Chapter 1: Round One: Shirts and Scars
Round One: Shirts and Scars
“My name is Kadoya Tsukasa.”
He says it with a sly smile, hands stretched up above his head. Tsukasa is the picture of calm contentment, sprawling like some giant cat across the center of their collected bed rolls.
“That’s true.” Natsumi frowns at him, careful to keep the expression gentle and teasing. There’s been enough hurt already, and likely more to come before all’s said and done. Just pretending Tsukasa’s memories and mind hadn’t been altered isn’t something they can afford to do, though. “But since you’ve never forgotten your name, even when you had amnesia about literally everything else in your life, I’m not sure how much it counts.”
“It counts.” Tsukasa pouts, propping his head up on his right hand so he can look over at her more easily. “It’s true, and it’s about me. Those were the only rules you set.”
“Maybe have it half-count.” Yuusuke makes the suggestion from behind Natsumi, where he’s lying on the right-hand side of their bed, his head resting on a pillow. His eyes are half-closed, and though he looks peaceful or even happy the dark bruising around both eyes betrays his exhaustion. “He can get either the food or an article of clothing.”
“You’re supposed to be on my side, Yuusuke.” Tsukasa mock-glares at the other man, though his gaze falls to his own clenched fist almost immediately.
So many wounds here, old and new, and Natsumi finds her fingers curling in Tsukasa’s hair before she even thinks about reaching towards him. For a moment she doesn’t say anything, just touching him, not having to meet his gaze. When she finally speaks she manages to keep her tone light, though. “So, food or clothes?”
Tsukasa sits up completely. Reaching out with one hand, he traces her cheek, fingertips barely brushing her skin. It’s a simple gesture, not necessarily romantic, but Natsumi finds herself leaning into the touch. Her heart rate picks up, and she closes her eyes in simple, overwhelming joy.
It’s so nice to just let him touch her, to not worry about betrayal and how much of what he’s doing is because he’s her Tsukasa and how much is a Zangyack-inspired mind game.
He leans toward her, his hair brushing against the cheek his fingertips aren’t touching as his mouth moves toward her ear.
“Food.” He whispers the word, a soft, low breath against her skin, and his hand drops away from her face.
“Tsukasa.” Opening her eyes, she glares at his grin for a few seconds before clambering over him to reach the bowl of berries. Trust Tsukasa to tease her.
And trust Kaitou to be eating the berries already. “Daiki, give those back.”
“Yeah, Kaitou.” Rolling over, Tsukasa wags a finger slowly at the thief. “You haven’t had your turn yet. Besides, I’m not going to lose to you, so you won’t get any period.”
“All the more reason to eat what I want now.” Tossing another of the small purple fruits into his mouth, Kaitou closes his eyes and sighs in contentment. “I’m going to miss that universe, if only for these.”
Wrenching the bowl away from his hands, trying not to spill any of the alien fruit in the bed, Natsumi glares at the thief. “If you’re really that fond of them, I’m sure they’ll show up mysteriously in the cupboards whenever you actually want them. Just like anything else you decide you like has a strange way of finding its way into the photo studio.”
Kaitou just shrugs, grinning his devil-may-care grin at her and swiping another berry from the bowl. “I only have the things show up here that I’m willing to share. Who says I’m willing to share good food?”
“The fact that you’ve cooked for us on more than one occasion.” Tsukasa’s voice is dry. “And no, you don’t get anything for that one, because first off it’s true and secondly it isn’t your turn yet. Natsumi, Yuusuke, and then you, assuming I ever get my reward for the first round.”
“Here.” Grabbing a berry from the bowl, she shoves it toward Tsukasa’s face in annoyance.
She’s not sure whether her aim was that awful or if it’s really Tsukasa’s fault for moving, but somehow he ends up with blue juice running down the side of his face.
Frowning at her, Tsukasa wipes the crushed berry and juice off on his hand. “All right. This is apparently going to be a more violent game than I thought.”
“I…” She doesn’t really want to apologize, because she’s not sorry. They’re taking something that was supposed to be simple and fun—at least as simple and fun as dealing with this could possibly get—and making it much more difficult than it has to be.
She doesn’t mean to start crying. She doesn’t even realize that she’s doing it until Tsukasa blinks and looks at her in horrified fascination.
“Hey, Natsumelon…” Kaitou’s voice is tentative, uncertain.
Swiping at her eyes, hoping that she’s not leaving dark blue streaks across her face, she tries to will the tears to stop. She doesn’t cry. She especially doesn’t cry in front of Kaitou. Giving Kaitou any reason to run away, when things had been going so smoothly up until now, is stupid.
She hadn’t seen Yuusuke move, but somehow he has a wet cloth in hand which he throws onto Tsukasa’s shoulder. His other hand clips the back of Kaitou’s head, just a gentle reprimand, and then he’s taking the bowl of berries from her and setting it down between her and him.
Yuusuke’s hands are gentle on her cheeks, brushing away the tears as they fall. He doesn’t say anything, just smiles at her, his hands resting quietly on hers when they aren’t busy with her tears.
After a few seconds she manages to stop crying, choking off the last of the tears with a harsh sniffle. He squeezes her hands once before producing a handkerchief by some miracle.
Smiling ruefully, she tries to blow her nose as quietly as she can before studying her hands intently. It’s easier to look at her hands than to look at the others, somehow.
“Now.” Yuusuke speaks clearly, with authority, a tone of voice that he doesn’t usually use. “We all agreed we should do this, or something like this, to make sure Tsukasa’s memories are all back in the right order. Right?”
“I’ve said I’m fine.” Tsukasa doesn’t look at any of them, staring at the bowl of berries with belligerent disinterest.
“He just had a relapse into wanting to take over worlds.” Kaitou’s tone is halfway between jeering and patronizing. “It could happen to anyone, anytime. It’s not something to make a big deal about.”
“Enough.” Yuusuke growls out the word as he glares between Kaitou and Tsukasa, anger flashing across his face. The anger fades quickly, though, and he leans his head down and ruffles his hair. “Enough, please. This can be fun, all right?”
“All right.” Tsukasa says the words lazily, easily, though his fingers trail lightly across Yuusuke’s shoulder as he settles down to the right of Natsumi and Yuusuke, forming a loose triangle. His expression betrays a hint of tension, too, his mouth turned down just slightly, his eyes narrowed as he looks from Yuusuke to Kaitou.
A challenge, a warning, and Kaitou laughs ruefully before shaking his head and taking up a cross-legged seat across from Tsukasa. “All right. Fine. Let’s see how interesting we can make this.”
“So.” Tsukasa draws a deep breath, the tension easing from his body and a sly smile taking its place as he turns his gaze on Natsumi. “My name is Kadoya Tsukasa. Yours is Hikari Natsumi.”
“No dice on that one, Tsukasa.” Shaking her head, Natsumi offers him a grin that’s only slightly shaky. “You’ve heard my name since we got back from the Zangyack.”
Sighing, Tsukasa shakes his head. “So picky. All right. You’re Hikari Natsumi, and you found me after… something happened. After a fight? Yes… no… I…”
Natsumi reaches toward Tsukasa as his words stumble to a halt, frustration showing on his face.
He shakes his head and backs away, though. “Just give me a minute. It’s there, I know it is, I just have to get it in the right order and remember bits that they wanted me to forget. You found me after I fought, when I… when I had amnesia. I met you when I had amnesia, and I worked in the photo studio, unaware that DaiShocker even existed, for many weeks.”
The look he gives her as he raises his head is desperate, pleading, while somehow still demanding to be right. Demanding that his memories be true, be trustworthy, be something that he can depend on like they’re supposed to be, and her breath catches in her throat for a moment before she nods. “Yeah. That’s how we met. I don’t know how you conned Grandpa into giving you a job, but he did, and then I spent several weeks desperately trying to teach you how to take a halfway decent photograph. Those lessons never really seemed to stick.”
“I’ve gotten better.” Tsukasa sulks as he says the words, but his shoulders relax, some of the tension leaving his body.
“I guess that means you win.” Sitting up straighter, Natsumi grins at the man. “Clothes or food first?”
“Hmmm…” Tsukasa’s eyes rake up and down her body, and she feels heat rise in her neck and cheeks. “Clothes first, I think.”
“Oh really?” Her fingers tease at the bottom hem of her shirt, her eyes fixed on his. “Shirt or skirt first?”
“Choices, choices.” Tsukasa’s fingers drum over his knee, three quick beats, repeated three times, four times. “Shirt, I think.”
“Sounds good.” Gripping the bottom edge of her shirt, she slowly raises the fabric, continuing to watch him.
Tsukasa’s eyes drop from hers, though, watch in hungry, unashamed admiration as she raises the shirt centimeter by centimeter. He’s not the only one watching, either. Kaitou’s stretched out on the bed, but his eyes trace over her exposed skin, mouth turned up in a cat-bright smile. Even Yuusuke isn’t immune, grinning as he watches the show she gives him.
It’s fantastic. It’s frightening. It’s how things are supposed to be, the four of them in concert, the four of them together, and—
Except it breaks. Yuusuke reacts first, flinching back, eyes dropping to his own hands. Kaitou’s smile twists, fractures into something more like a grimace, and the thief turns his gaze to the bowl of berries.
Only Tsukasa continues to watch her, and there’s a cold distance in his eyes that looks like rage.
Her hands hesitate, falter, allowing the fabric to fall back down. Covering the scar across her chest, the thick band of dark red tissue that shows where she was cut down, and she shouldn’t have done this. She should have waited until later, until—
“No.” Tsukasa’s hands are gentle but firm, grasping hers and pulling up until the edge of the scar shows again, running from her collarbone down, diving beneath her bra to emerge on the other side. “Don’t hide it. It’s beautiful, Natsumi.”
“It’s not.” Shaking her head, she keeps her eyes away from him. “It’s sweet of you to say, but—”
“He’s right.” Yuusuke’s hand slips beneath Tsukasa’s, lightly touches the skin around the scar, somehow managing to stay away from her breasts as he does. “It’s beautiful, Natsumi, because it’s you, and you’re alive.”
Her lip trembles for a moment, her skin tight and hyperaware under Yuusuke’s too-warm fingers. Then she nods, smiling at both men.
“So.” Kaitou’s voice is a low drawl. “Are we going to finish the show or not? I hate promises that are only half-fulfilled.”
Yuusuke backs away, still with that encouraging smile on his face.
Tsukasa hesitates, gently squeezing his hands around hers. He doesn’t move away until she nudges him with her forehead in annoyance, though.
Once he’s settled she continues. Slowly, bit by bit, arching her back to push her breasts out more dramatically, and she likes the looks on their faces. She likes the appreciation. She likes the recognition and the dismissal of the injury, the way Kaitou studies from her breasts down to her bellybutton and lower in one predatory look, the way Tsukasa’s eyes wander proprietarily from the scar to both breasts to her face, the way Yuusuke’s eyes flick from her breasts and stomach repeatedly back to her eyes, making sure she’s still enjoying herself.
Tsukasa moves forward again, his fingers trailing along either side of the scar. Gently, so she can barely feel it, not hard enough to hurt despite how sensitive the still-healing skin is. His fingers pause at her bra, and he frowns. “You’ll have to take this off too, I think. To make it more fair.”
“Fair?” Her voice is low, her eyes watching his long, lithe fingers trace their way across her body, up and down the evidence of her first failed battle.
“Yuusuke and Kaitou don’t wear bras.” Tsukasa’s mouth twitches up into a slight grin, his eyes darting to Kaitou, an unreadable expression on his face. “At least, they aren’t right now. Maybe we can play with that in the future. But to keep it fair, to keep the number of rounds even, this needs to go.”
“I think you just want to see a bit more skin.” Her voice is thin, half-breathless, and she shouldn’t be this aroused yet. She shouldn’t want to jump on him already, to strip off the rest of her clothes and rip his off, rip Yuusuke’s off, rip Kaitou’s off, trace all of their scars and kiss all of their wounds and somehow make it better—
Patience. There’s a purpose to this beyond just reassuring each other they’re alive, and that requires patience and restraint from her, because Kaitou and Tsukasa would gladly skip to the endgame if given half a chance. The foregame has too much chance of hurting still.
Twisting her hands up behind her back, she fumbles with her bra, eventually getting the clasp undone. Stupid fingers, shaking for no reason, making a simple task into something much harder than it has to be. “Since you make such a reasonable argument, though, I’m going to have to acquiesce to your demand.”
Tsukasa doesn’t say anything. His hands just rise, teasing the straps of the bra down her arms, slowly lifting it away from her breasts. She grimaces as it pulls free from the scar, leaving behind a small area of bright red tissue and a bloody discoloration on the bra. She’ll have to find some way to pad her bras, at least for the next few days, or just skip them entirely and leave the photo studio to the guys until the damn thing heals a little more.
Tossing the bra off to the side, in the vague direction of the laundry pile, Tsukasa rakes his eyes up and down her body. His fingers reach out again, lithe, long, gorgeous and graceful like the rest of him, and trace the entire length of the scar.
“You’re beautiful.” His voice is low and husky, a tone she doesn’t get to hear nearly often enough. Leaning down, he presses a single kiss just below her ribcage, where the scar ends and unblemished skin starts again.
His action frees the others, and Kaitou’s arms are around her from behind, his lips pressed to her right shoulder, to the area just above where the scar starts. He’s careful not to press too hard against her back, against the still-healing scar there, instead creating a shelter for it with his body.
Yuusuke’s hands run through her hair, trace around her ears, and Yuusuke’s too-warm lips press against her forehead, against her cheek, against her ear. Yuusuke’s careful to stay out of the way of the other men, not fighting for position, letting Tsukasa and Kaitou do what they need. His breath tickles her neck as he whispers in her ear. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever loved, Natsumi.”
She wants to make a joke, something about how he should meet more women then or maybe try loving fewer men, but she can’t get the words straight in her head in a way that wouldn’t maybe hurt him. And she doesn’t want to hurt him, ever, wants to fix him, erase the exhaustion, take his too-feverish skin back down to its normal just-above-average temperature, reassure him that everything’s all right this time.
Instead she moans as his teeth gently, daintily, infuriatingly nibble at the edge of her ear and begin working their way down her neck.
It shouldn’t matter as much as it does. They’re just scars. Tsukasa and Kaitou have scars as well, crisscrossing their chests and abdomen, the result of years of fighting as Riders. Yuusuke should have some, would have some if Kuuga didn’t always erase all external evidence of their failures, returning his skin to that of a fantastically healthy twenty-year-old. It was only a matter of time before she acquired some visible scars, too.
It’s not just about the scars, though. It’s about them, about the four of them, about how much they can go through and still come out the other side intact.
It’s about Kaitou’s hands wrapped around to touch her stomach, Tsukasa’s wrapped around to rest against her back, Yuusuke’s cradling her head, and all of them happy.
They love her. They care about her.
And they still want her, scars and all.
Kaitou pulls away first, chuckling low in his throat. “Does this mean the rest of the game’s called off?”
“Nnnn…” The word refuses to come out properly, and she frees one hand to use to push Yuusuke gently back. “No. Not at all. So everyone should really go back to their seats.”
Yuusuke settles down first, knees pulled up to his chest and his head resting on them as he watches her face attentively. Kaitou sighs theatrically before sprawling down in his seat, stealing another berry from the bowl as he does.
Tsukasa moves away last, continuing to watch her, and she fights the urge to blush even as she feels her nipples growing more taut under his gaze.
“Nice.” Tsukasa reaches into the bowl and grabs a berry himself, biting into it with slow deliberation. “Very nice, Natsumi. I think that was worth a handful of sentences.”
“Good.” There’s a raw, rough quality to her voice as she watches him eat, and she clears her throat before speaking again. There’s still far too much to get through to get overly heated or emotional right now. “But you shouldn’t be watching me right now, you know.”
“No?” Tsukasa’s smile is slow and lazy. “And what else would I have to look at besides you?”
“Nothing right now.” Settling down coyly, her left hip under her and her breasts toward Tsukasa and Yuusuke, she points across the circle at the other Rider. “But if you play your cards right…”
“That’s true.” Tsukasa shifts slightly, managing with a few simple moves to turn all of his attention and focus toward the smaller man. “I believe it’s your turn, Yuusuke.”
Yuusuke straightens, raising his head from his knees as Tsukasa turns toward him.
It’s strange how disconcerting it can be to get Tsukasa’s full attention. Not that Tsukasa usually ignores him, but Tsukasa’s often too lazy or too busy or too confused to actually focus on anyone. When he does, though, all that energy and intensity and confidence turned to a single person…
It’s exhilarating. It’s frightening. It makes Yuusuke understand Kaitou’s desperate drive to earn Tsukasa’s regard, though he doesn’t normally share it.
“Yuusuke.” Tsukasa smiles as he says the name, though there’s a hint of sadness and something else in his eyes. Guilt, probably, and Yuusuke fights the urge to turn away, to hug his knees tighter to his chest—over the amadam, over the evidence of the latest damage to their belief and trust in each other.
Hiding things doesn’t make it better, though, not really. Moving slowly, trying not to show any evidence of pain or the lingering difficulty he has just with moving in a coordinated manner, Yuusuke shifts until his legs are under him, palms flat on his knees. “Right name, yeah, but not good enough. Same rules as with Natsumi. Tell me something that the Zangyack wouldn’t have known.”
“I met you after I met Natsumi.” Tsukasa speaks slowly, eyes on the bedding, staring at things only he can see. “After… Wataru told me that I had to kill the Riders to save the worlds. But I didn’t understand. I didn’t remember. I wasn’t part of DaiShocker then?”
“No.” Natsumi answers the question, her fingers running lightly across Tsukasa’s knee. “You weren’t. It was just you and me.”
