fourteen.

Normally speaking, Hibari Kyouya refused to be subordinate to anyone.

He held firm to this rule every waking moment of his life, and never complained about the hardships it had put him through. But this was something completely different—this was Sakura Kyouko, the only one he'd ever allow an attempt to dominate him on a battlefield of their choice. He'd allowed her something unusual before: he'd allowed her to coax him into dancing with her, straddle him against the floor without resistance, take his fight with Rokudo Mukuro into her hands, kiss him, eat his food, use his shower, sleep in his bed with him. She was a haughty, but beautiful creature, as irritating as she was interesting, and despite the fact that he'd been lenient with his rules for much too long, he didn't want to stop her.

Something about her presence just shoved all of the fight out of him. Something about her—hell, if he wanted to be honest, it'd be everything about her at this point—had his attention and wouldn't release him. He wasn't sure if it was just because she was persistent, or if that spell she'd casted on him still hadn't worn off after at least a week. But one thing was for certain: she was changing something in him, little by little, and though he was trying—no, struggling—to fight it, she was making him softer and warmer, but only to her. At this point, he wouldn't doubt it if he was falling for her, even though the thought was absolutely disgusting in itself. He didn't need love—wrong. He didn't know how to love.

But Kyouko… she made it so easy to imagine it. What it would be like, how it would feel—Kyouya's stomach rolled at the thought. Sometimes, Kyouya had to wonder what he'd ever done to deserve this treatment. He'd already acknowledged the fact that he was half-demon, even though that was complete nonsense, and that he was good-looking (just when exactly was he going to need these looks anyway?). He honestly had to wonder why he kept getting into the situations he kept getting into.

It frustrated the hell out of him, to be frank.

It didn't help that she was holding his wrist, and her temple was lying against his right shoulder. Not only was she too close, but she was touching and holding him. And though he couldn't deny that he rather enjoyed the feel of her skin, he was irritated that she'd be stupid enough to do it in public. He had an image, and he'd prefer to keep said image in place. But he didn't shake her off. Something in him wouldn't allow him to shake her off. It was those herbivorous feelings again, those vexing emotions he wished were dead, were still sleeping. He couldn't stand them. He couldn't stand them, and that was more than likely the reason why they wouldn't go away.

Because karma had a weird way of dealing with him.

Kyouko sighed against his shoulder, her eyelashes gathering at the edges of her eyes as she opened them. "We can skip the arcade, if it'll make you less antsy."

He closed his eyes, and tensed his arm in her hold. He didn't pull away from her, but he didn't lean into her either. He still had some fight left in him, after all. But her proposition surprised him—she loved that arcade, as far as he could tell. For her to give up the chance to go to that game-playing establishment just to make him feel better was something that confused and relieved him, in some way. It wasn't that he didn't want to go with her, because that'd be a lie. He enjoyed watching her dance, even if just a little bit. But he wasn't sure why she was sacrificing one of her hobbies just for him.

Her head rose from his shoulder, but kept close. "Hey, Hibari."

"Hn?" he asked, turning one eye to her twin auburn ones. She tightened her ever-so-faint grip on his wrist, and wove their fingers together, her skin trailing static against his. Kyouko turned her head toward him, and stopped walking, her bangs sliding into her eyes as she lowered her head.

"Can I… Can I ask you something?" He didn't slide backwards when she touched her forehead to his. "Why did you let me stay with you?"

Of course she'd ask an uncomfortable question.

That was Sakura Kyouko for him.

He narrowed his eyes. "Your body would've cluttered the sidewalk."

He was sure he'd already answered a similar question with the exact same sentence. But the small flicker of hurt in her eyes told him otherwise. She wanted something in particular, something he was sure would be the death of him. Something he didn't have the capacity to say, or whisper, or murmur. He didn't know what it was exactly, but he knew she was starving for it. That was evident in the earnest eagerness carved into the pores of her face. But at the same time, the planes of her cheeks were sloping downward in disappointment.

He didn't understand her, or women in general.

Her head dropped to his shoulder again, and she started walking. "Are you really that obtuse?"

He was obtuse? "Herbivore—"

"Don't herbivore me," she said, her voice—though quiet—taking on an angry, bitter tone. "My name is Sakura Kyouko. Not an animal that eats grass."

"You called me obtuse," he responded, as if that justified his reference to animals eating plants. Her amber eyes were subdued, but smoldering at his collarbone.

