One big mistake could ruin everything. Friendless and haunted, darkness stretched everywhere and nowhere as far as Fake Kitaro's eyes could see. He knew not to call out; people came and people went, and they didn't look back at him. He knew not to be embarrassed like the last time, for people were more concerned with their routine. They knew not to look back at him, for time would be the end of them. He knew their time was precious to them, that it wouldn't lie to them like he would. It was worth it, and he was not.
Dawn was arriving, it's rosy fingers spanning over the horizon. Fake Kitaro lifted the bucket over his eyes and bore them, looking back like no human should but always would. The bucket fell and rattled by his feet. Time dissolved itself in his mind for those moments, where he would achingly wonder what the point was.
"It's still snowing," He craned his neck to watch the flakes fall from the sky, languidly appraising that unlike last time, he was up earlier. "...Bocchan, what have you done?"
Walking around with a pounding head in such hypnotizing snow gave him the sensation that time, too, would trickle slower. He stopped at some television sets on display, focusing on one in particular that glared nothingness back at him. He rubbed his eyes and blinked as if troubled, "Bocchan...?"
Just when his presence was pivotal, it figured that Kitaro would betray him. The cynical side of Fake Kitaro nagged at him as such, but even seeing his counterpart climb up in his seat beside Nezumi-Otoko hadn't convinced him. Logic and reason reaffirmed that deep down, Kitaro was too passe to cleverly spin a yarn as aggressive as this. Sea stories just weren't Kitaro's style; damning silence and vague truths were more his song and dance. This was the difference between himself and Kitaro that he'd come to understand; Kitaro was gullible and trusted too easily. Yet, where he stood in front of the display, he pondered if they were truly different people after all. His eyes refocused on the television's static.
"Ow, my head..."
That had to be it; he was concussed and seeing things. Besides, if that was his and Nezumi- Otoko's debate show, there would be more curious onlookers besides only himself. Even if he wasn't worth the time. That was what everything was for though, wasn't it? Fame, and a personality that could enter the mainstream. He would commit a murder and die by suicide, and for what?
He saw his success on that screen. A boy with a squinted eye, propping an hourglass of sand before a restless organization of scholars and claiming it's origins from the constipated bowels of Hell. That was supposed to be him, if he hadn't spared that ferocious werecat as Kitaro had told him to. He would be soaking in all of that recognition. He would be renowned as a hero, one that escaped the harsh sentence of the afterlife. Somehow, it made his heart hurt too.
He thought Nezumi-Otoko to be wise, thought him to speak aphorisms unlike any meager token of guidance he could wring out of other adults...but just because someone shares truthful sentiments doesn't mean it isn't a tool. What else had he to do, but what he was told? Plenty else, according to Kitaro. It was all he could cling to; some naive kid's word over a seasoned university graduate. Still, if he wasn't so naive, Fake Kitaro might not have trusted him as much.
When his ears ceased their ringing, Fake Kitaro once again nursed his eyes and peered deeply into the static. As much as he trusted Kitaro, that didn't change that the fool was missing, and that he had developed a penchant for manipulative sentiments of his own from his time under Nezumi-Otoko's wing. If Kitaro was just going to ditch him, what use was there for agreeing to ditch the opportunity of a lifetime?
With a start, Fake Kitaro turned away from the hypnotizing screen at the unpleasant sensation of being shoved aside. His groggy limbic system attempted to roughly push back, but the ratty fabric was too nimble for his grasp. The irate bellows of a clock punching man set his eardrums a clammer once again, invading more harshly than the sneering gales of laughter he'd ignored moments before.
"Out of my store, you mangy Kawauso!"
The drag of the chase found purchase in pounding Fake Kitaro's scuffed shoe flat. Despite the blossoming bruise, Fake Kitaro merely scrunched up his face. Even with the unwelcoming expression, he presented his cheek as if deserving of a slap.
"Ha-ha-ha! You've mistaken me, bonehead! You've no scud that'd moisten whatever's dried up your noodle! That's just some cash-strapped hanyo!"
If possible, Fake Kitaro's rumpled grimace deepened. As the unendurable yokai fled, Fake Kitaro staked his injured pride, "Hey, I'm purely Japanese! A whole human!"
