It was only when he was blighted in Yato's hand that Yukine fully understood what his master's strangled cries meant as he fell to his knees on the side of the road, blood blossoming on his green robe as he coughed and gasped in agony and grief.

"Yato! Yato, release me! YATO!" he shouted, desperate. He anxiously reached out for his other half, the katana that Yato had been searching for, and by sheer force of will and necessity called it back from the ditch it had fallen in. There was a loud, sharp sound as the sword cut through the air and clattered at Yato's feet, and Yukine gasped violently at the effort. "Do it, Yato! Release me!" he urged, sweat beading on his forehead as the blight began creeping up his blade.

"R-Release, Y-Yuki," Yato groaned. There was a flash and then Yukine was himself again, and he wasted no time in trying to rouse his master.

"Where is she, Yato?! Can you sense her?!" he asked, tugging the god's arm over his slight shoulder. The blight was spreading quickly, covering most of Yato's face and neck, and Yukine hissed with pain as he came in contact with his skin.

"... yori..." Yato moaned pitifully, his eyes glazing over.

"Tell me where she is! Hurry!" Yukine insisted, somehow managing to carry most of his master's weight. His feet would drag a bit, but there was no time for corrections as he grunted and started hauling Yato toward the shrine. "Of all the things that could happen today!" he said, so worried he was practically jumping out of his skin. Years, centuries of planning and care, all falling apart in the space of a few fragile hours. Kirine should have been safe at home, away from anything that could possibly reveal her god's greatest secret. How did she get anywhere so near the truth that she could completely incapacitate Yato in seconds?!

But he's not dead yet, and I don't think she's completely turned, though that might just be wishful thinking on my part, he mused. He couldn't help holding on to the faint hope that Kirine would be like him; able to overcome her karma and grief and accept her death. It was a very small, very fragile hope though; Yukine knew he was extremely lucky to have survived learning his name and past. Kirine had been an incredibly courageous person, and had never shied away from her fear of death, but that was no guarantee of anything. She'd died so cruelly, so heartbreakingly, Yukine would never think to judge her pain and suffering as easily overcome.

"Who asked you to be taller than me, huh, asshole?!" he snarled as Yato nearly slipped off his shoulder.

"... can't... not again..." Yato sobbed pitifully, and Yukine felt his grief and pain so keenly he couldn't help sniffling through the adrenaline and desperation pushing him forward.

I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry, he thought, his heart aching with guilt. I know this is my fault. I know you've never blamed me, and you've never resented me for what I did, but I always knew, I always understood how much I hurt you. How much I hurt all of us. I tried so hard to make amends, tried everything I could think of to protect her and Amane, but this. Is. My. Fault.

Yato gave an agonized whimper and Yukine realized with a shock of horror that he was only making things worse.

"Shit, I'm so sorry, Yato!" he said, panicking. "I didn't mean to sting you; fuck, get your shit together, Yukine!" he told himself through gritted teeth as he hauled Yato in the general direction of the shrine. At the very least, he had to get his master out of danger, and as long as Yato and Ame were alive, Yukine would do whatever it took to see this through.

Even if it meant he had to become a nora again.


Iki. Iki. Iki. Iki. Iki. Iki...

But Iki what?!

A woman with a gentle smile, a balding but kind man, a younger man with glasses and a mischievous smirk in his eye. Two school girls grinning at a camera. Yukine laughing in a way she only ever saw too rarely, Kofuku grinning at Daikoku as he offered something sweet to eat on a hot summer day.

Kazuma and Bishamonten, old friends of Yato's, bloodied but relieved, Tenjin winking at her when his guidepost wasn't looking, little Ebisu but even younger, offering an obscene amount of cash. Nora clinging to her waist like a child. Even Takemikazuchi and his guidepost, though she remembered they kept forgetting her name-

Iki H-

Yato. Yato with a gentle, loving smile. Yato with an endless supply of energy and inappropriate language. Yato with a petulant frown and a hopeful sparkle in his deep blue eyes, so desperate for love and fortune that he fell for anything if it was sold to him with enough passion. Yato shielding her, Yato carrying her on his back, Yato covered in wounds as he lay motionless over her and she ran her fingers through his hair with unbearable relief.

