Falling from the Moon

A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic

By Natalie Baan


Chapter 11



/Sleep. And dream./


Of hair like fire.

He is standing on the threshold. He is trying to catch the sunlight in his hands. It slips between his fingers, over and over.

He is patient.

The light is reminding him of something so important. He is holding out his hands for it; it falls, it is falling. It is always falling. It vanishes into the flowers. But he keeps on trying.

He will not ever give up.




It is like fire, like that whisper of soft flames behind him. He turns, and--oh--

/This./ This is what he wants; it is here, in the room. Shadows move on the wall, the shadows of wings; the wings fan the sunlit air. The constant, rhythmic movement of wings--




--the movement of wings shudders through him. If he can fly long enough, far enough, if it is enough--

They can be there.

He smiles. They can be--




--and he spreads his own--


"/--wake up!/"


"/Aaah!/" Flinging himself awake, Issei recoiled against the wall, jerking his feet up under him and away from the end of the bed. Rin was standing on the mattress in a shining torrent of moonlight, his smirk half -shadowed by the brim of his cap.

"Pleasant dreams?"

"Oh. You." Issei put a hand to his face to shut out the sight. "Don't you sleep, Shion-san?" As he started to look around for the luminous alarm clock, he realized he had the blanket clutched defensively to his chest. He dropped it to his lap instead. It was twelve-thirty, he discovered, and he was cold. Rin--Shion--had left the window open to the night, and it was the middle of October--he'd done that deliberately, hadn't he?

<Doesn't even need the window. He can go right through walls if he wants to.> Issei rubbed his arms, trying to shake off cold, irritation, and sleep. Shion had been saying something. "What?"

"Focus, please. I said 'keyword.'"

Issei was abruptly wide awake.

"What do you mean? The Tower isn't finished yet!"

"Oh, but it is. The main structure is complete, a little ahead of schedule. Efficiency--can you believe it?" Shion shrugged. "The Tower won't be open to the public for a while yet, not until the final renovations are done--the painting and the conveniences for the tourists and so forth--but I don't need those. Everything that's necessary is already in place."

<So soon?>

"You didn't know?" Shion took off the cap and began to toy with it. "That really was careless of you. You ought to keep better track of these things."

<I didn't expect...I thought there'd be those extra weeks. I thought that I'd have more time.> Issei turned his face away, trying to get his expression under control, aware of Shion watching him, gauging him, far more subtle than the child he appeared to be. The mattress shifted a little as Shion stepped nearer; he knelt in front of Issei.

"I've waited," Shion said softly. "I've done what you wanted, compromised as much as I intend to. So you should be pleased. But if you haven't taken advantage of it, if you've been too distracted, that isn't my fault." His mouth curved in the slightest of smiles. "Is it?"

<He knows?>

"Time's up, Enju-chan. And it's your turn to give me what I want." He leaned in closer, that light of hunger in his eyes. "/Now,/" he said, and Issei felt then what he'd been trying to resist: not even Sahches power, just relentless will, like wind wearing years over a stone, stripping it away, like swirling clouds drawing in to land. Not something you could ever hope to fight.

<But I never intended to fight him. I had that much sense, at least. Only to make him pause and think. If I've managed to do even that much, it's worth something. It has to be worth something.>

<Doesn't it?>

<Too late to wonder. I have to--and he'll be angry when he learns.>

<Don't. Don't be weak. You've known for a long time that it would come to this.>

<Get it over with.>

"All right."

Issei held out his hand to Shion, and Shion flinched back. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

"I'm giving you the keyword. As I promised."

"Oh?" Suspicion flared across Shion's face, followed by understanding and a sudden, fierce amusement. "Really. Was this what you intended all along? Did you actually think I'd let you...?" His laugh was cold and very brief. "Nice try, but I'm not allowing you into my mind."

"You don't understand. I can't--"

"Enju! Quit screwing around and tell me the keyword!"