He supposed she had a point. She wasn't exactly an herbivore anymore, considering her strength and combat ability. But what should he call her? Her name was something impossible to him, something that tasted so good on his tongue. He didn't want to part with it. Those rare moments when he spoke it always enticed the same reaction out of her, and even though that reaction sizzled and sparked something inside him he'd much rather be rid of, those reactions were something only he could bring out of her. Something only he could create. Her moments of vulnerability and softness in comparison to her normal, fiery ones were something… precious to him.

But what exactly did she mean by obtuse?

"I called you obtuse because you are," she replied, tightening her fingers in his briefly, just reminding him that they were there, and they were holding his. Restraining him, he supposed. The penthouse loomed over them, and Kyouko sighed. "But it's okay. I'm obtuse too."

"You're irritating," he started, choosing his next words carefully, "and irrational."

"You know, you can be kinda mean when you wanna be, Hibari," she answered, shooting him a small, slight glare. Her hand didn't leave his, and neither did her temple. He felt her lip curve up through the sleeve of his white shirt as he turned to her. "Anyways, thanks for keeping me."

Her touch vanished from his shoulder, and his hand in the next moment.

"I'll see you in school, 'kay?" she asked, running her fingers through her long, scarlet ponytail as she glanced back at him.

He didn't move from where he was for a moment, and neither did she. There was something on the air, something that felt like desire and anticipation, something that he couldn't quite name. Something she apparently felt too. Her boots pitter-pattered across the cobblestone as she crossed the distance between them, stopping just in front of him. Her face was twisted, but soft, and when she poked her face into his breathing space, he didn't move to push her away. He didn't know why he wasn't pushing her away. He didn't understand it, at all.

"Can I ask you somethin' else?" He nodded soundlessly. She flicked her eyes from side to side, before adding, "If I wanted to… uh, thank you, would you let me?"

At first he wasn't sure what she meant by thank him, but when her eyes fell to his lips, he understood. "… I suppose."

Her right hand reached up to take the side of his face, her brown eyes glistening in the late morning light, her lips moist and full centimeters from his. He could practically taste her already, but he didn't make a move. She wasn't doing anything else but thanking him. At that thought, a soft flush of heat burst forth across his face, surprising both of the teenagers. Her hand slid to his shoulder as she blinked at the coloring on the sides of his face, watching his blue eyes flicker with shock and confusion. Then, her mouth curved upward, and met his deeply.

Her knees grazed his as she pushed herself up onto her tip toes to press her lips against his harder—Kyouya, still too shocked and stunned to move or resist her, didn't register the hand cupping his cheek, or the feel of her breasts touching his chest, or the locks of scarlet hair flowing over her shoulders in the autumn breeze, one with the amber leaves falling from the trees. He did reach for the hem of her shirt with his free hand—it had only just occurred to him that she was holding one of his hands still—and cling to it, holding her where she was. He knew she had no intention of releasing him or being released by him, but it was just like him to keep a solid margin in case something didn't go as planned.

When she parted from him, her breath was on his lips, and her forehead was touching his. "Well, I lied."

"Hn?" She smirked, and shook her head.

"Kisses don't mean thank you. They can mean all kinds of things. But for you and me, they'll mean thank you until I say otherwise, 'kay?" she asked, cocking her head. She didn't release his hand—it was his ring hand she was holding, he realized with a start—only clenched it tighter. "Oh, and if you need help patrolling the town, just give me a call. You already know about me, so it won't hurt."

His fingers fell from the hem of her shirt as she pulled back. Her fingers lingered against the side of his face. "I won't require your assistance, herbivore."

Her eyes narrowed at his comment, but her expression stayed relatively light, and playful. "Just keep it mind, alright? I won't hold it against you. We both got our asses kicked."

But in the end, it was Sakura Kyouko that had sent Rokudo Mukuro packing, not him. "You have some interesting ideals, Sakura Kyouko."

She grinned. "Yeah, I get that a lot. But, at least I'm not boring. Like Sayaka."

That reminded him.

"Tell Miki Sayaka I'll bite her to death the next time I see her," he said, subconsciously reaching for his tonfas. Kyouko noticed, but didn't say anything. She just smirked, and nodded once, turning back for the penthouse with one hand in her pocket and the other waving back at him, her thick scarlet locks flowing through the air behind her.

"Sure thing! I'll also tell her how much you enjoyed that little lullaby she sang to you!"

"Herbivore." Kyouko shut her left eye playfully as she walked through the twin glass doors.

"Later, Hibari!" she called, each plane of her face beaming brighter than before.

