The More Things Change

written with Harukami

The worst part, Kantarou thought, was knowing that he wasn’t the only one interested.

He’d seen Haruka watching him a number of times, always looking vaguely thoughtful and never breaking eye-contact whenever Kantarou caught him at it. And after all, Haruka had agreed to come back, though he hadn’t asked for anything more than what had been status quo from the beginning.

And Kantarou had tried to show his own interest; at dinner, he sat beside Haruka rather than across the table from him, found his way to the roof more often than not, and frequently insisted on Haruka accompanying him even for small errands to the market. He knew Haruka was paying attention, but every time it seemed like he would say something, his face would close up, and he’d let silence talk instead.

It was enough to drive someone crazy, Kantarou thought sourly. Because if Haruka really didn’t like what was going on, he would have easily said something to discourage Kantarou long ago — instead he hovered and waited, as though for some cue that Kantarou had yet to discover.

He certainly wished he would discover it, too. He was frustrated to the point that he sometimes thought of just outright asking Haruka about it. But that would be too much — and he couldn’t do that, for the same reason he couldn’t reach over and just touch Haruka.

It was one thing to be certain he was interested and another to think Haruka might actually want Kantarou to act on his interest.

And so he waited, hating it all and growing grumpier by the day, to the point that Youko was chiding him for scowling all the time.

He was just starting to argue that point again when the door slid open and Haruka stumbled in. They both looked up, cut off in mid word.

Haruka looked around a bit wildly, his usually bland face stricken with an expression of glee. “What a beautiful place we have!” he exclaimed.

Kantarou gaped. Youko blinked rapidly. “H– Haruka-chan?” she asked tentatively. “Um, what –”

“No, really, it’s gorgeous!” Haruka spread his arms wide open, as though to mimic his wings, and turned in a circle. “I mean, I never thought about it before, but it’s lovely! We’re really lucky to have a place like this, you know.”

Youko and Kantarou glanced at each other. “Well,” Kantarou said, “I’m glad you’re finally beginning to appreciate what I provide for you, but –”

“And it’s a gorgeous day outside, too!” Haruka pointed at the two of them, grinning like a madman. It looked strange on his face. “We should go out and experience it fully! I mean, what the hell are you two doing, just sitting here cooped up inside? Let’s go out to lunch!”

“That would be fine,” Youko said slowly, “but the paycheck for Kan-chan’s last article hasn’t come in yet, and –”

Really, there was something horribly wrong about this.

“Forget that nonsense,” Haruka said, gesturing broadly at her; the smile seemed almost painted on. “Money comes to those who need it! Spend it on the little things that make you happy, and everything else will work out!”

“Only, see, it doesn’t work that way,” Youko began. “Haruka-chan? Are you sick? I know you don’t get colds, but–”

And that was when Kantarou noticed that his bells were ringing. His scar wasn’t aching, at least, but the bells were definitely making a gentle little sound. It was the first time they’d ever rung for Haruka. Frowning, he covered them with one hand.

“Not sick at all!” Haruka said. He tapped his chest. “Fit as a fiddle, me! Just filled with the joy of life! Even if we can’t eat out, we should make a lunch here and picnic outside! Come on, everyone loves picnics!”

“Picnics?” Youko sounded a little more agreeable at that. “A picnic might be nice, and Kan-chan did actually finish his work on time for once –” She looked to him and he held up his covered wrist. She glanced at the bells, then met his gaze again, wide-eyed. Kantarou nodded. “Ah, then again, Haruka-chan, maybe we should –”

“What we should do is go outside!” Haruka crossed over to the dining table in three long-legged strides, surprisingly light. “After all, it’s a shame to let these things go to waste!”

“Yes, but –”

Haruka reached down and grabbed her wrist, and that was worthy of shock as well; Haruka, in Kantarou’s experience, very rarely ever initiated contact. It just didn’t happen, in the same way that a giddy laughing Haruka never happened.

It seemed like the afternoon for strange things. Youko yelped as she was dragged to her feet. “Haruka-chan! What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I –” Haruka paused suddenly, a strange look passing over his face. For a moment he just stood there, holding Youko’s wrist, staring blankly at her. And then he shook himself and said, in a nearly-perfect imitation of her tone, “I just thought it might be nice! If we went outside, you know, and after all the hard work you do, you deserve it …”

Youko nodded. “I do deserve it, but…” The tone began to dawn on her, and she looked slightly offended. “Haruka-chan! You shouldn’t mimic other people, don’t be mean!”

“Who’s being mean?” he asked, with an aggravated noise. “It’s the truth, isn’t it? You work hard all the time and nobody ever appreciates it, and now there’s a big fuss being made over even having a picnic? A picnic’s free, at least!”

“Haruka-chan!”

Kantarou rose slowly. “Haruka,” he said. “Can you say something to me? There’s something I want to check.”

“Say something?” Haruka blinked at him, hands on his hips. “Check something? What are you talking about, Kan-chan?”

And there was no way he was ever going to confess that hearing Haruka call him that was one of those private little fantasies he’d harbored for months now. Kantarou coughed into his fist, ignoring the way Youko was gaping at the both of them. “Ah, I thought so. Haruka, could you come here?”

“Why should I?” Haruka rocked back a little, his cheeks puffing in a pout. It was bizarrely cute. “Really, Kan-chan, I don’t know why we always have to do the work while you laze around and play –”

“But he did get his work done this time,” Youko said slowly, “so –”

“I can come over there,” Kantarou offered, inching around the table, keeping eye-contact with Haruka the entire time. Haruka looked wary, but not outright distrustful, as he usually did when he suspected Kantarou of plotting something. “Here, Haruka, I just want to –”

The front door banged open just as Kantarou was about to reach out. “Ichinomiya!” Hasumi’s voice called, from the genkan. “Ichinomiya! Are you in?”

Haruka whirled. “Ah, it’s Hasumi! I’ll show him in, all right, Kan-chan?”

Kantarou’s breath caught in his throat, and a moment later he managed a, “No, Haruka, please don’t–!”

But it went unheard; Haruka had taken off with a rather amusing, if somewhat embarrassing, little skip over the lintel as he went.

Youko turned wide-eyes on Kantarou. “Kan-chan,” she said, slowly. “Is, did Haruka-chan just…?”

“I think he did,” Kantarou said, shaking his head. “That’s –”

“His legs are too long for skipping,” she said, still sounding and looking dazed. “Kan-chan, what was that?”

“I’m not sure.” Kantarou scrubbed at his hair with one hand. “I mean, whatever it is, it’s not malicious, but if it’s affecting Haruka this much, we should take care of it as soon as possible.” He sighed a bit at that, looking downcast for a moment. “I mean, it’s funny, but it’s not Haruka.”

Her expression was gentle. “Kan-chan,” she said, “you –”

“Ichinomiya!” Hasumi stalked into the room with Haruka a half-step behind. Youko’s expression was gone from Haruka’s face, and it was somewhat jarring to see Hasumi’s pinch-lipped superiority there instead. “You have a favor you owe me, and I’m collecting!”

Kantarou blinked. “Come again?”

From behind Hasumi, Rosalie leaned out and blinked. “Hello,”she said, very softly.

Kantarou gave her a nod. “Good afternoon, Rosalie,” he said. “I’m surprised you’re bringing her about at lunch hour, Hasumi, shouldn’t she be getting some food?”

“That’s just the point, you stupid man,” Haruka said, irritably. “Can’t you see he’s bringing her over so you can feed her?”

Hasumi blinked at Haruka with surprise, then nodded, turning back to Kantarou. “That’s right,” he said. “You owe me from all the times you’ve ridden my coattails to any sort of recognition at all!”

