“Don’t you realize what Ichinomiya-sensei actually wants from you? Oni-Eater?”
Breakfast was a strange and uncomfortable affair, with the bad mood radiating from Haruka with a near-visible intensity. Youko attempted a few times to start a conversation, only to have it trail back off into stony black silence. Kantarou met her bewildered look with one of his own, and shrugged: don’t ask me.
Haruka finished first, not quite slamming his bowl down. He muttered something that might have been thanks, still not quite looking at either of them, and got to his feet.
“Ah, Haruka-chan! Where are you going, it’s –”
“A walk,” he said shortly, and pushed the doors open. Kantarou half-rose, opening his mouth to say something, and was cut off as Haruka’s wings unfurled, shedding feathers, and he took off. Youko scrambled over, leaning outside to peer after him.
“I wonder what’s wrong,” she mused. “Haruka-chan’s usually not so bad-tempered, even this early! Kan-chan, you two didn’t have another fight, did you?”
“No,” he said slowly, then shook his head. “No, and Youko-chan, it isn’t always my fault –”
“You never know,” she said, and closed the door against the cold air. “After all, Kan-chan, you’re always bullying him so much! Poor Haruka-chan, he puts up with so much!”
“Ehh,” Kantarou protested, pouting. “Youko-chan, that’s unkind! You shouldn’t say such things about your master!”
“I only say it because it’s true,” she said, bending to gather up the dishes. “You shouldn’t try his patience so much. Tengu are such proud creatures, and you sort of abuse his.”
“I do not,” Kantarou said. “I just want to be friends with Haruka! Youko-chan, you believe me, right?”
She paused, eyeing his wide, utterly sincere eyes. “If I say no, you’ll make me say I do,” she sighed. “And that’ll be a lie. So I won’t answer!”
He scowled. “I think that’s plenty of an answer right there –”
“–Regardless!” Youko got to her feet, balancing the plates and bowls in her arms. “Kan-chan, you should be more considerate of Haruka-chan’s feelings!”
“How come I’m the only one who gets this lecture?” Kantarou whined. “Youko-chan! He hurts my feelings too! And I didn’t even do anything this time!”
She clicked her tongue, sweeping past him and to the kitchen.
“Ehhh, Youko-chan, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Work, Kan-chan,” she called back. “If you’re going to complain about having fish for breakfast again, write something that’ll make us some more money!”
He gaped for a moment, then huffed. “Fine!” he said. “Fine, then! I’ll work hard, and I’ll show Youko-chan for making fun of me!”
“Yes, yes, Youko-chan’s heard it all before …”
Kantarou made a face at the kitchen, then hesitated before flouncing to his study. He cracked the door open and peered through; outside, snow was beginning to fall in a slow swirl, and the empty branches of the trees were stark against the slate-gray sky. There was no sign of Haruka except for a single black feather lying on the porch. For a moment he just stared at it, then knelt down and picked it up, twirling it between his fingers before gently closing the door again.
“You haven’t paid attention at all to the way he looks at you, have you? That’s not ‘admiration,’ no matter what he calls it. You know that, don’t you, Oni-Eater? He’s hungry, and maybe he’ll just take what he wants, instead of waiting for you to do it for him –”
Haruka returned sometime late in the afternoon; Kantarou heard him on the porch, and Youko scolding him — where were you, ah, you’re soaked, I’ll get you a towel — and stared down at the half-done page before him. He’d spent more time toying with the feather than actually writing, and what he had managed to get down onto paper now read more like strange gibberish to him.
Finally, Kantarou put his pen down and got to his feet, opening the door to his study and peering out.
Haruka stood on the far side of the living room, staring outside, his breath rising in small puffs of steam. For a brief, insane moment, he seemed more distant than he had in the years Kantarou had searched for him, and colder than the snow falling outside.
And then Youko came bustling back in. She yanked at his tie, absolutely familiar, until he was eye-level with her, then dropped a towel on his head and began scrubbing, scolding him the entire time. You shouldn’t run off like that, we were worried about you.
Haruka tolerated it with mostly good grace, holding in place with a faintly bemused expression. There was a slight frown between his eyebrows, like he was considering something not quite pleasant, but still necessary. Kantarou opened the door the rest of the way, and didn’t quite freeze when Haruka glanced sideways at him and something strange and subtle changed about his expression. “Ah, Haruka,” he said. “Did you enjoy your walk?”
“Mm,” said Haruka and shrugged, ignoring Youko’s squeak as she was almost dislodged. “It’s bad weather for flying.”
“It’s cold, definitely,” Kantarou said, tucking one hand into his sleeve and going over to close the outside doors completely. Haruka was eyeing him closely, like he was some strange new specimen, and it made the hairs on back of Kantarou’s neck rise in warning. He wondered, vaguely, if this was how an oni felt before the Oni-Eating Tengu fell upon it, observed and singled out, examined over for any potential weaknesses. “… Haruka?”
