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WitchHunt Fic, Part 4/5

Title: Of Witches and Warlocks and Those Who Hunt Them
Rating: M
Summary: TezRyo AU.  Ryoma is out hunting witches, and meets Tezuka, a hermit in the mountains.
Author’s Notes:  Happy birthday thy!  (Now sits back and waits for Kaori to find all my typos).  :)


Of Witches and Warlocks and Those Who Hunt Them
Chapter 4/5


It took some time for Tezuka to settle himself again. Winter had fallen by the time he had established himself in a new home. In the end, he wound up selecting another hilltop cottage just beyond the farms of the town in which Inui and Fuji had settled themselves, which naturally meant more frequent visits from the both of them. The cottage was a bit larger – more a proper house this time - and in rather better condition that the one he had hailed from, yet still in an isolated place far from the more travelled roads; which was, in his mind, the most important thing.

Going silently through the motions of life as he had before, though, had lost quite a bit of its sparkle. During the days, he immersed himself in books, and tried to coax life into the few crops and herbs that would grow through the winter. Many of his nights, however, were whiled away staring listlessly into the candlelight, because all sleep brought was memories of Ryoma. It was ridiculous. They’d known each other for a matter of weeks, really – hardly enough time to collect that many memories. And yet every encounter, every touch, every breath, and most importantly, that flash of hatred and betrayal in those eyes would revisit him whenever he closed his eyes.
 
Fortunately, Fuji and Inui kept him busy enough that he soon felt that maybe eventually he’d be able to properly forget the whole sordid affair. Fuji introduced him to the layout of the town, pointing out areas to avoid – being a larger city, there was a base of Hunters that all the witches and warlocks in the area knew to steer clear of – and which areas others of their kind would occasionally congregate. He assisted Inui with some of his potions projects, and helped with his apprentice’s training. He even visited Kawamura a few times, who had set up a rather successful restaurant near the bazaar. During such visits he grew occasionally jealous of his companions’ ease in integrating with the populace – although how Fuji managed to blend in with those closed eyes and terribly obvious robes remained a mystery – but he ultimately preferred his own company anyway and was fine with retiring to his new secluded cottage when the first snow arrived. 
 
His heartache didn’t entirely disappear, but reason and logic were enough to keep the worst of the sting at bay. Time would surely heal the rest.
 
Then one night in the thick of winter, he heard tapping at the door. 

The knock was so feeble, at first he thought it was just his imagination, or the wind playing tricks on his ears. As it persisted, however, in regular, staccato bursts, he roused himself from his position in front of the fire and went to investigate. 
 
Pulling open the heavy door, he suddenly found himself with an armful of snow. There had been flurries all day. “What-? Ryoma?”
 
The familiar figure stumbled against him. He hurriedly shut the door to keep the cold out, and brushed several clumps of ice from the green-black hair and brown cloak. What was Ryoma doing out in this weather, and without a proper winter cloak? He was still dressed in standard travelling garb, which was hardly fit for trekking through the snow!
 
Abruptly, he remembered exactly who it was he was dealing with. Ryoma. A Hunter. One who had more than just one reason to kill him. He made to back off, to put a safe distance between them, but before he’d taken more than one step away, a hand grasped at his shirt, keeping him close.
 
Brown eyes darted about, searching for a dagger or stake or some other dangerous implement that might be headed for his heart or eyes or throat, but there didn’t seem to be any. And the figure leaning heavily against his chest was shaking rather badly. “…You are Ryoma, correct?”
 
“You left.” It was definitely Ryoma, all right. Though the voice was weak, barely above a whisper, and lacking the usual arrogant tone, he’d recognise it anywhere.
 
"How did you find me?!" the warlock demanded.  He'd moved far, and left no trail. Knowing that a Hunter might be on his tail was motivation enough to be more careful than usual. He hadn’t stopped for more than a couple of hours at a time until he’d reached Inui’s home.

"Heh… I’m the best… you still have lots more to work on. Followed.  Been looking for weeks."
 
