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Disclaimer: Legal Drug and its characters do not belong to me. I'm borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Author: The RCK

Warnings: mild bad language, exchange of blood, extrapolation from canon, slash
Pairing: Rikuo/Kazahaya
Summary: A job for Kakei requires a camping trip which leads to other unexpected events.
Other Notes:
Written for pyrefly in the Yaoi Challenge rare fandoms exchange on Live Journal. The request was for angst and backstory.
Posted: 24 April 2007

Many thanks to my beta readers, Amy the Evitable, Hope of Dawn, Olna Jenn and my husband. Each offered me input that improved the story. Any errors, as usual, are my own.


symphysis - a growing together or fusing; specif., a) Anat., Zool. growing together of bones originally separate, as of the two halves of the lower jaw or the two pubic bones; also the line of junction and fusion of such bones b) Bot. the growing together of  similar parts of a plant; coalescence (Definition taken from Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd college edition, c1976.)

Rikuo stared into the fire and wondered how long he was going to be stuck camping with this clueless human. At least he's not talking. He poked at the coals then dropped another log into the pit. "I want more tea." He didn't look at his companion. Will that get a reaction? I know what to do when he's talking.

Kazahaya failed to respond. He seemed to find the fire utterly absorbing.

Rikuo suppressed a growl and made himself drop the pebble that had found its way to his hand. Kakei told me to let him brood tonight. He tested the weight of the kettle. Deciding that it held enough water for at least two more cups, he placed it in the fire pit. But what's he brooding about? Would he tell me if I asked? Doesn't matter. Asking would mean I cared, and I don't. I don't need him. I'll find Tsukiko before I'm that desperate. That doesn't mean I can't be curious, though.

Saiga had refused repeatedly to give Rikuo more information about Kazahaya. "Why should you know more about him than he does about you?" he'd asked, and Rikuo hadn't been able to offer any real answer. Kakei, when asked the same questions, had clapped his hands, smiled and said, "Ah, young love! So you've decided to bond with him after all?" There'd been something both hopeful and terrifying behind the smile that had kept Rikuo from asking again.

Rikuo stretched. Who'd have thought I'd be missing the idiot's chatter? He frowned. If this was a normal Kakei job, I'd have to keep my eyes open. Something would go wrong now. He walked the perimeter of their campsite. Nothing but rodents and insects. He bared his teeth at the darkness. Try me. I have no reason to be nice to anything tonight. Well, except for him. Nothing out there has protection. "I'm going for a walk."

"And leave the kettle on the fire?" Kazahaya sounded partly flabbergasted and partly offended.

Right. The kettle. "I changed my mind about the tea." The wind teased Rikuo's hair, daring him to fly. But I can't. He closed his eyes in an attempt to pretend that he no longer felt earth under his feet. Kakei would feed me if I needed it. He has before. His shoulders sagged. Then Saiga would go hungry. He tolerates me now, but he doesn't have to. He chooses to, but if it costs him too much... He could choose to turn me over to Shimuzu-sama. It would help Kakei, after all, even if Kakei doesn't want to do it. "I won't be more than half an hour."

Kazahaya's incoherent spluttering lacked its usual vehemence, but Rikuo didn't feel ready to consider that just then. I can run. That will let me feel the wind even if I can't ride it. And maybe I'll find something worth eating. He didn't allow himself to look back at the campsite. He didn't want to see Kazahaya while he was thinking of real sources of sustenance. I'm not feeding on him, not even if it's not bonding. I could keep from bonding with him. I could, but I won't risk it. I'm not giving up on Tsukiko yet. She's not dead. I'd know.

Once he was beyond Kazahaya's view, Rikuo started to run. He did his best not to let his mind touch anything except awareness of the ground beneath his feet and the things he might run into, but that ease eluded him. Damn Kakei anyway. He knew he was being unfair to blame Kakei. Not like he wanted Shimuzu-sama to visit either. He purged his shame at thinking of Tsukiko's mother in such terms by pushing his body harder. I don't think he hates her as much as she hates him, but that doesn't mean he likes her.

Kakei offered Rikuo a smile so brilliant that Rikuo flinched. Kakei rubbed the side of his head and shrugged, his smile dimming a little.

"What?" Rikuo's wariness came out in the word.

Kakei waved a hand. "Nothing. Nothing. Just a little job."

"One of those jobs?" Rikuo took those jobs as a favor for Kakei, as repayment for the trickle of mystical energy that Kakei gave him. Everything Saiga can-- is willing to-- share.

"Not exactly." Kakei picked up a bottle of vitamins and studied the label. "My grandfather's wife will be visiting next week."

