From the moment Touya laid eyes on Tsukishiro Yukito, he knew there was something strange about him.
Standing sheepishly at the front of the class while the teacher wrote his name on the board, the boy practically radiated a pleasant averageness. But looking at him made the hairs on the back of Touya's neck stand up, and, even if he couldn't put a name to it, his gut surged with a feeling that what he was looking at was not all that there was to Tsukishiro.
It bothered Touya. It was almost like Kaho's energy, and he hated to be reminded of her after all this time.
Tsukishiro was given a seat on the other side of the classroom, in the same row as Touya. Touya watched him sit down, trying to pinpoint what it was about him that was suspicious.
And then Tsukishiro turned and met his eyes with a disarming smile.
For a split second, Touya thought he saw wings.
At lunchtime, Tsukishiro approached him. "Nice to meet you! I'm Tsukishiro Yukito. My name's spelled with the kanji for snow and rabbit."
"I know. The teacher wrote it on the board." Touya stuffed his notebook in his bag and got up, figuring that this guy might have some sort of power, but he was kind of dumb.
"Most people spell it wrong the first time," Tsukishiro said brightly. "Do you need help with that? It looks heavy."
His bag was heavy, mostly because he had stuffed several of his work uniforms in along with his books. But that was his own problem. "No thanks, I'm fine." Touya slung it over his shoulder with some effort and headed for the bathroom.
Tsukishiro, apparently unable to take a hint, followed him. "What's your name?"
"That's a good name. Are you looking forward to English next? I am."
"Uh-huh." Touya supposed he should really be annoyed that this new kid seemed to have decided Touya was going to be the one to show him around, but there was something weirdly endearing about Tsukishiro's tenacity. Most people backed off pretty quickly, or, in the case of a couple girls, handed him some chocolates or a letter and then hurried away blushing.
And hey, if he got to know Tsukishiro, he might be able to figure out what the other guy was, exactly, or at least what sort of power he had.
The new kid might put on an unassuming face, but he was clearly no slouch when it came to his studies. His English accent was better than Touya's, and their teacher praised his spelling and handwriting. In Math he wound up explaining a formula that most of the class couldn't even remember.
"Looks like you've got competition, Kinomoto-kun," said one of his soccer teammates, Nishimae, nudging his elbow. "With the girls, too!"
Sure enough, at the end of the day girls from other classes were stopping to point Tsukishiro out to their friends, whispering loudly that they hoped he didn't have a girlfriend at his old school. It was a familiar situation to Touya, but instead of avoiding eye contact and walking past them, as Touya would have done, Tsukishiro turned and smiled and waved.
This proved surprisingly effective as a means of dispersing them-- most of them immediately colored and pretended they hadn't been staring. One bold girl waved back.
"They seem nice," Tsukishiro said to Touya.
He shrugged. "Some of them are loud. The rest aren't terrible."
Tsukishiro smiled. "So you don't dislike them?"
Touya slanted a look at him. "I guess. Were you popular at your old school?"
"I never really stood out. I had friends, of course, but we weren't that close. I don't think any of them are going to write to me now that I live here." Tsukishiro's tone was bright, but Touya couldn't help but think that his continual smile seemed a little forced.
"That's too bad," he said, wishing he could think of something less flippant. "At least there's your family, right?"
"I live with my grandparents now. They're not always around, but they're great people. How about you, Kinomoto-kun?"
"Call me Touya," Touya said, surprising himself. "I live with my father and my little sister. My mother's dead."
It was strange, saying that. It still felt like a lie.
Tsukishiro's face went somber. "I'm so sorry, Touya-kun. It's good that you three have each other, though. I wish I had a younger sibling to play with."
"She's a handful." An idea struck him. "You want to meet her?"
"Sure! I love kids. Are you picking her up from school, or--"
"She goes home with her friends. You want to come over to my house?" Touya's heart was pounding, and for the life of him he had no idea why. It seemed suddenly that nothing had ever mattered so much as Tsukishiro accepting his invitation. Which he wouldn't, surely-- it was much too forward, too fast, they'd only just met, what was he doing?
"That sounds like fun! You're really a nice guy, Touya-kun."
Touya's face burned. "Not really," he muttered, turning away. "Let's go, Tsukishiro."
Tsukishiro grinned. "Call me Yukito."
As it turned out, Yukito didn't live very far away from the Kinomoto family. Touya wondered if that was really a coincidence (and as time went on he was certain it wasn't).
"This looks like a great place," Yukito said warmly as they took off their shoes in the foyer.
Touya shrugged. "It's fine."
Sakura was practicing handstands in the kitchen against the wall. To Touya's great relief, she was wearing shorts and a sweater-- there had been a time when she would do cartwheels in dresses and skirts, not caring if everybody saw her underwear.
"Welcome home, big brother!" she chirped. When she saw Yukito, her eyes went wide and she immediately swung her legs forward and flipped into a regular standing position.
"That's very impressive," Yukito commented.
"Yeah, but it makes me kind of dizzy," Sakura admitted, and sure enough, her eyes looked slightly unfocused.
"That's my little sister for you-- all gymnastics, no brains."
"Hey!" Sakura shook her fist at him. "I have plenty brains!"
"Watch out, she's a baby monster." Touya ruffled her hair. "Someday she'll be big enough to step on this house."
"You deserve to get stepped on!"
Yukito laughed. "Are you going to introduce us, Touya-kun?"
Touya gave an exaggerated sigh. "This little terror is my sister, Sakura. Monster, this is my friend, Tsukishiro Yukito-kun. He's just moved to Tomoeda, so don't eat him yet."
"I would never!" Sakura exclaimed. She turned a deep red, and looked down at her toes, mumbling, "Nice to meet you, Tsukishiro-san."
Yukito leaned over and held out his hand for her to shake. "Nice to meet you too, Sakura-chan. You can just call me Yukito. How old are you now?"
She shook his hand, shoulders hunched shyly. "I'm eight, but I'll be nine in April."
"Oh, is that so? I would have thought you were nine or ten already."
"Really?" Sakura beamed, and then frowned. "You're much too nice to be friends with my big brother!" She covered her mouth and turned red again.
Touya shook his head. "That's enough out of you, monster. Yukito, let's go upstairs."
