Storm Warnings  

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chapter seven  

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bloodlines and other ties  

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“Come on, Cat.”  Yohji still sounded upset, his normally warm voice roughened by a growl.  

Aya blew a breath of air at the bangs falling onto his face as he was unceremoniously dragged from the kitchen to what he assumed would be their bedroom.  They had remained in the kitchen only long enough for Yuda to carry Shin off to the water elemental’s room, and he swore he could smell a faint whiff of the two bounds as he was hastened down the hallway toward the back stairs.  The scent of rain and lust made his nose twitch, seeming to overpower the regular aromas of wood, soap and polish.  

While his senses were not as acute as a flesh gaki bound’s, he did not think he was imagining things just then, especially with the way that Yohji appeared to barely be holding back a snarl as they climbed the stairs.  Sensing his mate’s volatile emotions, he assumed that Yohji smelled it as well, which further incensed his succubae nature.  

Why was it the gods had seen fit to mate him to a succubae bound?  Oh, he had no problem with his lover being Yohji, just the fact that Yohji was mostly a demon that fed on sex and could be *incredibly* jealous and irrational.  The idiot thought that Aya was in danger of being molested by another succubae bound – as if he would let Yuda or anyone else touch him, let alone feed from him.  Why could Yohji not be an elemental or soul gaki bound?  At this point, Aya would settle for a flesh gaki bound; considering how often his neck was mauled, he did not think he would mind the occasional nibble….  

However, despite his immense annoyance over the current situation, he was still willing to let Yohji’s demon nature take charge and settle things.  He had the utmost faith in his mate’s strength and abilities, and knew that if Yuda did not face reality he would soon be dead.  That did not bother Aya at all; no one, not even someone they supposedly needed for the future, would be allowed to constantly challenge and threaten Yohji.  Besides, it was Shin they really needed, not Yuda.  As a mated bound, Aya understood the importance of the two men coming together, but if Yuda tried to hurt Yohji one more time then it was best that the man’s death happened soon, before Shin and Yuda became mates.  

If the gods were not looking after Aya very well right now, at least they made sure that he and Yohji did not run into anyone on the way to their bedroom.  Considering the state Yohji was in, a simple wrong look or question could set him off.  Aya snorted as his lover fumbled with the doorknob, a little miffed at the fact that *he* was considered the ‘touchy’ one.  

The door was shoved open, accompanied by a loud curse on Yohji’s part, and Aya found himself dragged forward once more, this time into the room.  He had to clench his teeth together to keep from snapping or hissing at the idiot, growing tired of being manhandled this way.  While most of him accepted the change in Yohji’s behavior, recognizing it for what it was, a small part of him was discomfited by the rough treatment.  Yohji might not treat him like a doll anymore, but he usually had more regard for Aya’s old fears than he was showing at the moment.  

“Yotan-“  

As soon as the door was closed behind them, Aya found himself cut off and pushed against the wall beside it with Yohji pressed against him as he was kissed hard enough to make his lips ache.  If it were not for the powerful wave of need and love that flowed into him, he would be using his talent to shove his lover aside without any care for bruises or broken bones.  

Instead, he let the emotions soothe his own, calming himself and parting his lips to join in the kiss.  The reaction from Yohji was almost instantaneous; his arms came to rest on either side of Aya’s shoulders, allowing their bodies close contact but no longer leaving him with the feeling that he was pinned against the wall.  The touch of fingers through his hair was gentle as the kiss ‘mellowed’ to become more about passion than savagery.  

Even though Aya did his best to not think about how such talent had come about - other than to acknowledge his lover’s demon soul - he had to admit that it was… incredible.  If anyone had told him over a year ago that the seemingly simple act of another person kissing him, playing with his hair and pressing against him would make him almost delirious with pleasure, he would have thought them mad.  Now… perhaps he was the mad one, because he had come to crave moments like this when Yohji became the entirety of his world.  

The ‘lull’ in the passion’s intensity did not last for very long, as if Yohji recognized that he had surrendered to the emotion.  However, it did not take on the punishing edge of before; rather it became all-encompassing, as if Yohji was determined to make sure that Aya felt and thought of nothing that was not related to his mate.   

He did not mind such a dominating attitude, now that he was certain that it was Yohji proving and reaffirming the bond between them instead of an act of domination.  To some extent placated, he only hissed a little when the kiss was finally broken off so Yohji could remove both their shirts.  

His mate’s warm chuckle made him cut the complaining sound short.  “That’s my cat,” Yohji crooned, the growl from before utterly gone and replaced with tones of seduction and love.  “Gonna scratch up my back?”  

“It… it depends on what you do next.”  Aya’s breath hitched as the laces to his pants were undone and the material pushed down his hips, that ‘next’ growing rather obvious between his mate’s emotions and actions.   

Yohji chuckled again.  “I’m gonna fuck you where you stand, that’s what I’m gonna do next.”  Again, if there had been any trace of domination or pride in the words, any indication that Yohji did not care what he felt at the moment, then Aya would have used his talent to ‘free’ himself.  Instead, there was a lascivious, honey-sweet purr in his lover’s voice and a heady mix of love, desire and need over their link.  Yohji’s touch as he stripped Aya bare was firm yet gentle, was never enough to imply that force would be needed to make it stop.  It was clear that his demon nature was pushing him to reassert his claim on Aya, but everything he did was tempered with love and respect.  

There was also the fact that Aya could barely resist Yohji at the best of times, that he too felt the need to reaffirm their bond.  Sighing as if he did not see any way out of this, he slowly slid his arms over his mate’s shoulders and gave smooth, golden skin a teasing scratch.  “Foolish succubae bounds,” he muttered, catching his breath again when Yohji smiled in response.  

“Yes, and the poor souls who are stuck with them.”  Yohji leaned in to nuzzle his neck as he spoke; the feel of damp, hot lips and warm air against sensitive skin made Aya flex his nails without any thought on his part.  There was only one hand tangled in his hair now, which slid with care downward until it caught his right eartail.  Yohji’s other hand was busy with something… what that was became clear when he felt slick fingers stroke along the cleft of his ass.  

He supposed that the idiot had not been kidding about the ‘fuck you where you stand’ part, and he shivered when the image of him turned around to face the wall flickered through his thoughts.  Attuned to his emotions as always, Yohji caught that and murmured his name, left hand now a soothing caress along the back of his neck and down his arm, while he was urged to press closer.  A gentle touch to his right thigh made him lift his leg and wrap it as high up around Yohji’s hip as he could.  

“Don’t kill me for this,” Yohji whispered before biting down on Aya’s neck, not hard enough to break skin, but still with enough force to leave an impressive bruise.  At the same time, his fingers pushed inside, Aya’s body only offering token resistance after their ‘activity’ just a couple of hours ago.   

He felt a familiar sense of weakness set in, which was offset by the knowledge that he was making his mate stronger, as well as the emotions that rushed over the link.  Perhaps after picking up more of Yohji’s nature he would one day taste that ‘sunlight’ his mate always referred to, but what he felt as the sole focus of his talented lover was blissful enough.  Whatever remaining fears he had about the situation vanished as Yohji held him close with both arms while prompting him to step back until he bumped into the wall.  

All of his mate’s intentions made obvious, Aya did not need any urging to wrap both legs around Yohji’s hips as he was lifted into the air.  Large, strong hands cupped his ass, the only warning he had before he felt his lover’s cock nudge against him.  His arms still wrapped around Yohji’s shoulders, he flexed his fingers as he was entered, his head falling back against the wall.  

Of course, that gave the idiot the perfect opportunity to mark his neck some more, not that Aya cared at that moment.  So much pleasure and love…even as he gradually weakened, he felt such warmth, such a rush of ecstatic sensation, that he could only urge Yohji on, arch his neck and dig in his nails and wrap his legs and arms even tighter in hopes that the moment would never end.  It was as if lightning shot through his body, arcing between his neck and his lower body where Yohji’s cock thrust into him harder and faster each time, where there was such wonderful friction as his own cock was caught between their tightly pressed-together bodies.  Each motion, each kiss and bite, each hasty groan of his name added to the pleasure until his blood seethed through his veins, his entire body caught up in it until he thought it was all that he was.  

So much ecstasy – some part of him realized that it was more than one person could possibly feel, but this was normal for him, was what he experienced each time that they had sex.  It was almost as common as breathing to him, this intensity and need, the hurtling rush toward something that would shatter him in the best possible way.  This was when he felt truly joined to Yohji, not just with their bodies, but with their hearts and souls as well, both of them caught up in each other until it was too much for even them to bear.  

When it did finally crash down on him, he clung to his mate, body wracked with ecstasy and soul replete with the knowledge that he was not alone, and it was never long before there was another surge of that overwhelming emotion.  His senses had returned enough at that point to hope that Yohji did not drop him to the floor, but his mate braced an arm against the wall as he shuddered against him.  

“Oh, sweet gods.”  Considering the amount of energy he had just taken from Aya, the idiot had no right whatsoever to sound so drained just then, but Aya put it down to emotion and not exhaustion.  At the least, he felt there was no weakness as his lover’s trembling arms held him close long enough for him to let his feet drop to the floor and cling for a few necessary seconds of support.  

Some energy trickled into him as they stood there, Yohji’s lips a soft, comforting touch against his right temple.  It occurred to him that Yohji was thanking the gods for the same bond that Aya had been so exasperated by just a short while ago, prompting a snort of derision from him.  

“Oh hell, don’t tell me you thought *that* was lousy,” Yohji grumbled, sounding very put-out, though his emotions were an almost blinding mix of happiness and love.  

“It was… different,” Aya admitted.  Yohji usually fed while they were on the bed, out in the garden or in the bath, occasionally from the window seat or at the desk….  He gave his mate’s scarred shoulder a quick nip.  No, usually they were someplace where Yohji would not have to be in any rush during the ‘feeding’, and Aya wondered with some horror if he was a *romantic* of all things to prefer it that way.  

