Momoko was having trouble trying the new kimono on. "There's no place for me to go." She said. They'd been living like this for four years now, traveling from city to city. Katsuya went out at night, and came in the morning and Momoko would have fun with the village girls. She couldn't usually see him, but she knew he watched.
"Hurry up, I have someplace I need to be, and I want to see if it fits."
"Not with you here!" She said. "I'm thirteen, it wouldn't be proper." Katsuya raised his brows as a new thought struck him. She wasn't six anymore. "I'm going to a bath house." She said, and tucked her dress under her arm. He grabbed her shoulder suddenly.
"Not alone you're not." He said.
"I can't go with you!"
A few minutes later he was waiting outside a bathhouse watching different men and women go inside. He was pretty sure Momoko had never been to a bathhouse either. Of all the places she'd been, squalid little villages, lord's villages, beautiful places demons go, the open road, this was her first truly big city. Did she know both genders were entering? She'd gone in with a group of girls. After a moment's consideration Katsuya entered. He had no coin but the attendant gaped at his swords and didn't refuse him entrance. Once inside he saw the bathhouse was partitioned into two sections, male and female. He looked around for Momoko but didn't see her. While other people were pouring hot water on themselves and scrubbing themselves down with stones he stood, trying to catch her scent. Finally he took off his clothes and his swords and put them in a basket where he could see them. He watched the people getting into the steaming hot water a little contemptuously. Did they really enjoy that?
He could smell her now, when he got close to the screen separating the male and female rooms. His eyes turned back to the hot water. Coming up to the edge he slid in and let the hot water come up to his chin. He bobbed his head underwater and it enveloped him. The near scalding water touching his face was like...like the blood madness. He smiled underwater. He stayed under there a full minute, and when he emerged Momoko's scent was gone. He shot out of the water, glimpsing through the steam a flash of color going out the door.
Momoko came out of the bath house feeling clean and pretty in her new kimono. She smiled down at it and then looked around for Katsuya but didn't see him. 'Could he have gone?' She wondered, feeling a sudden throb of fear. She ran off toward the inn.
"Hey!" She looked back in time to see the mononoke standing in the doorway, dripping wet with only a towel wrapped around his waist. "Are you trying to leave me behind in there?" He asked. 'Is she trying to lose me after all?'
"I'm sorry, Katsuya sama. I didn't know you were in there. Why did you come in?" Was it just her imagination, or was his hair raised more than usual? His violet eyes were glowing and she seemed to see the tips of fangs protruding from his mouth. Water droplets fell from his long hair and slid down his skin like water droplets on marble statue. She didn't know what to say. This was the first time she had seen him without all his clothes and a strange feeling came over her. She hung her head. "I'm sorry Katsuya sama."
He remembered she hadn't seen him come in.
"Don't move." He disappeared back into the bathhouse. In the next moment he was walking towards her, almost fully dried, pulling his kimono over his undertunic and wrapping his stole around him. "Feh. Humans with their water."
It was worse to him that Momoko had fallen into Kouhei's hands than that she'd been almost eaten by Kogaratu or fallen in with rogues. Katsuya didn't like to be behoven to his younger half-human brother for anything. He supplied her clothes from where he got his, demon tailors who stole their threads from king's palaces and turned it into something elite demon lords wore. Then when he'd cleared the city out of its lowlives and they could no longer support their lifestyle they moved on. They were moving about every several months, to half a year. She didn't know what he was doing to get the money. The girl just assumed he got it from wherever he got the clothes, and trusted him to take care of her.
Momoko had grown into a tall, leggy fifteen year old. They had been traveling from town to town for quite a while, and had finally taken up residence in a large city close to the golden city where the emperor lived. It was easier for Katsuya to find and kill robbers that way, and take their money. He was thinking they would have to move soon, because he'd almost cleared that region of them.