"See you later, Yukito-san," Sakura mumbled, still red.
"She's very cute," Yukito remarked as they went into Touya's room. "You love her very much, don't you?"
"She's like our mother," Touya said, after a moment. "She's always carefree and energetic. I don't see how anyone could not love her, really."
"Were you ever like that?"
Touya swallowed hard. He thought of his mother's photograph in the kitchen. "Sort of. Then I grew up and realized the world wasn't such a nice place."
Yukito sat next to him. "It's a nicer place with the two of you in it." From anyone else this would have sounded ridiculously cheesy, but from him it seemed to be completely genuine.
They just sat there in silence after that, because Touya had no idea how to respond, and Yukito didn't seem to mind.
Eventually, they took out their books to do their homework and talked about what Yukito's old school had been like. Touya explained a few principles of chemistry that Yukito was shaky on. Grateful, Yukito taught him some tricks for remembering mathematical formulas that tended to slip Touya's mind.
Then Yukito's stomach rumbled loudly.
"Sorry," he said guiltily, "but do you have anything to eat?"
So Touya went downstairs and jostled Sakura out of the way so he could grab some snacks and iced tea. Sakura yelled at him for taking all the potato chips, and he ignored her.
As it turned out, it was a good thing he had-- Yukito ate everything Touya had brought up and admitted that he was still hungry.
Touya went downstairs again, heated up some curry from last night's dinner and, after a moment's consideration, prepared some salmon.
Yukito dug in with relish, this time letting Touya have some too. Still, it was a lot of food. Touya was pretty sure by the end that he wasn't going to need dinner.
"That was great," Yukito said. "Do you have any more?"
Maybe his special power was having a bottomless pit for a stomach.
Yukito went home a little bit after Touya's father came in, but not before suggesting that since they lived so close to each other they might see each other on the way to school.
And, sure enough, when Touya rode by Yukito's house on his bicycle the next day, Yukito was just bringing out his own bike.
After that they were more or less inseparable.
It was strange, Touya thought, how Yukito sort of grew on you like moss. He could never put his finger quite on the moment when people would decide that they liked him, but it always always happened, even with people who went out of their way to try and hate him.
When Valentine's Day came, Yukito had so many chocolates he needed help to carry them. Touya had a fair amount as well, as usual, but he didn't bother bringing most of them home.
"I suppose you'll give all of them something small on White Day so you don't hurt anybody's feelings," Touya observed. "Unless there's somebody you like?"
"Oh, there is," Yukito said serenely, "but yes, I'm going to give them all the same thing."
This irritated Touya. "Well, I'm not giving anybody anything. I don't like any of them, and I'm not going to pretend I do."
It was at times like this that it was very annoying to be Yukito's best friend. Touya wasn't mad at Yukito, not exactly, but he wasn't pleased with him either. The more everyone around him talked about how wonderful Yukito was, the more annoyed Touya got at Yukito.
But Yukito seemed to understand that Touya was frustrated, so he gave him time and space. Away from him, Touya realized he was mostly angry for the sake of being contrary. He missed Yukito, anyway.
So they went back to biking and studying together. Yukito often met Touya after soccer practice, where he was well liked, as he sometimes substituted for injured players and was always willing to lend a hand.
"I feel kind of silly calling you Touya-kun," Yukito admitted, sitting in the locker room while Touya rinsed off his sweat in the shower. "I mean, we see each other every day."
"Just Touya is fine," Touya said, grabbing a towel. "Should I call you Yukito?"
"I'd like that, yeah."
Sakura started to get up earlier so that she could tag along with both of them in the mornings. Yukito was always glad to see her, and sometimes bought candies for her, even as Touya complained that he was spoiling her.
"I think Sakura-chan might have a bit of a crush on me," Yukito said, one day.
Touya frowned. "She's too young for that."
"It's not uncommon for young girls. Boys her own age probably aren't paying much attention to her. I'm sure it's very innocent. Don't worry, I'm not going to steal your sister!"
"I know you're not that sort of person," Touya muttered, embarrassed.
The nickname came about quite by accident. Touya was working part time at the aquarium, and since he'd only gotten the job recently, they had stuck him with one of the most unpopular tasks-- stocking the walk-in refrigerator.
So as part of his usual afternoon, Touya was in the refrigerator, trying to stack fish as quickly as possible so he could get to his next shift on the other side of town. He turned around and nearly dropped an armful at the sight of Yukito standing in the doorway, waving.
"What are you doing here?!"
"I got a bit lost on my way to the bathroom," Yukito said with a completely straight face. "Is this your new job?"
"You can't eat anything here," Touya warned him. "This is all for the penguins."
"I'm not that bad!" Yukito protested, walking into the fridge. "I'm sure the penguins need more than I do."
Touya stared at him. "You're not wearing a coat. How can you stand this cold?"
His friend shrugged. "I've never really minded it."
"Your parents should have just called you Yuki," Touya said dryly, "if you like snow that much."
Yukito laughed. "How cute! People might think I was your girlfriend if you called me that."
Touya dropped the fish with a squishy splat. "D-don't be stupid. Everyone knows I haven't got a girlfriend." His cheeks were hot, though the rest of his body was shivering.
"Not even if you called my house asking for Yuki-chaaan?"
He smacked Yukito's arm. "I am not calling you Yuki-chan!"
"It might get all those girls that make you scowl to go away. They'd be so disappointed that their favorite brooding bishounen had chosen someone else."
"Don't call me that. Why aren't you freezing yet?"
"All the food I eat keeps me warm," Yukito said seriously. "Maybe you should try my diet."
Touya rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Yuki."
Unsurprisingly, no one did think that Touya had somehow gotten a mysterious girlfriend. Actually, a few of the girls shyly asked Yuki if he wanted to go by Yuki-kun instead, but he denied it. "That's just what Touya calls me," he explained, glancing over to where Touya was pretending to not be listening to their conversation. "Right, Touya?"
"Shut up, Yuki."
It wasn't long after that that Sakura turned nine, and Touya's already strange life began to get stranger.
Sakura, who had always spent most of her time at home downstairs, started spending extended periods of time in her room, even bringing food up there. She had a new necklace that Touya didn't remember anyone getting her, and she had a certain aura around her that he could only describe as a growing power.
