"So?" Kirin and Arashi were looking expectantly at him.
Val's ears bristled. "What?"
Kirin sidled up to him, golden eyes sly. "How're they doing?"
"You expect me to spy on my own twin?" Val arched a brow in disdain.
Kirin and Arashi exchanged a glance, then *looked* at him again. "You're kidding, right?"
Val's face relaxed into a grin. "You've never been Bonded. You'll understand some day." He looked over at Chance, who was engaged in some kind of staring match with Rekka. It seemed to involve a plate of appetizers and the right to touch it first.
"Augh, stop!" Kirin clutched at his heart.
"You're getting that look!" Arashi added, going into a mock swoon.
"The one Otou and Papa give each other all the time!" the twins chorused.
"The one that means, 'wait until you're older, and you'll understand," Kirin finished, giving his brother a disgusted look. "Really, Val-nii, you're too young to be giving us that."
"It's true," Val said defensively. "You won't understand until it happens to you. And all I meant by that is I can't spy on Ria, even if I'd want to right now - he and Kyo are on a tight exclusive sending."
Arashi rolled her eyes. "You can always feel your twin."
Val shook his head. "See what I mean?" he said plaintively, casting a look at his closest father.
Ahrin paused, holding a squalling Kaze upside down. "Uh, yes, perfectly. What am I agreeing to?"
Val made a face at his father and moved away from the twins, who headed for the laden table. Tsuyoshi drifted towards him and they bumped hips. His youko father gave him a playful flick of the tail. "So?" he said, eyebrows raising upwards.
"I think it'll be a successful Bonding," Val replied, lifting his cup in a small toast to his twin.
"Well, of course it will," Tsuyoshi said, a little too sharp, giving Val a harder flick with his tail. "Shall we eat, before my younger kitling tackles your own Bonded? Then we can hustle the kits off to bed."
"Dame!" Ahrin growled, and they turned to see Rekka's fingers poised to snatch a meat pastry from the platter. Chance had backed away from the table and he wore a smugly innocuous expression.
"Oh, go ahead and eat," Tsuyoshi said, resigned. "It's not as if we're waiting for anything - the Bonded couple is hardly going to join us."
"Why not, Papa?" Kaze demanded, squirming in his father's arms until he was upright once more.
Ahrin smoothed his child's wild silver hair. "Because they're newly-Bonded, so they're going to be staying in their room for quite awhile."
Kaze's face puckered. "How long? Won't Kyo-nii play with me tomorrow?"
Tsuyoshi glided over and popped fruit in his youngest kit's mouth. "A curious fox must lie in wait patiently to get what he aims for," he recited the old youko saw.
Val joined Chance at the table, where he had grabbed a plate and was digging into the food with as much abandon as the two other teenagers, and Rekka. He closed his hands over Chance's shoulders and the boy stiffened, then relaxed and glanced up at him. His mouth was bulging-full.
"You did a good job on the banners," Val murmured, leaning down to speak into one ear. "Think you might be up to a little private celebration, later?"
*Maybe.* A violet eye regarded him thoughtfully. Chance pulled away and moved around the table, piling food onto his plate.
Val surrendered to the inevitable - he had been turned down for *food* -- and took a plate for himself. His fathers had released Kaze to join in the elbowing going on at the table, and were leaning against each other. Tsuyoshi's tail circled Ahrin's waist and their fingers were entwined.
*Otou? How is he coming along?* Val directed his thoughts to the black-haired one.
*Nothing doing right now, but I expect great things by the end of the evening,* Tsuyoshi replied, golden eyes twinkling. *Your father has stamina.*
*Otou!* Val controlled the childish urge to stamp a foot. Nothing made him feel like a kit quite like being at home. *You know I meant Chance.*
*I know,* Tsuyoshi switched to a more serious tone. *I was going to bring it up earlier, Valirion. He's...somewhat more competent, and he complains less, but one problem has been replaced by another.*
*He thinks he's useless here,* Tsuyoshi said with a mental grimace. *And as far as it goes, all the chores we've been giving him are chores even the kits could do better and faster...*
*But he needs to build up his strength!* Val protested, setting his plate down. He was losing his appetite.
