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The Long and Winding Road

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Youko frowned, watching Kantarou from the doorway. He was scribbling furiously, Reiko looking concerned as he wrote.


"Kantarou-san? Are you okay?" she asked, Kantarou set his pen aside and looked back at her, smiling a lie.

"Of course Reiko-chan. I really need to finish this, if you'll wait a few more minutes you can take it." he smiled and took up his pen. Reiko swallowed and glanced back at

Yuuko in the doorway. Youko shook her head sadly. Reiko stood.

"I'm going to get some tea from Youko, do you want me to bring some up to you?" she asked, gently touching Kantarou's shoulder. He pulled away.

"No." he answered sharply, Reiko frowning at him.

"Okay Ichinomiya-san." she nodded, bowing and stepping out with Youko. She frowned. "What happened?"

"Haruka's not here, he hasn't been here in a long time, it's like a piece of his soul is missing. He's a mess…" Youko shook her head. Reiko nodded and grabbed the kitsune's arm.

"How is he eating?" Reiko asked, looking concerned at the girl. Youko sighed and shook her head, leading the editor down the stairs.

"Barely anything. I made his favorite foods last night to cheer him up but he barely ate anything. He's losing a lot of weight." she sighed, starting water for tea and Reiko sitting a the table.

"What can we do? Intervention? Hold him down and force him to eat?" Reiko sighed, shaking her head, Youko smiling a little.

"The only thing I can think of is to wait for Haruka to come back." Youko sighed.

"We should get him." Suzu said suddenly from the doorway, Reiko and Youko jumping.

"Suzu?" Youko asked, Suzu shaking her head.

"Haruka won't come back! Not on his own!" the girl growled, clenching her fists and glancing over at the stove. She sighed a little. "Sugino-sama should have an idea as to where he is."

"I don't think Haruka will come back." Reiko sighed, Youko frowning."We should at least try right?" Youko asked, Reiko shaking her head.

"Haruka's like a magpie, he collects beautiful things into a nest but at the first sign of danger, abandons the nest entirely. Even if we did manage to convince him to come back he wouldn't be happy." Reiko sighed, shaking her head.

"We should still try, even if we can't find him, even if he says no, he should at least see Kantarou again." Suzu said resolutely, as if she'd do it even if they said no.

"Do you know if they were…?" Reiko looked over at Youko pointedly, Youko shaking her head.

"I know that ever since Kantarou heard the legend he's loved him. Haruka, even before they knew each other, was the reason Kantarou did everything he did, why he went into a career in Folklore, why he learned the techniques for exorcism, everything Kantarou has ever done has been to get to Haruka and now Haruka's running away." Youko said, eyes tearing up. "it's too sad. Like Suzu says, we have to try."

"Then we'll go." Reiko nodded and stood. She grabbed her coat and walked upstairs to tell Kantarou they were going out.


Muu-chan sighed, tapping the glass of the window. She was truly bored. It had been weeks since her and Sugino had done anything and the last exciting thing she'd done was chew up a force field and save the kitsune. Now that was life! That was living with zeal and enthusiasm!

"Muu-chan darling! We have a guest!" Sugino smiled and picked her up, Muu-chan smiling.

"Muu?" She asked, him smiling.

"Youko-san. She wants to know where Haruka is I bet." Sugino whispered, Muu-chan sighing to herself and shrugging. "Yeah I know! I dunno where he is either, should we help?"

"MUU!" she affirmed, nodding. He grinned.

"Then we'll do it!" he turned to Youko who'd watched the bizarre transaction between them and now looked royally confused. "We don't know where he is but I'm sure we can find him!"

"Thank you Lord Sugino!" Youko bowed, Sugino smiling at his little demon wife. Muu-chan placed her hands on her hips and managed to look serious.

"Muu muu." she said, Sugino nodding.

"Youko, you take Muu-chan with you, she'll lead you to Haruka's old territory, I'll scan overhead." he smiled, wings spreading and he took off out of the little house, Youko transforming into fox form.

