Mild autumn had given way to an easy winter, and if not for the Christmas trees visible here and there in the front windows of houses along the street, one would hardly believe it was that time of year. Winter break had arrived and with it, vacation plans.
Kinomoto Touya set his duffel beside the door and folded his arms. "What are you still doing here, monster?" he demanded of his fifteen-year old sister, who crossed her legs on the couch and gave him a defiant look. "Shouldn't you be packing for your trip to Hong Kong?"
"I want to see Yukito-san before you leave!" Sakura exclaimed, clasping her hands together. Though she and her beau Li Shaoran had been going steady for over a year now, that starry-eyed look would never quite fade at the mention or mere presence of her beloved first crush. "Besides, it's practically my duty to see him off."
The golden-plush version of Kerberos went whizzing around the living room before he plunked himself on the coffee table, crossing his diminutive arms. "Ufufufufu. I don't think it's necessary, Sakura-chan," Kero declared. "I think that Yue-san can take care of himself." The plush toy gave Touya the beady eye.
Touya glared right back. Kero didn't quite trust him; fine, the feeling was mutual. On Kero's part, it was because Touya was involved with the Moon Guardian. Touya didn't trust Kero quite simply because the plush toy had put his sister in danger on many occasions.
"Well, you can wait forever," Touya decided, giving her an evil smirk. "I think I'm going to take my stuff to the car and wait outside."
"Wha--hey! That's mean!" Sakura wailed, then turned to their father, who was placidly in the midst of baking preparations in the kitchen. "Father, why are they taking your car, anyhow? Isn't there usually a bus..."
"They're car pooling," Fujitaka said with a straight face, then gave Touya a wink when his daughter turned to the window again.
Touya was grateful for his father's complicity.
Everyone was taking a trip during this winter break before the year's end; Sakura was going with Tomoyo to Hong Kong to visit her boyfriend, Fujitaka had been invited to England by Eriol and politely declined in favor of going to Egypt, and Touya...
Well, Touya had booked a trip to the hot springs with his lover. Sakura seemed to think it was part of a class trip and neither he nor Fujitaka were inclined to enlighten her that it wasn't generally part of university curriculum.
"Take care," Touya said to his family, lifting a hand in farewell as he hefted his bag to his shoulder.
"You! Oniichan!" Sakura huffed, trailing after him.
Touya rested a hand on his sister's ginger-blonde hair, making her glare up at him. "Have a good vacation, monster," he said, grudging each word. He wasn't overly fond of Li Shaoran, who was a little monster of another sort. He hadn't been fooled by the brat for an instant -- he knew the Li had been after Sakura from the start.
"Tell that brat he'll have to beat me at arm wrestling before he can propose marriage," he added. It wasn't so much the fact that Shaoran was Chinese, he mused. It was more that he didn't trust the intentions of a Li, out of some deep-seated instinct.
"Oh! Oniichan!" Sakura screeched indignantly, cheeks going red. "I'll tell Shaoran no such thing!"
Kero floated up from the coffee table. "It's all right, it's all right," he declared with a nod, arms still folded in a pose of supreme confidence. "He'll have to beat me first!"
Touya opened the door and brought himself short before he could step on his lover's toes. "Yuki! There you are!" He hastily stepped outside, crowding them both on the stoop to the tune of Sakura's trilled "Yukito-san!"
It turned into a screech as he dragged the door shut firmly behind him.
"Good morning," Tsukishiro Yukito said, mild brown eyes going wide behind his glasses. "To-ya, that wasn't very nice."
"She'll get over it, she should be packing," Touya replied dismissively. It was still disconcerting not to feel the familiar aura that had always let him know his friend was near. He'd given up that power for an important cause -- the most important reason of all. "Are you ready to go?"
Yukito glanced to the duffel on his shoulder. "I would certainly hope so," he said, and smiled.
"Then let's go."
The hot springs establishment was everything the brochure had said it would be even if their staff was touched in the head. Rustic, Yukito called them. As if every well-mannered hostess pulled out a giant squeaky mallet to whack her porters into line. And the young lady who'd showed them to their room was temperamental and inclined toward excessive apologies.
Actually Touya wasn't all that certain she was a girl.
Setting that aside... Touya thought he was doing pretty well for himself. Barely out of high school and he was taking his lover to the hot springs for a pre-New Year's trip.
