Title: Crutch
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Yukio and certain others.
Setting: Anime, post-series.
Summary: Yukio is called upon to deal with something he’s put off.
Disclaimer: They belong to Kazue Kato. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: A Fandom Stocking gift for Kristen Sharpe—who unwittingly contributed much to this story in our conversations about the series. *g* This was a massively challenging story to write, especially on a deadline, and with my nagging feeling that I can never quite get a handle on the canon of “Blue Exorcist”. In the end, I think I succeeded at what I meant this to be, but that is ultimately for more knowledgeable fans to judge.

 

Crutch

 

“I’m home… Rin, are you here?”

There was no response inside the dorm Yukio Okumura shared with his twin brother. Frowning, the young exorcist began to search the rooms. Sure enough, he found the place deserted, and a quick check of his phone assured him that he hadn’t missed any messages either.

At this hour of the evening, he had expected Rin to be home. It was possible one or more of the other Exwires had invited him out somewhere, but if that was the case, he should at least have sent a text letting Yukio know. That condition was a holdover from the very recent past, when Yukio—having been held personally responsible for making sure Rin’s demonic powers didn’t get out of control—had insisted on knowing his whereabouts at every moment.

Standing bemused in the hallway outside of Rin’s bedroom, Yukio reached up to scratch his left ear… and barely suppressed a flinch when his fingers encountered the ear’s prominently pointed tip. Three weeks after the awakening of his own powers, he still sometimes forgot about that particular detail of the physical changes it had wrought.

To be fair, it was the only part that was easy to forget. The effort to avoid biting the inside of his lip with his fangs was now continual and self-conscious, a lesson driven home by several painful lapses (which, fortunately, now healed with an inhuman speed). Even more of a distraction was his long and fur-covered tail, which he made a habit of hiding under his clothes, just as Rin had once done. Not that it was really necessary much of the time, when he was with Rin or the other students and exorcists who knew the brothers’ monstrous heritage… but he wasn’t exactly comfortable letting others lay eyes upon such a freakish trait. Getting over that awkwardness was something he wasn’t ready to deal with yet.

…Honestly, he wasn’t ready to deal with any of it yet.

It couldn’t be put off forever. The unseen change—the worst part, the new power inside him—was the heaviest burden of all.

Unlike Rin’s flames, his were not even sealed in a restraining vessel. He’d somehow managed to draw them deep within himself and bury them after their battle with Satan, suppressing them so completely that, while things remained calm, he had been able to pretend to others that he was fine. Still, he could feel their ember burning in him. It kept him walking on eggshells, constantly wary of arousing any instincts or emotions that would provoke his blue fire to ignite again. Although he had it locked down for now, he realized painfully that he was afraid of not being strong enough to cope with this… the way Rin was.

A part of him wanted very much to just get it over with, to face it and master it, to conquer this obstacle that stood in the way of the life he had chosen to live. On the other hand, besides the fear, there was also loathing: a loathing of his power, of its source, of its reminder that he had become the very thing he was dedicated to fighting. The tail and the fangs were a nuisance, but it was the flames that made him a monster—and learning how to take charge of them, to use them, felt somehow as if it would be embracing something sinful. As long as he kept them carefully frozen inside him, just the way they were now, he wouldn’t really have to think about what it meant to be no longer human.

Yukio just didn’t know how long he could.

He also realized that avoiding the issue made him a terrible hypocrite, after all the demand he had put on Rin to learn how to manage his flames. Yet, surprisingly, Rin hadn’t called him out on that fact yet. He wondered if Rin, having been first to experience this fear and frustration, was hesitant to watch his brother go through the same struggle Yukio himself had played a part in making him endure.

If that was so, it was a sympathy that couldn’t last. Others might think there was no doubt of the outwardly cool and rational young exorcist’s control, but Rin had to know better. Sooner or later, he would perceive just as well that Yukio needed to confront his all-too-literal inner demon, for everyone’s sakes—before any accidents happened.

Yukio was pried away from his gloomy contemplations by the buzzing of the phone in his hand. He had received a text message. As he hurried to check it, hope surged that it was Rin; but instead, Sir Pheles was the sender. The director of True Cross Academy was asking him to report to a certain address, and provide backup for a team of exorcists responding to demonic activity.

