There's a breeze cool against Tokiwa's face, which is annoying but not unexpected. As fancy as the mansion looks from the outside, up close it's easy to see the wear and decay eating their way through the roof and cracking the walls.
Still, it's cold enough outside that Tokiwa doesn't really want to be in this room. A house this large should have at least one room with no windows.
If he hasn't talked to the ghost by tomorrow, maybe he'll ask Nakamoto to put him in a different room.
On the bed, Fehmut yawns, his paws twitching briefly before he flicks his tail over his nose and opens his eyes. He watches for a moment before shifting back to the boy. "Tokiwa, it's cold," he says. "Come to bed."
"We're on a job." Tokiwa looks back down at the book in his hands. It feels like he hasn't read a word of it, even though he's nearly halfway through. "The disturbances happen at night, so I can't sleep."
"You could at least get in bed with us," Fehmut grumps. "We are cold."
Tokiwa almost offers Fehmut his lap, then imagines a half-naked boy draped across his legs and thinks better of it. "You're a cat," he says instead, wearily. "Shift back and you'll be warm enough."
"No, we will not." Fehmut sniffs and turns his nose up. It's probably true; the cat was bred for desert heat, not for snowy Japanese winters. But Tokiwa didn't ask him to come along, and he could have been at home where there weren't drafts everywhere. "Tokiwaaa."
"Don't whine." Tokiwa sighs and contemplates the bed. It looks warm and inviting, even with Fehmut sprawled over the covers as though he's sunbathing instead of whining about the temperature. He would probably fall asleep if he actually got under the covers and read in bed, which is a shame, because he'd be a lot more comfortable waiting for the ghost there.
As though Fehmut can tell what Tokiwa's thinking, the boy shifts back to the cat and purrs loud enough to be heard across the room. His little paws knead at the fabric.
Tokiwa groans and stands up. "Fine, I'll come to--"
He stops, or, more precisely, everything stops. There's a moment where everything just seems to freeze. The draft isn't blowing across his face, Fehmut's paws aren't kneading, everything is just… still. Tokiwa turns his head to look around--
"Tokiwa. Tokiwa!" Fehmut's voice is too loud, and Tokiwa blinks back at the bed to find Fehmut in his human form sliding halfway off it. "Is it the ghost? Are you okay?"
Probably. Tokiwa glances around the room again, his gaze skittering over the worn spots in the rug and the water marks on the walls. Everything is moving again. He sets down the book; there's no point in marking his place. He'll have to start over again anyway.
"Tokiwa?" Fehmut says again, and this time his voice sounds strange, high-pitched and smooth where Fehmut's voice would usually be forceful and demanding, like he's hitting his words into the air.
How does possession of a boy with two souls even work? Tokiwa thinks, but he meets the ghost's gaze anyway. "Hello there," he says, keeping his voice soft.
Fehmut's face twists into an ugly scowl, and then he crumples, falling forward and nearly off the bed. Tokiwa scrambles to catch him, a heavy solid weight in Tokiwa's arms. When Tokiwa hoists him back onto the bed, he makes a whining noise in the back of his throat and his eyelids flutter.
Tokiwa steps back and watches him for a moment, making sure he's breathing before pulling the covers over him and walking towards the door. The ghost wants him, not Fehmut; Fehmut will be safer if Tokiwa goes elsewhere.
"I'm not here to hurt you," Tokiwa says as he walks down the hall. The floorboards creak and sink alarmingly underneath his slippers. "I'm here to help you. You're scaring the woman who lives here. Is that on purpose?"
There's a rush of air past his face, and he feels a presence. There are no windows here, nowhere for a draft that strong to have come from. He stops and deliberately doesn't turn around.
"If you tell me what's wrong, I can help you."
He hears a sharp sound like something breaking behind him and whirls. There's nothing. He runs down the hall, looking in rooms, checking up on Fehmut to make sure he's still breathing. But there's nothing. The presence is gone, and, disappointed, Tokiwa goes to spend the rest of his night in the room Nakamoto made up for them.
The next morning, it's as though nothing has changed. Tokiwa has to explain to Nakamoto and Takezawa what happened and that the ghost still isn't gone. Nakamoto doesn't look surprised, but Takezawa folds her hands in her lap and stares down at them.
Tokiwa watches her. He doesn't know anything for sure, but his instincts are screaming at him. She wants to tell him something. She knows something and she hasn't told him. Nakamoto is going to be difficult to get away from her, though; he insists on being there to help her with the gentle familiarity of a family member, which Tokiwa doesn't think he is. Certainly he's more attentive, his eyes softer when they look at her, than any other unpaid servant Tokiwa's ever seen.
And Nakamoto won't leave Takezawa alone with Tokiwa, even though he apparently has a job.
After the third time Tokiwa casually suggests something designed to get Nakamoto out of the room-- this time that his cat would really love to go on a walk outdoors, which gets Tokiwa an unimpressed stare from said cat-- he gives up and excuses himself.
The bathroom is easy enough to find, though it's as run-down as the rest of the house. Tokiwa washes his face with hot water to try to get some feeling back in his skin, and when he looks up, he sees the writing scratched into the mirror.
I don't want to be alone.
Tokiwa brushes his fingers over the surface of the mirror and closes his eyes. "That's how everyone feels," he says, in case the ghost is there watching him. "We can work something out." He opens his eyes again and looks directly into the mirror. "Let's talk."