Kantarou scowled. Of all the things the possessor would make Haruka pick up, Hasumi’s personality was the last thing he wanted to see. “Who’s done what?!”

“You have, with your ridiculous stories of youkai and all.” Hasumi pointed a triumphant finger. “And after all the times you’ve tried to discredit my logical scientific studies, you do owe me. Since you’re obviously not working nearly as hard as you could, you can at least be grateful for this honor and take it like a man!”

As Hasumi was lecturing, Youko knelt down and smiled. “Rosalie-chan,” she said. “What do you want to eat?”

Rosalie blinked a bit, hugging her stuffed bear to her chest. “Youko-san’s oyakodon,” she said, shyly. “Ryoukan doesn’t know how to cook very well. So Rosa wanted to come here.”

Youko grinned, and reached out to carefully ruffle the little girl’s long hair. “Why don’t you come help me?” she suggested. “Let Kan-chan and Hasumi-san duke it out, okay?”

“–And as long as you insist on chasing around phantasms and dreams, Ichinomiya, you’re certainly never going to be anywhere near my level!”

“What are you talking about? Youkai aren’t phantasms or dreams, Hasumi, they’re as real as you or me –”

“What are you talking about?” Haruka snapped. “Even if that’s true, Ichinomiya, you know better than to say that around people like this–”

“Like this!” Hasumi gave Haruka an affronted expression. “Exactly what is THAT supposed to mean, Ichinomiya?! Can’t you control your men better?”

Kantarou held up his hands. “Yes, well, about that — Haruka, please just, ah…”

Rosalie tugged on Youko’s sleeve. “Youko-san,” she mumbled, pointing at Haruka. “What’s wrong with Lucifer?”

“Er.” Youko looked a bit nervous for a moment. “Rosalie-chan, you know how sometimes, how ghosts and such will come to you and make you do strange things?”

Rosalie pondered this for a moment. “But Lucifer is stronger than Rosa,” she murmured. “Can’t he fight them off?”

“Well, in theory, yes.” Youko began tugging the little girl to the kitchen. “The problem is that Haruka-chan isn’t really aware of what’s going on, and you two showed up before we could do anything about it.”

“Look,” Kantarou snapped irritably. “If it’s that important to you, we’ll take care of Rosalie-chan for the day, just get out of here! Come on!” He put both hands on Hasumi’s chest and shoved, trying to crowd him backwards. “Get out, get out! Ahhh, this house is too small to be crowded by crazy men –”

“Who’re you calling crazy?” Hasumi bristled. “You’ve some nerve, Ichinomiya, saying such things –”

“And when you can barely afford enough to take care of us, you’ve a lot of nerve to complain,” Haruka sniffed, crossing his arms over his chest. Rosalie tugged free of Youko’s grasp and came over to peer up at him curiously, hugging the stuffed bear like a shield. “If you wrote better, we wouldn’t be in such trouble.”

Kantarou twitched, and shoved at Hasumi again. “Out, I said,”he said through gritted teeth. “Go on, out! Out!”

Fine, Ichinomiya!” Hasumi almost snarled. “You’d better take good care of Rosalie! I’ll be back mid-afternoon to pick her up!”

“Yes, yes, fine, we love having her around,” Kantarou said with exasperation. “Just go so we can have lunch!”

By the time he turned around, he saw Haruka staring at him with a strange, numb, wide-eyed expression, and Rosalie staring up at him with a nearly identical one.

A glance at Youko’s white face gave him an idea of what might have happened. “Ah… Haruka…”

“Haruka doesn’t … really feel that good,” Haruka said, in stuttering, simple language. Rosalie just stared, her small hands white-knuckled on her stuffed toy. “I might need to — I think –”

“Youko-chan,” Kantarou hissed.

Youko started, then nodded, darting forward to grab Rosalie and tug her away, deliberately knocking her shoulder against Haruka as she did. Haruka stumbled a bit, then shook his head, a bewildered look crossing his face.

“Oi,” he said, and he sounded like himself again, to Kantarou’s relief. “What’s going on?”

“You know, I’d like to know that myself,” Kantarou said. He checked quickly, but the bells were still ringing; whatever was possessing Haruka wasn’t gone yet.

“I’m not feeling well,” Haruka said. He took a step towards Kantarou, who took a broad step back; the last thing he needed was for Haruka to start mimicking him. “…Kantarou?”

“Well, ah,” Kantarou said. “I know, I’ll… do something to help you. Just — don’t come close.”

Haruka was outright frowning now. “Don’t come close? Kantarou…”

Kantarou held up both hands, smiling quickly. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I just need the space to think — I haven’t seen a youkai act like this before, so if you get too close, it’ll just confuse me.”

Haruka continued to frown at him, something close to insulted in his eyes, and there it was again, that damned spark of interest that Haruka never did anything about.

Well, for the time being, he’d just have to deal with it. Kantarou took another step back for good measure and said, “I’m going to check my books and see if I can find anything. Haruka, you should probably go lie down for a bit. Youko-chan, will you take care of Rosalie-chan?”

“Sure,” said Youko, and tugged Rosalie towards the kitchen again. “Come on, Rosalie-chan, I’ll show you how to cook, so maybe you can make something for Hasumi-san, later …”

“Rosa thinks Ryoukan should learn,” Rosalie mumbled, but she followed Youko obediently.

Haruka, however, hadn’t moved, frowning at him. “Kantarou, are you sure…”

“Just lie down,” Kantarou said, soothingly. “From what we’ve seen, if you stay nice and quiet, everything should be fine.”

Haruka shrugged after a moment. “I’ll be on the roof.”

“That will do nicely,” Kantarou said, and grabbed his books, settling in to work.

The books were thick, but at least he could narrow them down considerably to only the most powerful of youkai. Haruka was pretty powerful, after all, and unless he actively invited something in, he should be able to defend from most possessions.

He didn’t know how long he spent in his study, surrounded by piles of books — most of it was his old gathered data on the legends of the Oni-Eating Tengu, along with the other bits of information he’d picked up along the way; twenty years of habit didn’t die just because he’d found what he’d been looking for. Each lead had to be followed up and noted for later testing. Youko came in at one point with tea and a bowl of soup for him, which he nodded politely in thanks for and proceeded to ignore.

It didn’t make sense, he thought; it was certainly possible for another youkai or determined spirit to possess a tengu, but one that would have the audacity to attack the legendary Oni-Eater, or one who could get through Haruka’s defenses — that was something worth keeping an eye on.

When he finally reached for the cup, though, his hand came down on something round and squishy. Surprised, he looked down, and found round black eyes peering up at him.

“Muuu,” said Moo-chan, very politely.

“Ah! Good afternoon, Moo-chan,” he answered, flushing slightly and lifting his hand from her head quickly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you! How long were you sitting there?”

“Muumuu,” she said dismissively, and latched onto his side, nuzzling. “Muuu.”

“Ah, well, that’s good,” Kantarou said, shifting to get her more comfortable against him.

“Muuuu,” she added, as an afterthought.

He froze. “Where did you say Sugino-sama was again? On the roof with who?”

She blinked at him. “Muumuu.”

“Oh no,” he yelped, scrambling to his feet, knocking over his tea in the process. Swearing under his breath, he dropped back to his knees and righted the cup. Rather than try to mop up the spilled tea, he moved all of his books and notes out of the way, then dashed out of the storage room, clutching Moo-chan to his chest.

