Title: The Festival of Lights

Series: Koori no Mamono no Monogatari/Ice Cold Demon's Tale

Time Line: After they move into Ishuca's old house and they fight with the dream demons.

"Ishuca? Ishuca?! Gah!" Blood stopped short as he came to the foot of the stairs. He'd been awoken very early to the clamor of pots and pans and what could only be the horrifying sound of windows being thrown open to let the sun in. What awaited him downstairs was not the typical Ishuca preparing breakfast scene, however, but this...this...what the hell was this?!

"Oh! Blood, you're up. Good morning! Sorry, no breakfast today, but there are some onigiri on the table somewhere. Can you look for it? I'm still working on this." Ishuca threw a broad smile over his shoulder at his confused partner before turning back to the riotous mess in front of him. Blood stepped over piles of cloth and sewing supplies, bags filled with small twigs, and colorful fruit of various sizes.

Coming up to the table he leaned over Ishuca, propping himself up on one hand, his free arm across the top of the younger man's head. "Hmm...So, what's all this then? Costumes?" He absently flicked at a loose sheet of paper lying in front of him.

"Kinda. Tomorrow is the Obon Festival, I've got a lot to do to get ready," he grinned up at Blood's confused face. "Here hold this!" Pushing Blood back a bit, he thrust two strips of paper into his hands. Slightly biting his lower lip he bent forward and carefully applied glue to the sides of one sheet, then turned and grabbed a small handful of the twigs.

"Now, this goes here, and this one here...Aré? How'd that happen? Heh, hold on a moment Blood, I'll get something to remove that!" Blood sighed deeply. Looking down at his freshly paper glued hands he futilely shook them up and down. He closed his eyes and sighed again... unconsciously rubbing his eyes.

"Ah!! Blood, what happened, how'd your hand get stuck to your face like that?!" Blood couldn't take it anymore, here he was, the demon of the North and Ishuca was standing there, head tilted to the side and looking at Blood like he was an idiot, all the while standing there with flowers around him!

βµα πτ ωςχ! The words flowed around his body, dissolving the glue, and finally freeing him from what could only be the adolescent whims of Ishuca. He knew it; Ishuca was just making fun of him!He couldn't handle it anymore and turned quickly on his heel, stomping from the room and slamming the door closed in his wake.

Ishuca stood staring at the still trembling door. He wasn't really sure why Blood got all mad like that; it was just glue after all. "Ah! The glue, I forgot. If I don't clean this up I won't be able to finish the lantern in time!" Scrambling about with the discarded paper and twigs, he went about his work.

Blood was halfway to the market before he calmed down. Damn it! The whole situation frustrated him. First, he was still pissed that Ishuca had been keeping his past locked inside him. Second, he felt no satisfaction at beating up those little demons the other night. And third, when he finally thought he was making some progress with Ishuca, he was sent to sleep in the guest room! Seriously, what the hell was that guy's problem? Could he really be that dense?

Blood dropped his head and sighed again, if he was talking about Ishuca then yes, yes he could. There was a tug on his sleeve causing Blood to open his eyes. Two bright blue saucers slowly blinked in front of him. "Gah!" he exclaimed while jumping back, "What! Who!" The saucers, now obviously eyes from his fallen position, tilted slightly and blinked rapidly.

"Eh he! You're funny Mister, whatcha doin'?" Little blond curls bounced as she leaned in closer, a silly smile plastered on her face. His face screwed up in annoyance, another one! "Mister? Hey Mister, are you here for the festival too?"

Huh? "Festival?" Wait, he said that too, "Hey, kid, tell me about this festival." He pushed himself forward a bit until he was able to stand. Looking around, he noticed the fountain in the middle of the square and pointed to it. "Here, come here or we'll get run over."

He looked back and forth across the apparently busy road. Now that he thought about it, there were an awful lot more humans wandering around than he remembered. "Tsk!" A lot more priests too. The little girl obediently followed him and sat down beside him, feet dangling above the hard-packed ground, swinging slightly as she talked.

"My mommy told me about it. We're here to send my grandma to the otherworld. I think you have to give them food too, 'cause they might get hungry on the trip. That's why I have these! See?" she held up two bright red apples for him to see.

"So you send people away during this festival?" he asked, still a bit confused.

