An Unfulfilled Promise
Akiko wrapped her arms around the young man's trunk, crying silently. How was this possible? She knew this was Fujimoto Mamoru, but he had died nineteen years ago. She had held him till the coroner made her let him go. His soul had left him, yet she could sense him somehow.
Was it something in his eyes? Mamoru had chocolate brown irises. This man had black ones, but they looked the same to her. That old soul gaze that told her everything would get better. She always believed the look in Mamoru's eyes.
"Akiko, this is not Mamoru," Karura said in a sad voice.
"No, she's right, Karura," the youth replied with that smile of his. Embracing her, he rubbed Akiko's back as she trembled. "I told you I'd come back for them, didn't I?"
Karura gaped back at the young man. While his body couldn't be much older than eighteen years, the spiritualist saw a maturity in his expression that was far older. It was something he had noticed in Mamoru as well, the reason he trusted the detective as much as he had.
Still, even in reincarnation, a soul was not completely restored. How was Mamoru's personality exactly the same as he had been almost two decades ago? So many red flags flared up for the mystic, but he had never sensed any ill intent from the man. He didn't sense any now either. What did that mean?
"As much as I'm enjoying this reunion," the young man said as he helped Akiko stand upright again, "we should probably continue this inside the barrier. I assume it's still up and strong if you haven't moved in almost twenty years."
"Yeah," Akiko mumbled as she stood up. What was she thinking? This was a total stranger, and she had just hugged him like they were special or something. Was high school living degrading her mental state? "He can come in, right, Dad?"
"Yes, of course," Karura replied quickly.
This would be the last test to see if this mortal was hiding anything malicious. The young man picked up his messenger bag, waiting to be ushered within. Karura stood to the side to let the two of them back inside the gate. Sure enough, the barrier remained undisturbed. Suzuki Takashi held no ill intent toward them.
"Wow, it's been so long since I've been here," the youth said as he looked over the Minka-styled home. "I remember the first time I came by was after walking you home, Aki-chan. That stalker had gotten close, but you hadn't noticed him yet."
"I did so!" Akiko felt her nerve return at the implication that she choked on sensing an oni. "I just didn't want to alert anyone around me. Oni are a pain in the ass."
"We did not know it was an oni until he finally captured you, Akiko." Karura's flat tone made her feel so small under his judgmental gaze behind her.
"Well, you did a good job of hiding it from me," the newcomer said in response to the blatant lie. He even laughed a bit. She was still adorable. "Have you had much trouble since I left?"
"Left?" Akiko blinked as she turned to look at him. How could he be so casual about dying on them? He didn't even seem fazed that she had figured him out. Was that all it was like to him? Had it just been a transfer of lives? It sure hadn't for her.
"You died, Mamoru. You didn't leave on an extended vacation or move away." She paused when all three of them were in the foyer of the house. The men glanced at her tone, surprised by the tension in her voice.
"I held your corpse. I closed your eyes. We went to your funeral. Dad tried to find any family to give them your bokken and bag you left us. I thought you died because of me, so don't act like you just came back after a few days."
"You're right," he said, apologetically. Taking a deep breath, he stared sadly at her angry eyes. "This is strange for me. I don't reveal myself to people from my previous lives. I check on them when I can, but no one has ever truly recognized who I was till today. I guess I thought we could skip formalities. That was my mistake. I apologize, Akiko, Karura."
"I suppose school is not an option today," Karura said after nodding in response to the apology. "I'll inform the school you are not feeling well, Akiko. You should show our friend to the tatami room and make some tea."
Akiko didn't reply, but she motioned for the young man to head further into the house. After removing his sneakers, he did just that. There was an awkward air between them as they waited for Karura to return. Akiko glared at the teapot as the jasmine steeped. When he finally returned, Karura sighed at the forced smile on their guest's face.
"I'm sure you have questions for me. I don't mind answering what I can."
"Why come back to us now?" Karura asked, sitting across the kotatsu table from the young man. "You said you were starting at the university here. Why wait this long to see us?"
"Oh, that's an easy one!" The youth sighed with relief. Leaning forward on the tabletop, he folded his hands as he looked Karura in the eye.
"As I mentioned, I don't like to reveal myself to people from previous lives. Mixing up lives is complicated for everyone, so I try not to make things more difficult than they need to be. Honestly, I was just coming to pick up my bokken and seeds. Seeing you both was an extra bonus."
"You weren't even going to say hello?!" Akiko yelled with the tea on a tray in her hands. She looked ready to smash it on the tatami floor.
"Akiko," Karura spoke up in a fatherly tone, "he did not wish to stir up pain for us. As you can see, he remained because you recognized him."
"Really, Akiko, I didn't think you would know me. You threw me for a real loop when you called me out like that."
"How could I not know you?" She set the tray on the kotatsu, refusing to look at the young man. "You have the same stupid look on your face from back then, and you have the same habit of rubbing behind your ear when you're excited."
"He does?" Karura asked, wondering if he had noticed such a mannerism.
"I did do that, didn't I?" The young man smiled with a tired expression in his eyes. He stared at the inside of his hands, realizing she must have seen him at the threshold. "I suppose old habits never do die, huh?"
Akiko glanced at him from the corner of her eyes at last. She gaped. There was the face she had fallen for before. It was a sad smile, like someone used to being alone. It had resonated with her, and apparently, it still got to her.
