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Circles in the Sands of Time

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Circles in the Sands of Time
(セレスチアル戦士の物語 ~ Tales of the Celestial Guardians)

It starts after that one battle – the one where they all think the Infernal Multitude are targeting that artist because she's an old-soul, but it turns out she has one of the Shards as well.

(In fact, Luna's pretty sure – and Astra agrees – that even the Multitude didn't realise she had the Shard, making it a case of the world's worst timing when the wretched thing activates and traps them all in its Broken Reflection just when the Guardians are winning.)

So there they are, all inside the Reflection: three Celestial Guardians, a battered cadre of fiends, and, as it turns out, Kestrel.

Up until now they've treated Kestrel as an enemy, mostly because that's how Sol sees him. Luna can see her point: he only seems to show up if there's a Shard around and he doesn't seem to care much about the bystanders caught in the Reflections. The first time they encountered him, he almost got away with the Shard before Luna and Sol could dispel the Reflection, which would have doomed the victims inside. It wasn't a difficult leap to make from there to "enemy".

But he isn't part of the Multitude. And Luna's been having second thoughts recently. Sol's fierce and brilliant and achingly good – and his best friend now, in both halves of his life – and he'll follow her into danger in a heartbeat – but she's very direct. She branded Kestrel a thief and a murderer the first time they met, and Luna doesn't think she's ever stopped to reassess him since.

Luna's been noticing things, though. Like that third time they clashed, when Sol fought Kestrel into a corner and took the Shard from him by force. Or at least, that's how she sees it. Luna thinks it had more to do with Sol shouting at Kestrel, telling him exactly what would happen if he didn't hand it over – exactly how many people would die.

Kestrel's eyes are always hidden behind his glowing visor, so Luna can't be certain, but he thinks – he's almost sure – that he saw Kestrel's reaction to that.

He thinks, maybe, somehow, Kestrel didn't know. Didn't realise the consequence of what he was trying to do.

Because the thing is, since then, he's never grabbed a Shard, and tried to run for it like he did in the beginning. He always, always waits – until the Guardians have defeated the Multitude and dispelled the Reflection – and only then does he try to take it. He's giving himself a disadvantage by doing so, which may have a lot to do with the fact that the Guardians have five Shards where Kestrel only has two, but Luna is convinced it's intentional.

He's also almost sure that sometimes, Kestrel helps them out. He never does it openly, but there's been more than one Shard battle where suddenly the odds tip in their favour for no apparent reason..

Then they get into that one battle, and they all end up trapped in the Reflection, and separated, and the only reason they aren't completely screwed is because, right before the Shard activated, Luna heard Kestrel shout a warning, and had time to throw out a soul anchor as hard and far as he could before the Reflection sucked them in.

He can feel it tugging on him, a way out of the labyrinth, but he has to find the others first. The scenery around him changes constantly as he searches, sometimes when he turns a corner, sometimes just when he blinks for a fraction too long.

He kind of figures it's fate that he finds Kestrel instead.

*

"Are you hurt?" Luna asks.

Not that he could do much about it if Kestrel is hurt, but he at least knows some First Aid.

"No." Kestrel straightens quickly from the old stone wall he was leaning on heavily enough to make Luna think he might be injured. Luna glances away for a second, and when he looks back, the wall has become a hedge. "I've just been walking for... hours."

It's only been ten minutes for Luna, but one of the things the Reflections distort is how time passes for the people inside it.

"I had time to throw out the anchor," says Luna. "Thanks to you. We can follow it out."

"We?" Kestrel sounds wary, though as usual, his face is hard to read. "Aren't we enemies?"

Luna shrugs. His curiosity has been building for long enough to outweigh his mistrust.

"You tell me."

Kestrel studies him for a few seconds.

"I can help," he says. "My visor is better at distinguishing reality from illusion than my eyes. I can see which paths to take. But I..." He hesitates. "I won't hold back from taking the Shard, once we're out of here."

There's a fierceness to the declaration that reminds Luna a little of Sol, but it's underlaid by an unshakeable determination that makes Luna wonder all over again exactly what Kestrel knows – or thinks he knows – about the endless struggle between the Guardians and the Multitude.

"Understood," says Luna, though he knows Sol would disagree vehemently with his acceptance. "But until then, truce?"

Kestrel nods. Luna thinks he's relieved. "Truce."

*

So they find the other two – and that's a tense confrontation, but Luna manages to persuade Sol to accept the temporary alliance – and, rather unfortunately, the Multitude find them, along with hundreds of illusory reinforcements. Illusory, but just as dangerous; they are reflections of reflections of the fiends, with all their powers. Kestrel's visor is the only means they have of finding the originals and stopping the onslaught.

To start with it seems hopeless, but astonishingly, as the battle goes on, they work better and better with Kestrel. Even Sol – especially Sol. It's like some long-forgotten rapport kicks in, and they forget about distrusting him, stop hesitating when he tells them where to aim their attacks, and all at once, the literal Multitude is reduced to barely a dozen, all of them reflections of the one remaining fiend. The Guardians are battered and weary, but it's starting to look like they actually have a chance of getting out of this.

That's when three or four of the echo-fiends slip around in the shadows and combine all their power into one devastating strike – aimed straight at Kestrel. Luna sees it coming but doesn't have time to shout a warning. He doesn't even really have time to think. He just knows two things: that they need Kestrel to win this, and that Kestrel doesn't have the same sort of magical resilience that they do, at least as far as he can tell.

So Luna throws himself in the path of the attack. He casts his shielding spell at the same time, and it helps a bit, but not enough to stop the raw Infernal power clawing into him, bowling him over like a hurricane and tearing through even the impossibly tough and flexible material of his suit. He's spun around and flung hard against the ground – at this moment rocky and unforgiving, as if to spite him – and he tastes blood as he gasps for breath.

The next thing he knows, Sol's got him, dragging him to his feet and holding him up, and she's shouting about the anchor – and he realises that they've done it, they've destroyed the last fiend, and now if he can just follow the beacon he left outside, they can escape the Reflection, dispel it, and claim the Shard.

Following the beacon is harder than it would be in the real world. Luna's in pain and dizzy with exhaustion, and the Reflection demands he follow a twisting maze of paths instead of going straight out.

But they make it. By the time they reach the real world, Luna's wounds are already better than they were. It's part of the Guardian powers, Sakaki's told them – most superficial damage heals gradually, and even severe injuries can be repaired with time – and it's certainly saved them the awkwardness of explaining bruises and cuts to their parents and teachers on a number of occasions. Sol still orders him to stay back as they work to dispel the Reflection and free any others who might have become trapped in it while they were fighting the fiends.

Luna does as he's told, limping down the alley between the artist's home and the next building, knowing Sol and Astra can handle it without him.