“To kill me?” Tezuka asked, voice grave and resonating with warning. The shaking figure in his arms flinched, but didn’t release his hold.
 
The silence stretched on for a long moment. Doubt began to grow in the warlock’s mind. Was Ryoma actually not here to kill him? Why hadn’t he brought reinforcements?
 
"I thought you would have reported me to the Hunters," he observed quietly.

"Tried.  Couldn't.  The words wouldn't come out,” came the muffled reply.
 
“Ryoma. Look at me.”
 
At last, the head of green-black hair was raised, and a pair of hazel eyes rose to meet his gaze.
 
Tezuka’s breath almost left him. He hadn’t seen Ryoma outside of his memories in almost two months. The sight of his face was like cool water on a parched throat.
 
How had he managed to walk away from those eyes?
 
Even as he tried to fight back the wave of emotions with reason and logic, though, he found himself clutching the Hunter tighter to his chest, leaning down, and capturing his lips in a bruising kiss.
 
Ryoma gasped, eyes sliding closed and neck arching back to accommodate him. His lips were cold, but they quickly warmed, and the hand clenched in his shirt tightened, and… suddenly the Hunter was struggling in his grasp, and broke away, eyes wide as he wiped his mouth. “No!”
 
“Ryoma?”
 
The Hunter just shook his head fiercely. “No. No. You bewitched me! You’re – you’re a warlock!”
 
“Yes,” Tezuka replied evenly, keeping a wary eye out for any weapons headed his way.
 
A fist pounded itself on his chest, though there was no real strength in the gesture. “Why can’t I kill you? Why did I miss? I shouldn’t have missed! I never miss.”
 
The first dagger thrown, Tezuka recalled. It had skimmed dangerously close past his ear. A few inches to the side, and it would have embedded itself in his eye. A popular way for Hunters to kill witches. They usually went for either the heart or the throat or the eyes. Anywhere else was too slow. And Ryoma had remarkable aim. He’d seen that uncanny precision himself, and Tezuka had been standing just beyond point-blank range, unprepared for the initial assault.
 
Yet Ryoma had missed.
 
“What did you do to me?” Ryoma pleaded, grasping at the warlock’s sleeves. “What spell did you cast on me? Make it go away!”
 
 “I didn’t… I didn’t cast any spell,” he replied dully, then paused. Wait… that wasn’t quite true. 
 
Inui’s potion.
 
The irrational hope that had briefly flared in his chest when that pale hand had clutched his shirt abruptly turned to ice. Guilt began to pool in his stomach again. 
 
It had been foolish and naïve to hope for even an instant that perhaps the Hunter had at some point developed feelings strong enough to override the fact that they were natural enemies. He’d taken Ryoma’s rather matter-of-fact approach to the odd relationship they’d developed after that night as the result of his blunt and uncaring attitude, but wasn’t it just as likely that the effect of the potion had lingered, even after all this time? Even if it wasn’t the potion, Tezuka couldn’t rule out the possibility that maybe he had bewitched Ryoma with his voice. Though the Hunter had displayed an impressive amount of resistance to it, they had talked an awful lot – at least by Tezuka’s standards. Maybe he truly had bewitched the other man in some way.
 
Regardless of any possible bewitching, it was still his responsibility. First things first… the Hunter looked like he was about to keel over on the spot, and he hadn’t forgotten how cold those lips had been on contact, nor how the Hunter had been shivering in his grasp after stumbling in from the snow. How far had Ryoma walked? As a warlock, he had many means of speeding his journey, and he had set his new home up so very far away from his old one…
 
“Let’s get you warmed up by the fire,” he eventually suggested, grasping at an elbow and guiding Ryoma by the small of his back to where the merry little blaze was still crackling. Slightly dazed, the Hunter didn’t protest – he seemed to have used up all of his energy on his last outburst.
 
He sat the suddenly docile traveller down in front of the fireplace, hurriedly fetching a blanket and draping it over narrow shoulders, then collecting some of the still-warm soup he had for dinner from the kitchen, and handing the bowl over. The Hunter took it with a blank gaze, eyes drooping, and gave it only one brief distrustful glance before spooning it mechanically into his mouth. Exhaustion was obviously setting in. Sheer willpower must have been all that kept the man awake while tracking him through the snow. He’d fall asleep soon, almost certainly.
 
