An X Sekkushiaru Roman



By Sailor Mac

Kamui Shiro was standing beside a column of fire.

The flames danced in front of him, feeling like they were going to singe his flyaway brown hair, burn the clothes right off his small frame. He could only stand there, transfixed, not knowing what was going to happen next . . .

There was a noise like a loud snort, and white foam exploded in front of him. He backed away, blinking.

Akira Injun, the teacher, put down the fire extinguisher, looking more bemused than angry. "Next time," he told Kamui, "add the brandy more gradually. That way, you'll get a nice, controlled flame, instead of . . . what you just had."

Kamui let out a deep sigh. When he signed up for this cooking class, he thought it would be easy and fun. He didn't know it was going to be out-and-out dangerous.

Picking up a potholder, he gingerly lifted the blackened pot from the stove and looked at the charred remains of the dessert inside. He didn't know if he had the heart to start over from scratch again. Especially since his friends both seemed to be doing well. Yuzuriha, the bouncy 14-year-old with the short black hair, was already scooping her finished creation onto a plate and sneaking one of the cherries to Inuki under the table. The large, gray spirit dog wolfed the concoction down hungrily and looked up at his mistress with his tail wagging, seeming to plead for more.

On the other side of him, Arashi, the perpetually serious girl with long, dark hair and equally dark eyes, was stirring at the contents of her own pan methodically, in a rather businesslike way. She tilted it this way and that, scrutinized the contents, stirred it a little more . . .

*I wonder why they took this class,* Kamui thought, dropping the pan in the sink. *They could both cook to start with. All I can do is put something frozen in the microwave.*

The teacher wandered over to him again. Kamui regarded the wavy-haired man who seemed to have a perpetual twinkle in his eye with a gaze that conveyed frustration. "If you want, Kamui, you can try making this again at home and then just bring the results to my office."

Kamui nodded. "Thanks . . . but I don't know when I'll get time to do it."

"Too busy studying?" Akira said. "Or . . . other things?" Akira knew full well what Kamui was really at Clamp Campus for . . . he was one of the school's administrators, and he'd been among the group that came to collect Kamui and bring him here on that awful, fateful day . . . the day Fuuma became the Dark Kamui, and Kotori died.

"No," said Kamui, scraping futilely at the mess in the pan. "It's just . . . our kitchen is never free. If Sorata's not practicing cooking, Yuzuriha is."

"If you want to practice, let me know, okay?" said the teacher, clapping Kamui on the shoulder. "I can arrange to give you lab time here."

"Thanks," Kamui said. "I appreciate that."

He went back to work on his mess, chopping away at the charred black like someone trying to clear iced-over snow from the sidewalk. *I do need the practice,* he thought. *I have a reason to want to learn to cook . . * And he felt a flush creep over his cheeks when he thought of what the reason was.

Kamui wanted to be able to cook a nice meal for Subaru. He wanted to have a nice, quiet evening, just the two of them . . . and he wanted to impress the onmiyouji with his skill in the kitchen, as well.

*Listen to me,* he thought. *I sound like a 14-year-old girl with her first boyfriend.* But he couldn't deny that's what he felt like. His relationship with Subaru was the brightest spot in his life right now, the thing that kept him from constantly sinking in despair over Fuuma and Kotori.

And his feelings had grown even more intense since that horrible day when Subaru had lost an eye trying to protect him.

Akira was walking around the room now, passing out printouts. "Next week we're starting on French cooking," he said. "This is a list of the seasonings you're going to need. You can find them at the International Market, the address is on the sheet."

Kamui pocketed the paper. He'd think about that later. Right now, he had somewhere to go.

As they started to leave the classroom, Yuzuriha rushed up to him. "You're all right? I saw what happened . . ."

Kamui sighed. "Just a little accident."

"If you want, I can show you he right way to do it later. I've made flaming desserts before. Right, Inuki?" The dog let out a small bark in reply.

Kamui shifted his textbooks from one arm to the other. "You're good at this. I'm really not."

"Actually . . . I just learned to do it recently," the young girl said, pulling a sweater on over her black and white Clamp Campus uniform. "It's not hard at all, not really. You just need to practice." She glanced at her watch, then said, "Inuki . . . we'd better get going. We're going to be late!"

"Where are you going?" Kamui said.

"Meeting someone. For studying!" She said the last words fast and loud, in a tone that could only mean she was covering up for something. "I'll see you later!" She scampered off, in the direction of one of the roads that led off-campus, Inuki at her heels.

Kamui continued on another path, one that led to a seldom-used area behind the main buildings. He wondered just what was going on with Yuzuriha. She was slipping away like that an awful lot lately. And then, there was the sudden interest in cooking . . .

Kamui wondered if he should just ask her point-blank if she had met someone special, but decided against it. He knew how he'd feel if someone asked him that question.

Rounding a corner behind a building, Kamui came upon a gazebo that was covered in trailing vines. A lone figure with close-cropped black hair sat at the picnic table within, a bandage covering one eye held in place by gauze wrapped around his head, smoking a cigarette and gazing off into the distance, as if he could see a reflection of happy days gone by somewhere along the horizon.

Kamui rushed over to him, feeling his heart do the familiar flip-flops it always seemed to do whenever he got around Subaru. "Hi," he said. "I'm sorry I'm late . . . kind of had a problem in my last class . . ."

Subaru turned toward him, a half-smile on his face. "It's all right," he said. "Sit down . . ." He crushed out the cigarette -- Subaru tried to smoke as little around Kamui as possible, he knew the younger boy disapproved of the habit.

Kamui plunked down on the bench, putting the books on the table. "You said we were going to pick up where we left off the last time . . ."

This was another lesson, but very different from the ones Kamui learned in the classrooms. Every day when they both had a free block of time, they met here so Subaru could instruct Kamui in the magical arts. It was Subaru's main purpose as one of the Seven Seals, or so his grandmother had told him from the time he was small -- to make sure that Kamui was an adept by the time the Promised Day came.

Subaru didn't know if he'd be able to make a magical adept of the boy . . . but at least he was learning the fundamentals of magic, and ways to defend himself other than just shooting out energy blasts.

"We'd started to talk about elements, hadn't we?" Subaru said. "That's very important . . . all magic results from various combinations of the elements in the universe. If they are in balance, we have harmony, if there is imbalance . . . chaos."

"So . . . it's the stuff that makes up the universe?" Kamui said. "Like land, or gasses, or . . ."

"Not quite," Subaru said. "We call them by the names of material things . . . but they're more like different spirit forces . . . different forces of nature. They are in everything. And they're within you. You have the power to manipulate the elements and bring about change."

Kamui frowned. "I don't quite get it."

"Do you know what the symbol of my clan is, Kamui?" Subaru said. "It's an interlocking five-pointed star . . . here, I'll show you, can I borrow a piece of paper and a pen?"

Kamui pushed over his notebook and writing instrument. Subaru drew a large star and turned it to face Kamui.

"Each point represents one of the five elements. In my family's tradition, they're called earth, air, fire, water and spirit, or sometimes void. Other traditions call them wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each element rules a different component of the universe . . . and of the human soul." He tapped each point of the star as he named them. "Earth is the physical, the body, the here and now. Air is the mind, intellect. Fire is will and passion. Water is emotions. Void is pure spirit."

He drew a circle around the pentagram. "And all of them . . . are within the universe and within you. All of them can be tapped, and used."

*I wonder if they really are within me,* Kamui thought, studying the diagram. *I don't feel very magical. I've been able to do the energy blast thing all my life, but . . . that's not really magic, is it? That's just a defense mechanism.*

Not for the first time, he found himself wondering why *he* had been picked to be Kamui. It still bothered him that no matter how he concentrated, how much he worked, he still couldn't raise a kekkai.

"You can contact the elements within yourself by concentrating on them," Subaru said. "Meditate on them, on their very essence . . . and you'll be able to use them."

Kamui frowned. "I'm no onmiyouji, Subaru."

"You don't have to be," Subaru said. "This is in *everyone*, Kamui. Not just those who practice the Art. This is a skill that anyone can use, with practice, and training. Look . . . why don't we try an exercise? Close your eyes, and breathe deeply, the way I taught you when you want to go into a meditative state . . ."

Kamui did as he was told, trying to empty his thoughts, empty his soul, make himself a receptacle for the Universe. He was never as good at this as he thought he should be. Of course, it didn't help that he was constantly distracted by the voice, the scent, the presence of the man who'd been his only lover.

"Now, I want you to concentrate on the essence of fire. I want you to envision it . . . think about what fire means to you . . . "

Fire? All he could think of was the embarrassing incident in cooking class today, his dessert turning into a charred mess when Arashi and Yuzuriha were turning out perfect ones.

*Just like the two of them can raise a kekkai,* he thought, *and I can't.* And suddenly, he felt even less magical than before.

"Now," Subaru said, "reach into yourself and find your own fire. Your determination . . . your desire . . . your passion . . ."

And that just brought up a mental image of the last time Subaru had come to his room at night, a seeming eternity ago, they hadn't made love since he'd been injured . . . the two of them locked in a heated embrace, hands and mouths roaming everywhere . . . He furiously tried to wrench his mind back to what he was supposed to be doing, but it wasn't happening.

