By Laura Schiller
Disclaimer: This fictional universe does not belong to me.
Yuichi couldn't sleep. The left side of his bed felt horribly empty without Makoto curled up there, hogging the pillow and looking so heart-achingly peaceful in her sleep. Those last few days had been the most beautiful days of his life – he and his love, always together, and somehow without realizing it he had fooled himself into hope. Some part if him, irrationally, had believed that Makoto would live in spite of the divine laws of nature, that there was some way to avoid the price of a miracle...he was so stupid.
Why, he thought bitterly, had they wasted so much time squabbling instead of just loving each other as long as they could? Every angry or sarcastic word he'd ever said to her now burned in his mind with the pain of regret. Though even the fights had been fun, in a way he hadn't realized before he learned that he'd never be able to fight with her again.
This was wrong. She was his bride, even if the wedding consisted of nothing but a veil and his own heartfelt vow. He remembered her, stretched out on this very bed and saying softly, "I want to get married to Yuichi...then we can be together."
If only I could bring her back...even though I know it's impossible...it would take another miracle.
He sat up. For some reason, the word miracle had dislodged a memory which he hadn't thought about in days. It was Amano Mishio daydreaming out loud, wondering if it were possible to make candy rain from the sky. If all the foxes of Scenic Hill worked together, she'd said, imagine what a miracle they could make! she'd said, smiling dreamily, and he'd scoffed at her and changed the subject. But could it be – was it possible - ? Reason told him he was just being silly, but hope flamed up without his intention and began to burn, filling him with restless energy so that he tossed and turned in his bed for hours.
There were so many things that could go wrong. The foxes might refuse to listen to the man who caused their fellow's death. They might not understand. He might not even find them, for heaven's sake! But still – suppose he brought a lot of food as a bribe, spoke to them very politely, explained how much Makoto had meant to him and how sorry he was – there was a faint chance that they would listen to him. He closed his eyes and tried to make himself relax. Foxes were not nocturnal; he would have to wait until daylight to seek them out. He had to get some sleep and keep his wits about him tomorrow.
Scenic Hill was bathed in red and gold, a sunrise as magnificent as the sunset he had seen on his last visit. Strangely enough, there was still no snow on the ground and the air was warm; it really must be an enchanted place. Yuichi worked carefully, laying out trays of food in front of him on the grass. He'd brought meat buns, sushi, sashimi, raw ground beef, cheese and a few other things he guessed might tempt a fox. He sat down at a slight distance from the trays, spread his hands on his knees to show he was unarmed, and waited a few seconds before he could bring up the nerve to speak. He felt incredibly awkward, sitting alone talking to the air, waiting for mythical creatures which might or might not appear.
"Minna-san," he began, "My name is Aizawa Yuichi and I was a friend of your companion. She called herself Makoto and – you probably know this – she passed away here on this hill a few weeks ago. It was partly my fault...she invoked a miracle in order to be with me." His voice began to tremble; he paused a few seconds to pull himself together and went on. "I never meant for her to do that...I would have stopped her if I'd known."
At that moment he caught a glimpse of a pair of eyes beneath a bush. At the same time, he heard a voice in his mind – not speaking in words, but in thoughts, and definitely foreign to him. It was a female, elderly sort of voice, and the message was short and clear. Is the food for us? she asked.
"Yes," he answered aloud, and the eyes moved; they were attached to the long, orange-furred, pointed head of a fox. Once she was visible, her fellows slowly stepped out from the underbrush; Yuichi was amazed at how well they camouflaged themselves. They ate quickly and neatly, just as he had seen Makoto do, only without the use of chopsticks. Soon the trays were demolished, and the foxes had ranged themselves in a sort of half-circle. Yuichi was absurdly reminded of Children's Story Hour at the library. The fox who had spoken to him, apparently the leader, sat closest to him and stared attentively through her deep brown eyes. Go on.
"A friend of mine thought that – since whoever or whatever has the power to grant wishes asks for a person's memories and their life energy – we thought that maybe if we all give a little – a few memories, a bit of energy – to them, it might be enough to bring Makoto back. I'm asking – I'm begging you – to at least consider her idea. Even if it doesn't work, it's worth a try, right?" His voice rose with his conviction. "If we don't try, we'll never find out and spend all our lives wondering. I love Makoto – and I know you do – and I'd do anything to bring her back."