"Climb aboard Muu-chan!" Youko smiled and Muu-chan jumped up, pointing out and towards the north.


 

Kantarou stopped writing and frowned, looking around.

"It's nearly dark, shouldn't they be back from shopping by now?" he sighed to himself and stood, walking down stairs. He looked around and didn't find them and sighed. He grabbed an apple from the basket on the table and started up the stairs and towards his room. He stopped in front of Haruka's and swallowed.

Don't look.

He's not there; it'll only make it worse

Just don't look.

Kantarou threw the door open and swallowed hard.

Close it.

Block it off.

Brick it up.

Just stop looking.

He closed the door slowly, looking once up at the window before he completely was shut off from that world. That little museum of treasures. He took a shaky breath and turned his back on the door, walking back to his room, to his work. He sat, bit his apple once and set it aside before running a hand back through his hair and sighing.

"Pitiful." he muttered to himself, gripping fingers in his hair.

This hurts.

More than my scar, this hurts.

Pitiful.

Haruka would laugh. He'd ask why he was so upset and shake his head in that annoyed way then he'd chuckle a little.

Kantarou knew it all. But it still hurt. Deep in his chest, not even his work could bury it, not even solitude.

"I hate you." he growled bitterly at the empty room. "I don't care, can you not see that?"

He sighed and shook his head and looked up. A single black feather settled on his desk and he shot to his feet, rushing to the window. He looked around frantically and his eyes settled on the crow, sitting on the roof beside theirs. He watched it and then his head hung.

"I hate you Haruka…" he said harshly, his eyes streaming and tears hitting his hands on the window sill.


 

Sugino was the one to find Haruka. This didn't surprise him; he'd always had a certain sense for the Demon Eater.


"What do you want Sugino?" Haruka hissed, Sugino sighing and walking into the cave.

"You look like shit." Sugino sighed, kneeling down beside the Tengu.

"Why'd you come here?" Haruka growled, Sugino lifting up a handful of black feathers.

"Look at this, you're molting, I mean seriously Haruka…" Sugino sighed, Haruka's eye getting sharper.

"Don't call me that!" he yelled, moving away from him.

"Why not? You're still Haruka no matter what I call you. Until Ichinomiya breaks the pact, you're Haruka." Sugino said, Haruka shaking his head and looking away.

"Just go away." he muttered, Sugino looking up at the cave's ceiling and shuddering.

"Why are you here? This is dreary." Sugino shook off the mild convulsion. He hated caves, hated not being able to see the sky above him. Of being trapped in the dismal dark. And he thought Haruka did too. Haruka shook a little, his wings torn and the feathers weighed down by whatever had gotten on them, his clothes scuffed and ripped. Even his staff had gotten the full grunge treatment and was sitting in a puddle of mud.

"I tried to kill him Sugino… I tried to kill Kantarou…" Haruka said, shaking whether from cold or self loathing Sugino didn't know.

"So what?" he sighed, rolling his eyes, Haruka looking up at him in shock.

"So what? That's the same as trying to kill Muu-chan would be for you!" Haruka yelled, Sugino grabbing him by the collar and tossing him down onto the ground.

"So I wouldn't mope about it! I'd apologize, kiss my love, and we'd work through it together!" Sugino yelled, Haruka looking away. Sugino growled. "So you almost killed him, so what? It's driving him insane waiting for you! If you keep him this way he'll die anyhow!"

"Don't joke about that Sugino." Haruka said sharply, Sugino rolling his eyes.

"You're hurting him Haruka, right now." Sugino sighed, shaking his head. "Youko said he hasn't been eating and he doesn't sleep."

"I can't… I can't go back…" Haruka said, shaking his head, eyes tearing up a little.

"Then kill yourself and be done with it. It'll be better than knowing that Kantarou died at your hand. Died because you couldn't be careful with his heart." Sugino said, Haruka shaking again. Sugino sighed and shook his head. "Haruka, listen to me."

