These Things Happen

by Kuwabara no Miko

*ring! -- ring! -- ring!*


The shrilling phone rocked as a bare foot collided with the base of the small table on which it rested.

"OW!" Kiryuu Touma hopped up and down on one foot, clutching at the other in pain as he snagged the receiver with his free hand. "Kuso! Uh, I mean-- Moshi moshi!"

The rangy blonde teen fell back against the wall, absently massaging his throbbing toes. He was dripping wet, a towel slung around his waist, his toned limbs still flushed from a hot shower. "Wha-? Oh, uh, no, he's not-- Can I-- What?" Violet eyes blinked and Touma straightened, his foot falling to the floor with a thump. Pushing stings of wet hair, darkened from tawny gold to deep copper, behind his ear, he listened intently. "Oh... okay. I'll... uh, I'll tell him. Yes, I understand. Yes, by the end of-- But today's already Thurs--! Yeah. Yeah, I got it. I'll deal with-- Y-yeah. Yeah, thanks. Okay. B--" Touma pulled the phone away as a decisive click sounded in his ear. "Huh. Asshole."

His scowl melted away to a slightly anxious expression. "Shit." He bit his lower lip, dropping the receiver back into place. "This is not a good time."

Running both hands through his damp hair, Touma quickly reviewed his options. They were limited. Briefly he considered calling his uncle, but an international call was expensive, and what could Uncle Kouji do from America? Besides, it was early morning there, and it wasn't even certain that Amano Kouji was at the last number he had given Touma. That had been nearly a month ago, and Kouji was prone to spontaneous traveling.

So, really, there was only one thing Touma could do. It wasn't that he didn't want to do it; he had been dreaming of the day for three years now. But, damn, now was *not* a good time!

Touma glanced at the clock, his eyes widening. "Ah, shit!" He'd better hurry and get ready or he'd be late!

Dashing back to his bedroom, Touma did some hasty planning. He'd have to cut school early tomorrow. He hoped this afternoon's meeting wouldn't take too long -- he had some shopping and some serious cleaning to do before he crashed tonight. One phone call and his world had been turned topsy-turvy. It was something he had been longing for, and yet....

Well, tomorrow was going to be an interesting day, one way or another.

* * *

"So we're sure Touma has the Tamashii no Nouryoku?"

"Un!" Koganei Kaoru nodded vigorously, slurping up soda through a straw. "He showed it to me after school. No mistaking it."

The former members of Team Hokage were gathered in a small booth in a local cafe, excepting Ishijima Domon, who had been roped into watching his family shop for the afternoon and had not been able to wriggle out of it; at least not without telling his mother a lot more than any of them wanted her to know. They spoke together quietly, seeming deceptively peaceful to the casual eye.

"You should have called us from his apartment, and had us come over there," Mikagami Tokiya said reprovingly. "With that madougu hunter on the loose--"

"Maa, maa, Mi-chan," Kirisawa Fuuko interrupted, waving a hand breezily. "You worry too much. This Kiryuu kid should be all right so long as he doesn't have the Powersoul on him, na?"

Tokiya glared at the cheerful girl.

"What you shoulda done was get the Powersoul from him!" Hanabishi Recca declared, fist hitting the table top to emphasize his point. "Then he wouldn't be in any danger at all!"

Everyone at the small table turned and just *looked* at the youthful Flame Master.

"What?" Recca blinked. "What'd I say?"

"Niichan!" Kaoru rolled his eyes broadly. "Do you think you could just say to Fuuko, 'here, gimme your Fuujin for an indeterminate amount of time'?" He snorted and drank more of his soda. "The Powersoul's the last remembrance Touma has from his father. He's not going to give it to anyone -- not even his best friend."

"Sou! Sou!" Fuuko nodded briskly. "That would be like trying to get Ensui away from Mi-chan!"

Tokiya twitched.

"Ah." Recca looked thoughtful. "Well... I still think it would be the best way. And we'd give it back...."

"So that the next elemental weapon hunter to come along targets him; possibly without Kagero-san's Eikai Ball to warn us." Tokiya shook his head somberly. "So far we've been the only ones attacked. Kiryuu Touma is the next closest thing to a civilian, even though he's been trained in martial arts. Part of this meeting is to warn him of the danger, and the other part will be to discuss how we're going to deal with the threat of future danger."

"Hn." Recca pursed his lips. "Sounds kinda half-assed to me...."

"Do you have any better ideas, Hanabishi?" Tokiya challenged tartly.

Recca grinned disarmingly and shrugged. Tokiya sighed.

Beside Recca, Sakoshita Yanagi quietly sipped her tea. She was aware that the others probably didn't think she ought to be here. There was little she could offer by way of strategy, and everybody preferred she not put herself in the line of danger. But she didn't want to be left out. Besides, she was looking forward to a chance to meet Kaoru-kun's friend. She'd heard a lot about Kiryuu Touma -- some of it even repeatable in mixed company -- but she had yet to garner an introduction.

The members of Team Hokage had not dispersed after the end of the Ura Buto Satsujin, but they *had* moved on with their respective lives. All the older teens were heading into college, Koganei Kaoru was whizzing through high school with ease, and Kagero-san was happily playing mother in the Hanabishi household. Domon still couldn't figure out why Koganei was living with Mikagami, but no one had the heart to enlighten him. Yanagi thought it was wonderful -- now she didn't need to worry about either of the two boys, because they had each other. And, of course, Ganbo-chan had been adopted by the Kirisawa family, and was now officially considered Fuuko's imouto.

For the most part, the last three years had been uneventful. Never boring, of course. Recca attracted trouble like a flame attracted moths. There were the random madougu hunters from time to time, after someone's elemental weapon. Last summer they had undertaken the quest that had returned Kagero-san's mortality to her; she could age and die as a regular woman and not outlive her son now. That had been dangerous and they had all faced death at some point during the venture. But most of the time now the former members of Team Hokage didn't stress over anything more earth-shaking than their homework, they went out on dates, and occasionally they met in a cafe or a park to catch up and reminisce.

This meeting was a little more serious than most others, though. Kagero-san currently used her scrying madougu to sniff out elemental weapon hunters who might be headed their way, so that they had some advance warning. But this most recent threat was not a hunter after any of the Hokage group's weapons. He was, instead, targeting the 'Powersoul' -- an elemental weapon that Koganei Kaoru claimed was in the possession of his best friend from school, Kiryuu Touma. And that was the problem.

"Believe me," Kaoru was saying feelingly. "I had enough trouble convincing Touma to *show* me the Powersoul in the first place! First he wouldn't admit that he had it, and then I had to practically beg him to drag it out of hiding. There's no *way* he'd just hand it over on my say-so!"

"And yet he doesn't know how to use it," Tokiya mused. "No matter how good he is at martial arts, he's not ready to take on an elemental weapon wielder who may have more than one madougu at his command."

"I dunno about that, Niichan," Kaoru said, grinning. "You haven't seen Touma in action!"

Tokiya twitched again, and Fuuko stifled a snicker. "Don't call me--"

"Oh! There he is!!" Kaoru waved wildly, half rising in the booth they were all sharing. "Touma!! Oi~!!!"

Everyone turned to look at the new arrival. They had all heard a lot about Touma -- some more than others, depending upon their level of tolerance for ecchi stories -- but this was the first time any of them except Tokiya would be meeting him. Recca grabbed Yanagi around the waist, pulling her closer with a tiny squeak on her part. Domon honestly didn't seem to hear, or at least process, most of the insinuations Kaoru made about Touma's 'preferences', but they had clearly made an impression on Recca, and as Touma was reportedly single right now, he didn't want to take any chances.

For her own part, Yanagi was pleased to see as he approached their table that Kiryuu Touma was an attractive, personable young man. It was good to know Kaoru had nice friends. His features were a little sharp but very well-formed, and he wore his tawny hair long at the sides to soften and frame his face. His violet eyes were heavy-lidded yet alert, and a small smirk was settled perpetually on his wide mouth. He wore a simple teeshirt and jeans, his clothing clean and unrumpled. Overall, Yanagi was very favorably impressed.

"Hey." Touma seemed slightly distracted, his stormy gaze sliding around the table at the gathered young adults, before settling on his friend and classmate. "Sorry I'm late. I had to field an urgent phone call."

"Everything all right?" Tokiya asked, straightening. "It doesn't have to do with--"

"Iie," the rangy teen waved a hand, his expression firming and becoming more focused on the current situation. "Not at all. Don't worry."

"Touma, sit!" Kaoru demanded, patting the booth bench beside him.

"Hai, papa." The smirk widened, a definite gleam of mischief lighting violet eyes. Touma slid lithely into the booth beside Kaoru. His movements were those of a well-trained fighter. He was only sixteen -- the same age as Koganei -- but like Kaoru and unlike most of their contemporaries his body was all whipcord muscle and skillfully contained strength. There was definitely credence to Kaoru's claim that Touma could hold his own in a battle, though without the ability to wield the Powersoul that wasn't entirely without question. "Jeez, Kaoru. You didn't tell me you'd bring in a posse to gang up on me!" Touma's expression remained cheerful, but his eyes were wary.

"We're not here to gang up on you -- we're here to help!" Fuuko proclaimed cheerfully before Kaoru could speak in his own defense. "Hi~! I'm Kirisawa Fuuko!"

"Yoroshiku." Touma nodded politely.

"We're glad to meet you," Fuuko continued eagerly. "We've heard so much about you!"

"Sou?" Touma cast what might be interpreted as a dirty look at the sheepish Kaoru seated beside him. Then a lazy grin split his lips, his eyes growing even more heavy-lidded, and he settled back in a rangy sprawl. "Maa. That's right. I've heard about you too." His grin widened and something wicked flickered in his violet eyes.

Fuuko blinked, a bit taken aback, then she glared at Koganei with intent suspicion. The spiky-haired teen gulped, then hastily introduced the remaining two members of the odd group gathered around the booth, Recca and Yanagi.

"So, you all were at the tournament where my father was killed?" Touma asked without preamble, sitting forward and lacing his fingers together on the tabletop.

Recca choked on his soda, taken aback by Touma's bluntness. Fuuko winced. Yanagi looked pained and sympathetic.

"Yeah," Kaoru confirmed softly, twirling his straw absently, topaz eyes fixed on his friend's profile. "I already explained about that, when you showed me the Powersoul."

Touma gave a shrug that was little more than a twitch. "Anyone see him fight?"

Recca looked embarrassed. Fuuko squirmed a little. "Uh.... See, we didn't really watch any of the fights that we weren't involved in--" she began, more apologetic than defensive.

"I saw him fight," Tokiya interrupted.

"Hah?" Everyone turned to stare at the tall, slender wielder of the water-blade Ensui.

"Kiryuu Ryuuichi, right?" At Touma's crisp nod, Tokiya bowed his head in return. "I didn't see his... final battle. But I saw him fight. He was incredibly skilled." His pale crystalline eyes met and held Touma's stormy gaze. The two had spoken often in the past three years, as Touma was Kaoru's best friend at school, but they had never discussed anything so serious before. No one had thought that Touma had any sort of connection to the Ura Butso Satsujin, naturally enough. Mikagami had not noted the similarity in names between one of the many fighters at Mori Kouran's death-match tournament and Kaoru's best friend; in fact the name had not made much of an impression at all. But the weapon had and after he had discovered that Touma was in possession of the Powersoul, Tokiya had swiftly put the pieces together. "He was training you?"

"Right." Touma relaxed his taut limbs with an obvious effort and smiled at Tokiya -- an honest expression that warmed his handsome face. "Not with the Powersoul, but he taught me how to fight from an early age. I've been keeping up my training for the past three years on my own."

"That's good," Tokiya said pensively. "But this new threat may be more than you can handle alone. That is why Kaoru invited you here. We wish to offer you our help." The young man tilted his short-cropped silver head. "Kaoru has explained about the madougu; how they are used, and why they are sought by the unscrupulous?"

"I did!" Kaoru inserted, apparently feeling a little left out of the conversation. "I told him all about everything!"

Tokiya snorted softly. "I rather doubt that, considering you got home less than an hour after school let out. But I'll assume that you covered the basics."

Kaoru slumped back in his seat and sulked. The waitress came over and attention was temporarily diverted as Touma ordered and received an oolong tea.

"My main question is, just how serious is this threat?" Touma asked once they were alone again. "I mean, do I have to start using those eyes in the back of my head?"

Recca snickered. The flame master was finding he liked this Touma a lot more than he had thought he would; at least on first impression. Of course, he knew not all homos were freaks. He considered Koganei and Mikagami to be his nakama, and it hardly bothered him any more that they were "together" -- though, of course, he preferred that Kaoru not get physically affectionate toward Tokiya in front of him. But he'd heard so many horror stories about Kiryuu Touma from Koganei that he'd been more than half expecting some raving sex-maniac. Touma was friendly and funny; so long as he stayed a fair eight meters away from Recca at all times the flame master was prepared to be okay with him.

"I suppose letting us keep the Powersoul until we've dealt with the madougu hunter is out of the question...." Recca let his query trail away and sighed heavily as he caught the stony, stubborn look that overtook Touma's face. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I told 'em it'd be no good."

"Hey!" Kaoru squawked indignantly, but was quelled by one of Tokiya's pale hands settling on his thigh, well under the shelter of the tabletop. He settled back to silently pout.

"We understand your feelings," Tokiya interjected. "But if you won't let us guard the Powersoul, then we're going to have to guard you. Whether you have it on you or not -- and we prefer not, since you admittedly don't know how to use it -- the elemental weapon hunter is going to target you sooner or later. The best way I can think of is for you to pack a few things and stay with Kaoru and I until this is over with."

"Hn." Touma glared down into his drink, then glanced up, flicking an irritated look around the table. "I don't need to be baby-sat. I can take care of myself. I've *been* taking care of myself for the past three years--"

"But not against a killer armed with an elemental weapon -- maybe more than one!" Tokiya said forcefully. He leaned around Kaoru to fix Touma with a vivid stare. "You don't know what you're dealing with. You have no idea how dangerous elemental weapons can be!"

"Dangerous enough to destroy my family," Touma muttered harshly, his tawny hair falling to shield his face. He raised his head, eyes burning. "I think I have a fair idea. Don't treat me like a child just because I haven't ever used my father's madougu. I think even without it I can hold my own. Don't underestimate me."

"I think you're underestimating the danger you're facing," Tokiya rejoined sharply. "You say you don't want to be baby-sat, and yet you're behaving like a spoiled brat!"

The other members of the group were holding their collective breath at this clash of wills. Kaoru looked miserable. Not only was he physically caught between the two arguing youths, but he could understand and sympathize with both sides of the dispute. On the one hand was Tokiya, his koibito, who was still scarred by the needless murder of his oneesan; for so long blamed on madougu hunters that even though they knew better now that anger still lingered. And on his other side was Touma, who *could* fight, perhaps better than Kaoru knew, and who was sixteen, an orphan, someone fiercely independent, who did *not* want to be taken care of. Kaoru was honest enough with himself to admit that he probably would have reacted exactly the same way Touma was reacting, had he been in his friend's position.

Anger flared in liquid violet eyes. "Look," Touma bit out the words through gritted teeth. "I appreciate that you're trying to help me. And I'm not underestimating the danger. But I have things to do and I'm not putting my life on hold just because some weirdo wants my father's Powersoul, okay? I won't let anyone make off with my family's treasure. Thanks for the warning, but I can take care of myself!"

With that he stood, all lean limbs and angles and a flurry of tawny hair.

"Wait! Touma!" Tokiya commanded. Recca and Fuuko opened their mouths, but before anyone could say anything further, Touma had spun on his heel and was gone.

"Kuso!" Recca cursed as the cafe door bell tingled after Touma's departure. "That went well. Is your friend always so--"

"Stubborn?" Kaoru supplied, his expression mournful. "Yeah. Yeah, he is. Tokiya!" He turned an accusing scintillation of topaz eyes on his lover. "You should have let me do the talking! You went and got Touma all pissy, and now he's not going to want to change his mind no matter how much I try to convince him!"

"He was behaving foolishly," Tokiya replied, pale lips thinning. He and Kaoru's best friend didn't always get along perfectly, but this was the worst they had ever clashed. But then, the situation had never been so intense before, either. "He wasn't taking the threat seriously. And he's spent the night with us before -- why was he so adverse to it this time?"

Kaoru blinked, startled. "That's.... That's actually a good question. I know he likes a break from being alone every now and then. Maybe it was because he doesn't want to be indebted to us...?"

"Perhaps it has to do with that urgent phone call he said he received," Yanagi suggested softly. She had been upset by Touma's abrupt departure, but she could understand it. He was in his mid-teens, just beginning to get a feeling for the adult he was going to become, but still something of a child deep inside. Any hint of authority would get his back up; especially when it was not an adult, but only an older teen with a forceful manner of approaching the situation. Maybe if Mikagami-senpai had *asked* instead of *telling*..... Or, well, maybe not. Sixteen was a difficult age, and being a boy made it even more thorny for Touma-kun.

"That could be it." Kaoru looked thoughtful. "Maybe his uncle's coming home unexpectedly...?"

Tokiya shook his silver head. "Iya. If that was the case, I'm certain he would have come with us, to keep his uncle out of the line of trouble. No, it must be something else."

"But what?" Kaoru plopped his chin on his fist, his eyes glazing over with thought.

"That's beside the point," Fuuko said, banging her fist on the table much as Recca had done earlier. "Okay, so Touma was shaken up by whatever that phone call was and maybe it had something to do with his refusing our help. But, then, maybe it didn't. The main thing is that he's out there alone and we're all sitting here scratching our heads. We need to *do* something. So, what are we going to do?"

"Rather eloquently put," Tokiya allowed, tilting his head. "Obviously we can't go after the hunter directly if we don't know where he is. We don't, do we?" He glanced at Recca.

"Sorry." The flame master spread his hands and shook his head. "Kaachan couldn't get a firm fix on him. She thinks one of the madougu he's carrying is blocking her Eikai Ball. She just knows that he's getting closer and that he's definitely out for the Tamashii no Nouryoku."

"Then we have to keep an eye on Touma." Tokiya pressed a finger to his chin, his eyes considering. "Kaoru, you can watch him at school. The rest of us will take out shifts to cover his free time and the night."

"Ah~! But I have a Psych final coming up!" Recca wailed.

"Is it more important to you than Touma's life?" Tokiya asked harshly. When the only reply that came was a sheepish, slightly sullen silence, he smiled mirthlessly. "Fuuko, will you see to it that Domon hears about all this and takes his turn? And make sure he doesn't slack off!"

"Count on me!" The girl pumped a fist briskly, her eyes serious and determined.

Tokiya turned to his younger lover. "Kaoru, you need to talk to Touma once he's calmed down a little. Make sure he doesn't carry the Powersoul with him. If he does that the madougu hunter won't hesitate to kill him upon finding him. As long as he doesn't have it with him we have more of a chance of catching the hunter before he strikes."

"Hai~!!" Kaoru chirped. He seemed anxious to smooth things over, with both Tokiya and Touma. "And once he's calmed down a little maybe I can talk him into coming over to our place," he continued optimistically.

"Maybe." Tokiya didn't look as hopeful. "Just make sure--"

"Hai, hai." Kaoru leaned into the line of Tokiya's body. "I know how to deal with Touma. Just leave it to me!"

"Hn." Tokiya looked wary but he didn't push Kaoru away.

"So we just need an address and a schedule," Fuuko said briskly. "And I can kiss my free time good bye." She pulled a sour face.

"Not for long," Tokiya stated. "The hunter won't wait to strike. We just have to make certain that we're ready when he does."

"Hai~!!" A round of agreement went around the table and the former members of Team Hokage settled in for some in-depth planning.

* * *

Koganei Kaoru jittered his right leg nervously, glancing compulsively at the empty chair a row ahead of his and to his right, as though its occupant might suddenly appear from thin air. He should be so lucky. He'd biffed it. Big time.

He'd been doing just fine keeping watch over his best friend; stubborn jackass extraordinaire and owner of the imperiled elemental weapon, Kiryuu Touma. He'd thought he had the easiest shift of everyone -- just show up at school like he was supposed to, and *boom*, there Touma was!

Only... now he wasn't. Chikusho!!

Koganei and Touma were in the same classroom, which had made it perfect. Touma had shown up late to homeroom, sliding into his seat just as the bell rang, so Kaoru hadn't had a chance to talk to him about the meeting the afternoon before. That was okay; they had the rest of the day ahead of them. But somehow Kaoru hadn't been able to find Touma during any of the breaks between periods. He'd meant to buttonhole him at lunch.... And then between fourth period English and their lunch period, Touma just vanished.

Kaoru was confounded. Touma never cut class. Not in the three years Kaoru had known him, anyway. Well, okay, so there *had* been that one time... but that had been all Kaoru's idea. He hadn't been able to wait to see the first screening of "The Phantom Menace", and Tokiya had sworn there was no force in the world powerful enough to make him sit through a viewing, so he had convinced Touma to skip out early for a matinee showing.

Kaoru twitched. Here he was, stuck in sixth period calculus, with no way of skipping out to alert his niichan-tachi that he'd lost Touma. Hoping to see Touma breeze in at the last minute -- the horny blonde had been known to do so after indulging in a quickie behind the gym with one of their soccer teammates -- Kaoru had gotten himself trapped; waiting just that 'last minute' too long, until the teacher came in and began the lesson. He'd already finished the quiz sensei had sprung on the groaning class, and now he could only sit and fret over the missing Touma and all the time he was losing in tracking him down. Because he couldn't just get up and walk out of the classroom before the bell rang, tempting though it was.

Maybe if he feigned a fainting spell...?

Kaoru whimpered and sank his head in his hands. He... was... screwed.

* * *

The front lawn was picture perfect.

Gold and green and bright pastels were set out in careful delineation; none overlapping its neighbor. A tall, stark-white fence did more to hold the garden in than it did to keep the world out.

Touma glanced from side to side as he paced up the cement walkway that arrowed unwaveringly to the front porch in a decidedly Western manner. Each blade of grass was mown to the exact height as every other, to the very millimeter. The rows of flowers stood to rigid attention. Even the willow tree in the corner was neatly trimmed; not one leafy limb out of place. What should have been a lovely front lawn and garden instead seemed sterile and unwelcoming. Like a set from an old television show, or the exterior of an expensive doll-house.

Touma grimaced. If the front lawn was this rigidly controlled, what sort of damage would three years of living with Kiryuu Sayuri have wrought upon his younger brother?

Tsumaru had been an impressionable ten years of age when their parents had died; their father killed fighting in the Ura Butso Satsujin and their mother soon after succumbing to a bad bout of pneumonia, most likely weakened by stress and acute heartbreak. Touma begrudged every year, every month, every day that the boy had been stuck living with the old witch, and he had missed being with Tsumaru terribly. But Aunt Sayuri had thought that having a cute young nephew in residence -- a tragic orphan -- would be good for her "image", and Amano Kouji hadn't been earning enough money to fight her in legal courts. So he had embraced his older nephew, literally as well as figuratively, and hadn't given up hope of someday gaining custody of Tsumaru.

Well, evidently Tsumaru hadn't done as much for Sayuri as she had expected. Either that or she had merely gotten tired of supporting him. Touma had intercepted a terse message from Kiryuu's secretary, with instructions for Kouji to come and take the boy away. Uncle Kouji had been living in America for the past year as a freelance photographer, somehow in this way earning enough to keep up a nice penthouse apartment for Touma to live in and for his occasional visit home, as well as supplying Touma with a generous monthly allowance. He was decidedly unavailable, so it was Touma who was here. He hoped it would be okay. At sixteen, he ought to be a legitimate representative for his uncle. Hell, Tsumaru was *his* baby brother, after all! Aunt Sayuri surely couldn't complain -- especially not when *she* was the one who wanted Tsumaru out by the end of the week!

Squaring his shoulders, Touma marched up to the front door. Because of Uncle Kouji's "alternate lifestyle" he hadn't seen Tsumaru in three years. Siting this as the reason, Kiryuu Sayuri had cut off all contact between the two halves of the shattered family. For this if nothing else Touma hated her. Not only had their father and mother died in quick succession -- and Tsumaru had been very close to Kiryuu Kaede, always something of a mama's boy -- but then to be almost immediately wrenched away from his Oniisan and forced to live with a cold, unfeeling aunt who hadn't an ounce of maternal instinct in her reptilian nature....

Touma gritted his teeth and raised a fist to knock briskly on the door. For him the three years had passed relatively quickly. He had ached to be with his younger brother every day, of course, but there had been Uncle Kouji, and there had been soccer, and then his friendship with Koganei Kaoru.... He had enjoyed himself most of the time; especially after he had seduced half the members of his soccer team and a couple of his sensei. For him the time had passed swiftly. But for Tsumaru... who knew?

The larger part of Touma was excited and eager, but there was a small spot in his heart that resonated with just a bit of nervousness. It had been three years. Once he had Tsumaru with him again, it would be for keeps. This wasn't a bad thing. It was a very, very good thing. But it was also going to be a big change. He hoped Tsumaru didn't blame him for anything that had happened. He hoped--

With a crack of the knob turning then a soundless swing inward, the front door of the large private residence fell open. Touma put on his best "adult" face, standing as straight as he could... then found he had to lower his gaze considerably. He had been expecting his aunt, he supposed, to answer the door. Or maybe the secretary he had spoken to on the phone. But the heart-shaped face that raised to meet his was wrenchingly familiar, as unexpected as it was.

"Uh," he uttered intelligently. He blinked.

Chocolate-brown eyes rounded. "Oniisan!!"

