a thread through spring

Humans are not difficult to understand: they have their desires and their demands, and where they lack the strength to see their wants through they make up for it in stubborn persistence.

Or at the very least, intense whining.

“Tell her I’m not here,” Kantarou begs, clinging to Youko’s sleeve. “I’m somewhere else! I’m sick! I’m not here, Youko-channn~”

“Take more responsibility,” Youko scolds. “You had plenty of time to finish that article, you just wasted it by playing around–”

“Ehhh, Youko-chan! Unkind, unkind!”

Haruka sticks his pinky finger into his ear and swivels it. The constant arguing took getting used to, especially when he’d grown accustomed to the unchanging silence of his stone prison, but he’d adapted, and learned to tune it out. Even when Kantarou wails Harukaaaa! and flings himself at Haruka like he expects to be caught, that’s easy to ignore.

It is Kantarou’s silences that are troublesome; the sheer lack of background babble rang louder than anything else. Kantarou being obnoxious and petty is irritating but tolerable — Kantarou withdrawn and silent stuck like hooks under Haruka’s skin, so that the harder he pulled, the more tenaciously they clung.

“Harukaaa,” Kantarou burbles, and tugs at Haruka’s arm; he’s wrapped himself around it, almost deadweight. “Haruka, you wouldn’t abandon your poor master in his time of need, right? You’ll save me from mean Youko-chan–”

“I’m mean!” Youko cried in exasperation, waving a wooden spoon. “Fine for you to say that, you irresponsible man! If not for me, we probably wouldn’t still be in this house!”

Kantarou glances over his shoulder and sticks his tongue out. “Behhhh,” he says. “Youko-chan’s mean! But Haruka’s on my side, right, Haruka?”

Haruka looks down at him with some bemusement. “I’m not interested in starving to death,” he says. “Youko’s got a good head on her shoulders, and at least she works hard for the house.”

“Ah!” Kantarou staggers back, clutching theatrically at his chest. “Betrayed! Haruka’s so mean~” He begins to stagger around the room, and — Haruka notices, with a wry lack of surprise — towards the door, away from the fuming Youko. “I don’t know if I’ll survive this betrayal, ahh, poor me~”

Youko stiffens, pointing her spoon at Kantarou like a warrior might brandish a sword. “AH!” she cries. “You’re trying to run away!”

Kantarou drops the act and flees, laughing, and Youko’s close behind, ranting top speed. They’re unusually energetic today, and it makes Haruka a little tired just watching them; he yawns and reclines back, eyes slitting shut against the warmth of the sun. The article’s not a huge priority yet; they’re still living off the payment from Kantarou’s last exorcism, and stretched with Youko’s salary, it’ll at least get them through the next month, and maybe the one after it if they’re careful. It’s more the principle of the thing, since Kantarou has been promising Youko he’d work this entire week without anything to show for it.

Even if he complains and procrastinates, Kantarou is good about pulling through — they’ve never actually gone hungry, though they’ve skimped on luxuries (tea, tobacco for Kantarou’s pipe, the glass pieces Haruka keeps in his room) several times. It’s irritating, but Haruka remembers surviving on much less: the sour taste of an oni’s blood, the mean and meager “heart,” and the cold wind in his wings when he slept. If it were just himself and Youko, he thinks they could live peacefully.

“AHHH! Youko-chan, my notebooks! Anything but those–”

“Use them to do your proper work instead of drawing in the margins! You careless master!”

“Youko-chan, give, give!”

Haruka snorts. But it’s Kantarou’s house in the end, his orders and his names and his petty demands for things to go his way, and Haruka’s life isn’t very peaceful at all, even though he hasn’t had a decent fight in months. When he’d rather just sleep and let the day pass comfortably, what he gets instead is an insistent whine in his ear, Haruka, Haruka, it’s past noon, why are you still asleep! Let’s go for a walk, come on, Harukaaaa!

It’s irritating. It’s worse, though, that he minds less than he should.

Once upon a time, he knows, he killed idiots for insults less than interrupting a nap. Once upon a time, he killed any oni that crossed his path, whether they were hostile or not, and lived solely upon their hearts and their black blood.

Haruka curls his fingers, flexing; they become talons easily enough. Kantarou’s orders only extend for so long; there would be nothing to keep him from killing the next youkai they counter, just–

“Haruka!” Kantarou says.

He looks up. “Weren’t you running for your life?”

“Eheheh.” Kantarou beams and sits down, uninvited, next to Haruka. “I talked her out of her murderous rage! I’m pretty good at convincing youkai to see my point of view.” He pulls his pipe from his sleeve and glances sidelong at Haruka as he lights it. “Don’t you think?”

Haruka snorts. “Don’t lump me in with the rest of those idiots,” he says. “I just listen to you because I have to.”

Kantarou laughs and says, “But Haruka still listens, doesn’t he?”

“I just told you to not include me–”

“I’m glad,” Kantarou interrupts. He exhales a thin white plume of smoke, which forms a faint wreath around his head, then dissipates. Something peculiar is in his smile: Haruka can almost feel it, like an extra weight on the chain that binds him to this place. “It means we’re friends, doesn’t it?”

Haruka looks at him and thinks: you call this friendship when in less than a century you’ll be moldering in your grave; you say these things like you expect any of your orders to last longer than it takes your last breath to fade. You act like you’ve the same sort of pride that makes a tengu, but only humans are that stupid.

Foolish little man (he wants to say), there’s not enough blood in your dust to make a difference.

He looks at his hand and realizes that the claws have receded; his talons are merely fingers again.

What he says instead is, “You’re always so damn loud.”

Unlike the last time he said this, Kantarou doesn’t immediately take offense; instead he laughs again. “I would think Haruka would like that,” he says. “A thousand years sealed away under a rock? I think I’d like a little noise and activity after that!”

“I’d rather sleep,” Haruka grumbles, but when Kantarou leans against him just a little, hip against his knee, he doesn’t move away. “Irritating, loud, obnoxious, selfish master–”

“Ehhhh, how mean, how mean,” Kantarou sighs. He puts a hand on Haruka’s leg. “Well, I’m glad for it, even if you’re not. I’m happy enough for the both of us!”

Haruka glances at him. Kantarou’s looking up at the sky, pipe to his lips and smiling like there’s something up there to smile back. His hand is warm on Haruka’s leg, warmer than the midday sun. And for a moment he feels that warmth all the way in the pit of his stomach, and rather than feel weighted, he feels anchored.

It passes quickly, but the warmth still remains.

Haruka snorts and closes his eyes. “Think what you want,” he says.

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