Enthroned Heart

Kou thinks he’s figured out who the next king of shadow is. Now they have to convince Akira to let him go. Drama, I-3, MANGA CONTINUITY

Kou sighed. He was going to have to refresh his liquor cabinet. He always did, after Lulu visited.

"All right, you said you found something," Lulu said, settling on Kou’s best chair. "So what is it?"

Kou blew out a stream of smoke. "Think it’s the king you want. You’ll never believe who it is, though." He certainly hadn’t.

Lulu’s eyes narrowed. "One of the kids?"

Kou nearly pouted at her. It wasn’t fair when she dropped the fluff-head act and got all sharp.

"That was awfully fast for a factor to develop enough for you to think it’s the king and not just the next of Shirogane-sama’s Children," she said, a bit suspicious, and Kou grinned.

"It hasn’t developed suddenly. Actually, I think the shadow world was trying to make another king for kind of a while now."

"…Kengo," she concluded slowly. "Kou, are you sure? That synch factor…"

"That’s why I think it." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, drawn into the excitement of his deductions. "His affinity for shadow has been growing, you know. After we got the mess with Homurabi straightened out I tried to seal it again and I couldn’t; he was already too strong. The best I could do was tone it down a little so he didn’t cause another break in the boundary just by walking around and breathing!"

She sat back. "You’re right. That is the kind of strength that makes a king. But the synch?"

"The first time it happened he took on the aspect of a kokuchi, right? But the second time he stayed in human shape. At first I thought it was just that I caught him earlier, but now I’m not so sure. Both times, he was synching as a human." He pointed his cigarette at her, eyes gleaming. "What if he becomes shin and synchronizes with shadow then, at a much, much greater capacity?"

"Hm." Lulu took another drink, eyes distant. "I guess either he becomes a king or he turns into an unstoppable monster that only Shirogane-sama could possibly kill."

Kou just looked at her for a long moment. "…if you don’t mind, can we not put it quite that way when we mention this to Ken and Aki?"

She looked back down at him, mouth quirking. "Of course not. But someone has to keep these things clearly in mind."

"You’re scary, you know that?" He took a comforting drag on his cigarette.

She leaned back with a laugh. "Of course. That’s why I belong so well to Shirogane-sama."

He couldn’t argue with that when her smile was putting a chill right down his spine.

"So," Kengo said, at the end of the explanation, "basically it’d be like taking a job overseas."

Kou, Lulu, Akira and Aya all stared at him. Mayu was too busy chewing on a nail.

"You want to run that by me again?" Kou asked.

"Well, if I’m a king then I have to be in the shadow world, right?" Kengo said, in a reasonable tone. "I can’t visit here too often or it would cause problems. So I can only see Nee-san and Akira and everyone every now and then, but I could probably send messages more often, right? Just like from a job overseas."

Kou really couldn’t help smiling and ruffling Kengo’s hair. This kid was way too good, too nice, for the shadow world and Shirogane.

"It’s, um. Probably going to be a whole lot harder than a normal kind of job," Lulu said, a little helplessly. Kou could practically see her trying to figure out how to fit the truth into the space between Kengo’s ears.

Of course, his head wasn’t where truth needed to fit, for Kengo.

"Mm. Figured. I mean, we all saw how Mas— um." Kengo eyed his sister sidelong and started again. "We all saw that, yeah. But," a cheerful shrug, "everyone always says I have a lot of endurance."

"Kengo." Mayu looked even more concerned, eyes wide. He patted her hand.

"It’ll be okay, Nee-san. Shirogane-san is back, so it won’t be like that. I’ll make sure!"

She sniffed in face of his grin. "Idiot." He made a strangled sound as she threw her arms around him. "You’d better write, then!" she said, muffled, into his shoulder.

His smile turned very gentle. "Of course I will."

Kou snuck a glance at Lulu and almost laughed. She looked downright doting. He’d figured Kengo would reel her in, considering her thing for cuteness.

"All right," Aya cut in briskly, "that’s one. Now what about the other. Akira?" She looked at him with a raised brow.

"What about me?" he muttered, sulky enough to make Kou cock his head. Usually Akira sounded a little more mature than that lately.

Aya rolled her eyes. "We’re not blind, okay? And I, at least, remember how you got when Homurabi was messing around with Kengo. You’re the most possessive person on the face of the earth! It’s no wonder you and Shirogane-san get along, really."