Touma fielded a compact body, sturdy arms wrapping tightly around his waist in an unbreakable grip of as much desperation as joy. Instinctively, he clasped his brother in a returning embrace, holding him close. Doubts and misgivings flew out the window, banished by the reality of his brother warm and solid in his arms.

"Hey, kiddo," he greeted, his voice rough with emotion. Tsumaru was still short, his shoulders only reaching a little above Touma's waist, and his face was buried in Touma's chest. From the brief glimpse he had gotten before Tsumaru latched on his otouto hadn't changed a lot in the past three years. His face seemed a little slimmer, more teenager than child now, but they were the same delicate, almost-pretty features Touma remembered.

Touma squeezed Tsumaru closer without thinking about it. He'd missed him so much, and he was only now coming to realize how deeply the ache of their forced separation had settled in his heart. Once again he cursed Kiryuu Sayuri for dragging them apart without giving them so much as a choice.

"Oniisan." Tsumaru's voice was a bit damp, his grip growing viselike.

"Ow," Touma winced, grinning and grimacing at once. He was perilously close to tears himself, and he needed to lighten the mood. "Hey, Tsu-chan, you been working out or something?"

"Un." Tsumaru sniffed moistly, detaching himself from Touma enough to raise his head but not enough to break the circle of his arms. "I been keeping in shape, Oniisan. Haven't you?"

"Heh. Gaki." Touma ruffled the thick, straight chestnut hair he remembered so well. "Let's go get your stuff and get the hell out of here before Kiryuu changes her mind or something."

A knife-blade of bitterness and remorse shafted through his chest at the panicked expression this bantering comment sparked in Tsumaru's eyes, but he kept the smile on his face, trying to appear reassuring.

"C'mon!" A small but strong hand gripped his and Tsumaru fairly dragged him into the house.

"You here alone?" Touma asked, looking around instinctively, suddenly fearful that he'd be confronted with the spectre of Kiryuu Sayuri. He'd only met her a couple of times in his life, but they had definitely made an impression. She was a small, classically Japanese woman, but she both awed and terrified him. Maybe it was the coldness behind her small black eyes. How she and his lively, cheerful father could possibly have been related by blood....

On a second, more thorough look, Touma restrained an impressed whistle; he'd known Kiryuu was loaded, but this place was like a *museum*! Oil paintings, silk screens, sculpture.... How could anyone *live* here?! In a veritable showcase, with an ice-bitch presiding as queen -- not a stitch of human warmth evident--

Then it struck him forcefully. For the past three years, Tsumaru *had* lived here.

"Yeah," his brother was answering. "Upstairs, Oniisan."

Well, he'd make it up to Tsumaru. They'd lost three years together -- Tsumaru had lost three years of normal life -- and that was something neither one of them would get back. But they were together now, and Tsumaru was young yet. They had years to rebuild their relationship and their lives. Somehow, he'd make it up to Tsumaru. He had that power now.

"Do we need to make two trips?" Touma asked as they trekked up the vaunting staircase. He'd ridden the subway, thinking that he could call a taxi if he needed help carting things to the apartment. He hadn't figured Aunt Sayuri would spring for transport, seeing as she had wanted Kouji to come pick Tsumaru up, and he knew now he was right, considering the fact that Tsumaru was waiting for him alone.

The hallway upstairs wasn't quite so lavishly decorated, though it was still quite daunting. Kiryuu had an extensive collection, and she obviously didn't believe in squirreling it away. Touma thought wistfully of the Kiryuu domicile of three years ago. It had been small and a little shabby, but it had been home, and they had been happy there. It didn't look as though anyone had ever been happy here.

"Iya." Tsumaru shook his head firmly. "We can do it in one load."

"Sou?" Touma frowned. Tsumaru's room was at the very end of the hall. It was a small, spartan living area. Touma's frown darkened to a scowl. The rest of the place was so lavish; to see this was almost a physical shock.

"Yeah, I don't have much." Tsumaru shrugged, grinning a little sheepishly.

Touma looked around slowly, deliberately. There was a bed. A dresser. A desk. None of these were old or cheap, but they were the bare minimum needed to get by. The floor was bare wood, the walls stark white. There was a window curtained in sun-bleached burgundy that clashed with the bedspread. A second door was ajar, showing a crack of a private bathroom almost too small for an adult to stand in. Huddled in the center of the floor like lost puppies were two tote-bags and a nappy backpack. Touma remembered those as being the 'luggage' Tsumaru had used to pack his things before moving here. Outrage sang through his veins. After three years, you'd think Kiryuu would have at least bought Tsumaru new bags! Never mind more belongings than would fit in these three bags! She certainly spent enough on the house, but evidently her nephew wasn't that important to her!

"Can we go now?" Tsumaru asked, sounding piteous. He tugged at one of Touma's hands. "Please, Oniisan?"

"Yeah." Touma cleared his throat. "So this's all you've got, Tsu-chan?"

"Chan wa yamero!" Tsumaru responded almost automatically, his nose wrinkling.

Touma stared at him a moment, then let out a choked laugh, dragging his brother close for another tight hug. "Shit! I've missed you, Otouto!"

Tsumaru clung back. "Boku mo."

"Yosh'!" Detaching himself, Touma slung one of the totes over his shoulder and grabbed the other one. "Ikou!"

"Un!" Tsumaru slipped wiry arms through the backpack straps before latching on to Touma's hand once again. "Hayaku!"

"Yeesh! If I'd known this was all you had, I'd have ridden my scooter," Touma commented as they made haste to quit the premises.

"You have a bike?!" Tsumaru asked, voice awed, his face raised to gaze admiringly up at Touma.

Touma smirked. He'd missed being an oniisan. True, he could remember he and Tsumaru fighting a lot.... But that was before; they were both older now. And Tsumaru had gotten really cute! A lot cuter than Touma remembered, with his thick chestnut hair, wide brown eyes, pert nose, and full, pouty lips.

Arara.... Touma shook his head at himself. Such wicked thoughts and about his own brother! They'd only just been reunited! He'd better watch himself. After all, he had *no* idea whether Tsumaru was 'that way', or not. Most boys weren't, if Touma was honest, although some could be... 'convinced' easily enough. But Tsu *was* his brother.

"Wait." Tsumaru paused in the hallway, rooting around in one pocket. He emerged with a gleaming key on a simple chain. A pensive expression molded his youthful face. "I won't be needing this anymore."

"No. You won't," Touma replied softly. "You'll be getting a key to Uncle Kouji's apartment soon."

"Really?" Tsumaru met his gaze, then a bright smile overtook his features. "Ne! Can I get a 'Hello Kitty' keychain for it?"

Touma blinked. Huh! Maybe Tsu *was* bent. "Uh, sure, I guess."


The key made a decisive 'click' as Tsumaru dropped it on a small marble table. It wasn't the sound of one door closing -- rather, it was triumphant sound of the rest of Tsumaru's life opening up before him.

Sliding his fingers into Touma's larger hand, Tsumaru allowed his brother to lead him out into the sunlight.

"C'mon, Tsu. Let's go home."


* * *

"You lost him." Tokiya said into the phone receiver, in tones of disbelief. It was the third time he had repeated this flat statement.

"I told you, yes!" Kaoru sounded frazzled. As well he might! "I've looked everywhere, and I can't find him!"

Tokiya tapped his lower lip thoughtfully with a fingertip. School had just let out. Kaoru hadn't said *when* he'd lost Touma, but it sounded as though it had happened earlier in the day. "Have you tried at home?" he asked.

"Home?" He could almost *hear* the blink. "Oh! Touma's home! Uh, no, I've been at school all day."

Tokiya sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He loved his Kaoru, truly he did, and yet sometimes.... "Well, that's the most likely place to begin. I'll head out and meet you there. Okay?"

"I thought you had a five o'clock lab?"

"I'll skip it. That hunter ought to be here soon, if he hasn't already arrived. We can't afford to let Touma wander around alone."

"Gomen, Niichan." Now Kaoru sounded cowed and miserable. Tokiya felt almost satisfied by this, but he *did* love Kaoru, and besides--

"Don't call me that!" He sighed. "Just get over to Touma's apartment. I'll meet you on the roof of the building across the street. As long as the idiot hasn't got the Powersoul on him, the apartment is the best place for us to be, anyway."

"Yosh'!" Kaoru was obviously cheered by the reprieve. He'd probably been beating himself up over it for a while now -- Tokiya didn't see anything to be gained by further recriminations. "I'll be waiting there for you!"

Tokiya smirked. That was what Kaoru thought. "Mata." He hung up the public phone. The race, as they said, was on.

* * *

"So, where have you been going to school the past three years?" Touma asked, consciously reducing his usual brisk stride to accommodate Tsumaru's shorter legs as they walked the final block to his apartment building. He had realized all over again during the stuttering, slightly stilted conversation they had engaged in while riding the subway, just how far apart he and Tsumaru had grown. Kiryuu Sayuri had not even allowed correspondence by mail. Though they had been living in the same city, only about an hour's travel apart, they might as well have been a universe distant.

"Nowhere!" Tsumaru answered cheerfully, swinging the hand still linked with Touma's. The boy hadn't let go for a moment since they had left Kiryuu's house, except when Touma'd had to root through his pockets for the subway fare. "Aunt Kiryuu hired me a private tutor!"

"Ho~?" Touma grinned. "How'd you get so lucky?"

Tsumaru pulled another cute face. Touma was fascinated with the way his nose crinkled and his lips grew even fuller. "Wasn't lucky! The first tutor was *such* a bonehead! It took me almost three months to run him off!"

Touma laughed. Now they were starting to talk more like they had used to. It had been so long that they had lost the easy rapport that most brothers had with one another. They weren't speaking like strangers, but it wasn't as smooth and second-nature as it had used to be. Still, he didn't think it would take them long to get used to being together all over again.

"The second tutor was really good, but I think Aunt Kiryuu thought she was too sexy to be smart -- or maybe she just got tired of looking so old and dowdy next to her. So she sent Ayaka-san away." Tsumaru pouted momentarily.

"This is it," Touma inserted, pausing a moment in front of the apartment building.

"Kakkoii~!!" Tsumaru nearly fell over backwards as his gaze moved up and up. It was only a twelve-story building but it was impressive from the street, especially to a thirteen year old who was short for his age. "I can't wait!!"

"So what tutor did you get next?" Touma asked as they tramped up the steps and into the tile-floored hall.

"Ooh." Was Tsumaru *sparkling*?! "Shiro-sensei! He was *awesome*!!"

"Sou?" Touma blinked rapidly as they entered the elevator and he punched the top button. He could swear Tsumaru was 'doki'-ing. But maybe it was just a case of acute hero-worship. Tsu was still young enough to be stricken with that. "How so?" Masaka! Was he feeling... jealous?!

"Well!" Tsumaru held up his free hand, ticking off on his fingers. "He was really, really smart. He was really, really gorgeous. He was really, really strong. He was super-nice and polite. And he taught me new techniques!"

"Whoa, whoa!" Touma *knew* that couldn't mean what his ecchi mind insisted it meant. "Techniques...?"

"Martial arts!" Tsumaru *was* sparkling! "Once he found out I was learning from Papa before, he said I couldn't let myself get rusty! So he came out every Sunday to train with me and teach me new techniques!"

Touma processed this as the elevator hummed smoothly upwards. "Every Sunday, huh? Guess he got paid extra for that!"

Tsumaru made a sound midway between a snort and a moue, his full lips pursing appealingly. "Yeah, right! You don't think Aunt Kiryuu would spring for something so 'useless', do you? Shiro-sensei taught me for free!"

"Free?" The elevator 'ding'ed to a stop and the doors swooshed open. "Why did he teach you for free?"

Tsumaru gurgled with cheerful laughter. "He said I had too much talent to let go to waste. I toldja he was really cool!!"

"Hn." Touma pulled out his keys and unlocked the door. He was ready to change the subject. "Well, here we are."

Tsumaru hesitated at the threshold. "Are you sure it's all right?"

Touma restrained a snort. On the surface it seemed like a silly question, but Tsumaru had been pushed around enough in the past three years and he could use a little reassurance now. Touma reached to run his fingers through Tsumaru's thick hair in a soft, comforting caress. "Of course," he responded quietly. "This is my home. And now it's yours too. Okaeri, Tsu."

"Ta-tadaima!" Tsumaru sounded breathless, but he stepped boldly over the threshold.

Touma followed and toed off his outdoor shoes. The genkan was tastefully furnished, as was the rest of the apartment; Uncle Kouji had gotten a friend of his to decorate, lacking the time or inclination to do it himself. Touma kept the place relatively clean, and he'd done a quick sweep before he had gone to bed the night before.

"There's some slippers for you," he pointed out. "I bought 'em yesterday. I had to guess at the size, though. Hope they fit."

"Doumo!" Tsumaru removed his sneakers and placed them neatly side by side before settling his feet in the slippers. "Perfect!" was his assessment.

Touma grinned, then led the way inside. "I fixed up the guest room some. It'll be your room now."

"Are you sure that's okay?" Tsumaru asked anxiously, padding after his older brother. Touma had told him during the subway ride about Uncle Kouji living in America. Tsumaru had expressed disappointment -- Kouji had always been a favorite with both his young nephews -- but had at the same time seemed quite pleased at the thought of having his oniisan to himself for a while.

"Mochiron!" Touma grinned at the boy. "He was going to stick you there before Kiryuu snapped you up. He won't mind. Don't worry so much. This is *home* now."

"Home," Tsumaru warbled. He looked around the living area with a blissful expression. It was a penthouse apartment; roomy without being overly large, all in dark, polished walnut, cream linen, and gold trim. There was a cushy sofa, a massive entertainment center, and a wide patio door leading out to a winging balcony. "This place is *great*!" Tsumaru pronounced in tones of wonder.

"Mm." Touma looked around with new eyes. This was his home, so he tended to take it for granted most of the time. But he had to admit that it was impressive, while at the same time not overwhelming like Kiryuu's place had been. Kaoru often remarked on how nice it was, now that Touma thought about it.

"Is that a PlayStation?!" Tsumaru squeaked, pointing.

"PlayStation 2, actually," Touma said smugly. They'd been playing on a secondhand Nintendo 64 when their parents had died three years ago; with Uncle Kouji's generosity, he'd made a serious upgrade a year ago. "I'll show you how to use it after you get settled in, na?"

Tsumaru stood a moment in the middle of the living area, hugging himself blissfully. Gods, he must have been bored and lonely at Kiryuu's! Especially as he hadn't been attending a public school.

"There's the kitchen area," Touma said, indicating the archway to their left. "I'm not much for cooking. Mostly I get take-in or heat and eat."

"Yeah, but cooking is more fun when you're doing it for someone else," Tsumaru commented, trotting over to peer inside. "Ooh! It's big!"

"Come on." Touma chuckled and strode over to the short hall that led to the other rooms of the apartment. "I'll show you the rest."

"Un!" Tsumaru followed obediently, his eyes shining.

"There's the bathroom," Touma said, waving a hand. "And my room. Uncle Kouji's bedroom is at the end of the hall, there. He's got his own bathroom, which you can use if I'm showering or something and you're desperate. And here's your room." He flung the door open with a flourish.

Tsumaru hesitated a moment, then slid past Touma. The room really wasn't any bigger than the one Tsumaru had lived in at their aunt's house, but Touma felt that it was a lot more welcoming. The bed was wide and soft, with a thick comforter and lots of pillows, all in hunter green and emerald. There were a couple of soft throw-rugs on the polished wood floor. The blinds were slatted to let in the late afternoon sunlight. The dresser was an antique and the desk new, but they matched reasonably well. Touma had purchased a fluffy, pale blue terrycloth robe on impulse, and that was hung carelessly over the bedframe. It didn't really match the decor, but he thought that it made the place look a little more lived in and maybe a bit less like a guest room.

"Hup!" Touma tossed the two tote-bags onto the mattress. They had been getting heavier and heavier the past hour. "Well, whatcha think?"

Tsumaru seemed beyond words, but Touma was pretty sure those were tears welling up in his warm brown eyes. Smiling crookedly, he reached to unhook the backpack straps from his brother's slim shoulders.

"Shit! Tsu, this is freaking heavy!" He frowned as he slid the backpack free and hefted it on the bed with the other bags. "You shoulda let me carry it. What you got in there? Bricks?"

"Iya." Tsumaru sniffed faintly, rubbing his nose with the back of his wrist. He smiled up at Touma. "Just books. My manga, and some stuff Ayaka-san and Shiro-sensei gave me."

"Sou." Touma tilted his head. "Well, shall we get you unpacked? I wanna see what all you have and don't have. We might have to take you shopping tomorrow."

"Don't you have school tomorrow?" Tsumaru asked quaveringly, moving past Touma and unzipping one tote with a violent tug.

"Well, yeah." Touma shrugged, then reached forward and engulfed Tsumaru in a warm hug. "But I'll be home straight after. Then we have the rest of the afternoon and evening for each other."

Tsumaru twisted in his embrace, wrapping his arms around Touma's torso. "I'd like that," he said softly, resting a warm cheek against his brother's chest.

"Then it's a date." Touma smiled and held his otouto close.

* * *

"What took you so long?" Tokiya asked without turning.

Koganei glared at the back of Tokiya's head. He'd rushed right over but Tokiya had still beat him here, no matter that Kaoru's high school was closer than Tokiya's college.

"Ha-ha." Kaoru uttered dryly, joining Tokiya at the edge of the roof. "Any sign of Touma?" he asked, peering at the apartment building across the way.

"Aa. He's home."

Kaoru tilted his head to regard his lover's pale profile. "You know, I *could* just walk up and bang on the door. There's no real reason for us to be all sneaky. Touma knows we're worried about him and he's not dumb; if he hasn't already figured out we're watching him--"

"He's not alone," Tokiya interrupted briefly.

"Ho?" Kaoru turned his gaze toward the apartment that was a floor below the roof they stood on. "Who's with him?"

"Not sure." Tokiya grunted. "The blinds are all half-closed and I can barely see inside. It's someone with dark hair -- most likely a male."

"Well, duh!" Kaoru burst out scornfully. "Touma brings someone home, 'course it's gonna be a boy! You ought to know that, Niichan!"

Tokiya turned to silently glare at Kaoru, but his young lover was shading his eyes from the lowering sun, squinting over at Touma's balcony window. "Dark hair..." he was musing. "Well, that's almost all the guys in our class and more than half the guys on the soccer team. Are you sure that was all you could see?"

Tokiya grunted and folded his arms. He was wearing a button-up shirt and slacks, but there was a slight bulge in one pocket and a full bottle of spring water sat on the railing before him. He was ready for action at a moment's notice. "I couldn't see much," he responded, a little reluctantly. "They're mostly staying near the kitchen area. But whoever it is looks... short."

"Short?" Kaoru blinked. "Huh." He chewed on his lower lip, eyes far-away and thoughtful. "Kazamatsuri-kun? But I thought Mizuno-kachou had warned Touma offa him. Hmmmm.... Maa!" He shrugged, fangs glinting in a wide grin. "Nothing for it -- I'm just gonna have to go over there!"


"Huh?" Kaoru glanced at Tokiya. "Why not? I need to chew Touma out for ditching me at school! And now I really wanna know who he's got in there!!"

Tokiya shook his head. "It's best we keep our distance from Touma. Since he won't allow us to protect him directly we need him to draw out the madougu hunter. The hunter is more likely to strike if he thinks Touma's alone and unprotected."

"So, in other words, we use Touma as bait," Kaoru stated.

Tokiya sent him a quizzical look. "Is there a problem with that?"

"Iie!" Kaoru flashed his lover another broad grin, lacing his hands behind his head. "Touma knows what's what and he still refused to let us take him home. If that's the way he's gonna be, he can only expect us to use him as bait! Heck, maybe he had that planned all along!"

"Hm." Tokiya frowned in thought. "No.... I won't argue that Touma's not canny enough to manipulate us into acting as we are.... But I think this is something else entirely. I don't think he's seducing a classmate in there. He's too smart for that. He wouldn't put an innocent in danger."

"Not even for sweet, sweet sex?" Kaoru asked wickedly.

Tokiya cocked an eyebrow.

"All right," Kaoru conceded. "Not even for sweet, sweet sex. So what's he up to?" He stared at the apartment. The sun was behind them now, shining off the glass of the patio door and making it impossible to see inside.

"Now we wait." Tokiya folded his arms. "Fuuko's shift begins at two in the morning, so I might as well get comfortable here. *You* no doubt have homework, so you ought to go home and work on that."

"Aw, Niichan!" Kaoru draped his arms around his lover's neck and clung. "Harsh! Besides, you know the homework won't take me long."

"Your presence here is a distraction," Tokiya pointed out, his voice flat but not cold.

"Wakatta, wakatta yo~!!" Kaoru straightened. "Well, I'll go get you a bentou-box for dinner, okay? Then I'll go home." He pulled a sour face. "Won't be any fun there without you, koi."

"Aa." Tokiya didn't turn toward Kaoru, his eyes not leaving the apartment, but there was an almost tangible warmth radiating from his tall, still frame.

"Hey!" Kaoru had an idea. "Shall I grab a pair of binoculars, too?! I've got enough cash for a cheap pair. We shoulda thought of that earlier!"

Tokiya glanced at Kaoru, almost seeming surprised. "That's a good idea." He nodded. "Once the sun is behind this building...."

"Yosh'!" Kaoru pumped a fist. "I'll go do that then! Have fun, Niichan!"

Tokiya turned to berate Kaoru, and his young lover stole a kiss before darting away. Tokiya watched him go, a faintly amused expression warming his pale features, before his eyes hardened and he turned back to his watch. It was going to be a long, boring evening and night -- provided the hunter did not strike before two o'clock -- but it was something that must be done. And at least he had Kaoru to go home to after his shift was over. That one fact made a lot of things a lot more bearable.

* * *


"Mm?" Touma looked up from the calculus homework he had strewn over the surface of the coffee table, his brow furrowed in an automatic "homework" frown. He'd set Tsumaru loose on the PlayStation 2 after dinner, and his younger brother was ripping through all his RPGs, trying to find the one he wanted to settle on for extended play. Touma had offered a few suggestions -- tallying the bishounen and beseinen featured in each game -- but Tsumaru had declared that he wanted to make up his own mind, so Touma had left him to it. It was strangely, unexpectedly comforting to hear the familiar music of Balamb Garden weaving through the speakers without having to actually sit there and play "Final Fantasy VIII" himself. He was definitely coming to like having Tsu living with him, and it'd only been a few hours.

Now, however, Tsumaru was sitting perfectly still, peering over his shoulder with an unsettled expression on his face. He had 'paused' the game, the controller held loosely in his hands.

"Nani?" Touma queried, putting down his pencil. "Doushita?"

"It just...." Tsumaru tilted his head, his eyes fogging out of focus, as though he were listening intently to something. "It just feels like... like we're being watched... or something."

Touma contained a grimace. Looked as though Tsu hadn't lost much of his training; if anything his abilities had sharpened. Touma had sensed it early in the evening. He hadn't been able to see anyone, but he had closed the blinds nevertheless. If Kaoru and his friends wanted to set up a guard, that was just fine. He *wanted* them to catch the madougu hunter. But if at all possible he didn't want Tsumaru involved. His brother was already jumpy enough about being in a new home -- albeit a better one, that he would share with his oniisan -- and Touma didn't want him worrying about a danger that might never materialize.

But that left him with the difficult task of explaining this away. He couldn't play dumb. Tsumaru would call him on it, and if Touma insisted, would lose at least a little respect for his older brother. That was out of the question. But neither did Touma want to alarm Tsu with the whole truth, when things might very well play out over the boy's head.

Well, a half-truth now, and he'd tell Tsumaru more only if it became absolutely necessary.

"It's all right, Tsu," he said smoothly, picking his pencil back up. "It's just some friends of mine."

"Are?" Tsumaru blinked huge brown eyes. "Honto? Why are they watching us then?"

"Good question," Touma sighed, resting his cheek on his hand and tapping the eraser against the table top. Just one more set and he'd be done. Why did he always leave calculus for last, when his brain was already fried from all the other homework he'd done? He dropped his pencil and slumped back, leaning against the base of the sofa behind him. "It's something of Tousan's. They think that someone else thinks it's important, and they want to make sure that it doesn't get ripped off or something."

"Huh?" Tsumaru turned the game off and padded over to crawl into Touma's lap. "Oniisan! You're being too vague! What is it you don't want me to know?"

Touma grimaced. Damn. The kid was too canny for his own good. Not that he wasn't just as glad that his brother was so sharp, but it made things a little harder for him. "Well, if I don't want you to know, then I'm not gonna tell you, am I?" he asked.

Tsumaru glared. Up close he was a wonder; all warm and solid and scented of the shower he'd taken just before dinner. They'd worked out a little together in the open area between the sofa and the balcony, and Touma had to admit that Tsu had kept up in his martial arts. He'd had to exert himself in order to knock the little sucker on his arse. And now Tsumaru knew moves Touma didn't recognize; thanks no doubt to the incredible Shiro-sensei. "Oniisan!"

Touma chuckled, running a hand through his tawny hair. Calculus was a dead loss. He'd finish it in the morning. Maybe with enough caffeine in his system his brain would start functioning again. "I don't want to tell you any more than that, Tsu-chan. Okay? Just let it go. It's all right."

Tsumaru looked at him a trifle suspiciously, but then sighed and fell against Touma, his arms ringing his older brother's neck. "I wanna meet your friends, Oniisan," he said, his voice muffled as he pressed his face into Touma's neck. "Are they nice?"

"Of course they are," Touma said, fingers spread over Tsumaru's skinny back, thanking the myriad kami that Tsumaru was willing to let the subject go. The boy could be capricious, and this time it was working in Touma's favor. "They wouldn't be my friends otherwise. I'll introduce you soon, 'kay?"