"I want you to draw that fire out of yourself," Subaru said. "Pull it out . . . mix it with the energies you use to throw an attack . . . and release a blast of fire . . . NOW"

Kamui pushed with his mind, trying to force out whatever was inside him. There was a small poof . . . then, nothing.

*Great,* Kamui thought. *Just great. I can make fire happen when I *don't* want it to, but when I do . . . nothing.*

He looked up at Subaru with eyes filled with disappointment. "I'm sorry . . . it just . . . didn't happen."

Subaru gave him a little half-smile, and hugged him. "It's all right. I may have expected too much of you on the first try . . . we'll try it again later." He looked at his watch. "Right now, I have to get going. I have an assignment."

Kamui pulled back out of Subaru's embrace, reluctantly. "Are you okay now? I mean, are you up to . . . ghostbusting?"

"I'll be fine -- I don't think it'll be that hard to deal with. It's a poltergeist that's haunting an apartment house," Subaru said. "Probably the restless spirit of a former tenant." He kissed the top of Kamui's head. "I'll see you when I get back, okay?"

Kamui nodded, and gathered up his books. He began to walk off in the direction of the Imonoyama mansion, the home of the Seals who lived on campus, as Subaru headed out to town.

*I don't want to just sit around for the rest of the afternoon,* Kamui thought. *I'll just get depressed about the cooking class, and then the magic lesson.* He pulled the flier with the spices list out of the top book, and thought, *Maybe I should just go get this stuff I'm going to need. Maybe I can get one of the others to come with me . . .*

When he walked in the door of their living quarters, Yuzuriha was nowhere to be seen. Sorata, however, was banging around in the kitchen, singing to himself. The perpetually smiling boy poked his dark-haired head out the door as the younger boy walked in.

"Kamui!" Sorata said. "You're home earlier than I thought!"

"Subaru had to leave for an assignment, so we cut the magic lesson short," Kamui said, plopping down on the couch.

"Well, that's too bad," Sorata replied, going back to something on the stove that seemed to occupy his full attention. "Guess you're going to have to get your quality time together later!"

Kamui sighed. He still had mixed emotions about the others knowing the true nature of his relationship with Subaru. Not that it had been his own choice to tell them . . . they'd been outed by accident, when the others burst into his room thinking the noises they'd heard meant Kamui was in danger.

"Well, you're in luck!" Sorata said, pulling another pan out of the cabinet. "You're just in time to see me create my latest masterpiece. Hey, Nee-chan isn't going to be able to resist this one -- I even got *three* kinds of fresh mushrooms!"

*Can everyone in the world cook but me?* Kamui thought. He pulled out the list again, just as Arashi walked into the room carrying a basket of freshly-done laundry.

"Do either of you feel like taking a trip into town with me?" he said. "There's some things I need to get for cooking class . . ."

"Sorry," Sorata said. "I'm a little busy here. Besides . . ." He leaned out the door and eyed Arashi, who had put her basket down and was bent over, sorting what was inside. "I'm enjoying the lovely scenery right here!"

Arashi suddenly snapped upright, as if someone had released a spring in her back. She wheeled to glare at Sorata, who just laughed and retreated back into the kitchen.

"I'll go," she said. "It's getting awfully noisy around here."

"Aww, nee-chan, you don't really mean that, do you?" Sorata said, pouring something from a bottle into his pan.

"I certainly do," she said . . . but she walked toward the kitchen door, her eyes wandering over the stove, taking everything in, wondering if he truly was doing all this for her.

Quickly, she grabbed her own list off the counter. "Come on, Kamui, we're going."

* * *

Arashi walked into the market and grabbed a handbasket. She really wasn't *that* hot on the idea of coming here today, but she needed to get away for a few minutes, especially after that last incident with Sorata.

*He can be just so . . . so . . . irritating,* she thought, reaching into her skirt pocket for her list. *Does he think that *everything* is a game, some sort of joke? He has no idea how *serious* our situation is!*

She began walking through the aisle, past well-dressed women and other uniformed students. It was noisy here, to be sure, but not as noisy as things were at the headquarters of the Dragons of Heaven. Not that Kamui was loud, and certainly not Subaru . . . Yuzuriha could be chatty, but not annoying. No, it was all *him*.

Finding the first thing she needed, she pulled it off the shelf swiftly and deposited in her basket. She didn't know why she had taken this cooking class in the first place. It wasn’t as if she was wanting for food. *He* cooked all the time, always elaborate dishes that looked like something you'd see on a cooking show.

*And he always says he does it for me,* she thought. *And he gives me a big grin, waiting to see how I like everything . . . oh, please, how much more obvious can you be?*

But . . . she had to admit it was nice. Flattering, even . . . nobody had done anything like that for her. Not since she was a child, and her mother was still alive . . .

A memory arose in her head of herself just after her mother's death, wandering lost and lonely through the streets, contemplating suicide by stopping eating. She'd been found by the Shrine Maidens of Ise and brought back to face the destiny her mother had tried to shield her from . . . but still, she'd considered not eating.

And then, one of the Mikos had told her that someday, she'd find someone who loved her. That had been enough to get her to eat.

The picture in her head shifted from herself eating at the table at the Ise Shrine to herself eating at the table in the Imonoyama mansion, Sorata eagerly leaning over her to see her reaction. A strange warmth stole through her, the sensation associated with being cared about, being loved.

*Ridiculous!* she thought, grabbing a couple more bottles and putting them in her basket. *Sorata as the guy they said I'd meet someday? There's no way, no way at all . . .*

And then, a voice in the back of her mind said, "Then why have you thought of nothing but him since you came here?"

She put another bottle in her basket and stalked away, as if running away from the voice.

* * *

Kamui watched Arashi pull the bottles off the shelf and put them in her basket. She'd been going about this in a straightforward matter, he thought, the way she did everything else . . . no wandering around the market looking at cheeses and pastries, she zeroed right in on the spices and found exactly what she was after.

"Okay, that's everything," she said. "Did you get them all, Kamui?"

"Yes," he said, walking toward the cash register. They were lucky . . . it was a rare lull in the store's business, and they were able to get checked out right away.

"I doubt we're going to be using all of these at once," she said as she picked up her bag, "but it's nice to get that shopping out of the way."

They walked out onto the sidewalk, where the fading rays of the late-afternoon sun were painting everything in a slightly reddish tone. People were rushing about, the first wave of commuters starting to leave their offices and head for the subways, homemakers walking with bags of groceries in each hand, a couple of kids rushing around chasing a soccer ball.

*It all looks so *normal*, Kamui thought. *Not like our lives. These people don't realize that the fate of the world is hanging in the balance right now. All they know is we've been having more earthquakes than usual lately.*

He looked up at his companion. Arashi was looking straight ahead, her face its usual unreadable mask. It was nearly impossible to tell what she was thinking most of the time, since she was such a master at hiding her emotions.

*I wonder,* he thought, *what made her take the fancy cooking class? It doesn't seem like the kind of thing someone so straightforward and practical would be interested in.*

"Arashi," he said, "can I ask you something?"

She looked at him for a moment, then nodded.

"Why did you take that cooking class?"

There was a pause, during which she just kept walking, no change in her usual stoic expression. Then, she said, "It was just something I felt like doing."

"I'm surprised Sorata didn't take it," Kamui said. "He seems to really be into that stuff lately. He spends half his life in the kitchen."

"Sorata just likes to show off for the sake of showing off," Arashi said in a cool tone. "What he does, doesn't concern me."

*Does she *really* mean that?* Kamui thought. *I wonder . . . Things always seem to be the same around those two, him teasing her, her making remarks back to him . . .* But there were times when their eyes met, and held, when Kamui got the feeling there was something *there* . . . that for a brief moment, they were looking into eternity itself . . . Then Arashi would usually turn away and make another frosty comment, and the mood would be broken.

"But . . . he said he's cooking those dinners especially for you," Kamui said, shifting his bag to the other hand.

"He *says* that," Arashi said, "but I don't think there's any room for . . ."

Just then, the ground under their feet began to shake. The people stumbled around, screaming, and Kamui grabbed Arashi's arm to keep her from falling . . . and he became aware of a great *darkness* coming from one of the nearby buildings, an all-too-familiar presence.

His heart sank. He knew what was going on. He was going to have to face Fuuma again.

"Kekkai!" Arashi cried. "Where is it?"

Kamui pointed to the building on the corner . . . yes, that was definitely it, there was a figure clothed in black on the roof. "That one . . ."

Without concern for being seen by "normal" people, the two Seals leapt into the air, jumping onto the fire escape of the nearest building, then to the adjoining building's fire escape, then the roof of the third building. Finally, they reached their goal.

At the edge of the roof, a boy slightly older than Kamui stood, dressed in a black trenchcoat flapping in the breeze, a knowing smirk on his face as energy crackled around him, shooting toward a point on the flat, gray stone in front of him . . . the point supporting the energy barrier under this building.

The boy looked at Kamui, and his smile grew wider. "Hello, Kamui," he said.

Kamui charged toward him, powering up an attack. "You're not going to do it this time, Fuuma," he said. "I'm going to protect this kekkai if it's the . . ."

Arashi suddenly stepped in front of Kamui, her hand up. "No, Kamui! I'll take care of this!" She brought her hands in front of her, palms up, and concentrated. A tiny green pyramid of energy formed, them rapidly grew bigger, and bigger, until it enveloped the whole building, sealing it off in an alternate dimension only other Dragons of Heaven or Dragons of Earth could enter.

