper over Hiro's sternum.

“Breathe, deep.”

He wasn't sure if the words were part of the spell or a command, but he took a deep breath anyway, holding it a few seconds even as he felt something tingling through him. The spell at work, though doing what, he dared not try to guess.

“What ... what just happened?” Cazqui asked and was that panic he was hearing in the guitarist's voice?

“That ... that's not normal,” Satsuki said, shaking his head as he slipped the fuda into his shirt pocket. “A concert is an energetic exchange, but something in the audience definitely took a big bite all right, right through the shields. I'll need to do some more work to see exactly what state they're in, but that should hold things together for now.”

“Wait, what are you –,” Cazqui started, only to be cut off by a knock at the door. Somehow, Satsuki beat the guitarist to the door, smiling at the stranger on the other side. Whoever it was started in on something in probably French, handing Satsuki a restaurant carry-out bag before pushing past him with a full set of luggage. Hiro watched, feeling a bit lost as the man said something more to the room at large, apparently, before bowing to them all and leaving.

“... what the hell was all that?”

“So rude,” Satsuki said with a low chuckle, starting to pull a handful of containers from the restaurant bag. “As I said, I have business here in Europe, that was one of our interns and this is dinner for Hiro-kun and myself.”

The instant the smell of roasted meat hit the air, Hiro's stomach growled. He didn't even care what it was, exactly, just happy to be able to eat at last.

“Okay, well ... can you at least explain things while you eat?” Cazqui asked, settling cross-legged on the foot fo his bed. “What you did with that paper, that was magic, right?”

“Yes, what you might call arcane or advanced magic. Think of it like putting a bandage over a wound. The spell will stop the bleeding of Hiro's energy and reinforce his psychic shielding until we can work to repair the damage from tonight's attack.”

“I take it that's the real reason you want a staff pass,” Cazqui said.

“The healing work could take a couple days, even if this was a one-off.”

“But you don't think it was,” Natsu said.

“Honestly, I'm not sure at this point,” Satsuki confessed and that, more than anything else that their senpai had said, made Hiro uneasy. “It read like a hit and run by a lower fae, an opportunistic attack. But I wasn't actually here when it happened, so I didn't see who did it. Natsu-kun?”

“Like I told you before, I could feel something not-human in the audience, but I don't know that much about European creatures. To be honest, I couldn't even tell you if it was just one or a whole group.”

“Wait, so if senpai's a spellcaster, what does that make you, Natsu-kun? And why was Hiro-kun targeted?”

“To be fair, we don't know for sure that he was. Could have been as simple as he was attacked because he was in the spotlight the most,” Satsuki said with a small smile aimed at Hiro. He snorted, but he also couldn't argue; being vocalist meant being front and center and he knew how to play an audience.

“Yeah, well, his being front and center has been good for us. Doesn't answer my other question.”

“Baku,” Natsu said simply.

“... you don't look anything like the baku from the stories,” Cazqui said with a frown.

“After the fall of the last shogunate, youkai who didn't evolve ways of hiding among humans were pushed to the very margins. Shapeshifting used to be relatively rare before a certain age, now that and glamours are necessary to survive outside all but the most remote places.”

The way Natsu spoke so plainly, as if there was nothing the least bit unusual about what he was saying.... Hiro just stared at him for a long moment. Years ... they had been friends for years now and he was only just finding out that his drummer was youkai??

“Wait, does that mean Sora-kun...?” Cazqui asked.

“Is also baku? Yup. We are cousins, after all,” the drummer said with a playful grin. “There's quite a few youkai in the industry. Along with some actual blood-sucking vampires. And no, Hyde-sama isn't one of them. Neither are Gackt-sama or Kamijo-senpai.”

“Wait, vampires are real?” their startled guitarist asked.

“Yeah. Not in large numbers or anything, at least not in Japan, but they're there and have been for a long time. I think I've only met, like, five or six in my entire life, so.... And before you get any wild ideas, Hiro-kun, as long as they aren't on a killing spree, they're protected, just like any other youkai that feeds on humans.”

“I wasn't,” Hiro started.

“Why would –,” Cazqui interrupted, giving them both worried looks.

“Lycaon's Ichirou-san's been teaching you Hunting, yeah?” Natsu asked, arms crossing over his chest. Hiro felt something twitch between his shoulder blades as he sat up a bit straighter.

“Sort of. More like Satoshi-kun and Zero-kun, really. Who have both been very clear that being a Hunter isn't a license to kill first, ask questions never.”

“Good,” Natsu said with a sharp nod. “Cuz the kami themselves would kick your ass if you got the dumb idea to try staking someone like San-kun.”

“San-kun. As in Nega and BFN, that guy? He's a vampire?” Cazqui asked, giving voice to the same skepticism Hiro himself was feeling.

“A fledgling, but yes. One whose sire, rumor has it, had his fangs ripped out and then his head left with his nest and his body staked out to vaporize in the sun.”

“That, uh, sounds a bit extreme,” Hiro said, setting down his fork in case Natsu actually answered his next question. “What, um, what did he do?”

“Not sure,” the drummer confessed with a shrug, helping himself to a chunk of roasted potato. “The first time I saw San-kun after he was turned, I asked him about his sire, but he got super uncomfortable and wouldn't talk about it, just said his sire was dead. That's when I went digging through rumors. Not exactly reliable, but ... also not a lot of vampires in Tokyo, so when one came up dead....”

“What he did,” Satsuki said between bites of pork, “was sire San. And the rumor I heard was the bastard's entire nest was torn to pieces. Very small ones.”

Hiro glanced between the two men, not sure if he dared ask for clarification or not.

“That's it?” Cazqui asked incredulously. “Isn't that a bit ... over the top?”

“It wasn't done by Hunters, despite the rumors,” Satsuki said, shaking his head but also smiling. “If you're ever allowed to meet San's mate ... Sensei is very protective. And San's sire was a worthless jackass. Someone would have taken him out sooner or later. He certainly didn't have the protection of Tokyo's reigning vampire Elder.”

“Sorry,” Cazqui said with another shake of his head, “I'm still having trouble with the whole vampires and youkai are real and that I've met some of both. I sure as hell never would have guessed senpai was a vampire, I see him out during the day all the time!”

“Either a blessing from the Elder or a gift from his mate,” Satsuki said with a shrug. “Nega couldn't exactly stop everything to work around a leader who was suddenly severely allergic to the sun.”

“He's been a vampire that long?!” the guitarist asked, clearly startled.

“About four years,” Satsuki replied with a sigh. “I tried to talk him out of it, but ... sometimes we do completely irrational things in the name of love, ne?”

Satsuki wasn't even looking at him and still Hiro felt that comment was somehow aimed at him, though he wasn't sure why.

“Well, I'm still.... Getting a staff badge printed for you is the easy part. I have no idea how to actually add you to our staff, though. Like, getting you on the bus is easy, but we don't really have the budget to be adding anyone else to the tour staff.”

“As I told Hiro-kun, I can pay my own way,” Satsuki said with a small smile. “I do have some business of my own to attend while I'm traveling with you, but it shouldn't be any trouble.”

“Business?” Hiro asked before he could stop himself.

“I learned a long time ago that a diverse portfolio was a good thing. Don't worry, I can keep an eye on things while checking up on my investments.”

Hiro didn't see the point in saying that he couldn't care less what Satsuki did. And yet something in his silence was enough to make the older man frown at him.

“Natsu-kun, are there any other youkai on your staff?”

“Not that we brought with us, no,” the drummer said, shaking his head.

“What about the bangya downstairs?”

“I didn't,” Natsu started, crossing his arms over his chest again and practically scowling as he huffed. “Fuck, I don't know, hell, I didn't even notice them, I was so focused on Hiro-kun.”

“It's all right, not like I gave them a second look myself,” the older man said walking over to his suitcases. “I'll put up a void shield on the room after you leave, that will take care of it for tonight.”

Hiro could read the discomfort in Natsu's posture as the drummer seemed to think things over. Even when he relented and nodded agreement, he didn't look particularly happy about it. Natsu's arms dropped to his sides and then he walked over to Hiro, grabbing his head and pulling him down until their foreheads touched.

“I know you're a stubborn ass, Hirocchi, but if this guy can really do a proper void shield, he knows his shit. Listen to him.”

If,” Hiro repeated with a low snort. “I'm a mundane, how am I even going to know?”

“Yeah, and I'm a baku. If the shield doesn't work –.”

“It'll work,” Satsuki interrupted, earning him a quick side-eye from Natsu before the drummer returned his focus entirely to Hiro.

“If the shield doesn't work, I'll be in your dreams tonight.”

“How will I know it's you and not just my imagination?” Hiro asked, still dubious. Natsu's hands shifted to cup Hiro's face as the drummer stepped in closer.

“Trust me, you'll know the difference, I'll make sure of it. What I eat is different from your Hiyuu-kun, but the after-effects are about the same. Besides, I have a very specific dream I would share with the two of you.”

Hiro was still trying to figure out what that meant when lips pressed to his. Only a moment and then Natsu was gone. Hiro didn't understand what had just happened ... or why Cazqui was giving him that look like he smelled something rotten.

“Cazqui-kun had better unwrinkle his nose,” Satsuki murmured, crouched beside his suitcases. “I don't have much patience for intolerance or bigotry.”

“It's not natural,” the guitarist muttered.

“More natural than your hair color,” their senpai snapped, suddenly on his feet again. “You aren't even the Christian in this room, so button it or get over it. Love is love, end of discussion.”

Hiro was too startled by the vehemence in his senpai's tone to think of a single response, not that he'd been talking to him anyway. Cazqui gaped at the man, visibly scrambling to put together a return rant, but Satsuki had already moved on, setting out the tools of his arcane trade. Incense, candles, opaque bottles holding who knew what, a pocket knife, and more fuda, something already written in elegant script-form kanji. He didn't know much about it, but he had to admit, Satsuki certainly looked like he knew his stuff.

“How the hell did you get all that on an airplane?” Hiro asked.

“I didn't,” Satsuki said, chuckling lightly. “The fuda was easy, the rest I either bought here or had senpai bring.”

“How did he get things into your luggage??”

“Suzaku-sama's powers are extensive, though the knife was in my pocket,” the mage said with a sly smirk. “Back pocket, even, though you're certainly excused from noticing, considering.”

Hiro snorted but otherwise refuse to rise to that bait. Like he cared what Jui did or didn't do with this person.

“If you're done eating, go wash up. And use this,” Satsuki suggested, tossing him a small bar of soap. “In fact, keep using it for the rest of the tour.”

“What is it?” he asked, raising the small, translucent green bar to his nose. To his surprise, it barely had any scent to it at all.

“Sea salt and sage cleansing soap. Should help reduce the static-y feeling you've been having.”

“Isn't it going to wash off whatever you did backstage?” he asked, wary of making his situation somehow worse.

“Not at that strength,” the mage said, shaking his head. “That's for trace residues only. The spell I worked on you earlier sank into your bones, it would take something deeper than a shower to disrupt it. Also, you will probably feel a tingling for a second as the shield goes up in a couple of minutes. It's perfectly normal and shouldn't last any longer than that.”

Hiro nodded, glancing sidelong at Cazqui. His friend looked rather like the proverbial wet hen, he wasn't sure what would happen if he left the two men alone right then.

“Oh for fuck's sake, just go, Hiro-kun. I'm not going to do anything,” Cazqui said, rolling his eyes and pushing up from the foot of his bed. “Can I walk in and out while you're doing this shield nonsense or does it have to wait for me to be in for the night?”

“It's an energy barrier, not a physical one, you can come and go as you like,” Satsuki said with a careless shrug. Cazqui nodded before hurrying out of the room, probably to get a staff pass made for their senpai.

“I'm assuming that same rule, in and out, doesn't apply to me,” Hiro said, huffing a sigh.

“Considering I'm putting it up for your protection....”

“... you really think something's after me. Why?”

“You're a Hunter.”

“So? This is our third show in Europe now and the first time I've blacked out.”

“Meaning it's probably a local creature that attacked you tonight, at least the first time.”

“First time? You mean there's been more than one?! What the hell man!”

“Relax, Hiro-kun,” Satsuki said, clasping his shoulder and giving it a friendly squeeze. “Jui-kun's invoking family ties, asked me to look after you, and I will. I've studied my craft under one of the finest, and oldest, masters in all of Japan. Trust me.”

A deep breath and Hiro nodded. He didn't know what that meant in terms of Satsuki's credentials, but trusting him felt like the right thing to do.

~*~*~

Hiro had to admit, he felt more rested the next morning than he had in weeks, outside of the few nights he had spent with Hiyuu. Hell, he felt downright energetic, even optimistic. The tour had gotten off to a sort of rocky start, but that meant it was just going to get better from here, he was certain of it.

It wasn't until he sat down to breakfast with Natsu and Daichi that he remembered what the drummer had said before leaving his room last night.

“Natsu-kun....”

“Senpai, I apologize for ever doubting you,” the drummer said, bowing in Satsuki's direction. “By the way, this is Daichi-kun, our other guitarist and Masa-kun's ... around here somewhere. Daichi-kun, Satsuki-senpai is going to be traveling with us as...?”

“Consultant, linguist, whatever help I can offer. I have quite a bit of experience with Europe at this point,” the elder vocalist said with a casual shrug.

“You came all the way from Japan just to help us?” Daichi asked, obviously skeptical. “Can we even afford another consultant?”

“I was already in-country on business of my own,” Satsuki said, offering the guitarist a reassuring smile. “I was planning to stay in Europe for awhile anyway, so it was no trouble to volunteer to help.”

Daichi still looked skeptical, but he didn't pursue it. As curious as Hiro was, he was also just as happy to let the subject drop if it meant not having to invent even more of a cover story.

They were just finishing up with breakfast when he felt it, like a heavy weight suddenly landing on his chest. Natsu coughed and suddenly Satsuki was pressing a hand over his sternum, frowning at him. Hiro didn't know why, but it was helping.

“Hey, guess who I – ... Hiro-kun?”

Hiro squeezed his eyes shut as dizziness washed over him. Voices buzzed in his ears, but he couldn't make sense of any of them.

“I've got you, let go,” Satsuki whispered, the only clear thing in the buzzing. Hiro was pretty sure he didn't understand, but he trusted the man enough to obey, slipping into darkness.

~*~*~

Something danced at the silver edges of his field of vision, something that vanished when Hiro turned his head. He tried again and again to catch it, but always it vanished, teasing him.

“Hey you.”

Hiro turned and blinked. He was in a dark room, featureless and shadowed with an unseen light somewhere to his left. Natsu was the only clear thing in the room, everything else felt fuzzy, indistinct. It was giving him a headache and he rubbed his temples, to no effect.

“Sorry,” Natsu said, snapping his fingers. In an instant, the room morphed into Natsu's apartment, though there was still an unreal quality to it.

“Because you're asleep and dreaming, Hirocchi. Well, we're dreaming, technically. Shame Cazqui isn't asleep right now, too, really.”

“I don't ... I don't understand. What happened?”

“Have a seat and tell me what you remember from right before this,” Natsu suggested, lightly tugging him over to the couch.

“We were just finishing breakfast. I had this feeling like ... like a heavy weight on my chest. I couldn't get a full breath. Cazqui or Masa was bringing someone to the table, I didn't see who. Then senpai told me to let go.”

“You're asleep on the tour bus right now, I'm watching over you while he ... deals with Kifumi-kun.”

“Wait, what? What are you talking about?”

“Yeah, apparently your fluffy little BFF? Isn't as fluffy and innocent as he's always portrayed himself,” Natsu said, tugging Hiro back down onto the couch next to him. “Relax, Satsuki-sama said he'll deal with it, but I'm still to keep you here, in dreams, with me. Keep you protected, my way.”

“I don't ... I don't understand,” he mumbled as he let himself be pulled closer. “What the hell is Fufu even doing here? How'd he even find us?”

“Knowing him, he probably either tricked or outright lied to Onizuki-san again. As for why ... come on, Hiro, don't tell me you don't know what he wants. What he's always wanted. It's not like he's even been all that subtle about it, Cazqui's just been willfully blind to it.”

“What? No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, I talked to him about it, like, a hundred times. Kifumi and I agreed we were no good for each other. He doesn't want me back.”

“No? Then why did he come all this way?” Natsu countered. Hiro huffed, getting up to pace the available space, though it didn't really help. It didn't make sense, Kifumi was his friend, that was all. And yet the shifter must have done something for Satsuki and Natsu to be doing this.

“... wait, are you saying Kifumi attacked me just now? Because that's nuts! He doesn't even have any powers besides shifting!”

“Is that what he told you? He's not a bakeneko, you know that, right? He's gotten his ass mixed up with something bad. I mean, he's always reeked of gaijin magic, but it's gotten worse. I've smelled better corpses.”

“Wh-what?”

“Do I need to summon a kami for you to believe me? I can, you know. I know a couple of them. And not just Jui-sama and Kisaki-sama. So who would it take for you to believe me? A celestial guardian? A prince of heaven? Someone even older?”

Hiro dropped down heavily onto Natsu's couch, not even sure what to believe anymore. Elbows on his knees, he dropped his face into his hands. This was crazy. The idea that Kifumi could be mixed up in any of this, it was nuts!

“Maeda-kun....”

It wasn't like he had even recognized the voice, but something about it.... Yet when he looked up ... he was on their tour bus, but he had to still be dreaming, because there was no way that could actually be Kagrra's Isshi, not when the man had died five years earlier. Although it wasn't the last image of him, either, with black hair cut short and frosted tips along his jaw.

“Natsu-kun...?”

“Between being publicly dead and mated to a vampire, Sensei's the one kami most readily available,” Natsu said with a shy half shrug. “Though I wasn't expecting him to actually come all this way.”

“You never would have been able to convince him it was really me as long as we were still in a dream space,” the image said with a small smile. “See? We're back in the waking world and he still thinks it's a dream.”

“Because you've been dead for five years? It was kind of all over the scene news,” Hiro rumbled.

“Isshi of Kagrra died five years ago,” the image agreed with a nod. The image flickered, becoming that of a horned youkai with snow-white hair and an ice-blue kimono and haori. “And yet the nameless kami from the nameless stone lives on.”

Another flickering and the image went back to Isshi as he had looked shortly before the end of Kagrra. And nothing proved that any of this was real.

“Believe or don't,” the image said with a casual shrug, turning and walking over to one of the benches at the back of the bus, taking a seat. “Whether I'm real or part of a dream, the fact remains that you have been attacked by an infernal demon, more than once, just on this tour. The first time was opportunistic. The second time was more calculated. And since you're covered in conflicting magicks, even with a mage keeper, it will probably happen again. Unless we do something to fix that, of course.”

“What are you even saying?”

“Your first mage doesn't know his ass from his elbow, from what I'm Seeing,” Isshi's image said with a casual shrug. “Jui-kun's going to have his work cut out with that one. Arrogance and ignorance are a dangerous combination, Maeda-kun, remember that.”