"I can't! I can't tell it to you, I have to show you." It was Issei's turn to flinch. "This is Mokulen's keyword, Shion-san. It's musical, the pitch is important, and I can't--"


"--I'm not--"

"/Shit!/" Shion clenched fists and glared at him. Issei returned the glare with helpless misery and defiance.

"I never said I was going to tell you you the keyword," he insisted. "I said I'd give it to you, and I will--the same way I got it. If you want the keyword from me there's no other way, because I'm not going to be able to sing it, not accurately enough. You /do/ want to be able to use it, don't you?"

The words left a difficult silence behind them. At last Shion let out his breath in a long, sibilant hiss.

"So. Then you do that. You give me the keyword." He leaned forward again, held up his hand, and Issei reached out for him with a slight tremor: he was angry, too angry.

"Be careful," Shion warned. "You'd better go very carefully. Don't think I won't break you, if you try to take over my mind."

"I can't--I'm not doing this to entrap you, Shion--"

"/Shut up!/" Shion's small hand thrust hard against his palm, Shion's eyes blazed into his, and the storm--




*Issei cries out.*

*He screams as Shion strikes, one surge across their link and inside him suddenly, Shion inside, all Shion's hungers, blind and urgent and wild, invading him with outrage, with anger, with fury, the maddening hollow aching, the fear of that ache, with loneliness and longing and desperate need. Wanting, wanting--*

*Tearing him apart.*

*And Issei surrenders. Like giving in to falling: the fear at first, but then--*

<*I accept.*>

*He opens to Shion, fully, completely. Shion's will, flung wide, finds nothing that denies him, nothing that will fight him, finds nothing, nothing. He hurtles like a star across that empty sky, sightless but searching. Afraid. And Issei--*


--opened his eyes in the physical world, where there had been no sound and the moon poured its light across the room. He shuddered and gasped, "Shion, she--loves you."

Shion blinked--


*--and Issei hurls the thought at that momentary faltering:*

<*didn't betray you wouldn't betray you here it is--HERE--*>

*--complete, just as it had come from her.*

**From /her./**

*That mindspace shatters--*


--and Issei flung himself backwards, back against the wall, snatching his hand from Shion's. The rush of his own heartbeat: real, this was real. Real--


--Nine years. Nine years. The feeling of being alive.

**This feeling.**--


Issei gasped and shut his eyes. Ghosts of thought and memory flashed across his mind, in the darkness behind his closed lids--self within self, the sense of wearing someone else's skin. Pieces of Shion. Not even a telepath, but powerful and angry, and expecting an attack. /Stupid--/

<Stop it, leave the blame alone. You need to-->


*Dark, the dancing shadows, silverness and light. The mirror dreaming of fire--*

*He does know who he is.*

*This, though--this flash of fury--this is not him. The old Shion's eyes, in reflective glass--and there is more: the windshear of loss and loneliness, emotions, memory and dream. He sifts quickly down through a scatter of confusion, these fragments of a foreign mind. Like sand he pours them gently, spilling them together, and when he knows what they all are he gathers them in. He claims them with care, because he cannot destroy them: They are part of him now.*

*They are what he has survived.*

*But from here he can return, from experience to memory--the collusions of thought and time. He puts distance between himself and the moment, and finds his way back--*

Issei blinked his eyes open.

<*--to here.*>

He exhaled slowly. <There. I think that's all right. They're only my memories of remembering his, now. At three steps removed, I can stand it.>

<But you, Shion?> Shion was still on his hands and knees, shaking with reaction, his fingers knotted in the blanket. <You didn't expect that, did you? I'm sorry--though why I'm apologizing, when it's not even my fault! And I got the worst of it anyway. I didn't even touch you at all.>

<But I /am/ sorry. I know you don't understand.>

<It's strange.>

<I'm not really afraid anymore.>

Shion twitched, coming out of it wide-eyed and appalled. He panted for breath suddenly, and his lips moved in silence: /that's it?/


"That's /it?/"


"But--but--she's been singing that for weeks!"