And then there was that little yellow bear that just showed up out of nowhere and he kept finding places around the house. Touya didn't believe for a second that that thing was inanimate. It was some kind of magical spirit, and it was living with them now, probably because of something Sakura had done, since she kept making excuses for it.
And there was Yuki.
For a little while, he'd been able to forget about the feeling he got when Yuki first showed up, been able to push it aside as maybe just something that made him nicer than other people, and hungrier. Maybe he could just do little things, maybe he knew things about the future like Kaho had, and he probably wasn't mentioning any of it because he didn't know how Touya would react, which was fair enough, really. And it wasn't as though Touya had ever sat Yuki down and said, look, sometimes my mother's ghost visits and talks to me.
But it was back now, and stronger. There was still something reminiscent of Kaho about it, a kind of color or smell that they had in common, except with Kaho it had been more like an extension of herself, while with Yuki… with Yuki, it was so entwined with every part of him it was almost as though it was more powerful than his humanity.
In that way, it almost reminded him of the yellow bear. But the bear's magic was entirely different, a different color, a different smell.
He didn't have time to puzzle over what made Yuki different from them. Sakura was sneaking out at night now, and he had to make sure she wasn't in trouble. At least the bear was always with her, and there was little Tomoyo-chan, too.
But then there was that Li kid, and Touya didn't like him one bit. He fixated on Sakura the minute he arrived, just as Yuki had done to Touya, but Li pushed Sakura around and said nasty things to her.
"It's a friendly rivalry," Yuki insisted, but Touya didn't think there was anything friendly about the way Li acted around his sister. That brat was going to get the snot kicked out of him if he didn't change his tune.
Li did, to his credit, become more polite and less openly aggressive. Touya still didn't like him, but so long as he behaved himself, Touya promised Yuki he would stay out of it.
Yuki lost little bits of time. Not much, not enough to go to a doctor or really worry about, just little five minute intervals where he'd be in a room with no idea how he had gotten there.
Touya began to have nightmares where he'd approach Yuki from behind, tap him on the shoulder, and Yuki would disappear, or turn around and melt into a different person, or explode into white feathers.
"Are you hiding anything from me?" Touya asked Yuki.
It would have been hard for Yuki to feign the complete surprise that came over his face at the question. "Not at all! I mean, sometimes I wonder why my grandparents aren't around more often, but that's not really important. Why, are you hiding anything from me? Should I be worried?"
Touya didn't want to tell Yuki that he was afraid that at the very least he was being possessed by some kind of ancient magical presence, but he didn't want to lie to him. So he told him about the ghosts, and the way he knew when people he cared about were in danger, and the other little things.
"I always knew you were special, Touya," Yuki said seriously. "It sounds like you have a kind of empathy for people that lets you see things about them that others can't."
"Only you would find such a nice way of putting it," Touya said wryly.
Kaho returned. Touya thought he should be angry, or relieved, or something, but instead they simply talked as though they had never been together, as though they had always been the friends to each other that they probably should have been from the start.
He had mostly figured out what Sakura was doing out at night with the bear and Tomoyo and Li and that other Chinese girl who had followed Li at this point. There were all sorts of weird supernatural things trying to disrupt Tomoeda, and when Sakura and her friends showed up, everything settled down.
Okay, he was a little hurt when she went out while she was sick and tried to fool him with that other Sakura who had distinctly different magic, but if it was important enough to risk her health, he understood.
Touya was worried that Sakura's fever might be worse, but then his mother appeared and put her hand on his sister's forehead. It was brief, but she was the same lovely person he remembered, just as always, even if he didn't see her as often as when he was a child. Touya could never decide whether seeing her made him happy or sad. It was certainly different seeing her mother watch over them than encountering spirits like Sakura's double.
Come to think of it, the other Sakura felt even more similar to Yuki. Yuki was more powerful, but they were both, for lack of a better word, made, somehow.
And then he came.
Yuki had always been good looking, but Yue (though Touya didn't know his name was Yue at the time) was, for lack of a better word, stunning. But terrifying, cold, and remote, just as Yuki was comforting, warm and friendly.
It wasn't until those wings, the very wings Touya remembered from the first day, pulled away to reveal Yuki's unconscious form that Touya realized he had been afraid Yuki was gone forever.
"Something must have hit the back of my head," Yuki said, while Sakura and her friends were still occupied. "How long was I out for?"
Was the other Yuki still in there? Had it always been him? Was Yuki an aspect of this winged man, or an act put on to fool the unsuspecting? Touya knew Yuki wasn't just a normal person that the other Yuki had chosen to inhabit-- Touya had gone to the place that Yuki said was his hometown, and no one had known his name. Yuki had, for all intents and purposes, been born on the day that he walked into Touya's homeroom.
"A couple of hours," Touya said. "Let's get you back home. Your grandparents will be worried."
There were no grandparents to worry, of course.
Touya stayed with him until he fell asleep.
In the morning, Touya made breakfast for Yuki, who woke starving as usual.
"Oh, Touya, you didn't have to go out of your way for me like this," Yuki protested, seeing the enormous portion laid out for him. "This must have taken you hours!"
"Stop complaining and eat it before it gets cold."
Things were deceptively normal between the two of them, though Touya considered his words more carefully, suspecting that the other Yuki was listening.
Did the two Yukis talk to each other? Where did one end and the other begin?
Touya didn't see the winged man again, which didn't mean he wasn't still there-- Yuki's energy was more or less unchanged from that night. And aside from a few more yawns than usual, Yuki acted just the same.
School resumed. Touya was glancing out the window at nothing in particular when he registered that the teacher was introducing another exchange student.
I've felt this before, Touya thought, when Akizuki Nakuru stepped into the room. And then she grinned widely, practically bouncing on her feet. "Nice to meet all of you! Say, sensei, can I have that chair over there?" She pointed to the chair two seats behind Touya.
"Of course, I don't see why not," the teacher said, clearly somewhat taken aback.
And, just like Yuki, Akizuki zeroed in on Touya the minute she had the opportunity. Unlike Yuki, Touya found her deeply annoying and overly familiar, and clingy besides. He had to actually duck into the men's room to shake her off, and asked Nishimae to let him know when she was gone.