"I'm not calling you by this new name," Akiko said in a defiant voice, trying to cover up her flustered emotional state, "but I doubt your real name is Mamoru either. I want to call you by your real name."
Karura and the young man blinked back at her statement. She really was a handful. The spiritualist sighed heavily as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. The other man just shook his head, smiling.
Akiko flushed bright red. She had thought he would put up more of a fight over his name. Names had power, so offering your true name was a significant sign of trust. So much for not showing she cared.
"As in 'harmonious hope' or 'first to shine'."
"That is up to you," Kazuki replied with a wicked grin. "I've never written my real name before, so I don't know which kanji to use. It's been a long time since someone called me by my original name. I'm happy you want to use it, Aki-chan."
"Kazuki, then," Karura spoke up before his daughter said something ridiculous again, "in all my years, I have never heard of a soul reincarnating as wholly as you have. How is that possible?"
"That's a difficult answer. I literally just reincarnate with all my memories. The only ones I'm missing are from the day I died the first time. Ever since, I've been reborn as soon as I die. I'm even conscious in the womb, connecting with my new mother."
"That's just fucking weird," Akiko said, curling up her nose as she finally set the tea out to everyone.
"I guess it is when I say it out loud," Kazuki said with a laugh.
"You seem quite calm for someone that has suffered a violent death," Karura said darkly. He couldn't deny it was strange that someone would be so relaxed after being impaled with an oni. "I'm also concerned with how you exorcised that yokai."
"Oh, come now, Karura," Kazuki said in a disappointed tone. "For being the Karura, I thought you would know an ancient spell like that on sight."
"What?" The father gawked.
"Oh, I know who you both are. Why do you think I was so willing to help you both last life?"
"You know... we're not human?" Akiko gaped back at Kazuki. Was she relieved or unnerved that he had figured them out? It wasn't easy trying to play a mortal, but blending in with the monotony of human society was simple enough. That was how they had managed to hide for so long, but it had affected their true nature. She was relieved she hadn't completely lost herself.
"Well, your father's name is Karura, Akiko, and your family name is a race of celestial beings. A folklorist has probably approached you at some point about all the coincidences."
"Yoko just sucks at her job, okay," Akiko huffed as her father hung his head in shame. "We didn't pick this life. She did."
"Our shinigami," Karura replied with a sigh.
"You have a shinigami?" It was Kazuki's turn to be confused. Why would a couple of tennin need a guide of the dead?
"It's a complicated situation, but I'm sure you are somewhat familiar after that stalker we had back then. To answer your earlier question, we have actually been left alone since that day. I suppose my original impression was correct then. You did use a blood spell."
"What's that, Dad?"
"Blood magic is old and destructive, born from a time when energy was plentiful and resources limited. Mortals use it for curses and to bolster the effect of their magic. However, in its true nature, it was used by yokai, shared with mortals thousands of years ago."
"I used my blood to make the oni disappear by cleansing its soul," Kazuki picked up after Karura. "Its energy was released and purified. Since oni were once human souls transformed, a cleansing is possible, if your intention and ability is strong enough. Your father didn't want a trail back to you, Akiko, so I had to take the scent away."
"Does that mean I'm free now?"
"No, I'm afraid," Karura said sadly. He hated to dampen his daughter's hopes, but she needed to be clear in her understanding. "That mark isn't a curse of that nature. He just hid us well."
"Oh..." Akiko picked up her tea to sip softly. That would be too easy, wouldn't it? Yoko would have told them they were fine. No, they were still stuck in this miserable way of living. "That sucks."
Kazuki stared at their faces a moment. He remembered this from before. They were tired. Their eyes were heavy. A burden weighed on their shoulders, but neither of them had told him what it was. Why should they have though? They thought he was just a police detective that happened to show up before the crime was reported. Right place at the right time.
They didn't know he was different. His knowledge had not been shared, but that was for their protection as much as his. They were immortal beings, and he wasn't... exactly. They had baggage as much as he did, but in all his lives, he had found few people to confide in, especially immortals. He wanted to help them. They deserved to feel safe again. Their people were not meant to live this way.
"Tell you what," he spoke up at last, "since I'm not your average mortal, why not tell me what it is your hiding from? Let me keep my promise to make it all better. You know I'm not here to harm either of you. What do you say?"
Karura glanced at the young face. He had trusted Mamoru with the knowledge of his mysticism. The detective had been open-minded to their situation, even though the tennin had withheld a good deal of detail. Knowing that his memory transversed time, Karura thought about the only mission he had left.
"Akiko," he turned to face his daughter, "it is your life at stake. I will not share anything without your approval. However, I will stress that he could be of great help in lifting the mark upon your head. You need not live in fear and repression. The choice is yours."
Kazuki gaped as he looked back at Akiko. If Karura was saying this to her, that could only mean one thing. That oni had wanted to eat her, right? Or had something far worse been unfolding that day?
"If you are the same person you were all those years ago," Akiko spoke with her head hung. Her soft hands gripped her warm cup as she tried to remember her position. "If you are the same Fujimoto Mamoru that I trusted to keep me safe, then I trust Kazuki. I can't tell you much, but my father knows all we can tell you."
"Are you..." Kazuki gaped back at her trembling, purple eyes. There was the anger he remembered, but not of hatred. Akiko was a fighter, and she had done nothing but run from this. It must have taken every ounce of strength she possessed to not beg him to help. "... the Karyoubinga?"