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Shades of Fire Forged Friendship

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It was ten years after they’d met one another that Touya taught Jin how to sew. It took another five before Jin was any good at it, before he’d sit quietly and work instead of chatter on aimlessly. But he was never happy about it. Jin hated to be bored, and unless he could distract himself sewing was boring.

 Those five years were some of their unpleasant together.

Fortunately, it was only another ten years after that before Touya started to miss the chatter and provoked him back to his old ways. Mundane tasks were always easier when Jin chattered.

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A body and mind that were whole and untarnished was a luxury that no Shinobi could afford. There was no other alternative, no other way to survive.

Jin was insane. Touya was insane. Jin was determined to laugh whether he won or lost. Touya was determined to hope in the face of all odds. It was insanity of the highest order in the world of demons. Everyone knew it, including them.

Neither of them was whole. Neither of them was right. But they had one another, and when the need arose, the broken halves could unite make an unstoppable whole.

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With a tiny scalpel of ice and careful hands, Touya patiently spent the night cutting the quills free from Jin’s chest. They were burrowed so deeply they their barbs were hooked around his ribs.

Touya’s chilly skin was a blessing against the heat of an infection manifesting. His sure grip and his steady pace made it easier for Jin to lay still and quiet, to just let him work.

There were always bad days. This was one of them. Jin was not a naturally vindictive being, but he hoped the demon that had done this to him had died painfully.

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Jin was the fastest demon Touya had ever known. Maybe even the fastest demon alive. Sometimes it seemed as though Jin could run forever. No one could catch him if he didn’t want to be caught. Touya sometimes tried anyway, just to see if he could.

Sometimes Jin took pity. Sometimes he’d slow down just enough for Touya to reach out and grab the hem of his shirt.

Whenever he did, Touya would smack him upside the back of the head and walk away. Breathless and tired, he would nevertheless stalk away angrily.

He didn’t need pity. Not from Jin.

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Jin wasn’t used to pain. He was supposed to be too fast for pain. But sometimes pain didn’t just catch up with him, sometimes it grabbed on to him and held on and smothered him no matter how much he struggled against it.

But Touya wouldn’t let go, either. Jin didn’t mind that as much. With a strength that he’d once been amazed to see, Touya would carry him to the ends of the earth and sit up with him after and carefully pry the pain’s grip away.

He’d leave the world behind, but Jin always wanted Touya beside him.

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If your sake tasted bitter, it was said that there was something wrong with you.

Jin and Touya had never known it to taste any other way. They didn’t care. After a job well done or a job failed, they would fill their cups, give a toast, and down the draught in one. They would grimace faintly as the bitter taste assaulted their senses. Then one would pour for the other and they would drink again.

Jin would drink until he was snoring on the floor. Touya would sit alone, sip his drink, and watch the moon alone all night.

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Jin was quick in many respects. He was especially quick to anger, under the wrong circumstances and around certain people.

Touya was amazed that Bakken had made it to the island without Jin putting a hole through his chest. He was still awaiting the day when Jin decided that he’d had enough of Risho’s leadership. No two demons in centuries had ever made Jin so angry. It was a startling transformation, the way his eyes narrowed almost to slits, the way he bared his teeth.

Touya was almost hoping for the inevitable fight. The tension was driving them all insane.

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Touya didn’t know what it would be like to live in a world that wasn’t Demon World.

That didn’t stop him from dreaming.

He dreamed of worlds where a kinder sun lit the sky, where the horizon wasn’t quite so stark and the scenery was more forgiving. He dreamed of a place where life was peaceful and food tasted better.

Touya carried those bright, happy dreams through the darkness, bloodshed, and pain.

He knew that Jin thought he was insane for dreaming. But his friend never said anything about it. Besides, Touya knew all too well that Jin dreamed, too.

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The coins clinked quietly in the silence as Touya stacked them.  The gold glittered. By most standards, it was a good amount of money.

But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t what they’d been promised.

Jin was leaning against the door, watching. Jin couldn’t count, so he always trusted Touya in these matters, in the business sides of their jobs that always bookended the violence.