He had been working at odd jobs here and there since junior high. Even then, on some level he must have realized he would need the money. Not for himself, but for Yukito.
Yukito's grandparents were a myth that Yukito himself hadn't quite realized he'd woven around his existence. Touya's university tuition was paid, but for Yukito...well, Touya had made arrangements. He was proud of himself, and Fujitaka had helped in the sleight of hand.
Even after all that, he still had the money for little extras, like this trip.
"Ahh, that felt so good," Yukito said, stretching luxuriously beside him before slipping into a yukata. "When was the last time we've been to a hot spring?"
"Some time in high school, probably." Touya tugged his yukata around him and cinched his belt and wondered for a moment why they'd bothered putting clothes on. "Ne, Yuki..." He rested a hand at the base of his lover's neck.
"To-ya." Yukito turned a glimmering smile on him, his expression soft and vulnerable without his glasses.
"I think--" Touya began, prepared to make eloquent and suave discourse on how they should spend the next several hours in pursuit of pleasure.
Yukito's stomach growled thunderously.
Touya's face fell.
"I think I'm hungry," Yukito told him, blinking.
Touya pulled a long-suffering but tolerant look. He would always take a back seat to food. "Let's get you fed," he replied, slinging a comfortable arm around his lover's shoulders.
"I hear they have an excellent menu! And very good sushi!"
Harsh breathing filled the room, two throats chorusing exertion. Two bodies locked in motion came to a frenetic conclusion, quivered, stilled. Yukito was panting lightly as they separated and his expression was euphoric, giving Touya the smug impression that he'd done quite well by the both of them.
Touya stroked his lover's sweat-damp cheek, enjoying the way Yukito's dark eyes turned his way with blurry focus. He bent to whisper in his ear. "Yue," he said, "will you emerge?"
A tension-shiver ran the length of Yukito's body. When he was that direct, he suspected Yue had no choice but to come out.
A brilliance of white wings snapped wide, arched over the body of Yukito and cradled him in their grasp as he underwent the subtle transformations that rendered him distinct from his core self, Yue, Moon Guardian. One of the wings unfurled, opening over their prone bodies to reveal the naked length of Yue, silvery hair spilling down his back and looped over his side, deep lavender eyes narrowed at Touya.
"It's about time," was all he had to say.
Touya had grown accustomed to this more imposing facet of his complex, far from ordinary lover and so he merely smiled at those curt words. He shifted his position on the futon, eliminating the distance between their bodies and running a hand over one ethereal-pale hip. "Do you know everything that goes on between us?"
Yue's eyes slid away from his. "More or less."
"But the barriers between you, they remain intact?" Touya wondered idly if Yukito knew what went on between he and Yue. He'd never asked. Before, he had remembered that time as a dizzy spell, a blackout.
"They must," Yue said calmly. He kept some distance between their bodies, discrete and self-contained; unlike Yukito, he was more reserved in his lovemaking. He had to be wooed. "He knows of me, now. But the other me...thinks of us as two people. That's the way it must be."
"I think I realized that," Touya said, lifting a hand to Yue's cheek. The Moon Guardian permitted the caress, leaning into it after a moment like a cat. Yue, Touya thought with some amusement, frequently reminded him of a feline, which made him think that Clow Reed had been a cat person as well.
"Besides," Yue continued, opening one lavender eye to pin him with reproach, "you're the one who gave me your power, to continue his existence. You want that to go to waste?"
"No, no!" Touya attempted to wave a hand, but considering its location, it was more rubbing Yue's hip than anything. "Don't misunderstand. I like things as they are. Whether you're in this form or the other it makes no difference to me...well, some difference." His lips curved.
"When Yukito is with you," Yue murmured, "I can be with you and Sakura even when this form is inconvenient." One slim hand touched Yue's chest.
Touya nuzzled along Yue's throat, feeling surrounded by pure brilliance as Yue's wing drifted to enfold them both. "I can live with that."
"You have to," Yue, who had no sense of humor, replied.
Touya hid both amusement and smile. "You know, you said 'it's about time' when I called you out, but you hardly would have wanted to come out when we were in the hot springs, would you?" He stroked down Yue's side.
"I don't know about that," Yue mumbled, sounding mildly irritated.
"I get it, I get it." Touya wanted to kiss that frowning wrinkle from between Yue's eyebrows, but he was no Yukito, to be kissed so casually. "It's nice to be asked."
