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What Is Left Behind

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It wasn't so bad, that first day.

They arrived choking and gasping for air, and then there was only silence except for their breathing and the scuff of their knees against the ground where they tried to straighten themselves out. Where they remembered how to breathe again.

Narushige didn't know where they were. There was no recognisable landmark. No sign of worn pathways nor any indication that anyone had ever set foot in this place. It was impossible to know how far they'd been thrown by whatever new weapon had been used against them. All Narushige knew was that this place was dead; a long way from the promise of life and growth that Rakan brought with him wherever he went, even in the most desolate of places.

It was eerie.

He'd both grown up in the desert, in a mostly dead world, and the sight of nothing around him but blank grey-white sands was familiar; something Narushige had seen out of windows every night and every morning. It was normal. Nothing to be particularly afraid of.

Except it was.

A life of being told, Be good or the sand demons will get you, and Useless people get left in the desert to die of thirst, and Narushige couldn't help but feel a sense of panic, his stomach tense with fear, when the sand had settled around them and he saw what they faced here. Nowhere.

Narushige wanted so very much to say that he was glad that at least Touji was here with him- because to be alone, abandoned, in this place would've been Narushige's worst nightmare- but how could he? How could he wish his friend to suffer this with him?

It was worse, even, because Touji had been hurt in the fight. He tried to hide it, smiling and protesting that it was nothing, just a scratch, but Narushige could see the way he cradled his arm close to his body where an Ayame had dug into his flesh in a long, deep cut. There was no water to clean the cut. No water to drink, so all Narushige could do was pull Touji to him and wrap the wound in scraps from him own shirt.

"It could get infected, so we must keep it covered," Narushige told Touji sternly. He tried to keep his back to the wind, sheltering Touji from it. Narushige couldn't miss the way the skin around the cuts were already red and inflamed. Touji grimaced every time Narushige even so much as brushed fingers against the skin lightly. Poison, Narushige thought. From the unhappy look on Touji's face, Narushige was sure he realised it too.

"And on my bow arm," Touji complained. "It'll ruin my aim."

He'd lost his bow at some point and his hands made fists, clenching and unclenching, restless without it.

"There's nothing to shoot at out here," Narushige pointed out. "But there's still Kou."

Kou, still in his form of a sword, stay tucked in Narushige's belt. He could feel the weight of him, and the cool, rough texture of his skin. It would be best, in this desert, for him to stay as in this form, safe from the heat and the thirst. Narushige wouldn't have to worry about him. Gripping the handle gently, Narushige thought it was more to reassure himself than anything. For comfort. He and Kou had been together such a long time.

There was no sun. There was never any sun, but that didn't mean its heat wasn't a brutal, unyielding thing. They had no shelter.

"What are we going to do?" Touji asked. He was smiling, but it was a brittle thing. "I don't recognise anything at all."

"No, nor me," Narushige admitted. "But we can't stay here."

It was unlikely anyone would be able to come and save them, and they had nothing that would help them get back, so all they could do was walk and hope.

Touji must have been thinking the same thing because he looked around them dubiously, taking in the endless blank landscape surrounding them. "But which way?"

Any direction was as good as any other so Narushige went with his first instinct; to the direction his senses told him was to the west. He prodded Kou, who needed no eyes to see, and felt him warm with reassurance. This was west, but what that meant, where it led- if anywhere- neither of them could know.

"This way," Narushige pointed, and Touji nodded, trusting and content to believe that Narushige knew what he was doing.

Touji couldn't bring himself to tell him otherwise.

***

Day turned slowly to night, a slow slide of colours from yellow to red to purple. It was beautiful, Narushige thought. The clogged skies looked like crushed velvet, so close that Narushige felt as though he could touch it. It was a good distraction from the thirst, from the way his feet burned and his legs ached, and from the way Touji's steps slowed and the colour slowly bled from his face.