To his surprise, Kestrel follows him. Luna was expecting him to leave as soon as they escaped the Reflection. But instead, he takes Luna's arm – carefully, avoiding the scratches – and leads him to a low plastic bin, and urges him to sit down. He starts looking over Luna's injuries, and this close, finally, Luna can just see his eyes behind the visor. They are narrowed in concentration and the furrows in his brow speak of worry. Luna is more touched than he would have expected.

"It's fine," he says, gently pushing Kestrel away. "I'll heal – quicker than most people."

"But it must hurt," Kestrel says. He reaches for his belt, where Luna has noticed before that he has a number of compartments and holsters. Luna half expects him to pull out some sort of futuristic device – Kestrel's body armour seems more technological than magical – but instead, he offers a normal-looking packet of painkillers. "I'm sorry, I don't have anything else--"

"Thank you," says Luna with feeling. It occurs to him to question the wisdom of trustingly taking pills from a stranger, but right now he'll take his chances if it gives him a break from the throbbing in every part of his body. He manages to dry-swallow them without choking. "What about you?"

There are charred patches on Kestrel's shoulders and chest from a few fiend shots that hit home, but he shakes his head, clearly more concerned with Luna. "I'm okay."

"Are you sure?" There's a bruise that disappears under his collar that Luna suspects is a large and painful one. "If you need anything--"

"Me? You're the one who took the real damage!" Kestrel is more agitated than Luna can account for. "You could have been killed."

"I had my shield. Besides, you were more valuable than me right then."

The look in Kestrel's eyes, dimly visible behind the glass, freezes Luna to the bone.

"Don't ever say that again," Kestrel says, low and intense and furious. "Don't you dare."

"Wha—"

And then Kestrel kisses him. It's absolutely the last thing Luna expects. He's too stunned to react for a heartbeat – and then thoughtless, urgent response sweeps through him. He grabs onto Kestrel and kisses him back as hard as he can, trying to give some sort of reassurance. Kestrel's fingers wind into his hair, not hard enough to hurt, but with a fierceness that sends shudders through Luna's whole body and awakens a passion he didn't know he could feel.

There's shouting from the street outside – Sol declaring victory – and Kestrel breaks away, and they both gasp for breath, and they look at each other – and Luna thinks Kestrel's almost as surprised as he is, even though he started it – and he doesn't know what to say and more than almost anything he wants to grab Kestrel and kiss him again – and then Kestrel tears himself out of Luna's loose embrace and runs out of the other end of the alley like the entire Multitude is on his heels.

Luna jumps to his feet, but Kestrel's gone – and then Sol and Astra are coming around the corner, and he has to take a deep breath, and hope like hell the folds of his tunic hide the effect that kiss had on him.

*

So that's when it starts. For at least an hour after the battle, Luna's too dazed to think straight. He somehow gets through Sol and Astra's anxious questions, and the debrief with Sakaki in the shrine grounds, and when finally his injuries are healed enough to be hidden by some carefully applied makeup (Sol expresses disbelief that Astra has it to hand; Astra smiles and refuses to be baited), Luna returns home.

Or rather, Shoichi returns home, his transformation medallion safely tucked inside his shirt, silently hoping his parents don't notice either the scratches or the makeup – though honestly, he'd almost rather answer questions about the former.

But his mother's working late again, and his father's already gone out with friends, so the worry is for nothing, and Shoichi can take his time making something for dinner, at least until the shock, or whatever it is, starts to dissipate, at which point he drops a ladle with such a clatter he makes himself jump, and has to sit down on one of the kitchen chairs and take some deep breaths.

He doesn't know what's harder to wrap his head around – that Kestrel kissed him, or that he kissed back without even thinking about it. Or that his admittedly limited experience with kissing girls was never anything like that.

He tells himself it may have been adrenaline as much as anything else, but it doesn't quite stick.

It's not that he's exactly upset, is the thing. If he's completely honest, he's sort of maybe wondered if he – swung that way – for a while now. But he's never been interested in anyone in particular and so it's been easy to just ignore it and get on with school work and track meets and, lately, saving the world. And if some guy had kissed him like that before saving the world became a thing – before he learned about the Celestial Guardians from a crazy, awesome girl who was throwing fireballs around like it was going out of fashion – before he was given his medallion by an honest-to-gods talking tree – and before he discovered that there really weren't any differences between Sol's uniform and his own, including the full-skirted tunic and vaguely feminine boots and gloves – he probably would have taken it more in stride.

It's just... and he kind of hates himself for this... now that he's in the habit of regularly transforming into, let's face it, something as close to a mahou shoujo as makes no difference, he feels like being gay is fulfilling some sort of cliché.

Oh, and then there's the whole 'possibly an enemy, can't be trusted, don't even know his real name' aspect of the situation. Probably he ought to be more worried about that than anything else.

Quiet, responsible, well-behaved Shoichi is mildly horrified to realise that's actually part of the attraction.

*

He hasn't really worked out what to do by the next Shard battle – which is also just after Marina joins them.

Marina's the exact kind of guy Luna doesn't much like to hang out with: loud, more than a little arrogant, and a bit too comfortable with his role in society, viz, straight male.

He doesn't take well to any of the Celestial Guardian stuff, and spends two weeks venting constantly about how 'stupid' and 'girly' everything to do with the Guardians is. He hates the costumes, he hates having to take orders from Sol, he hates that he's the one with the healing magic, he hates Sakaki because she's a goddamn talking tree, what is this, Ghibli or something? Shoichi puts up with it until Marina – whose real name is Tatsuya – uses the word 'girly' as an insult one too many times, at which point Shoichi snaps that two of the girls they know can fling shocking amounts of raw magical energy around and punch out a demonic manifestation without blinking, and that he is totally okay with being lumped into the same category as them, thanks.

Tatsuya shuts up after that.

Then there's another battle, and as soon as Luna realises there's a Shard involved, his heart skips and he starts looking for Kestrel in between blasting fiends and backing up his team. He spots the flash of electric blue on the edge of a rooftop, but doesn't see any more of their elusive rival until Kestrel's making a grab for the Shard that Astra's just about to take.

Sol and Marina dive after him, but Luna pauses. They've been fighting in an abandoned warehouse; there are only a couple of ways out. Instead of running into the fray, Luna dodges out through a back door and jumps onto a nearby roof, slips behind a chimney, and waits.

He's not wrong. Kestrel comes racing out of the warehouse, and Luna can tell from the cacophony within that he's used one of his distracting smoke bombs – the ones that are laced with tiny reflective particles to confuse people even more. None of the other Guardians are going to catch up with him in time.

Luna positions himself carefully, waits for the exact right moment – and jumps. He lands square in front of Kestrel, using the momentum of the drop to knock him backwards, and pins him to the ground. The Shard flies out of his hand, and Luna catches it easily.

Kestrel struggles, but Luna's much stronger in Guardian form, as well as faster, and he keeps him pinned as he quickly opens his medallion and stows the Shard inside.