Yato's darkened irises, full of fear that she might find out too much about his dark past, Yato's handsome and carefree profile chortling loudly at her side, Yato screaming dramatically for help when she smacked him for something stupid. A shit-eating grin as he successfully made her blush, an innocent, wide-eyed gasp as he unwrapped a set of new Capyper pajamas. A drunken, nonsensical song as he leaned on her and Yukine for support, a soft nuzzle against her temple.

Yato. Yato. Yato.

Not just her master. Not just her weary, sometimes overbearing god (though he was always overbearing). More than the man who held her always at arm's length despite the obvious, aching attraction, more than the deity that seemed to think she was made of glass and couldn't handle anything remotely dangerous. More than the boy who had kissed her exactly once in the last two hundred years and seemed to regret it so deeply that even though he swore it wasn't a mistake, he just couldn't bring himself to do it again.

"Is it true? Gods don't know how to love?"

Breathless kisses, heavy and full of longing, one melting into another without end. Her heart pounding in her chest, her skin burning with heat, his lips pressed against the pulse point of her throat, his fingers running over her hip.

"I love you. I love you, Hi-"

A scent like heady spiced wine, warm, addictive, and impossible to ignore; a throaty, flirtatious chuckle filled with affection and desire. His fingers tracing delicate circles against her spine, his tongue caressing the inside of her mouth, a sweet hesitation in his conflicted eyes as they broke apart. His voice trembling above her as he asked if she understood what she was asking for.

"Just shut up and kiss me, you idiot."

Deep, shuddering breaths, scalding the nape of her neck, her fingers wound desperately in waves of soft black hair, her entire body rocked against the bedding in an unbearable, blissfully slow motion, once, twice, an unbroken rhythm drawing her out, pulling her in, her voice lost in senseless pleas for it to last forever. A stupid, awkward moment where her jaw painfully bumped against the top of his head and the spell was suddenly broken, only for them to stare blankly at each other for a second before bursting into wild, uninhibited laughter, foreheads pressed together, noses brushing softly, quiet, teasing murmurs spoken through relaxed, contented smiles. His bright blue eyes sparkling as he kissed her nose and lips and carefully but deliberately led her into a sudden, exquisite moment of pure ecstasy-

"You are everything to me. I don't know how else to show you that."

Crying listlessly together on the floor, Yato sobbing his heart out as she held him close and tears stained her bedroom carpet. Waking to the sweet, pleasant tang of his skin and the warmth and safety of his arms tucked around her. Honest and difficult conversations in the dead of night, Yukine's exhausted, sleeping form cuddled between them after a bad nightmare, their hands touching as they ruffled his yellow hair. Aches and pains made bearable by their company, irritable moods swept away by Yato's earnestness and talent for amusing trouble, Yukine covered in purring pets and stating with dead seriousness that if he were to die again, it better be because he was smothered under a cat.

"Please, sweetheart, I'm begging you, this is the last week you can terminate, think hard about what you're doing before it's too late-"

Yato shouting furiously at her parents, his aura promising swift retribution, his voice thick with emotion and righteous anger. Her mother's voice raised to its limits, her father's fist slamming on a table, her own arguments cutting off long-winded declarations of good intentions. Her tired sigh as she rubbed the slight curve of her abdomen a few hours later, pouring all her energy and prayer into a single, humble wish.

"Don't worry about your grandparents, little one. Grow healthy and strong; your mommy and daddy and Nii-chan will always protect you."

A series of sonograms and photographs pinned to a wall. Yato bringing her wildflowers and snacks to ease her boredom, Yukine tutoring her through an anatomy class. Yato shyly pressing his forehead to her belly, eyes blinking wide when he felt movement, dragging Yukine over so he could feel it too, genuine, childlike wonder reflected in both their expressions so that she couldn't help but smile at how much they looked like father and son-

"I'm scared. One day you'll leave me behind, Hiy-"

A promise extracted between moments of passion, coaxed from the vulnerable, reluctant earnestness of his expression. The same promise reiterated in the afterglow, cemented by her certainty, reassuring him with each gentle kiss that she would always come back to him, always fall in love with him, always belong at his side, even after death-

Stop. Stop, stop, stop, stop, STOP! You can't, you have to stop!

