Title: Burning the Osenko

Author: Hawk Clowd

Disclaimer: I don't own them. I don't want them. I most certainly don't begrudge Maki Murakami for having created them... and I absolutely-positively love the fact that I'm (sort of) allowed to play with them.

Blood Type: Cement

Warnings: Death

Author's Notes: I started this one in March, but it never went anywhere. I picked it back up in June and, suddenly, all the pieces started falling into place. I hope it fits properly.

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Tatsuha stood on the steps outside the temple and stared at the crematorium. He felt...

Mika came out to stand next to him and, after a moment of hesitation, she put an arm around Tatsuha's waist and squeezed him in a mock half-hug. She let her arm fall back down to her side. The two of them stood in silence for a long moment.

"Are you all right?" she asked in a soft voice.

He nodded. "Yeah."

She followed his gaze to look at the remains of the crematorium over which they had presided that morning, but then she had to quickly look away. He understood why. The memory of the flames, even so far away in time as they were, burned into his eyes and fell deep into the very center of his being. He felt...

"I never thought he would actually die," Mika mused softly. She was staring at her feet through half-lidded eyes. "He always talked about it as though it was going to happen to him in the next few seconds, but I never actually thought..."

Tatsuha hadn't actually thought about it, either, but he nodded slightly before he went back to staring at the crematorium in silence.

Mika, after a moment, continued. "Eiri's doing a good job with the ceremony. Don't you think so?"

He shrugged. "I guess so." That brought on even more questions he didn't want to deal with. It was a little unusual for someone like Eiri to conduct a funeral ceremony, but no one seemed to notice or mind. It wasn't their place to mind, really. Eiri was doing a good job of dealing with it, too, although that was only natural; it was what he had been trained to do, after all.

"Is he going to take over the temple now, do you think?" Mika questioned. "Now that Father is..."

Tatsuha cut her off. "He doesn't want it."

"It's not about what he wants," Mika said in a low voice. "It's his responsibility as the eldest son, and you're only seventeen. That's hardly old enough for --"

"I don't want it either."

One of them had to take the temple, though. He and Eiri had stayed up late the night before to talk about it, after Eiri and Shuichi had finally arrived in Kyoto and the couple had settled in. Shuichi was in the guest room, by himself; Eiri slept in his old bedroom. The singer had put up a little bit of a fight, but Eiri had explained that it wouldn't have been appropriate for the two of them to sleep in the same bedroom so soon after his father's death, especially since the old geezer had never approved of their relationship in the first place... and Shuichi had understood, in his own way.

Shuichi was brooding near the back, looking solemn in his traditional robes. Tatsuha wondered what he was thinking about. Was he cursing the old man with whom he had never exchanged civil words or was he wishing the dead a peaceful... whatever it was? Eiri had told him that Shuichi had been raised predominately under Shinto beliefs and Tatsuha wasn't exactly sure what those involved. Not that it mattered too much, really.

Mika, Eiri, and Tatsuha had cremated the body earlier that morning, a task that was typically not left to the family of the deceased, but things were different when you were the children of a monk. There hadn't been many guests to feed then and Tatsuha guessed it was because their father hadn't gotten out much. After the meal, the three of them had gone to pick out the bones from the ash and pass them with the chopsticks and Mika had started to cry. That had been unsettling for everyone; Eiri, after a few moments, had stilled Tatsuha's hand, stood Mika up, and taken her outside for a little while. When they returned, the three siblings went on as though nothing had happened. The few guests in attendance had fidgeted awkwardly the entire time; Tatsuha couldn't blame them. He had wanted to fidget, too.

There had been an hour between the cremation ceremony and the actual funeral, which Mika had spent in the house, trying to compose herself, and Eiri and Tatsuha had spent greeting guests and accepting the yen payments (Tohma had offered up 60000 Yen, three times the usual amount, and Eiri had frowned at him but accepted it. Shuichi had given them 25000, a sum both brothers thought was far more appropriate).

Eiri and Tatsuha had debated for a good hour the night before as to who should do the funeral ceremony itself and who should stay out. Eiri had won the coin toss and so he was the one who had sat down in front of the temple shrine and started the ceremony. Tatsuha had stood up and left about halfway through, much to the surprise of the guests, but he'd needed a cigarette and didn't really care what anyone thought about it. Eiri hadn't even faltered, although he did glance up once as Tatsuha went out the door.