And he loved it when the violence wound up bookending the business instead. And so when Touya looked up at him with a decidedly grim expression on his face, the Wind Master grinned in gleeful anticipation.

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The Dark Tournament had brought more than its fair share of pain, of troubles, of new and frightening lessons.

They were still sorry to leave it, sorry and angry. There wasn’t a single demon among them who wanted to return to their own world after living in the light of the human world.

The surviving members of Team Masho and Team Rokuyokai put up the best fight, and they left behind the body count to show it.

To a one, they knew fighting was hopeless. They fought anyway.

All holidays had to end. They should just end with a bang.

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Theirs’ was not a life that allowed for many questions.

Touya asked them anyway. No one ever understood why. Even he didn’t understand why. But he asked anyway.

Why are we here? Why do we fight? Why are the worlds divided? Why do only humans deserve the light?

They’d fought more than their fair share of times about Touya’s questioning. Jin didn’t understand it. Jin didn’t like it – he didn’t like anything that complicated their existence. But Touya didn’t care.  However long it took, he was determined to keep questioning.

At least until he found answers.

Jin eventually accepted that.

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Red was a beautiful color.

Red was the color of a sunset setting the horizon on fire. Red was the color of the light when day was turning into night. Red was the color of blood pouring forth from a dying, defeated foe.

Red was the color of Jin’s hair, scraggly and tangled under his fingers, messy and uncooperative and bristly as a thorn bush against his cheek. Touya loved that particular shade of red best of all. Sometimes he said so, usually when they were pressed so tightly against one another that not a breath could pass between them.

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Jin was a creature of the sky. Jin was the birds, and the wind, and the roaring rush of freedom. Even when forced to walk the earth, his bare feet growing dirty and tough against the ground, he seemed always to be floating.

But when forced to walk the earth, he was incomplete, unhappy. Only the run up, the leap into the air, and the endless freedom of flight could bring him true happiness.

Touya would sit and watch, during those times, as his friend’s form grew smaller and smaller. It was the closest he could ever come to following.

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The world around him was cold and dark. His lungs burned, his arms and legs thrashed and kicked, he searched desperately for air that could not be found.

Jin was trapped.

Jin was dying.

Jin was scared.

He didn’t know which way was up or which way would lead to safety. He didn’t know if the water rushing against his face was the unforgiving river water or his own bitter tears of frustration. He didn’t know what death would feel like when the water finally chased the air from his lungs, only that he did not want to find out.

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“Would you move over?”

“No way, no chance! Never had a nap this nice!”

“I’ve never had one so restless. Would you at least let me have some of the blankets?”

“What do you need to stay warm for? You’re all icy, you’d melt like a snowman with blankets this warm!”

“Who are you to talk? You must be as heavy as a stone when you’re wrapped up like that.”

“Then stones have it better than I thought.”

“Jin…”

“Touya…”

“Hmph. This is the last time we share a bed.”

“Sure. So was last month. And the year…ow!”

“Idiot.”

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The first time Jin ever saw a balloon, he was enraptured.

The sun was warm and shining. There were people all around them, happily living their human lives. And Jin was enraptured by a balloon.

The vendor was harassed and distracted by his small children customers. It was the simplest thing for Touya, with Jin’s pleas ringing in his ears, to steal up behind the cart and make off with one.

Jin clung to the string as soon as it was pressed into his hand. If they hadn’t been surrounded by people, he would have let himself float with it.

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Anyone with eyes could see that there was something of a size difference between Jin and Touya. At no point was this more evident than when one of Jin’s rare bouts of genuine affection took hold of him.

Jin was powerful, and wild, and nowhere was that more evident than when he pulled Touya to him in a hug. The force of his grip and the fierceness he would throw behind such a gesture of physical affection would make Touya’s bones creak and the breath whoosh from his body.

There was never a point where Touya felt smaller or safer.

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Some similarities existed between the world of demons and the world of humans. One of those similarities was the existence of hot springs.

Jin and Touya never visited hot springs. When they needed a jolt, they would simply find a pond where the water was clear enough not to kill them on contact. Then Touya would stand and focus until the water was cold enough for ice to float on the top.

