Title: Countercurse
Author: Vitupera
Series: xxxHolic, pre-series
Summary: The Doumeki family line has been threatened, and even Yuuko is worried.
Rating: G
Notes: A fic written for factorielle's request on the LJ community fic (underscore) on (underscore) demand. Minor spoilers through volume 9 for the existence of grandfathers.
Disclaimer: Holic is wonderful, but not mine. Alas!


"Haruka," she greeted him, and he was so astonished to see her standing there, draped in black silks, wrapped in delicate chains dripping with tiny pink crystals, that he forgot, for a moment, to even take his sandals off. But Yuuko was in motion, turning away from him already and beckoning him to follow with a movement that could even have been described as nervous. "Take those off and come."

"Yuuko," he began in confusion, thrown by the tense energy radiating from the witch. Always, when he visited, he was received with indolence, with a careless, heavy-lidded smile, and he'd fully expected to lose half a bottle of the sake he'd brought before any business could even be mentioned. "I came for a fortune-telling..."

"And you'll get one," Yuuko returned, snapping her skirts back with a cascade of sharp sound like broken glass. She settled on a cushion, one hand hovering over the fortuneteller's pendulum, and motioned impatiently for him to sit. He nodded and followed her lead, grasping the top of the pendulum and lowering it, with her hand covering his, to the basin of sand below.

"Now," she murmured, eyes trained on the movement of the pendulum, "this curse brought down on you by the Sakura. What were the terms?"

Haruka froze, only his hand still moving as it glided of its own will across the sand. He forced himself not to look down. "The curse? But it did not take effect; my seals--"

"Should have been enough," Yuuko agreed, "but weren't. Not for this one. It was quite ancient, engorged on human blood, and cunning enough to hide its full capabilities. You exorcised it, but the curse got through. What did it tell you the terms were?"

"My yet-to-be-born grandson," Haruka replied, his voice flat with fear, "he will be completely without spiritual powers. 'Blind, deaf, and powerless on this plane,' the Sakura said." He closed his eyes as his hand traced sigils for-- death, pain, loss, perhaps? He could not afford to look, had to keep his eyes closed. Had to.

"Very bad," Yuuko muttered. "Your child, that was a fluke of genetics, but your grandson is likely to be as gifted as you. And now this curse is deep, and thorough, and will not stop. Hard to lay on, and once on, very hard to remove. It's strengthening still, we haven't much time. Did it say anything else?"

"Nothing else," Haruka whispered. He was not thinking, exactly, of his exorcism of the enormous Sakura, or of what might now befall his line. All his attention was on the blind loops and sharp turns his hand was making, at the symbols they seemed to suggest with every soft scrape of sand. Loss-- he was almost sure. The crow? Important chances missed, evil plans completed... If he opened his eyes now...

"I've seen enough," Yuuko interrupted his thoughts. Haruka's eyes snapped open and darted to the basin, but Yuuko's hand was quicker, leaving nothing but smoothed sand behind. She let go of the pendulum and rose to her feet, crossing to a lacquer apothecary chest and drawing out incense. Moro and Maru appeared silently at her side, each bearing two thick red candles almost half as tall as them. Haruka started when he noticed that Maru also held a spray of sakura, one whose branches twisted so strongly that they reminded him of the ruined, arthritic hand of an old man, reminded him also of a gnarled branch he could have sworn he'd burned just hours before. And Moro held a long, curved dagger.

Now Yuuko was pouring out the fortunetelling sand, tipping out a quarter of the bowl in each corner of the room and gesturing to her attendants to set and light a candle in each. "Shall I help you ward the room?" Haruka offered, but Yuuko gave a quick shake of her head.

"Not this time. The curse is laid on you, so this will be easier if you stay in the center of the room. But, if you will, light the incense. Four sticks, diamond pattern. Please start with the North."

Haruka did as he was told, blowing out the last match just as Yuuko returned and sank down onto her cushion. Through the fire-tips of the diamond, she held out her hands in a request for his, speaking softly.

"This will be hard to fix, and must be done now. The curse is still growing; it will overtake your grandson's descendants too, if left like this. But... no matter what we do here tonight, we cannot lift it."

"I know," Haruka whispered, finally admitting it to both her and himself. "But it can be mitigated, can't it. That's what the dagger's for." He was not surprised to find Moro at his side as he said this.

Yuuko nodded, took the dagger from Moro. "Sight and sound, but no touch, or touch, but no sight and sound." She set the branch of sakura in the center of the diamond, and touched the tip of it to flame, then pointed the dagger at Haruka. "You must choose now."

He grimaced, made his choice and spoke, forcing himself to shut out the doubts roaring through him. "Let him be able to exorcise spirits, then. Sight and sound-- I will take care of later." He took the dagger and opened a deep gash in his palm, then gasped as she took it back and did the same. "Yuuko!"

"When he most needs to see-- a shadow, perhaps," she spoke through lips thinned in pain, "when he most needs to hear, perhaps a whisper."

Haruka nodded, but there was no time now to thank her or ask her why or repay her. Together, the two bent over the diamond of incense and began to draw the curves, whorls, angles and circles of the countercurse, working across the stained floor, weaving blood into concentric mandalas of protection, deflection, and counteractive magic. They worked for hours as the sakura smoldered and sparked, giving off a heavy, acrid scent nothing like wood smoke or blossoms.

Haruka took his leave at a quarter past midnight, once the sakura branch had been fully consumed, walking down the little path towards the double-moon gate with his head spinning. He knew Yuuko was standing on the porch, supporting herself against a pillar as she watched him go, and he stopped.

Silence lay between them as he tried to consider what had happened over the course of the evening. My grandson will not be able to see spirits. He will be able to exorcise them-- if someone else points him in the right direction. His senses will be like his father's, only for the mortal world, and yet his body will still be vulnerable to the other. He will not be able to see or hear that world, that second world that the Doumeki clan lives in. Somehow, bounding the curse's effects with words only made the idea filmier, hazier in his mind. His future grandson was a sightless, soundless blur of fancy, and the only thing Haruka could hold onto with any clarity was a pair of small boyish hands grasping and drawing an invisible bow, and aiming it into the darkness crouched so close.

At the last moment, Haruka swung back and locked eyes with Yuuko. "Thank you," he said quietly. "This could have been a disaster for myself and my family. Thank you for saving us."