The last words hung in the air like a cloud and nobody moved. Finally the leader said, Love is a human thing. We do not know it. If we confront the Spirit of Scenic Hill, what will you give us in return?
Yuichi was thrown. He hadn't expected this to turn into a bout of bargaining.
"What do you want?" he asked, the only response he could think of.
More food like this, chorused all the foxes. We get so hungry in the winter! The leader agreed.
A smile of gratitude and relief broke out on his face. "Then I'll bring you a load like this every Sunday – with Makoto. Do we have a deal?"
Done. The leader's tail swished back and forth energetically; her ears were up and there was almost an expression of determination on her face. Now, she said firmly, we shall pray.
They each barked out loud, once, and Yuichi clapped his hands as if he were at a Shinto shrine. It was like nothing he'd ever experienced before; he forgot that he was named Aizawa Yuichi, went to high school and had a human body. It was his soul speaking, as well as those of the foxes, and they were the same.
He could not have said whether the exchange took hours, minutes or seconds, or what exactly passed between them and the Spirit. It was beyond his human mind, so his memories of that time were dimmed as a sort of safety mechanism, so that direct contact with a superhuman force would not drive him past the edge of sanity.
He and the foxes also felt their minds reaching out to everyone who had known Makoto: they were surprised, then shocked, to varying degrees.
Akiko and Nayuki, at the breakfast table, looked at each other and gasped; the jam jar Akiko had been holding shattered on the floor without her noticing.
Ayu's body in the hospital stirred and moaned; her other self began to flicker.
Mishio's eyes snapped open as she lay in bed; once she realized what was happening, she began to cry with incredulous joy.
Mai did not stir from her post by the school window; she entered into contact with everyone as matter-of-factly as if she did it every day.
The Spirit was asking for memories – any memories of theirs that had to do with Makoto. Yuichi's first impulse was to shout, No! He wanted to argue that it was unfair – how could he do without the most precious days of his life – but his common sense, as well as the others, intervened before he broke contact completely.
Once she's here, we can make plenty of new memories! said Nayuki.
We can make friends with her all over again, won't that be fun? Ayu added.
It was Mai's stern, stoic voice which made the final argument. What is worse, she said, To look forward to meeting her or to look back on past regrets?
In the end, he saw the reason of this and gave in.
All he remembered, afterwards, was a general sense of positivity, of yes, and when he came out of his trance, he was exhausted. Still he ran all the way home, knowing whom he would find there. he was dizzy with conflicting emotions; he was so happy he might burst, but at the same time horribly afraid, and he arrived at Akiko's house out of breath, barely holding on to his balance. It was like something out of a dream.
Where on Earth have I been? he asked, confused. It's almost lunchtime...but the last thing I remember is getting out of bed to take a walk. Why am I so happy...and so afraid?
When Akiko opened the door, she was beaming all over her kind, honest face so that her eyes were nearly closed. "Yuichi-kun, we have a guest tonight," she said. "Nayuki found this poor girl wandering around in the streets. She appears to have amnesia...she's forgotten everything except her name."
Behind her another female figure came into view: red-golden hair, violet eyes, a blue skirt and jacket, vibrant, beautiful. Piro was enthroned on her head as if he had never been away.
"Makoto-chan, this is my nephew, Aizawa Yuichi. And this young lady is named Sawatari Makoto."
To Yuichi's great surprise, the stranger immediately crossed the room and threw herself into his arms. "Hey, now – " was all he could think of to say, but she was so warm and soft, and it felt so irrationally good to have her holding him...
"I – I'm sorry!" She blurted out, suddenly letting go of him like a hot coal. "I don't know why I did that – it's only – "
" – I think I've met you before," they finished together.
"And if I'm not mistaken," Yuichi added, "I liked you a lot."
"Akiko-san? Please let her stay," said Yuichi, turning to his aunt. "As long as she likes. I can't put my finger on it...but I'd really like her to stay."
Akiko held up one finger, put her head to one side, and smiled.
"All right," she said.