Moroha understood why her father liked to sleep in trees.
High off the ground, she could see further and detect anything attempting to intrude on her temporary refuge. Thick branches supported her weight while their full to bursting blooms covered her from view. Dappled sunlight danced across her skin brushing streaks of gold across her belly, heating the fire rat fur until she was encased in a blanket of warmth. With a little adjustment of her shoulders and her fingers locked beneath her head, she was prepared to fall asleep until either her parents or friends came to find her. Another boon, the tranquility of the forest was further from her home village allowing her to sleep easier without the constant noise buzzing in the back of her mind.
Insects hummed to birdsong exchanged between tree notches where wind whistled playfully, rustling through the hollows and curling mischievously around low-hanging leaves that tickled her nose til she was prepared to sneeze. She refrained. It would have given away her hiding spot to any of the lesser yokai creeping around this part of the wood. They strayed further from where the master of the forest tread, allowing villagers to forage and hunt to their liking, but in the places where her father had not visited in some time trouble waited.
A small smile touched her lips as an image of her forest home emerged, her parents enjoying one another’s company while her mother and younger brother Yae prepared dinner. Yae would notice her arrival, third to their parents, but he was always the most animated when she returned. Waving his arms around with the sleeves of his kosode tied up to his shoulders, revealing the faint scars on his fingers from where his archery training proved painful.
Without warning, her brother would run into her arms and embrace her around her waist. His nose almost as good as her own when not distracted by flowers and the spices their mother tended to put in their father’s dish. Innocent questions of why she smelt of blood would immediately draw their parents’ attention. Moroha could almost hear her father’s voice now if she returned with flecks of blood on her claws.
“If you’re going somewhere dangerous, at least take your sword with you,” he would gripe all while discreetly checking her over for any other wounds.
Perfunctory as it was, Moroha would say in return that she could handle herself just fine with these— flexing her claws to his unamusement. Their squabbling would be broken up by her mother, telling her to clean up before dinner was ready. Even in a perceived scenario, Moroha could imagine the way her lips would purse and concern would make her seem just a bit older. ’
She would pepper her with questions of what her day was like, gradually weaving together misadventures with information Moroha let slip until her misdeeds were known. Moroha pursed her lips, stifling a grumble. Her mother was way too good at that. She was comforting and sweet, easy to talk to and slow to anger in most cases. Though making her mad was something Moroha never wanted to do after hearing tales of her mother’s temper from her father, aunts and uncles. Still, it was hard not to love her, and Moroha didn’t mind that much when her mother scolded her.
Those doe-brown eyes were impossible not to feel guilty under and she promised to be careful next time, reiterating it when Yae looked at her with the same measure of concern. Her father would be of no help either. He would just look on from the other end of the fire and give a shrug, as if saying ‘What can you do?’. And what could they do? There was just no winning when it came down to it.
No matter how strong she was or capable, somebody would always be worried about her coming back in one piece.
“Moro-nee-chan! Papa! Dinner is ready!”
Rocking upright, she dropped her arms in her lap with a sigh. So much for a before-dinner nap. Though before she could answer her younger brother’s summons, a flash of red caught her attention between cracks of leafy green. Silver floated on the wind as her father came to a halt beneath her tree. Peeking down at him, she smiled as he tossed his head in the direction of their home, waiting until she leapt down to turn around and head back.
She almost wanted to ask where he’d been before but a quick sniff dispersed the question before it could touch her lips. down at the ends of his sleeve, Moroha tilted her head when she noticed red tipping his claws. “... Tou-chan…”
“Don’t start.” He grumbled, not quite pissed off but almost restrained like he was trying not to get caught for something.
She arched a brow then tipped her chin away from him to her opposite shoulder, a deeper inhale filling her nostrils with the stench of fresh blood. The smell dried on her father’s claws, perhaps he tried to wash it out before finding her, but it was stronger somewhere to the west of where her napping tree was. The corpse, most likely. If whatever he killed had kept on its path, it would have ended up… where she was.
Careful as to not let on to her realization, Moroha peeked out the corner of her eye just in time to see golden eyes flick forward and the slight twitch of his ears. Her pouting lips curled up into a half-hidden smile.
“There’s a stream nearby,” she said after the silence lingered between them long enough for her father’s embarrassment at being caught to wane. He said nothing in return, though she knew he was listening. He always listened to what she had to say. “If we clean up before, kaa-chan won’t tell us too later.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at her, seeming to catch on to what was unsaid. His path changed without warning and Moroha blinked at his back, huffing softly. Of course he knew where the stream was. This was his forest after all. Watching his back as it grew distant, she noticed how his hands weren’t covered by his sleeves anymore. One turned where his palm faced the outside of his thigh while the other was outward, fingers uncurled almost like…
She huffed then smiled, barreling after him. A light elbow jabbed into his arm when she fell in step with him, tossing a beaming grin up at his bemused look.
She was a little too old to be holding her father’s hand but she’d never outgrow their love for her.