"Iie. Tomorrow is ours." Touma tucked Tsumaru closer. "You need a key for the apartment, and a keychain, remember? And you only had one pair of jeans in your luggage."

"Mostly I wear shorts," Tsumaru explained.

"Still, I wanna get you some new clothes," Touma argued, rubbing Tsumaru's back slowly. "You'll feel better if you look good, you know?"

"I feel good!" Tsumaru protested, his arms tightening. "I'm with you now, Oniisan! How could I feel better?"

Touma's chuckle caught in his throat as Tsumaru squirmed in his lap, wriggling closer. Dammit, he was too accustomed to closeness equaling sex! Even with Uncle Kouji -- the young adult hadn't been shy about teaching his teenaged nephew the pleasures to be found in incest, and Touma had always looked up to and admired his uncle. Kouji had made sure it was one-hundred percent consensual, of course, and Touma had been sexually active for more than a year before he had moved in with Kouji, so it wasn't as though he had been an ignorant virgin being debauched by a wicked uncle.

But snuggling with Tsumaru was something else entirely. It was just *snuggling*! Cuddling because they were brothers and they'd been apart for three years. He oughtn't to be getting turned on, no matter how cute and desirable Tsumaru was! Besides, Touma was no shota-con hentai. He preferred boys his own age, or older men.

Still, there was something about Tsumaru.... He was for a certainty cute, almost pretty, and there was an awkward grace to his lengthening limbs that was exclusive to those caught between recent childhood and becoming a teenager. He was golden skin, big brown eyes, and his lush lips seemed created solely for kissing... or more carnal pursuits. The fact that he was Touma's younger brother didn't bother him much. Even without Kouji's instructions Touma doubted it would present his conscience with much problem. A sexy boy was a sexy boy. But Tsumaru was off-limits. This was not a time for physical attraction -- it was a time for reaffirming the family bonds that had been stretched thin over the course of three years apart. And Touma would be doing both Tsumaru and himself a favor to remember that.

"Hey, let's go to bed," Touma suggested, a little desperately. "I have to finish my homework in the morning, and I want to cook you breakfast before I go to school. If we crash now, we can get up a half hour or so earlier."

"Okay." Tsumaru seemed more than willing, pulling away from Touma with a wide yawn. Clearly, the stresses of the day had taken their toll. His lids were heavy with weariness, and he complied bonelessly as Touma raised them both to their feet and led him down the hall.

"Tsu, do you own any pajamas?" Touma asked after they'd both brushed their teeth, and while Tsumaru washed his face. "I didn't see any when you unpacked."

"Iya." Tsumaru scrubbed his face rosy with the towel, then brushed his rumpled hair out. "I don't wear 'em."

Touma pondered. "Then what do you sleep in?"

Tsumaru looked up at him as though he'd lost his mind. "Nothing, mochiron."

"Ah." Touma blinked. But now he remembered their mother always fighting with Tsumaru about this very thing. He'd thought it was funny at the time, but now he found himself sympathizing with her. "Well, could you wear something tonight? A pair of boxers or something?" It wasn't that Touma was squeamish, despite his earlier thoughts of incest. But it did make him extremely nervous to think of Tsumaru sleeping in the nude when they were being menaced by a madougu hunter who might attack at any time. He didn't think it would come to that -- not with Mikagami Tokiya keeping watch outside -- but just in case....

"All right." Tsumaru bit his full lower lip, eyes downcast. He looked embarrassed, almost mortified, as though he had just been reprimanded for a major personal failing.

"Oi!" Touma felt bad abruptly, and swept Tsumaru up into his arms. He was heavy for his size -- all muscle even though he was short and slim -- but it felt good to hold him close. "It's not a big deal, Otouto! Just for a few nights, okay? Give me that long to adjust to the idea of there being a naked boy in the room next to me, and it'll be all good! 'Kay?"

Tsumaru giggled and threw his arms around Touma's neck as his older brother carted him into his bedroom. He rubbed his freshly washed cheek against Touma's, and Touma swallowed tightly. "All right, Oniisan." This time he sounded less miserable and more as though he was humoring Touma. Which was fine, because he really was.

"Yosh'!" Touma tossed Tsumaru down onto the bed and planted knuckles on his hips. "You gonna be all right in here, chibi?"

"Hey!" Tsumaru scowled up at him through thick chestnut bangs.

"Warii, warii!" Touma held up his hands and grinned placatingly. "No more 'chibi'. But, seriously, Tsu. You gonna be okay?"

"I'm not a baby who's afraid of the dark!" Tsumaru declared scornfully. "I'll be fine!"

"Then, oyasumi," Touma said lightly, preparing to turn and leave.

"Matte!" Tsumaru surged up onto his knees on the mattress. "What about a kiss good-night, Oniisan?"

Touma stared a moment, then got his brain working again. "Kiss. Yeah. Yeah, okay, why not?"

The tawny-haired youth bent at the waist, leaning down toward Tsumaru. He'd half expected Tsu to plant a smacker on his cheek, so he was startled by the ever-so-light, soft brush of full lips against his own. It was....

"There!" Tsumaru fell back, sitting on his heels and beaming up at Touma. "That's to go to bed on, to give you happy dreams! Remember? Mama used to tell me that!"

"U-un." Touma smiled weakly. He doubted their mother would be pleased with the surge of familiar warmth Tsumaru's gentle kiss had sent through her older son's lower torso, however. "Sweet dreams, Tsu."

"You too, Oniisan." Tsumaru yawned widely. "An' I'll remember to put something on. Don't worry."

Touma chuckled. "Okay." He walked over to the door, then glanced back with a pang. Tsumaru looked so tiny on the wide mattress, stripping his shirt over his head. He hated to leave him here alone. But he was right in the next room, and he couldn't very well crawl in bed with his brother. Tsumaru was thirteen years old now; he could take care of himself. No more sharing a bed in a small apartment. They'd both been sleeping alone for three years now. Well, Touma slept alone when Uncle Kouji wasn't home, or one of his current flings wasn't sleeping over. Which was most of the time, really, though he could sometimes wish it otherwise.


"'Night!" Tsumaru chirped in return as Touma waved his way out the door.

In spite of all the rationalizing Touma had done with himself, it was less than two hours after he climbed in his own bed that Tsumaru slipped in beside him.

"Mhngh?" Touma rolled toward the familiar sensation of another body lying next to his.

"Can I sleep with you, Oniisan?" Tsumaru whispered, already coiling against Touma's chest under the blankets. "I got lonely."

"Nn. Sh're." Without more than half waking, Touma slung an arm over Tsumaru and pulled him closer.

The two brothers slept entangled in a warm pile while the moon rose in the night sky and Kirisawa Fuuko arrived to replace Mikagami Tokiya in watching the quiet apartment.

* * *

"Ohayo, Oniisan."

Touma turned from the eggs and various ingredients he was trying to wrestle into the form of an omelet. "Ohayo, Tsumaru."

Tsumaru had barely roused when Touma's alarm had sounded, so the older teen had left him curled in the warm spot to sleep a little longer. Touma had already downed half a coffee pot and had ripped through his remaining calculus. Whether he'd answered any of the questions correctly was a matter for future judgment, as always when he didn't have Kaoru's tutoring. Now, after a quick shower and the donning of his school clothes Touma was doing his best to cook breakfast as promised.

Tsumaru padded into the kitchen area, yawning and scrubbing the sleep out of his eyes. As requested, he was wearing a pair of briefs and an oversized tee-shirt. Touma was startled after a moment to recognize the shirt as having been his. It had fit him better than it fit Tsumaru, even though he had been the same age Tsu was now when they had parted. Well, Tsu was small for his age -- he always had been.

Touma dragged his gaze away from the endless golden legs that flowed up from the floor to disappear under the worn hem of the shirt. *He's your brother, he's your brother -- you pervert!* Somehow that didn't just feel right, though. It may be taboo to lust after his younger brother, but to Touma it felt completely natural. And now that he thought about it, he remembered touching Tsumaru in questionable ways when he'd first started to become aware of his own sexuality. Tsumaru had been too young to respond at the time, and Touma had almost entirely forgotten those small stolen moments, but now they rose to the surface of his mind as bright little bubbles, intangible, teasing. Tsumaru had been confused, but he had never said no....

And he was older now, surely on the verge of his own sexual awakening.

Touma shunted such cogitation aside for later. Right now he had an omelet to take care of, and he and Tsumaru were only brothers who were going to go shopping later in the afternoon -- nothing more.

"Did you sleep all right?" he asked, poking dubiously at the yellow mass in the pan. The edges were crackling, the middle nearly firmed up, and he was pretty sure it was time to turn it, but he was afraid to try.

"Un." Warm arms unexpectedly tangled around Touma's waist, a body pressed to the small of his back. "You're not mad, are you, Oniisan?"

"Eh?" Touma stifled the rush of startled sensation that blossomed in him at this close contact, and glanced under his arm at the earnest face peering up at him. He was honestly confused. "Why would I be?"

"Because I got in bed with you," Tsumaru clarified.

Touma made a noncommittal noise, drew a breath, slid his spatula carefully under the omelet, then crowed with pleasure as he managed to flip it over flawlessly. "Yosh'!"

"I was supposed to sleep in my own bed... wasn't I?" Tsumaru asked mournfully.

"Iya." Touma put down the spatula and turned to hug Tsumaru lightly. "I didn't mind. We used to share a bed before, remember? We have our own rooms now, but that doesn't mean we can't share sometimes. Uncle Kouji let me sleep with him when I first moved in here." Which he had, and sleeping had been all they had done at first, with Touma hurting over the deaths of his parents and the loss of his brother, and Kouji mourning his older sister. They'd held each other through the night, and sex hadn't entered into things for almost five months. Touma grimaced as he realized Tsumaru hadn't had anyone to hold him after he moved in with Kiryuu.

"I... I guess." Tsumaru sniffed delicately, then peered around Touma at the stove top, his eyes lighting up. "That smells good, Oniisan!"

"Glad to hear it," Touma grinned. "Go and get dressed while I finish up, then we'll eat." He glanced at the clock as Tsumaru pattered obediently out of the kitchen. They had plenty of time yet.

The omelet sizzled, demanding attention. "Acha~!!" Touma pulled it off the burner in a hurry. It wouldn't be good to burn the first breakfast he'd had with Tsumaru in three years.

* * *

"Keep the blinds closed," Touma instructed as he paused in the genkan to pull on his outdoor shoes. "And don't open the door to anyone, okay?"

Tsumaru pulled another face out of his extensive repertoire. "You only have to tell a baby that, Oniisan!" His lower lip extended in a pout. "But why can't I open the blinds? It's a nice day out. Do you not want your friends to see me?"

"Th-that's not it!" Touma sputtered. "I mean...."

"Is it 'cause of that 'thing' of Papa's, then?" Tsumaru asked, his face clearing, eyes bright with curiosity. "You should tell me what it is, Oniisan! Then I can guard it for you!"

"No," Touma replied firmly. "I don't want you getting involved, Tsu." He thought of the Powersoul, hidden away in a secret drawer at the base of his dresser. "And don't go snooping in my room while I'm gone, okay?"

"I wouldn't!" Tsumaru said indignantly.

Touma just *looked* at him.

Tsumaru held out for a moment or two longer, then broke down and giggled. "Okay, I might. But since you told me not to, I won't."

"Pinky promise?" Touma held up the digit in question.

"Those are for kids!" Tsumaru said scornfully. "I'm a man now, so my word is as good as a promise!"

"Oh, you're a man are you?" Touma laughed, then swooped down and grabbed Tsumaru around the waist, hefting his squealing brother in the air. After he'd dangled Tsumaru upside-down a little, he relented and planted the puffing boy back on his feet. He was a little breathless himself. Tsumaru was small but solid.

"So what am I supposed to do all day, Oniisan?" Tsumaru asked petulantly. He butted up against Touma, dark eyes peering through thick bangs.

"That's what the PlayStation is for," Touma said with a wink. He lowered one hand to run his fingers through Tsumaru's glossy chestnut hair, wondering at the silken feel of it. Tsumaru was warm where he leaned against him, and Touma could smell the scent of the boy's soap. He wanted to tug him close and hold him for hours. Just holding him; nothing more. "We have DVDs in the entertainment center too. There's food in the fridge when it's time for lunch. I'll be home right after school, so it's not so bad."

"Hm." Tsumaru twined around Touma again, burying his face in his brother's chest. "I'll miss you, Oniisan," he said, his voice muffled, his arms cinched tightly around Touma's waist.

For a moment Touma seriously considered cutting school altogether today.... But it was bad enough he'd left at lunch yesterday.

"I'll miss you too," he replied, squeezing his brother in return. "Hang in there. Start playing an RPG and I'll be home before you realize."

"Okay." Tsumaru sniffed a little but released his older brother. "Have a good day, Oniisan."

"Something like that," Touma grimaced. Somehow he didn't think that he'd be feeling the love today.

* * *


The rangy blonde winced, freezing in his tracks. He hadn't even made it onto the school grounds -- there Koganei was, waiting at the front gates.

Plastering a broad grin on his face, Touma sauntered the remaining few steps to join his friend. "Yo~! Kaoru!"

"Don't 'yo' me!" The teen looked ruffled and indignant, his topaz eyes flashing. "Where'd you disappear to yesterday, huh? You never cut class!"

Touma grimaced. "I had to take care of some family business," he offered, striding through the gate. He cast Kaoru a flirty smirk. "Why? You miss me?"

Kaoru kept pace at his side. "Baka! You shouldn't do something like that when there's a--" He looked around, then lowered his voice. "When there's a madougu hunter on the loose!"

Touma shrugged uncomfortably. "It couldn't be helped."

"So, Touma, you given any more thought to coming over to our place?" Kaoru pursued. "It'd be a lot safer...."

"And it'd make things easier on you, na?" Touma asked, amused. "But what if the hunter shows up at the apartment while I'm at your place and trashes it looking for the Powersoul? I don't want my uncle's place ruined."

"It might be anyway," Kaoru said soberly, his bright eyes darkened.

Touma wrinkled his nose. "I doubt that. I'm sure you and Tokiya'll get to him before he gets inside."

Koganei strove to look innocent. "How could we do that?"

Touma snorted and gave his friend an incredulous look. "Oh, come off it already! I know you guys have the place staked out."

"We're only doing it for your own good," Kaoru defended. "Because you're being a stubborn jackass!"

Touma glared at him for this crack, then sighed. "I appreciate it. I can't stay with you, so the best thing I can do is hang out and act as bait." He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Damn, this is a mess! How can you stand to live like that, Kaoru? Always having to watch out for freaks who want your elemental weapon?"

Kaoru shrugged. "I like to fight, so long as no innocent bystanders get hurt. It's worth it to me to have my Kougon Anki. I haven't really known anything else for a long time. You get used to it." He gave Touma a hard look from under thick lashes. "You're going to *have* to get used to it if you're going to keep the Powersoul, Touma. It's not something that's going to go away."

Touma shrugged. "So long as I don't use it, I don't think a lot of people will know I have it. This is sort of a fluke, isn't it?"

"Yeah...." Kaoru chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully. "I guess. But elemental weapons are meant to be used. It's not really something you can sit on and ignore, you know?"

"Well, then, I'll just have to learn to use it," Touma said flippantly.

"H-hey!" Kaoru stared at Touma. "That's not--"

"Oya~!! Where *were* ya yesterday?" a brash voice broke into their quiet conversation. Lean arms ringed their necks, dragging them both close to a shaggy blonde head. "Ya both missed practice!!"

"Sorry, Shige-kun," Touma apologized cheerfully, grateful for the interruption. He hadn't had a chance yet to tell Kaoru about Tsumaru -- he'd have to do that later. Soon, but not right this instant. He wasn't quite sure how to broach the subject. He'd never told his best friend about his younger brother. It had been too painful to discuss when they'd first met, right after his parents had died, and the longer he'd waited the more awkward it had seemed to bring it up. 'Oh, hey, have I ever mentioned I'm an oniisan?' Er... right. Somehow that hadn't seemed the best approach, and the more time that passed, the easier it was just not to mention it.

"Well, we'll cut'cha some slack this time," the rowdy blonde was saying. "But ya better not pull that sort of shit again! Mizuno-kachou was kinda ticked!"

"Aa." Kaoru had the grace to look sheepish. "It won't happen again."

"Nope," Touma agreed.

"Yosh'!" Shigeki let them loose and slammed a fist into the opposite hand. "I'm gonna hold ya two t' that! No more goofin' off! Or we'll hafta drag ya back by yer short hairs!" He laughed maniacally, then his eyes gleamed. "Ah! Speakin' of which, y'll never guess what happened at practice!"

Touma exchanged an amused glance with Koganei as the blonde rattled on about this and that. So much for their serious discussion. Shigeki was a great soccer player, a genuinely nice guy, an incredible lay, and he knew martial arts on top of everything else, but when it came to sensing the mood, he was a total loss. Or maybe it was just respecting the mood. At any rate, Touma were going to have to wait until they'd lost their teammate to tell Kaoru about Tsumaru. In a perverse way he was relieved.

It was going to have to be spilled eventually. But not right now. He'd gained a small reprieve.

* * *

The tall brunette faced off against his enemy bravely, his silver-gleaming weapon held out before him, his brows furrowed around the thick red scar that slashed diagonally across his forehead. The huge, scaly beast gave a howling roar before striking, plucking up the hero and chomping him in slavering jaws.

"Aw, nuts!" Tsumaru's mouth turned down in displeasure as the T-Rexaur spat out his Squall and the scene shifted from the Training Center to the sad music and shame of the "Game Over" screen. "Well, at least it wasn't another Grat," he sighed, dropping the controller and snapping the game system off. That would have been an ignoble death indeed -- another one, that was. Well, he had only been Level 8 when *that* had happened -- he didn't count it. And it was only 'cause of that stupid Sleep spell. That was the hazard of taking your main character alone into battle in an RPG. Well, and of letting said character's HP get low.

Tsumaru rocked back on his bum. He was booooored. Touma's room was off limits, which was frustrating. There wasn't a whole lot to do in the rest of the apartment, and even though Squall Leonhart and his tight ass should have been enough to capture and hold Tsumaru's attention for hours at a time he was just fretting inside, waiting for his oniisan to come home.

"Fu." Tsumaru surged to his feet and padded into the kitchen area. He looked in the fridge and some of the cupboards. They were well-stocked -- Touma had said he'd gone shopping Thursday evening -- and everything looked pretty good, but Tsumaru wasn't really hungry yet. No point in eating then.

"Hm-hm-hm...." Tsumaru bopped his way down the hall, humming cheerfully to himself. There was a sense of danger hanging over the apartment and he was frustrated with his oniisan for not sharing whatever it was that was going on but he was so *happy*! He was finally *home*, after three years spent in what felt like mental and emotional limbo. He finally felt *real* again! He couldn't wait for Touma to get home so that he could just *be* with him some more.

Well.... Maybe he wanted more than just to be with Touma. The more time Tsumaru spent with his oniisan, the more aware he became of how attractive and nice and just plain *cool* Touma was! He definitely had Shiro-sensei beat out in all those respects. Oh, sure, Tsumaru could remember when he and Touma had used to fight, but that had been before. Now Touma was everything Tsumaru had. His older brother had come to rescue Tsumaru from Aunt Kiryuu's gilded prison. He was Tsumaru's world. And as Tsumaru's world was awash with awakening hormones at the moment, was it any wonder that he looked up to Touma as something a little bit more than an older brother?

Tsumaru paused. Touma had left his bedroom door open and after a moment's thought the slim brunette slipped inside. He was only *looking*. Looking wasn't snooping. Really, it wasn't.

Tsumaru glanced around, curious, as it had been too dark the night before to really see anything and he had been too bleary when he had first awakened to take notice. Touma-oniisan had a nice room. It looked lived in, but not messy. There were a pair of soccer cleats hung over the back of the chair at the desk and a few CDs spilled on the floor in front of the stereo, but everything else put away neatly enough. It smelled of Touma, cedar and musk, and Tsumaru considered curling up on the bed and waiting there. But he'd already spent the morning in Touma's bed. And hanging around languishing until his oniisan got home was something a silly shoujo heroine might do. Tsumaru was above that sort of mooning behavior. Even if he really, really missed his oniisan.

Tsumaru wandered over to the bookshelf. There were some *awfully* interesting manga packed into the bottom two shelves... but he daren't pull one out to page through. Even though he was pretty sure Touma had meant something else by not snooping -- whatever it was his brother was hiding, that 'thing' of their Papa's -- Tsumaru had given his word, and he couldn't break it.

"Nuts," he subvocalized again. Then a thought struck him and he exited Touma's bedroom with a purposeful stride. His oniisan had only specified that Tsumaru not snoop in *his* room -- he hadn't said anything about the rest of the apartment....

Tsumaru grinned wickedly, an expression that unexpectedly heightened his resemblance to his older brother. Suddenly he wasn't so bored anymore.

* * *

"Touma? Oi, where are you?" Kaoru looked around in confusion. Touma had slipped him a note during third period saying to meet him at the big tree at the edge of the school's lawn at lunch, but Kaoru was here and there was no sign of the other teen. They were two of the most popular boys in their school, and so there hadn't been any opportunity for private conversation between any of their classes. It was lunch now, and he was at the designated meeting place, but.... "Do~ko ni~?"

One sneakered foot twitched down from the thick foliage, dangling briefly on level with Kaoru's startled eyes, before disappearing overhead once more. Kaoru rolled his eyes. Leave it to Touma to come up with something like this.

"Hup!" Using his powerful leg muscles and well-honed senses Kaoru jumped up into the tree, landing on a broad branch on level with the one Touma was perched on. The tawny-haired youth gave him a cheeky grin in answer to his longsuffering expression. "This is a bit extreme, don't you think?" Kaoru asked, titling his head.

"Not really," Touma answered with a graceful shrug. "Had to get away from Shige somehow! Sandwich?" He held out the wax paper-wrapped item in question.

"Thanks." Kaoru peeled back the paper and bit into the sandwich hungrily. Without Tokiya home to cook dinner for them the evening before, he'd picked up some take-out on the way home. It hadn't been very good so he hadn't finished it, and having skipped breakfast in favor of lying in his lover's arms for just a little longer this morning, he was currently starving.

"This isn't so bad," Touma said, leaning back against the trunk and chewing on his own sandwich. Patterns of sunlight and shadow played over his features, making his expression hard to gauge.

"If you don't mind a branch biting into your ass," Kaoru retorted, trying to get as comfortable as Touma looked.

"Wah-wah-wah," Touma drawled lazily, flapping his free hand at his disgruntled friend.

Kaoru glared. "You know, I think you *enjoy* making my life harder!" he accused. "I still don't see why you can't come stay with me and Tokiya...."

Touma shifted, his violet eyes dark. "It's... uh... complicated."

"Mm." Kaoru finished off his sandwich, wishing he'd thought to bring something to drink with him. Well, but he'd been expecting to eat *after* talking to Touma.

"What *I* don't understand is what you think you're doing, 'guarding' me when you don't even have your elemental weapon with you," Touma stated, wadding up his wax paper and bouncing it off Kaoru's head. "You gonna beat the madougu hunter off with your schoolbag? I can fight at least as well as you can, Kaoru."

"You don't know that," Kaoru replied testily, crumpling his own wrapper and slinging it at Touma. The other boy dodged neatly to one side without seeming to even move, which heightened Kaoru's irritation. "Tokiya has made sure that we can both fight well enough to protect ourselves even without our elemental weapons!"

"What makes you think my Tousan didn't do the same?" Touma shot back. He sighed and laced his hands behind his head. "Well, that's two of us against the hunter, that way. And at least there's someone watching the apartment while I'm here today. That makes me feel a little easier."

"Uh...." Kaoru was suddenly stricken with a realization. "Actually...."

"What?" Touma's voice grew sharper and he straightened, leaning toward his friend.

Kaoru scratched sheepishly at his head. "Er.... I guess that would be a small oversight on our part...."

"WHAT?" Touma repeated, more loudly this time, his eyes flashing.

"Eh-heh." Kaoru winced. "We didn't actually think of watching the apartment while you weren't there. Oops."

"Oops?" Touma was definitely pissed, his voice rising in volume with each sentence uttered. "Oops?! You numbnut! What if the hunter shows up at the apartment when I'm not there?! I *assumed* that since you told me not to carry the Powersoul with me you'd have someone keeping an eye on it while I wasn't home! I can't believe not even Tokiya thought of that!" He slammed his fist into the trunk next to him, shaking loose several leaves.

"Well, we're not sure the madougu hunter knows where you live," Kaoru offered weakly.

"You're not sure he doesn't though, are you?" Touma snapped, his voice strained, his eyes flaring with both fury and some sort of muted fear.

"No...." Kaoru squirmed, biting his lower lip.

"Shit!" Touma tensed. "I gotta get home!"

"What?" Kaoru watched open-mouthed as his friend leaped down out of the tree. "Wh-why?"

But Touma was already gone, vaulting the school fence with ease and taking off down the sidewalk.

"Shit." Kaoru followed the other boy out of the tree, landing on the grass with a thump. He swiftly considered his options. Should he follow Touma, or should he call Tokiya? This was something his lover would want to hear about, but Kaoru had lost Touma yesterday; he did not want that to happen again!

Well, he could call Tokiya from Touma's place. He'd best catch up with his friend. First, though, he had to make a detour to his locker. He might not be able to carry his Kougon Anki around, but he *had* brought it to school with him, just in case. He was lucky it folded into a relatively compact bundle.

With determination, Kaoru trotted into the school building. He'd grab his weapon and whip over to Touma's place. Hopefully nothing would happen in the ten minute or so delay.