Tezuka didn’t have to wait long. Mere minutes after the soup had been finished, he carefully extricated the empty bowl and spoon from limp hands and returned them to the kitchen. Removing Ryoma’s boots – being mindful of the blades hidden within - he then carried the sleeping Hunter into the bedroom, carefully tucking him under the blankets. It was a wry thought, but he had the notion to chastise the Hunter for being careless in the morning – falling asleep in front of your enemy like that. Had he been thinking like any normal warlock, he would have taken the opportunity to kill the other man first.
 
Alas, two months had done little to dull his fondness after all. 
 
That morning, he summoned Fuji and Inui.
 
They both had the gall to look oddly pleased when he explained the situation to them. 
 
"So what do you think?" he asked.

 “I am curious as to how exactly he tracked you here,” Inui murmured, adjusting his glasses.
 
Fuji was resting his chin on his hand, looking bemused. “And I’m impressed that he felt strongly enough to go that far. He must have been lovesick indeed.”
 
Tezuka ignored him. “Fuji didn’t think it could hold so long, but could your potion have reacted strangely, Inui? To produce such a strong and lasting effect? He was rather distraught upon arrival.”
 
“It must hurt so much to not understand it,” Fuji murmured.
 
Inui, for his part, spared him cryptic comments and simply replied, “I would need to at least see him to ascertain if that is the case. There are certain physical symptoms which should enlighten us as to…”
 
“Oh, looks like this is your chance,” Fuji interrupted. Sure enough, a moment later the Hunter appeared in the doorway. His hair was still slightly mussed from sleeping and his clothes were crumpled and crooked, but he was awake and very much alert. Tezuka was relieved to see some colour in his cheeks now. His guest had been deathly pale when he’d stumbled in the night before, and the warlock had found himself repeatedly checking for any signs of a coming fever through the night. Though in retrospect, he admitted uncomfortably to himself, that might have just been an excuse to touch the Hunter’s face and assure him that he was really there and not just a figment of a lonely imagination.
 
“Good morning,” he greeted politely, in a voice far calmer than what he felt. “Did you sleep well?”
 
Ryoma didn’t respond, instead eyeing the two newcomers with a wary gaze, sidling slowly into the room.  Fuji's smile widened and Inui was making no efforts to hide the fact that he was staring – no doubt divining all sorts of information from details as inane as the length of his fingernails.  "Who are these people?  More warlocks?"

"Oh, what gave it away?" Fuji asked cheerfully.

The Hunter just snorted.  When no one else said anything, he finally relented. "Those black robes are practically an advertisement.  And as for that one," he continued, jerking a thumb at Inui, "He positively reeks of herbs.  And since he's obviously not a cook or a gardener..."

"Impressive," Inui murmured.  "He's already a more accurate fortune-teller than Mizuki."  Fuji perked up at that.

Fortunately, Ryoma provided a quick and safe change of subject.  "Where are my boots?"

"By the door.  They shall stay there unless you leave the house," Tezuka informed him.

Ryoma folded his arms, looking away and appearing distinctly uncomfortable.  "I wasn't going to kill you."

"But you were just now considering killing my friends, weren't you?"

The silence that greeted that statement was all the answer they needed.

"Saa, don't worry Tezuka, Inui and I are not so easy to kill."

"Don't underestimate him," Tezuka warned.  Ryoma fidgeted a little at that.  The warlock adjusted his glasses, and indicated the seat next to him at the table.  "Please, take a seat.  You must be hungry.  I shall fetch breakfast." As an afterthought, he added, “No killing anyone.” He doubted his request would hold much weight, even with his voice suffused with magic, but that scowl confirmed that he’d comply anyway.

The Hunter gingerly sat down, still glaring distrustfully at his friends.  Tezuka headed into the kitchen, but a kept a close ear on what was happening in the other room.
 
“So, tell me, how did you and Tezuka meet?”
 