"Yep! But only dead people. My grandma died when I was really little, so I don't remember her, but Mommy comes every year. She was born here, you see. Daddy says it's a stupid tradition and didn't want us to come, but Mommy started crying real hard, and he told us to go." Blood raised an eyebrow slightly as he looked down at the little girl. She reminded him of Ishuca a bit.

"So, how do you send them away?" he asked despite himself.

She looked up and beamed, "In a box!" she declared brightly. Using her hands, she outlined a box in the air. "You make a paper box that is open on top and then put a candle in it. Everyone takes these down to the river and puts them in the water and then wishes them a safe trip to the otherworld. But before that you have to feed them!"

"We have a little table at our house that Mommy's going to put these apples and some steamed buns on before we light the candle. Oh! I was sent to get flowers too!" Hopping down from the bench, she spun around and grinned up at Blood again.

"I hope we see you tomorrow Mister! I gotta go finish getting the flowers now or Mommy'll be worried. See ya!" She ran a few feet away and turned again, waving brightly over her head before disappearing into the crowd. Blood didn't even notice that he was waving back until it was too late.

"Hmp!" Standing, he roughly jammed his hands into his pockets and walked back towards the house. He paused slightly at one of the carts and handed over a small gem to the merchant, smiling ruefully to himself as he walked on.

Ishuca was knee deep in cloth and needles when Blood walked in. He called out a muffled greeting but didn't stop working. He had so much still to do! Blood just shook his head and went over to the couch behind Ishuca. He trailed a hand over its' back and lightly patted Ishuca on the head. Leaning backwards he peered down at the smaller man. Covered in odd cuts of cloth and ribbons, with pin pricks of blood scattered across his fingers, he was a strange sight to say the least.

Blood was highly amused sitting there watching him attempt to sew...well, he was sure it was something important. "Hey, we have a small table around here?"

"Table? Umm...yeah, there's one near the kitchen, why?" Ishuca looked up for a moment at him.

"No reason. Go back to work, I'll deal with it," Blood ruffled his hair as he languidly got back to his feet.

"Oww! Not again..." Ishuca mumbled.

Blood smiled as he rummaged around in the 'cabinets', as Ishuca called them, looking for a small glass. Finding one, he put a bit of water in the bottom and then found the little table he had inquired about a moment earlier. "That works."

Heading back into the living room he decided a nap was in order and called out to Ishuca, "Hey, I'm going upstairs to sleep; you need anything before I do?"

Ishuca's head popped up from his project. "Nope, I'm ok, I'll be up later to wake you for dinner. G'Night!"

Blood nodded and headed upstairs while Ishuca continued with his task.

--

It was dark by the time Ishuca finished all the preparations. Pushing his crimson hair out of his eyes he pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. They were sore from concentrating on such small details all day, but he was happy with his work. "That should do it. I'll just tidy up a bit before starting dinner."

As he scampered around the room putting boxes and bags back in the closets he passed by the little table near the kitchen. The fruit he had bought were arranged on a little plate next to some onigiri and a single white chrysanthemum in one of their drinking glasses. He stopped and stared at the display, tears slowly pooling in his eyes before sliding down his face and dripping onto the floor.

He spun, throwing the boxes onto the kitchen table and raced up the stairs two at a time. He flung the door open, half-tripping over the rug, and coming down hard on the bed's groggy occupant. "Blood!"

"Umph! Wha..Ishuca, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" Blood lay there dumbfounded, a sobbing Ishuca sprawled across his chest. "Come on now, stop crying. Tell me what's wrong?" He held the crying form and patted his back, gently trying to sooth his crying friend.

"I saw...I saw the flower, and the fruit!" hic "Thank you!" Blood just smiled and held Ishuca close until he stopped crying. It was several minutes before he realized that Ishuca had actually fallen asleep like that. He shook his head slightly and smiled, shifting carefully he moved over and pulled Ishuca into the bed with him.

The boy was light, always had been, but it was in these moments that Blood became painfully aware of the fact. The trial on his body from the demon's attack was obvious; the dark circles under his eyes were proof enough. And then there was the whole 'undead' issue. Blood knew he wasn't, but Ishuca still believed it and thought he could push himself more so because of that. Even though I've told him repeatedly not too!

He sighed, he was doing that a lot lately, and leaned over and kissed the top of Ishuca's head. Pulling the blankets up close he folded himself around the boy and fell asleep.