"Okay, I admit, I'm impressed," Kestrel says when he's got his breath back. "Where were you?"

"On the roof." Luna glances over his shoulder – not long enough to give Kestrel the advantage – but it looks like the other Guardians are still blundering around in the smoke. "You'd better not have hurt anyone."

"Of course not!"

The swiftness of that rebuttal confirms a lot of Luna's guesses about Kestrel. Whatever else he is, he's no killer, and he seems to abhor the Multitude as much as they do.

Maybe it's some sort of defiance brought out by Marina's heteronormativity, or maybe it's just that Luna's been mulling over it for long enough to reach an answer, but he's been very sure of what he wants to do since he stationed himself on the rooftop. So he sits back a little, lets Kestrel start to sit up, and then grabs handfuls of his suit, drags him the rest of the way, and returns the original kiss with several weeks' worth of interest.

Kestrel makes a muffled, startled noise against his mouth – not quite the reaction Luna was hoping for – but then he seems to get it, and Luna groans as Kestrel's hands tighten on his back and haul him closer.

Kestrel kisses him like he's desperate for air and only the stuff in Luna's lungs will do. Luna meant to keep it quick, to dart away back to his team, leaving Kestrel as stunned as he was after their last encounter, but now he doesn't think he could stop if the entirety of the Multitude came charging down the street at them. Kestrel tastes good, which is a weird sort of thought he never expected to have, and smells good, the sweat of exertion mixed with whatever deodorant he wears in a blend that's making Luna feel kind of shuddery and urgent.

All at once he realises there's no way Kestrel can't tell that he's hard – the stretchy material of the Guardian bodysuits hides nothing – and the thought is at once embarrassing and incredibly arousing. Then Kestrel thrusts his tongue deep into Luna's mouth, and shifts so their bodies slide closer together, and Luna discovers that oh, wow, okay, Kestrel's pretty hard too. Like, poking urgently against Luna's stomach hard. And that – that's a level of arousing Luna didn't even know existed until now. He grinds shamelessly against Kestrel, and the noise he gets in return...

Honestly it's probably a good thing that Sol, Astra and Marina finally find the door around then – and equally good that it's dark out and they're still blinded by the light show and at the other end of the street – because Luna's not sure either of them would stop otherwise. As it is, they share a moment of frozen horror before scrambling to their feet and diving around a corner out of sight of the other Guardians.

"Er," says Luna as they flatten themselves awkwardly against a wall.

"Timing," mutters Kestrel, and Luna can't help snickering at the exasperation in his voice.

He hates to lie to Sol, but he pulls his communicator from his belt.

"I've got the Shard," he says into the device – hopefully there's nothing in his voice to betray him. and they're far enough away that Sol won't hear him except through the communicator. "Gave me a run for it, though. It'll take me a few minutes to get back."

Her enthusiastic response – audible both from the speaker and in the distance – makes him feel incredibly guilty as he shuts off the communicator. Kestrel is looking at him like he doesn't know what to make of him. Luna takes a breath, and takes a chance.

"If you told us what you want with the Shards," he says, "maybe we could come to some arrangement."

"I can't. I..." Kestrel sighs unevenly and ducks his head. "I can't work with the Celestial Guardians."

"Why not?"

"I just... I can't."

There's so much frustration and sadness in his voice that Luna's heart goes out to him despite his disappointment. Just for a minute he really hoped... he thought maybe they didn't need to be on different sides any more.

Before he can reply – or ask any more questions – Kestrel pushes him back against the wall and kisses him again. It's much gentler this time – almost hesitant – and Luna is just starting to melt into it when Kestrel slips away, and is gone.

Luna stays leaning against the wall until he's sure his legs will hold him. Then, seized by brief paranoia, he checks the compartment in his medallion – but no, the Shard is still there. And then, with grim determination, he jumps to the nearest rooftop and runs a circuit of warehouses until his heart is racing and his breathing ragged for perfectly innocent reasons, and rejoins his team.

Sol tells him he's the best second-in-command ever (Marina rolls his eyes, but Luna thinks that might be a touch of jealousy, which is possibly a step forward?) and they all head back to the shrine safe in the knowledge of a job well done.

It's only Luna who keeps surreptitiously glancing at the rooftops, and no doubt only him who feels a dash of disappointment when they reach their destination without being ambushed.

*

The next time they rush to the aid of an old-soul the Multitude have tracked down, Kestrel turns up halfway through the battle and... helps. They all start looking for the Shard, but as far as they can tell, there isn't one – and Kestrel is gone as soon as the last fiend falls.

So that's weird – but then it happens again. And again.

"What's he playing at now?" demands Sol, hands on hips as she stares at the rooftop where she last saw Kestrel.

"Maybe he's getting false positives on the Shard energy signatures," Astra suggests. She's the one who's been theorizing about Kestrel's technology, like the proudly self-labelled computer geek she is. "I don't think he has anything like Sakaki's visions."

"Maybe he just wants to help," Luna says, seizing the opportunity.

Sol snorts derisively at that, so Luna doesn't pursue it further, and they get on with making sure the people caught in the crossfire are okay. Marina has to do a lot of healing, which makes him pissy, which makes Luna want to snap at him and Sol likely to throw something. Astra suggests they all go their separate ways and debrief tomorrow. Luna could hug her.

He takes to the rooftops. He'll get across the city quicker like this – and if he's honest, he just loves the thrill of it, racing at top speed with no boundaries, leaping from roof to roof. Not to mention that it saves on train fare. He's trying to remember whether he's going to need an excuse for being out late, or if his parents are elsewhere, when Kestrel appears from nowhere and almost causes him to lose his footing and go plummeting to the street below. Kestrel grabs his arm to steady him, and Luna glares at him, but makes no attempt to move away.

"A little warning?"

"Sorry." To his credit, Kestrel sounds genuinely apologetic. "I thought you'd seen me. I was waiting for you to catch up."

His hand slips up past Luna's elbow, stroking across his bicep, and Luna leans closer without consciously thinking about it. He reaches up to brush Kestrel's hair out of his face, but resists the urge to just kiss him.

"I thought you couldn't work with us," Luna says, just the hint of a question in it.

"I have to get the Shards," Kestrel replies. "But I hate the Multitude as much as you do. And I don't... want you to get hurt."

"Why do you need the Shards?" Luna asks.

"For the same reason you do."

Luna frowns. "You're trying to keep them out of the hands of the Multitude? Don't you trust us to keep them safe?"

Kestrel stares at him. Luna can see his surprise – and confusion – in the faint backlight from his visor.

"You mean you--" He stops. "You don't know what the Shards are for?"

"They create Broken Reflections. We can't let the Multitude trap innocent people in--"

"That's just a side-effect. I didn't even know--" Kestrel stops, but Luna notes that he was correct in his guess. "I thought you had a-- guide, someone who remembered."