Then Jin would jump in with reckless abandon, and Touya wouldn’t be far behind.

There was no better way to recover your senses after a long, hard job.

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When Touya regained his senses, the first thing he knew was pain. The second thing he knew was heat, stifling and feverish heat. The only scrap of relief was the cool cloth being brushed gently over his forehead.

When he forced his eyes to open, the first thing he saw was Jin’s face, sunk into an expression of concern that was truly rare to see.

The heat of fever became the heat of shame as Touya realized that he was crying.

“I’m sorry…Jin, I’m so sorry…”

“Hush up. Not your fault. An’ we’ll make it work, Touya, don’t you worry.”

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Why had it taken so long for someone like Jin to come into Yusuke’s life?

He’d never met another being that could truly understand his love for violence and the joy of a blow connecting. It didn’t matter whether it was on your body or your opponent’s. What mattered was that the punch had been thrown, the stakes had been raised, the wills were clashing

Kuwabara was the only human he’d ever met to even come close to understanding the rush, and he had nothing on Jin.

Yusuke would show his appreciation for this acceptance by beating Jin senseless.

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A big city could be just as dangerous as any remote wilderness.

Jin and Touya would be hard pressed, if asked, to say which they preferred. To Jin, it didn’t much matter. As long as there was nothing preventing him from reaching the freedom of the open sky, he didn’t much care what was on the ground. The most crowded environments could be easily cleared by Touya’s ice, and he’d proven just as good at adapting. Really, they could survive wherever a job sent them.

Only cities sold fresh mochi cakes, however, and so were eventually agreed to be preferable.

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Touya wondered sometimes why ice was blue. Water was only blue because, far too often, it was reflecting the sky. Ice was supposed to do the same. His chosen element was the mirror of the world.

But mirrors could reflect all kinds of things. Reflect them, and hide them. His own eyes –often compared to the ice he controlled – served a similar purpose. People looking into his eyes could see whatever they wanted, but they’d never see what was behind the mirror. He reflected back what was given to him.

At least Jin gave him something bright to shine back.

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Many demons in the past had commented on Jin’s strange ears. Touya couldn’t fault them for that. It was an undeniably strange quirk of evolution. Jin, however, would always cheerfully laugh off any direct questions.

So Touya had been left to draw his own opinions.

What he’d eventually decided was that it was a defense mechanism. Jin’s ears only changed when he was happy or excited, whenever he was hearing something he wanted to hear. Otherwise? The lack of a change was his friend’s attempt to shut out the horrors of their lives. Touya couldn’t fault him for that either.

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Jin was the truly heartless one, and he knew it. Touya could certainly be more inventive in his cruelty but that, to Jin’s mind, was just a sign of how capable his friend was of being affected by the horrors of their lives. And to Jin’s mind, that was both Touya’s greatest charm and his most crippling weakness.

Jin didn’t care. This let him fight and break and kill with a smile. It was a truly freeing sort of feeling, and the last key any Shinobi needed to truly enjoy their work.

Touya never would. Jin pitied him for that.

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It was Touya’s driving force, his quest and his wish and his reason for fighting. It was what he had been denied and what he craved to possess. It was what he would never rest without and never be entire without.

Most importantly, it was something humans were keeping from him. He would never forgive them for that. And only slightly less importantly, it was something so many of his brethren had seemed to have found and they wouldn’t tell him how.

Touya watched Jin dive amongst the rocky ocean cliffs, happily scaring seagulls and chasing fish, and envied him.

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“Jin? Please explain to me how you missed this.”

“Hey, hey, hey! Don’t go blamin’ me, mate, I was in the rush of all rushes and you tend to miss things when you’re in the rush of all rushes!”

“You missed the largest sigh in the entire stadium?”

“Don’t go an’ frown like that, Touya. Makes you look even icier than you are. C’mon, cheer up a bit!”

“Ow! Let go of me, you idiot! Just…take care of what you need to take care of so we can get back.”

Grinning brightly, Jin hurried off to the recently discovered bathrooms.

