This is a preview of a story that I'm sending in to Tokyopop. I've been looking for a manga artist who might be interested in working on the storyline, if anyone would like to.

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"What's that?"

Rotsu yawned and turned his head to the side to look where Noruki's finger pointed, toward the fence a few yards to the left, where the small creature sat preening its feathers.

"That's a blackbird," Rotsu explained patiently, and watched Noruki sit silently for a moment as he processed the information. He seemed content with the explanation, and the two sat silently for a time in the sun. It was a lovely evening, the sun not quite yet sinking, but the light turning the golden honey color of sunset and bathing the area thickly in it, making the tar in the street, melted from the heat of the day, glow like liquid gold. The sun cast a yellowish light over Noruki's snow-white hair, making him look, for a moment, almost normal. And then a flash of light caught his crimson eyes, and the brief illusion was broken.

"I like his feathers," Noruki said calmly after a time. Rotsu smiled, caught up for a moment in his innocence, before turning his attention back to the street. Several schoolchildren on bicycles rode by, giggling, and scared up a cloud of pigeons that Noruki watched in fascination as they flew up over the trees on the other side of the fence and disappeared.

"Me too." Rotsu stretched out on the hood of the car, flexing his sore muscles and cracking his spine. It had been an uneventful hour that they had spent on the car's hood, watching the world exist around them, and he had moved very little since they had sat down.

"It's going to rain," Noruki said softly. Rotsu turned to look at him. His bright ruby eyes were turned upward toward the cloudless sky, a powder-blue expanse of atmosphere above them.

"Do you really think so?" slightly amused, he grinned at his companion as he watched the sky. The white-haired boy nodded solemnly, not taking his eyes from the azure sheet above them.

A passing car startled both of them out of their silent thoughts. The spell of the lovely afternoon with Noruki. He chanced a look at his watch, and nearly fell off the hood. 7:00. He'd promised to be home by 5:00. Jumping up, he turned to a confused Noruki.

"I'm a little late at getting home, so I should go. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" he asked, already backing up so he could make a run for it and possibly be home in less than fifteen minutes. Noruki smiled and nodded, sliding off of the car's hood.

"Are you sure Tachi won't mind us leaving the car here?"

"Sure, he won't mind. It's locked, anyway. Bye!" and with that, the spun around and rushed for home. Mom was going to be furious. There had been times when he was ten minutes late, and her reaction had still been pursed lips and a shaking head and he rushed in for a cold dinner with her and his squabbling little brothers. Rotsu had never met his father, had never seen a picture of him, but over those years of dinners where the only man in the house was his older brother, Ichki, their father's presence seemed almost physical. He wasn't dead, but Rotsu liked to think he was somehow there, anyway. It made the whole affair more peaceful, and it was reassuring to pretend he was there. Their mother never spoke of him.

He was nearly home, and as Rotsu rounded the corner, he turned over excuses for why he was late in his mind. 'Watch was broken'… 'Watch was upside down and I thought it was 1:00'… a list of endless and stupid possibilities rushed through his mind as he reached in the opening in the tall hedges that surrounded their property and stopped dead in his tracks.

Where his home usually stood, there was nothing but a black, smoldering ruin. A huge mound of charred black rubble, scattered over the yard by what looked like the force of an explosion. The swing set was a twisted carcass, partially wound around a tree, and his mother's gardening hoe lay near him, its handle partially blackened. Moving slowly as if speed would somehow jar reality and make the situation even worse, Rotsu walked up the path toward where the front door had once stood, where a group of policemen stood, hands behind their backs, engaged in conversation. He could barely comprehend the situation, much less react to it, and his shaky legs were numb as he reached them.

"Excuse me…" he began.

"There was an explosion here earlier, kid. You can't be here," one of the grave policemen informed him.

"I live here," he told them. "What… what happened?"

"Nobody's sure," the other policeman answered him. He twisted his cap in his hands nervously. "It happened about half and hour ago."

"My family. Are they…"

The first policeman shook his head. "I'm sorry, kid. Nobody got out of that house."

It was then that reality set in. Rotsu felt it hit him in the gut, heavy and painful, like a sack full of stones. And before he knew what he was doing, he was running. The force of his feet pounding the pavement almost hurt, but he ran faster, until his lungs burned and his eyes stung. And before he could even remember running for long, he was pounding on the door, collapsing into Noruki's arms, and letting the sobs come, shaking he entire body as the shock wore away and the bare, raw grief gnawed into him to fill the spaces it left.

Noruki held him carefully, stroking his hair and whispering things that made no sense to Rotsu as he wept. Words didn't matter anymore. Nothing did. All that mattered were those tears that gave him release from the new and jagged wounds. Noruki held him tighter as he cried. At home and not bothering to keep up his disguise, Noruki's wings branched out from his back, their soft black feathers brushing Rotsu's hands as he clung to the white-haired boy desperately, trying to keep from slipping into the pain and drowning.

"It's alright, Rotsu," his gentle voice was soft in his ear, and he stroked his back like a mother would have done. "It's alright. It's all going to be okay."

And trapped in that solid vortex of misery, Rotsu wanted, more than anything in the world, to find the strength to believe him.