His friends were apparently not even remotely bothered by the fact that they were talking to a Hunter of all people as though he were some teenage girl dating their son. Tezuka couldn’t hear the other half of the conversation – Ryoma’s normal conversation volume was scarcely above that of a mumble – but still found himself wincing at some of the questions his friends asked. He hurried with breakfast, but his guest was still sporting a fierce blush when he returned to the table. The Hunter glared accusingly at him, no doubt blaming the warlock for leaving him alone at the mercy of his two strange colleagues.
 
The warlock silently proffered a bowl of warm oatmeal, Ryoma accepting it without even a word of thanks. He turned to his friends next. “What is your opinion?”
 
"He's certainly bewitched, I think, but not in the way either of you think,” Fuji remarked mildly.
 
“Fuji. Be serious.”
 
“I was being serious.”
 
“Inui?” Tezuka deferred instead.
 
“He appears to be functioning normally and answered all of our questions in an appropriate manner. There don’t appear to be any unnatural influences on his behaviour, though honestly, Tezuka, you would be the best judge of that.”
 
“And the potion?” he pressed.

"Ah yes.  The potion has certainly worn off.  The effects of that are easily measured by the dilation of the pupils in the eye."

"Potion?" Ryoma asked suspiciously.

"Yes.  It's a sort of...," here Inui coughed, and Tezuka barely restrained the urge to interrupt his friend.  But he could not continue to hide what he had done, not anymore.  To do so would only compound his transgression.  He had lied to Ryoma enough.  Sensing the unspoken permission, the potions-maker continued, "...well, it's love potion, basically.  Short-term.  Tezuka apparently put a single dose in your tea, but it would have left your system after a couple of hours."

The Hunter's eyes flashed golden, and he was standing again, breakfast forgotten.  "You DID bewitch me, I knew-"

"Calm down there, kitten," Fuji interrupted, opening his eyes and pinning the Hunter with a serene gaze that didn’t seem to even perturb the other man. He was either complete immune, or had to have nerves of steel.  "The effects were only temporary.  You can blame Tezuka for taking the initiative, but after that..."

"I'm sorry," Tezuka interjected quietly.  "It was a weakness on my part.  I could not push you away."

It was clear that Ryoma was becoming agitated and did not know what to make of the situation anymore.  "But you-"

"It was you who continued to throw yourself at him after that," Fuji intoned knowingly.

"But I-"

"Excuse me, though this might be sudden, would you mind if I inquire as to what your last name is?" Inui interrupted.
 
The young Hunter tensed unexpectedly at the left-fielded question. There was a long pause, before he muttered, “I’m not supposed to tell people my last name.”
 
“I would think that you and Tezuka are close enough that by now, surely, it would be okay,” Fuji cut in smoothly.
 
Blazing golden eyes rose to meet his. For a second, he thought the Hunter was going to refuse, but then… “Echizen. It’s Echizen Ryoma.”
 
Silence reigned at the table. 
 
Ryoma shifted uneasily, clearly not expecting that response. “What?”
 
Inui shook himself. "Well, in light of that... I would think, Tezuka, that there is absolutely no chance of either spell or potion lingering."
 
Fuji demurely clapped his hands. "Wonderful!  Isn't that good news, Tezuka, Ryoma?  Everybody's feelings are very much their own."

Tezuka did feel his spirits lift slightly, and his guilt ease some.  If there had been no bewitchment beyond Inui's potion, then that truly meant...

Ryoma, on the other hand, had gone pale, and was shaking his head in denial. “No…”
 
“Ryoma?” he ventured uncertainly.

"No… it’s not true… They’re not real. I could NEVER - I could NEVER... with a warlock!"  The Hunter suddenly whirled and ran for the door, tugging on his boots and throwing his cloak over his shoulders before plunging back out into the wintry landscape. 

"Ryoma!"

Fuji halted his chase with a hand on his arm.  "Go after him right now and he just might put a knife through you anyway.  We've given him a lot to think about.  Give him a few minutes to collect himself at least."
 