He only ever emerged at night now, because his hair attracted too much attention and he was sick of painting his face. He left Momoko to her own devices during the day while he traveled the spirit world on his new dragon. She never insisted on coming with him anymore. She had taken care of herself this long, and he was not worried. He had just had a most satisfying encounter with an ogre and he was licking the blood off his sword as he walked towards their house in the very early morning. Anymore he'd only been eating bread made out of a certain desert plant to fulfill his hunger. It was the only kind of food yokai like him could eat, besides human meat.
"Feh. I've grown as soft as a baby." He thought to himself, and flexed his fingers. "I need a conquest." Then someone grabbed him. Katsuya whirled and plunged his claws at the stranger's chest, but the blow that should have gone right through to the other side met resistance.
"Hey, brother." It was Kouhei. 'Does the brat think that because he happened to beat me twice he can now approach me with such familiarity?' Katsuya wondered angrily. "What do you want?" Though Kouhei was now fully grown, he was and always would be a little shorter and Katsuya used this to advantage as he stared down at him. "Isano wants to know what you're doing with Momoko."
"Why doesn't she come and ask herself?" The demon full blood sneered. Kouhei shrugged. Katsuya knew full well the reason was because the girl was scared of him, as all girls were. He could see them sometimes, hiding behind their mothers or fathers. Little girls, older women, all afraid to look him in the eye and he despised them. "Why are you so interested?"
"I want to know what my older brother is up to that has all the yokai chuckling about him behind his back."
Katsuya's teeth gritted. "Doing what?"
"Tch, tch, no need to get sensitive. I know you're not up to anything." Kouhei snickered. By now Katsuya had him by the throat. No one, least of all a lousy half demon, could laugh at him to his face.
"Please. Explain yourself." He hissed through bared canines.
"We all know you're incapable of winning anyone's affections, Katsuya. Face it. You're yokai whose lost his flare, and you have nothing to show for it." Katsuya's grip tightened. "Ok, ok, the real reason I came was because a demon named Nobuya has been asking about you. I think he knows about your little acquisition. I mean, not that I care, but Isano is worried."
"Sure she is." Katsuya let his younger brother drop. "And you thought I'd let an incompetent like Nobuya have anything of mine? How kind of you to warn me."
"Yours? By what sort of agreement? Isano seems to think that you didn't care anything at all for her and that someday she'll walk unprotected right out from under your nose. She's no warrior princess Michiko you know, she's not good at defending herself. Isano wants her to come live with us."
WHAT?! "Isano this, Isano that. Now whose gone soft? Besides, it's not like I wanted her around. I've just tolerated her."
Kouhei grinned. "It's all right Katsuya, not every demon can get a bride. Even when the girl has been with him for nine years. You'd better let her come with us before she finds someone she actually does like. Anyway, she can't stay with you forever, and in a few more years she probably won't want to. So, Isano thought we might take her off your hands before someone...less desirable does."
Katsua knew he had made some poor choices lately with whom he'd let to take care of her, and it rankled him to think that his brother thought he could take better care of her just because Kouhei was half human. Being a demon had no bearing on how capable Katsuya was at taking care of a human child. None whatsoever. But Kouhei had addressed another issue as well, one that Katsuya had not thought of before.
He shoved Kouhei aside. "Leave."
Katsuya walked into the house and stood in the hall. Momoko was not there. His sensitive nose told him she hadn't been there most of the afternoon and that she hadn't left alone. She'd left with...another male. Katsuya turned heel and strode out of the house he'd bought for her, following his nose into the street where he lost her scent among all the mixed smells. Ignoring the stares and whispers he searched among the marketplace until the sun sat and he realized she wasn't there.
He decided to go to the house again and saw Momoko ascending the stair as a young, well dressed man walked in the opposite direction.
She was wearing a kimono with embroidered bamboo leaves and fish, and her hair hung long and soft around her shoulders. He hadn't noticed how long it had gotten, or how different she was now.
