While this fic may have existed without Meia, it would probably be less than half as long, and contain 66 less Sugino. Thank you to Meia and Xandra for being my beta/prereaders!
An Overabundance of Misconceptions
In the end, Haruka decided it was Youko's fault.
In the middle of berating Kantarou, waving a calendar in front of his nose and pointing to the large red circle that indicated Kantarou was late with yet another book, she stopped. "Oh," she said, startled. "Tomorrow will be five years since you found Haruka, Kan-chan."
Kantarou stopped mid defensive wail. He turned to look at Haruka, his expression unusually thoughtful.
"I would say we should have a celebration," said Youko, briskly, "but thanks to Kan-chan here we don't have any money."
"Oi, Youko..." protested Kantarou.
And that was that.
Except that for the next few days, out of the corner of his eye, Haruka kept spotting Kantarou watching him with an odd cast to his face. Being almost serious, and therefore somewhat out of his usual experiences with his master, Haruka wasn't entirely sure what to make of it.
Whenever he tried to make eye contact, Kantarou turned a pale pink and looked away quickly.
He questioned Youko on it the next time he caught her alone.
She just shrugged. "He was searching for you his entire life," she said. "Maybe he just can't believe you're still here after all these years."
He supposed five years was a long time for humans.
Haruka eventually stopped trying to meet Kantarou's eyes when he felt them on him, and simply pretended he didn't notice.
Two days later, Kantarou announced that he was going away - alone - and was not sure when he'd be back.
"Kan-chan!" Youko protested, loudly.
"Kantarou, I think it would be better if I..." began Haruka.
"Youko, Haruka," he said, with one of those deceptively kind smiles, "please stay behind and mind the house."
And that was that.
He spent the rest of the day feeling like something was missing. Eventually, he realised he'd come to expect a certain amount of noisy background chatter in his life, and wondered when he'd become so accustomed to it.
Youko's attention seemed to be focussed on why Kantarou had left. "Well, we've both run away," she mused, "maybe he thought it was his turn?"
The next morning, Haruka was awoken by a wail of despair.
"He didn't leave any money!" cried Youko. "That idiot!"
Haruka threw a hand over his eyes and tried to get back to sleep.
The arrival of Reiko at the door in search of a new article did nothing to ease Youko's despair.
"He really didn't say when he'd be back?" said Reiko.
Through clenched teeth, Youko confirmed it.
"That's odd, though," said Reiko. "Usually he runs away before he finishes a book, not afterwards."
Over dinner, Youko sat up straight, put her hands on the table, and demanded, "What will we do if he doesn't come back?"
Haruka put his tea cup to his lips, then lowered it again. "I came back," he pointed out. After all, Kantarou was the one who wanted to befriend the oni-eating tengu, and while Haruka was an essential part of that equation, it wasn't his lifelong dream.
"But Kan-chan... Kan-chan is..."
Haruka raised his eyebrows.
"He was acting oddly! You said it yourself!"
"You didn't seem worried then," he pointed out.
"He'll be back," he said, positively.
The second day brought with it Muu-chan, who he saw search the house three times before she came to Haruka on the roof. "Muu?" she asked.
"Youko is working," said Haruka. "I don't know where Kantarou is."
"Muu?" she repeated, confused.
Muu-chan sat down beside him. "Muu," she said, despondently.
Haruka counted 28 minutes before Sugino arrived.
"My darling wife!" he said, picking up Muu-chan and twirling with delight. "Why do you always leave without telling me, it causes your husband no end of worry!" Sugino looked around. "And where is that bastard, Kantarou?!"
"Not here," said Haruka, shortly.
Sugino blinked at him. "Where is he?"
Haruka explained, as best he could.
Sugino nodded in understanding. "Ah, I see, I see."
Haruka wondered what Sugino saw that Haruka didn't. "You didn't pass him?" he asked. It hadn't even occurred to him before that Kantarou might have gone to the mountain, but...
Sugino shook his head, dislodging a plait. "He really didn't say when he was coming back?" he asked, sitting down next to Haruka.
Sugino looked thoughtful. "Perhaps he's tracking down another youkai," he mused.
Haruka stared at him in horror.
"Well, he wanted the oni-eating tengu to make him strong, right?" said Sugino. "But it's been five years now and that obviously hasn't worked. So maybe he's trying to find a youkai that can make him strong."
"He told me he didn't care about that any more," Haruka protested. "He said I was his most precious person."
Sugino shrugged. "Humans are fickle, after all," he said.
"I..." began Haruka. But then, there had been those weird looks. Maybe he really did...
Haruka summoned his wings with a snap and leapt off the roof.
The third day was punctuated by the arrival of Hasumi.
He chuckled a little at their situation, although he was clearly surprised. "I suppose he's gone hunting for that oni-eating tengu again?" he said, voice dripping contempt.
Haruka briefly considered updating his identity to arrogant-folklorist-eating-tengu.
Youko simply smiled sweetly, and told Hasumi that they really couldn't help him and she was very busy, so if he wouldn't mind...
