I know why he fights. His niece has fallen ill under a curse that mortal understanding can only muster.
Here is what else I know: It starts with a dream, a regret that brings you to a mansion, covered in snow, and you find yourself chasing after someone you can't live without. Someone who is on their way to the other side.
Slowly, you become overtaken by the mansion, going through deeper and deeper until the curse finally makes up its mind and decides you can't come back. Even before your own mind is made up, your fate is sealed and your dreams can't help but move you on.
But that isn't the point for why I write. I'm writing to come clean about what I don't know. I have yet to find out what the curse is, thanks to him. Kei has only been here since this morning, and already, he's trying to keep me in the dark. He can't stop me.
Allowing himself a break, Mafuyu set his pen and journal down lightly against the tatami mat on which he knelt down to at last "pay his respects". He looked at the memorial that was so lovingly arranged before him and tried to concentrate and to wish the best for the newly-departed.
He was a dear friend of mine. I have some good memories with him back then… But always, in the back of my mind, I knew.
But the young man had a number of unkempt feelings itching at his mind and writing hands that day. What wishes should he send to his deceased, talented, hard-working mentor? What sort of thoughts were appropriate to send to him – to the great man and daring researcher that took Kei's heart away? Before he had a chance to…
A rush of inspirational emotion guided Mafuyu to again pick up his pen.
Though he won't tell me, I have an idea of what Kei's going through. I've read his charming little letters he sent to him. To Yuu, his dear friend. I've been with them both long enough to understand. I know how much he cared for him. Cares for him. Still.
I knew things would be different. They'd never be the same as before when it was just the three of us. When Yuu became engaged, that's when things started getting different. We'd all have to move our separate ways. Apparently, Kei still wrote to him. I wonder if Yuu even noticed…
I was hoping I could change, too. But I knew as soon as he arrived at the Kurosawa household just this morning that I still feel the same as I did back then. He had that expression he always wore when he's caught deep in a challenging case. I remember that look from before. That determination. It's motivating.
But he's making it harder on me. He won't let me into any of the details and research he's been conducting with this curse.
I wish he would let me in. I wish he would treat me more of an equal, rather than just that boy he used to work with. I hate how he patronizes me.
Mafuyu had to stop writing when he detected so much selfishness coming forth from his becomingly-dry pen. He closed the journal once more – this time, he ensured, for good that day – and sent off one final prayer to one that was taken so untimely from the land of the living. He released the long, deep breath that had lingered, then stood to collect his futon from the closet. Night would be close at hand, and with the arrival of the guest, a change in sleeping location was to take place.
The dead of night seemed to be well-suited for bidding farewell to the dead. In Kei's line of thinking, he would pay his respects to Yuu after every one had gone to sleep. That way, he didn't need to risk being seen crying, in case it happened.
Kei was mentally arranging words in his mind when a sharp, unknowing chill came from behind him. It was a presence. Being led by his careful eyes, the kneeling man noiselessly turned his head to meet the onlooker.
Rather than stop to meet the gaze, the figure only continued on its way down the hall, ignoring Kei as it slowly moved past the corner and out of sight. It was mindnumbingly still, and everything became dead cold.
Kei's mind reeled until he finally let one word slip, "Yuu?" He immediately began to question his own eyes. But disbelief gave way to a hope that guided him to his weary feet and around that corner.
There, in the dimmed front entryway hall, Kei's eyes confirmed what he thought his heart invented. The definite figure of Yuu misted through the doorway, leading Kei into the living room.
His quivering insides stirred as he gave chase. Quiet enough not to make a sound, and stealthy enough not to let the dark figure escape, Kei found Yuu once more at the top of the stairs and again going down the hallway – towards Yuu's former bedroom.
Kei stopped a moment to watch him vanish through the door. Do I have the right to go in there? He entered.
The first thing he noticed was Mafuyu, sleeping sound on a futon he had set up. But where was Yuu? There was silence in the room, and the figure had gone. He stopped and waited for anything, afraid that if he blinked, he might miss one final sign.
"Kei? I-Is everything all right?"
Before even realizing who the speaker was, Kei's whirring mind twisted the voice into Yuu's, and he had to turn around before he could recognize it. "Mafuyu… Did I wake you? Sorry to bother you."
"No, it's all right. I've been awake." The words were soft, sincere, and matched that of Mafuyu's worried expression. He added, subtly, "I - can't sleep all that well, actually."
"You… been having dreams?" Kei inquired.
Mafuyu feigned ignorance, but was still somewhat puzzled by the circumstances the question came from. "Dreams? What kind?"
"It's nothing. Forget it-"
"Have these dreams been keeping you awake, too?"
Kei froze. He was caught. "No, I was just… paying my respects to Yuu. I miss him." He sighed.
"I imagine you would. He was a great man, wasn't he."
"I'll leave you alone now, I'm sorry for waking you. Goodnight." Gently, Kei rose from his knees and headed towards the door, but was stopped by the other man, who uncharacteristically spoke out,
"Wait, why don't you-" But he stopped.