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No one was surprised when the ice machine was ripped out of their hotel room in the middle of the night. That didn’t mean everyone was happy. Risho took Touya to task for costing them more money to the humans. Jin shot a curious sideling look at Gamma during this, and received a shrug back, but…he decided that, knowing humans, they probably would attempt to charge their contestants for little things like that.

But an ice maker? What was that for anyone to get upset about? They had the best ice maker in existence sleeping on the floor.

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They both had dim recollections of walls and roofs and other people that were unequivocally theirs’. But dim memories were all they had. Time and distance had washed out anything else.

It had been far too long since they’d had a home of their own, and they knew well enough to know that this was not likely to change. The closest looks they ever had were of the homes of their targets, and what they found there never matched their memories.

So they left the pieces behind. It was pointless to wish for what they already had in one another.

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They didn’t know why Genkai was calling this a game. It wasn’t a game, it was the sorts of missions they had taken on dozens upon dozens of times. They often hadn’t even had the benefit of flashlights.

But, in the end, the lot of them realized that there was some levity to be had. Chiefly Jin and Touya, who were witness to a truly spectacular fight between Chuu and Rinku over who had lost the batteries.

There could only be one victor, however, only one to escape punishment from their formidable teacher.

To absolutely everyone’s surprise, it was Shishiwakamaru.

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Jin wore pants, and a few tatters of fabric across his chest for the sake of decency whenever someone insisted upon it. Touya, on the other hand, was covered from his neck to the soles of his feet. It made the marked contrasts between them only more noticeable, and put their differences on display for all to see.

It was disquieting, and occasionally irritating, but also useful in the end. If no one believed they were together, surveying a target from two different directions became even easier. No one could watch their back and their front at the same time.

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They worked for hire. Sometimes they fought, sometimes they stole, sometimes they killed, and sometimes they provided other services. It was the payment that was what mattered – it separated them from those demons who were too weak to be anything but slaves, and gave them what independence they could to run when they had to.

But all of their careful contingencies couldn’t change the fact that Jin and Touya willingly made themselves servants to the powerful, the lazy, and the soft. Sometimes there was loyalty, sometimes there wasn’t, but there was always relief at being back on the road again.

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Every element had its opposite, every Shinobi had an enemy.

For wind, it was earth. For Jin, it was Risho.

Touya thought grimly that this probably had rather a lot to do with Risho’s idea of…”disciplining” the errant Wind Master. Part of the reason Jin refused to stay on the ground any longer than he had to was that he was afraid of the trees. He was afraid of the branches that scratched and stabbed, afraid of the leaves that choked and blinded, most of all afraid of the roots that grabbed, dragged, and bound.

Who wouldn’t be scared?

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Jobs were never easy. Some were just less complicated than others. Even so, it was always all but a guarantee that something would always go wrong. Occasionally, Jin and Touya would keep up a running bet with one another just what it might be.

One day, a job went entirely according to plan. Nothing went wrong. Nothing hurt them, tricked them, delayed them. The pay was good, they weren’t double crossed, they were sent on their way with sincerest thanks.

The two demons stared at one another and, as one, gave a shudder. The next job would be absolutely hellish.

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The house was in shambles. Furniture had been overturned or smashed, dishes shattered, wallpaper torn asunder. The culprit was currently perched on top of the refrigerator, staring down in horror at their visitor.

Their visitor, for his part, was laughing. His shaking shoulders betrayed this, although his long red hair concealed the mirth in his eyes.

“I don’t care what you do to me, you can’t make me, I’m not goin’ anywhere near that no good, fishy faced…”

Touya called in from the living room to catch Kurama’s attention. “Hey. Get him dressed. They’re going to be here any minute.”

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Clouds were not as fluffy as they looked. Clouds were thin, cold, and damp. They weren’t much different than fog, when you were deep into them. Even the whitest and puffiest, warmed by a fat yellow sun, weren’t much more substantial than mist from the inside.

Jin didn’t understand why Touya was so entranced when Jin first took him inside one. Touya didn’t know how to explain. He’d always thought of ice as something solid, heavy, grounded. But in the open air, feeling the tiny crystals as clearly as though they were on a glacier, he’d never felt more free.