He watched her until she disappeared, a lone, black shadow amongst the feverish ones against the cobblestone.

Then he turned, starting back the way he came.

Madoka was waiting for Kyouko when she walked through the door, still holding that kiss inside her.

The pink-haired girl didn't hesitate to bombard her with questions: how was it, did she enjoy herself, did he taste good, was he gentle or soft. Kyouko couldn't help but widen her eyes and take the sides of the girl's face in her fingers and pry the pink Magical Girl's cheeks from her bones to make sure it was Kaname Madoka she was talking to. Kyouko knew it was natural to be curious—she supposed that was partially the reason she'd kissed Hibari Kyouya twice, not even within twelve hours of each other—but for a girl to say something so casually was another thing entirely.

It wasn't like Kyouko and Kyouya had had… sex or anything. They'd just slept in the same bed, washed themselves in the same bathroom, ate in the same dining room, etcetera. She wasn't sure if she wanted to have that kind of image, at least in Madoka's mind. She knew how furious Homura would be when she caught wind of Madoka's curiosity.

Still, Kyouko knew it was inevitable.

"We didn't do anything, Madoka," she said, taking the cup of tea the girl handed to her. "He just kept me for the night. That's all."

"Homura-chan said something about you fighting again. Did you push yourself too hard?" Madoka asked, taking a step back when Kyouko passed her to walk to the living room couch, her second backside. Madoka followed her, keeping close to the red-haired girl. "I have the Grief Seed I'm supposed to give you."

That reminded Kyouko—she swept her left palm out, summoning her Soul Gem, holding it in her hand. "That's weird. It's not brackish."

That was an understatement: there was no black in it at all.

Kyouko fell off the couch. "What the hell?! There's nothing! No corruption, no despair, or whatever the hell you wanna call it! It's completely clean!"

"What?" Madoka raced over to the redhead's side, kneeling down beside the shocked, and confused Magical Girl.

Kyouko allowed Madoka to take her Soul Gem into her hands, and examine every inch of its surface with her porcelain rose-colored eyes, making certain that her grip on it was as light and gentle as she could make it without dropping the oval. Once Madoka had finished inspecting the gem, she handed it back to Kyouko, who promptly raised it to her own eyes, and lacerated the crimson luster shining from it. It was strange… she felt so much stronger, and more powerful, and… more herself.

She touched her fingertips to her lips, wincing as the wetness of her lip-gloss gathered about the surface of her fingers. "This doesn't make any sense. I didn't have any Grief Seeds with me—I was unconscious, for crying out loud!"

"Maybe you recovered more magic while you were unconscious?" Madoka suggested, though the subtle tremor in her eyes let Kyouko know that Madoka was just as confused as she was. This was unheard of. This was game-changing. Madoka flicked her glance to Kyouko's face. "Do you have a crush on Hibari-san?"

"Huh?!" Kyouko exclaimed, widening her eyes, blushing, the whole business. She scrambled back a few paces from the strawberry-haired girl. Madoka summoned her own Soul Gem, held it close to Kyouko's. "What're you doing?"

"Yours is cleaner than mine," she pointed out, her eyes widening. "It's purer, and I haven't used my magic at all since the Witches disappeared."

Kyouko was this close to freaking the freak out.

This was that legit scary.

And it didn't help that Madoka was suggesting crazy things like her having a small—like legit tiny—crush on the stubborn dumbass. Just the thought of him was enough to send Kyouko's nerves in a blushing frenzy: her arms erupted in chills; her lips started tingling underneath the not-so-thick layer of lip gloss, her hands flew up to her face and hid her eyes as she swayed from side to side, embarrassed and confused. She wasn't sure why she was behaving like this. She'd never acted like this when she'd been with Mukuro—by with, she doesn't mean in a relationship, just in his presence—but with this one, she couldn't help but blush and hide her face, and act like an idealistic little girl. And though Kyouko was embarrassed, and scared, and so hopelessly crashing and craving this guy, she knew it was the truth.

She had a crush on him alright. There was no denying it anymore.

"You do, don't you?" Madoka asked, putting her hands on her face and leaning toward Kyouko with a soft smile on her face. Her messy strawberry-hued hair fell about her shoulders as she leaned toward the red-haired girl. "It's okay, Kyouko-chan. I won't tell anyone."

"But it's so embarrassing!" Kyouko screeched, hiding her face again. Her Soul Gem vanished back into a silver band upon her finger once more. "It's all I can do just to stand in front of him without blushing. I've hugged him, slept in his bed with him—he's seen me naked at least twice, I've kissed him, I've—"

"—He's what?!"

