A Flare of Dragons

 

Part Three

 

"I don't think he meant to let some of those things slip," Taichi is saying. He takes a sip from the mug of cider he had the barmaid bring him - my partner doesn't believe in drinking on assignment, and especially not early in the morning. "He told me directly that he and Daisuke have no blood-relation, and they're not romantically involved. Then he said they take care of each other, but it looks more like he's protecting Daisuke than the other way around. He avoided that subject pretty neatly."

I make a vaguely interested noise, and glance over to the left again. We're in a marginally crowded taproom attached to the inn we stayed at last night, and there's a light buzz of conversation around that hides what we're saying - as long as we're speaking in low enough voices. Daisuke and Koushiro sit at a different table near ours, where we can keep an eye on them. Taichi probably doesn't even need to bother, though, I think sourly. I'll do it well enough for both of us.

"Hey, are you listening at all?"

"I heard you." I'm not in a very good humor - sleep was hard to catch after that… incident. "Avoided the subject. Right."

Taichi shakes his head. "You're hopeless," he points out, in a good-natured impression of disgust. "Did you pick anything up from Daisuke at least? When you weren't kissing him, that is." He grins, obviously finding the situation very amusing.

"Shut up." I really would rather not be reminded of what a disaster that turned into. "What does it matter? We're not supposed to analyze them. We just need to get them to the Tower in one piece, if you remember."

"He's slowed down your thoughts already, huh?" Taichi sighs, giving me an expression of pity. "The more we know about them, the less chance they have to surprise us. You do want to get them there, don't you?"

I scowl, angrier with myself for missing the obvious than with him for pointing it out. "I didn't get much sleep last night," I admit, grudgingly. I'd have died before letting anyone else know that, but I trust Taichi - at least somewhat.

"Want me to tie Koushiro to the bed next time?" he offers, in a tone a little more cheerful than it probably should have been while making that suggestion. "Then he won't bother you while you're trying to get somewhere with Daisuke. Of course, that probably won't help you get any sleep…"

"It also wouldn't get me anywhere," I add, looking over at Daisuke again. He pushed me off the bed… Just when things seemed promising. He seemed to like what I was doing… I know I did. I watch as he makes a wide gesture and beams at Koushiro hopefully, obviously trying to make the more serious redhead smile. It appears to be working - even Koushiro can't hold out against Daisuke's infectious happiness.

Then again, who possibly could?

"Care to rejoin me in the world of conscious human beings, Ken?"

I sigh and turn back to face Taichi. "Other than Daisuke pushing me away and saying 'no' and that he 'couldn't', I didn't pick up anything unusual last night."

"That might be unusual enough." Taichi frowned, turning to mimic my gaze. "I get the feeling there's more to those two than what we can see. Keep your eyes and ears open with Daisuke, all right? I mean your trained eyes and ears," he adds, with another grin. "Not the kind working with your sex drive."

I raise an eyebrow at him. "So I room with Daisuke every time? Don't you think that might cause problems?" Especially with Koushiro…

Taichi waves a dismissive hand. "Less problems than if we locked you in a room with Koushiro."

I have to admit that may be true.

He takes another long sip from his cider, and I glance over at Daisuke again. He catches my gaze this time and smiles at me hopefully. I can feel myself smiling back - despite the humiliation of last night, I can't help but respond to the fact that he's forgiven whatever crime I committed to warrant the punishment he dealt.

That, and he's got a really nice-looking smile.

"Would you stop mooning over him already?"

I jerk my gaze back, straightening indignantly in my seat. "I am not mooning!"

"Yeah?" He raises an eyebrow and grins. "He's staring at your butt, by the way."

"Bastard!" I hiss that out, glaring at him. "He is not!"

Taichi just smirks at me.

"Is he?" I can't help it… I have to look. When I turn around, Daisuke is happily munching on a bread roll and not paying me the slightest bit of attention.

My partner is already laughing uproariously even as I turn back around.

I let my head fall forward until it hits the table with a loud 'thunk'. Some days, I just can't put up with Taichi… And this morning is definitely looking to turn into one of them.

"What's wrong with him?" I hear Koushiro ask loudly.

