THE TALE OF MARISE: Chapter Seven

She watched Touma closely. It was rather unsettling to Jun, but he kept his mouth shut. Touma hadn't spoken to him since that afternoon, and was now curled up on the floor of their room, examining some old bamboo scrolls with the typical facial expression of an elderly scholar.

It was almost midnight. Jun silently hoped that Touma would go to sleep, but it didn't seem as if he would put away the scrolls anytime soon. The window doors were half-closed and Jun walked across the room to slide them open. The rain had left the city warm and windless, but Jun shivered nonetheless. He sat down at the edge of the window and gazed at the clear night sky.

"Stop looking at me."

Jun jerked his head around to face Touma. No one else could be seen in the room except the two of them. "I wasn't looking at you," said Jun. "I was just looking outside."

Touma frowned and appeared distracted for a moment before returning to his scrolls without another word.

"Are you angry?" Jun blurted out, before Touma could completely immerse himself in his reading. "This might sound stupid and unreasonable, but I just… I don't want you to be angry. Besides, I'm twenty-two. I'm responsible for my own actions."

Touma lowered the scroll in his hand and fell back onto his pillow, staring at the ceiling. "I know, Jun," he said, with an exasperated sigh. "I'm angry, but not necessarily at you. I'm angry about a lot of things and nothing all at once. But at the same time, I've sort of accepted that there are some emotions that can't be explained. Shin knows what I mean. I don't even need to explain this to him."

Jun fell silent. He wasn't sure what he could say.

"I'm going to sleep," Touma announced, pushing all the scrolls into one corner. Then, he picked up the damp pair of jeans he had been wearing earlier that day and began to search the pockets. "Honestly, Jun, I hope you never turn out like me. Despite what you may think, I'm a really bad person." Finally, he found what he was looking for, placing the object next to his pillow before tossing his jeans aside. "Well, good night." He flicked off the lamp, turned over onto his stomach, and promptly fell asleep.

The yoroi orb glowed with a strange light, but he didn't wake up.

Jun stood shakily and made his way over to his bed, wondering how much Touma suspected—no, how much he knew. The pity he had felt for her earlier was replaced by a hatred of what she was doing to him, to all of them. She didn't say anything, but he knew she was no longer watching Touma, but the orb that lay beside his sleeping figure. Outside the window, billions of stars covered the sky, each with its eye fixed upon the tiny room of the Mouri house that Jun was now sitting in.

- - -

"Let me see if I can fix it," said Shin, taking the toy car from Otouto, who gladly handed it over.

"You should be more careful with your toys," Sachi told him smartly, combing the hair of her new doll lovingly.

Otouto buried his face into Shin's shoulder. "Shut up," he said. "Papa loves me more. He doesn't even know that you don't like dolls." He wiped his nose on Shin's sleeve, but Shin didn't move away as he busied himself unscrewing the screws of the car lid with a small coin.

"Who said? I like this one, don't I?"

Still sitting on the couch between his small niece and nephew, Shin carefully placed the unscrewed nails in a neat pile on the tea table and pried the lid of the car slightly open. One end of the lid had been sealed to the base permanently, making it hard to see what was inside. "You two are always arguing," he pointed out. "Does it make more sense for you to get along if your father comes home only once a month?"

"Once every two months," said Sachi.

"That's even more of a reason," said Shin. "You should help each other out when you're upset, not make fun of each other." He held the car to the light and examined the inner wiring for a moment, but couldn't find anything loose or broken. He tried a button on the joystick. Nothing happened.

Otouto leaned over eagerly to look inside. "Can you fix it?"

"I don't think so," Shin replied honestly. "I don't know much about how these things work."

Otouto lower lip began to tremble and he bit down on it. Shin pulled him closer and rubbed his back gently. Then, he pulled Sachi to his other side, holding them both in a warm embrace. This time, to Shin's relief, neither Sachi nor Otouto said a word to each other.

"Maybe your father will buy you a new one," said Jun, who had been sitting quietly at the dining table until now. "Or maybe Touma can fix it when he wakes up."