Without a word, Haruka looked away again, leaving Kantarou staring at him, head tilted quizzically. Youko had fallen silent as well, still working at drying Haruka’s hair until he put a hand to his head, holding the towel in place as he straightened out of her reach.
“I,” he said, rubbing his head with the towel slowly, “… am going to take a nap.”
“Eh?” Youko blinked. “Haruka-chan, are you feeling all right?”
“I’m tired,” he said, and rolled his shoulders. There was a rip in his right sleeve by the shoulder, Kantarou saw. “Let me know when dinner’s ready.”
He strode past, leaving Kantarou and Youko looking at each other again.
“There’s definitely something else,” Youko said. “Kan-chan …”
“I’ll go talk to him,” said Kantarou. “Ahah, Youko-chan, if you hear us fighting, don’t come upstairs, all right? The hallways are narrow, after all.”
“Kan-chan!” Her eyes rounded. “You don’t think Haruka-chan would actually –”
“Just in case!” he said quickly, overriding her. “I’m sure it’ll be fine! I’ll be right back …”
He took the stairs slowly, turning over potential reasons for Haruka’s mood over in his mind as he went; other than bullying Haruka for a ride back from their last job, when he’d been tired and hungry and not particularly in the mood for walking, he could think of nothing. Apprehensive, he knocked twice on Haruka’s door, then slid it open, peering inside. Haruka sat on the windowsill, one long leg dangling off, staring out at the empty sky. Slowly, as though just woken, he turned his head and blinked. “Kantarou.”
“Haruka.” Taking his name as invitation, he slipped inside and closed the door behind him again. “What’s wrong? You’ve been acting strangely all day.”
Owlish, Haruka blinked. “Kantarou,” he said.
“I mean, you’re making Youko-chan worry!” Kantarou summoned his best mock-scowl and crossed his arms. “And we’re the ones who’ll suffer for it, if Youko-chan’s upset!”
Haruka’s head tilted. “Ah.”
“Don’t just say ‘ah,'” Kantarou said. “Haruka, what’s wrong?”
“… Nothing.” Haruka turned back to the window. “It’s not your concern.”
“Of course it’s my concern!” Kantarou stomped over to the window, stopping by Haruka’s elbow. “Haruka’s my friend! If something’s bothering him, of course I’ll be worried! Come on, tell your master what’s wrong!”
Haruka snorted. “You …”
“… have really bad habits.” Haruka glanced at him sidelong again. “I told you it doesn’t concern you.”
“Ehhh, Harukaaaaa –”
“Ahh, you’re annoying.” Haruka shifted away from him, his expression going blank. “Always going on and on with my name …”
Kantarou puffed his cheeks and set his hands on his hips. “I can order you,” he threatened. “Haruka-kun, tell me what–”
Smoothly Haruka twisted, and put a hand over Kantarou’s mouth. “Shut up, is what I was trying to tell you,” he said. He was close enough that Kantarou could feel his breath on his own face. “You idiotic master.”
He made a muffled sound of half-protest. “Hmmkaaa–”
Haruka’s eyes narrowed further and Kantarou froze. In spite of himself, his heart skipped a beat, tripping into sudden overtime. “Hh–”
“I don’t understand humans,” Haruka muttered, and let go. Kantarou stumbled back a half-step, instinctively licking his lips and tasting metal and ozone on them. “You’re all too strange.”
“H– Haruka?” Kantarou asked tentatively. “… Tell me?”
Haruka straightened a little, not quite stiff, and glanced at him again. “… I ran into Raikou.”
“Minamoto?” Kantarou’s eyes widened. “And you’re not hurt? Haruka! Why didn’t you –”
“It was an accident,” Haruka said, with a shrug. “I was taking a nap. He found me.”
“He didn’t seem too interested in fighting.” Haruka shrugged. “He still wants you to break the name-contract.” Before Kantarou could respond to that, he added, “He talks too much, just like you. It must be a human thing.”
“Eh,” Kantarou squeaked. “But, that’s — Haruka –”
“He said all sorts of strange things.” Haruka shrugged, turning back to the open window. “He’s got some strange ideas.”
“Strange ideas?” Suddenly, inexplicably nervous, Kantarou licked his lips. “Like … ?”
Briefly, Haruka glanced at him, then snorted. “It’ll bother you,” he said. “It’s the sort of thing that would.”
Kantarou took a deep breath and licked his lips. “I’m saying for you to tell me,” he said, in a voice that miraculously didn’t shake. “Haruka.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Haruka said. “You’re crazy.”