*Yes, he does,* Tsuyoshi agreed, calm. *That's why I'm thinking of having Ahrin teach him swordplay, and the like.*
*I'll have to start him soon,* Ahrin's deeper voice cut in. *He's already old for some of the martial arts.*
Val wasn't surprised his human father had managed to eavesdrop on the tight exchange. He was Bonded to Tsuyoshi, after all.
*He needs to feel he's equal in your partnering,* Tsuyoshi continued softly, *else the Bond might become unstable from his feelings.*
Val felt frustrated. *Yes, and that's why I brought him here!*
Both Ahrin and Tsuyoshi laughed in his head. *Don't you remember being a teenager? They're so impatient! Willow wants to be competent NOW. And weeding the border doesn't exactly bolster that image.* That was Ahrin. Then his father expressed the willingness to start Willow on the basics.
*You think he's ready?* Val asked, still cautious on his Bonded's behalf.
Ahrin's blue eyes gleamed at him. *Take whatever pleasure you can tonight,* he suggested. *Starting tomorrow, he is going to be more sore than he ever has been.*
Val wrinkled his nose and picked up his plate. *If I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to curtail my sex life.*
Ahrin held up one hand in innocence, freeing the other to slap Tsuyoshi's rear. The youko nipped at his ear, half reproach, the rest lust. *Would I do that?*
"Kaze, Rekka," Tsuyoshi called aloud, looking over his shoulder as Ahrin drew him in close and began to kiss his bare collarbones. "Finish eating; you're going to bed soon."
"Otou!" Rekka squawked, "no fair!"
"Your otou tells you what's fair, not the other way around," Ahrin eyed his recalcitrant offspring.
"I want to say goodnight to Ria-nii and Kyo-nii," Kaze said stubbornly, setting his plate on the floor and latching onto Kirin's leg. Absently the silver-haired teen patted his head.
"Um, Ria-nii and Kyo-nii are busy, Kaze," Arashi tried to reason with her sibling.
Kaze's lower lip pushed forward. "For how long?"
Chance snickered, violet eyes seeking Val's. A mental impression reached him of the steamy, compulsive intensity of their first few days. They had barely been able to leave the bed long enough to attend to the necessary and fuel their bodies with food.
"Um, I wouldn't wait by the door, if I were you," Arashi hedged.
Kaze's lip stuck out further, and Val knew his youngest brother was going to be trouble.
"You look like you're done eating," Ahrin said in ominous tones.
"I'm not!" Rekka snatched up another pastry and crammed it into his mouth.
Tsuyoshi sighed and shook his head. "Five minutes," he pronounced. Then he reached for his second youngest and plucked him off the floor, hefting the light kit easily into his arms. "Don't eat that in one bite!" he scolded in a tone that sounded well-practiced. "You'll choke." Rekka's golden eyes were mutinous, as if he were determined to choke for rebellion, if nothing else.
Chance appeared by Val's side again, licking his fingers with nonchalance. He 'felt' how full his Bonded was, and snickered at him. "You just had to out-do Rekka, didn't you?" Lightly he stroked the white-haired boy's inner arm, where a pale pink stripe of scar remained.
He received a tiny decisive nod in reply. Eyes half-lidded, Chance leaned up against him, slow and deliberate. Val sighed happily and wound his tail about his boy's waist.
Ahrin picked up the other youngest kit. "If you eat another bite, you'll burst and put us to the trouble of making you a new belly."
Kaze squirmed. "Dessert!" he insisted.
"Oh, no," Ahrin tightened his grip. "You've had enough to eat. You're for bed."
"Hanasee!" Kaze yelped, kicking his father in the stomach.
Ahrin's handsome face darkened. The room fell silent in a collective unheard gasp. Without another word, Ahrin carried his son out of the room. Tsuyoshi followed in silence, bearing a wide-eyed Rekka.