He had been out here for ten minutes. He really should have expected Mika to come out after him sooner or later, but...

"I don't blame you for getting up," she murmured in a voice so soft Tatsuha almost didn't believe it was his sister standing next to him.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She looked tired and her eyes were red, as though she'd been crying again. Tatsuha wondered why that surprised him so much. He didn't remember her crying when their mother had died, but he had been young at the time and probably did not remember a great deal about it. He felt...

"Are you going to smoke that or just hold it?" she asked, nodding her head toward the unlit cigarette he held between his fingers. Tatsuha glanced at it and offered it to her. She shook her head and he put it back in the pack with the rest of them. Smoking in front of the pyre in which they had earlier cremated their father simply didn't feel right.

They stood there for a moment in silence.

"You're sure you're okay?"

"Yeah." People kept asking him that, over and over again. He wished they would stop. He was fine. Yes, he had been the one to walk into the main temple that morning -- or was it afternoon? Tatsuha couldn't quite remember -- and see his father lying on his side and he had been the one to panic and call the hospital, then stay by his father's bed until the monitor stopped and the doctor came in and told him that it was too late, the old man had at last passed away. He had been the one to call Mika and Eiri and tell them what had happened and he had been the one to spend two nights in an empty house, wide-awake and listening to the sound of one person -- himself -- crying in the dark. But he was fine. He was seventeen, almost an adult. He could handle it. He was fine. He felt...

Mika put a hand on his shoulder. "You're positive?"

...scared. Alone. Tired. Worried. He felt countless things, none of which he could explain or talk about or even admit. He wasn't sure what was going to happen to him next -- he wasn't a legal adult after all, even though his father had pretty much let him act like one for years now. Mika and Tohma had the upcoming baby -- Mika was due any day now -- to worry about, and they wouldn't want to take care of any 'arrangements'. Eiri was caught up with Shuichi and would be just as disinterested with taking care of things, which left Tatsuha to decide what to do with everything -- the temple, the house, all of his dad's affairs and debts -- and he wasn't sure he could handle it all or any of it, really. He couldn't lose control, though, or Mika and Eiri would treat him like a child and coddle him and Tatsuha couldn't stand that. He wanted all of this to go away so he wouldn't have to deal with it or so he could forget he'd spent all of that horrible day kneeling by his father's bedside, begging the old bastard to wake up and get better so he wouldn't leave Tatsuha alone, like the selfish child he was, or how he'd stayed awake for the past few nights, praying that it had all just been a really bad dream...

"Yes."

Mika nodded and then coughed politely into her hand. Her other hand rested on the bulge of her stomach. "Well. Then I think I'm going to go to the house to make sure the next meal is ready. Eiri will be finished with the rituals soon."

Tatsuha nodded, shifting on the balls of his feet. "Okay."

She started to leave and then paused, not bothering to turn around. "Is there enough osenko 1?" she asked.

He would probably be responsible for the osenko, too, he realized. After the funeral, Mika and Eiri would go back to Tokyo and it would be life as usual for them. Tatsuha would be left behind to watch over the urn and keep the osenko burning and...

"Yeah," he replied.

"Good." She brought her arms up and hugged herself, then stayed there. Tatsuha wondered if she was going to cry again. He hoped not; if she started up again, he would probably cry, too, and this entire game would be up. She would know and she would tell Eiri and suddenly Tatsuha would be everyone's burden.

"Do you think Eiri feels bad?" she asked suddenly. "The two of them were always fighting like that, after all..."

It was always about Eiri, wasn't it? Tatsuha shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe." He was lying. He knew exactly how Eiri felt about it -- his brother had more or less told him the night before, while they were talking about the temple and all sorts of irrelevant things. And, like always, they had avoided the real matter at hand. They never spoke of the things that really needed to be discussed.

"I bet he does," Mika mused.

She was right. Even to the end Eiri refused to admit that he was, perhaps, in the wrong, but Tatsuha knew better. Eiri was actually so full of feelings -- guilt and sadness among them -- that they had mixed together and turned him numb to the world. So far as Tatsuha could understand, it was like light: once all the colors mixed together, they made one color -- white. Eiri wasn't sure how he should feel and so he wasn't concentrating on simply one feeling -- he was trying to ignore them all, and that numbed him.

