Sugino claimed that meeting Muu-chan was enough to make him throw away something as ultimately unnecessary as the tengu rice bowl. Kantarou’s hypothesis later was that instead of the actual rice bowl itself, Sugino had latched onto Muu-chan as a surrogate. It would, he thought, explain the excessive jealousy. Even a lovelove married couple’s bond wasn’t that possessive. (He thought, at any rate.)
“Do you think it’s possible?” he asked Haruka later. “To transfer that sort of attention to something else?”
Haruka looked at him, and then at the chipped, cracked rice bowl in his hands. “People are people,” he said, “and lives are lives. But a rice bowl is a rice bowl.”
“Haruka, that doesn’t really answer the question –”
“Really? I thought it made perfect sense.” Haruka blinked. “What’s so important about it anyway?”
“Because!” Kantarou dragged out every syllable. “You and Sugino-sama are the only two tengu I know, and I’m curious on whether or not it’s possible to transfer a tengu’s affection from that one bowl or cup to a living thing.”
Haruka blinked at him. “You …” he said. “Are you feeling all right? You’re actually sounding like a regular folklorist for once.”
Kantarou pouted, his brow furrowing. “Haruka!”
In response to his warning tone, Haruka shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never felt that way for any living thing I’ve met.”
“Oh.” Kantarou sat back a little, frowning; he seemed to be genuinely considering his options. “Maybe if we go about it the opposite way? Haruka, is there anyone whom you hated enough to transfer your obsession?”
“That’s rude, calling it an obsession.” Haruka glared at him over the bowl’s rim.
“Come on, just answer the question!”
“… No. Not that I can remember.” Haruka tipped his head back with a sigh. “Maybe the person who sealed me. I don’t know.”
Kantarou froze for a moment, then looked down. “Oh,” he murmured. “Is that so.”
Haruka watched him for a moment, and when he was sure Kantarou wasn’t about to spring back with some other kind of silly joke or theory, he reached out and scuffled Kantarou’s hair, just a little.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “There are still others of our kind around. Knowing you, you’ll probably meet them someday, and continue your theorizing.”
Kantarou looked surprised, even as he automatically reached to straighten his hair. “Haruka …” After a moment, he shook off the strange mood and nodded, smiling. “Yes, you’re probably right. Thank you, Haruka.”
“I didn’t do anything.” He snagged the last grain of rice out of his bowl and then laid it on the table, clapping his hands. “Thanks for the food.”
As he got up and walked away, he paused long enough to glance back. Kantarou had picked up his rice bowl, and was turning it over with careful fingers. Given the way Kantarou tended to throw around or abuse his rice bowl, Haruka began to tense.
Kantarou glanced over at him, catching his glance, and gave him an enigmatic smile before setting the bowl down and walking away in the opposite direction.
Sugino thought Muu-chan was enough to represent his discarded rice bowl. Maybe there were others who felt the same way about some special person, scattered across Japan. Haruka personally didn’t understand that kind of fixation on a fragile living thing, which could break as easily as porcelain, and was not so easily put back together. Youkai or human, anyone a tengu encountered tended to fall apart.
Haruka didn’t believe it was possible, no matter how much Sugino whined and wailed about Muu-chan’s lax affections, or how jealously he challenged Kantarou for them.
But for just a moment, he thought maybe he could imagine.