Oh. That means Shimuzu-sama, Tsukiko's mother. Rikuo's belly clenched. He started shifting vitamins to put them in order by bar code. The focus that required let him keep his memories from choking him. He studied Kakei for a moment before saying anything. "How... unexpected."

Kakei gave him a sharp look. "Isn't it?" He put down the vitamins. "She can't be allowed to see Kudoh-kun. She might recognize him."

Rikuo applied price stickers to a few more bottles. "Is that the job?" Does Kakei need the family that badly? Or maybe he's just trying to keep them neutral. The son of the bastard daughter can't be popular with Shimuzu-sama, and without Tsukiko to mediate... He shook his head. "You'll have to pay him if you want to keep him from asking questions." Unless you're willing to tell him more than you've told either of us so far.

"I can't protect you from her, either." Kakei didn't look at Rikuo. "If she realizes that we don't know where Tsukiko is, she's within her rights to insist you go home with her. Or that Saiga does." He went utterly still. "My uncle killed another familiar last week."

Rikuo crushed a box of antacids. And she'll want one of us, me or Saiga, for him. She never liked that Saiga chose you. He wasn't supposed to, so she'd rather have him, but without Tsukiko... I'm easy prey. He swallowed hard and forced his back to straighten from its fear induced hunch. "I see. So what are you going to have us doing?" And will it work? It will. Kakei has the Sight, and he has Saiga. He'd warn me if he Saw something going wrong. Wouldn't he?

Kakei smiled again. "How do you feel about camping?"

Rikuo fed on a few small animals. Snuffing their lives gave him enough magic to hope that he could share the small tent with Kazahaya without being tempted to sample his power. Damn them both for the tent. We don't need it. It's not going to rain. I'm not going to let fear force me into anything. It just would help if he wasn't-- If I didn't-- Why do I have to find him attractive and tasty?

He found Kazahaya pacing their campsite, muttering loudly to himself.

"Finally!" Kazahaya rounded on Rikuo. "Where have you been?"

"Aw. Did you miss me?" Rikuo moved in close and breathed in Kazahaya's ear.

Kazahaya took three steps backward. "What have you been eating?"

Okay. That was a mistake. Rikuo gave a slow smile. "So I have to brush my teeth before I get too close? Or do you insist on mouthwash, too?"

Kazahaya hesitated just for a second. "Who says I want you getting close?" He sounded curious.

Rikuo blinked at the unexpected calmness. What's that about? Shouldn't he be shrieking? "We have to be up before dawn. We should probably go to bed now." Come to think of it, he's been weird since that thing at the boarding school.

Kazahaya blushed and turned away. "Only if you brush your teeth. You'll stink up the tent otherwise."

Rikuo kept his expression under control and didn't let himself frown. What? "I could sleep outside," he offered, wanting to see what response he'd get. He grinned. "Or you could." He let his teeth show.

Kazahaya swung around to glare at Rikuo. "You're not stealing the tent! Half of it's mine."

Does he want me there or is he just putting up with me? If I wanted an answer, I shouldn't have suggested that I might take the whole tent. Rikuo shrugged, knowing that Kazahaya would read the gesture as 'have it your way.' "I'll be back in a minute." He grabbed his bag from where he'd been sitting earlier and headed for the stream.

"Hey! You forgot the flashlight... Again." Kazahaya trailed after Rikuo.

Flashlight? Right. A human would need one. Damn. "It's part of my gift." Which isn't exactly a lie. "There's enough light here." Since Kazahaya was with him, Rikuo didn't drink from the stream. He washed in it and used water from his canteen for brushing his teeth.

"So all we have to do is find this shrine, right?" Kazahaya splashed water on his own face.

"First we purify. Then we search. Kakei was very specific about what it looks like, just not where it is." Lies. The right shrine is whichever one we find first after Saiga gives me the all clear. "Once we find it--"

"We burn the envelope." Kazahaya nodded firmly. "Easy."

Rikuo cuffed Kazahaya on the back of his head. "It's a Kakei job. How have you managed to survive this long?"

Kazahaya rubbed the back of his head. "At least this time I don't have to wear a dress." He smiled. "And I've missed being out of the city. I haven't sat by a fire since-- for a long time."

Rikuo bit back the question that wanted to emerge. I don't need to know. I don't want to know. He shrugged. "Good thing with how long this is likely to take. Do you know how many shrines we're going to find up here?"

Kazahaya's smile broadened. "We're getting paid to be here as long as it takes."

Rikuo blinked.

"And it's more than we get when we work our usual hours at the store. I figured that out when we went undercover after that ring." Kazahaya nodded firmly, apparently pleased by his financial acumen.

Rikuo considered banging his head against something. He cleared his throat. "What do you do with your money?" I don't want to know. I really don't.