It was unwise to say such a thing while playing the part of a cretinous ghost kid, but it wasn't enough to arise suspicion. Rather, it ticked off the clock punching man, and his cheek indeed became the dial face. It was hard to believe that the previously stupefied shopkeep could hit so hard, but he had!
"A-ah! It hurts!" Fake Kitaro nearly broke whatever character he was playing yet again, turning over his other cheek in meek offering.
"To think I was actually sorry at first! Even if you're not in cahoots with that ill-mannered yokai, that Japanese superiority you're crying up has me furious! Don't loiter on my turf, brat! I don't have time for you, I'll be late for my meeting!"
Fake Kitaro hadn't even the chance to recover before the ireful shopkeep stormed back inside, evidently having given up his hopeless chase. When he arose, he hung his aching head miserably. Blood was drying at his lips, giving him an unpleasant taste of his inner cheek.
"Ugh...just what was I thinking, saying all of that in front of a horology shop?"
A foreigner owning a property and shooing off a native or two? It hadn't seemed likely to ever happen to him, and his arrogance was reproved for it. Even if he wore the clothing and acted the part, a large portion of him rejected any semblance to yokai. He couldn't stand the thought of ranking with the beatniks of underground Tokyo. Yokai often intermingled with beats, and both groups claimed each other from time to time.
If he could only have been safe enough to say so, he would shout to the world just how subhuman and inferior he thought they were. The urge was clocked right out of him, and he could barely think straight. That had to be the real reason he felt some measure of guilt for being so inadvertently rude to that shopkeep. As he made off to find a frozen pole somewhere that he could lick, another being bumped into and impetuously knocked him to the ground.
His formerly neglected limbic system was certainly seeing some unwanted attention, as of late.
"Get out of the-huh? What are you doing 'round these parts, Gakitaro?"
With the same manner as a cornered snake, Fake Kitaro glared venomously, "Gakitaro? I'm the one that should be asking you that question, Nezumi-Otoko! What happened to preparing our show?"
"Our show? Oh, that. Yeah, I figured you were too chicken-livered to go through. Besides, just looking at you right now...yuck. There's no way you can convince anybody you're the real Kitaro with that mug," Nezumi-Otoko tsked, pulling his peddler's box up by it's straps.
"Where do you get off, calling me ugly? You're not holding your end of the deal, peabrain!"
"For one thing, I have a new gig now! That's probably where. Ya really can't knock the Swedes and their merchandise! Well, I don't have time to stay and chit-chat, so I'll be seeing you, Gakitaro! Ta-ta!"
Fake Kitaro clenched his fists and blew out his tongue at the retreating Nezumi-Otoko's back, shocked to his core when the mysterious box jostled all on it's own. Fuming, he ranted, "Bocchan was right, that guy can't be trusted! Just what was that all about? What is he up to? First the early snow, then that vision, and now this..."
If he were merely Kitaro, it would be time to head back home and regroup. However, Fake Kitaro was not entirely Kitaro. Something the Kawauso had said resonated within him, and a prickly thought teased the fuzzy corners of his memories. When had his wrist carried a weight like this? Bemused, Fake Kitaro stared the quartz watch down, dwelling on the dial that represented every definition of his being. No one could escape the flow of time; men, women, the elderly, and children such as himself...
"Where did this come from, anyway? I don't wear a watch," He muttered.
Especially childhood was redefined by the measured value of work. Children such as him were only constituted and discovered recently, by distinctions of public and private life, and by struggles of education and child labor. A child such as him took on a few hundred year's worth of definitions to shape the figure of the child he was, as humanity recognized him. Regardless, he held no reverence in spirits. Instead he held onto some import he easily would have guessed defeated the developing technologies of his homeland, until his eyes consumed it's functions like his tongue would the taste of foreign rice.
"Out of the way, you bratty Kawauso!" A clock punching man bellowed down at him irately. Fake Kitaro had wasted his time, so much of it in seconds. Sneering gales of laughter invaded his ears after, and as he knew it he was being lifted up from the ground by his vest. It wasn't something he had the energy to avoid this time.
"That dummy thought you were me! Aha-haha! I can't believe it! That just makes me want to live up to the expectations!" Fake Kitaro rose from his bruising knees as Kawauso eagerly pulled him away from the crowded streets.