"Remembered?" Now Luna's thoroughly confused. "Sakaki awakened us as Celestial Guardians. She told us we have to fight the Multitude and keep the Shards away from them, just like all the other Guardians before us."

Kestrel suddenly steps away, and Luna thinks for a moment he's going to leave. Instead, he paces back and forth for a few seconds, then turns to look back at Luna.

"What I know," he says, "has been pieced together from-- a variety of sources. But this I am sure of: there were no 'other' Guardians before you."

Luna opens his mouth to protest – Sakaki showed them evidence of the previous Guardians, scattered throughout the centuries – but Kestrel lifts a hand to stop him.

"You seem to be aware of the old-souls," he says. "What has this Sakaki told you they are?"

"People who have been reincarnated from Atlantis," Luna says slowly. He feels as though the shape of something is looming up on him, and he doesn't like it. "When the first Celestial Guardians fought the first incursion of the Infernal Multitude, the island was destroyed, ending the line of Atlantis. But since then, some souls have come back, and the Multitude always seeks them out--"

"There were no first Celestial Guardians," Kestrel interrupts. "That's what I'm trying to--" He seems to make up his mind. "They were you. All of you. The five of you – you're reborn over and over again. Has your Sakaki really kept that from you?"

Luna blames shock for the fact that he focuses on completely the wrong detail.

"There are only four of us."

"There will be five," Kestrel says with certainty. "You just haven't found the last one yet. There are always five of you."

It's slowly starting to sink in – and with it, a hundred questions.

"How do you know? Who are you?"

"I..." Kestrel sighs, and sits down on the edge of an air conditioning unit. "I don't know for sure. I am an old-soul, I think. I think I've been born – a lot of times – more than most. I have some memories – bits and pieces – and sometimes I dream..."

Luna shivers. Sometimes he dreams, too – but he thought it was just Sakaki's stories of Atlantis mixing with leftover battle adrenaline. Now he thinks of the wave he saw rushing in toward the city and wonders if it is not, after all, only a dream.

"That's why I can't work with you," Kestrel continues. "I don't remember why, but – I know I mustn't. The first time I saw Sol – I knew I had to stay away."

Luna wants to say that that doesn't sound like a great reason to him – but then, he's the one who started fighting demons because a talking tree told him to. He walks over and tentatively sits down next to Kestrel.

"But you were waiting for me just now."

"Yes." Kestrel glances sideways at him. "You're... different."

"From Sol?" Luna snorts. "I should hope so."

"From all of them." Kestrel turns towards him and reaches out to brush his face, thumb tracing the bottom edge of the mask. "I... think I knew you, once. A long time ago."

A wave of longing tinged with deja vu sweeps through Luna. There is a familiarity about Kestrel – something that overrides all Luna's common sense, that keeps saying, it's okay, you can trust him, despite lacking real evidence.

"I think so too," he says quietly.

He pulls Kestrel in and kisses him. It's slow and almost nervous, on both their parts – it feels like it should be a first kiss, despite what's happened already – and yet it's just as intense as before. Luna slides his hands up into Kestrel's hair, and Kestrel sucks gently on his lower lip, and Luna thrusts aside thoughts of what Sakaki hasn't been telling them and why, and loses himself in sensation.

He's not sure how much time passes before they pull away from each other enough to catch their breath, and he really couldn't care less – but there's still an important question nagging at him.

"What are the Shards for?" he asks.

Kestrel flinches.

"I can't tell you," he says. "It's a secret I am bound to protect – with my life, if necessary." He shivers. "And the necessity may be unavoidable."

It takes Luna a second to understand; then, fear and concern and a startlingly fierce anger sweep through him. He swings himself suddenly over onto Kestrel's lap, straddling him and keeping him in place, and as Kestrel tilts his head back in surprise, Luna takes his face firmly in both hands.

"Don't you dare say that," he says, and is struck by the echo in the words. "I will protect you."

He doesn't even know what, exactly, he might need to protect Kestrel from – but he means it with all his heart, and Kestrel seems to know that. He grabs hold of Luna like a drowning man and kisses him again, and again Luna senses something like desperation in how tightly his fingers curl into the fabric of Luna's tunic. He slides his hands back into Kestrel's hair, angling his head better for kissing. The edge of Kestrel's visor is pressing uncomfortably against his cheek, but he ignores it.

Then Kestrel frees one hand and touches something at his temple, and the visor retracts – or maybe simply vanishes. Luna doesn't stop to find out which. He pushes Kestrel backwards – and Kestrel pulls him down with him, so that they are sprawled on top of the air conditioner, bodies settling into intimate alignment with shocking ease.

He does know Kestrel, Luna thinks – and knows him in a way that would make him blush if he weren't long past the point of caring. He presses his face into the hollow of Kestrel's neck and kisses the skin there. When he gets a low moan in response, he tries bolder moves, sucking on the skin, scraping his teeth across it. Kestrel's fingers dig into his back and then slide downwards, finding the hem of his tunic and pushing it up to his waist before firmly grasping his ass and giving it a wicked squeeze.

Luna gasps and reflexively grinds down against Kestrel. He's so hard, and their legs are wound tightly together, and every time he moves, it feels amazing. He can feel Kestrel urgently bucking up against him, seeking the same stimulation. Luna angles himself slightly to one side, pressing his hip against Kestrel's cock through two layers of material, and Kestrel makes a noise that Luna can't even quantify except to say that it drives him crazy.

He's vaguely aware that they're on top of a goddamn roof, someone else's goddamn roof, but it's dark, and there's no-one to see, and he's overwhelmed by the urgent heat in the pit of his stomach and flashes of exquisite pleasure darting through his body. Kestrel is clinging to him, and Luna can't even tell if he's urging him on, or if he, too, feels like he's losing control, like he needs to hang on tight.

Luna doesn't remember lifting his head, but they're kissing again, messy and frantic, and Kestrel catches his tongue and sucks on it, and that's when Luna realises, with an odd clarity, that he's going to come. I should stop, he thinks distantly, thrusting harder against Kestrel as the familiar pressure builds in his balls. I should...

He can't finish the thought, and whatever concerns were hovering in the far reaches of his mind about the indignity of coming in his pants are lost when Kestrel breaks off kissing him and groans, the movement of his hips suddenly jerky and out of control, and Luna feels wet heat against his thigh. He cries out as his own orgasm rocks him to the core, exploding into more wetness and heat as Kestrel holds him tightly, as if he might somehow fly away.

For a short while they just stay like that, and Luna isn't really thinking about anything except the lingering aftershocks of pleasure and the way Kestrel is stroking his hair. Unfortunately, reality can only be kept at bay for so long, especially when it involves the cold night air and the first few drops of rain piercing their reverie.