"Could you…" Mafuyu spoke slowly, as if choosing his words with the utmost caution. Kei could've sworn he saw a reddish hue appear across his moonlit skin. "Why not sleep on Yuu's bed?"
Unintentionally, Kei's breath hitched. He was about to cast an objection towards the request, but he stopped to hear the other's explanation.
"I've… seen things in the living room. On the first floor. Heard things. I haven't told Rei or Miku about it. I'd feel better with you in here."
I can't. I can't sleep in here. Still fearful and confused by what he had witnessed, he was hesitant to leave the room, his eyes scanning everything one more time. He noticed the bed, and his stomach gave another turn – this turn, a little different from the last. "All right. I'll stay." And Kei agreed.
Slow and unsure, as if settling himself in with Yuu himself, Kei climbed onto the bed and nestled into the cozy of Yuu's blankets.
Rei must've washed the bed. His scent is almost gone from this room… The man thought, nuzzling his face against the cool, scented fabrics. He twisted and turned a moment, unable to stop moving as he strived for comfort. But this was Yuu's room. I saw him here in this house. I can still feel him here.
No sooner that the thought occurred in his mind that he experienced a second greeting from the dead. When his sore body gave another turn, he could feel – undoubtedly – hands. Strong arms stretched across him, and a warm, live body pressed against his back.
Kei jumped, causing the bedsprings to groan. Was it his roommate? "Mafu-?!" But as he rolled his head across the pillow - eyes still adjusting - he caught that long-forgotten, missing scent.
The body lying, sleeping beside him was Yuu. It didn't render to Kei whether it was imagination or celestial appearance; his body reacted instantly. He swore the person beside him was alive and warm and breathing while it slept peacefully.
As an electric current filled him, Kei lost his will to breathe. He didn't move. He didn't dare. At last, he swallowed, "Yuu?"
Whatever it was, it wasn't fair. Awkwardly, Kei reached a hand out – to touch and confirm another dizzying experience – and his fingers landed tenderly against the other's cheek.
Yuu's eyelids flickered a moment, and just as he began to open his eyes to look straight into Kei's, the presence diminished, crumbling away in dreamlike mist. Those eyes were pasted in Kei's vision, establishing an eerie connection between living and dead.
At last, Kei retreated his shaking hand. Under the blankets it went, grabbing aimlessly at the thick fabrics and collecting them tightly between his fingers. He closed his eyes tight, wishing he hadn't seen the growing tattoo glow across his arm just then. That all too familiar pricking and searing underneath his skin forced him to think, I'm getting too close. He gave heed to the heart that had pulled him in closer.
When fingers tapped at his blanket again, Kei felt his sanity about to give way. He whirled around to find Mafuyu instead, peering at him from sitting position.
The two shared a look for a moment, not knowing what to say and what to admit to the other. Mafuyu spoke first, "Are you all right? You called my name, but I wasn't sure if you were sleeping, so I…"
Called his name? Oh. Kei shook his head and graced his roommate with clarity and an assuring smile, "I'm fine. Go back to sleep." He turned again, facing the wall – away from his listener – who, rather than obey the secretive other, grasped desperately for attention.
"No, Kei. Not again."
The daring burst startled Kei into turning back around. Mafuyu appeared vexed, though Kei didn't understand why.
"I can help you with whatever you're doing. But if something's bothering you, you need to tell me. I can help you."
Though Kei smiled at the younger man, he was mindful to move his eyes away.
"You don't believe me?" Spoken almost as a statement, rather than a question.
"Mafuyu, have you been having the dreams?"
"I've only heard of them. The mansion, and the snow. I only know what little Rei's told Miku."
"…Let me show you something." And with that, Kei rose from his bed and peeled his shirt off. The flush that dwelled in Mafuyu's cheeks went – perhaps – unnoticed by the older man, while he turned his back and revealed his dimly glowing tattoos.
Mafuyu watched, confused and strangely timid. Across Kei's back were red holly tattoos carved into his very core that shone bright red as blood would across him. It snaked around his arms, too, up and down his back and further than was visible to Mafuyu's eyes, he was sure. This proof marked Kei as a cursed man.
"I need to find the answer to that manor. I need my niece back and Rei freed. And now, looks like I'm in trouble, too."
But Mafuyu was resilient. "I'll help you. I won't let you go in too deep," he promised his beloved friend, "You won't die."
Kei smiled once more, pulled his shirt over his head, and went back to sleep.
It was Mafuyu's turn for sleeplessness. That smile… He couldn't get that patronizing look from the back of his mind.
It was a white darkness. Subtle, quiet. Kei nearly dropped the stakes he held so tightly in his hands when he saw Yuu's figure again – this time, in the manor; in the sanctity of his dreams.
This time, the figure didn't move. It didn't walk away or disappear. It remained stationary – watching the waters and the few sailing paper ships crossing - until it turned its head to watch Kei enter through the rift door.
Kei didn't know what to think or where to turn. He had a mission to complete – to destroy Reika and take back his family. He needed his freedom back. But there, stood his one true obstacle. How could freedom be attained if he wasn't willing to let go?
