“Did you know?”
During the change of summer to autumn, insects always sang loudest at night, in an unseen chorus that went without pause until the night deepened to its fullest. For a few hours the world held its breath and even the distant lights of the city seemed muted and not quite real.
In the summer, when the nights were warm upon hot, he would sleep as long as possible, and the same for winter. During the times of transition, though, he would sit in the window of his room and watch as the moon traveled across the sky, Tsukiyomi and his rabbit forever following in Amaterasu’s burning footsteps. If the rest of the world was profoundly changed, at least the sky was unchanging, even from his faded memories.
“Did you know?” Smoke exhales with the breath of those words. “They say that tengu were originally the children of Susano’o, and that is why they are so vengeful and proud.”
He can hear the insects beginning to fall silent, like a cloth is being dropped over them to muffle the sound. The moon is full tonight, so that the shadows are blue-edged and soft and strange, and the emptying branches of the trees become a lantern-cage. If he spread his wings now, he knows, he could be miles away before sunrise. The updrafts of a city were different from those of a forest, but they are the same spiraling winds, caught in his feathers and lifting him higher.
There have been many times he’s been tempted by the horizon, drawn by the recollection of always moving. At the same time, the furthest he has ever managed is his toes at the edge of the porch, wings spread and arched, ready to take his weight. And then he hears Youko coming down the stairs to make breakfast, and he’ll withdraw, letting her pass by without noticing him and going back to his own room to sleep.
“The white snake is a servant of the Dragon King, but the tengu is a child of storms and lightning. What do you think of that? Haruka?”
Maybe it’s only a trick of the light, so he sees that smiling face from the corner of one eye; his idiot master tends to glow in the moonlight, pale as a ghost — sometimes Haruka thinks he’ll look down and see the other man’s legs have vanished into tapering mist. But of course there is no one there, so even when he turns his head just a little to be certain, he’s alone in his room as the insects outside fall silent.
And the next morning, Kantarou is at breakfast, sleepy and just-out of bed, first squinting at Haruka like a stranger before smiling. The pipe, if it makes an appearance, won’t be till the evening, after dinner, when Kantarou sits on the porch and talks amiably with the youkai that drift through their backyard on any given evening.
But after that, when the lights are out and the others have already gone to bed, he sits on the window sill and listens to the impression of Kantarou tell him things that — he didn’t already know, necessarily, but he’s already internalized — it’s knowledge that’s been written into the knit and fiber of him since his birth. He has never concerned himself with gods; that’s always been Sugino’s thing more than his own, but …
Lightning storms make the skin between his shoulder blades itch, like his wings want to break free and his fangs prod the inside of his lower lip so that if he’s not careful they cut and bleed. Rain makes him restless, so that even when he sleeps, his dreams are full of endless flight.
“But the Emperor of old was the descendant of Amaterasu, whose great-grandfather chose the brief life of flowers over the steadfastness of rock. We don’t have eternity, only prosperity. Did you know, Haruka?”
“Don’t you ever shut up?” he asks finally, as the autumn moon vanishes behind a veil of clouds, and the shape that’s not really beside him looks almost real. Earlier in the day people were burning leaves, and there’s still enough smoke left in the air to provide the illusion of a lit pipe. “You always say the same thing.”
The apparition just smiles. “Did you know?”
“You’re annoying,” Haruka says. The clouds are slowly moving, and the moon is beginning to reappear. “Do you have to harass me even when you’re asleep?”
“Did you know?” The smoke that trails from the pipestem reaches out, trailing ghostly fingers towards Haruka, too sweet and immediate to be any sort of memory. “Did you?”
Haruka turns just as the cloud cover is completely removed, and for just a moment he sees the shape — Kantarou-but-not, dressed in elaborate haori and jo-e, one knee hitched onto the sill and his feet bare, transparent as the smoke. His bright eyes are knowing, as is his little smile. Looped around his wrist are the beads of his rosary, which he rubs slowly between forefinger and thumb.
“Did you know?” he asks again, and vanishes.
There is a moment of silence, and then Haruka leans forward, placing his palm against the sill. It is cool to the touch.
He sits back and looks at his hand, then at the doorway. After a moment he gets up and walks from his room.
Kantarou sleeps on his side, curled around a second pillow, with the blankets bunched up at his back. In spite of the chill in the autumn air, he doesn’t seem particularly cold. The way he lies exposes enough leg to be scandalous in a woman and enough thigh to be unexpected for a man. He doesn’t stir when Haruka’s shadow falls across him, though whether it’s trust or careless idiocy, Haruka himself cannot say.
He puts a hand on Kantarou’s thin shoulder. Kantarou rolls over and opens his eyes, and unlike the illusion, they’re bleached black by the moonlight. He doesn’t seem terribly concerned, though, smiling fuzzily up. “Haruka,” he says. “Haruka, I–”
“Idiot,” says Haruka. “I know. You didn’t have to keep harassing me.”
“Ehh, I didn’t really do–”
Haruka closes his hand into a fist on the front of Kantarou’s thin yukata and he pulls the other man up into a seated position. “Really,” he says. “You’re so irritating all the time.”
Haruka doesn’t kiss him so much as bite his mouth, ignores the sleepy noise of protest, ignores the fluttery hands that try to push at his shoulders, ignores everything until Kantarou leans back into him and makes it gentle, tempers it until it breaks of its own accord. The moon makes his flush look like bruises across his face.
“Oh,” he says. “Haruka?”
“I know.” Haruka’s hand rests at his throat, feeling the pulse through the fragile skin there, and how it shifts when Kantarou breathes. “I know.”
“Um, Haruka.” Kantarou tilts his head — he doesn’t try to get away from the tightened pressure around his neck. “What do you know?”
He might be lying — Kantarou has always been good at lying — but his expression is guileless, wide-eyed and curious. Haruka stares at him and then pushes him back, keeping both of Kantarou’s skinny wrists pressed down. He knows most of his idiot master’s tricks, but Kantarou just blinks at him, unalarmed, unphased, mildly curious.
“What do you know?” he asks. “Haruka?”
“I just know,” Haruka says, and he leans down.
The next morning Youko opens the door to call Kantarou to breakfast, shrieks once and slams the door shut.
“Nnnnaaaaaa,” Kantarou groans, covering his eyes with one arm. “Youko-channn, you can’t tell me you haven’t seen this sort of thing before.”
“GET YOUR CLOTHES ON,” she yells through the door. “KAN-CHAN, HARUKA-CHAN, HAVE SOME DECENCY.”
“It’s your fault for not knocking,” Kantarou whines, and rolls onto his stomach with a wince. “Ueeee, I’m sore …”
“I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT.”
“Ehh, but it’s Haruka’s fault, Youko-chan, I– ow!”
Haruka removes his fist from the top of Kantarou’s head after a moment and rolls over, stealing blankets as he goes. “Shut up. I’m trying to sleep.”
“Harukaaaaaa! You could take some responsibility for this, you know!”
Haruka says nothing, keeping his eyes firmly closed. He listens as Kantarou shuffles for a new yukata — not the torn one from the night before — and how he opens the door and tries to soothe Youko as she berates him for not even having the decency to COVER himself because she’s a YOUNG INNOCENT GIRL who didn’t need to see her friends LIKE THAT, EVER as their voices trail off for the stairs, and then down them to the kitchen.
Left alone in Kantarou’s room with the sunlight pouring in through the blinds, Haruka smiles.