For flo_nelja who gave me ideas


Fever Dream


Sickness is a tiresome country. The red-grey sky of some unending night- no breath of wind, no coolness, no comfort. Air thick and unbreathable. Sky sullen and lowering. No telling distances or size. An iron bar digs into your back: it's a fold of sheet, almost flat. You fall into murky pits of sleep, you're there for hours in the confused half-dark, you come out and you've been asleep fifteen minutes. "How are you feeling, Ritsu? Can I get you anything?"- mother's voice, grandmother's voice, there and gone, useless. 'Can you get me out of here?' and they can't.

           Something presses on your chest, something weighs down your shoulders, you plod the grey nightlands on stone legs dragging a great bundle of something behind you. Your head keeps trying to float away from your body and you half wish it could, except that the idea terrifies you and you have to keep feeling it to see if it's still there. Not able to stop, not able to find the way out- the way to the other place you're beginning to believe doesn't exist. Fall into another crevasse of sleep, another dark uneasy interval, and roll out again. This time there's air in the world, a returned coolness, or maybe just the idea that coolness is possible.

           Turn your head, impossibly heavy but at least attached to your body. The pale nightlight shines on the bare walls of your bedroom, shines on the corners empty of shadows or spirits, shines on Aoarashi's face, youkai Aoarashi all floating silver and black, looking replete and happy as he licks his fingers. Small bubble of laughter in your chest.

           What's so funny?

           You don't eat with those fingers. Why are you licking them?

           What do *you* know about it?

(Indeed. What *do* you know about it?)

           He sniffs.

I don't suppose you're going to thank me for cleaning up around here.

           Good work. (But really, as well thank the sun for shining. Youkai eat. That's what they do.)

           The futon smells of sweat and misery. You get your legs out of the roiled sheets, complex as an old hornet's nest; push the dead weight of the coverlet off you and roll free. Out onto the smooth ripply surface the tatami. Better. Tatami's cool. Cold. Shiver, pajamas soggy with sweat, sticking to your back. Shuck off the pants, kick them away.

Oi-- Aoarashi says in surprise.

           These stink-

Tug at the buttons of the shirt but they won't open; pull it over your head instead and lie there exhausted, last of your strength gone. 

           You're all over goosebumps. Get back into bed.

           ...stinks too...

           Not going back to that nightmare burrow. Curl up, arms around yourself. Back to sleep. Sleep is warm---

           A cover drops onto you, thin material, dry, warm, or at least not cold. Smooth against your skin, feeling like- not cotton exactly- you finger it sleepily and open your eyes a crack. Black, and spreading out oddly as it covers you, fraying threads of it brushing your shoulder behind. A stiff bit at the top- a collar--

           A kimono. A black kimono. I don't have any kimono-

Aoarashi's robe. (He can take it off? I thought it was part of him.) The fine fraying threads are his loose hair lapping over your arm. Whiteness seen over your shoulder. White: the hair, the pale sharp features, the little teeth overlapping his lower lip, the thin shoulders... The rest of him hidden under the same blackness as yourself.


           How white you are, he says.

           (It's Aoarashi who's white: pale eyes glowing like moonlight.)

           So round and firm.

           (Thin bony hands, pointed fingernails, run over the round firmness he's talking about.)

           Good enough to eat.

           That part makes sense, finally.

           You can't eat me. Grandfather won't let you.

           You think not? You were too young to know Kagyuu at all.

           And then he's gone. Where'd he go to?

           A weightless weight on your lower body. Something that might have been warmth elsewhere but here is only the thought of warmth. Touch- pressure- a memory of wetness. A memory of stroking. Something against something. The world swimming about you, darkness returning, dizzy-- can't keep your eyes open, have to close them, have to roll your head back and forth on the cool rigid tatami. Hot it's so hot under this black robe, the black water rises to claim you, close your eyes and dive right down to the bottom of the black darkness of sleep.


           I woke up, dry and comfortable and finally feeling like myself.

           "Good, you're awake," my mother's cheerful voice said.

           "Yeah." I sat up. Sun in the window. The night finally over.

           "Feeling better?"

           "A lot." I was wearing different pajamas. "Where'd these come from?"

           "You were drenched when your fever broke. We had to change you, and your sheets as well."


           "Grandmother and I."

           "WHAT??? You and Grandma--!!"

           "Ritsu, what's the matter?"

           "The *matter*?? My *privacy's* what's the matter! You don't-- you-- I'm *eighteen*!"

           "Good heavens, what a carry-on. You'd think we'd never changed your diapers or wiped your bottom for you."

           "That was *then*! I'm not a kid any more!"

           She smiled. "That's obvious."

           All the blood went straight to my face. "God, how'm I supposed to even *look* at Grandma after this!"

           "Well, I'm sorry you mind, but we couldn't leave you lying there in sopping wet pajamas and sheets to catch your death of cold--"

           "You could have woken me up!"

           "You were too sound asleep. You needed it. Sleep's the best thing after a fever breaks."

           "Or got Dad to do it."

           She looks shocked. "Oh no. We wouldn't wake Father in the middle of the night! Besides, nursing's women's work."

           "Dad--" A finger of not-quite-memory touches my mind. "Did Dad come here last night?"

           "No, of course not."

           "I thought he did."

           "I'm sure he didn't. I was here the whole night and I'd have woken up if he came to look in on you."

           "Oh. Must have been a dream then."

           "Probably. Now, what do you want for breakfast?"



May 07