“Youko-chan,” he called, as he took the stairs down two at a time. “Youko-chan, be careful, Sugino-sama is –”

Sugino popped up in front of him suddenly, and Kantarou yelped, flailing and almost losing his balance. “What about me?” he demanded, then scowled. “AH! And you’ve got my Moo-chan again! What are you doing, give her back! Moo-chan, you shouldn’t hang around this guy all the time, he can’t even be bothered to come out and greet guests when they arrive –”

“It wasn’t anything like that,” Kantarou protested helplessly, especially after Moo-chan grabbed onto the edges of his gi to keep from getting tugged off him. “I was working, Sugino-sama! I hadn’t known you’d come to visi–”

“KANTAROU!” Haruka wailed, pushing past Sugino on the stairs. “What are you doing with another youkai?!”

Both Kantarou and Moo-chan stared at Haruka in shock. “…Muu,”Moo-chan breathed.

“Get away from her!” Haruka moaned, grabbing onto Kantarou’s arm. “I’m your husband, aren’t I?! Don’t touch her like that, you might catch her speech impediment!”

“You’re my what?!” Kantarou demanded, at the same time Sugino snapped, “What speech impediment?!”

Kantarou continued to gape at Haruka for a few moments, then shook himself and tried to pry him off. “Haruka! I said not to get this close to me! Damnit, this –”

“You don’t mean that, do you?” Haruka’s eyes were huge and shining, and for a moment, his distress looked uncomfortably real. “We’re supposed to be together, aren’t we? After all we’ve been through together, you wouldn’t throw me over for her, would you?”

“I wouldn’t,” Kantarou began, when Sugino grabbed Haruka and tugged him around so that they were face-to-face, scowling.

“Oni-eater, what’s the meaning of this?” he demanded hotly. “Are you making fun of my Moo-chan?!”

“Oh, you’re still here,” Haruka said with an off-handed offended dismissal. “Sugino, I’m busy with my husband.”

“Don’t you insult my Moo-chan!” Sugino was trembling in rage. “Do you want to fight?”

Moo-chan had tilted her head with alarm, and threw herself between them. “Muu!” she protested, and put one hand against Sugino’s chest. “Muuu!!!” And her other touched down on Haruka’s chest, to keep them firmly separated.

Haruka blinked.

Kantarou winced.

“… muu?” Haruka asked, a bit hesitant. He staggered back a bit, his shoulder bumping into the wall. “Mumuu?”

Sugino bristled more. “You are making fun of her!” he said, pointing an accusing finger, using his other arm to keep Moo-chan tucked securely against his chest. “I knew it! Oni-eater, I expected better of you!”

“Muuu.” Haruka shook his head. Kantarou took the opportunity to step in, his hands raised in a placating manner.

“I’m very sorry about this, Sugino-sama,” he said, as soothingly as he could. “Something has — we don’t know what it is, but we think Haruka’s been possessed; it’s been making him act like nearly everyone he comes into contact with.” Except for Kantarou himself, though that could be more a blessing than anything else. He glanced nervously over his shoulder at Haruka, who was straightening and shaking his head, still looking a bit dazed.

“Possessed? The oni-eater?” Sugino frowned. “It would take a very powerful youkai to manage that.”

“I know,” Kantarou said, helplessly. “I wasn’t entirely sure what it could possibly be. I was doing some research on that when you showed u — UWAA!”

He landed on his back on the stairs, grabbing on hard to try to keep from sliding down the steps. He was helped by Haruka’s weight on him, as Haruka’s arms had wrapped around his torso and legs locked firmly around one leg.

“Ha — Haruka?!” Kantarou squeaked.

“Muuuu,” Haruka sighed contentedly, and nuzzled Kantarou’s shoulder.

“Haruka, get off!” Kantarou put both hands on Haruka’s head and tried to shove him off with little success; Haruka just made a grumpy little noise and burrowed closer, his face buried against Kantarou’s throat. Helpless, Kantarou looked beseechingly at Sugino. “I’m sorry, Sugino-sama, this –”

Sugino was staring wide-eyed, still holding Moo-chan to his chest. Moo-chan was staring as well, her mouth hanging open. “You were right,” he said, wide-eyed. “He is possessed.”

“I’m so glad you agr–EE! with me!” Kantarou squirmed harder as Haruka pressed closer, one hand squirming between the folds of his gi. “Now help me get him off!”

“I don’t know,” Sugino said dubiously. “If I touch him, won’t he just act like me again?”

“He might, I don’t know, but at least he won’t — HARUKA!” Kantarou went red, grabbing Haruka’s hand. “That’s a no!”

“…Muuuu?”

“No! I mean! Really! Haruka!” Kantarou blustered. “I just, I — Sugino-sama! Do you have any idea of what might be possessing him?”

Sugino shook his head slowly, reaching for Haruka’s shoulder then hesitating. “Nothing that’d have these effects,” he said, dubiously. “I know of some weaker youkai that do this, but…”

“Well, obviously it’s got to be something,” Kantarou said, then yelped and grabbed both of Haruka’s wrists, shoving them away from himself. Haruka pouted at him and tried to squirm closer, leaning forward to nuzzle hopefully at Kantarou’s throat. “I mean, are you sure? Even if it was a weaker youkai, maybe it got him while he was distracted –”

“That’s true,” Sugino agreed doubtfully. “Then again, the Oni-eater had a habit of devouring any youkai of that level who got too close.” He watched as Haruka tugged free of Kantarous hands and latched on again, snuggling with a blissful expression on his face. “I’ve never seen him like this before.”

“Neither have I,” Kantarou said, pushing at Haruka’s head again, with little effect. “I mean, this isn’t like him at all, and I want to get him back to normal –”

“He seems happy enough,” Sugino said doubtfully. “Isn’t this the sort of thing you wanted from him, anyway?”

“–Eh?” Kantarou paused for a moment, staring. His hand slipped on Haruka’s head, and Haruka nuzzled against him, nosing at his throat.

“You know.” Sugino’s eyes narrowed. “Having Koushingan’s Oni-Eating Tengu under your command, absolutely willing and docile to whatever you wanted from him –”

Kantarou went red, and shoved at Haruka again. “Not like this,”he protested weakly. “I mean, it’s — Haruka who I like. I mean, no insult, Sugino-sama, Moo-chan is a wonderful person, but… Haruka is who I like.”

“It’s the same difference,” Sugino muttered. “Not my Moo-chan, I mean, Haruka and the Oni-Eating Tengu. If he’s weak like this and acting like he likes you, you could do anything, just like you wanted.”

“Sugino-sama, please,” Kantarou said, embarrassed, catching Haruka’s hands again. “I’m not sure how you noticed that, but it’s… I don’t want to control him, not really, I just… want to be close to him, and — Haruka! Stop that!”

Haruka blinked at him, pouting. “Muu?” he asked. “Muumu?”

“No, it’s not that I don’t like it,” Kantarou said, exasperated. “But I don’t want you to do that now, I — I like you as Haruka, not as Moo-chan –”

Sugino frowned. “That’s suspicious, though,” he said, folding his arms. “I’ve seen you. You don’t have any problems using his name to control him anywhere else, why should this be any different?”

Kantarou gaped at him for a moment, then scowled. “I wouldn’t do that to Haruka,” he said. “I mean, playing around is one thing, but this –”

“Aww, Kantarou,” Haruka purred at him, leaning in with a big grin. “Isn’t that cute?”

Kantarou gaped at him. “Haruka, what–?”

“Sometimes it’s okay to call my name, you know,” Haruka said, smirking. “Kan-ta-rou.”

