Who You Are

Because he does not like relating to people, Shido tends to think of those closest to him in terms of animals.

Raitei had been a wolf, lean and confident in his power, with his teeth bared to those who threatened the pack, but never anything but kind to those under his protection. And, always, with a sadness in his voice that could never be fully explained or soothed away. Ginji himself is more of a puppy, all bright eyes and good humor and unconditional affection, tripping over himself to please.

(Of course, that would probably mean the snake-bastard is his master. Shido does not like that admission, but there is little he can do to deny it. Ginji will roll over and show all the vulnerable parts of his belly to that snake without a second thought, and Shido only hopes that Ginji truly understands what he offers, every time he does, though he doubts it. Midou realizes, of course, but so far he has not taken up on that tacit, unknowing permission. Shido can pray to his ancestors that they will stay in that uncertain state of balance, but he is certain one day they will teeter and crash. He will, then, pray that Ginji is not irreversibly shattered by that.)

Emishi, too, is sort of puppyish in his loyalty and in the way he will shamelessly flaunt and boast for an audience. A kind word and a treat, if done right, can set off ecstasies of gratitude. He is fond enough of Emishi, but it exhausts him to be around the man for too long. He has unswerving devotion from his animals, without the need of human complications. It is only after being separated for a while that he begins appreciating Emishi more–though still not his sense of humor. Perhaps a hyena, in that, always laughing and skirting the sidelines, only fighting when called to.

Kazuki makes him think of a swan, long-bodied grace and unexpected ferocity. If there is any man who can be like a swan without seeming utterly ridiculous, it is Kazuki. He has the sort of beauty that can inspire idiots to works of poetry, but the reality of him is less kind, less nurturing, than reams of figurative language can ever fully mask.

And MakubeX is a fox-kit, adaptive and quick and sometimes too smart for his own good. When his body finally catches up with his mind, and he matures into his intelligence, Shido thinks he will be quite grateful to be one of the lonely boy’s few friends.

All of the people in his life have reminded Shido of one animal or another. The intermediary is a long-haired housecat, a self-confident queen in her own right; Lady Poison a young gazelle; Jackal is not an actual jackal, but some large hunting cat, soft-pawed and unquestionably deadly, chosing to toy with his prey before the final moment of death. Shido classifies these people quickly–within minutes, really, because he does not have that many long-term acquaintances, and sometimes survival can depend on how he adapts to react to someone’s personality type.

It’s how he survived the first encounter with Midou Ban, years ago. A mongoose is not always as fast as a snake, but it has enough tricks to be quite a threat. And Fudou, the man obsessed with killing Midou, who drank the stink of death like fine wine–without understanding how the man drew his power, Shido does not think he would have survived.

He lives by identifying people, and by changing himself to suit.

Madoka, however, defies all of that.

He has lived in her house for almost six months now. He sees her every day at least once, whether she shyly greets him over breakfast, or comes into the garden to play for him, or follows Mozart to his side after practice. He would call her a chameleon, but that is not right, either–though he cannot pin her nature down, there is nothing shifty or false about Madoka. She is always as her nature dictates, quiet and gentle and never pretentious.

Mozart tells the same story, full of the effusive and unquestionable love of a well-treated dog. It is easy for him, because she is beloved pack-leader, to be obeyed without question and adored for her simple presence. Dogs are more intelligent than many give them credit for, but within their own personal relations, there is little to complicate things.

She cannot be a dog in his eyes, even the lean, leggy ones that move with their own fluid grace, because she relies on no pack to define her role and character. She cannot be a cat, despite her poise even under fire, because she is willing to sometimes sacrifice her dignity for the sake of fun, wrestling with Mozart down on the floor.

Other times she reminds him of a sparrow, or some other delicate little bird–not flashy or bright in her plumage, but with her own grace of beauty, quick and full of song. There are exercises where Madoka needs to sing the runs before she plays them, and Shido hangs around somewhere behind the open doorway to listen. Her voice will never reach the level of her violin, but it still has a strange kind of power over him.

Now he sits outside her open window and listens to her practice–ordinary scale runs and etudes, designed to keep her fingers loose and nimble. He can see her clearly, long dark hair pulled back for once, and she sways even to these simple melodies, lost in her creation of a world of sound.

Countless animals in the world, a hundred in his own repertoire of imitations, and he cannot assign any of them to her to his own satisfaction.

Like a member of his own clan, he realizes with a start. Like one of the Fuyuki, these past six years dead.

The realization troubles him more than he would care to admit. Dangerous enough, that he has stepped out of the concealing protection of the Mugenjou and back into the outside world. Sooner or later, they will find him again, and now he must take her safety into consideration.

In battle, physical wounds to the body heal with time. But he does not want to think of what might happen, if that gentle girl who follows him with her sightless eyes is caught in the crossfire. Madoka is not entirely defenseless, but she has no training, no understanding of how to fight–and music may mean something to animals, but insects care for nothing but the drone of their fellows.

The thought leaves him cold, and more frightened than he wants to admit. He does not want the responsibility of her last rites, not if they come as a result of his own curse.

Madoka is not of the Mariwood, with all the animals of the world as her champion. She is only human, already robbed of one of her weak senses, and if the buzzing crickets are ever called back to report …

Her music stops. Shido has been looking at her without seeing, and she has come to the window during his distraction. The violin is cradled gently in her arms, like a newborn child. “Shido-san? Are you there?”

He’s not sure why she always asks. Her instinct of his presence is keener than any animal’s; it has surprised him from time to time. She smiles down at him, her blind eyes turned unerringly to the tree he and his friends have staked as “their own.”

“I’ll put on some tea,” she says. “Will you come inside?”

I want to pin you down, so I can understand you. I want you to always be safe.

I don’t want to see you cry. I don’t want to see what will happen to you if I stay. I don’t want–

He gets to his feet, hands in his pockets. “All right,” is all he says.

She smiles and disappears again from the window; he can hear the sounds of her putting the instrument up, with the same delicate care she applies to everything.

When he goes inside, the drone of summer insects is all that is left to fill the air.

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