Oh, Manten knows better. Wicked as he is, there are some things he knows he shouldn't do.
Like, for example, anything involving his brother's girlfriend. It just isn't likely to end well.
There she is again, snaking through his thoughts, bumping against him with those lovely, shapely hips, and laughing, deriding him, shaming him.
When she does that, for a moment he isn't sorry that Hiten will kill her.
And then, as she trots in like she owns the place, (our place, know your place…) severed heads bobbing around her waist, hanging in gossamer nets of hair, dripping long strands of vividly red blood down her legs that he wants to lick off— No, then he wishes that Hiten would just find another girl, and let him have this one.
His fantasies grow darker and darker. Doesn't want him, does she? Too good to fuck a bald man? Oh, he'll have to hurt her, break her, Yura Yura, you'll be mine, matter of time, matter of pain.
She doesn't hear his fevered thoughts, doesn't see his wide mouth tracing her name again and again in the darkness around her and Hiten. Playing with his braid, swirling loops in his hairy chest, and lower, lower, Manten, you can stop watching now…
But he is captivated. Perfect, arrogant, untouchable Yura, spreading her legs like an animal, little hairy animal, heaving and moaning under his great and revered brother. Manten feels almost like Hiten is fucking her just for him. Yura's hair swirls and dances and spasms, waves of youki pulsating. She is about to close them in, hide them from his trespassing eyes, but then she sees him, poor bald brother, watching them with a hand in his armor, and feels something, (pity, he fears, arousal, he hopes?) and lets out an ear-splitting cackle, attacking Hiten with renewed vigor, her eyes straying back to Manten, as if checking that he's still there, making sure he's enjoying the show, that is when they're not rolled to the back of her head.
He hates her for that. In the days that pass, he cannot focus.
Or rather, he can and does focus, quite single-mindedly, he just doesn't like the subject very much, and wishes that he could stop.
"Yura Yura," he sings in the darkness around Hiten and the woman he's using at the moment. Stupid, pretty, doomed Yura, cleaning her comb with her tongue, and dragging it through the hair of disembodied human heads.
When she's gone, he licks the hair of one of the many heads she's left in their home, (one of the many things he resents about her) just to taste her kiss.
He tries to breech the subject with his brother. "Do you like Yura?"
"Yeah, she's a real kick," Hiten says.
"But she's just for fun, right?" Manten says hopefully. If Hiten has no deeper feelings for her, then maybe it would be all right to pursue her.
Hiten gets an odd look on his face. "She's a special girl, that Yura. More dangerous than all the others combined, probably." His voice drifts, sounding almost melancholy. "She doesn't care about anyone, you know. She'd take one of her dead skulls over a man of flesh and blood, any day."
Manten nods. Hiten called her special. He seems to have feelings for her.
Yura is out of the question.
Manten never thought his resolve would be tested. Even if Yura's fetish had not been hair, his opinion of his brother was so high, he thought: who would want plain old Manten after him?
But Yura, while never saying a word to him, is always finding him with her eyes, giving him come-hither looks while wrapped in Hiten's arms, her gaze wandering to him even locked in passionate kisses, eyes flitting like trapped birds, traitorous to her body.
When Hiten takes them to raid a village, Manten grabs two pretty girls for his potion, holding both their wrists securely in one massive fist. Their struggle against him is futile, and Manten barely notices it.
Everything is starting to burn from their lightning attacks, and as Manten pushes a flaming screen aside, pulling the girls in his wake, he sees Yura, hunched over a corpse, calmly liberating its head from its body. On closer inspection, Manten sees that she cuts not with a knife, but using a hair the way a potter would use a wire. "Not another step," Yura says without looking at him, and almost too late Manten notices the blood trickling down his face. Wiping it off with his free hand and looking at the red smear, he wonders how he could be so careless as to blunder into her trap.
He remembers how highly Hiten spoke of her. 'Special,' indeed.
Not certain whether he should thank her for the warning, or berate her for setting her traps where he could be injured, he hovers in the doorway, as Yura ensnares the head and seemingly floats it away unsupported. "Presents for me?" she asks, seeing the girls at last.
"They're for my potion," Manten says defensively. "With it, I can finally have long beautiful hair like Hiten-an-chan, and all the girls will like me."
Yura lifts an amused eyebrow. "Is that so?"
Manten looks at her, puzzled. Shouldn't she of all people agree that hair is the most important thing? Surely that is the extent of her attraction to Hiten.
Yura waves her comb through the air, tracing invisible hairs with a few precise jerks. Apparently having released whatever traps she'd set, she walks over to him. "It's so loud though," Yura complains. "Can't you hear it, always singing? How do you sleep? How do you think? I haven't done either in years."
"Singing?" Manten repeats dumbly.