Taichi ignores his defeated opponent - me - and turns his attention to a new victim. "Oh, I just told him you love him, Koushiro."

"Wha…?" Daisuke sounds partly shocked and partly alarmed. I peek up with some interest. He's sitting there looking utterly confused, while Koushiro sputters at Taichi, face red with a flustered outrage.

"That would make anyone want to beat their head into a table, wouldn't it?" the older merc goes on, still grinning.

Koushiro's hands clench into fists, and he glowers at Taichi fiercely. "I regret asking," he says stiffly, and turns deliberately to face Daisuke again. The younger boy looks like he's about to start asking what's going on, but his companion mutters something too quietly for us to hear, and he doesn't get the chance.

Taichi chuckles, raising his cider again. "Too easy."

I just shake my head. Better Koushiro than me.

Our conversation's hit a pause, so I concentrate on my own drink - mulled wine, incidentally - and try to catch some of what our charges are saying. They're trying to be quiet about it, but I can hear enough to make me interested.

"… you listen to me!" Koushiro's voice rises, and he immediately tries to hush it again. "… dangerous… you know what… care if he is cute…"

I try to stifle a smile. It sounds as if Koushiro is giving Daisuke a lecture in response to what he blurted out last night. Daisuke thinks I'm cute, then…? I really have to work not to show any signs of elation. It's a start - it is most definitely a start.

"Yeah, yeah…" Daisuke obviously has to employ some effort to keep his voice low. His next words are muttered out, grouchily. "… would you know…?" When Koushiro responds in a hushed but firm tone, he blurts out in a fully audible hiss, "Well, you've never kissed anyone before either!"

I risk a glance over. Koushiro is flushing again, this time with embarrassment. "My experience in kissing has nothing to do with this!" he retorts, glancing sideways at Taichi and turning - if possible - even more red.

Daisuke frowns and looks down at the table, clearly sulking - and looking cute about it. I turn my gaze to Taichi, who doesn't appear to have been watching the two, and grin. Now's my chance…

"You know," I say casually, holding my drink in both hands, "that redhead is looking at you a lot. What did you two end up doing last night, anyway?"

Taichi blinks, clearly caught off-guard. "Wha…? He's what?"

"And why were you so eager to go around tying him to beds?" I add, innocently. "Is there something you're not telling me, Taichi?"

He frowns. "I'm not - " A quick glance at Koushiro turns out to be perfectly timed - he catches the younger boy's gaze, and blinks again.

I smirk. "You know what? I think he likes you." Without giving him a chance to reply, I continue smoothly, "but he's too shy to admit it."

Taichi scowls. "That's not funny."

"What's not funny?" I sip at my own drink, and smile in response to the way his eyebrows are angling down. "That Koushiro wants to get in your pants? That he wants to - "

My partner slaps a hand over my mouth before I can continue. "Shut up!" he hisses, and stands quickly before I can respond. "I'm going outside to do some training," he announces in an unconvincingly casual tone, and bolts.

Koushiro frowns again. "What's the matter with him?"

I can't resist. "I just told him you love him, Koushiro," I say, and ignore his sputters in favor of turning another smile on Daisuke.

~\\~

"So how long does Taichi need to practice for?" Daisuke asks me, watching as I buckle on my weapons. I didn't bother with more than a few daggers for breakfast - wearing formal gear while taking a meal isn't all that polite.

"Not too long," I assure him. "He's usually restless in the morning." I have to bite my tongue to resist adding more to that with the intention of further irritating Koushiro, who is lurking around the door and watching me warily.

It's a shame he has to follow us everywhere…

Apparently, though, I don't need to bother. "That's neat," Daisuke comments, and turns to look at his older companion curiously. "So do you really love him?"

Koushiro's eyes go wide, and his face turns about eight shades of red. "Absolutely not!" he replies, emphatically.

I can't resist. "Why are you blushing, then?"

His hands fly up to his cheeks, as if he thinks he can hide it. "It's called embarrassment," he retorts. "I'm sure you came into contact with that last night, on the floor."

I can feel heat rising on my own cheeks. Damnit…

"That'd be when Daisuke rejected you," Koushiro continues, firmly. He says it more like he's trying to convince me than insult me. "Remember?"