“You–”

“But maybe you’ve been shy all this time, is that it?” Haruka’s index finger traced small circles on Kantarou’s chest. “Awww, how cute, I wouldn’t figure you for that type…”

Shy?” Kantarou demanded, and was embarrassed by how his voice squeaked at that. “I’m not, I wasn’t — Haruka, you were the one who never got the clue –”

“Did too,” Haruka said, grinning, and that was the most bizarre thing of all, seeing his own easy smirk on Haruka’s face. “All this time, I thought you were the one who wasn’t interested at all.” He scooted closer, dragging his finger down Kantarou’s cheek, across the outline of his lips. “So if you were looking and I was looking, obviously one of us wasn’t paying proper attention.”

Haruka,” Kantarou yelped, scooting backwards, up a step. “Sugino-sama, please –”

“Sugino?” Haruka glanced back over his shoulder, then smirked openly. “We’re busy right now, so if you don’t mind leaving us alone –”

Sugino blinked, narrowing his eyes. “Oni-eater,” he said slowly. “You’re not telling me this is actually what you want, is it?”

“Awww, of course I want Kantarou!” Haruka said with near glee, wrapping his arms around Kantarou and ignoring his struggles. “Why would I put up with him so long otherwise, ehhhhh?”

“I was wondering that myself,” Sugino said dubiously. “Nevertheless, you are under an outside influence right now, so perhaps you should, ah, wait and rethink this when you’re in your right mind…”

Haruka’s lower lip fattened in a pout. “Awww, Sugino, how meaaaan! Kantarou’s mind is perfectly right, most of the time!”

“Most of the ti — what’s that supposed to mean, Haruka?!”Kantarou demanded.

“It means sometimes you make things too complicated for yourself,” Haruka said cheerfuly, tapping his nose with one finger. “You know, if you’d just said something to me, I would have been happy to go along with it –”

“You would have?” Kantarou blinked in shock. “Wait, but, Haruka –”

“All this time, I thought you were just shy, or oblivious,”Haruka said, leaning to nuzzle Kantarou’s cheek happily. “It’s good to know it was being oblivious, or else my feelings would have been hurt.” He tugged Kantarou into his lap, snuggling up behind him. His hand dipped down again, through the gap of Kantarou’s gi.

“Haruka!” Kantarou yelped, squirming. “You, this –”

“But he’s a human!” Sugino protested. “You’re the one who always said that youkai and humans were totally incompatible –”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Haruka said brightly. “From the glimpses I’ve caught of him changing, we look like we’d be compatible enough!”

Kantarou went red. “Haruka! That’s too far,” he blustered, trying to ignore the warmth curling under his skin. “Really! I’d never say anything like that! I’m not this, ah, this forward!”

“You can be,” Sugino said, disapprovingly. “You get your personality out of him right now! It’s entirely inappropriate for the oni-eater!”

“I didn’t, I, it’s nothing I did,” Kantarou protested. “I just– Haruka! C’mon! I’ve never done anything public, you can’t just, Haruka!”

“You flirt all the time,” Haruka said dismissively, rubbing his cheek against Kantarou’s hair. “I mean, always yelling after me, always calling my name, always looking at me …”

“You just said you thought I was oblivious,” Kantarou complained, squirming harder. “Haruka –”

“Well,” said Haruka cheerfully, “you don’t just flirt with me. That’s very annoying, you know, the way you flirt with any rich woman you meet.”

Kantarou flushed again, tugging hard at Haruka’s wandering hands. “Wait a moment,” he said. “Wait a moment, Haruka, this –”

“I like you a lot, see,” Haruka murmured. “So I don’t want you paying attention to anyone but me.”

“I’m not this jealous,” Kantarou said helplessly. “This isn’t my personality, isn’t it?”

“Sure it is,” Sugino snapped. “The way you won’t even give up his name when people ask — you’ve got a bad personality.”

“You dooooo,” Haruka drawled, grin widening. “But I like your bad personality, Kantarou. It’s the thing I like most about you.”

Kantarou could practically hear the heartmark at the end. Swallowing, he managed to stumble up to his feet, pulling away. “I, uh, I — maybe I should take a walk, let us all cool down a little…”

“Awww, a walk?” Haruka’s lips brushed his cheek with the words; Kantarou could feel his smile clearly. “That sounds like a good idea, Kantarou, we can go for a walk together –”

“I meant, me by myself,” Kantarou said quickly, and tried to ignore the way Haruka’s face immediately fell at that, wide-eyed and hurt. “You, and — you and Sugino-sama figure out what exactly’s wrong with you, and as for me, I — I’m going to go out, and maybe when I get back, we’ll have a plan of action.”

Haruka continued to watch him with wide sad eyes, and Kantarou took a deep steadying breath; did he really look like that? Like some sort of pathetic kicked puppy left alone in the rain?

“I’m sorry,” he offered hesitantly, backing up as he did. “I’m sorry, Haruka.” He turned and hurried before Haruka could say anything else, brushing past Youko and Rosalie without looking back.

“Really,” he heard Sugino say distantly, “I don’t know what you see in a man who’s afraid of his own personality–”

It was a good question, really. Kantarou ducked his head and picked up the pace a little, heading outside into the fresh early-afternoon air. He smiled a bit to himself, pained — this was the last way he could ever have expected any of this to go.

“Ahhhh,” he muttered to himself. “I’m pathetic…”

“You are, a little.” It was Haruka’s voice but still not Haruka’s tone, and Kantarou winced, turning as he walked — Haruka had followed him.

“Haruka,” he muttered. “I thought I told you to stay behind.”

“You did,” Haruka agreed cheerfully, falling into step beside him. “But you didn’t make it an order.” He swung his hands a little when he walked, like Kantarou often did when he was in a good mood. “It’s all right, Kantarou. I still like you, even when you’re pathetic.”

Kantarou winced. “Haruka,” he said, “about that –”

“Did you think I was making it up?” Haruka’s tone was strangely, painfully gentle. “Really, Kantarou, don’t you have more faith in me than that?”

“You’re not yourself right now,” Kantarou muttered, embarrassed, and tried not to watch the way Haruka was walking, how like Kantarou’s own pace it was. “I mean, I feel that way, so of course I’d say things like that. You, you don’t–”

“Awww, Kantarou,” Haruka sighed. “I can smile and pretend that everything’s okay, but — I said it, and I meant it, and it kinda hurts that you’re just pretending it didn’t happen–”

“It did happen,” Kantarou protested. “But not really with me, with — — I mean, yes with me, but you weren’t, I–”

“Kan-ta-rou,” Haruka said gently, cutting him off. “I like you. All right?”

“That’s the thing,” Kantarou said, a bit desperately. “I like you. So of course, if you’re channeling me right now, you’d think you like me, because you’re picking up on it and whatever’s possessing you is making you think –”

“No,” Haruka said gently. “I do like you, Kantarou. I know how I feel, however I express it.”

Kantarou’s steps slowed to a stop, and he looked down at his feet. “But,” he muttered, downcast, “but, Haruka, Sugino-sama is right; I always make you do things, even when you don’t want to. How do you know I’m not making you feel this, right now?”

“Ahhh, Kantarou, you’re being silly.” Haruka sighed. “Of course I know what I feel. And I know what I felt before this thing took over–”

“Speaking of which,” Kantarou offered, hesitantly. “If you know it’s there, can you try to force it out? I mean, it’s hard to say what rank of youkai it would be, but…”

“Mmm….” Haruka considered it for a moment. “No can do! You’re more fun to be.”

Kantarou boggled. “More fun? Haruka, I–”

“Mmhmm,” Haruka said, and grinned at him. “You aren’t all stoic or distant. You’re just you.”

“Yes, but –” Kantarou shifted a little, spreading his hands helplessly. “Haruka, you’re not me, you’re you. I mean, it’s flattering, but — I like you. As you.”

Haruka tapped the side of his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose,”he said finally. “… But, no. This is an interesting way to be. I think I understand you a lot more than I did.”