It's... not as awkward, somehow, as Luna would have expected, to disentangle themselves and try to clean up. They shoot sheepish glances at each other, but there's a self-aware amusement to it that feels like something they've shared for a long time. They don't really talk much, but it seems to be because they don't need to. Kestrel asks Luna if he'll meet him after the next battle, and Luna says yes without even stopping to think.

They kiss goodbye with such lingering reluctance to part that Luna's heart aches a bit when they finally do. Then Kestrel vanishes over the rooftops, and he sets off home.

On the way back he has time to wonder about a number of things, such as what he's going to tell his parents now that he's definitely late enough back to prompt questions, and whether or not he needs to clean his costume (he doesn't think so – it seems to restore itself to pristine condition every time he transforms), and the fact that there's a guilty part of him that wants the Multitude to attack again as soon as possible.

But one thing he's certain of: if Kestrel's telling the truth, about the Shards, about the Guardians, then Sol needs to know.

He just hopes she'll listen.

*

Two days later, Shoichi calls Akemi up and suggests they put in a 'study session' one afternoon. Unfortunately she doesn't pick up on the subtext, and is so horrified by the idea that Shoichi has to pretty much spell out that he's not planning to do any studying. It's only after he puts the phone down that he realises how bad that probably would have sounded if anyone were listening. His parents already think she's his girlfriend, despite repeated denials.

 

"Why didn't we just go to the shrine?" Akemi asks when Shoichi explains they'll need to keep an ear out for his parents returning. "Not that I mind sitting on chairs instead of leaves, for once."

"That's... part of what I want to talk to you about."

Shoichi delays getting into the conversation for as long as possible by making tea, ferreting out cake (Akemi is a fan of cake), and generally playing the good host. Eventually, though, he has to get down to it.

"I crossed paths with Kestrel after the last fight," he says. He's rehearsed it in his head to make sure he doesn't give anything away. "He told me some things – about the Guardians, and the Shards. They might not be true – but if they are, it means Sakaki is hiding things from us."

Akemi frowns. Shoichi half-expected her to immediately blow him off for listening to anything Kestrel says – but she's been working on her impulsiveness, recently. She takes her responsibilities as leader seriously. And he hopes she trusts his judgement.

"Like what?" she says.

So Shoichi tells her everything he knows – both the things Kestrel told him and what he's guessed. When he gets to the part about the Guardians being reincarnated, she suddenly pushes back her chair and strides over to the sink to fill a glass of water. For a moment, he can't figure it out – until he sees her hand is shaking faintly.

"Are you okay?

She gulps down the water, shakes her head violently – not in a "no", more like a dog getting water out of its ears – and turns back to face him.

"Oh, thank each and every god I can name," she says quietly. "I thought I was going mad."

And then it's her turn to tell him – about the dreams, far more vivid and structured than his own – and about the echoes she sometimes hears in day to day life – and about the dizzying tides of deja vu that sweep over her sometimes when her hand closes on one of the Shards. The words tumble out of her like a rock slide, rambling and breathless, quite unlike Akemi's normal style of speech, which is loud and certain. Shoichi can hardly believe she's been keeping all this bottled up all this time. He wishes he'd been paying more attention, and thinks, guiltily, that his preoccupation with Kestrel is at least partly to blame.

"You believe him, then," Shoichi says when she's finished.

"Yes. It all makes sense." Akemi looks at him thoughtfully. "You believe him too, don't you?"

"Yes. But I don't understand why Sakaki hasn't told us any of this."

"Hmm." Akemi twists one bright red pigtail around her finger. "He didn't tell you what the Shards are for, then?"

"No. He said it's a secret he might have to die for." Shoichi tries not to think too hard about the implications of that, and all the lives Kestrel believes he's already lived. "But I think... he's a good guy. I don't think he's really an enemy. Whatever reasons he has for not trusting us – I can't deny the possibility that he's right. If we've lived all these lives..."

"... we can't be sure we don't deserve it," Akemi finishes for him. "Yeah. I kind of see his point."

That's far more than he ever expected from her, but at the same time, so utterly true to who she is that he wonders how he could have doubted.

"Okay," says Akemi after a moment. Suddenly she's grinning in a way he's learned to be wary of. "So here's what we're gonna do. We'll just give all the Shards to Kestrel so we don't have to fight over them."

Shoichi blinks, momentarily unable to speak.

"It's not like we need them for anything," Akemi goes on carelessly. "We just don't want the Multitude to get them. He seems like a decent guy, he's not part of the Multitude..." She looks at Shoichi's expression and her grin widens. "... and what do you think Sakaki will do if I say that to her?"

"Oh." Okay, that's pretty clever. "Yes. It might make her tell us something. A reason we need to keep the Shards, or a reason not to trust Kestrel." Shoichi pauses, torn by the need for honesty. "Except, I mean, I kind of do trust him, but – I probably shouldn't. We probably shouldn't. We don't know anything about him."

"We don't know anything about Sakaki, either," Akemi says. "Except she gave us our medallions and she remembers Atlantis and she's a tree. And she left out some other pretty important stuff. But yeah, I'm not, like, thinking we invite Kestrel over to the shrine or anything. Just... what's that thing Hikari says about trusting people?"

"'Trust, but verify'," Shoichi quotes. He smiles. "Works for me."

*

It doesn't go quite as well as they might have hoped. Sakaki seems affronted – almost outraged – that they're asking questions instead of just doing what she tells them. Luna's always liked her – in a bemused sort of way – but in her reaction he catches a glimpse of something that reminds him of the kind of teacher who expects to rule their classroom like a miniature kingdom, unchallenged and instantly obeyed. The kind of teacher who sees curiosity and challenge as impertinence, who treats every word in the textbook as immutable truth. Luna has never liked that kind of teacher.

Sakaki calls Kestrel a liar and an enemy of the guardians so flippantly that Luna almost loses his temper. She refuses to tell them anything about the Shards, their purpose or their nature, and just repeats the same mantra as always: the Guardians must turn back the Multitude, retrieve the Shards, and keep them safe. She doggedly recites the story she's already told them, of many Celestial Guardians through the ages, that they are the next in a line of protectors of the world. She will not respond to direct questions about reincarnation, or what the Shards are for.

At the point when Sol threatens – semi-seriously, Luna thinks – to fetch an axe, Luna tells Sakaki they're leaving, and drags Sol away. They switch out of their Guardian forms among the trees before emerging onto the shrine path, and walk in frustrated silence to the main courtyard.

"I'll do it," says Akemi as they toss a few coins into the wooden box and bow to the kami. "I'll take an axe to her. Or light a fire under her roots."

"I don't know if that's assault or sacrilege or both, but please don't."

"How can she just keep saying the same thing over and over again and expect us to believe her?"

"She knows we don't have a choice." Shoichi sits down on the shrine steps. As usual, there's no-one around. "We need her to tell us where the Multitude will next attack, where the Shards are. Unless we give up being Celestial Guardians, we have to do as she says."