"Yokai should keep their distance from humans," Fake Kitaro reproved. He shouldn't have said a word, in retrospect. The smuggest laughter reviled him in return, though lighter a method.
"Oh, come on! A hanyo shouldn't ever talk like that, you know! Nobody will take you seriously," The Kawauso's humor bubbled around them, but Fake Kitaro didn't appease it with a matching will of his own. He narrowed cold logic down at the warm energy swirling beneath his feet.
"Children these days are hanyo because they transformed after hundreds of years of their ancestors measuring and worshipping time. Children see what their elders can't, because your soul is mixed. I can transform like you can, and into anything I want to be. Won't you please watch?"
Fake Kitaro's slumping shoulders were inevitable. As much as he liked maintaining his pompously jutted chin, he couldn't fight with himself anymore. His arm stretched out, his limp wrist gilded with the quartz band of his watch. The hairless otter of a boy gave him a confident nod and unlatched the trinket, wrapping it against himself instead.
"You actually knew exactly what I was planning. It looks like somehow, you still managed to snatch something from that double-crosser's box. Amazing! You've played with me a lot and I don't even remember a thing. It's a wonder you trust me so much!"
"I don't trust you at all," Fake Kitaro objected though he knew Kawauso wouldn't listen, "I just know what kinds of tricks you want to pull. Instead of taking advantage, you just want to take revenge on the humans for building a dam over land you think you have rights to."
It was a pity, but no such thing opposed the cheerful grin as evidenced by the curve of Kawauso's lips. Kawauso revealed a row of perfectly carved teeth, of which began to slump into a stained overbite. Scrawny strings of glossy, soppy hair tumbled softly under the shapeshifter's cone hat, nearly slapping his eyelids in the midst of sweeping together from a draft. Unimpressed by the transformation, Fake Kitaro scratched inside his ear and avoided the matching blue eyes that stared back at him jocundly.
"I've been a native here far before humans decided to expand their malcontented measurements to everything! I know what it was like to be a child without pretending I could measure nature by manmade rules. You said yourself you joined me. I asked you nicely and now you won't even look at me? Can't bear it?"
Fake Kitaro released a soreheaded sigh, then looked again at the identical face of his would- be imposter. Kawauso never once changed attire when he shifted anew, keeping his ratty yukata and it's pale blue inner diamond pattern. It was gross and reminded Fake Kitaro of how impoverished they both were.
"Your sense of style? No. Besides, your transformation is off."
"You're just too proud, aren't you?" Kawauso ribbed, the coiling of his tail the only sign of self- consciousness.
"Not of you," Fake Kitaro acceded, this time pulling up his lips a steep, nasty smirk, "don't waste my time, yokai."
Kawauso knitted a humorously aggravated expression, shrugging after the wandering boy, "Likewise, hanyo."
Whatever schemes he'd had were done in some past he never would see, but he was no skeptic of the dial face any longer; even when it was gifted to him so cheekily. Fake Kitaro pondered the irony of a yokai so mistrustful of manmade technology taking something as simple as an imported wristwatch so seriously. Whatever transformation the Kawauso was going on about, it was difficult for Fake Kitaro to brook. Rivers were deeper than creeks, and creeps had chilled up his bumpy skin as if he knew what it meant to experience a shallow death.
Fake Kitaro averted his daze from the dial and strolled on his way, unnoticed by the congregation of adults on their way to work. He was invisible to all of them, just as he'd been in other cycles with similar strangers. Even if he felt superior to the yokai, to them, he was just as shapeless. He stopped, and they all walked around him. He was stuck down in the center of the shaft, left of the middle, right, then left of the center.
"Another vision, another rerun...I see. I'm too late. Too early."
It made his head pound if he tried to recall when he'd met Kawauso, but as for how was yet to begin. It wouldn't happen this time. Fake Kitaro in his complacency allowed himself to approach too closely at the wrong place and especially the wrong time. This wasn't even fashionable lateness; due to his concussion, all of his thoughts were jumbled. He didn't need to think about it further, a failure was a failure. Befriending Kawauso took too much time, and he still hadn't learned.
For that matter, how he had separated from Kitaro was a greater mystery, and Nezumi-Otoko and Kawauso would just have to wait. Next time, he would find the source of that snow. Concussion be damned, Nezumi-Otoko was somehow functioning while missing a piece of his brain, so why couldn't he?