"That was impressive," Fuuma said, not moving. "But that's certainly not going to stop me."

Arashi wheeled toward him, holding out her left hand. A glowing ball of light appeared above it, and then a sword materialized, shooting out of her palm like a bullet being ejected from a gun. Without a word, she grabbed its hilt and charged at the Dark Kamui.

* * *

Subaru left the apartment building, walking slowly with eyes slightly downcast, as he usually did. The job had been even easier than he thought. The poltergeist had released itself from the apartment -- it actually had been ready to move on, it just needed a little encouragement.

*Now,* he thought, *Kamui and I can get back to our lesson. If he wants to. I don't want to push him into something he's not ready for.*

He thought of how disappointed Kamui had looked at not being able to work the magic. *He expects too much of himself sometimes,* he thought. *But, then again . . . don't we all expect something from him, too?*

He sighed at the unfairness of it all . . . a boy that age literally having to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. *I try to help him best I can,* he thought, *but there's not much I can do . . . I carry burdens of my own . . .*

Subaru was distracted from his thoughts by a familiar voice behind him saying, "Hey, handsome, buy a girl a drink?" He turned . . . and there was Karen Kasumi, red curls ruffling in the breeze, carrying a large shopping bag in her right hand.

"Oh, hi," Subaru said. "I didn't expect to find you here at this time of day."

"Got off work early because I needed to do some shopping." She held up the bag, and Subaru could see it bore the imprint of a well-known and rather pricey lingerie shop.

"Lingerie?" he said.

"Work clothes," Karen said, as they started to walk off together in the direction of the campus. "Hey, you wear these things out after awhile. And the Soaplands aren't exactly about to buy you uniforms."

"I should think not," Subaru said. "Are you headed back to the campus tonight?"

"Might as well," she said, swinging her bag as she walked alongside him. "I haven't seen Kamui in a few days. We have to get caught up on . . ."

She stopped suddenly. Both of them felt something, deep in their souls, a kind of sickness, a queasy feeling of danger . . .

Simultaneously, the two Seals whirled around to see the green pyramid rising over the building in the next block.

"A kekkai!" Karen said.

"It's Arashi," Subaru replied, already jumping into the air. "Come on!"

Karen followed him, as they bounded up fire escapes and over rooftops, hoping they weren't too late.

* * *

At Clamp Campus, Sorata put the dish he had been working on in the oven and set the timer. *There,* he thought, I'm half-done. *But I've yet to bring out the big guns, the real piece de resistance . . .*

Not once did he doubt that his efforts would help him win his way into the heart of the woman he was sure he was destined to give his life for. Of course, she usually ate what he had to make with cool indifference, and made general comments like "good" afterwards. But he knew eventually, he was going to break down her last wall of resistance.

And hey, if the cooking projects didn't do it . . . then his plans for the upcoming campus dance would! He was already planning an evening she'd remember to the end of her days . . . he'd buy her a dress from a fancy boutique to wear, they'd go there in a limo, and after the dance, he'd take her to one of those romantic, elegant supper clubs . . .

"Hey," he said out loud to himself, "I gotta have something to believe in, right? And I believe I'm destined to be her . . ."

And then, he felt it. A disturbance at the back of his mind, a kind of pressure, a sudden feeling of doom washing over him . . . A kekkai had gone up. The Dragons of Earth were attacking. And the image forming in his mind's eye told him just what shape it was . . . a pyramid. Arashi's kekkai.

"Oh, GODS!" he shouted, rushing out of the mansion. "I'm on my way, nee-chan . . . hold on!"

* * *

"ArashiI!" Kamui cried, rushing to protect his friend, who was still charging at Fuuma, sword poised to strike. The other boy surveyed her cooly, as if she were running toward him with nothing more dangerous than a toothpick.

He raised his hand, and the air in front of it exploded in light, creating shockwaves of ripples that distorted the air. It slammed into Arashi like a physical wall, sending her sprawling, the sword skidding from her hand across the rooftop. She crawled toward it . . but before she could reach it, Fuuma grabbed her by the top of the head and jerked it up, forcing her to look straight at him.

"So," he said, "you are the Dragon of Heaven that has created this kekkai."

"Let go of me," she said, twisting, trying to get free of his grip.

"I think I have seen you before," he said. "You came to rescue Kamui right after the protector of your dreaming princess died . . ."

"Get away from her!" Kamui shouted, charging up toward them, hands poised to throw an attack of his own.

"No, Kamui, get away!" Arashi said, redoubling her struggle. "I told you . . . this is *my* fight! You've been hurt enough!"

Fuuma raised his free hand, and another energy blast streaked toward Kamui, sending the boy flying, landing on the other side of the roof.

"You have a strong desire to protect Kamui," Fuuma said, not lessening his grasp. "But . . . you don't know yet what your true wish is."

"What do you mean by that?" Arashi snapped, striking out at Fuuma with her hand . . . but suddenly stopped, blinking. Was that Fuuma she saw, or was it . . . someone else?"

"Why did you stop?" Fuuma said. "I'm unarmed and unguarded. Go on, strike out at me . . ."

Arashi closed her eyes, trying to shake her head against Fuuma's grasp. She couldn't be seeing Sorata in front of her, she couldn't! She'd left him back at the mansion! But here he was, right before her eyes . . ."

"Or," Fuuma said, "perhaps you can't . . . Nee-chan."

Kamui had gotten to his feet, and he had had enough. He focused his power, gathered an energy blast and shot it at Fuuma. The ball of light streaked through the air, forcing the Dark Kamui to drop Arashi and dodge out of the way. It was just the opening that the Shrine Maiden needed. She rolled across the roof, grabbed her sword, and rushed at Fuuma again . . . and then her target blurred, faded, and Sorata was there . . .

No, she told herself, it's a trick! I can't fall for it! But she hesitated, just for a second . . . and in that second, Fuuma launched his biggest energy blast yet, a ball that looked like a miniature sun. It collided with Arashi like a cannonball, tossing her into the air like a rag doll. She slammed hard into the wall around the entrance to the stairwell, then slumped to the ground.

"NO!" Kamui shouted, running toward her, as her kekkai started to crumble.

* * *

Sorata was a couple of blocks away when he felt a sudden shift in the energy patterns of the kekkai. *Oh, no,* he thought, *please . . . please don't let it be . . .*

A glance upward confirmed the worst. The kekkai was crumbling, meaning that the Dragon of Heaven who had set it up was either dead or critically injured.

"Nee-chan!" he shouted, putting on a double burst of speed. Please, he prayed, don't let it be too late, let me be able to save her . . .

* * *

Fuuma grabbed Kamui's shoulders and pushed him against the wall Arashi had hit. "You didn't think you could save her, did you?"

"She's my friend!" Kamui shouted, trying to twist away.

"Friend?" said Fuuma, bringing his hand around . . . and with a sickening feeling in his stomach, Kamui noticed he was holding a huge chunk of broken glass. "You care for your Seals . . . how nice . . . but you still can't get in the way of the true Wish of the Earth."

Kamui felt the glass pressing against his neck, a trickle of blood running down . . . as the roof started to shake under his feet, more violently than before. *Oh, no,* he thought, *the kekkai is collapsing, the building's going to fall . . .and I can't do anything about any of it . . .*

And then, there was a blast of fire behind Fuuma. He looked over his shoulder, still holding the shard to Kamui's neck. "I see more of your friends have joined us," he said.

Kamui couldn't see, because Fuuma was in front of him, and he dared not move his neck . . . but he could *feel* the presences of the newcomers. One was Karen, the other . . .

"Subaru!" Kamui cried, not out of fear for himself, but of fear for his lover. The last time he had faced Fuuma . . . Kamui felt his stomach churn at the memory of Subaru slumped on the roof of another building like this, blood pouring from his destroyed eye . . .

"Get away from Kamui," Karen said, holding out her hand, a small ball of flame dancing over it. "Now."

"The building is collapsing, you know," Fuuma said. "You will die along with him if you don't get him out of here now." He dropped the shard and grabbed Kamui by the shirt, tossing him toward the others like a sack of garbage. Subaru caught him . . . just as Sorata arrived on the roof. One look at Arashi lying there, Fuuma standing there calmly, told him the whole story.

"You *bastard*!" Sorata shouted, holding his hands slightly apart from each other, bolts of electricity cracking between them, as the building swayed to and fro, its foundations starting to give way.

"I'm in no mood for games," Fuuma said, walking to the edge of the roof, then leaping away, seeming to vanish in thin air.

"Come back here!" Sorata shouted, rushing in the direction Fuuma had been, throwing the electric ball . . . which exploded into nothingness.

"Sorata!" Karen said, grabbing his shoulder. "We have to get Arashi out of here, now!"

Kamui clung to Subaru, unable to take his eyes off Arashi's fallen form. *I couldn't help her,* he thought. *It happened again, just like with Kotori . . . and Daisuke . . . and Subaru . . .*

"Come on," Subaru said, gently. "The building's going to collapse any second . . ."

Still holding onto Subaru, he leapt along with him from one rooftop to the other, as Sorata leapt behind him, Arashi cradled in his arms. Faster and faster they jumped from one rumbling, swaying building to another . . . *Dear gods, how big an area is Fuuma going to take out this time?* thought Kamui.

