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The man, for a time, continued his scowling of the door.
At last – once he was amply satisfied it wasn’t like to split back ajar in a burst of overbearing parents – he slumped his back and swivelled on one leg. In a few terse, cutting strides, he reclaimed the spot at the table whence his mother had been diverting their guest. He dropped, weightily, down onto the straw-mat floor. The floor was tough; it squeezed a hiss of pain out of his throat. He rubbed his seat, annoyed.
Yamame Kurodani observed him. The eldest, most deadly of the Underworld’s earth spiders silently marked her time as the human kneaded away his mistake and began mining for his words. He would hack them from what Yamame had learned had always been a hard deposit. The type of deposit which commanded time – time, tools and effort – to extract. The words would chip out eventually; she but had to wait.
So, she waited. So, she observed.
All told, it was an odd sensation. His presence… The sight of him, his sounds, the accustomed motions… They were insidious. Like cherry wine poured down the crystal web of her mind. The clarity of purpose afforded by her work was quickly smeared a blush red. Her home – her precious new home, of two rooms and a kitchen – seemed now someway far away and false. A distraction with no real artistry or use.
Odder, for the longer she touched the feeling, the more hardly the spider inside felt it a problem – or even strange. What are you spinning now, Yamame Kurodani? wondered a more structured, the self-conscious Yamame. The outer one didn’t answer the question. She perked up, excited, when she spied her human about to discharge his bounty.
He did discharge it, too. He rumbled the mined words out in one, unbroken spill.
“… I am sorry,” he said.
Yamame received it with a grateful smile. Nobody had promised the bounty would be big.
“You are?” she indulged.
Her human sighed dramatically. “… For my mother,” he clarified. “For what she probably said to you. I apologise for that.”
He rapped the fingers of one of his hands on the table. “This is what she does,” he grunted. “When she has no idea how else to broach a conversation. She bites – until she makes a hole.”
“Seemed to me you were the one getting bit,” opined Yamame.
The man shook his head. “That is different. She has been… short with me like that ever since I came back. Conversation or regardless.”
“As like as not,” he said, “this is my punishment.” He shrugged. “I made it abundantly plain everything that had happened had been my fault. She made it abundantly plain she wouldn’t soon forgive my attempting in great earnest to rid her of another member of her family.”
Yamame made an encouraging smile. “That just means she cares, doesn’t it? In great earnest.”
Her human scoffed. “Akari says so,” he allowed. “Of course, Akari has been even worse.”
A patch of silence sewed into the air between them even as each considered what it entailed to be worse than the man’s scorned mother. Nothing much had been when the man spoke again.
“… I am sorry, Yamame.”
“So you’ve said,” the spinstress agreed. “What else for?”
“That I wasn’t here,” he said. “That I wasn’t up to greet you. That you had to go through… those.”
Those, Yamame speculated inside, meaning other women around you? “Then you knew?” she asked aloud. “That I was coming by to visit?”
The man’s head again swayed left and right. “That you were around.” He went on when she didn’t follow, “When one inquiries about for one of the business families, it comes around. You were, weren’t you? Inquiring?”
Yamame bit on a lip. “Um… Yes. I was. It seemed subtle when I thought it up.”
“Might have worked in your Capital,” speculated the man. “Here, though… Someone was on your case ahead long. Tattled on you to my mother; gave a description. It was a simple thing to guess. There aren’t many girls around with your… uh, looks.”
“My hair, right?” Yamame wanted to know. “It was, wasn’t it? I’d hoped I’d hid it.”
“Among less light things. But—” he added, as if tact had all but – yet not quite – wrung his neck for the comment, “—since then, I have been trying to… to stay on my toes. In case.”
“But…?” Yamame supposed.
“But,” the man complained, “it hasn’t been the easiest. I’d been told not to overexert. So, Mother put me to fixing accounts together with our clerks. That means sitting late nights over a candle and a mountain of figures. Mornings haven’t been kind on me.”
Were they ever? the earth spider thought. But, for the sake of her human’s comfort, she let the argument lapse. Good thing, then, she praised herself inside; good thing she’d gone to visit the man’s father ahead she had come for him. Who would have rescued me if I’d been earlier?
The picture pushed a smile out onto her lips. She smothered it with a hand.
“… It’s nothing.”
For a lonely heartbeat or five, every possible impulse to abandon this web tugged at her mental strings. To let it snap. To tear it down in a blow of laughter; to leap out from under the table and drown her human under those “less light” things. But humans, hers included, were like walls. The harder a spider laughed at them, the less like they were to let her through.
Yamame Kurodani, a spider since memory served, drew a lock of that troublesome hair of hers behind an ear.
“… So?” she said, disappointed, “Why didn’t you leave me a letter? A message? Anything?”
The man frowned at her. “… How?”
“Any-how.” The earth spider made a pout. “If you knew I was around… You could have written. You could have hammered it to a wall, or a roof. You could have had someone carry it to me. You could have visited. I’ve built a new home, you know? A mite more cramped than the last, but still. You would have fit.”
His frown deepened, as if smacked on the top. “… I wanted to.”