There's no reply, so Tokiwa heads back to the kitchen. He slows when he hears low murmurs of conversation. He considers stopping: Fehmut will undoubtedly report whatever he hears, because he has no problem using the cat form to eavesdrop on others. But Takezawa's voice is rising higher and higher, shrill and upset, and when Tokiwa hears the distinctive yowl of a cat whose tail has been stepped on, he rushes in to scoop Fehmut up.
Nakamoto stands at the opposite end of the room, his face turned away. The tension in his shoulders is visible. Takezawa, meanwhile, has her face in her hands. She looks like she might be crying, but when she looks up, her face is dry. "I haven't told you everything," she says. Her voice is steady and strong.
Tokiwa smooths his hand down Fehmut's back until Fehmut starts arching into the touch again. "The ghost is related to you, isn't it?"
Takezawa looks up, her eyes wide. "How did you…" She shakes her head and laughs a little bit. "Of course. You're very good at your job."
"It was just a feeling." Tokiwa sits down in a chair and lets Fehmut snuggle down in his lap. "You're not afraid here, even though you're telling me about destroyed furniture and alarming noises. You don't even want me to exorcise the ghost. Right?"
At that, Nakamoto mutters something under his breath and stalks out the door, finally leaving Takezawa alone with Tokiwa and Fehmut.
"It's better for her, though, isn't it?" Takezawa's smile is tremulous and gone in an instant. "She shouldn't be trapped here, with me, with this falling-apart house…" She presses her fingers under her eyes. "I've been so selfish to keep her with me these many years."
Takezawa smiles again, and this one lasts longer, though it's no happier. She's not looking at Tokiwa, though; she's gazing at a memory. "When I was eight years old," she says, "my twin sister fell off the roof and broke her neck. But when she died, she didn't leave… She stayed in the house with me. We would play together, as siblings do, even though I couldn't see her anymore."
Fehmut makes an inquisitive noise and jumps up on the table to pad over to Takezawa. He jumps down to her lap and she immediately starts to stroke his back with trembling fingertips. He has good instincts sometimes; Tokiwa wonders how much of that is the cat and how much of that is the pharaoh.
"I can't afford to keep this place anymore," Takezawa whispers. "Hiroshi has been helping me, but it's so much to ask of him. He has to do almost everything here for me. I want to leave so that his life is a little easier-- I'm an old woman now, I don't need much space. But… I can't leave her until I know she's moved on."
"And she doesn't want you to leave." Tokiwa props his chin in his hand as Takezawa bows her head in acknowledgement. "You should have told me that from the beginning."
Takezawa doesn't say anything to that, but her hands pause for a moment before Fehmut meows, the pharaoh undoubtedly getting annoyed at the sudden loss of attention. It's enough of an answer for Tokiwa.
Tokiwa stays in the room with Fehmut despite the possession from last night. It's a risk, but Fehmut seemed fine the next morning, just a little cranky that he'd missed all the excitement and wasn't getting any tuna for breakfast. Currently, Fehmut is in cat form, loafing on the bed with his feet tucked under him and his ears forward.
Tokiwa hasn't even tried to read the book he brought.
"Yui?" he says again into thin air. "Yui, you heard your sister earlier, didn't you? She needs you to move on so that she can move on."
The lights in the room flicker, and Tokiwa feels a chill run down his spine. She's here. She's listening. She's also a lonely, angry eight-year-old whose last remaining family member wants to leave.
"Yui," Tokiwa says again, letting the teacher in him take over. "I know you're there. Come talk to me."
"I don't want to go," a reedy little girl's voice whispers, and Fehmut's tail flicks once as his ears swivel around. "I hate him! He should just die!"
"This is your sister's decision, Yui. She wants to make sure you're alright before she leaves." Tokiwa listens to the angry hiss of the light as it goes out and leaves the room in darkness.
"If she wants me to be alright then she shouldn't leave!" There's a crash from somewhere in the vicinity. It doesn't sound like it's in the room. Tokiwa breathes steadily, in and out, and watches Fehmut's gleaming eyes as the ghost's voice rises into a wail. "I'm always alone when she leaves! I'm stuck here forever while she goes away, and I hate it!"
"That's why I'm here," Tokiwa says, and he reaches a hand into the darkness. "She wants you to make the choice to leave first this time. You're the only one who can stop this, Yui--" which is a lie, of course, but she hasn't reached the point of no return, yet-- "and can't you do this for her? Just this once?"
"You'll meet her again," a new voice says, and it's Fehmut, more quiet than usual but no less certain of himself. "But only if you let go."
The ghost hisses, a rush of wind like the one from last night. "What would you know? You haven't let go."
"Of course not," Fehmut sniffs. "We're waiting for Tokiwa, and he's not going to die anytime soon. Yours is. We can smell it."
Tokiwa closes his eyes and reminds himself that yelling at Fehmut can wait until they're out of this situation. Clearly they need to have another talk about what not to tell upset ghosts.
This ghost, however, is quiet. "She's really dying?" she whispers, her voice almost inaudible.
"Of course she is. We are never wrong." Fehmut huffs. "We are a pharaoh."
For a moment, just before Tokiwa blinks, he sees the faint outline of a small child. Then she's gone, and the lights flick back on.
Fehmut flops back on the bed. "That was easy," he says smugly. "Now, come to bed, Tokiwa. We need someone to keep us warm."
"You--" Tokiwa starts, then cuts himself off, shaking his head. "You know the rules. I only sleep with the cat."
"We will turn into the cat when you come to bed."
"Just turn into the cat!" Tokiwa runs a hand through his hair and glances out the window as he turns out the light again. It's snowing. Yui is gone, Takezawa is dying, and it's almost the New Year. Another job is done.