The scattered black feathers were stained with blood.
Gently picking one, Osamu put it close to his lips and closed his eyes. Whispering farewell to his vanished beloved, he silently wept.
And Atsumu, standing in front of him with blood all over his face, could do nothing but stare.
Suna scratched his cheek awkwardly. “Let’s just say he won’t come out for a while…” Then he let out a tired sigh. “…again. At least, he ate the peaches I put in front of his door this time.”
Kita messaged his aching forehead. “Then how’s Atsumu?”
At that, Suna averted his gaze. He refused to meet Kita’s eyes directly, and he was sweating profusely—in winter. When snow was falling outside.
Kita narrowed his eyes. “Where is he right now?”
Suna whistled, pointing at the corridor leading to Atsumu’s bedroom door.
In a flash, Kita disappeared.
“Go away. I don’t wanna meet anyone.”
“Atsumu, it’s me.”
“Especially you, Kita-san. Please don’t look at me. I’m… unsightly.”
Kita had been living a hundred year longer than the twins. He was the one who fostered them after their own parents were killed by blood-thirsty human; other than Ojiro, he knew them better than anyone—even the twin themselves. Sighing softly, he knocked on the door again. “You aren’t unsightly, Atsumu. I want to look at you. We rarely meet lately; you’ve been locking yourself inside your room, and I can only stay here for three days.”
There was no reply, but Kita could hear something shifting closer to the door.
One more push… “I brought sake with me. Keep me a company, okay?”
Someone slid the shoji a little. From inside, a three-tailed fox with light yellow fur peeked. Its golden eyes were puffy and red. “Do you also bring some otoro?”
“Atsumu, it’s winter.”
“But I want otoro.”
“It’s winter. Snow is piling outside.”
“I don’t have otoro. However, I do have some tofu and azukimeshi.”
The shoji slid wider, revealing a dark, messy room Atsumu inhabited for the last two weeks. Kita made a mental note to clean it up before returning to mountain. Atsumu rubbed his eyes with his front right paw, bowing his head as he said, “Sorry it’s a mess. Let’s drink together in the balcony, Kita-san.”
“Are you feeling better?”
Atsumu, now in his human form, nodded slightly. Kita noted that there were dark circles around his eyes. “How long have you been stayed awake?”
“…I don’t remember.”
“Let me rephrase that. Do you even sleep?”
Atsumu clammed up. He drank the sake from his masu silently, ignoring Kita’s piercing stare with a difficulty.
“If I told you not to destroy yourself at this point, would you listen to me?”
Atsumu’s current smile was an empty one. “Why do you even bother to ask, then?”
When Kita’s hand pulled his ear, Atsumu yelped in surprise. He almost dropped his half-filled masu in process. “Ouch ouch ouch Kita-san please be gentle with me—“
Kita forced him to meet his eyes directly. Atsumu flinched, yet made no attempt to escape. The older kitsune cupped his cheeks tenderly, pulling Atsumu’s face closer to his, until their foreheads touched each others’. “If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll be here for you. You know that, don’t you?”
From this close, Kita could see tears in Atsumu’s eyes. He smiled as Atsumu started to cry. Patting the younger’s head, Kita whispered softly, “You’ve done well, Atsumu. You tried to protect the poor little Tengu, don’t you? You meant to save him back then, don’t you?” Atsumu bit his lower lip as he nodded. His breath hitched; he coughed for few times. “But I can’t—I failed to save him—he got killed and ‘Samu got sad and he cried and—“
“He’s still mourning right now,” Kita muttered.
“—of course he is! I let Shoyo-kun died, I made ‘Samu lost his beloved one—“
“That little Tengu might be his lover. But you’re his treasured sibling, aren’t you?”
That got Atsumu stopped his babblings. Blinking a few times, the tears fell to Atsumu’s cheeks. Kita wiped them with his sleeves carefully. “You’ve known him far longer than anyone, haven’t you? Rather than locking yourself, refusing to eat anything, and not sleeping for two weeks straight, don’t you feel it might be better if you do your usual stuffs? Like, I don’t know…” Kita shrugged. “…barging to his room, forcing him to go outside and go ate everything in the kitchen, or perhaps—well, making ruckus in the nearby village, like you used to do before?”
Atsumu’s face went blank. He pinched his own cheek, and then pinched Kita’s cheek. That got him a hit on his head. Rubbing his sore head, he looked at Kita accusingly and said, “Are you the real Kita Shinsuke, the only kitsune around here who almost become a Tenko?”
“What are you talking about now.”
“Cause there’s no way Kita-san would be telling me to do pranks on human! He’s the only sane guy around; a sane guy would never told me to drag ‘Samu to nearest village and make some ruckus and—ouch I’m sorry please forgive me you’re the real deal please don’t tear my ears Kita-san—“
Kita let go of Atsumu’s ear with a tired look. “Now finish your drink. I’m not finishing these myself.”