"Hey, I didn't reject anybody!" Daisuke protests, before I can open my mouth. "All I did was push him! And I didn't mean to do it so hard…"

"Daisuke…" Koushiro begins.

I interrupt him. "So that supposed 'rejection' might be more the result of… inexperience?"

He glares at me in response. I stare back coldly.

"Er… yeah." Daisuke coughs. "Well, I think I left something downstairs… I'm just going to go get it, huh? You guys wait here." And he darts out the door.

Koushiro raises an eyebrow at me. "You're letting him go?"

I nod. "He can take care of himself - he's not a child, after all."

His eyes narrow at that. "And if he runs?"

"He won't," I reply smoothly. "Not while you're still here with me. He's not the type to run off and leave you behind."

"It might be better for him if he were." For a moment, he fixes me with a serious gaze - possibly the first time he's looked at me without suspicion, resentment, or anger. Then he sighs. "I'm going after him."

"Not alone," I remind him curtly, and follow.

"Hey… excuse me!" I can hear Daisuke's voice from up ahead. "I'm trying to go, um, get my things. Lemme through please?"

"What's the hurry?" I recognize the slurred, lazy drawl of a man who's had too much alcohol. It’s not even noon yet, I think in digust as the man continues. "My room's back this way, you know…"

Is he…? My blood starts to boil. "Why that…" I hurry forward - pushing past Koushiro without thinking about it.

No one is going to treat Daisuke like that while I'm around!

"No, I just want to get through, thanks."

"Why don't you just come over here for a bit?" I can see the offender now - a stout man with a greasy look about him, holding onto Daisuke's arm. They're right at the bottom of the stairs, with the heavy-set man blocking the younger boy's path. "I won't hurt you - all I wanna do is talk." He leers.

Daisuke leans back, making a face. "Really, just let go, okay?" He doesn't sound afraid, and there’s an oddly flat look in his eyes. I hesitate. "I don't wanna hurt you."

"You?" The man laughs, spittle spraying everywhere. Then he smirks, and tugs Daisuke closer, sliding one greasy hand over the boy's waist. "Be a good boy and come along now."

I growl, and start forward again. Fury is staring to blur my vision - the space around Daisuke seems to be getting fuzzy…

"Damnit!" Koushiro suddenly grabs me roughly from behind. "Get down, you idiot!" he yells, and rings an arm around my waist to pull me to the floor.

I hadn't been expecting it, and I don't have time to get my balance… I hit the floor, just as the air around me seems to explode, and something roars in my head like particularly close thunder. It's as if there's a ripple of sound somewhere nearby…inside the tavern…?

"Daisuke!" I push Koushiro away from me roughly, and scramble to my feet. If something happened to him… oh god…

He's half-sprawled on the stairway, breathing heavily - and the man who had been attacking him is lying prone beside him. I can't tell if the bastard is breathing, and I don't care at this point. I hurry down the stairs at a run and kick him out of the way contemptuously before crouching beside Daisuke. His eyes are half lidded, like he had the energy drained out of him, and his mouth is slightly open as he pants.

If I weren't so worried… I'd be trying to keep myself from jumping him.

As it is, though, I want to make certain he's all right. "What the hell just happened?" I demand of Koushiro, as he approaches us. I reach out and brush my fingers over Daisuke's cheek, hoping to calm him a little. "Is he all right? What happened to him?"

"Get back." Koushiro grabs my hand firmly. "Don't touch him."

I stare at him. "What? Why?"

His dark eyes meet mine - there's a look in them that compels me to listen, despite my worry. I pull my hand back slowly and relinquish my position.

Koushiro leans forward and touches a careful hand to his companion's forehead. "Daisuke…"

Immediately, Daisuke's eyes snap from half-lidded to wide open - and, faster than I can finish taking in my next breath, his hand shoots out and grabs Koushiro by the throat.

I gasp, jerking forward instinctively - but the redhead doesn't seem surprised. He sets a hand on Daisuke's wrist, staring down at the boy steadily. "Daisuke… it's over."