Discomfort, anxiety, excitement. A letter hidden away in case things went wrong. A form filled out in secrecy, a note taped over it. Preparations made to accommodate the new arrival.

Pain like nothing she'd ever known, her body tearing in two, her voice broken and wounded, Yato's desperate encouragement as she all but broke his hand and swore she'd kill him when it was over. A high pitched cry, a heavy, dizzying kiss that promised to make her forget all about the pain, a current of pure, raw emotion so thick it almost pulled her under.

A beautiful, tiny, red-faced infant screaming at the top of her lungs, swaddled loosely and given to Yato, tears leaking down his nose as he gently pressed the child into her arms and pulled her toward him so he could kiss her temple with determined, trembling lips.

"You're alive. You're both alive, thank you, thank you, I don't fucking know what I would have done-"

Amane, her daughter, her treasure, sweet and good-natured, greedy and demanding, full of smiles and all-too familiar tricks for lowering other people's guards. Her little god, spoiled to heaven and back, chubby and perfect, every bit as good-looking and mischievous as the father she so resembled. A divine little princess, sneezing milk from her little nose and all over her mother's breast in the middle of recklessly gorging herself, dozing deeply against Yukine's shoulder as he sung her a lullaby, smacking her fat hands excitedly against her uncle's arm as he read her a book with exaggerated voices, burbling happily whenever Yato smothered her in attention and playful kisses. A natural-born charmer, worming her way into the hearts of even their staunchest opposition as she easily made a doting fool of her grandfather and somehow won over the stubborn grandmother that never wasted an opportunity to let Yato know how much she despised him. An endless thread of pictures shared between the entire family, dutifully recording every minute of Amane's growth with a plethora of crying emoticons and silly reactions.

Yukine, Yato, Amane. My entire world, my tiny, unconventional, and irreplaceable family.

Panicked voices echoing in the twilight, someone pressing small hands into her side with hiccuping sobs. Her vision blurring and darkening with every passing second. And then he was there, covered in blood and blight, desperate tears dripping onto her cheek as he cradled her against his chest, her hand reaching up with the very last of her strength to brush the hair out of his shocked, terrified, beautiful blue eyes.

"I was afraid... I wouldn't get to... see you... one last..."

I love you. I adore you. I love you with everything I am. Please don't blame yourself, it wasn't your fault. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

Her world went dark and all she knew for the briefest of moments was a heart-wrenching scream and her name echoing in her ears.

The name her mother gave her, the name listed on her university application, the name declared on Amane's birth certificate. The name she so carefully penned onto the documents left in the box in her desk, the name spoken like a spell against her skin by the unerring devotion of a god.

The name he breathed against her mouth, hands intertwined desperately against the sheets, the name spilling from his lips as her release brought him to his own and welcome, pleasurable, liquid heat filled her from within.

The name he'd once used as part of a business transaction, an inconspicuous moment of fate that bound a human and a god so tightly together they could never be distinct again.

"May our fates intertwine, Iki Hiyo-"

Her soul was breaking, her flesh was burning, every instinct in her body screaming for her to stop, refusing to yield the last syllable. But she couldn't, she couldn't stop the onrush of emotion and memory, she couldn't help reaching for the last remaining traces of who she'd been, who she really was. She had to reclaim it, she had to know-

Kirine fell to the ground, head cradled in her hands as a wail of agony tore through her and blight spread over the name on her arm.

Iki Kuriko was not a particularly sentimental woman.

She'd never had the luxury for it, tasked as she was with helping her clumsy, carefree father raise two younger siblings from a very young age. She had been Ane-ue, Onee-san, and mother all at once. If she had ever resented her role, wished her father hadn't been so unreliable, wished her mother hadn't died so soon after Hana's birth, those days were long gone.