They didn't stop to rest, and they didn't speak much. They just walked and walked, and Narushige had the idea that they were going to walk until they could go no further. Around them the scenery never changed. The flat, empty desert stretched away from them and no matter how far they walked no mountains appeared. No hint that anything had ever lived here. There were many times when Narushige suspected they were walking in circles, but he gripped Kou tightly and his old friend assured him they were moving in a direction away from where they had been. This desert was just wide. Vast. Too vast, Narushige couldn't help thinking.

On no map he'd ever seen could Narushige recall seeing such an expense of emptiness.

He said nothing to Touji but he wondered if they hadn't been sent to another world altogether, as they had been to Rakan's world. Except this one was worse even than their own.

The sky, though familiarly hazy and clouded over, was filled with spectacular colours in a way that Narushige had never seen before.

If they really were in another world all this walking was meaningless. Futile. Hopeless.

And as the light faded, so too did the heat.

At first it was a relief from the swelteringly long day, where even the thinnest of fabrics felt heavy. Narushige's hair felt wet, sticking irritatingly against the back of his neck. Sweat prickled on his forehead, dripped uncomfortably down his spine. None of it good because they had no water to replace what they were sweating out.

It quickly became cold, their damp clothes exacerbating the cooling evening air until Narushige could feel himself shivering. He rubbed at his arms, trying to warm himself up. Beside him, Narushige could see that Touji was faring even worse, his arms drawn close to his chest, gritting his teeth. His arms were bare and Narushige had nothing to offer him except his own warmth. He moved closer to Touji's side. There was no shelter. Nothing to use as fuel for a fire. Nothing to start a fire with.

As if that wasn't enough Narushige noticed movement in the sand, caught glimpses of creatures like snakes and scorpions scrabbling around in the cooling sand before disappearing again. They could be poisonous, and now the sun was setting fast and soon, with no source of light, they wouldn't be able to see anything at all.

Touji slowed further and looking at him, his eyes dark and bruised, his breathing too fast, Narushige knew he couldn't keep going for much longer. He took his good arm, hoping he could take at least some of his friend's weight, make this easier for him.

"I'm okay," Touji tried. His voice cracked from misuse and thirst and reminded Narushige how much his own throat felt swollen with desperation for water.

"You're not," Narushige shook his head. "Just lean on me a while, Touji."

He didn't argue, gave in to the support.

"Thanks," he murmured.

They watched the sun set around them as they walked, a haze of diffused light slowly being drawn out of the world. Touji's arms were icy cold against Narushige's hands.

"Do you think," Touji started, but stopped, biting on his lip in a way that Narushige had long since learned was a sign that he had something to say that he didn't want to. It amazed Narushige sometimes how open and honest Touji was, after everything he must have suffered. It made him ache. It made him wish there was something he could do, because at that moment it seemed very unlikely either of them would last very much longer.

Touji lifted his head with difficulty, looking to Narushige. "Do you think we can keep walking all night?"

It wasn't quite the question he wanted to ask, Narushige could tell. It was a plea for hope, for rest. What Touji really wanted to know was if they would survive the night.

Against his side Narushige felt Kou shift and change into his snake form, slithering up his arm to his neck.

"No, you can't," Kou said shortly. "I'll watch over you."

"Kou." Narushige wanted to scold him, to tell him to go back to being a sword because swords didn't need warmth or to eat or drink. But Kou could see in the falling darkness. He could keep Touji safe from the creatures that inhabited the sands in a way that Narushige couldn't. With every step Touji leaned more heavily against Narushige. With every step he felt more unsteady on his feet. They had to stop.

"Pick a nice spot of sand," Kou grinned. "I'll keep you safe."

He slithered down Narushige's arm and onto Touji's shoulder. "You look like crap, Touji," he said.

"Thanks," Touji snorted, apparently unperturbed by the way Kou wrapped himself around his neck. "You're looking pretty tasty right about now," he teased instead.

"Tasty, huh?" Narushige watched as Kou rubbed his face against Touji's cheek. "I never knew you felt that way about me."