Tatsuha didn't tell that to Mika. He instead wondered why all she felt was sorrow.

"I don't know," Tatsuha said again.

"Oh." Mika rubbed her arm idly. "How do you feel about it?"

"Fine," Tatsuha lied. His voice sounded dull. He wondered why Mika didn't pick up on it; she only nodded and started walking toward the house. Tatsuha sat down on the steps and traced patterns in the grass with his foot, listening with half an ear to Eiri's voice from inside the temple. He knew the words by heart and, quietly, he whispered them along with his brother. He expected the chanting to make him feel different for some reason, but nothing changed. Nothing ever changed in this family.

The chanting stopped after a little while and people began to filter out of the temple, back toward the house. They side-stepped around Tatsuha, pretending they didn't notice him. Shuichi was among the first to leave, and Tatsuha thought he saw his brother's lover crying, just a little bit. He looked away so he wouldn't have to see Shuichi's face and know for sure. Tohma and Eiri were the last ones to leave and Tohma was just a step ahead of Eiri, talking back at him but not looking over his shoulder. Eiri slowed his pace as he left the temple. Tohma didn't notice and continued talking as he made his way toward the house.

Eiri took a seat next to Tatsuha and took his brother's cigarettes. He put one to his lips and lit it with a lighter he had apparently been hiding in the sleeve of his robe. He squinted at the house. "Asshole."

Tatsuha wasn't sure if Eiri was talking about him, their father, or Tohma. He didn't ask. Instead he scooted a little closer to his brother, hoping the elder wouldn't notice.

"What now?" he asked.

Eiri glanced at him and then away again, shrugging. "We eat. We accept people's awkward apologies and condolences. We hang around the house and pretend we're not all looking at one another to see what the other person is doing. We go to sleep." He pulled on the cigarette. "That's it."

"That's not what I meant." But Eiri knew that. The bastard always knew stuff like that, whether Tatsuha liked it or not.

Eiri nodded. "I'm going back to Tokyo tomorrow."

Of course he was. Tatsuha had expected that. Mika would be going back to Tokyo, too, and Tatsuha would be alone. He clenched his fists, trying not to lash out at his brother. Eiri noticed. Eiri always noticed.

"To get some things," Eiri added, seemingly as clarification. "The essentials. Clothes and shit. Then I'll come back here."

That gave Tatsuha pause. He sat still for a moment and then gave Eiri a sidelong look. The elder brother pretended not to notice.

"It's not permanent," Eiri snapped. "I'm just going to stick around for a little while, to make sure things are all right back here. Get Dad's affairs in order. That sort of thing."

Tatsuha frowned. "I don't need a babysitter," he pointed out coldly.

Eiri gave him a look that implied Tatsuha had been absent the day they were giving out brains. "I know that."

"So why are you staying?"

Eiri didn't answer for a long time. He took the cigarette from his lips and held it between his fingers, tapping ash into the grass. Tatsuha watched him.

"Ani 2?"

"It's my responsibility," Eiri said dryly. "I don't like it, but it is. Once the osenko stops burning, though, I'm going back to Tokyo. I don't care if you stay here, if you tag along and sleep on my couch, or if you decide to live in a box in some alley. What happens after the osenko stops burning is your problem."

That was more than Tatsuha had been expecting, really. He shivered and put his arms around himself, not sure if he was trying to keep warm or if he was hugging himself for the sake of being held. He tried not to think about it too hard.

"What about Mika?" Tatsuha asked quietly. Why was it that it was Eiri he always turned to for answers, even though his shit-head of a brother was... well, a shit-head?

"She'll do whatever she decides she has to do," Eiri answered. He flicked the spent cigarette onto the ground. "Put that out. I'm not wearing the right kind of shoes for it."

Tatsuha did as he was told. Eiri nodded in approval, then stood up and took Tatsuha's hand to help the younger brother to his feet as well.

"Come on," he ordered. "There's food to eat and guests to kick out."

Tatsuha tried not to smile at that, but he followed Eiri inside anyway. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

At least he wouldn't be alone while the osenko was burning.

---end---

1 Osenko (incense sticks) are burned for thirty-five days after a funeral. They are burned round the clock, so they must be monitored regularly. There are special twelve-hour sticks for the night.

2 Ani: Big brother. Aniki has more of a sarcastic tone, so I thought it less appropriate.