Momoko noticed him standing in the doorway and flushed under his perusal. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I'm not looking at you in any special way." Katsuya replied. "I just haven't seen you for a while." That was true, he spent all night killing robbers and all day doing his own business, he only came to drop off money. Had she always avoided his eyes like this? He seemed to remember a pair of clear eyes always trying to look into his. Others avoided his gaze, but never she. He noticed something else too. Her body had been changing over the last year. She was no longer the cute little girl he'd found so many years ago, Momoko had become something else.
"Who is that young man?" He asked, a hint of a growl in his voice.
"He is just a suitor who has been coming around. He says he wants to meet you."
"A suitor? What does he want to talk about, a dowry?" Katsuya barked. At her flushed face his hackles rose. Didn't he give her everything a human girl needed, or possibly could want? Nice places to live, beautiful clothes, food...what else did human girls want? The answer came unexpectedly. They wanted a nice house with a handsome husband, babies, a social life and a chance to make friends of their own status. THAT'S what human females wanted and he would be a fool to think his little follower was any different from the rest of her species. She was no Azuka who could go decades without seeing another face.
"Is that what you want, Momoko? To be courted by and married to this wealthy young man? Would you rather go to his house then follow me any longer?" His voice was deceptively calm.
Not be with Katsuya sama any longer? "NO! I..." Her voice trailed off and Momoko studied him speculatively. Her feelings were changing too. It had something to do with that day in the bath house, Momoko was sure. At the sight of Katsuya sama's lithe torso, something had happened she'd never felt before and it lingered uneasily in her stomach, coming out in her dreams or when she looked at him. Or when he looked at her, as he was now. Before that time he had always been fully clothed. She remembered when he first saw him, lying like a bird on the forest bed in his beautifully embroidered kimono and fantastic hair spread out around him while she stood some distance away in her bare feet. She remembered the feeling of his fur against her face the first time he had drawn her close. She had felt so safe with him, and his beautiful clothes only added to her awe of him. They had always been a part of him and she'd never thought of him without them. Seeing his body the first time had awoken sensual desires she had never felt before and whenever he was around she got an uncomfortable, hot feeling inside. It was shaking up their whole, odd relationship.
However since that day she almost never saw him, except when they were moving to other towns. He slept in his own home, away from her, and she was grateful. She was scared to death he'd come back one night and see that she had changed and start treating her differently. This Momoko dreaded.
"If you don't want to leave me, what are you doing spending time with that man? Tell me about him." He demanded.
"I met him in the marketplace, he assumed the other girls were my servants, but asked why I wasn't in a dais." She tittered, a sound Katsuya found vastly annoying. "We had rice at a local diner while his men waited outside. He wanted to meet my family, and I told him that might be difficult." She was smiling shyly at her shoes, flushing. Kouhei's words niggled at Katsuya. She was so small, so defenseless. He wanted her to be with him, he wanted to bind her to him in the strongest way possible.
"Momoko, don't go with him. You can marry me instead."
"What?!" Such a violent reaction, he thought, amused. His little Momoko. She was so...red. She was blushing. What was this? He thought with irritation, why is she doing that? Could Kouhei be remotely correct? No, of course not. Her eyes melted and she looked like she was going to cry. What exactly were her feelings for him anyway?
"What?" He couldn't believe she was saying that to him. Could she like that human so much more? He probed his own feelings carefully and knew that it wasn't the fact that she could love another human being that was bothering him, it was her rejection to him.
"You have no choice. I will not allow you to see that flunky."
Momoko flushed, and raised her voice to him for the first time. She pointed to an old hag down on the street. "What about then? Yokai husbands never stick around. You know why? Because we get old! How would you feel being stuck with me when I'm like that? How do you think I would feel about having a husband who still looks like a boy?" She'd thought about this often since she'd turned thirteen.
He thought of the simpering village brats who'd started looking at her with greedy eyes. "If it's not this bastard it'll be some other human male you go chasing after. I'll go to hell before I see you end up with one of those things. And I do NOT look like a boy."
