Disclaimer: Yami no Matsuei is the property of Matsushita Yoko. No profit is sought from this work.

Strays: Beginning

Man and boy glance at each other as the soft rain falls. Green eyes widen for a fraction of a second as the boy recognizes the one before him, but the surprise fades quickly and he hunches down again to continue on his way with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. The man almost smiles, knowing that the pressed dark suit he wears must come as a surprise, but there is no time for more than a twitch at the corner of his mouth as the boy begins to walk away. Now there is only the question of what the boy is doing out alone at this time of night, in the rain no less, and too deeply wrapped in his own worries to care who or what crosses his path.

The man speaks. "You look better than you did when I last saw you."

The quiet words have the desired effect. The boy stops, straightens and turns. There is a weariness in the green eyes that the man had not noticed before. The boy breathes slowly for a while. The man traces the slight rise and fall of the pale-skinned collar bone. The street lamp glints off the misty rain around the boy, creating a halo of sorts. The boy takes a deeper breath and speaks, with weariness as evident in his voice as in the rest of him.

"And you look…different, Mibu-san." Simple words, nothing more, a half-hearted attempt at pleasantry. The boy stares for a while then turns again to go.

The man admits to himself that he is curious. And in some way, he is happy to see the little shinigami again. "Where are you going?" he asks.

The boy sighs. "Nowhere, really."

The man frowns. "You're just going to walk around in the rain? Won't you get sick?" The boy shrugs. It is a adolescent gesture and for a moment the angel of death looks like nothing more than the teenager his frozen body would forever have him be. The fierce spark of determination that once burned in his eyes is gone. The man reconsiders his earlier assessment. The boy does look better, in some ways, but definitely worse in others.

"Come back to the Kokakuro with me, then." The boy looks up but there is no true surprise on his face. It is as if he simply accepts whatever slightly strange twists of fate life now throws his way. "You can stay out of the rain and be my dinner guest tonight." Even that invitation gets no more than a slow blink. The man had expected disdain and refusal but there is none of that. The boy is numb to the world.

Still, he nods slightly after a moment and draws into place a half step behind the man, who steals glances out of the corner of his eye as they walk. The blond head is bowed and the boy is terribly silent. A glimmer of emotion crosses the youthful face, swift, fleeting, but the man catches it nonetheless. In that one moment the boy seems more like an abandoned child than the agent of the underworld the man knows he is.

The man shatters his own reflection, stepping into a deep puddle with his highly polished shoe. No matter. He has accepted another responsibility for the evening. He wonders if an ordinary mortal can revive a failing spirit.