“Hmm.”  Not expounding any further on that, Yohji led him toward the bed with a lot more care than he had displayed while getting them up to their room.  Once there, he left to go to the washing basin while Aya lowered himself onto the bed.  The near constant feedings were starting to wear on him, which meant that if things did not get better soon, he would have to go out hunting.  Birman usually had a list of names waiting for him these days, so he doubted finding someone worth killing would be a problem; it was just that Yohji would fuss so much the entire time.  

Just as he fussed now with the way he cleaned him as if he were an invalid, but for once Aya did not mind.  Now there was a sense of pride over their link, not based on smugness, but something almost possessive.   Since Aya was proud of his mate in return, all he did was give Yohji a slight hiss when the cleaning was done.  

Yohji laughed and returned to the wash basin, coming back to the bed after a minute.  “Would it help any if I tell you that Jo’s going to make you a couple of almond cakes with lots of frosting, since she knows you’re a bit low on energy lately?”  

Aya pretended to think about that as his mate stretched out beside him.  “As long as a whole cake is mine.”  He turned onto his left side to face Yohji, teeth snapping together as his fingers brushed against scarred golden skin.  “Is it better now?”  

Yohji caught Aya’s hand and gave the tips of his fingers a kiss.  “Now that we’re up here and all I can smell is you?  Hell yes.”  He chuckled again, the pleased sound in stark contrast to the silver gleam in his eyes.  “I think I got the point across, but I swear to the gods that if he gets within a foot of you that I’ll kill him.”  

Reminding himself that now was not the time to remind his beloved idiot that *he* could kill Yuda much more easily and from a greater distance, Aya merely closed his eyes and shifted a little closer.  He understood the demands a demon soul could make on a person, all the more so because he was pure demon.  Yohji’s behavior earlier today had been perfectly normal, except for one thing; he should have killed Yuda flat out at the first signs of aggression and not given him several warnings.  Crawford better be right about them needing Yuda, because Aya did not like anything checking Yohji like that.  

He felt completely at rest just then, body sated with pleasure and demon soul pleased with his mate, who draped an arm over his waist and pulled him closer.  A nap just then would be best, both to restore himself and to give Yohji a little more time to calm down.  

“Or I could sit back and let him eat one of your cakes, in which case he’ll be dead in seconds,” Yohji teased, his voice rumbling with a happy purr as his fingers combed through Aya’s hair.  Laughter filled the room as Aya tried to work up the energy to snap his teeth together and could only manage a pathetic ‘click’.  

He was kissed on the forehead, Yohji’s lips lingering as a little more energy trickled into him.  “I know, no one jokes about your precious cakes.  Get some rest, love, and they’ll be ready when you wake up.”  

“Idiot.”  At least he could manage that much before the exhaustion took over, and he breathed in deeply after he spoke the word.  There was something very reassuring in smelling just Yohji and himself, in knowing that Yohji would watch over him as he slept.  Ah well, so what if the only thing wrong with the man was the type of demon soul he possessed?  Aya supposed that he would get used to it over the centuries.  That and he could always find them a home someplace far away from other succubae bounds.  

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Roy stared at the note that had been left on the kitchen table, able to tell in an instant that it was his mate who had left it and not Al; for someone who spent most of his life reading books and scribbling down the information he found in them, Ed had *atrocious* handwriting.  Well, it was atrocious unless he was copying a book; then his words were easily legible and possessed an almost calligraphic style to them.  Roy suspected anything written for a personal reason was done so in a manner so awful in order for Ed to keep his precious notes indecipherable.  That theory was given some credence by the fact that it took Roy almost five minutes to figure out that he was supposed to meet his mate in the clearing where they and several other bounds went to practice their power… and to bring some food along with him.


Tired after a day of assisting Maes and Major Marquis with the preliminary plans for some of the upcoming festivals related to the newborn princess, he had hoped to come home, spend some time with Ed and then possibly impose upon Gracia for dinner.  As that plan was clearly not going to happen tonight, he allowed himself a very heavy and heartfelt sigh before doing what he had been ‘bid’.   

First he changed out of his uniform, still bitter to be wearing dark blue instead of dark green.  The thought of his brother chiding him over such a foolish, sentimental thought helped him to get over the bitterness, although there was some lingering resentment just thinking of the man.  Ah well, at least Crawford was currently occupied with the elemental cousins, which meant that he should not be interfering too much in Roy and Ed’s lives in the near future.  *Should* not.  

As he dressed in a pair of comfortable black cotton pants and an off-white linen shirt, he looked over the papers and books scattered about on the room’s desk; a desk which had started out as his, but which Ed had slowly taken over in the past year.  If it were not for the fact that he had more than enough of sitting behind a desk at work, he would have objected, but lately it was very nice to spend the evening in the bedroom, reading or making notes of what he had to do the next day, while Ed sat here mumbling as he scribbled down page after page of information.  The current project seemed two-fold; there were some obscure references to elemental powers and long lists of names, as well as crudely drawn diagrams.  Roy stopped fussing with the laces on his shirt’s cuffs when he recognized several names on the list.  

He had not wanted to reveal his and Crawford’s parentage to Ed – there was a very large and terrible risk of that information being found out by others - so he had forced his lover to not even tell Al the truth.  However… if things were to work out between them there had to be established sense of trust, and the topics that Ed were researching required some carefully hidden information if he was to make those amazing connections of his and unearth something valuable.  That Roy knew his brother would be as furious as all the inhabitants of all the hells combined over the revelation had at least made him a little happy as he exposed their lineage, but he was still worried that he had made a mistake.  At least Ed had only put down his and Crawford’s names on the charts, relying upon obscure symbols for the bounds who proceeded them genealogically.  

His mate was very clever and could be extremely cautious if given time to think things through, which was why Roy had finally given in.  He was relieved to see that his faith had not been broken, and traced his right forefinger along the line that led from his name up to the symbol that represented his mother.  Ed had been very careful and had not even chosen a symbol for ‘water’, as many people might have done, and so risked others finding out that Roy ’s mother was a water-elemental.  For a moment, he pictured her in his mind, with her long, pale hair, her beautiful features almost always set in a placid mask that hid the immense strength and willpower she possessed.  Physically, he did not take much after her, but he knew it was from her bloodline that he had received his powerful elemental soul.  Until this latest generation of elemental bounds, she had been the strongest water elemental, and part of her losing that ‘title’ was due to her age.  Still, many centuries old and ‘dethroned’ as she was, she was still powerful enough to spend most of her life surrounded by her element, barely leaving her lake unless forced to do so.  How she had managed to be away from the water long enough to raise him until his teenage years, he could not comprehend, but he held immense respect for her because of it.  In a way, she had been too old and too disconnected from the rest of the world to be a ‘good’ mother, which was nothing he ever held against her.  She had raised him to be as strong and confident in himself as possible, to hone his talent and accept his fate, and if she was a bit distant and not as demonstrative with her affections as most people… well, she was still a thousand times better than his father.  

If Ed had asked him to pick a symbol for *that* bastard, he would have chosen one related to ‘hell’.  There, on the paper between the lines that connected Roy to Crawford, was the character for ‘void’ instead, which was a good choice as well.  Any bound more than a century old would growl or whimper in response if the man’s name had been written down, as *his* reputation – a well-earned one at that – definitely preceded him.  The Elders were feared… in large part because of *him*.  Many bounds and the few historians who knew of the truth accredited *him* with being the impetus behind the Elders’ reign.  Crawford, manipulative, cold-blooded bastard that he was, was still only a pale shadow of their father.  Not for the first time, Roy wondered if his brother would set about crowning his own ‘king’ or ‘queen’ in the future, or be the shadow lurking behind the throne in some country, whispering advice and revealing the future for his own advantage.  

However, that was only the possible future while they existed in the present, facing something that was inevitable in the next couple of years.  He would worry about his brother if and when such a moment came and not much before then – at least, not as long as Crawford remembered the lesson he had learned this past year.  Continuing to study the symbols on the page before him, Roy admitted that his brother certainly came from very intelligent ‘stock’ and would hopefully use the brains given to him by both mother and father and know when not to push things too far.  Then again, considering that Crawford’s mother loved to meddle just as much as their father had….  Perhaps it would be best if he, Ed and Al went someplace far, *far* away once the war was over.  

Doing his best to shake such depressing thoughts from his head, he left the bedroom and went to see what he could scavenge in the way of food.  For once, either Ed or Al must have done some shopping earlier in the day – his money was on Al, who had the morning off before going to work at the Rockbells’ forge.  That the food was sensible and not everything that Ed liked only confirmed that belief.  Roy fetched a large basket charmed to keep food from spoiling and put into it a couple of bottles of wine, a dozen sandwiches, several pieces of fruit and the last of the cookies that Gracia had brought over the night before.  That should be enough to take the edge off of Ed’s hunger; perhaps they could swing by the Hughes’ tonight for an evening snack, or go out somewhere.  

The afternoon’s weather was much like the morning’s had been, overcast and windy, but they would be sheltered from most of that wind in the grove and his talent would ensure that it did not get too chilly for a picnic.  He passed several familiar people on his way and received some inquisitive looks which would most likely feed the rumor mill that he was off on a date with some shy and probably married young woman.  He made a mental note to warn Ed of such a possibility, wincing as he remembered the last time a similar rumor had taken his mate by surprise.  If the jealous idiot had been a fire elemental, the whole Army base would have been nothing but ash….  As it was, more than a few wizards had been snooping around afterwards to try to pinpoint the cause of all the mini-earthquakes that had occurred.   

Roy felt the comforting tingle of wards he had set up as he neared the grove, and knew that there were more than his own to keep unwanted humans out of the clearing.  Of course Ed and Al had warded the space, as had Riza and Lieutenant Ross.  The last of the day’s tension fled Roy ’s shoulders and upper back as he walked into somewhere he could be himself.  