"Ooh, he's gonna get it," Kirin said with an anticipatory grimace. Arashi shushed and smacked him.
"Well, he is."
Chance was leaning up against him and Val was perfectly happy. He felt small fingers creep up his arm on the inside then finger the almost nonexistent welt of his scar. Val shivered. It was impossible not to think sensuous thoughts, knowing what his brother and new-Bonded did upstairs, remembering what they had done together, anticipating what they'd do later tonight.
Tsuyoshi returned to the room, brushing back long silky hair. His dark eyes were lit with amusement. "They have been a bit of a nuisance all day, but now we know why."
"Tell me about it," Val muttered, still remembering the sensation of being drenched in mud.
"Is he dead?" Kirin wanted to know.
"No, he's not dead," Tsuyoshi leveled a calm glance at his silver-haired son that still managed to chastise. "He's just explaining to your father why he felt the need to kick him in the stomach."
"Ooh, worse than dead."
"Kaze isn't usually *ever* that bad," Arashi noted. "Rekka occasionally, but Kaze...uso! Was there actually a reason?"
"Actually..." Tsuyoshi tilted his head and Val felt/heard a murmuring echo-impression of his other father's voice. "Yes, Ahrin says the twins have been sensing someone coming towards Morgan Vale all day, and they don't know who it is. It's unsettling them." He frowned.
Val was frowning, too. "They knew someone was coming, and didn't tell anybody?" He wondered if that accounted for their muddy antics this morning. No...no, *that* was typical behavior.
"Apparently," Tsuyoshi said with a dry smile, "the twins discussed it amongst themselves, and decided that they didn't need to tell us until they'd gathered more information."
"Of course, six years and they're already super-sleuths," Val rolled his eyes.
"Like you weren't just as bad! We've heard stories," Arashi exclaimed. "Otou, did you find out who it is?"
Tsuyoshi narrowed his eyes briefly, then his posture relaxed. "You two are old enough to join family council," he said at last. "Once your father gets here, we'll discuss it."
The twins' eyes went wide, and Val knew why. Family council implied that it was very serious business, the kind only adults discussed and acted upon. This went beyond the everyday matters of disciplining the kits for their latest antic or deciding what crops to rotate for the year. If Val and Ria really had been imprisoned in Austen, a family council would have been convened. So whatever Ahrin had divined from Kaze and Rekka's premonitions, it was serious.
Val examined Tsuyoshi's expression closely. The look on his father's face, solemn and watchful, was the same expression he had worn weeks ago, when they had first arrived. It had settled on his face during Val's account of his stay, and their eventual flight, from Austen. He couldn't help but feel that these two events were connected, and started to worry.
"Don't," Chance whispered, fierce, pinching him in the side.
Startled, he looked down at his Bonded's sleek white head. "What?"
"Don't even think it. If I won't entertain those kinds of thoughts, you shouldn't either. I won't-" His voice shook, and Val wrapped his tail comfortingly around Chance's waist. "I won't go back there."
"Of course not!" Val hissed, every bit as fierce. "That didn't cross my mind, at all. Even if someone from the Palace made the connection, they'd never even make it through the forest to our front gate. We wouldn't let them. I was more worried someone like Briggs made the connection and was tracking me down. Or...rather, I think it's something bigger than both of those things."
Chance snorted to show how much he thought of Briggs, then settled at Val's side again, evidently satisfied.
Tsuyoshi crossed the room gracefully and distributed drinks, giving his middle twins a considering glance before filling their glasses with wine, too. Kirin and Arashi had seated themselves on a low bench, leaning together for support. Val was unsurprised when his father served Chance a glass of wine. Moments later Ahrin re-entered the room, an odd expression on his face.
"Here." Tsuyoshi proffered a flute of wine, which Ahrin tasted and set aside. Tsuyoshi hovered near him, golden eyes intent on his Bonded's face. The suspense drew out in the room until everyone was hushed, waiting for Ahrin to say something.