Kazahaya blinked. "There's rent and groceries and clothes." He counted thing off on his fingers. "Kakei-san tells me what I owe."

He really is that naïve. "What rock did you grow up under?" The words escaped him before he could stop them. He held up a hand. "No. Don't tell me. I don't want to know." Except I kind of do...

Kazahaya raised his chin. "What do you spend your money on?"

"Much the same." But I still have enough left over for extras, even without Tsukiko's accounts. Rikuo shoved his toothbrush into his mouth to end the conversation. If Kakei hadn't forbidden it, I probably would have helped you out by now.

The tent was narrower than Rikuo had expected it to be, just barely wide enough for both sleeping bags. There ought to be more space between us. He shook his head. I can control myself, and he has shields. We'll be fine. He crawled into his sleeping bag and turned so that he faced the wall of the tent. He resolutely ignored the sounds of Kazahaya tripping over the entrance and finding his way to his own sleeping bag.

Kazahaya cleared his throat. "Have you done a lot of camping?"

Rikuo stifled a groan. "Not really." Now he's talkative. Lovely. "Look, just shut up. Morning's coming a lot sooner than you think."

Kazahaya made a noise that sounded more dissatisfied than irritated. He sighed. "Sleep well, then."

Most nights, Rikuo viewed sleep as an annoyance, but tonight it came as an escape. He didn't want to hear whatever it was that Kazahaya had wanted to say. Some other night when things are normal. The silence had a weight to it that could only come from words suppressed. He'd say it anyway if it mattered. He closed his eyes and let his breathing slow. No more tonight. He fell into sleep, feeling the world spiral around him as he sank.

As if the ground were air... He laughed and spread his arms wide. Falling's not as good as flying, but at this speed, I can fake it. He rolled and twisted into a somersault. Not too much difference.

He couldn't see anything below him. Above him, he saw stars and, in the distance ahead, behind and to the sides, jagged giants that might be mountains. Or might be giants. Flying giants... Mountains implies ground.

He tried to alter the fabric of the dream to find something below him. It's my dream. I can do that. Lucid dreaming was still a skill requiring practice and involving as many errors as trials, so he wasn't sure it would work.

He found himself hovering over a smooth, dark surface. He thought he'd slip if he landed, so he stayed in the air. And now I am flying. Light sparked deep below, reflecting, rebounding and fragmenting until it reached the surface as a million lights.

Then the pieces pulled together, coalescing into Kazahaya. He lay face up just underneath the slick looking surface.

Maybe it's ice. Or glass. What does having him in my dream mean? Rikuo refused to accept the obvious answer. It's not sex, and it's not a desire to bond with him.

Kazahaya blinked. His mouth moved, but Rikuo couldn't tell what he was saying. Kazahaya frowned. He raised and hand, balled it into a fist and struck upward. His arm bounced backward. He frowned. His mouth opened again. Judging by way his jaw and neck moved, Rikuo guessed that Kazahaya was yelling.

Rikuo reached down and tapped one finger on the barrier. It felt solid and cold. He rubbed his thumb and finger together. Oil. He sniffed his finger then realized that both finger and thumb were burning. He scrubbed his hand against his pants. It's not burning him. Why isn't it burning him? Again with the symbolism. I'm not afraid to touch him.

Kazahaya made an impatient gesture. He yelled some more.

Even in my dreams, he won't shut up. Rikuo frowned. Does he symbolize something I actually need to know, to pay attention to? He shook his head and started to turn away. I don't think I want to dive into my psyche tonight. Flying was more fun. Still, since this figment of his subconscious had chosen to appear as Kazahaya, Rikuo couldn't resist turning back for a sly grin of goodbye.

Kazahaya hit the barrier again this time with both hands. Rikuo heard a thump and saw blood on one of Kazahaya's hands.

That's just not playing fair. "Shit." Rikuo stopped. I can't leave him like that. I just... I can't. Getting him out won't take that much. Except-- If I break something here-- break it that way-- what will it do to my mind? If I didn't know I was dreaming, it wouldn't matter, but I do know. He blinked.

Seeing that he had Rikuo's attention, Kazahaya waved. He pushed against the barrier with both hands, flattening the palms against it then beckoned. His mouth kept moving. He seemed to be attempting to exaggerate the words.

"I still can't read lips." Rikuo shook his head. I could tease him. If he was real, I would. He's too cute when he's mad.

Kazahaya spread the fingers of one hand against the barrier. His shoulders sagged.

Rikuo twisted his body to bring his heel down on the  barrier. He focused carefully to avoid having the energy pass beyond his target. No point breaking Kazahaya. Even if he is just a facet of my subconscious. Especially if he's a facet of my subconscious.