That his mate was here helped, even if said mate was currently staring at him with a rather angry expression, arms folded over his black tunic and leather-clad right foot tapping an impatient cadence.  “Took you long enough!” Ed snapped, his churlish demeanor ruined just then by the loud rumbling of his stomach.  

“You’re old enough to feed yourself,” Roy snapped back, not caring if his show of ‘attitude’ was ruined by a happy smile.  Barely, *just* barely, he held back on the comment of how Ed did not look to be very old, but even six year olds could be counted on to figure out how to make a sandwich.  That would only lead to very loud shouting that could theoretically overpower even Riza’s wards.   

“Hmph!”  Ed stomped over to him, stopping barely a foot away before he snatched the basket from Roy ’s hands.  Opening his mouth to complain about his lover’s behavior, Roy was soon smiling again as he was given a quick kiss before Ed whirled around, long blond hair whacking him in the chest as a result, and stomped off to where he had a blanket spread out.  

Roy followed him, aware of how perfectly even the ground was, how lush and short the grass was as well, the perfect spot for training.  Ed and Al used the grove not only to hone their bound talents, but for sparring, too.  They were not the only ones; Ross often dragged Breda out here for some practice, and Roy had spent a few fun afternoons dashing about as Maes did his best to pierce him with many small knives.  That reminded him that he owed his friend a couple of knives that he had ‘accidentally’ melted; he thought that he could make both Elrics happy by commissioning Al to do the work and taking Ed with him when he went to pick them up.  It had been too long since they had spent the day wandering around one of the city’s many markets, thanks to the restructuring of the Army.  There should be some free time in the weeks preceding Princess Ouka’s Naming ceremony.  

They sat on the blanket while Ed rummaged through the basket and snatched up all of the ham sandwiches, as expected.  Roy placated his own mild hunger with a couple of apples and a cheese sandwich, while he kept all comments about manners to himself; it was not as if Ed was a messy eater – he shoved everything in his huge mouth too fast to leave any crumbs or drips behind – but there would be no State dinners in the youth’s future until he learned to eat at a more human pace.  

Roy debated opening the wine now, but a quick shake of his mate’s head made him put the bottle in his hands back into the basket.  “So, was there another reason besides bringing food that you wanted me here?” he asked, as he used his talent to burn the apple cores left over from his own small meal into ash.  

Ed, eyes heavy-lidded as if he was a bit sleepy after his snack, nodded and leaned against Roy ’s left side.  “I want to try something with you?”  He did not sound sleepy at all, only content.

Unable to resist, Roy leered at his young lover and in a slow, deliberate move, placed his left hand on Ed’s upper right thigh and squeezed.  “Eh, really?  There is that one position-“  

“You old pervert!” Ed shrieked, startling several birds from the trees nearest them. “That’s not what I mean!”  He batted Roy ’s hand aside and sat up straight, all righteous indignation and brightly glowing cheeks.  

“Such a shame.”  Roy worked his jaw a little to help relieve the ache in his ears.  “Here I thought you wanted me for an afternoon tryst.”  This time, he got his fingers into his ears before Ed shrieked again.  

“You… *you*!” Ed sputtered, and to Roy ’s shock and delight began to laugh.  “No wonder you and Yohji don’t get along.  You really should have been born a succubae bound.”

It was Roy ’s turn to make a very displeased ‘hmph’ noise.  “Please, I was born as I am for a very good reason, and it’s not to… never mind.”  He realized almost too late if he made a comment about getting into people’s pants, that Ed would become angry and throw his pre-‘mating’ relationships at him.  What was he supposed to do, knowing that he had a mate and unable to do anything about it because Ed was too young?  “I’m a fire elemental and thankful for that,” he finished, doing his best not to sound too weak as he spoke.  He was fine with being a fire elemental bound, too, never once wishing that he took after his father.  

Ed surprised him by nodding in agreement.  “Yeah, it’s a good thing you’re what you are.”  He once more leaned against Roy , unconsciously seeking contact that put their demon souls at peace.  “I’ve been doing a lot of research into fire and earth elemental talents since Crawford told us that we’d be the ones to face the Elders.”  His happiness wavered as he mentioned the Elders, but soon returned, along with the familiar, endearing ‘buzz’ of concentration and excitement that Roy felt whenever his mate was thinking about his studies or doing research.  

He knew that Ed and Al were doing their best to find ways to take down the Elders, and it made sense for Ed at least to take this path since Crawford’s revelation.  Before that night, Ed seemed to focus more on the Elders’ talents, searching history books for any sign of weakness.  Some of the more obscure notes on the desk made a little more sense now.  “Does this have anything to do with our lineage?”  While he might not be quite the scholar the Elrics were, he had spent many years learning how to best use his own talent as well as studied what he could about his kind.  He prided himself on what he had learned on his own, and followed the Elrics’ various researches with interest.  

Ed frowned, not unhappy over anything, but appearing as if his line of thought had been broken.  “Lineage?  Ah, yeah!”  He clapped his hands together and smiled.  “That’s sort of a side project; I’m looking into a theory of Al’s that a bound’s strength is largely determined by how much demon their first bound ancestor was.”  His golden eyes grew unfocused, and Roy was hit just then by how attractive his mate would be in a few more years when the last traces of childhood were erased by maturity.  Ed was already lovely, and those fine features would only become more refined over the years.  

“I mean, it’s pretty easy to trace your heritage back to the War, as that’s when your dad was created, and your mother was one of the first bounds born naturally.  I’m still trying to trace Yohji’s bloodline on his mother’s side, but Masato’s only a couple of generations removed from then, as are Jei and Cassandra.  If Nagi’s memories of his parents are correct, I think his mom is descended from one of the first earth elemental bounds created, which would make him a cousin to Rude.”  As he spoke, Ed folded his hands together and stared off into the distance, his usually turbulent emotions calm as he poured his seemingly limitless energy into concentration.  “Duo’s trying to remember as much as he can, and he didn’t have to tell me not to approach Trowa, I know better than that,” he paused for an offended sniff, “and then there’s Aya.”  

Roy slid his left arm around Ed’s waist for support and enjoyed the feel of his mate beside him, happy and content, as well as the fact that they were alone.  “It seems to me that there’s not much guesswork to Aya’s lineage.”  On his father’s side, the Fujimiya line could be traced back past the creation of Kritiker, whereas there were only so many candidates for the bound side of his mother’s.  All kage led back to Ban and the Captain, after all, the only question was which one of Ban’s offspring eventually showed up in Aya’s family tree.  

“Reiichi, Al and I think he’s a nephew of sorts to Aidan, as some of her family disappeared after she killed herself.  From what we’ve found in the records, there was a great-niece who was never accounted for.”  Again, some of Ed’s happiness weakened, replaced by a simmering rage at the thought of wiping out an entire bloodline just because it had birthed a kage.  Roy ’s emotions echoed his mate’s, furious as well at the injustice done not only to Aidan’s family but to countless others; it was not just the kage bloodline that humans had tried to erase.  

“What about Reno ?”  

The anger left Ed as he was given a question to answer.  “Again, it’s damn difficult to be sure, especially since he won’t tell us *anything* about where his family is from.”  Ed’s eyes narrowed in annoyance and he growled, the sound soft at what had to be his thought of someone purposely thwarting his quest for knowledge.  

Roy had spent some time drinking with the dubhach’s fellow gokenin; his decision to take Riza to the Koneko that one night had been truly inspired as she and Elena had hit it off as if they were long-lost friends.  While the two air elementals had retreated to the garden so Riza could teach Elena her trick with the air pulses, he had enjoyed a frank conversation with Tseng and Rude.  There was much that they could not say because of their loyalty to their lord, but enough information had been exchanged on all their parts for Roy to get the impression that Reno had no clue who his father was… nor any of his grandparents other than his maternal grandmother.  “As I said, there’s little sense in wasting much time on Aya or Reno , as we know they’re descended from the Captain.  Aya at least would seem to give some credence to your and Alphonse’s theory, since he reflects the pure demon nature of the Captain after her change.”  Ban would be the only exception to that, unless one considered him a dubhach of sorts, both human and shinigami, yet lacking the characteristic suicidal nature that usually accompanied that blend of souls.  

For his sage wisdom, he was given an incredulous look from his mate that clearly said ‘are you *mad*???”  Of course Ed would never willingly leave an intellectual puzzle unanswered if he had anything to say about it.  Roy decided it would be a good thing to change the topic before there was more shrieking.  “So why did you want me here?”  

That proved very effective in derailing Ed’s burgeoning temper tantrum.  “Eh?  Here?”  He seemed to have to do some mental backtracking for several seconds.  “Oh!  Yeah!”  Moving in a flash, he bounced onto his feet and dragged Roy along with him.  “I want to try something!”

This time, Roy bit his bottom lip to keep from making any salacious comments, wanting to get whatever this was about over with so he could do some salacious *actions*.  “And that would be?”

Ed seemed relieved at his show of good behavior and gave his left arm a thankful squeeze.  “As I said, I was wondering if it has something to do with our talents, why we’re the ones that Crawford wants to face off against the Elders.”  He did not stop moving until they were in the center of the grove.  “So I looked into different ways to combine earth and fire talents together.”  

Intrigued by that line of research, Roy stood at ease, already half-focusing on his talent.  “I assume that you found something?”  He did not hide the excitement that he felt, either in his voice or over their link, and Ed smiled in joy.  

“I think so.  That part of the book was very vague, as if the writer really didn’t want anyone to try it.”  Ed’s eyes grew distant again, as did his voice.  “Which may tie into a few references about this really destructive power that helped to bring down Munce’s outer walls, but again, too vague.”  He shook his head as if to clear it of distracting thoughts, then smiled up at Roy .  “Want to give it a try?”  