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It was amazing what you could do with ice.

Touya never needed a weapon. Jin didn’t, either, but there were days when he still marveled at Touya’s versatility about it. And it didn’t stop at weapons, either. To keep in practice, his friend sculpted ice flowers.

Flowers were complicated. They were delicate, precise work. To make something that looked real, that you might find in a garden or a glen, took concentration and effort above and beyond crafting a sword or pulling needles out of the air. There was an art to it. Even Jin was forced to concede that.

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Being too close to one another was already a liability – there was no point in digging themselves any deeper, and the hope was there that if they didn’t say anything then nothing would change. Besides, they knew the stories. Spirit World had studied demons since time immemorial, and had proven time and time again that they were incapable of love.

So the kisses meant nothing. The bone crushing embraces meant nothing. The nights spent together meant nothing. They were comrades and nothing more. If they hungered for one another’s presence, it was only because it was better than being alone.

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One could be attacked from the front, or the rear. They could be attacked from the left or right, from above or below, from all the directions in between.

There was no way to keep watch every which way when there were only two of you. Every pause for rest, every hour spent on the road, presented some risk.

Jin and Touya had long ago decided by tacit, unspoken agreement that they would only concern themselves with remaining side by side. Then, when trouble struck – it was always a when – at least they would be able to face it together.

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Jin didn’t like confined spaces. So they didn’t understand why he pressed himself against the bars of his cage, curling up in the corner, rather than remain in the middle.

Practically, of course, it was so he had the best chance of of taking advantage of his environment if an opportunity presented itself. And it was true that he hated the feeling of the unyielding bars against his skin.

But if he pressed himself up tightly against the walls, he could just reach out his hand and touch the still fingers of the one in the cage next to his.

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Jin prefers to fly. It's just his nature. The wind is his soul and center, and he'll never be happier on the ground than he is in the sky.

Well...almost never.

For Touya, Jin walks the land, barefoot and not belonging but still always there. He tells himself that it's because Touya needs him. In fact, that's true. But it's not all of it. The fact that Jin won't admit and that Touya saw from the start is that even the wind is shaped by the land around it, and even the most independently minded demon needs a friend.

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Aligning yourself entirely to one element meant opening yourself up to weaknesses. One weakness, really. It was a balance against the power a true Shinobi could acquire.

For Touya, it was fire.

A cigarette lighter could make him flinch. A burning torch could keep him at bay, although he was hardly helpless at range. He kept well back from campfires, and didn't go outside much in the summer. It was hard to summon ice when they entire world was against the very idea of cold.

They corner him by setting the woods on fire. Jin finds him by the screams.

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Jin was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for, especially in a fight.

It was a necessity. Most didn't know it to look at him, but Jin was fragile. Something about his training had taken its toll, left him with weakened bones like a bird's. It made it easier for him to fly, but a few well placed strikes could incapacitate him completely.

So he'd learned long ago not to get hit. Instead, he just kept out of range until the time was right. When it was, he turned from a brittle boned bird to a raging hurricane.

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Touya knew that he'd never, never forget the sound of Jin screaming. It would join the litany of his nightmares for the rest of his days.

It took a long time to track him down. When Jin was distressed or afraid, the first place he went was the highest place he could find. But Touya was still weak, and couldn't climb that quickly, no matter how much he hurried.

He found Jin staring up with dead eyes into the sky as though about to take off. His skin was still streaked with dirt, his wrists still raw from being chained.

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"Ever been to the horizon, Touya?"

"Jin, the horizon isn't a place. You can't go there, don't be silly."

"What are you talkin' about? It's a great place! Most interestin' people you'll ever meet. Prettiest girls in all of Demon World, best food I've ever eaten, and I've never heard music like it."

"You're kidding."

"Nah, come on! You know me, mate. Would I lie to you? Follow me, I'll show ya!"

"You mean now?"

"Why not? We weren't doin' anything all that fun. Might take a bit of a trip, but it'll be worth every bit!"

"...lead the way."