Kazahaya put his arms up in front of his face and curled his body away from the barrier as it shattered.

Hard, sharp fragments exploded up at Rikuo, slicing his clothing and his skin. Fountaining water followed them, soaking him completely. He threw up his arms, trying to protect his eyes. When he opened his eyes again, the barrier was whole under him again, but Kazahaya lay sprawled on top of it.

Rikuo wiped his face. I should check on him. No. He's not real. "You'd better get up."

Kazahaya started to push himself up only to have his hand slip out from under him. He snarled something incoherent just before his face hit the barrier. He managed to get himself part way up again. "Aren't you going to help me?"

Rikuo was certain that he heard an implied 'you bastard' on the end of the question. He reached down, grabbed Kazahaya's shoulder and lifted. "Just don't let your feet touch the ice." It is ice. It must be ice. It's cold, it's slippery, and I want it to be ice, so it is.

"Fine. Right. Don't touch the ice. How on earth do I do that?" Kazahaya shook himself, throwing off Rikuo's hand.

Rikuo blinked. "Just... don't. It's a dream after all. We can do anything."

"A dream?" Kazahaya glared at Rikuo. "Of course," he muttered. "A dream. It would be. Too much to hope for it to be a nice dream." He frowned. "You're bleeding."

Rikuo looked down. It's a dream, and it doesn't look too bad anyway. He touched a cut on his arm. "It's shallow."

"But..." Kazahaya frowned. He touched the same cut on Rikuo's arm. "This doesn't feel like a dream." He rubbed a bit of Rikuo's shirt between his fingers.

"That's because it's my dream." Rikuo did his best not to let his dawning apprehension show on his face.

"No. It's my dream." Kazahaya took a step, slipped on the ice and grabbed Rikuo for support.

Without thinking about it, Rikuo wrapped his arms around Kazahaya and lifted. "I told you not to touch the ice."

"Well, some of us can't fly." Kazahaya sounded like he was having trouble breathing.

"You should be able to. This is a dream." Rikuo wanted to let his hands wander, but he was no longer sure that this Kazahaya was just a facet of his subconscious. "You just have to remember that it's all malleable." He cleared his throat. "If you really want to test it, try pinching your nose closed and then breathing through it. If you can, you're dreaming."

Kazahaya tried it then quickly released his nose when the pinch didn't impede his breathing. His eyes showed even more white. "You're real, aren't you? Not a dream, I mean." He tilted his head back so that he could see Rikuo's face. "Are we really dreaming? This doesn't happen when we share a room. Our beds aren't that far apart, so why is it happening now--"

He wants reassurance. "Stop babbling." Of course something weird is happening. This is a Kakei job. Even when it's not supposed to be. Rikuo searched for a place they could land safely. "This is a dream. Apart from you, everything's acting like it does in a dream." In one of my dreams, at least. I don't know about yours. Am I often in your dreams? He flushed a little, hoping that Kazahaya's shields as strong as usual. Some thoughts, I really don't want him to hear. "Did Kakei give you any private warnings?" Asking the question hurt. Rikuo usually put a lot of effort into not letting Kazahaya see his uncertainties. But not asking could be dangerous.

Kazahaya blushed and mumbled something.

Rikuo grinned. He's cute like that. "I didn't catch that."

"He said--" Kazahaya cleared his throat. "He said to be sure to use lube."

Rikuo chuckled. "One of those warnings." Do you even know what lube's for? He tightened his grip on Kazahaya. "I was thinking of a real warning." He spotted a grass covered hill next to a river and moved toward it.

"Only what he said to both of us about being careful where we camped, using sunscreen and taking proper care of the fire pit." Kazahaya craned his neck to try to see where they were going. "Oh," he said as he saw the hill. He pulled away from Rikuo almost before they had landed. He turned to stand with the river behind him and studied the landscape. After a moment, his shoulders slumped. "She's not here." He turned to look at Rikuo and missed seeing a blonde girl in traditional dress walk through the trees.

That's the girl the kitten showed him that night at the playground. Rikuo stepped away to give them a little space and called up a boulder for a seat. What did he call her? He folded his arms across his chest. I'm about to learn more about him.

"I should have guessed I'd find you here." Her tone was gently chiding, but Rikuo thought there was genuine anger underneath.

Of course there's more underneath. This is a dream.

"Kei!" Kazahaya launched himself at the girl in an exuberant hug. "I've missed you so much!"

Kei frowned. "You ought to be at your lesson. You've missed so many of them."

Kazahaya stepped back, still holding her hands. "I'm sorry. I had to go. What they want-- We can't--"

"You promised!" Flames wreathed their hands. "Do you know what it's like alone?" Small sparkling drops fell from her eyes.

