Title: Look Up, the Sky is Beautiful
Characters/Pairing: Kohane, the Fortuneteller
Setting: Watanuki's Tokyo, after the events of XXXHolic Volume 12.
Note: Written for chaineddove as part of the fourth Dimension Shop Fic Exchange on LJ. My prompt was "whispers on the wind."
I owe the title to a gorgeous song by Sachiko Kenonobu. Look it up!
- - -
The letters come every other Thursday, typed out on thick institutional paper. Small secretarial notions indicate that each message has been dictated. Kohane's mother becomes agitated at the thought of her daughter touching synthetic, impure ink, and she will not be allowed a pen of her own until her behavior improves.
Granny permits her a half-hour to brood over the message by the sunlit southern window. Then she shuffles in from the kitchen, humming a nameless tune, and asks if Kohane would please accompany her to the park.
Kohane knows exactly what Granny's doing, and Granny knows that she knows, so they both end up smiling too broadly until she feels laughter well up in her chest in spite of herself.
"It's a good day to feed the birds, don't you think, Kohane-chan?"
Spring has come. Trees are budding everywhere, and the park smells like fresh mud and wet concrete. They find a bench before opening the bag of seed that Kohane carries with her. Granny shouldn't stand on her own if she doesn't have to.
"It is." She sifts a handful of seeds into her palm before passing the bag to her guardian. A gaggle of children shout in the distance. "I bet they're hungry. They've had a long flight home."
Mother can't come home yet. She can't come home for a long time. Their house was sold to pay for Kohane's upkeep, and Kohane isn't certain that she will recognize enough landmarks to migrate back into the heart of the city. The 'spa' that Yuuko-san arranged for her to stay in has a discreet, elegant letterhead and four heavy, gilded walls.
"In the West, in ancient times, they used to read the future by spilling out the entrails of birds and watching how they fell."
Granny throws a handful of seed onto the grass and the air comes alive with wing-beats. The pigeons are flying rats, Kohane knows – barely better than the vermin that dig through their trash. But she thinks they're cute anyway. Not every bird can be bright like new yellow flame, blessed with phoenix-fire.
"Do you find it shocking?"
Granny can't mean-
This isn't the routine. Surely this isn't a lesson, they're not going to-
"Yes." Kohane says, and tosses her own handful of seed into the milling throng. It's not a statement; it's a refusal. "You shouldn't take a future in order to see one. Even if the exchange is fair, it's still morally wrong."
Granny's smile is a constant, comforting thing, like the wind in the trees and the gravel beneath her feet.
"They didn't always kill them. Sometimes they set them free and watched the direction of their flight. All paths to the future are equal. But the means by which you try to see the way forward say more about the kind of future you expect than the roads that are open to you."
"I-" Kohane stares down her knit gloves. "I understand what you're trying to teach me, I think, but I don't understand why you're telling it to me right now."
She doesn't like being confused by things that Granny says to her. Granny is never intentionally obscure, like Yuuko-san, but listening for the echoes of things to come isn't as straightforward as opening her eyes and seeing ghosts. Kohane wants very much to do her best for her new teacher. She worries about getting things right.
Granny is frail and hollow-boned, but Kohane feels no weakness when she pats her on the shoulder. Her touch is almost unbearably gentle. For a moment it makes Kohane want to shrink into her coat.
"We've been coming here for four months, Kohane-chan, and you haven't once thought of going to play with those children over there."
Kohane looks up with a start, and for the first time notices the glances that flicker her way, the snippets of conversation caught in the breeze. Those children must think her very odd. She does not go to their school, pay attention to their fashions, or buy manga from the corner store.
"I wouldn't leave you here by yourself, Granny!"
"Now, Kohane-chan – I'm not so old that I don't recall how nice it is to have the run of a park with people your own age on a day like today. You know I wouldn't mind."
But Kohane's stomach is still churning with nervousness, and she realizes that she's been wringing her hands. The letter in her pocket crinkles heavily when she shifts her weight.
"I'm friends with Kimihiro-kun, Himawari-chan, and Shizuka-kun. It's fine Granny. I don't need-"
Granny stands abruptly.
"Consider it practice. You can do that, can't you, Kohane-chan? I'd go play myself, but this dank air isn't good for my arthritis."
It iis/i a lovely day, and truth be told, sitting on the bench would have only made Kohane want to kick her legs. At times Kohane wishes she were foolish enough not to know when Granny is right.
"Alright," Kohane says, with the best smile she can muster.
She does not know the games that children play, but when she asks if any of them want their fortune told, the whole lot flocks around her.