disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: to MaCall. this is literally all your fault.

title: she's so still, she's dead
summary: One more day down these stairs. — Yuki/Souhei, Hana, Ame.






She's half-asleep watching dubbed over Hollywood movies from the fifties—her PoliSci prof is a buff, and not above giving extra credit to students who can vomit up references on command—when the phone rings.

The sound shocks her system, nerves shooting up electric as it trills along her spine. Hurts her ears, that sound, rill rill rill the metronome like her heart. Yuki has to lurch over the side of the couch to grab at the receiver, arms flailing, to croak out a greeting like she means it. She has to work not to howl. It's late, and she's tired, and she doesn't have the control to deal with someone's bullshit right now. Bitter lines of orange sunlight slough in through the window. It's starting to get cold.

"Hel—" she breaks off to cough, choke.


Yuki tries again. "Hello?"

"Is this Osawa Yuki-san? Are you there? Can you hear me?" the voice comes through the line fuzzy and crackling with static. It's a grating she's familiar with from long conversations with her old friends. The phone lines out in the country aren't very good.

Yuki clears her throat again. "Yes, ye—yes. Speaking. I'm here. I'm—yeah. Hi. What can I do for you?"

"I'm sorry, Osawa-san, but I'm calling about your mother. She's in the hospital. This is the only phone number we had—you are listed as her next of kin—"

She almost drops the phone. There is a buzzing in her ears, lungs gone tight and hot, and Yuki swallows painfully around a lump in her throat that she didn't know she had. Her mother is a bastion of safety, and this is…

Well, it's something else.

"Thank you for letting me know," Yuki says over the woman on the other end of the phone. Her fingers constrict, and the plastic of the receiver creaks just a little beneath her grip. She's still inhumanly strong. The words come out rough. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

She puts the phone down and looks around her tiny apartment. There's a biology paper half-finished on the kotatsu, scattered books and orange peels. There aren't any pictures, and the TV flickers in the background, muted. There are a lot of things, here, but she's not attached to any of it.

She has a test in the morning, and she probably should have been asleep an hour ago.

But her mother's in the hospital. And she hasn't run in so, so long.

Yuki grits her teeth, and gets to packing.






The train rattles beneath her. Yuki sits sleepy but straight up in her seat, deep dark smudges for eyes. Turns out there's a lot of work to do when a leave of absence is required, but her teachers understand. Mostly. If they don't, it's not her fault that they don't have hearts.

(She has a feeling she's not going back, anyway, so she doesn't care in the least.)

She keeps her hands folded in her lap, and her eyes on the horizon. The clouds are large and dark—they sing of a storm, the kind the country hasn't seen in years. She doesn't really think about it. She's seen worse.

Yuki breathes, and counts down backwards from ten to zero. She's almost home.









The hospital is sterile and white. Yuki is a shout of colour against the eggshell walls, a beautiful destruction in pink and yellow and blue, and she whirls through the hallways like a hurricane. The nurses watch her with old sad eyes, but they don't stop her, and she bursts into Room 318 like sun through clouds.

It's a small quiet room with gauzy curtains across the windows. Machines beep a symphony, electricity crackling sharply on her tongue. The air tastes stale, here, smooth the way skin feels after it's been dipped in drain cleaner. No one comes in and no one leaves, Yuki doesn't have to be a doctor to know that.

The figure on the bed doesn't look very much like the woman who'd raised her. The woman who'd raised her had built a farm, had kept it together when her husband had died and her ten-year-old son had left. The woman who'd raised her would never just lie there like that, and Yuki inhales sharply.

There's an oxygen mask over her mother's face.

"Mama," Yuki breathes, with tears in her eyes. "Oh, Mama."

There's no movement at all. She's so still, she's dead. Except for rain against the windowpane and the beeping of the machines, it's silent.

Gods, she wants to scream.

Yuki throws open the windows. The night is cold and wet on her face, thoroughly soaked with the beginnings of the storm. She takes great gulps of air in, sucking water and atmosphere into her lungs to keep herself from crying. She has too much to do right now, to cry. Her knuckles curl around the sill, and she's thrown backwards in time to the last time she stood like this at a window. There'd been a boy, then, but she can't remember his name anymore.

She stands there for a while. Tries to put herself back together.

"Okay," she says. "Okay, mama. I can do this. I can do this."

Yuki wishes, for a moment, that she didn't have to.

