Chapter 21:

[Yasuo] — Is There Something You'll Finally Admit You Want?

Questionable Days with Yokai

A couple days had passed since Kitamura's duel with Shuhei, where everything went wrong.

Yasuo knew it was mostly his fault. He shouldn't have told Kitamura to forget the fight and leave this hidden world and give up on everything they had been working toward the past half-month.

He felt less certain about whether or not he should have interfered with the fight. There was no way for him to know if Kitamura would have died had he not stepped in. He wanted to think that he did the right thing. But whether it was the right thing to do or not, things were a real mess now.

Eisuke had grabbed Yasuo and taken him straight to a distant and secluded part of the forest, where an old abandoned shrine stood in complete disrepair. It was in an even worse state than the mansion above ground. The torii gates, the purification fountain, the statues, the stone lanterns, the fence, and the three shrine buildings were all in a sad state... But there was something peaceful about it all too, with the growth of nature having overtaken most of it. It didn't look like anyone had even stepped foot on these grounds in decades (centuries?), let alone maintained them.

The kitsune had worn such a mournful expression when he passed beneath the first torii gate. Yasuo tried asking what this place meant to him, and why Eisuke had called it his shrine earlier. But Eisuke didn't feel like getting into it just yet.

As Eisuke had implied though, none of the kappa from Shuhei's gang ever showed up. Yasuo had assumed there would be some kind of magical barrier to keep them at bay, but it seemed that so long as Eisuke willed it, outsiders would never even be able to find the place.

“Ghosts are an exception, unfortunately,” Eisuke said. “But I can't think of any reason a ghost would want to haunt you.”

It sounded like they were going to be safe here then. But Yasuo didn't exactly feel happy about the whole arrangement. Not because it was going to be a less comfortable place to stay at than the inn (though that was certainly true), but simply because he didn't like running away and hiding. Eisuke was insistent that they lay low for a while though.

“I don't think there is anyone who will be able to stand up to Shuhei, save for Yasuo,” Eisuke said. “Most of the yokai in this underground prison have lost their fighting spirit over the years.”

Yasuo had wanted to ask if that included Eisuke, but decided that would be too forward of him. It wasn't like Eisuke was under any obligation to fight Shuhei, or any of the other kappa. Just because Eisuke was a kitsune, that didn't mean he was powerful. And even if he was powerful, that didn't mean he was fine with exchanging blows at risk of his life. To some degree, Yasuo was actually thankful he wasn't troubling Eisuke to that extent.

So Yasuo spent the next couple days trying to clean the place up as best he could, starting with his new room and futon... though new obviously wasn't the best descriptor. Eisuke meanwhile had been able to sneak out in the middle of the night to acquire food, after he assured Yasuo that even while he was away, nobody would be able to enter the shrine grounds without his permission. He said he also wanted to retrieve his cooking utensils and Yasuo's luggage from the inn, but Kitamura had apparently placed barrier talismans to keep out any and all intruders. Sadly she didn't make an exception for Eisuke, but perhaps that was to be expected. Kitamura never seemed to really get along with him.

Night was approaching. Yasuo took a break from his tidying up efforts and sat on a makeshift bench Eisuke had made — really just a wooden board atop two stones. Eisuke had done his best to smooth the board out with his claws, but they really needed some proper tools for jobs of that sort. Perhaps there were some hidden away in a storage room.

It felt strange to not be actively working toward acquiring the magatama. To be honest though, Yasuo had always had mixed feelings about that whole “quest” Akemi had given him and Kitamura. It did seem that that magatama had power to them, but Yasuo couldn't help but wonder if they were ultimately being acquired much more for Akemi's sake, than for his and Kitamura's. In a way, he felt relieved to not be focusing so much on all that anymore. He had been in desperate need of a break...

Kitamura probably needs one too, even more so. But I doubt she'll take one. She's probably working her hardest even now, after I've abandoned her.

Perhaps she was already acquiring the remaining magatama all on her own. So perhaps it was for the best then, that Yasuo just stay out of her way. He didn't know how she would deal with the likes of Shuhei or the yuki onna Fumi, but at least she now knew what she was going up against for each of them.

I just need to believe in her, I guess. There wasn't much else Yasuo could think to do. He had managed to catch Shuhei by surprise with his impromptu attack from behind, but there was no way Yasuo would ever get another chance like that. As he was now, Yasuo wouldn't last a second in a real fight against the giant kappa. Or against most any other yokai, honestly.

He slipped his magatama out from beneath his yukata and looked it over, fiddling with it and its necklace string in his hand. He wondered what his grandfather was up to, and what he would think if he had the slightest idea what his grandson was up to now. Well, “grandson.”