Yue harrumphed. "Yes. Maybe. If I were interested in bathing in a hot spring."
"Which, of course, you aren't."
Pause. "I can hold my wings above the water, you know."
"Ah," Touya said. "If you were interested in bathing in a hot spring. But wouldn't that get uncomfortable?"
Yue scowled at him.
Touya capitulated. "I'll ask next time, all right?" he murmured. "We've still got until Sunday, you know."
"Fine. Good." Yue stretched against him and his wing settled over them like a downy-fine comforter. "I mean, that's acceptable."
They lay silently for a moment together, and Touya indulged in one of his favorite habits, carding through the bright length of Yue's hair with a careful hand. The texture was silky, fine, and he had a tendency to leave abominably long hairs on Touya's pillow at home, but Touya loved it.
"Sakura was disappointed that she didn't get to say goodbye before she left for Hong Kong," Touya said at length, reflecting on the reproachful look Yukito had given him. There were shadings of Yue within him, just as Yue held more of Yukito than he'd be willing to admit.
He wore his heart on the outside, Touya had determined, telling Yue as much at that time. Yukito was the softer, compassionate side he didn't dare display as the stern Moon Guardian.
"Yes, I noticed," Yue said, giving him a slight frown reminiscent of Yukito's expression for that instance. "She should be fine with Kerberos' protection...but..."
"You like to watch over her," Touya completed. He smiled, not without a touch of wistfulness. He had thought, once or twice in the silence of his own head, that Yue had acceded to him because it meant one more thing tied him to the Kinomoto family, and Sakura.
"You know," Yue murmured, "Clow had intended for me to return Sakura's affections, to put the final stamp on my role as her guardian with my willing love."
"Oh?" Touya turned to him. He was surprised by this but held the expression from his face fairly well, he thought. Had he been so obvious? Had Yue read or interpreted his thought? He wasn't threatened by the revelation in the manner that the presence of one Li Shaoran made him bristle. "And what happened to that?"
"Clow was a brilliant man," Yue continued, shaking back a coil of hair over his bare shoulder in a lithe movement. "But he couldn't anticipate and arrange everything, no, not even he could. He didn't predict you." Those feline lavender eyes turned his way, unsettlingly direct.
Touya didn't know what had prompted this chain of revelations, but he wasn't going to question it. This was the second time Yue had ever opened up and volunteered information to him; the first time, Yue had been forced to justify his attraction to one Kinomoto Touya after the Clow Cards had maneuvered him into admitting it.
"Long before I was ever unsealed, my heart chose you," Yue continued quietly, the admission grudging. "Clow created us for something beyond guardianship, you know. His cards -- they have limited independent thought or emotion but in the end, they're just constructs."
"You're more," Touya affirmed, wanting to reach for the length of unbound moonlight hair, staying his hand. It was so rare that Yue talked with him this frankly.
"We're more," Yue continued, lavender eyes flicking his way. "We guard our master...and give love where we will."
Touya countered, "But you do love Sakura."
"Eventually I did," Yue said, frown creasing his flawless brow again. He gave Touya a glance of resentful proportions. "You captured my feelings first, even more thoroughly because I wasn't fully awake."
The barest hint of a smile graced the corner of Yue's mouth. "I think I gave Sakura a hard time, because of it," he said grudgingly. "Clow wanted me to love and accept her as my most important person, but because those weren't my feelings, I may have acted more harshly than I might have otherwise."
"Why are you telling me this?" Touya asked after a moment, as the Moon Guardian nestled against his chest and interposed a slender leg between both of Touya's. This sudden desire for closeness on his part was Yue's way of subtly letting him know he was ready for intimacy.
Yue's eyes flickered. "I've gotten used to you," he mumbled, and dropped his head against Touya's chest as if he could end the discussion by that act alone.
Now Touya had no need to contain the smile that crossed his face. He fingered a lock of moonbeam hair and rested his chin on the crown of Yue's head and felt, now and forever, that his happiness had been sealed by first Yukito's, then Yue's conscious choice.
"I love you, too," he murmured, and Yue did not protest the phrasing or response.
When the first pale edge of moonlight traced along the shoji, filling the room with light, Touya and Yue were too occupied to notice. The light they spun between them was infinitely more captivating and important.
Yue might never say it aloud, but Touya knew the right way to listen.