“Funny, that's what Toshi says about me half the time, the ass and elbow bit,” Hiro muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Yes, well,” the image said, straightening his jacket before leaning back. “You're still quite new to all of this. A year with my Sugi-kun, nine months with your Yuuki-kun, that's hardly any time at all, even for humans. You'll get there, it's in your blood, Maeda-kun.”

“In my blood, right,” he replied, snorting. Nonsense. Why was he even still listening to this? “If this isn't a dream, why is the bus empty?”

“Who said it was empty? You're looking at it the wrong way,” Isshi's image said. A snap of his fingers and the silence was suddenly filled with the sounds of the bus in motion. Hiro blinked as he twisted back towards the front. Bandmates and what staff that was traveling with them were all piled into the front half of the bus and beyond the windows he could see highway and countryside. But how was this even possible?

Masa glanced back, then started violently nudging Cazqui next to him a moment before jumping up and rushing down the aisle towards him, practically pouncing him.

“Hiro-kun! Ah, it was so scary, the way you just ... just keeled over at the table! Are you sure you're okay? What happened anyway?!?”

“I'm not sure,” he said honestly, wrapping arms around Masa in return. “I feel better, kind of, but then I felt fine at breakfast, too.”

“Have a seat and I'll check you out,” Satsuki said, gesturing with some sort of medical kit. Hiro frowned, then squeezed Masa briefly before turning back towards the back of the bus, taking a seat next to the persistent image of Isshi and feeling ridiculous for it.

“Sensei,” Satsuki said, nodding to Isshi's image before kneeling down in front of Hiro.

“Are you even trained in this sort of thing?” he asked, feeling particularly petulant for some reason.

“Finished EMT certification last winter,” the older man said with a smirk. “It wasn't easy, I had to mask all my tattoos until I was certified, but worth it. Not that there's anything physically wrong with you, right Sensei?”

“Physically, he's perfectly fine. His aetheric body is a complete mess, which is consistent with his trauma and patchwork healing. Are you still intending this to be temporary, Shi-kun?”

“Of course,” Satsuki said, still going through the motions of checking Hiro's condition.

“Shame. Either way, you need to explain things to Yuuki-kun before I cleanse him completely.”

“Wait, wait, if this isn't a dream, why is no one reacting to the dead senpai sitting here??”

“You're interacting with me, the glamour doesn't affect you. They aren't, so I don't register as even being here most of the time.”

“What??”

“Think of it like ... like the TARDIS in Doctor Who,” Natsu suggested. “He's not invisible, just unnoticeable. You know he's there, you're focused on him. Let your eyes relax and you'll see what I mean.”

Skeptical, Hiro closed his eyes a moment, taking a deep breath as he tried to tell himself to just relax. And yet when he opened his eyes again, nothing looked different.

“You're still focused on him,” Natsu scolded.

“It's not going to work, his training isn't going to turn off that easily,” Isshi said with a soft chuckle. “He can't help focusing on me, especially when he's not convinced that I'm not a threat. Or a trick. That said ... if this was a dream, do you really think this is what you would be telling yourself?”

Hiro had to admit, there was a certain amount of sense in that. And yet...

“Okay, sure, but Natsu-kun could be doing this.”

“What would you accept as proof that you aren't dreaming?”

“... I don't know,” he confessed. “I don't even know why you're here.”

“Because Sacchan reports to me, not Jui-kun,” the image said, eyes flashing red a moment. “The one you know as Kifumi ... he's crossed me for the last time.”

Hiro glanced towards the front of the bus, but there was no sign of the bassist. Or whatever it was he was.

“I don't understand,” he said, shaking his head. “Kifumi never ... he's just a shifter, he'd never hurt me. He's my best friend.”

“Once, maybe, but not anymore, Maeda-kun,” Isshi said softly, something like regret in his expression. “He made a bad deal. And I'm not sure even I have enough power to save him.

Something in Isshi's eyes chilled Hiro to the bone. This was no dream.

Chapter Text

They weren't at the hotel five minutes and Masa was already pouting while Hiro was trying not to be smug about that. Not that he was interested in Masa as anything more than friends, but it was still a charge to his self-image to see the man pouting about not being roomed with him.

“This isn't the schedule we agreed to!” Masa said with a stomp of his foot.

“Yeah, well, I'm changing it,” Cazqui said with a casual shrug. “You're stuck with me and Dai-kun for the rest of the tour, end of discussion.”

“... I hate you,” Masa grumbled as he pushed past an unresisting Natsu. Hiro had to admit, the scene felt a little surreal after some of the things his bandmates had said or implied over the years. It made him wonder what had changed. And when.

“It's probably none of my business, but what is your relationship status?” Natsu asked as they got settled in their hotel room.

“You're right, it's none of your business,” Hiro grumbled, a part of him wondering why he was feeling so irritable still.

“Look, I'm just asking cuz if you are in a monogamous relationship with Hiyuu-kun now, you really need to let Masa-kun know you aren't available.”

“What?”

“Or, if that's not the case, then you really need to either let him down gently or find a way to just fuck his brains out already. Soon.”

Hiro could only stand there sputtering, not even sure he believed his ears. Since when was Masa even gay? He really didn't know how to handle this information at all.

“Why the surprised look? You are pretty bara, you know,” Natsu teased. “And a genuinely nice guy, which is a quantum leap up from the guys he's been attracted to before this.”

“I thought ... Hiyuu and I had kinda gotten the impression you guys didn't really ... approve of us. Of the whole being gay thing.”

“Masa-kun's been bitchy cuz he thinks you don't notice him enough. Daichi-kun thinks your taste in men sucks sweaty goat balls. I'm still mad at you for what you did to Sugizo-sama. And Cazqui's a dumbass who thinks gay men are gross,” Natsu said, ticking each of them off on his fingers as he went.

“I ... what?”

“... Hiro, you weren't exactly discreet with any of your boyfriends,” the baku said, rolling his eyes. “Kifumi-san used to brag about the things you two did together behind your back. Oh, and the real reason that bag of dicks Katsuo dumped you? I walked in on you two once and told him later if he ever touched you again, I'd tear his arms out of their sockets and beat him to death with them. I made sure he knew I meant it, too.”

Hiro almost collapsed onto the foot of the bed, too stunned at first to even think. He had spent years wondering what he had done wrong that Katsuo had ended their relationship so suddenly, but this ... he never even considered this. Rage flared up inside him, he was going to strangle the baku for interfering in his personal life like this, he –.

He was pinned on his back on the bed, Isshi standing over him with one hand almost but not quite touching his chest. He strained against invisible bonds, but it was impossible. There was nothing there physically for him to break.

“That will be quite enough rage from you, young man,” Isshi said, but if the words alone were meant to end anything, they didn't. What gave Natsu the right to interfere in his private life like that?

“Hiro!” Isshi snapped, his voice cracking against his senses like a whip. Dazed, Hiro blinked a few times, rubbing his sternum a moment before realizing he had been released enough to do so.

“What ... what are you?” he asked, easing himself upright.

“Youkai, unascended terrestrial kami, mage adept, clan patriarch, take your pick,” Isshi said with a little shrug, as if such a detail was trivial. “I am an ancient spirit of stone and ice, how's that?”

“And that thing you did with your voice just now?”

“Most humans will respond to a command pitch, but I did add a little magic for extra effect,” the youkai said with a faint smile. “You were being a bit ... unreasonable.”

“Unreasonable? He confessed to screwing with my private life!” he countered, the anger rising up once more.

“I thought you were in love with Hiyuu-kun?” Isshi asked, head canted slightly to one side.

“What does that have to do with anything??”

“If it hadn't been Natsu-kun, someone else would have stepped in,” the youkai said with a shrug. “Probably Yuuki-kun or Satoshi-kun. In which case, that year you had with Sugizo-kun wouldn't have happened.”

“W-wait, what?”

“There's no going back, no putting you and that shitstain back together. That's not even what you want, so why are you angry? What does punishing Natsu-kun for doing the right thing even get you?”

Hiro huffed in annoyance, arms crossing over his chest before he spoke again: “If it was the right thing, why didn't he tell me before now?”

“Katsuo was an abusive prick, but you were in too deep to see it back then,” Natsu said, shrugging. “And then time had passed and I didn't see the point in bringing it up.”

“Until now.”

“Yeah, in the context of a conversation to try to get it through your thick head that I've always known you weren't straight and never loved you any less for it, dumbass.”

“Are you two good now?” Isshi asked. “I have a vampire mate to soothe.”

“We're good,” Natsu said, nodding.

“Wait, what?” Hiro asked, but Isshi was already gone. So he turned his confusion on Natsu.

“Oh right, that's San-kun's mate,” the baku said with an unrepentant grin.

“San-senpai ... is dating a kami?”

“Mated to, slight difference, but yes. Has been for years, but that's a whole other story and not mine to tell. So are you going to talk to Masa-kun or do I need to push you into it?”

Hiro huffed, getting up to unpack a few things, since they would be staying in this hotel for a couple of days. He had grown up assuming he was straight and monogamous. High school crushes had been enough to clue him in that maybe he wasn't that straight, but monogamy.... But there was his thing with Yuuki that he couldn't explain. He loved Hiyuu, truly loved him as much, maybe more, than he had ever loved anyone. And yet when Yuuki beckoned, Hiro couldn't control himself. And he didn't even want to think about what he would do if Sugizo ever said he wanted him back in his life as more than just a friend.

Okay, that wouldn't ever happen. Last he had heard, the archangel was dating the GazettE's Aoi and considering that one had once threatened to tear out his throat with his bare hands.... Because Jui had asked, he knew he had to at least try to reconcile with Sugizo, but he really wasn't going to hold his breath. He had been an idiot to let the angel go, now someone else was Sugizo's precious one and he ... he had Hiyuu, so why did he even care?

Because you're still in love with him, idiot, he scolded himself, sighing. Or, well, he had thought he loved him. Then again, if Sugizo was happy with someone like Aoi, then maybe he hadn't even known the real Sugizo at all. Was that it? A year wasted on loving an image of someone, loving someone who hadn't ever really existed?

“I can practically feel you beating yourself up over there from here,” Natsu said from across the room. “Want to talk about it?”

“There's nothing to say,” he grumbled. “Which room is Masa in?”

“Two doors down on the left, across the hall. Be gentle with him, yeah?”

Hiro grunted something like an agreement and left the room.

~*~*~

The plan had been for them to find someplace quiet where Hiro could talk to Masa privately without any bandmates or staff listening in on them. With it being after hours, the pool had seemed like the perfect place. No one would come looking for them, no other hotel guests were likely to intrude, it was as close to private as they were going to get without renting another room.

None of which explained why he had a lapful of Masa at that moment, why the man's tongue was avidly exploring his mouth. Or why Hiro's own hands were currently fisted in soft hair as he shared in those kisses.

“Masa-kun,” he panted when he finally pulled back. “Masa-kun, stop.”

“Why? I know you want me.”

“Masa-kun, this isn't ... this isn't why I wanted to talk to you,” he said, forcing himself to relocate his hands to Masa's shoulders, holding him back. “Yes, you're hot but I ... I'm seeing someone. I love him, Masa-kun, I can't ... I can't do this to him.”

“Do what? You do know your precious Hiyuu-san is still sleeping with both Yuuki-san and Ichirou-san, yeah?”

“No he isn't,” Hiro said, squeezing Masa's shoulders perhaps a little harder than necessary.

“Oh don't be so stupidly naive, Hiro-kun, of course he is. And Zero-san, too. Hell, even you're still sleeping with Yuuki-san. And I don't care, I just want a part of you for myself for a change!”

“Masa-kun....”

“I know you want me,” Masa repeated, shoving a hand between them to palm Hiro's cock through his shorts. “Look at how hard you are. I can help you with this, you know.”

“I said stop,” he said through gritted teeth.

“You're right, this is too public. Think we can get into the tour bus?”

“Masa-kun, stop,” he repeated, dumping the man out of his lap as he got up. “We aren't doing this.”

“Why not? Why am I not good enough for you?” the bassist demanded with a shrill tone. “Because I'm not a kinky slut like Yuuki-san? A shameless manwhore like Sugizo-senpai? Is that your type, someone who spreads his legs for anyone?! ”

Hiro's temper exploded through his chest in a red wave, he was completely surprised when his fist collided with the wall instead of Masa's face. Grateful, to be sure, but surprised. Cradling his bleeding hand, he was even more surprised to see Satsuki there when he turned back around instead of Isshi.

“I was wondering where you had gotten yourself off to. Come on, I'll make sure you didn't break anything. Good evening, Masa-kun.”

“I....”

“Good evening, Masa-kun,” Satsuki repeated firmly before taking Hiro by the arm and escorting him back upstairs. For his part, Hiro held his tongue until the hotel room door closed behind them, grateful to see the room was empty.

“What, um, what did you do?” he asked as he sat down on the foot of the bed.

“I pulled Masa-kun back, but Issama was the one who turned your fist. Your temper is out of control,” the older man said, crouching down in front of him to examine his hand.

“Yeah, I don't ... it's like I go from zero to over nine thousand in an instant and I don't know why,” he confessed, wincing as Satsuki manipulated his hand. And yet even that didn't hurt as much as the fear on Masa's face, the last image of his friend refusing to leave his mind. “It ... it was bad like this a couple years ago, but I really thought ... I mean, between Sugizo and Hiyuu and the work I put into it myself, I really thought I was better, you know?”

“From what I'm Seeing, the demon short-circuited the repairs those two made, messed with your alignment. When Issama gets back, he'll wipe you clean of everything and we'll start all over, fresh slate.”

“All right,” he said, even though he knew he had no idea what that actually meant. He would ask for a better explanation when Isshi was there to give it to him.

~*~*~

Isshi stepped out onto the loading dock at the back of the hotel, only a little surprised to see Kifumi standing there. Or rather, the demon currently wearing Kifumi. The wrongness oozing off of him, Isshi was vaguely surprised more people weren't getting sick as a result.

“You? No, it can't be,” the demon said, shaking his head.

“What did you promise him? Fame? Money? You don't seem to have given him either for very long.”

“The contract is valid, this body is mine,” the demon possessing Kifumi hissed.

“Show me his contract,” Isshi said, eyes narrowing as he crossed his arms over his chest.

“Why? There's nothing you can do about it. It's a valid contract, I'm carrying out the terms.”

“... you promised him Hiro-kun?” Isshi asked, snorting when the demon didn't even bother to comment. “He's not even Christian, his soul isn't meant for you.”

“Maybe not, but he has free will. You can cast me out if you want, I'll just come back. With hell hounds, for breach of contract.”

“Is that what you told Kifumi-kun? That this was the only way? I can think of ten easier ways to deliver on your end of the bargain and none of them involve possession. Now show me his contract before I turn you into a black stain on that wall,” Isshi growled, done with these word games.

“I'd do it if I were you,” Hyde drawled, stepping out of the shadows.

“Fuck off, mongrel, no one asked you,” the demon hissed. They were precisely the wrong words and in an instant Hyde had Kifumi shoved into the wall, a hand around his throat.

“Now you listen to me, you black-eyed son of a bitch,” Hyde snarled. “You and me, we're going to void little Kifumi-kun's contract, right here, right now, or I'm going to suck you out and eat you.”

“You can't ... you don't know what –.”

“I know this whole contract business reeks,” Hyde interrupted. “And I know this shit is going to stop, now, or the gods of Japan themselves are going to start eating faces. Seiryu, Suzaku, Kamui ... you're poking a hornet's nest and if you don't stop....”

“You think I'm scared of you? Any of you? You're nothing,” the demon sneered. “Go back to your master like the feckless dog you are.”

The demon spat in Hyde's face and then he was gone. Hyde punched the wall, but Isshi could tell it didn't make the demon hybrid feel any better.

“Go home, kitten,” Isshi soothed, catching his shoulder and squeezing it. Hyde took a deep breath before turning back towards him, barely contained rage in black eyes.

“Is that an order?” the bakeneko asked, voice tight with his anger. Isshi paused a moment as he considered.

“Do you think you can get the contract voided?”

“Whatever that fucker's up to, this contract is shady as shit. If I can trap him and take him back to Sugi-kun, we can find out what exactly is in the damn thing,” Hyde said with a low growl, eyes flashing red. “And from there, yeah, we'll be able to get it voided. One way or the other.”

“Try your best to minimize Kifumi-kun's suffering. He's an innocent victim in this.”

“Not that innocent if he made a deal with an infernal demon,” the bakeneko muttered.

“Hideto....”

“Fine,” Hyde huffed. “I'll do my best. Sugi-kun can heal the rest.”

Perhaps not ideal, but as angry as Hyde was ... Isshi would take it.

~*~*~

Hiro looked up, a little surprised to see Isshi walking into the room looking ... tired? No, that had to be his eyes playing tricks on him. What did a kami know of being tired?

“Sacchan. Have you talked to Yuuki-kun yet?” Isshi asked.

“Not that it really matters,” Jui said and when the hell had he gotten there?

“Jui-kun....”

“Really, Tousan, he's part of my Court, vow or no vow,” Jui said, shrugging as he claimed an armchair. “Like I would be anywhere else for this.”

“Um ... what's going on?” Hiro asked. Isshi seemed to consider the question a moment, then nodded, directing Hiro to sit back down in the other armchair.

“You have a patchwork of magics from different sources laid on you,” Isshi explained. “Human magic, angel magic, youkai magic, even a little fae magic. The more magic on a person, the more attention he attracts from other magical creatures. And the more chances the new magic will interact badly with the old. I have the power to erase every last trace of every spell ever laid on you, even soulbonds. But that sort of thing tends to attract attention, get noticed by those looking for weaker prey, not to mention some casters put hooks in their spells, so they know when a casting has been disrupted. This level of cleansing is also liable to hurt. Rather a lot.”

“Worse than getting my ass handed to me in a sparring match with a tanuki?” he asked.

“Oh definitely,” Isshi said with an almost vicious smile that was somehow particularly unnerving.

“On the other hand, it'll be over a lot faster, too,” Jui said, his expression rather more solemn. “And afterwards I can set things right.”

“You?” he echoed, glancing between the two purported kami. “Not Issama?”

“Me,” Jui confirmed with a nod. “Not that it would make much difference in the grand scheme of things, but you are part of my Court, not his. Taking care of you is part of the deal.”

“... I thought you said I couldn't take the vow yet,” Hiro said with another little frown.

“You can't, but that's hardly the point. In time, you will,” Jui said with another casual shrug. It was a little unnerving, how easily the other man, kami, whatever just assumed Hiro was going to go along with all of this. Did he not still get a say in any of this?

“Okay, but what does any of this have to do with Kifumi-kun?” he asked, rubbing a hand against his thigh.

“Probably very little,” Isshi replied. “But it will also erase anything the demon riding him right now might have laid on you as well.”