Finally, they reached what felt like solid ground, and then, they paused. Karen pulled out a cell phone and quickly dialed the Imonoyama mansion to get an emergency helicopter. Sorata collapsed to his knees, holding Arashi close to him like a child holding a broken, beloved toy, sobbing like his heart would break.

And Kamui could only stand, and watch, and feel miserable.

* * *

Kamui was really starting to hate the sight and smell of hospitals.

He sat on yet another industrial bench, in yet another too-white-and-bright hall, awaiting news on the fate of yet another person he cared about. On one side of him was Subaru, who was doing his quiet staring-off-into-space thing, one hand on Kamui's shoulder. On the other was Yuzuriha, who was now quiet as well, after apologizing over and over for not being there when it happened.

"It's all right," Kamui had told her. "You didn't know . . . none of us could have known."

Karen sat across from him, talking quietly with the final member of the Seven Seals, Seiichiro Aioki, a bespectacled man perpetually dressed in business suits who had come rushing over from the offices of his magazine when he heard the news. Both of them kept casting nervous glances toward the door where Arashi had been wheeled in a seeming eternity ago.

Sorata was separate from the others, at the other end of the hall, his hands clasped and his head down. This is what disturbed Kamui most of all . . . to see his relentlessly cheerful friend, who was always willing to crack a joke even in the worst of circumstances, in utter despair.

The door opened, and a white-coated, grandmotherly woman with curly steel-grey hair and small, rectangular, horned-rimmed glasses emerged. All six Seals leapt to their feet. "Doctor . . . what's the word?" Aioki said.

"I wish I could tell you something happier," the doctor said. "She's in a coma."

Yuzuriha burst into tears. Subaru's hand tightened on Kamui's shoulder. Aioki and Karen embraced each other.

Sorata just stood there, his gaze riveted on the floor.

"Do you know anything about . . . when she may come out?" Karen said.

The doctor shook her head. "It's hard to tell. We've run a battery of tests, and we're evaluating them now. Right now, all we can do is monitor her progress."

"Can we . . . can we see her?" Yuzuriha sniffled.

"Yes," the doctor said. "Follow me."

The group walked down the hall. *This looks like the one they had Subaru in,* Kamui thought. *But . . . it can't be, that hospital was destroyed when another kekkai fell . . . oh, hell, all these damn places look alike after awhile.*

They were led into a private room near the end of the hallway. Arashi lay on the bed, looking like she was sleeping normally . . . except for the tubes in her arm and the hideous array of beeping machines around her. Yuzuriha burst into a fresh wave of sobs, and Karen drew her into a motherly embrace.

"So much tragedy," Aioki said, quietly, gazing down on Arashi . . . and from the look on his face, Kamui knew his friend was remembering the death of his nephew, Daisuke, at the hands of Fuuma.

*I couldn't do anything about that, either,* Kamui thought. *I failed them all . . . Kotori, Daisuke, Subaru, now Arashi . . . and I'll probably fail the Earth as well . . .*

He suddenly pushed past the others, running out into the hall, wanting to get as far away from the sight of the comatose Arashi as possible, ignoring his friends calling his name. He bypassed the elevator and yanked open the door of a stairway, rushing down the steps as fast as his legs could carry him, then down another flight, and another. At the final flight, he slid down the banister, just wanting to be out of this hospital as fast as possible.

He burst out the door and raced through the parking lot until he came to a small park, a place where people waiting for news of loved ones could find a few moments of serenity. He rushed up to the first tree he saw and pounded his fist into it, over and over, as if it were the personification of everything that had happened to him ever since the day he came home to find his mother being consumed in flames, saying, "Go to Tokyo, Kamui . . . your destiny is waiting . . ."

Finally, he collapsed to the ground, heaving with sobs, blood pouring from his hand. He stayed there until he began to feel cold, and tired . . . the weight of the entire world crashing in on him, yet again . . .

He dragged himself to his feet and started to walk back toward the hospital. He wondered if the others were still there. He was amazed none of them had come after him. *Subaru knows better than to do that,* he thought. *Subaru always knows me so well . . .*

There was a black stretch limo there with the familiar Clamp Campus logo on its door. The uniformed driver leaned out from the window. "Kamui . . . I've been sent to bring you back to the campus."

"What about the others?" Kamui said, dully.

"They went back already," the driver said. "They seemed concerned about you."

"They would be," Kamui replied, getting in the back. As the car sped away, he cast a glance back at the building, and found the room where Arashi was. There was no movement in there . . . meaning there'd been no change in her condition.

*I'm sorry, Arashi,* he thought. *I'm so sorry . . .*

* * *

Subaru stood outside Kamui's door, wondering if he should knock. The younger boy had rushed right up to his room, shut the door and not come out. Sorata had not been seen since they left the hospital. Yuzuriha had made a half-hearted effort at cooking dinner for herself and Subaru; neither had eaten anything. Even Inuki had spent the evening sitting quietly at his mistress's feet, head and ears drooping.

Now, Yuzuriha had retired for the evening as well, and Subaru had been left alone to think over the day's events.

*Kamui always blames himself,* he thought. *Even if none of it is his fault. Just another result of having to carry the horrible burden he does.*

Guilt was an emotion Subaru was well-acquainted with. Seishirou-san had lost his eye, Hokuto had lost her life, because of him, because of the choices he'd made.

*But Kamui doesn't deserve to live like this,* he thought. *What happened with Arashi would have happened whether or not he'd been there.* He put a hand up to where the bandage covered his ruined eye. He knew all too well what it was like to face the Dark Kamui.

He knew he had *wished* to lose that eye . . . to atone for the eye Seishirou lost because of him . . . *What wish is Arashi holding in her heart,* he thought, *that would make Fuuma put her into a coma?*

There was a sound in the bedroom, a soft thump, like a pillow being thrown against the wall. *He's still awake,* Subaru thought. And he rapped on the door softly.

"Who is it?" Kamui said in a dull voice.

"Kamui . . . it's me," Subaru said. "Can I come in?"

A pause, then Kamui opened the door. "All right. I don't think I'll be very good company right now, though." He flopped down on his back on the bed, arms folded under his head.

Subaru sat on the edge of the bed next to him. "You feel bad about what happened," he said. It wasn't a question.

"You might say that," Kamui grumbled, turning his head so he was staring at the wall. *Isn't that painfully obvious?* he thought.

"Kamui, what happened to Arashi wasn't because of you . . ."

"I couldn't protect her," Kamui said, not budging his eyes from the wall. "Just like I couldn't protect you, or Daisuke, or Kotori . . ."

"You've done whatever you could, Kamui," Subaru said. "At all times."

Kamui put a hand to his head, as if he had the beginnings of a headache. "I'm supposed to be the savior of the universe . . . I'm supposed to protect all of humanity . . . and I can't even protect my friends? Well, then, what the hell kind of a savior am I?"

Subaru wanted to pull him into his arms, wanted to curse whatever twist of fate had shouldered this small 16-year-old with this burden. He just settled for putting a hand lightly on his arm. "You're just coming into your full power, Kamui. Remember what I said about everyone having potential magic inside them?"

Kamui sat up and swiveled toward the older man with a glare. "Yeah, well, that's a crock. I *have* magic . . . I can do the energy blast thing . . . and that didn't help Arashi, did it?"

"True magic, Kamui . . . isn't really the ability to produce energy blasts. It's bringing out the power in your *soul*. You have to find the elements that I talked about inside yourself. You *have* that ability, Kamui."

Kamui shook his head. "I don't feel anything like that inside me . . ." He started to tremble with emotion. "Everyone wants me to be . . . this super-being . . . the most magical person who ever lived . . . and I feel like . . . just me . . . "

This time, Subaru did open his arms to Kamui, and Kamui flung himself into them, holding onto his lover tightly.

"Why don't you just forget what everyone else wants you to do," Subaru said, "and think about what *you* want to do? Just put aside saving the world for a moment . . ."

"I want to bring Fuuma back," Kamui said. "And I want to protect the people that I care about."

"And you're willing to do anything to do that?" Subaru said.

Kamui nodded, wordlessly.

"Then you've already found fire inside yourself. That's the *desire* to protect them. And you've found water . . . the depth of how much you care about them."

Kamui sighed, and leaned his head on Subaru's chest. *Is Subaru right?* he thought. *Do I really have this power he's talking about? Can I find it if I stop thinking so much about having to be *Kamui*, the majesty of God, and concentrate on just being Kamui -- me?*

Subaru lay back with Kamui still cradled in his arms, as the younger boy lay with his head on his chest, a quizzical look on his face.

"You'll be all right, Kamui," Subaru said, gently. "I have faith in you. I always have." *Even when I can't have faith in the rest of humanity,* he thought, *even when I wonder what the hell I'm doing as a Dragon of Heaven, trying to save this world that's brought me nothing but pain . . . I have faith in you.*

"I'm glad you came to talk to me tonight, Subaru," Kamui said. *Being here with him like this . . . it makes me calm, and I can think clearly . . .*

The more he thought about what Subaru said, the more the negative feelings seemed to drain away, the more confident he was that things *would* work out in the end.

Kamui wrapped his arms tighter around Subaru, leaning his head on his chest, breathing in his scent.

*It's only when we're here like this,* he thought, *that I feel like I'm truly *home*.