“Right.” Tsukasa nods. “Natsumi and I ended up in your world. We fought the Grongi together. And I…” Tsukasa’s head comes up, his eyes haunted again, confused. “I killed your friend. I killed the detective.”
“No.” Shaking his head, Yuusuke reaches out and takes Tsukasa’s hand. “You didn’t. You helped me defeat the Grongi. Yashiro… it was the Grongi that killed Yashiro.”
Tsukasa hurt her, though. Tsukasa hit her, made her bleed, and Tsukasa threw down the knowledge that lead to her death as though it was nothing, as though it didn’t matter, with no warning about what they would find and no hints on how to survive it.
But Tsukasa didn’t kill her. Tsukasa has enough sins to bear without inventing new ones to shackle him with.
“I hurt you.” Tsukasa’s right hand raises tentatively, barely brushes Yuusuke’s hair before being pulled back to his chest. “I remember that. Over and over again. I gave you to the Imajin as a host. I let DaiShocker use you. I killed you myself, took my sword and—”
“No.” The word echoes in the room, angry, scared, and Yuusuke hates how his hand shakes as he clenches Tsukasa’s fingers tight but he can’t stop it. “No. It’s more complicated than that, and that’s not what we’re talking about anyway. We’re talking about when we first met. On my world, fighting Grongi, and do you remember what you said?”
“I said a lot of things.” The corners of Tsukasa’s mouth turn up, not quite a smile but close. “I’m good at talking.”
“Just one sentence.” Yuusuke finds his gaze dropping to the ground. It’s silly, really. It was just one sentence, one part of one of Tsukasa’s many speeches, and it won’t matter all that much if Tsukasa doesn’t remember. “I was still trying to figure out how to live up to Yashiro’s wish, to fight for people’s—”
“You haven’t done it enough lately, you know.” Tsukasa’s hand is firm on Yuusuke’s chin, raising his head, bringing his gaze to Tsukasa’s stern expression. “It’s not right for you to be so grim and quiet and serious. How am I supposed to protect your smile if you’re not smiling?”
Yuusuke can feel the grin break across his face, bright and eager and happy, and he doesn’t think before jumping on Tsukasa and hugging him fiercely.
It’s not the smart thing to do, and the grin freezes as he bites back a cry of agony. Too fast, too quick, too coordinated a move when half his nerves are still running backwards from what the Zangyack did to Kuuga, and it hurts. He will not pass out, though. He will not curl up in a ball, protecting the amadam. He will not do anything to let Tsukasa know exactly how much it still hurts, because Tsukasa’s having a hard enough time as it is.
“I’m sorry, Yuusuke.” Tsukasa’s hands are tentative, hesitant, barely brushing Yuusuke’s skin as he returns the embrace. “I didn’t tell them to hurt you like this.”
“No?” Kaitou’s voice drips with scorn and sarcasm. “You just told them to knock him out, in whatever way necessary. Take him prisoner, right, do whatever was needed to—”
“Kaitou, it’s fine.” Pulling away from Tsukasa, moving as slowly as he dares while fearing that moving too fast will lead to losing consciousness, Yuusuke turns to look at the thief. “It’s really fine.”
“Liar.” Kaitou grins as he says the word. “But I think you’re lying to yourself as much as him, so I suppose I can’t demand that you strip for me.”
“It’s not a lie.” Settling back down with his knees against his chest again, trying to find the most comfortable position to sit in so his guts don’t feel like they’re burning inside him, Yuusuke alternates his gaze between Kaitou and Tsukasa. “We’re alive. We’re here. We’re all right. So whatever came before is fine.”
Kaitou looks away with a soft sigh. “For very loose and Yuusuke definitions of fine, maybe. But since that’s who’s currently playing, I guess it works.”
“This means I can claim my reward, right?” Tsukasa’s hand is in the bowl even as he asks the question. He waits for Yuusuke’s nod before tossing the fruit into his mouth, though. “Good. Start stripping, then. Natsumi’s set the bar pretty high, too.”
“I’ll do my best.” Rolling his eyes and sharing a quick grin with Natsumi, Yuusuke uncurls enough for his fingers to reach the button on his jeans.
“No.” Tsukasa’s hand grabs Yuusuke’s, stopping him. “I want shirt from you, too.”
“All right.” Frowning in annoyance, Yuusuke takes off his sweater and tosses it toward Tsukasa. “The game needs to pick up, then, because I’m going to be freezing here pretty quickly.”
“You’re not done.” Tsukasa grabs the shirt easily, redirecting it into the new pile of clothes on the floor that started with Natsumi’s shirt and bra. “To keep this fair for Kaitou, your T-shirt has to go too.”
“You could always just make Kaitou put his jacket back on.” Yuusuke hesitates, fingers dancing along the bottom edge of his shirt. It won’t be that big a deal, really. It’s something they’re going to end up seeing before the night’s over, and if he really didn’t want Tsukasa to see he should have talked with Natsumi about it before the game started.
“Then I’d have to have Natsumi put the bra back on, and it just looked uncomfortable so I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to do that.” Tsukasa’s eyes are narrowed in suspicion. “Come on, Yuusuke. Take off the shirt.”
Sighing in defeat, Yuusuke strips out of the shirt as quickly as he can, curling his lower body against his jean-clad knees again as he swiftly as he’s able. Maybe if he was fast enough about it they won’t notice right now, and it’ll be worth the nausea and the agony shooting from the amadam up to his neck and down to his right knee.
“Yuusuke…” Natsumi leans forward, face twisted in pity and horror. “How… how long has it looked like that? Does it hurt? Are you all right?”
Tsukasa doesn’t say anything, his face stony and cold.
Shaking his head, Yuusuke directs the answers toward Tsukasa. “It’ll be fine. It started pretty much as soon as we got done with the fight, and it looks awful, but I’m really feeling better. I’m healing. It doesn’t matter.”
Tsukasa leans forward slowly. His hands are steady and insistent, pushing Yuusuke’s knees down, revealing the full extent of the injuries. His fingers touch feather-light to the darkest bruising, an awful livid red-purple mess the size of Yuusuke’s fist right above where the amadam hides. Smaller bruises spread out to either side, spread out above and below, following the major arteries and veins. Tracing where the worst damage to Kuuga was, where the amadam and his body had a falling-out, and Yuusuke’s breath catches in his throat as Tsukasa’s fingers press down just slightly harder.
“I’m sorry.” Tsukasa’s hand pulls back, viper-fast.
“It didn’t hurt.” Shaking his head, Yuusuke stares in morbid fascination at the bruises. “I mean, your touching it didn’t. It feels good, actually. I think it likes having a little bit of pressure on it.”
“You have always liked being touched there.” Leaning forward again, Tsukasa sets his fingers against the biggest bruise once more. “Too many nerve endings collected here for it not to be somewhere sensitive, I suppose.”
“Too important.” Yuusuke’s voice drops to a whisper as he watches Tsukasa’s hand. It feels good, having Tsukasa’s fingers pressed against his body, even if Tsukasa’s skin feels far too cold. Everything has felt far too cold since the battle with the Zangyack, though. “The amadam’s the thing keeping us alive, just as much as my heart is. If anything’s close to it, if anything could threaten it…”
“But we’re not a threat.” Natsumi’s lips brush across his forehead before her fingers skitter softly over the smaller bruises trailing up his right side. “If it feels good to have pressure on it we can bandage you up, Yuusuke. You should have said something.”
“It’s all right.” He can’t meet her gaze. “Really.”
“They’re everywhere.” Kaitou’s fingers are ice along his back, tracing where the arcle lies beneath the skin. “Damn, Yuusuke, you couldn’t be more bruised if someone took a baseball bat to you.”
“I’m sorry.” He whispers the words, closing his eyes and trying to focus just on their hands, on their gentleness. Those are Natsumi’s fingers, slender, no longer delicate due to too long as Kivaala but not quite as rough as Kaitou’s or Tsukasa’s; those are Daiki’s, swift and certain as they course all over his back, never too hard; and those are Tsukasa’s, a steady comforting pressure on the amadam…
And a steady pressure on his chin, raising his head until Yuusuke blinks at the man.
“Don’t say that.” Tsukasa glares pointedly at him.
“Say what?” Frowning in confusion, Yuusuke looks to Natsumi for help.
“Don’t say you’re sorry.” Tsukasa speaks determinedly, increasing the pressure on the amadam, and Yuusuke flinches back as agony spikes through his guts.
Straightening slowly, his own arms wrapped around the amadam and all of the others having pulled away, Yuusuke forces a smile onto his face. “Sorry. Ah, don’t look like that, Tsukasa. I don’t mean… I just…”
“It’s sad.” Tsukasa’s eyes dart away, his body stiff, frustration evident in his expression. “It’s not right and it’s sad for you to be sorry for being hurt. This wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anything that you did.”
“It was.” Sitting up a little straighter, breathing shallowly to try to move his abdomen as little as possible, Yuusuke shrugs. “I knew transforming was a bad idea. Kuuga didn’t want to do it. It fought me tooth and nail, because it knew it would hurt us. I did it anyway.”
“Why?” Kaitou’s fingers dance across his shoulder, slide up to caress his cheek, and Yuusuke leans into the touch.
“You were all fighting.” Yuusuke pauses, searching for the right words. Natsumi’s fingers tentatively slide across his knee, reach up to caress higher in small teasing circles, and Yuusuke smiles without opening his eyes. “You and the Gokaigers, and I couldn’t look everywhere at once but there were enemies everywhere, and Doc got cut down and Kaitou took a hit to the right side, where he couldn’t defend himself properly, and I… I just couldn’t stand having to be a spectator anymore. Especially with how many enemies there were. I had to help.”
“You did bring everything crashing to a halt.” Kaitou’s tone is dry. “Still, next time maybe ask me how badly I’m hurt before doing something so… reckless.”
“Foolhardy.” Natsumi chimes in with the word, though her expression is full of fond caring and a lingering hint of fear when he opens his eyes.
“Idiotic.” Tsukasa pulls Yuusuke’s head forward, planting a kiss between his eyes. “You’re an idiot. You know that, right?”
“I like reckless better.” His hand tangles in Tsukasa’s shirt, and for a moment Yuusuke allows himself to just sit there, content and happy, trusting Tsukasa. “I think it fits better.”
“My reckless idiot, then.” Tsukasa’s arms wrap around him, hold him close.
A perfect few seconds pass before Kaitou clears his throat impatiently. “I believe it’s my turn, Tsukasa.”
“Right.” Sighing, Tsukasa pulls away. His hand slides gently across Yuusuke’s cheek before he settles back into his seat. “Hold that thought, Yuusuke. I’ve got something to take care of with an annoying tag-along first, and then I’ll be back to you.”
Natsumi clears her throat, shifting her upper body so that her breasts bounce up and down.
“All right.” Tsukasa smiles at her. “I have an annoyance and some pleasant unfinished business to take care of first. Then we’ll pick this up.”
“Damn it, Tsukasa.” Taking a handful of berries and shoving them into his mouth, Kaitou glares at Tsukasa. “Just play the game, all right? Unless you want me to leave.”
Yuusuke raises a hand to set on Kaitou’s knee. “He’s just giving you a hard time, Kaitou. Don’t let it bother you.”
Giving a long-suffering sigh, Tsukasa glances between the three of them. “Have I ever mentioned how much harder it is caring about three other people as opposed to just me?”
“Once or twice.” Natsumi twirls a lock of hair around one of her fingers, smiling at him. “But you wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“No. I wouldn’t.” Turning his full attention to Kaitou, Tsukasa’s expression turns grave. “And you’re right. It’s your turn, Kaitou. Let’s see how badly out of order my memories of you are.”
Kaitou grins when Tsukasa looks at him. He can’t help it. Just like Tsukasa did for Natsumi, just like Tsukasa did for Yuusuke, Tsukasa is focusing all of his attention on Kaitou, and the thief happily revels in it. It’s not quite the same as the attention that Tsukasa showed to Natsumi or to Yuusuke—not the same level of open fondness that he reserves for Natsumi, not the possessive protectiveness that had swept over his face when the extent of Yuusuke’s injuries had been made clear.
It’s a fiercer interest, a competitive interest, and that fits Kaitou just fine.
“I met you… first?” Tsukasa hesitates, rubbing at his temples with his hands. “Last? Both, I think. You were a part of DaiShocker.”
Kaitou can’t keep a vindictive little snort of protest from escaping.
“No.” Tsukasa raises his head, fixing Kaitou with a mocking smile. “Of course you weren’t. You don’t play that well with others.”
“I play fine with others when I want to.” Glowering at the other man, Kaitou resists the urge to pull either Natsumi or Yuusuke over to him. He can play this game by the rules and still win.
“You were there, though.” Tsukasa continues as though he hadn’t spoken. “You were at DaiShocker’s headquarters for a while. You saw… a lot of things. I brought you to DaiShocker?”
Kaitou hesitates for a moment, thinking back on what happened during his time with DaiShocker.
Tsukasa pinning him to the ground in Kaitou’s world, full of questions and demands and utterly unaware of how anything worked.
Tsukasa bleeding on the floor, Diend hot in Kaitou’s hand, and maybe this isn’t where he wants the conversation to go. “You picked me up from my world, yeah. I stuck around for a little while, then made off with Diend because I liked how it looked. Let’s try to keep this in chronological order, though. You should start with when you met me just before the Rider War.”
Everyone freezes, just for a second, and Kaitou can feel the scowl on his own mouth. How did those words slip out? They don’t talk about the War. Never mind that it’s a really damn good way to separate out time frames, before the War, after the War, it’s something best left forgotten and buried.
“Do you like sea cucumber? No… have you eaten sea cucumber?” Tsukasa’s grin has just a little too much teeth showing. “You asked me that when you stole Diend. You asked me that when we met again, in Blade’s world.”
Licking at his lips, Kaitou nods. “Yeah. The look on your face was pretty priceless, too.”
“I still had amnesia. I didn’t remember.” Tsukasa frowns, the edge of anger and threat fading from his face. “You almost made me remember, though. It was so close, but so far away…”
“You might have been better off without them.” Kaitou frowns, remembering Tsukasa before Tsukikage brought all his memories back. Still Tsukasa, still brash and arrogant and impossibly sure of himself, but there had been something… different in him during his time as an amnesiac. Something… cleaner, more innocent, when he didn’t realize what he’d done, when he hadn’t been forced by the heroes into doing even worse things.
He liked Tsukasa as an amnesiac. He hadn’t been lying when he told the man that he wasn’t ready to world-travel, that he wasn’t prepared to face what he’d meet in the universe. Whether it was DaiShocker and his own past or the Riders and their pyrrhic victories, there was nothing for Tsukasa in the universe that could be better than the simple home he’d created for himself inside the photo studio.
“Would you give yours up?” Tsukasa asks the question quietly, to the berries in the bowl, no longer meeting Kaitou’s gaze. He still stays turned to Kaitou, though, focused on him. “If you could forget what you had been… if you could erase Fourteen and your brother… would you do it?”
I’ve done it. The words hover on the edge of his tongue, longing to slip out, but it’s more truth than he ever wants Tsukasa to know. Besides, Tsukasa’s talking about real amnesia, not just running from everything he’s ever been and burning the rule-book that he’s lived by. “No. I don’t care about what happened, but I never want to forget any of it.”
“Because it’s important.” Tsukasa raises his head slowly. “Because it’s who you are. It’s everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve felt. It’s the foundation for the worlds that we create for ourselves. So even when it’s painful, we need to remember. Otherwise we can end up being evil overlords for alien empires we don’t even care about.”
“And it’s not all painful.” Yuusuke’s fingers graze Kaitou’s hand, a gentle, feverish touch. “We have some pretty good memories here, right?”
Kaitou shrugs, looking away. “If I didn’t like it here, I wouldn’t keep coming back. Make whatever you want to out of that.”
“Do I pass?” Tsukasa’s smile is a challenge. “Or do you think I need to keep talking to get my reward?”
“I really don’t see a reason to let you listen to your own voice more, not when you get so much pleasure out of it.” Sighing, Kaitou stretches his arms up above his head. “Let me guess. Shirt, right?”
“I want you all to match.” Tsukasa’s smile is predatory, his eyes half-slitted as he watches Kaitou and devours another one of the small berries. “Everything in a collection is supposed to match, after all.”
Kaitou doesn’t bother to say anything more. His fingers find the edge of his shirt. It feels strange to his right hand still. All the sensations from that hand have a slight blur to them, a baseline tingle that he doesn’t like but that has been steadily fading. Hopefully it’ll go away soon.
Then he’ll just have to find a nice world to tan himself on, because he hates the way the skin on his right arm looks.
It shouldn’t bother him as much as it does. It’s just skin. But seeing how his right arm and parts of his right chest look, the skin pale and shiny and almost translucent, veins and arteries showing far too clearly, reminds him of his injuries.
His right arm, his good arm, his dominant shooting hand that he depends on, and he remembers the horror as he looked down at the forest of metal splinters embedded in his flesh. There must have been several hundred of them, at least. Too many for him to properly count, too many to really contemplate, and it hadn’t hurt at first. He’d been in too much shock to hurt at first.
Shock and a mute, numb fear that turned to blinding terror as he felt the poison burn-crawling its way up his veins, clouding his thoughts, and—
Tsukasa’s hand trails down Kaitou’s right arm, from the normal flesh at his shoulder along the inner crook of his elbow to the tips of his fingers. Natsumi’s hand trails along the few pale patches of skin that mottle Kaitou’s right side, showing where stray spikes had found other flesh to land in. Yuusuke’s arm goes around Kaitou’s waist, holds the thief tightly against Yuusuke’s overly-warm body.
“I killed him.” Tsukasa’s voice is a rough whisper as he strokes his hand down Kaitou’s arm a second time. “You are mine, just like the others. I didn’t want you hurt like this.”