“Demon? As in Satan and Hell and Christianity demon? You're telling me all of that is real and my best friend's been possessed by some demon?”

“You were dating an archangel of that same god, why is this a surprise?” Isshi asked. Hiro sat back, scrubbing his face with one hand. This was ... Isshi probably had a point, and yet this felt different somehow. Angels were one thing, but demons.... That was a whole other level he wasn't sure he was ready to face. Not that it seemed he had much choice in the matter. Again. He was starting to get just a bit tired of feeling like his path had already been decided for him.

“Why? And how long was some demon son of a bitch calling the shots?”

“I have someone looking into that, but right now let's focus on you, shall we? I'd say brace yourself, but there's really no point.”

Hiro drew in a breath to ask what he meant when a feeling not unlike stepping into a blast freezer hit him. There was no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, not sight, only one unending stream of a pain so cold it burned. And then only blackness.

~*~*~

Hiro woke slowly, wary of setting off a fresh cascade of pain. Fingers carded through his hair, the touch somehow familiar, but it still took him awhile to realize he could smell Hiyuu's cologne. His eyes popped open as he tried to jerk upright, only to find he was being held down. By Hiyuu. But that was impossible, Hiyuu was still in Japan, or at least supposed to be.

“It's really me, baby,” Hiyuu said, leaning in to brush a kiss to his forehead. “Toshi says you've passed the test of pain, though.”

“Hiyuu....”

Hiro tried to sit up again, groaning at the pain that shot through him. If it wasn't ridiculous, he would have said his bones ached, all two hundred and six of them. That didn't mesh with what Jui had told him and he frowned, looking around to see if he could catch him. It didn't take long, the firebird perched on the other side of his bed.

“Still hurts,” he mumbled. “Why's it still hurt?”

“Because you passed out,” Jui said, his touch surprisingly light as fingers brushed against Hiro's forehead. “Think of it as a consent issue,” his senpai added. A beat and golden warmth started to flow into him from the older singer's touch, easing away the pain. Jui started singing and Hiro's eyelids grew heavy. He had no idea what time it was, but perhaps sleep wasn't such a bad idea.

Again he woke to the feel of fingers in his hair. This time he was able to roll over with ease and there was no pain. Rolling back over onto his back, he blinked up at Hiyuu.

“Hey.”

“Hey yourself,” Hiyuu replied with a small smile. “How do you feel?”

“... a little tired? I don't know, me and magic....”

“As I hear it, Issama wiped out everything, from your shields down to your soulbond. Including the magic that was holding your battered aetheric body in as good a shape as it was, if you want to even call it that. I'm sorry, I didn't realize there had been an infernal demon attacking you. Jui-sama poured a hell of a lot of healing energy into you, but it's all a bit fragile still, so Satsuki shielded the room and Natsu-kun's rooming with him tonight. After breakfast, which we're having in here, Jui-sama will walk you through rebuilding your personal shields. Then he's going to take me home.”

“What? No! Why?”

“I can't stay, neither can he. Too many questions, that's why he asked Satsuki-senpai to help in the first place. Senpai and Issama are staying, to keep an eye on you and deal with the demon, from what I understand.”

“Pretty sure I'd rather have you,” he grumbled, pulling Hiyuu down into an eager kiss. Hiyuu lingered against his lips, smiling in contentment.

“Senpai is an actual mage, he knows things even Yuu-chan doesn't, never mind me. He and Issama can protect you, I can't. I never could.”

“You protect my heart,” Hiro insisted, brushing another kiss to his lips. “Please stay.”

“You have me tonight, that's the best I can do, my love.”

Hiro growled, rolling Hiyuu over and kissing him again. It wasn't what he wanted, but somehow he was going to have to make it be good enough.

~*~*~

Despite being the fourth seed in the series, Hiro still marveled at the object that rather resembled a horse chestnut cast in steel.

“Bring it to life,” Jui said. Hiro nodded, breathing onto the seed the same as the others before it, then lobbing it up into the air. As it reached the top of its arc, the seed exploded into a fine mesh net that formed a ring inside the water shield they had already cast. From his side, the shield was completely smooth, but he knew the outside was a spiked protective barrier. From his understanding, any energy directed at him that made it to this shield was unlikely to have any harmful power left, after being passed through fire and water. The fine mesh of this shield would sift out any lingering harm before passing it through to the next cleanse.

“Good,” Jui said, stepping through the net with a nod. “Two left.”

Hiro held up the next seed, a rose hip, and breathed on it. This one he tossed even more gently. And almost immediately the seed burst forth life. In moments they were standing in the midst of a deep, trackless forest. Any errant curses or sleeper spells would, in theory, get lost in this forest. And yet as Hiro looked around, he couldn't help feeling like he knew this place.

“Well I should hope it feels familiar, seeing as it's yours,” Jui teased with a gentle smile.

“No, I mean it feels like a real place I've been,” Hiro said, gazing around at the mix of hardwoods and pines.

“I'm sure it does, that's how these things generally work. It's not a perfect copy of the real place, human memory doesn't work that way. But it's close enough for you to feel that familiarity. One last seed.”

This one looked and felt like a carved rock, shaped like an acorn and almost half the size of his fist. Hiro breathed life onto it, then set it on the ground. The acorn shivered and burrowed into the ground. A moment later, Hiro was startled to realize he was standing inside a stone and mortar cabin. None of the furnishings were immediately familiar and yet somehow it reminded him of Seattle.

He was further startled by a knock on the door. And the realization that he was alone. Was that Jui? But then why didn't he just let himself in? Going to the door, he opened it ... only to find himself waking from the deep trance state into which he had gone at the start of all this, his back leaned against the foot of the hotel bed while he sat on the floor.

“Better,” Jui said with a nod, clasping his shoulder for a quick squeeze. “You're still in need of healing, if I could leave Hiyuu-kun here with you, I would. But I can't, so be careful, yes? And absolutely don't go on stage tonight without having Sacchan reinforce your shields first.'

“I don't understand why you can't just –,” but before he could finish asking the question, both Jui and Hiyuu were gone. Growling, he was out the door before realizing he was shirtless. And had no idea where any of his bandmates actually were.

“Oh hello there,” Satsuki said, grinning as he stepped away from the opposite wall and dropped his arms to his sides, as if he had been waiting for him. “Might want a shirt before we go to the venue.”

Hiro stifled an annoyed snort, re-entering his hotel room instead. Satsuki waited patiently as Hiro picked out a shirt, then made sure all of his things were packed up properly.

“Jui-sama said something about needing my shields reinforced,” he said, trying to sound casual as he tucked the hotel key card into his shirt pocket.

“Mm. Despite the visualizations, they're still growing and aren't up to a serious challenge yet.”

“So after all that effort to wipe out all the different magic on me, now we're just laying it back on again?”

“Not exactly,” Satsuki said, a gentle smile in his tone. “What Issama wiped away was a lifetime of build up from a dozen sources. What we're putting back – the healing, the shields – is all the same ... flavor, for lack of a better term. Shinto and personal, with only three signatures – Jui-sama's, mine, and yours.”

“Mine? But I don't have any magic ability,” Hiro protested, skeptical.

“Jui-sama helped, but you grew your shields yourself. Which is why we'll stop at a coffee shop on the way to the venue. Fortunately, protein is easy to acquire here in Germany.”

Hiro couldn't help a little snort of laughter at that; he was pretty hungry and something meaty would really hit the spot. There was one other matter, though he wasn't sure he really wanted to ask. At the same time, he knew he couldn't just avoid the subject. Not knowing was going to eat at him.

“About Kifumi-kun....”

“Issama's dealing with that.”

“... it's my fault,” Hiro said, jerking the zipper on his suitcase a little harder than necessary. “The demon ... it's my fault.”

“How do you figure?”

“A Christian demon has possession of my best friend, how else could that have happened except to be my fault somehow? I'm the one, right? The way the demon was even able to find him?”

“Did you summon it?”

“What? No, of course not. I didn't even believe in any of this stuff until Fufu started telling me about it.”

“Then how is this your fault?” Satsuki asked, giving him a firm look. “You didn't summon the demon and you certainly didn't make Kifumi-kun sign anything. You aren't to blame, for any of this.”

It sounded good. Logical. Too bad he couldn't make himself believe it.

~*~*~

By the end of the encore, it was all Hiro could do to stumble backstage, collapsing face first into a couch as soon as he was able. And yet as drained as he felt, it was a reassuringly normal tiredness from pouring out his all on stage. He wasn't completely sure what it meant, but he hoped it was a sign that, whatever Isshi and Jui had done to him, it had worked.

“Pretty sure I can't carry you to the bus like this,” Natsu teased.

“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled, smiling a little. “Gimme a bit.”

“Hey, has anyone seen Kifumi-kun?” Daichi asked, frowning. “He said he was going to be here, but I haven't seen him since last night.”

Hiro kept quiet, just listening at first, but no one else had seen Kifumi all day. As much as he felt like that wasn't a good sign, he knew he couldn't say that. Especially when he had no way of explaining it but gut feeling.

“Maybe something happened back home?” he said at last, though he didn't believe it.

“So he left without saying anything to any of us? That doesn't feel right,” Daichi said, frowning even more. Pulling himself up to sit on the couch properly, Hiro reached for a phone that wasn't actually on him. A groan and he went to his bag. No messages, from Kifumi or anyone else. Daichi was right, it wasn't like Kifumi to disappear without a word. What game was that demon playing now?

“Ne, senpai, what about you?” Daichi asked.

“What about me?” Satsuki asked as he made a show of checking Hiro's vitals and his wrapped hand, even though both of them knew there was no reason for the bandage, thanks to Jui's healing.

“Have you seen Kifumi-kun lately?”

“Briefly, last night. He wasn't looking too good, so I told him to go to a hospital to get checked out,” the elder singer said. “You, meanwhile, have gotten yourself mildly dehydrated, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But no alcohol on the bus tonight; I mean it. If I have to procure IV fluids, I'm charging double.”

“Double of nothing is still nothing, senpai,” Hiro mumbled, though he still took the bottled water Satsuki handed him, drinking it with a smile.

Watch it, smart-ass,” the older man scolded in English. It was unexpected, but it was also an opening.

Did you really see Kifumi last night?” Hiro asked, also in English.

Yes and he looked like shit. Relax, he'll be fine.

Hiro wanted to press, but Satsuki jerked his head in Daichi's direction, and he relented with a sigh. He didn't think Daichi was anything like fluent, but then again.... And he certainly didn't want to try to explain Isshi to his bandmates, he didn't know how. The supernatural just ... wasn't that easy to believe in for most people. Hell, even he still had moments of disbelief.

Hiro waited for everyone to be settled in for the overnight drive to Cologne, then waited a little more before he moved to the back. Isshi really did seem to be invisible; he had been sitting reading a book with a cover claiming it to be a text about Chinese dragons for the last hour and yet no one had said a thing. It was almost creepy. And yet even after moving to sit next to him, Hiro couldn't think of a single way to interrupt that wouldn't be too rude.

“Something on your mind, Hiro-kun?” Isshi asked, sliding a string in place and closing his book.

“Lots of things,” he confessed, sighing heavily. “Is Fufu ... is he okay?”

“Not really,” Isshi said and was that regret in his eyes? “I won't go into details, but he's been shot, at least twice. His soul is trapped sharing a body with a demon who can inflict more psychological horrors than even you could imagine. I can't promise you that we can save him.”

Hiro's jaw clenched. That ... that definitely wasn't what he had wanted to hear. Worse, he knew there was nothing he could do about it. For everything that he had been taught, infernal demons were beyond him. Better to file it away and focus on something else. If he could.

“Hiyuu-kun told me Toshi told him I'd passed the test of pain. What does that even mean?”

“Many schools of the arcane and related arts have what they call a test of pain as one of the final steps before graduating from full-time student to practitioner. The exact nature of the test varies, of course, but it is meant to test if the student is ready to face the painful realities that come from being connected to the arcane. If he was being serious, it means your apprenticeship is nearing its end.”

“I ... I'm not sure what the means,” he confessed, unease slithering down his spine.

“Whose apprentice are you, really, Satoshi-kun or Yuuki-kun?”

“Both, sort of. They've both been teaching me as much as possible about the supernatural, plus Toshi's been tweaking and expanding on what I've been learning with my iaido training.”

“Which dojo?” Isshi asked, suddenly more keenly interested than he had been a moment ago.

“Ah, the Kyumeikan dojo, under Morita-sensei, godan.”

“How long have you been studying there?”

“Um, not quite seven years? Sensei says she'll let me retry for first dan after this tour.”

Isshi nodded, but something about the way he was smiling made Hiro uneasy.

“Ah, breathe easy, ne? Morita-sensei is hard but fair. You could have done a lot worse for a teacher. Why did you fail last time?”

“You ... you know her? Er, um, I'm not exactly sure. She said my written score was too poor, but she didn't give me the papers back, so I'm not sure what I got wrong.”

“I do, yes. And it wouldn't have helped,” Isshi said, shaking his head with a small grin. “When she does that, it means it isn't a factual problem. Something in your essay told her you weren't ready for the burden of advancement. She can't tell you what you said wrong, the change has to come from within you or else how will she know you truly mean it?”

“How am I supposed to figure out what I did wrong if no one will tell me?” Hiro countered, frowning.

“The answer is already inside you,” Isshi replied, leaning close briefly to tap him on the chest. “To be advanced to the first dan is to be acknowledged as a superior student of the way. The path is more than just physical skills. Think about it, I have faith in you.”

Hiro sighed, then thanked Isshi for his time. He didn't really feel any better about anything, but now was probably the wrong time to be worrying about any of it. There was nothing he could do about Kifumi, and he wasn't sure there was all that much he could do about his next iaido test, either.

“Get some sleep, Hiro-kun,” Natsu scolded, tugging him down onto the seat next to him. “I'll take care of any bad dreams, promise.”

It wasn't much, but for now it would just have to be enough.

~*~*~

By the end of the Cologne show, Hiro could barely even croak, let alone talk. He didn't know what, but something about this audience had been pushing him to give more and more, something trying to pull him even higher. It just might have been his strongest performance ever. He felt amazing, even a bit euphoric, and he could tell Masa, Cazqui, and Daichi felt the same. Even if he was a little jealous they could all still happily chatter with each other, thrilled with the way the show had gone.

And then they got back to their dressing room. Seeing Satsuki waiting for them with a worried frown was like a bucket of ice water dumped over his head.

“Senpai?” he croaked. The singer-mage made a negligent gesture in his direction, hurrying past him to slap something onto the door as he pulled it closed. Hiro felt something flare to life as the door latched, a completed circuit that made the hairs on his arms stand to attention.

“Senpai?” he asked again, more urgently this time. But Satsuki was focused intently on Natsu, one hand on his forehead, the other on his chest. Their drummer swayed a bit worryingly, eyes closed, and Hiro felt a stab of guilt at not noticing sooner that something was wrong. Natsu groaned and slumped into Satsuki's ready arms.

“Masa-kun, help Natsu-kun to the couch, ne?” the mage suggested.

“O-of course,” Masa stammered. “What happened?”

“Just exhaustion,” Satsuki said, but Hiro could almost smell the lie in that. “He'll be fine in a few minutes, but right now he needs quiet while I double-check the rest of you.”

“Senpai, the door?” Cazqui asked.

“Closed, so your staffers know to give you some privacy for a bit. Who wants to be first?”

“Why do you even need to check us out? I feel fine,” Daichi insisted, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You're high as a kite, I'm not sure you'd notice if I broke your arm right now,” Satsuki countered with an equally stubborn expression.

“I'll go first,” Cazqui said, to Hiro's surprise. “Senpai's just trying to be thorough, yeah?”

“I am not fucking high,” Daichi protested. “This is bullshit, I –.”

The guitarist had started for the door, a move Satsuki had apparently been anticipating as he stepped in front of Daichi and pressed a strip of fuda to his forehead.

“Sleep,” the mage intoned, Daichi going limp in an instant.

“Senpai!”

“I'll explain more in a minute,” Satsuki said, easing Daichi into a chair. “You attracted the attention of some fae, that's why the four of you are high as fuck right now. Now let me do my job.”

Hiro had more questions, but Satsuki was already turning his attention to Cazqui and Masa was looking about ready to bolt. He wasn't sure there was much else he could do and he certainly didn't feel high, but if that had been a shield meant to contain them, Hiro couldn't just let the bassist break it. Catching Masa's elbow, he tried to pull the younger man close, only to almost catch an elbow to the face for his efforts.

“Hiro-kun! Don't ... I'm fine. I'm fine. But Dai-kun....”

“Deep breaths, Masa-kun,” he murmured, holding his hands up before the bassist got any more ideas. “If senpai says we got dosed, I'd believe it. He knows what he's doing, trust him.”

“Trust him?!” Masa squeaked. “Natsu-kun was fine until we got back here! And Dai-kun, too!”

“Masa-kun,” he said again softly, trying again for his arm. “Masa, hey now, breathe with me, yeah? Senpai said he'll explain, give him a chance, yeah?”

Masa jerked away from him again, though not enough to actually free himself. Now that they had been off stage for awhile, Hiro was starting to feel himself coming down from whatever had dosed them. He was also noticing his voice had come back a lot faster than it should have, as much screaming and growling as he had done. Not sure what else to do, he nudged Natsu's legs a bit to make room at the end of the couch for himself and tried to pull Masa down into his lap. It worked, but he was pretty sure that was only because Masa was in the middle of a full-on panic attack and not really paying attention anymore.

“Senpai,” he said again, worried.

“Starting to sound like a broken record, Hiro-kun,” Satsuki said, crouching down in front of them. “Masa-kun? Hey, it's okay, come back to us, yeah?”

“Ants. It feels like ants. Why does it feel like ants, oh gods, make it stop!”

“Shh, shh, easy Masa-kun,” Satsuki soothed. “Here, turn this way a second, yeah?”

Masa shifted in Hiro's lap, hyperventilating. Satsuki managed to talk him back down even as he was checking the bassist's chakras and doing something with another slip of fuda. The net result being a drowsy Masa curled into Hiro's chest by the time Satsuki was finished.

“Senpai....”

“Broken record. You'll all be fine in a few more minutes, but I couldn't have Daichi-kun breaking the circuit prematurely. Natsu-kun will need a bit longer, but otherwise you should be fine.”

“You said you'd explain,” Masa mumbled sleepily.

“And I will, but you're not going to believe it.”

“Whazzat s'posed t'mean?” Masa asked, trying, and failing, to cover a yawn.

“They're called skratti or Mooseleute, and apparently a bunch of them are big fans of your music. They thought they were helping, doing a good thing. Sensei has gone to explain so they don't get angry, thinking they're being snubbed or something.”

“That ... how is that an explanation?” Masa huffed.

“Told you,” Satsuki said, laughing as he stoop up, moving up the couch to check on Natsu again. “They're used to Europeans, humans, I'm ... mostly sure they didn't mean any harm.”