Minamoto Raikou smiled and shrugged expressively, spreading his hands. “I don’t think so,” he said. “After all, it’s no secret how long Ichinomiya Kantarou-sensei has been searching for the Oni-Eating Tengu, or how fiercely he … ah, ‘admires’ that tengu’s strength.”
Haruka snorted. “That’s hardly unusual,” he said. “I’m strong.”
“You are,” Raikou agreed. “And that’s where the attraction is.”
Haruka’s eyes narrowed. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying,” Raikou drawled, with a narrow smirk, “that you’re not really paying attention to your Ichinomiya-sensei, are you? Almost two years now, and you probably still think nothing of the way he treats you.”
“He wants to be my friend –”
“Friend.” The word sounded strange from Raikou, hard and mocking. “You’ve a strange idea of friendship, Oni-Eater.”
“I’ve had enough of this.” Haruka pointed his shakujou at Raikou, baring his teeth. “Either let’s fight, or get out.”
Raikou laughed. “You’re actually thinking about it!” he said with a sneer. “How weak, Oni-Eater, to let your enemy’s words affect you! How far you’ve fallen.” He put one hand on the hilt of his sword and advanced towards Haruka. “So much for the power of heart that woke you before. Do you think it’ll save you again?”
Haruka spun the shakujou, resting its pointed tip against Raikou’s throat. “I don’t have the patience for this,” he said. “My nap’s been ruined anyway.”
Again Raikou laughed and leaned forward, until the skin of his throat dented and then tore, allowing a single thin trickle of blood to wind down the side of his neck. “Just keep it in mind,” he said. “Watch him, your Ichinomiya-sensei. You might be surprised.”
Before Haruka could answer, Raikou shimmered and vanished.
“Oh,” said Kantarou, and then, a bit more strongly, “Oh.”
“You see,” said Haruka, and shrugged his hand off. “It’s not your concern.”
“Not my — Haruka! He was trying to change your opinion of me! I don’t see how it’s not my concern!” Kantarou took a deep breath. His face felt too hot and there was a loud, distant pounding in his ears. “He’s trying to say that I — that it’s like that, and –”
“It’s not, is it?” Haruka eyed him.
“It isn’t like that,” Haruka repeated, with exaggerated patience. “You don’t think that way.” He paused, then eyed Kantarou narrowly. “Right?”
“I …” Kantarou swallowed. “O, of course I don’t. I’m not anything like that, Haruka, ahaha, how could you suggest –”
Haruka’s eyes narrowed and Kantarou’s voice dried up in his throat. He started to take a step back again, out of reach, and Haruka caught his wrist, fingers closing so tightly that Kantarou thought he could feel the small bones grinding together. The roaring in his ears grew louder, with a certain stomach-sinking sense of impending doom.
“Nn–” he managed, and tugged at his wrist. “Haruka, my hand …”
“Ah,” said Haruka, his tone matter of fact. “You’re lying again.”
“Or at least, you think you are.” Haruka snorted, but didn’t let go. “It’s annoying when you do that.”
“But, Haruka …”
“This is why I said it didn’t concern you,” Haruka said, and Kantarou stumbled over the last step, so that he overbalanced, his free hand slamming into the wall by Haruka’s head. Haruka didn’t even so much as flinch, blinking at him with oddly solemn eyes. “Kantarou, you worry too much about these things.”
“Ah …” Kantarou stared. “Haruka, I don’t –”
“Idiot,” said Haruka. “You’re not very good at acting.” He leaned forward, his breath was cool on Kantarou’s cheek.
“… Haruka … ?”
“He thinks he was telling me something new, like it would shock me,” Haruka said. “That’s not true.” On Kantarou’s wrist, his hand tightened again, outright painful, and Kantarou winced. “I knew a long time ago.”
Kantarou gaped. In his ears, the roar had risen to a high screech, and under him, the floor seemed to sway. “Haruka,” he murmured, then shook his head. “But, then, wait — how is this not my business? If I feel that — and I’m not saying I do! — then a lot of it concerns me, and I think –”
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” Haruka tugged him closer, and Kantarou brought a knee up instinctively, leaning it on the edge of the windowsill, between Haruka’s legs. “Your feelings have already gone beyond that, haven’t they?”
His eyes widened. “Eh –”
“In other words,” Haruka said, and his other hand settled on Kantarou’s hip, shockingly warm, and Kantarou’s brain sputtered a few times, unable to quite make the connection, “it’s not your concern, because you’ve already outgrown it. When he tried to use it that way, it annoyed me. Because I realized that he thought it because of your actions, and that’s my fault for not making you stop.”
“Haruka, wait –”
“So try acting a little more mature,” Haruka said. “You irresponsible master.”
And as Kantarou gaped, shocked by the half-smile on Haruka’s face, Haruka kissed him.