"Yes," Yura says impatiently. "The hair, always singing." She runs her finger along an unseen strand, Manten can hear the slight squeak, and see the indentation in her fingertip, though it doesn't draw blood. It would never draw her blood. "I bring them together, and then at least they sing the same thing at the same time, it's easier to breathe around." She calms slightly, looking into his eyes. She has none of the predatory joy she had moments ago when she was freely killing humans, but is oddly vulnerable. He thinks that maybe, unlike him, in her fragmented mind there's some lost part of her that's still innocent, despite all the blood she's shed.
Yura reaches forward, her deadly hand curled in on itself, and brushes his face with the backs of her fingers. "You're quiet," she says dreamily. Manten freezes up, suddenly overcome by his own awkwardness and inexperience. No girl has ever come this close to him willingly, or touched him so tenderly. She looks up at him with something he hopes desperately isn't pity, and draws even closer, her nose touching his face experimentally, her breaths hot on his tough skin.
In the moment before she kisses him, Manten tries with all his heart to remember that she's Hiten's, and fails miserably.
After seeing Hiten kiss so many girls, Manten did not expect to be surprised the first time, but he is. The sheer tactile softness of her lips seems impossible to him, and in the sharp awareness they bring, he finds himself paralyzed, not knowing which way to move first, and so being unable to move at all, even though his every nerve screams to. Her tongue makes a playful swipe across his mouth, and even though he likes it, (very much so, in fact) he is surprised into jumping back slightly, his eyes wide in amazement.
Yura presses her ear to his cheek, and murmurs in the space where his hair should be, "It's peaceful around you."
Manten's grip gone slack, his forgotten captives wriggle free and run for it. Manten turns towards them in sluggish alarm. "My potion-girls!" he says, about to give chase.
Yura restrains him gently but irresistibly. "Let them go," she says, her eyes meeting his playfully. She doesn't want Manten to grow hair, and be noisy like everyone else.
Then she'd have to kill him too… and for the first time, she hopes it doesn't come to that.
Manten has been a very bad boy. Not wanting to know how Hiten would react, he keeps it secret.
So, in secret, he meets with Yura. In the hidden places of the land, they touch, a thousand unseen hairs sliding against him harmlessly, her hands running along him, sometimes dragging the firm unhindered teeth of her comb behind them. When he is with her, he worries, thinking of nothing but Hiten.
But when they are apart, he thinks of nothing but her.
Once, he followed her trustingly over the edge of a cliff, walking on her fine mesh. It was exhilarating, having Yura's giddy attentions with nothing solid below them for miles.
He feels that he has followed her trustingly into new territory, new feelings that are miles above the dusty ground he has trodden for so long. And there too she supports him, holding him gently in her reassuring words, secure in that strange calm she acquires around him.
Sometimes when they want to be alone together, they take Manten's cloud. The first time, Yura stretches her arms out wide, the barest of strands still dangling from her comb as they soar. Emboldened by being on his own turf, he leans forward and kisses her, making the thunder roll around them. She leans into him with a tiny moan, and as his hands graze her hips, he wonders how she could ever think that he's quiet.
Yura seems to like the thunder, though. Maybe it drowns out the other sounds she has so much trouble escaping from.
"Whisper whisper," she says, giggling, as she runs her fingers over his sparse crown.
When they are hungry, they descend on any likely village, taking whatever pleases them. Manten watches Yura take her grisly trophies, amazed at how different she seems when she's hunting. She seems more confident and cheerful, moving easily in her element. When she can find no one else to kill, she pouts, looking at the pile of heads. "These will take forever to comb," she moans. She turns to Manten suddenly, her hair falling in her fierce red eyes. "Oh, I'm a mess… what must you think of me?" She licks at a bit of blood splashed on her arm, in an attempt to clean it.
He puts his hands on her shoulders, and she calms slightly, but still fidgets in the direction of the heads. "I think you're beautiful," Manten says to her, as if he is seeing beauty for the first time. "I wanted to get you… something nice. I don't know if you'll like it…"
"A present?" Yura asks, brightening.
"Nothing much," Manten hastily amends. "Just something to keep the hair out of your eyes while you work." He reaches in his armor and pulls out a red ribbon.
Yura takes it and runs it through her fingers a few times to get the feel of it. With a smile, she ties her hair back with it, making a knot on her crown. Manten smiles back. Despite his humble demeanor, he would probably have had a bad temper tantrum if she had refused it.
Yura squeezes his hand once, and starts to weave a net around the heads. With her hair pulled back, he can see that she continues to smile.
Then, of course, there is Hiten. Hairy, beautiful Hiten, the rightful owner of this girl, or so thinks his adoring brother.
Someone must have forgotten to tell Yura this. Already she grows bored with him. He is a selfish lover, a fact that Yura hardly noticed before she'd felt Manten's concerned kisses. Manten, who despite his shortcomings, at least knows how to give himself with all his heart. She starts to wonder what it would be like to make love to him instead.
Hiten, hairy, selfish, and now oblivious, makes no effort to recapture Yura's attentions. If she's lucky, he thinks, they'll mutually lose interest, and part ways peaceably. If not, he'll kill her. No big deal, right?