'Katsuya sama is right,' Momoko thought. 'He does not look like a boy. He is too tall and stately for that, but his face is too beautiful to be a man's. It's funny how I never think about his beauty anymore.' Momoko didn't know how exactly to describe how she felt about Katsuya. She couldn't see being his wife, but he wasn't quite like a father either. All she knew was, she felt safe with him around and happy when he appeared. And whatever these, these other feelings were, she was sure they'd go away. "So maybe you don't look like a boy, but you don't look like a man."
"Because I'm not." He strode off, his deep violet eyes glowing dangerously. "It doesn't really matter to me anyway, do whatever you want."
As he walked away another demon stood on a rooftop and watched. Under normal circumstances he knew the mononoke's sensitive nose would have picked up the scent of a yokai as powerful as he. However, in a city as infused with evil spirits as this one, Nobuya knew his scent was well masked. He grinned as he watched girl blink back tears as Katsuya walked away. She was pretty enough, well dressed, obviously well taken care of... but the real reason she'd been getting attention from this certain young man was because of a visit Nobuya had paid him, through a dream. Superstitious and power hungry, the unfortunate soul had listened to him. 'Stupid fellow, to play with demons as powerful as Katsuya and I', Nobuya thought. He knew how it would probably end for the young man, but he liked the way things were turning out.
Katsuya went off to brood. Momoko waited and waited for him to come back, but weeks passed with no Katsuya, and the young man continued to visit. She waited for Katsuya to come back until the money he had brought for her had run out. Then she left the house and was walking down the street when she saw some boys racing. 'Katsuya sama, where are you?' She sat on a wall and watched delivery boys racing on the street. She rarely came out during the day alone, because she knew the city was dangerous. Even now she took care to wear the simplest kimono she had, and stay in the open square. Someone sat down beside her and she looked over to see a slim, red haired boy next to her. No human had hair that color, he looked familiar...
"Don't you remember me? Shouta?"
"Shouta!" She said. To her starved eyes he was like an old friend. She resisted the impulse to hug him.
"Isano is here too." A sweet-faced woman with milk colored eyes sat down on her other side and took her hand.
"Momoko chan, what's wrong?" Isano had brought food and money with her. Momoko took them back inside her house, happy to have someone with her at last. She explained what happened.
For four weeks no one dared approach the citadel where the demon Katsuya sat. Except...
"So she said no, eh? I told you that you couldn't get a woman to say yes, not even one whose been with you since her youth."
"Shut up, Kouhei. She had a valid reason."
"But not one that has you convinced. Is her valid reason why you're up here scaring birds? Anything could be happening to Momoko right now."
"Feh. She can't expect me to be around all the time. She's only wants that because I take care of her. She uses me for her own selfish ends." He grumbled.
"Don't be silly. She's absolutely devoted to you. And I'm sure she doesn't need you. She survived six years without your help. I'm amazed she's still alive with the way you've been taking care of her."
"I told you to shut up, Kouhei." His dog eared brother ignored him.
"How has she been getting food? Do you even know what humans eat?"
"I know her needs, ok? I'm not an idiot like you are. I know what she likes to eat."
"She told us she had to steal her own food."
"Well, that was before."
"I can just see you going to the fish market to get food for her."
"She buys her own things." The time she'd been caught stealing from Kouhei marked the time Katsuya started his killing raids. He made a promise to himself that she would never get caught and killed like he'd seen some thieves die. Putting her in his brothers' hands had been mortifying enough. Plus, his brother's words of admonition had stuck with him, though he had seemed to spit at them at the time.
"How does she get the money?"
"I kill thieves in the night and take the coins from their lifeless bodies." Katsuya said, eyes glittering. "But she took care of herself then, she doesn't need my help now."
"Still four weeks is a long time for a child her age living in a city like that. It's the most evil city in the country. So Isano's with her."
Katsuya looked at him with his infamously beautiful face blank. "Who said I want your woman around my..." he paused, searching for the right word. "Her?" He finished lamely.
"I know you better than you think brother." Kouhei replied quietly. "I know this is the first creature you've protected and kept without it being of any perceivable use to you. You probably think she belongs to you now and expect her beside you always. So right now she's worried about you, but humans are fickle and forget. They're not like demons who wait fifty years, sometimes they don't even wait ten. You'd better go back."