It startled him that Sir Pheles would ask him to do this now, knowing full well that he hadn’t yet worked through the matter of his powers. There had been no pressure on him in these past weeks, simply resuming his classroom duties—but how could he trust himself in a possible combat situation? He was in no way prepared to use his flames as Rin did. If his concentration was consumed with fighting the instinct to unleash them in self-defense, he could only be a liability… and if something made him lose control altogether…

He shook his head sharply in self-reproach. It was his own fault for not facing up to the problem sooner, not making the effort to ensure he was fit for the duties expected of him—and now he was needed. He would have to go, and trust the senior exorcist on the scene to decide whether he should take part at all.

With his heavy heart beating quickly, Yukio hurried to answer the summons. The mystery of where his brother had gone remained unsolved… but for now, that seemed to have become the least of his worries.

 

The location to which he was dispatched turned out to be a parking garage. At that hour, most of the office workers who used it would already have gone home, leaving few vehicles in the structure. Even so, as Yukio appraised it from the sidewalk outside, he could tell the four stories of concrete walls and barriers would be a maze even when empty. A handful of fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling on each level, but these were too few, too dim, and spaced far apart.

He could see why the garage would be attractive to a demon. It was dank and shadowed, and it practically smelled of the despair of overworked wage slaves—a thought Yukio didn’t care to examine too closely. Useful as it might have been in figuring out demonic motives, he really didn’t want to think his change might have attuned him to the same perceptions they used to target and prey on human souls.

What troubled him more was that no other exorcists were in sight, and the night was perfectly still. Perhaps he was simply the first to arrive on the scene… but something about this entire setup gave him a bad feeling. If he was supposedly here as backup, where were the people he was backing up?

The worst-case scenario was more than he could allow himself to think about just now.

Grimly resolving himself, he drew his right-hand pistol. As something of an afterthought, he also released his tail from its bindings around his ribs, allowing it to slip free behind him. Little though he liked it, he had learned that when he exerted his newly enhanced strength and speed of reflexes, the counterbalance of the long appendage helped to steady his movements.

…Of course, it also had a maddening propensity to move without any conscious will on his part, usually in reaction to his moods and stress levels. While he was still learning how to keep it reined in, he couldn’t quite trust it not to swish around and draw attention to him when he was in need of stealth. And that might have been the most discouraging thing of all: if he couldn’t even get a handle on that two-meter stem of flesh and bone, how was he ever supposed to control demonic flames?

Shaking the nagging mutter of self-doubt from his head, he drew a deep breath and strode forward. His tense body felt lithe and coiled in a way that was new to him, far more prepared for action that his fretful mind. The subliminal whispers that he was frail from birth, too physically fragile to contain the same power as Rin, had always made him feel there was too much weakness in him; now he knew he was stronger than anything human, but that strength came at a high cost.

As he was ducking underneath the striped swing arm that barred the garage’s entrance, the meager overhead lights buzzed and flickered… and then went out altogether.

A primordial rush of anxiety swept through him. Without its own lighting, the garage was plunged into nearly-complete darkness, relieved only by a dim glow from streetlights down the block that were nowhere near close enough for comfort. That faint trickle of illumination was only just enough to make the red and yellow reflectors on the walls gleam like demon eyes in the shadows.

Not this, please, not the dark…

Before that creeping horror could seize him entirely, his attention was diverted by the sudden jerking of his lashing tail. He caught himself, and forced his quickened breathing to slow down. In turn, the tail relaxed a little, but not much.

After everything else that had happened, darkness was reasonably moved down a space or two on the priority list of Yukio’s fears, but it was still yet another unresolved issue in his life. Now, with his lack of confidence in keeping a lid on his new power, was the worst possible time to be forced to deal with it—but he seemed to have little choice. As quickly as possible, he had to make sure nothing terrible had happened to the other exorcists sent out for this job. Until he knew their status, he couldn’t let himself hesitate.

Yukio spared a moment to take out his phone, intending to call in a quick report, but there was no signal. Muttering a curse, he shoved it back into his coat pocket, and took out a small flashlight instead. The catch was that holding the light would limit him to wielding only one gun.

Alright, demon. You really picked the wrong day. Here’s hoping you’re the only one who ends up regretting it.

The exorcist inhaled one long breath, and held it. He began to move forward cautiously, sweeping his thin beam of illumination back and forth across his path. A few little black clouds of gnashing coal tars scattered when the light intruded on their dank corners, but there was no sign of any greater demonic activity on the deserted ground level.