“I don’t understand you at all anymore,” Kantarou complained. “You’re you, not me, and this — the longer you’re like this, Haruka, the more I can’t be sure whether or not you actually like me or just think you do –”

“So maybe it’s better I stay like this,” Haruka said, still gently. “So I can convince you.”

“I don’t know about that,” Kantarou protested. “It’d matter more if it was coming from you, you know, and I just — false hopes are all very well and good in moderation, but this is too much.”

Haruka sighed. “Well, you know, I can’t say these things when I’m me,” he said. “It all gets choked up in my throat and embarrassing and I get angry.”

Kantarou blinked. “Angry?”

“At myself, because I’m no good at that sort of thing,” Haruka said. “I’m just no good at it, Kantarou.”

Kantarou opened his mouth, searching for a response, and was interrupted by a deep, smooth voice. “Out for an evening walk, gentlemen?”

Kantarou and Haruka both tensed at the voice, and Kantarou swore mentally; while there was no way Raikou could force a confrontation here in public, now was the worst time to see the man. Plastering a fake smile on his face, Kantarou turned. “Just for a little, yes,” he said. “And you? You’re pretty far away from home.”

Raikou only shrugged, tipping his hat a little. “Business, Sensei,” he said easily. “We’re all slaves to our work, are we not?” He smiled winningly, eyeing Haruka as he spoke. Kantarou tensed further.

“We might be,” he said evenly, “but I do believe in giving it a rest now and then –”

Tsking, Raikou reached out and bumped his fingers under Kantarou’s chin, forcing him to tilt his face up. By his side, Haruka tensed even further, a low annoyed sound rising from his throat.

“Breaks are all well and good,” Raikou agreed finally, eyeing him thoughtfully. “Though, Sensei, if this is what you do during a vacation, you may consider a different sort. You don’t look rested at all.”

“I’ve been busy,” Kantarou said, taking a step back; Raikou followed, still in his personal space. “And, ah, speaking of which, I should be getting back to things now–”

“Mmm, I’m not sure,” Raikou said. His tone was private, intimate, nearly sexual. “Wouldn’t do to have you take ill, would it? There are things you have to protect.”

“Hey,” Haruka said, scowling. “Keep your hands off him!”

Kantarou swallowed hard, meeting Haruka’s eyes and trying to mentally urge Haruka to stay out of this; if Haruka talked too much, Raikou would realize there was something wrong with him.

Raikou’s gaze flickered off to the side, briefly, and he smirked at Haruka briefly. “Oh, I’ve certainly not forgotten you, Oni-eater,” he said. “But you realize, if you’re taxing your master like this, you may be better off separating –”

“I said, get your hands off him,” Haruka said, sharper than before. He took a half-step forward, but Raikou was uncowed, smirking at him.

“This is a conversation between Ichinomiya-sensei and myself,”he said pleasantly. “If you want, we can continue a conversation of our own later, but –”

Lightning-fast, Haruka’s hand shot out, slapping Raikou’s hand off Kantarou’s face. “Off of him, Minamoto!”

Raikou tsked, taking a step back. “Interesting,” he said. There was a slightly unpleasant glint to his eye, but Kantarou exhaled slowly when Raikou slowly and deliberately turned his back on them. “Well, I’m busy this evening as well, I am afraid. Sensei, let’s continue later.”

“Maybe,” Kantarou said, and rather hoped they wouldn’t.

As Raikou walked away, Kantarou exhaled slowly. “Unpleasant,”he muttered. “Since I refused to remove the name bond, he’s just got stranger and stranger when interacting with me, wouldn’t you say, Haruka?”

Haruka’s smile at him was a sharp, thin slash in his mouth. “Indeed so,” he almost purred.

Kantarou blinked at him, wide-eyed, then took a step backwards. “Haruka,” he said uneasily. “Wait a moment, I thought you said you wanted to stay with my personality –”

“I had the opportunity to change,” Haruka murmured, watching Kantarou from under his lashes. He advanced slowly on Kantarou, his hips swaying in a rolling, walk, nearly stalking over. “I wanted to see what it would be like to be someone else …”

“Someone else?” Kantarou’s breath caught for a moment, painful in his chest. “So, Haruka, that means you –” His shoulders bumped back into a wall and he pressed his palms against it, trying to calm his heartbeat. “So, your feelings are –”

“My feelings are obvious, aren’t they?” Haruka lifted a hand and stroked the backs of his fingers down Kantarou’s cheek, mimicking Raikou’s earlier gesture. He leaned closer, so that his breath was warm on Kantarou’s mouth. “I want to experience whatever I can, whenever I can …”

“Haruka, you don’t….” Kantarou shifted, trying to edge away, get out of the too-close pressure Haruka was putting on him. “I just think that Minamoto’s feelings aren’t the best–”

“Neither you or I ever actually go for anything, do we?” Haruka murmured, slamming his other hand down to block Kantarou’s path out. “We dance around the subject and even when we got so far to confess, we were just going to talk and talk and talk.”

“Haruka, I–”

“That man knows what he wants and he takes it,” Haruka murmured. “No matter who it hurts. That’s admirable behavior.”

Kantarou stared up at him with wide eyes. “Haruka,” he said, softly, “you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re — this is Minamoto talking, not you, just like everything else you’ve been else saying today isn’t really you –”

Haruka’s eyes narrowed, and for a moment a spark of irritation flashed in them. “Don’t you listen?” he asked, low. “I know what I want, Kantarou, and I know what you want. What’s the problem, then?”

Nervously, Kantarou licked his lips, then shrank further back when Haruka’s gaze was immediately drawn to that. “Haruka,” he said weakly. “You’re not yourself. I mean, you’ve been around me all day, you’re probably channeling my feelings still, even if you’ve got Minamoto’s personality right now –”

“You just don’t understand,” Haruka said, his tone almost condescending. He caught Kantarou’s chin, and leaned down to kiss him, surprisingly slow and sweet. Kantarou’s hands rose, clenched in the front of Haruka’s shirt. If he were honest with himself, it wasn’t just surprise that was making him hesitate before pushing Haruka away, but the sudden desperate desire that this be real, that it really was Haruka whose tongue was pressing against Kantarou’s lips in hot, brief passes, really was Haruka who was nibbling at his lips in an attempt to get his mouth to open.

Kantarou drew a shuddering breath in through his nose and pushed Haruka back, as much as Haruka would go, which admittedly wasn’t far. He saw disapproval flash through Haruka’s eyes.

“Not very nice, Sensei,” Haruka murmured at him. “And when I was being gentle for you.”

Kantarou’s eyes dropped. “Don’t call me that,” he muttered. “Haruka, if you mean this, if you want this, then — let me exorcise this youkai, all right?”

“I don’t know,” Haruka murmured, pressing closer, pinning Kantarou firmly against the wall. “I like being able to have you like this. You can’t complain at all when I kiss you, after all, and normally you never stop.”

Kantarou swallowed hard, his hands fisting in Haruka’s shirt, still doing his best to push him away. “Haruka, no,” he said softly. “I don’t want it like this. I want you, not Minamoto, not Moo-chan, nor Sugino-sama, nor Youko-chan –”

Haruka leaned down forward, pressing his mouth to Kantarou’s ear. Kantarou shivered, and almost weakened, then made himself push harder, jumping a bit when Haruka’s teeth closed around the earlobe, sharp and sudden.

“You complain too much,” Haruka murmured, his breath hot and sharp. One of his hands wormed between Kantarou’s back and the wall, smoothing down. “You wanted this so badly, so why are you arguing?”