Only Edward Elric could stand here so happily talking about a power that could tear through city walls long fortified by centuries of wards and hard labor, built out of granite well-known for its hardness and durability.  Roy felt a moment’s worry about his mate; Ed already possessed so much dangerous knowledge *and* destructive power… as well as a pure heart.  That alone gave Roy hope that he would never have to fear his mate’s actions in the future.  “Give what a try?  I’m sure I can manage whatever it is much easier than you can.”  He just had to needle Ed a little, to break through that calm demeanor and reach some real, childish emotion.  

Ed sputtered something under his breath as he glared at Roy for several seconds, before tucking back his bangs and straightening his back.  “Hmph!  As you’ve no clue what really needs to be done, *I’ll* be doing all the hard work!”

”If you say so.”  His nonchalant way of answering got him a few more sputters before Ed realized that he was being teased.  

“*If* you don’t mind.”  Ed actually hit him lightly in the stomach in retaliation, and Roy did his best not to laugh and turn it into a real fight.  He held up his hands instead, small flames dancing around his fingers.  That helped to mollify his prickly lover.

 Ed nodded in approval.  “Yes, I need something small like that, but make it a flame about twenty feet away.”  He gestured to an area in the grove where the trees were the thinnest.  “Small but with as much heat and power as you can put into it.”

”All right.”  Trusting his mate, Roy did as he was told.  As he concentrated with all of his might, a part of him noticed that Ed took the time to build up earthen walls, as if expecting to contain an explosion of sorts.  That thought faded into the background as the tiny flame turned silver, most of his power spent on making it as hot and potent as possible, while the rest prevented the intense heat from radiating out more than a few feet.  

“Okay… be ready,” Ed said, his manner cryptic as hell and distracted as if he was already focusing his power.  Roy continued to concentrate on the flame, his brows becoming furrowed when he sensed… *something*.  It was as if the flame was becoming unstable, but it continued to burn.  

Over their link he sensed Ed’s intense concentration, and the sudden spike of hope and exhilaration was the only warning he had to use some of his talent as a ‘ward’ to prevent any heat or flames from expanding past a ten feet radius.  One moment the flame burned small and silver, the next….


He had never experienced anything like the resulting explosion.  He had put his talent to use blowing things up and had seen other bounds do that, too, but never with so much force and destruction.  For a few seconds it was as if the flame was alive, intent on devouring and tearing down all it came into contact with – in fact, it dissolved Ed’s earthen walls with terrifying ease.   

When it slammed against his wards, he put all of his energy into them to ensure that they held, unwilling to see how much damage might occur if they fell.  Beside him, Ed did something as well, and after several agony-filled seconds, the ‘flame’ burned out.  

Roy collapsed to the ground, Ed tumbling down near his right side a moment later.  His head *hurt* as if something had broken inside, a sign that he had pushed his power to a dangerous point in trying to contain the flame.  “What… did you do?” he asked, forcing the words past his gritted teeth.


Ed mumbled something before he managed to crawl toward the blanket and basket, where he gathered a bottle of wine and a few sandwiches into his trembling arms.  Once he returned to Roy ’s side, he used his talent to pop out the cork and then held the bottle steady so Roy could drain most of it.  While Roy suspected it was mainly his wards that had kept the destructive fire contained, Ed clearly had used up a lot of energy as well.  He handed over the last of the wine and only accepted half of the sandwiches.  

They were quiet as they ate, leaning against each other for much needed support.  Once the food was gone, Ed took a deep breath and explained what it was that had happened.  “I… well, the books talked about some type of an altered fire, so I sorta tinkered with yours.”  

“Yes.”  Roy was aware of his mate’s ability to affect things on a minute level, to change lead into gold and treat the hardest of stone and iron as if it were as pliable as water.  “So…”  His voice was as weak as he felt; screw his plans for tonight, they would just get home somehow, eat more food and then collapse into bed. 

 Ed wrapped his arms around Roy and gave him a comforting hug.  “So I changed things until it exploded like that.”  He sounded haunted, his disturbed emotions a sign that he finally realized just how destructive this weapon could be.  “I didn’t think….  I’m sorry.”

It was rare that Ed apologized so easily to him, and for once Roy had no smart retort to make.  Instead, he kissed his mate on the forehead and hugged him back, the food and drink helping to restore some energy.  “Now we know why they didn’t want to describe it very well.”  Not that he believed that many bounds out there could do what they had just done; as far as he knew, Ed was alone in his ability to manipulate the structure of things to such a degree, and he was unmatched in his control over fire.  

“No!”  Ed laughed, not amused at all but very worried.  He fell quiet again, his emotions beginning to even out.  “I… it’s not something I’d want to use against anyone, but now it seems clear how we can face the Elders.”  He was too tired to put much venom into the last word.

  Roy considered that; Thought and Sense were supposed to be able to create impenetrable shields, which had only been breached by the Captain.  Aya should be able to do the same, yet according to Crawford the kage would be too busy facing Esset’s army to take on its leaders.  “Now our main concern will be to keep them out of our heads long enough for us to use it.”  For Ed and Al and everyone else he cared about, he would turn such a destructive power on the Elders, but he refused to use it on anyone or anything else.  They would get close to the Elders and then burn them to ash, and that was all.

 Ed stirred against him, settling into a more comfortable position.  “I think Aya can help us with that.  He’s trying to figure out how to use his shadows like one of those rings.”  He shivered in distaste and hugged Roy tighter.

 That distaste was easy to understand; every bound’s greatest fear was being captured and drained of blood for the use in spells.  That Aya had suffered such a fate for years and then willingly donated blood to Botan was almost unthinkable, so no one expected him to keep doing it.  Aya and Kudoh – especially Kudoh – had made it clear that the black rings that the Shadow Guard and Spymaster so carefully rationed out would remain very limited.  As much as Roy wanted his people protected from magic, he would never ask Aya to help make more.  However, if there was an alternative….  “We can handle Strength, and I’m willing to bet your wards will keep Thought from using his talent against us in a physical manner.  As long as we can shield our minds, we can face them directly.”  And if they could not do that, he had no problem with surprise attacks.  

“Yeah.”  Ed felt the most at peace that Roy could remember in a long time, which he knew was from finally finding a way to take out the Elders.  Ed had lost his mother and his teacher to them, had suffered nightmares that were shared by Al for the first couple of years they had lived with Roy because of the fear of being captured.  Due to all the research he had done, Ed had a much better idea than most people of the pain and deaths the Elders had caused.  His main goal in life was to take them out, to get revenge for his loved ones and to never fear losing more to them.  While Roy deplored the thoughtless actions that resolve brought out in his mate, he would give him whatever support was necessary to achieve it as long as Ed did not doom them both with hastiness.

 He wondered if his brother had a vision just then and decided he did not really care.  Crawford had promised that they would face the Elders, something he would not do if he was uncertain that they would win – well, that they would kill the old bastards.  Now Roy had hope that they would accomplish that and live.  His only fear was what would happen when word of this new talent got out.  From what he had picked up at the Koneko, several bounds - especially Kudoh and Aya - realized that their identities would most likely be exposed during the fighting and that they would have to hide themselves for a while afterwards in case people would attempt to use them for that talent.  As he stared at the ten foot radius of seared earth, the explosion cutting at least a man’s height into the soil, he knew that they would have to consider that as well.  

However, he did not mention that to Ed at this point.  His mate was highly intelligent and at some point would realize what such a destructive capability meant to others.  He did not expect the prospect of leaving home and changing their identities to sway Ed in the least.  If anything, perhaps it would be a good thing, would give Al a reason to branch off on his own.  The brothers would not be separated forever, just long enough for the search for Ed, Roy and this new weapon to cool off.

 That meant he would have to desert the Army, but Roy was not bothered by that fact.  If anything, the thought of leaving so many responsibilities behind and being able to live for just himself and Ed was so liberating that he found the strength to rise to his feet.  “I think if we can stagger our way to Hughes’ house that Gracia will feed us enough to make it the rest of the way home.”  As much as he just wanted to get to the cottage he shared with Ed and Al, they could not afford to attract unwelcome attention because of their weakened states.  That and Hughes needed to know about this new development. Plans had to be made which differed drastically from what had been established up until now, and if there was one thing Roy had learned from his father and brother, it was that the best chance of a positive outcome came from being as prepared as possible.

 *******  

Eri sensed Yuushi’s approach before she heard it, a distracting ‘buzz’ of concern that would have annoyed her if she did not know the reason for it.  She opened her eyes to see him walking toward her, bereft of the Guard’s long, dark blue coat, but otherwise still in uniform and holding a mug in each hand.

 “Coffee?” he asked, as he held one of the mugs out to her, his expression earnest and eyes focused on hers as he waited for an answer.  She had first thought that their deep blue color was in part due to the uniform he wore, but they remained unchanged no matter what outfit he had on.

 “Thank you.”  There was enough room on the bench for him to sit beside her, and after a moment’s pause he did just that.  They were the only two people out in the garden, if one did not count Ichiro and Jason off in the distance grooming a couple of horses outside of the barn.  While it was not raining, the sky looked ready to do so at any moment, and most of the inn’s customers were either out on business or getting ready for dinner.

 All in all, it was a lovely, relaxing moment spent sitting here sipping coffee, the drink’s strong aroma nearly drowned out by the scent of a riot of flowers and herbs.  Several people had gifted Aya with rare plants for his birthday, including a rosebush that produced the most fragrant blooms that Eri had ever smelled, their petals a lovely shade of orange and cream.  She had come out here to escape the ‘noise’ of the Koneko, and Yuushi’s company was a gift she had not even thought to wish for.  

He sipped his coffee, and after a minute, shifted the mug to his left hand so he could raise his right arm and drape it over her shoulder.  She was doing her best not to read his thoughts – and he a good job of shielding them – but did not think it unfair to sense his emotions.  The concern was still there, as was affection, and there was a welcome lack of embarrassment or unease.  

