The title, Candle in the Wind, comes from a song by the same name. Most of it is irrelevant, but there was one particular set of lines that caught my attention. "Your candle burned out long before/ Your legend ever did" The reason I was looking for it to begin with was because I was trying to find a phrase with the word candle in it. Candles blow out before all the wax melts, typically anyway. So the title seemed to suit…even if the song didn't by any means.
Some notes on timing. This takes place a few years after the events of Frontier. During that time Tomoko has passed away from her chronic illness and Kouichi has come to live with Kouji, Kousei and Satomi. This takes place at a time where he's become used to the new living arrangements. I've got plenty of other fics to play around with all that. This has a different point altogether.
Power goes out for homes/streets more often than for districts, so it's perfectly possible power isn't working at the house while it is working amongst the train lines. It happens quite frequently over here. Last time a tree fell on the street power line.
A bit weird, but I think it works out well enough. Enjoy.
Candle in the Wind
"Last time you were too fast. There's no lasting harm though with being early. Being late on the other hand…"
Kouichi K/Koichi &Kouji M/Koji
'Seriously Kouji,' Kousei sighed, skimming through the note on the refrigerator, held in place with a magnet that depicted the kendo school he attended. 'Would it hurt to tell us your plans for the afternoon instead?'
Satomi laughed from where she was preparing dinner for two. 'It's hardly his fault you don't arrive home on time,' she pointed out. 'Kouichi and I knew his plans after all.'
'And Ookami,' she amended, leaning down and gently petting the large German Sheppard as it buttered her thigh in protest.
Kousei sighed again. 'Well, Ookami can't inform me of them,' he pointed out, unpinning the note. 'At least he hasn't lost the habit of leaving notes for me. I thought that was something he'd lose after he started actually telling his plans.' He removed the note and straightened the magnet before carefully checking the back and then disposing of it. 'Well, I guess it's just us then.'
Towards the end of dinner, the phone rang. At first no-one got up to answer it, but it persisted, prompting Kouichi to carefully slide out of his chair (to avoid the grating noise that sounded when the chair legs scraped against the floor) and answer it.
'Moshi moshi, Minamoto residence,' he said into the receiver.
After a moment of listening, he covered the receiver with one hand, poking his head through the doorway. 'Satomi-san,' he said quietly. 'Phone for you.'
'Just Satomi is fine,' the woman replied. 'Really Kouichi? How many times do I have to tell you?'
He mumbled something and fled to his seat, but Satomi knew it wasn't from the initial awkwardness and barriers that had come about, both from their first few meeting and when he had started living with them permanently after his mother's death. It was more a relaxed embarrassment that stemmed from habit. He had, after a little while, fit right in with them.
Truthfully, she was glad all the trials were over with. She was too old now to have babies, not that she hadn't tried in previous years. But she had two sweet sons she could guide through the riper years of life. She could still be a mother to them, even if they had known a different mother. After all, the word mother wasn't as precise as people (Kouji had been one of those) sometimes liked to believe.
She picked up the phone where the other had left it.
Kousei was gabbling out last minute instructions as he pulled on his coat in the hallway light, the winter darkness blaring through the partially opened door.
'Kousei,' Satomi interrupted finally. 'It's not like Kouichi hasn't stayed home alone before. Besides, he has Ookami for company and Kouji should be home any minute now.'
'Err…right.' He flushed a little. It was sometimes hard to not act like an overprotective parent, even if both his sons were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. But the weather had been rather wild for the last few days, and it was possible (if remotely so) that the power could go out, and while Kouji knew how to tweak the box enough to get it back under normal circumstances, Kouichi still didn't. 'If the power goes out, you know where the torches are?'
'On the bookshelf and in the cupboard,' the other recited. 'And matches are in the cabinet under the stove.'
'And candles?' he persisted. 'In case the torches aren't working.'
'The basement,' Kouichi said.
'By the phone.'
'Should be home in ten minutes. If he isn't home in half an hour, I'll call his cell phone.'
'Hopefully we'll be back before you two go to sleep,' Satomi interrupted. 'If we're not, leave the hallway light on but turn the other's off.'
Kouichi nodded, before seeing them out the door.
'Why are you so worried?' Satomi asked, once the car pulled out of the driveway.
'I don't really know,' Kousei sighed, rubbing his brow with one hand before turning his attention back to the road. The street-lamps flickered above, plunging the road behind into darkness. The lights from the vehicle flooded the asphalt as the car crawled along through the residential area. 'It's true Kouichi has stayed by himself before, but not when it's this dark.'
The brunette smiled at him knowingly. 'He's not afraid of the dark.'
'I know. It's not that I'm worried about. I just have a bad feeling about tonight is all.'
'Maybe it's the weather.'
The wind howled in warning.
'Maybe. There is something almost unnatural about it.'