--

Sunlight blinked across Ishuca's face, dancing as the breeze moved the tree limbs outside the window. Sleepily he rubbed his eyes; he hadn't slept that well in a long time. Ishuca blinked, and then blinked again. Was he imagining things or was he really curled up in bed with Blood? Ah well, it was warm and comfy, and he didn't have anything else to do so...

Wait! The festival!! "Hey Blood, come on, let me up, we have things to do today. Come on!" His voice cracked a bit at the end, but he couldn't move Blood's arm draped across his waist by himself. For one thing he couldn't find his glasses, for another, he was having a hard time forcing himself to leave the warm confines of Blood's embrace.

Blood finally stirred, but instead of moving to allow Ishuca up, he drew him in closer, burrowing his face into Ishuca's silky hair. Ishuca was quickly falling back to sleep, wrapped in warmth and feeling Blood's soft breathing lightly fluttering against his ear, but he knew he had to get up, no matter how much he didn't want to.

"Ok, come on, I have a surprise for you, and breakfast, I'll make a yummy breakfast, I promise." He gently ran his fingers down Blood's cheek; lightly brushing the soft blond hair out of his eyes. "Blood, come on, it's time to wake up." He whispered into the demon's ear.

Blood's skin tingled, he felt warm and there was something soft wrapped around him. Human beds were weird like that, kind of squishy and firm at the same time, and they made the oddest sounds-this one actually sounded like it was giggling.

Ishuca squirmed in Blood's arms. He was just trying to get the demon up when Blood had started moving his hands down his back, sending him into small fits of laughter every time he moved. He was terribly ticklish and this was not helping things at all. Carefully he got his hands between them and tried pushing Blood away, all the while still giggling like mad.

Blood opened his eyes and squinted into the bright room. The morning sun shimmered across something red and glowing in front of his face and Blood hastily broke away, sudden realization that he had been holding Ishuca and that it wasn't the bed that was laughing, but Ishuca himself! "Gah! Sorry." He mumbled and carefully extracted himself, allowing Ishuca to sit up without hindrance.

Ishuca smiled brightly at him and said, "No problem. I didn't want to get up either; it's too nice sleeping with you." He flashed another smile and slipped his feet over the edge of the bed; bouncing down the hall and stairs into the kitchen to make breakfast.

Blood flopped back down in bed. In spite of Ishuca's seemingly boundless stores of energy, he was determined that he was not getting up. Burying himself beneath the covers; he was going to try this again.

Cool fingers slid over skin, softly brushing back his hair and pressing against his brow. He refused to open his eyes, resolute that if this was a dream he was going to hold onto it at long as possible. Ishuca sat next to him on the bed, fingers twirling in his blond hair, slowly wrapping and un-wrapping the golden strands.

Blood carefully peeked through lidded eyes. Ishuca's expression was wistful as he gazed at the sleeping form, while Blood struggled to maintain the ruse. There was something dark in the corner of his vision that he couldn't really make out, but if he moved, he'd alert Ishuca. It was an impossible dilemma. Eventually curiosity won and Blood sighed and opened his eyes fully. "Yo."

Ishuca tapped him on the nose, "Not 'Yo', 'Good Morning'", he admonished.

Blood mumbled the correct phrase back and grimaced, if Wild ever found out about this he'd be laughed at for sure. "Anyways, what's that?" pointing at the dark, now obviously blue, folded piece of cloth on the end of the bed.

Ishuca sprang up, "A surprise! Come on, get up I want you to try it on!"

Blood smiled faintly watching the boy try and stand still, when he obviously wanted to bounce up and down like a rabbit. He obliged Ishuca and slid his shirt off, the silken material slipping effortlessly over his white skin, crumpling into a mass by his feet. Holding the cloth like it was a poisonous snake, he asked bewildered, "What do I do with it?"

Ishuca giggled and stepped forward, helping Blood tie the yukata and contrasting sash. Stepping back to look at his handiwork, Ishuca nodded emphatically and gave Blood a big thumbs-up sign. It wasn't bad, he had to admit; it wasn't quite as free as he preferred, but if he opened it a bit more at the chest...there, that felt better.

Ishuca blushed horribly and mumbled that he had to check on breakfast, but that Blood had to wear that tonight, he just had to! Blood smiled as Ishuca fled the room, so red his ears were glowing. He slipped the, what did he call it, yukata, off and grabbed a new pair of clothes and went to clean-up. Maybe there was hope for him after all.

