I cheated. I left out Akabane, the philisophical discussion is both short and not really about philosophy, and it's not really one fic, but a set of six linked double-drabbles.
ROUND ONE: INSIDE
1. Cat's Cradle
Kazuki remebers it very well, because it was something he had thought forgotten. But it happened one day that he and Makubex were sitting together, and Makubex looked at him and asked, "What's that?"
It was several moments before Kazuki realized what the boy meant - he had, quite unconciously, woven a jacob's-ladder. An old habit, one he had thought long gone, but his hands remembered and the strings remembered, and was it really a suprise, here where he was, at least for a while, safe? "A string figure. Jacob's ladder," he told Makubex. "I can show you how, if you like."
And the boy's eyes lit up. "Would you?"
His small hands, so swift across a keyboard, were just as fast twining the loop of thread into position, and his face wore the same expression of distant concentration. But when Makubex had finished, it wore his best, brightest smile, the same one he put on for Raitei.
Kazuki showed him how to play the game, too, and for a while the string flickered between both their hands, moving almost too fast to be seen. Kazuki thought of his mother, and his own small hands lifting the string from hers.
2. The Soldier's Bed
Makubex tried never to show his age. He would not play with children, even though Ginji did. He would not play at all. Jacob's ladder, he told himself, was meditation, something for his hands to do while his mind worked. He had learned with Kazuki's slippery threads, but he found a ball of twine and cut a length from it, tied it into a loop, kept it in his pocket all the time.
When Ginji left, he knew it was a symbol. The world in his hands.
One night when he could not fall asleep he found himself making the cat's-cradle instead, but Kazuki was not there
to take it from his hands. He stared at it, unable to think what to do next. Drop the figure? But it wasn't done. It was a game. It was never done. After a round it began to repeat, and it could repeat forever.
When he looked up Sakura was standing at the door. She didn't say anything, only knelt next to him and lifted the string from his hands, held out the next figure with a smile.
You're not alone.
Makubex always slept alone, so no one could see him afraid.
Juubei kept his hand on Sakura's knee as they waited. It was comforting to know they were together, even here in the dark.
"This is our land", she whispered. "If those above will not grant it to us, we will take it. We will not be cheated." Her fingers twisted, formed the shape of a jacob's-ladder, a transperent web between hands as pale as death. Her voice is the voice of a prophet, a burning flame. Restlessly, she dropped the string, remade it.
Juubei lifted the string from her hands, passed it back. "We'll be together," she said, and he nodded.
They did this when they were children together. Sakura thought of Makubex, his small soft hands, his eyes full of despair. She had dreamed of a light in the sky, a burning wheel and the wings of broken angels. She wondered whose dreams they were.
But her brother was beside her. There were so many others, who have listened to the same voice, seen the same light. They are in the middle of a great darkness, she thought, but soon enough the darkness will be erased forever.
Until then, the light in the prophet's eyes will have to suffice.
ROUND TWO: OUTSIDE
4. The Manger
Ginji was full of childish delight. Juubei could no longer see his smile, but he could hear the wonder in Ginji's voice when Juubei showed him the jacob's-ladder. It was harder to play the game without seeing the hands of the other player, but Juubei didn't mind.
"It's fun," Ginji said. "How come you never showed me this before?"
Juubei could not help but smile at this - this boy, who was once the king of kings. "It was different in the Infinite Castle. You were above us then."
"Yeah," Ginji said. "But you were like family to me. I loved you. I didn't want to be above you."
And that was why you left. Sakura would have kept silent, but Juubei is not Sakura. "Is it better outside? Nobody out here looks up to you. There's no order."
Ginji was quiet for a bit, unusually serious. "Yeah," he said at length. "It's better. Some of you - worshipped me. And some people hated me, and were frightened. But they still bowed down. Out here I'm just me."
"It's no bad thing to serve someone out of love."
"Maybe. But out of fear it is." Ginji was firm. "It never works, not really."
Emishi's expression of dismay when he got the pickup wrong and the string dissoled into a tangled mess was really quite precious. Ginji giggled helplessly and began to unwind it for him. "It's not difficult, really," he promised. "Juubei taught me. It's lots of fun."
"Whatever you say, Ginji-han." Emishi scowled and watched Ginji. "I'll get it sooner or later. I shall not be defeated by a mere piece of twine!" Ginji giggled again, then worked the string back into the opening figure, hands moving with the ease of long practice.
They'd been playing half the afternoon. Once they could never have spared the time. It feels good, to be able to spend it casually.
"Seeeee? Wasn't that easy?" Ginji smiled as he let slip the string, a full round completed. "Here, I'll show you Jacob's Ladder next. It only takes one person to do that one."
Once his initial clumsiness wore off, Emishi was a quick study.
"I'm amazed you know all this," he told Ginji. "A vast treasury of nearly useless information. Poor humourless Jubei. I'm amazed he knew something that doesn't relate to poking holes in people."
"I think it's worth something," Ginji said. "For friendship's sake."
6. The Cat's Eye
It surprised Emishi that Kazuki had even showed up, much less taken the invitation at its word. He arrived in a cat-eared headband, whiskers drawn across his face, with suprising dignity.
"Welcome to the Honky Tonk Halloween Costume Party," Emishi told Kazuki. "Unfortunately, you're the only one who showed up." Kazuki laughed.
Emishi nearly fell off his heels. He knew the flapper outfit was a bad idea. "Actually, Paul's here," he hastily went on. "And twelve people said they'd come - the evening might warm up."
"I can wait," said Kazuki graciously, leaning languidly against the wall. He tugged at the bell in his hair, producing a loop of string.
"Hey," Emishi said a bit later. "Ginji was showing me how to do that. Jacob's Ladder?"
"Indeed. And Juubei taught him." Kazuki's smile was inscrutable as he produced the Cat's Cradle. Emishi took it more or less automatically.
"You were listening, weren't you?"
"Well, yes." Kazuki looked pleased. "You don't mind, do you? I like to know you're happy."
Without even looking, they had finished a round. Emishi looked down at the string, up at Kazuki's beautiful face. "I think," he said, "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."