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[X] I said, “I’m his friend.”
You did, at that...
So, we’ve arrived. There is a question you never wanted to ask. Or, is it a question you don’t want to have answered?
We must ask it, and answer it.
“Who is she?”
Who is she, to Nakahara Taro?
Have you concluded it already, after everything? After the things I’ve told you? Do you think you know? Maybe you do, at that. But still, we should answer it, Yes, Youmu... we should.
This is a story from not so long ago.
The boy, at an age where he was starting to form the shape of who he was, found a wounded, barefoot rabbit, dressed in a pale and sakura nightgown. Her chest, and left arm, had been burned.
He acted at once, but what is it you think he did exactly?
He carried the rabbit on his back from the forest, past the village, and up the eastern hill, to find aid from the Shrine.
Even then, that was the sort of boy he was.
Of course, it would have been better to bring the rabbit to that Lunar doctor... but at the time, she would surely and mercilessly have taken his life, no? Not that one could have found it regardless. All the Shrine Maiden did was grow irritated, but only to the point of letting it show on her face. Inaba Tewi, after all, is no sweet and innocent rabbit. Not that the Shrine Maiden needed anything more than the fact that Inaba Tewi is a youkai rabbit, but the fact stands: she is a sinful person, full of wicked thoughts.
Nakahara Taro did not save her life, but his gesture left on her a surprising impression.
In the evening, when she was waking, he was there.
The Shrine Maiden had insisted, she would give Inaba Tewi a place to recover, and the things the youkai rabbit would need to heal, but he would have to apply it all by himself. He would have to take care of Inaba Tewi, unassisted.
She found him over her body, his hand cool on her shoulder... good. But, what was he doing? Who was he? He smelled familiar, but...
She did not know that face.
He pulled his hand away and the sheet bunched above her stomach up over her bare chest. He sat and said, “You were hurt, so... This is the Shrine.” He said it with conviction, but he looked like he was making an excuse. He could barely keep his eyes on hers.
She sat up, ignoring the feeling of pain stretching over her skin, her upper body; the sheets slid off of her chest. Taro squinted, and no longer looked at her.
“Who are you?” she asked him, with none of her usual bravado. She was obviously weak.
“I’m... Nakahara Taro,” he said, “a villager... son of a tanner and a clothier.”
“I’m Inaba Tewi,” said the rabbit. “Did you rescue me? Was it you who carried me on your back?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Why’d you... What for? Did you have a reason?” she asked, squinting; from pain, from confusion.
And so he was confused. “No, I... Was I supposed to?”
“This is the second time a human has helped me, but the first... the first time, I was still just some rabbit,” she said, speaking equally to herself as she spoke to him. “Did you do it because you’re stupid?” she directed that largely at him. She even looked at him.
He looked back, trying to get used to her half-nakedness. He replied, “I... was in the forest, and you were unconscious and in pain. I know I shouldn’t deal with youkai outside of the village, but I...” He steeled himself. The boy told her, “I would have held that regret forever if you’d become infected and died, that’s all. It would’ve weighed badly on my conscience.”
“What words,” she grunted, wincing. “How old are you, kid?”
At the time, he was nine.
“Even if your heart’s stupid, it seems like your head isn’t. It’s good... good rhetoric. You know what that means, ‘rhetoric’?”
He flinched, leaning forward and insisting, “I’m not trying to convince you. That’s how I felt. I would’ve saved any youkai that I found like I found you.”
“Then, your head is getting poisoned by your heart...” Her eyes flashed while she looked to the floor, grinning wryly. “Pardon... I’m a little out of it myself, I’m usually much more charming!”
“Like, beautiful? You’re beautiful,” he said...
“No, no, shut up. Not like that, I’m graceful, dignified, adorable, and endlessly lovable. That kind of charming.” She mostly ignored his comment on her looks. She knew herself to be beautiful.
“So... you’re someone who likes to use ‘rhetoric’ yourself?” he ventured.
“For a soft-heart, your wit seems pretty sharp, kid,” she complimented. “Anyway, I’m lucky. Lucky! Did you know that? You ever heard of me? Don’t bother lying.”
“I have,” he said. “You think I saved you to catch you, or for luck?”
“You have a very powerful, very dangerous youkai in your midst,” she said. “So try it, you won’t last three days.”
“I’m not trying it; I’m waiting for you to get better.”
“Listen,” she said, meeting his eyes again, rather seriously, “there’s two ways this must’ve went down. You either saved me because of foolishness, or you saved me out of self-interest. Either answer pisses me off.”
“Why is saving you without any reward in mind bad?” he asked, honestly.
“It’s naive, and dangerous. You said that you’d have done that with any youkai? Really? Any one? Then you’re asking to get killed and eaten.”
“You aren’t my mom...” he complained.
“Yeah, but I am older than you.”
The doors rattled with a passing breeze. The old house of the Hakurei creaked and groaned. This was in summer. The draft was welcome as it brushed over the two.
“Well then, O venerable Inaba Tewi, lecture away,” he spoke with annoyance and defiance.