"Just leave." Haruka whispered. Sugino sighed.

"I did try to kill Muu-chan once, it's a curse of being a Tengu, you always lose control once." Sugino said, Haruka shaking his head.

"I've done it at least three times…" he said softly.

"Your situation is different." Sugino rolled his eyes.

"How?" Haruka asked voice low and bitter.

"Your soul is incomplete. The priest who sealed you tore your mind from you. Your memories are only bad ones Haruka." Sugino sighed and shook his head. "Fighting, killing, protecting. You kept your territory but the prices were great, the wars were hard. If you think knowing will make you feel better then go to the demon woman and her human master, beg her to free your memories, but don't sit here like stagnant water." Haruka didn't look at him and Sugino sighed.

"The girls are worried for Kantarou, for you. You need to help him, either push him away forever or go back to him. You're killing him with this hope." Sugino sighed and shook his head, spreading his wings. "You two are the saddest thing I think I've ever seen. Even me and Muu-chan don't have these problem and she's five feet shorter than me."

Sugino walked away and Haruka sat there, hating himself.

"I'm hurting him…" he whispered and heard Sugino take off. He looked down at his hands, they looked red, stained with blood and he clenched them into fists.
I can't touch Kantarou with these hands. I can't risk him.

And Haruka sighed.


 

"Kantarou! We're back!" Youko called up the stairs, Reiko setting the groceries they'd bought as cover and sighed.

"I should go. I'll come back tomorrow, tell Kantarou that he's got a four week extension on his deadline." she smiled, Youko nodding.

"I'll tell him." she smiled. Reiko smiled back.

"Watch out for him okay?" she said, turning and walking out.

"Yeah." Youko smiled. Youko started putting the groceries away and Kantarou poked his head down the stairs.

"Hey, you're back, what took so long?" he asked, smiling. Muu-chan suddenly jumped out and attached herself to his face. "YAA! Muu-chan?"

"Oh yeah, we went to see Sugino-sama." Youko smiled then sweat dropped. "I probably should have taken her home but Sugino will come and get her I suppose."

"Man Youko! He's gonna kill me!" Kantarou groaned, sitting down at the table, she looked at him and he grinned. "What's for dinner?"

"I bought oden on the way home." she smiled a little and pointed at the boxes a little distance away. Kantarou smiled.

"Thanks Youko, it smells great." he smiled at her. Youko sat with him and watched him pick through the box. He looked up at her and frowned. "What?"

"You're hungry?" she asked, Kantarou nodding.

"Yeah, so?" he asked, Youko smiling.

"Nothing, enjoy the oden!" she smiled. Kantarou sighed and went to eating. He had to, if he didn't he'd get sick and that was the last thing he needed on top of everything. "Oh, Reiko said that there's been a four week extension on your deadline, so take it easy a little!"

"Really? We should go to the beach or something then." he smiled, Youko frowning.

"The beach?" she asked. Kantarou hates he beach. The sand, the crowds, the sun. It's too much for his delicate skin, he always burns…

"You haven't been have you? I bet you'd like it." Kantarou smiled then glanced away. "Maybe Suzu could come with us; we could make a picnic lunch."

"Kantarou…" Youko set her chop sticks down and scooted closer.

"I'm sorry." he sighed, shaking his head.

"Kantarou, it'll be okay. Don't worry about it." she rubbed his back and he leaned against her, shaking and sobbing. She put her arms around him and his tears wet the front of her kimono.

"Why does it hurt so much Youko?" he asked, voice muffled by her dress.

"Because, it always hurts when you lose a loved one." she sighed, him peeking up at her. She smiled. "Even if that loved one is a foolish magpie Tengu."

"Youko…" Kantarou muttered.

"Yeah?" she smiled.

"I'm glad I met you. I know I don't really say it a lot but I appreciate your friendship." he smiled and pulled away, wiping his eyes.

