Return Fare


"Welcome Baku-sama," Maru said brightly.

"Mistress is expecting you," Moro continued.

"Follow us!" they said in unison. "Follow us!"

Watanuki pressed himself into the background as the customer trailed after the twins. He was tall with delicate and slender features. His long, snowy hair was tied back with a single ribbon and as he drew nearer to the hallway Watanuki was spying from his luminescent eyes found Watanuki's mismatched blue and gold eyes. Oddly, all the customer did was smile (an action that made him look very elfin) and nod before passing and continuing after the twins.

Watanuki was confused but shook it off in favor of his accustomed post just outside of the doors of Yuuko's reception room. Maru and Moro joined him in his sanctioned snooping, giggling to themselves over something private between just them.

Yuuko reclined on her couch wearing one of her outrageous kimono and smoking her pipe. She smiled slyly at her customer as he stared at her in silence with the bearing of a powerful lord. After a long moment Yuuko inclined her head a bare fraction.

"Welcome to my shop, Takeshi-sama," she said languidly, "to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

Takeshi got right down to business. "I have sworn an oath that I cannot, on my own, keep," he said. Yuuko raised an eyebrow at him.

"And what would this oath be?" she asked.

"To come back." Those three simple words seemed to carry unprecedented weight to them. Yuuko examined her customer carefully and nodded.

"Watanuki," she called, startling her indentured employee. He hurried to his feet and slipped quietly into the reception room, bowing politely and waited for her instructions. Big surprise what they turned out to be. "Fetch some sake," she ordered imperiously. Watanuki nodded and slipped back out, grinding his teeth.

"Honestly," he grumbled, "she's going to die of liver failure or something like that and I won't be responsible."

When he returned to the reception room with a bottle of sake and two delicate cups Takeshi was sitting as well. Watanuki silently served the guest and Yuuko, leaving the bottle within Yuuko's reach. He sat back and waited for Yuuko to dismiss him.

"So how are those adorable children you adopted?" she asked, downing her first cup of sake in one swallow and pouring herself another.

"Precocious." Takeshi sipped his sake carefully. "Why do you ask?"

"Curious," Yuuko grinned. "After all, it caused quite a stir when you bought the Nekomata King's children from his creditors and brought them into your home."

"Did it?" Takeshi didn't look at the Witch. His eyes strayed instead to Watanuki. "As much as when you picked this young one up?"

"Well," Yuuko cast Watanuki a strange, amused look, "no. I suppose I trumped you there."

"He is even rarer than myself," Takeshi commented, turning back to Yuuko. "Let none of us pretend not to understand the implications that holds."

"Indeed," Yuuko refilled her cup once more (typically heedless that it was impolite to pour her own drinks) and sat back. "So... your wish?"

"To be reborn once more should I die again," he said firmly. "Name your price."

Yuuko regarded Takeshi silently, her eyes narrowed in thought. Finally she looked away and named her price. "Your mother and father. I will grant your wish in exchange for the relationship with your parents and their memories of your existence."

Takeshi regarded Yuuko, his face expressionless. "Payment due at what time?"

"After you have recalled yourself," she said with a wave of her hand. She poured herself another glass of sake and lifted the little dish, smiling over the rim. "Is that suitable, Takeshi-sama?"

"That is acceptable," Takeshi said solemnly. He also lifted his dish of sake and together he and Yuuko drank, sealing the deal.

* * *

The baku returned, younger, shorter, his long snowy hair cut. He wore a long coat and carried a sad smile. Yuuko received him right away. The dream-eating demon nodded to the witch.

"Yuuko-sama," he said.

"Takeshi-sama," she returned with a small smile. "You have found yourself again." It was not a question. The answer was obvious. Takeshi nodded.

"I have come to pay the price for my new life," he said.

Yuuko nodded and picked up a hollow glass sphere that had been sitting on a silver stand. "If you could deposit the nightmares in here," she said. Takeshi reached out a hand and lay it flat against the glass. Smoke filled the sphere, roiling shades of blue, white, grey, and blood red. When there was no more room Takeshi removed his hand, revealing a long cut upon his palm. Yuuko wiped the blood off the glass with a handkerchief and returned it to the baku.

"Your blood is more than the price, Takeshi-sama," she said as she settled the smoke-filled sphere back onto its silver stand. Takeshi pressed the handkerchief to his bleeding palm for a moment before causing it to melt in his hand.

"There are many creatures in the world who desire my blood," he said. "It is a comfort that you are not among them."

Yuuko smiled languidly. "Not this time," she said coyly.

Takeshi let his eyes rest on the smoky sphere for a long moment, finally returning his pale gaze to the witch. "I have to go now," he said. "I have children awaiting my return, and they have waited long enough."

Yuuko smiled. "I hope that the next time we strike a deal is a long time coming. But please, bring the children over for drinks some day, would you? I would love to see how they've grown."

The baku blessed her with a truly honest smile. "They are a handful, but they've grown up so much since I've been gone. Nekomata's taller than me now."

"Are you going to kick him out of the house now?" Yuuko asked, amused.

Takeshi shook his head, still smiling. "Not yet. Thank you, Yuuko-sama. I will bring them by to meet you."

"Enjoy your new life, Takeshi-sama," Yuuko said.

"I will, Yuuko-sama, you have my word on that."

Takeshi smiled at Yuuko one more time before he vanished, transporting himself from the demi-dimention in which the shop existed to a grassy hilltop with a skeletal tree growing out of the crest. There his family was, Nekomata and Fuyuko. There he was home, with them.

The wind blew his hair into his face.

Takeshi smiled.