It took Katsuya a day to leave his citadel and go back to the city after Kouhei's visit. He took his time, still seething inside. When he entered the city she was not in the room, though he could sense both Momoko and Isano's scent there. 'She wouldn't have taken her away would she? She wouldn't dare, not even Kouhei would dare.' Maybe. He walked out a few blocks and found her racing boys in the street. Katsuya watched for a while, feeling his seething emotions melt away. She was still just a little girl, no wonder she rejected his offer. His wounded pride soothed by the thought, he walked towards them.
"Ready, set go!" Fleet footed as a deer, Momoko ran around the square with a taller boy on her heels and beat him by ten paces.
"Amazing, your eighth opponent and you're not even tired. You've beaten them all." Isano was saying.
"Almost." Momoko said to the young woman. "Not Shouta."
"He's a kitsune."
"That brat?" A smooth voice drawled behind them. "How can something no bigger than a toad stool beat anything?"
"Look again." Said Isano. "Shouta's grown some. Well, since you're here. We'd best be going. Are you going to be all right, Momoko?"
"Yes." Momoko said clearly.
"You can come with us if you want." Isano said, deliberating ignoring Katsuya. Momoko squeezed her hand gratefully. "I'll be fine." But she caught Shouta's sleeve. "Another race? I'll win this time!" The tall, thin boy smiled at her. He had fox's ears that none of the other boys seemed to be able to see. "Some other time Momoko, I promise." He was much different from the sniveling nuisance Katsuya remembered. He also remembered Shouta and Momoko were roughly the same age.
"How did you get so fast?" He asked. The panting, red faced runners were dissipating now that Momoko's 'big brother' was home. She smiled at him, all hurt forgotten in her relief that he wasn't gone after all. Katsuya saw it was the same wide, trusting, innocent smile he remembered.
"Running after you of course. You moved so fast sometimes, it always worried me. I was so afraid you'd leave me if I didn't keep up."
"You don't have to run after me anymore." She slipped a brown hand into his long, immaculate one. "No, I know you wouldn't intentionally leave me." As they gazed after the retreating figures of Isano and the slim Momoko, her words came so softly even Katsuya's sensitive ears barely caught them.
"I'm chasing after someone else now." Katsuya tried to ignore the slow burn that started inside.
Katsuya didn't leave Momoko until after she'd fallen asleep. Then he went out on his nightly hunt to procure more money from the bandits he slew. When he entered her room the next morning the first thing he saw was Momoko's tear streaked face and was pleased she'd been crying. She'd missed him.
"He's gone!" She sobbed.
"What?" All pleasure disappeared as he realized she was talking about her suitor. In a second he was across the room at her side. His white hand took her brown one, and he stilled the tremor of rage that shook across his nerves so that she found the pressure from his hand steady and reassuring. "What happened little one?"
"He came to the door and called my name right after I'd fallen asleep. I woke up thinking it was you, but it was my suitor. I've been up all night since he left, I just couldn't go to sleep. H-he asked me to marry him, like you said he would." She said, her voice trembling. "You weren't coming back, I couldn't find you and I didn't know what to do. I said to wait 'til you came home, but he insisted. I asked him why, and h-he said." She choked down a sob, "He said he knew I was part demon because he'd watched me run before when I was chasing after a friend, and he said such an ability was super natural. He wanted our children to be able have superhuman powers too. He didn't really want me, Katsuya-sama, he wanted what he thought were my yokai abilities." Tears ran down her cheeks. "He didn't really want me, Katsuya sama." She repeated.
Katsuya controlled the rage that quivered in his marrow and ran his claws through her long, black hair. How could anyone not want her? She was so precious. "Don't worry about him." He said. "That sort of man is useless, and typical of all human men. You stay with me, I want you." He stayed with her until her sobs had chilled and she was sitting upright holding his hand. She looked up into his beautiful face, so austere, so perfect, and shivered. He felt it and looked down at her. He...smiled. She was undone, shocked that he smiled. Katsuya-sama never smiled. Before she realized what she was doing she was leaning in to that perfect face. Closer, closer. He didn't move, just sat still watching her as she leaned in to kiss him. Her head only came to his chin so she gently kissed his throat.