Kuriko wasn't very good at showing it, but she was fiercely proud of her brother and sister. Mitsuo, with his laid-back approach to life, steady and reliable, had eschewed the pressures of society and decided he didn't need to spend his youth enslaved in a frantic office job, nor did he resent his ambitious wife for being the breadwinner, though she worked late and often had to go abroad. Instead, he dedicated himself to small, community projects: cleaning riverbanks, raising funds for charity, helping struggling youth find a place to belong. In his simple, earnest way, he'd chosen to purify the sources of ayakashi in the world around him one negative thought at a time, and Kuriko never thought his humble use of Sight any less important than a 'proper' job with a salary and benefits. Then there was Hana, difficult, terrified little Hana, so anxious and afraid of the smallest things going wrong that she very nearly deprived herself of her own childhood. Kuriko had never had the patience to deal with Hana's exhausting needs, but they'd been lucky that Kobayashi Koichi lived next door and his soothing presence had allowed Kuriko to focus on the things she could handle, so that together they managed to see Hana through every crisis that came their way.

Kuriko didn't often admit it, but she was especially proud of her little sister. Despite all her problems, all the things holding her back from a normal life, Hana had become successful, independent, and though she relied on Koichi for support, she never stopped trying to be better. Seeing her conquer university, law school, pass the bar exam in one try, insist on trying again after each heartbreaking miscarriage... Kuriko was relieved to see just how strong and brave Hana had become, and when Koichi died and dealt her little sister a terrible blow, it was always Kuriko on the other end of the phone in the dead of night, listening and offering a mother's reassurance when Hana broke down, stern though she was.

If Hana struggled with anxiety and Mitsuo never quite fit in, then Kuriko had always been a little cold. It wasn't that she didn't love and feel like the others; there was always simply too much to do, too much at stake, for her to waste time indulging her feelings or doting on others. Her own children were raised as strictly and efficiently as her siblings, and they rarely got to see their mother wearing anything but her white kosode and blood-red hakama, marching up and down the shrine grounds to ensure everything was running in perfect order. Sometimes, in a rare moment of free time, Kuriko realized that she'd only blinked before her sons and daughter blossomed into self-reliant adults all on their own; another parent might have bemoaned the lost time, but Kuriko couldn't afford to.

That was because of the three Iki siblings in the direct bloodline, only Kuriko had been trusted with her grandfather's most closely held secret, shared with her at his deathbed as a tiny safe deposit key was pressed into her palm.

"This family is a lie. A very precious, very important lie that we must keep alive at all costs."

Kuriko would never forget the urgency in her grandfather's voice, or the truths he shared with her about their family's history and the vital deception that kept them all safe. What he failed to pass on, she learned on her own, consulting the important documents and records kept in the small safe locked in her office at all times.

As soon as her grandfather was mourned and buried, Kuriko had quit her day job and convinced her aging and easygoing father, too forgetful to be trusted with the burden, to retire so she could succeed him as Head Priestess. She inherited the main house she'd grown up in, the duties of the shrine, and the burden of truth she was never, ever, allowed to share, except with her one chosen successor, whichever one of her three children that ended up being.

Because while Kuriko's Sight wasn't powerful enough to reliably see gods at will, she was the only member of the main family (other than Ishimura Reiko, of course) to know that Ame-no-Mikoto was a real person who walked among them. She knew because she had trained herself for it, written diligent reports for herself, learned to carefully study her own memories. When she inevitably crossed paths with the young goddess and managed to see her, she always stopped to ask if Ame needed or wanted anything, be it a snack or a book or just a message passed along discreetly through safe channels. Reiko was ignorant of these clandestine meetings, of course; Ame knew better than to carelessly talk about such things, and not even her host vessel could be trusted with the deep secret passed on from incarnation to incarnation.