"Oh you need me, if I wasn't here you'd wear the same clothes all the time." she laughed and Kantarou smiled a little.

"Thanks Youko."


 

Haruka sat outside his window, watching. Sitting on the roof beside a crow, the animal staring holes through him.

"I'll go in a minute." he promised, the crow shaking his feathers out and cawing once. Haruka looked down at it. "I will."

The crow shook again and he sighed. He looked back at Kantarou, stooped over his desk, writing furiously. Haruka smiled. At least some good came of this. He'll get his manuscript in on time. The crow cawed again and he looked down at it.

"I'll go in a minute." he said, glancing away. The crow pecked him, ruffled its feathers and flew off. He rubbed his hand where the crow had pecked and sighed. Then his eyes widened in shock when the crow dove into Kantarou's window, and flew around, the wind from it's wings making Kantarou's papers fly everywhere.

"Ah you little! You've caused me enough trouble today you stupid-" Kantarou chased the crow out of his room and froze, Haruka standing on the roof. The crow flew out and landed on Haruka's shoulder. It cawed at him, pecked him once in the neck and flew away. Haruka scowled, rubbing his neck, and looked over at Kantarou."Haruka!"

He glanced away and Kantarou gripped the window sill tighter, eyes wide and pleading. Haruka looked up at him and nodded, flapping a few times and landing on the window sill. Kantarou watched him with watery eyes and shook his head.

"I'm sorry." Haruka whispered. Kantarou looking down at his feet.

"I won't forgive you for this." Kantarou chuckled bitterly.

"What?" Haruka asked, eyes widening. He sincerely thought an apology was all that was needed, that Kantarou would brighten under him once more. Kantarou shook his head.

"You can't run away every time the water gets murky Magpie." he smiled wistfully, Haruka swallowing. Kantarou grabbed him by the front of his torn and tattered shirt and pulled him into the room, Haruka staggering to get his balance and Kantarou hugging him. "I paid a lot for these clothes you know, you ruined them."

"I'm sorry. I was living in a cave for a few weeks…" Haruka said softly, Kantarou holding him and that soft feeling of completion settling over him.

"It's okay, we can find a way for you to work it off I'm sure." Kantarou chuckled a little. Haruka clutched onto Kantarou.

"I'm so sorry…" he whispered, Kantarou burying his face in Haruka's shoulder.

"It hurt more than you know… to be pushed aside…" Kantarou said softly. "Don't run from me Haruka."

"I tried to kill you." he said shakily, Kantarou nodding.

"You're the oni devouring Tengu, it makes sense that that part of yourself wouldn't want to be named." Kantarou said then smiled. "But don't think you'd get away that easily, I wouldn't die. And even if I did I'd haunt you Haruka. Just to be annoying."

"You're good at that." Haruka mumbled, Kantarou pulling away a little.

"Being annoying?" he smiled.

"Saying just the thing I needed to hear." Haruka corrected.

"I'm eloquent, comes with the job of a writer I suppose." Kantarou smiled a little. Haruka smiled back and leaned in, kissing his master. Kantarou was shocked for a second but adjusted, wrapping arms up around his neck then pulled away. "Oh gross! Haruka! What's this goop in your hair?"

"Cave sludge I'd guess…" Haruka smiled down at Kantarou who wiped his hand on his hakkama.

"That's disgusting…" Kantarou's nose wrinkled. He looked over Haruka's shoulder and sighed. "and it's in your wings too."

"I suppose it is." Haruka shuffled a little, glancing away and blushing.

"Well, c'mon my little magpie, lets give you a bath." Kantarou smiled and grabbed his hand, pulling him along. Haruka smiled a little and followed.


 

Youko giggled a little at the screams and laughter coming from upstairs and shook her head.

"Well, everything's back to normal then." she smiled, drinking the last of her tea and curling up on the floor pillows. She yawned. "Better sleep, I'll have to make breakfast for three tomorrow morning."

 

 

End.