Dear Sung Cho,
How did the lecture go? I'm assuming you finished your paper on time, because you always do. I apologize again for having to leave so abruptly—you know I'm sorry about that dance—but mothers are mothers, even step-mothers, and pneumonia is serious. My elder brother got here the day before I did, though I have the impression he's missing some kind of med school exams! He hasn't left Mom's hospital room since he got here, not even to sleep, and I'm getting annoyed, because he doesn't seem to realize that as long as he's sitting there holding her hand Dad feels that he has to be there too, and it's not good for him to sit up so long. This is the second time they've nursed her through illness, but Dad and she weren't married then, so it's different now. Don't worry, Cho-chan, I'm sleeping like a sane person. I'm even doing all the homework I know about. The sickroom is creepily quiet most of the time except for Mom's difficult breathing, since she can't talk and it isn't occurring to older brother or Dad that they can, but nurses come in sometimes, and doctors. Even though I'm worried, I have to admit it's one of the funniest things in the world to see my stepbrother correcting the doctors right and left, or occasionally condescending enough to argue with them—the looks on their stupid faces, so used to being unquestioned authorities—at least, it would be funny if it wasn't for the way he looks. He takes the creepy cake, I'm afraid. Dad's fine, except for the lack of sleep and the worry. The family cat says hello. All my love.
Dear Sung Cho,
Thank god for you! You saved my bacon in Physics. I love that dog. Has he really learned to shake, or are you just saying that? How's the lab write-up coming? Say hello to everyone on the hall for me, okay?
Mom woke up today—that is, she was lucid and everything before going back to sleep. It was such a relief! Dad and brother were lit up from inside like your paper lanterns the whole time they were talking to her. I didn't say much myself. Mostly I smiled at her; she's always been the best of stepmothers. I was eleven when Dad married her, which is late enough that she never felt quite like my mother, but early enough that she's very important to me. Both your parents are still alive, but maybe you'll understand anyway. Are they back from their trip home to Korea yet? (Have I told you this month how glad I am that you decided to go to school in the country you were raised in instead of the one you were born in? Love you.) Dad actually did most of the talking. Brother restricted himself to meaningful utterances and squeezing her fingers until I worried they would break, as brittle as they look. I realized just how sick she was, now that she's a little better. I heard my brother telling himself yesterday, 'This I can help with.' I want to ask him how he thinks he can help with pneumonia exactly, but I won't. What would you bet he went into medicine because of the time nine years ago that she almost died? Huh, I'm talking about daiShuichi a lot, but he is just about the only interesting thing in the room, and I'm not exactly wandering around on the town with Mom sick like this.
I'll describe the most interesting doctor. He's a tall man, very pale, who smiles like he's so sure he knows better that he doesn't even have to show it off. He never looks right at you even when he points his face and eyes in your direction and reacts to you as if he's looking. In fact, he never moves his eyes, just his face. I'd swear he was blind, except that he notices things a blind man couldn't. He's only come in twice, but he left a singular impression. Probably the most incredible thing about him, though, is that he's the only one my brother hasn't contradicted. May be because he didn't say very much, though.
What did Professor Itagi assign today? He didn't post the work online, he always forgets. Ask Mikoto about Heian Readings, too, since you don't take it, could you? Can't wait to hear from you. Kisses.
Dear Sung Cho,
Kitsunetsuki is a folklore term for possession by a fox spirit, which has been adopted into modern Japanese clinical psych terminology to mean the condition of believing oneself to be possessed by a fox spirit. The condition is more common among females, according with the traditional predilection of foxes to impersonate women, but it's not unknown in men. The usual symptoms are a vast hunger for tofu, red beans, aburaage, and other supposed favorite foods of foxes; psychosomatic physical symptoms such as lumps on the body; barking like a fox; and of course considering oneself to be either a fox or the host of a possessing fox spirit. I tell you all this because your background is neither Japanese nor in psychology, and I want you to know what I mean when I say I'm afraid my brother is kitsunetsuki. The word was a catch-all for most forms of mental disturbance for several centuries, but that isn't what I mean—in fact, if it weren't for this bizarre conviction of his, I wouldn't say there was anything really wrong with him. Always weird, though. If he loves Mom so much—which, all right, I can tell he does—why was my first year of being his brother spiked with long absences? It didn't put him behind in school, him being a genius, but it put this hole in our family that it seemed like Mom was always watching.