"Kaze's news isn't serious," Ahrin began, eliciting huffs of relief. He held up his hand. "At least, the visitor isn't serious, but his reason for coming here may be, if we're putting all the pieces together correctly." He glanced at his Bonded and Tsuyoshi laced his fingers with the taller man's, looking soberly at his children.
"What do you mean, Papa?" Arashi spoke up. "Say it so we can understand. You've been keeping secrets again, that much is obvious."
"Of course we have," Tsuyoshi smiled slyly, "we're your parents."
"Did you know," Ahrin addressed his Bonded now, "that your brother is only a day away, and Kaze sensed him first?"
Tsuyoshi's mouth dropped open. He blinked, then concentrated...elsewhere. Val recognized the look of someone looking inward/outward for his twin. "I can't believe it." His sudden laughter was low and delighted. "Aniki, what are you *doing* in this part of the world?"
Val, Arashi, and Kirin did their best to share a three-way glance. They had never met their infamous uncle Tsuchiya, because he'd been on the Other Continent for twice the length of their lives. The distance was so great that Tsuyoshi only knew he was alive from the infrequent letters they received.
He thought of Ria upstairs. His twin really should be here for this.
*What makes you think I'm not?* Ria's voice drawled to him through a lazy sense of self-satisfaction.
*Finished already?* Val shot back.
*Hey, I think twice in an hour is pretty good,* Ria replied, injured. *We're...resting.*
*Uh-huh,* Val said, dry. *And one of your hands is on his ass and the other-*
*Never mind that.*
He snickered mentally at Ria's suddenly possessive mindset. *I can update you later on the details. Just concentrate on your Bonded.*
*Oh, trust me...* Ria's voice swirled away on a jolt of desire. *I am...*
Val looked around the room. He was pretty sure no one had caught the exchange, and it had taken all of a couple of seconds. Then he eyed Chance and assessed the knowing smirk at the corner of his mouth. Well, he couldn't expect much to get past his Bonded.
"Tsuchiya says he'll explain everything when he gets here," Tsuyoshi was saying, reclaiming the attention of everyone in the room.
Arashi was the first to cap that. "So he's not just here for a social visit."
Tsuyoshi frowned, unsuccessfully trying to hide a shaft of worry. "No, I didn't get that impression." He raised an eyebrow at his eldest son. "But at least he's not actively on the run from anything."
"Hey, I had good reason!" Val protested, curling an arm around Chance in defense.
"Does Tsuchiya-ji have a Bonded yet?" Kirin spoke up, golden eyes artfully innocent.
Tsuyoshi gave Kirin a sharp look. "No, not yet," he said slowly. "But you might want to think twice about getting involved with my brother. You're still young, Kirin, and you should give it a hundred years or so."
Kirin blinked. "Who said anything about settling down? I just don't fancy any of the village boys to pop my cherry."
Their youko father began to sputter at that, while Kirin grinned and stuck his tongue out impishly. Ahrin looked a bit shell-shocked, but he had learned a long time ago never to question a youko when it came to sex. Especially when his first two sons had been making it like bandits with each other once they hit maturity.
"So what was the more serious matter, Papa?" Arashi, ever pragmatic, returned them firmly to the subject. If there was a single straight male in the household they might have had problems with her, but her hormones remained mostly dormant unless she took a trip to the village. Val had heard she had no trouble getting her pick of the boys. In that case, neither did Kirin...
"Ah, yes." Ahrin shook his head as if to clear it of unwanted stray thoughts. "Well, you know we quizzed Val and Ria quite thoroughly the day they returned home."
"I thought it was more like a lecture, Papa," Val said dryly.
Ahrin ignored him. "Some of the things they said fit in with a disturbing trend we've noticed over the course of the past decade," he continued. "You all know we live here because this province has firm laws to protect youko, and all other benign demi-humans."
Three heads nodded. Chance just listened, tucked against Val's side. Some of this would be new to him.