Before Shin could stop him, Otouto had already hopped off the couch and disappeared into Touma's room. Shin smiled helplessly and shook his head in worried amusement. Jun shrugged and gave him an apologetic look.

A few moments later, Otouto came back out, followed by a half-awake Touma. "So where's this broken car?" Touma murmured, looking around the room slowly. "Let me take a look at it."

Shin raised an eyebrow. "You don't want some coffee first?"

Touma rolled his eyes and yawned. "Just give me the car before my sudden good mood wears off." He grabbed the car from Shin and peered at it. "You checked the batteries in this? I don't want to open this up and discover it's only the battery that needs to be changed."

"We just changed it."

"Then this might take a while," said Touma. "I'll need a screwdriver, so I can reach inside this thing."

Shin immediately left the room to find a screwdriver. It wasn't until he reached the east end of the house that he realized Jun had followed him. There was an old room without a door that seemed like an extension of the house rather than a part of it. Shelves of old scrolls lined the walls, but there were other things too: loose papers, boxes of clothing that went as far back as the Meiji Era, and several broken toys. Sensing Jun's discomfort, Shin motioned for Jun to come in after him.

"This was once my father's study," he said, digging through one of the boxes and miraculously producing a small toolbox. The bright red plastic contrasted with the gray of the room. "As you can probably tell, we use it for storage now."

Jun suddenly had an image of Shin as a child, sitting quietly on the floor while his father studied on the other side of the room. When he blinked again, the image was gone, and the Shin he knew was waving for him to go back to the living room.

"Could I… stay here for a while?" he asked, looking around the dusty place.

Shin examined him for a moment and nodded. "Feel free to explore whatever you want."

Jun waited for him to leave before sitting down in the exact same spot the younger Shin had appeared earlier. He could feel her circling the room, the faint flutter of her breath blowing off the topmost layer of dust, so that everything would have looked as if time had gone back several years if someone bothered to look twice. He could see Shin standing beside his father obediently, his father's large hand stroking his hair, just gently enough to be teasing and loving at the same time. He could feel the jealousy that wasn't his, her desire, so strange and hidden that Jun couldn't understand.

Perhaps Shin's love reminded her of her own love, Jun concluded. But something in the back of his mind told him otherwise.

- - -

Shin leaned against the open door, watching as Touma tried to hold the lid of the car open and reach inside with the screwdriver at the same time. He thought of offering to help, but decided that seeing Touma's resourcefulness at work was much more enjoyable. Besides, he was certain that Touma was already aware of his presence, as usual, and would have asked for help if he truly needed it.

He smiled to himself as Touma reached into the toolbox for a smaller screwdriver, jabbing it between the car and the lid.

"I could still use some help, you know," said Touma after a while. "A conversation would be nice."

"Well, what would we talk about?" said Shin, taking a seat next to him on the floor. "We never had much to say to each other anyway."

Touma sighed and stopped his work for a moment. "Don't say that, Shin, even if it's true."

"You sound like me."

"And you sound like me," said Touma with a regretful smile. "All those years together shaped who we are, allowed us to understand ourselves in relation to one another. Now that we've gone our separate ways, I think we've forgotten that part of us, the part that made us all different, but at the same time, kept us together."

"Touma…"

Touma shook his head. "I guess seeing you like this just made me think of how much I miss a certain four people I knew so long ago."

"I don't know if I miss the old Touma," said Shin, raising his eyebrows. "I kind of like this new Touma, who speaks his mind and offers to fix toy cars so early in the morning without his daily dose of caffeine."

They both laughed. It was silent again.

"The reason is that I've gotten into this hobby of fixing things lately," said Touma, picking up the screwdriver again. "Before, I'd just buy or make a new one of whatever was broken, but fixing something is oddly satisfying." He fiddled with the car for another few minutes and tested a button on the joystick. The car shot forward and came back. Touma closed the lid and began to place the screws back in.