"Stupid snake," Touji huffed in reply, but Narushige didn't miss the way he leaned in to Kou's touch.

Before they could work themselves into a full-blown argument, Narushige interrupted, "We'll stop here." It was as good as anywhere, no different from anywhere else, a bare patch of sand, exposed and flat. But the light was almost entirely gone now. Touji's shivering was becoming more pronounced so that his teeth were beginning to chatter.

He lowered Touji gently to the ground and Touji sighed in relief, hunching in on himself. Narushige crouched down beside him. The sand was soft under his knees, still warm from the heat of the day. The light was almost completely gone now and strange, long shadows stretched across the desert like long claw-fingered demons reaching towards them.

Touji's eyes glimmered, fever-bright, in the fading light, but when Narushige touched the back of his hand to Touji's forehead his skin was cold. He gently eased Touji's arm away from where he cradled it to his chest, unwrapped the scraps he'd bound it with. The cuts had turned an ugly red-yellow colour. Touji swallowed and looked away.

"It's alright, you know," Touji said. "If you leave me behind."

"No," Narushige snapped fiercely. "It's not." Maybe there wasn't any hope. Maybe they were in another world and none of this made a difference, but they had to try. "We stay together. You and I, and Chigusa and Rakan. They're not here, but I know they're looking for us."

Even if they were impossible to find. Even if there was nothing they could do, Narushige did believe that Rakan would do everything they could to bring their little family back together again. He knew Chigusa, stubborn and strong, and he knew their prince. They were fine. If nothing else, they could go on. But even if their own situation looked hopeless Narushige wasn't ready to give up yet, and he certainly wasn't ready to let Touji go. He suspected he would die before that happened.

Touji wouldn't look at him so Narushige took his chin in his hands and turned his head to face him. "Touji," he insisted. Narushige couldn't lie. He couldn't tell Touji they'd be okay, that everything would work out, because although Touji was young he was no child. Instead, he said, "I won't leave you. Don't ask me to do that."

Meeting his eyes, Narushige could see relief, fear, sadness, and Touji smiled faintly. "Okay," he said. "Okay."

"And me," Kou added, nipping at Touji's ear. "You can't get rid of me, ever."

"Even if I want to?" Touji laughed quietly.

"Even if you want to," Kou confirmed.

Touji let Narushige re-wrap his arm, and he let Narushige pull him to his chest, let Narushige lay them both down on the ground, pressed close. It was impossible to see anything anymore, not even light left now in this empty place, but they clung to each other in the darkness, sharing heat, sure of each other's presence, and they slept.

***

The second day proved more difficult.

Waking Touji up was worryingly hard, his expression confused, his movements uncoordinated and slow.

Narushige felt like he'd called Touji's name a hundred times, and he would call it a hundred more if I had to.

"Where are we going?" Touji asked. He tried to move his injured arm as though he'd forgotten it was hurt, hissed at the movement.

Narushige told him, "Back to the others. Home," because it was the truth.

It took a long time for Touji to find his balance, to be able to walk without tripping over his own feet.

Soon afterwards, with Kou back at his side as a sword, still heading west, a sandstorm blew up around them suddenly, unexpectedly, blindingly.

Narushige's eyes and his nose and his mouth filled with sand, clogged his chest. Half the time it was as though there was no separation between land and air, both heavy with dust, making it impossible to see. Wind howled past his ears, stung at his unprotected face. In silent agreement Touji and Narushige stayed close, so close it made walking clumsy. But Touji didn't move away, and Narushige didn't want to risk losing him. Not in this. They'd never find each other again. So Narushige held on to Touji's good arm, took some of his weight when he needed it, and together they battled against the wind and the sand. Narushige thought, if they stopped, they'd never move again. Morbidly, he imagined them buried under the sand in this desolate place, bodies desiccated and crumbling away.

They pressed on, relying completely on Kou's sense of direction. Thirst became acute, Narushige's head feeling heavy like it had been filled with stones. If it was this bad for him, Narushige could only imagine how Touji must have been feeling. He didn't complain. Touji, Narushige had noticed, never complained.

