Look upon the horror of humanity and reflect that mood yourself.
Touma shot awake. The sun was glaring in his face, but by its angle he knew he had ample time to get to class. The dream clung to the edges of his thoughts, scrabbling for purchase.
Dark valleys. Unnaturally strong wind. In their depths people screamed, then no more as blood graced the hard ground. "... the shadow of death," he murmured, voicing a quote from some half-forgotten English literature course. The Bible, his brain decided, as his hands began to shake.
The dream had been so tangible, wrapped in amorphous darkness and solid sharp light. The blood had smelled so real. The moon had been full, yet its light could not penetrate... and somewhere a dog had been howling, calling into the darkness...
Kujuurou, he thought. Was this how Seiji feared him? Did he look into those eyes and see death?
Touma shook away the vision, adjusting to the hollowness which rushed in to fill it. I look in those eyes and see desire.
Whatís wrong with me?
He stepped out into the warm sun, and tried not to wince at its brightness.
"Oi, Touma! Itís Shin!"
"I figured that. Whatís up?"
"Want to come over?"
A glance at the piles of books to be read, the drafts to be written. "Sure."
"Great! Shuuís coming over too."
Touma stepped out of the subway station, flicking his shades down. He always put them away around the other guys; Shuu would probably say he looked like yakuza. To tell the truth, he felt a little vampiric, to crave the darkness so. He was getting better, though. He didnít wear the green silk shirt as often, nor go clubbing till the sun came up, nor take long walks at one a.m.
Buzz! "Come on up, Tou-chan!"
None of it lessened the ache for Kujuurou. Nor forgave the fact that he didnít miss Seiji. It took an effort to remember the way he smelled.
Touma tucked the shades away.
Shinís flat was always filled with the scent of cooking food. It made Toumaís mouth water just to picture the tiny studio, and he made it a point to try to eat before he was pounced.
"Touma!" As usual, no such luck with that plan. Touma grinned, swinging Shin around. "Hey, youíll knock over my vase!"
"Thatís a vase?"
"So Sayoko-nee said. I think it might be a good ashtray, but it does well with roses. Hey, before I forget, are you going to write that birthday invitation for Ryo?"
"Sure. I can write it in romaji, since he reads English pretty well, itíll be cooler that way. Whereís Shuu?" Touma peered around the maze of folding screens.
"In the kitchen!"
"Then how come Iím not there too?" Touma beelined for the latest of Shinís creations. "Okonomiyaki! Mm, you leave any shrimp, Shuu?"
Shuu popped a hot piece in his mouth. Touma hugged him from behind, chewing carefully. He purred when his hair was ruffled. Boyfriend or no boyfriend, it was a joy to have other lovers. "Shin promised massage oil."
Touma wrinkled his nose. "But I just got here. I want to eat while itís hot."
"Ne, so does Shin-chan."
"I heard that!"
"Well, itís true!"
Touma laughed. "Let me eat to get my energy up first, okay?"
There was the sound of a snapping sheet. "You can eat in bed! I need to launder this anyway."
"Wow, Shinís letting us have food in the bedroom area," snickered Shuu.
"Which, the master bedroom, or the guest bedroom?" Touma carried the plate of hotcakes around the screens.
"Very funny. This is the biggest I can afford in Shinjuku."
"As long as the bedís still as big," Shuu said, kissing Shin. "Hey, maybe I can get you a bigger bed, now that Iím in the money!"
Shin laughed. "That would make up for calling me at two in the morning to tell me you almost won the lottery!"
Touma laughed at both of them. Carefully he laid the food out while they stripped. He ducked the flying shirts and went back for the dipping sauces.
Shuu was laid out on the futon and Shin was doing his best to turn him into melted butter. Shuu was built like a tank, but right then his glistening muscles reminded Touma of silk. Stones wrapped in silk. Stockier like Kujuurou.
"Have you heard from Seiji lately?"
It was like waking from a dream. One by one his senses unfolded: the luscious shrimp, the taste of hoisen sauce, the peppermint bite of the massage oil, the arch of Shuuís back, Shinís long, slender fingers. And beneath it all was Tenku yoroi, breaking free like a bird, propelled by the shiver of fear which touched Suiko, Kongo, Rekka... and could not find Korin.
Shin looked up as he rolled the heel of his hand across Shuuís back. /Touma?/
The plate hit the ground like a crack of thunder. Touma doubled over, arms tight around his chest, cold sweat beading on his brow. Warm hands and arms curled around him, but he was shivering, so cold so cold "...so ...cold..."
/Touma, please answer us!/
/Is it his blood sugar?/
/He felt wrong, just before. Oh kami.../
Whispers, all around him, and they barely cut through the numb panic. This was not Yami. There was no taint, no winter, only empty overwhelming cold, only darkness... /Canít you feel it?!/
/Feel what, Tou-chan.../ Shin, trying to be soothing.
/Heís gone... Seijiís gone.../
Shuuís voice, like bedrock. /Heís too far away. Weíre not powerful enough to sense him all the way in America./ That fact slipped through the panic. But it wasnít enough.