"We've spoken with pretty much all the youko who've been through these parts. A lot more are returning to this province, and even more are moving here from other regions of the continent. And the overall trend is disturbing." Ahrin took a deep breath. "They have all moved because of situations like you encountered in Austen. Some of them were imprisoned like Kyo and his mother, some were stalked like Briggs was hunting Val, and some were thrown out of their homes because they indulged in a little friendly bed-sport with the wrong boy, like Ria."
"These aren't just a few handfuls of isolated incidents," Tsuyoshi added. "That or something like it, or something worse, has happened to every youko and their family that we've talked to. Adding up to hundreds, over the course of the last ten years."
"Some of them have stories like Kyo." Ahrin's expression was terrible. "Some of them are worse. At least Kyo came out of it still capable of Bonding. Some...can't bear to be touched, not even by their own parents."
"It's getting worse, isn't it?" Val asked softly. He had *thought* it seemed like his father never encountered so many obstacles, in his tales of wandering and joyful pillage, but then once he was on his own he'd chalked it up to a parent toning his stories down for youthful ears.
"Yes," Tsuyoshi affirmed, mouth pinched. "When I was younger, men would never dare half the things they're getting away with now. And I was born well after the Massacre."
"When I was around the age your father met me," Ahrin added, "Bonding with a youko was considered an undreamt-of honor. I had never even seen a youko before Tsuyoshi."
"We were scarce, even in those days many centuries after the Massacre," Tsuyoshi said quietly, golden eyes shadowed. Ahrin's arm went automatically around his Bonded. "My father was one of the first youko to be born himself of a youko male Bonded to a man. We were scarce, but protected. And coveted, of course, but the men still felt guilty. Now there many more of us than there were in those days...they don't need to feel guilty anymore. But humans still covet us."
"Or want to destroy us if they can't have us," Val added, thinking of Briggs with a shudder of disgust. Chance's small hand crept into his.
"We need to do something," Tsuyoshi said, drawing into the circle of his Bonded's arm.
"Well, let's go beat up the whole world!" Kirin's eyes fired enthusiastically. Arashi slapped his upraised fist down.
"Baka," she told him.
"No, I think that's something along the lines of Tsuchiya's ideas," Tsuyoshi admitted with a ghost of a smile.
"No sense in worrying now," Ahrin said in the determinedly cheerful tone of one who was changing the subject. "There's no point in wasting all this good wine, when we do have something to celebrate." All eyes turned towards Val and Chance, and he felt his Bonded squirm beside him. Chance didn't have much of an ego, thus didn't enjoy being the center of attention like any youko would.
"Welcome to the family, Chance," Tsuyoshi said, expression shifting to something more gentle. "We didn't have the opportunity to witness your Bonding, but perhaps that was for the best. Now through Val, you are a part of us."
"You're stuck with us!" Kirin chortled. "Especially blockheaded Val-nii!"
"Kirin..." Val growled threateningly.
"No one got to witness your tie?" Arashi wanted to know, getting up to peer at their arms. Obliging for once, Chance held out his arm to show the pinkish-silvery scar on his right inner forearm. His eyes measured Arashi. He was still endlessly fascinated by the phenomenon of 'female' and Val sensed in his bemusement that he thought his mother might have been like Arashi, all lean angles and bitty breasts.
"No, there wasn't time," Val answered. "Once I figured it out, I pretty much had to sit on him to cut our arms and tie us together. The only one I would have been able to call to witness is Kyo, and he...wasn't a good choice."
"I agree," Tsuyoshi said calmly. "If for no other reason than it would've made his own Bonding more difficult."
Arashi made eye contact with Chance, golden orbs brimming with amusement. "The scar curves a bit...you really did struggle, didn't you?"
"Of course I struggled," Chance eyed her as if she were not quite bright. "He cut himself. If he'd cut me I wouldn't have been scared. Masters never hurt themselves, only me." He said it like a simple fact of life.
A little silence fell over the youko family. Arashi broke it by kissing Chance on the cheek and tugging a handful of his white braids.
