Chapter 1: Uncertainty and Another Life
Riku-kun was a Good Boy.
Everyone said so.
And Riku-kun was happy, because he tried hard to be one.
His grandfather often seemed a little peculiar to him, and asked him to do strange things which he later refused to explain - but Riku-kun obeyed him and did whatever task he was set to anyway because he was obedient and he cared for his grandfather.
Girls, especially pink-haired girls who had a rather disturbing tendency to mutter to themselves for a good long while, after which they would yell something out loud that was usually followed by his getting hit at one point – really confused him. But he continued to stay friends with pink-haired girls because they had been friends ever since he could remember.
Besides, Momo, for all her inexplicable habits, was a very kind girl, and Riku-kun liked her kindness and her friendship enough, appreciated her efforts to befriend him enough despite her being a Girl and his being a Boy, that he could not find any reason to discontinue being her friend.
He was a Good Boy, and Good Boys did not abandon anyone they cared about for Any Reason.
Riku-kun was not certain why this was very important to him, but it was. So he tried hard to be a Good Boy.
This was the reason why he did all his grandfather told him to, even when he later got into trouble for it at school. This was the reason why he was grateful when Tamiya-kun defended him against the usual round of bullies – albeit accidentally, apparently – but would not go out of his way to defend himself. This was also the reason why he befriended that lonely looking kid with the glasses and the hunched shoulders that cried out for attention, at the same time trying hard to fade into the background.
Riku-kun was a good boy, and even if he wasn't sure whether he did it more for being Good than for the tugging in his heart that seemed to throb and engulf and demand that he recognize the existence of a similar tugging in the other boy... he asked to show him around anyway.
Because he was a Good Boy, and Good Boys did not ever refuse to help when they could.
There were times when Riku-kun had thought that being a Good Boy took a lot of energy. Times when that weird tugging in his heart threatened to suck all the will out of him and leave him listless and not wanting to move.
Those times, it became particularly difficult to be a Good Boy. Those times, his smiles slipped, his quiet cheerfulness became more quiet than cheerful, and the brown in his eyes seemed blacker and bigger than anything else on his face. Those times, it became hard to remember why being a Good Boy was So Very Important to him – especially when he wasn't sure why it was important to begin with, only that it demanded his attention the way nothing else could.
It made it difficult to be Riku-kun most of the time, actually – but he was quite sure that his sanity somehow depended on how Good a Boy he was being, so much so that even if Riku personally lost his sanity trying to be good, at least everyone else wouldn't lose Riku-kun's sanity. And that was very important. Everyone else wouldn't lose their sanity either.
That was even more important.
So Riku-kun was practiced at being a Good Boy. Was an expert at it, even. He knew all the little gestures, the 'just-right' widening of eyes or sheepish smiles that held Riku-kun together in everyone else's eyes.
He knew just when to be at his most innocent and clueless so Momo could seem knowledgable and worldly, able to salvage the pride that seemed critical to being a girl in some way that Riku-kun could not fully understand, but tried to keep for her regardless. He knew just when to be at his most affectionately confused, and pretended not to notice whenever his grandfather looked at him with a gaze of bewildered disbelief that bordered on worship when he thought Riku-kun was busy with something else and wasn't paying attention, even when it made him feel awkward and undeserving.
Even when it made him feel as if Riku-kun felt more and more like a lie with every worshipful gaze, every out-of-nowhere hit...
Actually, it often seemed that every time Riku tried to be a Good Boy, he became better at being Riku-kun, at the same time that it became harder and harder to think of himself as Riku.
Riku wasn't sure what the difference was, but he knew it made him feel sad and lost.
But Riku-kun was a Good Boy, and Good Boys could not just do whatever they wanted to do whenever they felt like it. Ever.
Good Boys were good and stayed good so they would not cause anyone trouble. Good Boys were good when they were unnoticed. Good Boys were good when everyone else around them was happy. Good Boys were never meant to be anything else but Good Boys.
So Riku-kun tried his best to be a Good Boy, and tried his best not to notice when calling himself Riku became harder and harder... and took so much effortto do. Because nothing else was as important as being a Good Boy.
His brown eyes seemed particularly black today, but his smile was just alittle brighter than usual, so that was okay. And if he made sure to add a bit of a bounce to his step and a tiny bit more comic energy into his reactions when he later saw Momo and Shimizu-chan, and then Tamiya-kuntoday, that would be perfect.
Because Riku-kun was a Good Boy, and Good Boys never made mistakes.
They weren't allowed to, because Good Boys don't get second chances.
And even if Riku was not, Riku-kun was a Good Boy.
Everyone said so.
Frustration bubbled in the shikigami.