It was times like this that Yasuo wondered if he was ever going to get out of this place, or if he was ever going to be his old self again. He knew he shouldn't lose hope, but that was easier said than done. He felt like, in the back of his mind at least, he needed to be willing to accept that things just might not work out the way he wanted them to.

That's life for you...

Eisuke showed up, walking over with a plate of rice balls. There wasn't a usable table in the shrine lodging, so they just sat out on this bench when they wanted to eat together.

“Hope this shrine life isn't too dreadfully boring,” Eisuke said.

“No, it's fine,” Yasuo said. “It's nice to have things quiet for a change.”

So they ate the rice balls in silence, simply gazing up at the half moon together. It was the opposite half of the moon, from what Yasuo was greeted with when first entering this realm.

When they finished though, Yasuo felt like it was time he told Eisuke something important.

“Thanks again for bringing me here, Eisuke. For keeping me safe.”

“Anything for the smile of a lovely young lady!”

That line from the first day we met... The sudden memory from what felt like a lifetime ago made Yasuo crack a smirk, just as Eisuke must have intended.

But Yasuo shook his head and took a long, quiet breath. He couldn't keep deceiving Eisuke like this. Not when the kitsune was going so far for him...

“The thing is though, Eisuke... The truth is...” He wanted to tell Eisuke this face-to-face, but it was too hard. He couldn't bear to see the reaction he envisioned Eisuke giving him. So he turned away and finished: “...I'm not really a 'lovely young lady.' I'm actually Yasuo Mizutani. I switched bodies with Risako Kitamura shortly before coming down here.”

“Oh ho? Really now... How interesting! How did that happen?”

Yasuo turned and saw Eisuke was smiling inquisitively at him.

“Uh... well, there was a cursed garden I guess. Ichijo no Shunzai wanted to keep people from finding the entryway to this hidden world he created... Or at least, that's how Akemi explained it.”

“Yes, that's true,” Eisuke said. “I'm surprised you were affected by the curse though. Are you not the descendant of said Ichijo no Shunzai?”

“Yeah, I am... Or at least, I thought I was. I guess I don't know that for certain.”

Eisuke folded his arms and hummed. “At any rate, I'm impressed the two of you have handled such a transfer of minds so well. Humans can be adaptive creatures though.”

“I'm... I'm surprised you're handling this so well. I've been a guy this entire time, and lied to you about being Kitamura...”

“It's an understandable lie. You did not know how all the yokai would react, or how they could potentially take advantage of your situation. And I can see how you wouldn't want to go around explaining it all to everyone.” Eisuke unfolded his arms and turned a bit to face Yasuo better. “But as for your gender, Yasuo... Let's just say I'm not one to make a fuss over such details. I'm a shapeshfiting kitsune, you know?”

“You... don't mind?”

“I don't.”

Yasuo found himself exhaling a deep sigh of relief, though he hadn't meant to.

Eisuke chuckled. “That was a difficult thing for you to tell me, I take it.”

Yasuo slowly nodded. “I was afraid that you'd walk out on me... And I wouldn't have blamed you if you did. But it felt wrong of me to keep you in the dark about who I was, after everything you've done for me. I... want to be more honest with you, Eisuke.”

“And I with you!” Eisuke said, taking all of this all too well.

Yasuo was glad, but it was really throwing him off.

“So are... are you hiding things from me too?”

“Of course. All sorts of things. For example... I haven't told you yet, just how much I like you.”

“L-like me?” Yasuo leaned to the side a little, his hand instinctively clasping the magatama at his chest. “How could you say that after... after everything I just told you?”

Eisuke leaned toward him a little, about the same distance Yasuo had leaned away. “Yasuo, I've only become more intrigued by you, over the course of this little conversation. All I want now... is to find more things about you... to intrigue me.”

Yasuo suddenly found it a bit hard to breathe. His heart pounded, and blood rushed to his head. Eisuke was still leaning in closer to him. Yasuo realized he needed to decide — now — if he was going to lean further away... or stay there.

“Are you... Are you going to kiss me?”

Eisuke smiled softly. “I might. Would you like me to?”

“I... I don't know. You said you like me, but... But does that mean... You're just curious about humans? Or do you actually... Do you actually love me?”

“I might. Would you like to find out?”

Yasuo took one final deep and silent breath. He looked up into Eisuke's dark yet soft, otherworldly yet inviting eyes.

And he smiled. “Let's find out.”

Yasuo closed his eyes as Eisuke gently stroked his hair.

Eisuke placed his lips on Yasuo's lips. It wasn't his first kiss, either as himself or as Kitamura.

But it felt like one.

It really did feel like...


Was what he wanted.