"Bullshit," snarls Akemi, pacing so violently that she's sending little sprays of white gravel flying with every step. "We'll find another way. Kestrel can figure it out, we'll ask him--"

"He won't work with us."

"We'll get him to change his mind! We'll--"

Their communicators beep simultaneously. It's Sakaki. For a moment Shoichi thinks she's calling to apologise, or change her mind – but the call is going to all four of them.

She senses the presence of a new Guardian, she says, and tells them to start looking at once. The Multitude are drawn to the blazing power of an awakening Guardian, which is why Sol, Luna, and Marina all had to fight for their lives within minutes of manifesting their abilities. Astra got lucky and pretty much turned up on the shrine grounds at the exact right moment, but they can't assume that'll be the case for anyone else.

Shoichi and Akemi look at each other. It's a transparent attempt to distract them – Sakaki ploughing ahead with business as usual – but she's inadvertently given them more reason to believe Kestrel is telling the truth.

"He said there would be five of us," Shoichi says.

"Yeah." Akemi takes a moment to tell the other two where to meet them, then shuts off the communicator. "Let's go see who this one is."

*

They spend the day roaming up and down the tower block shopping centre in their normal clothes, trying to spot anyone acting strangely or signs of Multitude activity. They find precisely nothing. Tatsuya wonders sarcastically if Sakaki's just messing with them, and Shoichi thinks he might not be wrong. Akemi is unusually bad tempered; Shoichi knows why, but the other two are shooting her confused and worried looks. Hikari finally suggests they all sit down and eat something – Shoichi thinks it's not a coincidence that the place she picks also has a huge ice-cream menu – and for a while they stop being Guardians on patrol and revert to being teenagers hanging around on a Sunday afternoon.

And then all at once there are alarms blaring, evacuation orders coming over the PA system, panic in the tower block. It's not clear from the announcements what the security people think is going on, bomb threat or fire or earthquake drill, but it's obvious enough that something is happening somewhere. They abandon their table and run for the nearest hidden corner to transform, and then the hunt is on.

They find the Multitude's fiends wrecking the fifteenth floor trying to get at an unconscious boy. The reason they haven't reached him yet is that there's a girl crouched behind a makeshift barricade, armed with an assortment of air rifles from a nearby sports shop, who's keeping the fiends under such a hail of stinging pellets that they haven't got time to regroup. Scorch marks and broken masonry above and around her testify that they've been trying to hit her with sorcery, but she's clearly holding her own – and the aura of power around her practically glows.

"I like her," says Sol as the girl drops an empty rifle, grabs the next one, and puts a pellet right in a fiend's eye. It's probably not even an incapacitating wound, but you wouldn't know it from the way the thing howls. "Let's go!"

It would be an easy fight in an open space, but here they have to try not to damage the building too badly – not just out of civic responsibility, but because there's a very real danger of collapse if they unleash their full power near the support structures. Sol and Luna quickly work out a plan, and the four of them leap into action. Astra's got the blank medallion and tosses it to the girl with the guns, who catches it perfectly, one-handed, and then stares at it in confusion.

"Hey, you want to join in?" shouts Sol, busy immolating three fiends with carefully precise jets of flame.

"Who are you?" the girl shouts back – but her fingers have already closed around the medallion. A few moments later, she's fighting alongside them in a uniform of her own.

So that's how they meet Guardian Terra. It turns out, once they've defeated the Multitude and are running like hell to get away from the building before someone tries to arrest them, that the boy (who she lifts easily in her transformed state, and carries with her as she runs) is an old-soul, and the Multitude went for him before they even recognised Terra for what she is. He's also her boyfriend, as she admits with faint self-consciousness, and she's not sure how she's going to explain all this to him...

Fortunately they have plenty of practice on that front ("Remember that time in the school locker rooms?" Astra says dryly, and Sol winces), and with Terra's agreement, Luna spins one of his illusion seeds and lets it drift into the unconscious boy's dreams. It's not altering his memories, exactly – it's giving him an alternative story to latch onto, one involving a more mundane emergency. If he wants to – and to Luna's slight sadness, most people do – he can have that be his reality, ignoring the truth of what happened in favour of a more comfortable explanation.

By the time he wakes up, they're all back in normal clothes, and Terra – her name is Kazue, apparently – is ready with the lies they've agreed on – but before anyone can speak, her boyfriend shakes his head, bewildered, stares at her, and says, "Did we just get attacked by demons? And were you shooting at them?"

So... that's kind of unexpected. And awesome, Shoichi thinks, as Kazue's carefully composed expression shatters into relief and honesty. And he's kind of jealous, of the way her boyfriend just accepts it, stares at her in open admiration as she demonstrates her transformation, and says he always knew there was something special about her. Shoichi tries to imagine his parents taking it that well, and can't. And he wonders, wistfully, what Kestrel looks like without his disguise – and what he'd think of Shoichi without the mask – and if there'll ever be this kind of honesty between them.

Thinking of Kestrel reminds him that he wasn't in the battle, at least as far as Shoichi could tell. Disappointment stings as they begin to make their way back to the shrine, both Kazue and her boyfriend in tow. Akemi asks him to contact Sakaki and he pulls out his communicator to do so.

The message light is lit. When Shoichi hits the button to show it, he's surprised to realise it's from Kestrel. He should be more worried about that, he thinks – Sakaki said the communicators were completely different from cell phones, completely unhackable – but instead, his heart leaps as he reads the brief message. An apology for arriving too late to help – and a time, a place, and a question: would you like to meet later?

He replies yes in a heartbeat, then calls Sakaki like he's supposed to – and spends the next few hours trying not to grin like an idiot as they go through the whole New Guardian routine with Kazue.

The only downside is hearing Sakaki tell the story yet again – the one he's now sure is not wholly true – and how disapproving she is that Kazue's boyfriend is involved. Shoichi always thought the main reason they were keeping their identities secret from everyone was because their parents wouldn't approve, the authorities would interfere, and the Multitude might find out and use it to their advantage. Sakaki acts like just the idea of anyone else knowing about them is close to blasphemy.

Later, as he waves goodbye to Akemi and jumps on the train that will take him to where Kestrel is waiting, Shoichi tries to envision never telling anyone, all his life, about this part of him. It's the loneliest thing he can imagine.

Then he thinks that at least he has the other Guardians. Does Kestrel have anyone at all?

*

Kestrel's waiting in an empty park, sitting on one of the benches – under a tree to avoid the rain that's starting as Luna arrives. He looks oddly incongruous – like he ought to be lurking dramatically on top of a roof instead. Luna smiles at the thought, and raises a hand in greeting as he walks down the path.