I stare at them. This… This doesn't make sense… Daisuke's face is blank - empty. He doesn't look human any more; it's like he's looking right through Koushiro… like he's so detached from the world…

"It's over…" Koushiro repeats softly. "It's okay… come back, Daisuke, it's okay…" He brushes wild auburn hair off the boy's forehead - even through my shock, I can manage to feel vaguely jealous. "Calm down… please, you're worrying Ken…"

Daisuke's eyes are softening even as he talks; at that last statement, they slide closed completely and he lets out a sigh, going limp. His hand loosens and falls away from Koushiro's throat.

"Kou..." That's barely a whisper; he sounds so weak… "Sorry…"

The older boy smiles, brushing his hair again. "It's okay." He takes in a breath, then asks, "Did you kill him?"

Did he what? I stare again.

Daisuke lifts his head and regards Koushiro wearily. "No. I don't think he's hurt bad."

"That's good - you're gaining more control, I think." The redhead helps him into a sitting position. "Are you able to move around? We should get out of here as soon as possible."

The younger boy nods tiredly, trying to push himself up with hands that shake badly. "M'okay… I'll be - owww…"

That, I'm going to do something about. I lean over to help him to his feet, with Koushiro taking his other side. "I assume you two are going to tell me what just happened there?"

"Not until we're out of this place," Koushiro replies firmly. He wraps a supporting arm around Daisuke's waist, looping one of the boy's own arms around his shoulders. And then allows me to do the same, though he gives me a slightly suspicious look. "Let's go get Taichi and move along before we attract more attention to ourselves."

I glance around. The stairs aren't out in plain view of the taproom, but Daisuke's condition is attracting us a few curious looks - and the man on the floor is going to seem suspicious. "I think you're right."

There's a hallway around behind the stairs that leads to the back exit - with Daisuke held steady between us, Koushiro and I manage to make our way along there. Opening the door, I find Taichi where I'd expected, sparring with a makeshift wooden opponent…

… shirtless.

He swings and brings his sword down in one last, impressive move - more than likely because he heard us come out. There are no tan lines on his lean form, and he does look impressive with that sword. I can't help but smile a little.

And he accuses me of showing off…

I can feel Koushiro tensing because of the way our arms make contact behind Daisuke; when I glance over, he's staring at Taichi with wide eyes. His cheeks are bright red again, too… and he's staring - I wonder if he realizes he's staring.

At least that tells me who this little show is for…

I look away before someone notices I'm smirking and gets the wrong idea about why.

Taichi looks over at us, and sucks in a sharp breath, eyes widening. Daisuke is barely on his feet, held up only by the support Koushiro and I are giving him. "What the hell happened?"

My smirk gives way to a grimace. I wish I knew…

~//~

(Taichi's pov)

It’s easy to get lost in the momentum of the nodachi as I swing the six-foot blade into complex movements. It’s all about the center of balance, of where I put my hands and how I adjust the angle. When I first started training with this it seemed to be almost instinctive how I moved with it. The most I had to worry about then was the occasional misstep or the risk of a severed leg.

Now…

Looking at me…likes me… yeah right!

Now it seems I’ve got to worry about more than just getting the mission done.

As if he would want to look at me—he’s made it pretty clear how he feels about that. Step to the side, let the muscles flex and feel the pull of gravity, twist the hips and step, turn with the blade—

Like I’ve even got a chance

Turn twist duck pull

//thunk//

My ending move has left the edge of my nodachi buried in the innocent wood of the practice post I’ve set up. My mind relaxes from its focused awareness of everything around me and when I’m more or less back to normal, something seems to catch my attention. Almost…whispers of thunder.

OddThere’s no stormclouds near, I think, looking up and wiping my brow. Maybe something just got knocked over

I have to pull with considerable strength to get the nodachi free. I’m sweaty from a mere fifteen minutes of working with my blade, and I suppose it’s a bit more risky to practice without a shirt—but I can’t really tell myself it’s because I’m too warm. Even I have to admit that I’m just waiting for the opportunity to show off.

My ears catch the sound of the heavy wooden door slamming shut, and from the corner of my eye I see the black stud raise his head. It must be Ken, at least. A glance into the reflection of the nodachi as I raise it up and balance it over my head shows a blurred splash of fiery hair—

So he’s here too! my mind proclaims, urging my body to start another show.