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All friends fought. No matter how close you were, things piled up, tensions mounted, fights resulted. Sometimes they were physical, sometimes they were verbal, but they never lasted forever.

For Jin and Touya, those fights tended towards the physical. Theirs' was a stressful life, and few things relieved stress like a good fight against someone who didn't actually mean to see you dead.

Sometimes, it took distance. Sometimes, what you needed was to be away, so sometimes they left one another for a time. They always found their way back together, though, and the promise of that kept them going.

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Their first meeting was on opposite sides of the job.

Each would freely admit that it was Touya who had seduced Jin. He'd done his homework, though, and known how to go about it. He'd gone about it by drawing Jin into a fight, first, a quiet little brawl in the shadows where he'd come at Jin too fast and hard to let him fly.

Breathless and dizzied and excited, Jin hadn't thought twice about kissing him back. Touya had taken advantage of his distraction to bind his limbs to the ground in ice, and scamper away with a smirk.

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The next time they met, Touya was on the run and lost and starving. Jin had been chosen to hunt him down, and so his quarry had been quite surprised to look up and find a strip of jerky being held out to him.

It could have been a trap. It should have been a trap. But it wasn't. Jin proved more than happy to share his provisions with his prey, if only so Touya could recover enough to give him a good run. The fact that this let Touya get away in the end didn't bother him very much.

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Even Touya never said no to roasted apples. Given a long enough stick, he'd even hang around long enough to roast them.

Apples were hardy things. They grew even in Demon World, sour and tough. They loved them anyway, especially after a little while over a fire. When Touya managed to brave the giant bee hives to steal away some honey to add, it sent Jin into near paroxysms of delight that made the stings worth it.

It wasn't until centuries later that they'd discovered you could make pies out of them. No apple tree anywhere was safe, after that.

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They don't get wet in the rain if they don't want to. It's a simple matter of Touya summoning a canopy of ice over their heads. It makes it colder, yes, but Jin is used to cold.

Sometimes, though, they want to get wet in the rain. Sometimes Jin spins freely in the air, sending raindrops twirling out around him. Sometimes he splashes down in the puddles and sends muddy water flying. Sometimes he sits at the top of a tree and watches the lightning.

Sometimes he gets sick as a result. Touya's always prepared to deal with that, too.

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Jin wasn't the best at reading. So when he got his hands on a candy bar, he thought he'd found a magic spell just from squinting at the ingredient list.

When he passed it to Touya to decipher, Touya found himself at just as much of a loss. Finally, curiosity overcame them both. The packaging was somewhat of a struggle - sometimes humans were ingenious in all the wrong ways - but they finally got it open, and they split the results between them.

Not only did they not die of poison, it was the most flavorful thing either had ever eaten.

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It wasn't even that they were weak. It was that Toguro was just that strong. If they'd gone the entire battle without protection, they would have eventually liquified like so many demons all around them.

But four demons together, combining all their strength into a barrier, could endure his power. And they did, because to flee before the end was unthinkable, now. There was the sense that history was being made, right before their eyes, and to leave before the end would be damn near blasphemous.

More than that, it would show disrespect towards the one fighting for them all.

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Just this once, Jin waited for him instead of following.

It didn't take long. Touya wasn't very good at dealing with the dead - the living so often proved so difficult in their own right - and so he often found himself at a loss, here.

But he came back, anyway, if only to see that the grave marker was still standing. And he knelt down before it, and he prayed. Not to anyone in particular. Just to the greater universe, that held all their fates.

Jin didn't know what to do for the dead, either, but he respected Touya for trying.

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Sometimes, simple pleasures were the best ones, if only for being the only ones.

The ocean was entirely unsuitable for skipping rocks, because there were no rocks around. Touya solved that dilemma by crafting pebbles out of ice. Jin, in turn, calmed the winds until the ocean was as glassy and still as any pond. This effort at least kept him from cheating at it - the most he could ever manage was five skips. Touya once managed twelve. This disparity in skill still didn't keep them from playing long into the night.

Sometimes, you had to make your own fun.

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Part of the reason Jin loved the Human World was that it was new. New places unexplored, new sights to see, new fights to fight.