"You're overbearing, Kantaro," His one eyed visitor surmised, daintily sipping water from his borrowed teacup.
"You didn't even ask my permission for this criticism, fleabag," The dual eyed boy snarked, "and on the contrary, I'm onto something. Why else would you deflect like that?"
"I just didn't think that far ahead. There, happy? I'd advise you do the same, if you're going to don my name instead. To be a ghost, you must let the past and future drain through your hand like this tap wa-I mean, this delicious tea."
One small mistake could change everything. Friendless and haunted, darkness stretched everywhere and nowhere as far as Kitaro's eyes could see. He knew not to call out; people came and people went, and they didn't look back at him. He knew not to be embarrassed like the last time, for people were more concerned with their routine. They knew not to look back at him, for time would be the end of them. He knew their time was precious to them, that it wouldn't lie to them like he would. It was worth it, and he was...not.
Dawn was arriving, it's rosy fingers spanning over the horizon. Kitaro lifted the blanket over his eyes and bore them, looking back like no human should but always would. He had a leaf to turn over, it's true dying colors peppered in autumn dew. All of his running around had afforded him nothing. Time ran through his skull like the pretentious tea he'd shared with Tanaka. Coincidentally, the corny fellow had splayed himself all over top of him, leeching off of his warmth. Kitaro felt an odd sense of comfort prickle the back of his jaw.
"Kan-chan? No, no. I won't call you that when we aren't alone, so please...get used to referring to me as Tanaka. It's nice to meet you, Kitaro."
"Hakaba Tanaka, or Tanaka Hakaba? That's really corny, you know. How do you write it?" Kitaro teased cautiously.
As memory served, Tanaka had begun to stir uncomfortably, setting his cup down and clicking his fingernails all along the mat on the floor. "I don't know," he admitted sheepishly, refusing to meet the eyes of his replacement.
"You can't even spell your own name anymore? You're the one that went to school more often."
"I haven't decided what kind of Tanaka I want to be, yet," Tanaka bristled at the comment, and the pout lunging off his tongue had slapped within Kitaro's ears like wet slime. "I'm mostly not Hakaba anymore, either. This is my new surname."
"Well, why not like a ricefield? Shoot for the stars, and all of that."
Tanaka's eyelashes fluttered open, finally waking after a crudely placed flick on his nose. It was an improvement from the sensation of a twig stabbing his booger den, but he still produced a loud whimper.
"You're such a crybaby. Dad wants to talk to us this morning, remember?"
"I really don't want to," Tanaka fessed, sitting up on his knees. He loathed his own cowardice, but having just woken up, he was less skilled at his aloof front. "There's nothing he needs to know. What's done is done, and what isn't is overwritten."
"...He's already onto our ruse, you know. It's weird of both of us to sleep separately from him. As far as he knows, we were both out to kill each other before last night. You're not acting like yourself, and I'm out of character for you. The only oblivious one is Neko-Musume."
"She's your friend, so have some respect. You must refer to her as Neko-chan," Tanaka corrected, his groggy voice sounding even more sore than Kitaro thought possible. "Besides, something you don't know about our father is how little he thinks of these things. We're just children to him, and whatever spat we have is inconsequential to him. There comes a limit where he willfully ceases to listen."
"Maybe, but our chanchanko isn't. Besides, don't all fathers know how to recognize their own children?" Kitaro folded his hands over his knees, awarded with a sigh from Tanaka.
"Don't they? You say that as if you aren't Kitaro," Tanaka said. Oddly, a stern edge was present in his tone. The meaning wasn't lost on Kitaro. "Face it, neither of us want to deal with this. You've caused me a lot of trouble, and Neko-Musumesan as well. So don't go losing your confidence now. It doesn't matter where you're from, or which of them raised you. You're more than an imposter. You're Kitaro, and so was I. That makes us...comrades."
"Uh...thanks," Kitaro fumbled, "you're beginning to sound like..."
"Boys! Come and get your breakfast! It's rude to ignore a young lady's kind efforts!" Mizuki's voice was nearer, aproaching no doubt to bother them a second time. He'd allowed them to sleep in his room the night before, placating Tanaka's strange insistence.