Ice. She's crying ice, and there are flames on her hands. Rikuo hesitated for a fraction of a second then charged over to try to pull them apart. He got a hand on each of them before Kazahaya spoke.

"Don't." Kazahaya's face twisted with pain, but he clung to the girl's hands. He looked at Rikuo. "Back off. It's her. Not a dream but really, really her."

Kei snarled, pulled one hand free of Kazahaya's grip and clawed at Rikuo's face with flaming fingers. "You! Kidnapper! Sorcerer!"

Rikuo dodged, stepping backward. Instinct told him to break her arm, but he looked at Kazahaya and hesitated. This matters to him. Fire bit his cheek. He stumbled, falling to the ground. And that matters to me. It shouldn't, but it does.

"Kei! No!" Kazahaya seized Kei's free hand, pulled her close to his body and whirled her away from Rikuo. "You have to listen to me. They were going to kill you. They said I was more biddable, that you were too willful. And if they didn't kill you, they had to kill me. Our power's split so if one of us dies the other gets it all. I heard it. The wind called me, and I heard them talking."

Kei kissed Kazahaya's cheek. "He's lied to you, love." She shot a poisonous glance at Rikuo. "You need to come home. We'll marry the way Uncle Suou always intended." She smiled. "He told me after you were stolen. We'll always be together."

Kazahaya didn't look as repulsed as Rikuo thought he ought to. She's crazy. She doesn't believe that, does she? Does he?

Kazahaya shook his head. "If he meant that, he'd have told us years ago while he was going on and on about studying to survive the Tests and about all the risks of the outside world." His voice shook. "He lied to us, Kei. They all lied to us."

Kei pulled herself free of Kazahaya's hands. More frozen tears fell from her eyes. "Then you lied, too," she whispered. "Then you chose to leave. You broke your promise." She turned and fled through the trees.

Kazahaya started after her then stopped. His legs seemed to be giving way under him so that he was slowly collapsing to the ground. He turned to look at Rikuo.

Rikuo crossed the space between them in time to catch Kazahaya. "She's crazy. Completely crazy."

Kazahaya shook his head. "She's sleeping, dreaming. That's all. We all-- well, maybe not you-- we say and do things in dreams that we wouldn't--" He looked down at his hands. "That's bad, isn't it?" He turned the over, studying the red, blistered flesh.

"It's not as bad as I thought it'd be." She really hurt him. How can he love someone who'd do that? Rikuo lowered Kazahaya to the ground. "Your shirt's not even burned." She is crazy, and I won't let her hurt him again. Since he could no longer see her, he glared at the trees.

"I didn't think about my shirt burning, so I guess it didn't. Is that a dream thing? I'm burned under it, I think. Just not as bad as you'd be if she'd grabbed you that way. We're sort of..." Kazahaya sighed. He wriggled the fingers of one hand, looking pleased to discover that he could. "We can't affect each other all that well, so we never had to be scared of each other, not the way everyone else was of us."

Rikuo stared at Kazahaya's burns. "Would washing those help or hurt?" I should know more about burns. He shook his head. "This is a dream. A dream. That means it's malleable. Once you know it's a dream, you can guide it."

"Make my hands magically heal?" Kazahaya's eyes widened, but he looked dubious. He held up his hands and rotated them back and forth so that he could inspect both palms and backs. "That was really her. I'm not sure I should heal them. The burns..." He shrugged. "It would depend on whether the water was clean or dirty." He looked up at the sky.

"If I-- if we-- want it to be clean, it'll be clean." Rikuo had the feeling that he was missing something.

"But it might not be just us here."

Oh. Right. She was here, so it isn't just us. "No." Rikuo stood up and pulled Kazahaya to his feet. "Time to wake up."

Kazahaya stepped away. He didn't meet Rikuo's eyes. "How?"

"I wake myself up, and then I wake you up." Rikuo nodded firmly. He grinned. "With a kiss, just like Sleeping Beauty." Or maybe just a bottle of water. He braced himself for a shout of outrage that never came.

Instead, Kazahaya studied Rikuo. "Do you want to kiss me or is that another way of messing with me?"

"Um..." Rikuo licked his lips. Time to wake up. Now. He touched his thumb to his little finger and started counting backwards. Four, three, two, one. Nothing happened. He's still looking at me. Waiting for an answer. I don't want to answer. "It's... complicated." He tried counting again.

"I'm not stupid." Kazahaya set his jaw. "If you explain it to me, I'll get it."

"I doubt it." Rikuo turned away. What the hell is going on? I should be able to wake up. Kazahaya's hand on his arm took Rikuo completely by surprise. Kazahaya's fist against his jaw was less startling but still unexpected.