“I don’t belong to anyone.” The words feel tight in Kaitou’s throat, sticking and catching as he meets Tsukasa’s gaze. “I’m not a toy, to be owned and protected and thrown aside when you don’t want me anymore.”
“I never thought you were, Kaitou.” Tsukasa’s lips form one of his easy smiles, self-assured, pleased with himself. “Even when we were with DaiShocker, before I met them, you made an impression on me. I don’t say you’re mine to say that you’re weak. I say it because I want you, because you’re strong enough and different enough to hold my interest.”
“I know I’m strong.” He meets Tsukasa’s gaze evenly. “I don’t need you to tell me that.”
“No.” Tsukasa tilts his head slightly, a considering gesture. “That’s never what you’ve wanted me to tell you. You want me to tell you that I’ll always notice you. That I’ll always find you interesting. That I’ll always pay attention to you.”
“You make me sound like a child.” Kaitou snarls out the words. “I’m not a child.”
“No.” Tsukasa leans in slowly, keeping his eyes locked on Kaitou’s as their lips meet, clash, tongues fumbling over each other briefly before Tsukasa pulls back. “You’re not a child. And there are a lot of things I could say, but I’ll just say this. I will never forget or ignore you, Kaitou. I swear.”
It’s a lie. He knows it’s a lie, and he should probably call Tsukasa on it. He should demand that Tsukasa strip for him, the punishment for lying, but he can’t get his mouth to form the words. Kaitou can feel his cheeks burn, with pleasure and frustration and a strange sort of aching humiliation because he’s glad to hear the words. Not here, not like this, not in front of Yuusuke and Natsumi, but he’s wanted to hear the words for such a long time…
Yuusuke’s tongue glides along the edge of Kaitou’s left ear, his breath warm and comforting. His teeth bite down gently, so infuriatingly gently, pulling, tightening, and then breaking free just when it’s really getting good. “We all care about you, Kaitou. None of us is ever going to forget or ignore or neglect you.”
Natsumi’s fingers glide along his side again, gentle and sure, switching from normal to damaged to normal skin without hesitation. “You’re beautiful, Kaitou. And all three of us love you.”
He should say something witty. He should say something sharp, just a little painful, to keep the distance he has from them, to separate himself from them. About how Yuusuke can’t even take care of himself, can only make a difference by being hurt or almost dying or being possessed; about how Natsumi may care about the rest of them but only really has eyes for Tsukasa, will forgive Tsukasa any trespass; about how easy it is to twist Tsukasa into a monster, how shallow and new his comprehension of morality and justice is.
He should. Maybe it’s even all true, though he thinks it’s a mixture of bitter truths and despairing lies.
But he doesn’t want to, not right now. He went with them. He fought with them to get Tsukasa back, and in the end they did, and somehow even though it all went wrong it all turned out all right.
At least more all right than usual.
Pulling Tsukasa close, Kaitou kisses him once more. Tsukasa meets his passion and heat with an equal fierceness, though they keep from hurting each other. Pain is something they’ve all had too much of lately.
After what feels like far too short a time Tsukasa pulls away, slowly, still with that predatory half-smile on his face. His lips are slightly swollen, and Kaitou licks his own in anticipation. His arms have ended up around Natsumi on his right side and Yuusuke on his left, and Kaitou pulls them closer to him, almost defiantly.
“I think…” Tsukasa drawls out the words, his eyes flicking from Natsumi to Kaitou to Yuusuke. “That’s the end of round one, and we should get round two over with as quickly as possible so we can get on to round three. Unless we just want to skip to round three…”
“No.” Natsumi pulls away from Kaitou, sitting up straight again. Her nipples are firm and taut, beautiful red circles standing out from her skin. “We’re finishing this properly.”
“It’s already helped a lot, Natsumi.” Tsukasa’s voice is almost pleading. “Everything’s starting to fall back into its proper place. I feel more like myself than I have since they… since it happened.”
“Then you’ll feel even more like yourself when we’re done.” Natsumi reaches over to him and takes his hand. A mischievous smile dances across her face. “Though I agree that the original rules may put you at a bit of a disadvantage. So how about this. One more turn in this round. Tell us something that you know is a lie. Something they told you, or something they tried to make you believe.”
“And what reward do I get?”
Natsumi’s tongue slides over her lips as she smiles at him. “You get to take off your shirt, and we get one step closer to that round three you’re looking for.”
Tsukasa seems to consider for a moment before giving a deep sigh. “If that’s what it takes, Natsumi…”
A lie that they told him.
A lie that they made him believe.
A lie that’s really a lie, that won’t just be asking the others to absolve him of a sin that’s true, and Tsukasa looks away from them so that they won’t see how much it troubles him.
Yuusuke’s voice interrupts his revelry. “A lie can be all about the timing, too, you know. Their telling you that you’re something that you maybe were at one point but aren’t anymore… that would be as much of a lie as making something up.”
“I’m the Destroyer of Worlds.” The words slip out before he has time to properly consider them, but he refuses to flinch back. He won’t ask them for absolution.
He’s never even been sure if he needs absolution for that. He never wanted to bring the worlds together. He had intended to conquer them once, yes; he had intended to create an empire spread across the multiverse; but he had never wanted to destroy everything. He never asked the universe to make him a passive vehicle of destruction.
“You’re not.” Natsumi answers first, her voice having the same hint of anger that it always does when defending him from accusations. “You never asked for the power. You didn’t understand it. And you ended up saving all the worlds in the end.”
“After killing all the heroes.” Tsukasa raises his eyebrows, trying to keep the smile on his face from becoming too sour. “I wasn’t innocent, Natsumi. I never have been.”
“You were this time.” Yuusuke’s tone manages to be both patient and utterly determined. “You weren’t the Destroyer of Worlds. You haven’t been for a long time, if you ever were.”
“I killed… a lot of people in the last two weeks. A lot of innocents and a lot of Zangyack, because they didn’t matter. They didn’t have any value because they weren’t… they didn’t belong to me.” Not like you three hangs in the air, and he fixes his eyes on Kaitou, not wanting to see any censure in the other’s eyes.
“It’s what happens in a war.” Kaitou shrugs. “The Zangyack soldiers knew what they were asking for. The others… do you blame Yuusuke for anything he’s done when he was possessed?”
“Of course not.” Tsukasa’s eyes flick to Yuusuke, catch on the hesitancy in the other man’s attention and refuse to let go. “You aren’t responsible for any of it, Yuusuke.”
Yuusuke smiles and shrugs. “Then that means you aren’t responsible for any of this. The title’s a lie. You’re Kadoya Tsukasa, Kamen Rider Decade. If you ever were the Destroyer of Worlds, we killed him a long time ago.”
Killed him in fire, Yuusuke’s body burning; killed him in blood, Natsumi’s sword red with it; killed him in grief, Kaitou crying over Tsukasa’s body and willing to bring him back.
“So don’t worry about that anymore.” Natsumi’s hand clasps his gently, her fingers twining with his. “All right?”
“All right.” Smiling, he squeezes her hand once. “Does that mean I pass?”
“I think it’s time you got that shirt off, yeah.” Releasing his hand, Natsumi leans back and watches in quiet anticipation.
He strips slowly, making sure all of them are watching him. His shoulder twinges, where one of Kansanin’s blades bit into him. He doesn’t bother to look at the wound, though. The pirates sowed it up, and he trusts that it’ll heal well enough.
He’s barely thrown his shirt onto the growing pile of their clothing before they descend on him. Natsumi’s hand trails along the wound in his shoulder; Kaitou’s hands slide along his chest, settle over his heart again and again; Yuusuke’s mouth claims his as Yuusuke’s arms go around his neck.
Natsumi’s breath sighs out in a quiet cry. “We all took some nasty wounds during this, didn’t we?”
“That, Natsumelon, may be the biggest understatement of the evening.” Kaitou’s tone is wry, his expression amused as he looks at her.
“We’ll have some new scars. But it doesn’t matter.” Yuusuke’s cheek feels so warm it almost burns as he leans against Tsukasa’s shoulder, but Tsukasa doesn’t say anything. He just allows his right hand to slide along Yuusuke’s spine, careful not to go too low and put pressure on any of the bruises.
“You’re right.” Natsumi leans against Tsukasa’s other shoulder, careful of his injuries. “It doesn’t matter.”
It does matter. It matters that they’re hurt. It matters that he couldn’t protect them. It matters that the Zangyack hurt him, twisted him, used him, and there was nothing that he could do to prevent it.
But it’s over. They won.
So maybe it doesn’t really matter all that much.
Tsukasa’s lips graze over Natsumi’s hair, over Yuusuke’s forehead. “So, Natsumi. Ready for round two? Because every turn seems to get me a little more eager for round three.”
Chapter 2: Round Two: Trousers and Trauma
Round Two: Trousers and Trauma
Natsumi forces herself to pull back from Tsukasa, though it’s the last thing she wants to do.
She can’t give in to her own desires, her own fears, her own hesitancies. She can’t just let the past few days go, let him hold her, pretend it didn’t happen and that nothing like it can ever happen again.
She can’t, because if she does the others will go along with her, and nothing will be talked about. Nothing will be dealt with. Nothing will be changed.
And then someday, somewhere, someone else will draw all of the pain and horror back into the open.
She won’t let that happen. Not again. They’re going to deal with their issues on their own terms, with each other, not on the enemy’s terms.
They’re going to deal with them when she can be here, to hold them, to comfort them, and they can be here for her.
“Now that I’ve done your name and how we met…” Tsukasa watches her, hands clasped together, chin resting on his fists. “Do you want me to go through all our adventures from there, or do I get to pick and choose?”
“Pick whatever part will help you most.” Leaning to the side, Natsumi allows her hair to fall over her face. Gazing at Tsukasa through the long locks, she smiles, knowing that her posture is showing off her breasts well. “Whatever you think will get me to say you pass, and get us a little further in the game.”
She wants to be held. She wants to hold him—to hold Yuusuke, to hold Kaitou, to be held in turn by them, to fall asleep with the four of them wrapped in each other’s arms, safe and secure and blessedly, decidedly sane.
She can be patient, though. She can tease, and taunt, because it’s how she needs to play if she wants Tsukasa and the others to continue without it getting too painful.
“There were… a lot of people.” Tsukasa speaks slowly again, brows drawn together, eyes boring into the floor rather than looking at any of them. “There were a lot of different worlds, weren’t there? A boy-king, a monster in human clothing who trusted me to kill him. One monster to another.”
“You’re not—” Natsumi bites her lip, stopping the words as Tsukasa just continues to speak, voice never changing inflection, a haunted, lost look on his face.
“There was a photographer. There was the restaurant and a man who loved his comrades though it wasn’t part of the job description. There was a school, with another monster who just wanted to be human, to be loved. There were the police in one world, and the Imagin in another, and the Worms, and the Oni—”
“Tsukasa.” Yuusuke’s voice is gentle, but somehow it breaks the flow of Tsukasa’s words in a way hers hadn’t, draws Tsukasa’s head up from his hands. “Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t try to sort it all out at once. Trust me, it’s just going to hurt more, because you won’t have time to sort the lies from the truth.”
“One world at a time, Tsukasa.” Natsumi leans forward, her fingertips brushing Tsukasa’s knee. “Just… choose one. Choose one that hurts, choose one that they used against you, and let us help you with it.”
“I don’t think you want that, Natsumi.” Tsukasa pulls back, just slightly, separating her fingers from his jean-clad leg.
“I do. I mean it.” It’s a lie and the truth all wrapped into one. She doesn’t want to hurt him. She doesn’t want him to hurt her. But if that’s the price to pay so no one else can hurt them, can turn their lives and their losses and their terrible victories into weapons, then so be it.
“You locked me out of my home.”
He says the words in a tone that’s too young for him, too childish, with all the pain of a lost boy who doesn’t understand what’s happening.
For a moment Natsumi’s mind freezes, refuses to process the words, to come up with the situation that he’s talking about. She wouldn’t—… but she did. Once, just once, she locked him out of the photo studio, refused to open the door when he was banging on it with all his might.
She almost had. It had been so difficult, even then, to refuse him anything. It had been so difficult to accept that it was real, that this was happening, but she had been alone, and by that she knew it was true.
She locked him out of his home, once, because he stole Yuusuke from her. He betrayed them, returning to being DaiShocker’s Great Leader. And because that wasn’t enough, because losing him and watching her grandfather become a mad scientist wasn’t enough, he let them take Yuusuke, too.
He’s turned away from her by the time she looks back up. She shivers, cold, vulnerable, suddenly hating the fact that she’s half-naked. This was a bad idea. She should never have suggested this. There are too many ways for them to hurt each other, too many scars for them to rip open.
At least when an enemy did it there was malice in the pain.
“I deserved it.” Tsukasa speaks quietly, his voice thick with emotion. “I betrayed you. I didn’t even… I went home because Tsukikage tried to kill me. I didn’t deserve to be let in. You had every right to close the door, to keep it locked. You had every right to hate me. You still do.”
She can’t find the words, not at first, because the ones that want to come aren’t right. She wants to say no. She wants to scream no from the heavens, until everyone understands, until the universe accepts Tsukasa’s innocence.
But that wouldn’t be true. That wouldn’t be right, and so instead she moves over to him and curls up against him until the right words come, her head resting on his shoulder, his warmth driving away the chill that seems to have invaded her whole body. “You did deserve it. When I did it, when I turned you away, it was the only thing I could possibly do. I couldn’t trust you. I couldn’t accept you back, not after what you’d done, not without some proof that you had changed.”
He flinches, just slightly, his eyes closing as he nods.
“But that was then.” She’s practically sitting in Tsukasa’s lap, but she doesn’t care. All she cares about is that she can wrap her arms around his chest, bury her face against his neck, press herself tightly to him and convince herself that he’s never going anywhere again. “You made up for it. You came to our rescue. You didn’t have to. You could have disappeared, gone to any world you wanted, left DaiShocker and us and everything behind. Instead you decided to fight. For us. For your sister. You earned your redemption, and you’ve never lost it.”
“Never?” A grim smile pulls at Tsukasa’s mouth, but his hand reaches up to stroke her hair. “I followed up that debacle by slaughtering all of the heroes, Natsumi. Even without that… even just staying with the DaiShocker incident… there are a lot of things I did that you don’t know about. I tortured a man. He tried to walk away from DaiShocker. He was a scientist they wanted, and wasn’t doing what they wanted, so they had me… play with him. I cut his arm off. I—”
Natsumi doesn’t mean to raise her hand. She doesn’t intend to place it over his mouth, to stop the flow of words, but it happens anyway.
She can’t help it. She needs him to stop, for a moment, so that she can get her own thoughts under control, keep the images in her mind from becoming too real.
He stops as soon as she makes the gesture, sitting quietly, but he doesn’t touch her anymore. He doesn’t push her away, he doesn’t try to pull back, but he doesn’t allow his hands to play over her body.
“Tsukasa…” She shivers, cold, afraid. She asked for this. She wanted to do this, to face their demons, to slay them, so why is it so hard to find the right words?
Kaitou speaks for her. “It doesn’t matter.”
A faint, mocking smile graces Tsukasa’s face as he turns to the thief. “Of course you would say that.”
“He’s right.” Yuusuke wraps his arms around Tsukasa from behind, sandwiching Tsukasa between Yuusuke and Natsumi. “It doesn’t matter now. It was something that happened a long time ago.”
“It was a little over a year ago that I decided to be the Great Leader again. I think that’s within most world’s statute of limitations. People spend decades in prison for torture, for murder.” Tsukasa’s hand moves slowly, sliding across Yuusuke’s arm as though it’s the most precious treasure in the universe. “And I’m guilty of those crimes plus a few others that are usually reserved for countries.”
“You didn’t know any better.” Kaitou hasn’t come over to them, is staring at the berries in the bowl as he mechanically moves them from the bowl to his mouth. “I spent time with you when you were DaiShocker’s Great Leader, remember. You did a lot of awful things, but you never did them… maliciously. It’s part of why I… hell, it doesn’t matter. It’s just true. You killed people, yeah. You tried to take over a few worlds, yeah. You were a pretty awful human being. But no one had shown you how to be a better one, and there sure as hell weren’t many good role models there for you to follow.”
“I wasn’t that young when my parents died. I knew what I was doing when I chose to accept being DaiShocker’s leader.” Tsukasa’s eyes are closed, his breathing quiet, serene, but his hands are fierce, one locked onto Yuusuke’s arm, one locked onto hers.
Smoothing hair back behind his ears, Natsumi leans in and kisses him soundly on unresisting lips. “No one can ask a child to be a hero in a vacuum. What’s important is that you did turn against them, that you did side with us in the end. You learned how to be a hero, Tsukasa.”
“And that makes everything that I did before all right?” It’s a genuine question, not a mocking statement, and his eyes open slowly, stare at her in haunted uncertainty. “Because I don’t do it anymore, I shouldn’t be punished for what I did before?”
“No.” Yuusuke answers before she can, his teeth digging into Tsukasa’s shoulder for a moment afterward, expression determined. “What good would punishing you do? What good would prison or torture or murder do? You save people as Decade, Tsukasa. You save worlds. We make things better, the four of us, together. That’s the best penance you could ever do, if you really feel that you need to make up for what came before.”
“They didn’t do this, did they?” Natsumi runs her fingers along the left side of Tsukasa’s face, from his hairline down by his beautiful eyes and along his cheekbone and down to his chin. “Why would the Zangyack do something like this to you?”
“I had to have a way to hold onto myself.” Tsukasa leans into her touch. “I had to remember, to give myself a way out. The only thing I could hold onto, the only thing they couldn’t rip away, was you guys. And the only way to keep from becoming someone who could do… to make sure I wouldn’t hurt you, wouldn’t claim you as mine and then… was to cling to the memories of times you’d been hurt.”