Only Kuriko was allowed, by pure necessity. She was serious about the promise her grandfather had extracted from her, and she knew exactly what could happen if she ever carelessly divulged the truth. She alone greeted Amagiri-no-Mikoto and his guidepost on their formal visits twice a year, though Kuriko was fully aware that their family's patron deity came and went secretly as he pleased, always keeping to the shadows. She was the only person at the shrine who even knew him by name, and while prayers to Amagiri-no-Mikoto were as efficient in keeping him tethered to the Near Shore as any, it was a sign of her utmost respect that she always prayed to him directly, and nothing he could ever say when they spoke, impolite or foul-mouthed as he might be, could change that respect.

Because Kuriko knew exactly what the combat god had done for her family, knew what he always did for them, without fail, though it cost him dearly each time. She knew only too well the reason he couldn't reside in his own shrine, or stay as long as he wanted during his brief visits. She knew that the stories told by her family were not nearly as old as she and her father, and his father before him, had made them out to be, and she knew perfectly well that Ame-no-Mikoto was no rain god, or even using her real name.

That name was forbidden, just like one other, written out in an old letter to Kuriko's great-great grandfather, preserved with a single photograph and locked in her safe, away from prying eyes.

So when she went to the shrine gate to wait for her niece and found Yasumi unconscious on the stairs with a strange young woman huddled against the wall, crying uncontrollably and with obvious pain into darkened, strangely clawed hands, Kuriko immediately recognized the dark brown hair as her Sight picked out the tiny, almost imperceptible drop of a divine aura she knew well. She stopped only long enough to reassure herself that Yasumi was only fainted and not dead before she ran toward the dead spirit in a panic.

"Kirine-san! You're Kirine-san, aren't you?!" she demanded as she knelt at the strange girl's feet and took her hands, blighted though they were. She hissed inwardly at the burning sensation as the corruption began to eat at her too. Unnervingly familiar brown eyes gazed up at her without really seeing her, sharpened canines distorting a face Kuriko knew very well.

She really does look just like Reiko-obasan, back when she was young...

"No!" the girl shouted, and her voice was off, echoing as though someone were speaking along with her. She shut her eyes and wrenched her wrists out of Kuriko's grip, pressing her deformed fingers over a pair of elongated, not quite corporeal, animal-like ears. "That's not my name, that's not my name! Yato! Yukine-kun! Where are you, where are you?!" Kirine wailed, lost to her own suffering.

"Please, Kirine-san, you must stop this!" Kuriko begged, wishing she'd thought to bring purification water with her as she forced the girl to her feet out of pure necessity. "Come with me, we need to-"

With sudden, violent force, the shinki used Kuriko's own strength and momentum to slam her against the wall. Kuriko gasped with pain, the breath knocked from her lungs, as Kirine's sharp claws pinned her by the throat, her fangs baring as she glared up at her prey with inhuman fury.

"Amane," she snarled viciously, that precious, forbidden name reverberating in the air like a curse. "My baby, my Amane, where IS SHE?!"

"Hiyorin, you have to eat sooner or later..." Kofuku said gently, tugging at Hiyori's sleeve as she stood in the garden, eyes raised to the darkening skyline. Hiyori's arms tightened around her waist, nervous fear roiling in the depths of her stomach.

"I can't, Kofuku-san," she groaned nervously. "I feel like I'm going to throw up... What if something happened to them? What if Yukine-kun only gets more upset without me there to help?! It's been two hours, I can't sit around and wait like this!"

A firm hand pressed her shoulder and Kofuku's bright amethyst eyes gleamed in the encroaching darkness.

"Have faith, Hiyorin," she said, all traces of her playful nature gone. "It's gonna be okay, Yato-chan and Yukki will come back."

"...They didn't last time," Hiyori whispered, her fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her belly.

"That was different," Kofuku insisted, taking Hiyori's hand. "Last time, the sorcerer was still alive, and Yukki was in terrible danger."

"Heaven didn't want to kill us all last time!" Hiyori cried, nausea rising in the back of her throat. "If they notice Yukine-kun is rampaging again... It's the perfect excuse for Heaven to execute him, and without Yukine-kun in any state to fight them off, Y-Yato is practically defenseless...! There's nothing to keep Heaven from killing them both!"