"Don't you dare walk away! Ow! Ow! Ow. Ooow..." Kazahaya fell to his knees, trying to cradle both hands without letting them touch each other or any part of his arms. "Should have kicked you. Bastard."

"I can't wake up." Rikuo stared at his own hands. We don't have time to talk about this. He counted down again. Except... If I can't wake us, we've got nothing but time.

"It wasn't easy to say that, you know. I think I deserve an answer. You play too many games. Just like-- What?" Kazahaya froze and blinked at Rikuo. "What?"

"I can't wake up. We're stuck here until we wake up normally." If we do. Just in case Kazahaya hadn't gotten it, Rikuo added, "It's a Kakei job." He shrugged.

"The alarm'll go off at five." Kazahaya climbed slowly to his feet, keeping his arms and hands quite still. "I think... maybe cold water would be a good idea." He looked at the trees rather than down at the water. "Not that river, though. We'd have to go way upstream to find a way down to the water."

The steep drop to the water grew, as if the ground they were standing on was pulling back from the river. Not going to comment on that. "That way then." Rikuo pointed in a different direction than the one in which Kei had fled. Not that that guarantees not meeting her again, dream geography being what it is. "I'm sure we'll find a spring over there."

Kazahaya nodded and started walking.

I hope Shimuzu-sama goes home quickly. Neither Kakei nor Saiga will dare check up on us while she's around. Well, Saiga could. She can't stop him from doing what he wants or he wouldn't still be with Kakei, but if he leaves, she might guess that something's going on or she might hurt Kakei. Rikuo made a face at Kazahaya's back. She might kill Kakei. She might think that she could make Saiga obey her then, and he'd-- He shuddered as he deliberately didn't let himself imagine the... steps Saiga would take. Imagination became reality far too easily in a dream

"Shouldn't we find that spring soon?" Kazahaya sounded tired.

"Probably." Rikuo focused his attention on finding a spring. Just a natural part of the scenery... Except that we seem to be in a drought. The grass is dried. The trees are dying. Doesn't Kazahaya want to find--

The world around them rippled like a piece of cloth stretched unevenly and shaken. Rikuo stumbled, gasping for breath. He felt like something was trying to rip his internal organs out through his back. He fell forward, and his knees hit the ground just as his out-stretched hand gripped Kazahaya's ankle. As long as I'm holding him, we can't be separated. The force, whatever it was, pulled him upward and backward hard enough to hurt without quite being enough to make him move. Yet. What's happening? It's like something's shredding the dream, attacking us. But what? Or... who?

Kazahaya turned back, puzzlement clear on his face as he looked down. "What's wrong? Did you trip?" He made no effort to pull his ankle free.

The landscape rippled again. Studying Kazahaya's face as it happened, Rikuo realized that Kazahaya wasn't reacting to it. He can't feel it. He shifted his grip on Kazahaya's ankle then tightened his fingers. His lungs didn't want to let him speak, but he forced it. "Channel," he whispered. He has to see so he knows we're in danger. Or maybe... just that I'm in danger. If he can't feel it, maybe it's just aimed at me. Or maybe it's that-- No. No point in running in six directions at once.

Kazahaya bent and brushed his fingers against Rikuo's skin. He flinched as his burnt skin touched Rikuo's face, but his face set in determined lines. "Oh. Oh!" He blinked then rubbed his face against his shoulder as if trying to rub his eyes without using his hands or arms. He looked at Rikuo again.

The rippling disordered the world around them again. This time Kazahaya's eyes widened. He lowered himself to his knees next to Rikuo. "Yes. I see that. But what is it?" He rubbed his ear against his shoulder. "And who's the old lady who's yelling your name? She sounds angry. And loud. Very loud. Kind of like Mrs. Inoue when the line at the counter doesn't move fast enough." He smiled, but it wavered a bit. "I know it must hurt pretty bad, but... We'll figure something out." He stroked his thumb across Rikuo's forehead.

What old lady? Rikuo didn't hear anything but Kazahaya's voice and his own labored breathing. He actually likes me, doesn't he?

Kazahaya looked up as if he were seeing something behind Rikuo. "And every time she says your name, those gray strings tighten and pull on you. Maybe you should break them."

Break them? I don't even see them. Rikuo took the deepest breath he could manage. It's easier with him touching me. It shouldn't be. "Can't see anything. Or hear anything. Just... hurts." But that might explain the... pull. And that would mean Shimuzu-sama. He ground his teeth together. "Not going anywhere." Especially not to her.

Kazahaya frowned, looking puzzled. "I didn't say you were." He took his hand off Rikuo's face. "I'll look around. Maybe I can find her. Any ideas who she might be? She knows your name, and she's calling you 'chan.'"