Yuusuke’s arms tighten around Tsukasa again, and he nuzzles against Tsukasa’s neck, gently. “Of times you hurt us.”
Tsukasa hesitates before nodding, a barely perceptible movement. “Yes.”
Natsumi doesn’t see Kaitou move. He’s just suddenly there, between her and Tsukasa, his mouth crashing against Tsukasa’s, his hands shaking with pent-up energy. After a few seconds he pulls back, panting. “You did what you wanted.”
Leaning back against Yuusuke, Tsukasa shrugs. “I tried.”
“You didn’t hurt Natsumi. She was hurt before the Zangyack had you.” Kaitou’s tone is almost angry, his expression half-furious. “You didn’t hurt me. You avenged me, as you pointed out a few minutes ago. And you didn’t hurt Yuusuke. It’s not your fault your scientists got a little curious. The only thing you were guilty of, so far as we’re concerned, is being really bad at running empires.”
“I’d say practice makes perfect, but I don’t intend to practice again.” There’s an honesty, a true sense of amusement to Tsukasa’s smile that hadn’t been there before. The crushing force of his hand loosens, and his fingers slide slowly up and down Natsumi’s arm, tantalizing, teasing as he pulls her close again.
“Good.” Kaitou’s word comes out clipped, still with an edge of anger, but the thief’s hands have stopped shaking and there’s a hint of a smile on his face. “Now, could you please divest Natsumi of her skirt so that we can continue this? I’m getting bored.”
“Only if Natsumi says I pass.” Pulling her back tight against him, Tsukasa trails his hand along the line of her skirt, sending a thrill up her body. “She may decide that I need to keep talking to earn that reward.”
“No.” Shaking her head, Natsumi allows her eyes to drift closed, her body to relax against Tsukasa. “I think you more than earned your reward this time. Though if you want me to undress, you’re going to have to let me go.”
“I think I’d prefer to help you undress.” Tsukasa’s right hand slides across her stomach, his fingers tracing her navel before diving down further. “If you wanted, of course. If you don’t I can content myself with watching…”
“Tsukasa.” Opening her eyes, Natsumi smiles at the man. She notices, peripherally, that Yuusuke has slipped away from Tsukasa, now leaning against Kaitou, his arms crossed over his chest as though he’s cold. “You’re really quite infuriating at times. You know that, right? Now, help me take off my clothes.”
Tsukasa doesn’t say anything. He simply pushes, pulls, gently settling her on the ground in front of him. She doesn’t resist his ministrations, watching his eyes as they study her body. Does he like what he sees? Does he like the lines of muscle that are visible in her arms now, fainter than in his, than in Kaitou’s, than in Yuusuke’s, but present none-the-less? Does he like the feel of her skin, under his fingers?
His hands slide along her sides, from her armpits down to the edge of her skirt, and she gasps, her body trying hard to decide if the touch is more ticklish or arousing. It’s really a bit ridiculous how attuned her body is to his, how little he has to do to start making her aroused.
He strokes her sides again before allowing his hands to slide along her waist, just at the edge of her skirt, his fingers teasing at the fabric. His hands pause at the button that holds her skirt in place, hesitate, and then trace their way slowly up her stomach, to her navel, higher, tracing around the still-healing scar on her chest.
Leaning in, he claims her mouth with his own. She doesn’t fight, throwing her arms around him, kissing him back fiercely. Her tongue slides over his, claims his mouth, and when they pull apart he’s smiling. It’s a good smile, a him smile, part predator and part sovereign and part quiet glee and all Tsukasa, and she doesn’t mind being his prey if he’s going to smile like that.
Her hands roam over his chest, slide from his nipples up to his neck up to his ears and back down. Her fingers tease in circles around his nipples, pinch gently, and then glide down.
His pinch on her nipples isn’t quite as gentle, and she barely bites back a moan as she allows her hands to continue down, sliding along his outer hips, his outer thighs, trailing across his knees and back—
“Could we hurry this along?” Kaitou yawns when she looks over, though he shoots her a smile that makes up for it. “I’m bored, and Yuusuke’s cold, and we’ve still got a whole round to get through before we can get to the really interesting parts.”
“I’m not—” Yuusuke starts to protest.
“Yes, you are. I’d say you’re not normally this cuddly, but that would be a blatant lie.” Kaitou has his arm over Yuusuke’s shoulder, and his fingers trail possessively across Yuusuke’s chest though Kaitou’s eyes are fixed on Tsukasa. “But you don’t normally shiver when we’re cuddling.”
Tsukasa doesn’t hesitate before grabbing one of the blankets from the bed and tossing it over Kaitou. Or at least that’s what Natsumi assumes he was trying to do, but Kaitou grabs the blanket with his too-pale right hand, settling it around Yuusuke.
“All right.” Tsukasa’s fingers grasp the buttons on her skirt, undoing them with a swift surety. “What he says is, unfortunately, true. There’s quite a bit more of Round Two to get through before we get to Round Three, so I’ll try not to get you too worked up.”
Natsumi inclines her head in a small nod. Arching her back, she stands slowly, allowing Tsukasa to slide her skirt and stockings off as she does, leaving her in only her dark purple underwear. Her nipples are taut, aching, and she wants to sit down on Tsukasa’s lap, straddle him, claim him, make him undeniably hers; push Kaitou down to the ground, thank him, fight with him, let him use those talented hands but match pleasure for pleasure; gently, gently pull Yuusuke on top of her, so she doesn’t hurt him more than he already is hurt, and let his heat and fire and passion burn all the pain out of both of them.
She wants to, and she will, but not for a little bit longer.
There’s more pain to sort through before they get to the pure pleasure of each other’s company, body and soul.
Yuusuke watches Natsumi and Tsukasa, leaning against Kaitou, wrapped in the blanket that Kaitou had caught so easily. He appreciates the warmth, just like he appreciates the view.
It really shouldn’t be so cold.
Natsumi’s nipples stand erect as Tsukasa helps her finish getting out of her stockings. Natsumi leans on Tsukasa’s shoulder and stands on one foot while he carefully removes the stocking from that foot before Natsumi shifts to the other foot. With one deft flick of his hand Tsukasa sends the stockings in the vague direction of their clothing pile, his eyes fixed on Natsumi.
She’s beautiful. It’s the only thing Yuusuke can think as he watches her, and he smiles, burrowing further into the blanket and resting his head on Kaitou’s shoulder as he studies her. There’s a slight pink blush to her cheeks, and her eyes shine as she runs her fingers through Tsukasa’s hair.
Tsukasa grins, a quick, charming smile, and pulls her forward. He kisses her underwear, at the level of his lips, and earns a choked-off cry and a brief slap on the shoulder from Natsumi for his trouble.
Natsumi smiles fondly as the slap turns into a caress, her hand sliding up his neck to cup his cheek. “Yuusuke’s turn now.”
“I know.” Tsukasa drawls out the words, turning from Natsumi to face Yuusuke. The smile fades, slowly, and he pushes away from Natsumi. “So, Yuusuke… how badly do I have to hurt us to get us through this?”
Straightening, Yuusuke shakes his head. “Tsukasa, you don’t—”
“I betrayed you. I used you. I had you fight with me against the other heroes, knowing that DaiShocker was going to use their weakness following the battle to try to attack their worlds.” Tsukasa speaks over him, in quick, clipped tones. “I let you put yourself in danger for me, take shots that were meant for me, when I was using you. And then I let my sister use you as a puppet, bury your soul and steal your power, because me doing it through lies wasn’t enough.”
“No.” It’s the only word he can choke out for a few seconds. It’s the only word he can hear, black is the only thing he can see, and he’s only vaguely aware of Kaitou’s hand on his shoulder, tightening.
“—fucking bastard, Tsukasa! He looks like hell already, you don’t have to—”
“No.” Shaking his head, Yuusuke places a clenched fist on Kaitou’s leg, stilling the flow of accusations. His eyes manage to focus, finally, on Tsukasa, on the pain and doubt and self-loathing still lurking beneath the other man’s expression. “That’s not how it happened.”
Tsukasa’s eyebrows climb, but he stays silent.
“You didn’t have anything to do with Sayo’s… with what happened with the Moonstone.” Yuusuke can’t help but shiver, and his fingers clench tight as he remembers the feeling of violation, of terror, the feeling of Kuuga’s darkest impulses being wrested away from his control and given free reign over his psyche. Not over his body, never over his body, because they wanted a controlled, caged monster, but…
He doesn’t need to go through that again, though, not now. He’s lived through it enough in his nightmares. “That was your sister’s doing. You didn’t have any knowledge of it.”
“I didn’t?” Tsukasa tilts his head, frowning.
Natsumi’s fingers slide over his, hold his hand tightly as she leans against his shoulder. “You didn’t. Yuusuke and I went to Sayo after you took the throne. It wasn’t a part of your plan.”
“Oh.” Tsukasa hesitates before shrugging. “And the rest?”
“I wish you had told me. I wish you had told us, as soon as you remembered.” Drawing a deep breath, Yuusuke forces a smile onto his face. “But I’m not sure it would have changed anything.”
“Really?” Kaitou stares at him incredulously. “You don’t think knowing that he was an evil overlord with plans of dominating the worlds would have changed anything?”
Shaking his head, Yuusuke keeps his eyes fixed on Tsukasa. “What did you think would happen when we defeated the Riders? What did you tell me would happen?”
“DaiShocker would claim the worlds.” Tsukasa hesitates, winces, rubbing at his forehead. “And… the worlds would stop colliding.”
“Right. That’s what you told me then, and I believed you. I believed it because you believed it.” Shrugging off the blanket, Yuusuke moves forward, setting his hand on Tsukasa’s right knee. Natsumi still has her hand on Tsukasa’s left knee. “You thought we were saving the worlds. I would have fought beside you to do that.”
“I also thought I was going to conquer and rule all the worlds.”
“I would have balked at that part, but I’m sure we could have come to an agreement.” Grasping Tsukasa’s shoulder tightly, Yuusuke grins at him. “We were going to save the worlds, Tsukasa. And that’s still what we’re doing, one world at a time. And as long as that’s what we’re doing, I am very happy to fight or fall at your side.”
“How can you still say that?” Tsukasa reaches out slowly, his fingers brushing at the bruising over the amadam. “After everything, after all that, how could you still trust me?”
“Easy.” Taking Tsukasa’s hand, Yuusuke squeezes it tightly. “It hurts a lot less than not trusting you.”
“You’re better than I deserve.” Tsukasa returns the pressure on Yuusuke’s hand, a slight smile on his face. “But I’m glad that I have you.”
Natsumi nestles her head on Tsukasa’s shoulder. “We’re exactly what you deserve.”
“No.” Kaitou shakes his head. “No, that’s not right. That’s too easy. The whole DaiShocker incident wasn’t the first time he screwed you over, Yuusuke.”
“No! What about the Imajin?” Kaitou glowers at Tsukasa. “I was there. I was watching the little monster so I could try to get Den-O’s power. He gave you to it, like a bone to a dog!”
“It was fine, Kaitou.” Yuusuke tries to put his hand on Kaitou’s knee, but the thief jerks away from him.
“Really? You liked having to share you body with a ridiculous red monster? You liked have your identity suppressed on Tsukasa’s whim?”
“Momotaros isn’t a monster.” Yuusuke growls out the words, his teeth clenched. He’s cold, again, sitting half-naked between Tsukasa and Kaitou, and the amadam is starting to ache in time with his pulse, again, and he doesn’t want to be thinking about this. “Stop calling him that.”
“Stop forgiving Tsukasa as though his lapses into being a homicidal, egotistical, self-centered maniac were just minor social gaffes!” Kaitou jabs a finger at Tsukasa as he speaks. “I understand being fascinated by him, I understand wanting to be by him, but he’s almost gotten you killed a good half-dozen times! He’s—”
“He’s my friend. He’s only actively hurt me twice—when he took DaiShocker’s throne, and when he…” That’s not something he wants to talk about, still, so Yuusuke hurries on. “I think I should get to decide whether or not I forgive him, don’t you? Especially since I also forgive someone else, who knocked me out the third time we met, could have seriously hurt me with the kind of attacks he was throwing at Momotaros, and threatened an alternate version of Yashiro, the woman who gave my life meaning.”
For long seconds Kaitou doesn’t say anything. Then his eyes drop to the floor, his shoulders slumping, and a slight smile flits across his face. “You forgive too easily. You know that, right, Yuusuke?”
“You don’t forgive easily enough. Including yourself, Kaitou.” There’s a whole mess of things that he could bring up now, about Kaitou’s past, about Kaitou’s brother, about what Kaitou is and isn’t guilty of. But Kaitou’s downturned eyes, his stiff posture, the tight, insincere smile on his face, all say that he isn’t ready to face them. Not yet, and Yuusuke doesn’t hurt people unless he thinks he has to. “I forgive Sayo for what she did to me. I forgive Tsukasa. And I forgive you, Kaitou.”
“And yourself?” Kaitou’s eyes come up, though it’s Tsukasa’s hand that falls on Yuusuke’s shoulder.
“You forgive yourself, too, right?” Tsukasa echoes Kaitou’s question, his hand gentle on Yuusuke’s chin. “If you can forgive me, the answer had better be yes.”
“Yes.” It’s harder, to forgive yourself, to let go of blame and recrimination. If he had been faster, if he had been able to fight harder, if he knew how to use Kuuga better, if he was less this or more that… but thoughts like that didn’t do any good. All they did was hurt him, and that made him less use to the others, not more. “I do.”
“Good.” Tsukasa’s hands slide down, snag onto the belt buckles of his jeans. “Then stand up, and let’s get you out of these, all right?”
Yuusuke stumbles when he stands, awkward, uncertain on his feet still. He’ll be glad when Kuuga’s done healing them, and he can go back to not thinking about every little move as though it were part of an intricate dance. The stumble doesn’t matter, though, because Tsukasa’s hands are on his hips, steadying him, and he smiles down at the other Rider.
Tsukasa returns his smile, his hands trailing around Yuusuke’s hips, sliding down Yuusuke’s inner thighs. The sensation is muted by the fabric of the jeans, but Yuusuke can still feel it, and he shivers in anticipation and delight.
Yuusuke’s hands bury themselves in Tsukasa’s hair as Tsukasa’s hands work their way up to the button on his jeans. There’s a moment of hesitancy, and then Tsukasa’s fingers undo the button swiftly, Tsukasa’s hands pulling away as though afraid he’ll hurt Yuusuke.
“It’s all right.” Yuusuke speaks quietly. “I’ll tell you if you hurt me. Just because I look awful doesn’t mean that I’m going to break if you touch me the wrong way.”
“You don’t look awful.” Tsukasa’s hands glide back up, separate the sides of Yuusuke’s jeans at the button and begin slowing teasing the zipper open. “You could never look awful, Yuusuke. You’re gorgeous.”
He could argue with that. He could point out that he’s pretty certain all of them have looked awful at one point or another—being covered in blood just wasn’t a flattering fashion statement. He doesn’t want to, though, so he just closes his eyes as Tsukasa undresses him.
Tsukasa tugs his jeans down slowly, a bit at a time. He does it symmetrically, pausing every few centimeters to allow his hands to wander. His touch is fire on Yuusuke’s skin, a threat as Tsukasa’s nails caress his outer thighs, a promise as Tsukasa’s fingertips glide over his inner thighs.
He doesn’t know when he starts to harden, his penis tenting his boxers, showing as clearly as Natsumi’s tight nipples what he wants.
He does notice when Kuuga catches on to what Tsukasa’s doing, because he almost blacks out.
It’s a shot of adrenaline, a sudden increase in his pulse, a burn of agony and desire and confusion through his gut, and he isn’t aware of anything for a few seconds other than his own body. That’s his heart, beating too fast; those are his blood vessels, dilated in some places, constricted in others; that’s Kuuga, tied in to all his nerves and arteries, healing slowly from the crack in it as it tries to heal him, feeding sensation into him as he feeds sensation into it.
He comes back to full consciousness to find Tsukasa holding him upright, Tsukasa’s hands under Yuusuke’s arms. Natsumi stands on Yuusuke’s left, touching his arm gently; Kaitou has a death-grip on his right arm.
“Yuusuke?” Concern etches Tsukasa’s face, fills his voice. “Are you all right?”
“Uh huh.” Yuusuke nods, a move which leaves him dizzy. That’s all right, though. It just means he can lean against Tsukasa, rest his head against Tsukasa’s chest. He has his head to the right, at first, but that gives him too good a view of the stitches on Tsukasa’s shoulder, so he turns to the left before relaxing. “I’m all right. Just… I think I should sit down.”
Tsukasa nods. “I think that’s a good idea. Are you going to be all right if we let you go?”
“I’m fine.” Yuusuke looks down, at the bulge still visible in his boxers. “I’m really doing quite fine. I just… wasn’t ready for that kind of stimulation.”
“We noticed.” Tsukasa smiles as they settle gently down on the floor.
“That’s all right.” Natsumi smiles at him, settling the blanket over his shoulders again before sitting down next to him and putting her arm around him.
Kaitou grins, patting Yuusuke's shoulder with a gentleness the thief doesn’t usually have. “We’ll give you a chance to get ready for it, because I believe it’s my turn.”
Kaitou meets Tsukasa’s gaze, defiant, ready. Whatever wounds Tsukasa’s going to throw at him, whatever unpleasantness from the past the man intends to dig up, Kaitou can handle it.
He’s not prepared for Tsukasa to settle back down on the ground, in the spot he had been in initially. After a moment’s hesitation, Kaitou sits back down, too.
The silence continues to stretch, uncomfortable, waiting. Finally the thief snaps. “Well?”
“Well what?” Tsukasa arches his eyebrows, unconcerned, seemingly content. If Kaitou hadn’t seen what happened with Natsumi and Yuusuke, there would be no way to read it off the man right now.