He gently pressed his lips against Subaru's neck, feeling the almost instant quickening of his lover's pulse. Encouraged, he began to kiss slowly upward, over his chin, then bringing their lips together.

Subaru let out a small groan deep in his throat as Kamui's mouth moved against his, and when the boy's tongue began to probe against the place where they were joined, the older man opened his lips eagerly.

Kamui stroked Subaru's tongue with his own, one hand reaching up to run over his lover's short hair. Gods, it felt so good . . . they hadn't made love since Subaru had been injured, and suddenly, Kamui knew how very much he'd missed it. It was like a man who hadn't eaten in hours suddenly realizing he was hungry when he passed a bakery.

Subaru began to raise his hips slightly, rubbing his body against Kamui's. Kamui took his hint and hooked one leg around his lover's hip, thrusting their pelvises together. He buried his head in the crook of Subaru's neck, letting out a low, sensual moan as he rocked his hips. He felt the tantalizing friction, Subaru's erection answering his own, the barriers of cloth between them only serving to make the contact all the more enticing.

Subaru could only close his eye, panting loudly, swimming in sensation . . . oh, gods, Kamui was being so aggressive tonight, more than he'd ever been . . . and Subaru had to admit he was being excited by it. *Very* excited. He let out another cry as Kamui took his earlobe in his teeth, gently nipping and nibbling before his hot, wet tongue started to tease the tiny hole of his ear, sending little shivers running through Subaru's body.

Kamui pulled back and sat up, panting, flushed, looking down at Subaru with lips slightly pursed, eyes glazed with passion. He pulled off his T-shirt and flung it across the room, grabbed Subaru's hands in his own and guided them to his chest, putting them right where he wanted them, with the fingertips on his nipples.

Subaru got the message instantly. He stroked the buds, moaning with passion as they hardened under his fingers. Kamui leaned his head back, letting out a deep, throaty noise as his eyes closed, feeling like his blood would boil as Subaru brushed circles on his sensitive flesh, then took the nubs in his thumbs and forefingers, gently squeezing.

"More," Kamui gasped, and Subaru began to rub his thumbs back and forth over the buds, slowly, then tight, fast circles. He squeezed again, Kamui's long moan only serving to make himself hotter.

"Gods, that's good," Kamui gasped. "So good . . ." He reached down and began pulling at Subaru's shirt, and Subaru raised himself off the bed long enough to strip away the garment.

Kamui made a beeline for what he wanted right away, leaning over so he could take one of Subaru's nipples in his mouth, sucking it hard. Subaru let out a cry, stretching his body like a cat's, and then moaned again as Kamui began lapping at the bud hungrily, rolling his tongue around the pink surrounding the hardened bud, then licking at the nipple itself.

Kamui gloried in Subaru's reactions. He had always loved that he could do this, make his lover who always seemed so submerged in pain feel absolute pleasure, if only for a few minutes. He began to kiss across Subaru's chest, slowly, grazing the skin with his teeth ever so slightly, then swirling his tongue . . .

And meanwhile, one hand was slipping down his stomach, over the waistband of his pants, to the snap and zipper.

As Kamui's mouth drew in the other nipple, Subaru felt a tug at his pants, heard the zipper . . . and then a hand was sliding into his underwear, reaching down, seeking his hardness . . . Subaru raised his hips, encouraging him, and cried out when he felt a gentle stroking along his shaft, the fingers moving in little circles up and down, causing small bursts of tingling sensations.

"Kamui . . ." Subaru moaned. "Ohhh . . . what you're doing . . ."

Kamui raised his head. "Do you like that? Does it feel good?" he said in a voice that was breathy, heavy with sensuality, and just made Subaru's blood run all the hotter.

"Yes," the onmiyouji gasped. "Ohh, yes . . ."

"You'll like this even more," Kamui said. He pulled Subaru's pants and underwear off with a sudden jerk, pausing only to rid himself of the last of his own clothes, and then descended on his lover like a bird of prey swooping down, capturing his erection in his mouth and starting to suck.

Now Subaru arched toward him, crying out in surprise and pleasure, one hand pressing against his mouth, the other clutching the sheets. He panted as the boy moved up and down on him, sucking in tight, rapid little draws, then long, deep ones. Gods . . . dear gods, he was taking him in deep, much deeper than he ever had before . . .

Kamui drew Subaru out of his mouth and flicked his tongue lightly over the head, then kissed slowly up and down the shaft as one hand slowly, gently began to caress the sac beneath . . . which he moved down and kissed also, along with a few little tongue-flicks that made Subaru let out a purring sound. He engulfed his hardness again, sucking hard and fast now . . . but then slowed down, and eased him out. He didn't want this to end . . . not yet.

The younger boy brought himself up so he was kneeling on the bed, and said, "Subaru . . . what I was just doing . . . I want you to do it to me . . ."

Subaru pulled himself up so he was kneeling opposite Kamui, then leaned over, sliding Kamui's hardness in his mouth, sucking rapidly. He focused on relaxing his throat muscles so he could take him in as far as he possibly could, his mouth tugging at him in long, hard draws. Kamui groaned at the sensation, running his hands over Subaru's hair, down over his back . . .

Down to his bottom, which was up in the air, looking so tempting, so inviting . . .

Subaru moved Kamui in and out vigorously, one hand stroking the boy's sensitive inner thighs, the other reaching up to his chest and finding a nipple, flicking his fingers over it lightly, then a firm caress around and around the hardened bud with his thumbs, then a gentle squeeze.

He took Kamui's erection out to sweep his tongue from bottom to top and back again, going further down this time to tease the sacs, then further up, swirling over the head.

Kamui gasped in pleasure, his hands sliding over Subaru's bottom, rubbing it a bit, feeling the firm, shapely flesh. He grasped both cheeks and firmly squeezed, released, and squeezed again, as Subaru began to suck him rapidly again, sending a wave of searing tingles through Kamui's body.

The younger boy's fingers began to tease the cleft, sliding back and forth, in slightly, then out . . . Wild fantasies began to flood Kamui's mind. What would it feel like to lube a finger and push it inside Subaru, as Subaru had done to him before? What would it be like to take him, to push his hardness inside Subaru's tight opening, to be encased in the body of his lover?

Subaru felt the probing fingers, knew instantly what Kamui had in mind, and for a second, there was a flash of fear. He had only been uke before with Seishirou-san. Would he want to be taken like that again? Would it bring back memories of the man who had killed his sister and destroyed his innocence?

But he knew that Kamui *needed* this . . . needed to feel in control. And he was willing to do anything to help him. Plus, he had to admit . . . those fingers felt good, incredibly good . . .

He lifted his head. "Kamui, do you want to take me?"

For the first time since they had kissed, Kamui's absolute control of the situation seemed to waver a little. He turned pink and said, "If . . . if that's what you want . . ."

"It's what *you* want," Subaru said, reaching into the nighttable drawer. He brought out a tube of lubricant and a foil-wrapped package . . . but instead of using them himself, as he usually did, he put them in Kamui's hand.

"Put the condom on," he said. "You'll want to put a lot of lube on it just before you take me. Lube up a finger, and then push it in me . . ."

Kamui did what he said, his hands trembling. The condom he got on without a problem. Subaru was in a similar position to when he was going down on Kamui, his knees on the bed, bottom in the air, head cradled on arms folded on the mattress. Kamui leaned over and placed a few kisses on the smooth cheeks, then parted them, probing for his entrance.

When he found the tight opening, he pressed against it gently, massaging in small circles until it started to open for him. Slowly, gently, he pushed it in . . . it was soft in there, and hot, and tight. Kamui felt his heart speed up in anticipation of how that would feel around his erection.

Subaru drew in a small breath at the initial pain, but when it faded to pleasure, he breathed a sigh of relief . . . Kamui's finger felt nothing like Seishirou's had, it was slimmer, more tapering . . . and his touch more tender and gentle.

"Is this all right?" Kamui said. "I'm not hurting you?"

"No, you're not," Subaru said. "Now, take that finger out . . . wipe it off . . . and you're going to do two fingers now . . ."

Kamui did what he said, and when he had the two fingers inside Subaru, moving them in and out slowly, gradually opening him up, he thought he was going to explode, he needed to be inside his lover now . . . He took a deep breath. *I have to get hold of myself,* he thought. *I want this to be good for Subaru.*

He slid the fingers out, and said, "All right .. . now what?"

"Let's get in a position which will be good for both of us," Subaru said. He lay on his side on the bed and motioned for Kamui to lie behind him, curling their bodies together spoon-fashion. Subaru lifted a leg and hooked it back over Kamui's hip, tilting his bottom so Kamui could find his opening.

It was a comfortable position, a position to be used by lovers who were true equals -- and one that Seishirou had never done with him.

Kamui reached for the tube, rubbed a generous amount of lube over the condom, then put some at Subaru's opening. He grasped his hips, positioned himself, and said, "Ready?"

"Yes," Subaru said. He turned his head so that he and Kamui could kiss as the younger boy thrust forward. As he felt the penetration, the pain, Subaru gasped . . . oh, now the past was coming back, the moment when he had lost his virginity, how shocked he'd been at the pain, and how surprised by the fast rush of pleasure that followed.

But when Kamui suddenly stopped and said in a worried tone, "Subaru . . . are you all right?" it brought him back firmly to the present.

"I'm fine," Subaru said. "You're doing well .. . just keep going . . ."