She inhaled slowly and leaned a little closer to him, her mind for a moment occupied with the thought of how long it had been since she had sat like this with anyone.  Lovers had been few and far between the last several years; she had always preferred to ‘feed’ from general emotions and did not need another person’s pleasure, lust or need to ‘whet’ her appetite.  All too often, lovers turned into complications, be they bound or human, and so were to be avoided.  Funny, then, that she should end up with her ‘boss’.  

Her soft chuckle made Yuushi’s arm across her shoulders twitch; he finished off his coffee and set the mug onto the bench.  “A copper for your thoughts?”

 She smiled at the teasing joke and shook her head.  “I’m just enjoying the moment, I guess.”  Before he had arrived she had been exhausted and pensive, and while those emotions were still there, they faded into the background until she no longer felt so tired.  “And the coffee.”  

“Enjoy it while you can.”  Yuushi chuckled as well, the sound comforting as always since it rarely possessed any bitter or mean bite to it.  “Naru and Gai have started a competition to see who can drink the most coffee.”  He held up his left wrist to display his copper bracelet, the sleeve of his white shirt rolled back in a neat fashion that was as endearing as it was, well, anal.  Yuushi was just so *proper* most of the time, impeccably dressed and punctual and mindful.  That was not to say that he was pompous or unable to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, but it was clear that he held himself to a high standard.  She liked that about him, liked his good manners and the attention he paid to little details.  “Reiichi promised to let me know when they get close to pushing Jo over the edge.”

 This time, Eri laughed, no faint chuckle as she thought about how sore her partner’s head was going to be in a short while.  “I bet he’s doing his best to encourage those two fools on as we speak.”  Reiichi, who appeared even more prim and proper than Yuushi, was really a demon at heart.  “It’s not a good idea to get on Jo’s nerves when she’s already wound tight over Yohji.”  Her smile faltered a little when she thought about the succubae bound.  Part of the reason she was out here was to reduce her chances of running into him while he was so upset.

 “At least it’ll distract her from that particular worry.”  Yuushi let out a slow breath and slid down a little on the bench, his posture relaxing as if he was letting go of some of his own worries.  

“Hmm.”  They both were quiet for a while after that, enjoying the peaceful air of the garden and each other’s presence.  Considering her noisy partner and her talent, the quiet was a wonderful thing, a way to help recoup after the morning’s exertion. 

“Gai seems to really like Jo’s coffee,” she commented, not out of a sense of discomfort, but because it was enjoyable to converse with Yuushi.

 His amusement was a warm, pleasant sensation, to be savored even more than usual thanks to the lack of sunlight and the strong breeze that made her wonder if she should not have brought a coat.  The heat from Yuushi’s body also helped to dispel the faint chill.  “From what Gou has told me, they didn’t have it very often in Berin.”  Some of his amusement weakened, replaced by strong conviction and a thin thread of pity.  “They seem to be surprised by a lot of things that we take for granted.”  

“Yes.”  She shivered, not from the cool air, but from the memory of what she had seen in Rei’s mind.  Her life had not been an easy one; her parents had struggled for their living, although they had done their best to give her a good childhood, and living on the run had worn her down over the decades.  She had suffered some shock of her own to find friends, home and a lover in Eto, and at times was afraid that it was all an illusion.  

/They were kept to their quarters for most of their lives, both to strengthen their bond with each other and to keep them loyal to the Elders.  I believe one of Kira’s books would describe them as ‘pretty birds trapped in gilded cages’./  That such a fate could have happened to her if the Elders’ hounds had ever found out the strength of her talent was what had kept her on the run for so long, unwilling to trust almost no one.

 Yuushi took her mental conversation in stride and replied in kind.  /I gathered that they were very isolated.  Poor Gai is chafing to go out into the city, but it’s too much of a risk right now./  His thoughts took on a dark edge as he considered the possibility of one of Esset’s spies finding Gai and tracking him back to the Koneko.  That he was concerned not only for Aya and Yohji, but her, his friends and the staff as well confirmed even more that she had chosen well in him.

 As much as she knew why Gai and the others were kept within the inn’s boundaries, she shook her head as she set her own empty mug aside.  /You should give them a chance to see the city.  They have their illusion charms, and I’m sure there are several people who would volunteer to show them around./  She paused to give him a minute to think about what she had said.  /They have to live in this world now, have to learn to look after themselves and not be kept weapons./  Ruka and Yuda knew how to survive outside a gilded cage, but the cousins were shockingly bereft of most common skills.  After meeting them and being in Rei’s mind, she understood why Crawford had wanted them out of the Elders’ hands, as well as why he believed that they would be the best option for controlling the weather.  After all, for most of their lives that was all they had done – develop their talents over the weather and learn to fight.  In a way, they reminded her of Aya, and if he could make the adjustment to a more ‘normal’ life then so could they.

 Yuushi mulled over her suggestion for a few more minutes.  /I suppose we could see about people volunteering to be their escorts, although I refuse to allow Gai and Naru out on their own./  He was both amused and disconcerted over the two young men’s friendship, as was everyone.  That Gai could befriend a human, and a wizard at that, was very promising, but as she had feared, he was Naru’s match in making mischief.  Just yesterday, Nagi had almost shoved him *through* the wall for trying to pull a prank on Omi.

 /Nagi would *not* be a good idea for an escort./  She winced at the thought of the hostile rivalry that had arisen between the two earth elementals.  Nagi did not have any problems with Marta or Al, and had even been a bit friendlier to Ed lately - who she did not think he saw so much as a rival in power as he did for Aya’s attention - and had even settled into a truce with Rude.  

As if he was the one who could read thoughts, Yuushi rubbed his free hand up and down her left arm.  /How would you do as an escort for Rei and Ruka?/

 She grimaced at the mention of the other soul gaki bound; Yohji was not the only person she was hoping to avoid today.  Even as she had rested in her bed from working on the blocks in Rei’s mind, she had felt the other bound as he mentally searched for her.  He had not pushed past her mental shields, but she knew he was feeling her out, trying to judge her power and show his displeasure at the thought of another soul gaki bound being so deep inside his lover’s mind.  She had been tempted to lash out at him, holding back not because of his strength, but her own temporary weakness.  After being around Yohji and Aya for so long and dealing with Schuldig and Lord Shinra on an almost daily basis, Ruka did not inspire any fear in her, just a healthy respect, since he did have the edge over her in power.

 /I think in a few months, he will thank me for my help.  Until then… he will be bitter over the fact that he couldn’t help Rei and was the inadvertent cause of so much pain./  She understand his reasoning and did not take the animosity he felt toward her personally.  However, if the red-eyed bastard thought that she would kowtow to him because of his strength, he would learn that power was not everything when a few dirty tricks could bridge the small divide between them.

 Yuushi’s angry thoughts distracted her from her own, and she smiled at the way he was so protective about her, yet trusted her to handle the situation.  /Hopefully you won’t have to be around him for much longer.  The mental blocks should be broken soon, correct?/

 Even though she tried not to read his private thoughts, he had relaxed his mental shields enough that she could ‘see’ his plans for the future.  As well as her needing to be here to rid Rei’s mind of the compulsions, she and Naru were still assigned to the Koneko, so they could help Reiichi and Naru watch over the cousins, something they both had accepted out of necessity.  However, they had spent almost three weeks on rescuing the cousins and now almost another one at the inn, while Yuushi could use them at the palace.  

/According to Crawford, Rei should be free of the compulsions by tomorrow.  I don’t disagree with his vision./  She had been so close today, and had only stopped because Rei had been in so much pain.  The wind elemental had not complained or asked her to stop, but she had not wanted to push too far and cause him more damage.  /As far as I’m concerned, I agreed to break *Rei* fre, and am not about to work with Schuldig and Shinra on Shin’s blocks./  She shuddered at the thought of such a thing, being linked so closely with two men who would suffer no qualms at all before making her deal with the worst of the pain and backlash from dismantling the powerful compulsions in Shin’s mind.

 “No, and no one will ask you to do more than that.”  To her delight, Yuushi gave her a tender kiss on the cheek.  “I want you to rest for a day after the compulsions are broken and then report back to duty.”  He would have Jo and Reiichi watch her closely on that day off to ensure that she was indeed recovered.

 /Are you doing that as my Captain or my lover?/ she asked, the thought slipping out before her common sense could stop it.  She cursed herself as a fool when he stiffened and pulled away from her, a spark of hope blooming inside her chest when he soon hugged her close.

 /I’m telling you that as your Captain./  There was no doubt to the words, even if he was still worried over crossing the line between duty and emotions.  Despite his affection for her, he had asked her to go to Esset, and she could not see him holding back out of fear of her being hurt in the future.  No, that sense of honor and duty that made him roll up his sleeves with almost disturbing precision, that kept him the slightest bit aloof from everyone in the Guard besides Reiichi and Naru, that allowed him to sacrifice his own enjoyment in order to finish whatever work was necessary would allow him the bit of ‘distance’ they needed to make this relationship work.


He was not the only one like that, either.  Eri shared her thoughts with him, both on his nature and her own.  After having so little for so long, she was not about to risk *anything*, be it her new job or her new relationship, for simple pleasure.  Not only that, but she had faith that things would work out… once Yuushi stopped being so stubborn about a certain matter.

 “Do you consider me a one night stand?”  She kept the question from sounding too hostile, even though she let her disappointment and frustration be known with her talent.  

Yuushi actually appeared flustered for a moment, his left hand raking through his hair and tousling the blond strands in a manner that was more typical of Yohji.  Then he laughed and shook his head.  “Not at all, but you barely had time to recover after you returned before Crawford had you working again.”  He had no reservations about the night they had spent together, willing to put aside whatever fears he had about their jobs and give in to what he truly felt.  It was just that damn gentlemanly streak in him, not about to ‘disturb’ things when she was occupied with a very demanding and possibly dangerous assignment.  