"You have to believe they won't do that," Kofuku said. "We have allies who won't stand by and let Yato-chan die like that. Come on, it won't do you any good to stress out and forget to take care of yourself; you're nursing a baby, you have to replenish your fluids and strength, Hiyorin."

"Is she okay?" Daikoku's deep voice came from the open porch door. Kofuku glanced back at her guidepost, but Hiyori never took her eyes off the sky.

"Where's Amane-chan?" Kofuku asked.

"Asleep in her futon. I just got her down," Daikoku assured them. "Still no sign of them?"

Kofuku shook her head, her billowing curls bouncing in the shadows.

"They'll come back," Daikoku said gruffly. "Always do."

Hiyori bit her lip. "But if they don't..."

No one wanted to finish her sentence.

"Hiyorin, please, come inside," Kofuku begged, tugging her hand. "I know you want to go to them, but you can't. What happens to Amane-chan if you're targeted too?"

"I know... but..." Hiyori whispered, her voice a fragile thread in the evening breeze.

It's always been the three of us... she thought painfully. None of us can manage without the other two. It HAS to be all three of us... it's how we've always saved each other, how we've always healed the wounds others inflicted on us, and the ones we inflict on ourselves...

And Hiyori had never been the type to sit back and wait for news...

The sharp metallic taste in her mouth was back, and this time Hiyori clamped a hand over her mouth, trying desperately to hold it down.

"I think... I'm going... to be sick..." she managed, but before Kofuku or Daikoku could do anything, she doubled over and heaved into Yukine's immaculate wisterias, feeling almost as wretched as she had with morning sickness.

What is this horrible, awful feeling?! she thought as she coughed and struggled to catch her breath, Kofuku's gentle hands rubbing her back. Why does it feel like something fragile and important is about to snap clean in two?!

"It's okay, you're okay, Hiyorin," Kofuku soothed, but Hiyori could hear the note of fear in her friend's voice that betrayed her own anxieties.

I need to go. I have to find them. I have to bring them home, before it's too late.


Yato felt her in his marrow, felt her fear like a physical ache deep in his battered soul. She was so close to breaking, far, far too close. Her true name was on the tip of her tongue, and though it hurt her, tore her like flaming knives the harder she tried to reach it, he could feel her fighting for it, could feel her desperately trying to reclaim it.

No, no, you can't, please, stop it! he thought feverishly, his own flesh corroding away one agonizing second at a time. He felt Yukine's name, a bit wounded but still bright and whole, and knew his hafuri was putting all two hundred years of his experience and devotion into staying as steady and clear-headed as he could manage. Some instinct of Yato's couldn't help a surge of pride, the earnest affection of a father watching his son rise to the occasion admirably. It was short lived, though, as Kirine's name shattered one precious piece at a time, threatening to destroy everything Yato loved.

He couldn't bear it. He'd failed her once already and he just couldn't do it again. It would break him, it would kill him; Hiyori had always been a fleeting dream to him, a beautiful, precious moment that he knew he couldn't hold onto forever. But Yato had wanted that dream to last so badly that he'd done everything possible to keep his promise to her, even when it caused more pain and hurt for everyone involved. He'd broken so many laws, all but left his beloved daughter in someone else's care, lied and lied and lied again, lied to Kirine, lied to Ame, lied to Heaven and Yukine, lied to himself.

How much more do I have to lose before you're satisfied?! he asked that tiny little voice in his head, the one that whispered poison in his Father's voice all those years later, the one that self-sabotaged and constantly reminded him of how selfish and unworthy he was. He was the reason Yukine had to live with the constant stress of looking over his shoulder, the reason all his friends' shinki had had to have the ties and memories of Hiyori cut away. Kofuku's tears when she told him it was okay, he could make Daikoku forget even though he loved Hiyori like his own daughter; Kazuma's look of betrayal when he took Sekki to his fate, never able to understand it was for his own good; Kiun, Kunimi, Mayu, and so many others who never even realized that Yato took something from them, something they cared about and would have fought for if given the chance.