Kamui pushed in further . . . and he let out a groan at the sensation. So hot, so tight, so delicious . . . oh, it was unlike anything he'd ever felt before . . . He wanted to thrust hard and deep, but he knew that would hurt Subaru. Control . . . he had to have control . . .

He moved his hips slowly, pushing in, giving Subaru a moment to adjust, pushing in a little more again . . . When he was fully embedded, he leaned over and kissed Subaru again.

"How is it?" he said.

"It feels good . . . very, very good," Subaru whispered. "Please, keep going . . ."

Kamui grasped Subaru's hips and started to thrust . . . slowly, gently, moaning at the hot, liquid sensations which were running from where Subaru's channel was enclosing him all over his body. Almost involuntarily, he found himself speeding up, thrusting harder, deeper, wanting more, more, not wanting to get enough . . .

Subaru leaned back against Kamui, groaning with every thrust, every burst of heat that rushed through him . . . when Kamui brushed up against the sweet spot deep within him, he let out a small yelp and thrust back against him, wanting that spot hit again and again and again. He threw his head back so his lips could tangle with Kamui's once more, and their tongues stroked each other as Kamui drove into him over and over . . .

Kamui knew he wasn't going to last much longer. The heat, the passion were building, and building, until he thought he was going to burst. He reached around Subaru's body and grasped his manhood, stroking it rapidly, wanting Subaru to come with him . . .

Subaru felt the sensations from his erection colliding with the sweet sensations from his passage, and that did it. He cried Kamui's name out as one wave of heat after another swept over him and his body trembled in ecstasy.

As Subaru's passage tightened around him in orgasmic spasms, Kamui felt his last shred of control give way, and he let out a great cry, feeling the heat and the passion explode inside him, shuddering again and again as he was flooded with heaven, pure heaven.

The lovers sagged against each other, panting, drenched in sweat. Subaru leaned his head back so they could kiss again.

"Subaru," Kamui gasped. "That was . . . ohh . . . so unreal . . ."

"It was incredible," Subaru said. "You were *good*, Kamui."

"Mmm," Kamui purred, leaning his head against Subaru's body and relaxing. Subaru frowned. Kamui couldn't fall alseep, not yet.

"Come on," Subaru said. "We have to get cleaned up. Let's take a shower and then have a soak in the tub . . . I think we both want to talk."

Kamui nodded slowly, feeling boneless as Subaru got up and held his hand out to him, leading him toward the bathroom. He was dizzy, dizzier than he usually was after coming . . . probably because of the intensity of the whole experience.

*I feel . . . good,* Kamui thought. And it was the first time he'd felt like that in seemingly eons.

* * *

They washed off quickly before getting in the hot water. Kamui noticed that Subaru took great care not to get his bandage wet. He figured it was because the onmiyouji didn't want to have to take it off in front of him, didn't want him to see what was left of his eye.

*It doesn't matter to me, Subaru,* he thought. *I don't care what you look like. You're still *you*.

The tub in this room was a big, squarish, traditional furo. It was probably originally meant to hold several people, so it easily accommodated the two of them. They sat opposite each other, and Kamui relaxed into the hot water.

"What just happened between us . . ." Subaru said, as he settled into the water himself.

Kamui frowned, sitting up slightly. "You didn't like it?"

"I loved it, Kamui. But not just because it felt incredible. You took absolute control in bed, did you notice that? You were the one who decided what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. I just suggested a position for you to take me, but the rest was all you."

Kamui blinked. "I . . . didn't really think about it. It just . . . happened."

"You brought out your own power, Kamui, without realizing it. All five elements. Earth, the physical . . . the actual touching, kissing, lovemaking. Air, the mental . . . you had to think about what felt good. Fire . . . that one is self-explanatory. Water, emotion . . . I don't think I need to spell that one out, either."

"And what about spirit?" said Kamui. "I don't think there was much spirit in what happened."

"There was," Subaru said. "Right after you climaxed . . . in the first few seconds . . . what did you feel?"

Oh, Kamui knew very well what he felt . . . it was unlike anything in his previous experience, even the previous times he'd made love with Subaru.

"It was . . . like an out-of-body experience," he said. "Like I was flying."

"Your defenses were down . . . and your soul was able to touch the heavens," Subaru said. "That was spirit. You *do* have all the elements, Kamui."

Kamui folded his arms. "I'm not exactly going to be able to make love with you whenever I have to face Fuuma, or defend somebody."

Subaru gave a small chuckle . . . when was the last time he had laughed at all? "No, Kamui . . . but you can use what happened tonight as a reminder that you have the power, a point to help you focus on the elements inside yourself. Think, now . . . can you remember what each one felt like?"

Kamui began to run it through his mind . . . the actual passion, yes, that was the fire . . . the sensations, that was earth . . . and the emotion . . .

As he focused on each one, he felt something stir deep within him, as if he were remembering something he'd forgotten a long time ago, as if the memories were tapping something else, struggling to rise toward the surface. *Is this it?* he thought. *Is this the power?* He tried to focus more . . . but his mind started to fuzz . . . Without realizing it, he was letting out a yawn.

Subaru leaned over and kissed him. "You're tired."

"Yeah," Kamui said, leaning over and putting his head on Subaru's shoulder. *I'd like to go to sleep right now,* he thought, *just like this, in the warm water and with him holding me.*

"We'll get some sleep," Subaru said. "We'll work on this in the morning."

"I want to go see Arashi," Kamui mumbled, sleepily. "Can we do it when I get back?"

"Of course," Subaru said, guiding Kamui to stand up and climb out. He took a towel and gently rubbed the younger boy down, then dried himself off. Kamui had his arm around Subaru and his head on his shoulder as they walked together to the bed. As soon as his head hit the pillow, Kamui was asleep.

* * *

The first rays of the morning sun were peeking into the hospital room, glinting pink-orange on the cold, cruel steel of the machines surrounding the unconscious girl. In the chair next to her bed, a young man sat, his head bobbing as he dozed.

With a start, he jerked himself awake. He didn't want to miss it when she woke up. Not if. *When*.

Sorata reached over and adjusted a couple of the prayer papers he'd placed around her body. He'd sat there for hours last night, repeating chants for healing he'd learned during his years at the Koya monastery.

They'd done no good. She hadn't stirred a hair since yesterday.

He brushed the back of his hand across her hair. He knew what would have happened if she'd been conscious . . . she would have smacked the hand away with a sharp retort, sending him an icy glare. He'd say something like, "You know, Nee-chan . . . a woman as pretty as you really shouldn't frown so much. You should show off that sexy smile!" She'd harrumph at him, and quickly find something to occupy herself with . . .

He'd give anything to see that glare right now.

He was trying very hard not to feel guilty about the fact that he wasn't there when Fuuma attacked her. He knew there was no way they could have known in advance, and he had gotten to the site of the kekkai as fast as he possibly could.

He was trying . . . but the guilty feelings were creeping up in him anyway.

One of Arashi's hands was lying atop the blanket -- the other was off to the side, an IV hooked up to it. He covered the hand with his own. It was warm, but so still it barely felt human . . . it was like touching a wax dummy that had been filled with warm water.

"Once you come back to us, Nee-chan," he said, "I'm going to make sure I take you out. Hey, a guy like me knows how to have a good time, right? I'll take you out to some nightclub, and make sure all the guys see that I'm with the hottest chick in the place . . ."

He willed her to reply, to yell at him, hit him, do *anything* to acknowledge that she was still there. But there was still no response.

*I'll stay here all day, then,* he thought. *I'm not leaving your side until we get you back. Ever.*

* * *

Kamui hopped off the train and started down the station steps. He could have taken the limo to the hospital, but he felt like taking the train instead. He felt the Seals imposed on the Imonoyama family enough.

Besides, he also needed the walk of several blocks, to do some thinking about Arashi . . . about what had happened to her . . and about the previous night with Subaru.

*I don't know what came over me in bed,* Kamui thought. *It was like . . . I suddenly knew exactly what I wanted, and I wasn’t going to stop until I got it. And I *was* in perfect control, wasn't I? Just like Subaru said . . .*

He rounded the corner, heading down a block lined with shops. Here a newspaper vendor was putting paperweights on his wares so they wouldn't blow away, there a flower shop employee was carrying out an outdoor display. It was all part of normal life, the life he wished he could be part of.

*But I can't,* he thought. *At least until this is all over. But Subaru is right in that I shouldn't be doing this because other people expect me to do it. I should be doing it because *I* . . ."'*

And then, he saw something a bit out of place. The leaves on the plants outside the flower shop . . . they were shaking in an odd way. No, not shaking . . . vibrating. As if the ground under them were vibrating as well.

The next thing he felt was a definite jolt, a trembling of the ground . . . the all-too familiar feeling of a kekkai being broken.

In the hospital, Sorata felt it as well. He leapt to his feet, stretching out his psychic senses, trying to determine exactly where it was . . . and tracked it to a spot only a few miles from there.

"Well . . . it looks like somebody wants to play again," Sorata said, rushing over to the window. "He's not gonna get away with this again, Nee-chan."

* * *

Kamui was almost at the site when he saw somebody else leaping from rooftop to rooftop. *Sorata,* he thought with relief.

"Kamui!" Sorata called. "Couldn't let you go to this party alone, could I?"