“Hmm.”  She turned on the bench to give him a kiss on the lips.  “I believe that even you should have a day or two off in the near future.  If you can arrange for it to be the day after tomorrow….”  Her voice trailed off as she summoned her most seductive smile, something that she had little practice with but had seen often enough in Yohji’s presence.  To her pleasant surprise, it seemed to work very well on Yuushi.


He laughed again and hugged her against his chest.  “All right, I’ll tweak the schedule again.”  His good mood was dampened a little by the thought of Kikyou left unsupervised for that day, but he knew that they needed the time together as well as that he truly could use a day off.  “I’ll just have to ask Reiichi to keep Naru distracted.”

 “Oh, I think I can convince him it’s not worth the headache he’d get if he bothered us and that it would be a good idea to spend the day somewhere else.”  She really did care for her partner, it was just that an opportunity like this was too rare to risk Naru doing something to mess it up.

 “I don’t know who he should be afraid of the most, you or Reiichi.”  Yuushi grinned and pulled her in for a kiss, this time neither tender nor brief, but full of enough passion to make her no longer aware of anyone’s thoughts or emotions but his.

 Just as she was beginning to wonder if Yohji and Aya had the right idea about what one could get up to in the garden, her copper bracelet vibrated with a very short message.  She did not need her talent to know that Yuushi had received it as well, and they both groaned, then chuckled as they broke apart.  

“The day after tomorrow,” Yuushi said, as he gathered up the mugs in one hand and held out the other to her, his tone one of longing and promise.  

“The day after tomorrow.”  If Crawford was wrong about Rei’s mental blocks, she would force the meddling precog to finish the job for her.  “Who knows, perhaps Naru won’t be recovered from Jo’s wrath by then,” she mused, as she took the offered hand and they hurried to the kitchen, eager to witness the woman’s feared temper when there was no danger of it being directed at them.


”If only we could be so lucky,” Yuushi laughed.  

*******

 Yuda stared down at Shin and risked a gentle touch to his love’s right cheek, his fingers curling around a strand of pale blue hair.  Before meeting the water elemental, he would never have considered the color a particularly lovely one, yet on Shin it seemed so natural, so beautiful.  The last three years he had been tormented during the daytime when the weather had been calm, had felt betrayed by nature itself as well as the Elders.  Now he felt both tormented and at peace, with Shin once again, yet unable to do more than barely touch.  

Yohji’s warning echoed in his mind and his lips pulled back from his teeth as he started to growl.  The hostile sound was checked when Shin, still unconscious, frowned and shifted on the bed.  Yuda pushed aside the anger and focused on his mate instead.


He should not be touching Shin like this, but as long as Shin was unconscious, there was no risk of pain from the damn coercions, and he felt a trickle of energy flow into him from wherever he touched pale skin.  Moving his hand, he slid his fingers through long, silky hair, which allowed him the comfort of touch, yet did not deprive Shin of any desperately needed energy.

 The Elders truly had pushed Shin to the brink of burnout and death.  He was so thin it was painful to see, a clear sign of his talent cannibalizing his body for fuel.  The last time they had been together, Shin had been a vital presence to Yuda’s empathic senses, had ‘burned’ with powerful emotions that his calm exterior often belied.  Now there was only pain and exhaustion, and almost overwhelmed by that….

 Yuda inhaled sharply and forced himself away from the bed as the love Shin felt for him thrummed through his mind.  Seeking a distraction, he spent the next few minutes doing his best to *not* concentrate on the man sleeping just a few feet away, but on the few precious belongings that Shin and Gou had brought from Esset.  He saw no sign of his mate’s harp anywhere and suffered a pang of guilt and pain over that; Shin had spent so much time carving the wood by hand.  In the last few years, Yuda had dreamed so often of lying beside his mate as Shin played music, and any reminder now of how he would *still* have to wait for all those dreams to come true hurt as if he had been stabbed deep in the chest with something sharp and cold.

 There were a couple of books, a tunic he recognized by the subtle embroidery around its hem, and neatly lined up along the top of the room’s dresser were several trinkets that made the pain in his chest paradoxically ease and intensify at the same time.

 All of the items had been gifts from himself to Shin, and befitting their attempt at downplaying their relationship were relatively small.  The hair clasp was the most valuable thing; he remembered taking the rare yellow diamonds that the Elders had given him almost as an after-thought after one mission and a lump of gold to Chyou.  The elderly earth elemental had crafted jewelry for him before, and had put most of her waning talent into shaping the gold into cages made out of leaves and vines to contain the gems that shone as brightly as Shin’s eyes.  She had waved aside his attempt at payment, telling him it was worth all her effort to see a ‘charming rogue’ like him so completely ensnared at last.  The clasp was small, meant to hold back the strands that normally fell onto Shin’s face when he wore his long hair loose.

 There was a ring as well, Chyou’s handiwork again, precious and resilient platinum that bore a delicate pattern of waves.  Next to it was a small bag of beads that he had found in a market one day, simple porcelain things shaped into tiny turtles of various colors.  Shin had laughed in delight when he had accepted them, and Yuda had promised himself that there would come a time when he would weave all of the beads into his lover’s hair.

 The knife had seemed an odd gift for a lover, but it had been one of the finest weapons he had ever come across, and its small size and simple design suited Shin.  He had trained Shin how to fight with it and always prayed that the water elemental would never need it for anything but trimming harp strings.

 The final item threatened to bring tears to his eyes, though it was simple and plain when compared to everything else.  Folded neatly and free of any stains, was the first gift he had given Shin, a length of fine, white silk.  He had no idea where he had picked it up, but it had been on hand that day when Shin had to constantly stop playing to tuck his hair safely away from harp strings.  Yuda had gathered up the long, thick hair he loved so much and used the ribbon to bind it tight, half the reason for his actions an excuse to play with that hair, to be able to brush his fingers along the nape of Shin’s neck.

 Not pausing to think, he snatched up the ribbon and returned to the bed.  Shin lay on his left side, long blue hair gathered in a loose braid that someone else must have done on the mattress beside him. Yuda found himself snarling at the mere thought of someone else touching *his* mate’s hair.  Once again he struggled for control, then sat on the bed behind Shin.

 The strands were clean and combed enough that he could use his fingers to make them smooth and tangle-free before he gathered them into a long tail.  Shin’s hair had grown longer over the years, so even when folded several times it hung past his shoulder blades.  Yuda took his time wrapping the ribbon around it all, careful to tuck the ends of hair beneath white silk, and tied it off with a near-perfect bow.  Perhaps Shin would think that seeing him in the kitchen had been a dream; waking to find his hair like this, tied up with this ribbon, should convince him otherwise.  

Giving in to his excruciating hunger just the tiniest bit, Yuda rested against his mate and brushed his lips along the exposed curve of Shin’s neck.  More than anything, he wanted to bite down and leave a mark for all to see… but not when there would only be pain for Shin.  He wanted his mate aware and willing and *free* to give in to the love and need they had felt for each other all these years.  Despite the time apart and the awful coercions those bastards had placed in Shin’s mind, Yuda was certain that his love still wanted him after their reunion downstairs.  

He allowed himself a lingering kiss and then inhaled deeply again, Shin’s wonderful scent saturating his senses and helping him to find the strength to leave the bedroom.  His demon soul railed at him to go back and claim Shin, to complete the bond between them that had been left unconsummated for too long, but he found the strength to not turn back.  He loved Shin too much to claim him unconscious and before the blocks were down, before Shin could give him everything he wanted willingly and pain-free.  Just a little longer, he promised himself.  At least now he could see Shin again, could walk around with Shin’s scent and warmth clinging to his body and clothes.  

Following the mental map he had been given a couple of hours ago, Yuda headed to where he knew Ruka was waiting for him.  As he made his way down the hallway and up the stairs, he heard humans voices raised in companionship and happiness drift up the stairwell.  He stumbled on a step at the sound of a harp being played with obvious expertise, but quickly regained his balance with the reminder that Shin was still unconscious.  

The room that he and Ruka had been given was much like Shin’s; there were two beds covered with colorful quilts, a matching fabric hung over the windows and the furniture was plain yet of good quality.  Someone, perhaps Gou, since the fire elemental’s scent was in the room, had brought up their belongings and from the looks of it Ruka had just used the washbasin to rid himself of a day’s accumulation of dirt and sweat.  His friend was seated on one of the windowsills, appearing lost in thought as he stared at the garden below.  

Aware that Ruka was thinking of Rei, Yuda headed to the washbasin and then debated for over a minute if he should use it or not.  The last thing he wanted was to lose Shin’s scent, until Ruka offered him some advice.  /Do it.  In the end… it’s less painful without it than it is with it./

 As much as he hated to do it, Yuda nodded in agreement and followed the suggestion.  To smell Shin on him for much longer probably would lead to him returning to the water elemental, and right now, that was not the wisest course of action.  Oh, it was what he wanted most, and because of that, he would do whatever was necessary to avoid it.  Shin was already in so much pain, that he would never think to add to it.  

Once stripped of his clothes, he washed himself with the thankfully hot water and finely milled soap; money had never been an issue for them, but they often stayed at less ‘fancy’ inns in order to not draw attention to themselves.  Something like the Koneko was a treat they would indulge in only from time to time, when the constant travel wore on them and they wanted someplace nice to stay for a couple of weeks.  He did not know yet how Shin and the others had managed to come to Eto and hoped that his love had been spared some of the travails that he had suffered.

 /They basically rode straight from Berin to here, only stopping to exchange horses or to camp out for a few hours.  Crawford gave orders that they were not to risk being seen by anyone who couldn’t be trusted./  Despite his apparent daydreaming, Ruka’s mind was as sharp as always.

 /That explains how they got here so fast./  Once clean, Yuda dried off and forced himself to not dress again in the dirty clothes he had left on the floor.  They still smelled of Shin… and less pleasant things as well.  /Is… Rei awake?/  He did not think that was the case, since Ruka was here.