It was a fair assumption that whatever killed the lights may also have affected the garage’s elevator; and even if it hadn’t, Yukio was not about to exacerbate the darkness by stepping into that sort of confined space. Instead, he made for the stairwell, and slowly crept up the steps to the second level. Two cars still sat there, but he quickly determined that both of them were empty.

Once he had cleared that level, he ascended to the third… and the moment he hit the top step, his flashlight wavered across a splash of red on the pavement before him.

A gasp of horror caught in Yukio’s throat. Edging around the large scarlet stain, he moved forward from the stairwell entrance, and discovered still more evidence of carnage. Amidst what must have been gallons more of spilled redness, there lay scattered a few abandoned weapons that would have been carried by exorcists. A Knight’s broken sword, and two handguns belonging to Dragoons… like Yukio himself.

Not even their bodies have been left…

The revulsion within Yukio mingled with rage. Deep in his being, he felt the first flickering spark of awakening flame—only to wrestle it down instantly with a new flash of alarm.

Not here, not now. Can’t lose control. Can’t act on raw emotions… or I’ll only become destructive too.

Swallowing hard, Yukio turned to scan further with his flashlight—and something behind him impacted between his shoulders like a wrecking ball. Sent hurtling through the air, the half-demon exorcist smashed face-first into the opposite wall with enough force to crater the concrete.

…That hurt.

Stunned, fearful, and much too angry for comfort, Yukio coughed and staggered up from the limp sprawl in which he found himself at the base of the crumbling wall. His left ribs were in agony, and he had also struck his head solidly, shattering his eyeglasses. A warm trickle of blood slid down from his brow along the corner of his left eye, possibly from a fragment of the glass.

He wrenched the broken glasses from his face and flung them aside. It wasn’t as if they were any help in this darkness anyway. His flashlight had gone spinning away when he was hit, and must have been damaged upon landing as well, because it no longer cast its beam from wherever it had come to rest.

His gun was still in his right hand, if only because his finger was caught in the trigger guard. Quickly he drew its left-hand mate and braced his back against the wall, straining his other senses for some clue as to his assailant’s location.

If he could have seen the demon he was up against, and been able to classify even its general type, he might have known what Scripture could be effective against it. As it was, his holy silver bullets were his only available weapon. …That, and the fact that he was inhumanly strong, fast, and durable himself. The pain of cracked ribs and a concussion was already starting to diminish. At least rapid healing was one demonic trait he could live happily with.

A faint sound like a bouncing pebble spurred Yukio to spin and aim for its source—and he was plowed into again, this time from the side. The explosive attack shoved him down and dragged him several feet across the pavement, adding a road-burned right cheek to the list of injuries he was acquiring.

His left-hand gun was wrenched out of his grasp before he could react. Then his right-hand weapon was tugged at as well; and in desperation, he squeezed the trigger. While his attacker was not in line to be struck by the bullet, it flinched back instinctively from the recoil and the sound of the shot that echoed loudly in the hollow space. Yukio took advantage of that hesitation to claw himself upright and twist away, bracing to fire again in the attacker’s direction.

When he shot into the shadows where the attacker had been, the muzzle flash lit the garage for an instant. Glasses or no, it was enough to give him a snapshot of the empty gray cavern before him. He saw the smears of blood, the fallen weapons of the exorcists who had been defeated before his arrival… but the creature that killed them had vanished once more.

As the blinding flash was followed by a moment of even blacker darkness, Yukio dove toward the closest abandoned gun. If he had lost track of the assailant again, at least he could try to get an extra weapon in hand before its next attack.

But why was it toying with him like this? If it had already slain at least three exorcists with such apparent ease, why was it taking its time with him, using only brute strength instead of whatever demonic powers it possessed?

Maybe it was amused by his weakness…

Or maybe it had realized that he wasn’t just an exorcist. Maybe it was curious—about him. Maybe it was trying to provoke him, in the hope that he would show it what he could really do.

For Yukio, that was all the more motivation not to lose control.

As he slid to his knees, groping in search of the pistol he had aimed for, his left fingers stumbled over a cold metal shape. It wasn’t the gun, but the pommel of the broken sword. That was not his style of weapon; unlike his brother, he preferred something more precise than flailing around with a blade. Still, it was better than having one hand empty, even if it was snapped to half its length. He closed his grip on it and crouched low to the ground, squinting into the dark for some sign of the attacker.