By the fourth day, Youko's theories had moved to fatal accidents and suicide.
"He's dead," she wailed, "and I'm going to be Youko for the rest of eternity."
"We'd know, wouldn't we?" said Haruka. "If he was dead."
"But why isn't he back yet?" she cried.
Haruka shrugged. "He'll come back when he's ready."
Except... what if he didn't?
What if he came back with a... a dragon and said "This is Ryuuki" and didn't need an oni-eating tengu any more?
Youko sniffled. "I thought I'd like it," she said. "I thought... I thought it would be a nice holiday, some peace and quiet." She sniffled again. "I want Kan-chan back! I'm sorry I was so mean!"
Haruka shifted uncomfortably. "Youko..." He wanted to say that Kantarou was too responsible to just leave them without further word, but the sentence stuck in his throat.
She scrubbed at her eyes angrily. "Kan-chan is an idiot," she said, firmly.
On the fifth day, Haruka was awoken by a familiar voice cheerfully proclaiming to the world he was home.
He dressed as casually as possible and walked into the hall.
It seemed Youko had got there first. "YOU!" she screamed. "How dare you! Leaving us with no money and no food and not telling us when you'd be back and..."
Kantarou rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Oi, Youko..." He met Haruka's eyes briefly, then looked away.
Youko was in full swing. "And Reiko was here, and Hasumi, and even Muu-chan and Sugino-sama were asking after you, and I had to explain to each and every one of them that I didn't know where you'd gone or when you'd be back and it was so embarrassing and they were all worried..."
Youko paused. "Actually, I think he may have been relieved?" She looked at Haruka, who just shrugged.
"I see," said Kantarou, nodding.
"He wanted to know where you were, though?" she offered. "And stop trying to distract me! Kantarou--"
Haruka turned, walked outside and flew up on to the roof.
An hour later, he wondered why Kantarou was still talking to Youko and not coming to find Haruka.
As if his thoughts had summoned him - which was silly, because it was the other way around, surely - Kantarou stumbled into the yard. "Youko-chan is so mean," he whined.
"Hey, Haruka, come down, please," Kantarou pleaded. "I don't want to get the ladder out."
Haruka leapt to the ground in a cloud of black feathers, and raised a nonchalant eyebrow. "Youko was worried about you," he said. "She was all, what if Kan-chan isn't coming back? What if he grew so depressed he threw himself off a cliff?"
"I wouldn't do that to you both," protested Kantarou. "Not without releasing you from the name contract first."
If Haruka had been holding something he rather thought he might have dropped it. He clutched roughly at Kantarou's arm.
"Oi, Haruka, that hurts..."
"If you release me before you are old and grey and lying in a bed about to pass from this world to the next, I will... I will..." He wanted to say, I will not leave your side until the day you die. But somehow it didn't seem like a threat when he put it like that. "You are not going to kill yourself."
"Of course not," said Kantarou, agreeably. "I'm just saying, if I did..."
Haruka wrapped both arms around him from behind, then added wings as an afterthought. "Never."
Kantarou struggled for a moment, then relaxed with a sigh. "I already told you I can't bring myself to release you," he said, in a small voice.
"I thought maybe you wanted another youkai," he said, through clenched teeth. "Someone to make you strong."
"What?" said Kantarou. "No, no, I just... had to think some things through."
Haruka was starting to feel a little silly.
"It was always Haru- it was always you. Oni-eating tengu. I don't need another youkai."
"I..." Haruka wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Did you succeed? Um. In your thinking."
"Sort of," said Kantarou, and Haruka imaged he could hear a wry smile in those words. "It isn't a problem I can resolve myself, though." Kantarou extracted himself from Haruka's arms and turned to look at him with a too-bright smile. "I think Youko has tea on," he said.
And that was that.
"Sugino," said Haruka, "What's a problem that can't be resolved by oneself?"
Sugino blinked at him, as Muu-chan devoured another worm with an expression of delight. "All kinds of things," he said. "How big a problem are you talking?"
"Kantarou," said Haruka.
"That's a pretty big problem," Sugino agreed readily.
"I mean... it's his problem. But he wouldn't say what it was."
"Humans like to be mysterious," said Sugino, positively. "He probably just wants your attention."
"He doesn't need to make cryptic comments for that," Haruka protested.
"Ah, of course, he just needs to say 'Harukaaaaa', yes?"
Haruka lowered his brows in annoyance.
"Ah, I know!" said Sugino, snapping his fingers. "There's a girl he wants to marry!"
Sugino nodded enthusiastically. "Humans are funny when they're in love," he explained. "They get all weird and thoughtful for a while, and then they go off and forget all their friends."
Haruka was silent for a moment.
"I've seen it happen," Sugino continued. "See if you can get him to release you before the wedding, okay?"
"Youko," said Haruka, "has Kantarou ever been in love?"
She blinked. "Well," she said, "before he found you he was too busy finding you to do any dating," she said. "And after that he had you."
"Yes, you," she said, poking him in the chest. "Idiot."