And I’m sure I’m going to embarrass myself—but I can’t seem to stop myself. It’s way to easy to finish the overhead move in a flashy way, letting myself turn with the motion and look to see that hes watching—

Hey, wait a second—

What the hell?

I inhale sharply as I take in Ken’s alarmed and angry face, the barely-conscious Daisuke between him and a worried-looking Koushiro. "What the hell happened?" I ask, knowing somehow that pain was involved.

Ken merely frowns, his eyes going that peculiar dark violet and glances down at Daisuke. He looks worried, and somewhat hesitant, as if there was something he was trying very hard to figure out.

"We have to go," Koushiro states. His face is a fading pink when I glance at him. He repeats, "We have to go, now."

His eyes meet mine and it’s clear that there won’t be any arguing on either side. Something had happened, something to anger both Ken and Koushiro—which meant it involved Daisuke—and judging from the state he was in—something bad had happened.

Yet…"Do we have everything?" I snap, pushing aside the thought. I slide the nodachi into its sheathe. One hand pulls the linen shirt over my head, tugging on the harness even as I slide my arms through.

Ken tosses a collection of bags at me, nodding as they heap on the ground. "Yes. We need to leave as soon as we can."

His eyes seem to warn me as he flicks a glance back to Daisuke, and then to Koushiro. I’ve gotten into the habit of trusting Ken’s judgment and his habit of not-speaking—but even if he had said it was a bad idea to leave—there’s some pleading expression in Koushiro’s eyes that beg me to listen.

"Got it," I say slowly. "The horses are ready—Ken go and load up the baggage on the mare. We’ll travel faster if she’s got a light load—and our mounts can carry two easily. Get it done."

Koushiro frowns as if he wants to protest, but for once, he keeps his mouth shut. Ken allows the full weight of Daisuke fall upon the redhead—who’s obviously done such support before by the way his stance shifts. I have a brief moment of appreciation of his strength as I grab the bags and chuck them after Ken, silently thankful that there’s nothing breakable within.

Then I reach out, hoisting the white-faced Daisuke into my arms. "It’s okay if he rides with Ken?" I ask the redhead. He looks like he wants to grab the boy right out of my arms, fidgeting like a mother hen, but he eventually nods as I explain "You know that Ken won’t let him get hurt?"

And it gives me an excuse to get close to you! my libido comments brightly.

"Alright," Koushiro concedes as I’m busy smacking my mind into shape. I turn, seeing that Ken is astride his black and carefully leading the other two horses. The placid mare is loaded with the extra baggage, and my gelding—thanks to my earlier habit of saddling for the expected departure—pulls eagerly at the bit. Ken drops his eyes on me, without speaking, and opens his arms as he nears. I lift Daisuke to him.

Ken gives me a fierce glance, a half smile that tells me worlds of his amusement if the situation wasn’t so serious, and arranges Daisuke until the auburn-haired boy is comfortably placed against his chest. My companion wraps an arm around his waist in a gentle gesture of maintaining balance as the black stud dances restlessly with the extra weight.

"Tai—" the young Second-rank begins.

I shake my head and vault onto my gelding in one smooth motion, sliding the nodachi down until it’s laying along the slope of the back and out of the way. "Later," I finish, extending a hand to Koushiro. I try to keep as much reassurance in my eyes as possible—hoping he would take my hand—

Come on, Koushiro, I don’t bite…

A warm hand clasps mine slowly, ebon eyes meeting my gaze with a brief distrustful glare. I grin down at him, and help him mount behind me. I make sure to keep the nodachi angled away as he does. "Hold that to your side or it’ll be in the way," I tell him. He slides an arm over the sheathed blade, and scoots close.

Ken is tying the reigns of the mare to his saddle. He raises his head to nod once again, and hugs Daisuke close to him. I can tell by the lax way he's sitting that Daisuke is completely gone. I frown, then nod. "I’m good to go," I call quietly.

Then as silently as possible, we slip away, heading straight into the forest that extends for leagues around us. It’ll be easy to avoid pursuit. Gods help us if there is pursuit.

As we move past the initial brush, ducking branches, I have the uneasy feeling that I’m about to find out what’s been hiding behind Koushiro’s words.