Perhaps it was the very faintest of sounds that spurred his instinct to move. Whatever the case, his body wrenched itself sideways before his mind even knew why—and then the weight hit, literally dropping down from above. His dodge kept it from landing squarely on top of him, but his right shoulder absorbed a painful impact. In response, he slashed blindly with the sword, and felt the blunt broken tip meet the resistance of a solid object.

The assailant hissed in pain. Its sharp intake of breath was soft and quick, but unmistakable… and then something that might have been a fist plowed into Yukio’s chin, causing him to see stars as he was thrown onto his back.

Whatever he was fighting, it wasn’t playing anymore.

His remaining gun was—kicked?—out of his grasp, and the attacker fell hard on his ribs, holding him down. A distinct pair of hands wrapped around his left wrist, trying to force the sword closer to his own throat. He brought up his now-empty right hand to reinforce his grip, to brace against the monstrous pressure of the powerful creature on top of him.

Some part of him marveled at how evenly matched his strength was with that of the beast he was fighting. In his careful efforts to suppress his flames, he had as yet done little to test his new physical prowess. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he hardly seemed any more muscular than the willowy figure he had always been… but whatever came from inside him now permitted him to hold his own against the inhuman thing he faced. His attacker pressed, but the guillotine-like blade above Yukio’s throat remained unmoving in his grasp.

A desperate idea for breaking the stalemate seized him. At the risk of contact with the blade-edge, he lifted his head slightly, leaning toward the hands that were clenched bruisingly on his wrist—and he bit down savagely into the other’s flesh.

The attacker snarled and recoiled, pulling the sword back a few inches as the bitten hand released his arm; but an instant later, that hand merely returned as a fist, to land a blow across Yukio’s right temple that left him stunned.

Not bad—for a four-eyed weakling.

Uttered in a whispering hiss close to Yukio’s ear, the words were so startling that he nearly lost his grip on the attacker’s other arm, which was still pressing the sword down over his chest. He gasped and jerked his head back, staring up at the indistinct shadow that loomed over him in the darkness.

You’re more fun than the ones they sent before you. Those humans were too easy—but you’re different. Why, you’re almost on my level…

“I’m nothing like you!” Yukio shouted, pushing back against the sword.

What? Then you mean you’re not strong?” The whispering voice dripped with a smirk. “If that’s true, then you won’t be any trouble when I go and hunt down all your friends, one by one.

Yukio felt his blood freeze in his veins. This attacker—this demon—was it probing his soul for weaknesses? Could it possibly be reading his very mind?

Oh, yes. I can see it now. I’ll have to get the big one with the piercings out of the way quickly, but I think I’ll have extra-special fun with the little blond girl… and then maybe I’ll see if your brother is any less pathetic than you.”

And with those threats, the demon crossed the line.

A cry of rage escaped Yukio as he surged upward, flinging the attacking beast onto its back. As their positions were suddenly reversed, and he was the one kneeling over his former tormentor, he almost tangibly felt the splintering and shattering of the controlled, rational walls of ice he had built around the ember in his soul.

With a rush of hot wind, blue-white fire erupted from the depths of his being. It wreathed his body, dancing over his form without burning his clothes, streaming outward from his back in the shape of two spectral flame-wings. Where his hand was wrapped around his opponent’s neck, long claws extended from his fingertips to draw pinpoint drops of blood.

In the blue glow that now filled the garage, he must have stared down for a full five seconds before he truly saw the wide-eyed face looking up at him… and recognized his own brother.

“Rin—!”

Ein… zwei… drei.”

At the sound of the voice that came from somewhere off to the side, Yukio felt a ghostly pulling sensation. The flames flowed away from him, and their weight in his soul was suddenly… not relieved, exactly. It was more as if it had been reduced to a single fine point of contact with his being: merely touching him, rather than consuming him. The difference was like that of a draft through a door that was no longer flung wide open, but only slightly ajar.

The garage’s lights flickered to life, and Mephisto Pheles sauntered out from behind a concrete pillar, clutching a small and glittering object in his gloved hand.

For a few moments, Yukio’s conscious thought was capable of nothing more than a crawl. Mercifully realizing that he was still sitting on top of his brother—and with his hand around Rin’s neck, no less—he jerked away with a sharp intake of breath, and stumbled to his feet.

Even at that instant, he realized what had just happened; what Rin and Sir Pheles had done. Its meaning was so powerful, and his awareness of his own lapse so acute, that he could look neither of them in the eye.

Instead, he stared at the glint of metal in Sir Pheles’ half-closed hand. “You… you sealed my flames?”