“Are you suggesting we're not human?” Masa demanded.

“Should we really be talking about fae like this, senpai?” Hiro asked.

“Not talking about them would be even more insulting. And insulting the Fair Folk is always a bad idea.”

It wasn't like Hiro could argue the point. He didn't have any experience with any European fairy folk, let alone the specific ones Satsuki had mentioned. In hindsight, he probably should have done some research before this tour had even started.

“You expect me to believe fairies are real?” Masa scoffed.

“Not in the least,” their senpai said, flashing him a casual smile before moving on to check on Daichi again.

“... you're serious. Are you crazy?”

“If you'd rather believe someone dosed your water bottles, I can't stop you,” Satsuki said, shrugging.

“Fairies....”

“I think you would probably call these ones elves,” he said conversationally.

“Elves ... wait, you mean that knot of tall blond Viking-like guys, far stage left?”

“Don't know, they look different depending on who's seeing them. Between being shapeshifters and having glamour magic....”

Even as the singer-mage was explaining, Daichi jerked awake. Hiro bit back a smile as he watched the guitarist scan the room, settling a scowl on Satsuki.

“What the hell just happened?”

“Ants?” Satsuki asked.

“What?” Daichi repeated. Satsuki gestured to his arms, the younger man visibly surprised to see he was scratching himself. While Satsuki worked on Daichi, Masa pulled himself up and started for one of the other makeup chairs, stiff in a way that had Hiro worried about him. And yet he kept his mouth shut and his hands to himself, watching and waiting. And feeling stupid when the door opened a few moments later to admit an older version of Isshi's human guise.

“Spoke with the elves,” Isshi said without preamble. “They're very sorry and have agreed to share their knowledge with the whole of the Summer Court. With a bit of luck, we won't have this trouble again.

“What, uh, what does any of that mean?” Daichi asked. “And who the hell even are you?”

“Don't mind him,” Satsuki said, “he was asleep. But you four should be getting ready to leave, yeah?”

“It's safe now?” Cazqui asked, his first contribution since volunteering to get checked out first.

“Natsu-kun needs a few more minutes, but the rest of you are good to go,” Satsuki confirmed with a nod. Masa was pointedly ignoring Hiro at this point, or maybe that was just his imagination. Either way, now was really not the time to be dealing with Masa's unresolved crush. Maybe at the next hotel.

~*~*~

Hiro turned a small circle, trying to figure out just where he was. Not the hotel in Budapest where he had fallen asleep, that much was certain.

“Relax, Hiro-kun, you're still in Budapest, physically. This is another dream space.”

“... why?”

“Because your body needs the sleep but I ... needed some time with you,” Natsu said with a sheepish look. “Don't get me wrong, I've been having a blast with everyone, but ... I need some quiet time, too, you know? So ... where are we?”

“I'm not sure,” he confessed. “Are you sure this is my dream?”

“Definitely inside your head,” Natsu said with a nod. Not sure what else to do, Hiro started for the sound of water. A few steps and a path appeared. A few more and they came upon a great, grey torii. Hiro stopped short, frowning at the torii a moment. Or rather, the sign.

“Tsubaki Grand Shrine.”

“What's that?”

“It's a Shinto shrine in the States, about an hour's drive from Seattle,” Hiro said, looking around. “But it's too quiet. And the entrance isn't like this. There should be a parking lot and a road and ... well, people, for one thing.”

“Well,” Natsu said, briefly squeezing his shoulder, “it is just a dreamscape. Did you come here a lot or something?”

“Maybe twice,” he said, frowning at the trees all around them. “Not my religion.”

“Says the man sworn into the service of a kami.”

“I haven't taken any such oaths, thanks.”

“You aren't seriously going to stand there and tell me you're still whatever flavor of Christian it was you were raised, are you?” the baku countered, chuckling. “You could be a Christian Hunter, but last I checked, faith in the Jesus path and service to another god don't mesh.”

“Not with the Church doctrine, no,” he sighed in agreement. “Technically, the only law is to love, the rest are more like ... like the pirate code: guidelines.”

“Hey, you don't have to convince me,” Natsu said, chuckling. “I've always walked the paths of the kami. Or is it yourself that you're trying to convince.”

“... not sure even I know anymore,” Hiro said, sighing again. “Well, you wanted quiet. Here we are.”

“Not just quiet,” Natsu said, Hiro flinching a little at how close the drummer had gotten without him noticing. “Just how virtuous and monogamous are you, Hirocchi?”

“Natsu....”

The drummer trailed a finger down the side of his face and Hiro stepped backwards.

“That much, huh?” Natsu said, still smiling. “Ah, it's fine, Masa-kun really would be intolerable if I got something and he didn't.”

“I'm not ... I'm not some toy you can just share so easily!”

“No, you're not,” the baku agreed, stepping closer. “But can you really blame us? Saa ... I guess this means Cazqui's off the hook after all.”

“Wha-what?”

“Nothing, don't worry about it,” Natsu said, stepping back with a dismissive wave.

“Natsu....”

“Really, it's nothing. Dumb idea. Don't give it another thought,” the drummer insisted.

Hiro stifled a sigh, stepping past the torii to follow the path to the main shrine. Except the building he came to next was one he didn't recognize at all, more like a palace than a shrine, with a pair of stone dogs guarding the path forward. Again he stopped short, almost annoyed now. What the hell kind of dream was this anyway?

“You aren't in a dream, that's why nothing's happened.”

Hiro shifted his scowl to the komainu to the right, watching as, with a rattle of gravel, it stretched its stone spine. Rocks ground against each other as the guardian dog jumped down from its pedestal and approached him.

“Dreamscapes are built from the stuff of human dreams, but they are not the same thing,” the stone dog rumbled, tilting its head as it watched him. “This is the astral plane. You don't recognize where you are now because you have crossed out of your own forest into the domain of Suzaku's celestial palace. Giver he a minute, she will be with you both shortly.”

Hiro was completely mystified, turning towards Natsu to ask him what any of that meant. But the baku was clearly just as surprised and confused as he was, a fact that was far from comforting. Stifling a sigh, Hiro moved to a nearby bench, brushing off a few stray peach blossoms before taking a seat. He wasn't sure where they were, to say nothing of how or why.

“Well, this is unexpected....”

The komainu had said this was Suzaku's celestial palace ... and yet that was most definitely not Jui standing there in flame red and pale yellow hanfu, gold ornaments in raven-black hair that cascaded over slender shoulders. A tiny woman who appeared more Chinese than Japanese, something that, somehow, felt innately wrong. And yet the four guardian beasts had started in China, so perhaps that was why? As he watched, trying not to gape, she lifted a wide sleeve over her mouth and laughed, shaking her head a moment later.

“You are Blades, of course you were not told,” the goddess said, still smiling. “Junichi is an incarnation, a precious avatar. Who is very much awake right now, or he would be here to help. Your heart is troubled, is that what brought you here?”

“I ... I don't know. I didn't ... it wasn't like I consciously came here.”

The goddess nodded, gliding over to him. Immediately, he jumped to his feet and smoothed his clothes, though it did nothing for the feeling of being completely unprepared for an audience with a goddess. And yet she laughed, a sweetly musical sound.

“Only Court and Wardens can come here and as neither of you are Wardens, I think we can dispense with such formality, yes? Please.”

The idea of being casual with an elemental goddess ... if he thought about it too hard, Hiro's Christian upbringing was sure to rear its stubborn head. And he doubted that would be helpful.

“... do I need to send Natsu home?” she asked. Startled again, Hiro glanced between the two, certain he had missed something, though he wasn't sure what.

“I think Hiro-kun has a lot of troubles in his heart,” Natsu said with a small, sad smile. “So many he doesn't know where to start with them. Would you mind if I took a walk, milady?”

“The Court is always welcome,” Suzaku said with a gracious nod. Natsu bowed low, then started for one of the gardens, leaving Hiro alone with the fire goddess. And yet he still didn't know what she was expecting from him, sitting back down on the bench because she had done the same.

“Your heart is bound in many knots,” she said, a small hand resting on his shoulder. “You were raised to think much of what you now feel is wrong, sinful. And now you fear you are to blame for what has happened to your precious friend.”

“What else am I to think? A demon....”

“You are hardly the only Christian in all of Nihon, Hiro,” the goddess scolded lightly. “And arguably not even that good of one, sinfully sleeping with an archangel of your god.”

“Okay, but –,” he started, trying to ignore the flaming of his cheeks. Suzaku clasped his face in her small hands, forcing him to meet her dark, burning eyes.

“You. Are not. To blame. Your heart is clean.”

He dropped his eyes to his lap and yet she persisted, tilting his head up. “Listen to me, precious one: you are not to blame. Your heart is true and good and strong. So strong. I need you. We need you. This demon wants you tied up in doubt, to dull your edge. Do not let it win so easily, my precious.”

Lips brushed against his, such a brief touch they were gone before he could really process it.

“I know, not in this lifetime,” she teased lightly. “But do not doubt you have our love and affections. Hiyuu is a lucky man.”

Releasing him, she smoothed out the hang of her hanfu as she stood. Hiro was so shocked she was able to brush a kiss to his forehead and walk away before he was even able to move at all. He shot up to his feet, but the fire goddess had already disappeared. Did ... did that mean....?

“Suzaku believes in openly showing affection for her Court.”

Hiro couldn't help a double take at the man unexpectedly standing beside him.

“Kisaki-sama?”

“Ah, I suppose that is the name you know best,” the man said with a wry grin. “My wife has not held Court in so long, to have such visitors here, of course I had to come see for myself.”

“Y-your wife?”

“Phoenix and dragon, though some cycles it is the tiger who claims her as wife,” the man who wore Kisaki's face said, a sharp, inhuman glint in his eye. Dragon. Seiryu.

“Seiryu-sama,” he murmured as he bowed politely. A hundred questions raced through him but he kept them all to himself.

“Do be mindful of where you give your loyalty,” the dragon said, resting a hand over Hiro's heart. “Not everyone will understand your truth as we do.”

Hiro wanted to ask the dragon what he meant, but the blackness won.

Chapter Text

Home. Hiro wasn't sure which was the better part, the feeling of dropping his bags beside his ratty couch or the way Hiyuu jumped up and hugged him tightly.

“Hey baby,” his boyfriend murmured, brushing sweet kisses to his lips, his cheeks. “Damn but I've missed you.”

“You just saw me a couple days ago!”

“Everything go okay after we left?”

“I guess,” Hiro huffed, not really wanting to talk about it. To be honest, at the moment all he really wanted to do was ravish his boyfriend senseless, make up for the time apart.

“Someone's in a mood,” Hiyuu murmured, chuckling. “Is now a bad time to mention I sort of ... did a thing?”

A groan and Hiro let his head sink down to Hiyuu's shoulder as he whined: “Hiyuuuuu. Can we please just ... not talk for awhile first?”

Hiyuu laughed, hooking fingers into Hiro's belt loops and drawing him over to the waiting futon. Good to know he wasn't the only one feeling a need for something besides words. Eager fingers made short work of unnecessary clothes until Hiro and Hiyuu were both naked on the futon. Only a few days and still their coupling was almost feverish, as if they had been apart for weeks or months instead. Not that Hiro was going to complain, tucking Hiyuu's lithe frame against his own as they basked in the afterglow.

“I love you,” Hiro mumbled without thinking.

“I know,” Hiyuu replied, nipping a kiss to his jaw. “Love you, too, baby. That's, um, why I did it.”

“Did what?” he asked, suddenly worried he didn't want to know.

“I ... may have talked to Sugizo-senpai while you were gone,” the bassist admitted even as he scooted closer. As if he were trying to hide against Hiro's chest.

“Hiyuu! I told you to let me handle him,” Hiro muttered.

“It's not like I went out looking for him,” Hiyuu huffed, lightly poking him in the ribs. “Gazette had a live, Gakkun and Kazi-kun dragged me to it with them and then out with the band after and, well....”

“And since senpai's fucking Aoi-senpai now....”

“Don't,” Hiyuu muttered, his tone darkening as he jabbed Hiro hard in the chest this time. “Don't you dare start getting all pissy about your ex having a sex life. Especially not right after sleeping with me, you hypocrite. Anyway, it was just a cup of tea and mostly for my own peace of mind. He says whenever you're ready, he's ready to talk. I have his number if you need it.”

Hiro could feel himself getting angry ... and then he could feel that anger being pulled out of him. Hiyuu moved to climb on top of him, straddling his hips and kissing him deeply. It was enough to get Hiro to stop thinking about his anger, tangling his fingers in the youkai's soft hair as he kept kissing him. A low groan and Hiyuu rocked against him, sliding his ass along Hiro's cock.

“Again?” Hiro groaned against his lips, equal parts amused and aroused.

“Mm, but slower,” his boyfriend murmured. “I want to savor every last second of it this time.”

“Greedy,” Hiro murmured, but it wasn't a protest. “Good thing I love you too much to say no.”

Hiyuu laughed, a low, lustful sound that went straight to Hiro's cock. Truth was, he had missed Hiyuu a lot more than usual this trip. If he thought he could get away with it, he would lock them both up in his apartment for the next week straight, just so he might possibly get his fill of the other man. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option, but he was going to make the most of the time he did have with the man, even if it was just one day.

~*~*~

Hiro really had tried his best to pout, whine, and beg Hiyuu to stay in bed with him all day, but his boyfriend had insisted he had other things to do besides indulging in physical pleasure. Hiro had still managed to linger in bed until almost ten, a rarity when he wasn't sick. The usual post-tour errands and chores managed to keep him distracted from his phone for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, but eventually he couldn't put it off any longer. Even though Hiyuu had been careful to insist Sugizo wasn't looking to put any pressure on him ... it was still something hanging over his head. The weight of his own fuck-ups with the angel, the quiet expectation from Jui that he somehow make things right with those he had wronged. He desperately wanted to be able to just ignore all of it, but he knew he couldn't do that, either.

Even so, sending that first text message, even as brief as it had been, had been more nerve-wracking than he would have thought possible. Not was his nervousness eased in the least when the response was that Sugizo didn't know his number.

This is a mistake, he scolded himself, tempted to back out. He could say it had been a mistake, a wrong number. Except that would be the coward's way out. Hiro was not a coward.

« Um, it's Hiro. Maeda Hiro, your ex?

» Sorry, new phone, but yes, of course. We can meet any time that's good for you. I told you from the start that we could talk when you were ready.

Hiro was shaking as he reread the message a second and then third time. It wasn't even anything particularly revealing, what was wrong with him? And yet it was too easy for him to hear those words in Sugizo's voice, to picture the man smiling. Among other things. Another hard shudder. Maybe this was still a mistake. He wasn't sure he was as over the archangel as he kept trying to convince everyone he was. Even if it was impossible, a corner of him still wanted to beg Sugizo to take him back. The same part of him that was currently reminding him just how very good the sex between them had been, especially when Sugizo had been in the mood to force him to submit.

Groaning, Hiro forced aside the memories, trying to focus instead on the here and now. A few more messages and they had a meeting set for fifteen minutes later at the Starbucks just down the street. It was enough time for him to throw himself into a cold shower and pray.

He wasn't really feeling any calmer by the time he was picking out a table with his iced macchiato and a matcha latte for his delayed senpai. Still the refrain in the back of his head that he was making a mistake, that this was one can of worms he was better off not opening. Thankfully, the refrain died as soon as he caught sight of the man. Unfortunately, so did the rest of his brain functions, leaving him to just sit there gaping at his senpai like an idiot while the man walked over and sat down across from him. He looked exactly the same. Nine months and yet he looked exactly the same.

Well what were you expecting, dumbass?? he silently berated himself, inwardly trying to shake off his stupor.

“This is a pleasant surprise,” the archangel murmured as he settled, a tentative smile on his lips.

“... is it really that much of a surprise?” Hiro countered, nudging the angel's drink across the table. “Hiyuu-kun told me the two of you talked. I'd be surprised if there weren't others ... or am I the only one getting pushed to fix this thing with us?”

“He and I talked, yes,” Sugizo admitted with a small nod, tucking his sunglasses into the collar of his shirt. “I suppose it's more ... I wasn't expecting to hear from you so soon?”

That wasn't even half an answer and yet they lapsed into a moment of quiet, both sipping their drinks. But before Hiro could stick his foot in it, Sugizo spoke again: “He's good for you, your Hiyuu-kun.”

“I love him.”

As soon as the words hit his ears, Hiro felt himself wanting to take them back. Not because they weren't true, on the contrary, he was quite aware of his feelings for the youkai. But this was absolutely not the way he had meant for them to come out, not with Sugizo.

“I'm sorry,” he mumbled, genuinely meaning it, and not just for blurting out his feelings just then, though that was part of it. “I ... you were right.”

“It's been known to happen,” the angel demurred. “I'm happy for you, really. That's what I've always wanted for you, Hiro-kun: for you to be happy. Maybe if the universe had aligned differently ... but it didn't. But I am happy for you. I only regret that I wasn't able to see those outside forces for what they really were sooner.

“But if you're here to ask forgiveness ... Hiro-kun, I never blamed you for what happened between us,” the angel said with a soft sigh, shaking his head. “We both made mistakes, we were both being manipulated. Maybe you a little more than me, but that doesn't make any of this your fault.”

Hiro couldn't help a flinch at that, toying with his plastic cup for a long moment as he watched the ice cubes swirl through the liquid within.

“I ... I feel like I failed us both,” he admitted at last, sighing and taking another sip of his drink.

“You had some help with that, you know,” Sugizo said. “Between your own insecurities and the demon inside Kifumi-kun.... Sometimes being me isn't as helpful as others think it ought to be. I was so hyper-focused on treating the symptoms, I wasn't looking for the underlying causes. I didn't blame you then, but now, talking with Hiyuu-kun ... Hiro, you aren't to blame for what that demon did to you, to us.”

Demons. Hiro twitched in spite of himself, guilt slithering down his spine in a cold trail. Everyone kept saying it wasn't his fault, that he wasn't to blame, but really, how could they expect him to just believe that? An infernal demon had infested his not the least bit Christian best friend in an effort to get at him, how could he not have at least some of the blame for what had happened? He swallowed convulsively, shuddering a little.

“I ... Isshi-sama wouldn't talk about Fumi after Cologne, I ... is he okay?” he asked, terrified that he didn't want the answer and yet needing to know at the same time. The way regret and something like pity swept across Sugizo's face, Hiro immediately wished he could take the words back.

“Hiro,” Sugizo murmured, reaching across the table for his hand. That tone, that look. Nothing good could come next, he knew it. He reared back, trying to deny what hadn't even been said yet.

“Hiro, I'm so sorry,” the angel said, giving his wrist a supportive squeeze. “We tried, I swear to you. We did everything we could, but the demon ... he cheated. He lied to everyone and he cheated. Silver bullet, straight to Kifumi's heart. Months ago. From what Issama was able to piece together, the demon had been torturing your friend for the better part of almost two years, he wouldn't have made it even without the silver poisoning. I'm so sorry, Hiro, I wish I had better news, truly.”