--

As the sun set on an otherwise typical day, Ishuca started running around the house getting ready. The festival started at sunset with the participants meeting at the fountain in town and walking in solemn procession down to the river. When the first stars appeared they would go by pairs to the water's edge and push the little lanterns out into the water.

As he ran around getting everything they'd need he explained as much as possible to Blood about the ceremony.

"Yeah, but why do the Priests have to be there?" he sounded petulant as he spoke.

"Well, it is a religious ceremony; they have to say the prayers for the dead."

"So we drop these in the river and then what?" he pushed one of the lanterns across the table.

"We place them, not drop, and then walk across the bridge until they pass under, say our prayers and go back to the square."

"You mean we have to wait there until everyone is done?!" He was incredulous at the thought, "Why?"

"Because then they have fireworks."

"Fireworks?"

"Yeah, colorful explosions in the sky."

"Why would they do that?"

"Because it helps the spirits see where they're going."

"Isn't that why we light the candles."

"Fine, because it's pretty, can you get ready now please?"

Blood glanced up at Ishuca, he'd never heard that tone of voice before, almost...annoyed. Yeah, that's what it was; he was starting to sound like Night. Blood shivered and stood up, "'K, fine. I'll be down in a moment." That was the last thing he wanted, he was perfectly fine with the way Ishuca was right now, thank you very much!

They headed down to the square as the sun was setting behind the mountains, bathing the land in its coppery orange glow. Ishuca looked ethereal in his sleeveless olive green jinbei and Blood noticed that his own belt matched the material of Ishuca's. The two piece outfit consisting of the sleeveless top and knee-length pants, made his companion seem younger than he was, but somehow it just seemed perfect on him.

As they made their way through the crowd Blood was ambushed from behind. The high-pitched peel of laughter made him shake his head in recognition. As he held the squirming child at arm's length Ishuca peaked around him, "Who's this?"

"Hi! I'm Marie! Who are you?" Marie titled her head in mimicry to Ishuca's and Blood let out an exasperated sigh. He knew it, now there were two of them!

Ishuca bobbed his head up and down and answered brightly, "I'm Ishuca, and this is Blood. Are you here for the festival too?"

"Yep! I'm here with my Mommy. I met Mister yesterday and had fun talking to him." She spun around in her yukata and then turned back to them. "Are you gonna put all of those in the river?" she asked incredulously, staring at the four lanterns in their hands.

"Yeah..."Ishuca whispered.

Marie looked like she wanted to ask another question when he mother called her back to the front of the line. Blood reached out and gently squeezed his shoulder, "So, one's for your grandmother, but who are the others for?"

Ishuca shook his head a bit and fumbled to get a hand free. Blood easily took one of the lanterns from him and nodded for him to go ahead.

"Well, this one's for grandmother, see her name here? And this one is for the demon who gave her his name and this one's for all the people you ate..." Blood flinched slightly at the easy way in which Ishuca said that, "and this one here's for your family..." he whispered.

Blood glanced at it in a weird, detached sort of way. He didn't know his family, so he didn't feel sad or anything, but he knew what family meant to Ishuca, so he smiled and hugged to boy against him again. "Thanks" he whispered and kissed the top of his head. Ishuca just buried his face into Blood's shoulder and quietly waited their turn.

--

Afterwards, the pair sat staring up at the fireworks display. Ishuca was laying on the ground under a Cherry Tree, head resting in Bloods lap, his fingers playing with a piece of grass, while Blood ran his through Ishuca's hair. He tensed slightly at every blast, breath finally expelling as the colors sparkled across the sky. Ishuca giggled softly each time, overjoyed that he was able to show Blood something new twice in one day.

"Hey Blood..." he mumbled, "Thanks, for being with me today."

"It's sad to be alone on days like this, isn't it? I told you, from now I'll always be by your side, so feel free to cry or be sad whenever you want. I'm not going anywhere." He leaned down and lightly kissed the boy. Ishuca closed his eyes and leaned into the kiss. It was soft and sweet and just what he needed to fully relax. Breaking apart he turned his head and curled up closer to Blood.

They sat there in the dark holding each other as the sky shown in a million colors, oblivious to it all...except each other.

Fin.