Like him, Narushige suspected, Touji had long since learnt that no one ever listened anyway. They had both learnt to be grateful for what they had, and even now, giving everything they had just to stay upright, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, they had more than they ever had before. They had friendship. They had trust. They had love.

Eventually, Touji could hold himself up anymore and Narushige didn't have the strength to carry him and together they fell to the ground. The hot sand burned his hands, the hot wind choked him, and all Narushige could do was to pull Touji to him, to bow their heads together, trying to turn their backs to the wind, shield themselves from the worst of it.

"Narushige," he heard Touji say into his ear, and he held on, foreheads together, arm around Touji's back, helping him cradle his arm.

"I'm here," he told Touji. "I'm here."

***

It was impossible to know how long the storm lasted.

By the time the winds died down Touji was slumped against him, his skin now feverishly hot and Narushige was sure that was an even worse sign than the iciness of his skin the day before. Poison, he reminded himself, looking down at Touji's half-closed eyes, his dry, chapped lips, the way he panted. All he could do was to stroke his hand down the side of Touji's face, through his dry, brittle hair. Sometime during the storm it had come loose and now his long hair stuck to his sweating face and neck.

Every breath Touji took sounded pained.

"Shh," he soothed, and wanted to cry because he knew they were dying. He knew Touji was dying, and he knew there was nothing he could do about it. He could offer no hope. He couldn't think of anything he could possibly say. They were sitting down and yet still Narushige felt dizzy.

This was the lack of water, he knew. It was becoming chronic now. Many times throughout his life Narushige had heard tales of travellers and of exiles who had been gone out into the desert and had died slow, agonising deaths. This felt neither slow nor agonising. It was all happening too fast.

"I thought there would be time," he told Touji, and found that it hurt to speak.

"There will be," Kou said stubbornly, transformed and sliding impatiently across Narushige's lap to Touji. He prodded at Touji's chin. "You both have to get up. You can't stay here."

Narushige wanted to argue that there was nowhere to go. That Touji was too weak. That he was just so tired. But he had promised himself he wouldn't give in. To his dying breath he would do everything he could to keep Touji alive.

He touched his friend's hair again. Touched his cheek. Ran a wetted finger along his lips.

Kou was right.

Touji mumbled unhappily when Narushige tried to rouse him, tried pushing him upright.

"Just a little further," he lied, and didn't care that he'd lied. "We have to try."

"I can't," Touji protested, and Narushige could see the pain in his eyes and he could here the agony in his voice, and he felt like the cruellest of people when he ignored Touji. Gathering his strength and his determination, Narushige wrapped an arm around Touji's back and lifted him almost bodily up.

"Please," Narushige begged, trying to get Touji to take a step. "Touji, please."

With concentration, with irritation, Touji moved one foot forward, taking some of his weight. Then he moved the other foot. And then the other. And another, and another until they were walking again. Touji's eyes were fixed on the sand, Narushige's eyes on Touji's feet, mindful of him tripping up. Kou slithered along beside them, leading them, encouraging them on. "We'll see Rakan soon," he said cheerily. "We can't leave him for long with Chigusa. That's just asking for trouble."

A creature of the desert, Kou did better here than either of them. He was confident too, sure of his direction, and Narushige wondered if he'd sensed something- water or people or anything- or if he was just humouring them in the same way Narushige had pretended there was some logic to travelling westward the day before.

After a time, maybe a long time or maybe not long at all, Narushige felt the ground beginning to slope upwards, becoming less sandy and more stone. It was more difficult to carry Touji, but he persevered.

"Just a little way," Touji mumbled irritably under his breath. "A little way, he says." But he didn't stop, didn't ask to rest, kept putting one foot in front of the other even when the incline became steep and he began to cough. Red stained his lips and Narushige wiped it away with the sleeve of his shirt. There was nothing else he could do.