Nishimae shook his head in mock disgust but agreed anyway. "Only you would want to avoid a cute girl practically throwing herself at you like that. I guess you're more of a traditional kind of guy, huh?"
"She's loud and pushy and she knows nothing about me," Touya said bluntly. "There's nothing flattering about that kind of attention."
He met up with Yuki afterwards, but kept feeling traces of Akizuki's power and looking around to make sure she wasn't running towards them, to Yuki's amusement. It turned out to be a reasonable precaution as the moment he let his guard down, there she was, throwing her arms around his neck. At least she seemed to have something to do after school, as she rapidly excused herself, having succeeded in her apparent mission to make Touya look ridiculous in front of his sister and her friends.
But when she was gone, Touya noticed something. It had been happening so slowly that he had failed to perceive it on his own, but next to the blaze of energy that Akizuki emitted, Yuki was… diminished, somehow.
It troubled him.
On top of that, Yuki was hungrier than ever. He was so hungry that even he began to remark that it was unusual. "It's like I'm never satisfied," he said glumly. "And I went to the doctor's, and they said there was nothing wrong with my brain or anything to explain those fainting spells."
Could Yuki himself have no idea about his other self? If that was the case, Touya certainly owed it to him to tell him.
So the next day, when he was in the hallway with Yuki, he squared up his courage. All right, he was a little distracted by his sister standing around talking with the Li kid over by the elementary school, but seeing them reminded him of what he had to say.
"Yuki, I have something I need to tell you."
Yuki smiled, completely oblivious. "What?"
It was as though he was standing outside himself. He knew what he needed to say, but suddenly it seemed like he should be telling him something completely unrelated. He faltered, the different confessions bobbing in his head. "I… you…"
He only had a split second's warning squeal before Akizuki's arms closed around his neck again and she nuzzled him affectionately.
And there it went, his opportunity evaporated.
Maybe it was just bad timing, he thought. Maybe there was something terribly attractive about him to supernatural beings.
"Everything's been odd lately," Yuki commented, while they were eating lunch. "You know I'm still hungry. And sometimes I blink and I'm somewhere I don't remember getting to. People usually say they saw me walking there, and I must have just not been paying attention, but it keeps happening. And I get so tired so quickly now."
Touya swallowed. "You should take care of yourself. And I--"
A soccer ball bounced hard off the wall between them, back towards Akizuki, who was rubbing the back of her head in what Touya was sure was insincere embarrassment. "Sorry! I didn't think it would go so far!"
"You shouldn't be doing things like that indoors," Touya snapped.
"It's my fault, Kinomoto-kun," Nishimae said hastily, picking up the ball. "I was the one who suggested it."
Much as Touya doubted that, he could hardly go on blaming her if that idiot insisted on getting in the way. So, once again, he let it pass.
But there was something wrong with Yuki, something that had nothing to with turning into the other Yuki, as far as Touya could tell. Why was he always needing to eat or sleep? He had never been sickly before.
It wasn't as though Touya could do research. There weren't books written about this sort of thing. He didn't even know how Yuki had been created, let alone by whom.
Touya lay down in his room with his eyes squeezed shut, trying to think. When he opened them, there was someone standing there. For a wild moment, while his eyes were still adjusting, Touya thought it might be Yuki.
But when he sat up, he recognized his mother's smile. "I'm worried about him too," she said, before Touya could ask why she was there.
"He is precious to my son." She sat on his bed, although the mattress did not give under the weight she no longer possessed. "Of course I worry."
Touya swallowed, his cheeks hot. "Do you know what's happening to him?"
His mother looked saddened. "He is of the moon, and the moon only shines by reflecting light. Sakura-chan is not as powerful as his former master. She does not have enough magic to keep him from disappearing."
"Disappearing?" Touya repeated numbly. "Both of them? Do you mean Yuki's going to die?"
She shook her head. "They will fade out of existence and leave nothing behind."
Touya felt strangely cold, as though he hadn't just been given the worst news since his mother's death. "What about this former master? Can't they go back to her?"
His mother shook her head, curls bouncing as though they had substance. "That man is no longer a part of your world, though there's more to it than that." She touched a faintly warm hand to his cheek. "There is still a way. Promise me that you won't give up?"
"I promise," Touya whispered, his throat dry.
She smiled again, but it didn't quite touch her eyes. "I will always love you, Touya."
And she faded away before he could ask another question.
He stared at his ceiling for a long time then, wondering what she had meant. Yuki needed more magic to sustain him than Sakura could provide. So the answer had to be to find another source of magic-- a strong source of magic.
Well, there was that Li kid, he liked Yuki. But Touya didn't like asking him for help, and if Sakura's magic wasn't strong enough there was no way the brat was stronger. Kaho, of course, but she was out of the country again.
Which left… Touya.
He swallowed hard, realizing the meaning of his mother's words. He had the strength to save Yuki, but it would come at the cost of seeing his mother and being able to protect his sister.
Not being able to see his mother wasn't so bad-- she would still be there, even if he wasn't aware of it. Not knowing when Sakura was in danger… that was a harder thing to give up.
But he wasn't the only one looking after Sakura, not anymore. And his little sister had a way of bouncing back from hard situations with a smile. With the help of her friends, she'd be all right.
Yuki needed his help now, much more than Sakura did. And Touya wasn't about to let Yuki down.
Now he had to talk to Yuki, but it absolutely had to be private. Touya looked for opportunities throughout the week, and finally, after a soccer team meeting, he saw Yuki standing alone underneath a tree, waiting for him.
Yuki greeted him with his usual cheer, but Touya couldn't bring himself to do the same.
His friend's smile disappeared. "Touya?"
Touya had a mad, sudden urge to touch his face, but instead he put his hand on the tree by Yuki's head. Resting his weight on it, he wondered again which intimate conversation they were supposed to be having.
"What?" Yuki asked softly.
He was in danger. That was the important part.
"Yuki, you think I don't know. No, maybe you don't know yourself. But I don't want you to disappear."
A nervous smile crept onto Yuki's face. "Why would I disappear?"
He wasn't going to be put off this time. "Just listen to me." And here he went again. "I… you…"
Akizuki swung out from the branches of the tree. "You what?"
