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Change is Inevitable

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The first time Bonten hears the faint clicking noises of the princess' wooden joints moving, he leaves before the heavy weight on his shoulders and chest can crush him entirely.

He can see the moment the pain gets to be too much etched deep in the shadows of her face and the way her hands grip too tight against the wooden railing suddenly.

When Bonten presses his hand against her cheek, the smile he gets for it is slow and creaky and sad, nothing like the joyful image he remembers.

She laughs and murmurs something about molting as she bends to pick up his feather, but Bonten can see all too well how the smile doesn't reach her eyes even when she brushes the barbs over her lips.

It should be so easy to slip from the branches of the tree and land next to her.

It's not until later that Bonten realizes: when she stopped asking questions was when he lost any chance of winning this game.

He can see the data that makes up their world, and she won't listen to a word of it.

She doesn't look at the sky anymore; he never thought he would feel bad about how often her eyes go to him, instead.

"Stop calling me Hiwa," he growls.

They're still drawn to each other, even now, even both burnt and changed.

Her eyes aren't Byakuroku's or the princess', but they're gentle and sad enough to get lost in.

Bonten stays awake for days at a time because when his sleep is natural, he sees Byakuroku and Ginshu again, covered in their own blood and ripping each other into pieces.

It's easier to just follow her lead and move back into jibes back and forth, but the only feeling he puts into it is the desperate longing to have everything back the way it was before he knew everything.

Winter should have been the most painful season, but she shivers and doesn't push him away when he slings his haori over her shoulders.

"Take it, please," she says, holding the sake cup up towards him.

The lips against his mouth are not the ones he imagined kissing so long ago, nor are they Byakuroku's; they are just Ginshu's.

When he pulls back, her mouth is set in a thoughtful moue, and he holds his breath because for a moment it's playful and silly just like the old days.

He never says, "I would undo all this and set you free if I could," because he knows with unshakeable certainty that he wouldn't.

Bonten gathers the memories of her human smiles to him like a blanket, but he doesn't know how many of those were fake, either.

Sometimes, Bonten thinks, it would be easier if he could just leave.

Amaza is not rightfully his; the closest he feels to himself these days is with Ginshu, playing a different game of pretend.

Bonten waits for her to notice, to say something, but she doesn't; he wonders whose fault that is.

Her hand drags down his spine and splays under his shoulderblade, the pads of her fingertips soft against his new, smooth flesh.

Her voice is in his ear, but he doesn't hear the sick, poisoned words-- he just feels the warmth of her breath and shivers at it.

"Oh," is all she says when she pulls the splinter from her finger, "so I still bleed."

She looks up and meets his eyes and for a breathless moment he wonders if she's going to offer it to him, that poison-- but she just raises it to her mouth and licks the wound.

"I could kill you out here," he says, but all she does is step closer.

Her eyes are bright and her smile is reckless, but Bonten can't bring himself to care; this is familiar enough that all he can do is lean in and press his lips to hers.

"You could leave a mark," she offers breathlessly, but he doesn't.

He tells her about the Blank Page afterwards, the words tumbling out of him before he can stop them, before he can remind himself that this will give her an advantage he doesn't want her to have.

"Stay," he says once in a moment of weakness, but all that gets him is her avoidance of his gaze and a whole day without so much as seeing her face.

Oddly enough, when Bonten is ready to explode over finding the Blank Page too late, Ginshu just tips her face back and looks up at Heaven's Net with a wistful smile and says, "There will be another."

Bonten is used to Utsubushi's disapproving looks after they've flown back to Amaza, but he's practiced at ignoring them for the sake of those stolen moments with Ginshu.

When they're in that pocket invisible to Teiten, Bonten stretches his wings wide and Ginshu laughs like she's actually happy as her fingers stroke delicately over the feathers.

It would be easier if Ginshu cried, he thinks, but when they're both curled up against each other afterwards, he imagines that maybe it's not just his heart that gets a little lighter.

He knows, somehow, when she's gone, even before reality tugs sideways and the Net's lines rearrange themselves into a new order.

For the longest moment, he stares at her human body as she starts to tremble and shake; then he kneels next to her and pulls her into a tight, desperate embrace because he's afraid if he lets go, she'll disappear again.

"You could still kill me," Ginshu whispers into the night air, as Bonten pretends not to be listening from the branches of the tree above her.

When he wakes to find her gone, he is instantly on the alert; when he finds her curled against a tree with an unreadable expression, he wraps himself around her in turn, to keep her warm.

Though she doesn't mention Teiten anymore, Bonten can still see the way she looks up at the sky, not with despair, but with purpose.

"I wonder if you know how to clean?" Ginshu asks, and Bonten looks sideways at her.

"I wouldn't have made a different decision; she's my sister," Ginshu says, but Bonten doesn't know what to say.

Bonten wants to thank Ginshu for saving Tsuyukusa, but the words stick in his throat like all honesty seems to these days, so he kisses her until she laughs, instead.

His favorite moments these days are right after Ginshu's drifted off, when her face is relaxed and her breathing is slow, and Bonten can feel the heat and life in the line of her body as it presses against his.

"I wasn't even doing anything!" Bonten yelps, but Ginshu has her sleeve over her mouth and has already moved away, further up the street.

Ginshu cuts a small slice of the peach she brought and sets it between her lips before grinning at Bonten.

This invisible cage, he thinks, is the strongest of all of them.

When he wakes up, the lights are too bright and too white and everything hurts, but none of that is important when he sees a halfway familiar person sitting beside the bed.

"You can have wings any time you want," she murmurs.

The kiss is more awkward here, in the strange new air that isn't new at all, and Bonten can't move quite right in this body-- in his body-- so their teeth hit against each other… and he doesn't care, because they're free now.