She met his eyes square on. "I'm tired." She stated.
"Go to sleep."
She unlaced her kimono and let it fall to floor. Underneath was the simple silk undertunic she slept in and she lay down on her pallet. As she fell asleep she felt Katsuya get up, smelt the warm scent of his skin and fur as he leaned close and heard the whisper of his fur on her blanket as he kissed her cheek. She fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
That night Katsuya paid a visit to a certain wealthy young man's house. His servants never heard his cry as Katsuya used a long nail to slit him from pelvis to sternum. He licked the blood off his fingernail as he stared down at the young man's gaping eyes.
"I never said I would give her to you." He said mercilessly as the man's blood flowed out of his gutted body. "But I would have allowed her to live with you if you made her happy. I cannot forgive you making her cry." He left the corpse leaking onto the wood floor, and thought as he walked away, 'If she were even part yokai, maybe I would have some excuse for the way I feel.'
In the dark Katsuya slipped out into the alley. He didn't bother disguising himself in invisibility at night, he figured anyone who was out that late deserved to meet him. As it was he'd killed robbers and thieves for the last few weeks, but this city seemed to have an endless supply. Not just that, but he knew even the political leaders of the city sent envoys at night to deal with the town's yakuza. This city was evil straight through, and he felt right at home with it.
They came so silently he almost didn't see them.
"Katsuya." Two holy warriors standing on either side of the alleyway, trapping him in. He could see at a glance either one of them could take him on.
"Amatsu-kami." He said slowly, insolently, "What are beings as powerful as you
doing down on earth's humble plains?"
"What are you doing here, dog demon?"
"I am here because I choose to be, but really there is no other place. It is either up in the yokai citadels in the mountains or down in the valleys with the human scum. You know the only other place I can habit is the underworld."
"We're not here for you this time, Katsuya. The Jade Emperor has heard the outcry of the few good people because of the evil of this city, and we've come to purge it. Take your child, and go."
He considered, looking at them for a moment. He glanced down the side alley to his right and saw three dead, two children and a woman; dead either of starvation or abuse. They were right, it was time to take Momoko somewhere else. Katsuya arrived back at the inn that night, and took Momoko out into the darkness.
"Where are we going, why are we leaving?" As usual Katsuya didn't answer her questions. Momoko was afraid to go out past this part of the city alone, because she knew the yokai that lived out there. Many times travelers came in telling stories of being attacked by the evil spirits that lived in the crevices and bypasses in the mountains. When they were several miles out of the city they reached the first bypass, and her feet slowed. Katsuya looked down and saw that she was afraid.
"Are there a lot of demons in there?" She asked softly.
He, who met demons on a regular basis and slew them, had not thought what this journey might be like for her. "Yes. But as long as you are with me you don't need to be afraid, I'll protect you. Come here." She moved forward. He pushed his fur mantle aside and lifted her up. "Hold on to me." She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs tightly around his waist. He could feel her shivering, and covered her with his fur again. "They won't see you as long as you are under this." He said. "In this way, you'll be protected." They started forward again, between the cracks in the mountain. He could see them, the demons and ogres in the mountains, looking down with greedy eyes. The tall mononoke strode forward unafraid, his two swords swishing at his sides and his arms under the fragile girl clinging to him. After a while she stopped shivering and he knew her terror had subsided, but her little outcry had opened his eyes to something. He had thought that her being with him elevated her status in life, and that she was better off. Now he understood that wherever he went, he couldn't help but take her to places where demons were. Even though he was more than equal to those places, they weren't where she should be. Places that she was afraid to go, and weren't good for her. It made him think.The other yokai cowered behind the mountain crags as he passed, and by the time they were through the haunted valley Momoko was asleep on his shoulder.