When Haruka finally noticed, it surprised him most at how long it had taken.
Life had somewhat settled into a routine in the Ichinomiya household. It was a bit lonelier without Suzu, and got even quieter as Rosalie grew up and stopped visiting as often. Today they had received an invitation to her wedding. Humans age quickly, Haruka mused, slightly annoyed with himself for the unusual feeling of nostalgia.
And that was when he realized who hadn't. Kantarou still looked the same as they day he had broken Haruka's seal. Even then, he had looked younger than his age, and that boyish appearance hadn't faded at all. It was... odd. Hasumi was certainly showing signs of aging when he had grudgingly delivered the invitation. Graying hair, wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and his retorts to Kantarou's taunting weren't quite as energetic as they used to be. Weren't they close to the same age?
Kantarou, currently cheerfully bickering with Youko over something Haruka was sure was pointless, showed none of those signs. Not that his hair would be likely to change, Haruka conceded, already being a distinctive silvery white. Neither of his youkai housemates had changed either, naturally, which was probably the reason it had been easy to overlook. Their home had somehow become timeless.
But why? How?
For some reason, Haruka wasn't sure whether to bring up the topic, as though it were a spell that would break when mentioned. Or perhaps his time with humans had finally ingrained a bit of tact into his speech. Not completely changeless then, he thought.
It wasn't until a few days later, when Kantarou had emerged from writing in his room for a tea break that Haruka finally decided to ask.
The man stopped and turned toward him from the doorway to the kitchen, waiting.
Haruka hesitated, unsure how to phrase it. "You haven't changed," he finally stated, simply.
Kantarou laughed. "Don't worry, I promise I'm really only taking a short break. I'll finish the article before Reiko arrives tomorrow." He held up his half-finished tea cup as a sign of good faith.
"Not that," Haruka frowned, deciding that bluntness was going to be required. "You haven't aged. Not since the day we met."
Kantarou's smile became a little more forced, and his head dropped. He sat down at the table before replying. "So you noticed too."
There was silence in the room for a moment.
"I'm not sure why either," Kantarou answered to Haruka's unvoiced question. "Not completely anyway."
"You have an idea?"
His smile dropped, the effort not fooling either of them anyway. "You know, I never met my father. My mother... sometimes travelled around, taking money in exchange for finding and exorcising spirits. Family trade, I suppose," sounding a bit annoyed at that. He became more grim when he started speaking again. "I overheard some gossip once in a village we visited, saying that she could sometimes entice youkai to obey her wishes for a while, even without naming them. And that my father had been one she seduced."
Haruka's eyes widened.
"At the time, I had assumed they were making fun of me because I didn't look like her. I didn't look like anyone, really. And the rumors about me making friends with demons were always popular too. So I just got angry and never took it seriously. But now, sometimes..."
Kantarou stared at his cup for a moment longer, before his artificial smile reappeared and his red eyes looked up, shining. "Well, gossip is gossip. People will say anything if it makes a good story, right?" He quickly finished his tea and stood, escaping from the room toward his desk. "Back to work, then!"
Haruka decided to go ponder things on the roof before Youko returned and ranted about the dirty cup left on the table.
The subject wasn't mentioned again for a few weeks. The two of them were walking home from a rather dull meeting with a new client when Kantarou suddenly stopped. Haruka, following behind, nearly ran into him.
"Would it change things if it were true?"
The question hung in the air, and startled by the abruptness, Haruka could only mutter a "huh?" while his wandering mind tried to figure out if he had completely missed an earlier conversation.
Kantarou turned and faced him, unnaturally serious. "Would it change anything, if it were true that my father was a youkai?"
Haruka didn't have an answer. He'd thought about the idea quite a bit since then, of course. What would a child between a human and youkai be like? What traits would he have? How would you even tell? It wasn't a situation he'd encountered before. There were no answers to any of the questions. Kantarou's eyes were... pleading? "I don't know," was the only response he could manage.
Kantarou nodded and looked away. Haruka's answer was obviously not the one he wanted.
"Do you want it to be true?" he asked instead.
"Hmm. Maybe," Kantarou replied, slowly. "If it meant I would live longer, that doesn't seem so bad. If time could stand still for a while longer, with us together." A pause. "All of us, of course," he quickly amended, a forced smile briefly flickering over his face. "Even if that's all, even if it didn't change how you see me, just that would be enough."