 /No./  Moving from the window, Ruka shook his head, then leaned down to pick up the dirty clothes, which he put in a small basket that Yuda had not noticed.  “I even risked making his sleep deeper since it’s clear that he’s exhausted.”  He shared an image of his lover, which made Yuda’s teeth grind together when he realized the air elemental was in little better shape than Shin.

They did not need to make any showy oaths, or to even say anything then, not when a significant look shared between them said it all.  The Elders deserved death for so many reasons it was almost an insult to swear that they would die at last because of what they had done to Shin and Rei.  However, it was also the truth.  No matter what they had to do and almost no matter what they had to sacrifice, they would give everything in their power to bring about the bastards’ downfall.  

Yuda paused to pull an old tunic over his head, one of the few items he still had left after fleeing Esset.  Tucked into a small pouch in one of the saddlebags were his most treasured items, including a rolled sheet of music that bore a song that Shin had written for him and what most people would mistake as a large clear gem, but which was really water made solid.  Shin had always felt so bad over not being able to give finer gifts; the Elders saw only to their daily needs and did not reward the cousins for their efforts in controlling the weather, since it was expected of them.  

There was also a lock of pale blue hair entwined with reddish strands, a present that Yuda had almost thrown away many times, since it hurt so much to have only a tiny piece of his mate with him.  He went to the bag to unearth the pouch and retrieve that braided lock, something that he could keep at hand to hopefully help him remain calm the next couple of days.  “At least things should be fine for the two of you soon.”  Even though Ruka was like a brother to him, he could not keep his voice entirely free of jealousy and bitterness.  At least he knew it was not his friend’s fault, what kept him here instead of by Shin’s side.  

Yes.”  Even with just one word, Ruka made it clear that he understood Yuda’s suffering and wanted it to end.  Yuda forced aside his ill feelings to give his friend a thankful smile.  “I… I think I’m a bit of a coward, in that I don’t want to see Rei awake until it’s done.  I can’t imagine having him so close and not being able to reach into his mind.”  Frustration made Ruka’s deep voice almost too rough to decipher, and prompted Yuda to give him a hug to help ease the pain.  “Thank you.”

 “Do what you think is best.”  On one hand, Yuda understood the reasoning, but that precious minute when Shin had been in his arms and the pain had not yet won out had been the happiest of his entire life.  Even the agony and heartbreak that had followed was worth it for him to know that Shin still wanted him just as much as he did the water elemental.

 “I’m not sure if I’ll have that choice.  Rei will need to awaken tonight to eat so he’ll have the strength tomorrow to help break through the blocks.”  Ruka frowned and rubbed at the back of his head, his silver hair becoming disheveled as he sought to calm his concerns through an old habit.  “I fear he won’t be pleased with me then.”

”No, but I’m willing to bet that once the blocks are gone and he has you wrapped around his little finger like before, you’ll be forgiven.”  Yuda had always found it amusing how his quiet, taciturn friend could bend so easily to the high-strung air elemental’s mecurial demands.  He smiled to take any offense from the words, as Ruka was the first to admit that he spoiled Rei whenever possible, too easily charmed by the thought of earning a heartfelt smile and kiss from his lover in return for his easygoing nature.  

Just a few more days, and he could spoil Shin as well.  Dressed and with the braid of hair tied around his left wrist, Yuda touched the bag filled with gold coins, but did not retrieve it from the saddlebag.  With the addition of each coin, he had allowed himself to fantasize about how he would spend it on Shin, the clothes and trinkets he would buy to make up for all the years when Shin had so little. 

 Ruka gave his left shoulder a comforting squeeze.  /Just a few more days. Crawford has honored the rest of his promises, I do not believe that he will fail on this one.  Hold on for a little longer, Yuda./  Ruka knew that he was in pain, torn between need and worry, driven on to give in to his immense hunger by his demon soul.  He also knew that Yuda would do nothing to hurt Shin.

 /At least you can physically touch Rei without making him weaker./  Yuda stroked his fingers over the twist of red and blue hair, allowing himself to recall his actions just a short while ago.  /Damn him, but Yohji’s right./  Anger poured off of him at the thought of the rival succubae bound.

 /A rival who has a mate of his own.  Even with magic similar to what it was that blocked us from Jared’s mind, it was clear that he has no sexual interest at all in Shin,/ Ruka said, the words and the logic behind them meant to reassure.

 The demon part of Yuda was furious that he had been beaten by another succubae bound, while the human part was rational enough to know that he was more bothered by Shin being around that man than the actual defeat.  If it were not for the fact that Yohji had a mate, he would have done his best to rip out the blond’s throat and remove a potential rival and threat before Shin was hurt.  

Now at least they knew how Jared found the strength to stand up to them from time to time, since he was used to dealing with bounds of Yohji’s caliber.  In order to be mated to someone who had to be mostly demon, Aya must be powerful as well, even though all he had done downstairs was calm his mate.  Yuda tried to convince himself that it was a good thing, having such strong bounds around his weakened mate as protection.

 /Aya… I don’t think he did ‘nothing’./  Ruka began to pace around the room, the pain and longing that had radiated from him ever since arriving at the Koneko dissipating slightly under the weight of curiosity and concern.  /I… I’m not sure what I saw, but I got the impression he did something./  He growled, the sound low and worried, which startled Yuda since Ruka so rarely showed his emotions like that.  /Something is not quite right about this place./  

“Do you-“

 /*No*, I don’t think it’s a trap./  Ruka cut across his furious question and sent a wave of reassurance before he could gather up his sword and go charging back to Shin’s room.  /I don’t think it’s an accident that Rei and Shin ended up in this inn.  Crawford definitely had to plan out them being here, somewhere inhabited by what have to be two of the most powerful bounds we’ve ever come across and humans who have mental shields better than most of our own kind./  Coming to a halt, Ruka leaned against the plastered wall to the left of the unused fireplace.  /I passed a man in the hallway who was like Jared, Yohji and Aya in that I couldn’t read any of his thoughts.  As far as I can tell, he’s human./  He shared the memory of a handsome man dressed in well-made clothes, two books in his left hand and a slight limp in his walk.

 Yuda considered what his friend had said.  “All I care about is Shin and Rei being well enough for us to take them away from here.”  His thoughts of leaving with his mate as soon as the coercions were broken had been dashed when he realized how drained Shin was.  “And *then* I’ll worry about whatever price we owe Crawford for all of this.”  If the precog thought to force Shin to work like a slave as he had for the Elders, then the fool would soon foresee his own death at Yuda’s hands.

 “I agree.”  Ruka sighed, then moved away from the wall so he could wrap his arms around Yuda’s shoulders.  “We wait for them to be whole, that is all.  For tonight… I suggest we rest.”  They were both tired from killing as many of the Elders’ hounds as they could find between the capital and the border, and from the hard riding they had done during that time.  Add to that the stress of being so worried for their lovers and they were not in the best of shape at the moment.

 Nodding in agreement, Yuda patted his friend’s arms and waited to be told that he should feed.  When the familiar admonishment did not come, he realized that Ruka must know that it would be impossible for him to feed off of anyone other than Shin now.  With his mate so close, his hunger would not accept anyone else.

 /So it’s a race between your hunger and the Elders’ mental blocks.  Hold on, please./  Ruka hugged him tightly for several seconds.  /It would be best if you stayed in the room as much as possible.  The hunger may make you challenge Yohji, which I doubt would be a good idea./

 His hunger would have him challenging pretty much *anyone* in another day or so, Yuda thought, his lips thinning at the dim prospect for the immediate future.  “I’ll do my best, but I can’t entirely stay away from Shin.  Also, I think we have too many questions that need answering, and that won’t happen if you’re with Rei and I’m stuck in here.”  It had not escaped his attention that Gou and Gai seemed to be avoiding them, or at least had not stopped by to talk to them after leaving him with Shin and Ruka with Rei.

/I was too distracted to pick up much, but I think they feel that they’ve failed Rei and Shin, and that we’ll blame them for everything.  Things… were not very peaceful between us the last time we were together./  Ruka felt unhappy to recall all the fighting that had taken place once he and Yuda had decided that their only hope at happiness lay outside of Berin, and Gou and Gai refused to let two of their loved ones go in what would be a failed attempt at freedom.  Even now, neither of them hated the two young men, not when all that anger, fear and concern had been about keeping Shin and Rei safe.  

“I’ll give them until tomorrow, then see what answers they can provide.”  Yuda let his conviction be known, and after a minute, Ruka nodded and let him go.  No matter if the inn was supposed to be a haven of sorts and that Crawford had promised them that their lovers would be safe here, they could not simply trust in words and the gods when what they wanted most was in danger.  Until the time that all the mental coercions were broken and the cousins able to protect themselves, he and Ruka would trust nothing at face value.  If there was any attempt at betrayal… powerful bounds or not, the Koneko and its inhabitants would bear the full brunt of their rage.  

*******  

Schuldig sighed in gratitude as his mother handed him a very large mug filled with coffee that smelled damn near exquisite to his tired senses.  “Thanks.”  If it was not for the fact that he knew he would burn his mouth, he would have gulped it down straight away.  Instead, he merely stared into its dark depths for a moment before setting it on the table.

 “You’re welcome.”  A shadow of worry weakened Cassandra’s smile, the emotion radiating off her as she joined him and Masato at the table.  “You… don’t look so good.”  There was no sting to the words, no intended insult, just a mother’s concern and unhappiness as she fussed with a lock of his hair.

 /I know, so do me a favor and don’t say stuff like that in front of Masato./  He caught her hand and gave it a squeeze before placing it on the table.  “You’d think that you would have learnt by now that there’s no taming it!”  That was not one of his better jokes, but it made her and his mate smile.  

“I’ve no clue where you picked up such a trait.”  Cassandra sniffed in disapproval… utterly oblivious to the fact that her curls were just as wild as Schuldig’s mostly straight strands of hair.