Issei sighed. "And taking years off my life every time I heard her. Though I don't think she knows what it is. I was never sure whether you'd noticed or not."

"You said you'd erased it from her mind!"

Thinking of Alice's consciousness lying open before him, vulnerable and so fragile, Issei shook his head. He had claimed that to protect them both, but hadn't ever considered doing it--even if he were capable of it, something he wasn't at all certain of. Something he never intended to explore. "I couldn't," he said quietly. "I couldn't do that to her. It would have hurt her if I did. I didn't want to deceive you, but--"

" 'I haven't lied to you--/yet,/' " Shion broke in, quivering with tightly leashed emotion, and he flung a fierce, ironic glance at Issei. The trembling turned into a laugh. "Enju, you are /such/ a bitch."

"Oh." There had to be a more intelligent response to that, but for some reason nothing was coming to mind. Instead, Issei hugged one knee to his chest, and gazed at Shion, who had turned his focus inward, following the thread of memory as he sang that soft, melancholy progression of notes under his breath, his voice light, true, and surprisingly sweet. He stopped suddenly with another laugh.

"Well," he said, "I guess there's some advantage after all, to not having hit puberty." Bouncing to his feet, he favored Issei with a wry smile. "Couple of advantages I can think of. Ne, Enju-chan?"

Issei flushed, but Shion's attention was already moving on to something else. He retrieved his cap and turned toward the window, on the point of going, and Issei recalled quickly that it wasn't over, not yet. "What will you do now?"

"There's this little thing called Tokyo Tower," Shion said, "and I've got a date with a self-destruct mechanism on the moon. That's first and most important. After that," he shrugged, playing with the zipper of his jacket, "who knows?"

"Shion, what about--"

"Don't." The look he turned on Issei was impatient. "Give it a rest, Enju. Do you think you can protect everyone, every time?"

The protest caught uncomfortably in Issei's throat: <Yes.> He at least had to try. Shion was standing at the end of the bed, moonlight silvering his eyes and hair as he looked back at Issei with a faint smile--and Issei was angry, angry and inexplicably hurt, more hurt than he'd been by anything else Shion had done or said.

<Do I amuse you so much? Do you think so little of me?>

Shion went on:

"Has anyone ever told you you've got a real martyr complex? You should have that seen to--it's not healthy. Anyway," he added, "I don't intend anything toward Gyokulan, not long as he keeps his hands to himself--or toward you, for that matter. So you can quit worrying and relax. Enjoy yourself." Shion paused and grinned, wickedly. "You do, don't you?"

Issei grabbed the pillow from behind him and swung it at Shion. "Get out!" Shion laughed, dodged, and skipped into nothingness suddenly, leaving only the echo of that laugh behind. Issei was alone in the room.

<Bastard. See if I put up with you calling me a bitch again.>

<I am /not/ a....>

Issei sighed, ran his hands through his hair, and started to crawl off the bed. Get the pillow up off the floor. Close the window. And call Tamura-san, late as it was, to warn him that Shion was loose once more.

<I've done what I can, I've done everything that I can. I gave you as much time as I could, but now you're on your own because he /knows/--and I can't. I can't.>

<I'm sorry.>


* * * * *


Running. Always running. Because he forgets.

He forgets that he cannot--that there is nowhere to run to. Sometimes he is aware, as now, that he has forgotten.

It must be a dream, therefore.


He is running.

His bare feet make little noise on the floor, but because that and his breathing are the only sounds he is intensely aware of them. They echo in the empty, aching places. The rooms he passes through are mostly dark because the light is too ordinary; it makes him expect things, people, that are not, and he becomes angry when no one walks in, when nothing is under the light but furniture--broken furniture, mostly, which is his own fault. So he keeps the lights turned down.


In self-disgust, and because the ache has grown too great, he slows. He stumbles through a doorway.

A flash of movement to the left.

