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i heard it lasts forever

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act I

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the wild

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most people don’t seem to know the meaning of forever. forever can be a moment, can be the impossibility and the inevitability of the end. no one lasts and love is just the same. you will turn to dust, you will

ROT

and no one has ever gifted love to dust.

You would think a world like this is best place for a person like me, for the girl huddled in the back of the room, her casual posture belying the heightened awareness of a predator and large eyes so dark images reflect in them like mirrors shattered, the tiny pieces of glass loosely falling between your fingers, cutting lightly as they go but escaping all the same; crystalline, like grains of sand in the wind.

Yes, this world of killers sounds perfect.

It isn’t, obviously.

I sigh, sipping at my tea delicately. “At the least the tea is better here,” I murmur, tongue flicking out to lick at the corner of my mouth. The taste is worth a moment of savoring, a moment with eyes closed and muscles calm. It’s disgusting to believe I ever settled for half brewed packets of Tetley. When I was human I acted like the English owned tea.

Horrific. A frown eats at my face, biting, a parasite, spreading upwards in the wrinkle of my nose. Tea is a serious matter.

I let the tea settle in my mouth, a puddle in the indent of my tongue, eyes shut and thinking of nothing. When I swallow it it’s like it was iron going down my throat and not liquid.

Eyes go open.

It isn’t the tea making my stomach turn, making my heart beat go bird-like, making my hands just barely shake. There’s a pull inside me, indescribable but something like family, like a piece of myself lost and never forgotten, and a smile grows over the rim of my empty cup. It isn’t tea. There’s always an indication when the other tailed beasts near me. It’s like hunger. It’s like want. It’s like hate and love and need. It’s been centuries since I’ve been whole, since I could cut my wrists and smell blood that’s sharp as moonlight when it leaves my veins. It’s been centuries, but they still belong to me.

The tailed beasts are my possessions. They will never be out of my reach.

I stand, yawning, not intending to pay. I don’t care much for human rule, for human restriction, for human policy. I am no longer human. My game is one larger than tea cups. This world agrees with me, full of outlaws and anger and wars. Teahouses like this spring up all the time over the long stretch of land and sometimes on the islands across the sea. They never last. I turn smartly on my heel, one smooth hand covering my mouth delicately and the teacup still hanging off the edge of my other hand’s tiny pinky finger. The establishment is soft, slow in the light of a smooth rising sun. The light feels heavy against my skin, against the thick cloth covering my body. It feels like a physical touch, like a desperate hand, like the sun wants to go through my pores to my veins, to the power coiling there. One of the server’s, a woman, reaches for me like the sun, green kimono sleeve slipping above her wrist, and I catch the woman’s fingers with my own, twining our fingers together.

So delicate. The bones—so tiny, so intricate.

“Um, miss,” the server starts, getting a little closer. She’s a tiny thing, timid and meek and soft with just a hint of a swell to her hips. The flesh would give easily to claws, to fangs, and I smile, the sudden, inexplicable urge to rip it from her bones with bare hands and, perhaps, force her to eat it rising inside me. “I apologize, dear patron—” The hand in my own twitches, struggling like a captured bird. “It is customary to pay before abandoning one’s drink.”

The server is beautiful, in a way. Her eyes are a deep brown, her hair shiny despite the callouses on her fingertips. I want to count the teeth inside her mouth, want to pull open her skin, explore the map of muscle and bone hiding underneath. This woman had smiled at me. Dared to be kind. It’s true: I feel a kind of adoration in killing those who dare to be kind.

I smile wider, all teeth and sharpness and something incredibly ugly in my beautiful face, canines shining. My eyes are unsettling, with elongated pupils in bile colored irises. My body, in some senses, does not even exist. I’m a being of energy, of power, and only my eyes—with the iris cloudy and the pupil drifting between an animal and gone entirely—let the wrongness emanating from me show. The woman’s hand begins to shake, the presence of a predator, even one like me, leaving her with no defense but to tremble. I’m unimpressed, indulgent. My head tilts, a curious action, long hair shifting with me. Her eyes catch on it, held to my hair as if forced by wires. It’s red. My hair’s red and furiously alive.

My heart has long since stopped, lungs no longer breathing, blood a sickly sweet mush in dead veins. I’m a dead girl turned god and when I feel her pulse under my fingers it’s like my heart’s skipping a beat.

“You do intend to p-pay,” the woman whispers, voice so soft only I can hear it, mouth so close I could be breathing her exhales in, “yes?”

It isn’t currency she expects. Currency, handheld money, is rare. This is an age far from the world I came from, far beyond even the primitive Tokugawa coin. Only the incredibly wealthy pay with gold coins. Currency speaks of order. This world has none. This is an era of fire, of battle and screams. This world is young, unorganized, without government or system. Payment is labor, rice grains, arrowheads, shells, metal—commodities. Human things.

I laugh.