The wind howled again, and Kousei reached for the radio.
'There was nothing to suggest the fourteen year old didn't simply lean too far over her balcony and fall. Traces of solidifying candle wax were found, but…'
Satomi frowned at that. 'That's the third time this week,' she commented. 'The reiteration about the candle wax makes it sound like there's some mass murderer on the loose, but how does that link to a boy simply falling into a road with no-one possibly near enough to push him?'
'Maybe he'd been carrying candles for some reason,' the other said, a tad absentmindedly, changing the channel to a music station.
It was twenty minutes after his father and stepmother left that the power went out. He'd turned the hallway light off, making a mental note to turn it on again before going to bed should the need arise, and had curled up on the couch with a recreational novel, Ookami stretched over the rug at his feet.
He blinked as the words suddenly disappeared as his eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. 'I guess the power went out after all,' he mused, somewhat surprised. It wasn't all that unusual to have storms in the winter season, and because the area was so earthquake prone, the power lines were rather resistant to weather effects. It wasn't something he was unused to though, because the power had quite frequently gone out in their apartment in Minami, so he simply set his book aside and went to retrieve the torch. Ookami didn't move.
Another ten minutes, and he realised the torch light was really too dim to continue his current activity. His eyes were starting to hurt with the squinting.
'If this keeps up,' he sighed to himself, scratching the dog's ears to get him off his feet, the position the other had adapted after he had sat down for the second time. 'I'll wind up with glasses like 'tou-san.'
He looked at the digital clock on the shelf, its luminescent numbers gleaming on the screen.
'Maybe I should call Kouji. He should have been here by now.'
Ookami growled, clamouring to his feet and heading to the back door. The weak torch beam followed.
'Do you need to go outside?'
Ookami growled again, scratching at the door.
Kouichi got to his own feet and unlatched the security around the other's large fame…only for Ookami to suddenly slip past him, still snarling.
'Hey, what is it?'
He sounded like he did when Kouji took him for walks and they came across a much larger and more threatening dog invading his "space". The first time he had seen it, he couldn't believe there existed dogs larger than Ookami…and that was before he was informed that Ookami at the time had been a mere pup. In Minami, cats were more common but the dogs that people had as pets were far smaller in any case.
The growls began to echo quite oddly after a few minutes.
There was a sharp bark, the dog's version of saying "get over here already!"
He went, taking the torch with him. Ookami pawed on the basement door, still growling.
'Man, I'm so late,' Kouji sighed, watching the train leave from the other side of the road. 'How'd I manage to miss both my train and the next one?'
It was lucky the trains were so frequent, otherwise he would have turned into an icicle waiting for the ride.
The plan had been to finish off an assignment in record time, eat dinner (which he had been invited for and couldn't refuse) and then head home. Somehow the other managed to rope him into a couple of video games…and as he knew Kouichi had been dying to finish the book he had loaned out of the library, he had agreed. After all, so long as he was home some time before eleven, his parents' were too worried. They knew where he was after all.
The wind howled outside the station, and he shivered, but not from the cold. The wind of the digital world had been so pleasant, even when storms had raged. Hearing it so wild now was nothing like what he had been used to, and it was slightly unnerving hearing the devil himself scream outside the safety of four walls.
There was something extra chilling about.
'Hey, have you heard about that spirit?'
'The candle one?' Her voice sounded somewhat funny all of a sudden.
He twisted slightly, looking at the two chatting girls before turning away again.
'Yeah. I'll bet he strikes again today. It's the perfect opportunity.'
There was a shiver that shook the entire row of seats. 'Oh, I hope not.' She sounded genuinely frightened, much unlike her excited companion. 'This weather is bad enough. And…everything.'
Kouji resisted the urge to scoff. A few years ago, he'd have had no such inhibitions, but that was before the Digital World. Although it was far more likely it was a coincidence or a mass murderer covering his tracks (or leaving them, depending on the perspective), he couldn't rule out supernatural occurrences playing a role. After all, he'd turned into a digimon. An artificial life form. Who was he to rule out spirits?
A little voice in the back of his mind nagged him though. The second girl sounded so tearful.
'I wish we could see it.'
'No, don't! It's bad enough Takizawa-kun, - he-'
It didn't take long for the message to get across.
A pause, and then: 'Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know. How completely tactless of me.' There was a somewhat slapping sound, as if she face-palmed her forehead.
She probably wouldn't have gone on like that, as if it was an urban legend in the making, if it had cut closer to home. He probably wouldn't think with the majority of his mind it was crazy talk either.
After all, all the more accurate accounts he'd heard showed that they had reasons for having candle wax on them: a romantic dinner, a Jewish funeral….
But his heart had a habit of contradicting his mind.