“Indeed,” the Director said complacently. He held up the object, casually twirling what proved to be a very antique-looking gold pocketwatch on a chain. “With a little help from your brother in prodding them to the surface again, of course. I must say, you’ve done a very impressive job of keeping them stuffed down in there somewhere since they awakened. But we all know you’ll never learn anything that way—and sooner or later, you’d only lose your grip. We can’t have you walking around like a ticking time bomb. Still, before you begin learning how to handle your flames properly, you obviously needed a little… reassurance.”

Staggered, Yukio looked around the deserted garage. The pools of red on the concrete, the fallen weapons. The massive cracks denting the wall where Rin had first thrown him.

“The two of you staged all this? Just to bring my flames out, so you could seal them?”

Rin had gotten to his feet by this point, and was dusting himself off. Although Kurikara was slung across his back as always, the sword that contained his flames had clearly remained in its sheath throughout the confrontation—which explained his using only raw physical strength to knock Yukio around. Of course, if he’d let his own flames off their chain, he would have become visible in their light.

The elder brother was slightly the worse for wear. There was a red-ringed hole in his shirt near the right shoulder, where the jagged end of the broken sword must have cut him. Tiny dots of blood showed on his throat from Yukio’s claws, and the tooth marks on his left hand looked like a vicious dog bite, but he was grinning wanly.

“Well, we didn’t think you actually could bring yourself to flame up if we just asked nicely,” he chuckled, with only a faint trace of awkward strain. “You were still too worried about losing control to do it without a little push.”

“You call this a little push?” Yukio snapped, directly meeting his brother’s gaze at last. Tail lashing, he waved a hand at the red stains around them. “You made me think an entire team of exorcists had been slaughtered here!”

“Uh. Yeah… sorry. I forget what Shiemi called it, but that stuff’s just a red plant goo she had Nee whip up for me.”

Shiemi was in on this too?” the younger brother exploded.

Rin scowled with obvious offense at the suggestion. “Hey, it’s not like I told her what I wanted it for.”

“And what about you?” Yukio blew out an angry breath, clutching his head with one hand. “Do you even realize I could have killed you?”

“Oh, that isn’t very likely,” Sir Pheles interjected blithely. “I have every confidence that Rin could have taken care of himself if he needed to. Besides, before you woke up this morning, I had Ukobach replace the bullets in your pistols with specially designed blanks. Even you couldn’t tell the difference.”

Yukio’s hand dropped, and his jaw sagged open.

“In any case, all’s well that ends well—and now perhaps you can finally start to make some progress in the new status quo.” Sir Pheles tossed the pocketwatch casually at Yukio, forcing him to catch it. “I’m sure you understand the rules about that little item—the same as your brother’s sword. Keep it close at all times, don’t allow anyone else to play with it, et cetera. After classes tomorrow, you’ll join him in reporting to Miss Kirigakure for your very special training. …Have a pleasant night, boys.”

With that, Sir Pheles turned and strolled away, whistling a tune that echoed in the cavernous confines of the garage.

Staring down at the pocketwatch that rested innocently in his hand, Yukio gulped. He knew the kind of taskmaster Shura was, and he had seen what she put Rin through. Being placed in her hands as he tried to master his powers was a prospect worthy of dread.

“Hey. Yukio.” Rin’s voice behind him was subdued, and uncharacteristically contrite. “I know all this seems like a dirty trick… but you know we had to do it. Our flames are something we’ve both gotta deal with now—and we’ll do it together.” A hesitation preceded words that were even more faint and somber. “But I… I really am sorry you ended up this way at all.”

After a brief moment, Yukio tipped back his head. A small, unsteady laugh quivered out of him.

“I know,” he sighed wearily. “That’s why I’m not really angry. Not much, anyway.” He turned a reproving scowl on his brother. “But you can’t tell me some part of you didn’t enjoy the excuse to beat me up the way you did.”

“Hey, you’re the one who bit me!” Rin retorted, holding up his hand—on which the imprints of Yukio’s teeth had now all but completely faded. “That hurt, you know. Try to remember you’ve got fangs now before you go chomping down on people like that.”

“It’s kind of hard to forget, Rin.”

Their eyes remained locked for a moment. It was Rin who broke the tension first, breaking into a snicker and shaking his head. In turn, Yukio felt his own frustration ebb, and a brief, rueful smile crossed his lips.