Touya leapt back with a shout.
She jumped down and brightly talked about how she'd been napping in a tree and how, implausibly, a teacher had been looking for him.
Who took naps in trees, anyway?
"Are you doing this on purpose?" Touya asked bluntly.
Her smile didn't waver. "What are you talking about?"
He couldn't prove anything. And it had only happened twice. Maybe she really was just a rude stalker.
Touya sighed, and excused himself.
The trouble was, he wasn't sure why Akizuki would bother getting in their way. If it was just that she liked him and wanted Yuki to disappear, well, she only had to bide her time, didn't she?
It was bad enough that his limited abilities meant that Li brat was in a better position to help Sakura than him. Not being able to save Yuki was something he simply couldn't accept.
"Akizuki is a strange one, isn't she?" Yuki said later, by way of a conversation starter.
"I wish she'd find someone else to harass," Touya muttered.
"Not that-- she's enthusiastic, but you've always had your fans, Touya. I mean she's always saying things to me that don't make sense, like that I'm 'making things easy' for her."
Touya stopped. "She said what?"
"That I was making things easy for her. Or that I was stupid. Or was it oblivious? I never know what she's talking about, but she definitely dislikes me."
Well, that was the end of the rude stalker theory. She clearly was doing it on purpose, though the exact nature of that purpose continued to evade Touya.
It was getting to be almost Christmas time then, and it would have been difficult talking to Yuki alone even if it weren't for Akizuki's interference and Yuki's increasing desire to sleep at home whenever possible. The jobs Touya still had were promising extra pay for longer hours, his teachers were assigning more homework, and the threat of university was beginning to hang over his head.
And then of course, there were Christmas presents that had to be bought.
Touya brought up the subject one morning when he was biking to school, Sakura just barely behind him. He had intended to clarify his plan to get their father a new wallet so that she wouldn't worry about them both getting the same thing, but Sakura seized upon the idea and was visibly disappointed when Touya pointed out she didn't have the money to buy a wallet by herself.
Touya hated to see her unhappy. "I was going to buy Dad a wallet anyway," he said casually. "I don't mind if we buy it together."
Sakura perked up immediately, and they agreed to meet after school and pick one out together.
When he got to the classroom, Yuki was already there, sleeping on his desk. Torn between tenderness and concern, Touya went to wake him up. It proved to be rather difficult, and after a few groggy words of explanation, Yuki dropped his head onto his arms again.
Touya shook his shoulder angrily, and Yuki reluctantly raised his head again. This wasn't good. He needed to have this conversation now.
Naturally, Akizuki leaped on him before he had the chance. He was starting to get openly irate at this point.
At least she didn't bother him when he was having regular conversations with Yuki. Touya held the door for him as they left the building, Yuki reassuring him that he was fine to go home by himself.
Touya watched him go, wishing he could somehow be in two places at once so that he could spend time with Sakura and look after Yuki.
It was worth one last try. "Yuki!"
Yuki turned around and smiled at him beatifically.
He would get to the point immediately this time. "I know the truth, that you are--"
It was all Touya could do not to slam his palm into his face. "I suspected you might come out."
While he was struggling to get Akizuki off him, Yuki said, "See you tomorrow," and walked away, which only made Touya struggle harder, but it was useless.
Enough was enough. "You're doing this on purpose."
"What are you talking about?" Akizuki said brightly, just as she had done before.
He didn't have time to argue with her, his sister was waiting for him. He told her there was no way they were walking home together, and, after some more grappling, managed to disentangle himself from her.
When Touya finally rode up to the gates of Sakura's school, he was tired and guilty. He began to apologize for making her wait, when he realized that it was the other Sakura again.
He sighed. "Something happened to Sakura again?"
She stammered nervously, but he wasn't paying much attention. He could sense that Sakura wasn't that far off, but if she had gone to the trouble of sending her double instead, it was obviously something she didn't want him involved in.
So he went Christmas shopping with the other Sakura.
She seemed happy enough about it, until they stopped for tea and sweets, when she began to sober up.
"Don't worry, I won't tell Sakura about it," Touya assured her.
He thought he might be able to make her feel a little better though. It wasn't a very fancy or expensive present, but he had thought hard about something that the other Sakura might like.
Her eyes widened when she opened it.
"You really have long hair, right?" It wasn't that he could see her true form, not exactly, but he got a kind of sense of her that was much clearer than the little he could occasionally make out of the other Yuki.
She clutched it to her chest and bowed, whispering, "Thank you so much."
Honestly, it was the least he could do for someone who protected and cared for his sister.
He only wished there was some way Sakura's spirits could help Yuki.
New Year's arrived. After the traditional morning's teasing of his sister, Touya headed out with his family.
There was no sign of Yuki.
He was probably fine, probably just stopped somewhere for some food or got lost in a conversation or slept through his alarm. Touya left early to go by his house anyway, promising his father that he'd give his and Sakura's good wishes to Yuki if he found him.
He let himself into Yuki's house, calling for him in case he was having a late breakfast or half-asleep so that he wouldn't alarm him.
Yuki was passed out on the floor.
Touya ran to him, pulling him up into a sitting position and shaking him, desperately willing him to open his eyes. Mother had said it would be total nonexistence, that there would be nothing left behind, so he couldn't be dead, he couldn't be in a coma, he must have just fallen asleep. Abruptly, so abruptly that he was fully dressed for the holiday and so close to the door that he must have been about to leave the house. What if he'd injured himself when he fainted? What if--
Yuki's eyelids twitched, and slowly, slowly he opened his eyes and lifted his head. "Touya?"
"What's wrong?" he asked, willing himself to relax.
"I got really sleepy all of a sudden, again. It's all right, but," his expression turned puzzled, "why are you here?"
"What do you mean, why am I here?" Touya snapped, taking his frustration out on the only available target. "You were the one that wanted to celebrate New Year's with us, Yuki! But we waited for a long time, and you never showed."
"I'm sorry," Yuki said glumly.
It was just like Yuki to apologize for something that wasn't his fault in the least. Touya sighed. "It's all right. If we leave now, we can still meet up with Sakura and--"
Yuki's torso began to droop, his head falling towards Touya's lap.