Ookami was still pawing at the door as the torch light wavered over the basement steps. Kouichi couldn't help but swallow a gulp at the sight of them. They were entirely made of cement, unlike the rest of the stairs in the house, and a good deal steeper too. That meant it was impossible to run, but that also, he tried to reasonably tell himself, meant that by forcing oneself to be extra careful, there was a smaller likelihood of slipping down and breaking something.
Steps had always frightened him after his fall down Shibuya station though.
But Ookami was being so loud, now throwing his weight as if expecting the door to give under his weight. But it was solid. He was surprised no disgruntled neighbour had knocked on the door, but no doubt one would soon enough.
He clutched the railing tight with one hand as he slowly made his way down, torch in the other.
'What's wrong?' he asked again, gently. 'Is there a squirrel in there?'
They had never managed to figure out how the squirrels made it in. Kousei assumed they had a hole in the backyard somewhere, but so far no-one had managed to locate it. The only things in there were tinned food, blankets, candles and first aid supplies, all in case of an emergency. It was a rather old-fashioned house after all. Back from the days of war, but it still served its function in case there was a fire or an earthquake or something similar. In fact, they'd used it before when a rather large earthquake had ravished the area…so they had been quite safe from the rubble.
It was on the fourth stair that he found his tight hold on the railing suddenly give way. The torch wavered before turning to his other hand and he barely managed to catch the same light reflecting back into his eyes from a shiny fluid under his fingertips before his foot slipped.
He dropped the torch and it clattered noisily down the stairs as he reached for the railing with is now free hand. The fingers touched, attempted to cling, but there was something slippery between them and the support which would keep him from following his torch, gleaming like a weak candle flame at the bottom of the stairs.
His fingers closed around the railing for a moment before slipping away. At that point, the torch flickered out.
Or maybe it was just the doors of his consciousness closing.
Kouji was just about to board his train when he suddenly winced, pain shooting between his temples.
'Geez,' he muttered to himself, rubbing his head. 'Too many video games I guess.'
It did happen when he strained his eyes after all. Perhaps he did need glasses like his father after all. He hoped not though. He had looked ridiculous when he had tried them one once.
That same little voice from before told him that wasn't the case, but then the tone sounded in warning.
If he missed that train, he'd be better of walking home.
Ookami was howling in his ear.
He blinked slowly, trying to get the world back into focus. A fuzzy white blur hovered over him. Something was patting his face. Ookami probably. There wasn't anyone else there. Or maybe there was. He couldn't make out much at all. Just a blur of black and white and grey.
The howling was sounding rather far away though. Or maybe it was growling. Or snarling. That was what he had been doing, right?
He felt cold. The numb sort of cold though, not the sort that made him shiver. Something on his face was warm though. He wondered if that was Ookami's paw. It was a little annoying though. The cold felt rather nice, as if he could comfortably sleep through it for a while. When it was too hot, he just tossed and turned.
The sound was even further away. The ground beneath him felt awkward, like he'd sprawled into an uncomfortable position but couldn't summon the energy to get back up. There was the smell of something burning in his nostrils for a sparse moment before that faded into the thick drowsy air. The sound continued to fade.
Two large eyes stared at him, and then darkness covered his vision again.
There was a loud yowl thereafter, continuing on and on, but he embraced sleep, too disorientated to even hear the sound, let alone comprehend it.
Kouji cursed the storm. Halfway home it had shot the power, leaving the train stranded in the middle of the tracks. Typically the power wasn't out for long in those circumstances. Sometimes it was half a minute. Sometimes it took an hour or two, but it was far higher up on the priority list than house power.
Still, he felt like he needed to get home urgently. He couldn't figure out why though. There wasn't anything important he had to do. Satomi had okayed his plans. Of course, she hadn't anticipated the delays.
He tapped his foot impatiently, almost losing his balance when the train lurched before cruising along again.
He didn't bother looking at the time. That would just make him more irritable.
The distance between the station and the home weren't far at all. If he walked, he'd make it in three minutes, but as it happened his father's car sailed right passed him as he exited, before temporarily parking in the "pick-up" bay.
'Why aren't you home yet?' were the first words out of Kousei's mouth.
'Long story,' Kouji replied, sliding into the back seat. 'We played a few video games before dinner, and then I missed the train, and then the power went out…'
'So the power did go out,' the older man frowned, staring at Satomi.
'Don't look at me,' she replied. 'But Kouichi knows where the torches are.'
Kouji blinked at that. 'What are you two doing anyway? Why is Kouichi alone at home?'
'How come we don't hear this when it's you alone?' Kousei asked rhetorically. 'Emergency came up. Your grandmother slipped and broke a couple of ribs.'
'That's an emergency?' the younger twin asked sceptically.
'When you're eighty years old, yes.'
'Really.' That was Satomi. 'You remember the last time you saw your grandmother.'