But he had to wonder about the flash of panic he had seen on Touma's face. Was he that worried about the Powersoul and his uncle's place? Or was there something else going on?

"Chikusho!" Kaoru cursed under his breath. Things only got more confusing and complicated by the hour. But what else could one expect when Kiryuu Touma was involved?

* * *

The apartment was too quiet. Touma paused in the genkan to slip out of his sneakers, his every sense alert and wired for any hidden danger. Shit! If he hadn't thought Tokiya or one of his friends would be watching the apartment while he was at school, he would never have left Tsumaru here alone!

A sheepish portion of his mind reminded him that he *still* hadn't told Kaoru about his younger brother. But he was too concerned about Tsumaru's safety to give it any heed. If Kaoru and Tokiya didn't want him carrying the Powersoul with him where the hell did they *think* it was gonna be? Kaoru had looked embarrassed but not enough, in Touma's opinion. "Oversight"? That had been a damned *huge* oversight!!

Bypassing indoor slippers in favor of stocking feet -- they were quieter -- Touma eased into the living area. The television was off and with the blinds pulled closed the apartment was dim and silent. It looked a lot like it did every day when Touma got home, but now it seemed eerie, because his brother was supposed to be here.

Still, it was comforting to see everything in place. Touma had gotten the sense from Kaoru that the madougu hunter was likely to be less than subtle, and so the lack of broken glass in and of itself set his mind a bit at rest.

But where was Tsumaru? Taking a nap maybe? After all, he wouldn't be expecting Touma home for several more hours.

Touma walked a little less carefully down the hall, though he was still on alert, his footsteps virtually silent. The sense of danger was lessened, but had not been entirely dispelled from his mind.

There was no sign of Tsumaru in the boy's bedroom. Touma frowned. The bathroom door was ajar, he could see, and he *knew* Tsumaru never did anything in there without closing and locking the door behind him. He was fastidious about that. Touma looked in his own room, but it was empty. He stood a moment in the hallway, baffled. So, where the hell was Tsumaru?! He wouldn't have left -- the front door had been locked when Touma had arrived and Tsu didn't yet have a key.

The faintest of rustles carried down the hall, and Touma tensed. That had been... Uncle Kouji's room?

A sudden suspicion sent him the final six steps to peer around the cracked door. Sure enough, there Tsumaru sat, cross-legged on the floor at the foot of Kouji's bed, paging through....

"Wah!" Touma burst into the room, his eyes rounded. "Where did you get that?!"

Tsumaru looked up, unstartled by his brother's abrupt entrance. "From the bookshelf," he pointed. His cheeks were faintly pinked, the hardcover book in his lap open to a two-page spread in glorious color of two attractive men locked in a passionate embrace. There was quite graphic penetration involved.

"Give me that!" Touma swooped down and snatched the book out of Tsumaru's hands. He snapped it closed and glanced at the cover with a wince. Why Uncle Kouji kept porn in the apartment.... Touma had never really seen the need for such artificial stimulants when he created his own scenarios on a regular basis. But he had a sneaking suspicion that Kouji might have had something to do with some of the photographs in these books. And different things turned different people on -- Touma certainly knew *that*.

"You never told me not to snoop in here, Oniisan," Tsumaru said defensively, looking up at Touma with wide, innocent eyes.

Touma groaned. Leave it to Tsumaru to find the loophole -- he was as good at that as Touma was. It was true, he'd only told Tsumaru not to snoop in his own bedroom. But he hadn't expected his otouto to go riffling through Uncle Kouji's porn!

"Anyway, what are you doing home so early?" Tsumaru asked. His eyes flickered and he jumped to his feet. "Is something wrong?!"

"Not exactly," Touma hedged, averting his eyes from the slight tenting at the front of Tsumaru's shorts. Well, Tsu was a teenager now -- any sex explicitly portrayed ought to be enough to turn him on. He crossed to the bookshelf and stuck the book back in the spot it had obviously been taken from. "Jeez, Tsumaru! These books aren't for kids."

"I'm not a kid!" Tsumaru answered indignantly. "Besides, I was wondering how that worked. Now I know." A slightly smug smile curved his lips.

"So.... You've thought about it?" Touma asked. He wondered about Tsumaru again. He'd never seemed overtly homosexual to Touma, but then Touma himself didn't come off as gay to the world at large. Heck, Kaoru hadn't found out until over a month after they'd become friends. Touma hadn't felt comfortable telling him until after he had been introduced to Tokiya and recognized the older teen for what he was to Kaoru. And Tsumaru *had* been only ten when their parents had died. Touma hadn't really acted on his own feelings until he had been eleven. Now that he thought about it, one of the first things he'd done had been to get into Kenji's yaoi manga and take his direction from those, hadn't it? So he couldn't get too pissed at Tsu without being at least a little hypocritical.

"Well, yeah." Tsumaru blinked up at him. "Ayaka-san gave me a book that talked about samurai and the stuff they did, but it never went into any detail. So I was curious."

"Just curious?" Touma tilted his head. If Tsumaru *was*, that might open up new avenues of exploration....

Tsumaru flushed. "More than curious," he admitted.

"Ah." Touma had never been one to beat around the bush. "You gay, otouto?"

Tsumaru pulled a face at his older brother. "Aren't you, Oniisan?"

Touma planted his hand on his hips. "Yes, but that doesn't have anything to do with it."

"So's Uncle Kouji..." Tsumaru mused, staring at the bookshelf. "Neat!"

"You haven't answered my question," Touma reminded. Really, in essence Tsumaru *had*, but Touma wanted to hear it from his own lips. And such pretty lips they were....

Tsumaru stuck out his tongue. "You haven't answered some of mine, Oniisan. Like why your friends are watching the apartment, and what that 'thing' of Papa's is, and why you're home early today!"

Touma winced and opened his mouth, uncertain of what he was going to say -- it really was kind of unfair to keep Tsumaru completely in the dark -- but before he could speak a loud pounding from the front of the apartment caused both he and Tsumaru to start.

"Oi!! Touma!! Open up!!"

"Is that one of your friends?" Tsumaru asked, his eyes lighting with curiosity and a little trepidation.

"Unfortunately," Touma grimaced. Well, there wasn't to be any more putting it off. Kaoru was about to find out about Tsumaru, in the form of his pert little person.

He darted from Kouji's room and down the hall, aware that Tsumaru was close on his heels. Kaoru sounded as though he was going to come through the door any second.

Touma grasped the knob and yanked the door open, nearly spilling Kaoru at his feet. The rangy brunette caught himself and glared at Touma. "Oi! What'd you go running off like that for?" he demanded. "Haven't we told you--" He paused, his eyes flickering past Touma. "Are? Who's that?"

Touma winced. No help for it now. "This is my otouto, Tsumaru. Tsu, this is Koganei Kaoru, my best friend from school."

"Yoroshiku." Tsumaru bowed politely. Kaoru stood in the doorway, his mouth hanging open in a rather inelegant manner.

"Come inside," Touma said irritably. He ought to have known Kaoru would follow him straight from school. His options were suddenly all being taken away from him. Now Kaoru knew about Tsumaru without Touma having the chance to break it to him slowly, and he'd probably start raving about the madougu hunter before Touma could decide how much he wanted to tell Tsumaru.


"Otouto?" Kaoru echoed, stepping in and removing his shoes automatically. "You never told me you had a brother!"

Touma scowled in the face of Kaoru's gimlet stare. "It never came up," he gritted. He caught the hurt expression that Tsumaru was trying to hide and for his brother's sake more than Koganei's, he clarified. "I didn't want to talk about it after we first met, 'cause I was still pretty messed up over it. Then it seemed kinda odd to bring it up later, so somehow I just never did."

Kaoru still looked upset, but Tsumaru's face lightened and he grasped Touma's hand. Touma squeezed his fingers, and then he sighed. "Let's go sit down, okay?"

"You're not going back to school, Oniisan?" Tsumaru asked as Touma led the way into the living area.

"Not today." Touma shrugged and flopped down onto the sofa. Without hesitation Tsumaru clambered into his lap. He clearly needed some reassurance and Touma tucked him close. Tsumaru was a little too big for this sort of thing, but Kaoru's intense stare seemed to be unsettling him.

"Is this what that phone call was about Thursday?" Kaoru asked, seating himself on the armchair and laying the cloth-wrapped bundle he was carrying across his lap. He still looked freaked out, his topaz eyes wide.

"Un." Touma ran a hand through his hair. "Tsu was living with our aunt -- our father's sister. That's why I cut school early yesterday, so I could go and pick him up."

"You never told me about him," Kaoru repeated accusingly.

Touma rubbed at his forehead. "It was a mistake, okay? I should have, I didn't, it's over with. Hell, for all I knew I wasn't going to see Tsu again until he turned eighteen. We always hoped Aunt Kiryuu would give him back, but there was no way of knowing for sure."

Tsumaru was leaning against Touma, his head tucked into the curve of his brother's shoulder, his eyes huge, a fist unconsciously clenched in his uniform top. Touma wrapped his arms around Tsumaru in a protective embrace.

Touma looked so distressed and Tsumaru so disconsolate that Kaoru relented. "Well, at least now I know why you didn't want to come over to my place." He sighed heavily. "You realize this complicates things."

"I know, I know." Touma's wide mouth twisted in an expressive grimace. "Don't think I haven't been stressing over it since Thursday!" Tsumaru looked lost and anxious, clinging to his older brother.

Kaoru blew dark, shaggy bangs out of his face and stood, unwrapped his Kougon Anki. The elemental weapon gleamed gold in the dimly lit room, its chain chiming musically as Kaoru shook it open. Tsumaru's eyes rounded to impossible widths and Touma stared. He'd heard about them from Kaoru two days before, but this was his first time seeing an elemental weapon other than the Powersoul. It was pretty impressive, he had to admit.

"I need to use your phone," Kaoru said briskly.

Touma pointed.

"And you'd better go get the Powersoul," Kaoru commented, moving with feline grace across the room. "I'm gonna call Tokiya. Whether we stay here or drag you to our place, I think it'd be better if it was with you."

"I thought that's what you were warning me against earlier," Touma argued, shifting Tsumaru off his lap. His younger brother peeled his fingers away reluctantly, watching Touma rise with wide eyes.

"That was earlier." Kaoru looked over his shoulder as he lifted the receiver with his free hand. "When you didn't have two elemental weapon masters hanging out in your living room." He sent Touma a humorless grin.

"Ah, hell!" Touma groaned. Just what he didn't need; Mikagami Tokiya camping out in his apartment. "Well, so much for our shopping trip, Tsu. Sorry."

Tsumaru sat there with an unreadable expression and eyes that took in everything.

* * *

The day had moved a little past the noon hour and shadows were still short and shallow, puddled around the bases of the buildings and piling up inside dimly-lit rooms.

In the penthouse apartment rented by Amano Kouji, conversation was quick and pointed. Koganei had called Tokiya at his college, and the older teen was on his way over. Then Kaoru and Touma shared the task of letting Tsumaru in on the whole situation.

The Powersoul lay on the coffee table. It looked deceptively innocent. Just a fine mesh glove with a blue gem set to rest on the back of its wearer's hand. The shining azure surface was etched with bold black kanji; "Inochi".

"So *that's* what that is," Tsumaru said, his gaze fixed on the unwinking stone. "I always wondered."

"Always--?!" Touma sputtered. "How long have you known about the Powersoul, Tsu? Tousan didn't even show it to me until a couple of months before he went off to that tournament!"

*The tournament that killed him.* The words went unspoken, but the thought hung heavy in the air over the Powersoul. It looked so innocuous, and yet it had already caused so much sorrow and its very presence was placing them in danger, moment to moment.

"Come on, Oniisan," Tsumaru said, his youthful voice deceptively light. "You know there's nothing I don't get into! Papa never knew I knew about it, but I saw him practicing with the Powersoul when I was really, really little." He folded his arms and sat back on the sofa, his face puckering in a frown. "I never knew what it was, though."

Touma took in the too-serious set to Tsumaru's face, and he knew why he hadn't wanted his younger brother to know what was going on. He glanced at Kaoru, who was still staring at Tsumaru with more than a little bemusement. The brunette caught Touma's eye and shrugged, looking rueful but not regretful. Touma pulled a face, but he knew Kaoru had been right. Tsumaru had needed to know. It had been impractical of Touma to think he could keep his brother out of things completely, no matter the protective urges that motivated him.

"All the madougu belonging to those who... er, didn't win at the Ura Butso Satsujin," Kaoru grimaced, trying to word it tactfully with little success, "Were supposed to be claimed by Mori Kouran; the megalomaniac asshole running the tournament. But I guess...."

"One of Tousan's teammates brought the Powersoul to us," Touma supplied. "We'd never met him before, but when he showed up with the Tamashii no Nouryoku, we knew something had happened." He could feel the pit of his stomach sinking in remembrance, as though it had happened only weeks ago instead of three long years past. His mother's stricken face as realization and horror descended on her... the sympathy and discomfort in the stranger's eyes as he turned and walked away... Tsumaru's complete confusion and determined lack of comprehension.... And his own fury and grief, which he had at first aimed toward Ryuiichi for leaving them to risk and lose his life at some stupid tournament, but which had before too long dissolved into tears, then hardened into the burning resolve to take care of his mother and younger brother. And just look at how well he had managed that! Well, he'd only been thirteen at the time. He was older now, and better able to handle anything life threw at him.

He shrugged, uncomfortable with the memories. Tsumaru's eyes were huge and haunted, flickering between the Powersoul and Touma. The tawny-haired teen made a move to go and cuddle with Tsu on the sofa, but just then a brisk knock sounded at the door, and his deeply-ingrained hosting instincts compelled him to go and let Tokiya in.

"Yo," he greeted, his grin feeling artificial and pasted-on.

Tokiya nodded in return as he stepped over the threshold, his crystalline eyes sober but not cold.

For the life of him Touma couldn't think of a witty utterance and Tokiya said nothing as he stepped out of his shoes. The taller youth moved silently after Touma into the main area of the apartment, pale-blue gaze sliding from Kaoru to the Powersoul gleaming dully on the coffee table then locking on Tsumaru. The boy was standing now, staring down at the mesh glove with a certain amount of trepidation.

Tsumaru's chocolate-brown eyes lifted to take in the newcomer, and then widened. His full lips formed a silent 'oh' of startlement and, from the way his cheeks pinked faintly, not a little admiration. Touma felt a startlingly violent wave of jealousy sweep over him. Sure, he knew Tokiya was gorgeous -- if they weren't so obviously completely devoted to one another he'd have seduced both Kaoru and his lover long ago. But that didn't mean Tsu was allowed....

Touma tamped down the irrational anger he was feeling. It was only natural to feel possessive of his younger brother, he tried to tell himself. But he knew there was more to it than that.

"You must be Touma's otouto," Tokiya was saying, his face remaining expressionless but his voice not unfriendly. "You certainly gave Kaoru a start."

"Oh, like you were expecting it, Niichan!" Kaoru put in scathingly.

Tokiya's eyes flickered to Kaoru, then widened in alarm. "Abunai!"

Touma was already in motion as the patio window blew inward with a burst of broken glass and shattered blinds, propelling Tsumaru backwards onto the cushions of the sofa, its back sheltering them from the dangerous shrapnel. Kaoru, who was further away, jumped back, his Kougon Anki held in ready hands. Tokiya rolled to one side, Ensui's hilt and a bottle of water appearing almost instantly from seemingly nowhere. He came up on one knee, braced, the water blade formed before the last of the glass had hit the floor.

Kaoru and Tokiya were focused on the spot where the patio window had been. Beneath Touma, tumbled on his belly in an awkward sprawl, Tsumaru's eyes crossed as he stared at the blade that had pierced all the way through the sofa and had emerged less than two centimeters from his nose. Touma lifted himself off his brother, peering cautiously over the edge of the sofa back.

A thick, gleaming silver chain ran from the weapon that had hit the sofa to the balcony. A tall figure was highlighted on the railing, the source of the attack, the chain emerging from a heavy mitt the stranger was wearing on his left arm.

Touma almost felt relief that the madougu hunter had finally shown up. Now they could stop fussing and just *talking* about it and actually *do* something! But Tsumaru was here, in immediate danger, and Uncle Kouji was going to absolutely *kill* Touma when he saw what had happened to the window! Fortunately, there were two experienced madougu users present and ready to leap to their protection.

Touma sucked in a quick breath. For all his bold words to Tokiya and Kaoru, he hadn't expected the hunter to be so... intimidating.

The hunter looked smug and faintly amused, not seeming upset that his attack hadn't struck anything more yielding and alive than the sofa. He was tall with broad shoulders, dressed in some outlandish leather-fetish outfit with metal studs and flashes of bare skin. Spiky white hair formed a proud crown above a wide red bandanna. His face was thin and cruel, with narrow eyes and a rapacious mouth. He didn't look anything like Kaoru, Tokiya, or Fuuko. He didn't look like Kiryuu Ryuiichi. He didn't even look very much like the thin, dour individual who had given the Powersoul into Touma's hands and disappeared without leaving a name.

"Omae..." Tokiya snarled, Ensui held before him in a ready stance. Kaoru was tense, wanting to attack, but held back because Touma and Tsumaru were between himself and the hunter.

"Ore wa Tenjo-sama." The hunter executed a small, mocking bow, at the same time shedding the mitt that he had used to project his weapon. It hit the concrete of the balcony floor with a loud clang, and the hunter followed it, his boots thumping with a lack of care for grace or subtlety. "Yoroshiku."

As the hunter took a long step over the spiky rim of fractured glass still remaining in the balcony doorway, Touma made a move to grab the Powersoul off the coffee table. Before Tokiya or Koganei could move to intercept him, Tenjo made a spectacular, almost impossible leap over the sofa, landing on the opposite side of the table from Touma.

Within the split-second that it took Tenjo to regained his footing Touma reviewed his options. He and the hunter were an equal distance from the Powersoul. There was no saying who would be able to grab it first. Everything in this compressed moment was about keeping the hunter from getting his hands on his father's madougu and Touma was already moving in that direction.

With a loud yell, Touma bunched his powerful leg muscles -- honed from years of soccer playing -- and surged *over* the coffee table, kicking the Powersoul away from the hunter and sending it spinning backwards, then slamming himself shoulder-first into the hunter's midsection.

"Touma! You fucking moron!" Kaoru howled as his best friend went down in a tangle of flailing limbs with the hunter, nearly taking out the television screen as they went. Tsumaru stared open-mouthed for a moment, then he snatched up the mesh glove that had landed at his feet and was in motion, darting toward Tokiya.

"Temee!" Touma threw a punch that struck the hunter's bony jaw. Tenjo seemed unaffected, a small grin seated on his thin lips, his eyes cold and confident. "Get out of my home!!"

"Shit!" Kaoru snapped the Kougon Anki swiftly into its second form. "Ryu!" he yelled, flinging the sickle-chain into the thick of the melee. Its golden curve struck off a thin blade headed toward Touma's side in a clash of sparks and a high ringing sound.

"Oniisan!!" Tsumaru cried, clutching the Powersoul to his chest.

With a loud curse, Touma kicked off from the hunter, rolling away and to his feet with his hide intact. Tenjo jumped up, a bloodthirsty grin splitting his lips.

"Touma! Go to Tsumaru!" Kaoru yelled, reeling in his Kougon Anki for a flickering moment before sending it flying at the madougu hunter again. The man turned, appearing unconcerned as he parried its deadly length with the knife he had attempted to use on Touma. A crimson gem flared momentarily beneath his gloved fingers, and suddenly the knife extended to eighteen centimeters of gleaming razor sharpness, a matching blade popping from the bottom of the haft. He swung this new weapon with dangerous skill, his attention now fixed on Kaoru.

Tokiya bit his lower lip as he watched his lover clash repeatedly with the hunter in a deadly dance almost quicker than the eye could follow. The madougu hunter was good; it might take the two of them to bring him down. But he was hesitant about attacking. There was the possibility of distracting Kaoru, which could be dangerous and might prove fatal. As well, Tsumaru was standing behind him, wide-eyed and holding the elemental weapon that Tenjo wanted. The boy must be protected, along with the Powersoul.

Suddenly, Tokiya saw an opening. Kaoru slammed the butt-end of his Kougon Anki into the hunter's temple, knocking him a little off-balance. It was enough. In a flurry of forward movement, Ensui's master struck.

But faster than thought, Tenjo recovered. Knocking Kaoru aside with one elbow, he snaked under Tokiya's attack before the swordsman could readjust his rush. He was headed straight for Tsumaru, who stood frozen in place.

With a flash of tawny hair and the loud shriek of metal grating on metal, Touma abruptly appeared before the hunter, Tenjo's thin knife striking the elemental weapon that he had left deeply sunk in the back of the sofa. It caught in the clasp of scissored twin-blades that had not been apparent earlier. Touma snarled soundlessly, centimeters from Tenjo's face, his eyes flashing with molten violet fury.

Tenjo snarled and with a heave of powerful muscles shunted Touma to one side, sending him down in a flurry of wiry limbs. Touma twisted so as not to impale himself on the weapon he was holding.

Tokiya recovered quickly, spinning, Ensui flashing in the sunlight spilling through the ruined balcony door like a silvery fish in shallow water.

Tenjo deflected the scything blade with the metal bracer on his right arm, then kicked out, striking Tokiya square in the chest with a heavy iron-plated boot. With a huff of violently expelled air, Tokiya tumbled backwards.

"Mikazuki!!" A scream of a golden boomerang angled through the air toward Tenjo. With a nearly negligible twist of his wrist, the hunter deflected the Kougon Anki, sending it spinning across the floor. Kaoru cursed and dove for his weapon.

The madougu hunter resumed his rush for Tsumaru. The boy was stock still, his eyes huge. Although he had been trained to fight from an early age Tsumaru had never been in an actual battle, especially not one with flying blades and a ruthless attacker who was willing to kill to get what he wanted.

"Kisama!!" Touma leapt at the hunter again, madly attempting to distract Tenjo from his younger brother. Tenjo struck out, and Touma went down in a smatter of blood.

"Oniisan!!" Tsumaru screamed. He slid the Powersoul onto his right hand -- not to try to use it, but to free up his arms. Falling in a controlled crouch just as the hunter dove at him, Tsumaru lashed out with his foot, clipping one leather-clad knee. There was a loud crack, and Tenjo staggered with a low snarl.

"Yah~!" Kaoru suddenly appeared, slamming the butt end of his Kougon Anki into the side of Tenjo's head. The madougu hunter swayed, and turned, swinging his unarmed fist at Kaoru. There was a flash of a pale-bright gem on the iron bracer the hunter had used earlier, and not being stupid or foolhardy, Kaoru leapt backwards half the length of the room. Madougu of unknown power were best approached with caution or not at all.

Tokiya utilized this brief respite to leap over and snag Tsumaru under his left arm. Spinning, he sent Ensui deep into the curve of Tenjo's shoulder as the hunter abandoned his pursuit of Kaoru and turned his attention back to the boy who bore the Powersoul.

Tenjo grunted and in a move almost too quick to be seen, grabbed a heavy pottery lamp up off the small table beside the sofa, lobbing it at Tokiya. With his blade sunk in Tenjo's shoulder and his other arm occupied with Tsumaru, Tokiya took the blow full to one temple.

Tokiya tumbled over on top of Tsumaru, semi-conscious, Ensui's blade dissolving as he lost his control over it. Tsumaru squirmed, wanting to fight back, to protect himself and Tokiya, to *get* the man who had hurt his oniisan, but the weight of Tokiya's body was pinning him down.

Tenjo raised his blade, ignoring the blood now flowing freely down his side. Touma was staggering to his feet, frantic but still dazed, his limbs unwilling to obey his commands. Kaoru was all the way across the room -- even if he threw his Kougon Anki, it was questionable whether it would reach the hunter before he struck down Tsumaru where he lay.

"TSUMARU~!!" Touma howled in anguish.


With the explosive roar of fountaining flames and a shrieking cry, a whip-like being of raw searing power ripped through the apartment, slamming into Tenjo's chest and engulfing him in a brilliant flare of crimson. The madougu hunter howled as he was propelled through the ruined balcony door and slammed against the railing. He hung there a moment, outlined in a personal inferno, before plunging over the edge with a loud cry.

"Recca!" Kaoru gasped, turning toward the flame master who was braced in the entryway, his right wrist clasped in his left hand, a few last flickering flames wreathing his fingers, a wicked grin rendering his face almost demonic.

"Got 'im!" Recca crowed triumphantly.

"Oniisan!" Tsumaru cried as Touma collapsed. Tokiya sat up woozily, and Tsumaru twisted out from under him, darting over to his brother. "Oniisan!"

"Acha." Recca rubbed the back of his neck. "Ah, Hime?"

"Hai!" Yanagi appeared from behind Recca and moved quickly across the trashed room toward the wounded teenager.

Tokiya rose to his feet and stalked toward the kitchen.

"Ara?" Recca blinked. "Where ya going, Mikagami?" he asked, scratching his head.

"To renew Ensui," Tokiya answered shortly. "Go down quickly and make sure the hunter doesn't escape."

"Aw, I got him," Recca said, planting his hands on his hips. "Fried him good! We'll just go down and collect--"

"Too late," Kaoru called from the balcony.

Tokiya paused, his left hand unconsciously going to his bruised temple as he glanced at Kaoru, who was leaning over the singed railing.

"He's gone," the teen clarified. He turned, his expression rueful. "Not a sign of him."

"But we damaged him," Tokiya said thoughtfully. "He damaged us, but we have a healer. Next time he attacks, we'll have the advantage."