Shit, shit, shit, shit.

Kyouko and Madoka both turned to the door, regarding the blushing, shaking form of a certain blonde-haired gunner. It was as if Kyouko's worst nightmare was coming true. Mami had heard her talking about Hibari Kyouya and all the little things they'd done together over their night together, and if Kyouko's eyes were as good as she'd like to think, Mami was exceedingly close to materializing if the amount of magic boiling through the air was any indication. She was sure Mami was going to explode, or combust if she didn't start breathing. Madoka rose from the floor, and scrambled to Mami's side, putting her hands on her shoulders, attempting to calm her down.

Mami merely reached into her bag, and pulled out a book. "Sakura Kyouko-san."

"Yeah?" Kyouko squeaked, peeking out from behind her hands, uncertain of whether or not the young woman was going to beat her with it, or sit down calmly and quietly to start reading it. Mami's sunshine yellow eyes popped open a moment later, a clearly fake smile pasting itself to her face.

She should've known better than to drop her guard—when Mami was angry, she was angry.

Kyouko ducked her head as the blonde flung the book at her face, and though it arced wide and landed far, far, far from the cherry-haired girl, Kyouko couldn't help but jerk her head up and stare wide-eyed at the panting blonde standing in the doorway with her smile still flinging at least thousands of watts into the tension-filled room. That was the first time Mami had ever thrown anything at her outside of training. And though it was a book—harmless and barely thicker than a magazine—she was still shocked that Mami had gotten angry enough to throw something at her, even if it was something completely safe. It was very out of character for her, the motherly figure for all of them to lose her temper like that and still come out smiling.

If she wanted to be honest with herself, Kyouko was terrified.

Mami seemed to notice Kyouko's fear, and crossed the room, kneeling down in front of her. She reached a hand up to take Kyouko's chin, and examine her face, twisting it from side to side to check for marks and abrasions. "I'm sorry, Sakura-san, I didn't mean to, I just—"

"S'okay," Kyouko muttered, pushing the blonde's hand away, her voice soft, "and you're right. I was the idiot out of the two of us. I let myself get too close to him, and got attached."

Mami looked visibly shaken, and somewhat vulnerable. She bit her bottom lip. "Oh, Sakura-san."

"I'm fine, Mami, trust me," she said, offering the older Magical Girl a smirk of her own, "let's make lunch, 'kay? I'm starving."

Mami blinked a few times, before sighing, her hand on her face. "But Sakura-san, it's only ten in the morning."

"Doesn't change the fact that I'm hungry as hell," Kyouko shot back, making her way to the kitchen. As she rummaged through the cabinets, she asked, "Oh, yeah, and what book did you throw at me? It looked interesting, what was it?"

Mami stiffened behind Kyouko.

"It was… about parenting."

"Parenting?" Kyouko asked, turning around. "Why would you need something like that? You're not our mother."

"I know, Sakura-san, but sometimes I just feel like I should try to act as something like one," Mami said, leaning back against the countertop as Madoka and Kyouko busied themselves with making lunch, and tea, and Sayaka's favorite cookies. "The book told me to set ground rules, and have you adhere to them. I thought that I was protecting you."

"You were," Kyouko replied, glancing down at her left hand, "but—"

"—In my experience, I've never seen a Magical Girl as strong and independent as you, Sakura-san," Mami continued, closing her eyes. Kyouko widened her auburn irises, and regarded Mami with a soft, gentle expression. "And I just… I just don't want to see you get hurt like that again. But Akemi-san told me to trust him, and to trust your judgment."

Kyouko's heart rose to beat once—only once.

"I don't know Hibari-san very well, but I do trust you, Sakura-san. If there's something you need from him that you can't get from us, then, who would I be to stop you?" Mami finished, opening her eyes again. And when she looked at Kyouko, there was such a look of love and affection that the red-haired girl had to touch her back to the counter to keep herself upright. Mami fixed Kyouko with a stern expression. "I won't keep you away from him, Sakura-san, but if he starts behaving like Rokudo Mukuro, I won't hesitate to stop him."

Kyouko's knees hit the floor, and all of the breath she'd been holding back escaped her mouth all in a rush.

"You don't have to worry about that, Mami-san," Madoka put in, putting a hand under Kyouko's arm and lifting her to her feet. "He's just as passionate as Kyouko-chan is. They're perfect for each other!"

Kyouko's face promptly flushed bright, beaming red.