He lashes out before he can stop himself, and the movement shatters under his fist, flies apart in a scatter of small brightnesses that reflect earthlight from the window. He is looking at his own eyes, spiderwebbed with myriad cracks. Little pieces of him are missing.

He steps close and looks carefully, to be sure: yes, this is a mirror. He must be in someone's room. His hand is bleeding, he realizes, and he goes to the window for a better look, discovers he is limping as he makes his way across the room. He leans on the window frame and picks mirror glass out of his foot. Tiny fragments of shining are caught in his hair as well.

He lays his hand--oh, it is still bleeding, but the bleeding is starting to slow--on the coldness of the window. Cold against the throbbing of his blood. Cold.



--"How can you be so cold? She loved you."--




--"She loved you with all her heart."--


YES, and she is turning away, turning to go, and the door she is leaving by is full of light and he cannot--

He cannot--

Go with her.



he screams and he strikes out again, pouring all his power, the Sahches power, behind the blow of his fist, and the blue planet and all the stars crack--

<I'm free! Free!>

--and the shining glass falls outward in pieces--

<I'm free!>

--taking with it--

--his breath--

--on the wind of decompression--



Issei's eyes snapped open, and he took a involuntary gasp of air. He stared up into the blackness of his room, toward the ceiling, feeling his heart race, his body still protesting that there was nothing to breathe.

Dream. Just a dream. He rolled over and looked at the clock. It was nowhere near morning, and he flopped onto his back again with a groan.

<Shion flashbacks. Lovely.>

It happened, sometimes, when the mental contact was particularly deep or intense. He'd dreamed Mokulen for nights after touching her memories.

<Not to mention Jinpachi. His dreams still flash to me sometimes.> He found that a more comforting thought and nestled back into the bed.

<It's getting to the point where I dream other people's dreams more often than my own. Me dreaming Rin dreaming Shion's dream....> His mind began to drift from there and he let it go, thinking only briefly:

<Shion. I don't know if I can forgive you coming here tonight.>

<Waking me up from a dream that was actually /mine./>


* * * * *


<**NOOOOOO!!** >

Awake, heart pounding--<what! What time--?> He fumbled for the clock. Table. Other side of bed. Damn...sheets. Issei fought his way clear and grabbed for the clock, peered at the dial--only half an hour later than last time. He dropped the clock on the floor and fell face down into his pillow.

/Shion./ The scream was only just starting to fade.

Issei reached over to turn on the light. Blinking, he lay there and tried to put coherent thoughts together around the cry of rage, frustration, and grief still echoing in his mind.

<Something's gone wrong. Something has....>



<No. I'm not going. I'm definitely not. He doesn't deserve it.>


Issei groaned and dragged himself out of bed again.

<Why do I do these things?>

<He's right. I am a martyr. Damn it.>

<I'm coming.>



* * * * *


He found Shion at last, following the trail of pain even as it sank away into a background ache. Shion was sitting on a playground swing, swaying gently back and forth as he pushed at the ground with his toes. When he realized he was being watched, he put his foot down, stopping the motion abruptly. He didn't look up as Issei approached.

<Doesn't want me to know he's been crying.>

Issei swept pebbles and leaves aside as he sat down in front of the swing set, managing not to see Shion's surreptitious wipe at his eyes. He settled himself, hugging his jacket around him, and waited another moment to be safe. Then cautiously he asked, "What happened?"

Shion breathed a small sigh. "It didn't work."

"Oh. The Tower didn't--"

"The Tower was fine!" Shion snapped at him, all the usual temper and glare for an instant. "The problem's on the other end. The destruct system's not operational. I ran as much of a check as I could over the link, and it came up 'electrical system failure.'"

"Electrical?" Issei wondered. "A computer glitch I could understand, but--what do you think that could be?"

"Any one of a number of things. I've got some guesses, but there's no way to be sure, and nothing I can do about it. Not from here." He slumped, having exhausted his irritation, but his gaze still lifted to the setting moon, as if he could somehow blaze a path there with his eyes.