"You don't think he'll give up?" Touma asked blearily. He was sitting now, leaning back against Tsumaru, with Yanagi kneeling beside the two boys. His face and neck were covered in blood, but Yanagi had taken care of the worst of the wound.

"Iya," Tokiya answered simply.

"Are you feeling all right, Touma-kun?" Yanagi asked anxiously.

"Yes. Thank you, Yanagi-san." Touma grinned crookedly. "I knew the others used elemental weapons but I didn't know you could do anything like this!"

Yanagi lowered her eyes modestly. "I... I'm not sure why I have these powers." She looked up, smiling faintly, her rust-toned gaze earnest. "But I'm happy that I could use them to help you."

"Arigatou, Oneesan," Tsumaru piped up. His arms were wrapped around his brother's shoulders as though he would never let go.

"Hop in the shower, Touma," Kaoru instructed, walking briskly back into the apartment. "And, Tsumaru, can you help me pack some clothes for your brother and yourself?"

"Are?" Tsumaru let go reluctantly as Touma heaved himself to his feet. The tawny-haired teen looked around the apartment dolefully. It was a mess, to put it mildly.

"No argument this time," Tokiya said sternly. "You're coming home with us."

"Hai," Touma agreed weakly. Tsumaru pulled off the Powersoul and hugged it close. They couldn't stay here tonight, that much was certain.

* * *

"The question in my mind is, how did you know to show up?" Tokiya asked Recca. A small group was seated at Tokiya and Kaoru's kitchen table, holding an impromptu war council. Fuuko and Domon had been sent to watch Touma's apartment, in case the hunter returned in the night. That was considered unlikely, but Touma had been adamant that no further damage be done to Amano Kouji's place. Early evening had settled over the house, and Tokiya had ordered take-in for everyone to eat.

Recca shrugged loosely, a smug grin on his lips. "Thanks to Kaachan. She still can't get an exact fix on the hunter, but she told me he was close -- almost definitely here. She was right, and it was just lucky that I got there in time."

"Thank you," Touma said quietly, the words heartfelt and unforced. Without the young flame master's intervention Tsumaru might very well be dead now and the Powersoul in the hands of the madougu hunter. That first was the thought that still chilled Touma to the core.

"Hey, that's what it's all about." Recca shoveled the last of his rice into his mouth and sat back, stretching widely. "So what's the plan for tonight?"

Tokiya pondered. "Touma and Tsumaru are going to stay here until the hunter is dealt with. There is little doubt he'll try again. But he's been wounded and that mean's he's likely to be more cautious in his next attack, so we'll have to be doubly on our guard."

"Do you think he'll come after us tonight?" Touma asked. Tsumaru was nodding off in his lap, and Touma had to admit that he was exhausted as well. He wanted nothing more than a good night's sleep, with the knowledge that they were safe. Some homecoming for Tsumaru the last couple of days had been!

"Unlikely," Tokiya answered, sipping at his tea. Yanagi had healed the bruise on his brow along with the scattered bumps and cuts they all had picked up, and everyone was in top form now. Recca had sent the quiet healer home, against her mild protests. No one wanted her involved further, although they were grateful to her for her assistance. "We can't take anything for granted, of course, but it's highly doubtful that the hunter knows we're involved. Even if he recognized us, I don't think he knows where we live. And he probably won't deduce that we took you home with us. He could still find out, granted, but most likely not before tomorrow morning."

"Hm." Touma subsided, frowning in thought.

"What about me?" Recca asked. "Are we having a big ol' happy sleep-over?"

Tokiya's brow twitched and Koganei snickered. "I think Kaoru and I will be enough for tonight." Tokiya said. "You should go home and consult with your mother. And set your alarm; Fuuko and Domon will need someone to relieve them toward dawn."

Recca pulled a sour face. "There goes my Sunday! Ah well!" He rose to his feet and laced his hands behind his head. "Take care of them, okay, Mikagami? I'll call you if Kaachan has turned anything up."

"Aa." Tokiya unfolded his lanky limbs and moved to show Recca out of the house.

"Be genki!" Recca commanded Touma, giving him the thumbs-up sign even though his face was deadly serious. The tawny-haired teen pulled his dozing brother closer and nodded, his own expression grim. He wasn't going to let the hunter get him running scared. Now that he knew what he was facing, he had more of an idea of how to deal with the situation. He just wished Uncle Kouji kept firearms around the apartment. One bullet to the head ought to be enough to take down even the most dangerous madougu hunter. Touma was pissed off, and he didn't feel like playing fair. Maintaining honor was one thing, but that Tenjo guy had tried to *kill* Tsumaru! Touma could never forgive him for that!

Kaoru was looking at Touma with an expression of both sympathy and concern. "Come on," he said, rising. "I'll show you to your room."

Touma reluctantly shook Tsumaru fully awake and the two brothers got to their feet and followed Kaoru. He'd have liked to carry Tsumaru -- his every instinct telling him not to let his brother go, even for a moment -- but although Yanagi had healed him of his wounds he still felt weak and weary. He *had* lost some blood, after all.

Touma winced to think of the cost of removing blood stains from the smooth, polished wood floor of Kouji's apartment; both his own and Tenjo's. Their uncle would be glad that they were alive and safe, but he was going to most unpleasantly surprised by the state of his home. Touma just hoped Kouji's insurance would cover most of the damage the hunter had caused.

Briefly the thought of just *how* he was going to explain all of this to Uncle Kouji fluttered through Touma's mind, but he dismissed it. First they had to survive through it. After that, he could attempt to decide how to break things to Kouji.

"In here," Kaoru was saying, pushing open a door. He and Tokiya had a small but neat little house on a surprisingly sizable plot of land. Thanks to Kaoru, Touma knew that Tokiya had inherited the place when his parents had died and then his oneesan had been killed. Not the best way to gain a residence, as Touma was well aware from personal experience, but it was good that Tokiya and Kaoru had a sweet little nest to live in.

"Doumo," Touma said, stepping inside. He glanced around. Tsumaru was a warm weight against his side, clinging to his hand and yawning as though he would split his head open. "Guest room?"

"Sorta." Kaoru grinned sheepishly, scratching at his scalp. "Tokiya was gonna make this my room after we came back from the Ura Butso Satsujin, but I told him what he could do with that idea. So now I guess it *is* the guest room. Or would be, if we ever had any guests."

"Mm." Touma's eyes were heavy-lidded. The room was nice. The bed was a bit narrow, but Tsumaru was small and Touma had no problem with the idea of sleeping pressed close together with his otouto. By this point they both needed the assurance this would bring.

"We're just at the end of the hall," Kaoru said, thrusting a thumb over his shoulder. "Bathroom's between this room and ours. I think we're going to crash too. I *really* doubt the hunter will strike tonight, even in the interest of catching us unaware. Recca-niichan fried him but good, and even though he must have somehow survived falling twelve stories, he's got to be hurting. Besides, like Tokiya said, even if he knows we're involved, he won't necessarily know where we live, and might not guess right away that we dragged you back here with us. My best guess is that we won't see him for a couple days. And even if he's blocking Kage-san's Eikai Ball, she should have enough of a fix on him by now to warn us if he gets too close to this place. Recca's got our number, and he'll call if there's trouble."

Touma was nodding, only half processing the words. "Kaoru. Thank you," he said. It seemed as though he had been saying that a lot the last several hours, but it was what he felt.

"Hey, you're my best friend," Koganei responded, clapping a warm hand on Touma's shoulder. "I'd be helping you out even if you and I were bitter enemies at school, but this just makes it that much more important to me. I won't let you down again." The rangy brunette pulled a bitter face, obviously annoyed with himself for being so easily battled to a draw by the madougu hunter.

"If it weren't for you, we'd likely be dead now," Touma said darkly. He didn't like to see Kaoru beat himself up for something that hadn't really been his fault. Everyone had done their best, after being taken by surprise. Tenjo had just been that much better.

Kaoru stared at him a moment, then wordlessly reached forward and clasped Touma in a tight hug. "Hang in there. We'll get rid of the hunter, and things'll be back to normal before you know it!" He glanced down at Tsumaru, who was wrapped around Touma's waist. "Well, a new kind of normal."

"A good kind of normal," Touma asserted.

Tokiya poked his shaggy silver head around the door. "Kaoru. I'm going to go secure the parameter."

"Hai!" Kaoru gave Touma's shoulders a last squeeze and released him, moving easily toward the door. "Go ahead and use the bathroom. Tokiya an' I'll be up a little longer. Get some sleep, both of you."

Touma stifled a wide yawn and nodded. "Hei, hei."

Kaoru exited, pulling the door mostly closed behind him. Leaving Tsumaru standing where he was, Touma moved to the bed, unzipping the duffel his younger brother had hastily thrown together while he had been washing off the blood and sweat of battle. He wondered what Tsumaru had packed that they could sleep in.

"Oniisan?" Tsumaru piped up from behind Touma.

"Tsumaru." Touma flopped down on the bed and held his arms out.

The small brunette padded over, standing before Touma, his wide chocolate brown eyes fixed on his older brother's face. "Oniisan no baka," Tsumaru chided, almost conversationally, reaching forward to touch Touma's cheek lightly, then twining his fingers through long strands of tawny gold hair. There was some sort of strange wonder in his gaze that made Touma a bit nervous. He hoped Tsu wasn't going into shock or something.

"Hey, it's okay," he said, grinning crookedly. "We're okay. Na?"

Tsumaru clambered into Touma's lap, and Touma automatically pulled him close. Tsumaru's arms locked around Touma's chest in a tight clasp, his face buried in the collar of his older brother's teeshirt.

"Daijoubu, daijoubu," Touma comforted, lowering his face into Tsumaru's thick cap of dark hair. "It'll be all right."

"Don't do something like that again!" Tsumaru demanded, his voice a little muffled but vehement. "You coulda been killed!"

"I was more worried about you," Touma replied honestly, his arms contracting. "Keeping you safe is more important to me than anything else."

Tsumaru sniffed, though Touma was fairly certain he wasn't actually crying, and burrowed closer.

"Come on, Tsu," he said as bracingly as he could. "We have to get ready for bed." Not that holding his brother close wasn't what he wanted to spend the rest of the night doing, but he was exhausted and he wanted to be under the bedcovers as soon as possible. Besides, it would be better if neither one of them broke down now. They'd made it this far with their composure mostly intact.

Tsumaru grumbled but pulled away, sliding down off of Touma's lap and scrubbing at his nose with the back of his hand. Touma gazed at him for a moment, taking in the delicate features and noting the weariness that shadowed those large liquid eyes. He reached out before he thought and cupped one of Tsumaru's soft cheeks in his palm.

"I'll take care of you," he promised solemnly.

"Well, make sure you take care of yourself too, Oniisan," Tsumaru chirped, fixing a wounded gaze on Touma. One of his small hands moved up to rest over his brother's. "Because without you...."

Touma leaned forward, pressing his forehead against Tsumaru's for a moment. Then he sat back and rooted through the duffel. "So, what did you pack us for pajamas?"

"Um... I think there are some boxers in there?" Tsumaru bit his lower lip. "And a tank for you...."

"Mm." Touma pulled out the aforementioned articles. Great. Tsumaru had packed him the boxers with little pink hearts all over them -- a gag Valentine's Day gift from Uncle Kouji about a year back. Well, he'd deal. "You wanna use the bathroom first?" he offered.

"Can't we use it together?" Tsumaru asked plaintively.

Touma quirked a thick brow. "I dunno about you, but I gotta go pee. I really don't think that's something you wanna share with me."

Tsumaru giggled faintly, then shook his head. "You go first, Oniisan." He glanced toward the door as a door shut sharply down the hall. He liked Tokiya and Kaoru, but he barely knew them, and he was obviously unsettled at being stuck in a new place for the second night in a row.

Touma rose to his feet. "Don't worry. We'll be back home soon enough." He reached out to ruffle Tsumaru's thick hair.

The boy wrinkled his nose. "With a busted-out window and a ruined sofa."

Touma shrugged. "I'll call Uncle Kouji after the hunter is dealt with. He'll figure out how to get the place fixed."

Tsumaru stared up at Touma with wide eyes. "Dealt with..." he echoed. "Are Tokiya-niisan and Kaoru-niisan going to... kill him?"

Touma grimaced. But Tsumaru deserved the truth and by this point he would be able to handle it. "Probably. I take it from Kaoru that Recca and his friends are squeamish about that sort of thing, but Kaoru and Tokiya know what's necessary and they're willing to do it."

Tsumaru nodded, looking a little scared.

"Hey." Touma pulled his brother close for a moment. "It's not as though I like the idea. But if it comes down to a choice between the hunter and us...."

"Hai." Tsumaru almost visibly pulled himself together. He offered Touma a bright smile, then patted his brother's ass. "Go get changed, Oniisan."

Touma blinked, startled, then grinned and moved to do Tsumaru's bidding.

After the two boys had changed into their impromptu sleepwear and gotten their teeth brushed they retreated to the bedroom. As Tsumaru climbed onto the bed Touma stood a moment on the threshold, hovering uncertainly. Kaoru came striding up the hall and paused, casting Touma a curious look.

"Is it okay to close this?" Touma asked, swinging the door back and forth on its hinges.

"Yeah." Kaoru shrugged. "Like we've said, the hunter won't come back tonight."

Touma looked pensive. "Those sound like famous last words."

Kaoru stuck out his tongue. "It'll be fine. And we'll be just down the hall if you need to yell. Oyasumi!" He raised a hand in salute.

"Oyasumi," Touma answered absently, slipping inside and pushing the door to. He could faintly hear the front door open and close behind Tokiya, and closer, the sound of Kaoru entering the bathroom. It was so different from all the times he had spent the night previously, and he felt a little uncomfortable. He knew Tokiya and Kaoru had extended the offer several times since Thursday afternoon -- Tokiya had practically ordered him here at that meeting in the cafe -- but he still felt like an interloper. The few times he had slept over before, he and Kaoru had camped out in the living room and stayed up most of the night, talking about soccer and wrestling around until Tokiya came out and threatened them with dire bodily harm if they didn't shut up and go to sleep. This was nothing like that.

"Oniisan...." Tsumaru was already under the covers, holding out a hand to Touma in entreaty. He was bare from the waist up, his golden chest narrow but not that of a child any longer. There were definite muscles under the smooth skin. Touma silently thanked Shiro-sensei for keeping his brother in shape and extending his training. Otherwise, today....

Touma flicked off the light and crossed to join Tsumaru. He thought that he would have felt better if the window had been boarded over, but he knew this desire was really only an overreaction on his part. Kaoru was right; it was almost certain that the hunter wouldn't be attacking tonight. He was most likely off somewhere licking his wounds. If they were lucky he was off somewhere dying.

"Ready to get some sleep, Tsu?" Touma asked as he slid under the blanket. Kaoru had changed the beddings while waiting for dinner to arrive and they smelled of laundry soap and very faintly of dust, of having been in storage. It wasn't unpleasant. This wasn't home, but it was acceptable.


"No?" Touma peered at his brother. In the unlighted room, with thick blinds covering the window, it was almost impossible to see him. "Aren't you exhausted?"

Tsumaru wriggled into Touma's arms, slinging a leg over one lean hip. "I can't sleep yet. I'm... I'm too scared."

In the dark, alone with Tsumaru, it was easier to admit. "That's okay, Otouto. I'm scared too."

"You are?" Tsumaru didn't seem upset or unsettled, just a little surprised by this open confession.

"Well, today was pretty intense," Touma said, twining his fingers through Tsumaru's hair. "Anyone would be freaked out, na?"

"Tokiya-niisan and Kaoru-niisan weren't," Tsumaru answered, sounding almost pouty.

Touma traced the outline of Tsumaru's ear with an idle thumb. "Well, they've been dealing with this sort of thing a lot longer than either of us. They're used to it."

"Are we... going to have to get used to it?" Tsumaru asked hesitantly.

Touma winced. Leave it to Tsu to cut straight to the heart of the matter. "I hope not. I think generally speaking so long as I don't use the Powersoul most people won't know I have it. If we keep it secret...."

"But it's meant to be used," Tsumaru argued. "Papa meant you to use it. He used it. It's kinda like your duty to--"

"To what?" Touma interrupted harshly. "To go off and enter crazy tournaments and get myself killed like Tousan did? No thank you!"

Tsumaru was silent.

Touma sighed heavily. "Look. I know it's been passed down in the Kiryuu family for generations. But it's not as though *I'm* going to be having any offspring to give it to. The legacy dies with me. I loved Tousan, and I want to honor his wishes, but.... But I'm thinking of asking Kaoru if he knows anyone who can take the Powersoul, someone who can be trusted not to misuse it."

"You can't do that if you don't know what you're giving away," Tsumaru piped up, sounding entirely too logical for Touma's peace of mind. "You can't just give it away without having ever used it. It's in our family for a reason. Papa looked different when he had it on. It was special. It makes you feel different. You *can't* just give it away, Oniisan!"

"That's the best time to give it away," Touma snapped. "Before I know what I'm losing. Besides, who'm I going to hand it down to? I'm *gay*! Are *you* planning on having kids someday, Tsu?"

"I've... I've never even been kissed yet," Tsumaru answered, his voice thin. He hid his face against Touma's chest, and Touma could feel hot dampness sinking into the material of his tank. "I almost died today without ever even getting kissed."

"That's--" Touma sputtered, taken by surprise. "T-Tsu, you're... you're too young to worry about something like that!!"

"And if the hunter kills me, I'll always be too young, and it'll never happen," Tsumaru replied forlornly. He raised his head from Touma's chest, his voice a bit disparaging as he continued. "Besides, Oniisan, you were younger than me when you started fooling around! Do you think I don't know the reason you spent so much time with Kenji-nii?"

"Whu-what?!" Touma was certain his eyes were about to pop out of his head. "Tsumaru, you were-- How did you-- You were only nine, ten years old!!"

Tsumaru snickered, cuddling closer to Touma's chest. "All right, all right. I didn't figure it out right then. Not until a year or two ago. But I'm not wrong, am I? And you were younger than me back then!"

Touma couldn't really argue that. "But you...."

"But I what?" Tsumaru asked, twisting his neck to look up at Touma through the darkness. "I'm different from you, how, Oniisan?"

It popped out before Touma could censor himself. "You're my little brother!"

Tsumaru made a sound caught between a growl and a laugh. "Baka! So doesn't that mean I ought to get started soon? I've got some catching up to do!"

Touma scowled, tightening his arms around Tsumaru's slight form. He didn't like the thought of any boy pawing at his baby brother! "Yada!"

Tsumaru pinched his side, beneath the tank, and Touma stifled a startled yelp, not wanting to bring Kaoru or Tokiya running in alarm. "That's not fair and you know it, Oniisan!" Tsumaru sounded sullen, tucking his head into the curve of Touma's shoulder, his fingers idly soothing the spot he'd pinched as he continued. "I tried to get Shiro-sensei interested, but he must have been straight."

"Or maybe he thought you were too young," Touma interjected. He restrained a shudder at the tingly sensation Tsumaru's caresses were sending over the surface of his flesh. He was certain Tsumaru was doing it unknowingly, innocently, without realizing the reaction he was drawing from his older brother. "Tsumaru, Ken-nii was only five years older than me! I don't know how old this Shiro was, but I doubt he was under eighteen!"

"He was twenty-five," Tsumaru offered with a shrug. "But I don't see why age makes such a big difference."

"It sure as hell makes a difference when he's more than twice as old as you!" Touma gasped. "Jeez! Twenty-five and you were twelve?! Don't try to grow up too fast, Tsu!"

"I don't wanna grow up too fast," Tsumaru argued. "I just wanna start having sex!"

It took Touma several moments to gather together the scattered fragments of his brain and get to the point that he could begin forming coherent sentences again. "Whu-What.... Where.... Where the hell did *this* come from, Tsu?!"

"It's been three years, Oniisan," Tsumaru said patiently, loosing his hand from under Touma's tank and locking his arm around his brother's chest, slender fingers splayed over the hard muscles of Touma's back. "I'm not ten anymore. I haven't had any chance to fool around, but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it. I've thought about it a lot!"

Touma smothered a groan and lowered his face into Tsumaru's hair, letting himself be momentarily distracted by the sweet, fruity scent of his brother's shampoo. Strawberry or raspberry, he thought. Mm....

Reluctantly, he dragged his mind back to the matter at hand. It just figured Tsumaru would be precocious; as the boy had pointed out, Touma had gotten off to an early start himself. But Touma still didn't like the idea. He'd just gotten Tsumaru back -- he wasn't about to share!

He tried to think of some way to verbalize this that wouldn't make Tsumaru even more pissed at him. He was wide awake now, his head buzzing as his thoughts flew in circles. He couldn't let Tsumaru.... Things had worked out for him, starting so early, but Tsumaru wasn't always as a good judge of character as Touma was, and there were a million ways he could be hurt, both physically and emotionally. Touma wanted to protect Tsumaru from all that.

"Mine!" Touma growled, pulling his younger brother closer. To hell with tact.

"Are~?" Tsumaru squirmed against him. "What, Oniisan?"

"We just got back together again, Tsumaru," Touma clarified, his arms tight around the boy's slim body. "I haven't got some boyfriend or lover I'll be running off with every day. I'm going to focus on *you*. I.... It might be selfish, but I want all of your attention, at least for a while."

Tsumaru was silent, thinking this over.

"Besides, Tsumaru, you've had a kiss before! You kissed me good-night just last night, remember?" Touma was grasping at straws and he knew it.

"*I* kissed *you*, Oniisan!" Tsumaru expounded. "I want someone to kiss *me*! Because they think I'm pretty and they want to be nearer to me!"

"Jeez, Tsu, you sound like a girl. Ow!" Touma bit his lip, glancing guiltily over at the door. The thin strip of light that had been showing under its lower edge earlier had been extinguished. Kaoru and Tokiya must be in bed by now.

"Take that back!" Tsumaru was bristling. "Oniisan, hidoi! What's girly about wanting someone to think I'm pretty?! And it's not as though I think my first kiss is a huge deal, like all the girls do! I just don't want to miss the *chance* for my first kiss -- and more -- that's all!"

"Tsu...." Touma felt helpless. "I'm not.... I'm *not* going to introduce you to any of my friends with the intent of seduction!" Shigeki might be a little too amenable to that idea, Touma was afraid. Tsumaru was very, very attractive and Shige was almost as randy as Touma was. He might very well see Tsumaru's projected advances as a sweet two-for-one deal. And even though Touma liked Shige, he didn't fully trust him not to mess things up with Tsumaru. At this point, Touma had to admit that he didn't trust anyone. Not with his younger brother, the most important person in his life. Well, maybe... someone Tsu's own age *might* be acceptable, at least in theory. "I think you should wait until we get you enrolled in junior high, and see if you hit it off with any of your classmates," he offered, hoping this didn't sound as feeble to Tsumaru as it did to him.

"But if the hunter kills me tomorrow--"

"He won't!"

Tsumaru squeaked as Touma's arms closed around him more tightly, squeezing almost painfully. "But if he does--" he gasped breathlessly, tilting his chin up. "Then I still won't have ever been kissed."

"All right!" Touma could think of only one easy way out of this prolonged conversation; one that would shut Tsumaru up on two different levels. Loosing a hand to cup Tsumaru's sharp jawline, he raised his brother's face more fully to his own at the same time that he lowered his head. Their mouths met somewhere in the middle.

He'd been wanting to kiss Tsumaru for some time now, he had already admitted to himself. Uncle Kouji had taught him to regard the boundaries of blood relation as flexible, and Tsumaru was about the most lovely, pliable little creature Touma had set eyes on in years. Three years, to be exact. When they had been separated Tsumaru had been a tiny little sprite of a child, alternately charming and obnoxious. Now he was half-grown, still small for his age but beautiful, tantalizing in his newly blooming sexuality. Touma, being as he was, could not have been insensible to this.

And perhaps it was the fact that Tsumaru *was* his brother that made him even *more* tempting.

Tsumaru's mouth was awkward beneath his but not unresponsive. Touma pressed his lips to Tsumaru's, soft friction and shared breath. In spite of its slightly forceful initiation his kiss was gentle, careful. He wanted this to be a good first experience for Tsumaru.

Tsumaru's lips fell open smoothly under Touma's, as though this were not his first kiss. But Touma knew his younger brother -- Tsumaru might stretch the truth occasionally, but he never lied. If he said this was his first kiss, it was his first. He must just be gifted at this, like Touma had always been. Osaka Kenji had bemoaned that fact often enough when Touma had been eleven and twelve that he considered it to be an established fact.

Touma shifted slightly, sucking in Tsumaru's plump lower lip, then denting it ever so faintly with his teeth. Switching tactics as Tsumaru shuddered against him, he traced the tip of his tongue over the rich swell of Tsumaru's upper lip. Tsumaru had a mouth built for kissing, as Touma had noted earlier, and he was in a prime position to appreciate this right now.

He was startled but gratified when he felt his brother's tongue dart out to touch his own momentarily before it disappeared again. He followed it easily, tilting his head and sliding his tongue through parted lips and over hard teeth to nestle alongside Tsumaru's in the hot-damp interior of his mouth.

Touma shivered and pulled Tsumaru closer, twining his tongue around Tsumaru's, which moved with artless intent against his own. His brother tasted of mint toothpaste and of boy. Tsumaru moaned faintly into the kiss, then applied suction to Touma's tongue. Touma felt as though the top of his head had blown off.

Reluctantly, as his lungs began to burn, Touma pulled his mouth away, with a last lingering caress of his tongue over the lush swell of Tsumaru's lips.

"Mm. I thought you'd never do that, Oniisan," Tsumaru purred, wriggling closer, running his tongue over pressure-bruised lips.