"But... there are all those rich women..." Haruka pointed out, desperately.
"Kan-chan likes money," she said, with a shrug.
"But you're the one he wants to be with." Youko winked at him. "I've been watching him watch you ever since he got back."
"I don't have any money," said Haruka, helplessly.
"Haruka," she said, with an expression of exasperated patience, "I don't think he'll mind."
Haruka just stared at her.
Haruka opened the door and stepped into the room quickly.
"Kantarou... the problem that you can't resolve yourself... is that about me?"
Kantarou dropped his pen. "Have you been thinking about that all this time?" he asked, incredulously.
"I... I was just curious."
Kantarou turned to face him, but didn't quite meet his eyes. His cheeks seemed to be stained faintly pink.
"Is it about... you and I?" Haruka continued.
Kantarou looked at the floor and nodded.
"Why didn't you say something?"
"Well... if I said something, I would never have been sure if the answer was coming from Haruka... or from you," Kantarou.
Haruka closed the door behind him and walked over to kneel next to his master. "I am Haruka," he pointed out.
"But... not forever."
"As long as I can be," he said, fiercely. "I'm yours."
"Ha--. You. I never wanted to own you. I just wanted to meet you. To be friends."
"You told me," said Haruka. "That was five years ago, which I understand is a long time for humans. What do you want now?"
"I never meant... It's just, you look so human, and while I know, I know, that humans and youkai can't be together like that, I... I..."
Haruka was becoming increasingly aware that he was supposed to be doing something now. He just wasn't sure what.
After a moment, he leant forward, and tilted Kantarou's chin up so that he could meet his eyes. "Kantarou..."
Haruka toppled over backwards.
Kantarou picked the youkai off his chest. "Ah, Muu-chan... good afternoon."
Haruka picked himself up the floor and walked outside.
"That Kantarou," Sugino was muttering as he landed on the roof. "He has no respect for the sanctity of marriage."
"Sugino," said Haruka. He stopped. "I think he just wants to be friends with her."
"Muu-chan is special," said Sugino, firmly.
"Sugino," Haruka tried again, "if you want to be... more than friends with someone... how do you do it?"
Sugino's jaw dropped. "Is he making you--"
Sugino continued to gape at him.
"Never mind," said Haruka, getting to his feet.
Sugino grabbed his wrist before he could step off the roof. "Oni-eater... if this is really about Ichinomiya..."
Haruka didn't move.
"Humans and youkai--"
"I know. I just don't know... what to do."
"You should forget all about this deplorable notion!"
"I don't want to," said Haruka, firmly.
"I tried telling him," said Haruka. "But I'm not sure he believes me. Because of the name contract."
"There, you see why this is a terrible idea?" Sugino demanded.
Sugino sniffed. "Do what you will," he said, and stepped off the roof.
Haruka watched the sun set slowly over the horizon.
He heard Yoko calling him for dinner, and leapt away into the night air before either of them could come looking for him.
The sound of Kantarou and Youko arguing about the strength of the tea should have been a pleasant, familiar way of waking up, but instead Haruka couldn't stop wondering if Kantarou perhaps sounded a little subdued.
Maybe he was just projecting his own confusion onto his master.
Kantarou looked up, clearly startled, as Haruka entered the room. "Ha-Haruka," he said, blushing, "good morning."
Haruka nodded, and sat down.
"I have to work today," said Youko, "so I want you to make certain Kan-chan works on his article, Haruka."
Haruka gave her a puzzled look.
"What kind of household is this, that you make the cute girl provide for the two hopeless males?" she demanded.
"Youko!" Kantarou protested.
Haruka sighed, and tuned them out as he started to eat.
Youko pulled Haruka into the garden as she was leaving. "I know Muu-chan interrupted yesterday," she murmured, "so you should talk to him today."
"Y-Youko!" he protested. "What... what do I say?"
You grinned at him. "It won't matter, if it comes from Haruka." She nudged Haruka in the side and skipped away.
When Haruka walked back inside the house, Kantarou had already disappeared into the study.
"Um," he said, as he closed the door behind him. "About yesterday..."
"You don't--" said Kantarou.
"Stop that," Haruka interrupted. "Telling me not to do something is just as bad as telling me to do something."
"But, Haruka..." Kantarou whined.
"Kantarou," said Haruka. "Shut up."
Kantarou shut up. Haruka felt strangely pleased with himself.
"I don't know. How. Or why. Or anything, because you are annoying and whiny and a terrible, terrible master--"
Haruka held up a hand. "But... you are very important to me."
Kantarou stumbled to his feet. "Ha--" He stopped. "You..."
"You gave me that name," said Haruka, looking away. "The least you could do is use it."
Haruka suddenly found himself attacked by a small, silver-haired human. "Haruka!" Kantarou wailed. "I'm so happy."
Haruka hesitated for a moment, then buried his nose in Kantarou's hair.
After a few moments, Kantarou pulled back. "You're too tall," he complained. "I can't kiss you."
And that was that.