<Oh, Shion.>

"I'm sorry." Shion was silent, and Issei tried again. "You did try. You did everything you could. It's not your fault." Shion laid his head against the chain of the swing, and Issei looked up to the moon himself as it hung just above the rooftops, yellow-gold and enormous. Near enough to touch, almost.

"So close," Issei murmured. "You were so close. Really, what a shame. If only you could go there."

"Be a long hop." There was bitterness in Shion's voice, but it was better than the silence. "Give you odds?"

"Well, I didn't expect you to teleport yourself. You'd need a jump platform or something for that, wouldn't you?" Shion raised his head and stared at him, and Issei added lightly, "Or you could steal a set of booster rockets and a lunar module. Does anyone even make lunar modules these days?" Shion wasn't laughing. <All right, so I'm not very funny in the wee hours of the morning.> Issei swallowed a yawn, thinking of places he'd far rather be than outside in the cold trying to cheer Shion up. "Actually, you're not that far off, are you?" he went on. "You got Matsudaira-san to build a transmitter for you--same technology, if you were using field projection instead of a direct beam. You'd just have to--"

"Adapt it." The sudden, bare intensity of Shion's voice startled him, that and a starburst of unexpected contact--<**a flash of mental light, an indrawn breath**> "Is that what you're saying?"

"Well, yes," he hedged in his confusion. "If you could do something like that, I guess so, but I don't really know enough about--"

The playground vanished.


Issei's room appeared around them. Issei dug his fingers into the carpet, blinking wildly against the change in light and the sudden shock of displacement.

"Got a calculator?" Shion asked.

"What? Um, I loaned it out. Wait." Issei pulled himself together and hunted up a notebook and pen, riffled through the book to a clean page. "Okay." Shion gave him a perplexed look, and Issei couldn't help a slight smile. <Surprised, Shion? I'm useful for something after all.> "Go," he said. "And please keep your voice down this time, or my parents will be in here."

Shion began flinging numbers at him then, and Issei worked them as quickly as he could, pen scratching furious calculations across the paper. Enju'd had a deep-space researcher's basic technological grounding; he could remember most of it, but the science of what Shion had in mind was far enough beyond him that he grasped it only in the vaguest way. He concentrated on the intricacies of the numbers instead, conscious of Shion following the work over his shoulder--more than capable of the math himself, Issei realized, probably doing rough figures in his head as they went along, but willing to let Issei fine down the numbers while he fit them to the theory he was building up tenuously from memories. It was a challenge, dancing with the figures quickly enough, carefully enough, under that watchful stare, and Issei, bowing his head over the notebook, lost himself in the effort.


* * * * *


Substantially later, Issei yawned and stretched in the middle of a sea of paper. He passed the last of his calculations over to Shion, and collapsed against the end of the bed. <Don't want to know the time. Got school tomorrow. At least you're only in second grade, Shion. You don't really need to be awake for that...must drive you crazy.> Shion had commandeered another notebook some time ago and was chewing on the end of a pen cap as he considered the neat, angular diagrams sketched out on its pages. He glanced over what Issei had handed him and nodded once, as if it confirmed something he'd expected. "It's totally brilliant," he murmured.

<And I'm totally stupid. I can't believe I'm doing this. I can't even blame Shion. I was the one who suggested it.> Issei made a noncommittal sound, half-muffled in the rumpled-up blanket. <What was I thinking? It's got to be the hormones. Maybe he was right, about advantages....>

Shion said, "It would work."

It would work.

The reality of what they'd been doing struck Issei. Somehow he'd been thinking of it as an abstract problem, but it truly was more than that: possible, and not only in a remote sense. It was something that could be done. To go back to the moon....

<To go back? What does it mean for him, if he goes back there?>

<What would it mean for any of us?>

Shion had stood up. He was poised on the balls of his feet, his gaze soaring toward the ceiling as if he could see right through it to the waiting moon. "It would be easy," he said. "Easy."


"I could go."