Kitaro took Tanaka by his arm and led him out of the room, the latter lagging behind despite his talk. Tanaka gazed down numbly at Mizuki from the top of the stairs, the intensity of his lone eye locking on with the cold edge of a sniper. Kitaro had long released his arm and climbed down the steps, situating himself at the kotatsu with Medama-Oyaji and their honored guest.
"You know," Mizuki said, breaking the ice, "putting on your sunglasses doesn't count as getting dressed if you haven't even changed out of your clothes...uh..."
"It's Tanaka," The boy smiled, proud of his choice.
"So you say. You know I wasn't making up the part about a young lady waiting for you this time," Mizuki said.
"Why would I expect that from anybody but Nezumi-Otoko, Mizuki?"
Unconvinced with the little game his adoptive son was playing, Mizuki decided to pry more instead of letting it go this time. The curiosity was too much to withstand. The pride Kitaro usually exuded was off, so much so that Mizuki was confident enough to put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"You're calling me by my name," He pointed out, knowing it was something Kitaro wouldn't like. The one eyed boy would never be caught dead or alive calling Mizuki his father, let alone by name.
"...So I am. You will refer to me as Tanaka, most honored Father that you are," Tanaka touted, his sheer manner enough to place doubts in Mizuki's mind that this was really the boy he raised after all. This didn't nurture the uncertainty he intended, though.
"Go get dressed, Tanaka," Mizuki pushed his luck, turning the boy back in the direction of his room, "make sure you hurry it up, I'm sure Midori-chan is wondering if you don't like her."
"Be polite and wait for me here instead of at the table," Instead of policing what Mizuki called the girl of his affections, Tanaka merely orchestrated a giggle out his mouth, padding to the room he avoided the night before. It was as if he was no longer jealous or paranoid that Mizuki was making moves on her, whatever that meant. He threw on some rumpled old button-up, full of wrinkles he hadn't smoothed out. Carelessly, he left his checkered vest in Mizuki's room.
"Good enough," Mizuki said, "let's get going."
Tanaka's lips twisted up as he ceased following Mizuki down the stairs. He couldn't help it; as hungry as he was, these stairs were too significant. It hurt that he found it so funny, that he thought any moment he would see his adoptive father swept away yet again by a wrathful god he'd almost made a jelly out of.
"If you were to name me, what would you have called me?" Tanaka asked.
Mizuki took the time to look up at him, worriedly assessing what the boy could possibly want from that sort of information. That which Mizuki had never put thought into before, embarrassingly enough. He felt some measure of guilt for that. As awful as Kitaro was, he was still his adoptive son.
"I don't know. Likely, GeGeGe no Getakichi, knowing how much you love those clogs. That's just how I think of you now," Mizuki said, surprised by how embarrassing his own answer was. The more he thought of it, the more anxious it made him that the boy in question would loathe it, or mock it.
"Oh. Oh," Tanaka thought aloud, his tone already agreeing wholeheartedly. It was the first time in a while Mizuki had seen him react without annoyance or mockery. Without another word, Tanaka climbed down the stairs and went to sit beside Kitaro, quieter than any mouse he knew. Mizuki shared the relative silence, much more entertained by his own reflections than the gathering at hand.
"It's about time you woke up," Medama-Oyaji said, pointing exageratedly at Kitaro, "this child is not my son. I suggest you explain yourself, Kitaro."
Kitaro waited for Tanaka to speak up, more than a little disappointed with his poor acting skills. Though, he was at a loss at what to do when an anthropomorphic eyeball tried to to burrow into his occupied eye socket. In hindsight, he and Tanaka hadn't prepared at all beyond dreading the moment.
He couldn't hide behind his shades forever, but he wished dearly to try. Sea stories weren't his forte, unlike Kitaro. Regardless, Tanaka didn't want to be forthright with his answers. He could barely muster a word after what he'd seen and done. This was the first time he'd faced his father since he petulantly lost his temper before. This was a similar man, but one that hadn't experienced his rejection and abuse.
"I'm not Kitaro," Tanaka said remotely, "it's best if you learn to accept that sooner rather than later."
Midori, as Mizuki had called her, did not simply stare on in silence this time. She too was bemused and worried about Kitaro; the both of them, though she felt as if she didn't truly know either of the boys sat before her. She knew Medama-Oyaji better than she had when it all began, it didn't help. It was difficult to tell either of the boys apart, even if one insisted on wearing sunglasses and would only mention her curtly.