“Dead,” Hiro croaked, trying to blink back the tears stinging at the corners of his eyes. “You're saying he's ... he's dead.”

Rage, anguish, he didn't even know what else. A storm of emotion. Had it even been a week since Kifumi had turned up in Amsterdam, completely out of the blue? And now Sugizo was telling him his best friend was dead? Had been a walking corpse even back then? Hiro's ears were buzzing, he clenched his jaw against the urge to puke. This was wrong! This was all wrong! This was.....

“Hiro.”

He shuddered, blinking myopically at the person standing over him. Sugizo? No, not even close.

“Hiyuu.....”

The youkai smiled, cupping Hiro's cheeks and pressing their foreheads together. Hiro's breath hitched in his throat, he could feel his control threatening to break entirely. And then Hiyuu was sitting down beside him and Hiro could feel that pain being pulled out of his chest.

“H-how...?” he croaked, reaching for his iced macchiato to try to clear the lump in his throat.

“Not sure, to be honest. One minute I was going over tabs with Satoshi, the next I was here,” his boyfriend said with a loose shrug. “Senpai?”

“I was just thinking about calling you when you appeared,” the angel said, genuine surprise on his face. “Though from the sounds of it, I take it teleportation is not one of your abilities?”

“Not in the slightest,” Hiyuu agreed, winding himself around Hiro's right arm to better rest his head on Hiro's shoulder. “It's all right, baby, I'm here now. It's gonna be okay.”

“No ... no it's not,” Hiro insisted, shaking his head but being careful not to dislodge his boyfriend. “Nothing's all right, how can it be?? Kifumi's ... he's....”

But his mouth wouldn't let the words out again. As if by not saying it, he could somehow make it stop being true. Not that he needed to say the words when Hiyuu was actively feeding on his pain and anguish.

“I know, love,” the bassist murmured. “Senpai, is there any way we can ... take this somewhere else?”

“Hiyuu, I'm not –,” Hiro started, but even as he was trying to say something, he found himself sitting on his own couch again, Sugizo crouched down in front of him.

“What happened to Kifumi ... it isn't your fault,” the archangel said, soft sadness in brown eyes.

“How can it not be my fault?” Hiro rumbled, anger trying to fire in his chest, but it, too, was falling into the siphon that was Hiyuu's hunger. “A fucking demon killed my best friend trying to get to me, of course it's my fault!”

“No. Hiro, listen to me. The demon did this. Killing Kifumi was always part of its plans, that isn't your fault. You have to stop blaming yourself for everything, you aren't a god.”

“Apparently kami aren't much good either,” he snarled, instantly regretting it for the way his words caused something to flicker across Sugizo's face, something bitter and anguished at the same time.

“I'm going now,” Sugizo said, stiff in more ways than one as the archangel rose to his feet. “When you're ready to be reasonable, we can talk again. Good afternoon, Hiyuu-kun.”

A heartbeat, perhaps less, and it was just him and Hiyuu in his apartment.

“That was uncalled for,” Hiyuu murmured, though his boyfriend didn't pull away from him.

“Hiyuu....”

“You're angry, you aren't thinking straight, but that's not much of an excuse. And I can't eat any more right now, so ... go take a cold shower or something.”

“Hiyuu....”

“I mean it, Hiro. Go. I'll make you something to eat,” the youkai insisted, unwrapping from his side and getting up to head for his kitchen. Hiro watched the way Hiyuu walked, the little tells he couldn't have explained to another that seemed so obvious to him that Hiyuu had overdone it. Pushing up from the couch, he caught up with his boyfriend in the kitchen, wrapping arms around him as he pressed up to him and nuzzled his neck.

“I'm sorry,” he mumbled. “You shouldn't hurt yourself for my idiot ass.”

“Yeah, well, we all do stupid things in the name of love,” Hiyuu mumbled, his tone still dripping in irritation even though Hiro could feel his boyfriend's body relaxing into his embrace.

“I love you so much, baby,” he mumbled, brushing lips against the side of Hiyuu's neck. “I don't know what I'd do without you to keep me sane. I'd be lost without you, I mean it.”

“I know,” Hiyuu sighed, the pique finally bleeding out of his tone. “Seriously, go shower. I'll have something for you to eat by the time you're done. And then we can make some calls, see what's been said, if anything, to anyone else who knew Kifumi.”

“I'm sorry you're stuck with such an utterly hopeless prat for a boyfriend,” Hiro said, brushing another kiss to Hiyuu's neck.

“Will you shut up and go shower already, you stinky jackass!” Hiyuu mock-protested, gently elbowing him away. “Jesus, why are you such a pain in my ass?!”

“Maybe if your ass wasn't so cute, I wouldn't be such a pain?” Hiro countered, copping a quick feel before making good his retreat to the shower. He wasn't ready to deal with a reality in which Kifumi was dead, he really wasn't. The universe, it seemed, had other plans for him. He was just going to have to suck it up and figure it out. At least he didn't have to do it alone, though, and for that Hiro was grateful.

~*~*~

Hiro rolled over and stared up at his own ceiling. The far side of his futon was already cold, Hiyuu hadn't stayed the whole night, in spite of how late it had been before Hiro had been able to fall asleep. That worried him more than he wanted to admit. It wasn't like Hiyuu to leave in the middle of the night, especially not when Hiro had been so upset. Something had to have happened, something important. Groping about for his phone, he was surprised to see no messages from his boyfriend there to explain things.

Worried, he rolled out of bed, throwing on clean boxers before padding out to his kitchen. To his surprise, a pot of fresh coffee was waiting for him, along with a hand-written note.

Sorry for leaving so quickly, my love, but something came up. Programmed coffee, should be finished when you get up. Plus rice in the cooker. I'll try to come home to you tonight, but call me when you get this.

A huff and Hiro fetched out his bluetooth ear piece before calling his boyfriend, the better to make himself breakfast while reassuring himself that Hiyuu really was fine.

“Mmm, 'morning baby,” Hiyuu purred in his most sultry bedroom voice. It was so unexpected, Hiro actually laughed at first.

“Sorry, I wasn't ... is that why you wanted me to call, babe?”

“I wanted you to call because I knew you'd be worried,” Hiyuu replied with a soft chuckle of his own. “Getting Toshi to throw a pillow at me was just a nice bonus.”

“Is he why you had to leave?” he asked.

“Partly. I did kind of up and vanish on him without warning yesterday,” his boyfriend replied with a little hum. “Yuu-chan had more to do with it, but it's fine now.”

Unbidden, Masa's words from the tour came back to him. Not that he believed his boyfriend would ever cheat on him ... but would sleeping with Yuuki even count? Yuuki had been an intimate part of Hiyuu's life before Hiro had even been in the picture, after all.

“Hey, so, are you working today or at home?” the bassist asked suddenly and Hiro was too surprised to even think for a second.

“Home. We've got the rest of the week away from each other. Why?”

“Then can I get you to come downstairs?”

“Hiyuu, what the fuck?” he asked, setting down his coffee. “Right now? I'm not even dressed!”

“Well GET dressed. Geeze. Are you sure you aren't the one who was expecting phone sex??”

“You weren't in bed,” he grumbled as he returned to the bedroom, grabbing the first pair of jeans he saw. “I was worried. Then I saw your note. Give me a minute to at least have on pants, yeah?”

“.... I guess that's fair. But if you could hurry a bit, that would be nice. I think we lost whoever or whatever was tailing us, but....”

None of those words made Hiro feel any better about things.

“I'm coming down now,” he said, hanging up but keeping his phone in his back pocket. Grabbing a bokken from the umbrella stand by the door just in case, he trotted down the stairs to his building's lobby. And yet when he got there, Yuuki and Hiyuu looked completely fine, unruffled even.

“Hiyuu....”

“Help me,” his boyfriend said. The image in front of him wavered, the glamour falling to pieces to reveal Yuuki was barely able to stand, leaned heavily against Hiyuu. Hiro shoved the wooden sword form at Hiyuu, then scooped Yuuki up into his arms before hurrying back upstairs to his apartment. He could hear Yuuki's breath rattling in his chest and that wasn't good.

“What the fuck?” he demanded as soon as they were back in his apartment. “Yuu-chan, what the hell have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Nothing. I don't –,” the witch started, only to be cut off by a wet cough. Hiro scowled and tapped his earpiece.

“Call Satsuki.”

“Calling ... Ichikawa Satsuki,” the mechanical voice in his ear replied.

“What? No, don't!” Yuuki protested, but his voice came out half strangled. Not that Hiro would have listened to him anyway.

“Ichikawa, who is this?”

“Sorry, senpai. Maeda Hiro and I didn't know who else to call, but there's something wrong with Yuuki-kun.”

“I'd say you should have called Jui-kun, but if he hasn't already inserted himself into whatever's gone wrong, he likely can't. Where are you?”

“My apartment,” he said before giving the address. “Hiyuu brought him here and was using a glamour to hide Yuuki's condition, so I'm assuming this is related to magic, that's why I called you.”

“All right, give me a minute to get a lift. Try Jui-kun anyway, just in case. I'll be there shortly.”

“Why'd yo–,” Yuuki started, another cough interrupting him even as Hiro bundled him in a blanket and settled him on his couch.

“I'd like to know why you said everything was fine, Hiyuu. This? This is not fine,” he muttered. “And why come here? Why isn't he in a hospital?”

“I don't need a hospital,” Yuuki grumbled, though he still tugged the blanket more firmly about his shoulders, as if he were freezing. Considering it was nearly August, that alone was a worrisome sign.

“Whatever's wrong, it's magic. Toshi and I didn't know where else to go,” Hiyuu said, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“What did you do?” Hiro asked Yuuki again, but he couldn't say he was surprised at the lack of response. A heavy sigh and he tapped his earpiece again.

“Call Jui-sama.”

“Calling ... Kiyono Jui.”

Hiro waited as his call rang through, but after what Satsuki had said, he wasn't surprised when no one picked up. He waited to be punted to voicemail, smiling a little at the message that had obviously been recorded by Jun instead of Jui.

“Senpai, I have no idea what Yuu-chan's done to himself now –”

“I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING!”

“– but you should probably get over here as soon as you can. Uh, here being my place. Dunno if you can do anything to help him, but I'm fresh out of best friends, so anything you can do....”

He made sure the message would be flagged urgent, on the off chance that would do anything, then turned off his bluetooth, setting it aside to keep from having to deal with other calls for awhile.

“What the hell was that all about?” Yuuki asked between coughs.

“What was what about?”

“That --” another cough. “That bullshit about being fresh out of best friends.”

“What have you heard about Kifumi lately?” Hiro asked.

“The cat shifter who used to play bass for BORN? Just what you've told me,” Yuuki said, stopping for another coughing fit. “Could at least offer me tea, you asshole.”

“It's still brewing, jerkface,” Hiyuu interjected, surprising Hiro when he realized his boyfriend had just been in his kitchen. “Anyway, I thought you weren't sick?”

“Bite me,” Yuuki muttered, scowling at them both. So of course someone chose that exact moment to knock on his door. Stifling an urge to growl in irritation, Hiro instead went to answer the knock. And tried not to be too obviously surprised to see Satsuki standing there, some sort of medical kit slung over his shoulder.

“EMT service~?” his senpai asked with a cheeky grin.

“That was fast,” he said, stepping back to let the man into his apartment.

“You sounded a little flustered on the phone, I figured sooner would probably be better than later, yeah?” Satsuki reasoned as he walked over to the couch. “Yuuki-san, I presume.”

“I'm fine,” the younger man muttered.

“It's forty degrees and you're shivering in a heavy blanket,” Satsuki countered, setting his bag on the coffee table. “Unless you'd rather I got my master in on this, how about we agree to drop the pretenses and further admit that you've gotten into something, yeah? Open your mouth.”

Hiro had to bite back a smirk, watching as Yuuki scowled for a whole ten seconds at an utterly unimpressed Satsuki before subsiding with a petulant huff and opening his mouth. The thermometer certainly didn't look like anything out of the ordinary, but Hiro couldn't help wondering if that was actually true. Although he had to admit, so far it looked like the same sort of check to which Satsuki had subjected him after each of their shows, albeit without asking Yuuki any questions.

The thermometer beeped and Satsuki sat back on his heels as he took it from Yuuki's mouth.

“All right, what were you trying to do before all this started?” the elder singer-mage asked.

“Nothing,” Yuuki huffed. “Reading. Half listening to Toshi ranting about ... something. Hiyuu was there, he can tell you, I wasn't doing anything.”

“Hiyuu-san?” the mage asked, turning a curious look on the bassist.

“Toshi was going on about ... something Pokemon related? We'd sort of ...wandered off track, once I told them both that Hiro was sleeping off a stress attack, they both ... just let it go,” Hiyuu said, a slow frown building on his face. “Which is weird, because neither of them even really asked why I'd been whisked away or how. Or why Hiro had even needed me to be with him. I mean, Toshi I can kinda understand, as soon as I reassured him it hadn't been anything fatal and that Hiro was fine, that was good enough for him, but....”

“Toshi's been on a Pokemon kick again,” Yuuki said, as if that should have explained everything. “You said Hiro-kun was fine and we trust you to know, what's the problem?”

“Yuu-chan, I was grabbed out of our studio in the middle of the afternoon and didn't get back in touch with either of you for five hours,” Hiyuu said, still frowning.

“And when you did get back in contact, you said it'd been an emergency, Hiro-kun had needed you. Mystery solved,” Yuuki said with another shrug.

“Yuu-chan, I can't teleport,” Hiyuu insisted. For several seconds, Yuuki just sat there on the couch staring at Hiyuu without comprehension while Satsuki's gaze bounced between the two men.

“All right, this is ... not actually what I asked,” Satsuki said and Hiro could have sworn the man was biting back a grin. “Though I am curious what Jui-kun is up to that he hasn't stuck his feathery nose in yet.”

“I do not have feathers on my nose, Sacchan,” Jui protested, walking over to the couch. Hiro blinked, but no, the door hadn't opened, Jui had just appeared in his apartment. A beat and the phoenix avatar was crouched next to Satsuki, pressing a hand to Yuuki's forehead.

“Already did that,” Satsuki murmured, amusement clear in his voice. “Definitely did something, but my Sight isn't letting me tease out exactly what.”

“Crossed chi lines, here, here, and here,” Jui replied almost too quietly for Hiro to catch, gesturing over Yuuki's huddled form. “See how they've gotten knotted here? Really, Yuuki-san, I applaud the initiative, but I have to wonder if unguided study is really the best thing for you.”

“I wasn't ... I was going over my notes from before I moved out of my parents' house,” Yuuki huffed, arms crossed defensively over his chest. “You know, the hunter clan Ri-chan is so convinced is out to get him? They did actually teach me more than how to tie my shoes.”

“Not very well,” Jui countered with a frown. “Did you bring the book with you?”

“I've got it here,” Hiyuu said as he held up Yuuki's bag. The bassist started to reach into the satchel when Jui slapped his hand away.

“Don't touch it, for crying out loud!” Jui huffed before flashing Hiyuu an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I shouldn't have slapped your hand, but it's not safe.”

“It's a grimoire, not a fucking poison dart frog,” Yuuki grumbled before he started coughing and shivering again. “Reading my own fucking grimoire shouldn't do this to me.”

“I thought you said you were fine,” Hiro commented before ducking into his kitchen to fetch the tea Hiyuu had started. And yet he couldn't take any pleasure in the glower he could feel Yuuki shooting at his back.

He was a little startled to have Jui, satchel in hand, meet him at the kitchen entrance. The older man (phoenix, whatever) seemed to be studying him a moment. Then, with an almost bird-like nod, he extended Yuuki's bag.

“Trade. I'll take him the tea, you pull the book out for us.”

“... after you just told Hi-kun not to touch it?” Hiro countered, though he still made the trade.

“Hiyuu-kun is a creature of magic. You're human. It makes a difference, trust me,” Jui said as he walked back over to the couch. Hiro couldn't exactly argue with that, sinking to the floor on the far side of his coffee table. He still felt a little awkward, going through Yuuki's satchel, but at least the grimoire was fairly obvious. And also not at all what he had been expecting. Instead of some leather-bound tome of arcane magic, it was a simple three-ring binder with the kanji for “wisdom” painted on the cover in ... was that bright purple sparkly puff paint?

“What? I was thirteen, what do you want from me?” Yuuki grumbled, suddenly reminding Hiro of a wet cat, the way he was sitting there glowering at everyone and yet cradling the steaming cup of tea close to his chest.

“I'm surprised the paint hasn't all scraped off,” Hiro mumbled, setting the binder on his coffee table, not sure what to do next. Jui looked poised to snap he fingers when Satsuki's hand shot out to grab his wrist.

“Wait. Let me look at it first.”

“I don't see why. I think we've already established Yuu-kun's teaching up to this point has been just this side of disastrously irresponsible,” Jui grumbled, freeing his wrist to cross his arms over his chest. Hiro blinked, curious what had almost happened.

“Yes, but I really don't want to have to ask Issama for permission to access the Archives because you crisped first and asked questions later. Do you?” Satsuki countered, lips curving into a smirk. Whatever that meant, it got Jui to relent. Satsuki fished out a pair of latex gloves from his medical kit before he flipped open the cover of the binder. A curl of smoke rose up from the first page and Hiro jerked back, immediately freezing his own breathing for fear of inhaling whatever that smoke was. Satsuki scowled and muttered something as he slapped the cover closed again.

“Hey! The hell did you do to my book?!” Yuuki demanded, but when he tried to get up from the couch, Jui held him still.

“Not him. Who else has handled that binder besides you?” their senpai asked.

“No one, until now,” Yuuki said, frowning. “Mom would look at some of the pages before I was allowed to add them to it, but once it was inside the binder, it was for my eyes only. Those are the rules. A grimoire is personal, sharing it with someone else would be a violation of family law.”

“And you just carry it around with you casually like this?” Satsuki asked with a little frown of his own.

“Well no, not usually,” Yuuki confessed, sighing and setting aside his tea. “But when Hiyuu up and vanished ... I needed something to do besides listening to Toshi's ramblings and, well, now seemed like a good time to go back over what I'd been taught?”

“You'd be better off with a memory wipe,” Jui muttered, arms still crossed over his chest.

“Jui-kun,” Satsuki murmured, digging through his kit bag. Hiro watched as the man pulled out what looked much more like witch things than medical things.

“What kind of EMT did you say you were again?” Yuuki groused from the couch.

“The kind trained in both high and low magic, as well as emergency health,” the singer-mage replied as he set up his work space. Hiro felt a vague twinge of unease as he watched, though he wasn't sure what was causing it. Until Jui grabbed his face with both hands, forced him to look him in the eye.

“I know a little of the rhetoric with which you were raised, Hiro-kun. At some point, you are going to have to make a choice.”