The sun began to set on the second day and by now neither of them were sweating anymore. The evening chill was neither welcome nor unwelcome, barely registering. There was only walking, another step, follow Kou, don't stop. Narushige felt like they could have kept going all night like that but Kou called them to a stop.

"Rest," he ordered, and it was only then that Narushige realised exactly how dark it was. Somehow he'd missed the changing, stunning colours he'd seen the night before. All that remained was a deep purple-blue tinge to the world, just enough to arrange Touji as comfortably as he could on the harder ground, to wrap his arms around his friend and lay together, just for that moment before all light blinked out, and look into each other's eyes.

"I hate the desert," Touji told him in a whisper, and Narushige had to agree.

In the dark, they tangled their legs together, and it was easy, where no one could see, to kiss Touji's forehead.

His voice faint but still somehow amused Touji said, "I'd rather you do that somewhere else."

It was easy, too, to tease in reply, "Touji, there's no need to be indecent."

"No, no," Touji stammered hurriedly. "No, I didn't mean- I meant- on the mouth. With. Not. Um."

He really was young, and easy to embarrass. Narushige imagined Touji blushing, eyes shifting nervously, and he reached up and lay a hand on his cheek.

"I know what you meant," he assured Touji, and to prove it he kissed Touji, mouth to mouth. Touji's lips were so dry Narushige ran his tongue along them in an excuse to wet them and he tasted blood.

Maybe this was foolish, because it was certain that neither of them were quite in their right mind, but it felt right too, like this was always where they were headed.

Touji kissed back, inexperienced, too warm, his breath too fast, but meaning everything to Narushige. They were too exhausted for anything more, but they fell asleep together in something like peace.

***

The glare of the sun was blinding when Narushige awoke and he turned his head away, only to taste sand and breath in dust. He coughed, blinking gritty, sore eyes.

His first thought was for water, his second was to remember that he had none.

His third was for Touji, still pressed close against him. But something wasn't right. Narushige didn't know how he knew but he did. He didn't even know what it was, just that he had to wake Touji up, and now.

Sitting up was more difficult than Narushige had imagined and his arms shook as he pushed himself upright. His head swam groggily and it took some moments for his vision to clear. Touji's face was too still. Too pale.

"Touji," he called. "We have to wake up."

Touji didn't stir so Narushige lightly patted his cheek, calling him name again.

Nothing.

He tried shaking his shoulder, pulling Touji up into his arms. His head rolled lifelessly against Narushige's chest, and now he was starting to panic.

"No," he said. "Touji, no." Patting his cheeks again, shaking him awake more violently, but Narushige made no protest. Gave no sign of life at all. He was cold again to the touch. It was just the night air, Narushige told himself. Just the cold of the night. His injured arm thudded against the ground and Narushige thought, that should have hurt. That should have woken him up.

He called Touji's name over and over, tried to find some sign of life. The pulse at his neck was slow and weak. Narushige could barely feel him taking breaths when he laid a hand on his chest. "You're not supposed to leave me either," he begged, feeling helpless and horribly alone. He called desperately for Kou. He needed someone to make this right. There were tears in his eyes, he could feel them, and was shocked that he had any liquid left in his body to cry. Everyone had left him. Everything he loved was gone, and Narushige couldn't think past that thought. A part of him knew he was becoming hysterical. He knew it was the exhaustion and the thirst and the hunger and the heat and the cold but he couldn't stop himself, hugging Touji close, repeating his name and telling him things Narushige had never thought he'd say to anyone.

It was ridiculous. Narushige wasn't like this. They might have shared months travelling together and living together and sharing everything they had with each other, but they had only shared one brief kiss. One half-delirious kiss.

But Narushige remembered; teaching Touji mathematics and history and literature. In turn Touji taught Narushige how to use his bow, and he showed him how to play games and open himself to friendship. There were times when Touji would just listen to Narushige, and he would nod, and Narushige would know that he'd understood.

He couldn't- he wouldn't- lose all that.

"Kou," Narushige cried. "Help me!"