Oh right. Because of a stroke, she'd lost a good portion of her later memories. Including the twins. And she was absolutely adamant (and quite scary) that she didn't know Kouji the last time he had seen her over six years ago. From that day he hadn't set foot in the house again. Who had known old ladies without their memories were so terrifying? She almost chased him away with the poker…not that he would admit it to anyone.
It would have been even worse for Kouichi, who didn't remember the other either…and had watched his other grandmother pass away in front of his very eyes.
'Why did Satomi then…'
'Because I'm a doctor,' the female reminded. 'She can't argue with that.'
It was only then that Kouji noted the folded white coat beside him.
They pulled up in the driveway less than a minute later, the car lights illuminating a rather cranky looking neighbour, hair in a night cap and a dressing robe thrown over her pale pink attire.
'Can you shut that dog of yours up?' she asked, a little snappishly. 'It's been howling for over a half hour.'
Indeed, they could still hear Ookami howling indoors.
The parents exchanged glances. 'Maybe Kouichi accidently shut him outside?' Satomi suggested. 'And fell asleep.'
'Or he wants to go outside,' Kousei added. It was true after all; Kouichi could sleep through anything. Although it was a little early. 'But it doesn't-'
'-sound like that sort of howl,' Kouji finished, biting his lip lightly. Something was definitely wrong.
'I don't care what it is,' the neighbour snapped irritably. 'I just want to go to bed.'
Kousei opened the door before fumbling around for the hallway switch. The light stayed off.
'The power's out,' the woman said helpfully.
'Right.' Kousei, a little irritable himself now. 'Ookami! Be quiet!'
'Where is he anyway?' he grumbled, before turning and going outside. A few minutes later, the hallway light came on, along with the one in the sitting room.
Kouji frowned further at that. 'He left the light on.'
The howling grew more insistent, although also raw as if he had been howling for an age, waiting for someone to attend to him.
'It doesn't sound like it's coming from the living room,' Satomi commented, peeking through the door just in case. 'No.'
'No,' Kousei agreed slowly. 'Nor outside. It's echoing.'
'It's the basement,' Kouji said after a moment's thought. 'He must be pawing at the door again. He did that yesterday.'
Kouji was almost right, but not entirely. Ookami was at the bottom few steps that led to the basement door, but he wasn't pawing at the said obstruction. Instead, he was pawing and howling over a sprawled form lying on those steps.
They all gasped. Even the annoyed neighbour, but luckily Kousei reacted fast enough to grab Kouji before he ran down for his brother…and probably met the same fate.
The light blared bright, showing the small pool of blood gleaming, along with something else. The torch, now dead, lay discarded in the corner it had rolled into. The middle few steps shone in the light, as did the railing. It took a close examination to see that the cause of both was candle wax.
The adults remembered the news item they had heard in passing before changing the channel…because the neighbour had also been guilty of that. Kouji remembered the two girls talking at the train station. They all remembered the candle wax, dry and innocent.
There was no wick in that wax. No flame to burn bright. No air to keep it lit.
Not that it really mattered, as Kouji finally picked up his brother and embraced the cold body, clinging to it tightly. The peaceful expression on his face looked almost like wax too. A wax doll, perfectly carved.
Ookami butted at him sorrowfully, finally falling silent. His own eyes burned with dryness. Why wasn't he crying? Why couldn't he cry? He just suddenly felt numb. He had felt the pang in his heart, but had ignored it. Just as he had ignored it in the elevator, on the way to the Digital World. Kouichi had fallen down stairs then. But that was because he had been chasing him. This was because he had slipped on the oil in the dim light before it had solidified. The finger imprints were still somewhat apparent. He'd tried to grab the railing. He might have even succeeded.
Who would have thought that the steps to safety were the most dangerous?
He looked up. The neighbour had backed away, out of sight. Maybe she had taken on the rational role and called for an ambulance (although fruitless). Or the police. Or maybe she had departed or collapsed in shock.
His father didn't quite meet his eyes. He was looking instead at his older son. Satomi was looking at the railing. It was obvious from both of their expressions, that no matter what the outcome…even if Kouichi got up, laughing about something silly with a simple cut on his forehead, they'd feel guilty about leaving him alone in that weather. But it wasn't their fault at all. They couldn't have taken him to visit a woman that most children and teenagers would describe as mad. He should have been home. If anything, it was his fault for being late.
His eyes lowered, closing in on the wax on the steps. It was obvious where the other had slipped. The wax split away there.
A few steps down, the wax was whole. Whole, and scrawling untidy words. Words no-one would notice unless they were in his position.
His breath caught as his brain read them silently.
"Last time you were too fast. There's no lasting harm though with being early. Being late on the other hand…"
For a moment, the lights seemed to vanish, leaving only the darkness to highlight those shining words, as if a wick burnt bright, slowly melting away the candle wax into an unintelligent pool of oil that slowly solidified, dripping onto the next step with no clear pattern.