“Say whatever you want to say so we can get to the good part of this.”
“I’m trying to think what I want to say now, and what I want to say next.” Tilting his head back on his neck, Tsukasa makes a thoughtful noise. “Natsumi’s right, you know. These are things I need to deal with. These are things we need to deal with, so they stop being things that can come back to hurt us later.”
“I am dealing very well with everything that has happened to me.” Kaitou growls out the words, watching Tsukasa warily.
If he has to, he can leave. He can run at any time. Whatever betrayals, whatever failures, whatever unpleasantness Tsukasa is going to throw in his face can be easily avoided by just slipping between worlds.
He doesn’t want to, though. He doesn’t want to give Tsukasa the satisfaction of winning.
He doesn’t want to sacrifice the rest of the night, the exciting part, the fun part, Tsukasa and Natsumi and Yuusuke all naked and vulnerable and trusting.
“You were a hero, Kaitou.”
The words don’t make sense, at first, so they don’t hurt at first. It’s been far too long since he’s heard that phrase in combination with his name.
Savior of the state.
The sound that escapes Kaitou’s lips is meant to be a laugh, but it comes out too strangled, too high-pitched, the pained keening of an animal blindsided by agony. Of all the things Tsukasa could have said to him, that was the one he least expected, the one he least thought Tsukasa would reach for, and the one that hurts the most.
“When I went back to DaiShocker, when I betrayed Natsumi, you helped her. You saved her, though you didn’t have to. You stayed with her, even when it was dangerous for you, even when DaiShocker was coming after both of you, even when DaiShocker’s forces were threatening to over-run all the worlds.” Tsukasa fixes Kaitou with a fierce stare, determined, resolute. “You were a hero.”
“I wasn’t… I didn’t…” Kaitou hesitates, trying to get the words to line up in the proper order. It’s at least better, now that Tsukasa’s narrowed it down to one incident, one world, a world from long after everything that Kaitou knew about heroes proved to be false. “I wasn’t a hero. I wasn’t trying to save the world or anything.”
“A hero doesn’t have to save the world, Daiki.” Yuusuke’s hand stretches out of his cocoon, gives Kaitou’s shoulder a small shove. “A hero just has to risk something of himself for someone else, without expecting compensation.”
“Then I wasn’t being a hero for Natsumelon, either.” Kaitou frowns at all three of them, shoulders hunched defensively. “I most certainly am getting something out of this. I have gotten quite a bit of compensation since then, thank you.”
“Kaitou.” Natsumi throws one of Yuusuke’s socks at him, but it’s easily deflected. “Grow up a bit. But they’re right. We weren’t in this relationship yet. It would have been simple for you to let me die. It would have been simple for you to run away. Instead you stayed with me. You helped me try to find a way to defeat DaiShocker.”
“And look how that turned out.” Kaitou sneers at the memory of his failed attempt at recruiting. Attempting to get the Hopper Hell Brothers and Ouja to assist him had not been the brightest idea he ever had, and he had been repaid for it in full.
“It doesn’t matter how an act of heroism ends.” Tsukasa speaks forcefully, certainly. “Just like the destination doesn’t define the journey. You tried to help someone, Kaitou. You tried to help someone at risk to yourself and without any clear profit from it.”
“I was planning on ripping DaiShocker off again.” Grinning shouldn’t be as difficult as it is. “I was planning on getting something like Diend out of the bargain.”
“Why does it frighten you so much?” Natsumi frowns at him. “Did Fourteen break you so badly that even the idea of heroes is something you can’t believe in?”
He should run.
He should fight.
He should never have agreed to this in the first place.
“I’m not broken.” He hisses out the words, glare flitting from Natsumi to Tsukasa to Yuusuke. “I am perfectly fine. I am probably the sanest one here. I recognize all our flaws, our minor imperfections, our tendency to love mass murderers or forgive every transgression no matter how heinous or to conquer worlds because only a select handful of sentient beings actually register in your brain as anything other than cannon fodder. Why don’t I want to be a hero? Because I’ve seen what heroism is. I’ve been a hero. And when you look behind the hero, when you look past the person giving the accolades, all that you see is a prettier torture chamber.”
“So you think I’m just like the Grongi, then?” Yuusuke asks the question bluntly. The blanket has slipped off his shoulders, revealing trails of faint bruises, proof of his inhuman nature.
“No.” Shaking his head, Kaitou drags his eyes from the bruises to Yuusuke’s face. “You’re not. I didn’t—”
Yuusuke speaks over him, voice bearing just a hint of anger. “Do you think Yashiro was just like the people she hunted, then? Do you think there was no difference between her and a murderer and the Grongi?”
“I didn’t ever know your Yashiro, Yuusuke.” Running a hand through his hair, Kaitou takes a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. “Just because I don’t believe in heroes doesn’t mean I’m accusing anyone of anything.”
“Doesn’t it?” Natsumi asks the quiet question. “If there aren’t heroes, then I’m just another murderer in a suit of armor, right? If the thoughts and feelings and devotion of the person fighting don’t count, then there’s no difference between me or Yuusuke or Tsukasa and Fourteen or any of the other monsters we’ve fought.”
“You can’t hate yourself for things you didn’t know, Kaitou.” There’s no condescension in the way Tsukasa says the words. That’s the only reason Kaitou doesn’t stop him immediately. “If I get another chance because I wasn’t malicious, because I tried to save the worlds, don’t you deserve another chance? You thought you were helping people. You tried to save your brother. What happened on your world, what happened to your brother, none of that has any bearing on whether or not heroes exist. And none of it changes the fact that what you did, helping Natsumi, was heroic.”
“I shot you in the head.” It’s not a fair comeback. It changes the topic, slightly, jumping from one awful, traumatic incident that they don’t talk about to the one that followed, but it’s the best argument he has. “When it came down to it, when you needed us to stand at your back, I shot you in the head.”
Tsukasa shrugs, though there’s a tightness to his jaw, a crease between his brows that hadn’t been there before. “Every hero I had met was trying to do the same.”
Kaitou smiles, a thin, bitter smile. He’ll win this battle yet, and he’ll hate every minute of it. “Yuusuke had to be—”
“Not yet, Kaitou. I don’t want to deal with that yet.” Tsukasa snaps out the words, his eyes darting to Yuusuke. “That’s round three, all right?”
He could argue. He could keep talking, do to Tsukasa what Tsukasa’s been doing to them. He could do it just to spite Tsukasa, because he can, because it’s something that it’s in his power to do.
But Yuusuke looks so small, wrapped in the blanket, bruised, shoulders hunched as though ready to take a blow. It’s a deceptive smallness, Kaitou knows. Yuusuke is a capable fighter, ridiculously strong and fast given his size and stature due to Kuuga’s enhancements. Yuusuke’s also one of the most resilient men Kaitou’s ever known, rolling with mental blow after mental blow, never letting go of his smile.
Kaitou doesn’t want to be the one to crack that smile.
And then there’s Natsumi, sitting by Yuusuke, her eyes fixed on the floor, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. He doesn’t want to hurt her, not any more than he already has. She’s doing this for Tsukasa, for them, because she thinks they need it, and every blow he strikes against Tsukasa will hit her just as hard if not harder. There are already tears in her eyes, staining her lashes, though she blinks them away. He doesn’t need to cause any more to fall.
He doesn’t hurt his treasures.
And however these three people became his, they are his treasures.
Tsukasa, too, and Kaitou turns a wan smile on the other Rider. He doesn’t want to hurt Tsukasa, either, not really. Not when Tsukasa’s looking at him, focusing on him, thinking about him, with more compassion and consideration than Tsukasa once possessed. “They made you a hero, you know.”
“I know.” Tsukasa nods, smiling. “They made you one, too.”
“Maybe sometimes.” Shrugging, Kaitou turns a grin on Natsumi and Yuusuke. “But I’m not like you, Tsukasa. I’m not as malleable a subject. I’ll let you do all the world-saving work, and I’ll reap the profit, and if I occasionally end up doing something heroic… well, sometimes things happen. Though you cheated, you know.”
“I did not.” Tsukasa frowns.
“You did too. You were supposed to tell me something about you, not something about me.” Kaitou smiles triumphantly. “So, I suppose this means I get to keep my clothes and you have to strip.”
Tsukasa shrugs. “If that’s what you really want…”
Kaitou hesitates, looking over at Natsumi and Yuusuke. Natsumi is grinning, though she tries to cover the grin with her free hand when she sees him looking. Yuusuke shakes his head, looking between Tsukasa and Kaitou with his eyebrows raised.
“No. Wait.” Frowning, Kaitou considers his options. “I’ve changed my mind. I want you to take my jeans off.”
Tsukasa pauses. “You’re sure?”
“Yes.” Grinning, Kaitou looks over at Natsumi and Yuusuke again. “It’ll be much more fun acting as a distraction without my pants on.”
“All right, then.” Tsukasa gestures. “Please take your clothes off.”
“No.” Frowning at Tsukasa, Kaitou crosses his arms over his chest. “You took theirs off; you’re taking mine off.”
Tsukasa rolls his eyes, but he crosses the short space between them. His hands reach for the button on Kaitou’s jeans, but Kaitou interrupts him, grabbing Tsukasa’s chin in a firm hold and claiming the man’s mouth with his.
Tsukasa doesn’t stop fumbling with Kaitou’s clothes. He uses one hand to hold the back of Kaitou’s head, keeping them together; with the other hand he tries and fails twice to unbutton Kaitou’s pants before finally getting them undone. The zipper is down in a flash, and Kaitou can’t keep from rocking back as Tsukasa’s hand grips him firmly through his boxers.
He had been doing very good at keeping himself from getting too excited too quickly despite the show Natsumi put on, despite how damned sexy Yuusuke could look doing anything, despite how erotic and infuriating Tsukasa simply lounging could be.
That control goes away, and he feels himself start to harden. He presses himself closer to Tsukasa, practically crawling on top of the man, trying to force him to lie down.
Tsukasa laughs, a choked, amused sound as he breaks away from Kaitou, removing his hand. “Sorry, Kaitou. Got a bit carried away there. There’s still a round to go before we can get down to that, right?”
Kaitou blinks, taking a moment to process the words before pulling back himself. “I hate you sometimes. You know that, right?”
“I did get that impression when you shot me in the head.”
Kaitou shakes his head, mute, his eyes fixed on the blanket between them. That wasn’t hate. That was love. That was fear and love and agony and despair all rolled into one, and it wasn’t what he had wanted to do but it was the only thing he could think of to do, to put Tsukasa out of his misery, to claim the kill for himself—
“I know.” Tsukasa lifts his chin, kisses him gently, almost chastely. “So just go ahead and hold Yuusuke and that thought, all right? Because tonight is a night I’m going to make sure all three of you never forget.”
Kaitou doesn’t bother saying that they’ll never forget it now, anyway. He doesn’t bother pointing out that they’ve spent more time talking about the things that have happened to them in the last hour than they have in the last two years.
He knows Tsukasa.
He’s certain Tsukasa knows.
So instead he slides under the blanket with Yuusuke, putting his arm around the too-warm man’s shoulders.
Sometimes, when it’s worthwhile, he can be patient.
Tsukasa studies his trio of Riders.
Natsumi sits on Yuusuke’s left; Kaitou sits on Yuusuke’s right, under the blanket. Yuusuke had been leaning on Natsumi, but he’s sitting up straight now, studying Kaitou with a bleary but happy expression.
One more step to go in this round, and then he can start talking to them in his own way. Then he can make them forget what happened, how agonizing the last few days have been, how awful some parts of the last two years have been, and remind them why they keep going.
“I’m a monster.”
The phrase hangs in the air, but it doesn’t hold the power that it would have. Not after he’s talked about all the things that make him a monster. Not after he’s shown them his wounds; not after he’s examined theirs.
“No.” Yuusuke says the word softly, simply, with a certainty and gravitas that make it undeniably true.
“Not anymore.” Natsumi pours enough love into the simple statement to melt Tsukasa’s heart.
“Not unless you need to be.” Kaitou’s smile is genuine, almost gentle, taking the sting out of the words. “Sometimes it takes a monster to save the worlds.”
“Does that count?” He directs the question to Natsumi. Since she started this, since it was important to her, he wants to make sure she’s satisfied with the conclusion.
“Take your clothes off, Tsukasa.” It’s a command and a taunt and a promise all in one, and she pulls her arm away from Yuusuke to lean toward him.
“No.” Kaitou also pulls his arm away from Yuusuke. “Not yet. Hold on, Yuusuke, I forgot about this part. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
Kaitou stands easily, and if he’s embarrassed about his nearly-naked status it doesn’t show. Tsukasa stands to meet him, smiling. He knows what Kaitou intends to do, and he’s fine with it. He doesn’t share Kaitou’s desperate drive to prove himself, to mark the world or anyone in it with his presence, but he finds their games fun nonetheless.
It’s Natsumi’s hands that find the buttons on his pants first, though. Tsukasa blames Kaitou for distracting him with a kiss while Natsumi deftly slipped forward, her fingers undoing the buttons in one swift motion.
Kaitou pulls away immediately, grinning. One of Natsumi’s hands snakes up, slides along the left side of Tsukasa’s body; one of Kaitou’s hands trails down the right side, eventually snagging on a belt loop. “So, Tsukasa? Do you want us to help you with these… distractions?”
“We could leave them on, if you wanted.” Natsumi’s tongue slides across his stomach, from the edge of his pants up to his navel, and Tsukasa finds his fingers tangled in her hair without conscious thought.
“If you don’t take them off, we can’t go much further.” Tsukasa shrugs, as though it doesn’t matter, as though his jeans haven’t been feeling tight during his interactions with each of them.
“No. Not good enough this time.” Kaitou shakes his head. “Ask nicely, Tsukasa. Ask us very kindly to do this thing for you.”
“Kaitou…” Frowning at the thief, Tsukasa wills his body to stillness. “I am very capable of undressing myself. I don’t require your—Yuusuke.”
Tsukasa hisses out the last man’s name, trying and failing to take a step back as Natsumi and Kaitou hold him in place. He should have seen Yuusuke move, especially with how slowly Yuusuke’s been moving, but he hadn’t. He’d been so focused on Kaitou that Yuusuke had managed to sneak up on him and slide a hand into jeans, into his boxers, intensifying the feeling of tightness and need that Tsukasa had been attempting to ignore.
“You want us.” Yuusuke grins. “Is it really that hard to say, Tsukasa?”
“I am saying it.” Giving Yuusuke’s forehead a gentle shove with one finger, Tsukasa sighs. “All right. Fine. If we’re being vocal about everything tonight, then I would very much like the three of you to remove my clothing so that I can fuck you all senseless.”
“Was that so hard?” Kaitou’s grin is broad, infectious, and he and Natsumi somehow manage to time their movements so that they shimmy Tsukasa’s jeans down his legs without much trouble.
Stepping out of his jeans, drawing away from Yuusuke’s hand with reluctance, Tsukasa scans the three of them again.
They’re all hurt. They’re all scarred. He’s hurt them all, or at least been unable to prevent them from being hurt.
They’re all smiling at him, proud, eager, content, leaning against each other, reaching for him.
He doesn’t deserve this.
But he’s going to love every minute of it, and he’s exceptionally glad that it’s finally time for round three.
Chapter 3: Part Three: Necessity
Sorry about the delay in getting this chapter out. Real life has been throwing some pretty nasty curves at me recently. Hopefully people enjoy this ridiculously long story!
Part Three: Necessity
Tsukasa turns back to her, and Natsumi can’t keep her heartbeat from picking up, her breathing from hitching just slightly, her nipples from hardening. It’s terribly unfair, the affect just his regard and the promise of things to come can have.
Tsukasa is aware of it, too, a knowing smile touching the corners of his mouth. He reaches forward, keeping his body back, keeping space between them, and runs just the tips of his fingers down her cheek. “The final round, huh?”
“Yes.” She swallows, clearing her throat and pulling her own smile on as she tilts her head to the side. “Has it been worth it?”
“I think you were right.” Tsukasa leans forward, finally, his lips brushing hers. “I think it was necessary. I think it was good for me—for us. I just… wish it didn’t have to hurt so much.”
“It doesn’t matter if it hurts.” Her hands reach up, cup his face. She wants to throw her arms around his neck, pin him to the ground, have him as hers; she wants to just barely touch him, to wait for him to move to her, to have him claim her and hold her and be able to trust him not to hurt her. This gentle caress of her hands on his skin is a compromise between the two urges, not really satisfying either but beautifully perfect all the same.
“I have to tell you one more truth.” His eyes meet hers, steady and sure, but there is a darkness locked within their depths that causes her to turn away. “If you want it.”
“Yes.” She nods, forcing her head back up, and meets his gaze steadily. She can be strong for him. She can handle whatever truths he needs to give her.
“I’m glad you killed me.” His stares into her eyes as he says it, one hand burning on her thigh, the other burning on her cheek. “At the end of the Rider War, I… I had to die. Maybe I should have let Yuusuke kill me. Probably I should have just died with him. But I’m… glad it was you who killed me. I’m glad I never hurt you.”
“You hurt me, Tsukasa.” She whispers the words, too stunned to do or say anything else for a moment. How could he think that? How could he say that, that he never hurt her, when they’ve been talking about every time he has? After a moment she forces her mouth into a wavering smile, and lifts her hands to cover his. If he’s sharing his truth, she’ll share her own. “You’ve hurt me multiple times. When you went back to DaiShocker, you broke my heart. When you killed Yuusuke… I was so furious and scared and lost, and then killing you… I felt like I’d stabbed myself. If we hadn’t found a way to bring you back…”
There are tears running down her cheeks, and she reaches up to brush them determinedly away. They did bring him back. They got Yuusuke back. The Rider War is an old wound, awful and scarred and unforgettable, but done.