Touma wished very hard for Kujuurou.
Then he let loose a sob into Shuuís chest. Shin was pressed to his back, soothing and stroking, his kanji warm where his brow met Toumaís nape.
"Seijiís... all right?"
"Yes, love, of course."
"I canít feel him."
If Shuu and Shin exchanged a look, Touma didnít know, as deep as his dread was. How could he have betrayed Seiji so? What if he really was gone?
"Tou-chan, heís all right. Heís just too far away."
Touma struggled to get a hold of himself. It would be all right. He would wait until Ryoís birthday, when Seiji was sure to return. Just a week to go. Maybe by then there would be a letter, a phone call, something. Maybe he would find Kujuurou again, his terrible comfort. Summer, it was summer and he felt so cold.
"It will be all right, Tou-tou. Hush."
Touma sighed, sinking into the embrace of their hearts and bodies. And he let himself believe it was so.
It was well past high summer. The nights were lengthening, till that tender bite of bone-cold arrived earlier and earlier. Touma sighed and closed the window. Almost four weeks since heíd last seen either Seiji or Kujuurou.
Touma paced up and down the hospital wing. He was finished with the last batch of specimens, and probably should have started on his homework. Instead he took the stairs up to the pediatrics floor.
He found Yayoi sitting in a nursesí lounge. Her hair was down for once, and when she turned to greet him, she flipped it just the way Seiji did.
"...have you heard from him lately?"
She looked surprised. "Hasnít he written you? Heís extending his stay for another month."
Touma ignored the dull ache in his chest. "Why?"
"He got a tip about this sword." She gave him a pointed look, and he groaned inwardly. Seiji would sell his soul for an antique blade. "Apparently itís got the family crest on it. The contact from Columbia University also hinted that it might have something to do with... his other family business."
Touma nodded in understanding. Well, that was a good idea. If the sword had mystical powers, who better than Seiji to appraise it? Then he shook himself---why hadnít Seiji told him? Or the others?
He looked up to find Yayoi staring at him. She had the same look Seiji got when he was seeing right into someone. "So, how is my little brother?"
He was silent for a moment, unable to answer. How was he supposed to tell her that he had no idea?
His confusion was mistaken for reluctance, and she smiled kindly. "Go ahead. Itís all right."
"You really... donít mind?"
ĎGo steadyí? If only she knew. "Your family doesnít...?"
She blinked. "Oh, the marriage thing. These are modern times; Iíll just do what my mother did, take the family name. All thatís left to do is outlive Grandfather," she added with a wry smirk. "Seiji can really do what he wants, as long as heís discreet."
"Iíd expect not. Seiji can be just as old-fashioned as Ojii-sama sometimes. Part of him may think heís still expected to get married-say, you donít think thatís why, hm?"
It occurred to Touma that Yayoi talked enough for both her siblings. She was just as disturbingly perceptive, on top of it. He squirmed. "Why... why heís distancing himself...? Yeah, that seems plausible. Uh, has he said anything about this?"
"I havenít had the chance to ask. I started this job, along with school, last year. Iíll talk to him for you."
"Donít worry. Seijiís my brother. Iíve learned how to read his silences." That would be a handy skill. "Besides, I havenít had a heart-to-heart with him in a while." She winked. "Donít be fooled by that ice princess act. He can be a big softie."
Touma coughed. Hearing Seijiís sister call him an ice princess... he had to tell Shin this one. "You really donít have to. After all, it may be my fault..."
"Yo, Yaya! Arenít you supposed to get that chart for Takemura?" A dark haired resident leaned over the counter. "You arenít flirting on the job, na?"
Yayoi launched a swizzle stick at the man. "Takemura said to get it in by this evening! Heís sleeping right now, no point bothering him."
The man shrugged. "Oi, whoís the jailbait?"
Touma blushed despite himself. Yayoi laughed, shaking her head. "This is Hashiba Touma, a family friend. Touma, this oaf is Nagata Kyosuke. Go ahead and call him Kiki."
"Maa, low blow, Yaya-san! You know I hate that girlís name." Kyosuke gave a mock grimace as he poured some coffee. "Youíre going to ruin my reputation."
"What reputation?" Yayoi sobered, looking over at the color coded chart under Kyosukeís arm. "Hey, did you stop by her room?"
Touma glanced at the chart color. No doubt who Ďsheí was. He felt obscurely guilty for not visiting the little girl again.
Kyosuke nodded grimly. "Sheís getting worse. Itís like whatever was holding her up was taken away."
Yayoi slumped. "Oh, thatís so sad. Iíd hate to have bad news for Seiji when he returns."
"You know, I think sheíll be all right. Her health has failed before, and then she suddenly bounces right back." Kyosuke lowered his voice. "You know, there was one night at the end of my shift... I turned to leave her room and I swear she spoke to me."
Touma raised his brows. "No kidding?"
Yayoi shook her head nervously. "Kiki, thatís not funny."
"Iím not joking! I heard her. She was mumbling something. I even called the night nurse over to see. But she fell back asleep."