He buried his face in Touji's hair and stayed like that until he heard Kou saying, "Narushige. What it is? Narushige?"

"He won't wake up," Narushige whispered. "He won't wake up. Where were you?" Angry suddenly at Kou. Angry at everything.

"I was looking for water," Kou said. "There's- He's still breathing though. Touji's still alive."

When Narushige pulled back, opened his eyes, he saw that Kou had draped himself around Touji's shoulders.

"We'll keep going," Kou said hopefully. "We can keep going."

Which was easy for him to say. He wasn't the one who would have to carry Touji. But he remembered; he wouldn't stop until he could no longer move. There was still life in him. There was life in both of them, so Narushige nodded.

Hefting Touji up onto his shoulders was one of the most difficult things he'd ever done. His balance was unsteady and standing up was agony, but Narushige managed it.

Just as they had been the day before, the first steps were the hardest. Narushige concentrated on one step at a time. One movement forward. One more. One more after that, until he was moving again at a slow pace. Kou slithered easily along beside them.

"We'll find something," he assured Narushige, and Narushige nodded even though he knew it was a lie.

More than anything Narushige wanted Touji to wake up so that he'd know for certain he was alright. He wouldn't ask for anything, he told himself. He just wanted Touji alive and well and talking to him.

There were times, that third day, when Narushige realised he'd lost time. He'd hear the tail end of a story Kou was telling, or he'd suddenly find himself on his knees, Kou calling his name. Narushige always pushed himself up, started again. Kept going.

Then something changed.

Narushige felt it before he saw it; a stirring of the sand around him, the swirling of a hot breeze around them. Another sandstorm. There was no way they could survive this.

"Kou," he said, and he meant it as goodbye. It wanted to tell him he'd been a good friend. Narushige wanted to thank him for everything he'd ever done for him, but his throat was too dry and the words wouldn't come.

"No," Kou denied. "We're going to be fine."

Somehow, Narushige found it within himself to smile, but then it was too late.

Suddenly he was surrounded by choking sand, those stinging, swirling winds, and all Narushige could do was crouch down on the ground, holding Touji's face to his chest to try and protect him from the worst of it. Kou hid himself between them, wrapping himself around Touji's injured arm.

The winds picked up, becoming more intense even than the storm they'd suffered through the day before. This was different, Narushige thought. This felt more like a cyclone.

It was suffocating, the wind so strong now Narushige was afraid he was going to be ripped away from Touji so he held on more tightly, gritting his teeth at the strain of it. The wind beat against his back, clawed at his face and his arms and for a moment Narushige felt as though the ground beneath him had disappeared. Buffeted on all sides, blinded by sand, starved of air, Narushige felt his consciousness slipping away.

"I won't," he cried. "I won't let go," even as his arms betrayed him, loosening, relaxing into oblivion.

In that last instant, that last moment before he could no longer keep his grip on the world- on Touji- Narushige could have sworn he heard Rakan's voice.

***

A long time ago, when he was little more than a child and everyone called him unlucky and looked at him with disgust and fear, Narushige had met an old man.

He'd come to the family estate begging for alms, and Narushige had thought it incredible that his mother had actually given him some.

It was a cold winter but the old man didn't wear shoes.

Fascinated, Narushige had followed him as he made his way out through the dead, wasted gardens of their lands.

Without even looking, without any indication the man had seen him, he called, "Child. Walk with an old man."

It was the first time anyone had addressed him without any kind of disdain, and Narushige went willingly.

With Narushige at his side he said, "I know who you are," and Narushige felt his heart sink miserably.

The old man laughed kindly, though. "No, boy," he said. "I know who you are, and you're not as unlucky as they think."

When the old man looked down at him his eyes were warm, crinkled in gentle humour. "You'll see," he nodded.

He said nothing more, leaving Narushige at the boundary of Shigeka land. He didn't look back, but Narushige always remembered those eyes.