"You'll be okay," she told him, her look thoughtful. "And now you have Val-nii."
"What a prize!" Kirin snickered.
Arashi's eyes flashed a golden warning at her twin. "Like you're any prize yourself."
"Cold!" Kirin clutched at his heart.
"Insensitive," Arashi snapped back.
"All right," Tsuyoshi interjected. "Enough. You're down to the ultimate insults." But he was smiling.
Ahrin helped himself to more wine, then refilled his Bonded's flute and passed the carafe to Val. When Kirin reached for it, Tsuyoshi's ears flattened.
"One is enough for you," he said, tone inarguable.
"Hei, hei," Kirin sighed, swishing his tail. "Can't wait to get older."
Val refilled Chance's glass, ignoring Kirin's teal-with-envy anguish. His Bonded was radiating relief that the subject had shifted from him to someone else. Now he cuddled almost-willing at Val's side, sipping the heavy sweet wine.
He sensed Ria's light contact get walled off again, and knew his twin had rallied for a third round. Ria would *not* be up to meeting Tsuchiya-ji tomorrow, or several days more for that matter.
"Poor Kaze," Val chuckled aloud. "Knowing him, he really will wait outside their door, hoping Kyo-nii will come and play."
"And Otou will trip over him when he brings the new-Bonded their trays of food!" Arashi added with laughter.
"My son, the speed bump," Tsuyoshi said with comic dismay.
"No, it's poor Kyo we should be sorry for," Ahrin shook his head with a chuckle. "He won't be able to work in the garden for a few days once Ria finally turns him loose."
"Oh, how would you know?" Tsuyoshi flicked his Bonded with a playful tail. They shared a heated look.
Though they had turned the mood back to one of quiet celebration, Val still felt underlying unease. Chance's cool fingers pressed on his, the touch a reminder and reassurance. *You won me my freedom. Don't doubt yourself now.*
Val looked into a sidelong glance of violet. *They're driving us out, abusing and hunting us down. What if the killing starts again?*
*Don't doubt yourself now. Or your family, either.* But Chance's mind-tone was less sure. Then it firmed. *If it's one thing you taught me, it's that things will work out somehow.*
Val held him close. He hoped Tsuchiya-ji would bring some answers with him.
"Ria..." Kyo breathed, undulating beneath his lover - no, his Bonded, even better than a lover. He lifted his hips, breath caught between his teeth as Ria pressed down onto him, mouth locked on his collarbone. Their minds were still mingling in the aftershock of such an intense mental joining.
He wanted to be mounted and thrust to completion. So much pleasure sang through him, it was almost agony and he was at Ria's mercy, but he knew he was the cause of Ria's fierce desire and that gave him power. Ria reached behind Kyo with scent-drenched fingers and awakened places he hadn't known to exist. Youko places, a secret between them, something he had never experienced with anyone but Ria. It made his whole body sing and Kyo was only happy there was *some* kind of virginity left to him that he could give his Bonded.
The first time was very quick and near-violent in intensity, as the fire that tied them together raged through their veins. Ria rested atop him, panting, their bound arms only now becoming somewhat uncomfortable.
As he was drifting off to sleep, he heard a low, drowsy hum. That was odd...he didn't think Ria knew that song, a tune that stirred deep-buried memories of happier times, before the pain and twisted pleasure of the Palace swallowed up his childhood. Then he realized the sound came from his own throat, as Ria's arm tightened around his waist and the youko murmured something loving into Kyo's bright hair.
Once the song had had words, but he couldn't remember them now. Gone, too, was the memory of the features of a softly beautiful face, but Kyo could recall the golden flag of hair that wrapped him in a shimmering curtain of scent, keeping him safe. Mother had smelled of wildness and the woods, a scent that had clung to her after all those years in the palace, leaving only when she sickened. Then she'd died, even though Kyo had been returned to her in the hopes that seeing her surviving kit would mend a broken spirit.
He continued to hum, lulling himself and his Bonded to sleep. He had a family now; he had a place to belong. But there was still one piece missing.