That was an odd statement, Haruka thought. "You want it to change how I see you?"
This time, the "maybe" was almost inaudible, and Kantarou turned and continued home before Haruka could decide what that meant, and whether the slight red tint on his master's face was a trick of the setting sunlight.
Haruka couldn't sleep. He'd retreated to the roof again, his thoughts circling around the earlier conversation, but the steady moonlight wasn't making anything clearer.
Why would Kantarou want to be seen differently? Haruka had accepted being friends with the human long ago, that was no secret. He had even admitted once, under relentless persistence and a direct order, that he was content and grateful for his current life. Kantarou's obvious delight at that confession might have made him laugh if he hadn't been busy with irritation at being forced to say such a thing in the first place.
The scene from earlier played through his mind again, bringing up the same questions. What would a half-human and half-youkai child be like? Many youkai could take human form, of course, so perhaps it wasn't impossible. There were stories and myths of love between the two, but didn't they all end in tragedy? Somehow the lovers were always forced apart, usually by death. Humans are ridiculously fragile, after all, and often fickle as well. Both enchanted by and terrified of anything different from themselves. Love and fear. The perfect recipe for an unhappy ending, even if the difference in lifespan were ignored.
Lifespan. 'If I would live longer,' Kantarou had said. He'd never seemed to be afraid of death, but he wasn't eager for it either, despite his sometimes dangerous occupation. Immortality was something many humans seemed to crave. Haruka had decided it was only because they hadn't experienced it. It wasn't as glamorous as they might expect. But Kantarou wasn't really that type of person.
'If time could stand still, with us together.' He'd meant the two of them when he'd said that, Haruka was sure, despite the addition that followed.
He had always known that simply by being here, Kantarou was living his childhood dream. It was still strange to think about his existence being so important to someone. His former namers had mainly desired him for his power and discarded him when they realized that same power could be a threat to them. It was unique to be wanted as a friend, even after that threat had been demonstrated. He had to admit they'd developed a bond that was stronger than he ever thought possible to have with a human. Not just trust, they had come to understand each other, and learned to work as a team without words. Most humans would eagerly kill youkai if they could. Kantarou had said he would die for him, and had nearly done so more than once. Was that friendship?
'Even if that's all.' Had he meant that friendship with those words? Did Kantarou want something else? The concept of the human/youkai stories flickered through his mind again, startling him. Before he could process that train of thought, he heard his name being called.
He sat up and saw a figure in the backyard. "Kantarou?"
The figure turned toward him, with a hand rubbing at sleepy eyes. "Ah, there you are. I was worried when I saw your room was empty." He climbed the ladder he'd insisted on keeping nearby after pointing out that no one else in the house had Haruka's advantage of wings for getting to the roof, overruling Haruka's argument that it was one of the reasons he liked to sit there. On this night, though, he thought the distraction might be welcome.
Kantarou took a seat nearby and joined him in gazing at the night sky. "It's nice out. Are you just enjoying the breeze, or is something on your mind?" he inquired cheerfully.
"If you noticed my room was empty, does that mean you always check in on me at night?" The idea seemed a bit absurd, like a parent checking on a small child.
He heard a quiet chuckle. "Not always. But sometimes I can't help looking when I go by. I..." He stopped.
"You'?" Haruka prompted, suddenly intently curious about whatever Kantarou seemed to need to say.
The reply was soft. "I guess I'm always a little bit afraid that one day you'll disappear. It's become a habit to make sure it's real that you're here."
His voice sounded lonely, Haruka thought. Was it strange to feel as though he should wrap his arms around the person beside him? He couldn't bring himself to move. The rustling leaves provided the only sound for a few minutes.
"I'm here," Haruka finally said, the words coming out almost before he realized. "I'll stay. No matter how long." Even if your life is longer than we expected, he thought, and somehow he knew that Kantarou heard it just as clearly.
Suddenly, there were arms wrapping around him, and it wasn't as strange as he thought it might be. Without looking he could hear the happiness in Kantarou's voice when he said, "I'm glad."
The night air suddenly seemed cooler outside the warm embrace, and Haruka had to admit he was relieved that this time his answer was right.