“Between the old god who condemned my best friend to torment and death or the new gods who couldn't even save him?” Hiro asked, bitterness dripping from every word. He had been expecting anger from Jui, but instead his senpai's eyes filled with sadness.

“Sacchan, do excuse us,” Jui said softly. Before Hiro could voice a protest, he was standing outside a walled estate in a neighborhood he didn't recognize. Whoever lived here, it was apparently someone Jui knew well, since he let them into the yard without ringing the bell.

They weren't more than halfway up the drive when Isshi appeared at the front door of the house. Hiro froze on the spot, until Jui tucked his arm through his and insisted Hiro keep walking. But why? Why bring him here, now? Something in Isshi's frigid gaze had Hiro automatically lowering his eyes, shoulders hunching inwards. So much disapproval in those silent eyes. Getting involved in all this had been a mistake. It was too much, he just wanted to be able to make music, to share Nocturnal Bloodlust with their fans. He wasn't meant for all this supernatural stuff.

“I could veil your eyes again, but what would be the point? Hiyuu-kun loves you, the next time he fed off your anger, trying to help, the veil would break,” Isshi said, not yet letting them into his house. “These islands have always belonged to the youkai clans. We simply let humans live among us, too.”

“I thought you said you were kami, not youkai,” Hiro said with a frown of confusion.

“At my age, I am neither. And both. Remember your high school physics, ne? Energy does not simply come into existence. And what are the kami but beings of great spiritual energy?”

“Pretty sure high school physics can't explain magic,” Hiro huffed, but he still couldn't quite make himself meet Isshi's cold eyes.

“Because high school physics only goes as far as the macro level, the physical world that you can touch and see and measure with your own two hands,” Isshi agreed with a thin smile. “The arcane arts are the application of will at a distance and that requires theories for which the scientific community can't even agree it needs. It is a guiding scientific principle that, to be valid, an experiment must be repeatable by anyone with consistent results. And so science rejects the arcane because it is more like music, like art. Anyone can drop a ball from a tower and see the law of gravity in action. Not everyone can play Beethoven's 5th. Some may try for years to learn how to paint and still never master photorealism. Do we call these things failures? Reject them as invalid?”

“It's different,” Hiro mumbled, completely confused on what point Isshi was even trying to make.

“Tousan, I did actually bring him here for a reason. He's angry about Kifumi-kun, and rightfully so. He doesn't understand what happened.”

“Of course he doesn't,” Isshi said with a little snort. Hiro's shoulders twitched as Isshi stepped back, silently inviting them into his house. The air within was surprisingly cool as he meekly followed his host to the back of the house and an open room faced on a perfectly kept garden yard. Vegetable patches, an entire row of colorful roses, raked gravel walks and shade trees, stretches of lawn with little raised bumps at the far end. A subdued and yet somehow blatant show of wealth that felt at odds with the life Isshi of Kagrra had supposedly led. Or at least as Hiro had heard of it.

“You're lucky it's late summer. Enma is in a more forgiving, solicitous mood this time of year,” Isshi said as he struck a match, lighting a single white pillar candle. Hiro didn't understand, just as he didn't understand the words Isshi chanted before setting a piece of paper in the candle's flame.

“This may take some time. Lay down, relax. Enjoy the cool breezes.”

Hiro was still confused, but he had to admit, the soft breeze felt good against his skin. A tiredness tugged at his limbs and Hiro laid down, accepting a pillow for his head with a murmur of thanks. The tiredness was wrong, he hadn't even been up that long, but there was little point in trying to argue with limbs that were no longer interested in his being upright. More magic, it had to be.

“Suggestion is a powerful thing,” Isshi's voice murmured, the words almost brushing against his ear. “But you cannot meet him so easily in the lands of the living. Close your eyes. We will do the rest.”

He wanted to ask what Isshi meant, but his mouth wouldn't form the words. Before he knew it, his eyes were closed and everything was darkness and cool shade.

A soft, deliberate knocking, as on a table top or a wooden door reached his ears. Hiro opened his eyes, startled to find himself in a half-familiar cabin. The astral plane. It wasn't a place he had really ever tried to reach, what with all of that being borderline sacrilegious. Last time, he had needed Jui to help him count down into the necessary trance state. This time it seemed Jui had done away with actively involving him in the process. Or else Isshi had. Either was possible; both were, from his experience anyway, the sort to act first, ask second. Or never. It rankled, one hand kneading at an ache in his shoulder.

The knock repeated and Hiro glanced around the cabin again. The last time, opening the door had ended the trance. Somehow, he didn't think it would be that easy this time. But he wasn't sure he wanted any part of whatever this was. Sitting back down, he closed his eyes and told himself to just wake the fuck up already.

It didn't work, the knocking sounding a third time, a little more insistent. Swearing under his breath, he went to the door, completely certain he was ready to give Isshi or Jui, either one, a piece of his mind for manipulating him like this.

The words died unsaid.

“Fufu.”

“Well it's about time! Whatcha been doin in there, jerking off?”

“... what? What the fuck is going on?”

“Day pass,” Kifumi's image said, holding up something that looked like a slip of fuda.

“... you look ... the same.”

“Um, yeah, cuz the kami decided you'd probably completely freak the fuck out if I looked the way that fucking demon had actually left me,” the image of his best friend said, the words at least sounding like the sort of thing the shifter might have said. “It, um, feels weird, to be honest. I mean, I can feel it, that the only thing keeping me together and calm like this is the spell wound all around me. But it's, you know, better than the alternative.”

“Dead for nothing and still being tortured.”

“Don't be obtuse,” the image said, rolling its eyes. “Are you going to let me in or what? Geeze, your manners are such shit, Hirocchi. I thought you were raised better, ya big lug.”

“... how am I supposed to ... the last time ... what's the point in this?”

Kifumi's image watched him, head tilting to one side for a moment before cat ears flicked out of black hair. But that didn't settle anything in Hiro's mind. The last time he had been here, everything he had seen had been part of a guided visualization. How did he know any of this was even real? How did he know this wasn't just something his own mind was creating to try to soothe his own guilty conscience? Or something Jui was spinning for him for the same reason? How was he supposed to trust that any of this was real?

“Look, either invite me in or come on out here,” the image said, cat ears twitching.

“Why? What's the point?”

“Hey, all I know is what I was told: I was given a day pass to come help you understand. So either invite me in so we can talk or come out here so we can go to whoever you need to see to believe this is real.”

Still sounded like something Kifumi would say. Still didn't prove it was actually his friend.

“Gods, you are such a stubborn meathead sometimes,” the image growled, grabbing Hiro's head and jerking him down into a hungry kiss. Hiro was too startled at first to know how to react. A hot tongue flicked against his lips and he stepped back.

“Fufu....”

“Does this mean you're inviting me in?”

“What ... why did you do that?”

“Because I still love you, you over-muscled moron, though the kami know what that says about MY hopeless ass,” the specter huffed, arms crossing over his chest. That ... he shivered, tugging at one ear, trying to make this all make sense. According to what he had been taught, Kifumi had been sentenced to an eternity in Hell for making a pact with a demon, none of this could be real for that reason alone.

“Jesus fucking Christ, you have got to be the most stubborn ... Maeda Hiro, you come out here with me right the fuck now,” Kifumi's image snapped, stamping a foot for emphasis in a display that both did and didn't ring true. And still he hesitated. Until Kifumi lashed out, fetching him a backhanded blow across the face. It was so unexpected, for long seconds all he could do was stand there blinking stupidly.

“Come on then! You think I'm not real? You come out here and show me how not real I am!”

“That ... that doesn't even make sense!” he protested.

“Gods, get the fuck out of your own head already then! Jesus fuck, how can you believe in angels and demons and gods and then not believe it's really me, you asshole?!”

“Because you're in Hell!”

“Gee, love you, too, fuckhead!” the image said before reaching up and tugging on a handful of Hiro's hair. He yelped, blinking back the pain, the location flickering with each blink until he was back in Isshi's house. A moment to blink at Isshi's ceiling and then he sat himself up again. Jui was sitting in a far corner of the room, eyes closed as he sat in what looked like some form of meditation. Hiro ran a hand through is hair, unsettled to see Isshi sitting across the small table from him, sipping a cup of tea as if it were just another day.

“What....”

“Junichi,” Isshi said softly. A beat and Jui took a deep breath before opening his eyes.

“Well that didn't go as expected,” the phoenix avatar said, rolling his shoulders before he got up. “Is he...?”

“Still here? He's the one who sent Hiro back down, so I would say yes,” Isshi replied, setting down his cup. “Of course it's going to be harder for him to explain anything to you like this. Ah, I suppose he was hoping I would offer to help him, isn't that right, Kifumi-kun?”

If that was supposed to provoke a reaction ... as far as Hiro could tell, nothing happened.

“You feel abandoned, betrayed by the gods, is that it?” Isshi asked quietly. “Gods whose powers you aren't even sure you believe are real, even though you've seen them.”

“Demons have powers, too.”

“Greater than those of your Christian God?”

“Of course not,” Hiro scoffed. “This is pointless. Kifumi made a deal with a demon and they only make the one kind. His soul's trapped in Hell now because of me, this entire conversation is pointless.”

The tea cup sitting in front of Isshi abruptly shattered, Hiro flinching away from the few shards that flew at him. They never made it, but Isshi's expression just then was absolutely terrifying.

“Tanaka Kifumi, you are still a guest in this house,” Isshi growled. “I will send you back to Enmadaioh right now if you don't behave.”

Isshi stood with a heavy exhale, the shouji closing seemingly on its own as the light started dimming through some sort of magic or other. Hiro's whole body itched, the sensation getting worse as the lighting fell.

“Issama....”

Hiro could feel his whole body trying to shrink in on itself as Isshi turned a red-eyed glower onto him. Why, he didn't know. It wasn't like he had done anything wrong, dammit. He was a devout Christian being shoved into the role of Hunter-Warder for pagan gods, this had never been what he had wanted. If he could figure out a way to stop it, he surely would.

“It's still your choice, Hiro-kun,” Jui said, startling him badly with how easily the phoenix had crossed the room without his noticing until those hands were cupping his face again. “If you want nothing more to do with us after this, that is your choice.”

“But Suzaku-sama said... And Issama....”

“If you simply cannot stand it any longer, I will put the veil back over your eyes myself, Hiro-kun. It will break Hiyuu-kun's heart every time he has to restrain himself, but if ignorance is your preference, then I will make it so.”

“Junichi....”

“It has to be his choice, Issama,” Jui murmured, though he didn't turn away from Hiro to say it. “Yes, your strong heart would be of aid to me and mine, but if you choose the Christian god over me, I will let you go. I will always let you go where your heart says it must, Maeda Hiro. That is my vow to each of you.”

Hiro closed his eyes, but it didn't help. It was awkward, rubbing his nose when Jui was still holding him, his thoughts racing in familiar circles.

“Do I at least get to tell him I'm not where he thinks first?”

Hiro's whole body flinched out of Jui's light hold at hearing Kifumi's voice again. He blinked at the deep darkness that surrounded them, a single oil lamp the only light and even that a strange dim blue. A spirit lamp, like in the old stories.

“It's early, but when the kami focus their will...,” and Kifumi's ghost trailed off with a shrug. He looked different this time. In the astral plane, the image could have been an exact duplicate for the way Kifumi had looked in Germany. This time, he was noticeably thinner, haggard and drawn, as if he had spent the last several months in some Russian jail. The effect wasn't helped by the ropes that crossed both over and under the grey yukata he was wearing, every square centimeter of the ropes covered in glowing script.

“The demons lied to me, they never gave me what was promised and yet used my body anyway. Used it to do terrible things,” Kifumi mumbled, sinking into seiza beside the spirit lamp. “I don't even really know what all it ... he ... they did, though I know it involved murdering some prostitutes in ... truly horrific ways. But I wasn't in control, except for a few minutes here and there. Most of the time, I was locked away in a place that ... that I wouldn't describe for you even if you begged. It was hell, Hirocchi, and I wanted nothing so much as for it to end. Only it never did.”

“Fufu....”

“Issama says it was twenty-three months. I only really remember about five or six days of outside time. And inside ... time warped. It felt like years in between, decades sometimes. I ... Hiro, I begged him to kill me.”

“... that's bullshit. The Kifumi I knew was a fighter, he never would have –.”

“Did you hear what I just said, Hiro? Twenty-three months and I only remember a week of it. That's ninety-nine other weeks trapped in that place, trapped where time warped hours into days, days into years. You don't understand, you don't know what those bastards did to me. Why do you think I'm in this?” the ghost countered, plucking at his yukata. “Without these spells, I'd be a vengeful ghost right now, mad with pain and bent on destroying everything and everyone I could. Including you. Probably starting with you.”

“M-me? Why me?”

“Because I love you, idiot. Because the demons knew that, used that. Out of the two times I remember us having sex, I know for a fact the demon was driving the first time.”

Hiro gaped at Kifumi's ghost, at a loss for words. They'd had more sex than just two times in the last two years ... meaning all of those times but one had been with a demon in charge of Kifumi's body. Hiro couldn't help it, retching bitter bile and coffee onto the tatami of Isshi's floor. He could feel himself shaking with helpless, impotent anger, hot tears streaking his cheeks. Someone was lightly rubbing his back, someone pushed a glass of water into his hands. He tried to sip it, but he couldn't swallow past the lump in his throat, the water just sitting in his mouth, tasting terrible. A small bowl hovered in front of him, someone ordering him to spit, so he did.

“I'm sorry, Hiro. If I could take it all back, I would, but I can't. I thought I could make things go back to the way I wanted them, and look what that got us.”

“Kifumi....”

“I asked him to end it, begged him to even, Hirocchi. I was dying anyway, the demons made sure of that, but at least the end came on my own terms. Sort of. And this ... this is better than where it was headed, you know?” Kifumi said, flapping his arms a bit as if to demonstrate ... something. Hiro scrubbed at his face with his hand, not that it did much good.

“You doubted our power,” Isshi said softly. “I took him back, broke him free where even the angel couldn't, and banished the demons that were destroying his soul.”

“You killed him,” Hiro mumbled. “You couldn't save him.”

“I warned you I wasn't sure I would be able to save him. That silver bullet sat in his heart for months, leaching through his entire system, eating away at every part of his body. Even so, we might have been able to repair the physical damage, though he never would have regained his full health. The spiritual and psychological damage, however.... do you see how many sutra have been laid on him to keep him from turning into a hungry ghost? The damage to your soul was as a paper cut compared to what has been done to his.”

Hiro flinched again, trying to wipe away more angry tears with his hand. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. An arm curled around his shoulders, drawing him against a lean frame that wasn't quite right. Jui, not Hiyuu. Hiro closed his eyes, selfishly wishing it was Hiyuu instead even as his hand fisted in Jui's shirt. It wasn't fair.

“I know you're angry, Hirocchi,” Kifumi murmured, “but it's not Issama's fault. I was the idiot who made a bad deal in the first place. Free will and all that, right? If you want to be angry at God, be my guest. Guy's kinda a douche for letting the demons run wild the way he does, but hey, what do I know, right? That prick would've let me go to his Hell, never mind that I didn't belong to him. At least Issama saved me from that.”

“I think that's enough, Kifumi-kun,” Jui murmured. Kifumi's ghost huffed and when Hiro glanced up, he felt himself smiling for the way his friend was sitting there pouting, with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Well 'scuse me for wanting my best friend to choose the ones who saved me over the dickface who let me be soul-raped for two years.”

“Tanaka Kifumi. Enough.”

“It's not ... how am I supposed to just actively reject the religion in which I was raised. Especially knowing what will happen if I do?”

“What will happen is that you will become mine,” Jui murmured, a gentle insistence. “You will be returned to our system, your soul marked for Enma-sama. You'll probably even be allowed to spend time with Kifumi-kun again, seeing as his soul isn't going to be eligible for reincarnation for a good couple of centuries.”

“W-what?”

“I'm a ragged mess,” Kifumi's ghost said with a shrug. “Can't reincarnate until my shredded bits are all healed back together and that's ... yeah, that's gonna take awhile.”

“But the Scripture says....”

“The Scripture or men who have added their visions to it?” Isshi countered, shaking his head. “Your Bible has been revised and re-translated for political purposes so many times, used as a tool to keep the peasants from revolting against the oppressive systems bearing down on their throats. Is it not canon doctrine that the greater the suffering in life, the greater the reward in paradise? Now just whom do you suppose such rhetoric serves?”

“That ... that's not the point,” Hiro mumbled, rubbing his nose again.

“I brought you here so you could understand what happened with Kifumi-kun,” Jui said after a moment, rubbing Hiro's shoulder. “The rest of this ... you don't have to choose right now. At some point, yes, you are going to have to make a choice. But it doesn't have to be today.”

Hiro nodded, glancing over at Kifumi's ghost again.

“It's really you?”

“Still doubting me, meathead?” the spirit said, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, it's really me. Ask me anything if you need more proof.”

“What ... what do I do now?” he asked the ghost. Kifumi twitched one of his cat ears as he frowned at him a moment. And then he laughed, throwing his head back with it.

“Idiot. Make music. Write something epic in my memory. Make things right with senpai. Worship the ground Hiyuu walks like he deserves. Grow old without ever growing up. See to it Nokubura thrives until you guys become the next generation of famous senpai, still rocking and growling into your forties, fifties, sixties. Be the rock god you always wanted to be. Always tell people you love them because tomorrow's never promised.”

Hiro sniffled as he nodded, watching the lamp flicker and Kifumi's ghost start to fade.

“Guess that means my time's just about up ... but don't think this is the last time we'll meet, Maeda Hiro! And you better bring me the good sake on my next birthday, too, asshole! No cheap shit!”

In spite of himself, Hiro smiled as he watched the ghost fade into nothing. His shoulders collapsed inwards as he fell to silent, wracking sobs. No one tried to stop him, though someone was slowly, steadily rubbing his back. It wasn't fair ... but it was an answer, maybe even one he could live with.

~*~*~

Hours passed before Jui was able to take Hiro home, between the mourning he suddenly hadn't been able to stop and the lunch Isshi had insisted he eat afterwards. As stupid as it was, he just wanted to go home and take a nap. So it was a little disturbing to walk into his apartment to find Satsuki asleep on his couch. Candles, crystals, and incense were still spread across his coffee table, but the binder was either gone or put up somewhere else. Hiro glanced over at Jui, surprised to see the man making a beeline for the bedroom. Curious, he followed behind, something twinging in his gut when they came upon Hiyuu and Yuuki curled up together in his bed. Hiro tried to tell himself it was nothing, especially since Jui simply nodded and left the room. Did that mean he was supposed to leave them alone? He wasn't sure, didn't want to risk doing the wrong thing. Sighing, Hiro withdrew back to his lounge. At least this time Satsuki was awake, talking quietly with Jui. Hiro didn't want to be in the way, retreating to his kitchen even though he didn't quite know what to do with himself. If his bed were bigger, he would have gone back and joined Hiyuu and Yuuki. A part of him was tempted to do it anyway.