~//~

Daisuke is sleeping deeply by the time we find a suitable clearing. It’s been about seven hours of careful navigation through the thick forest. The late afternoon is cast with deep shadows from the sun dipping low behind the trees.

"Will this do?" I ask Ken, who’s busy raking sharp eyes over the clearing. A moment later he turns to meet my eyes in a more definite approval, nodding. Koushiro tightens his arms around my waist. He’s probably exhausted and, like me, concerned over Daisuke.

It doesn’t help that I still don’t know what’s going on.

Ken maneuvers the mare and loops her reins over a handy bush. "I’ll need help with Daisuke," he calls.

To my slow regret, Koushiro loosens his arms, and clings to my offered arm for balance as he slides over the side. I watch him stretch without looking too obvious, continue to watch him as he makes a grimace and hurries in Ken’s direction.

Ken raises a knowing brow when he catches me watching Koushiro walk away—thank god he doesn’t say anything.

I mumble a curse about smart-ass companions and at myself for watching the way he was walking and swing my leg over the side. My feet hit the ground with a screech of pain up my spine—I don’t usually ride immediately after practice. It’s too painful when my muscles start cramping. I haul my pack without a word of complaint, though, clicking my tongue at the gelding to get him to follow me. It doesn’t take me very long to drop the extra weight and sidle the gelding in beside the other beasts.

Koushiro is heaving Daisuke’s slight weight quite competently into his arms when I lean the nodachi against the nearest tree. I smile at him reassuringly, kicking aside the packs, and help him lay Daisuke down, pillowing his head on one of my extra jerkins.

A glance to the side shows Ken is busy unsaddling the horses to the point of comfort, but ready in an instant’s notice. His movements are more rushed than I’ve ever seen, and I can tell he’s just itching to check on Daisuke.

Well, he’s close enough to hear. Might as well start asking questions. I occupy my hands with organizing the remaining packs, and pull out a blanket from the third to lay over Daisuke. "Say, Koushiro? I think it’s time you started informing us what’s going on."

The redhead pauses in smoothing the blanket, fussing like a woman, and raises panicked eyes to mine. I try to keep my face neutral, but I know I’m showing a bit more resolve than what he probably expects of me.

"I…" he bites his lip as Ken drops the last bag nearby with a whoomp.

I look up, tossing him the flint. "Start a fire?" I’ve got a suspicion that if I don’t keep Ken occupied he’d be demanding all sorts of unnecessary questions.

Even so, the slender second-rank eyes me, catching the stone neatly, and shrugs. "Of course," he replies. He kneels in the center of our little group, hands digging deftly at the earth until moist dark soil is exposed. I look back to Koushiro’s weary face as dried grass gets balled up and piled neatly in the depression.

"Here, use the scraps," I say, handing Ken the small bag of wooden odds and ends that we’ve picked up along the way. It’s not enough to really cook anything, but it’s enough to start a decent fire and give us some time to find proper firewood.

A few practiced strikes with the flint and the grass kindles, smoking slightly. When I look back at Koushiro a second time I know I can’t hide the seriousness in my eyes, nor can I keep Ken from talking for very long. "Well?" I say gently.

"Have either of you heard of the Chosen Prophecy?" Koushiro begins hesitatingly.

I know right away that whatever this prophecy is it’s not good. Ken snaps his head up, puzzled recognition flaring in his eyes and he asks "The Chosen? However did you find out about that? It’s such ancient material…"

"I’ve had to opportunity to research the subject quite thoroughly," Koushiro remarks. He’s looking somewhat interested in how Ken knows about this prophecy thing, and asks eagerly "Might I ask how you know of it? Even the oldest scholars I’ve visited couldn’t tell me very much…"

Ken shrugs. "My brother studied old texts when he was visiting the Tower in Carce and when he came home I was told all about it. Osamu said that this prophecy was mentioned and referred to very often, but he couldn’t find the actual thing."

The redhead is nodding. "I discovered much the same thing…" he pauses to bite his lip again, worrying it between his teeth until I feel like poking him or something. Then he says, "I found bits and pieces of the prophecy, though. I know what it says might happen, and…" his gaze falls to Daisuke. "I know what can happen…"

Ken slides his hair behind his ear, a habit of nervousness he’s quite unaware of doing, and leans forward. "Are you saying Daisuke’s part of this prophecy?"