"Or maybe someone just has a soft spot for little boys who don't see their fathers very often," said Shin. He placed his hand over Touma's lap, surprised when Touma didn't shrug his words away or laugh awkwardly. For a second, he thought Touma had actually blushed, but when he blinked again, Touma's face was pale as it had always been.

When Touma finally finished his work on the car, he carefully placed the toy and remote on the tea table and looked up. "Do you ever get the feeling that something in your life is about to change?" His eyes were soft and quiet. "As if every single thing you ever did in your life was piling up and waiting for this one moment to throw you off the edge of a cliff where you couldn't see the ground below? Well, that's sort of how I feel right now. And isn't it strange that I should feel this way when I'm with you and Jun, here, in your little hometown on my spring vacation."

It wasn't a question. Shin didn't have an answer anyway. Suddenly, something in Touma's expression changed.

"Shin, Jun isn't who you think he is. Don't trust anything he says."

They turned at the same time. Jun was standing at the door, staring at them emotionlessly. A second later, he was gone.

Touma swore loudly.

"What are you talking about?" asked Shin. "Why would you say something like that?"

"You had no idea," whispered Touma, as if he were talking to himself. "Wow, you really have no idea."

"No, Touma," said Shin, hurt written all over his face. "You have no idea how much I underestimate your secrecy. You pretend to believe that we've all forgotten that part of us, the part that makes us all different. Well, maybe the rest of us have, but unfortunately, you haven't. And why am I telling you this? You always knew." He stood up and went after Jun.

As Touma watched Shin leave the room, he was suddenly reminded of how little they had in common. Sometimes, he wondered if Shin had also forgotten.

- - -

Suiko stands outside, gazing down the stone path that led to the beach, even after the two noisy children had gone in. Tenkuu finds him there. "Your mother says it's time for lunch," he says. "Where's Jun? Did you talk to him?"

"He headed for the beach," Suiko says. "I didn't follow him. Maybe—Maybe he needs more time alone."

Tenkuu looks at the ground. "You don't understand," he says. "Since Jun came back yesterday, I've been having this unsettling feeling that you and I are being watched, constantly. Even now. I haven't felt this way since… since our stay in Youjakai. I thought you had felt it too."

"All I feel is Jun's confusion," Suiko says. "I wish knew what was going on so I could help him."

"And I wish you'd stop feeling around blindly and complaining about how you don't know what's going on."

Suiko frowns. "Okay, then tell me what I should do."

She waited.

Tenkuu doesn't speak, and Suiko doesn't react. They only gaze at each other as if they share a form of communication that no one knew existed, words flowing between them like water, everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the meaning lost unless you made yourself aware of its presence. It bothered her, enraged her, that her own torrent had gone unnoticed, with the exception of the young boy she now controlled.

Suiko. Suiko. Suiko.

She repeated it over and over to herself. For hours, days, years. And now there was Tenkuu. She hated the way he looked at him, the intimate knowing look, the look that revealed what he tried to keep hidden. She wondered if there were others too, but it didn't matter, unless they stood in her way.

Are you all right? the boy asked her.

He was so much like Suiko. For a moment, she had forgotten her true purpose. Perhaps she could keep this boy instead. But no, he didn't have what she wanted. She would have to keep using him until she got it, then she could let him go.

"I'm going to find Jun now," Suiko is saying. "Maybe some good food will take things off his mind. Tell 'Kaasan and 'Neesan I'll be back in about ten minutes."

Tenkuu is looking at him that way again. He always looks at him that way. Except this time, something in his eyes told her that Suiko wasn't the only thing he was looking at. "Jun's not at the beach. He's right behind you."

She would kill him.

- - -

Hey! I'm not dead! In fact, I'm going to see if I can finish a chapter fic for the first time! Thank you SO MUCH for all the reviews, guys! They really helped to keep me going. I hope this chapter wasn't too confusing, but it was meant to be just a little weird. Anyway, I won't be updating as much anymore, as you can probably tell. I'll also be working on another Touma/Shin fanfic at the same time, which will make things even more chaotic, but I think I can handle it. Thanks again for reading!