And he thinks he's a fox. Mom told him today, last time she was conscious, that he had to sleep, and Dad badgered him about it until he left in the early evening. She was breathing better by then, anyway. I suppose he decided it was safe enough to let my father have her to himself. After a while I decided that if he could go, I could go, so I packed up my books and said I'd see them later and Dad nodded. At home, my brother was in his room—Mom and Dad keep up both our rooms, even though we've left home; I guess it's proof that they love us—but I could tell when I'd tiptoed halfway up the stairs for fear of waking him that he wasn't asleep. He was talking. This used to happen sometimes, now I think of it. At night. I expect I went and checked then, but I was a child…it's foggy. Perhaps I didn't. I was a little bit in awe of him in those days. But today I did check, and more intelligently than I would have done it before I met Mikoto. The heating ducts at home are wonderful sound conductors, so I crept downstairs and opened the one in the pantry, which is beneath his bedroom. I transcribed the conversation I overheard, and I'll write it down here for you, so you can tell me what you think.
"-like old times," said my brother. His voice reverberated oddly through the duct, but it was still recognizable, and had a weary version of the wry, dry tone he uses to such effect.
"Hn," said the other. It was an unfamiliar voice—I think—and though it's not fair to judge someone by hearing their voice through a heating duct, it had a flat, unpleasant sound. I disliked it immediately.
"Thank you for coming," my brother went on after a brief silence. "It has been a while. You didn't have to."
"That Yomi came."
"Yes. I didn't ask him, either." His voice adopted a teasing note. "I wonder how he found out there was a problem?"
"Yusuke probably told him."
"Hm. Yes, of course." He didn't say it as if he really meant 'of course.'
"You look like you've aged about a thousand years."
"It's not that bad. I haven't been sleeping."
"Do you intend to go on at this rate?"
"Do you mean, am I staying here?" He was smiling again, I could hear it. "You know what I decided."
"She's just a human."
"I'm not just a fox."
"Hn." It was a much more unfriendly 'hn,' than the first one, the sort of grunt that suggests the grunter is remembering all the reasons he stopped talking to the other person years ago. I had not favorably revised my opinion of him, and still have not. He is probably clinically insane himself, but it could be he's some kind of enabler, participating in my brother's delusion.
"Come outside," my brother suggested, with a little bit of a sigh. "I want to see how much stronger you've gotten."
"Not here. You come visit us, and then we can fight."
"And how is Mukuro?"
He laughed. He doesn't do that often, my brother, not when you don't suspect fairly strongly that he's mostly being polite. "It is good to see you, after all. Let's go outside, anyway." This second time he repeated the suggestion was so firm that I tiptoed to the front door and threw it open, then came in as loudly as I could. If I'd stayed where I was, they would have seen me on their way down the stairs. I hurried up to his bedroom after I'd 'come in' to apologize for 'probably waking him up,' but the grunter had somehow managed to leave before I got there. My brother was very polite and much sleepier than he'd sounded a minute before.
What do you think, Cho-chan? Kitsunetsuki is a pretty fierce label to hang on him just for this conversation, but it seems accurate, and I have this feeling. I'm going to talk to him about it, once I've posted this. I'll be gentle. The illness is usually much more debilitating than this and completely impedes normal function, and I don't want to trigger a breakdown. There must be some way to come at it that won't upset him…I'll pretend his delusion is the truth. Apart from that, what do you think? Should I talk to Dad, and Mom? It's her business, he's more her family than ours, but she's so fragile just now. It's probably wrong to load such a private family matter on you, but you're almost family yourself.
I'm sorry this whole letter is about daiShuichi. But it really is important. Write back just as fast as you may. I love you.
Dear Sung Cho,
What is all this about foxes in your last letter? You seem really upset, but I don't understand. Fox spirits are uniformly evil in Korea? I'd actually learned about that in Comparative last year; the Korean fox spirits are analogous to the more malevolent kyuubi types in Japanese legends, but… Why are you worried about it? Who vanished before someone got into a room, and why is it important? Who's going crazy? I don't think you heard about it from me. Must be a mix-up. Everything's hospital-boring here. Is there another Shuichi you write to? You haven't been corresponding with my stepbrother without telling me, have you? I'm kidding.
Anyway, Mom is improving every day now. She still can't sit up yet, and she sleeps most of the time, but as long as she doesn't push herself they say a relapse is improbable. I'll be back at school before the week is out! And only have three weeks worth of work to catch up on. Please, please, be an angel and fill me in on absolutely everything from Physics. I'm not going to have a chance to sleep when I get back, but I promise sleeping or not I will make the time to take you out somewhere. You deserve it. A thousand kisses.
All seems poised to blow up in Kurama's face by return of post. Hehehe. The poor fool.
Hiei is obviously the grunter, and if you didn't catch this, the 'almost seems blind' doctor was Yomi. Aren't illusions swell? The dream flower pollen Kurama used to erase Shuichi's memory is from the volume 7 extra about when Kurama and Hiei met. I must give credit where credit is due to Aiieke, for depicting Kurama erasing his brother's memory for security purposes in 'Recur.' Do tell me what you think!