Acknowledging the logic of that sentiment, Tezuka slumped bonelessly back into his chair by the table. It wasn’t even midday and he was exhausted. His emotions had been caught in whirlwind all morning, and still hadn’t settled down. He’d barely got the Hunter back – why did he have to run off again so soon?
 
Fuji finally broke the silence. "You never told me that his eyes turn golden when he's upset."

"To be honest, I’d thought I’d just imagined it last time."

"Well, it's all the proof we need.  Couple that with the fact that his family name is Echizen…”
 
“I know.” The name Echizen was practically synonymous with magic. The most recent one in memory had been Nanjiroh Echizen - an infamous warlock capable of feats of magic that most of their kind could only dream of. The old lady often spoke of his talents and powers fondly. But he’d disappeared about fifteen years ago – some assumed that Hunters had finally felled him, others thought that he’d gone across the seas – and only his legend had lived on. Until now, anyway.
 
“Hm. The situation in this case is dire, Tezuka,” Inui observed. “You have to get him out of the Hunters.  They'll put him down if his powers start to manifest.  And there is a very high probability that they will.  He's too powerful to remain untrained, especially if he takes after his father. He'll eventually teach himself, just like you did."

Tezuka felt his heart constrict in his chest.  "You mean..."
 
“You’ll have to talk with him when he comes back,” Fuji counselled. “In which case, such a delicate conversation will probably go much easier without Inui or I. Shall we be off?”
 
The potions-maker nodded, and his friends left the house. For the first time, the stillness and silence was mildly overwhelming. It was too quiet. He shuffled about the house restlessly, routinely checking the windows for any sign of Ryoma’s return. After all, he’d come back once, hadn’t he? He was sure to eventually come again – to try and kill him, if nothing else.
 
Except that the Hunter didn’t return.
 
As the hours stretched on, and daylight gave way to darkness once more, he had to admit maybe the other man really wouldn’t. Why would he? Tezuka had lied to him, after all. He’d manipulated him for his own desires, and let a false relationship blossom that he’d always known would be doomed to failure. And now that Ryoma knew too, he had no reason to come back, save to kill him, and if he feared bewitchment, would he even bother turning up in person to do it himself when he could just as easily send another in his place? He’d likely never see the other man again.
 
The thought hurt, but he’d contended with it once before. He could get over his heartache again.
 
When the sun rose the next morning and he’d slept less than three hours, he was a little less convinced.
 
The next couple of days passed in something of a daze for Tezuka, which was supremely depressing as it felt like he’d barely just pulled himself out of such a state before the Hunter had unexpectedly turned up on his doorstep again. His work was riddled with mistakes, he broke two plates, and his heart thudded in his chest every time there was a sound at the door. The disappointment when it turned out to be Fuji or Inui every time almost made him physically ill. His friends grew worried – whether for him or Ryoma he could not tell – but there was little he could do about the situation. He didn’t know where the Hunter might go, or where he could seek him out. There were a few times where he’d almost asked Inui to perform a divination in desperation - yet he stopped himself. After all, he didn’t have the right. Not after everything he’d done. It was a small miracle Ryoma hadn’t reported him to the Hunters the first time, much less the second – as it was he spent several hours of each day considering moving again. After the fourth day had passed uninterrupted by anyone save his friends, though, Tezuka conceded that it appeared that Ryoma at least did not want him dead. 
 
The more cynical part of him wondered if living with his guilt and heartache was the greater punishment.
 
Inui came around in the morning again that day – it had been Fuji who had dropped by last time. “Tezuka. You look tired. Have you been sleeping?”
 
“A full eight hours last night,” he reported truthfully. He still felt tired, though – no doubt because of the sleeplessness the nights previous. The emotional turmoil of the week so far had left him drained. Somehow it had been crueller to have been granted that hope just after he had accepted there was none, only to have it snatched away from him again almost immediately. “You’re here early today.”
 
“There was a fire in town yesterday,” Inui reported. “The bazaar still reeks of smoke. So I figured I might as well come here for some fresh air instead.”
 
Tezuka paused, concerned. “Was it Kawamura?”
 