“And this time?” He strokes his hand down her face again, and there’s a weariness in his tone that hadn’t been there before. “How badly did I hurt you this time?”
“This time…” This time he killed hundreds, possibly thousands, loosing villains that shouldn’t have existed in this dimension on unprepared freedom fighters. This time the mad scientists in his employ toyed with Yuusuke, hurt Kaitou, and would have likely done the same to her… if Tsukasa hadn’t stopped them. She smiles, finally, laying her hand against his cheek. “This time you didn’t do anything to hurt us, Tsukasa. You tried to protect us, and I am so, so glad to have you back.”
It’s a little bit of a lie.
She wishes, somehow, that he had been stronger than whatever brainwashing they used. She can’t say anything like that without hurting Yuusuke, though, so she keeps that wish clamped tight behind her teeth.
She wishes he didn’t have a soul that turned so easily to murder and subjugation, that could be twisted so simply into a monster.
But wishing that is wishing for him not to be Tsukasa, and she loves him too dearly to ever let that wish see the light of day.
Tsukasa’s mouth curves in a wry grin, but there’s still that weariness showing on his features, something she hasn’t seen since he was murdering people in the Rider War. “Well, that’s something, I suppose. I was going to promise that I’ll at least keep to my track record of never hurting you, but since it seems that isn’t a very good record—”
Placing a hand over his mouth, she shakes her head before slowly drawing her fingers back, one at a time. “Say it anyway. Promise… promise you won’t hurt me, ever again.”
“I… don’t know if I could keep that promise.” He looks away, down, refusing to meet her eyes. “I was, a part of me will always be, the Destroyer of Worlds. I was raised as, lived as, enjoyed being an evil overlord with plans to take over the multiverse. I—”
“But you don’t want to hurt me.” Reaching over, she gently moves his head until he’s looking at her again. “You don’t want to hurt Yuusuke. You don’t want to hurt Kaitou—usually, and now isn’t the time to make smart remarks, Tsukasa. So promise me.”
“All right.” His smile is lacking the weariness now, and he leans closer, his hands moving so that one rests on each of her shoulders. “Hikari Natsumi, you mean the world to me, and I will never, ever hurt you.”
It’s a lie. They both know it. He can’t control the future, and he can’t help being Tsukasa. Even the kindest, gentlest people hurt each other every now and again. It’s part of being human, of living with someone, of rubbing up against their flaws and angles and sharp edges for days and months and years. And Tsukasa is far from gentle.
But he never intends to hurt her, to hurt any of them, and that’s enough for her right now.
He leans in after he says it, claiming her mouth with his, and she throws her arms around him. Her tongue dives into his mouth, sweeps over his teeth, tangles with his tongue, drowns in the taste and warmth and feel of Tsukasa, and for a moment everything is right in the universe.
Eventually they pull apart, just a small bit, far enough so that he can talk. “What do you want me to do?”
“I…” She hesitates, breathing hard. Her nipples are taut, and there’s a mounting heat in her stomach, moisture slick on her underwear. What does she want? She wants Tsukasa. Trying to think of more than that…
“I’ll do whatever you want, just this once, without a word of protest.” He smiles as he speaks, sweeping her hair back behind her ears. “If you want me on the ground while you use a strap-on, no complaints. If you want me blindfolded, if you want me tied… anything you want, Natsumi. You’ve earned it.”
“I want…” She wants to trust him. She wants to know it’s him, really him, really her Tsukasa. She wants to let him lead, and not have to worry that he’s leading them all to their deaths. “Just you, Tsukasa. No games, no posturing, I just… I want you to top, and I want you to be gentle, and I want to trust you.”
“Just me?” He leans closer, his words a breath against her cheek before his tongue slips over the edge of her earlobe. “Nothing else? No one else?”
“You’re willing to let the others play already?” Natsumi manages to keep her voice from shaking as his tongue strokes her ear again, cat-quick and cat-gentle. “You were being quite a stickler for the rules a few minutes ago.”
“Mmm… I’d prefer to have you one at a time. At least this first time. But if you want something else…” His tongue flicks against her neck as his hand slides from her hip to her shoulder, drawing a shudder that’s half-giggle. “Whatever you want, Natsumi, as long as it’s within my power to give.”
Drawing a steeling breath, she manages to ignore the caress of his hand back down her leg, forcing her eyes to focus on Kaitou and Yuusuke where they lean against each other. Yuusuke’s smiling, a tired, half-dreamy expression as he watches them. Natsumi catches the edge of a smile from Kaitou before he turns away, resolutely watching the far wall, an expression of boredom on his face.
“Would you—” Natsumi gasps and arches as Tsukasa’s hands glide across her nipples at the exact same moment. Glaring at Tsukasa as she grabs both his hands and holds them tightly doesn’t earn any contrition from the man; instead he grins, a self-satisfied smirk that makes her roll her eyes. “Kaitou, Yuusuke, would you mind if I had Tsukasa to myself for a moment?”
“No.” Yuusuke covers a laugh with a cough, shaking his head. Or at least she hopes he’s covering a laugh, but he looks better than he had before, more color in his face as he leans against Kaitou. “Enjoy him, and then pass him along.”
“If you get him to yourself, so do I.” Kaitou throws the terms down like an ultimatum. “And I want the same offer, to do whatever I want to you.”
“Pass your final round first.” Tsukasa stares haughtily at Kaitou. “Then we’ll see.”
“Don’t break him too much, Natsumelon.” Giving her a bright grin, Kaitou turns back to Tsukasa. “I want to enjoy my turn as much as possible.”
“I’d say that’s a blessing.” Tsukasa raises his eyebrows at her, wiggling his fingers together. “So if you’d like to release me, I can get around to the fun part of the night.”
“Don’t make me change my mind about what I want, Tsukasa.” Narrowing her eyes, Natsumi releases his hands, lying back on the bed and lifting her arms above her head. Her breasts round prettily, her nipples sharp, dark peaks, and Tsukasa stares at them appreciatively. “After all, there’s an awful lot that’s covered under the term anything, and I could get creative if I had to.”
“I have no doubt you could come up with a suitable punishment, being the hardened criminal that you are.” Tsukasa’s gaze travels up to her eyes, a knowing smile on his lips.
He always smiles like that when he calls her criminal, as though he knows something that she doesn’t. Usually it annoys her. Today… today it annoys her, but it’s so delightfully him that there’s also a surge of fondness and desire and blissful relief that makes it hard to summon any true frustration. Her voice is gentle when she finally speaks, husky with pent-up desire. “Well? Are you going to make me scream your name, Tsukasa, or are we going to keep playing all evening?”
“I fully intend to play all evening.” Tsukasa settles down cat-graceful at her side, leaning over to kiss her gently while one hand teases with her hair. “I also intend to have you all screaming my name before the night’s over, and I will be very glad to start with you.”
He leans down, kissing her fiercely, his tongue suddenly sliding along her teeth, pushing at just the right place to open them, sliding along the inside of her mouth for a few seconds before pulling away again. His hand slides up and down along her side, starting gently and applying more pressure with each stroke, moving up towards her breasts until finally his fingers grip her nipple firmly. A low moan slides out of Natsumi’s mouth.
Apparently taking that as a sign, Tsukasa kisses his way slowly down her neck while his hand slides from one of her breast’s to the other, stroking, teasing, always ending with that quick tug on her nipple that sends heat flaring through her body. Natsumi doesn’t remember throwing her arms around his neck, but they are suddenly there, holding him tight to her, keeping his head tight against her neck.
His hands pause, stop, and gently pry her arms away from him, settling them back above her head. His lips graze one of her cheeks and then the other. “No. Let me do everything. Let me make you happy.”
A low whimper, of desire and joy and the last lingering vestiges of fear, slips from her lips. That’s what she wants from him, tonight. That’s what she needs from him, is for him to make her happy, to worry about her, to care for her unequivocally. What she needs is her Tsukasa, to trust him as she hasn’t been able to for the last few days.
That doesn’t mean she wants to be greedy, though. “I want you to enjoy this, too. I want to make you happy. I want us to be happy.”
“Being here with you, being myself, having you still…having you still love me, Natsumi, after everything that’s happened… there is nothing greedy about just letting me pleasure you.” Tsukasa’s brows are drawn together, his face set in determination.
It melts any resistance that Natsumi might have had. “All right.”
“Good. Now, close your eyes.” Tsukasa’s fingers brush above her eyes.
Closing them reluctantly, she waits for his next move.
Tsukasa’s breath is warm on her face as he kisses one eye and then the other. His hands stroke down her sides in unison, and there’s something delightfully erotic about just feeling his fingers touch her skin, about not knowing where he’s going to go next until his flesh touches hers. Her sides first, as he usually does; then her breasts, because he knows that her nipples are sensitive; then down to her thighs, drawing small circles as he works his way up to her underwear. She shudders, arching just slightly, wanting him more with every caress of his fingers.
His mouth closes over her left nipple, unexpectedly, as his fingers finally reach the hem of her panties. Natsumi can’t keep her hands still, needs to be touching something as heat floods through her. Wrapping her fingers in his hair, she holds on as his tongue flicks across her nipple, once, twice, and begins to gently suck.
Tsukasa doesn’t argue with her. He simply ministers to one breast until her hands relax as the thrill through her gut from each brush of his tongue slows with the repetition of the movement. Opening his mouth, he releases her nipple. His hands begin to pull her underwear down, a centimeter at a time, it feels like, and then his mouth closes on her other nipple and she arches against him once more, pulling his head close to her.
Tsukasa laughs, letting go and pulling up. Opening her eyes, Natsumi stares down into his smiling face, not understanding why he’s stopped.
“You have to let me go.” Raising his head as much as he can with her fingers locked in his hair, he looks from her eyes down towards her crotch. “I’m flexible, but not that flexible. If I’m getting these off, you’ve got to let me go.”
“Fine.” Reluctantly releasing her fingers, Natsumi lifts her hips and then her legs to help him finish disrobing her. “But I will say that we’ve had three rounds of foreplay already, and as amazingly pleasant as it is… well, just keep that in mind.”
She’s not going to tell him to hurry. She’ll never tell him to hurry, not when she loves every moment of his touching her—especially not now, when every moment he touches her is another step away from the horror of facing him across a battlefield, the terror of trying to follow his hijacked mind as he silently begged her to help him after his people hurt Yuusuke so badly.
But she’s really, really ready whenever he is, and she just wants to make sure he knows that.
She doesn’t close her eyes again, watching instead as Tsukasa kneels to peel his boxers down and then sits back down to shuffle them the rest of the way off. His penis stands erect, showing that he, too, is ready for that. Between that and the awkwardness of undressing while not standing he doesn’t quite manage to look graceful, but he comes close, and she smiles fondly as she watches him. He has a beautiful body, scars and wounds and all, and she’s ridiculously ready to have it against her.
“Condom, Tsukasa.” The reminder comes from Yuusuke. “Making Natsumi pregnant would not be the way to make her happy.”
“Not for a few more years, at the very least.” Natsumi smiles at Yuusuke as Tsukasa sighs and follows the suggestion, reconsidering having Yuusuke join them. She loves Yuusuke, too, and there had been fear aplenty with regards to him in the last few days.
Shaking his head, Yuusuke waves a hand. “Don’t worry, Natsumi. I’m not up to the athletics yet. Later, or tomorrow, but right now just enjoy us having Tsukasa back.”
“Am I really that bad?” Tsukasa lies down next to her again, his fingertips chasing over her chest in a quick beat, one way and then the other. “I stop for a minute, and you’re already thinking of replacing me.”
“Not replacing. Enhancing.” Reaching over, Natsumi tugs on his arm until Tsukasa shifts over, one long leg between hers, the other still providing him balance off to the side. “And I fully intend to utilize the enhancement later in the evening, but right now I don’t think you need any help.”
“No. I don’t.” Expression completely serious, Tsukasa rests his hands on either side of her head and leans down to kiss her. It’s a full kiss, but just lips, his against hers, and it leaves her breathless. His leg shifts against hers, pushing her legs further apart, giving him better access. His shaft brushes against her leg, against her pubic hair, and her breath hitches in anticipation. “Do you want one final, immutable truth, Hikari Natsumi?”
She manages to nod, because she can’t make her voice work, and her hands wrap around his chest as her mouth finds his neck. Her teeth graze his skin, gently, the way he likes it.
His voice is a breathless whisper in her ear. “I love you, Hikari Natsumi, and nothing in the universe will ever change that.”
It might be a lie. Logic would say it’s a lie. If he can be twisted into a killer so easily, if he can become a Destroyer so often, why should his affection for her be something unchangeable?
But she believes him, and her teeth nip possessively at his skin before she nuzzles his neck. “I know.”
He doesn’t enter her cleanly. It takes him two or three thrusts to find the proper angle, and it takes her assistance, rocking her hips, lifting her legs to straddle him. It doesn’t matter. The heat of him in her, the thrill of his body pressed tight against hers, is all that matters.
Tsukasa is here. Tsukasa is all around her, above her, his scent filling her nose, his taste in her mouth, all that she can feel aside from the blankets, and she moans as her body accommodates him with an ease that makes everything right in the world.
He doesn’t find their rhythm as quickly as he normally does, and Natsumi opens her eyes, trying to think through the waves of pleasure. Why is he so awkward with her? Why is this, the simplest possible position, giving him so much trouble?
“You…” A low moan of pleasure escapes her as Tsukasa hits closer to their usual rhythm. “You don’t top me very often, do you? Oh…”
“I’ll… figure it… out.” Tsukasa frowns, looking far too determined and focused. Tsukasa is supposed to relax when they have sex, to melt into her arms, to fit against her perfectly, their long legs twining together.
“You’re worrying too much. Here.” Pulling him down on top of her, erasing the distance he’s kept between their upper bodies, she claims his mouth again. He tastes of salt now, of sweat and adrenaline, the effect similar to but not quite like kissing him after a battle. “You won’t crush me.”
It takes several seconds and a few more awkward rearrangements, but eventually Tsukasa is melded against her properly, and his body begins to move in time with her own.
It’s not perfect. He comes before her, and there’s an awkward moment where he slumps against her and she whimpers, wanting, needing release of her own, but he’s attentive. He recovers, shifts, and proceeds to carry her over the edge of her own climax without pulling free, using his hands and lips and small, subtle movements of his hips.
For a long minute they just lay together, pressed against each other. Natsumi hugs him tightly to her, soaking in everything about him, his name a drum-beat in her head in time to her heartbeat.
Tsukasa is here.
Tsukasa is hers.
Tsukasa loves them.
“Was that what you wanted, Natsumi?” Pulling away slightly, he smiles at her, just the slightest edge of uncertainty to his expression. “Was it satisfactory?”
“Yes.” Running her hands down his chest, she smiles up at him. “Yes, that was very satisfactory. Though I’m going to have to make you do it more often, so it’s not so awkward.”
“It’s easier to let you take the lead.” Tsukasa shrugs. “You all know more about what to do than I do, so letting you lead makes sense.”
It’s not an admonition Tsukasa makes often—that they know something more than he does. Today is a day of truths, though, and Natsumi supposes it makes sense. DaiShocker was known for slaughter and conquering, not for rape. Thinking about Tsukasa’s potential sex education, or lack thereof, is not something she really wants to do, though.
Kaitou’s disgruntled voice drags Natsumi’s attention back to the others in the room. “You don’t let me lead whenever I want.”
“That’s because you always make it a competition, Kaitou.” Tsukasa throws the other man a languid glare. “I’m not going to lose.”
“You have to use Tsukasa’s laziness against him, Kaitou.” Yuusuke smiles as he talks, taking any sting out of the words. “If he can just lay there and end up having fun, he’ll do it happily. If you make it seem like you’re winning something, then you’ll get his pride interfering. It’s much easier to get what you want when you’re dealing with the laziness.”
Tsukasa pouts at Yuusuke for a moment before looking back down at Natsumi. “I’m getting the feeling the two of you have been using and manipulating me more than I thought you were.”
“We’re clever that way.” Sliding out from under Tsukasa pulls Tsukasa’s now-limp penis out of her. Natsumi manages to keep from sighing, not wanting to appear disappointed or unhappy or ungrateful. Not when the others have been so patient, and not when she enjoyed having Tsukasa to herself, and not when it was, overall, so fantastic. “But I think it’s just about time you went on to Yuusuke, don’t you?”
“I think I’d be fine with that.” Tsukasa leans over and kisses her once more. “Don’t get too comfortable, though. Once the round’s over, I’ll be back. With company.”
“I will be very happy to receive you and company.” Squeezing his hand, she gives his shoulder a shove. “Now, go ask Yuusuke what he wants.”
Yuusuke sits up, shrugging off the relaxed sense of contentment that had crept over him as he watched Tsukasa and Natsumi.
Tsukasa takes a moment to clean himself up, using one of the towels that they had stacked by the edge of their bedding prior to starting the game. It gives Yuusuke a moment to push off the blanket he’d been curled under and face Tsukasa squarely.
He shouldn’t be nervous about this. This is Tsukasa. This is going to be fun. This isn’t going to hurt.
Except it might, still, if Tsukasa actually finishes the game before moving on to the reward. Yuusuke isn’t sure what Tsukasa intends as the other man comes toward him, moving as gracefully as anyone could crawling across the bedding on his knees.
Taking a deep breath, Yuusuke forces himself to relax and smile at the spectacle Tsukasa makes, naked on his knees. No matter what Tsukasa says, no matter what Tsukasa does, it’s not intended to hurt him. He trusts Tsukasa enough to believe that.
He trusts Tsukasa, period, and so he’s able to close his eyes and lean into the touch when Tsukasa lifts one hand to caress his cheek.