“Listen!” she commanded! She raised her finger and closed her eyes. “Grow a tougher heart if you don’t wanna wind up food! I’m giving you advice, here, take it! It’s a bonus on top of the luck you’ll be getting!”
Her left eyebrow twitched. This one, like so.
“Lie down, you should be resting,” he said.
And she snapped, back, her eyes opening and her hand becoming a fist. She said, “I’m talking, shut it!”
And he pushed her down with his hand, still covered in ointment.
There, he mustered up his masculinity and bellowed, much as he could: “Lay down, rabbit!”
“What the hell!? Get off me!” she resisted, and her free shoulder began to rise.
He pushed that down too.
“You’re hurt!” he loudly reminded. He then ordered her to: “Stay!”
“I’m not a dog!”
“I just called you a rabbit!”
“I ain’t your pet either! If you want me, I ain’t cheap!”
“I didn’t sa—! If you’re really charming usually, man you’re off! You’re so annoying!”
He struggled against her. Youkai or no, she wasn’t physically powerful. He wasn’t yet, either, but a rabbit isn’t really a match for a human of any age.
Tewi felt pain again. Less, with his hand to her wounds, but it was enough to relent. The boy sighed.
“Come on...” he moaned, growing exhausted. “What are you getting at? What are you thinking, you stupid old bunny?”
“H-Hmph, there’s some fight...” she noted. She let him keep her down, breathing through her nose and looking at the Hakurei’s dark, patched ceiling.
They stayed that way for a while. He braved her femininity to watch her thin chest rise and fall, and the beating heart beneath slow... even and ease its pace...
“Rub my chest,” Tewi commanded. “I was burned there, too.”
He did. His hand moved over her body clinically, and he kept his mind staid. Even when he went across the tip of her breast, he forced himself to not fret over it. When he was done, he scrutinized her form, and seemed satisfied with his application.
“Thanks...” she whispered. He barely heard it... but he did hear it. Enough that he was sure of it, no second guesses.
He replied, “Oh, so you finally thank me.”
“Oh, so that’s what you wanted? My thanks?” she returned with these words, and looked up at him with a smug and belittling gaze and smile. “Well, they were given, so let me go now.”
He was still holding her down.
“Shut up,” he said, now entirely exasperated. He looked into her face with an expression of “done”-ness. Done with this topic, done with her—though he wasn’t. “I saved you because I’m a good man. Is that what you wanted to hear?” His stare drifted away from her, to the trees rustling with evening life outside the shrine doors.
“Good men don’t think of things the way you do, Taro,” Tewi replied, looking into his face now.
“The hell do you mean, youkai?” he fired back.
“You helped me because not helping me would’ve made you feel worse. You helped me just to feel good about yourself. That’s what you wanted.”
“So what?” He met her eyes. “I saved you. I did it mostly because I would’ve felt bad, but the end result is the same: you’re getting better, and I’m getting nothing. Nothing material.”
“That’s why you’re foolish...” she said, speaking deeply. “In this stupid thing.”
She reached out then, and clawed at the place on his clothes that was stretched over his heart—pushing, until she could feel the mentioned stupid “thing”.
“Then, I won’t save youkai anymore,” he said, in a tone that suggested two more words: “happy now?”
She studied his expression. Inaba Tewi had lectured many a rabbit in the past, and she recognized what Taro had that was keeping her in this argument. It was something that she’d seen in the worst rabbit of all. The most fool rabbit to have ever lived.
She’d seen this in Inaba Tewi herself.
“You think nothing bad will ever happen, kid... it will. Always will, if you think like it won’t.”
“I’ve given you enough advice, right?” she said, grinning again but now entirely absent of humor. “Let me go, be naive, and suffer. Maybe you’ll die, maybe your parents will die, maybe you’ll be skinned alive—” She stopped, and looked at him again, finding that her gaze had become stuck on his chest. “Go ahead. Live with a light heart.”
And her tone, tinged with something... something Taro hadn’t heard once before in his life, caught his attention.
In three moments, quiet all...
“I won’t save youkai anymore,” he repeated, without further suggestion. “I was lucky,” he said, “to have saved a good one this first and only time. But, I won’t let her go...”
He finally removed himself from her, reaching down to beside his right knee where a circle-container of more salve sat. He twisted off the top, and took some, his face staid. He said:
“She’s still hurt.”
There were words that stood out in his final declarations. With each of these specific words, her ears budged just a bit. She looked up and knew: he was no Daikoku. He wasn’t.
But that didn’t mean he hadn’t done something for her she could never forget.
Tewi went silent. She let him coat her burns one last time. She let him lay his other hand on her head, and pet, once.
Her hair, he thought, was very soft. The softest he’d ever felt.
But through his fingers, he could still feel the rabbit’s defiance. Likely enough, once he removed his hand... the first time he turned away, even for one second, then she would stand, find her clothes, and run into the night. He couldn’t have that. She was his charge.
So, do you know what he did?
 He slept beside her, to keep her from going.
 He sat beside her and stayed watch the entire night.