Touma was about to say something when his watch beeped. "Oi, Iím gonna be late! Shinís gonna skewer me. Mata ne!"
"Nice to meet ya, Touma-san!" Kyosuke waved his coffee mug.
"Say hi to Seiji next time you talk, okay?" Yayoi flashed him a smile. She really did remind him of Seiji, in earlier, happier times.
Touma escaped as quickly as he could.
It took them a couple of trips to get all the food and drink Shuu ordered for the party. Touma was shocked at the suite theyíd reserved, at one of the most expensive hotels in Shinjuku.
As the glass elevator took them up to the suite, Touma perched on a box, careful to use Tenku to take most of his weight. The sunset caught on every buildingís edge. It was much like another time when heíd looked down on this city from atop a skyscraper, painted with fire and light.
Unfortunately Shin went and said the exact wrong thing. "Cheer up, Touma, Seijiís coming back today!"
Touma tried not to wince. Shin did mean well. "Actually, heís not." He told him and Shuu about the sword. "So I guess heís chasing that down, instead of coming home."
Shuu interjected. "Man, what a damper on the birthday party. You gonna be okay, Touma?"
"Sure, sure. I mean, Seiji canít exactly buy another round trip ticket to America. And if itís about the armor, it might be important."
The elevator doors opened into the bare room. Touma strode out with his load, half an ear on Shinís plans for the space. He looked down at the box of liquor in his arms. I am going to get drunk. Right now.
Fortunately Shin and Shuu helped out by Ďsamplingí quite a few of the potables. Touma decided it was for Ryoís own good. If they were soused they were less likely to bring down the mood with Seijiís absence.
Nasti appeared half an hour later, looking harried from towing both tiger and child. "You would not believe what it takes to get Byakuen through Shinjuku! We had to tip the cabbie double. Jun, donít touch that, thatís for your niisans." She cocked an eyebrow at them. Long ago sheíd ceased to berate them on their underaged doings; saving the world aside, sheíd been tolerant ever since Seiji sweet-talked her into turning over the car keys. Touma figured her French side of the family kept her laid back.
"Heeey, Nasti-nee, you look cute in that dress!" Touma swiveled around to look at Shuu, idly wondering how the Japanese side would handle that.
"Why, thank you, Shuu-kun." A demure little smile and a wink.
At which point, Shin, that little tart, latched on to Shuu and didnít let go all evening.
The four of them were all good and buzzed by the time Ryo stepped out of the elevator. The surprise went off without a hitch. Shuu and Shin were beside themselves, and Ryo looked properly stunned.
"So let me get this straight, you woke up Shin because you missed the ten million lottery prize?"
"But then I realized Iíd hit the three million! Itís all ours, Tou-ma! Kanpai!"
Touma was almost enjoying himself without Seiji. He had just enough to drink to fuzz out how discomforted Ryo was by the blondís absence.
"Itís not like him to be late."
"Seiji is stupid, heís missing a good time!" Shuu declared.
"Oi, Shin," Touma called, "be nice and pour me a glass too."
"You like it sweet, donít you?"
"Touma, this is your glass, isnít it?"
"It is if you give it to me." Touma claimed his drink, idly wondering why Nasti looked so stunned. In the back of his mind he realized the television news was on. Who had switched it on? He couldnít remember. Something itched in the back of his mind.
His curiosity got the better of him, and he managed to corner Nasti at the bar. "Is everything all right, Nasti?"
She glanced at Ryo. "No, itís not. The news just flashed something about Korin no yoroi."
The world was getting blurry. "What...?"
She kept her voice down. "They said itís rampaging through New York. Killing innocent people."
Touma turned away, trying to keep the devastation from his voice. The shadow of death. Valleys. Skyscrapers. Oh my God. "Iíve got to get over there."
"I agree. Look at Ryo, heís already planning to go it alone."
Touma shook himself. Of course, that was what their leader always did. Take it all on himself. He couldnít just think of himself and Seiji, he had to think of everyone else too. Logic kicked in, so much safer than emotions. "Ryoís got his dadís travel accounts, heíll probably cash in frequent flier miles to get there. I just had my passport renewed for that research trip to Korea. Is yours?"
"Yes, itís up to date. I have a friend in the consulate who can grease the wheels."
"All right. Itíll take the three of them a little longer to get their papers ready. Iíll make sure Shin and Shuu get on the same plane as Ryo. In the meantime you and I can check out the details." Borrow money from Otousan, go to New York, and leave Nasti nice and safe doing research while I go after Seiji myself.
"But Jun! I promised his parents Iíd take care of him till school starts."
Touma shrugged. "If we canít get a visa for him then we can leave him with my mom, or Shuuís family."
Nasti nodded, going through the arrangements in her head. "Touma, Iím sure Seijiís all right. Weíll get to the bottom of this."
Partly because he was drunk, partly because he just didnít have it in himself to start crying in front of Nasti, Touma smiled encouragingly. Or tried to. "Youíre right, Nasti. Weíll get him back."
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