“You’re so wonderful, Yuusuke.” There’s awe in Tsukasa’s voice, a hint of confusion that Yuusuke isn’t accustomed to. “You were afraid, weren’t you? Just a second ago, you were afraid of me, and now you’re not.”
Opening his eyes, Yuusuke meets Tsukasa’s eyes evenly. “There’s no reason for me to be afraid of you. I love you. I trust you.”
“He’s an idiot. It’s part of his charm.” Kaitou gives Yuusuke’s shoulder a shove, just barely hard enough to move him, and Yuusuke smiles at the thief.
Kaitou’s worried about him. It’s sweet, even if the thief only manages to show it by being a bit gentler than normal.
“Do you want me to finish the game, Yuusuke?” Tsukasa’s finger resting lightly under his chin draws Yuusuke’s attention back to him. “If you want me to, I will. If you’re tired or you don’t want to hear any more…”
“Anything you want to or need to tell me I can take, Tsukasa. I’m not fragile. I’m not breakable.” Glaring up at Tsukasa, Yuusuke allows his annoyance to fill his voice and his face. He will not have them thinking less of him because he was injured. “Finish the game properly.”
“I wish I hadn’t killed you.” Tsukasa’s hand falls away, abruptly, as though Yuusuke’s skin were suddenly red-hot. “During the Rider War, I wish you hadn’t died.”
Yuusuke freezes for a moment, processing the information. He should have expected something like this—had expected it, he supposes, but there’s no real way to prepare for the broaching of these awful topics. “I was trying to kill you. You did what you had to do to survive.”
“I was killing everyone. I was a monster, and I wouldn’t let you reach me to try to bring me back.” Tsukasa’s expression is haunted, lost. “I should have trusted you. I said before that you were the one I trusted most when it came to other people. I should have trusted you when it came to me.”
“You’re lying.” Kaitou snarls the challenge, his hand glancing across Yuusuke’s shoulder in a gesture that might have been meant to be comforting. “You’re either lying to him or you lied to Natsumelon. You couldn’t die with Yuusuke and let her kill you.”
“It’s not a lie,” Yuusuke says.
“I’m not lying,” Tsukasa says at the same time.
Tsukasa smiles, and Yuusuke returns the grin before reaching over and laying a hand on Kaitou’s knee. “He isn’t lying, Kaitou.”
Drawling out the words as though they don’t matter, Tsukasa allows his head to tilt to the side and fixes Kaitou with a small smile. “I’m glad Natsumi killed me. I wish I had let myself die with Yuusuke. They’re both true.”
Kaitou’s glower doesn’t waver. “You can only die once, you know.”
“Emotions don’t usually have anything to do with logic or what could realistically happen.” Yuusuke finds his eyes dropping to the floor. “After all, if I had succeeded, if I had killed him, my world might not have been saved. I had to die, and I’m… all right with that. I’d rather die at Tsukasa’s hands and have worlds saved than die pointlessly, in a lost battle against real villains.”
“You’ll never die.” Tsukasa’s hand is suddenly a vice around Yuusuke’s chin, Tsukasa’s eyes terrible dark pools. “I won’t ever lose you again, Yuusuke.”
It’s a lie and they all know it. He could let it go. He could let it rest, let them all rest, and continue with the game.
But he can’t, because it’s not what Tsukasa needs. “I might. I could die tomorrow. I could die the day after. Any of us could. I could have died in that throne room. I knew that, and I chose to go forward. I’m not afraid of dying, Tsukasa.”
Tsukasa’s eye drop down, and his fingers dig in harder, so that Yuusuke’s certain he’s going to have bruises around his chin. A faint whisper slips from Tsukasa’s mouth, so soft that Yuusuke’s not sure anyone else would have been able to hear it. “I am.”
Reaching up, Yuusuke gently, determinedly disengages Tsukasa’s hand from his face. Then he leans forward, gathering the other man into his arms. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Natsumi’s arm crosses his shoulder, and Yuusuke leans against her, pulling Tsukasa with him. Her lips are gentle on his temple, her breath a feathery breeze against his ear. “Being mortal isn’t something you have to apologize for, Yuusuke.”
“Right.” Straightening, hiding a wince as all the muscles in his abdomen protest the movement, Yuusuke pushes Tsukasa out to arm’s length away. “Did you want to say anything else, Tsukasa?”
“I’m…” Tsukasa hesitates, his head hanging down. “I’m… sorry. About what happened. I’m sorry that I hurt you again. I’m sorry I let the Zangyack hurt you.”
“That wasn’t you, Tsukasa.” Yuusuke speaks sharply, reaching over to lift Tsukasa’s chin so he can meet the other man’s eyes. “You didn’t hurt me. The enemy did. All right?”
“Yeah.” Tsukasa glances away, just for a second, and there’s a hesitancy to his smile that Yuusuke hasn’t seen before. “Time to move on with the game?”
“No.” Shaking his head, Yuusuke continues to frown at Tsukasa. “Because this isn’t like you. There’s something else wrong.”
“No.” Tsukasa tells the lie flatly, simply, but it’s immediately clear that it’s a lie. Yuusuke can tell that Tsukasa knows they hear the lie, too, from the slight wince that crosses over his face. “Let it go, Yuusuke.”
“No. I won’t. Not until I see my Tsukasa back again.” He’s been too tired, too wrapped up in his own pain and frustration, and that realization fuels Yuusuke’s determination. “Where’s your arrogance, Tsukasa? Where’s your certainty? Where’s your faith in yourself? You say things like I won’t let you die, and we all know you’re lying. It shouldn’t be a lie. Not from you. You make crazy declarations, and you make them true. So what’s wrong?”
“I killed thirty-six thousand, five hundred and eighteen sentient, sapient creatures in the last week.” Tsukasa’s face is pale, but he doesn’t lower his eyes, daring Yuusuke or Natsumi to look away first. “I destroyed four major cities on three planets. I purposefully designed plans to maximize the number of my own troops who died. And I didn’t care about any of it, Yuusuke. The only thing I cared about—the only thing they couldn’t take away—was the three of you. And the only way I could hold onto that was through the War.”
For a long moment Yuusuke sits frozen, processing the information, the dull, flat horror in Tsukasa’s eyes, the hopelessness, the self-hate.
He doesn’t think before moving. He just moves, forcing his body to obey him, commanding his Kuuga-jangled nerves to do what he wants until, finally, they do. Tsukasa doesn’t fight him, too startled or too afraid of hurting him, and the thought of the second just fuels Yuusuke’s anger.
His lips crash against Tsukasa’s as he straddles the other man. His right hand he uses to hold his weight; his left he wraps in Tsukasa’s hair, holding the man in place. When he straightens, he’s panting, and though the emotions burning through his chest and gut are starting to straighten themselves out into something other than white fire it’s still hard to find the right words. “Don’t.”
Tsukasa blinks up at him, confused, a hint of true amusement tugging at the corners of his mouth as he licks his lips. “Don’t do what?”
“Don’t take the blame for things you didn’t do. I told you before.” Yuusuke kisses Tsukasa again, more gently, their lips meeting and parting smoothly. “You were not responsible for any of those deaths. If you were, then I’m responsible for everything DaiShocker did while I was brainwashed.”
“It’s different, Yuusuke. You were a puppet. I was a leader. You wouldn’t have done anything like that. Me… they just—”
“They took away everything we’ve been.” Yuusuke rests both his hands on Tsukasa’s chest, talking over him softly and deliberately. “They took away the journey we’ve had. They took away your meeting Natsumi and learning photography. They took away what you and Yashiro and I went through. They took away the months that we traveled together, world to world, seeing and meeting other heroes. They took away you, Tsukasa, and it doesn’t mean anything if a monster was left. If you take away me, if you take away my control of Kuuga, I’m the end of the world. I am death and chaos and destruction, and that’s what DaiShocker tried to make me into. Leashed, yes, but it was still… it was still something in me that they were trying to leash and use without my permission. So don’t take the blame for what the Zangyack did. Don’t let it hurt you. Don’t let it break you.”
Natsumi’s hand runs along the right side of Tsukasa’s face. “You used your love for us and your fear for us to help you find a way around the brainwashing. But it’s over now, Tsukasa. We’re safe. You can let it go. You can just… be you.”
“It’s hard.” Tsukasa closes his eyes, relaxing under Yuusuke’s hands. “I keep thinking it should be easy, telling myself that it’s over, but then… it’s hard.”
“Yes.” Yuusuke whispers the word, keeping his eyes fixed on Tsukasa, refusing to acknowledge the past. “But you’ll get through it. We’ll help you get through it. So just… don’t be ashamed to be your usual obnoxious self.”
“All right.” Tsukasa’s hand reaches up, strokes down Yuusuke’s face to his neck and down his chest until Yuusuke grabs it tight to keep it from going any lower. “Does that mean I have permission to flip you and have my way with you?”
Pain sears through his stomach at the thought, and Yuusuke struggles again not to pale or tense or otherwise give evidence that he’s not fine. “Don’t I get the same deal as Natsumi?”
“Oh? Was it the rope or the strap-on that you were interested in—hey!” Tsukasa rubs at his arm where Yuusuke slapped him and laughs, briefly, far too pleased at his own humor. Then his expression softens, and his fingers glance feather-light over the amadam.
Over the bruising over the amadam, and Yuusuke shivers, not sure if it’s from pleasure or pain. “Honestly, Tsukasa, I’m not sure I’m feeling like doing a lot of acrobatics right now. You could just—”
“If you finish that sentence I’ll prove to you that I’m still quite capable of being an arrogant asshole.” Tsukasa’s finger rests over Yuusuke’s mouth. “There are a lot more ways to pleasure someone than just fucking them or letting them fuck you. I think you said that, though it may have been Natsumi. So if you do not feel up to holding me down or having me take you, then think of something that will be enjoyable.”
“Fucking includes any other sexual practice I may find enjoyable, but the overall message is understood and appreciated.” Yuusuke smiles ruefully, looking down at Tsukasa’s body and running a finger along one lightly-muscled rib. Now that the surge of emotion has faded, the pain from his injuries nags again at the back of his mind, but even through that he finds Tsukasa alluring. “I think I’d enjoy oral, if you don’t mind.”
Tsukasa sits up slowly, giving Yuusuke a chance to react and slide back off the taller man. One of Tsukasa’s hands grabs him before he can go too far, pulling him back into a fierce hug and a far-too-chaste kiss. “Whatever you want, Yuusuke. Now, find a comfortable position and decide how many of us you want to participate.”
“Everybody.” He says it without hesitation, leaning against Tsukasa, soaking in the other man’s body heat. “Anybody who wants to be involved. But I’d like you to have me when I climax. I… missed you, Tsukasa.”
“I missed me, too.” It’s Tsukasa’s tone, pleased with and bored by the world; it’s Tsukasa’s body, all lithe muscle and sinuous grace; and it’s a very Tsukasa smirk, even if there’s still a hint of darkness and hesitancy behind the self-assurance.
It’s a start, though, the best he could possibly ask of Tsukasa right now, and Yuusuke smiles as he lies back and lifts his hips to let Tsukasa work his boxers off. Tsukasa smiles again, his hands gentle and teasing, barely touching Yuusuke as he works.
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take much contact for him to feel a touch, and even with Kuuga damaged he’s sensitive to every brush of Tsukasa’s fingers, every place the tiny hairs on Tsukasa’s hands and arms glance across him.
Tsukasa’s hands pull back, and Yuusuke opens his eyes again to look questioningly at the man. Raising his eyebrows, Tsukasa glances the back of his fingers across Yuusuke’s abdomen in the lightest caress. “Touching the amadam—good or bad right now?”
Shivering, Yuusuke closes his eyes. “Do it again.”
Tsukasa hesitates barely a moment before repeating the action, and Yuusuke focuses hard on the sensation. The area over the amadam is one of the most sensitive parts of his body, and the heady exhilaration of being touched there, of trusting someone enough to allow them to touch where Kuuga lies, can be extremely erotic. It still is, even, despite the light sheen of discomfort that follows Tsukasa’s fingers, like pressing on a two-day-old bruise.
Well, like pressing on a two-day-old bruise used to be. Injuries don’t last as long or feel the same since he got Kuuga, but it’s still the best reference point he has.
Tsukasa’s fingers stop moving, sliding up to rest in the center of Yuusuke’s chest. The question isn’t repeated, though. Tsukasa doesn’t repeat questions unless he has to.
“Yes.” Opening his eyes, Yuusuke smiles. “Touch. Just… be gentle. Don’t go much rougher than that. Not for a few more hours, at least. We’re healing, and it’s more pleasant than it is painful, but…”
Bending down, Tsukasa pressed his lips to the point where Yuusuke’s last ribs meet. Slowly, methodically, Tsukasa starts kissing his way down Yuusuke’s body, his tongue flicking out briefly each time.
Yuusuke shivers again, from pleasure and cold, and one of his hands moves to rest on Tsukasa’s head.
Natsumi’s hand tentatively strokes Yuusuke’s cheek, her fingernails tracing the line of his chin. “Do you still want the rest of us involved?”
“Huh?” Yuusuke turns his head to look at her. “Yeah. Of course.”
That’s apparently all the invitation she needs, because she leans in and kisses him. She kisses differently than Tsukasa. Tsukasa is all hot need or teasing gentleness, still unused to matching and meeting his partner evenly. Natsumi can be like that, too, but more often, at least with Yuusuke, her kisses start out gentle or fierce and then switch to match whatever he does. If he presses her head to his, lets his tongue slip out to explore her mouth, she follows; if he presses softly to her, she’ll allow her lips to match his, to explore slowly and meticulously.
Right now, after all that’s happened, fire still rolling through his belly, he’s in the mood for slow and gentle.
It should be distracting, he supposes. It should be hard to focus, hard to match them both. The silk press of Tsukasa’s lips to his stomach and the kitten-sharp lap of Tsukasa’s tongue should make it hard to focus on the way Natsumi’s lips feel against his, the taste of her lip gloss, the brush of her eyelashes against his cheek as she presses closer to him. It doesn’t, though. It’s fantastic, amazing, having the two of them pressed against him, and he keeps one hand on Tsukasa’s head and the other dancing down Natsumi’s back for as long as he can.
Eventually Tsukasa moves too low for him to touch easily, though, and Natsumi breaks away from the kiss to nip a slow trail up to his ear. He should probably thank the two of them, congratulate them on managing to somehow move so well together, but all that slips out of his mouth is a contented, rapturous sigh as Natsumi’s teeth and Tsukasa’s tongue connect with his skin at the same time.
Tsukasa doesn’t start using his teeth until he reaches Yuusuke’s penis. By that time Yuusuke’s already hard and firm, his eyes closed as he focuses on their ministrations. Warm fire burns in his gut, pleasant, drowning out the lingering sting of his injuries in desire and sheer joy. Tsukasa’s hands press gently, spreading Yuusuke’s legs apart a bit more, and Yuusuke shifts without complaint.
The warmth of Tsukasa’s tongue runs from the base of Yuusuke’s cock to the tip, Tsukasa’s mouth parting from his body as Natsumi’s teeth nip at his neck. Yuusuke arches, whimpering low in his throat. He wants this. He always wants this, to have them with him, to have them love him, but right now he needs this, the reassurance that they’re all right, that he’s all right, that his body is still his own and will respond as it should, that they’re all right, their group still intact and nothing broken despite all that’s happened.
Tsukasa’s mouth closes over Yuusuke’s shaft, warm, Tsukasa’s tongue caressing the tip, teasing around the circumference. Natsumi’s hands stroke his hair, her lips moving in soft kisses across one clavicle and then the other, a quiet counterpoint to the fire that Tsukasa kindles and banks.
The fire builds, spreads, as another hand grabs his testicles and a third mouth dances over the skin of his stomach. He tries to say Kaitou’s name, but Natsumi’s tongue slides inside his mouth, and anything coherent becomes just another moan of joy.
He comes hard and fast, bucking against the three of them. For a moment he’s afraid they’ll pull away immediately, and his hands close hard on Natsumi’s hair, on Kaitou’s shoulder, his legs clenching as though that could keep Tsukasa there.
They don’t, though. As though they know what he needs, a quiet descent from the peak, they pull back one at a time. Tsukasa’s mouth pulls away, but his hand stays on Yuusuke’s thigh, a warm pressure. Kaitou’s mouth stops teasing across his stomach, but the thief lies down by Yuusuke’s side, a warm, solid presence, and begins to trace symbols over Yuusuke’s chest in quick, darting movements. Natsumi kisses him once more, a leisurely, tender meeting of their lips, and then curls up on his other side, stroking his hair.
Opening his eyes, Yuusuke lets out a long, slow breath. It takes a moment for his vision to focus on Tsukasa, lounging easily with his upper body across Natsumi’s legs.
Smiling, Tsukasa traces a deeply familiar symbol on Yuusuke’s thigh, a Kuuga mark that burns as deeply as a brand. “Was that satisfactory?”
“That was amazing.” Turning to the others, he makes sure they know he’s addressing them all. “It was fantastic. I promise I’ll return the favor.”
“Once you’re healed up.” Natsumi strokes hair away from his face. “Besides, seeing you smile like that is pleasure enough.”
“It’s always fun to have you flat on your back.” Kaitou grins, cocky, as though this were all a game. “You’re so trusting, Yuusuke. The way you close your eyes, the way you let us do whatever we want to you…”
He could say it’s a trust they’ve earned. He could say it’s a trust they repay to him, that the kindness he shows them they show back to him. He could say he’d rather trust and be betrayed than go through life trying not to trust at all.
But that’s not what Kaitou needs right now. What Kaitou needs right now is the man who’s watching Yuusuke and Natsumi with a contented smile.
“Tsukasa. Isn’t there one more round to go before you can relax like that?”