"Kitaro-chan," She spoke, "I don't mean to intrude, but...that's who you were, wasn't it? Please, let's not wait anymore. I would hate for everyone's food to get cold."
Medama-Oyaji did not challenge the girl's assertion. He had come to understand her as well. As was the case, he didn't have any intention of being harsh to his son, though much of this was ripping out his heart. The boy hadn't so much as greeted him as soon as he sat down.
"Just so we're clear, I'll eat your share if you don't get started soon, Bocchan." Kitaro could feel Tanaka's glare behind those sunglasses, but didn't much care.
"I would not insult Neko-Musumesan's cooking with such neglect," Tanaka reassured as if offended.
"Please, just call me Midori. We're friends, Kita-sorry, Tanaka-chan."
"Speak for yourself. He's a nuisance," Tanaka said uncomfortably, latching onto his habitual banter with the other thankfully. Rather than ask and recieve expectations that he return an explanation of his own, he didn't bother inquiring about the change he'd never seen from her before.
"Who, me?" Kitaro bumped him with his elbow, and they all praised the food.
"I know Kitaro-chan said he preferred imported rice, but it's much too expensive for me to handle at the moment. I hope this was all right," Midori apologetically glanced at the two bickering kids, which would have earned her a pat on the head if Mizuki hadn't felt cautious that one of the two lookalikes would toss themselves over the table and bite him or something.
"If you hadn't pitched in, we would be rationing rolls right now."
"Thank you," Tanaka added politely, his father agreeably echoing after him. He clawed at Kitaro's knee reproachfully when the haughty kid offered nothing.
"Ow! What? This bland stuff is all right, I guess...dodged a supernatural disaster and everything."
"Anyway," Medama-Oyaji couldn't let the discussion wait any longer. "I want to know why you're refusing your name, son."
"I didn't refuse anything, I even ate this tasteless rice," Kitaro pitched in unhelpfully, winking at Midori as if that was convincing enough.
"You're not my son. You might be calling yourself Kitaro and acting, but I'm not playing around. My son doesn't have that eye."
Midori was agape with dismay, and Mizuki was immediately discomfited at having the subject of his guilt brought up front and center. Putting the insults towards the rice aside, Midori listened as Tanaka bemoaned how much Kitaro was embarrassing him.
"I thought Kitaro-chan just had a tic," Midori admitted gravely. "It was weird when Oyaji-san tried to pry into Kitaro-chan's eye like that, but in the end he was more spooked than I was."
Tanaka removed his shades from his face and opened his two eyes, levelling a look at his father on his own time and terms. A stretch of silence pervaded, and even the child calling himself Kitaro was confused. The two eyes in Tanaka's head shouldn't have been a surprise; it wasn't unlikely for those of the Ghost Tribe to grow back limbs or even organs, but when he had first lost his eye, he was but a powerless toddler.
"It wasn't a tic. I did lose my eye when I was young, but that doesn't actually make me more or less Kitaro. It doesn't really make me Kitaro just because my deformity scared all the humans away."
Midori anguished over Tanaka's words, but not hastily so. In truth she was ashamed not to have noticed sooner, especially if this was the same boy that consoled her so many times before. It hurt because if that was the case, he was avoiding her out of fear.
"It isn't a deformity, Kita...Tanaka-chan. It's an injury, but you're not lesser for it," She sorrowfully amended the best she could. It was everything he hadn't been told to expect from her. It inspired him to continue his dull stare towards his father.
Mizuki wondered what possibly could have gone between the father and son that would cause Tanaka to be so merciful towards him. It was almost as if Tanaka was doing everything in his power to rebel against Medama-Oyaji, even to the point of replacing him for the man that caused his injury in the first place. When he was young and first started school, he was lethargic and disinterested in other children. He thought it a blessing at the time that the boy wasn't intrigued, out of fear for other kids. He hadn't ever considered that Tanaka was bullied, or even cared like a human boy would.
"I don't want to talk about that," Tanaka aired in a controlled manner, quirking his lips just so. "You aren't Neko-Musumesan anymore."