He would. Shion would do it, he would go, despite the fear Issei could feel clearly, mixing now with his own: <**dread, determination, those dispassionate cold stars**>--

<I think I liked it better when I couldn't read you.>

"Ne, Shion--"

"Don't." The voice was strangely quiet, not the Shion he was used to. "You want to talk me out of it, don't you?" Shion glanced down at Issei, met Issei's eyes, his own wide and curious and somehow unguarded in that curiosity: the color of sky at twilight, after the rain. "I wonder why."

Issei didn't know himself, not for certain--knew only that he thought of death, thinking of the moon base, and couldn't be sure whose association that was, couldn't be sure whether it was memory or premonition. He remained silent. Eventually, Shion's eyes released him. "You should know better," he murmured. "You of all people, Enju. Didn't you go back, in your own way?"

<It's not the same.> But Shion read his silence as agreement, and went on softly: "I never imagined, though. To truly--" he caught his breath despite himself, but regained control quickly-- "to truly go back.

"/I don't want to go,/" he breathed. It was stark truth. Issei could feel it through the thin threads of psychic connection still linking them.

"Then don't."

"I have to," and Shion shivered, lost in some cold place far away in his own mind. "I have to. The past won't let me go. But...at least this is something I would choose, if I had the choice. I chose it then. I could have broken my word, could have but didn't, and if I have hope in anything I have hope in that. There are a few places in my dreams that are beautiful, that are full of the possibility of...of...." Shion swallowed back the unspoken word, staring into the air as though he'd forgotten Issei's presence in the room. "If I don't do this," he whispered, "what's left for me to become?"

There were long moments as they remained like that, and then Shion remembered suddenly where he was, and with whom. He drew himself together, pulled the threads of mind and heart close, a swirling like air condensing into fog, and somehow became opaque to Issei once more: deliberately, this time. "Anyway," he went on with a brief, faint laugh, "it's necessary. Someday the people of Earth will go back there, and they'll stay. When they do, everything that's up there--not only our own mistakes, but those of our home world--all of that could come here. The destruction we were capable of...do you want that?"

Issei bowed his head. "You'll take responsibility for the safety of the entire Earth, but not for the things you do to people."

"Are you judging me, Enju? Even after this, I don't think you have the right. You know," Shion added, coming closer, standing over Issei where he sat propped against the bed and looking down on him with the slightest smile, "you could have just told me, 'oh, the keyword's that song she sings; go ask Alice for it.' You didn't have to do this." He bent even nearer, holding Issei's eyes with his own. "Did you want to know so badly?" Shion whispered. He straightened, and his voice became cool. "Or were you afraid that I'd hurt her?"

"I think sometimes you can't help it." He was scared of the words he'd been saying, but couldn't help himself, couldn't give Shion anything less than truth now. He looked into the startlement and--yes--guilt in Shion's expression, and said, "It's easy for you to rationalize what you do, isn't it? To say that you have the right, because you've been a victim. But the things you've done to her, to Shukaido, to me--you're better than that, Shion. I know it. I wish you did." He laid a hand on Shion's arm, only to touch him, not to read, and Shion tolerated it far better than he'd expected, only flinching slightly, barely perceptibly. "I wish you'd...if you never saw him again, couldn't that be enough?"

"I see him every day. Every night." Shion sounded tired. "I can't not see him." He withdrew his arm, took a step back.

"You make yourself see him." The argument wasn't going anywhere, though, and Issei tried another tack. "There's a difference," he said, with some asperity, "between revenge and justice. Have you thought about that?"

Shion didn't answer. Instead, he tore the diagrams out of the notebook and tossed it back to Issei. "Here. You're pretty good. Why'd you decide to become a paleontologist?"

"I liked it. It was obscure, and, I don't know, I thought it was romantic. What does that have to do with anything?"

"Nothing." Shion grinned at him, folding the papers and stuffing them into his jacket pocket. "I just wanted to know. Thanks for the help." He swung the jacket on--


"/What!/ Honestly, Enju, if I thought you had any chance of stopping me from going--"

"What about the disease?"