Sighing theatrically, Tsukasa stretches. “You’re right, I suppose. Though I might be too tired. I’m not sure—”
“Tsukasa.” There’s steel in Yuusuke’s voice as he frowns at the other man. “Don’t tease him like that. Not tonight. Not right now.”
“Ah. All right.” Reaching over Yuusuke to give Kaitou’s boxer-clad rear a tap, Tsukasa gestures at himself. “Come on, Kaitou. Decide what you want, and just tonight you get it, no complaints.”
“What?” Kaitou frowns in confusion for a moment, dragging himself from a contemplation of Yuusuke’s contented expression and Natsumi’s satisfied smile. Sitting up abruptly, he processes the words and frowns at Tsukasa. “Just like that?”
“Is there something else you’d prefer?”
“Play by the rules. You finished the game with the other two; finish it with me, as well.”
Tsukasa’s eyebrows arch and he leans back, sighing. “You’re joking, right?”
“No.” Heat rises to his cheeks, but Kaitou ignores it. “I just…”
He just wants Tsukasa to care about him, clearly and plainly. He wants Tsukasa to show him the same tenderness and protectiveness that he shows to Natsumi, the same caring and trust that he shows Yuusuke. He wants Tsukasa to acknowledge him as someone important.
He wants to be important to Tsukasa, to be someone that Tsukasa will reach out to and depend on, but he can’t be. He’s too aware of how the world really works, too bitter and jaded and conscious of reality to be hope like Yuusuke is or unfaltering faith like Natsumi is, and wanting to be something like that’s foolish anyway.
“It doesn’t matter.” Practically snarling the words, Kaitou slips out of his boxers and moves toward Tsukasa. “Whatever I want, right? I’ll give you three guesses about that, and the first two don’t count.”
“I trust you with them, Kaitou.”
The words are spoken quietly, calmly, and Tsukasa stares at him with unflinching certainty.
“I… what?” He knows what. He doesn’t need to ask. He shouldn’t ask, because it makes him look foolish or needy and he’s neither of those things, but he wants to hear it anyway.
His right hand tingles, a sensation like grass or feathers or the gentle caress of laser sites over his skin that hasn’t stopped since it was injured, and he wants to hear that Tsukasa understands what he did.
“That’s my third truth for you, Kaitou.” Tsukasa reaches toward him, his fingers settling warmly over Kaitou’s right hand, drowning out the infuriating hum. “The second’s still true. You were a good man; you can be one still, when you want to be. And because of that, because of everything that’s happened, I trust you with Natsumi and Yuusuke. I trust you with my world, with the people who mean more to me than anything else. I trust you with me, with who I am today, because the me who’s here wouldn’t have ever existed if I hadn’t met the three of you.”
“Why?” It’s a simple question, one that he shouldn’t ask, one that he shouldn’t care about but he does. At least he doesn’t specify. At least he doesn’t ask why Tsukasa trusts him with Natsumi and Yuusuke, not when he’s hurt them both in the past. He doesn’t ask why Tsukasa includes Kaitou in the count of people who helped make him who he is.
“Because I can.” Tsukasa gives a slight smile and a shrug. “Because you can be like me when you need to be, but you can be like them, too. You can shoot me in the head and you can come to rescue me, and doing both come naturally to you.”
“I’m not a hero.” He’s said it before, with more conviction, with more force. Why does his voice crack on the words this time? They’re no more or less true now than they have been in the past.
Tsukasa leans forward, until his lips are right by Kaitou’s ear, his breath a warm shiver in Kaitou’s hair. He whispers words so soft that Kaitou doubts even Yuusuke can overhear. “I’m not, either.”
Before Kaitou can say anything Tsukasa’s teeth nip at his ear.
Pulling back with a startled yelp, Kaitou glares at Tsukasa and rubs at his ear.
The smirk on Tsukasa’s face is far too self-satisfied. “You’re what you are, Kaitou, even if you won’t admit it to yourself. And I’m what I am. And they make us both better people, and we keep them from getting themselves killed in a foolish manner. It’s not too bad a trade-off, I’d say. Now, do you want to get on with this or is there anything else you want to say?”
“I love you.” Kaitou blurts out the confession on a wave of desperate affection and agonizing frustration as he watches Tsukasa lounge back, the infuriating man clearly satisfied that he’s once again completely in control of the situation.
It’s worth the burning in his cheeks to watch Tsukasa’s smile falter, the other man clearly taken aback. Then Tsukasa smiles, an expression filled with gentle tenderness that Kaitou’s used to seeing turned on the others but not on him. “I’m glad. You knew me… before. You’re difficult, and prickly, and we’re too similar sometimes, but… I’m glad. And I love you, too.”
Tsukasa turns away as he says the words, and all Kaitou can do is blink at the man. Tsukasa doesn’t say things like that. Even with Natsumi and Yuusuke, Tsukasa shows rather than tells them how he feels.
“Well?” Tsukasa turns back to Kaitou, a faint flush in his cheeks. “Now can we—”
“Yeah.” Trying to suppress a grin, Kaitou nods. “It doesn’t change what I want, though.”
“I know.” Tsukasa stretches languidly, grabbing a pillow and turning around deliberately. “I expect you to make it good for me, too.”
“Are you even recovered from your bout with Natsumi?” Kaitou’s voice is gruff as he approaches Tsukasa, grabbing the bottle of lubricant and setting it next to him as he takes up position behind the other man.
“Only one way to tell.” Tsukasa shrugs, raising one eyebrow. “Or are you not up to the challenge of making me happy?”
“You’re going to scream my name, Tsukasa.” Kaitou wraps his arm around the other man’s chest, pulling Tsukasa to him and biting his way from Tsukasa’s shoulder up to his neck. “And before you say anything smart, yes, in pleasure.”
Tsukasa laughs, a low rumble against Kaitou’s chest. “Prove it.”
Natsumi sighs, and both Kaitou and Tsukasa turn towards where she and Yuusuke are still curled up together. “And here they were having such a civilized conversation.”
“This is still civilized for them.” Yuusuke kisses Natsumi’s cheek. “Should we try to join in, or would the two of you like to take this alone for now?”
Tsukasa glances up at Kaitou, who looks away. After a few seconds Tsukasa speaks. “Just us, just for now. Afterwards… afterwards, for my turn, I want all three of you. All three of you, for as long as everyone can stay awake.”
“Considering how exhausted you’re going to be, that won’t be for long.” Kaitou bites lightly at Tsukasa’s neck again. His cock is already standing upright, pressing against Tsukasa’s back. They’ve been teasing around this moment all night, and between the scent of sex in the air and the exhilarating frustration of just watching the others and the unexpected joy of hearing Tsukasa say those words… well, Kaitou’s body needs very little urging to do what he wants it to do right now.
“I’m waiting, Kaitou.”
It’s the last thing they say. It’s the last thing that needs to be said, the thing that’s defined their relationship whether or not Kaitou wanted it to. Tsukasa was the evil overlord, the world-traveler, the one without a conscience when Kaitou desperately wanted to be able to feel nothing and dance lightly from one adventure to another. Tsukasa is a hero, no matter what else he might say, a man who has gained the love and admiration of good people, and even if Kaitou knows better than to want to be a hero…
He’s gentle at first, showering Tsukasa’s neck and shoulders with kisses and gentle nips, working from Tsukasa’s ears down to his shoulders and back again. His hands work across Tsukasa’s chest and abdomen, thief-clever, sure and certain as they trace the lines of Tsukasa’s muscles, trace patterns. He finds himself paying more attention than he should to the center of Tsukasa’s abdomen, tracing lines where Yuusuke’s Kuuga lies. Smiling, he corrects the problem, bending Tsukasa over before sending his hands lower.
Tsukasa’s starting to get hard, finally, his breathing coming faster, though he stays stubbornly quiet. Running his tongue down Tsukasa’s spine, Kaitou uses one hand to fondle Tsukasa’s balls while the other dances down Tsukasa’s cock. Tsukasa’s breath freezes in his chest, and his cock rises obediently, earning another low chuckle from Kaitou.
He continues to fondle Tsukasa’s testicles as he spreads lubricant over the fingers of his right hand. Pressing Tsukasa further down, bending him over the pillow Tsukasa had grabbed, Kaitou teases one finger around Tsukasa’s anus. He runs his finger gently over the hole, waiting for Tsukasa to push back against him, a clear, non-verbal declaration of his readiness.
He’s rougher after that, faster, slipping one finger, then two, then three into Tsukasa. Tsukasa gives one soft grunt, of discomfort, and Kaitou forces himself to slow, to move the fingers of his right hand gently while his left still works Tsukasa’s testicles. After what feels like far too long, Tsukasa gives a long, shivering sigh, desire and pleasure mixed together as he thrusts against Kaitou.
It’s all the acquiescence that Kaitou needs. Pulling his fingers free, he wraps his arm around Tsukasa’s waist and thrusts into the other man in one clean motion. Tsukasa’s voice rises in a cry of pleasure, and Kaitou finds his own voice joining in.
It shouldn’t be this good. It shouldn’t be this perfect. He’d never slept with a man before Tsukasa and Yuusuke; he’d rarely slept with anyone, period, prior to having the three of them. Sex wasn’t something encouraged on his world, and he’d been so wrapped up in his work…
He doesn’t want to think about his world, though. He wants to think about this, about how perfect it is to have his body pressed to Tsukasa’s, about how wonderful it is to be so close to Tsukasa, to have Tsukasa trust him to utterly, to wrench such sounds of pleasure and need from Tsukasa’s throat.
He brings Tsukasa to climax first, never letting his fingers stop moving. Testicles, cock, testicles, cock, pressing, fondling, stroking, pumping, all the while moving inside Tsukasa, slowly changing angles until he finds just the right one to earn a sharp gasp of pleasure from the man beneath him.
Yuusuke and Tsukasa think he likes topping because it’s the dominant position, the male position. Yuusuke usually accepts that with equanimity, content to be top or bottom, to give or receive as his partner needs; Tsukasa teases him about it, fights him for the right; Natsumi even joins in the debate sometimes, glaring at all of them and declaring that being associated with being female will not, under any circumstances, be associated with being weak in her house.
It’s not the salvaging of his masculinity that makes him like to top—or not just that, at least. He likes this—he likes being in control, and being able to make something beautiful out of that control. It can be fun, especially with Yuusuke, to let someone else take control, to let someone else play his body like a musical instrument, but it’s never quite the same. It never feels quite as safe as this, as satisfying as this, and if that bothers the others, so be it. It’s been a long time since his emotions were bound by logic, anyway.
He comes shortly after Tsukasa, and allows himself to press against the other man as the aftershocks shake his body.
This is perfect.
It shouldn’t be. It can’t be. There’s too much danger and too much wrong with the worlds for anything to be perfect. There’s blood on Tsukasa’s shoulder now, even, from where his wound has broken open and is bleeding sluggishly. They could have died during this adventure; they could die tomorrow.
But right now, right at this moment, he has Tsukasa in his arms, and Natsumi and Yuusuke watching them appreciatively, and they’re all alive and they’re all sane and they’re all home, and logic be damned because it’s perfect.
“Kaitou.” Tsukasa turns his head just slightly. “No offense, but you’re just about as heavy as me. Mind rolling off if you’re done?”
Sighing, Kaitou rolls off of Tsukasa. He tries to feel affronted as the euphoria dims to something more manageable, but he’s still too happy to really be annoyed. Which, somehow, is annoying in its own right. “You’re infuriating sometimes, you know?”
“I’m glad you enjoyed that. It was pretty good for me, too.” Tsukasa smiles lazily, his eyes hooded with mischief. “As good as I’d expect a sneak-thief to be, I suppose.”
“Thieves have clever hands.” Kaitou murmurs the words, his mostly clean left hand sliding over Tsukasa’s back. “And you love these clever hands.”
“I do. But since this seems to mark the end of your turn, I believe it’s mine again. So…” Tsukasa raises his head and gestures at Yuusuke and Natsumi, his voice taking on a tone that somehow manages to be lazily imperious. “Get over here, you two.”
“Uh-uh.” Shaking his head, Kaitou bats at Tsukasa’s hand. “You haven’t done your round yet. You don’t get to command them over here.”
“Kaitou…” Tsukasa growls out the word, expression frustrated for a moment before clearing. “All right. Fine. One more lie they told me, right?”
Kaitou nods, sitting up slightly, wondering if annoying Tsukasa is going to be worth whatever it will cost the man.
If it hurts too much, Kaitou will just have to make sure to make him forget it quickly.
“They tried to tell me I couldn’t change.” Tsukasa speaks slowly. “They tried to say that no one could change—that I would always be an authoritarian ruler, that those I was subduing were always meant to be slaves to my empire. But they were wrong. I have changed. You’ve changed me, all of you. And I’ve changed you. And I think… they’ve all been changes for the better.”
For a long second no one says anything.
Kaitou thinks about saying no. He thinks about telling Tsukasa that the Zangyack were right, that it wasn’t a lie. Peel away Tsukasa’s memories, and at his core he is still the amoral would-be ruler of everything that Kaitou first met. Natsumi and Yuusuke, too, are still fundamentally the same, good people like they were before Tsukasa met them. And Kaitou… well, Kaitou knew when he met Tsukasa what the world looks like when stripped of pretty preconceptions, and he’s never going to trust the universe to be anything near fair again.
Yuusuke’s voice breaks the silence, a single, confident word. “Yes.”
And the moment to argue is gone. Kaitou smiles, letting his head fall back onto the bed. Let them believe. Let them have hope, and faith, and joy.
Even if it’s just an illusion, it’s an illusion he wants to revel in right now.
“Does that satisfy you, Kaitou?” Tsukasa’s fingers run along his side, earning a shiver from Kaitou. “I’m sure I can—”
“Get them over here.” Kaitou goes to swat Tsukasa’s hand away and somehow ends up holding onto the man’s fingers, clasping them tight as though Tsukasa might disappear.
“Here.” Yuusuke separates himself from Natsumi, tossing a towel to Kaitou and one to Tsukasa. “So, Tsukasa, what would you like as your reward?”
“I want the three of you.”
“I like the sound of that.” Natsumi stalks over to them, curling up against Tsukasa’s back, one arm draped across Tsukasa’s stomach. She waits until he tosses the towel aside before hugging him fiercely. “But what would you like the three of us to do?”
“If you’re tired or just want to cuddle, that’s fine.” Yuusuke stays still, knees drawn up to his chest again, hiding the worst of the bruising from his injuries. “But if you want something else… well, let’s just say that watching you and Kaitou has made me rethink how many acrobatics I might be up to.”
“I don’t care. I just… want you all.” He wants to know that they’re safe. He wants to touch all three of them, hold them tight, be able to tell himself that he’s done nothing to hurt them. “It doesn’t matter what we do. I just want you all here.”
It’s not quite the last thing he says for the night, but it’s the last important thing.
For a while they just lie against him, reminiscing, talking about previous fights and allies and enemies that they’ve made. Natsumi holds a bandage to his chest until the oozing that Kaitou had triggered stops. Yuusuke curls up on the blankets, his head in Tsukasa’s lap, quieter than normal but seeming contented.
Eventually, though, his body recovers enough to make other options feasible.
They’ve tried something like it before, but not for a while. Getting two people perfectly synched up is hard; getting three is insanely difficult; and getting four can be an agonizing exercise in frustration. They’ve all had at least some gratification earlier in the night, though, and it’s what Tsukasa wants.
They try because they know it’s what he wants.
That in itself is a heady aphrodisiac, though it’s nothing compared to the warmth of Yuusuke’s skin, the dazzling beauty of Natsumi’s smile, the clever workings of Kaitou’s fingers.
Natsumi and he start, with Kaitou sliding in behind Natsumi once they’re comfortable. Yuusuke completes the quartet, his skin a fiery brand against Tsukasa’s back.
It doesn’t go smoothly. The healing gashes on Natsumi’s chest and back start stinging partway through, making it hard for her to press against either Kaitou or Tsukasa. Tsukasa’s shoulder starts bleeding again after Yuusuke’s clenching fingers brush too close to the injury. Yuusuke’s shuddering breath as he climaxes has too much of a hint of pain in it for Tsukasa’s liking, and it makes it harder for him to focus on Natsumi as Kaitou works her closer to the edge.
It’s worth it, though. It’s worth it to touch them all at the same time. It’s worth it to have the moments of surrendering to them, of trusting them; it’s worth it to see their faces as they close their eyes, give themselves to him, love him, trust him despite everything.
It’s imperfect, just like the rest of their lives, but there’s more than enough joy and pleasure and love to make it worth the price.
When they’re all done they just lie together on the bed for several long minutes, breathing quietly. Tsukasa makes sure to shift so that he’s touching them all—Yuusuke warm against his back still, Natsumi in his arms, and one hand reaching out to rest on Kaitou.
“We should clean up.” Natsumi eventually makes the soft declaration, her head resting on Tsukasa’s chest. Shifting, she finds a clean spot on a towel and presses it against his wound.
“We’re going to have a lot of laundry to do tomorrow.” Yuusuke sighs, and there’s just a slight hitch of pain to the sound, just a slight tightening of his arms around Tsukasa.
“We need to sleep.” Kaitou yawns to punctuate the statement, stretching his arms above his head. “I think dawn’s going to be showing up soon.”
“Was it worth it?” Natsumi presses a soft kiss to Tsukasa’s chest, above his heart. “Did it help?”
“It helped. It helped a lot.” Running a hand down her face, he smiles up at her before reaching out to touch the other two again. “And of course it was worth it. Compared to a lot of what we’ve been through, talking’s nothing. And even if it hurt… for you, for all of you, anything’s worth it.”
It’s been a night of truths. It’s been a night of facing pain to find pleasure and comfort. It’s been a night of saying truths he never thought he’d say.
But that last, perhaps, is still the truest thing he’s said all night.