“Hiro-kun. How are you doing?”

“Oh, um. Fine, I guess,” he said, at a loss for what else to say.

“Right, well. I've put up some warding, Yuuki-kun's under orders to stay here a couple of days.”

“Wait, what? Why? And why here? Why not his own place?”

“No one else from his clan will think to look for him here and even if they tried, the wards would bounce them off,” Satsuki said, shaking his head. “His own mother tampered with his grimoire, he needs a couple days of quiet to recover from the attempt on his life. He asked to stay here, said he'd feel safer with you.”

“But I'm not.... His own mother tried to kill him?”

“For the moment, Jui-kun is giving her the benefit of the doubt, positing that she didn't realize what exactly she was doing. Either way, the woman's dangerous, he's going to take care of her, but that part isn't as important. As much as you can manage, no heavy foods or red meat, and absolutely no coffee. I'll bring over some green tea, he can have that, but no other caffeine. He's not going to feel up to it today anyway, but he needs to stay inside the wards until he's fully recovered.”

“I ... I don't understand any of this,” Hiro confessed, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Let me –,” Satsuki started, only to stop short as a bag of loose-leaf tea was pushed into his hands. Jui laughed before turning to stage-whisper at Hiro.

“It's like he thinks he's the only one with knowledge of healing. Clerics can be silly, ne, Hiro-kun?”

“... I thought he was a mage?” Hiro asked, frowning again.

“If you want my D&D class, bard would be more accurate, actually,” Satsuki said as he walked over to Hiro's sink, filling a kettle with water. “I'll make us some tea, try my best to answer your questions.”

“All right, well ... what exactly is going on with Yuuki-kun?” Hiro asked, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned back against the wall, watching Satsuki ready his lone tea pot.

“His mother is about to discover what happens when you meddle in things that you shouldn't. Stop frowning, dear, you'll give yourself wrinkles,” Jui said, patting Hiro's cheek. A wink and the phoenix was gone, and yet the feeling of unease remained.

“Senpai?”

“Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup,” the older man said with a shake of his head, obviously quoting something Hiro didn't recognize.

“He's not a dragon.”

“No, true, not all kami are dragons, but I should think the sentiment still fits, ne? Yuuki-kun will be fine in a couple of days, if a bit irritable. Purges tend to have that effect.”

“Okay, but I still don't understand what happened,” he said.

“Whether it was her intention or not, the curse his mother put on that binder was trying to, for lack of a better word, eat Yuuki-san's magic,” Satsuki explained, leaning against the counter beside the stove. “Apparently she's not much better at spellwork than her son, the curse was eating away at more than just his ability to do arcane magic. Either that or she really was trying to kill him, I don't know.”

“I thought ... Issama made it sound like magic was something anyone could learn, how can a curse eat something like that?”

“Well ... yes and no,” the other man said with another sigh. “Some people, like Yuuki-san, have an innate spark that gives them the advantage in learning arcane magic. And some people will never have the necessary focus of will to master such things. Most have no idea it's even an option. In theory, if one could remove Yuuki-san's spark, it would inhibit his abilities at least somewhat. But people aren't robots, that spark is a property of a person's soul, not something you can swap out like you might a faulty carburetor.”

“And that's why he needs to stay inside your wards? Because his soul's been damaged?” Hiro asked. Things still felt a bit surreal, to be standing around his kitchen talking about magic like it was normal.

“Strained, at any rate,” Satsuki said, turning to deal with the whistling kettle. “It didn't manage to actually tear off any chunks, though not for want of trying.”

“How do you know so much about this stuff anyway?” Hiro blurted out, only afterwards realizing that that might not have been the best question. Or at least not the best way of asking it. And yet, to his relief, Satsuki seemed amused rather than offended.

“I've always been interested in the so-called occult, started dabbling in common witchcraft as a teenager,” the singer replied with a light shrug. “Of course back then I didn't really believe in ... much of anything, to be honest. It was something exotic, forbidden. And bunk in a lot of cases, though that didn't stop me from looking for more. I was still trying to sort out real from fake when Issama and I met. He picked up what I was doing right away, of course, helped put me on a proper path. Not that he told me the truth of what he was until much later, and even then not all at once. After Rentrer ... disbanded, I spent a few months in intense study of our native onmyoudou, under his guidance. Things came to a head and I tried to walk away, but ... once you start down the path of the kami, it's not so easy to just quit. He never fully released me and I ... kept finding myself with more books in my hands. After a couple of years of pretending, I came back to my senses, finished my apprenticeship. I don't know that I'll ever reach Mastery and I certainly don't expect to live long enough to achieve Adept status, but I'm fine being a student for the rest of my life.”

Hiro nodded, letting himself be relocated to the couch with their tea. And tried not to be too surprised to see Hiyuu and Yuuki there already. Explained why Satsuki had poured the tea out into four cups, at any rate, though he wasn't sure Yuuki was entirely awake.

“You're back,” Yuuki mumbled, sounding both tired and surprised.

“You sound like crap,” he said, settling on the floor between Hiyuu's legs. Yuuki snorted as he pulled away from Hiyuu, trying to make himself look strong. As if he was going to fool anyone that way. As if there was even a need.

“So what happened to you?” Yuuki asked around a yawn, mumbling thanks when a cup of tea was pressed into his hands.

“Isn't that my line?” Hiro asked, glancing up at Hiyuu before turning his attention back to Yuuki.

“Asked you first,” his pink-haired friend huffed.

“Jui-senpai ... decided I needed to talk to someone,” he muttered, unaccountably reluctant to actually mention Isshi by name. Mostly because he didn't want to have to be the one to try to explain, not yet anyway.

“The hell?” Yuuki groused, scowling at him. “What could be more important than my being cursed almost to death? You're just an apprentice! My apprentice! What the hell?!”

“I thought Toshi said....”

“Toshi says a lot of things,” Yuuki interrupted with a dismissive snort. “Still just an apprentice.”

“I'd watch it if I were you,” Satsuki murmured from where he was sitting across the room. “He's less of an apprentice than you are right now.”

“That's bullshit. I passed my exams years ago.”

“Exams administered by a woman who, at best, only accidentally almost cursed you to death,” the elder mage said evenly. “Should I ask Sensei to e-mail me a copy of the standard Imperial onmyoudou exam? Hiro-kun's already passed the test of pain once, can you say the same?”

“What?” Hiro asked.

“The clan doesn't torture its students,” Yuuki replied with a haughty sniff.

“In other words, probably not,” Satsuki said, draining his cup as he stood. “I'll be back by tomorrow evening, if not sooner, Hiro-kun. Remember what I said, ne? Inside the wards, no matter what.”

Hiro nodded, getting up to walk the tattooed mage to the door, mostly to get some more space from Yuuki's glaring. It was going to be a long couple of days.

Chapter Text

As soon as Satsuki was out of sight, Yuuki set aside his untouched tea.

“You should really drink that,” Hiyuu murmured.

“Why? And why are you trusting him over me all of a sudden?”

“I'm not trusting him over you, but I do trust him.” Hiyuu said, ruffling Yuuki's hair. “Because Jui-sama trusts him. And because Hiro trusts him.”

“Yes, I've noticed,” Yuuki grumbled, watching Hiro come back. “Don't remember you telling me you didn't want to be my apprentice anymore.”

“That's not ... look, when Jui-sama introduced me to him, he said Satsuki-senpai was my new mage, whatever that means,” Hiro said with a little huff, spinning his gaming chair around to face the couch before taking a seat. “What do you want me to say? I've seen what he can do. Hell, I've felt it. So yeah, I trust him. Completely. So drink your tea, yeah?”

Yuuki didn't really want to argue about this anymore anyway, picking up his cup. Which didn't stop him from wrinkling his nose at the tepid liquid. Green tea, lemon, raspberry, and a hint of something minty. Mundane flavors. Whatever magic had been put into this brew, if any, his tongue couldn't find it. Maybe there wasn't any? Just because Hiyuu and Hiro thought the tea was something special, that didn't necessarily mean it was true. After all, not like either of them knew more than the very basics about magic, arcane or otherwise.

“Hey, here's a question: where's Toshi?” Hiro asked after another moment.

“Dunno,” Hiyuu said, shrugging. “He said he had something to deal with, then he was sending us over here. How else do you think we got here so fast?”

“Okay, but that's been hours now, shouldn't he –,” Hiro started, only to be interrupted by an insistent knocking at his door.

“Probably him,” Yuuki mumbled, forcing himself to take another drink of the tea. Hiro snorted as he went to the door, which was enough to make Yuuki want to throw something at his stupid friend, but he refrained. This time.

“Well it's about time,” Hiro grumbled at whoever was at the door. Irritatingly, Yuuki couldn't make out the muttered response.

“Ow. The fuck?”

“Uh....”

Yuuki twisted around at that, but he couldn't actually see the door from where he was sitting thanks to a strategically placed floor screen. Good for managing proper chi flow, bad for his curiosity.

“But there's nothing there.”

“The hell there isn't.”

Yuuki's curiosity couldn't take it any longer. Setting aside the tea, he pulled his blanket around his shoulders as he got up and padded over to the genkan. Satoshi was standing in the hall, scowling even as his hand pushed against a wall of air.

“What the actual fuck?” the tanuki muttered, stepping back.

“I don't get it,” Hiro said, his own hand passing through the doorway to grip Satoshi's wrist. Yet when Hiro tried to pull Satoshi into the apartment, the invisible wall reasserted itself, refusing to let the tanuki past it. Yuuki blinked a second, then snorted.

“Hiro, stop being a meathead and invite him in.”

“Wh-what?”

“Invite him in, idiot.”

“Uh ... hey Toshi, come on in?”

And just like that, Satoshi was stumbling forward, nearly falling on his face as the invisible wall vanished under his palms. The tanuki caught himself easily enough, turning to blink at the doorway again.

“... the fuck?”

“Threshold magic,” Yuuki said with a careless shrug, turning back towards the couch. “Dunno why it wasn't set to let you in automatically, but you should be fine now. Maybe. I can't see the wiring on the shield, just that it's there, I guess we'll have to test it.”

“I thought thresholds only worked on vampires,” Satoshi said as he followed them into the lounge. “Hey Hiyuu.”

“Normal threshold magic only works on a few creatures, like vampires, yeah,” Yuuki agreed, sinking back down onto Hiro's couch with a tired huff. “Apparently Satsuki-senpai's shield spell works on more. You'll have to ask him why he didn't key it to let in Court, since apparently I'm a babbling baby who doesn't know fuck all about fuck all.”

“Yuu-chan....”

Yuuki waved off Hiyuu's concern, curling up into the other corner of the couch. He didn't actually believe it, but others clearly did. His fingers itched to do something, anything, to prove he wasn't what Satsuki thought, but there wasn't much point when the man wasn't even there to see it. Instead he settled for using a thread of fire to reheat his tea; he might not be convinced it had any magical properties at all, but it tasted better properly warmed.

“What were you doing all morning, anyway?” Yuuki asked the tanuki, scowling a little in spite of himself.

“Moving. Wiping out every trace of you from my stuff. Scrubbing the old place clean of magic. Installing my usual safeguards on the new one. That sort of thing.”

“... you got a whole new apartment, with utilities, key money, and all moved in, that quickly?” Yuuki scoffed.

“Hey, when you know the right people, things can come together pretty quickly. Not the first time I've had to make a fast move like that. Your mother really is off the rails, Yuu-chan.”

“Not you, too,” he sighed. “Why is everyone insisting on that line of crap? My family has been respected mages for generations now!”

“Probably because your mother is completely off the rails,” Satoshi insisted.

“Yuu-chan, she tried to kill you,” Hiyuu added softly.

“That's bullshit. Mom would never –.”

Someone hexed your grimoire. If it wasn't her, then who was it?” Hiyuu countered. “Jui-sama certainly believes it was her.”

“Oh, well, if ~Jui~ says so,” Yuuki said, snorting again. He was about to take a sip of his tea when the cup simply disappeared from his hands. He was standing without remembering getting up, Jui standing over him with fingers pressed to Yuuki's temples. He could feel a sort of golden radiance sliding through him and then something was severed and Yuuki felt his whole body shivering. Jui's hands shifted to cup his cheeks, his senpai pressing a light kiss to his forehead, and more warmth poured into him.

“I really should have Seen that sooner,” Jui murmured, explaining nothing. “My apologies. You are not part of that clan any longer.”

Yuuki shuddered, trying to pull free, but his arms wouldn't respond. More of Jui's magic?

“S-stop –,” he mumbled, only to abruptly find himself in Hiyuu's lap with Jui no longer even standing in the lounge with them. The bassist's arms tucked around him, lips brushing against his cheek. Yuuki felt what little energy he had left draining from him and he leaned into Hiyuu's chest. This was wrong, just like everything else today. What the hell had Jui done to him now??

“You're welcome to use the name still, of course, but if you would like to register a change, that can also be arranged,” Jui said from Hiro's kitchen.

“I have no idea what you mean,” he mumbled, not sure if his words were even loud enough to reach the supposed kami. And then Jui was crouching in front of him, offering him a bowl of what looked like plain miso soup.

“I'd suggest Maeda, but Hiro-kun might object. Kaga, perhaps? Since I can't imagine you taking Kiyono.”

“What's wrong with my family name?” Yuuki grumbled, shifting just enough to be able to take the soup. Miso with negi, but it soothed his throat.

“Nothing, I suppose. Your mother's branch of the clan has been de-certified, you are no longer hers. But use whatever name you feel best suits,” Jui said, sitting back on his heels and watching him. Yuuki still didn't understand, but he would feel too stupid if he tried asking for clarification right then.

“De-certified isn't a fancy euphemism for disemboweled, is it?” Satoshi asked, a grim expression in his tone.

“Of course not,” Jui replied, rolling his eyes. “She didn't deny responsibility for the curse that almost killed Yuuki-kun, not that it matters at this point. Proof enough was provided, the clan kami agreed to remove their favor. With Yuuki-kun as the exception, of course.”

“You ... you took their magic?” Yuuki stammered, eyes wide. Was that even possible?

“Really, Yuu-kun, you of all people should know better than that,” Jui said, shaking his head a little. “All I did was present my case to the clan ancestors. The way you have been treated these past few months in particular.”

“What are you talking about??”

“Did you really think your mother stopped at just angry words when you told her you weren't leaving music?” Jui asked. Yuuki shifted uncomfortably until Hiyuu hugged him tighter. He had known all along, of course, that his mother wasn't happy with his decision to pursue music, but the thought that she might have done more than just express her disapproval in words had never occurred to him. He still wasn't sure he believed it.

“There must be some mistake. I know it wasn't what she would have preferred, but Mom supported Lycaon to the very end. Toshi, back me up here, dammit!”

“She supported us for the first few years, yeah, cuz she thought it was a phase that you'd grow out of quicker if she didn't try to shut you down. Or are you forgetting all the shit fits she's thrown in the last nine months?”

Yuuki huffed but he couldn't actually argue that last bit. The more he had insisted he was staying in Tokyo after the end of Lycaon, the angrier she had gotten. The official end of Lycaon and the unofficial start of their reboot as a band hadn't helped, but he still couldn't believe his mother would abuse magic to try to punish him for not seeing things her way. That wasn't the way things were supposed to be done.

“Your belief isn't really necessary,” Jui said with a shrug. “Still, I'd rest easier if you stayed here with Hiro-kun for a few days.”

“Satsuki-senpai already practically ordered me to stay put under his shield,” he huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why did it try to bounce Toshi off, anyway? If he's so great, why isn't the shield keyed to let Court through automatically?”

“Because Sacchan isn't part of my Court, I'm borrowing him from the former Demon Lord of Japan,” Jui said, laughing lightly. “What, did you think I was trying to flatter you when I said I could use a mage?”

“Since when is Demon Lord of Japan even a real thing?” Yuuki countered, scoffing. How could Satoshi have gotten him involved in all of this ridiculousness anyway?”

“Is, uh, is that what I'm supposed to call him?” Hiro asked, a worried look on his face. Okay, what the hell was going on?

“Oh absolutely not,” Jui replied, ruffling Hiro's hair lightly. “I only get away with it because he and I were already good friends when that particular bit of silliness got started. He much prefers the title of sensei, if you must use one.”

Who does?” Yuuki asked, petulant and tired of feeling like he was being talked around to his face.

“Sacchan's Mage Adept master ... whose name he didn't give you, did he?”

“No. He threatened to call him over here at the start, but nothing came from it,” Yuuki said, scowling up at Jui. “So who is it? Genbu? Sohryu? Some tengu with delusions of grandeur?”

“Even mad tengu fear the nameless kami of the north,” Jui said, still visibly amused. More so than felt reasonable to Yuuki. Why couldn't he get a direct answer to a simple question?

“Don't make that face, Yuuki-kun. He has many names and no name, but I suspect the one you would know best would be Isshi of Kagrra.”

“Isshi of Kagrra died five years ago,” Yuuki said flatly.

“Yes, he did,” Jui agreed with a little nod, “but the youkai who wore that name lives still.”

Yuuki sat back, eyes flicking from Jui to Hiro and back again. A part of him wanted to say they were crazy for believing such a thing. He had met Isshi of Kagrra, more than once, how could the singer have been youkai without Yuuki realizing it? And yet why would they be spinning this kind of lie to him? The more he thought about it, the more his head hurt.

“Isshi ... is a youkai....”

“Kami,” Hiro murmured. “I ... that's who Jui-senpai took me to see today. I had questions, doubts. Issama had answers I needed to hear.”

Yuuki frowned again, reaching out for the younger man. Hiro sat down next to him and Yuuki was startled to feel the man shuddering as he leaned into his chest. Yuuki shifted to better hold Hiro to him, rubbing his back as the man started sobbing softly. Eyes flicked from Jui to Hiyuu, his worry growing worse for the way Hiyuu's touch seemed to make Hiro's sobbing even worse.

“Kifumi is dead,” Jui murmured, his voice soft with regret. “We couldn't save him. I am sorry.”

“W-what?!” Yuuki stammered, completely shocked. Hiyuu got up then, moving around to Hiro's other side so the two of them could hold him together, but something about the set of his face told Yuuki the bassist had already known. And then Satoshi was moving in closer, shock and something darker in the tanuki's eyes.

“What happened?” Satoshi growled.

“It's ... a difficult story,” Jui said, shaking his head a little. “I'm not sure I should be the one to tell you of it.”

“At least ... how did it happen?” Yuuki asked, hoping their senpai would at least tell them that much.

“Shot, silver bullet to the heart. There were ... other complications as well,” Jui relented, another soft sigh slipping out of him. “Hiro-kun should probably be the one to explain it. But if you need my help with anything....”