Kestrel gets to his feet as Luna approaches. Luna sort of meant to say hello in a totally normal way – but somehow, as soon as they're within reach of each other, they're in each other's arms. Kestrel's a couple of inches taller than Luna, but they're close enough in height that it's just so easy to start kissing – and much harder to stop.

The rain is getting heavier, though, so they do reluctantly part, and duck back under the tree's shelter to sit side by side on the bench. Luna thinks they probably look even more incongruous now. He's conscious of an overpowering wish that they were sitting together like this in their normal clothes, like any other couple. He reluctantly pushes it aside.

"You found her, then?" Kestrel says.

"Terra? Yes. She seems cool."

Kestrel nods. Luna glances at him – at his expression behind the visor – and sees that he seems preoccupied.

"What is it?"

"Maybe nothing." Kestrel looks around the park as if checking for listeners, but either the rain or the darkness have driven away any passersby. "I have some records – of previous lives. From what I can tell, after all five Guardians are awakened... things tend to get more desperate with the Multitude. They bring out their bigger guns..."

"They have bigger guns?"

"If I'm reading my notes correctly, yes." Kestrel sighs. "It's hard to be sure, though. And it's not obvious if it's cause or effect – if the Multitude react to all five Guardians being present, or if the Guardians awaken in response to the escalation. But... be careful."

"We will," Luna promises.

Then they mostly stop talking, though it's too wet and too cold to do more than kiss for a while until Luna reluctantly realises he needs to start home.

*

Three days later, a black gateway opens in a major shopping district and fiends pour out by the hundreds. At their head is a towering figure like no fiend they've ever seen – a woman taller than a horse, mounted on a giant wolf with the jaws and tail of a snake. Later, Sakaki will name her as one of the Archdukes of the Inferno, but all the Guardians know at the time is that she is terrifyingly powerful, and that there is no 'plausible deniability' here, no secrecy, no playing around. The Multitude is waging war on the city after months of skirmishes, and they don't care who knows about it.

The Guardians are in no way prepared. They fight, and fight, and it's five of them against hundreds, and still there's no end in sight – and people are getting hurt. Not just scared, or singed, or trapped, but badly injured – maybe even killed. Marina's racing from victim to victim, using every healing spell he's learned, and he can't keep up, and even the ones he can help are going to need hospital treatment. But no ambulances can get into this chaos, can dodge the fireballs and the shafts of lightning that stab out of the boiling black sky.

The first Luna knows of Kestrel's appearance is when he's thrown bodily to the ground by the other man. Luna doesn't bother asking why; the massive magical charge that just brought down a building right where he was standing is answer enough.

"There's a Shard," Kestrel manages to choke out as they stagger to their feet, helping each other automatically. "That's why she's here. We have to get to it."

"We have to turn back the Multitude first!" shouts Luna as they sprint for cover.

"No, you don't understand – it's not like the others." Kestrel drops down behind the pile of rubble that was once a civic monument. "It's a piece of the rim – it works differently – its Reflection is--" He pauses, forces himself to slow down. "It won't trap the civilians, but it will trap us – and the fiends."

Luna gets it, even though the thought of entering another twisted illusion world makes him shudder. "Everyone else will be safe while we fight the Multitude?"

"Yes."

"How do we activate it?"

"It'll happen as soon as one of us touches it – or any other old-soul."

They fight their way through to Sol, Luna conscious all the time that Kestrel, for all he has his own powers, lacks the Guardians' toughness. Sol listens – and agrees without hestiation – and calls the other Guardians together – and Kestrel guides them towards the Shard.

It's like the first time; they work well together. The five Guardians fighting under Sol's leadership, with Kestrel passing on information – it's like he has eyes everywhere – and it feels right in a way that makes even the continued frenzy of battle easier to deal with. Luna throws out the soul anchor at the moment Kestrel tells him to, feels it stick, and hopes like hell the demon behind them won't find a way to dislodge it.

They find the Shard, embedded in a stone plinth in a nearby museum. Luna just has time to see that unlike the others, it's engraved with kanji and symbols he doesn't recognise, before Kestrel's hand closes on it.

And they are once more in a world of reflections.

*

It's hours later when they finally emerge, exhausted, with the Archduke and her army destroyed. The Reflection was nothing like the first. They saw glimpses of their previous lives – and those glimpses were not happy ones. They saw themselves die. They saw the Multitude tear the world apart – though they have never succeeded in breaking out of the Inferno – and they saw distant fragments of lost Atlantis, and were, Luna thinks, each struck with the grief of its loss as if it were the only home they'd ever known.

He's so shaken, and it takes so much effort to pull them out by the soul anchor, that he collapses to the ground when they emerge. Kestrel, who was reaching to pick up the Shard, instead drops at his side and holds him up. Luna just wants to fall into his arms until he stops shaking, but the others are all here, and he doesn't think Kestrel saw what he saw... doesn't think anyone else saw that awful tableau, saw some long-past incarnation of Luna, dressed in a knight's tabard, bring a sword down on Kestrel's neck...

Astra picks up the Shard. Sol, who has also knelt quickly at Luna's side to check he's okay, holds out a hand for it. She looks at it for a moment – and then offers it to Kestrel.

Kestrel stares at her. Slowly, as if he thinks it's a trick, he reaches out and takes it.

"Here's the deal," says Sol. Her face is smudged with soot, there's dried blood on her uniform, and her hair has escaped its ribbons to hang in a tangled mess around her shoulders. "You can have the Shards. Okay? We won't fight you for them. You can have them all from now on. Except the ones we've already got. But you can have those, too, once you've got all the rest, if it turns out you're not lying."

She takes a deep breath, and winces, and Luna thinks she's probably got at least one broken rib – they probably all have, the way they've been thrown around and slammed into walls.

"And in return, you tell us everything you know," Sol goes on. "Because Sakaki is lying to us. She's lying to us, and people are hurt – people may have diedwe almost died..."

She chokes off, but she never breaks eye contact with Kestrel. Luna can't breathe until he slowly nods.

"On my eighteenth birthday," Kestrel says, "I received a box that had been stored in a bank vault for almost a hundred years. It was full of – notes – diaries – pictures – and the tool that lets me transform into... this." He gestures loosely at his costume, as battered and dirty as theirs. "All I have to go on is what's in that box, and some of it is – vague, or contradictory, or... horrifying. And I know that in the past, passing on that information has... has been a mistake. The kind of mistake that – people die for."

He stops, but Sol waits without speaking, and he goes on.

"I'll tell you everything I can. But there are some things I dare not – not yet. Not until I can find out more about them myself. But if a time comes when I can – then you have my word--"

"Okay," says Sol. "That's good enough."

*

This time, when they meet in the park – after they've clung to each other, and kissed, and reassured each other that they're okay – Kestrel says, with obvious hesitation, "My apartment's near here. We could... go back there. If you want."

Luna swallows, and then nods, and Kestrel takes him by the hand, and leads him out of the park, over the rooftops – and then in through an open window on the fifteenth floor of a tower block. Luna finds that amusing.