The boy woke up from a dream he hadn't had in the longest time.
With a little shiver, he tugged the blankets away from the large form snoring beside him, drawing them close around his thin shoulders. A silken tail moved in a lazy, unconscious caress over his thigh and he petted it with absent hands, humming idly. The sleeper shifted and the snores subsided. Where had the dream come from? His sleep was usually dreamless, or if he dreamt, it was unrecalled. It had been a long day - a lot of dancing, a lot of work - but a lot of fun, too. And money; that was the most important of all.
He caught himself humming without even realizing it, a thread of song he hadn't thought of even before the dreams had stopped so long ago.
That was odd...
It was an old song, probably a youko song, even though he had never heard it in this place where youko flocked. He thought it was the one Okaasan had sung to them when it was time to sleep. He could almost - almost - remember her hand smoothing over his forehead, then lips brushing his cheek. He didn't quite remember her face but he could see the shining spill of gold hair sweeping over her shoulders. He remembered pulling her shining hair around him in a silken blanket, the way he tugged the covers 'round him tightly now. Her hair had been so long, down to her ankles when it wasn't bound up in glitter-gold ropes.
He eased back down onto the bed with a little sigh. During the day, he wasn't allowed to be anything but cheerful. It was his stock-in-trade, as well as an attitude that came naturally. He liked forcing himself to act happy, because then he truly felt so. But at night, when his pick-of-the-evening was sleeping soundly, he could be himself for a little while.
He spent the time mourning for the family he'd lost.
A dark-haired youko jerked out of sleep with the fragments of a dream teasing at him, promising him things he'd never hoped for. At least, nothing he expected in his life now. A melody was chasing round and round in his head. He listened to it carefully, and was puzzled. It was a snatch of a song he had never heard before - or, he corrected himself, it was a melody lost in the crush of time. For a life as long as his had already been, it was impossible to remember everything. A person could die pressed under the weight of too many memories.
He curled up in his bower of cloak and carefully-encouraged undergrowth, and pondered the music. He was fairly certain he had never heard it before. So why was he hearing it now?
With a little effort, the youko banished the minor mystery from his thoughts, and settled back down to sleep again. It had been a long, hard ride and he still had miles to go the next day. Hopefully any answers he needed would crop up in their own time. Now his tired body needed sleep, and his weary soul needed more. He would settle for temporary rest.
He forced himself into sleep. His tail twitched endlessly, the entire night. And a sweet, simple melody smoothed over any nightmares before they had a chance to take hold.
"Mou! That Ria!" Tsuyoshi fumed as he emerged from the lovers' room, depleted tray in hand. He tripped over his son again - he had tripped over Kaze on the way *in* - and contained a snarl. "He knows I'm not any threat to his Bonded, and still he growls while clutching Kyo close like a precious bone he's just discovered."
Kirin paused in the hallway and gave his father a look. "You might want to reconsider your phrasing, Otou," he said, dissolving into an impish grin then hurrying to his room before Tsuyoshi could make a scathing reply.
"And you!" Tsuyoshi shook a finger at his youngest son. "What do you think you're doing here?"
"Waiting for Kyo-nii, Otou," Kaze said stubbornly, little arms folded around his tan-clothed knees. "He's got to come out *some* time. Even if he just has to pee."
Tsuyoshi smothered the urge to laugh. *Shouldn't you be out taking lessons with your brothers?* he queried him, mind-tone gentle.
"No." Kaze's golden eyes dared him to contradict. "Val-nii said he couldn't handle both of us without Ria-nii."
"Hmm," was all Tsuyoshi said, while inwardly not blaming his eldest for postponing the lessons. Even with two adults supervising, the kits could be a large handful and a half. Part of the problem was that they had no fear - unless it was Ahrin or Arashi, they knew they weren't going to get spanked.
"What are they doing in there, Otou? Having sex? They're making the same noises you and Papa make when the door is locked for awhile, but their door has been locked for an awful lot longer." Kaze clasped his hands together and glared at his father as if Tsuyoshi were responsible.