Shion froze in the act of turning to leave.

"What if it's still active up there? What if you get infected again?"

"That's not possible."

"I think it's very possible." More than possible. The idea had been some flash of memory or inspiration from his overtired brain, but thinking about it he had no doubt as to its likelihood. He could see the tension on Shion's face: Shion thought so too, and was fighting the implications. "It got you nine years after everyone else: what's another nine years? And you can't make the vaccine, can you? You've got a little medical training, but it isn't enough. Shion--you don't come back from suicide."

Shion had closed his eyes against the force of the words. They drifted open, strangely calm.



"Shukaido can make the vaccine. He already has. /Hasn't/ he."

Shion began to laugh.


"How ironic!" Shion said. "How perfectly so." He looked at Issei. "I hope you're appreciating the irony."

Issei was appreciating how much he wanted to lock Shion in a closet for a thousand years. Or until he was sane. Either one would do.

"I've got a great idea," Shion said then, delight and something darker sparkling in his eyes. "What if we all go back.

"/To the moon./"

And Issei could do nothing but gape at Shion, at his audacity: like an aerialist on fine, taut wire, far above the rest of them, moving in places nobody else would think to go. Not afraid of falling, because he could fly; trying to close the circle of the past, perhaps for them all. <Crazy,> Issei whispered to himself, and: <brilliant. I don't know what to do.>

"You'll never get her to go," Issei murmured, because that was the only thing that occurred to him, and Shion replied, "Don't be too sure. She's beginning to remember." There was a complicated resonance to the words--his own memories, maybe--but Shion shook off whatever it was, and turned soberly back to Issei. "I'm not eager to die," he said. "If he doesn't think he can recreate the vaccine, we won't go. Is that good enough for you?" That was hope, possibly, inside his mind, behind the shifting, cloudy barrier--yes, definitely hope, he opened himself that much, and Issei could see it. "Are you in?" he asked. And:

"Yes," Issei said, "I'm in."

He couldn't not be.

"Good," Rin replied, and extended his little finger toward Issei. Issei had to look at it for a moment before he realized, and then he stared at Shion, because the gesture was so much a child's. But Shion was perfectly serious. Issei reached out his own hand, linked their fingers together in the sign of a promise. Shion sighed and seemed to relax.

"You realize," Issei remarked, "that you'll have to tell everyone the truth about who you are. Once we get to the moon, neither of you will be able to fake the other's expertise."

"I've thought about that. I'll do it before we go. There'll be too much prep to take care of for me to stay in character, and anyway Shu is a lousy liar."

"How will you explain why?" Issei asked, curious. "Why you were pretending to be each other, I mean. It's pretty suspicious-looking."

"Whim? Fuzzy memories?" Shion shrugged without concern. "I'll think of something. Another shock tactic might solve the problem. After all, if you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em. So we need some kind of plan for that. One of my plans. Your plans suck."

"My plans do not suck." Tossing his head, Issei gave Shion a sidelong look. "I just need to work on my execution. But if you don't want to hear my brilliant idea...."

"Oh, brilliant?" Shion was amused. "I should hear this for the uniqueness value, then. What /is/ your brilliant idea?"

"I'll tell you, but if you end up using it, I'll expect you to apologize. For everything you said earlier, as well as just now. And Shion?" Issei fixed him with a true bitch stare. Practice made perfect. "You'd /better/ not have watched."

Shion blinked for a moment as that registered and connected with-- "Hey!" He was instantly all scandalized virtue. "What kind of pervert do you think I am? Anyway, just the thought gives me hives."

"Oh, really."

"And what d'you mean by that!"

"Nothing." Issei couldn't restrain himself any longer in the face of Shion's outrage. He began to laugh.

"What? /What?!/"

<Got you, Shion. If you could only see your face.> Issei doubled up helplessly as the light began to dawn--in Shion's head, anyway.


It had been a long night.


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