The two of them landed on the highest building on the block, and Kamui had a sickening feeling he had done almost the exact same thing a day before.

Sure enough, at the corner of the building stood Fuuma, looking like a statue, black wind gently blowing his black trenchcoat, which somehow made him look even more like a bird of prey poised to strike. He looked up at them and said, "Kamui . . . you've come with another friend, I see."

"Cut the talk," Sorata said, bringing his hands together. A small, glowing green cube formed, which rapidly expanded, getting larger and larger until it enveloped the building and the surrounding area. "I think we've got some unfinished business from yesterday."

"Do you mean the other Dragon of Heaven?" Fuuma said, calmly. "There was no unfinished business. She had a wish . . ."

"What the hell kind of wish involves putting someone in a coma?" Kamui said, willing his power to rise from inside him.

"He's lying!" Sorata shouted, putting his hands together. There was a crackle, and sparks began jumping rapidly between his palms, which exploded into a ball of electricity. He hurled it at Fuuma, and it streaked across the rooftop like a comet, leaving a trail of snapping, flashing sparks. Fuuma calmly leaped into the air, and the ball hit the wall where he had stood, blowing a chunk of brick and mortar down to the street below.

Fuuma landed several feet behind Sorata. "Your attack is impressive, but your aim is bad," he said.

"Stop this, Fuuma!" Kamui shouted, hurling his own energy blast, a flashing ball like a minitature sun . . . but it was countered by an identical one thrown by Fuuma. The two balls collided and exploded, and the force sent Kamui bouncing and sliding across the roof, like a stone skipping over the surface. *Dammit!* he thought. *This is the same kind of thing that happened yesterday . . . it's starting all over again . . .*

When he leapt to his feet, he saw Sorata throwing another barrage of electric blasts, and Fuuma eluding him, leaping from place to place like a child playing hopscotch. The very air seemed to be crackling with the electricity being hurled around like softballs. Kamui began to power up another attack . . .

Sorata wiped his brow, panting. "So, you're fast, huh?" he said. "Well, you're gonna tire out sooner or later, and I'm not gonna run out of power!" He started to charge another attack . . . and then froze. No . . . in front of him, that couldn't be . . . He blinked his eyes and shook his head. *I must want to see Nee-chan so badly I'm seeing her everywhere,* he thought. He charged up the electricity again . . .

Arashi was there again. She was walking toward him, a small smile playing at her lips. Sorata hesistated . . .

"No!" Kamui shouted, running across the roof. But it was too late . . . Fuuma had grabbed Sorata by the throat and had backed him up against the wall, and was choking the life out of him. Sorata struggled, twisting this way and that, but it did no good, and his face was starting to turn purple.

*Not again,* Kamui thought. *Not again . . .*

But even as he watched the horror unfolding, even as he felt fear and powerlessness, another emotion was rising inside him. An absolute calm, a feeling of confidence. The same feeling that had come over him in bed last night, and later, when he was meditating on the elements.

*I *can* do this,* he thought. *I have the power. I can protect my friends.*

He brought his hands together and reached deep inside himself until he found his sense of connection to the earth, to living things, to reality. He drew it up, and out, and mixed it with his usual magic energy. "Earth," he said. A small green ball of energy materialized and hovered in front of him.

Now, again . . . he focused on the energy of mind, drew it out, and a yellow energy ball appeared alongside the green as he said, "Air." A red ball appeared, "Fire," and then a blue . . . "Water."

Now, Fuuma was looking at him with curiosity, almost amusement, not letting go of Sorata, holding up his other hand, preparing to launch his own attack.

Kamui reached down into himself once more, into the very seat of his own soul, pulled that energy up and out, and shouted, "SPIRIT!" It slammed into the other four balls, and they merged into a white mass of blinding intensity which hurled into Fuuma with incredible velocity. He dropped Sorata a split second before he was hurled from the rooftop, flying across several others, and then disappearing.

Kamui rushed over to his friend. "Sorata!" he shouted. "Are you all right?"

Sorata was getting slowly to his feet, rubbing a hand over his throat. "Guy has one hell of a strong grip," he said in a slightly hoarse voice. "Bet he'd be really good on the high bar."

"We did it, Sorata!" Kamui said. "We protected the kekkai . . . Fuuma's gone. I blew him out of here!"

Sorata looked around him, slowly. The air was still glowing faintly green . . . his magical barrier was holding, the damage inflicted by Fuuma had been contained.

"Hey, what do you know?" he said. "And it's a pretty nice looking kekkai, if I do say so myself!" He clapped Kamui on the back. "Come on, let's go to the hospital. Maybe when we tell Nee-chan our good news, that'll bring her back! Ladies can't resist a hero, right?"

As they sprang over the rooftops, Kamui felt like an enormous load had been lifted from his heart. I *can* do it, he thought. *I *can* find the magic inside me, and protect the ones that I love.*

He smiled, thinking of the one who had helped him find it. *Thank you, Subaru,* he thought.

* * *

In the space between the world of the living and the world of the dead known as the Dreamscape, a fragile-looking young man with long, white hair looked at the reflection of what had just occurred in the mirrored surface of the floor.

Looking was all that Kakyou could do. He knew the future . . . knew everything that was going to happen in the time leading up to the Promised Day, and what would happen in the final conflict . . . and he could do nothing about it. His earthly body was paralyzed, sunk in a permanent coma. All he could do was act as Dreamgazer to the Dragons of Earth.

A shimmer of light beside him told him someone else's consciousness had invaded his Dreamscape. He didn't have to look up to see who it was -- he knew very well the aura of the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth.

"Kamui has gained a new power," Kakyou said, looking back at the floor.

"And so will I," said Fuuma. "Because I am Kamui, as well."

"That was the first time he defeated you in a fight," Kakyou said, looking up at him.

"He is growing stronger," Fuuma said, looking down at the reflection of Kamui and Sorata walking through the hospital doors. "But his strength will do him no good on the Promised Day unless he is willing to let go of his Wish." He looked at Kakyou. "You know that as well as I do."

Kakyou looked down again. "Yes," he said, quietly. He watched Kamui and Sorata head for Arashi's room, and pause in the doorway, faces full of hope that they'd find a change . . . then disappointment when they realized she was still in a coma.

*If only they knew the pain that awaited them in the future,* he thought. *If only I could warn them . . .*

"Thinking of interfering?" Fuuma said. "There is only one destiny. You cannot change it."

"I know," Kakyou said aloud. But, he was thinking, perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . they can . . .

* * *

In another area of the Dreamscape, a young woman sat on a shoreline, watching the tide go in and out as a breeze ruffled her long, black hair.

*I feel like I've been here forever,* Arashi thought. *Maybe I have. What happened to me before seems so . . . distant now . . .*

She knew she had left her physical body behind. She wasn't sure if she missed it. She certainly had a sense of freedom here. But also, a strange sense of being . . . incomplete . . .

"Arashi," said a soft voice behind her. She leapt to her feet, spinning around, wondering who could be there . . . and then gasped. There was someone she hadn't seen in years, thought she'd never see again . . .

"Mother?" she said, in a voice barely above a whisper.

The figure walked toward her, a woman with the same dark hair and eyes as Arashi herself, dressed in the robes of a Miko of Ise Shrine. "I knew you would be here," she said, holding her arms out.

Arashi hesitated a moment, then fell into her mother's embrace. Tears welled up in her throat, remembering the all-too-brief time they had spent together during her childhood before her mother had died suddenly, leaving her to fend for herself in the streets.

"Mother," she whispered, "it's been so long . . ."

"I did not expect to see you so soon," her mother said, stroking her hair. "You're not supposed to be here, Arashi."

"I was put here," Arashi replied, pulling back, slightly. "The Kamui of the Dragons of Earth . . ."

"I saw what happened," her mother replied. "I have been watching everything since the beginning. I tried to prevent this, Arashi . . . I tried to take you away from the Shrine to avoid destiny . . . but I know now I was foolish. I couldn't avoid fate. And, Arashi . . . that's what you're doing right now. You're running away, you're scared."

Arashi pulled away from her mother and turned away. "I have no fear of my destiny as a Dragon of Heaven," she said in a cold voice.

"That's not the destiny you're running away from," her mother said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "The Kamui of the Dragons of Earth . . . he doesn't just indiscriminately hurt people. He acts according to the wishes he sees inside them. And in you, he saw a wish to hide from your own feelings."

Arashi wheeled around, knocking the hand away. "What feelings are you talking about?" she snapped.

"Feelings for one of your fellow Dragons of Heaven," said her mother, fixing her with a steady gaze. "You know you've met someone special, and it scares you . . . because you know what his destiny is."

"Sorata?" Arashi replied, folding her arms over her chest. "He talks a lot."

"And one of the things he said was he was destined to die for the woman he loves."

Arashi looked down. He had said that to her when they first met, that he had decided she was the woman in the prophecy of the Old Stargazer of Koya, the one he would lay down his life for. She had scoffed then, and continued to scoff when he brought it up again.

"He doesn't really mean that," she said, quietly.

"Is that what you really believe?" said her mother, putting her hands on Arashi's shoulders. "Or is that what you *want* to believe?"

Arashi hugged herself, looking down again. "If I were to care about him like he wants me to, and then the prophecy came true, and he died for me . . ."

"You wouldn't be able to live with yourself afterward?"

There was a lengthy pause, and then Arashi nodded in the affirmative.