“Of course not. Do you think anyone’s foolish enough to leave a staff lying around for Taka to pick up?”
 
“Then…”
 
“Likely just ruffians. No witch or warlock is stupid or rash enough to set fire to a whole street like that. In any case, it was snowing, so the damage will only be superficial. Or so I heard. Anyhow, I was wondering if you’d finished the latest transcripts?”
 
“Yes. Just a moment.” He retrieved a rather messy bundle of papers, and handed them over to the potions-maker with a sigh. It had taken him longer than usual, but at least this one was free of mistakes.
 
Inui, for his part, just adjusted his glasses and accepted the disorganized mess quietly. “I take it you still haven’t heard from him, then?”
 
The warlock shook his head wordlessly.
 
“Right. Well, we can only be patient. Unless you have something I could use to perform a divination-”
 
“It is probably best this way,” Tezuka interrupted quietly.
 
“….If you say so. I’ll not keep you, then.”
 
It seemed odd that his colleague would leave again so soon after arriving, but then, he admitted that he was not quite his usual self, which was probably unnerving the other warlock.
 
Not long after the potions-maker had left, he fetched his cloak and left the house for the first time that week. 
 
It had just been an idle thought. Normally disasters really were just unfortunate coincidences, rather works of evil magic as people seemed to want to believe. Witches and warlocks largely preferred not to draw attention to themselves after all, and there were only a scant few who grew both powerful enough and delusional enough to actually start causing intentional harm.
 
All Tezuka could see in his mind’s eye, however, was a small candle flame flickering in a room with no breeze.

What if Ryoma hadn't returned not because he didn't want to, but instead because he couldn't?
 

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
roseofthine
Jan. 12th, 2008 07:24 am (UTC)
*____________*

"It was a weakness on my part. I could not push you away."

dsj;lfksdj;lfksd

"No… it’s not true… They’re not real. I could NEVER - I could NEVER... with a warlock!" The Hunter suddenly whirled and ran for the door, tugging on his boots and throwing his cloak over his shoulders before plunging back out into the wintry landscape.

Ryouma. My god. Perfect.

SIN. This is one of the best presents ever. ♥!

(I am still in lust with that gorgeous matchmaker!air conditioning drabble of yours, though. =D HOW DO YOU DO THIS.)

How can you do this to meee? ;~~~~~; WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD. ;~~~~~~~~;

And oh my god last line. ;~~~~~~~~;

How had he managed to walk away from those eyes?

*________________*

you still have lots more to work on.

WIN.
sinnatious
Jan. 12th, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)
Heee, happy birthday. :) Go overdose on TezRyo!
roseofthine
Jan. 12th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
*_________*

THANK YOU SO MUCH. <3333333333333333
faire_estela
Jan. 12th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
Yes! Yes! Tezuka, beautiful Tezuka, go to Echizen's rescue, you know the other Hunters have him! Get him back, return to your old cottage with him, and teach him about being a warlock and...!

*___*

Poor Echizen, though. He feels so confused in this chapter, so frustrated - and Fuji (love love love) and Inui do nothing to alleviate his discomfort. Poor kid.

Oh, how I love this story! =D=D
sinnatious
Jan. 12th, 2008 12:17 pm (UTC)
Get him back and 'teach him about how to a pillar', right? ^________^

Thanks! Hopefully the last chapter does not disappoint.
faire_estela
Jan. 12th, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)
Well, for example. =D=D

Oh, I bet it won't. Does it have a happy ending? Nah, don't tell me. (But I hope it does =D)
kaorismash
Jan. 12th, 2008 12:42 pm (UTC)
You know, I've been sitting here wondering what I could possibly say that I haven't already, or that you'd already know.

But man the elation I got when Tezuka had to reprimand Ryoma from killing his friends. *_*

And just. Sin. Siiiiiiiiiiiiin. *_* What can I say, really, what can I saaaay. fdjhgadkfhadfh

To the rescuuuue.

Man more coherent later. D:
roseofthine
Jan. 12th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
I AGREE. =D
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )