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His first memory is the blade cutting into his palm.

The entire memory is vivid. The red blooming from the lines of his palm, his fortune line and his life line two thin slashes over his hand. The spark of pain that ignites at that point and shoots upward, his father gripping first is wrist tightly and then digging his fingers into his cuts, silencing his yelp of pain as his father forces the blood to flow. The sight of the drops falling from his hand and landing into the perfectly constructed circle of magic. The smell of the room – the scent of sandalwood, of some kind of unknown magic, and of pine.

He remembers the moment when a long, billowing sleeve curls into his hand, still bleeding, hiding the sight of that blossom of blood. When he looks up, he sees her – small, like him, her eyes large but mysterious, her ears and her horns standing out, the most stunning of her features save for those eyes. He notices her eyes first.

Years later, he’ll think to himself that he was a romantic kid, really – that before everything else (the ears, the horns, the floating, the feeling that she is not human) he would lock onto those eyes instead.

“Hidestugu,” she says and he is stuttered into silence. “You are Hidetsugu.”

He doesn’t disagree.

 

---

 

Once the shock wears off, he cries, ducking his head away and trying to keep his shoulders from shaking. Because it hurts and his hand is throbbing and his body is pulsing with this unknown magic, this interweaving of his own consciousness with someone he does not know – someone who is not ‘someone’, not human.

He wipes at his tears as best he can and when he blinks his eyes open and clears his blurred vision, she is waiting patiently, watching him curiously.

“Emotional,” she says, as if amused or perhaps simply curious. He does not know. She speaks so formally, and it sounds so foreign and she is so foreign to him – he has only ever known his mother and father, and some classmates in his kindergarten class. But that’s it. He swallows thickly, suddenly embarrassed, certain that she is judging him.

She floats over to him and he does not flinch away, but he is scared.

She tilts her head, studying his face. Then a sleeve reaches out and wipes his cheek, pulling away once the tears are gone.

 

---

 

It is strange to navigate with Mikoto. She floats, but she seems to favor his shoulder most of all. But he is small for his age, his shoulders narrow, and there is a weight to carrying his oni. His father has explained to him everything it entails, has made him promise again and again that he will not betray his secrets, that he will not betray his family, that he will speak to no one of this mysterious oni.

It’s just as well. She does not seem to wish to be shared. She does not speak with anyone else who can see her – and so few can see her. She stays at his shoulder, and he finds that, even if it is strange to carry her, he enjoys having her near.

His mother dresses him in his coat and he marches his way to kindergarten. His oni goes with him, holding onto his shoulders. He is scared, because it is the first few days of school and he doesn’t really like it that much. The other kids are annoying or too quiet or too stupid for him. He’d rather stay at home with Mikoto, he thinks, although he does not voice it. No one at school can see her and it’s just as well because his father told him that Mikoto is his – he doesn’t want to share her with anyone. He doesn’t want anyone talking to her or staring at her or making fun of her ears or her horns or the way she looks. Because he thinks Mikoto is beautiful but he knows everyone else will think she’s weird.

“What horrible penmanship,” Mikoto remarks of the child sitting next to him and he giggles, biting at his bottom lip to muffle the sound.

 

---

 

“Who are you talking to?”

“Huh?” he asks, looking up from where he was bent over himself, speaking with Mikoto about little, inconsequential things.

“You’re always talking to yourself,” his classmate protests, and looks as if he will begin to tease him.

He tries to remain calm, because Mikoto and his parents both said that he should not talk about Mikoto. But he doesn’t know what he can say, if he’s been caught talking to someone invisible. Or, worse, if he’s been caught talking to himself. He’ll be made fun of for sure.

But he hesitates for too long, unable to think of an excuse, and his classmate gets the sly, knowing look of children, slinking away before he can call him back, before he can think of an explanation.

He hates school.

 

---

 

As the years go on, she fits more comfortably on his shoulder. He grows, slowly, but he’s still rather short for his age. He doesn’t mind, especially now that Mikoto can stay on his shoulder easily as he attends grade school. He does not have many friends and he doesn’t speak with many people. To his classmates, he’s known as the kid who randomly smiles or laughs without any seeming reason. The one who sometimes talks to himself. He is weird to them. They are unremarkable to him.

Mikoto spends the lessons whispering glib remarks about the teacher or his classmates, and it makes him smile – it’s taken years of practice not to burst out laughing at some of her remarks. He holds onto his own quips back until the class breaks for the next lessons. She always laughs without restraint, although she does cover her mouth with one sleeve.

He thinks the way she says his ‘name’ is the most perfect way in the world. He loves her name for him far more than his birth name.

 

---

 

“Why me?” he asks one night, sitting by the window and watching people pass by on the street below. Mikoto hums at his shoulder. He turns to look at her. “Why do you and I have a contract? What are we meant to do?”

Mikoto watches him, her eyes glowing in the darkness. “In good time, Hidetsugu. I will teach you it all. For now, you must grow. That is all. You must live.”

He looks confused for a moment.

Why would he not live?

She cuddles up to him, smiling a little. “For now, like this, it is fine. You are still young.”

He sighs out a small huff. He’s grown taller over the last few years. He’s not the same size as she is now. He can hold her comfortably, and part of him resents being called young, still being seen as a child by her – he wants to be strong for her, worthy of this contract. He does not know why the contract has been created, why he’s lucky enough to have Mikoto by his side always, whenever he should call her. His father does not give him explanations for the future, or for why. Mikoto is more and more cryptic.

 

---

The memories return to him gradually, as he grows older. They do not hit him in a wave, as if a dam has released. They trickle in slowly. Mikoto is there to answer the questions, to fill in the blanks. But he begins to understand.

Little by little.

The first months that the memories return to him, he gasps awake with a nightmare, his eyes flashing wild in the dark. She appears to him in those moments, as if he has cried out to her without ever using his voice. She tilts her head, regarding him.

“Dreams are strange things,” she says.

“Don’t oni dream?”

“Not as humans do,” she says, she floats down to his side, snuggling up to his chest, looking up at him with those big, round eyes. “Sleep.”

“I’m trying,” he protests, quietly, his entire body shaking. She shakes her head.

“Obey me,” she says, not unkindly but her voice undoubtedly stern.

He nods a little, closing his eyes. He snuggles up to her, wrapping his arms around her, holding her close. She is so small, but he is not much larger than her like this. He wonders if he’ll always be small like this, if it’ll always be a struggle to hold her and protect her. She is his oni, he is in the contract with her – but how easy would it be to take her away from him?

He breathes out, his breath stuttering in quiet contemplation. She presses closer to him and his hands fist into the long fabric of her clothes, holding her near. The soft fur of her ear tickles under his chin but he doesn’t dare move for fear that she will pull away.

 

---

 

“Will you be with me forever?” he asks one day as they’re walking to school. Well, he’s walking. She’s draped over his shoulder.

She regards him strangely. “Do you wish to know as a foretelling or do you wish to know my desire?”

He licks his lips, his throat suddenly dry. “The second one.”

Mikoto sighs out, closing her eyes and snuggling up close to him, nuzzling against his cheek. “You are Hidetsugu. I wish to be with no one else. You are what I desire.”

He smiles, letting it ripple across his face, and he cuddles her back, closing his eyes and sighing out happily.

 

---

 

He is thirteen when his voice first cracks. She teases him, her face rippling in delight as she laughs – but it is not the mean-spirited laughter that she directs towards the classmates who cannot see her, but rather, a gentler, kinder kind of laughter. Fondness in her eyes.

He doesn’t blush but he feels as if he will.

It is a few nights later when he wakes up with a start, his eyes opening wide from the dream he’s never had before – and he realizes he’s hard. He swallows, thickly, and looks to the side, expecting Mikoto – but she is not here. She gives him privacy, only appearing when he calls to her. Tonight, he is grateful for that.

He rolls onto his stomach, pressing his cock hard against his mattress, willing the erection to go away, unsure what to do. The pressure only makes it worse and he bites into his pillow to swallow the groan. His hips jerk up at their own accord and he just manages to hold back the undignified whimper.

He shimmies a little, tugging his pajama bottoms down, sliding his hand over his stomach and fisting it around his cock, pumping it quickly, his fingers slick with sweat and—

He gasps out, barely lasting long enough to even appreciate the touch before he’s coming, tensing up and groaning loudly.

“Mikoto,” he moans.

 

---

 

Puberty leaves him aching. He grows too quickly, his limbs stretching out before his muscles can catch up. He feels inflexible, too tensed and unpleasant. His shoulders widen, though, and Mikoto remarks upon them, curling her arms around his neck and nuzzling into the back of his hair. It causes his entire body to ripple with pleasure, closing his eyes and relishing her touch, savoring the feel of her draped all over him. He wants her, desperately. He loves her, completely. Those feelings of boyhood ripple into his newly discovered adolescence.

He’s known Mikoto for over a decade. He understands what he wants is impossible. If Mikoto knows of his desire, she says nothing. He does not doubt that she could know – even if she is not physically present, they are intrinsically linked. Even when she is not summoned, she is aware of him.

There’s a certain thrill to that, though. At night, in his bed, as he pleasures himself and whispers out her name as he comes over his hand, he imagines what her reaction would be. She can be so fussy, so she might wrinkle her nose – but that only makes her cuter. He belongs to her and she belongs to him.

He moans quietly as he comes, her name in his throat, thoughts of her lingering behind his closed eyelids.

 

---

 

“There is a war coming,” Mikoto says, her voice soft. He tilts his head, watching her carefully. She tilts her head back, as if mocking him but really only observing him in her way. “I will tell you now, why it is we are connected. Why this contract must not break.”

He listens, captivated.

His purpose clear.

“You are the one your family was waiting for,” Mikoto sighs out. “I have not been seen for years – generations. I have been waiting for you.”

He closes his eyes, letting these words wash over him, finding that he’s thrilled by these words – grateful, then, to be so needed by her. To be so wanted.

“No one else will do,” Mikoto whispers.

 

---

 

“Mikoto?”

“Yes, Hidetsugu?”

“Would you kiss me if I were to ask you?” he asks.

She looks at him strangely, and then leans in and kisses him. Her mouth is tiny in comparison to his – he’s grown up too quickly this last year – but her mouth is soft and warm and he kisses her back. She makes a soft, pleased sound and he’s encouraged, kissing her back, unsure what to do with his hands, unsure what to do with his mouth.

When she pulls away, he’s smiling at her, and she purses her lips as if in thought, her nose wrinkling up. This only makes him smile more.

“There,” she says at last. “You needn’t ask.”

Hidetsugu thinks to ask her to kiss him again, but then heeds her words instead – not asking as he leans in and kisses her again, lingering, drawing her in closer, his fingers stroking over her ears gently.

 

---

 

It’s hard to pay attention in school. It’s always been difficult to focus on school growing up. The onslaught of his past life in memory form comes and goes at random and is distracting. Mikoto was distracting enough as a child simply because of her comments and because who could focus on annoying, boring people when she was there on his shoulder. Mikoto is extra distracting now as she drapes over his shoulders, nuzzling against him and kissing his cheek, the corner of his mouth, trying to tempt some reaction from him as he sits in the middle of his classroom. He can’t even respond to her. It takes all his focus not to just turn and kiss her back, or to give into the threads of desire and pleasure threatening at the corners of his mind. But he knows better.

Still, he cannot focus.

After class, during the lunch hour, he moves up the stairwell to the roof, turns the corner, and she’s kissing him, her arms draped over his shoulders. He groans softly, and kisses her back, deeply – gone are the chaste, uncertain kisses from the start. Now he kisses her deeply, teasing her with his tongue but still gentle, still mindful of what she wants, responding only to the soft, pleasant sounds she makes – kissing him back, something like a soft cooing sound. He strokes her ears and she almost purrs.

“School’s difficult enough without you distracting me,” he scolds, not unkindly, his eyes bright and amused as he smiles at her.

She wrinkles her nose. “And what of me? If you aren’t paying attention to me, then it’s just boring.”

She leans in and bites at his lip. He smiles, wider, closing his eyes and savoring having her so near – undoubtedly his, he undoubtedly hers. His entire life has revolved around her. He cannot even remember his life before their contract.

She’s laughing now, eyes alit with mirth as she hides her wide smile behind her sleeve. “Hidetsugu, you’re hard.”

“Who’s fault is that?” he asks, not quite embarrassed but unsure what to do since he’s at school and far from the safety of his bedroom.

She hums out, draping herself all over him, smiling against the shell of his ear as she whispers, “You can’t go back to class like that.”

He groans. “Mikoto.”

She shrugs, or seems to shrug, and she nuzzles up against him. He can feel the bump of her horns against the line of his jaw and he swallows thickly. She smiles, her lips curving against his neck.

It’s enough. He unbuttons the front of his school uniform, pressing his hand inside and stroking himself slowly, tipping his head back, seeking out the feel of those horns against his skin, imagining all the things he could do to Mikoto, if only he had the chance. Her sleeves pass over his chest, encouraging him on with soft sounds from those soft, small lips. She whispers his name in his ear and he moans softly, stroking himself faster. She nuzzles against him and he bites his lip to muffle the sounds caught in his throat.

When he comes, he whispers her name – and hears her whisper his back.

 

---

 

It is a quiet evening, raining. He is sixteen, leaning over his work, trying to focus.

And then, suddenly, Mikoto makes a soft sound – one he hasn’t heard before. When he looks up, she is looking off into the distance, looking momentarily shocked.

“Mikoto?” he asks, his math homework momentarily forgotten as he watches her. “What’s wrong?”

“Hideyori is born,” she says softly.

 

---

 

She does not give him more information than that, but it’s just as well. He learns of his cousin’s birth a day later, in the morning. His father mentions it off-hand, not realizing the extent of his cousin’s soul, of the past lives he’s lived. He shrugs, feeling morose. He knows what this means—

He will lose Mikoto. Hideyori’s blood will undoubtedly be stronger. Undoubtedly, a new, stronger contract will be made.

And he’ll lose Mikoto forever.

 

---

 

She kisses him and he tries to kiss her back, but with each movement he can’t help but think that she’s simply saying goodbye. Each kiss, each touch, each nuzzle of her cheek against his. He’s showered her with offerings his entire life, treasured and cherished her – and now he would lose her.

The rebellious thoughts in the back of his head tell him he should fight for her. Steal her away once it’s over. Make her his again. But to defy his own family would be suicide – undoubtedly he’d be stopped, for the sake of the war his entire family is emerged in, a war he never would have known existed if not for Mikoto.

“You are angry with me?” Mikoto asks, pulling away, frowning when he does not respond to her kiss as enthusiastically as he would normally be.

“Sorry,” he says and shakes his head. “It’s not you.”

“Then what,” Mikoto asks, not quite pouting but looking frustrated.

He looks down and sighs out. “When will the blood contract be made? I was just a kid when it happened for me, so I guess you have to wait until you’re sure this Hideyori guy lives long enough.”

There’s a whisper at the back of his mind, some dark corner telling him there’s a way to ensure that Mikoto does not leave him. But he does not focus on those dark, rebellious thoughts – he does not allow himself to think of it. Not yet.

Mikoto just frowns at him. “Hidetsugu.”

The sound of his name gives him no pleasure now – it simply reminds him that he is not Hideyori, that he is of inferior blood and inferior lineage. Because he is Hidetsugu, he will lose Mikoto.

“Listen to me,” she says, angry now, because he is not paying proper attention to her. She drapes her arms over his shoulders, staring down at him sternly, her brow furrowing in her frustration. He blinks up at her.

And then he relents, his shoulders sagging. “I’m sorry.”

“It does not serve you to be foolish,” she says with a sniff. “Our contract will not be broken. You are Hidetusgu. You are the most suitable for me.”

“Me?” he asks, somewhat stupidly, taken aback by the conviction in her voice.

“Yes,” she says, voice stern and pouting down at him. “Now kiss me properly.”

His expression ripples back to life instantly, and he smiles up at her, curls his hand into her hair to cradle the back of her head, and draws her in to kiss her – beyond happiness.