"Dai has this…power. It’s tied to his emotions, his mental state. It’s difficult for him to control this power, because it flares whenever he experiences high amounts of fear, or happiness. It protects him when he’s in danger, and…" Koushiro pauses again, searching for the words. "In such cases he has little control over the outcome."

I frown, handing, the attentive Ken a battered metal pot to make some much-needed tea. "So…what kind of power are we talking about?"

"From what I’ve pieced together, the prophecy goes like this—"

"A child is born, a gifted chosen.

mind to mind and heart of hearts

blessed and cursed in equal measure.

One gift to see the heart

one gift to hear the mind

one gift to bear the burn of life

and a fourth to tie them all

Blessed to choose, cursed to destroy

life's gift becomes fickle fate

When pure of mind, body or decision

falls to heedless seizure

Destruction will follow the chosen's loss

and lead to new creation"

The words seem to echo around us as Koushiro finishes speaking. I catch Ken’s eye, frowning to let him know that most of that went straight over my head, and poke a stick at the fire.

"So you’re saying that Daisuke is this Chosen," Ken says slowly. "And that he has some sort of powers…"

Koushiro fixes him with a level stare. "In simple terms, Daisuke could rip out your mind and smash you to bits without even touching you. That’s what he did to that man back in the tavern, and that’s what he almost did to you when you kissed him!"

I have the opportunity to see Ken look absolutely stunned for a brief moment, but even I can’t bear to give him hell over it. "I…see," he says finally. "So…" and he goes a bright blushing red.

"If I were to let Daisuke become involved with you, and he would—if he were to be with you physically and—"

"Climax?" I offer innocently.

Koushiro shoots me a glare. "Yes. Climax. If you were to become intimate with Daisuke…it would be the last thing you would ever do. He wouldn’t be able to control himself during such a time, and that’s why I don’t want him involved! He’s…he’s had a lot of bad things happen to him, and he doesn’t deserve to have a broken heart!"

The expression on Ken’s face is fleeting, hidden behind years of a mask I’m too familiar with. Even if Koushiro couldn’t see it, I could tell that Ken was reeling from the shock of such a revelation. He’s fiddling with the pot, emptying one of his canteens for water into it and carefully avoiding my gaze. I grabbed for whatever distraction I could think of, and say "So, is that why you don’t want to go to the Tower?"

The redhead nods. "I don’t trust their motives. There was an incident recently, and they discovered Daisuke before I could sneak him out of the city. When they brought us to your compound, they told us we’d be escorted to the Tower. They said that they wouldn’t allow any harm to befall such a prestigious boy, but…" a flicker of unease crosses his face. "I don’t trust them. Daisuke didn’t trust them. He said that they were full of greasy thoughts…"

Silence reigns as the last few comments sink in, and then Koushiro is sighing. "I’m so tired of running from everyone, but he saved my life, once. He’s family to me now, and I won’t abandon him to whatever schemes the Tower builds."

"I’m going to take first watch," Ken says very quietly, placing the pot upon the fire to heat. Then he rises with his hands automatically checking his swords, and stalks away.

"Shit," I say, thumping my fist lightly into my forehead. "Just great. I’ve spent years trying to get him to express himself…"

"…I’m sorry," Koushiro replies. "But there’s something else you should know, and it’s something that I doubt even Ken is aware of…"

I peer at him. This had better be good.

"I’m not entirely sure on the meaning of the entire prophecy, but several things are clear. Daisuke’s powers are clearly described, so there’s no doubt in my mind that he is the Chosen. Second…I didn’t want to mention this to Ken because what I have said is bad enough, but…if Ken refuses to restrain himself and seduces Daisuke, he might very well be responsible for the termination of the world."

I can’t help but stare at Koushiro when he finishes this particular thought, and I’m suddenly glad that Ken is out scouting a perimeter. This is news not even I would want him to hear. Man, to find out that your would-be lover could destroy the world…

"Damn," I finally whisper. "So…what do we do when he wakes up?"

 

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