It was his fault Amane couldn't grow up in his arms, his fault she could only see him once every few weeks, for only the briefest of visits, hardly long enough to sate the horrible longing in his heart. She was safe, and alive, but Yato knew it was a pale excuse of an existence, hardly the life he wanted for her. That she assured him she was okay, that she could do it as long as she had to, none of that ever helped; Amane was innocent, a child who loved her mother and wanted to do whatever it took to live in the same world with her, even if they could never, ever meet again. Even when her memories were wiped once every fifty years and she had to start anew, always there was that question, devastating in its simplicity, born from her nature, from the wish Hiyori had nurtured for her and their family...

"Otou-chan... where's Okaa-chan?"

In the endless, soothing void, something broke.

She didn't know what, but she felt it ripple deep in her blood as the shadows churned and the darkness of the current jolted the presence at her side from its listless state.

"No," it said.

"What?" she asked, confused. The voice hadn't spoken for a while now, and definitely not with such force.

"No, no. This is wrong, this is all wrong...!"

"What are you talking about?"

"She's not supposed to be here! Father! Father, please, do something!"

"Hey! What's going on?!" she insisted, but the presence was quickly falling into hysterical sobs, and though she still couldn't see anything of the formless soul at her side, she could somehow visualize a small, vulnerable child, hugging their knees to their chest as their thin shoulders wracked with fear and grief...

A painfully young child. A small girl, no more than five or six years old, her ink-black hair tied into traditional shrine maiden ties that hung over her shoulders and were bound with pure white ribbons. Her small hands wiped at her beautiful doll-like face, an oddly familiar face, almost like her own, but a little off... just a bit alien in the delicacy of her features, in the cherubic sweetness of it. Bright, unnaturally blue irises blinked tears through double-lidded eyelids and streaked over soft, pale cheeks onto a full rosebud of a mouth, almost sensuous in its sweet, perfect curve.

So small, so vulnerable, and far, far too young. Younger even than she had been, when her own father passed away...

But there was something more under the raw, hiccuping wails, something no normal child should know. Beneath the loneliness and unbearable sadness, under the selfish, all-too human ache to do something, anything, for one reckless, precious moment spent with someone forever lost... In the sharp, animalistic determination of her eyes burned something else, a love beyond a human's ability, a fierce devotion that ran so deeply it was woven into blood like crimson threads, possessive, destructive, and unbearably beautiful, like a flame roaring in the darkness, knowing it couldn't burn forever but determined to try anyway.

And somehow it remained oddly selfless, a pure current that wanted, but which would give whatever was asked of it regardless. The fire would burn to keep others warm, to light the way, and if some day that meant all that was left of it was ashes, that too was proof of love. All it asked was for a little company through the dark night.

"Father! Father! Chichi-ue, I beg you! Help her, help her! Tou-chan! DADDY!" the girl cried, and Yasumi understood then, that even though this girl was far more than met the eye, and that this endless space was of her doing, she was still a child. A grieving child, left behind, a little girl left all alone, and forced to grow up much too fast.


What Hiyori actually says when she says she "loves and adores" Yato is「大好き、愛して、愛してるよ」which are three different forms of the words "I love you." "Daisuki", the most common and appropriate way to express you love someone and which translates to "I really like you (thus it's more than just regular liking you)", then "aishite" which is a conjugated form of "love" that essentially comes out to "I am in love" and which is almost never used except in deeply intimate settings, and last by "aishiteru yo" which is a different conjugation of the same phrase and roughly translates to "I am in love with you" but in the most intimate and heartfelt way possible. Japanese is a very restrained language, and it's considered impolite to speak so frankly even with your significant other. Phrases like this are usually loaded with emotion and meaning, and saved only for very rare occasions.

Just a short (ish?) chapter this time, I meant to cover a lot more plot but as usual, the story and characters write themselves and I'm just the keyboard monkey pounding along behind oTL

There's like, an entire collection of short stories for this fic now, whoops; you can find them labelled as parts of the "Yoru no Kizuna" series. ^^;

Please like and comment, I hope you'll enjoy (... is that even the right word anymore hhhhh) the chapter and hopefully the next one will be more plot than angst. Hopefully.