But she doesn't really have a choice.

And besides.

Wishes are only for children.

(Yuki hasn't been a child for a very long time. Children have siblings, and she doesn't have one of those, anymore. She gulps again, and closes the window.)






The house is a mess.

She's not even surprised. Her mother's been a gone a long time (not really long, but it feels like it), and a house this far up in the mountains needs more care than an old woman alone can give it. Yuki's almost glad it's going to be winter—it means that there aren't crops for her to worry about, and she can concentrate just on making the place liveable again.

She cleans for three days before someone realizes that she's come home.

It's not Nirasaki-jii, with his bad temper and his limp, and it's not his daughter, either. In fact, it's not anyone Yuki thinks she's seen before; he's about her age, heavy boots and a hat that covered his eyes.

"Oi, get away from there, who d'you think you are—?!"

"Excuse me? I live here," Yuki says, affronted, pops her hip out and keeps a wary hand on the broom. She can't do much damage with it, but that's probably for the better. Living in the city taught her things that she'd never wanted to know.

He raises his face, and a vague recognition washes over her. She knows him, from somewhere long ago. There was a windowsill. A decade is a long time, though, and she's changed so much.

He stares. "Yuki? I didn't—I didn't know you'd come back."

He says back the way she says home.

Yuki closes her eyes for a little longer than a standard blink and nods. "I wasn't planning on it." A pause, and then "I'm sorry," she says. "I don't remember your name."

"Not surprised," he says, and his voice is strangely gentle.

She thinks he's disappointed. So is she, but she doesn't know why. Yuki swallows hard, and when she speaks, it comes out stilted. "Do you—I mean, would you care for some tea?"

"Nah, I'm good," he says. He's looking at her oddly, left her a flustered mess of cut puppet strings, like he's waiting for her to say something that will fix whatever it is that lingers between them.

Yuki holds tighter to her broom, bites at her lip. "Well, I should probably…"

"Yeah," he says. He grins wide and slow.

(She has the strangest urge to curl into him and let him protect her forever. She doesn't need it, and she knows that, but—the thought is nice.)

"So. Um. Bye?"

"Bye," he repeats, and then he turns, still grinning.

He's halfway down the path when she can't stand it anymore.

"I'm sorry I can't remember your name!" she shouts, hands cupped around her mouth. "Really, I am!"

"Souhei!" he yells back. "It's Souhei, wolf girl! Get it right, next time!"

Yuki squeaks and slams the panel closed. The broom falls to the floor, wood clattering against wood. She leans forward, presses her head against the door, breathing too loud in the quiet.

He didn't forget, either.

She doesn't know how she's going to face him after this. Nirasaki-jii would be so upset at her, if he knew—he'd taught her to be braver than this. Yuki wraps her arms around herself. Gods, she could use a drink.

Tea will do. She puts the kettle on. It's the only modern convenience she thought to bring with her; it's the only one she really needed.

And a minute later, she peeks outside.

Just in case.

(He's already gone. She tries valiantly not to be disappointed in them both.)






She spends her days in the hospital, when the weather's good enough for her to get down there. She knows that soon, the mountains will close up, and she won't have the chance, and then where will she be?

Yuki can't just leave her mother alone. She can't.

(She doesn't think about the fact that she could do it if she were a wolf. Wide paws are good for dashing across snow, but people would ask questions. And if there is one thing that Yuki has learned in all her time away in the city, it's that questions are bad. She doesn't need that, she really doesn't.)

The doctors don't say so, but they think her mother's not going to wake up.

Yuki doesn't tell them different. They don't know her mother.

When she goes home that night, she doesn't eat supper. She just crawls into the unmade bedroll, too cold and too tired and too sad to do much more than try to get some sleep. The moon outside is near full, and she can already feel its pull in her blood. It's an old song, one she's learned to ignore.

This time, though, maybe she'll run.

Just for a little while.

After all, it couldn't hurt.

(Except of course it could.)






One more day down these stairs.

Yuki tells herself over and over I can do it. I have to. I can do it. I have to. It's become the mantra she lives by; when her mother's breathing is a sick soaked sucking sound in her little hospital room, when it's all she can do to hold on, when it's either living by her mantra or screaming and screaming and screaming until the whole world ends.