"That's...that's right," Midori affirmed, and from the distraught expression on his face she could tell it upset him further. He appeared as if he had been betrayed somehow, and vaguely, she couldn't blame him. She could remember a little more than her reclaimed name, after all. She never answered his cries, too wrought in her own tragedy to live on as anything other than a cat girl. "Tanaka-chan...?"
"I understand, Midori-san," Tanaka stated less than amiably, but despite his soreness he wasn't quite shutting her out to the extent she had him. Kitaro had the decency to remain quiet, blessedly removed from the impact of his alternate's actions.
"Where did that eye come from?" Medama-Oyaji asked, not quite defusing the tension as he'd have liked. "We could never afford such a thing."
"Some old hag had it made for me," Tanaka puffed as he despondently played around with his prosthetic, "said she was tired of me annoying her by playing with my empty socket. Now, if you'll all excuse me."
Medama-Oyaji wanted to stop him, but couldn't find much more to talk about with the moody boy. When Tanaka stood and removed himself, he implored him to wait, "Kitaro! Kitaro!"
"For the last time, old man...it's like you said. I'm an ordinary kid without my chanchanko. He wears it now, so get used to it. I'm just a powerless hanyo. Just Tanaka Getakichi. Have fun with Hakaba Kitaro for a while, will you? I'm due for a nap."
Nobody had time to protest that he had just woken up. Said Hakaba Kitaro scoffed at the mood Tanaka had left everyone in. Mizuki also stood to excuse himself for work, though he would be running in early. It was literally just an excuse so he could have time to think to himself over what he'd just witnessed. The whiplash was immense.
"Take care, Midori-chan," He bid her his farewell.
Midori thanked him, "Goodbye for now, Mizuki-san."
Medama-Oyaji let out a sigh that sat too tightly within his chest. He supposed he still had a boy to boss around, but he worried over his real son. "Tell me, did he say what was bothering him?"
Kitaro propped his head on the table and denied anything, "He said he had something he wanted to talk about, but couldn't. That's just between the three of us, though. I didn't say anything, got it?"
"Right," Midori agreed, "I don't want to pry anyway. That's something he wanted to talk with you about, not us. I don't want to bother him right now, but if you would, could you please tell him that I really mean what I said before? If he needs help with anything, I'll be right next door."
"I don't feel good, not knowing if my son is going to be okay," Medama-Oyaji fretted, "but Midori-chan is right. I can't reach him right now no matter what I do."
"He's on pretty bad terms with you, and that was before I told him who I really was," Kitaro hummed unsympathetically. "You can be a cold bastard without realizing it. You're not worried about the right things. No use smothering him while he's struggling to figure out what he wants out of his life."
"Yes, so Midori-chan has told me," Medama-Oyaji willfully suppressed the irrateness from his voice. "I can't help but feel out of the loop."
"Ugh, that word..." Kitaro grimaced, a tetchy groan reverbing from his throat.
"Is everything all right, Kitaro-chan?"
"Was it something I said?"
Kitaro knew the two of them couldn't bear it if he shut them out too, and it wasn't really a problem he couldn't talk about, as unpleasant as it was. It didn't mean he wanted to. When he gathered his composure, he tilted his chin up and tutted, "You don't need to know. It's a separate matter, anyway. It's just good to be called Kitaro again."
"If you don't mind me asking, I'm really confused..." Midori trailed off, tapping a finger to her lip.
"I guess. It's better than asking Bocchan. He won't lie to you, but he won't fork out the truth easily."
"Well, you see...I remember certain things about a boy that calls himself Kitaro, but I don't know if you're the same boy, or if he...not that I don't treasure you as a friend too."
"Yeah, I'm not him. Bocchan is your Kitaro, or at least, the one you remember. We can't remember everything he experienced because we aren't the people he knew. It changed him into someone we don't really know either, and that changed me. That's all I've got, Midori-chan."
Medama-Oyaji, as wise as he was esteemed to be, was still struggling to follow the conversation. Even the answers this boy gave seemed like riddles instead. "But why does he insist that you are Kitaro? Why do you?"
"It's like I told him; that's because I am. I'm not saying I'm him, but it doesn't change that my name is Kitaro. When he was born, he dug himself out of Hell. When I was born, Mom begged and begged shopkeeps to feed me candy so I wouldn't starve, then disappeared after the night turned into day. We're two lookalikes whose mothers died giving birth to us. I am Kitaro, but as for what I am? He was demon-born, and I was human-born. To put it another way, all humans are born with a demon counterpart. He was a demon raised by a human to be a human. Now we're both hanyo, if we weren't always anyway. Replacing him would be easier than anybody else I've tried to be since he's my double goer. We have a lot of the same habits."