Slowly, Yuu approached him. The more distance he closed between them, the more Kei seemed to notice. He didn't appear ghostly this time, or unreal as when he found him in Rei's home. It was as if… it had to be real. But no…
Yuu spoke to him. "Kei. You've been- You're here, too." That was his voice. But it was strange; his calm voice was entwined in a mixture of surprise and sympathy.
Feeling like a fool, but feeling an exhilaration take him over, Kei began to question, "How…?"
"I always liked that about you. Skeptic." Yuu said, speaking softly and patiently like he always did. "But when it comes to those you care about, you'd believe in them and support them unconditionally. You'd do anything for them. I want you to be happy, too, Kei."
Kei opened his mouth to speak, but his breath caught short as Yuu stepped in even closer, causing a heated tempest to take root within him. He instinctually withdrew, but he couldn't deny the passion that singed in him.
Stop. The ritual stakes fell, splashing a bit of icy water against his face. For a minute, the noise alarmed him, and he thought to grab his camera to take a picture of the apparition. It had to be false.
Yuu brought one hand to brush the liquid from Kei's face, while the other traveled around his shoulder. Kei could only stand and tremble, trying to forget about the stinging pain of the tattoos. It was pathetic, he thought. After all, it couldn't be Yuu. But then, "Why are you so warm?" He whimpered, scolding himself for the emotion that drowned out his resolve.
"This is where I belong now," Yuu said dimly. As if trying to mend the pain, Yuu used a simple touch to feel along the holly pattern on Kei's skin, forcing the other to erupt in shivers. "But I'll be gone soon. Before I leave for good, Kei, why don't you believe me?"
"I… No, I can't. Because you're part of the curse. It's using you to get to me, but the more I see you – everywhere – I… I don't want you to leave."
"Then why not make the best of this time we have now?" Yuu added with suggestion. "I promise you, Mio and Rei will both be safe. I'll make sure nothing happens. You've done enough. You've worked so hard, let me help you."
The words as silken as his touch and drove into Kei's mind. He shut his eyelids when his head surged and whirred around him, but he could only see white, tightening heat. As Yuu brought him in closer, everything was lost. No more manor, no more cold or loneliness. And no more curse.
Kei was so close, so close to him. When he looked up to confirm this, he found that they were only rhythmic breath apart. The moment extended until he cautiously whispered, "You're so warm… so warm for the dead. I don't understand…"
He told himself he didn't want it. Didn't want Yuu anymore. He told himself over and over that he already let him go, and that he wanted help and peace and freedom again. But the more he tried convincing himself, the more he was giving in. To Yuu, the curse that kept him helplessly bound.
And when Yuu bent to nuzzle Kei's lips – as if coaxing his prey – the man at last, gave in to ease the foolish heart that Yuu had stolen away.
Mafuyu laid down in his bed – night two – alert, as held onto Camera Obscura in both hands. He had it just in case.
The very night that Mafuyu begged Kei to sleep in Yuu's room with him, was the night his friend never woke; sleeping the day away, too, unmoving and unresponsive. Every so often, while Mafuyu watched him, he could see the tattoos appear again, all over his neck and stretching farther across his face.
Spending a whole day with the fallen Kei forced dangerous thoughts into Mafuyu's head, which he had written in his journal,
It's gotten worse. He's caught. I can't deal with watching him sleep anymore. He won't wake no matter what I do, but I'm scared that if I look away, he'll disappear from me forever.
He worked so hard. For Mio especially. After Mayu died, I think he felt – for whatever reason – guilty over what happened to her. After all, the girls were in his care after his sister became ill. He made a great caretaker, I'm sure. But I never really talked to him about that much; as much as I would've loved to see more of that side of him.
I don't know if there would ever be a chance for me and him… But it doesn't matter what I want anymore. He's unreachable now. He belongs to the curse. And to Yuu – still – I think. I'll never compare, and I've always known that. I'm a fool for hoping and wishing. It's unrealistic and foolish.
But I won't give him away so easily. I won't let him go in too deep. With Obscura, I think there might still be a chance.
A curt moan strained from Kei's throat, arousing Mafuyu. At last, a response. Holding his breath, he lifted his head up from the ground to peer up at the sleeping man in Yuu's bed. Kei's breathing was heavier than it had been, and his neck swelled.
Without realizing it, Mafuyu had reached a hand out to him. He saw his own fingers stretch out and run along Kei's hot skin. The tattoo… a burning pulsation brushed Mafuyu's fingers, and he tore away from him. It stung from the inside out.
For a moment, Mafuyu felt unnerved. Would it be okay to take a photo now? He thought, modestly, thinking that if nothing showed up, he would erase the photo. But if something did appear…?
When he put his eye to the viewfinder, he nearly dropped Obscura to the ground if it hadn't frozen to his hands. A woman - glowing blue and cold as the icy winds she brought with her - was grasping at Kei's neck and coiling it in her fingers. And the tattoos were getting worse, snaking up from his neck, across his chin, and over his nose and lips.
That's her. The woman did not see him. Mafuyu took the Camera Obscura and shot a picture, unaware of the tattoo eating away at his own flesh.