"Haaaahhhh?!"

Of course, after she'd kissed him, in the middle of the busy sidewalk, he'd jumped right back into the frying pan. In all honesty, Kyouya would prefer to say that the frying pan had leaped right after him—his skin still tingled wherever she'd touched him, his heart was still racing, his patience was wearing thin, as always whenever his body refused to cooperate and settle down. His hands were tense in his pockets, his posture erect and rigid as he walked down the pathway, heading toward the school. He wasn't paying attention when the car pulled up alongside him—he never paid attention when that hideous car pulled up alongside him.

This time was no different—aside from the fact that something was snaking out into the air and seizing him by the wrist.

"Wait." The word popped out from the inside of the car as he raised his left foot to kick at the window and fight his assailant off. Of course, that voice only put him into an even darker mood. "Kyouya, relax, it's just me."

"Don't speak to me, herbivore," he ordered, wrenching his wrist away from the whip's hold. Much to his irritation, the leather rope was rather stubborn, and held onto him tightly. It was either the weapon itself keeping him in his place, or the subtle, but steadfast glow of orange pulsing from it. He hissed from between his teeth, "Release me."

"I never expected you to kiss a girl, Kyouya."

His eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

"I saw you, with that red-haired girl. I've gotta say, she's a pretty one," Dino said, leaning out from the door and putting a hand on Kyouya's shoulder. The younger teenager would've shaken him off had it not been for the whip twining itself around his entire body, trapping him where he was. The car door opened, and though he pulled against the bronco's weapon's grip, the Sky flames infused into the leather made quick work of his resistance. "Very spirited too. I wonder, do you like her, Kyouya?"

Slamming into the car seat beside the bronco, Kyouya snarled, "Do not speak to me."

"You'll never change, will you, Kyouya?" Dino asked, sighing, and nodding to Romario. "Oh, and Romario? Tell Tsuna that we've got him, okay?"

His features took up his characteristic scowl.

Sawada Tsunayoshi was going to pay. Dearly.

"But, that girl… You do realize that you won't be able to keep her, don't you?" Dino asked, addressing Kyouya directly with a stern, but pleasant expression.

Kyouya didn't care about keeping Sakura Kyouko. He didn't need her. He didn't want her, as a matter of fact—his heart throbbed as if in disagreement. Hell, his whole body throbbed in disagreement. He couldn't help but feel angry—was this another one of her spells? Another one of her magic tricks? Did that ring on her finger have another power besides stunning her target? And what was that symbol, that crimson ellipse? He'd allowed her to distract him with her thank yous and pretty words. He'd lost sight of what he was supposed to be doing, and got himself beaten by his worst enemy, as well as been made into a mockery by his want-to-be mentor.

He was so stupid. So, so stupid.

"I don't care," he replied, snorting his words and biting back that irritating leap in his chest. "I don't need her."

Dino's eyes widened. "Then—"

"—Don't ask questions," Kyouya said, managing to pull his tonfa from his pocket and unfold it. He held the sharp edge of one of his flails up to the whip, and started cutting. "I said I don't need her."

"Stubborn as always," Dino answered, sighing and shaking his head. "Sometimes, Kyouya, it's okay to let others in, to let someone else be with you. It doesn't make you weak, or vulnerable."

"Having ties makes one weak," he snorted, slicing his tonfa up his side, freeing himself from his tutor's whip. "She is no different."

"Will you at least tell me her name?" Dino asked, his brown eyes gentle. Kyouya blinked, and turned away, averting his eyes.

Red hair flashed across his mind, along with autumn leaf-hued irises, a beaming, toothy grin—his lips tingled as he recalled the feel of her mouth against his. Dino seemed to notice his discomfort and smiled to himself, leading Kyouya to narrow his eyes and turn back toward the window. Just remembering her was bad enough. She was too much trouble for him, too fiery, too spirited for him to handle one hundred percent of the time. She was irritable when she was angry. She was temperamental and disobeyed direct orders. She was haughty by nature and beautiful in appearance, and carnivorous in battle. She was something he might never understand, yes, but somehow, she meant something to him.

A soft, faint breath of a smile graced his face as he whispered, "Sakura Kyouko."

.

And in the distance, from behind glass windows, and wooden doors, the red-haired girl turned at the sound of his voice. "Hibari?"

She never noticed the bright, scarlet glow beaming into the air from her left hand.

shift.

notes: I wonder, have the chapters been decreasing in quality? Am I doing something wrong with the characters? No one's telling me anything.