"Sorry," Yuki whispered. "But for some reason, I'm really sleepy."
That was when Touya saw it-- Yuki's hand was transparent.
"Yuki," he choked out, unable to articulate anything else.
They said nothing for a long while then, Touya holding Yuki as though he might shatter if he let go, Yuki drifting back into sleep. Eventually, Yuki's hand solidified again.
Somehow, after the three of them ended up working together at the new water park, Akizuki managed to talk Yuki into being in the movie she was making for the fair. Touya turned her down at first, but he was reluctant to let Yuki out of his sight for very long, and Yuki agreed it would be much more fun if they were in it together.
For the most part, this was distracting enough, but Yuki was clearly still exhausted. Since he knew there was no point trying to talk about it with Akizuki around, Touya thought about how to say what he needed to say as succinctly and clearly as possible.
And then one day, they were having tea at Touya's house with Sakura, and she got up to make a pot, and Touya knew Akizuki couldn't manage to barge in this time.
"Yuki," he said urgently, "it'll be bad if we don't do something."
Yuki said nothing, simply looked at Touya with a kind of anxious desperation.
Touya plowed ahead. "I know what's really going on. That you are--"
"Sorry to keep you waiting!" Sakura was back.
Touya had half a mind to just keep on going, but Yuki turned to Sakura with a smile that seemed unusually forced and asked for more tea.
Touya sat back and sighed. Clearly, this was not the opportunity he was looking for. He excused himself to get some cake.
The next day, Akizuki dragged them all to some fancy house that might have been her home. While Touya was standing around with Yuki, waiting for filming to start again, he caught sight of Sakura talking to a boy that appeared to be around her age.
But he wasn't, not at all. Touya's eyes narrowed. It was a man in a boy's body-- a man with powerful enough magic that he'd been able to keep himself from aging, because it wasn't an illusion.
One of their classmates was calling him and Yuki over. Touya didn't like it, but he didn't know what to make of it either. The man didn't seem to have sinister intentions towards Sakura, so Touya turned away and went with his classmates.
Sakura was very obviously nervous about the small part Akizuki had talked her into doing for the movie. He was thinking about making fun of her for it when he saw Yuki rubbing at his eyes.
"I'm feeling sleepy again," Yuki said sheepishly. "I slept all day yesterday too. It's strange, isn't it?"
Akizuki was kneeling by them and trying to encourage Sakura, so Touya couldn't say anything.
But he wondered how much time they had left.
It was easier being around Akizuki when she had something to focus on besides showering Touya with affection. Touya wasn't enjoying himself, precisely, but he didn't dislike it.
He might have been in a decent mood if he hadn't kept seeing Yuki stifling yawns and rubbing at his eyes.
"Are you all right?" Touya asked him, again and again, because he knew that he wasn't.
Finally, it was the last scene. Touya and Yuki were standing on the balcony, just as Akizuki had told them to stand.
It hadn't been hard to memorize some of these lines, Touya thought dryly, because they weren't so far from what he had been trying to say anyway.
Yuki's head dropped, but it might just have been acting.
"You are--" Touya stopped. Something wasn't right.
Suddenly Yuki's grip on the railing went slack, and in a dizzying moment that seemed both impossibly fast and unbearably slow, his weight went forward, forward, down and over the side of the balcony.
His feet were flying forward before he could think, his gut leaping over the edge with Yuki, his heart thundering so that all he could hear was the pounding of blood in his ears. His hand cut through the air in that same eerie fast/slow fashion, fingers just managing to close around Yuki's wrist as Touya bent over the railing. It was a wonder they hadn't both gone over.
Yuki's name burst out of him again and again, his thoughts a blind panic, his arm shaking from the effort of keeping Yuki suspended. They couldn't hang there forever-- Yuki's hand was beginning to slip from Touya's sweaty grasp. "Wake up, Yuki!"
If they were going to die, he thought, madly, he at least wanted Yuki to look at him one last time.
Yuki's hand was slipping. No, wait, it wasn't-- it was flickering in and out of existence, tinged with blue. And then it did slip, and Yuki fell, as Touya screamed "YUKI!" once again, his fall strangely unreal, like a child's doll being dropped from a window.
But he didn't hit the ground with a violent shudder-- a spirit (one of Sakura's?) shot underneath him, circling and slowing his fall until he was gently laid to rest on the grass.
Taking the stairs required letting Yuki out of his sight. Touya vaulted over the railing, leaped for a substantial branch in a neighboring tree, and descended.
Yuki was still, but breathing gently. Touya had just begun to smile, relieved, when patches of the grass underneath Yuki began to waver in and out of sight, as if a child were furiously erasing parts of Yuki and coloring them back in.
"Let me guide you to a room."
Touya turned, and saw the man in the boy's body, smiling at him with a terrifying serenity.
Something clicked in his brain. "You're--"
"If you don't hurry, you won't make it in time."
The two of them brought Yuki inside, and laid him on a bed away from everyone else, removing his glasses.
Slowly, Yuki opened his eyes. "Touya," he said immediately, brightening at the sight of him.
In spite of everything, Touya relaxed.
Yuki asked if he had fallen asleep, and admitted that he was still tired. The moment his eyes fell shut, he began to fade in spots again.
He had to keep him awake. "Yuki, at this rate you will disappear. I don't ever want to see that happen."
"Why would I disappear?" Yuki's voice was still groggy.
"It's because you don't realize it." Touya paused, still grappling with the best way to go about this. "I know about it, that you're--"
"Are you all right, Tsukishiro-kun?"
Touya was sick of doing this comedy routine. "This again?"
Yuki, in his usual effort to keep casual acquaintances from worrying about him, actually sat up to assure Akizuki that he was okay.
"Then," she said brightly, "I would like to continue filming right now--"
Yuki didn't have time for this. Touya didn't have time for this. Without preamble, he pushed Akizuki out of the room. "I have something I need to talk to Yuki about. Don't get in my way!"
She backed down immediately. "O-okay."
Huh, maybe he should have done that from the start.
Touya walked back to the bed, and started from the beginning. "Yuki," he said, taking a deep breath, "I know that you're…"
Yuki looked as though he might laugh. "Is this a continuation of the movie?"