Suddenly, the knowledge that he had been manipulated to this point hit Touma like a tsunami striking the Nippon coastline.

"O-oi! You... you little--!" He sputtered incoherently. Tsumaru had played him perfectly, and Touma had to admire his younger brother for that, while at the same time he was consumed with indignation and more than a touch of chagrin.

"Do you... think I'm pretty, Oniisan?" Hot breath broke against Touma's mouth like a ghost of their kiss, but Tsumaru's voice was suddenly young and uncertain.

Touma reached down to cup one slim flank. "Baka," he chided gently. "I wouldn't have kissed you if I didn't."

"Honto?" Tsumaru sounded wistful.

Touma pressed a warm kiss to his brother's forehead. "I think you're very pretty, Tsu, and it's been hard to keep my hands off of you lately."

"So why'd you wait so long?" Tsumaru asked, pouting, his moods switching once again. He rubbed closer to Touma, lifting his face, his lips brushing over Touma's so lightly that the older boy almost felt he had imagined the sensation. "Kiss me again, Oniisan?"

Tsumaru was a sensuous creature in his arms, and Touma was finding he was unable to resist his pleas... no matter how peeved he was at Tsumaru for seducing him. And so successfully too! Touma hadn't seen anything so smooth since the first time he had "convinced" Ken-nii to fool around; and Touma was a boy who found new conquests almost on a monthly basis!

But before they pursued this, he had to make sure.... "Tsu, you... you do know what you're asking me, don't you?" Touma asked, reaching up to brush his knuckles over the curve of a soft cheek.

"I asked for another kiss," Tsumaru said, sounding nonplussed. "Didn't you hear me, Oniisan?"

Touma huffed. "I meant.... Well, we're brothers, Tsumaru. Most of the time brothers don't fool around with each other."

"No?" Tsumaru tilted his head, his lips pursing in thought. It took an exertion of self-control to prevent Touma from throwing caution to the wind and locking his mouth on that sweet fullness again. Tsumaru shrugged. "Well, that's their loss then. But you're not going to let that stop you, are you?" This was thrown out almost as a challenge.

Touma chuckled faintly. "No. I just wanted to make sure you knew what was what."

"I don't like anyone so much as I like you, Oniisan," Tsumaru said, wholly serious now, his face intent, his eyes fixed on Touma's. "I *love* you! I won't ever love anyone more than you. You're even more gorgeous than Shiro-sensei was, and you're nice to me, and you're my brother. I *want* this!"

*Ah, that's it. Stroke the ego. Yeeees....* Touma smirked, but he was genuinely affected, his heart aching. Tsumaru was willing to the point of initiating the encounter. This might be the perfect way of solving his quandary. Touma could stop feeling guilty when he caught himself lusting over his brother and Tsumaru would be learning about sex from someone Touma trusted. Well, at least most of the time.

"I think.... I think that's all I needed to hear," Touma said breathlessly. But, his conscience pricked, there was something Tsumaru needed to hear before he kissed him again. Touma wasn't one for declarations of affection. Hell, he was a sixteen year old male and even if he was so inclined -- which he wasn't -- most of his chosen lovers would laugh themselves sick if he went and got sappy on them. But this was completely different. This was Tsumaru, his brother, who had lived without any love for the past three years. He couldn't maintain silence -- not after Tsumaru had risked putting everything on the line. Because whether Tsumaru fully realized it or not, that was what he had done.

"I love you too, Tsu," he whispered, the words not as awkward on his tongue as he had thought they would be. He ran his fingers through the heavy silk of Tsumaru's hair, then kissed the tip of his pert nose, drawing a startled squeak. "You're beautiful and smart and funny. You're my baby brother, but you're a lot more than that. I'm doing this because I want to, not just because you asked me to. But that's part of the reason too -- because I want to do what it takes to make you happy."

There were tears welling up in Tsumaru's eyes, and Touma grinned crookedly. "You cry too damn much, Otouto," he declared, moving to reclaim his brother's mouth.

Okay, so he was a pervert. But his emotions were clear and unclouded, so he had no qualms. As far as Touma was concerned the thickly woven bonds of blood made this sort of tryst even more meaningful and a hell of a sight more enduring than most of his assignations. Boyfriends came and went. Fuck-buddies could usually be relied on but weren't always completely dependable. But brothers were forever.

Zutto.... Touma surprised himself with that thought. But it felt *right*, as though he had stumbled over something important....

Only... Tsumaru was sucking on his tongue again, and it was growing harder to concentrate on anything more abstract than the reality of the warm body in his arms and the scent of Tsumaru that rose to envelop his senses.

When they broke for air a second time, Tsumaru was pressed up tight against Touma, purring happily, his fingers twined in his older brother's hair. "Arigatou, Oniisan," he husked.

Touma smirked and nuzzled Tsumaru's forehead. "Consider it my pleasure."

"That was really nice, Oniisan," Tsumaru said softly. "But...." He cut himself off with a huge yawn.

"But we're both tired and we need to get some sleep," Touma finished for him. "I know, Tsu. Don't worry. We'll have plenty of opportunities later. I promise you that."

"You promise?" Tsumaru was fading fast, from the sound of it, his head slipping down to rest against Touma's shoulder, his arms loosing a little from their tight clench, though they still remained ringed around Touma's chest.

"Un." Touma grinned into the darkness. "You don't think I'd miss out on a chance to see if you do other things as well as you kiss, do you?"

Tsumaru let out a contented, happy noise, then snuggled into Touma's larger form. "Okay. Later, then, Oniisan. Oyasumi...."

"Sleep well, Tsu."

Touma had a last thought, as exhaustion piled on by the hectic events of the day overwhelmed his weary body and battered brain, sending him spinning into the realm of slumber. If Tsu's kiss the night before had been meant to give him happy dreams, then after this evening's lip-lock, he ought to be damned well *blissful*!

And he was. Nothing could have felt better to him than falling asleep with Tsumaru in his arms and his brother's sweet flavor on his lips.

* * *

Sunlight crept through narrow slits in the blinds, thin ethereal fingers twitching over two inert bodies under pale bedcovers. The morning songbirds were out in full force, their music making its way even through the glass of the window.

"Urusai na..." Touma groaned, slinging his right arm over his eyes. There was a heavy weight pinning down his other arm, and as consciousness returned to him he realized that there was someone lying curled close to his side.

"Mm. Oniisan?"

Touma snapped suddenly to full wakefulness. "Tsu?"

"Eep!" Tsumaru tumbled to the mattress as Touma surged into a sitting position, unseating him from his snug spot in the hollow of his brother's shoulder. "Nani?"

"Sorry," Touma said, yawning. "Just got startled. Wasn't expecting to wake up in a different bed." He scratched his head.

"Hm~!" Tsumaru stretched against the mattress, his body arching, the muscles in his thin arms shivering, before he collapsed in a boneless sprawl. He smiled up at Touma, his eyes heavy-lidded and sleepy. "Wakaru yo. That was kinda how I felt when I woke up yesterday morning."

"You okay, Tsu?" Touma asked, pushing hair out of his face and combing through the worst of the tangles with his fingers. Now that his brain was beginning to work again, memories of the battle the afternoon before ran their searing course through his thoughts. Heck, he wasn't so sure *he* was okay!

"Un!" Tsumaru sat up, scrubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "Daijoubu desu!" He squirmed over his oniisan and out of bed.

"Yokatta." Touma followed his brother, kneeling and delving into the duffel bag for something to wear. He was ready to ditch the gag boxers, that was for sure!


Touma paused in the act of pulling on a pair of jeans. "Na?" He caught the slightly distressed expression on Tsumaru's face and concern winged through his chest. "What is it, Tsu?"

"Last night...." Tsumaru bit his lip, his hands twisting before him, his eyes downcast. "Was... was last night a... dream? Or was it only... only because you...."

"Oi!" Touma zipped up his pants in a hurry and sat on the edge of the bed once more, reaching forward to grab his brother around the waist. Warm brown eyes lifted to meet his in startlement as he jerked Tsumaru close. "Last night was a beginning. Remember what I promised you? I don't say shit like that for fun, Tsu. Hell, I haven't ever said that kinda thing to anyone before! I'd only say it if I meant it. Now that I've said it, I intend to keep my word no matter what. Just like you do."

Tsumaru's gaze was fixed on his, solemn brown level with earnest violet. "Oniisan..." he breathed. "Is it really... real?" A small but strong hand tremblingly touched the side of Touma's face.

Touma smiled. "You trust me, don't you?"

"Of course!" Tsumaru's eyes flashed. "I was just.... I was just...."

There was no help for it. They both had morning breath, but Touma couldn't hesitate. The best way to convince Tsumaru that he had meant his kisses the night before would be to kiss him again. Besides, morning breath or not, he had to admit that he *wanted* to kiss Tsumaru again -- for his own sake as much as his brother's. Last night seemed so long ago and so dreamlike.... He couldn't really blame Tsumaru for doubting a little.

Grasping Tsumaru's heart-shaped face between his palms, Touma bent forward and latched his mouth onto those sweet pink lips. Tsumaru surged eagerly into the kiss, his arms sliding around Touma's neck to lock the two of them together. Touma slid one hand down to cup a tight ass cheek. Tsumaru tilted his head, his tongue seeking entrance at the crease of Touma's lips, surprising his brother with his willingness to take the initiative as well as how quickly he had learned.

Touma had just parted his lips, his own tongue sliding forth to tangle with Tsumaru's, when the click of the doorknob shattered the stillness that had fallen over the room.

The two brothers jolted apart, glancing guiltily toward the door.

Tokiya stood there, his crystal-blue eyes wide, his mouth hanging lax. His pale cheeks flushed faintly and he blinked rapidly a few times, then coughed into one fist.

"Uh.... Good morning," Touma said weakly, grinning and raising one hand. Tsumaru bit his lower lip, staring at the older teen with an expression that was more belligerent than sheepish.

"You slept in," Tokiya commented, his voice remarkably even, all things considered. His silver hair was perfect, every strand in place, and his button-up shirt and dark slacks were without wrinkle or crease. Between this and the sunlight spilling into the room, there was indeed some credence to his claim. "We need to talk in the kitchen."

"What's up?" Touma asked, standing and grabbing a teeshirt from the duffel. He tried to make his tone as brisk and businesslike as Tokiya's had been. Hey, if Mikagami was willing to ignore what he had seen, Touma was more than happy to go along!

"Just hurry," Tokiya said shortly, disappearing with a last disgruntled glance at Tsumaru. The younger boy gave him an impish grin and winked.

"Here." Touma tossed Tsumaru a shirt and a pair of shorts. "Sounds important. And I could use some coffee."

"I'm starving!" Tsumaru declared, skinning out of his boxers without hesitation or modesty and wriggling into his clothes. "Do you think Kaoru-tachi will feed us breakfast?"

"I hope so; I'm hungry too." Touma grimaced as his stomach growled. He stood, watching as Tsumaru pulled a brush out of the duffel, quickly setting order to his short hair. His brother was so beautiful. In the morning sunlight, in the darkness of night... always. This might not be the most opportune time for such an attraction... but if not now, then when?

"Kore!" Tsumaru held up the brush, smiling at Touma.

Touma grasped Tsumaru's thin wrist, tugging his brother close and bending for a quick, moist swipe of lips over lips before he accepted the brush. "Doumo."

Tsumaru watched as Touma brushed his tawny hair quickly and carelessly, a strange little quirk to his lush mouth, his chocolate-brown eyes swimming with liquid amber highlights.


"Ah?" Touma tossed the brush onto the bed and turned, drawing a bracing breath. Time to face the day.

Tsumaru stepped forward, reaching up to run his hands over the hard planes of Touma's chest through the material of his shirt. "Oniisan." He raised his chin, his lips parted.

Touma considered for all of three seconds. The risk was real; they were in Kaoru and Tokiya's house, and Tokiya had left the door slightly ajar. He could hear voices coming down the hall -- it sounded as though Recca was here already. But Tsumaru's face was lifted to his, open and offering. Touma couldn't have resisted even if he had wanted to.

Touma claimed his brother's mouth again, taking all that Tsumaru was offering and giving the same in return. "Mmmn."

Their mouths parted with a damp sound. "Tsumaru.... Dai suki...."

"Un." Tsumaru's thick lashes flickered up. "Aishiteru... Oniisan." He wrinkled his nose, sticking out his tongue, as if to offset the intensity of this declaration, but then he fixed Touma with a completely serious look.

Touma gazed back for an endless moment, taking in those delicate features, the wide brown eyes. His brother.... At the heart of it Tsumaru was his brother, and that was the most important thing, but at the same time he was so much more than that. And in both ways, that made their feelings for each other that much more special. It was complex when he stopped to think about it, but it felt like the most simple -- truly the only -- thing that he could do. It felt right.

"Touma!!" Kaoru's shout echoed down the hall. "Hayaku!!"

Touma groaned, shaking his head. "Okay. Let's go."

Tsumaru grasped his hand and the two brothers exited the temporary sanctuary of the bedroom.

* * *

Touma buried his nose in a mug of hot, fragrant coffee and listened to the arguments go around the table. Beside him Tsumaru was toying with the last of his breakfast -- cooked by an accommodating Tokiya who only looked a *little* weirded out every time he caught Tsumaru's eye -- his appetite obviously having been banished some time ago.

"I think we should hunt him down!" Kaoru was saying forcefully. Evidently not as damaged as they had hoped, the madougu hunter had shown up outside Amano Kouji's apartment in the early morning hours, during Fuuko's shift. The girl had run him off before he could get inside, but had not been able to catch him. And of course even if she had gotten her hands on him, she wouldn't have killed him. Touma had quickly come to realize that Kaoru had been right -- Recca and his cohorts were entirely too soft-hearted. At least when it came to dealing with a man who had tried to kill Tsumaru. Well, he wouldn't be so generous the next time he was face to face with the bastard!

"That would take too long," Tokiya answered, sitting back. His silver brows were drawn in a frown, his arms folded defensively. "Kagero-san still doesn't have a firm fix on his whereabouts. We'd have to split up to canvas a wider area, and we've already established that we'll need to attack him with more than one of us at a time. Besides, it's Monday morning. There will be people going to and from their jobs and school all day. We don't want to get any innocent bystanders involved."

"Then what do you suggest?" Recca asked. He looked wired and almost jumpy, as though he had already had several pots of coffee; which he probably had. By contrast, beside him Domon -- who was a large, unattractive lump of a young man with a mohawk, Touma was rather disappointed to see -- was yawning hugely, slumped in his chair and appearing ready to fall asleep in a moment's silence. Which, fortunately, didn't seem likely to happen any time soon. Fuuko was pacing the tile floor of the kitchen, cranky over letting Tenjo get away from her, and primed for future battle.

"I would suggest..." Tokiya paused to sip at his own coffee, his pale eyes considering, "That since the elemental weapon hunter seems to have some way of tracking the Powersoul, we take this out to a field of our choice."

"Are?" Kaoru tipped his head to one side. "Where?"

Tokiya's gaze flickered to Recca. "I think the best spot would be in the area where you were training before the Ura Buto Satsujin. It's isolated, with topography that can be used to our advantage, and no people to get in the way and possibly be hurt. That way we can set up an offensive, rather than being on the defensive."

"And that way there's little risk of your place being trashed like Uncle Kouji's was," Touma interjected, putting down his mug. "I like that idea. I like it a lot."

"Good. Then it's decided." Tokiya rose. "Recca, you'd best call your mother and tell her what we're planning. And see if she has even a vague idea of where the hunter is. At this point anything would be helpful. Domon, Fuuko, we'll need your assistance."

"Mochiron desu!" Fuuko grinned wickedly, pumping her right hand, which bore an elemental weapon that was entirely unlike the Powersoul but which was unmistakable. "You don't think you could leave us out, do you?"

"I think one of you ought to stay behind, to watch Tsumaru," Touma said quietly.

Kaoru paused in the act of clearing the table of breakfast dishes. "Huh?"

"What?!" Tsumaru's mouth fell open in outrage. "Oniisan!! You are *not* leaving me behind!!"

Touma turned a serious look on his younger brother. "Tsu, I don't want you--"

"Getting in the way?" Tsumaru shrilled. He was decidedly pissed off.

"I don't want you put in danger!" Touma snapped. He had no desire to get in a fight with Tsumaru now -- not in front of an audience, and not when there was already so much tension in the air -- but there were so many uncertainties, and he couldn't risk Tsumaru getting hurt when Tenjo struck again.

"You can't put yourself in danger and expect me to stay behind and wait!" Tsumaru bit out. His voice was too soft, low, level and yet throbbing with barely repressed fury. "There's no way! Don't you dare try to leave me behind, Oniisan!"

"Tsumaru's right," Tokiya supported, unexpectedly. Kaoru blinked at him and Touma glared. "At this point it could be more dangerous to divide our forces. I won't pretend it's not a risk to have someone along with us who doesn't have a madougu, but you don't know how to use the Powersoul, either, Touma. The hunter is too wily -- if we left Tsumaru here, even entrusted in the care of Fuuko or Domon, Tenjo might very well see him as a weakness, and strike where we are not. We can't risk that."

Touma slumped back in his chair, scowling. He didn't want to admit it, but Tokiya was right. As well, he didn't really want to let Tsumaru out of his sight. Not now, so soon after he had finally gotten his brother back. But....

"Yosh'!" Recca leaped to his feet, his sapphire eyes alight with the promise of battle. "I'll call Kaachan, and then we'll go!"

"I'll pack us something for lunch," Fuuko volunteered. "Koganei, you guys've got a basket or something around here, right?"

"Presumptuous," Tokiya muttered under his breath. "Touma, you understand what I'm saying, don't you?" he asked, turning his eyes toward the surly teen. He looked remarkably concerned for someone who was usually so stern and unreadable, and responding to this, Touma forced a small grin.

"Yeah, I do." He sighed heavily. "I don't like it much, but I understand."

"I'll help you with the dishes, Kaoru-kun!" Tsumaru said cheerfully. He cast Touma a look that was as much apologetic as it was stubborn, and Touma reached over to ruffle his brother's hair. "It'll be all right, Oniisan," Tsumaru proclaimed, gathering his breakfast things.

"Yeah," Touma replied, trying to feel it at the same time he said it. He was afraid he was making the biggest mistake of his life. And yet, there was an inevitability to it that made it impossible for him to make any other decision -- especially with both Tsumaru and Tokiya voting against him.

Well, then, he would just have to make sure that Tsumaru remained safe and unharmed, while at the same time staying alive himself, and keeping his father's elemental weapon out of the hands of the madougu hunter.

As he rose to go and get ready, one thought stuck in Touma's mind.

When exactly had his life become a shounen series?

* * *

By the time they reached the area Tokiya had spoken of it was approaching noon. Touma looked around. "Pretty desolate," he commented. They were at the base of a wide gorge, its rocky walls reaching up into the blue sky, a few scattered bushes growing on its sides. Loose stones tumbled around the base of the cliffs, a little grass growing here and there in clumps, and stunted trees peered down from far overhead, ranging along the tops of the stone walls.

"That will work to our advantage," Tokiya stated. He looked cool and unruffled, as though he had not been scrambling around and over boulders for the last hour. Domon was puffing and as they paused he collapsed to sit on a rocky outcropping. Of course, he had been carrying the basket Fuuko had packed full of food and drinks, so he might be excused his weariness. Recca and Fuuko were slightly winded, and grateful for a break. Touma refused to show weakness, standing and looking around mistrustfully. Kaoru hefted the Kougon Anki over a wiry shoulder and grinned, one white fang glinting.

"We're gonna kick Tenjo's ass!" he declared cheerfully.

Touma wished he could be as certain of that as Kaoru sounded.

Tsumaru still looked fresh and full of energy, his gaze moving up the face of the cliff overhanging them. "What happened here?" he asked, his eyes wide. "It's all busted up!"

That disconcertingly wicked grin split Recca's lips once again. "Had a little trouble with someone trying to drop a big rock on our heads a little more'n three years ago." He flexed his right arm, with its odd, ornate bracer. It was far more than just a decoration, Touma was certain. "I took care of it," he declared smugly.

Touma examined the ground around their feet. Though moss and grass had begun to reclaim the area, he could still see that some of the stones were singed and in parts had been cleanly sliced through. He remembered the whip of fire that had propelled Tenjo across the apartment and off the balcony. "What sort of elemental weapon do you have?" he asked, impressed in spite of himself.

"It's not really an elemental weapon," Tokiya explained before Recca had a chance to speak. "Hanabishi is descended from the Hokage Ninja group, and as the son of their chief, he holds the power of eight flame dragons. It's something of an inborn ability, if you want to call it that."

Touma nodded. He could sense that there was an entire back story here, and probably a pretty exciting one, but at the moment he wasn't all too interested. Recca's problems were Recca's. He was grateful to the young man for his help, no mistake, but he wasn't looking to go and get involved in any of Hanabishi's troubles. Not when he was caught up in his own.

"That was three years ago, though, right?" Tsumaru asked, clambering up onto a big stone and sitting crosslegged. He looked small and defenseless in his denim shorts and bright yellow teeshirt. Touma clenched his fingers in the mesh interior of the Powersoul. Against Tokiya and Kaoru's protests, he was wearing the elemental weapon. He'd argued that this was the best way to keep an eye on it, and both Fuuko and Recca had backed him up in this. Not that he would have entrusted it to anyone else, anyway. Not even Kaoru.

"Yeah." Recca nodded. "Don't worry about it. Haven't had anyone try to kill me in months."

"That's comforting," Touma groaned, clapping his left hand to his head. Kaoru's topaz eyes flashed in his direction, and the brunette chuckled. Touma pulled a face in return. Here he'd thought Kaoru was a normal teenager with normal friends all these years -- how very wrong he had been!

"Time for lunch!" Fuuko proclaimed cheerfully. She had already spread a blanket in a clear spot, and was beginning to pull items out of the basket she had brought along from Tokiya and Kaoru's house.

"A picnic?" Touma blinked. That seemed rather frivolous to him.

"Ah! Good! Food!" Domon said, rubbing his large hands together.

"Fuuko, now is not a good time for that," Tokiya berated. He was holding Ensui, its water blade already formed and gleaming in the bright sunlight. Kaoru had informed Touma that it required considerable concentration and will power to maintain the sword. Tokiya considered the threat from the hunter great enough that he had broken Ensui out as soon as they had left town. His crystalline eyes flashed in irritation as he surveyed the meal Fuuko was cheerfully setting out.

"Come on, Mi-chan!" The girl grinned at him, holding up a can of soda. "We just got here! The hunter won't show up for hours yet, and we've got to eat to keep up our strength!"

"Sou! Sou!" Recca nodded. "Break it out!" He flopped down to sit on the edge of the blanket, taking the can Fuuko had offered to Tokiya.

"This is not some fun excursion," Tokiya said reprovingly. "We can't let our guard down for a moment!"

"Hey, ease up, Mikagami!" Domon rumbled, moving to stand between Fuuko and the irate swordsmaster. "Fuuko's right. We've gotta eat, and it's not as though the hunter could have followed us this quickly."

"Do not take this situation lightly," Tokiya warned angrily.

"Yeah! You guys weren't at Touma's apartment!" Kaoru interjected, supporting his lover. "You don't know how strong this madougu hunter is! He kicked all our asses without hardly trying!"

"Well, then, maybe you're just out of practice," Domon gibed.

"What did you say?" Tokiya was suddenly in the larger youth's face, Domon's collar grasped in his free hand. He radiated menace and barely restrained threat. "Repeat that, gorilla!"

"O-oi!" Recca put down the bag of chips he had just opened and moved to rise. "Hold on...."

"Niichan!" Kaoru strode over to break Tokiya and Domon up. "Stop it! We need to focus on the hunter! We can't start fighting one another!"

"You guys--" Touma began, irritated by all the in-group bickering, but then a sudden flash of danger spiked through his senses and he spun swiftly, at the same moment that Tsumaru let out a startled yell. "TSU!!"

Touma could only watch helplessly as a thin silver chain wrapped several times around his brother's small body and Tsumaru was jerked up from where he had been sitting, whisked into the rocky cliff face above the party and disappearing from sight before he could even cry out a second time. There was no sign of the madougu hunter to their naked eyes, but there was little doubt that it was he who had struck.

"Shimatta!!" The others moved into action, but it was too late. Tsumaru was gone.

"Ah, fuck!" Kaoru rounded on the group. Domon's mouth was hanging open, his eyes wide. Tokiya's lips were pressed in a taut line, his pale face set in a frightening expression. "Way to go, guys!" Topaz eyes flared with anger.

"So, 'the hunter won't show up for hours yet'?" Tokiya growled, spinning and staring accusingly at Fuuko. "Omae--"

"It wasn't my fault!" Fuuko yowled, jumping up and glaring at the silver-haired swordsman. "Don't blame me, you--"

"Knock it off!" Recca snapped, his right hand slashing through the air. A hint of flames flickered around his fingertips in a rather unsubtle warning. "Just shut up, both of you -- all of you! Like Koganei said, we need to be focusing on the hunter, not fighting each other!"

Tokiya wrenched his attention back to the matter at hand. "Touma! We need to--" He stopped, as he turned and his gaze fixed on the empty space where Touma had been standing. "Chikusho!"

"Touma?" Kaoru looked around wildly. There was no sign of his friend. "Oh, shit!"

If it were possible, Tokiya's lips thinned even further. "Touma still has the Powersoul," he said grimly.

"We gotta find him!" Recca spoke up urgently.

"No! We hafta save Tsu-chan from the hunter!" Fuuko interjected, clenching her fist and brandishing the Fuujin, her eyes blazing with alarm and fierce protectiveness in equal measures. "That's much more important!"