“I didn’t want this, I keep trying to tell you,” Kantarou protested, admittedly weakly, as Haruka’s hand clutched his ass, squeezing firmly. “I wanted you, I want to go home and have Haruka there. It’s Haruka I waited so long for…”

“Haruka, Haruka, Haruka,” Haruka muttered at him. “But you never said or did anything with Haruka, did you?”

“It’d be so easy for me to force you into something,” Kantarou protested, weakly. “So of course I didn’t–”

“Then it would be so easy to force me to stop,” Haruka pointed out. He leaned in, pressing Kantarou bodily back against the wall to be trapped between his hand and the full length of his torso. “But you aren’t.”

“I …” Kantarou shivered as Haruka nuzzled at his neck, his mouth drawing a hot damp line across his throat. “Haruka …”

“It only takes a few words,” Haruka murmured, trailing up to bite his ear again. His body was surprisingly warm, and it almost hypnotized Kantarou into relaxing and pulling Haruka back for a proper kiss. “Say my name, and say you want me to stop. That’s all.”

Kantarou closed his eyes, for a moment letting his hands trace up the line of Haruka’s back, squeezing gently at his shoulders. It would be easy enough to pretend, he thought wistfully, that Haruka really meant it, that when he said he liked Kantarou, he honestly meant it …

With a deep breath, Kantarou gently pushed at Haruka’s shoulders again. “Haruka,” he said softly. “Stop.”

Haruka drew back slowly, a disgruntled frown on his face, the expression so much like Raikou’s that Kantarou’s stomach gave a sudden lurch. “I didn’t think you’d do it,” Haruka admitted, briefly.

“Haruka.” Kantarou drew a slow breath past the pain in his chest. “You are coming home with me, and you will submit to an exorcism of the spirit haunting you.”

Haruka stared at him evenly for a long moment, and then bowed his head. His voice, when it came out, was sarcastic and bitter. “I see I have no choice.”

It seemed to get easier with everything he said. Kantarou nodded. “We’re going back,” he said. “Now.”

+++

In the end, the process was surprisingly easy. Kantarou clasped his hand and spoke the proper words, perversely proud at how even he kept his voice during the whole thing. When he placed the ofuda on Haruka’s forehead, only the faintest of tremors went through Haruka, his brow tightening as though in confusion. A faint gray mist rose from him — not the blackness of an aradama, but not pure white, either.

It coalesced into a ball over Haruka’s head, bobbing faintly in place as Haruka sagged, folding down to one knee. Kantarou watched, his juzu held out and ready, and saw a small, humanoid figure outlined in the glow.

“Hello,” Kantarou said gently. “And who are you?”

The tiny youkai fluttered its hands and shook its head; when Kantarou leaned closer, he could see it had no mouth. Taking a chance, he held out a hand, cupping it so it would have a place to alight.

It settled into his hand, kneeling there and peering up at him. For a moment, he felt a pressure of an invading youkai and strengthened his own mind; the pressure retreated after a moment and left only a whispering voice.

I’m sorry — did I cause trouble?

“No, no,” he hastened to reassure it; it had a tremulous note in its voice, like embarrassment or fear. And then he revised, “Well, you caused a little, but I’m sure you weren’t trying to.”

He just wanted to be like someone else for a while, the youkai whispered. I heard it, and I thought, maybe…

“Do you know why?” Kantarou asked silently; from the corner of one eye, he saw Haruka stir, and sit up. “I mean, he –”

He wanted to see what it was like, the youkai murmured, folding its hands before itself. Everyone knows who the Oni-Eating Tengu is. I thought, maybe I could do him a favor.

Kantarou smiled a bit at that; Haruka, it seemed, always inspired that from others, whether intentionally or not. Over time, he’d come to admire that tendency as much as Haruka’s strength. “I’m sure you meant well,” he said gently. “But really, for something like this, it’s better to ask before you just do a favor for someone.”

Oh. The youkai bowed its head. Kantarou watched Haruka lurch to his feet, and felt the long heavy weight of Haruka’s stare before he stalked out. He just seemed so sad. I wanted to help.

In spite of the resigned ache in his chest, watching Haruka leave, Kantarou smiled again. “You tried,” he said. “It was a kind gesture, even if it didn’t really work out.”

The youkai gave a slightly hopeful look up at Kantarou. Thank you for not being angry. Can we be friends?

It was almost enough to lighten the ache in his chest again. “I’d like that very much, actually,” he said, affectionately.

Really? Oh, I’m glad! I hope he isn’t too angry with me either, it said. He felt so much, and felt like he couldn’t express any of it, so I just thought… I just thought I could help him.

“Felt so much?” Kantarou asked, slowly.

The youkai nodded, wide-eyed. He feels very deeply, it said. And it was all bottling up inside of him, but he didn’t know how to say it, so he thought, “maybe if I knew how someone else did it, I would be able to.” The youkai looked almost nervous again, wringing its tiny hands. Are you all right? You’re sad, too.

“I …” Kantarou shook his head. “Do you know what he was feeling?”

Regretfully, it shook its head. That was private, it murmured. All I knew was that there was something he wanted to say, but couldn’t.

Kantarou took another breath and let it out carefully, around the strange hopeful ache starting in the dead center of his chest. He was probably hoping too much, he told himself sternly, and said, “Thank you, then. You should probably go on home.”

I’ll come visit, it offered, softly, and then darted off.

“Kan-chan,” Youko said a moment after it was gone. “Do you want me to go talk to Haruka? He looked upset. I mean, as much as he ever does…”

Kantarou shook his head. “No,” he said, softly. “No, I’ll talk to him.”

“All right,” Youko said, nodding. “I’ll make tea so you’ve something warm to come into after spending your time on the roof…

“Thank you, Youko-chan,” he said.

Actually rising and going out there to look for the ladder was amazingly difficult, really; every movement seemed to set off aches in his chest, torn between hope and disappointment.

Every step up the ladder was an exercise in self-control, in not breaking and running while he still could; he’d told himself he was done with that, and intended to continue as such. And even then, when he actually caught sight of Haruka on the roof, his back to Kantarou and his shoulders stiff, he almost let go and dropped down. It would be easy to shrug the entire day off and pretend that nothing had happened, that Haruka hadn’t touched him and said so many of the things Kantarou had wanted to hear.

“Haruka,” he said softly, and saw Haruka tense further. “We need to talk.”

“I don’t see why,” Haruka said flatly. “There’s nothing I want to say to you, Kantarou.”

Kantarou swallowed hard and crawled fully onto the roof, carefully making his way over to Haruka’s side. “Maybe I have things I want to tell you,” he said, evenly as he could.

“And maybe,” Haruka snapped, “I’m not interested in hearing.”

Kantarou drew in a sharp breath, and then let it out, slow and steady and even, trying to find a calm place to center himself at. “Maybe you aren’t,” he said, softly. “Maybe you never wanted to hear this, never wanted to think about it, maybe having my personality for a while made you realize something you didn’t want to about me. But–”

“Just go, Kantarou,” Haruka said. “I’m not interested.”

Kantarou swallowed hard around the lump in his throat and told himself that Haruka was talking about the conversation, not about him. “Haruka, I–”

“Kantarou, I told you already. Don’t.”

Kantarou’s mouth opened, and no sound came out. For a moment, it felt like a vice was closed around his throat, strangling his next breath, like he’d stumbled into a nest of oni unexpected. Haruka didn’t look up or move, and after a long moment, Kantarou’s shoulders sagged and he stared at his feet.

“I see,” he said softly. “… I’m sorry, Haruka.”

There was still no response. Kantarou closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe. “I hope this won’t cause problems, then,” he said quietly. “I’ll … do my best, to respect your privacy and your space, and I hope … I hope you’ll forgive me, then.”