Atsumu grinned cheekily. “Aw, Kita-san, you’re still a lightweigh as ever I see—OKAY I’LL DRINK THE REST OF IT NOW PLEASE DON’T MURDER ME—“
With a loud ‘bang!’, someone kicked the shoji down and barged into his room.
Osamu gave his twin a disinterested look, then closed curled back in his fox form and closed his eyes again. He smelled something that were similar to azukimeshi and… sake?
“Come on, ‘Samu, open your eyes! Kita-san cooked this for us, you can’t just refuse it and throw it away like Suna’s cooking!”
(not too far from Osamu’s room, the dark-haired kitsune in human form sneezed)
Osamu paid no attention to him, and still pretended to be asleep.
Atsumu rolled his eyes. “You always declare yourself as the smarter one between us, yet here you are, sulking like a child even though you’ve lived for four hundred years. If you kept this up, you’d die and wouldn’t be able to see his next life! Worse, you’re able to meet again in the next life, but you can’t remember anything about him—”
“Shut up, ‘Tsumu.”
“—do I ever, though?”
Osamu growled. “Go away. Leave me alone, will you?”
“Like hell I would! You’re starving yourself; you’re dying here, you know?”
“I don’t care.”
“Well, I do care! Now eat these and do some pranks with me later!”
“’Samuuu~” Atsumu whined, yet he was still ignored. Irritated, he picked up Osamu and stared directly to Osamu’s similarly irritated eyes. “I’m also starving here, you see. Eat with me, will you? Eating alone is sad. Also, it’s Kita-san who ordered us to do some pranks to the villagers!”
The last one got Osamu’s ears perked up. He opened his eyes slowly, narrowed in disbelieve. “You’re lying.”
But Atsumu’s face showed no sign of lies. His tails didn’t flinch; he didn’t whistle not-so-innocently. “I don’t believe it too at first. I thought it was another kitsune disguising itself as the mighty Kita-san, but he pulled my ears until they feel like going to be torn so yeah—he’s the real deal.” A beat, and then, “Also, he told me to drink the rest of the sake he brought. So yeah.”
They heard something crashed from a far.
Atsumu dropped Osamu in surprise and shock.
They could hear Suna panicking (“Kita-san you’re bleeding—“), Kita’s calm reply (“Don’t worry, Suna, it’s not my blood.”), and then everything went silent.
Osamu returned to his human form. He took a bowl of katsudon from the tray, eating it with a hint of fear on his face. Atsumu did the same. Both of them ate in silence, not daring to speak further about the taboo topic or even anything else, and finished the meal peacefully. After that, they clapped their hands, closing their eyes, and prayed that the poor thing Kita’s slaughtering just now would rest in peace.
A moment later, Atsumu opened his left eyes and whispered. “Wanna go for a prank?”
Osamu opened his right eye. “Only if there’s no Onmyoji.”
“There’ll be none. Humans won’t want to go outside in this cold. We’re free to spread some chaos, ‘Samu.”
Finishing his sake, Osamu wiped his mouth with his sleeve and inhaled deeply. “Then count me in. We’re going back before dawn, though.”
“Before dawn, noted! Now, get up and wash your face first. You look like trash.”
“Says one with bags under his eyes.”
“It’s because I’m worried damn it.”
“Should I be moved to tears?”
“Forget it. Lock yourself inside for all you want; I’m out to trick anyone alone!”
Osamu smirked. Racing against his twin to the front yard, he sped up his pace and spread his hands. His feet felt cold; the snow was freezing, but he welcomed it along with his renewed determination to live. “Who’s sulking now?”
He had to live. Osamu had to meet him again, as long as he still had these memories of him. The memories of that little Tengu, the one he loved dearly.
He had to live.
He wanted to meet Shoyo again, with feelings for him intact and unchanged.
“Kita-san! We’re off to the village!”
And so they ran toward the nearest village, wrecking havoc and creating ruckus here and there all the way to said village.
Osamu just had to.
(A thousand years later, in a memorable summer night, Osamu finally found him.
Shoyo was a human now. A human child, no older than five years old. He got lost at his way to the abandoned shrine in the heart of forest—the twins’ home—to find a birthday gift for his friend (In Shoyo’s own words, “A beautiful stone, left behind by a kitsune, that will make anyone who own it happy forever.”). He cried and cried, to the point Osamu could not resist himself to pull Shoyo into his arm. Osamu kissed the top of his head, rubbing his back so that Shoyo would calm down and stop crying his eyes out.
“There, there. I’m here now, no need to be afraid,” he whispered tenderly. “I will protect you now; I’ll make you happy for the rest of your life. There, there, my beloved.” Another kiss on the head. Shoyo was already asleep. He looked so peaceful, that it made Osamu almost shed a tear.
Finally, Osamu was able to meet him again.