"We should split up," Tokiya said, his eyes cold. "We can cover more ground that way."

"But are we looking for Touma or the madougu hunter?" Recca asked in some confusion.

Tokiya's nostrils flared. "Touma has the Powersoul. The hunter has Tsumaru. They each want what the other holds, so wherever we find one, we'll find the other. We need to find them before anything happens to Touma or Tsumaru. That, even more than the Powersoul, is our main priority!"

"Yosh'!" Recca bobbed his dark head. "That's it, then!" Without waiting for any further words, he leapt in the direction Tsumaru had been taken, bounding up the cliff face with relative ease.

"H-hey! Wait for us!" Fuuko yelped, dashing after him, Domon close on her heels.

"So much for splitting up," Kaoru said, hefting his Kougon Anki. His face was grim and his eyes hard. "Shall we follow Touma's tracks?"

Tokiya's gaze flickered. Even after three years, his young lover still managed to take him by surprise occasionally. "Aa. That would be best. Touma's path will intersect with Tenjo's at one point or another. It would be best if we were there before they meet."

With a shared glance that spoke more than words could have, the two youths set out. One way or another, things would be decided in this playground of rock and stunted bushes. It was up to them to ensure that it was for the best.

Unfortunately, just at the moment things looked rather bleak.

* * *

Leaping over rocks and ducking under leafy branches with only one focus filling his mind, Touma forged relentlessly forward. He *would* get Tsumaru back! He had promised his brother -- he had promised him that the hunter would not kill him -- he had promised him "later" -- he would *not* let Tsumaru down in any of his promises! He *could* not!

It hurt. It hurt deeply to be so afraid and to be unable to do anything about it immediately. So Touma sublimated all his agonized fear into a fierce rage -- one that was aimed solely at Tenjo. He would kill the bastard with his own hands! This he swore, to Tsumaru and to himself!

The Powersoul was heavy on his fist and Touma cursed its uselessness. He paused a moment to get his bearings, balancing on a craggy thrust of rock. He could *feel* the hunter and his brother ahead of him as surely as he sensed his own existence, but he was so afraid of losing this thread. He narrowed all his anger and violent emotions into the gleaming blue gem on the back of the mesh glove.

"What good are you if you just sit there?" he growled, dismissing the futility of speaking to an inanimate object. The silvery links sang faintly as he flexed his fingers. "What the *hell* did Tousan see in you that was worth dying for?!" If it weren't for the Powersoul....

Sunlight flickered over the face of the jewel, swallowing the black-etched kanji in a burst of glorious radiance.

Touma's violet eyes widened. There was something... something.... Not heat, but a fierce intensity... one that met and matched his feelings. It was beginning to radiate from the Powersoul. Without the strength or desire to drag his gaze away from the glowing gem, Touma shook with the force of awakening power.

His pupils contracted to pinpoints in a sudden burst of brilliant light, but Touma's sight was not stolen away. He gasped, awash with sensation, with a feeling of control. This was what Tousan had meant when he had said that the Powersoul would take Touma to a new level in his training. This was what Tsumaru had meant when he had said that their father looked different while using the madougu. This was the power that the madougu hunter was seeking, and must not get.

Suddenly something had snapped into place and Touma was more than he had ever been before.

Touma looked around with wide and wondering eyes. The world was changed -- iie, it was his view of the world that had been changed. The bushes around him were alive with dancing gold-green light, each leaf delineated, each branch sparking with life. The rocks were haloed with a subdued but solid glow. A shrill screech overhead drew the teen's attention, and he caught sight of a raptor; its appearance almost that of a phoenix in his altered vision. He could see its life energy burning in its form as it circled overhead then winged away.


Touma bit back a gasp and lowered his eyes. The rocky hills jumped and jolted before him, and ahead, not so far ahead as he had feared, was a bright burning beacon of pure, wholesome light.

"Tsumaru..." he breathed, already in motion. Instead of tripping into outcroppings and smashing through branches, Touma now moved over the rocky hillside with fluid ease. He was one with the world. His body felt as light as the illumination all around him. It was more than he had expected, and although it was raw and naked, unhoned, he knew that the Powersoul would grant him the strength he needed to retrieve his brother. He would not break his promise. He had the ability now to make certain of this!

"I'm coming, Tsu!" he vowed, winging onward like the eagle soaring overhead. "I'm coming!"

Tenjo was his now!

* * *

"Oniisan's gonna get you, you know," Tsumaru remarked conversationally, valiantly ignoring the fact that he was bumping about like a sack slung over the madougu hunter's undamaged shoulder. Tsumaru was winded and bruised, having struck the rocks as the hunter had reeled him in. Tenjo smelled of blood and burnt hair, his leathers singed. Metal studs were digging into Tsumaru's belly uncomfortably with each bounce. The ropes twined around the boy's wrists and ankles were pulled too tightly, threatening to cut off the circulation of blood, and Tenjo's hard fist was leaving grooves in one of Tsumaru's thighs.

Despite his obvious wounds and the burden he bore, Tenjo leapt along like a mountain sheep. Branches whipped at them, leaving thin nicks in Tsumaru's bare legs, and he took a moment to bemoan the fact that he had worn shorts today. A bit of bad planning on his part, but how could he have foreseen something like this while packing the afternoon before?

Just when Tsumaru was beginning to wonder how far they were going to go -- the hunter *did* want Touma to catch up to them with the Powersoul didn't he? -- Tenjo came to a stop, slinging the boy off his shoulder. Tsumaru yelped as he fell through the air, unable to catch himself with his bound limbs, then his bony back hit the ground with a painful jolt. He lay a moment, stunned, trying to regain his breath.

"Jerk!" he gasped out, struggling up onto his elbows. His hands were laced together before him, which was better than behind, but he didn't think now would be a good time to attempt an escape. Not with Tenjo's cold, piercing gaze fixed on him.

"Just lay quiet and you might live through this," the hunter snapped. His voice was a bit more raspy than the afternoon before, his eyes rimmed with red, the whites bloodshot. He probably hadn't slept. Much of his exposed skin was an aggravated crimson, as though he had gotten a bad sunburn. The way Recca-kun's fire dragon had engulfed him, Tsumaru considered that the man had gotten off remarkably lightly. The tips of his broom of white hair were burned ragged and darkened to yellow, his red bandanna pulled down to mostly shadow one eye. There was a blood-stained bandage wrapped in a rather haphazard manner around the shoulder Tokiya had pierced. All in all, Tenjo didn't look like a very happy madougu hunter.

Tsumaru stuck out his tongue. "Bii~!! Like I'm stupid enough to believe you!!" He managed to sit up, and glanced around curiously. They were on a sharp, narrow outcropping that overlooked a dark patch of forest. It wasn't anything like the area they had been in just minutes before, but Tenjo had been moving fast. Tsumaru frowned. The madougu hunter knew what he was doing; this place would be hard to approach and easily defended. He just hoped--

Tsumaru loosed a startled yelp as Tenjo's heavy boot struck out unexpectedly. Pain bloomed in his shoulder and he was knocked backwards into the rocks. "Ita~!"

"Keep your hole closed," Tenjo snarled, brandishing the double-bladed weapon he had used the afternoon before. He had left the larger madougu behind in their apartment -- the one that he had launched into Uncle Kouji's sofa -- but this one was still in his possession. Its blade shone in the sunlight, sharp as a slice of winter air. "I don't need you. Your dead body would be enough to bring in your brother. Remember that!"

Tsumaru glared up from where he lay half curled on the ground. The back of his skull throbbed from striking the rock and his left arm had gone nearly numb, his upper chest aching. "That's what I was saying!" he gasped out, rolling onto his back. He pulled a nasty face and gestured with the middle finger of his right hand. "Bite me!"

Tenjo's thin lips peeled back from his teeth in a feral expression. Tsumaru stared back defiantly, even though he was starting to feel really scared. He didn't like Tenjo and he didn't like being tied up. He knew his oniisan would arrive soon -- he just hoped it wouldn't be too late.

"How did you find us, anyway?" he asked, sitting up again and pulling his best 'innocent little boy' routine. He needed to distract Tenjo -- preferably without getting his throat slit in the process -- so that Touma would have a better chance of sneaking up on the hunter. "I mean, Oniisan-tachi said that you have some way of tracking the Powersoul...?"

Tenjo was glaring at him, and for a moment Tsumaru thought that he wouldn't answer. Then a nasty smirk curled the man's thin mouth.

"You all think you're so smart," he growled. He crouched, holding his blade centimeters from Tsumaru's nose. Tsumaru eyed it warily, remembering how it had extended during yesterday's battle. All it would take would be one flick, and he'd lose an eye... or his life. "You have no idea what you're up against."

"So tell me," Tsumaru invited, careful not to move. "If you're gonna kill me anyway it's not as though you'll lose anything by explaining."

"You're still counting on your brother to rescue you. It's not gonna happen. He'll die too -- it's just a question of which of you I kill first," Tenjo sneered. The chill of his thin blade traced down Tsumaru's cheek like a dangerous caress, and the boy held perfectly motionless, his eyes rounded. "I'll kill you both and take the Powersoul from his dead body." He leered with evil intent.

Tsumaru stared back, trying to seem cowed and yet not too terribly afraid. He didn't want to set Tenjo off with defiance, but at the same time his male soul rebelled against revealing how unsettled he really was.

Abruptly, Tenjo stood, his face switching easily from menacing to serious. His sudden mood swings indicated an unbalanced psyche, and this worried Tsumaru even more.

"The Seeker," Tenjo said briefly. He pulled what looked to Tsumaru like a child's ball from a pocket at his side. It was a gem, like the one on the Powersoul only quite a bit larger, thin copper bands twining around it in almost organic patterns. The madougu glowed green, its black kanji obscured by Tenjo's gloved fingers. "A little more specialized than the Eikai Ball," the man was saying, tossing the madougu in the air and easily catching it. "It was created to hunt down other elemental weapons. It's what's been blocking Kage Houshi's scrying ball."

"Are?" Tsumaru blinked. Oh, that was right. Recca-kun's mother had an elemental weapon that could access scenes from far away, somehow, but she hadn't been able to get a firm fix on the hunter. Tsumaru only had a very basic grasp of what madougu were and what they could do, but he'd kept his ears open while Touma's friends had been talking, and he wasn't completely ignorant. "So *that's* why!"

"Heh." Tenjo fisted the ball. "Now you begin to understand how outmatched you and your friends are. How easy it will be for me to...." He paused and glanced over his shoulder, thin lips curling. "Ah. Your brother has arrived. I have no more need for-- GAH!"

The moment Tenjo's eyes had left him, Tsumaru had snatched up a rock from the ground beside him and lobbed it at the hunter. The throw had been awkward, his hands tied together at the wrist as they were, but the rock struck with enough force to knock the Seeker out of Tenjo's grasp. The madougu sang in the air as it fell, then it hit the ground. In a flash, Tsumaru brought his bound feet down on the shining sphere. He didn't know if he could break it, only wearing sneakers as he was, but he had to try.

There was a moment's resistance, and then the Seeker shattered into a thousand sparkling shards. "Yatta!" Tsumaru cheered. Now Tenjo wouldn't be able to hunt down any more elemental weapons the way he had tracked the Powersoul!

"Kono..." Tenjo turned back to him, a furious snarl twisting his features into an ugly mask. "Korosu--!"

Tsumaru desperately wrenched his body to one side as the blade in Tenjo's right hand descended. A small cry escaped his lips as it struck. Although he avoided the death blow the hunter had meant to land, blood splashed up from his thigh where the blade bit deep.

Eyes hard and determined beneath the fringe of his thick bangs, Tsumaru gritted his teeth and rolled, trying to twist the weapon out of Tenjo's hand. He was risking the loss of his leg, but this move indeed took Tenjo by surprise, and as a rangy figure slammed into him from behind, the hunter lost his grip.

"Kono yarou~!!!" Touma howled, already punching at Tenjo's head with both fists as the two tumbled away from Tsumaru. The Powersoul was on the teen's right hand. His pupils were contracted almost to nonexistence, but the gem on the madougu remained dim; he had not yet harnessed its full strength.

"Oniisan!" Tsumaru cried. He winced, jerking the blade out of his leg and manipulating it so that he could free himself of his bonds. He couldn't feel the pain yet; all his attention was fixed on his older brother. He had to help-- He had to--


* * *

"Shit, shit, shit!" Kaoru was chanting as he and Tokiya stumbled up the incline that led to the area Tenjo had chosen to make his stand. Once they had gotten close enough they hadn't needed to follow Touma's trail, but could instead rely on the shouts and angry screeching to lead them to the battle in progress.

"Where are the others?" Tokiya snapped, glancing around. There was no sign of Recca, Fuuko, or Domon.

"Dunno," Kaoru grunted, focused solely on reaching Touma and Tsumaru.

Tokiya leapt to the top of a boulder as they crested the last rise, sunlight dancing off of Ensui's blade. "Sh-shimatta!" he gasped, his eyes widening, his mouth falling open.

Kaoru joined him, a sharp curse passing his own lips as he took in the situation below at a glance.

They were about twenty meters away and a little above the battle. Tenjo had chosen a cliff to make his stand, and the hunter and Touma were rolling dangerously near the edge as they fought like crazed cats, kicking, clawing, and throwing wild punches. Behind the combatants was Tsumaru. There was an awful lot of blood, but the boy was alive, and on his feet, his jaw set. Tenjo's weapon was clasped awkwardly in both of Tsumaru's small hands as he wavered on the border of the fight, obviously wanting to help his brother, yet uncertain of how to go about this.

"His left leg," Tokiya bit out. Kaoru looked. Blood was running down Tsumaru's bare thigh and calf, staining his sock and sneaker and leaving dark streaks on the rocks. But-- "It doesn't look as though the artery has been cut," Tokiya confirmed. His eyes were hard, his knuckles white around Ensui's haft. They were too late to prevent Tsumaru from being hurt, but he would not allow Tenjo to win. He absolutely would not--

"Look at Touma," Kaoru breathed, momentarily stunned. Tokiya glanced, then found his gaze caught and held. There was a strange light to the teen's face, transforming him from the friendly youth Tokiya knew so well to something dangerous and unpredictable. His eyes burned with bright fire, the violet smoldering and overwhelming all else.

But without the ability to use the Powersoul, he was outmatched. With a sharp twist, Tenjo had the youth pinned, his hands closing around Touma's throat.

"Touma!" Kaoru shouted, already in motion. Tokiya was a step behind him as they rushed forward to help the imperiled brothers.

* * *

"Korosu... korosu..." Tenjo growled. His narrow eyes were fixed, nothing of sanity left in them. His fingers tightened, and Touma gasped, choking, unable to draw air into his heaving lungs. The fury was a burning fire in his brain. The bastard had *hurt* Tsumaru!! He must not be not allowed to live!!

Tenjo was a sickly blot on the landscape. Where Tsumaru's body was lighted from within, radiating a clear, unsullied glow, the madougu hunter was a shadow that cast a pall on the cleanliness and clarity of the natural setting. Tenjo had been stained by all the ill he had done, and by his uncaring attitude toward his actions. He was an ugly blot that must be removed from the face of the world.

But first... Touma needed... to be able... to breathe!

Touma tried to collect himself, attempting to piece together the dancing shards of his thoughts. They scattered like bright butterflies, slipping out of his grasp before becoming fully formed. Consciousness was rapidly falling away, no matter how desperately he needed to bring things into focus.

"Kya~!!" That -- that was Tsumaru's--

Tenjo bellowed in pain, and the constriction around Touma's neck suddenly loosened then vanished, allowing him to drag in a shuddering breath. The weight of the hunter left his body, and Touma surged onto his elbows.

Tsumaru had given up on using the blade, an unfamiliar weapon, and as his brother's face began to turn purple from lack of oxygen he had gathered all his strength and slammed his foot into Tenjo's wounded shoulder. This move put all his weight on his own damaged leg, and with a small cry of agony, the boy tumbled over. The madougu slipped out of his fingers as he curled into a small ball, sweat beading his brow, his face twisted in pain. He felt it now. It was all he could feel!

Tenjo reared up, lunging to retrieve his blade. Touma snarled, kicking out desperately from where he lay but missing. He writhed swiftly onto his feet and dove at the hunter. Tenjo stood once more, and he slashed at Touma. Touma parried with the Powersoul. The metal of the blade shrieked over the mesh of the glove, and the two combatants were propelled some distance from one another.

Touma stood a moment, snarling, his chest heaving as he sucked in great gouts of air. Tenjo's lips curled, and with a loud cry he launched himself forward once again. He swept his blade in a feint, and as Touma moved to counter it, his foot lashed out.

"Oniisan!" Tsumaru shrieked as Touma staggered backward, then disappeared over the edge of the cliff. "ONIISAN!!!"

"Heh." Tenjo turned a twisted, maniacal grin on the boy, flicking his wrist to bring the blade of his madougu into play. Tokiya and Kaoru were closing fast, but the hunter's attention was entirely focused on Tsumaru.

Tsumaru's face closed into a taut expression, his eyes glazing over with raw, anguished rage as he surged up from the ground, heedless of his bleeding leg. His hands fisted and in a heartbeat he had launched himself at Tenjo.

The madougu hunter was taken by surprise, not having expected such an aggressive move from his supposedly half-crippled victim, and this allowed Tsumaru to clip the man in the jaw. The palm of his hand struck hard enough to split Tenjo's lips, blood trickling down his chin.

Tenjo lowered his head from where it had snapped back, an unholy glow to his pale eyes, his face contorted with hatred and glee. By attacking the hunter Tsumaru had brought himself into range, making himself a target too easy to miss.

"Tsumaru!" Kaoru shrieked, as the boy went down. It had only been a blow to the head, just a blow to the head with the blunt end of the hunter's elemental weapon, he told himself, when Tenjo could have very well have brought the blade into play and sliced Tsumaru into two ragged pieces.... But Tenjo had struck without courtesy or concern, with all of his considerable strength. A knock like that to the skull might very well do permanent damage, and Tsumaru was so cute and small and now he was completely helpless....

Tokiya saved his breath for the final leap toward the hunter. Tenjo was focused on the unconscious boy at his feet, his right arm rising, twin blades extending with a soft 'shik'. This time he truly meant to kill Tsumaru.

"Yarou~!!" Tokiya snarled, slashing out with Ensui.

The hunter parried this attack, and then the following thrusts. He was on the defensive now -- none of Tokiya's cuts were making it through to strike him, but neither was he able to strike out at the furious swordsman.

"Shit!" Kaoru skidded to his knees beside Tsumaru. He knew he would be of more use helping his lover defeat Tenjo, he knew that, and he knew that if Tsumaru was unconscious there really wasn't much he could do, yet he didn't feel he could just leave the boy laying where he was, in a limp sprawl with blood still trickling from the deep cut in his thigh.

"Touma, you stupid bastard," Kaoru hissed under his breath as he set the Kougon Anki in his lap and moved to rip the hem off of Tsumaru's teeshirt. He could hear the ringing of blades striking over and over, but the sound didn't really process. His attention was entirely focused on Tsumaru. He didn't want to think about the way Touma had gone over that cliff. He didn't want to dwell on what might be waiting below. And where the hell were Recca and Fuuko when they needed them? At this point, even Domon would be better than nothing!

Skillful hands quickly wrapped the make-shift bandage around Tsumaru's skinny leg. Kaoru bit his lower lip as he tied the cloth off. It didn't look too bad, considering how deeply the blade had cut into the muscle. He wished that he had Yanagi-neechan's powers, but he would have to make do with his level of experience in dealing with the consequences of fighting.

It had taken Kaoru less than one minute to bind Tsumaru's leg and as he finished, Tokiya and Tenjo were still clashing. Tenjo's feet scraped over the rocky ground, while Tokiya darted in adroitly, his face grim, his water-blade relentless and unforgiving. Kaoru tried to decide -- should he go and help his lover, or should he move Tsumaru back from the battle? He didn't want to leave the boy laying here, and yet every second counted, and they couldn't underestimate the madougu hunter again.

With a teeth-jarring shriek, Tenjo's blade went spinning out of his hand and clattered across the rocks. Kaoru stood, shifting his Kougon Anki into his right hand. Tokiya raised his Ensui. It looked as though the fight was over, and the inheritor of the Hyomon Ken was going to show no mercy.


Kaoru yelped and averted his eyes as a brilliant flash of neon-sharp white-blue light burst from the gem on the bracer Tenjo bore on his right arm. They had forgotten about this elemental weapon and now its power became apparent -- lightning.

The attack struck Tokiya full in the face, and the young man hit the ground with a sodden thump, Ensui's blade dispersing in a burst of steam. "Tokiya!!" Kaoru's eyes rounded, fist clenching, his teeth bared in a furious grimace.

Now only Kaoru and Tenjo remained standing. Kaoru darted forward, elemental weapon raised for attack, but he had to be wary of that bracer, and as well, Tokiya's limp form got in the way. Kaoru didn't want to risk his unconscious lover.

Just when Kaoru thought that he had a clear shot at Tenjo's chest, a sudden burst of lightning from the bracer sent his Kougon Anki flying, wrenching a cry from his lips as the surge of electric power jolted through his fingers, rendering his hands temporarily numb. He hesitated for a brief instant.

"Raikou!" Tenjo shouted, raising his arm in the air. A radiant ball of surging, crackling power surrounded his spread fingers, and as he swung his arm down, flinging it toward Kaoru, the teen leapt back and to one side.

"Abunai, abunai!" Kaoru gasped, his topaz eyes huge. The ball of lightning had struck the rocks beside him, leaving a small but impressive crater. The smell of burning ozone and singed stone filled the air. That one would have fried the hairs off his scalp, he was fairly sure.

"Nn...." To the hunter's left and several meters away from where Kaoru was presently crouched, Tsumaru shifted, beginning to regain consciousness.

"Shit!" Kaoru looked around frantically. Without the Kougon Anki he was too far away to do anything. If he could find even one good, solid rock to throw....

Tenjo's manic gaze lit on the dazed boy as Tsumaru struggled into a sitting position. His grin widened, and he swooped down to recover his bladed weapon.

"Tsumaru!" Kaoru cried, lunging into forward motion as the hunter stalked toward the boy with disconcerting grace. He didn't have his weapon -- he was too far away -- he couldn't reach them in time -- and yet he had to try -- he had to--

The blade began its final descent, and Kaoru felt his world shatter around him. Tsumaru was going to be killed before his eyes, and there was absolutely nothing he could--


Kaoru pulled up short with a sharp gasp. "Are wa...."

A brilliant beam of laser-thin light sliced through the air, striking the madougu hunter's head. Tenjo crumpled instantly, falling over on top of his bladed weapon. Tsumaru stared blankly at the body that rested mere centimeters from where he was sitting.

Kaoru's mouth fell open. "T-Touma?" He swore, that had been his friend's voice... but where *was* he?

Tokiya sat up, looking groggy but recovering quickly, his pale eyes becoming fully alert in moments and darting between the fallen hunter and Kaoru.

"Touma?" Kaoru looked around wildly. Had Touma used the Powersoul? It must be! But where...?

"Oniisan!" Tsumaru cried, his shout breaking in a high note of surprise and fear as Tenjo suddenly surged upward once again. The hunter grabbed Tsumaru, jerking the boy ungently to his chest, thin blade pressing to the delicate flesh of his throat. The side of the hunter's face was dark with glistening blood, but he wasn't dead yet.

"Shimatta!" Kaoru gasped, his body tensing.

Tenjo snarled, crimson trickling over the silvery line of his blade as he applied pressure. Kaoru froze where he stood. If he tried to make a move, Tenjo would kill Tsumaru instantly. And yet if he remained still and did nothing, the hunter was likely to slice the boy's throat anyway. There wasn't much that was human left in those cold eyes.

Tokiya cursed and ground his teeth together. Without any water, his Ensui was useless to him. Although he was closer to the hunter and his hostage than Kaoru was, there was very little he could do to help Tsumaru. Tenjo had the upper hand, once again.

Tsumaru squeaked, then his eyes rounded as his gaze caught a figure silhouetted on an outcropping about fifteen meters away, overlooking the cliff they were on. "Oniisan!" he cried joyfully, heedless of the danger in his unutterable relief at seeing that his brother was still alive.

Touma stood, braced on the rocks, his right hand held out before him. There was a visible glow surrounding his body. Whether it was his battle aura or the real power of the Tamashii no Nouryoku, it flickered with barely restrained energy. His face was hard, set in an expression of determination. He was not about to let things end this way!

Vibrant violet eyes met warm brown, and Tsumaru's mouth firmed. Within the razor's edge of a bare instant the boy reached up and exerted all of his strength, pushing Tenjo's arm away. At the same moment he threw his body in the opposite direction, spilling across Tenjo's lap.

Another blinding beam of light pierced the air, its point of origin clearly the Powersoul. It punched through Tenjo's chest, leaving a neat hole to the left of his breastbone. The hunter choked, his eyes bulging in surprise, fingers going lax around the handle of his weapon. Tsumaru rolled away as Tenjo tumbled over backwards.

"M-masaka..." Kaoru breathed, fixated with shock. Tenjo was dead this time. There was no way it could be otherwise. Touma had.... Touma had....

"Oniisan!!" Tsumaru leapt to his feet, then yelped, his wounded leg buckling. "Itai!"

"Baka!" Touma suddenly appeared in front of his brother. "Be careful!" His eyes were back to normal, the Powersoul inert on his hand. He looked like the boy Kaoru had been friends with for the past three years... only a lot more disheveled, and more intent on his brother's well-being than Kaoru had ever seen him get over anything.

"Oniisan!" Tsumaru threw himself into Touma's arms.