"No." Touya sat on the bed beside him. "Seriously, listen to me." After a moment, he touched Yuki's cheek. He might as well put everything on the table. "I… know that you're not human."
Yuki stared at him.
"So," Touya said, feeling as though a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders, "you don't have to hide it from me."
Yuki's eyes fluttered shut. Touya put his hand down and watched the transformation.
"I finally get to meet you," he murmured. "What's your name?"
"Yue." He paused. "Yukito didn't want you, of all people, to know that he wasn't a human, but only a temporary form. That is why I could not show myself in front of you."
Touya almost laughed. "If I can't see you, I can't give you what I want to give you."
Yue's expression did not change. "You've been telling Yukito 'I don't want you to disappear'."
"You know what needs to be done for that?"
"I know," Touya said calmly. "If I can use my power to prevent Yuki from disappearing, I'll give it all to him."
"You won't be able to see your mother again," Yue said bluntly.
Touya looked away. "It's not fair that I'm the only one who can see her. But, if I lose my powers… I won't be able to tell when Sakura is in danger." He met Yue's gaze again. "So you need to protect her."
Yue's eerie blue eyes widened in surprise. "You don't need to make me promise that. I'll protect my master even if it means giving up this body."
That made Touya get up, pointing a finger for emphasis. "It would upset me if you gave it up! If you disappear, so does Yuki. I want you to protect Sakura and protect yourself."
Yue folded his arms. "Is that your condition to hand over your magical powers?"
Touya smiled. "That's right."
Yue furrowed his brow for a moment, then his expression cleared. "I will do my best."
Touya was so relieved, he was practically beaming. "It's like I thought. You and Yuki are alike."
Yue looked mildly annoyed, but his expression softened when Touya came closer. He put his hands on Touya's shoulders, and leaned so close that for a moment Touya thought Yue meant to kiss him. Instead, there was a surge of power, and a flash of light, and Touya lost consciousness.
The next thing he knew, he was tucked into bed, Yuki dozing in a chair beside him. It was dark outside.
Touya shook his head and sat up, reaching for Yuki's shoulder. "Oi, Yuki."
Yuki woke with a start. "Touya! You're all right."
"Of course I am." Touya patted the bed. "If you sleep in that chair you'll wake up all sore. There's room for both of us."
Yuki smiled. "All right."
And for the most part everything was all right again. It wasn't until they were watching Akizuki's movie that Yuki finally said, quietly, "I'm not human. The reason I don't have my memory sometimes is because I've turned into my other self. All my memories are lies, aren't they?"
Touya was prepared for this, but it didn't make Yuki's obvious distress any less easier to bear. "But the memories you have since you met me are true."
Yuki looked at him, and Touya wondered if he knew that he had almost said everything we are to each other is real. He looked away, embarrassed. "It doesn't matter what you are. As long as you stay with me and don't disappear, I don't care about anything else."
He could tell Yuki was smiling. "Thank you."
Touya hadn't realized he was still tired until after they left the screening. He did his best to hide it, though a part of him thought that this must have been how Yuki felt. He had probably ended up giving some of his energy to Yue along with his powers. It wouldn't be a problem-- Touya wasn't about to disappear.
Yuki worried anyway. Not just about Touya-- he was afraid he had said the wrong thing to Sakura after she told him that she liked him. Which was ridiculous, of course, because Touya had seen Yuki turn down all sorts of girls, and he couldn't imagine he would be any less respectful or gentle with Touya's sister than he was with them. And it wasn't very long at all before Sakura's disappointed face went away and her usual cheer returned.
Still, once Touya explained what had happened between him and Yue, Yuki was distressed that Touya had given up something important. Touya patiently explained it to him. "If you had a lunch, and I arrived starving to death, what would you do with that lunch?"
"I'd give it all to you," Yuki said slowly.
"That's just what I did." He pinched Yuki's cheeks the way he used to do to Sakura. "And if you worry about it anymore, I'll get mad."
It wasn't entirely that simple, of course. Touya was reminded of that forcefully when the lights at the festival flickered and went out. He couldn't feel a thing, but he knew that their source was at the pond, where Sakura was waiting with her friends.
He and Yuki raced back to the pond.
She was fine, and there were no signs of a fight. As Touya tried to work out what had happened, Sakura ran off to do something. Suddenly, the air was filled with floating green lights.
His sister's magic.
"Sakura-chan's growing up, isn't she?" Yuki said brightly.
Touya looked at the Li kid and sighed.
Yue visited Touya, too. Touya was glad-- he wanted to know them both.
"So you couldn't transform until all the cards were captured," Touya said, after they had done some talking about how Yue had come to Tomoeda. "Did you see what Yuki sees, or--"
"I was always present in him, even if I could not take this shape," Yue clarified. "Though we are not of the same mind. I knew you saw that he was different from the start, even as Yukito was unaware of this fact."
Touya shook his head. "You must think I'm pretty ridiculous for going along with the whole charade for so long."
"I understand devotion well enough," Yue said softly.
"Your old master?" Touya recognized the look. "Clow Reed?"
Yue's sharp features grew gentle, and for the first time he began to truly resemble his other half. "Yes. But not only him."
He leaned in then, and brushed his lips against Touya's.
In the space of a breath it was over, and for a moment Touya thought he must be dreaming. Then Yue gave him a small smile and said, "In this Yukito and I are in complete accord."
Touya stared at him. "You're… in love with me?"
He thought Yue might actually be blushing, but it was difficult to tell. Still, he did not deny it.
It probably should have made Touya feel weird. The reasonable response would have been to say that the person Touya cared for was Yuki, not Yue.
But it wasn't as though they were so distinct from each other that Touya couldn't see a bit of Yuki in Yue, or a bit of Yue in Yuki. Even if he had only met Yue recently, it felt as though they had known each other for much longer-- and in a way, they had.
Touya smiled. "All right."
Yue was beautiful. It was still a little intimidating, his unearthly perfection, but it was hard to keep thinking of Yue as remote when he was unbuttoning Touya's shirt. And it was strange, knowing that Yue knew him as well as Yuki, perhaps exactly as well as Yuki, when most of what Touya knew about him was little more than guesswork.
And then suddenly Yue's wings spread, and his head jerked away. "Something's happening to my master."