Kou pretended to take a drag on his cigarette so he could cover his grin as Akira’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly and Kengo’s eyes got big.

"So are you okay with Kengo going and being a king of shadow?" Aya concluded.

Akira crossed his arms and glanced around, not meeting anyone’s eyes. "Well. I mean. It’s not really any concern…"

"Akira?" Kengo said, eyes fixed on him, and Kou blinked. Kengo really wouldn’t go if Akira didn’t want him to, factor or no factor.

Akira looked at Kengo and was absolutely still for a moment. Finally he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. When he spoke again, the rhythm of his words changed just a little and Kou leaned forward, eyes wide.

"It’s your choice, Kengo. If you do want to go," a long pause and then a tiny smile, "I’d be glad there’s someone there to help Shirogane."

Kengo’s eyes were soft and his smile was brilliant. "I will."

Akira looked down at his crossed arms and said very quietly, "I know."

Longing shivered through Kou. Almost. It was almost Ryuuko.

He made a strangled sound to match Kengo’s when Lulu grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back. "Okay, then," she said with a cheery smile at everyone. "Let’s do it!"

Shirogane stared at Kengo and then at Kou. "Are you very sure about this?"

"Close." Kou shrugged. "Can’t think of anyone else who’d have a factor this strong."

"And you’re willing to risk it?" Shirogane asked Kengo. "Knowing that if it goes wrong I’ll probably have to kill you to stop you?"

"Oh, don’t worry about that! Akira would stop me." Kengo smiled with sunny confidence. "And he probably wouldn’t kill me."

Kou thought, not for the first time, the Ken and Aki had a very strange friendship. Shirogane looked like he was thinking the same thing.

Akira just snorted, leaning against a pillar. "Yeah, don’t worry. It’s Kengo."

Why that made Kengo’s smile brighten, Kou wasn’t sure.

"If I make you shin, and this works the way we think it will, you’ll be here the rest of your life, which may be very long," Shirogane pressed. "Are you sure of this, Kengo?"

Kengo cocked his head, fixing that perfectly direct look on Shirogane. "Sure I am. You’re scary sometimes, Shirogane-san. But I like you."

For once, Shirogane looked completely at a loss. Against his pillar, Akira chuckled. "I told you." He smiled at Shirogane. "It’s Kengo."

"Very well," Shirogane said quietly. He held out a hand to Kengo and his eyes might just have softened a little at how readily Kengo took it.

Kou backed up with everyone else as the Shirogane’s words echoed and wound around them, around Kengo, changing him. Spell light speared through the entire space and, looking at the intensity of Shirogane’s expression, Kou thought he might finally understand why Lulu was so insistent that Shirogane needed his own shin around him. Having all that focused on just one person seemed downright dangerous.

In the still moment when the spell completed, the whole world flexed. Kou flinched, shocked, as shadow rushed down on them, rushed in to the two at the spell’s center. It was suddenly hard to breathe against the weight of it, and it went on and on. When it stopped he stayed crouched against the wall, panting. Even Lulu and Akira looked a little shaken.

Kengo stood in front of Shirogane in a black tabard, falling over a white shirt.

"It’s heavy," he whispered.

"It is," Shirogane agreed, gently. "Will you still carry it?"

"Of course. I have to take care of you for Akira, don’t I?" Kengo’s grin hadn’t changed.

Akira jerked upright as if he’d been stuck with a pin. "Kengo!"

Kengo looked over his shoulder, eyes laughing and violet. "That’s what you meant." He smiled at Akira. "Wasn’t it?"

That small change moved over Akira again, like the shadow of a cloud moving over the ground, and he smiled faintly. "Maybe."

Kengo looked back at Shirogane, whose mouth was twitching at the corners. "And I have to take care of you for you."

Shirogane looked at him for a long moment and finally laid a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you." He took a breath and added, "Go slowly. I can carry most of it still."

"I know. I can tell." Kengo’s eyes were steady. "But I’m here now. You shouldn’t have to."

"Go slowly anyway," Shirogane said firmly, and Kengo grinned again.

"Whatever you say, boss."

Shirogane blinked and Kou had to snicker. Lulu thought that Shirogane deserved to have a king like Kengo to help him.

All things considered, maybe Kou agreed.