"If it is destiny, it's pointless to fight it," her mother said. "But . . . if you don't follow your heart, and open yourself up to him . . . you will live the rest of your life wondering what could have been, whether you could have seized a little happiness before it was too late. Nothing is more painful than living with regret, Arashi. Believe me, I know."

"You lived with regrets?" she said. "Because of me?"

"No, darling . . . never because of you. Because of your father. He was a traveling businessman who stayed at an inn near the shrine several times a year. He got transferred to America around the time I became pregnant with you. He asked me to marry him and come with him, but I felt that I couldn't leave the shrine, couldn't leave Japan . . . and so, I spent the rest of my life wondering what could have been. I don't want you to live like that, Arashi."

Arashi was silent, looking at the ground, tears rolling down her face. *She's right,* she thought. *Every time I think of telling Sorata how I really feel about him, I remember that prophecy, and I get scared. I don't want to fall in love and have him die on me . . . but I don't want to live the rest of my life with regret, either.*

"Your body, right now, is not that badly damaged," her mother said. "You have the accelerated healing abilities all Dragons of Heaven and Earth have. You are *physically* capable of returning to it, and the real world . . . but it is your choice. You can stay here if you think it will *really* make you happy . . . but you will never know what could have been."

There was no question what she was going to do. *If I stay here,* she thought, *I'm guaranteed to wonder what could have been.* "I'm going back," she said.

"I'm so glad . . ." Mother and daughter enfolded each other in an embrace again.

"Thank you, Mother," Arashi said.

When they pulled apart, her mother kissed her forehead. "Now, go fulfill your destinies . . . all of them . . ."

Arashi felt a strange lightness, and a white mist was rushing in around her. She raised a hand to wave a last goodbye to her mother, but she was already gone.

* * *

"She's waking up!" Kamui cried.

Sorata had been halfway out the doorway. Kamui's exclamation made him wheel around . . . and, sure enough, Arashi's eyelids were fluttering, and she was raising her head a bit.

"Nee-chan!" Sorata flew to her side so fast it looked like he had been teleported there. *I'm not imagining it,* he thought. *She really is waking up!*

Arashi blinked a few times . . . the light was hurting her eyes. She put a hand across them, to shield them. "The sun . . ." she said.

Sorata almost leapt to the window and shut the blinds. "Better?" he said. When she started to sit up, he raced back over to her and eased her back to the pillows. "Hey, hey, don't move too fast! Don't want your pretty head to get hurt again so soon, do we?"

"I can take care of myself," she grumbled, falling back to the pillows. Her head rolled to the other side and her eyes fell at Kamui at her bedside. "Kamui . . . you're here, too . . . what happened?"

"You've been out for about a day," Kamui said. "Fuuma tired to break another kekkai, but we protected it."

"Hey, not only are we pretty, but we actually have *talent*, as well!" Sorata said.

"A talent for bragging, you mean?" Arashi replied . . . but her voice was softer, less chilly than it usually was.

Kamui chuckled to himself . . . it looked like Arashi was back to normal. "I'll see if I can track down the doctor and give her the good news," he said, then leaned over and hugged Arashi. "I'm so glad you came back to us."

"I'm glad too, Kamui," she said, and she meant it.

Once he was gone, Sorata took her hand and said, "Well, it looks like we're alone now . . ."

"Don't think anything is going to happen," she said, her usual frosty tone returning.

"You can't blame me for hoping," he replied. "Hey, when a guy is with a beautiful woman like you . . ."

"We are in a hospital, and I was just unconscious for 24 hours," she said. "You really are shameless." But she didn't let go of his hand. In fact, she gripped it tighter.

"Shameless?" he said, then let out a laugh. "What do you expect from a man in love?"

"Better manners," she said. Then, after a pause . . . "At least as long as I'm still here."

"Oh?" He leaned closer to her. "Does that mean . . . that when you get home from the hospital . . ."

She didn't pull away. They gazed into each other's eyes, lips moving toward each other, slowly . . .

And then, the doctor's voice boomed from the doorway, "Arashi! You're awake!" Sorata quickly pulled away, putting his most innocent expression on his face, and Arashi fell back to the pillows, shooting him a "How *dare* you embarrass me in front of the doctor?" look. He shrugged his shoulders and gave her a wide grin.

And she had a small smile of her own, even as the doctor shooed Sorata out and started to examine her.

* * *

The sun was setting as Subaru gazed off into the distance, watching the smoke from his cigarette dissipate in the breeze. He knew he'd be crushing out the cigarette soon, Kamui would be arriving at their usual rendezvous spot any moment.

He hadn't had a chance to talk to his lover since his victory in the fight against Fuuma . . . when Kamui and Sorata had come back home with the good news about Arashi, Subaru had been off-campus, checking up on the apartment house he'd been at the day before. The poltergeist, it seemed, truly was gone for good.

Subaru wished he could be happy about that . . . but his work as an onmiyouji had ceased to mean anything more than a job to him a long time ago. The only thing his powers meant to him now was a means by which he'd finally settle the score with the man who killed his twin.

No, there was one other thing he cared about . . . protecting and helping Kamui . . .

The younger boy rushed up to him, hair even more tousled than usual, face flushed. He was holding a white Styrofoam container in his hands, the kind used for restaurant takeout.

"Hi," he said. "Am I late? I'm sorry."

Subaru quickly crushed the cigarette out. "No . . . I wasn't here long."

Kamui put the container on the table and plopped down on the bench opposite Subaru. "Here . . . this is for you."

Subaru opened the container. Inside was a thin, perfectly browned crepe, covered with a glaze of cherries. A pleasant aroma of fruit and brandy wafted up to him.

*This is just the kind of thing Hokuto-chan would have loved,* Subaru thought, a wave of melancholy passing over him. But he managed to turn a small half-smile up at Kamui.

"Thank you," he said.

Kamui reached into his book bag and pulled out a pair of chopsticks, which he handed to Subaru. "After I got home from the hospital, I went to the cooking lab, and nobody was using it . . . so I tried making the cherries flambe again. And it came out perfect this time!"

Subaru took a small piece of the dessert in the chopsticks . . . he'd never been a big sweet eater, even when his sister was still alive, but Kamui was obviously proud of what he'd accomplished.

"You look a lot happier than you were yesterday," Subaru said.

"I feel a lot happier," Kamui replied. "Subaru . . . I did it. I pulled the elements out of myself, just like you told me to. If I hadn't done that, Sorata . . ." He looked down. "I don't want to think about that."

"I told you that you could do it," Subaru said. He tasted the dessert . . . and he had to admit, it was delicious. A little on the sweet side, but not overwhelming.

"When it happened . . . Subaru, it wasn't like anything that happened before," Kamui said, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "I think I felt *in control* for the first time since Kotori died . . . maybe even since I came back to Tokyo. It was like . . ." He looked down and blushed. "Like when we were making love last night . . . but even *more* powerful."

Subaru leaned over and stroked his hair. "Do you feel any better about facing the Promised Day now?"

Kamui looked at his lover, at the one green eye still as pure and green as ever, the bandage covering the other. *If only I had learned this sooner, Subaru,* he thought, *this wouldn't have happened . . .*

But he refused to feel guilt about the past anymore. He couldn't let the past bog him down . . . not when so many people would be depending on him in the future.

"Subaru," he said, "is there any way I can use my new power to help bring Fuuma back?"

Subaru paused, thinking a moment. Then, he said, quietly, "That is something only you will know, Kamui . . . when the time comes. All you can do now is continue to study magic . . . and know yourself. That's the single most important thing for a magician."

*Listen to me, he thought. *I'm parroting back what my grandmother told me. I know it's important for him to know, but . . . do I really know *my*self? Especially the person I've become since Hokuto died?*

"Will you work with me?" Kamui said, quietly.

Subaru leaned over and squeezed his hand. "Yes . . . I will."

*Helping him feels good,* Subaru thought. *Surprisingly good.*

There was a moment of silence, then Kamui looked down, blushing again, and said, "Subaru . . . will you . . . stay with me again tonight?"

Subaru remembered the previous evening . . . how much he'd enjoyed having Kamui in control . . . and now, it was his turn to blush.

But, he said, "Yes . . . I will."

Kamui moved over to Subaru's side of the table, sitting next to him and putting his head on his shoulder. "Subaru . . . your dessert is getting cold . . ."

Subaru closed the container. "Tell you what . . how about we heat it up later, and we eat it tonight when we're alone, together?"

"Okay . . . I like that idea."

Kamui sighed and closed his eyes, savoring the night breeze, the scent and warmth of Subaru. Things wouldn't stay this quiet forever, he knew . . . another confrontation with Fuuma was inevitable, and it could happen anytime. But at least he knew he could handle it.

And for now, he was going to enjoy the moment.




This story was written in response to a challenge on the Subaru_Kamui ML to get as many members as possible to publish fics on Subaru's birthday (Feb. 19). The basic idea for it, however, has been around almost a year, and went through several incarnations before arriving in its present form. The fanfic challenge just seemed like the perfect opportunity to rework the old idea.

Thanks tons to my friend Steve Savage, who acted as my editor; my friends Cheyne and Sonya-chan, who also pre-read the story; and the members of the Subaru_Kamui ML. And, of course, thanks to Clamp for giving us such terrific original material to work with!

X is owned by Clamp. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.