He shared a knowing look with Masato over that tidbit, and despite his love for teasing said nothing, as he knew from long experience that it was a fight he would never win.  For a seer, his mother could be as blind as a day-old kitten to certain things - although it was rare that something he had inherited from her was one of them. 

 /Perhaps because it reminds her of something painful?/


The trouble with being stuck for the rest of his life with someone who was *so* much older and decrepit and such a know-it-all was that he had to put up with insights like that.  He did some sniffing of his own, while Masato caught that thought and smiled in happy smugness.  The old bastard would pay for things later… if he had the energy to do the ‘punishment’ any justice, Schuldig thought with a touch of disappointment.  

/You never fail on that front, Brat, so don’t worry so much./  Echoing Cassandra’s gestures from earlier, Masato toyed with a strand of Schuldig’s hair, before trailing his finger along Schuldig’s left cheek to send him more energy.

 At least the idiot had stopped trying to insist that they not have sex until Shin’s mental coercions were broken.  /Oh, I’m not worried.  I’ll just make you do all the hard work./  He stuck his tongue out at his lover.  /Twice, even./

 The emotions coming over their link suggested that Masato highly doubted he would last two rounds tonight, but he was still willing to let Schuldig try his best.  “’Trouble’ really doesn’t do you justice.”  Masato chuckled as he spoke, the sound so deep and seductive that Cassandra’s cheeks became flushed.

 “Oh my.”  She rose from the table to go fuss with the kitchen window, which was open to let the cool evening breeze inside.  So far this summer there had been few truly hot days, and for the past week the sky had been overcast and the temperatures very cool.  It was almost as if the weather was reacting to the cousins’ presence in Eto.

 “I would not be surprised at all,” Cassandra remarked in answer to his thoughts, as she put together a tray of snacks for them.  “From what Jei has told me, they’ve spent their entire lives since coming into their power controlling the weather.  They would be tied into it in ways we soul gaki bounds could never understand.”  She paused in slicing some bread to stare out the window, her expression forlorn and the breeze toying with a small curl on the left side of her face.  “So much rests on mere drops of water.”

”Not quite so ‘mere’.”  Masato shifted in his seat so he could drape his right arm over Schuldig’s shoulders; a tingling, warm sensation of energy slowly seeping into him from the contact.  “Many a war has been fought over water, either for access to the ocean, or for resources to ensure bountiful crops.”  He fell silent for a moment, his gaze growing distant as if he had developed Cassandra’s ability to see into the future.  “It’s almost as if the gods are throwing everything at ‘us’ to ensure that a war does start.”  

/Don’t be so dramatic,/ Schuldig teased… and was surprised when his mother did not do the same.  Instead, she appeared to take what Masato had said very seriously.  “Oh come on, you don’t really think those old bastards are up to something, do you?”

Quiet reigned in the small kitchen for a couple of minutes, while Masato and Cassandra’s thoughts whirled about in directions that Schuldig did not really care for, especially if it involved the gods.  Was it not bad enough that his parents had only gotten together so he, a useful ‘weapon’, could be born?  That he had ended up mated – even if he no longer held a grudge about that?  That the next few years of his life were pretty much plotted out already?

 /To the gods, you are only something for them to use as they see fit./  Cassandra set the tray of bread, cheese and sausages on the table and sat down, her small body almost falling into the chair as if she lacked any strength.  /That’s all any of us are, with the possible exception of Aya.  From what the stories say, kage may be set into motion, but not even the gods can predict their paths./

 “It figures that *Aya’s* the special one,” Schuldig muttered, still a bit jealous over the way the redhead had taken over Yohji’s heart and life so thoroughly.

 Some jealousy came back at him over their link, but Masato did not let it show in his voice or emotions.  “That’s the risk they took in allowing someone immune to magic to be born.”  He let out a slow breath and hugged Schuldig to his side.  “At least it means that Yohji has some protection as well, because of their bond.”  

“And to a lesser extent, everyone who is dear to Aya,” Cassandra pointed out, her loveliness marred for a moment by a profound frown.  “After all, we are closely tied to his actions at the present.”  The frown faded, to be replaced by a narrowing of eyes and pressing together of lips that Schuldig immediately recognized.

 “I know, I know, *eat*.”  He flashed her a smile and did as she wanted, picking up a large chunk of the peppery cheese he really liked.  Once that was chewed and swallowed, he deemed his coffee cool enough and did not stop drinking until a third of it was gone.

 “Hmph.”  Cassandra sat back in her chair with her arms folded over her chest, for a moment appearing as a child who had snuck into her mother’s fine, rose-pink colored linen dress to play at being an adult.  “Do I even need to tell you to save room for the roast that’s in the oven?”  

“Please, we’ll be lucky if we get a bite to eat!”  Masato laughed and grabbed a piece of cheese for himself – Schuldig noticed it was not one of the peppery chunks and prided himself on training his lover well.  

He rolled his eyes as if not amused by Masato’s jab.  /I’d say it’s his fault for draining me dry, but dammit, it’s not true./  He pouted over that fact, very put out over having to waste so much precious energy on something he considered no fun at all.

 /Now *that’s* a lie.  You must admit it’s a bit of an exciting challenge to take apart something the Elders spent so long in building./  As ever, his mother saw to the heart of the matter and did not allow him any amusing delusions.

 “True.”  He nibbled on another piece of cheese for a few seconds as he put his thoughts into order.  “Shinra and I are certainly learning a lot about mental blocks from taking them down.”  Of course, he allowed himself a moment of malicious delight over the fact that the pompous lord was stuck handling the worst of the pain from breaking the coercions. 

 He was doing something that would help their side in the war, which also had the bonus of putting someone he disliked through a lot of pain, and he also had to admit there was a personal benefit of him spending his time, effort and energy like this.  By the time they broke through the fucking persistent coercions, he would bet that there would be few bounds out there who knew more about the damn things than he did, or could manage a similar feat.  It should be easier to spot the things in the future, too, which could come in handy as more Esset agents were sent into Eto for reasons of sabotage or espionage.  

“Just remember that whatever Shinra feels, Reno does too, eventually.”  Masato gave him a quick hug before leaving the table to fetch the pot of coffee from the stove.  “I know he’s blocking the worst of it, but Reno ….”  He shook his head, then poured all of them more coffee.  

“Eh, what about Reno ?”  Schuldig growled over the possibility of Shinra being even more of an asshole toward his friend.

 Masato took a deep breath before he continued and set the pot aside so he could entwine his fingers together as if to keep his hands from becoming fists.  “He’s getting… twitchy.  I don’t think it’s a good thing, him being blocked from Shinra for so long.”  The pain in his voice startled Schuldig, until he realized that Masato did not care for being blocked from him, either, but could not complain about such a necessary thing. 

Almost tempted to make a smart remark about his mate needing him so much, he bit his tongue *before* his mother gave him a warning look.  Okay, so he loved the old bastard and could not imagine life without him now, but he still was pissed off at the gods for deciding he needed a ‘keeper’ of sorts - or for whatever reason they had decided that he had to have a mate. “I didn’t think he was in any danger of going suicidal again.”  

“I don’t know if it’s that bad, yet, but he’s not as ‘calm’ as he’s been the last few weeks.”  Masato released his hands so he could rub them over his face as if tired.  “Then again, it’s not an easy thing, sitting around doing nothing while your mate is risking a hell of a lot to save another person.” 

No, and it was not an easy thing to put the block up each time Schuldig had to go into Shin’s mind, forcing him to rely upon Shinra onl,y when he wanted Masato by his side and in his head, as usual.  /Just a few more days./  There was nothing else he could say at the moment, not when they both were so bothered by this latest task.  The way that Cassandra reached over to pat his hand yet said nothing was very telling – normally she would be upset for his sake over Crawford being all high-handed and ordering him about, but she had made it clear that this was a job that she wanted him to take.

 He looked through the open window to the grey skies outside, his talent relaying to him all the thoughts of the people around his mother’s home and shop.  They were worried about the lack of sunlight and what it would mean to this year’s crops, and about the possibility of flooding as well.  They had no idea about the bounds who exhausted themselves ensuring that there was little to no real flooding and that the crops would flourish despite the weather, but what could he expect from ‘near-sighted’ humans?

 /Trouble… such animosity is not becoming./  His mother refrained from saying anything other than that, but he had heard the lectures all his life and knew what was held back.  So what if he cared for only a handful of humans?  Was it not enough that he was risking his and Masato’s lives for them?  That the gods had decided to mess with *his* fate in order to spare a bunch of humans from being wiped out by the Elders’ hounds?

 /I don’t think the gods are doing this just for their sake./  Masato’s mental voice was as soothing as his touch along Schuldig’s back.  /For the first time in almost a thousand years, there’s hope for some sort of resolution between our two races.  I won’t say that our sacrifices won’t benefit the humans in some way, but I’m hoping that they’ll benefit *us* even more./

 Dammit, why did the man have to go and be all rational like that?  Schuldig grumbled beneath his breath as he was hugged close, all the while wishing he could make his mother stop giggling over his predicament.

 “One thing is certain – I’m owed a hell of a lot for all the indignities I suffer.”  

“Sure you are, Brat.”  

/It’s only fair, Trouble./

 It was not so much that they both spoke at the same time, his mother and his mate, as the fact that they wore identical expressions of mock sympathy.  Oh yes, the gods owed him a *hell* of a lot for saddling him with two such sadists and making him love them despite the never-ending abuse he took.

 /I warned you that he was a delusional one, did I not?/

 “Yes, Cass, though I don’t think any warning could do the reality any justice.”

Schuldig pouted some more.  “I better get the best piece of roast tonight, at least two bottles of wine and some *fantastic* sex for putting up with you two.”  

“Of course.”  Cassandra and Masato spoke in unison, wearing identical smiles and thinking identical thoughts of how he had to be humored.  Schuldig snarled and left the table in search of the wine, and had to hide his smile when he was placated with the promise of that fantastic sex once they got home.

 *******

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