Bones crunch beneath her molars, blood a thick metallic tang in her mouth. Warm, wet—here are her nutrients, here are her meals. She throws back her head and howls. She might be the last living Japanese wolf in the whole world. Sometimes, it makes her want to laugh so hard she vomits.

(Her ribs show through her skin, these days. No one notices. It's better like that.)

It didn't use to be like this, but she can't remember it being different. The days pass, and it begins to snow. Yuki shakes it off like she shakes off her name, and she pads to the hospital in a summer dress.

The nurses still don't say anything.

Yuki thinks they know. Maybe they just don't care.

Her mother doesn't move anymore. Yuki figures maybe they'd all be better off if they both just disappeared. She determinedly doesn't think about Souhei and the way his eyes go soft when he looks at her.

She doesn't have time for romance. Maybe she never did.

Yuki dusts her mother's fine china.

She goes to bed, and she doesn't dream.

(At least, she doesn't remember it. She does dream, though: she dreams of impossible horizons, inverted cranberry skies with melancholy-coloured clouds. Her teeth close tight, grind down. The nightmares don't come, though, and that's probably a good thing. She is not meant for the oozing dark places in her mind.)

When she wakes, it's to a young man standing naked in her living room.

She would recognize him anywhere.

Ame is broad-shouldered, a near mirror for the one picture Yuki has of their father. Her little brother looks wild, looks like bits and pieces of him have molted away to leave a raw red welt, too animalistic to be quite human. His hair is in his face, and he stares at her like he hasn't seen another person in a hundred years.

Yuki punches him in the face.

"How dare you," she says.

"Nee-san," he starts, but she cuts him off.

"How dare you," she says again. "After everything, how dare you even be here?!"

"Nee-san, I—"

"No," says Yuki, suddenly fierce. She looks at him like a burning. "You should know better. You have no right to be here, Ame! You made your choice!"

"I didn't want—"

"I don't care what you want," she says. It is cruel in its truth. I don't care. I don't care. It echoes between them, a twisted rotting wound that never had the chance for cauterization. She wants to rend him limb from limb. She wants to tear him apart. He is her little brother, and she can't stand the sight of him.

"Get out," she says, very quietly.


She hasn't heard her own name out of his mouth in a decade. "You heard me," she says. "Leave."

So he does.

And she doesn't regret it at all.






The cold locks her in for days.

Yuki paces back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. She watches the clock obsessively, reads through every single book she thought to bring, resorts to drawing she is so bored. Until the spring thaw, there is very little she can do.

Her mother sleeps in the hospital, and the days are so, so long.

The woods are haunted in these parts. Until the spring thaw, they are dangerous for humans. And even though Yuki is not human (not even a little bit), she doesn't go into the trees. She knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that her brother is out there. The dead pheasants on the porch every three days confirm it.

Yuki leaves them outside to freeze.

She won't give him the satisfaction.






Souhei brings soup, one icy day in early December.

Yuki can't think of anything to say, so she kisses him.

He tastes like rain and forgiveness, and they fuck slow and gentle and sweet. She cries into his shirt, and he doesn't say a word.

Somehow, he understands.

It's more than she deserves.






She's half-asleep watching the flames in the hearth flicker—because Souhei is old-school, and likes the heat of it. He insists it's inherently better than all other heat—when the phone rings.

Yuki has to dive for the phone. It's been different, ever since that first phone call. She doesn't choke anymore, even when the cold chatters through her teeth. "Hello?" she says, without missing a beat.


"Speaking. Who is this?"

"It's Moriyama-san, from the hospital. Your mother is awake. If you'd like—"

Yuki sets the phone down, infinitely gentle, and takes a deep breath in through her nose. She has so much to do, and very little time to do it in.

She reaches across the bed, and shakes Souhei awake.

"Hey," she says softly.

"Nnngh—Yuki? Wha-iz it?"

"My mother's awake," she says. "I have to go."

"Are you coming back?" he asks. There's real fear in his voice.

Yuki smiles. "After I worked so hard to get this place clean? Of course. I can't leave it to you. I'll see you later."

He nods, and she out the door before he can get another word in.

The air is like iced daggers down her throat. The snow crunches under her paws. Yuki was born on a day it snowed, and that was where she got her name—it was a day just like this.

She howls, and she starts to run.

And if another howl answers her, she doesn't disregard it; her little brother is still out there, even if he is stupid. They'll be fine, she knows that now.

They'll be so, so fine.