"Then...you're from another dimension?" Midori sought cautiously.
"Absolutely not. He's the one from Hell, and another timeline entirely. In fact, when you spoke to Kitaro the day before, that version of him was completely overwritten by this one, which was something he fully intended to do when he arrived. He has a whole three or four years ahead of us. He said he was what, twelve? Thirteen? Whatever. He wouldn't talk about how it went, but for some reason he was living with Nezumi-Otoko until the bastard abandoned him. Talked about the guy like he was his third dad or guardian big brother. It was putrid."
"If he was depending on Nezumi-Otoko, he must not trust me any longer," Medama-Oyaji surmised, sullen to hear such news. "Where did it all go wrong?"
Midori remained silent this time, but Kitaro wasn't finished. Especially since Kitaro wasn't finished. "You can start by listening to us better. Right now you're way too intense with demanding answers instead of listening to what he's saying. He might not give you a chance, but that's up to him."
"For that matter, I told you that you need to insult him less. You're terribly bossy as it is," Midori concluded pitilessly. "Anyway, I think I will leave you two for the time being. I would also like some time alone to think about things. So much has happened all at once."
"I have a feeling we should be glad it turned out the way it did," Kitaro nodded, "I'll go tell the brat that stuff you wanted...and...uh, thanks. For calling me a friend, I mean. I couldn't care less about that rice."
"So stubborn...that's fine, though. Thank you. Goodbye, Kitaro-chan, Oyaji-san."
"Goodbye, Midori-chan," Medama-Oyaji said distractedly, though neither the boy or girl expected more while the old man was reflecting. Midori paused to turn back around as if she had just remembered something.
"Oh, and Kitaro-chan...? Try not to be a stranger. Just be yourself. Don't let those two dictate you or tell you who you're supposed to be. I'm here for you, too."
Heat buzzed on Kitaro's cheeks, and with that Midori's retreating back became a blur. As it turned out, he wasn't the only one. Medama-Oyaji wept with him, almost companionably.
"That Midori-chan has a big heart," Medama-Oyaji said, watching as Kitaro scrubbed his face with his hands. "It was wrong of you to think her oblivious, wouldn't you say?"
"Wouldn't you?" Kitaro returned, leaving no room for any possible projection, as true as it was. Nobody liked being called out.
Medama-Oyaji relented, at once unveiling what he really meant. "Yes, son. I would."
"I think she's a goddess. An unchained bodhisattva."
I couldn't get this out in time for February, Kitaro's birth month, but February 30th never comes anyways. This fanfic is a sister story to "Temporal Causality," and doesn't make sense without it. Neither of these fics are told exactly chronologically, and this one in particular has different story elements than it's predecessor. Besides the New Years imposter story featuring Oritatami-Nyudo and his Mujina partner, this story is mostly a mishmash of that, Kawauso's story, the Neko- Sennin story, and Sara-Kozo's story. These were all hinted in the previous fanfic but I wanted to tell Fake Kitaro and Neko-Musume's side in more detail, independently from Kitaro.
If you notice, usually when Kitaro's birthday comes around I write something. It is intentional that I have a lot of themes of rebirth happening; this isn't exclusive to Kitaro himself, either. This is an old draft I started shortly after I finished Temporal Causality. This isn't a late fanfic if Kitaro's birthday never began.
***DISCLAIMER: One of the things I hate about Hakaba Kitaro is how Fake Kitaro is framed. His entire character adds up to nothing in the end but a kid that wanted recognition, and died and killed for it. When he gets a second chance at life, it's short- lived and hardly anything comes of it.
I understand the context, the spiritual background of this kind of story, but I don't think it holds up morally or gives any payoff to the audience. It gives me these, "Oh look, this kid died by suicide for attention!" vibes and I hate it. I like the potential of the character to be this pot that calls the kettle black and vice versa, but that's where a lot of his charm ends. It never really got to kick off in the first place...I still write him as mostly an asshole, a bit more than Kitaro in some ways, a bit less in others.