Yuuki nodded, closing his eyes a moment to try to center himself again. It wasn't like he and Kifumi had really been friends, more like acquaintances with friends in common, but he had been friends with Hiro long enough to know how close the other singer had been to Kifumi. He tightened his arms around Hiro's trembling shoulders and leaned his cheek against cropped hair, wishing he knew the right thing to say, to do, to make this somehow better for his precious friend. Words felt so horribly inadequate, and yet they were all he had.

“I'm so, so sorry, Hiro,” he whispered, wishing he had something more. He had wanted to stay here because he had always felt a certain safety around Hiro. Now he wondered if something else, some part of the universe, hadn't tipped his hand. Not that it mattered if it had been coincidence or cosmic convergence. Hiro needed him, simple as that. Whatever Hiro needed, Yuuki would do everything he could to see he got it.

~*~*~

The rest of the afternoon was rather subdued. When Hiro was able to speak again, he explained about the infernal demon who had taken possession of Kifumi's body for most of the past two years and how things had come to a head, as best he was able, at any rate.

“How the fuck did this go on for so long right under our fucking noses?? Hiro, I'm so sorry,” Yuuki grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose and then rubbing his forehead. “Hiyuu?”

“I knew there was something off about him, but it's not like I ever spent any time alone with Kifumi. Someone had it all pretty carefully planned, Kifumi was never alone with any of us except Hiro.”

“The one least able or likely to figure it out,” Satoshi said with a low huff. “You're right, this had to have been planned, coordinated. But why?”

“Suzaku-sama said it was to hurt me, to damage me, but ... I don't know,” Hiro said, getting up to pace his small lounge. “I'm just one unimportant human, what could possibly make me worth this sort of effort?”

“One human with a big voice,” Yuuki said, moving back into a corner of the couch. “Or at least the potential for one. Music can have a lasting impact, more than we can realize. We have no way of knowing how many people we have touched, what sort of things our music has saved others from. You light a candle with your voice, Hiro. Who knows how many others will see that light and bring more light into the world as a result.”

“Maybe,” Hiro conceded with a huff, running a hand through his hair. “I don't know. It still doesn't feel right.”

“Kifumi's dead, nothing about that is ever going to feel right,” Satoshi countered, getting up to catch Hiro's shoulders and make the man stop pacing, at least for a moment. “Maybe we'll never really know why, maybe it was just capricious, malicious mischief. And maybe the reasons why don't really matter.”

“Toshi!”

“No, hear me out,” the tanuki insisted, giving him a little shake. “Does knowing why change anything? Kifumi will still be dead. You'll still be pissed. The sun will keep burning, the world will keep turning, and there will still be songs left to sing.”

“... he did ask me to write him something epic,” Hiro said at last, a faint smile twisting at the corner of his mouth. “All right, well ... I haven't managed any groceries today, so ... pizza?”

“Wow was that a terrible segue,” Satoshi said, laughing a little before letting Hiro go. “I'm up for whatever, as long as there's meat in it.”

“Yuu-kun isn't supposed to eat anything heavy,” Hiyuu scolded lightly. “There's a Greek place not far from here, maybe we should order from them?”

“... why do you know what restaurants are around here?” Hiro asked, bemusement tugging at his lips.

“Just because I don't need to eat, doesn't mean I don't enjoy it,” Hiyuu countered as he pulled out his phone. “Gyros and salads? Yuu-kun?”

“Pretty sure I'd rather have pizza,” he said with a little huff, but it was hard to stay cranky just then, what with the way Hiro was finally smiling again. “But yeah, that sounds fine. Toshi can play fetch.”

“Hey, I'm not a dog!” the guitarist protested, laughing. Maybe tonight wouldn't be so bad after all.

~*~*~

After dinner, Toshi went home with some mumbled excuse that Yuuki hadn't cared to catch. He could feel Hiyuu watching him as he curled up on the couch again, fiddling with his phone without really seeing what was on the screen. He wasn't expecting the hand that cupped his chin or the lips that brushed against his own.

“I'm going home, too,” Hiyuu murmured. Yuuki blinked at him for a second, trying to get his brain to process this. That ... made no sense.

“Wait, why?”

“Hiro's bed isn't big enough for all three of us,” Hiyuu said with a light shrug, as if it were nothing.

“... so I'll sleep on the couch?” Yuuki suggested, frowning. It wasn't what he wanted, but like hell he was going to get between his friends. His confusion wasn't helped by the way Hiyuu rolled his eyes, laughing gently as he stepped backwards.

“Like he would even let you. Anyway, I think the two of you have some ... things you need to sort out, yeah? I'll be by with breakfast in the morning.”

Yuuki watched as Hiyuu walked over to Hiro, murmuring something against the man's ear before kissing him. He felt a little guilty watching that kiss, the hungry way Hiro responded. The shameless way Hiyuu groped his lover right in front of him, almost as if he didn't know Yuuki was watching. Or maybe had forgotten completely that he was there. Yuuki ducked his head before either of the two men could catch him, staring at his phone screen. Yo-ka's contact information stared back at him, a silent accusation. They hadn't talked much in the weeks since Osaka, despite everything. It still hurt, even as Yuuki felt guilty for that hurting. He had been the one who hadn't been able to see what had been right in front of his own stupid face. It was his own fault Yo-ka had ever felt the need to go to someone else. His own fault Yo-ka had thought they were nothing more than friends. And still he didn't know what to say to the man.

“So.....”

Yuuki hurriedly tapped the home button before looking up at Hiro.

“So?” he echoed, watching the way the younger man shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then back again. Something was obviously on Hiro's mind, but what, Yuuki couldn't say.

“Look, I ... if you want to talk,” Hiro offered, hesitating a moment before dropping back down into his gaming chair. “I'm really bad at this, but I mean, I can listen at least? Hiyuu says you need to talk to someone, so....”

In spite of himself, Yuuki was soon up and pacing into Hiro's tiny kitchen, mumbling about needing more tea. He was almost surprised he actually made it as far as the sink before Hiro caught up with him. The other singer let him get as far as putting the kettle on to heat before catching Yuuki's chin and making him look at him.

“Hey, talk to me, yeah?”

“I don't ... I changed my mind,” he said, jerking his chin free and hurrying out of the kitchen. Hiro's bathroom didn't offer him much for escape, but maybe after a shower and soak he would have a better handle on himself? A solid plan that fell apart before he was even finished rinsing off when Hiro stepped into the room with their tea.

“Hiro-kun....”

“Tub's big enough we can share. Unless you were serious about not wanting tea anymore.”

Yuuki wanted to be annoyed, but the casual way Hiro started undressing was too distracting. Maybe it was a bad idea, but he couldn't help it, couldn't hold himself back any longer as he surged forward to press a hungry, needy kiss to Hiro's lips. Hiro hesitated a moment before giving in, strong hands sliding down to Yuuki's waist, hoisting him up onto the tiny sink cabinet. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but right then Yuuki didn't care, cupping Hiro's face in his hands as he kept kissing him. He needed this, needed more.

As suddenly as it had started, it was stopping, Hiro stepping back and shaking his head.

“No. Yuuki ... no. I'm not ... I'm not a toy you guys can just pass around, goddammit.”

“What? Who the fuck said anything like that?” Yuuki growled, anger flaring in his chest.

“You. Masa. Natsu. I'm with Hiyuu. I love Hiyuu. Stop trying to ... to bewitch me,” Hiro said, his tone gruff and his brow furrowed.

“Is that what you think I've been doing?” Yuuki snapped, sliding back down to his feet as he scowled up at him.

“Isn't it? Or did you think I wouldn't notice it feels different this time?” Hiro countered, stepping back even as he crossed his arms over his chest. The bathroom wasn't that big, though, and Yuuki had no trouble slapping him hard across the face.

“I do not use magic to subvert free will!” he snarled, pulling himself up as tall as he could. It wasn't much, but the anger that burned through him like lava gave him the fire to slap Hiro again. Or at least try, a frustrated noise escaping him when the taller singer caught his wrist.

“No? Then why is it every time before you just had to snap your fingers and I couldn't stop myself?” Hiro countered, growling as he squeezed Yuuki's wrist hard enough to pull a pained cry from his lips.

“I have never once made you do something you didn't want to,” Yuuki hissed, trying to free himself to no avail.

“Really? Cuz you sure as hell didn't use words to get my monogamous ass to fuck you breathless,” Hiro growled, letting go of him with a little shove and snort of disgust.

“The only magic I used was the very first time, but that was just to keep you from running away until I could get you to Hiyuu,” Yuuki insisted, shaking his head. “I ... I might have thought about it a couple of times, but I would never ... Hiro, whatever you think of me, I'm not a rapist for fuck's sake. You always came willingly.”

“No. I didn't,” Hiro insisted. “You would make the first move and I was powerless to resist. And then you'd leave and I was stuck feeling like shit, wondering why I couldn't stop myself from cheating on Hiyuu. Until now.”

Yuuki felt a chill slither down his spine at Hiro's accusation. It wasn't possible, it wasn't. And yet it was obvious that Hiro believed what he was saying.

“I swear to you, Hiro, I have never laid a compulsion on you. Not ever. I wouldn't, especially not like that. I ... I can see you don't believe me, but Hiro, I swear.... You know how strongly I feel about free will, I would never do something like that, especially when, from my perspective, there was no need. I –,” but he cut himself off, conflicting voices circling his head. He might think monogamy was a crock of shit, but Hiro clearly didn't feel the same. At the same time, he couldn't completely escape the voice reminding him that not being open and honest with Yo-ka was how that whole relationship had gotten so messed up and did he really need to repeat that mistake here?

“You what?” Hiro asked, still scowling. Yuuki shivered, then shook his head.

“Forget it,” he mumbled.

“No,” the other singer insisted, moving to block the door. “Dammit, Yuuki, no. Not talking about this is not an option, you hear me? I'm sick of the silence and the lies and everyone saying it's for my own good. Say what you were going to say.”

Startled by the other man's vehemence, Yuuki narrowed his eyes as he looked up at him. Hiro's whole posture said the man was determined on this point. He had been naked with Hiro plenty of times before this, but this was the first time he felt so exposed.

“I love you, okay? I know I'm bad at saying it and apparently I'm bad at showing it, too, but ... all those times we had sex, it wasn't just because you're gorgeous. You are, inside and out, but that ... I don't sleep with just anyone, you know,” he mumbled, folding his arms aruond himself in utterly inadequate protection.

“Yuuki....”

“If you want to call Satsuki-senpai and ask him to take me away or whatever....”

“You really are an idiot,” Hiro murmured and Yuuki was startled to feel the other man pulling him into his arms. “Just because I don't belong to you, that doesn't mean I don't still care about you, idiot.”

For a split second, Yuuki was too startled by the embrace to even know how to react. And then he pressed his face against Hiro's bare chest as something not unlike fear shook through him. Was it possible something he had done that first night had gone wrong, binding Hiro to him in a compulsion somehow? Or had he simply been blind to the interference of some other person ... like whatever demon had been possessing Kifumi? He wasn't sure which possibility would be worse.

“Hiyuu knows,” he mumbled.

“Of course he knows,” Hiro replied with a little huff. “As much as he feeds on me, I probably couldn't have kept it from him if I'd tried. Which I didn't.”

“... you thought I was making you cheat and you still told him?” Yuuki asked, stepping back to frown up at the other man.

“Not like that,” Hiro said, shaking his head again. “I didn't know why I couldn't say no to you and I told him that. He tried to tell me that maybe I wasn't as monogamous as I thought, but after what happened just now....”

“... you do know he's not monogamous either, right?” Yuuki asked, worry stealing through his chest.

“He's agreed to try, for my sake,” Hiro said, no longer meeting Yuuki's gaze. Yuuki bit back a sigh; it wasn't his place to tell Hiro or Hiyuu how to conduct their personal relations. Especially since he was apparently the last person with any right to be giving such advice to anyone. Stepping back again, he hissed in a breath as he bumped against the sink cabinet, rubbing his hip.

“So ... soak or no soak?”

“I ... the tea's probably gone cold by now,” Yuuki hedged, still rubbing his hip, even though it didn't actually hurt anymore.

“That's not really an answer, you know,” Hiro said, that boyish smile of his twisting the knife in Yuuki's heart that little bit more. He couldn't do this.

“No soak,” he said in a rush, hurrying past the younger man, a sudden burning need to escape clawing the air from his lungs. And yet there was nowhere for him to go, Satsuki's shield crackling against his fingertips as he stepped down into the genkan. He stepped back, his hesitation enough for Hiro to catch up to him.

“Yuuki ... what are you doing?”

“I ... I can't...,” he started, the words tangling in his throat. Hiro pulled him into his arms again and yet he couldn't just accept that, either, flailing his way free.

“Don't ... you don't ... this was a mistake,” he stammered.

“Yuuki,” Hiro started, catching his shoulder and squeezing it. “Breathe, yeah? I'm fresh out of paper bags.”

The words were such nonsense, at first Yuuki could only stand there gaping at the man. What the hell?

“Better,” the younger vocalist said with a little nod. “Go put on pants at least, yeah? And call Yo-ka-san.”

“I ... what?”

“Call Yo-ka-san. Or do you need me to do it for you?”

“I don't....”

“Right, start with pants. I know it's hot as hell, but you can't just wander around naked, yeah?”

Heat flared into Yuuki's cheeks. He had been so distracted with his own confused thoughts that he hadn't even realized he was still naked.

“I don't ... have anything clean with me,” he mumbled.

“Borrow whatever you need,” Hiro said with a casual shrug. Yuuki huffed but there wasn't really any point in his reminding Hiro that they weren't the same size in anything.

Stepping back out of the bedroom in borrowed shorts and a t-shirt that made him feel like a little kid, Yuuki watched as Hiro paced his own lounge, phone pressed to his ear.

“I'm not trying to say anything like that, just ... can you come over or not?”

Whoever the other singer was talking to, they didn't take that question very well from the way Hiro flinched.

“Sorry, you're right, I'm sorry, senpai, but he does need the help,” Hiro half mumbled. It didn't take any great genius on his part for Yuuki to infer that Hiro was talking about him, another spike of irritation flaring in his chest as he stomped over and swatted the man's chest. Hiro flinched again, then started laughing.

“Ah, sorry senpai, I've been caught. Should I put him on?”

Whatever the response from the other end, Hiro's amusement was better than the earlier anger. And still Yuuki didn't know what to think when Hiro opened his front door, inviting in a worried-looking Yo-ka. The blond barely nodded in Hiro's direction as he slipped off his shoes before striding right up to Yuuki, cupping his face in gloved hands. Yuuki shivered at the feel of warm leather against his skin and then Yo-ka was kissing him. He flung his arms around Yo-ka's shoulders as he opened himself to that kiss, pressing closer.

It wasn't until the soft cough repeated that Yuuki was able to force himself to step back, dropping his arms to his side. Yo-ka's eyes felt like they were trying to bore straight through him, he dropped his own to the floor without entirely understanding why. He loved Yo-ka, but the man belonged to someone else now. And after his earlier conversation with Hiro ... the last thing he wanted to do was step over boundaries with yet another person. A gloved hand cupped his cheek, tilted his head up until he had no choice but to meet Yo-ka's gaze.

“You really are the most stubborn mule on the planet, aren't you, precious?” Yo-ka murmured, a smile lighting dark eyes. As ridiculous as it was, Yuuki felt his heart skip a beat.

“I need to run down to the combini, you two going to be okay without me for a few?” Hiro asked, obvious amusement practically pouring off of him. Yo-ka snorted and made a dismissive gesture in Hiro's direction and Yuuki had to bite his lip to keep from giggling.

“That's more like it,” Yo-ka murmured, brushing a faint kiss to Yuuki's lips. “Now what's this about you needing me to screw your head back on straight?”

“I ... what?” Yuuki asked, sputtering a little.

“Come on,” Yo-ka said, laughing a little as he took a seat on Hiro's couch, then patted the cushion beside him. Another sigh and Yuuki sat down, pulling one knee up to rest his head against it. And yet he still didn't know where to start, what to say.

“Yuuki ... talk to me, yeah?”

“I just ... having a bad day,” Yuuki mumbled at last. “Between getting hexed half to death and then ... everything after that....”

“Jui-sama mentioned a hexing, but not any details. Want to talk about it?”

“Not especially,” Yuuki mumbled, pulling his other knee up onto the couch, the better to hug them both to his chest. Yo-ka was so beautiful, practically glowing with some inner light, Yuuki hesitated to guess why. That he could have been stupid enough to let this wonderful man think he was anything less than completely adored ached in Yuuki's chest and he sighed heavily, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against his knees. He was an idiot, a complete and total idiot with no idea how to fix anything.

“Yuuki?”

In spite of himself, he still flinched at the feel of leather against his arm, squeezing himself down even smaller. What the hell was wrong with him? At this rate, Yo-ka was going to think he didn't love him anymore. He couldn't do that. Shuddering, he forced himself to take a deep breath and sit up properly. And there it was, that complete confusion on the other man's face. He really was the complete worst at this. Another little shake and he dropped his eyes to Yo-ka's hands.

“Why the gloves?” he asked, not sure he wanted to know but needing something normal to ask. Guilt flickered across Yo-ka's face and he knew it had been the wrong question to ask. A beat and then Yo-ka pulled them off, tossing them onto Hiro's coffee table. At first, Yuuki couldn't seen anything different, though he noticed that most of Yo-ka's usual jewelry was absent. And then the blond turned his hands over and Yuuki flinched again at seeing Jui's Shield Mark on the other singer's palm.

“Because of that,” Yo-ka murmured, folding his hands in his lap. “It, uh, rises after, um, particularly intense intimacy. But Hiro-kun said you needed me, so....”

Even that not terribly specific explanation was enough to paint pictures Yuuki didn't really want. Yuuki's cock twitched at the memories those words summoned. He pulled his feet back up onto the couch and hugged himself tightly as he buried his face against his knees.

“... maybe Hiro-kun was wrong,” Yo-ka said softly. Yuuki could hear the other man getting up from the couch, fetching his gloves. A part of him wanted to protest, to beg the man to stay, and yet his voice remained trapped in his throat. He was completely unprepared for the weight that sat beside him on the couch, the warm arms that insisted on pulling him into Yo-ka's lap.

“Yuuki, Yuuki, Yuuki,” the blond mumbled, stroking fingers through his hair. “What the hell am I supposed to do with you, hmm?”

His voice still didn't want to form words, his whole body trembling as he shifted to press his face into the crook of Yo-ka's neck. An entire day of stress and pain and magical workings crashed in on him at once, soft sobs catching in Yuuki's throat as he clung to the other man.

“Shh, shh, it's okay, baby, I'm right here. I've got you, baby, I swear. I won't let you fall.”

Yuuki couldn't stop the wracking sobs those words seemingly unleashed, trembling and clinging to Yo-ka for all he was worth. It hurt, everything hurt, but at least for a few moments he could pretend Yo-ka was still his, that he hadn't stupidly wasted the best thing to ever happen to him.