“Forgive you?” Haruka sounded bored now, and that cut worse than the earlier anger. “For what?”

“For wanting too much from you,” Kantarou said quietly. “Youko-chan is making tea, so whenever you’re ready to come inside, there’ll be some waiting.”

“I don’t want tea,” Haruka said, flatly. “Of all the things I’ve wanted, tea wasn’t it.”

“I…. this is why I didn’t want to tell you,” Kantarou said, softly. “I didn’t want to hurt you worse with it, didn’t want you to think this is why I wanted you around–”

This,” Haruka said, flatly. “What do you mean by this? Your need to embarrass me?”

Kantarou’s shoulders hunched. “I’m sorry, Haruka,” he said, quieter. “I hadn’t wanted that, either. I’ll go now.”

Haruka’s hand shot out, grabbing his wrist as he started to pull away. “Kantarou,” he said, still not looking up. “Answer the damn question.”

Kantarou swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and looked away himself. “By ‘this,’ I meant ‘you,'” he said quietly. “Because Sugino-sama was right, it’s too easy for me to use the name-contract and ask anything of you. And I wanted … I wanted you to be comfortable enough with me that if you wanted this — you’d say so. Clearly.”

“You still haven’t said what this is,” Haruka said. “Do you enjoy seeing me dance like some sort of damn puppet to your whims? Is that it?”

No,” Kantarou said sharply, and then again, softer, “No. That’s not it.”

“Then what?”

“… I like you, Haruka,” he said softly. “Like I said before.”

“‘Like’ is a vague word,” Haruka said, harshly. “Even I can say it.”

Kantarou bit the inside of his cheek. Slowly he leaned forward; he suspected Haruka would move away, but when he didn’t, he just leaned on Haruka’s shoulder. “…since I was really young, all I could think of was you,” he said, softly. “And I never knew what you’d be like. But then… I met you, and you exceeded my wildest dreams, you really did. I think even if I hadn’t wanted to meet you for so long, I’d have felt this way about you.”

Haruka was silent, then snapped out a sudden, “You’re being vague again.”

“At least I’m saying something,” Kantarou mumbled. “It’s not easy for me either, okay, Haruka? I don’t say personal things easily at all.”

“Try, for once,” Haruka said flatly. “You’ve spent all this time dancing around the issue, anyway, and if you can’t even decide what the hell you want, what do you expect from me?”

Kantarou closed his eyes. “I don’t expect anything,” he said quietly. “I really don’t. Haruka, having you by my side is –”

“No.” Haruka moved away abruptly, and Kantarou was left staring at him, wondering how an arm span could feel so much more distant. “Tell me, Kantarou. I’m tired of you like this.”

It was difficult to summon up the dredges of a smile, and harder still to maintain it. “I love you, Haruka,” he said quietly. “You’re the most important person in my life. And I’m sorry that it’s more than you wanted from me, but I can’t change that, so I’ll let you have some time alone …”

“What kind of love?” Haruka pressed. “That’s still not enough.”

It didn’t so much hurt any more as it was just exhausting, like every new comment was tiring him out. “Haruka, I love you.”

“Physically?” Haruka was scowling at him now, fierce. “Emotionally?”

“Yes,” Kantarou said, exhaustedly. “Both. I’m sorry. I know you never wanted a human to get attached to you.”

“I didn’t,” Haruka agreed, watching him narrowly. “It’s too much trouble.”

Kantarou closed his eyes again, and pushed himself slowly to his feet. “Which is why I’m sorry,” he said softly, and smiled again. “But, at least … in a few more years, I’ll be gone, and you won’t have to worry about that, right?”

Haruka stared at him, saying nothing, and Kantarou sighed; the half-joke had fallen flatter than he hoped. Without looking back, he turned and began to slowly make his way towards the ladder.

At least it was said, he tried to console himself. It was said, and it was out, and he knew Haruka wasn’t interested, so it was one more burden off his shoulders —

“Where are you going?” Haruka demanded.

Kantarou froze, wincing; the last he wanted was for this to be drawn out more. “I was going to go inside,” he said, helplessly. “Give you your space. I don’t want to be a bother any more than I have been, Haruka–”

“You can’t just finally confess and then leave,” Haruka said. “I won’t allow it. Come back here.”

Kantarou looked over, pained. “Haruka, please. I know you’re not happy with me, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it. So please, just…. some space, some peace…”

“Kantarou,” Haruka said firmly, “come here.” He patted the roof beside him, his gaze oddly intent; Kantarou swallowed hard.

For a moment, he considered running, and dismissed the idea as stupid; Haruka could move faster than him, and with the strange light in his eyes, would probably be even more annoyed if he had to make the effort to save Kantarou’s life. Finally, slowly, feeling more drained than he could ever remember being, Kantarou rose and climbed back to sit beside Haruka. He laced his hands together and stared resolutely at them, hunching his shoulders.

“Well,” he said softly. His own voice sounded strange. “Haruka –”

“Look at me,” Haruka said, and Kantarou jumped a little when a hand closed on his shoulder; he was vaguely alarmed to see the nails sharpened into talons. “Stop trying to hide and look at me.”

Kantarou swallowed and slowly looked over; he could feel from the strain on his face that his eyes were too wide. “Haruka, I–”

“Shh,” Haruka said. He seemed to search Kantarou’s face for a moment, his brows furrowed, then started to lean forward. He stopped after a moment, paused, and leaned back again. For whatever reason, it seemed as though he’d changed his mind about moving close. “…me too.”

Kantarou blinked. “…what?”

“Me too. All that.”

“All of that?” Kantarou parroted, blank. “All of what?”

You know.” Haruka shifted, looking uncomfortable. “That.”

“That, tha — that?” Kantarou stared at him, then tightened his fists, breathing slowly. It was cruel, he thought distantly, and he’d never thought of Haruka as cruel before, though maybe, with the reputation of the oni-eating tengu, he should have. “Haruka, please –”

“Kantarou.” Haruka was watching him from the corner of one eye, as though not quite able to look at him directly. “I do.”

Kantarou swallowed. The words that came out, when he spoke again, weren’t the ones he’d intended for. “…you’re not mad at me?”

“I was mad at us,” Haruka said. “This.”

“Er — this?” Kantarou felt his heart skip in his chest again.

“….our incompetence.” Haruka looked away. “We take too long to say what we need to.”

And there was hope again, rising treacherously inside him. Kantarou took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “So, this …”

“Kantarou.” Haruka still wasn’t looking at him, but something subtle had relaxed in his shoulders and back. “I don’t say this sort of thing lightly. You know that.”

“You haven’t really said much, Haruka,” Kantarou pointed out softly. “If you mean what I think you do, could you say it once? At least?”

Haruka’s mouth opened and worked silently, and Kantarou leaned slightly forward, holding his breath.

“… I care,” Haruka said finally, grudgingly, like the words had been dragged from him. “You’re … important, to me.”

Kantarou nodded, slowly. “…I like being important to Haruka,” he said.

“…you’re being very restrained,” Haruka said. “I’d thought you’d demand that I’d be less vague.”

“I don’t want to push,” Kantarou said, awkwardly. “Hearing this much is enough for me, Haruka.”

Haruka tilted his head, watching Kantarou evenly. After a moment, he said, “I might not say more, but if you want to push me, push.”

“I …” he swallowed hard, and made himself reach out, taking one of Haruka’s hands in his own; the talons had regressed back into nails, and it was warm and dry and rough against his own. “I think I’m too scared to.”

“That won’t end well, then,” Haruka said dryly. “Today’s shown that.”