The refrain was growing familiar. “But?”
“Mother slipped hounds after me.” He sniffed. “They rolled me up like futomaki and dragged me back.”
How does a dog—? “And so?” she snapped, ahead her brain was beguiled by a silly mental image. “How did that prevent you leaving me a message? If you knew I’ve been around your town—”
A loud click of the man’s tongue tacked her questions to the insides of her cheeks. “… I wanted to,” he said again, grimly. “Yamame, I wanted to. Gods, I was about to bribe one of our runners to keep a look-out for you! A month’s savings – less my feedbag – from what loose change Mother deems worth my work.”
Yamame detected what was coming. “… But?”
“… But,” the man complied, “I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. After what I… After I had lied to you yet again, after what you had to do… I couldn’t persuade myself you’d want to see me.” He raised his face when she didn’t reply. “… And you?” he pushed. “What about you? If you’ve been around town… Why didn’t you visit? I mean, before?”
The earth spider’s jaw hung open. She clacked it shut. Then, it opened again.
“I—” She hesitated. “… I didn’t think. That you’d want to see me. After what happened.”
The human stared at the spinstress. The spinstress stared at the human.
You are a pair of pebbles in the same shoe, she chided herself. Smooth as sandpaper, hard, and a snag to shake out.
He still shook out first, did Yamame’s human – as it seemed his humanly place. He blushed. He coughed. He pushed himself out from the table and fanned out his long, sleeve-sheathed arms.
“… Yamame,” he rasped.
Come here, you idiot went unsaid.
Nor did it need be otherwise. The earth spider moved as her original did – without pre-thought. She scrambled over the table and flung herself into his embrace. A misled instinct – doubtless a build-up of propriety – saw him grasp at her arms as they were thrown around him. But they were two arms and only one human. They clasped on his back, followed closely by her legs. Her nose buried in his chest.
And then, she was home.
Her human groaned. Not from pain; her body (at least she hoped) had cushioned the impact for them both. But it blew the anyway strange thoughts of home from her singing mind. For now.
“… Yamame?” he wheezed.
“… You feel heavier than I remember.”
Yamame said nothing. She pressed her lips softly to the base of his neck and inhaled the smell of his skin. The absence of a spoken answer fed back sooner than she would have liked.
“… There are still things,” went on her human. “Things I was never told. What happened. What really, really happened. All I remember… All I’ve been able to remember is the forest, waiting… then a huge blast of wind, like a thunderclap, and—”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
The response was delayed. Confused. “… Yamame?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said once more, quieter.
She did not want to talk about it.
She did not want to recall how she had lifted her human’s numb body up from the devastated forest floor. She did not want to speak on how she had all but ripped Gensokyo’s weave (not to mention its skies) apart as she flew it toward the westering Sun. She had no wish, nor will, to remember casting her snares frantically, like a hatchling spider, all across the rousing landscape. She ill recalled the final stretch herself, once she’d struck at last what she’d sought. A touch of eternity and the scent of small prey.
She did not want to talk about how she crashed in the courtyard of the clinic in the Bamboo Forest, choking back tears and wailing (wailing!) for help.
Yamame Kurodani had no gods. That much had never changed. And yet, as she had reflected once, all the while she had faith. She believed in the predictable. The meshes between action and result. The anchors of consequence. The certainties of knowledge, gravity and time. The underpinning architecture of the world.
And so, in her faith, she had turned to the architects of the body.
And yet, she had no desire to mention – at any length – how she had been ejected from the clinic grounds no sooner than her human had been taken over by the crew. A nurse (or otherwise attendant) did emerge, hours afterwards – to find the earth spider curled, foetal, against the outer fence. The miracle-sciences of the Moon’s descended Sage would restore the human’s poison-wracked physiology, the nurse would say. The matter remaining had been the price.
Yamame’s had been a simple curse.
“Continue,” the Moon-doctor’s attendant had ordered. “To be what you are. To do what you do. My Master finds use in your existence. So… exist.”
Though there had been further words: of conditions, periods, laudation of the clinic’s master, a warning to stay away; but Yamame had only half-registered the flow of it, filing key-words away for later, while her spider’s heart wrapped itself in guilt.
Ahead too long still, the nurse had caught on to the youkai’s lethargy; she tapped the heels of her (when Yamame thought about them later) hauntingly familiar, cowhide booties, gave a wooden nod, and retreated back inside the clinic. The earth spider had spent the ensuing day and night in the self-same spot, stewing inside with regret and self-hate. Three more such nights, and the leaking fumes of her internal cookery would attract the Moon Sage’s clean-up detail.
The mother of plagues of now, Yamame Kurodani in the present, wanted to talk about none of this.
She was home.
This was the immediate state and care. The home had no floors, windows, nor roof (and no walls outside personality); but it was still, somehow, someway, her home. It was where she was rooted. She did not need a Black Valley or a Capital – new or old – anymore. All she needed was him. The heat of his body, his musky-scented skin, and the strong arms, whelmed safely about her smaller, female form.
That much was everything.
And for now, for a handful sweet moments more, it was all she ever wanted.