He'd had difficult-to-deal-with toujinshi before, but this newest one he had was on an entirely different level of I-wanna-pull-my-fur-out frustration!
The stuttering confusion he could maybe – maybe – forgive, since it was only to be expected.
Anytoujinshi regardless of ability would have been similarly overcome that one of the Byakko, and Kogenta especially, answered to a summons. And with his centuries of experience, he had not even expected he would be matched with a toujinshi who was truly worthy of his abilities – such a one, he was certain, did not and could not ever exist. Not since Yakumo, anyway. And even then, he only came close.
Not once was he able to unlock Kogenta's true abilities.
So Kogenta's expectations had lowered over time, and the shikigami had let them. To expect more when there was none to be had would, after all, only cause further grief and disappointment later.
But even knowing all that... This was absolutely ridiculous!! He may have lowered his expectations, but he still had standards!
Bad enough that they not immediately begun training and searching for In – which was the least of the tiger-shikigami's expectations especially considering the rather spectacular In his idiot of a toujinshi used in their first battle together. They had to go and waste more time when Kogenta had already said the old guy was perfectly fine!
"Ojii-chan... The checkup said nothing was wrong... So why don't you wake up?"
Kogenta was going out of his mind. He could feel it. His sanity was hanging on by a thread and any moment it would snap.
"Idiot! Like I said! 'Till his Chi energy is restored he won't wake up!" He almost snarled at his toujinshi. Any two-bit amateur in the shikigami arts would have known that. Exactly how stupid could this guy get??
Was this really the toujinshi he was meant to serve?!
Brown eyes looked up to meet his. A pause ensued. Then –
"...Chi energy?" Clear confusion in the tone.
"That's... Well..." Red cat-eyes blinked.
The tiger-shikigami was momentarily stumped. Well, and how do you explain Chi after all? Even the most renowned toujinshi and the wisest shikigami he knew weren't certain on precisely what the nature of chi was.
Chi was in everything. It flows, ebbs, throbs, and recedes. It created, destroyed, renewed, and changed. Chi was. Shikigami were almost purely chi as well – flows of energy with more independent conscience given a physical construct through a combination of both will and thetoujinshi's determination.
How exactly could Kogenta put into words his very existence?
Despite being rarely given to speaking as the tiger-shikigami was, it was even rarer that Kogenta was caught at a loss for words. So when the inevitable once-or-twice-occurrence-in-a-lifetime happened, the ever proud shikigami warrior could only ever react in one way.
"Anyway, he'll recover after he rests!" Came the yelled response.
Which was by ignoring he was ever asked anything, and simply sticking to what he knew for certain.
Kogenta's embarrassment at being caught speechless was only mildly assuaged by the cringing toujinshi.
"So... What are you?"
And just like that, all the tiger-shikigami's frustrations crystalized into absolute disbelief.
"H-how – w-wha – YOU'RE the one who used that drive to call me!!" Kogenta could feel a vein throbbing on the side of his temple as he glared expectantly at the human.
The tiger-shikigami almost face-faulted.
"Earlier you summoned me and made a contract with me!"
"Um... What contract?"
Nearly snarling, gripping onto his rapidly draining patience, the shikigami began the long task of explaining what his toujinshi should have known already.
His stupid, idiot of a toujinshi!
When I look back on it now, I cannot help but think that I had been nearly-unspeakably cruel to a boy who had no knowledge of the new world he had been thrusted into. Granted, it was an unthinking cruelty – one borne of ignorance rather than deliberate maliciousness that made me immediately dismiss him as a toujinshi of no consequence, and undeserving of my power and attention.
Still, the guilt from those early days lingers on in me even now, and I know that I, though a stranger at the time, did hurt the fragile heart that lived in my Riku.
I know that many things hurt him, and that the warrior of no consequence whom I thought of so belittlingly, instead of admitting and accepting the blow, denied himself even the kindness of acknowledging the blow regardless of the damage it inflicted.
He did so with far more bravery than all the warriors I had seen in my long life, but in my impatience, I misjudged him.
And that misjudgment, to my shame, was only one among the long list of injustices that I would commit against my mate. It was not even the only instance wherein I made light of his worth, to my everlasting sorrow.
As was proven the next time he summoned me to battle.
I think the worst part wasn't even that I made such an uncalled-for misjudgment, but rather what I did soon after that battle that made me question even my own worthiness as a shikigami, nevermind my worthiness as his mate.
End Chapter 1.
A/N: This chapter is dedicated to White Hunter, who tirelessly, unfailingly, and relentlessly demanded that I update this story, and without whom this chapter might never have seen the light of internet day. White Hunter, I hope it meets your expectations. I'll be the first to admit I'm not entirely confident and am nowhere near satisfied with this chapter, but.. To my dear readers as a whole, please review!