At first he thought he was seeing them again. Perhaps his whole life had been a dream and he was still a child in the Shigeka household. Except as he concentrated, as the fuzzy parts of his vision sharpened into a room warmer, more homely than anything he'd ever seen in what had once been his home, he realised that the eyes belonged to Rakan. A worried looking worried who hovered over him.

There was a soft futon under his back, sheets covering him. His whole body ached, his head hurt, his face stung.

"You're awake!" Rakan grinned brightly and Narushige winced at the volume.

"Sorry, sorry," Rakan spoke more quietly. "Drink," he insisted, pressing a cup to Narushige's lips. He obeyed easily, realising at the first touch of liquid to his lips that he was thirsty beyond anything he could ever remember feeling before. He drank greedily, deeply.

"Slowly," Rakan frowned, tilting the cup so he couldn't drink quite so much.

Narushige drank until he was panting, cool water heavy and satisfying in his stomach. He closed his eyes in relief, felt Rakan's hand on his shoulder.

"Tell me when you're ready for more."

In that haze of contentment, Narushige heard Kou speaking to Chigusa, "I hope you've been behaving yourself whilst we've been away," and suddenly he realised that something was missing. With the thought came the memories of everything that had happened. The thirst was a memory of days without water or hope of water; the aching of his feet and his legs the memory of days walking with so little rest; the burn of his face days of exposure to sun and sandstorm without shelter; the tautness of his shoulders where he had carried Touji when he couldn't carry himself anymore.

In an instant Narushige was sitting up, ignoring the way the world tilted dangerously.

"Touji," he said, and was annoyed when his voice came out weak, hoarse.

He groped around him mindlessly, searching for his friend. Desperate because he hadn't meant to let go. If he'd been saved and Touji hadn't-

"Narushige." Kou squeezed his wrist tightly, interrupting Narushige's panicked thoughts. "Narushige. Touji's here. He's alright."

Focusing on Kou, Narushige saw the truth in his eyes. Chigusa, sitting next to his futon, pointed to the bedding next to them: Touji.

He lay with his eyes closed, dark smudges staining his eyes, his lips still dry and chapped, but there was colour in his face. Narushige could see his breathing. Laying on top of the covers that had been piled over him, Touji's injured arm was bound in the distinctive red bandages that Chigusa formed from his own blood.

"They will heal him," Chigusa said.

"There was poison," Narushige managed to say.

"They'll heal that too." The way Chigusa said it with such certainty, as though it was fact rather than conjecture, caused Narushige to sag in relief, the worried knots in his stomach loosening, letting him breathe again.

"You see," Rakan said, easing Narushige back to lie down again. "Everyone's going to be okay."

Narushige couldn't take his eyes off of Touji.

"Had he woken up?" he asked.

"Not yet," Rakan told him. "He was- worse off than you. But he will."

There was a long silence, Rakan smoothing down the sheets of Narushige's bed, and Narushige realised then, the boy had been afraid for them. Looking up at Rakan, Narushige saw the tiredness in his downward gaze, in the heavy, sloped set of his shoulders.

"You should rest, Rakan."

Rakan smiled warmly. "I'm waiting for Touji to wake up," he admitted.

"He's the lazy one," Chigusa complained, but his tone was affectionate, and he was studying Touji carefully, as though looking for any change.

"I'll wait too," Narushige agreed. Rakan nodded.

His eyes were heavy, wanting more sleep, but it could wait. Narushige wanted to be there to see Touji again, because there had been a time, maybe not long ago, maybe days ago- Narushige couldn't tell- when he'd thought he'd never see him again.

No one gave any indication of surprise when Narushige reached out his hand over the space between their futons to lightly tangle his fingers with Touji's. Kou curled up on the pillow beside Touji's head. Rakan settled on the floor with a cushion and a cup of water.

Narushige had no idea where they were; someone's house by the looks of it, and Rakan had always been good at getting strangers to let them stay in their homes, but Narushige didn't really care. In this room, in the quiet of this place, Narushige had everyone he loved, safe. This, Narushige thought, was home now.

And he would be there when Touji awoke, whatever happened.

END