Tsuyoshi couldn't manage to repress his grin this time. "They're Bonding, Kaze, and that takes longer than just having sex."
"Why? What's Bonding?"
"A curious fox must-" Tsuyoshi began, and was interrupted by his kit.
"-lie in wait patiently to get what he aims for," Kaze finished, small face cross. "I know. You've told me before! I'm tired of waiting, Otou."
Tsuyoshi sighed and scooped his son off the floor and up into his arms, wary of little legs that might kick out. When no appendages socked him in the stomach, he relaxed and cuddled Kaze against him. "I know you're tired of waiting, Kaze. I have to warn you, it's only been half a day and likely to be longer. You know when your Papa and I need some alone-time together?" He made eye contact with the wide, solemn golden eyes. They were his in color and reminiscent of a much younger Ahrin in their shape.
Slow, reluctant, the silver kit nodded his head. "Yes," he whispered.
"Well, Bonding is kind of like that," Tsuyoshi told him, "only Ria and Kyo need more alone-time together than Papa and I ever do."
"Okay." Kaze pursed his little lips, accepting him at face value but still looking unconvinced. "Ne, Otou, what about...what about the person who is coming?"
"Oh!" Tsuyoshi rocked back mentally on his heels. It still astonished him somewhat that his tiny son possessed the power to sense things like that. Predicting the approach of Val and Ria he could understand, but Kaze had surpassed Tsuyoshi's own twin-bond and 'felt' Tsuchiya's approach, even though he'd never even met his father's brother. "Well, you've surpassed yourself this time, kitling."
"I have?" Kaze blinked wide eyes at him. "How?"
Tsuyoshi chuckled. "That 'someone' you sensed approaching is my twin, your uncle Tsuchiya. You've never met him, which is why you couldn't recognize the one you sensed." Carefully he screened away the thought of the possibility that he and Ahrin had discussed last night. Kaze might have gotten upset because Tsuchiya's arrival could precede a tumult in their lives.
"Oh." Kyo's brow wrinkled. "Okay." He squirmed, trying to get free. Then with the air of a tiny martyr, he seated himself on the floorboards again, arms crossed on his knees
Tsuyoshi sighed. "Did you listen to me at all, kitling?"
Kaze looked at him. "I listened, Otou," he said calmly. "I haven't changed my mind. I'm going to wait."
Tsuyoshi briefly entertained the thought of hoisting his son up, kicking and struggling, and depositing him into Ahrin's care for the afternoon. Then he decided that the personal satisfaction wouldn't be worth an irate son and a koibito less inclined to put out that evening. Tsuyoshi was fond of his Ahrin, fond of his son, and got rather grumpy when he didn't receive regular sex. Besides, it was a personal rule of his not to foist off on Ahrin any problems with the children that he couldn't handle on his own.
Kaze's demeanor altered suddenly; he sat up with widening gold eyes and twitching ears. "Whu-!?" He scrambled to his feet, looking upset. "Otou, how?"
"What do you mean?" Tsuyoshi perked his own ears and pressed his own senses outward. A familiar, yet subtly different presence met his probe calmly, with a sense of wry laughter.
*Your son has incredible potential.*
Tsuyoshi snatched up his kit and dashed down the stairs, shock and amusement jangling along his nerves. How, indeed. He halted in the doorway to his kitchen, black hair swirling around him and Kaze squirming in his arms, trying to get a good look at the visitor seated casually at the table like he owned the place, gnawing on a haunch of something from the cold room. For a moment, despite the feeling of connection in his head - the sense that something missing had been restored - Tsuyoshi almost did not recognize the man. Then he relaxed and set down his violently writhing son.
The youko lifted a dark head, the chestnut half-braid gathered over his shoulders streaked liberally with pure, pale gold. He gave Tsuyoshi's son a tiny, sardonic smile of amusement, then squared broad shoulders under the human cloak he wore, looking his brother directly in the eyes.