"I promised you, remember? I promised," Touma said, his voice a little choked, burying his face in his brother's hair. "We're all right now, Tsumaru. Everything's all right."

"Oi, Touma..." Kaoru spoke, stepping toward his friend. He was a lot glad to see Touma alive and relatively unharmed, but at the same time he was also a little concerned. As far as he knew, Touma had never killed a human being before. He wondered how his friend would deal with it. Some people took it worse than others.... "Touma?"

The two brothers held each other in a tight clasp, neither one willing to let go, and neither one paying the slightest bit of attention to anything going on around them. They were back together and that was all that mattered to them right at the moment.

Kaoru blinked and shrugged. Leaving them locked in their own little world, he moved over to where Tokiya was kneeling beside the madougu hunter. There was very little blood, but Touma had pierced the man's heart cleanly. And perhaps there was some property of the light that had cauterized the killing blow slightly. Kaoru had no idea -- he'd kind of thought that "light" was a stupid element for a madougu, and it hadn't been until he had seen it in action that he had understood. He had been thinking more along the lines of a flash-bulb, and Touma had made it into a laser beam. Kaoru was impressed. Especially when Touma had been doing it all instinctively, having had no real training with the Powersoul.

"Dead," Tokiya said, lifting his hand from Tenjo's neck, where he had been checking for a pulse.

"Good," Kaoru said vindictively. The bastard had caused them all a lot of trouble and grief. He didn't regret the death at all. If Touma hadn't killed him, Tokiya or Kaoru himself would have. Tenjo had managed to wound them all at one point in the battle, some worse than others. Speaking of which.... "Are *you* okay, Tokiya?" Kaoru asked, worried. That lightning attack had looked really bad.

"Aa." Tokiya stood with Kaoru's help, brushing tousled silver hair out of his pale face with a weary hand. "I have a headache, and I'm bruised and winded, but I'm all right."

"Yokatta." Kaoru clapped a hand to his lover's back, grinning in relief. "So! Now we just need to take care of--"


Suddenly the three missing members of the group came into view, Recca and Fuuko bounding over the rocks, and Domon puffing behind.

"Did we miss everything?" Recca asked, looking around anxiously. His eyes grew huge as he took in the tableau. "Holy crap!!!"

"Oh, ICK!!!" Fuuko screeched, catching sight of the corpse.

Domon hung his head and puffed for breath.

"Zaru-tachi," Tokiya sighed, his brows contracting in a pained expression.

Kaoru rolled his eyes. So much for the cavalry.

* * *

"Jinrai," Kage Houshi was saying, her dark eyes intent on the metal bracer in her lap. "The Thunderclap. As you've no doubt surmised, it holds the power to call lightning down from the heavens and use it as an offensive weapon."

"Aa." Tokiya grimaced. "I became acquainted with that fact quite intimately."

"But how did you get here so quickly, Kagero-san?" Fuuko wanted to know, her eyes wide.

The group had repaired to a small hollow at the base of the gorge, those who were undamaged helping their wounded friends limp down the hill. Kage Houshi had showed up almost immediately after they had gotten settled, with Sakoshita Yanagi in tow. The healer had wasted no time in setting about dealing with the worst of their wounds, while Kagero had gone to dispose of Tenjo's body with Koganei's help. Recca, Fuuko, and Domon were all too squeamish, and Tokiya was still too shaky on his feet. Besides, Kaoru was somewhat more used to dealing with such matters, due to the time he had spent in Kurei's Uruha. No one asked either of the two what they had done with the dead madougu hunter. None of them really wanted to know.

"After Tsumaru broke the Seeker, it was easy to find you," Kage Houshi explained, her pale face serene. "I knew that you would need healing, so I brought Yanagi-san and a first-aid kit."

"Arigatou," Tokiya said feelingly. Kagero bowed her head slightly.

"Tsumaru-chan, daijoubu desu ka?" Yanagi asked, her voice anxious, as she smoothed the boy's thick hair back from his forehead. She had been focused on Touma's younger brother, as he was the one with the deep slice in his left leg and a probable concussion. Tokiya had taken six aspirin for his head, and Kaoru was currently patching Touma up from the first-aid kit. Neither of them begrudged Tsumaru the majority of Yanagi's attention.

"Aa," Tsumaru answered, smiling up at the anxious healer. He felt tired, but he was happy that everyone was alive and mostly well. And that awful madougu hunter wouldn't be attacking them anymore, ever again. "Can I sit up now?"

"Hai." Yanagi helped Tsumaru into a sitting position.

"Oh! Dizzy..." Tsumaru gasped, swaying slightly.

"That's from blood loss," Tokiya informed him, his face warming as he took in the boy's appearance; Tsumaru was intact, now, and entirely alive. They had kept him safe, even though it had looked truly dire more than once. And at the heart of it, that was what had really mattered, even more than retaining the Powersoul. "You'll feel better after a nap. We should get some juice in you, too."

"Ita-ta-ta!!" Touma yelped, wincing as Kaoru finished off the bandage binding his brow. "Don't pull it so tight!"

"Bakayarou!" Kaoru berated in annoyance. "You were *trying* to get yourself killed! Admit it!"

"Not a chance," Touma said, fixing an intent look on Tsumaru's blood-smudged face. His brother looked back with wide eyes, then smiled. "I had a promise to keep," Touma said soberly.

"Mm." Kaoru ran tape over the tail end of the gauze, smoothing it into place. Really, considering that he had gone over a cliff, Touma was in decent shape. A few bruises, the worst one on his temple, some scratches and scrapes -- he hadn't been cut at all while fighting the madougu hunter. Heck, he'd fared worse at Tenjo's hands in his own apartment during their first confrontation.

"Oniisan." Tsumaru crawled away from Yanagi and clambered into Touma's lap. The healer smiled, then moved to check Tokiya's head.

"Hey, kiddo." Touma pulled Tsumaru close. "How's your leg?" He ran one hand over Tsumaru's thigh. Yanagi had not been able to avoid leaving a slightly raised scar, but it would fade in time and was a hell of a sight better than it would have turned out had it been left to heal naturally.

"It's fine, Oniisan!" Tsumaru chirped. "Doesn't even hurt anymore!"

"Good." Touma nodded, casting Yanagi a grateful look. The girl was occupied with Tokiya's brow, and Touma caught the swordsman's pale gaze. Tokiya cleared his throat, eyeing Touma's hand where it was lingering a little too long on his brother's thigh.

A wicked grin split Touma's lips. "I know how to use the Powersoul now, Mikagami," he said challengingly, not moving his hand, his thumb tracing over the soft flesh of Tsumaru's inner thigh. A couple of moist-wipes from the first-aid kit had taken care of the worst of the blood on Tsumaru's leg, and what was left was beginning to dry, flaking off as Touma touched it. Of course, his sock and sneaker were a complete loss. "You won't hafta stand guard over our place anymore."

"Aa." Tokiya averted his gaze with a small frown. "But you need training before you're ready to face another madougu hunter."

"Easy enough." Touma shrugged. "You'll help me, won't you?"

Tokiya looked at him, startled. "A-aa," he agreed before he stopped to think. Kaoru grinned.

"So you're keeping it after all, Oniisan?" Tsumaru asked, his fingers tracing over the mesh of the madougu glove still resting on Touma's right hand.

"Guess so," Touma grunted, shaking back tangled, blood-strung hair. "Don't have much choice, do I? Tousan meant for me to have it."

"Hai!" Tsumaru smiled, cuddling back against Touma. Soon they'd have to rally themselves and head back toward town, but for now they took a long moment to collect themselves.

As he held his brother close, warm and breathing, and finally safe, Touma mused over all that had just happened. Tenjo was dead by his hand, as he had promised himself. He hadn't needed a gun after all -- the Powersoul had given him the ability to strike the hunter down with the finality he had desired. Touma wasn't sure what he felt about it. He had taken a life today, but so far it wasn't bothering him overmuch. Tenjo had made it his business to bust in and try to kill Touma, Tsumaru, and anyone else who got in the way of his acquisition of the Powersoul -- Touma considered it only fair that he claim from the hunter what the hunter had been seeking from him.

Maybe later he'd feel regret. He didn't want to turn into a killer who had no care for the lives he claimed, like Tenjo. He had no wish to take another life, ever again. But if another hunter came after his Powersoul, he would do what was necessary. He knew now that he could.

Touma met Tokiya's quiet gaze again. He read understanding and approval in the older youth's eyes, and he dipped his head momentarily. Maybe they were more alike than either one had thought before.

"Are we ready to go?" Tokiya asked softly.

"Yeah." Touma pulled himself together. "Let's head home."

It had been one hell of a week -- not even an entire week -- but it was finally over. They had won.

* * *

* * *

The Amano-Kiryuu apartment was dark even though it was only late afternoon. A large piece of plywood covered the broken window and the sole source of illumination was from the electric lamp that had not been broken in the first fight. In the hall impressions of the lowering sun struck the wall opposite the two boys' bedrooms as it fell in through open windows, but the living area was an enclosed space. Touma wasn't sure whether it was comforting or confining, but he knew he missed the ready access to sunlight. Even when he was not using the Powersoul, light meant more to him now than it ever had before.

They had made sure all the glass was swept up, and Touma had done the best he could to remove the bloodstains from the floor. He'd been surprisingly successful in this -- they were hardly noticeable now. The ruined sofa was something he couldn't do anything about yet, but he was currently on the phone with someone who could. The last two days had been peaceful, and except for the damage to the apartment, things were back to normal.

Well, as Kaoru had said, a new kind of normal. But Touma couldn't have wished things any other way.

"Yeah... okay.... Thanks, Uncle Kouji! Thanks!" Touma grinned into the phone, his violet eyes alight. "Cool! Okay.... All right, take care of yourself! 'Kay, bye!"

Tsumaru padded out of the hall and into the living area of the apartment, his hair wet and his cheeks rosy. He wore one of Touma's teeshirts, which fell to mid-thigh on his slight form. His skin virtually glowed golden in the subdued lighting. "Who was that?" he asked, his face curious.

"Uncle Kouji," Touma said, hanging up the phone. "Sorry -- if I'd known you'd be out of the shower so soon, I'd have kept him on the line. He would have liked to talk to you."

"Daijoubu," Tsumaru smiled. He slid easily into Touma's embrace, pressed up against his brother's larger form. "International calls are expensive anyway. So what did he say?"

Touma's grin widened. "He's arranging for someone to come over tomorrow to look at the window. He says his insurance should cover it. And his friend, Seijuurou-san, is going to drag the sofa away and get us a new one. He's the guy who redecorated the apartment two years ago, so he's the best one to handle it anyway. And Uncle Kouji's sending money to buy you new clothes and stuff for school. He said something about getting a stereo for your room. So it looks like we'll make that shopping trip yet!"

"Neat!" Tsumaru chirped, his face bright. His expression sobered. "But what'd you tell him about the apartment?"

Touma grimaced. "I said that we came back from shopping and found it like this; kind of implied there was a break-in that we interrupted or something. I think he knew there was more to it, but he didn't ask any questions besides whether we were okay. I think he was too excited to hear that we had you back. He's gonna try to get home in a month or so. He wants to see you badly, but he really can't get away any sooner."

"Uncle Kouji is so cool!" Tsumaru sparkled.

"Oi, oi!" Touma clasped Tsumaru to him. He knew that their uncle would not be insensible to what a pretty little creature his younger nephew had become in the three years since he had seen him last. And Uncle Kouji himself was damned attractive, which Tsumaru would see right off. Touma thought he was feeling jealous again. After all, Tsumaru was *sparkling*!

"But you're way cooler, Oniisan!" Tsumaru assured him, with a small smirk and a pat for his rear.

Touma grinned crookedly. "Maa. Well, Uncle Kouji *is* cool." He loosed Tsumaru and paced towards the sofa, before remembering that it was ruined. He pulled a face. Well, they *could* still sit on it, maybe, but there was that gaping hole in the center of the back, with stuffing poking out of the upholstery. And he'd worry about getting dagged with a piece of busted wood if he tried to get comfortable. He would definitely be glad when Seijuurou-san brought in the new one!

Instead of sitting, Touma leaned over the sofa's back, gazing at the Powersoul resting on the coffee table. Somehow it didn't seem right to hide it away in his secret drawer again. Not after he had used it. Not now that he knew what it could do. It had, however briefly, become a part of him. His body and his mind. Or perhaps Touma had become a part of the madougu. He tilted his head, considering.

Anyway, he *was* going to take the elemental weapon over the Tokiya's place and get some training. Mikagami admittedly did not know much about any madougu other than his Ensui, but he knew more than Touma did; the level of concentration, and the skill needed to wield elemental weapons, as well as the ability to maintain discipline. Besides, Touma just felt better with the older boy around. He'd have never thought he'd admit to that, even in his own head, but he found it was true.

So he'd probably start heading over there a few evenings a week or something -- at least until he was more proficient with the Powersoul than he had been during the last fight. Tousan's training had gone to a certain point, but he had never allowed Touma to use the madougu. Still, Touma could see where a few of the things his father had taught him could be applied to the Powersoul -- he just had to figure out how to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

Touma pursed his lips. It lay there -- a simple mesh glove, looking small and harmless. But Touma knew otherwise. He had used it only two days ago. He had used its power to....


"Eh?" Touma turned, and Tsumaru wrapped his arms around his brother's waist, leaning into the larger form. Touma looked down into that elfin face. Tsumaru seemed so serious, it worried him. "What is it?"

"Are you okay?" Tsumaru asked, his warm brown eyes wide.

"What?" Touma blinked. "Whatcha mean?"

"Well, because you... you killed the hunter," Tsumaru said hesitantly. "Tokiya-niisan said--"

"Oi! Don't listen to him!" Touma interrupted, scowling a little. Why couldn't Mikagami ever mind his own business?! Well, but, if he really had, Touma and Tsumaru might be dead by now. Hn. Touma's mouth twisted in irritation. "I'm fine, Tsu. I'm not proud of myself for what I did, but the Powersoul let me see that guy for what he really was. There was nothing good left in him. I won't say he deserved to die, or that I had the right to kill him.... But it's like I told you; when it came down to a choice between him and us, I did what I had to do."

Tsumaru was gazing up at him with an unreadable look on his face. "I know that, Oniisan. I'm happy he's dead. Now he won't hurt any more people ever again. What if someone he stole an elemental weapon from fought back, like us, and he killed them? And what if they were like Tokiya-niisan with a lover who would cry forever, or like Papa and had kids somewhere who needed them? I don't mind that he's dead, and I don't mind that you killed him, because somebody had to, but I was worried that it might have made you feel bad."

Touma smiled, running his fingers through Tsumaru's still-damp hair. "Naw. I'm all right. The only thing I'm worried about is that you might be upset that I killed someone. But--"

"Iya!" Tsumaru shook his head. "I'm not upset at all!! I just... sorta think it's a little... weird. It doesn't really seem real, you know, even though I was there and I helped you." His narrow shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "So I try not to think about it. There are lots of things I'd rather spend my time thinking about... and doing...." Tsumaru raised his chin, his lips parted, his eyes melting into dark heated desire, but also containing an amber spark of a challenge. Nope. He wasn't focusing on the dead hunter at all!

Touma chuckled. Instead of kissing Tsumaru, he only ran the pad of his thumb over the lush swell of his brother's mouth. Gods, but Tsumaru was incredible. Beautiful, and cute, and smart, and strong... both in body and in spirit.

"Oniisan!" Tsumaru objected, pulling a sour face. And then he could turn around and behave like the thirteen year old he was, Touma sighed ruefully.

"As long as you're all right with it," Touma said softly. "Don't worry about me. You're sleeping with me now, Tsu. You know I'm not waking up with screaming nightmares every night or anything. Na?"

"Un!" Tsumaru nodded. "Besides, I think Papa must have probably killed some bad people with the Powersoul at some time or another in his life, and I still love him and respect his memory. Mama couldn't have loved him if he wasn't clean and pure inside, right? So why should it be any different between you and me?"

Touma was surprised by this unexpected burst of logic, as well as Tsumaru's eloquent, if somewhat simplified summing up of the situation. "A-aa," he agreed.

"So as long as you're okay!" Tsumaru beamed up at him. "I was just a little worried, 'cause Tokiya-niisan told me to watch out for you. If you're okay, I'm happy!"

"Yeah," Touma said softly, wondering how he had gotten so lucky as to have such a wonderful younger brother. And such good friends. "I'm fine, Tsu. Honto ga."

"Good!" Tsumaru's eyes were warm. Then his rich mouth pulled down in a pouty expression. "But I still think Kagero-san should have given me the Jinrai! I earned it!"

"No way!" Touma replied vehemently, startled out of his rather sentimental mood. "No way are you using an elemental weapon! Tenjo wasn't the only madougu hunter out there, you know! Bad enough that I have the Powersoul!"

"Oniisan, that's not *fair*!" Tsumaru sulked, glaring up at his older brother through the thick fringe of his bangs. "Why do you get to be special and not me?!"

Touma stared at him a moment, then chuckled and bent at the waist. Cupping that sweet face, he claimed Tsumaru's indignant mouth with his own. After a bare second Tsumaru's lips relaxed under his, and the younger boy leaned into the kiss with a low murmur. Their tongues met, twining about one another, reaffirming the bond between them.

They'd spent the first night after the climatic fight at Tokiya and Kaoru's house once more. The next day had been occupied with getting their own apartment habitable again. Last night they had slept in Touma's bed, but hadn't done anything aside from a little kissing and nuzzling. They'd both been too exhausted from all the stress, excitement, and physical exertion of the past several days to pursue anything more. But today they were both feeling genki, if Tsumaru's demeanor was anything to go by.

"You *are* special," Touma breathed as he released his brother's mouth. Tsumaru's hands were warm on his hips, and thick lashes flickered up over deep brown eyes. "You sparkle, Tsu." Touma grinned. "I'm your oniisan -- you can't expect me not to want to keep you safe. Especially after what happened with Tenjo."

Tsumaru sighed. "I know. But it just doesn't seem fair." He eyed Touma, looking a little disgruntled. "You're not gonna treat me like a baby all my life, are you, Oniisan?"

Touma's grin widened. "Maybe. After all, you're always going to be my baby brother."

"Oh, great!" Tsumaru sighed explosively. "I'm never gonna get to do anything fun!"

"Are you so sure about that?" Touma purred, running his hand up under the hem of his borrowed teeshirt. He was only moderately surprised to find that Tsumaru was not wearing anything underneath it. That was his brother all right.

"Mm. Oniisan." Tsumaru leaned the full of his weight against Touma again, his cheeks pinked, and his eyes steamy.

"So, we'll get you some new clothes and some stuff for your room," Touma said, his contemplative tone at odds with the fingers running in tingly-warm patterns over the smooth skin of Tsumaru's backside. "Uncle Kouji said he'd transfer the money to my account as soon as the banks opened over there. And we have to figure out which school you're going to, so that we can pick out your uniform."

"Giku." Tsumaru pulled another face at this reminder.

Touma grinned. "It won't be so bad."

"Easy for you to say, Oniisan!" Tsumaru said, just a trifle bitterly. "You've always been popular."

"You could be too, if you half tried," Touma admonished.

Tsumaru glared at him.

"You *could*!" Touma asserted. "In fact, I want you to promise me that you'll try!"

"But I don't know how!" Tsumaru sounded disconsolate.

Touma shrugged. "Just be friendly. Be yourself and people will like you, Tsu. Kaoru and Tokiya like you. Fuuko thinks you're adorable. And you *know* I like you!"

Tsumaru wrinkled his nose, then heaved a heavy sigh. "All right. I'll try."

"That's all I ask," Touma smiled. But all this talk of school had brought something to the forefront of his mind. Shigeki had called mid-afternoon, demanding to know where Touma and Kaoru had been since lunch period Saturday. Touma's classmate had been just about ready to storm over and break down the door -- not only had they missed school, but they'd both missed soccer practice, again, as they had promised they would not. Eventually Touma had gotten Shige calmed, with the promise that he would definitely be at school on Wednesday. He'd sited a 'family emergency' as the reason for his absence. Shige ought to understand, once he met Tsumaru.

But thinking about Shigeki made Touma think....

"Na, Tsumaru...."

"Hai, Oniisan?" Tsumaru tilted his head, his expression inquiring.

Touma took a deep breath. He decided it would be best to just lay things out on the line. He had something that he needed say, and it was probably better to do it now than to have it come up later, when it would be even more awkward.

He straightened, and as Tsumaru stepped back, he paced a few steps away. Running his hands nervously through his tawny hair, he turned toward his brother. "You know I love you. You know that. But I'm... er... you know, I'm not really cut out for monogamy...."

Tsumaru lowered his damp head, his gaze falling to the floor. Touma felt his stomach sink. He had a sickening feeling that he'd just blown everything, for good and for keeps. He drew in a breath, ready to recant, to try and take back what he had just said, even though the damage had already been done, and even though it was only the truth. "Tsu--"

Tsumaru raised his head again, offering his brother a bright smile, his eyes clear, and warm with affection. "Daijoubu, Oniisan!" he reassured. "I understand. I'm still young yet, right? So I have some fooling around to do, too, before I settle down. But... we're still gonna...."

"Of course!" Touma answered swiftly. He should have felt relief, but instead his feelings of jealousy, of possessiveness, were growing. Damn it all, he *knew* he was being hypocritical, and he *knew* it was unfair to expect Tsumaru not to play around with other boys if that was what Touma was going to be doing, but... but.... Dammit! He knew these things, acknowledged them as only being fair, yet at the same time the thought of sharing Tsumaru with anyone else rankled on him. He was angry, but the anger was directed wholly at himself. He knew he was being a selfish bastard, and yet he couldn't help the way he was feeling.

Still, Tsumaru was only thirteen, and as of now he was still a virgin with almost zero experience. To expect him to settle down in an exclusive relationship at this point would be ridiculous, and Touma acknowledged that. Besides, he had been the one to bring the subject up. Touma was ready to slam his head into the wall; maybe knock some sense into his brain. He had been worried that Tsumaru wouldn't take this well, but Tsumaru was just fine with it and it was Touma who was having all the difficulty!

"Oniisan." Touma blinked, shaken from his spiraling, spinning thoughts. Tsumaru's expression was completely serious, his eyes intent on his brother's face, as though he could read Touma's internal conflict. His voice when he spoke was soft but steady. "You know it'll always be *you* I come home to."

And that, in a nutshell, was it. Touma released a long breath. That was something his heart understood as well as his head. That was something he could live with. He would be Tsumaru's first. He planned to be Tsumaru's last. If he wasn't Tsumaru's "only", that was something he would deal with when the time came.

"Just... spend some time with me first, okay?" Touma asked, moving back to where Tsumaru stood and plopping down on the floor at his feet. Tsumaru settled unhesitatingly in his lap, warm and clean and sweet-smelling.

"Mochiron, Oniisan!" Tsumaru said indignantly. "You weren't meaning you were gonna run right out and--"

"No!" Touma interjected. "I said I wouldn't do that, remember?"

"I remembered. I just wanted to make sure *you* did." Tsumaru raised his face to Touma, his full lips pouty. His eyes, however, held more than a hint of amusement.

Touma chuckled, sliding a hand over the smooth line of his brother's thigh. They might just have hit on the perfect arrangement. He and Tsumaru would be together exclusively until Uncle Kouji returned from America. By then Touma might feel more amenable to sharing Tsumaru's favors, especially with a man that he both loved and respected; one he knew intimately to be a gentle lover, and who, more importantly, was family. By the time they were both ready to start branching out -- Touma once again, and Tsumaru for the first time -- maybe Touma would feel better about it. Maybe. But that was a ways off, and Touma wasn't inclined to stress over it before it happened. He had Tsumaru's permission to hog his attentions for at least a month, and he fully intended to take advantage of this. Shige was just going to have to understand when Touma was unavailable for a while.

"Oniisan?" Tsumaru looked quizzical.

Without a verbal response Touma lowered his head, claiming that sweet mouth once again. Tsumaru responded instantly and eagerly, surging up in Touma's lap, one arm locking behind his brother's neck.

Briefly the thought flickered through Touma's head... he wondered whether Shigeki might be up for a threesome....

"Oniisan..." Tsumaru husked as their mouths parted. His warm brown eyes were heavy-lidded and sultry. He ran his pink tongue over the lush swell of his lower lip.

Touma slid a hand up under the hem of the teeshirt Tsu was wearing. "My, my. What's this?"

"Ooh! Oniisan!" Tsumaru arched into the intimate caress, his eyes flying wide open then sliding almost shut, his other arm ringing Touma's neck. "Oniisan...." The word was a supplication and a reverence at once.

Touma's mouth quirked in a crooked smirk. Who was he to resist such lovely temptation? "Shall we take this to the bedroom?"

Tsumaru's face lit up. "It's about time, Oniisan!"

"Oi, gaki!" Touma surged to his feet, hefting his brother's slight form in his arms. "What's that supposed to mean? Are you criticizing my sense of timing?"

"Of course not!" Tsumaru giggled as he was carted off down the hall.

"Glad to hear it!" Touma grinned. "Because you know that I'm always perfect."

Silvery laughter greeted this declaration... until Touma stuck his hand under the teeshirt again and Tsumaru's amusement dissolved in a startled squeak. "Ooh, Oniisan!"

"And don't you forget it!" Touma got in the last word as the bedroom door closed behind them. No more interruptions. Tsumaru was his to do with as he willed, for the foreseeable future. And Touma had plans!

* * *

Left behind in the living area, resting on the surface of the coffee table, the Powersoul gleamed dully in the light of the electric lamps. Its blue gem glowed from within, a subtle, steady light. Etched on its surface was the kanji for "Inochi".

It wasn't going anywhere for a while.

It had found its master and it was home.