HaruKan 20 :: 19. chouchou [butterflies]

They bury him in a haori with a butterfly print, over the traditional white clothes of the dead; it is new and expensive, and Youko’s hands shake as she wraps it around him. She weeps very quietly, very neatly, without flash and flair, and Haruka thinks that Kantarou would like a bigger display than that — women tearing their hair and beating their breasts, mourning the world’s loss of him.

But that wasn’t really true either: Kantarou had always understood the importance of emotion, and Youko’s tears were nothing but genuine. Haruka thinks about crying, because that seemed to be the proper way to show grief, but even at the funeral, watching the casket lowered into the ground, he cannot feel anything but a certain resigned numbness.

This is not how things should end, he thinks. An era should not pass in silence broken by the hissing crunch of a shovel through dirt and the sound of a single woman crying. There should be sound, and fury, the earth closing shut to reject this body. Other youkai gather on the edges of the graveyard, watching from a distance, and there were *so many of them.

It surprised him, though perhaps it should not have.

When the earth is all in place, Rosalie comes forward and curtsies low, and she puts a bouquet on the grave — red and white roses, and surely Kantarou would be able to give a lecture on how these were completely inappropriate as funeral flowers, the language was all wrong, and the colors —

But Kantarou is separated from the flowers by six feet of earth and remains silent on the subject. Haruka stares at those flowers and thinks: I am still Haruka. Even with the contract broken, I am still Haruka.

“Ah, Oni-Eater.” There are footsteps behind him, and the other man makes no attempt to hide his presence. “Are you still waiting here? He won’t be coming back.”

“I’ll kill you,” he says, but it’s not a threat or anything with heat — it’s just a statement. Don’t come here; don’t try to pretend what a loss it was, don’t-don’t-don’t —

Minamoto Raikou puts a bouquet down of his own, and Haruka watches him from the corner of one eye. Age wears well on his face, almost as well as it did for Kantarou, and there is no stiffness or discomfort in his straight military posture. Minamoto touches two fingers to the brim of his hat, a brief salute, and looks at Haruka.

“We could fight right now,” he says. “And settle this finally.”

“I’ll kill you,” Haruka says again, very mild.

“Perhaps.” Minamoto shrugs a little. “Or maybe I’ll kill you. Would you like that, Oni-Eater? You could see Ichinomiya-sensei again.”

On Haruka’s wrist, the bells chime faintly. For a moment Minamoto looks shocked. Then he laughs, shaking his head, and there is something almost *fond* in his eyes as he looks at Haruka.

“Ah,” he says, “but once named, a youkai is always named, isn’t he. You’re not the Oni-Eater.”

“I am myself,” Haruka says. “Even if that’s not who I was long ago.”

“I see,” Minamoto says, then sighs. “Ah, it seems that he won after all.”

Haruka doesn’t ask, but Minamoto says anyway, “Ichinomiya. He’s the one who conquered you, so even when he’s dead you can’t help but obey his wishes.” He shifts, and Haruka sees that he has not brought his sword. Something almost like pity is in his eyes now, and it burns Haruka, leaves a bitter taste in his throat worse than any defeat.

“Humans and youkai aren’t meant to ever come together like you and Ichinomiya did,” he said. “Perhaps the best way to kill a youkai isn’t by violence, but through misplaced kindness.” He touches his hat again, this time in salute to Haruka, and walks past him without another word; the silence in his wake feels as though he’s left the ghosts of the past few decades behind.

A cold wind picks up, and the bells chime on his wrist again; Haruka covers them with his free hand. White and red flutters at the corner of his vision, but when he looks, all he sees are the flowers Rosalie left, half under the the ones Minamoto left, and those are likely appropriate flowers; the Minamoto family, even in this slowly-changing age, is very aware of traditions.

Overhead, the autumn leaves tossed on the wind flutter like butterflies before they fall again to earth.

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