The moment Kazahaya stopped touching him, Rikuo's body arched, his spine bending as if there were in fact a rope around his waist. He buried his fingers and toes in the dirt, trying to anchor himself. I shouldn't have relaxed just because it got easier for a while. His fingers and toes lengthened, rooting themselves. "Kazahaya--" Help.

Kazahaya threw himself on top of Rikuo and flattened them both to the ground.

The combination of weight on his back and the sudden release of the pulling made Rikuo gasp. He kept his hands and feet rooted. Breathe. Breathe while I can. "Don't...stop...touching me."

Kazahaya pressed his hands against Rikuo's head. "It's an attack, isn't it? Why? Who? Did Kakei give you any warnings?"

'I can't protect you from her, either.' "Not exactly." Rikuo closed his eyes. With Tsukiko, with a proper bond, I could just ignore Shimuzu-sama. With the little bit I've got, just enough to know Tsukiko's alive, I can't do it. "I--" How do I explain? I don't want to explain. "The one who... protected me--" He banged his head against the ground. No. "People with power can be... enslaved. That's what she wants. She wants to tie me up so I can't think and make me follow orders. Not hers. She'll give me to someone, and I'll have to be his as long as he lives." Or as long as I do. 'My uncle killed another familiar last week.'

Kazahaya didn't say anything for a few seconds, and Rikuo wondered if he understood at all. Then Kazahaya said, "That sucks."

Yeah. That's one way to put it. "If I were older-- stronger-- she couldn't do it." If I were Saiga, she couldn't do it. Hell, if I were still properly in Tsukiko's service, the old bitch couldn't touch me, no matter how much power she put into it. Or if-- No. I can't.

"Is that what happened to the girl you're looking for? Is she somebody's slave now?" Kazahaya sounded utterly appalled.

"No!" Rikuo denied it more out of reflex than because he was completely certain. He raised his head, shook himself and almost dislodged Kazahaya.

"Hey! I'm just asking." Kazahaya put his arms around Rikuo's neck.

That has got to hurt like hell with those burns. "She's human. I'm... not. It's not the same." Having him there is-- Not the time to think about that. He's hurting himself to help me. I should not be thinking that it's nice to have him so close.

Kazahaya's grip on Rikuo's neck loosened a little. "Not human? How does that work?"

"I'm just not. Okay?" Rikuo thought about banging his head on the ground, but he was afraid that he'd hurt Kazahaya. And he might let go. And then... "Being summoned shouldn't feel like this. It never has before."

"Before? Someone's done this to you before?" Kazahaya muttered something further, something about stealing breath and being worth the risk. He mumbled for more than a minute, and Rikuo let him.

I need to rest. I need to think. Rikuo sighed and let himself relax. As long as he doesn't move, I'll be okay. Of course, he can't stay there forever. Eventually, we'll wake up-- Oh. "It's because I'm asleep or whatever it is we are here since it's more than asleep. I need to be in my body to answer the summons. When I wake up--" His stomach clenched.

"I'll kill her." Kazahaya sounded utterly matter of fact.

You'd do that for me? Really? Rikuo turned his head, trying to see if Kazahaya was serious. But... Kazahaya doesn't do things like that. He doesn't. Even when he should, and he shouldn't-- "Don't be stupid. Shimuzu-sama would eat you as a snack and hardly notice." Kakei wanted to hide you from her, too. She'll send you back where you came from, and then you'll die.

"I've never killed anybody, but I could. Just like Kei hasn't but could." Kazahaya sighed. "Why don't you just break the threads? You're good a breaking things."

Briefly, Rikuo considered it. But breaking the threads will only mean she has to find me again, and I'm not sure I can find them to break them anyway. Plus... I'm made to be bound. Can I fight this without destroying myself? The summoning magic pulled harder at him so that he pushed up against Kazahaya, twisting, trying to throw off the extra weight.

Kazahaya's grip tightened. :Rikuo. Focus your mind on me. I'm here with you in this dream, and my body's right next to yours in the real world. I'm closer than she is. Hide behind me. I've taken down my shields entirely so we can find each other.:

Rikuo wanted to laugh at the idea of Kazahaya offering him shelter. But it's not so funny right now. He's a lot bigger magically than physically, too. He tried to focus, to ignore the looming threat, but Shimuzu-sama had been part of his life for as long as he could remember. He kept seeing and hearing her in his mind, in his memories. She not all powerful. Really, she's not.

"Oh, hell," Kazahaya muttered. He turned Rikuo's head and pressed their lips together hard. :You can't ignore me now.:

Rikuo had always expected that he'd be the one kissing Kazahaya rather than the other way around. I'd do it better. I've had practice. He wanted to part his lips, to deepen the kiss, but he couldn't, not with how their lips were mashed together. Almost glued to our teeth.