“I don’t,” I say, swinging the teacup into my palm, index finger curling around the handle. I contemplate crushing it, think about flinging the broken pieces in this human’s face and visiting twenty years forward in time to see if she’ll recognize me when she’s blind. I imagine it, the way pain could make her so much more beautiful. She’s pretty, now, at some moments beautiful and at some moments average. Would she be breathtaking, with blood running down her face, with a scream peeling from those lips? Would she be something to behold, something more statue than human with bruises down her spine and curled into her hips? “Are you going to make me?”

I contemplate it. It would be fun. But then I’d have to let her live.

The server opens her mouth, full pink lips parting just barely and revealing a hint of blunt teeth. Her mouth moves without a drop of sound.

An inhuman index finger flicks upwards, teacup shattering to shards against the wooden wall beside the server’s head. She’s too frightened to even flinch, eyes wide, her pupils contracting and expanding. “I might pay,” I murmur, cheeks flushing with the joy of the closeness of it, the pure intimacy that comes with holding the life of another in my hands, “with your life.”

I look a maiden. I look a maiden in love.

With what, one might ask?

The server is pressing herself to the wall now, trapped between me and the panels of wood, a look in her face of something perfect, and I lean towards her, staring into her face. The pupils quivering, the skin around the eyes stretched so wide I can see the pink of them—With that, I think. That look.

“Would you like me to do that?” I ask, slowly, quietly, patronizingly, with a calmness so sharp I can already taste the blood on my tongue. The world is ruled by war, by power, and the teahouse is silent against the force of it. Teahouses like this never last. Family owned, probably; family built, too. It’ll have been robbed before the moon is full. Civilians don’t last.

This world has no nations. It has no borders. There are only the dead, and those who killed them.

“N-no,” the woman manages to get out, and her words are slurred, the saliva thick on her tongue. I don’t know her name, don’t know her family or her future. I don’t care. My world is ruled by war. Establishments like these don’t last, after all. If it weren’t me to burn it down, one of the clans riding this continent would. She can sense it, the way rabbits can tell when a fox has begun to stalk them. She can feel it now, the way her death would please me. And it should please her, too. It’s an experience to die in front of me. An honor. If she has to die—and all of them die—she should be happy it’s with me as her audience. But she’s just a human, with no concept of this, and her words only go faster, panicked, hysteric. “No, no, you don’t have to pay—you-you don’t—don’t have—please—”

I come close, nose nuzzling into the woman’s neck in a form of praise. I press smiling lips to her skin, rubbing my thumb over the back of the woman’s hand. This is what I wanted.

“Thank you,” I murmur, words soft and grand, feeling eyes on me so intensely my skin almost tingles. I pull back to look into the server’s eyes, into her face. Eyes so wide, so beautiful; skin flushed pink from fear; several small scars, one marked lightly into the left edge of her hairline and another making a thin line on her cheek. I can see my own reflection in her eyes, can see the impossible beauty of my face being distorted by the sickness of her fear.

It’s beautiful.

She’s beautiful. She’s terrified and it’s beautiful. The ugly mar of her horror and fear and panic makes a shiny mirage around her and it makes her so, so beautiful. A breath goes out of her. It’s relief. She did what I wanted. They always do what I want. This is what I wanted. This is what I asked for. I wanted her to grovel, wanted her to beg me, and she did. They always do. They always, always do.

I kill her anyway.

(I leave the tea house with red lips and skin caught under my nails, and, of course, no one stops me. They never do.)

Once, I was born. Flesh birthed flesh and from a pool of waste I lived. Flesh met flesh and I resulted. Did this create my soul? Did this make me, really, truly make me, or was this the birth of a vessel, a temporary lining of flesh? I used to think on the depth of my thoughts, used to give in to selfishness and wonder how it was possible one day those thoughts would be at an end.

It doesn’t matter. These questions are without answers. They’re prayers without gods. Now, I have been—ah, how does one say...remodeled.

In a womb of something so dark and smooth I could have seen a reflection in it if I had eyes to look, my soul was split and configured, broken into smaller pieces and left to stumble in the black, ripped and pulled apart. It walked among worm bitten corpses and steel kissed skin, and then, eventually, it reached a place where it could be Dead, even if not in peace.

The dead turn to dust, and none in the world have time to pity something so aimless.

I wasn’t born so much as I became. Life didn’t slip inside me as my mortal body shook inside another; instead, energy, power, life became me the same way it does hurricanes. I am invincible, unstoppable, immortal—perfect. No one can hurt me and I will never die. I will never face my maker. He died a long time ago. There’s no god here: I am God.

When I was mortal the beauty of the world astounded me and the ugliness, too. Now I’m the most beautiful I can imagine and the reflection I see in the ugliness of the world only makes me want it more.

The sensation itching at me now is inherent, implicit. Shukaku is a piece of me, one I have not been able to reconsume. He just doesn’t remember it, doesn’t know it. When he looks at me like I’m a stranger holding a knife to his throat I’m not offended. I wouldn’t expect him to know. The Ichibi has the smallest piece of soul among us. Shukaku has, since his creation, been going vaguely mad. I think it must be the unexplainable feeling of loss he experiences, by the emptiness that will never go away will never leave will scratch at him from morning to morning that will eat him until I can somehow consume him.