He tried to protest at first — wait, Haruka, you don’t know what you’re doing and I don’t want you to feel like you have to and I’m just happy you’re living here with me — but Haruka just gave him an irritated look and told him to just be quiet. And then the hand on Kantarou’s hip had slid up and into his gi and around that point, Kantarou gave up.
That seemed to work out better; Haruka made a low crooning noise in his throat and kissed Kantarou again, with fangs and a demanding tongue, until Kantarou tasted blood in his own mouth and leaned closer, more weak-kneed than he wanted to admit. Haruka’s palm was cool and oddly smooth, except for lines of calluses along his fingers. It reminded him of a bird’s talons, especially with how each of Haruka’s fingers was tipped off by a square sharp claw.
It was strange, it was nothing he’d expected, and he made small noises in his throat when Haruka pressed a hand against his back, drawing him closer. Kantarou pulled back with a gasp, sucking in desperate lungfuls of air, and then suddenly the entire world was spinning as Haruka flowed up to his feet and swept Kantarou’s own out from under him in a single easy gesture.
“Haruka!” he protested. “Don’t do that!”
Haruka snorted. “You don’t mean that,” he said. “You’re smiling.”
Surprised, Kantarou touched his own mouth. “Ah–”
“Idiot,” Haruka said again, and pressed him down, leaning for another kiss. Kantarou squirmed, working his own hands up to fumble with the buttons of Haruka’s shirt, and for a moment he was tempted to just rip them off — and stopped short at how Youko would react if he explained how it happened. The image was funny enough to make him laugh into the kiss, and Haruka made a low noise, not quite annoyed, and moved to bite his throat.
“Ah,” he gasped, then made himself paw at the buttons again. “Haruka, Harukaaa …”
“Shut up,” Haruka muttered again, biting at his lips. “You idiotic master, just — shut up –”
“Don’t wanna,” Kantarou said fiercely, and made a noise of triumph when Haruka’s shirt finally opened and he could thrust his own hands inside, and though Haruka’s skin was cool at first, it warmed quickly. “I want to say Haruka’s name, I want to say I like this, I –”
“You’re stupid,” Haruka snorted, and tugged the bow of his hakama undone.
Kantarou wriggled, hoping for the momentum to roll them, and instead Haruka sank atop him, sudden near-deadweight and heavy. “Haruka –”
Haruka kissed him again, biting at his mouth, and Kantarou arched into it, gasping at the pressure and the weight, his hands clinging tightly to Haruka’s shoulders. It was nothing like he’d pictured, the handful of near-shameful times he’d allowed himself to imagine it, but that didn’t matter, not with Haruka’s mouth and one smooth-palmed hand sliding into his hakama and grasping him firmly, stroking with a rhythm that should have been painful, should have been — should —
Wriggling, Kantarou arched up, wrapping his legs around Haruka’s hips and grinding against the erection resting against his own. The low, keening sound from Haruka made him grin fiercely, arching to nip at one ear. Haruka growled at him in a sort of wordless command, and Kantarou laughed again. He thought he saw a brief smile cross Haruka’s face in response, and then Haruka was moving again and oh there was heat and smooth pressure and —
He came, gasping, with Haruka’s name on his lips, and continued to cling for dear life as Haruka continued to move — and then Haruka stiffened against him, and another small, fond chuckle bubbled up and escaped him.
“It was totally something I had to worry about,” Kantarou said sleepily. He ran his fingers through Haruka’s hair gently, untangling it; it was mostly smooth, though the ends bristled a little, like the tips of feathers. “It was about me.”
Haruka snorted, his face pressed into Kantarou’s neck. “Don’t think so highly of yourself,” he said. “It was my problem.”
“Ehhhh.” Kantarou wrapped some hair around his fingers and tugged. “Harukaaaaa …”
“And his,” Haruka added. “Because you were acting stupidly and I was letting you, but he was the one who embarrassed me by pointing it out.”
“Harukaaaaa, are you trying to say I’m an embarrassment?”
“You are, a bit.” Haruka bit his shoulder, not hard enough to break the skin, but enough to leave red marks. Kantarou yelped, then grumbled. “Shut up and let me sleep.”
“But Haruka, it’s the first time! Shouldn’t you be more romantic?”
Haruka snorted. “Idiot.”
“I wouldn’t be here,” Haruka added, bland and bored, “if I wasn’t at least a little fond of you.”
Kantarou paused in tugging at Haruka’s hair. He took a slow, steadying breath and murmured, “You’re fond of me?”
“I don’t dislike you.” Haruka yawned, and pressed his face back into the crook of Kantarou’s neck. “Now shut up and let me sleep.”
For a moment Kantarou remained silent, and then he sighed, resuming his slow steady petting of Haruka’s hair. A new smile stretched his lips, growing so wide it made his cheeks hurt. “Mm,” he murmured, low. “Sleep well, Haruka.”