All under a brand new sky.

Touya couldn't tell the difference. To him, the sky was the sky, and it was the same between worlds. He didn't marvel at the new constellations, or appreciate the way the stars shined brighter here.

All the same, he laid beside Jin as his friend pointed out interesting shapes and made up little stories about them. And, through Jin's eyes, he thought maybe the lively demon had a point.

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The Dark Tournament was a popular place for a lot of reasons.

As such, good seats were at a premium. You could either buy a ticket for the price of your soul, or...

"Touya! How 'bout here?"

"Yes, that looks like a good seat."

At which point Jin dropped on the seat's inhabitants like a hawk over a rabbit warren. One was sensible, and fled. The other wasn't sensible, and was tossed about a hundred yards for the trouble. Touya waited until the dust had settled before he joined Jin, and took a seat beside him to watch the show.

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Humans had the most interesting celebrations.

No one looked twice at Jin and Touya during the Tanabata Festival of the village. They wandered around, tried the food, and tried the games without their powers, just for the fun of it. Jin won a goldfish, and passed it to a little girl who hadn't been having much luck.

The moment they remembered the best was writing down their wishes. It took a lot of thought, but each finally wrote something, and they tied the little strips of paper to a bamboo plant together.

They never asked one another what they'd wished.

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He'd wake up, one day. He'd promised Jin that, with his last breath.

Until that day came, Jin went along as best he could. He kept on flying, he took what jobs seemed interesting, and he tried to keep smiling.

He always hoped.

When they asked him what had happened, all Jin said was that Touya would be back soon. He swore that he'd find Touya the biggest, fanciest feast Demon World had ever seen to welcome him. Until then, he'd just keep going - it's what Touya had wanted him to do.

One day, the tomb of ice would melt.

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Touya didn't like being carried. But sometimes, that was the only way. Jin was fast, and strong, so sometimes the best way to escape was for Jin to pick him up and fly off with him.

It made Touya feel like a child, but he never said so. Jin still knew that he didn't like being carried like a bundle of sticks, and he tried to make it interesting when he could.

Sometimes, however, all he had to do was let Touya close his eyes and drink in the feeling of flying. It was a gift he'd never know alone.

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Sometimes, all you could do was hide. Whether to look for an opening to attack or to escape a seemingly unbeatable foe, there was no shame in hiding.

It was never Jin's first choice, however, and Touya soon learned why. You couldn't hide out in the open - it took tight, enclosed spaces to avoid detection.

Jin hated tight, enclosed spaces. The first time Touya huddled beside him, feeling Jin trembling with anxiety, he thought they were certainly lost. His friend endured, though, then and after.

Touya didn't know how to help him through it, but he would have done anything.

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The temple was burning.

Their enemies had tracked them to the edge of the world, and they'd found them. Now the temple was burning and the soldiers were coming.

It wasn't even the fire that scared Touya most. It was who was trapped inside, made sick and weak from poison, already dying because he couldn't get the antidote. It was that Jin was too weak to escape, and Touya unable to help him.

In the end, he turned himself in. He let them take Jin. Their captor at least honored his word to pay for the poison to be treated.

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Demons healed quickly.

This was fortunate, because they tended to get injured a lot. Especially when they were brittle boned as a bird.

Jin would never stay still as long as it took for a broken leg to heal. Even if he'd felt that cooperative, Touya knew his friend just didn't have it in mind. Fortunately, not being able to walk wasn't an impossible obstacle. Jin flew a bit awkwardly with a broken leg to favor, and his takeoffs were downright wobbly, and they couldn't travel as far.

But it would still take a lot more to keep Jin grounded.

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There were days when all they had to rely on were their wits and one another.

There were times when they didn't even have that. Magic that controlled the mind was a terrifying reality, and having a Wind Shinobi at your beck and call was a beguiling opportunity.

Jin's eyes were empty and his smile was glassy, even as his punch split the wall where it hit. Touya leapt aside, but his retaliatory slash was much too slow.

He'd have to fight properly, if he wanted to save Jin and himself. Touya cursed himself for his hesitation, because he couldn't.