:Shut up. Just... shut up. I'll learn. Assuming we ever do this again.: Kazahaya glared at Rikuo, almost going cross-eyed from the proximity.

This isn't going to work for long. We have to do more to keep me from thinking--

Kazahaya bit him. :Tell me where to find her, and I'll kill her. Problem over.:

Rikuo shook his head. Clan matriarch. All of them are sorcerers, wizards, whatever you want to call them. Even if you kill her, more will come after me. They'll know that I'm why she died. They'll find you, and they'll... They'll kill you.

Kazahaya pulled back. "If you've already given up, why the hell are you fighting so hard?" :Let me help. What will stop her-- them?:

"Tsukiko." Rikuo force the word out. Or you. No. That means giving up on her. But if we were-- If-- They couldn't summon me. Not unless they had you.

"Tsukiko's not here." :If we were what? What do you need?:

Rikuo looked away and felt the summons tear at him again. "I'm...not...human."

"You said that already." Kazahaya buried one hand in Rikuo's hair, wincing as he did.

Rikuo met Kazahaya's eyes, trying not to see anything else or to feel anything else. "I can... It's like a-- a symbiosis. Me and a human with power. Tsukiko and I had it." Using the past tense about his bond with Tsukiko hurt in an entirely different way.

"A human like me." Kazahaya frowned. "What would that mean? No. You need it, so it doesn't matter. Okay." He nodded firmly. "Wait. Is this like what this old lady wants to do to you? I can't do that. I can't."

Rikuo ground his teeth. "Does Saiga act like a slave? This is like Saiga and Kakei." I hope. I'm trusting you. "Saiga chose Kakei. I--" He closed his eyes for just a second. "I'm choosing you." At least you won't kill me by forcing me to try to drain an ocean or whatever other stupidity Tetsuo-san is currently perpetrating.

Kazahaya hesitated then nodded uncertainly. "If you're sure..."

"Please, Kazahaya. Please." You're so much better than any of the alternatives. Except Tsukiko. And she's... She's not an alternative any more. "I need this. If you really can't do it..." Rikuo knew he was pushing a button now. "If you can't, please kill me. That'll be the only thing that can save me." Better fast than slow. Better without giving them anything at all.

Kazahaya's frown told Rikuo that he knew he was being manipulated, but Kazahaya nodded. "What do I need to do?"

"Take some of my blood and some of my power and give me some of yours." Will it work in a dream? Do we have to wake up first?

Kazahaya licked his lips. He put his right index finger in his mouth and bit down hard. Blood mixed with fluid from his burns. "Here." His eyes met Rikuo's. :Share my Sight. Will that do it? We can try other things, but Kakei said they'd find me if I use those.:

Rikuo laughed, sounding to his own ears as if he didn't mean it. "Your Sight should do it." He stared at Kazahaya's finger. "Tsukiko used a syringe and cooked it in mochi. Guess we can't do that..." He licked the finger and did his best not to think about what he was doing. He looked back over his shoulder. "I see them now. The ribbons of power, I mean." He dug his fingers and toes deeper into the ground. He cleared his throat. "You'll have to... I don't dare use my hands for anything but holding on right now. Cut me, bite me, whatever it takes. Then... Then use my power to break the summoning." You have to do it. I can't. Rikuo took a deep, shaky breath. I can't afford to doubt you now.

Kazahaya nodded. :Trust me.: He studied Rikuo then pushed Rikuo's collar aside. He took a deep breath then bit down hard.

Rikuo hardly felt the pain of his skin breaking. Almost there. Really. It'll work. It has to. It might only work here, but we can do it again when we wake up if we have to. We'll have time then. He willed his power to break things into Kazahaya's hands. "Touch the summoning. Just remember not to break me." I'm trusting you. You can do this. Really.

Kazahaya kept his bleeding hand pressed against Rikuo's face and reached up to touch the ribbons. "Rikuo--" He touched one. "--is--" He touched another. --mine. Leave him alone!"

Rikuo felt a series of shocks as the summons dissolved under Kazahaya's hand. When he was sure that the pain was over, Rikuo let himself collapse against Kazahaya's chest. "It worked. Oh, god. It worked." He closed his eyes. "Thank you." He uprooted his hands and feet and clung to his new partner.

Kazahaya patted Rikuo awkwardly on the back. "Do you think you could wake up now? I think we need to get out of this."

"I can try." Rikuo pulled away. Four. Three. Two. One. He opened his eyes on the canvas of the tent and turned to find Kazahaya looking at him. He's still burned. His finger's still bleeding. He touched his shoulder. I'm still bleeding, and the burn on my face still hurts. "So... I guess we ought to talk."

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