Youko is the one who tells Haruka about the scar on Kantarou’s chest. It’s late and they’re both a little drunk; Kantarou has already fallen asleep, slumped against Haruka’s shoulder and snoring gently.
She pours herself a fresh cup of sake and blinks owlishly at the two of them. “You know,” she says, “ever since you came to us, Haruka-chan, Kan-chan’s been a lot more careful about his side business.”
Haruka blinks back at her. Kantarou is a warm and heavy weight against him, and the pressure makes his arm tingle a little. “Careful?”
Youko nods, then stops, looking dizzy. “Kan-chan doesn’t like to stop and think things through,” she says, and reaches out to tug at some of Kantarou’s hair, which makes him whine and swat clumsily at her in his sleep. “Ah, he nearly gave me a heart attack when he came home bleeding and torn up.”
“Bleeding?” This catches his interest, and he straightens a little. Kantarou slumps a little more, so that he’s leaning more against Haruka’s chest than his shoulder now. Haruka looks down at him, squinting to try and focus. “Kantarou?”
“Not *now*, dummy,” Youko says, with a little hitching giggle in her voice. “When he got the scar, right here.” She flattens her palm against her own chest, in roughly the correct place. “He was chasing after you when he got it, you know. What he thought was you. Something like that.”
Haruka pours himself more sake, and watches as she collects her thoughts. Her expression is pensive, almost distant.
“There was a rumor that you were sealed away in some family shrine outside of Tokyo,” Youko says at last, touching the rim of her cup to her lips without drinking. “Kan-chan went to investigate, and found a whole nest of vengeful spirits. And he was a whole lot younger than he was, so he wasn’t prepared at all.”
“And they hurt him?” Haruka shifts a little to adjust Kantarou’s weight against him. It is hard for him to imagine a younger Kantarou, maybe one a little less sly, a little more genuinely earnest about what he did.
“They hurt him,” Youko agrees softly. “I received a call from the master of the house, and all they said was that Kan-chan was in the hospital. By the time I got there, he was stabilized, but …” Her fingers tremble briefly, and the sake she’s trying to pour spills. “Ah –”
Haruka pulls out a handkerchief and offers it to her. She takes it and blots the stain on her knees. He thinks she may have exhausted all she has to tell him, but then she says, “I saw what had happened to his robes, after they’d pulled them off him. There was blood everywhere. We couldn’t get all the stains out, so he ended up having to get a new one. It was … really expensive, more than we could have afforded at the time, but …”
“But you got by,” he says. “Somehow.”
“Reiko-san helped with that,” Youko murmurs. “Kan-chan landed his first actual book deal with the publisher while he was recovering.” Her lips press together. “I don’t think they ever really healed him, either — those human doctors.”
Haruka blinks at her. “No?”
“He was cut by an oni, Haruka-chan,” she says. “That goes deeper than human medicine can reach. By the time I arrived, the curse had already set.”
Kantarou murmurs something in his sleep, and they both fall silent, watching him. He lifts a hand to rub at his eyes, which blink open for a moment, staring into space, then drift shut again.
“It’s just a little,” Youko whispers. “Just a tiny fragment of intent. By the time I noticed it, it was a part of Kan-chan.”
Haruka’s brow furrows. “Kantarou has part of an oni’s ill will … ?”
“Some,” Youko says, and holds up her fingers, just a pinch apart. “This much. I gave him boar’s hair and green tea, and it didn’t come out, it was that little.” She sighed. “And you know, I also hoped that if it hurt him to get near an oni, he’d remember to be a little more *careful*.”
“No.” Youko looks wry now, setting the handkerchief aside. “No, he wasn’t. Not until he met you, Haruka-chan.”
Haruka frowns at her, at the man sleeping on his shoulder. “That makes no sense,” he says. “If there was something he wanted to protect, why would he do stupid things that could get him killed?”
Youko looks at him thoughtfully, and shrugs. “Kan-chan has always done as he wants,” she says, which is not an answer at all. “We should get him to bed.”
“Or we could leave him out,” Haruka says, even as he slides an arm around Kantarou’s shoulders and under his knees, lifting. “Serves him right, getting drunk and sleeping on people like that.”
“Be nice, Haruka-chan.” Youko grins, though, as she leads the way to Kantarou’s bedroom. “You don’t know what he might do in retaliation.”
Haruka glances down at the man in his arms. Kantarou is drooling a little in his sleep, even, though he’s smiling, like his dreams are nice. “… You’re probably right.”
“I’ve lived with Kan-chan longer. Of course I’m right.” Youko opens the screen and gestures Haruka inside. “And Haruka-chan?”
He pauses in the act of laying Kantarou down onto the futon. “Yes?”
“Kan-chan stopped doing reckless things when he met you,” she says. “I think it’s because he found what he really wanted to protect.”
She closes the screen and pads off before he can say a word.