Kantarou nodded, studying Haruka’s hand. “I am glad,” he said softly. “I thought, after all this time, either you didn’t notice, or you had, and you just didn’t want anything –” He glanced up, and blinked in wide-eyed surprise at finding Haruka’s face so close to his own. “Haruka –”

“Just say it,” Haruka said softly. “It’s easier for me if you do.”

Kantarou caught his breath; all of a sudden thinking of a million different possible things to ask Haruka, like he’d never had the freedom to just say them before, and now that he did, he couldn’t pick which. But he simply forced himself to relax and said, “Um. Do you love me, Haruka?”

“Yes,” Haruka said, and if his tone was still flat, that was fine; it was Haruka, after all.

Kantarou swallowed around the sudden thickness in his throat, seeming to spread down from it and tighten his chest. “….will you kiss me, then?”

“… Yes,” Haruka said, and leaned in again.

It was like the earlier kiss and different, too; Haruka kissing as himself used more of his fangs than his lips, and this time Kantarou sighed and opened his mouth into it, wrapping his arms around Haruka’s neck and pulling him in. It was the same warmth, the same taste, and the same low noise in Haruka’s voice when he tugged Kantarou closer, his own hands sweeping possessively down his back.

When it was over, Kantarou scooted closer, toying idly with the ends of Haruka’s hair. “Haruka,” he murmured, trying out the feel of the name. “Haruka.”

“Kantarou,” Haruka muttered back. “I want to do that again.”

Kantarou blinked, and found himself laughing a little, and it was embarrassing, but relief made him giddy, and he turned to beam expectantly up at Haruka, closing his eyes.

Haruka leaned in again at that, kissing, slowly sinking back with him until Kantarou felt the shingles pressing into his back. He hardly minded, just squirmed a little to get more comfortable, wrapping his arms around Haruka.

He could almost swear that little twitch of Haruka’s lips against his was a smile. “I didn’t lie earlier, you know,” Haruka murmured. “I hate to admit it, but you are a little cute, sometimes.”

Kantarou flushed. “Haruka,” he chided. “It’s not nice to call a man ‘cute’.”

“You may not have noticed, but I’m not very nice.”

Kantarou pouted, not letting go of Haruka as he squirmed again. “No, you’re not,” he said. “What was up with drawing that confession out like that? I thought you might’ve hated me, Haruka –”

Haruka’s expression darkened abruptly, and Kantarou went very still as long fingers trailed down his face, tracing its outline down over his cheek and his lips, to the pulse point in his throat.

“I don’t think I could hate you,” Haruka said softly. “Not before, and certainly not now.”

Embarrassed again, oddly touched, Kantarou smiled. “That’s sweet,” he said. “That’s really sweet, Haruka, I’m touched — all this time, and you actually cared about me!”

“Of course,” Haruka added blandly, “you’re also annoying, self-centered, petty, and whiny.”

Kantarou gaped at him.

“Just in case realizing how I feel about you makes you think I’m blinded to your flaws.” Haruka’s lips didn’t even twitch. “I’m not.”

“Haruka! That’s mean!”

“…but you have some good sides too,” Haruka said. “And I might even care about the bad sides, somehow.”

“I don’t know if that makes me feel any better,” Kantarou grumbled, still pouting. “You’re so mean, Haruka, has anyone told you this? So mean.”

“You did,” Haruka said blandly. “Just now.” He sat up, pulling Kantarou with him. “Weren’t you going to go in and get tea?”

Kantarou looked at him thoughtfully, then plastered himself to Haruka’s side, shamelessly snuggling. For a moment Haruka was stiff against him, as though not quite sure of what to do, then hesitantly put an arm around his shoulders. “I want to go where Haruka is,” he announced. “So if you’re staying out here, I’ll stay with you.”

“Idiot.” Haruka’s voice was fond. “Youko will worry if we stay out here. Let’s go in.”

“You worry when Youko-chan worries?” Kantarou grinned at Haruka. “Aww! You care a lot more about everything than you let on, don’t you?”

“Of course I worry about Youko,” Haruka said, reasonably. “You put her through so much hard work and stress that anyone would worry.”

I put her through?” Kantarou gaped. “Haruka, I–“and then he yelped a startled, “Haruka!” because Haruka had swept him up and was holding him close to his chest.

“Faster than the ladder,” Haruka said dismissively.

Kantarou put his arms around Haruka. “…and maybe you want to hold me?”

“… Maybe,” Haruka allowed, and took off, gliding back to ground level, his arms secure around Kantarou.

Youko was waiting for them at the bottom; if she was surprised to see their position, she didn’t let on as she bustled forward. “There you two are,” she said, sounding relieved. “I was about to come looking for you, really! Is everything okay?”

“Just fine, Youko-chan,” Kantarou said happily. “Is there tea? You said there would be.”

“There is, but it’s probably gone cold by now.” Youko made a face at him. “I should probably have waited, but I needed something to do.”

“I’m sorry that we alarmed you,” Haruka said mildly. “In the future, if Kantarou and I plan to have serious discussions, he will hopefully remember to call down once things are resolved.”

“Hey!” Kantarou puffed his cheeks up at Haruka, mock-scowling. “Don’t act like this was entirely my fault, Haruka!”

“When you name someone, you have a responsibility to them,” Haruka told him. “Try being a better master.”

“What?! I’m a perfectly good master! I’m the type of guy anyone would want as a master! Right, Youko-chan? Right?”

Youko eyed him thoughtfully. “Kan-chan,” she said, “I hope you don’t expect me to answer that honestly …”

He pouted at her, balling both hands into fists and flailing them at her. “But, Youko-chan! I take care of you, and I give you a place to stay! I’m a good master, aren’t I? Come on, aren’t I?”

“Errr.” Youko began to back up. “I’m not going to answer that, Kan-chan, so why don’t you come in and have some tea –”

Kantarou pouted again, hmphing. “I am too a good master,” he sulked. “No one appreciates that.”

“You’re a good enough friend, most of the time,” she called. “It works–”

“Most of the time?! Youko-chan!” Kantarou turned large eyes on Haruka. “What does that mean, ‘most of the time?”

Haruka put a hand on Kantarou’s head. “…it means the rest of the time you’re annoying.”

“Haruka!”

“But at least you’re yourself,” Haruka said, mildly.

Kantarou blinked rapidly a few times, then broke into a wide, sunny smile. “You do like me, then!”

One of Haruka’s eyebrows twitched. “Kantarou …”

Kantarou pulled Haruka’s hand off his head, taking it between both of his own hands. “I’m glad,” he said, something warm in his eyes. “After all of that, I think it’d be really sad if you turned out not to like me after all.”

Haruka glanced away. “I said I cared,” he said, a bit stiffly. “What more do you want?”

“Ahhh! Haruka said it again!” Kantarou did a little dance from foot to foot. “That you like me! You said it again!”

Haruka blinked at Kantarou, then made an annoyed snort through his nose, shoving Kantarou lightly as he pushed past Kantarou to follow Youko into the house.

Kantarou snagged at his sleeve. “Harukaaa,” he drawled. “Haruka, I like Haruka too.”

Haruka glance back a moment, then curled his fingers down, grabbing Kantarou’s where they were caught in his sleeve. “Come on then,” he muttered. “And stop being a brat.”

Kantarou pouted, though he trotted obediently into the house. “That’s part of what you like about me,” he said, with perfect confidence. “If I changed, you’d worry.”

For a moment, Haruka hesitated, watching silently as Kantarou slipped past him, pulling him along. When he glanced back, his grin was cheeky, knowing, and Haruka found it didn’t bother him as much as it normally did.

“Yes,” he said at last. “I would.”

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