When they leave the child in the cell, it does not cry. It eats when the servants bring it food and drinks when they bring it water and answers when they speak to it. (It never babbled the way babies do; it just began speaking one day, its sentences already formed.) It kneels where it's placed, in the dark or in the light. The light moves with the sun and the moon, but the child never does.
"You should visit," Nagare says, in her bedchamber where he does not sleep. Rei hums softly, her gaze drifting from his face to the bamboo-shaded window. The edges of the blinds glow with sun, the light tamed: incapable of either injury or illumination.
Nagare grips her shoulder. She turns her head, so close her nose nearly brushes his ear. His hair glows, another dim sun, no trustworthy navigation. She tugs him closer by the edges of his kimono and presses her open mouth just below his collarbone. He tastes like sickness and sweat; like her. His breath catches, desire or revulsion or maybe both; this house breeds perversions. Gently, he puts her away from him.
"He's your son," Nagare says.
Rei smoothes her hand over the rounded curve of her belly. "He's your son," she repeats, smiling, and this time Nagare cannot meet her eyes. He knows as well as she that the child has no parents but a curse.
All the Kurosaki are cursed: the child in her belly, the child in the belly of the house; the woman in the grave, the woman in the marriage bed; the man and his shadow, which is not shaped like a man.
"You fucked my sister," she says, "but only the shadow fucked me."
Nagare sighs. "You should bathe. Let the servant girl comb your hair."
"He infected us both," she says, "your lover." Their souls rot, fever sweat soaks their beds; she dreams that her legs have wasted away, that below her waist is nothing but shadow and slickness, a serpent's tail, and the swell in her belly is the lump in a snake's throat as a mouse is digested alive. Her sister sighs in her ear; her sister is blood where Rei is shadow, so much blood the taste of copper clings to the inside of Rei's mouth.
All the Kurosaki are cursed: the god devours them alive.
Every night Rei creeps from her room to the basement. The settling of the house almost stifles the sounds of scale on stone, skin on skin. Every night she can hear Nagare sighing and sobbing, moaning endearments to his god or apologies to his ghosts. Nagare is so good at apologizing to the dead, once he's fed them into the god's hungry maw. When she's dead, perhaps he will apologize to her, too.
Every night Rei comes to stare at the child, and its head turns to follow her movements, its eyes as empty as dry wells.
Every night Rei unlocks the cell and leaves the door to the house ajar, but the child never runs away.
Usually Muraki has to empty out his dolls, carve conduits in the skin to let the blood and spirit out, but this one comes an empty vessel. He smiles and the doll smiles back; he murmurs and the doll sighs; he breaks it apart and the doll's mouth opens wide, as if it would scream if it knew how.
He tilts the doll's face up by the chin when he's finished. Tears spill out of its blank eyes.
"You should be grateful," Muraki tells it. "For once when someone leaves you, they won't take everything away." He thumbs its eyelids closed. Red ribbons shine like burn scars on its skin, sealing its death inside.
This is a sad house, the servants tell each other in hushed voices. That poor baby, one girl says, he cries whenever his parents pick him up. She is new, just come up from the village, and the other servants are quick to shush her. Within a year, she's left the house for the closest big city, and she never comes back.
The baby's dreams are blind and restless, full of sounds he doesn't yet know: the scrape of scale on stone, a woman screaming her throat raw, a man choking on the blood in his throat. Every night of his life, the boy dreams of being pressed down by a giant hand so heavy that it crushes the breath from his lungs, and every morning he forgets it, because the weight is still there, as familiar as air.
"How are we today, Hisoka-sama?" the wet nurse says, lifting the child up underneath his arms and settling him down in front of her. Obediently he washes his face and brushes his teeth and faces the mirror so that she can brush out his hair.
"Such beautiful hair you have," the nurse says, drawing the brush through it carefully. She meets his eyes in the mirror by accident and her hand falters, scraping the bristles hard against the his tender scalp. The child's indifferent expression doesn't change.
"Speak to me," the mother rages, "speak to me, speak —" She smashes vases against the walls, jewelry against the mirrors, rips jagged tears into the screens with her lacquered nails. The maids cringe behind the furniture, weeping; the child remains placid, the eye of her storm.
The wet nurse tells the doctors at the hospital that the boy fell down the stairs, and Nagare gives orders that the child's mother is not to see him without Nagare's express approval.
People come, people go. Emotions rise and swell and fall and drown him, and pass away and leave him behind. He is hungry enough to eat the world, angry enough to burn it to ash. The hunger comes from inside and the anger from outside, but babies have to learn how to distinguish inside from outside, and it takes Hisoka longer than most. He has known language for nine months before he understands that other people can't hear the words inside his head.
He realizes, slowly, that when other people leave, he is the empty space that gets left behind. He likes it, the emptiness, the quiet in his head; when he's older, he learns how to cultivate it, becoming the tension of the bow in his hand, the light that edges oak leaves, the darkness held inside the curve of the moon. He doesn't realize that this is what other people call loneliness until he dies, and even then it seems better to him than any companionship.
People are frightened of him, his pretty face, his face like stone. Like stone, he thinks, and he makes himself that, cold and heavy and still. He likes being stone. Steel breaks on stone, porcelain shatters, silk rips.
When he's thirteen, he dreams he is bound in a cage of fire as tight as skin and he tries to fight and he tries to scream, but he is paralyzed and his throat is locked tight and his mouth is stuffed full.
The doctors think ahead, the next patient already, maybe one they can help; most of Hisoka's doctors hate the dying, because they hate failure, and the dying prove them weak. The nurses think it's a shame, such a young thing, so quiet and so pretty; even his dying is pretty, no ugly leakages, just growing fainter and weaker all the time, like an imprint on stone wearing away. His father visits once and never touches him; Hisoka is not sure whether to consider this weakness or kindness.
Hisoka closes his burning eyes and shuts them all away. His throat hurts and his head aches, but it's not the sickness. He is so angry he shakes with it, so angry he whispers because if he didn't whisper he would scream. I don't want to die, he would scream, I hate you, I hate you— and he doesn't even know who he means, the doctors or the nurses or his father or his mother or the whole world, the whole world which turns indifferently, second by second, from day to night and night to day, as if it is immaterial whether Hisoka lives or dies; and it is, it is, it is.
"So you have never learned to shield your thoughts," says the tall stern man. He is remote: when he glances at Hisoka, he looks not quite at his face and when he speaks to Hisoka, he looks not quite in his direction. When he shook Hisoka's hand, Hisoka felt nothing, no emotion at all, and Hisoka has to suppress the fear that the man isn't real, that this is all a hallucination and he is still dying, wrapped in white sheets that smell too strongly of bleach.
He doesn't want to like Tsuzuki. Tsuzuki is a mess. Tsuzuki feels like sunlight and kitten purrs and an ocean of sorrow, and Hisoka has drowned enough in other oceans already. Tsuzuki is too close and too warm and too bright, and Hisoka prefers the cold. Tsuzuki smiles at him and he almost smiles back, and even scowling is an admission he doesn't want to make. Around Tsuzuki, he is not an empty vessel and he is not made of stone. Around Tsuzuki, he feels — something. Less an emotion than a sensation, less a sensation than a movement, less a movement than the intent to move. Like the moment, before any root or green, when a seed decides to sprout.