He doesn't notice the red ribbon she has taken to wearing in her hair.
Things could have continued like that indefinitely, but Yura decides that she doesn't like the sound Hiten's hair makes anymore. Its wordless song, like the high energetic pitch of a violin, which used to raise the hairs on the back of her neck in a way she found pleasurable, is now simply annoying to her.
It makes her a little bit crazy, but it's okay, Manten is always there for her afterwards…
Yura doesn't try to name this feeling she has for Manten. She is certain that if she felt that thing called 'love,' her comb of a heart would crack and shatter. If she can love anything, it is the dead things she cares for so tenderly, not a living youkai of flesh and blood and live-birth.
Humans probably don't have words for these things, she reasoned. They invented the language, but what do they know of what creatures like her feel? To express herself, she must invent her own language, one of caresses and kisses and longing gazes, one that Manten will understand.
She's never been understood before, never tried to be, never needed to be. That's probably why it was humans who invented language, she muses, her kind rarely have need of such things.
The hair's song is not a language. It is senseless, reactionary. And Hiten's is one she's growing to hate. Her fingers itch where the hairs are wrapped around them, and she longs to give him a new tune, the only way she knows how. It will fix their relationship, of course. Once he's dead, she'll be able to love him, in her own way. She promises that she'll kiss his skull every night, and maybe even keep her heart in it sometimes.
She doesn't do it, though. Sometimes she wraps her hairs loosely around his neck, and smiles at him warmly. He never knew how close he came.
When she realizes that she has such a failing, she finds a word that will suit it at last. Weakness. Her weakness for Manten. It's because of him that she can't kill Hiten.
Nor can she stay with him, she is growing to realize. She grinds her teeth as she sleeps, and is starting to prefer that to being awake.
When she sees the decision before her, she is glad that all she has is a weakness, and not some other unnamed word. She doesn't think that she's very sad, as she unties the ribbon.
"Where are you going?" Manten asks, as Yura gathers up her heads. So recently, he would have been glad to see the ghastly things leave. Now all he can think of is finding a way to convince her to stay. Her hair falls unhindered in her face, masking her expression.
"Away from here," is all Yura says.
"Does Hiten-an-chan know?" Manten asks, hoping to use his brother as a tool to keep his brother's girlfriend near him. That's a new low, even for him, and he knows it.
Manten, unlike Yura, does name his feelings. Perhaps not out loud, he will not release those words into the air, suspects that they may betray him. But in his dreams, in his fondest thoughts, he thinks that he finally knows what love is.
"You can't leave, Yura…"
It is not constantly measuring himself, or worrying that he is somehow unworthy, because he now values someone else's opinion above his own.
Entertaining one lingering hope, Yura says, "Come with me."
Anything but that, Manten thinks, please don't ask that. Hiten was his world first. "I can't," he says, perhaps a bit more broken than the minute before.
It is foolish dreams. In his favorite, Hiten accepts them as a couple, and tells him that he never really wanted Yura, that he was just making sure she was good enough for his little brother. He has more, he can't help it, they sprout in his head like seedlings in springtime. They always make him smile, even in the middle of doing ordinary things.
"Then I don't want you!" Yura snaps. This foolishness, this weakness of Manten's for his brother has denied her the one thing in the world she wants. If he was only a bit stronger, and willing to live out from under his brother's shadow…
It is epiphany. Sudden, overwhelming knowledge of his heart. Knowing without a doubt that they have to be together, as surely as if it was written in fate.
Yura has, for the moment, lost her sense of sympathy for Manten. Her weakness turned to strength, she faces him, furious. "As if someone like me would want a fat hairless fool like you! Don't delude yourself."
"Hairless?" Manten echoes, astonished. "But… I thought…"
"I can't stand you, it's like there's this big bald monster drooling over me all the time. Even Hiten isn't worth putting up with this."
So, Manten decides, it was all a lie. She never loved him. And he, of course, was never foolish enough to love her. He could never be so stupid and gullible as to think that any girl could want worthless, bald Manten.
Her heads gathered, Yura leaves. Manten does not stand in her way, or try to grab her and force her to stay. Why should he, she never loved him. And he could certainly never love a lying slut like her.
Long after she is gone, Manten dreams of dying, a thousand different ways to kill his undesirable body. Drowning, falling, impaling, burning, suffocating, poisoning, on and on the list goes, but there is one common element.
He will come back afterwards, bristling with hair, a happy, carefree caterpillar. Everyone will love his fuzzy self, but he will not need love anymore. He will climb the trees nearest to Yura's lair, and quietly scorn her.
But who is he fooling? He knows that he will not leave Hiten, not even for her.
Yura entertains no death wish, no fantasies of rebirth as something better. Perhaps she is too close to death for such things.
The only change Manten has made in her is that she no longer accepts any pretty demon as her bedfellow; they all seem empty and pointless to her now.
That, and the red ribbon she wears in her hair.