†††††††††† Another late night studying. The house had long since gone silent and dark. Around one o'clock I went downstairs to the toilet, ready to pack it in. I was heading back to the stairs when I saw a dark shape moving along the corridor where my mother and grandmother's bedrooms are. I waited to see what it was- our house is full of 'whats'- but when it came up on me it was only Aoarashi. He gave me an absent-minded glance and seemed about to wander past. I put out a hand to stop him.
†††††††††† "What are you doing?" I whispered. He doesn't usually roam around the house, by day or night. We- or rather, I- like to keep him safe in the back rooms overlooking the garden, where visitors and neighbours are less likely to see his oddities. But he's kind of our psychic watchdog. When bogley things get past the wards of the house he'll occasionally rouse himself to investigate the intruder. Well, he will if he's hungry enough.
†††††††††† "Going to bed," he said, with his grumpy 'ask me no questions' look.
†††††††††† I sighed. The thing is, you can't trust youkai either. Given half a chance they'll either steal your food or suck your life force, or both, depending on species. Aoarashi's too lazy to plot harm against my family and he's not allowed to plot harm against me, but, well, he's still a youkai. "Where were you, then?"
†††††††††† He waved back in the direction of the hallway. "Your mother's room."
†††††††††† My heart skipped a beat. "Is there something there I should know about?"
†††††††††† "No, no. She asked me to come see her."
†††††††††† Worse than a bogle, then: my mom having a midnight consultation with my 'father' while I was safely upstairs out of earshot. Aoarashi looks like my Dad- no surprise, since itís my father's body he lives in- but I'd always figured Mom knows at some level that he's not the man she married. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Obviously I can't say to her, 'Hey, you know Dad's really my grandfather's shikigami?' and expect a coherent answer. But it was worrying that they'd been talking about me together. It had to be about me: they don't have anything else in common, which ironically makes them very like an ordinary couple. And I didn't want to think what Aoarashi might have had to say on the subject.
"What for?" I asked with a sinking heart.
†††††††††† He shrugged. "You know. That thing you people do. Whatever you call it."
†††††††††† "That thing---?"
†††††††††† "When you fit your bodies together."
†††††††††† For a minute I didn't get it. Then for a minute I couldn't see. Or breathe, or move. Then I could do all three and I grabbed him: by the neck, actually.
†††††††††† "You don't do that to my mother." I spoke very low and very clear. "You. Do. Not. Do that. To my. Mother. Is that quite clear?"
†††††††††† He was making glmphing noises- I think I was shaking him a bit. He pulled himself free, looking outraged. "I know you don't understand," I cut in before he could speak, "and I don't care. My grandfather didn't give you that body so you could do *that* to my mother."
†††††††††† "Oh?" he said hoarsely, rubbing his throat. "Well, since you know so much, what did Kagyuu send me in here for?"
†††††††††† "Not that, you can be damned sure." My grandfather told me the reason, actually, when I found out how my father'd died. Came back and told me. But that wasn't any of Aoarashi's business.
†††††††††† "How true. He did it because he couldn't stand knowing that he'd screwed up again," Aoarashi said, and his eyes glowed. "Because he wanted to pretend he hadn't killed your father with his incompetence--"
†††††††††† It's not youkai malice I mind so much, it's their stupidity and arrogance. "You don't know anything," I told him. "You could live in that body a hundred years and you still wouldn't understand the first thing about how we feel."
†††††††††† "I know Kagyuu couldn't let go of anything he thought was his. A youkai understands that."
†††††††††† "Go ahead, prove my point. He liked my father. He didn't want to lose him for good."
†††††††††† "That's what I just said."
†††††††††† "No it's not!" Why do I even try? "He wasn't thinking just of himself-- unlike you people. He knew he wouldn't live very long and he wanted me to have a father while I was growing up. Can you understand that?"
†††††††††† "I understand that you think the world turns around you, o Favouritest Grandson. What about this? He knew he wouldn't live very long and he wanted his daughter to have a husband."
†††††††††† "Y-yes but--" But not like that. "Having a husband-- having someone in the house she calls her husband-- that's just a... a social necessity. It's just for looks- for other people. You aren't the real thing, and I won't have you acting like you are."
†††††††††† He shrugged. "This is Takahiro's body. If it's real enough for her, what's your complaint?"
†††††††††† "For her? This was your idea."
†††††††††† "Hanh. I'd never think up something that weird myself. How could I?"
†††††††††† "You're a youkai--"
†††††††††† "You're not telling me youkai don't---"
†††††††††† "Not my kind of youkai. We don't even have bodies."
†††††††††† "Crap. You're a dragon!"
†††††††††† "Only because Kagyuu drew me as one. That was the first body he made for me; and the one that looks a bit like you people, that was the second."
†††††††††† "Wait- my grandfather gave you that body? Those bodies, I mean? I thought you- I thought that picture of you on the fusama was, well, a picture of you."
†††††††††† "It is. It's the spell that gave me a body."
And here I'd thought it was the spell that bound him to my grandfather. "So what were you before?"
†††††††††† "Not anything you'd understand. Not when you've had this all your life." He spread his hands. "Why do you think it was all so new to me?"
†††††††††† I remembered, from way way back, five or so, how I could use my chopsticks before he could. Mom fed him his meals. She even held the cup for him to drink from. "So... you mean it was Mom who..." I didn't want to think about it. "Did you- have you ever told her what you are?"
†††††††††† "No. I don't have to."
†††††††††† "You mean she knows?" And doesn't care?
†††††††††† "No. Yes-" He looked confused, and flapped his hand as if shooing flies. "I mean, it doesn't matter to her. This is her husband's body. That's enough."
†††††††††† "How can it not matter to her? You aren't my father. She only pretends that you are."
†††††††††† "Pretends?" He frowned, genuinely puzzled. "No. No pretending. Maybe I'm not entirely Takahiro but I'm not not Takahiro. I mean, look at me." I did. My grandfather's shikigami in my father's body still looked like 'Aoarashi' to me, not 'Father.' Not 'Father' at all. Aoarashi's mouth lengthened in impatience- pure youkai impatience.
"You can't understand that, can you? You're all Kagyuu's grandson."
"I see what's in front of my eyes!"
He snorted. "Kagyuu always told you not to look at us, to act like we just aren't there. When you look at us we look back at you and then neither of us can be free. But Kagyuu himself couldn't help looking, any more than you can. You want us to look back at you. You need to belong to our world as well as your own because you're both youkai at heart, and greedy. But your mother isn't. Your mother sees us but she doesn't look at us. Too bad Kagyuu never learned to do that before he spent all his life force trying to get hold of us. The fool might still be alive now."
I took a deep breath because it felt like all of me was shaking. "He lived with youkai all his life. Humans who live with youkai long enough become like them. Maybe that's why we have to look back at you."
"And youkai who live with humans long enough become like us, right?"
His eyes went wary. "Maybe."
I didn't say anything more. There was no point in asking if he'd become human enough to miss my grandfather. He'd never tell me the truth. The man who gave Aoarashi his body and the man who gave me mine are both gone, and I suppose the two of us just make do with what bits of them ares left to us. Aoarashi probably knew what was in my mind, because he turned away abruptly.
"I'm going to bed. It's alright for you youngsters to be up at this hour..." and he stomped off down the corridor to his room at the back, while I went up the stairs to my own bedroom.