"Sakura?" Touya grabbed a sweater. "I'm going with you."
Yue flew while Touya ran, matching him for speed. That was, until Touya felt a great wave of exhaustion, and everything went black.
When Touya opened his eyes again, his arm was over Yuki's shoulder, and Yuki was helping him to stand.
"I'm still not really used to waking up in a different place than I was before," Yuki admitted. "But it looks like Sakura-chan saved the day."
Touya sighed. "That's just like her."
When they got to Touya's house, and Touya was walking without assistance, Yuki paused at the door. "Do you want me to stay? I can make some dinner if you haven't eaten yet."
"I'm fine." He remembered what Yue had said, and smiled. "But I do want you to stay."
They went up to Touya's room, and as Touya shut the door, Yuki went to sit in Touya's desk chair as usual. Touya considered standing, but, after a moment's consideration, went to sit on his bed, facing Yuki.
"You look very serious," Yuki laughed.
"I am serious." Touya folded his hands and leaned forward. "Yuki, I really like you."
"I really like you too," he said easily. "Is that all?"
"No!" Touya gritted his teeth. "I mean, as more than a friend."
He saw the realization dawn on Yuki slowly. Touya's heart was pounding even though he felt sure of the answer he was going to receive.
Yuki stood up, walked to Touya, and sat down beside him on the bed. He squeezed Touya's hand. "I do, too."
Touya was never sure afterwards who kissed whom, let alone whether Yuki pulled him down or Touya pushed Yuki down. Either way, when they broke apart, they were lying next to each other on Touya's bed.
Yuki grinned. "So are we dating now?"
Touya hadn't really thought about that. "If you want," he said, after a moment.
"You don't sound very enthusiastic. Do you want to be free to play the field, Touya?" Yuki teased him.
"It's not that!" But that did remind Touya there was something else to talk about. "You know Yue likes me too."
"The other me?" Yuki blinked, but didn't seem bothered. "I certainly understand why! But how do you feel about him?"
"Well, we were going to--" Touya reddened.
"That serious, huh?" Yuki laughed, without malice. He bumped his nose against Touya's. "Well, don't do anything with him you wouldn't do with me."
Touya blinked, unsure if he was understanding Yuki correctly or if he was too distracted by how close and warm he was.
"You don't have to choose," Yuki murmured, closing the distance.
The glasses came off after a while.
Touya's father and Sakura weren't surprised to see Yuki in the morning, since he had slept over before. Touya wondered if it would make any difference if they knew.
It wouldn't, he decided, seeing Sakura spring up to get second helpings for Yuki.
Sakura seemed cheerful enough, but Touya didn't need the powers he'd lost to tell him that something had changed for her too.
She was clearly doing her best to hide it, so he ruffled her hair as usual ("HEY!") and let her have her secret.
He saw Kaho, later, between shifts. He wasn't surprised that she hadn't told him she was back in Japan, merely resigned to her dedication to mysteriousness.
"You were right," he said. "I did find someone else."
She did answer his questions, when he asked. She had known almost everything, and only interfered when she felt it was the only choice. Her connection to Clow Reed he had not guessed, but it made a lot of things fit together.
Touya didn't think he liked this Clow Reed too much.
"But I'm thankful for him," Yuki said quietly, when Touya told him. "Because of him, I was able to meet Sakura-chan and you, Touya."
Touya smiled, but then he saw Sakura running upstairs.
It wasn't like her not to come into the kitchen and say hello. Especially when Yuki was there. But she hadn't even looked at them.
"Sakura-chan?" Yuki had noticed it too. "Is something wrong?"
Touya couldn't know for certain that it wasn't something to do with magic, not without his powers. And of course it was always possible that someone had just been mean at school or that she just needed something from her room so urgently she didn't have time to spare.
But he thought of the Li kid.
She was subdued through dinner, though when their father asked if she was feeling okay she forced a smile and affirmed that everything was fine. It was so depressing to see her like this that Touya didn't even have the heart to tease her.
Touya had work early the next morning, so he wasn't too surprised to see that Sakura hadn't come downstairs yet. He finished his breakfast and silently vowed to go after that Li brat if he'd really upset her.
But when he finally got home, Sakura was vacuuming with the usual bright look in her eyes. Well, not the usual look, not exactly-- she seemed somehow older than he remembered her being. But she was definitely happy again.
"It was that Li kid, wasn't it?" Touya said to Yue later that night, sitting cross legged on his bed.
"According to Cerberus, yes. How did you know?" Yue's wings were tucked away wherever he kept them so he could more comfortably lie on his back. Not for the first time, Touya noticed the way the moonlight from his window seemed to make Yue's bare skin glow.
"I'm her big brother," Touya retorted. "You think I couldn't tell?"
"I have no personal experience in the matter," Yue said matter-of-factly. "But I don't think you should worry."
Touya shook his head, stretching out his legs and lying down next to Yue. "Like I said, I'm her brother. I'm always going to worry about her. Doesn't mean I'm going to get in her way, though."
One inconvenient thing about being in a relationship with two people who shared the same body was that Touya occasionally had to repeat things he had already said to Yue for Yuki's benefit.
"Do you know what Sakura-chan said when she realized about us?" Yuki asked, with that mischievous look in his eye that Touya had grown to dread.
He was about to shake his head when he repeated the words in his head and realized what they meant. "She what?" Touya spluttered. "How? When?"
"She is your sister," Yuki teased him. "You think she couldn't tell?"
Touya shook his head wearily. "What did she say?"
"That if you ever hurt me, she'd be very angry with you."
He snorted. "As if that would ever happen."
"And I don't think that boy will hurt Sakura-chan, either," Yuki said simply.
"Sometimes, I think you're much too convinced that everyone's as good a person as you are," Touya said grumpily. "But in this case, you're probably right. Still doesn't make me like him."
Yuki laughed. Then his eyes fixed on something just over Touya's shoulder.
"What is it?"
"Touya," Yuki said slowly, "for just a moment I could have sworn I saw a pretty girl standing by that picture, smiling at us."
A smile tugged at the corner of Touya's mouth. "Did she look like the woman in the picture?"
Yuki went to peer at it, but Touya knew the answer already.
I love you too, Mother.