Fate of Mortality

A Tactics fan fiction by Hitokiri-san

A/N: I have noticed that, small as it may be, the quality of fanfictions in the Tactics fandom is astonishingly good. Having read all 90 fics in a thirst for Tactics-related fiction (90 is a neat number too), I've decided to put in my own contribution. I hope it will not disappoint you - well, at least not too much.

Deep in his mind, Haruka knew that there was a day when his master would leave him for good.

It was their eventual demise, he knew. Despite his formidable spiritual power, Kantarou was nevertheless human. He was vulnerable, inconstant. Fragile as the shiny glassware that Haruka kept in his room. A mere disease could seize him; old age could snuff him out like a flame, asphyxiated. Given what the silver-haired man did for a living, there were at least a hundred more ways – and violent ones at that - for Kantarou to die. The fact was that Kantarou would inevitably pass away before his two slaves did, if one were to put it in a callous way.

Haruka tried not to think about that too often. It was a topic naturally left unsaid in the Ichinomiya household, although the tengu didn't hold the illusion that his two companions had never thought of the matter before. It was probably why Kantarou treasured his relationship with his two slaves with such earnestness, though Haruka couldn't be sure. Kantarou, after all, was hard to read. And Haruka was no expert in the realm of human psychology.

"I am sorry to see you ill, Ichinomiya-sensei, but I'm afraid that you still have to finish that novel by today."

"But…Reiko-san, I am sick! Surely the deadline can wait for a few days?" Kantarou whined, mustering a look that was meant to charm the girl into submission. Reiko, expectedly, was unfazed.

"I don't care if you die doing it, sensei. You know that wouldn't work on me, so get a move on with your writing." Reiko smiled sweetly in reply.

Die. Haruka looked up from his spot, eyes narrowed. Kantarou had been attempting to stave off his editor by feigning a round of dizziness for a while now, claiming that he had yet to recover from the latest exorcising job. That part, at least, wasn't entirely made up.

Kantarou had been swept off the roof by a rampaging oni, too intent on calming the aggravated soul to realize the danger he was in. The folklorist had banged his head against a wooden banister two floors below before Haruka moved to cushion him from further damage. He had been plagued by headaches and dizzy spells after the incident, and Youko had been worried. The dizziness was a good excuse to use against Reiko; but Haruka suspected that it might, in a way, be the truth. Reiko, however, had heard enough of Kantarou's various discomforts to pay actual heed.

"You have no compassion, Reiko-san!" Pouting animatedly, Kantarou returned to his work.

Idly, Haruka wondered if it was the exorcising job gone awry that had inspired his reflections on Kantarou's mortality. He found that he had a hard time forgetting the scene of that particular night - Kantarou's blood had been all over his hands then, slick and red, his eyes holding a glassy quality that suggested the word dead. For a moment, Haruka had panicked, afraid that his worst fear had been realized – that Kantarou had been killed by his own generosity. Fortunately, it wasn't the case, but the tengu's fear had remained.

The young exorcist was too compassionate and naïve for his own good, and it was going to get him killed, one day or another. He had never hesitated to point that out to his master, but did Kantarou ever listen? Obstinacy was one of the exorcist's most annoying traits, albeit one that endeared his friends to him. Subconsciously, he aimed a disapproving glare at the silver-haired man, who promptly turned to meet his gaze, ruby eyes crinkling in lively humor.

It was at times like this that he was convinced that Kantarou could live forever. The vitality that the folklorist radiated was so bright, so warming, it gave the illusion of eternity. It wasn't the truth, he knew. Every life has an end, and Kantarou's was no different. Yet, Haruka had comfort in the thought that they still have a long, long while left before that dazzling presence diminish, especially if he counted days in the human sense. Kantarou had a long life ahead of him; the three of them still have a lifetime together.

He smiled back at the albino, lips curving upwards at just a slight angle. Maybe he was assuming things – Kantarou might die tomorrow, next month, ten years from now. There was no guarantee about the human's lifespan; he was merely deceiving himself with the assumption.

Reiko was edging closer to Kantarou now; the dangerous gleam in her eyes told the tengu that, unlikely thought it seemed, she was considering the merits of strangling the troublesome folklorist once and for all. Haruka sighed once before rising to the poor man's rescue. He gave Reiko his best smile and the woman sputtered, Kantarou instantly forgotten.

"I've just noticed how exquisitely beautiful you look today, Reiko-san. Perhaps you would like to join me for an afternoon walk?"

"Y-yes, of course!"

Kantarou gave him a wicked little grin as he guided Reiko from the room, mouthing a silent "thank you" behind the woman's back. Haruka shot him a mildly exasperated look, and wondered why he had bothered with helping his lazy master at all.

Kantarou was mortal, death was the exorcist's only destiny - that was one truth he could not run away from. But maybe he could find further comfort in the knowledge that, as long as Kantarou was alive, Haruka would continue serving him, would continue keeping him from harm's way. He understood that Youko was committed to the same resolve. Haruka closed his eyes briefly in resignation.

Mortal, immortal. There were times when he thought that these two words was the heart of their relationship. After all, the words defined the nature of their difference, as slave and master, as youkai and human. The diverse worlds of demons and human beings could easily be narrowed down to such a definition.

It occurred to Haruka, at the current moment, that he might have given too much credit to two meager words.