“The two of you could have picked something better than this old pocketwatch,” he muttered, studying the watch once again. He didn’t dare to open its case. At least not yet. If it was really the same kind of safety valve now as Rin’s sword, opening it would release his flames—and that earlier brief moment when they had overcome him was more than enough for tonight.

Tomorrow, when he began to practice controlling his powers in earnest, was soon enough to face them. For now, he could permit himself just one more night to pretend he was a little more human than the flames made him.

In response to his comment, Rin shrugged helplessly. “The watch was Mephisto’s choice. All I could do was try to steer him toward something that wasn’t too flashy, ’cause I figured you’d want it that way. Just be grateful I did talk him out of the ‘Honey Honey Sisters’ folding fan he was thinking of sticking you with.”

Yukio sincerely hoped Rin was joking. Shooting his brother a quick look of horror, he tucked the watch away safely in his coat pocket. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, after all… At least it was small and discreet, and not an actual weapon. He would not have cared for the prospect of letting his flames out every time he faced a fight, the way it was for Rin with Kurikara.

Pragmatically he moved across the pavement of the garage, to collect his own guns and the other weapons that were used to set the scene. As he picked up the broken sword, he could observe in the light that it had never really been much of a danger after all: although its pointed tip caught Rin by chance, it was actually nothing more than a dull-edged stage prop. He also discovered that the two stray guns were unloaded. Knowing Sir Pheles’ penchant for chaos, he hadn’t been convinced at first about the Director’s claims of safety measures, but it seemed there was some truth to the insistence after all.

Having attended to the weapons, he returned to Rin, who was smiling at him just a bit too calculatingly.

What?”

“Oh… I was just thinking that once you get a handle on your flames, you’ve gotta show me how to do that fire-wings thing you did. That was pretty awesome.” Rin frowned thoughtfully. “I mean, we pulled off something bigger than that together before, but I didn’t know you could do it by yourself. I can’t even do that!”

The younger sibling grimaced. “I’m pretty sure that had less to do with my power level or skills, and more to do with the fact that my body was already conditioned for it. Like some kind of muscle memory. Because…” He looked away uncomfortably. “You know.”

Because Satan did it while he was possessing my body.

“Ah. Yeah.” Rin’s pensive look held for only a moment, and then the determinedly cheerful grin returned. “But it’s still cool. And I still want to learn how when you figure it out.”

Rin started for the stairwell then, clearly taking it for granted that Yukio would follow. His silence lasted all the way down to the ground level of the garage before he spoke once more, in an unusually quiet and serious tone.

“And you know… someday, I think we’ll learn enough that you won’t need that pocketwatch, and I won’t need Kurikara. Someday, we’ll both be strong enough and skilled enough to control our flames completely—all by ourselves.”

A small gasp escaped Yukio, as he stumbled to a halt on the bottom step of the stairs. “Are you serious? Don’t you remember what happened when Kurikara was damaged?”

“Yeah… Well, you try not losing it a little if you suddenly had to deal with the full force of your power all at once, after having it sealed all your life. But I didn’t hurt Shiemi when she tried to calm me down, did I? We don’t know what could’ve happened if you and the others hadn’t fixed Kurikara. …Maybe I still could have gotten myself under control without it.” Rin shook his head, and smiled up at Yukio. “Anyway, you’re the proof that we can handle our powers without help, like you were doing already. I’ll bet you don’t really need the watch even now. That and my sword—they’re only crutches for us to lean on for a while, until we’re ready to stand on our own.”

Yukio blinked at him wonderingly. “You really do believe that, don’t you?”

Still smiling, Rin turned and strode out through the garage’s front entrance. His tail waved languidly back and forth as he lifted his eyes to the night sky.

“There’s something Mephisto told me, while we were planning this. He said… being born of this world makes you and I natural to this world. It gives us an advantage full-blooded demons don’t have. Even if our flames first came from Gehenna, they’re adapted to Assiah—because this is our home.” He looked back at his brother, eyes bright with determination and confidence. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Yukio? What we are isn’t about being part of one world or another. We’re just ourselves: just two brothers fighting for the place where we belong. It’s that simple… and that’s why you don’t have to be afraid of hurting anything you love. Because you never will.”

At those words, a lump knotted painfully in Yukio’s throat; but in spite of it, he smiled. And he wondered yet again how the sibling he once thought of as a lost soul could be the one to show him what true faith really looked like.

He stepped forward to join Rin, and the Okumura brothers stood side by side, gazing up at the stars together.


© 2016 Jordanna Morgan