All In Fire

When he returned from Kyoto he found Suzaku waiting.

Perched on the edge of a rock that had not been there before he left, her scarlet robes fluttering in the breeze, she sat with hooded eyes and tense shoulders. Touda stopped in front of her and she did nothing but tilt her head up and stare with unblinking avian eyes. There was no sign of the others: even Tenkuu had withdrawn somewhere out of sight.

The air smelled of sulpher and ash.

Touda met her gaze evenly and cocked his head.

She tilted hers the opposite way. “Did you enjoy it?”

He said nothing.

Wind caught in Suzaku’s long hair, teasing it free of its pins and whipping it into a fluttering mess around her face, but she continued to stare without blinking. When Touda still didn’t respond, she finally moved, straightening up off the rock and bringing the sulpher smell with her. Gracefully, almost gently, she stretched her arms up, curving her hands in the air around his throat — hovering, but not quite touching.

“Did you enjoy it?” she asked again.

“… I did as I was asked,” he said.

“No,” she corrected, and this time actually settled her hands around his neck. “He was upset and grieving. He wasn’t in his right mind. He didn’t know what he was asking. And yet you still–”

He stared down at her. “We do as the master asks,” he said. “A shikigami’s first duty is his master’s commands.”

“A shikigami’s first duty is to protect his master,” she hissed. Her grip tightened and she leaned in close, her breath hot on his cheek. “And you–”

For a moment they remained locked in place. A heartbeat later they broke apart, Suzaku’s sword whistling from its sheath and just barely knicking the edge of Touda’s visor. He hit the ground hard enough to go sliding back a few paces, ripping up grass and mud as he did, and landed in a crouch. Opposite him, Suzaku pointed the weapon like an accusing finger, her eyes blazing. The air smelled like a bonfire, and under her feet the grass withered and crisped to ash.

“You tried to kill him,” she snarled. “He would have died because of you!”

Touda straightened in degrees, then dropped his arms from the defensive position. “He asked,” he said. “I obeyed.”

Suzaku bared her teeth in a snarl. “At a time like that, when he was vulnerable and not knowing what he was asking?!” she snapped. “That child–”

“Was tired,” Touda said. “He wanted to sleep. He wanted freedom. He–”

“Shut up,” she said, and he saw her body shift, tensing itself for a leap, too angry to realize how broadly she was projecting. “Shut up, shut up, shut up–!”

She charged. Even angry, he only had a heartbeat’s time to knock her blade aside before she crashed bodily into him, her shoulder into his chest, and they both went tumbling to the ground.

Through the filter of his visor he watched her rear up above him, his hips caught between her knees and her eyes glittering. They weren’t tears, not yet — she’d save those for when she was alone or with one of the others, but not for Touda the traitor, the hated, whose chains had been set by the Golden Emperor himself. It was still just rage in her expression as she stared down at him, then rocked back so she could press the edge of her sword to his exposed throat. He could feel her trembling minutely, and the faint bright sting as the blade cut in just enough to scratch.

“I want to hurt you,” she said, her voice thin and hard. “You — you …”

Without breaking eye-contact, Touda lifted a hand and carefully pushed her sword aside. After it was a safe distance from his neck, he deliberately pressed his own hands to the earth and took a deep breath and tasted ash deep in the back of his throat. By the time he finished settling himself her breathing had calmed, though her eyes were still wild and staring.

“Very well,” he said.

+++

Suzaku stripped with quick, efficient moments, discarding first the sheath strapped to her back, then her belts, then her outer robe. She left her shift in place and her hair pinned up, though when she leaned over him, enough of it tumbled down over her shoulders to veil his face. Touda kept his arms outstretched, the claws pressed into the dried earth. When she put her hands on his throat again, he tipped his head back.

For a moment they remained poised like that, staring at each other, and then Suzaku undid the belt fastened at his throat, laying it aside.

She leaned down, her mouth to his ear.

“Fight me,” she said.

Touda blinked and lifted his hand, plaing the palm to the flat of her shoulder and curling his fingers. She pressed against his weight and narrowed his eyes.

He shoved and she rolled, grabbing his arm as she did, and it sent them tumbling, rolling round and round like idiots in the grass, her teeth in his shoulder and his claws down her back, the pins in her hair coming loose.

It was the sort of tussling Byakko favored and not: she screamed when he caught and twisted her arm, he grunted when her knee slammed hard into his gut, and she said nothing else but the panting of her breath in his ear was not unlike the voices of the idiots who dashed themselves to pieces at the Emperor’s command, a hundred thousand fools who’d obeyed their leader without question and he among them, black hellfire consuming where Suzaku’s red fire would purify–

Ashes and ashes and nothing left for dust.

By the time they stopped he was pinned again, bruised and winded as she rose above him, her hair wild and a single thin line of blood winding its way down her cheek. The hem of her robes had ridden up high enough to expose a long pale strip of thigh and the flex of muscle underneath. Both her hands pressed to his chest, somewhere between a need for balance and a warning to keep him down.

“I hate you,” she said, rising to her knees over him, with her nails digging into his chest as she adjusted. “Do you understand that? You’re a traitor. You’re dangerous. You–”

Touda lifted a hand and pressed the tips of his claws to the base of her neck, where her pulse skipped fast and hard.

“I would not have,” he said, “unless he asked.”

Suzaku stared at him, breathing through clenched teeth. Touda did not blink the entire time, feeling how the muscles in her throat moved when she swallowed. She rose up onto her knees above him. The hands on his chest trembled, then went still.

“I know,” she said finally, and sank down again.

+++

Later he found bruises all along his arms and his hips, a pattern of fingerprints that looked like wildfire.

+++

A week later she bellowed at him and came down swinging; that was more her style, but still more careless than he would have expected. He deflected her blade and caught her eyes, and saw that they were clear and bright. She didn’t nod or pull back, but one corner of her mouth quirked up a little, a half-smile that showed, for just that moment, the tip of a fang.

Touda raised an eyebrow and sidestepped her next swing, and when Byakko cut in to break up the fight, Touda caught her eye again and nodded himself before backing away.

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