"Don't you have stairs?"

"I don't particularly want to run into any of my neighbours dressed like this," Kestrel replies as he shuts the window behind him.

Kestrel's apartment is small, but tidy and comfortable looking. It's only two rooms – three if you count the tiny bathroom – but Luna envies him the space of his own without parents to come wandering in whenever they feel like it.

He doesn't spend more than a few seconds looking around, though, because now they're inside, and alone, and it seems like a criminal waste to spend any more time than strictly necessary out of each other's reach. Luna decides subtlety is overrated, and pretty much drags Kestrel straight to the bed. Kestrel doesn't seem to mind.

It all feels much more intimate, somehow, now they're not snatching a moment together after a battle, or in the open air. Luna presses Kestrel down and kisses him over and over, and Kestrel holds onto him tightly and runs his fingers lightly over Luna's back and arms, and for a little while that's all either of them want, and Luna can feel the worry and tension easing out of his soul just as the wounds from the battle have already closed over.

Then something shifts, and Luna finds he's moving more urgently against Kestrel, and Kestrel's fingers have tightened, curling into the fabric of his tunic, pulling him closer. Luna deliberately grinds down against Kestrel and hears him gasp, and the sound is almost as arousing as the sensation.

Kestrel slides his hand down Luna's back and under the skirt of his tunic. He runs his fingers along the waist band, obviously looking for a fastening – and suddenly Luna realises there's a logistical issue here.

"I, uh..." It's hard to bring his brain back into focus when Kestrel's rocking languidly up against him, but Luna finds the words somehow. "I don't think... it comes off."

Kestrel pauses in his exploration and looks up at Luna. "What?"

"It's not like I ever have to take it on and off myself," Luna says, aware that he's blushing. "The magic... I just transform into it. I don't think it's even got buttons."

Kestrel blinks. "Oh."

Luna bites his lip, looking down into Kestrel's face. Then he sits up, and puts his hand to his medallion.

The light of his transformation is blinding. Kestrel's visor adapts automatically, darkening to shield his eyes, but Kestrel turns his head away anyway with a startled exclamation. When the light dies, Shoichi's in his normal clothes, with their buttons and zips and other means of removal – and now there is no disguise, nothing hiding who he really is. He's caught between terror and exhilaration at the thought.

"My real name is Shoichi," he says softly. "I... want you to know. Who I really am."

There's a long, aching moment before Kestrel reaches up to his visor and touches whatever switch caused it to retract before, only this time, the rest of his costume fades as well. There's no light like the Guardian transformation; the sleek body armour just becomes transparent, then flickers out. All that's left is the headset that the visor is mounted on. Kestrel takes it off, and lays it on the table next to the bed, and then says, "My real name is Satoru."

He looks so normal, without the costume. It's the first time Shoichi has clearly seen his face. His eyes are grey and his hair very black. He's maybe three or four years older than Shoichi. There's nothing about him to hint at his alter-ego, but – and Shoichi's probably biased at this point – he thinks Satoru is gorgeous without his disguise.

Shoichi leans in to kiss him, more than a little nervous – and Satoru pulls him down all the way, sliding his arms around Shoichi without hesitation. He starts unbuttoning Shoichi's shirt, and Shoichi returns the favour. The touch of skin on skin makes him shiver. Then Satoru starts kissing his neck, moving down in a purposeful line across his chest, and Shoichi can't hold back a moan. The rest of their clothes swiftly follow the shirts into a heap on the floor, and oh, if Shoichi thought it was good to grind down against Satoru when they were both still in their costumes, it's nothing to how it feels naked. Satoru's cock is hot against his stomach, and gradually getting slicker as they move together, and Shoichi's close to coming already, but – he eases off, pants as he murmurs an awkward question into Satoru's ear.

Satoru groans and kisses him hard. Then he fumbles in the top drawer and pulls out condoms and lube.

Shoichi doesn't know if there's an etiquette for this, or rules to follow, but Satoru at least seems to have done this before – or he's hiding his nervousness better. "How do you want to do this?" he whispers, stroking Shoichi's sweat-damp hair back from his face and kissing him as if he can't help himself.

Shoichi bites his lip, almost too embarrassed to say what he wants – but he's been fantasizing about Kestrel – Satoru – for weeks, for months, and at some point, he started imagining what it would be like to – to push him down into the mattress and slide inside him – to fuck him and make him moan. He can't make the words come, but he picks up a condom, opens it carefully, and Satoru seems to understand. He helps Shoichi slide the condom onto his cock, slathers him with lube – which almost makes Shoichi lose it right then – and then guides him into place, breathing hard and ragged and with his gorgeous eyes hazy with want.

It feels so good, Shoichi almost can't stand it. He has to stop and close his eyes and take a deep breath, and under him he feels Satoru shudder, and hears him moan impatiently. Then he can't hold back any more; he starts shoving into Satoru slowly at first, then faster as Satoru grabs his ass and pulls, urging him in deeper and harder. Shoichi groans and thrusts once, twice more, and Satoru says his name – his real name – in a voice so low it's almost a growl, and he loses it completely, crying out as he comes – as Satoru wraps his arms around him and pulls him in close.

Shoichi's too dazed to think straight for half a minute or so afterwards, but then he realises Satoru's still hard, cock still urgently rubbing against Shoichi's stomach. He slides a hand between them and seizes it boldly, stroking in the firm, urgent way he himself likes best when he's close to the edge. He's rewarded by Satoru choking out, "Yes – yes!" and exploding all over Shoichi's hand.

Of the many advantages of the bed over a rooftop, Shoichi thinks his favourite is that he gets to lie tangled up with Satoru – after a certain amount of necessary clean up – for as long as they want, with no fear of interruption. When they've both got their breath back, they start swapping long, slow kisses, and Satoru winds his fingers into Shoichi's hair, and Shoichi runs his hand idly up and down Satoru's back, liking the way he sighs and arches into it.

"I was wrong about Sol," Satoru says much later, when they've pulled up the blankets and talked, carefully but honestly, about their day to day lives. "I don't know why I feel like I should avoid the Guardians – but I'm not going to listen to it any more. I can make my own destiny."

Shoichi kisses him, a warm gladness settling in his heart. The idea that today's attack might be repeated again and again in the future is terrifying, but if they all work together, surely they can defeat the Multitude – maybe even defeat them forever, ending these cycles of war.

He's happier than he can put into words, and he wishes more than anything that he could accept when Satoru asks him to stay the night – but the tyranny of parental oversight remains, and he reluctantly leaves – by the stairs, this time.

It's only later, after a round of excuses and a more severe telling off than he was quite expecting – he supposes it's good to know his parents care after all? - that Shoichi remembers – and wonders about – the cold shiver that went through him when Satoru said the word destiny.

- owari -