I pity him. He won’t be whole until I am, and when I’m whole, he’ll no longer exist.

Not that he has to know that.

When I find Shukaku the grit of the path slips under my feet. The dirt against my bare feet feels angry with the events that took place over it, with the wars and the screaming and the death. I could reach inside of it and my hands would come out with blood clotted under my nails. If I reach far enough into the ground I can feel humans shifting, can feel them dying and fighting. I can feel their love and I can feel their tears.

Both are useless. The humans are possessions I’ve grown bored of regulating. Death, pain—I don’t need those as a weapon. I have my claws and my teeth.

I smile. There’s a more worthy possession for me now. “Shukaku,” I call, hair blowing behind me and the autumn winds pressing short kisses to my jaw. He pauses, one hand pulling at the side of his yukata and the other hand brushing misplaced strands of hair from his eyes. The last time I saw him his hair was barely to his shoulders. It’s shorter now, shinier, and only barely covering the sharpened tips of his ears. “It’s been some time, hasn’t it?” He turns on his heel slightly, meeting my eyes. He wasn’t brave enough for that last time I saw him but he looks into my eyes like I haven’t been starring in his nightmares. His are black, the pupils golden, containing worlds within them but the reflection of my face within them has been replaced by the dying sun living in his eyes. One corner of his mouth rises in either a snarl or a smile.

Maybe both. Shukaku’s obscure in his opinion of me.

My other parts, the other beasts, prefer the forms with which our maker gifted us. They have no memory of the true form—the Juubi—and are even more ignorant on what came before. They don’t remember we were human once, that we had to be in order to become gods.

They don’t remember. They don’t remember and that’s what makes them stupid.

“Kurama,” he acknowledges, a string of something like insanity lacing the word. Shukaku’s a bit unwell. He raises one hand in a wave, sand dripping from it in sharp sparks of uncontrolled power. “Are you, too, making the journey to the resting place of the first Buddha?”

Shukaku’s quirky. You would think he’d be unable of feeling at all, of having any kind of traits entirely—he’s a painfully small portion of someone long gone. But he’s gained a fascination with religious figures from watching what’s the closest thing the beasts had to a maker. The Bijuu are legends. Maybe he wants to prove we aren’t gods—that the real figures of worship are things like this, like the dead man who wasn’t a man.

Maybe not.

Maybe he wants to prove they don’t exist at all.

Then again, maybe not.

I cross the distance to him, leaning forwards, rubbing my cheek to his and enjoying the tense set to his shoulders. I close my eyes and savor the realness of him, the truth that no part of what I have been has slipped away. When I look at him I don’t know what of me he was before he was this. Maybe he lived in the edge of my lip, or in the heel of my foot; maybe he was in the flash of my teeth when I smiled or the bones of my hand when I waved goodbye. I just know he’s here, and he’s real, and he’s me. Shukaku’s looking at me when I pull away, something sharp in the angles of his face. I touch my nose to his, movements inhuman and graceful. Slowly, his jaw tightens. It makes something in me spark with an emotion I can’t understand. If I didn’t know him, I wouldn’t have noticed.

But I do know him. I know him very, very well—more than he does himself.

He’ll never know me that well. I’m someone greater than him, something greater. Shukaku isn’t even half a percent of a soul. I know my littlest finger better than I know him, and I’ll still always know him best. He’s the only thing in my dream I would consider expendable. Shukaku isn’t even half a percent. The number is so small I’ve found myself wondering how strong he really is, how far he really goes in terms of a tailed beast. The beasts are immortal, but I’ve wondered if he is.

Less than half a percent.

“We both know I’m not visiting any human places of worship,” I say, voice like a physical touch. “I’m here for you.”

“You aren’t here for anyone,” he corrects. Shukaku’s original body—the one before this but after humanity—is built like a rooftop, with shingles and shingles of thick armor layered across each other, and from the way the corners of his eyes start to tilt upwards, just ever so slightly, from the itch of chakra starting to shiver beneath his skin.

There was a time when I clung to that feeling, to the fighting and the godly power I could expel. There was a time when the energy inside me was young and the Sage still lived and I could move mountains and I could turn valleys to seas and that time is gone.

Shukaku is a monster. All he knows is his own animal, the first nature. He could rule nations, take countries, burrow so far under the earth he might even find the center of it—but he won’t. He’d never think of it. He feels only the heat of fighting, of winning. Shukaku is, like me, an otherworldly creature. My eyes don’t scare him.

Perhaps they should.

He knows what I am. I’m more than him. That’s my identity among the beasts: The Strongest of Them All.

I smile at him, indulgent and welcoming. “I’m here for you,” I repeat. My words are held tight against the roof of my mouth, my sharpening canine teeth disturbing the process of speech. I push one strand of bright hair behind her ear, the clawed tips of my fingers dangerously close to what looks to be smooth skin. We are both monsters, and I find he’s right; when I look at him, when I look at this little monster I used to love, I don’t feel anything.

My skin shifts, like an itch just underneath.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO FIGHT, BROTHER? The words echo without leaving my mouth, floating in the air like a bubble and invisible in the lightness. The moon has risen opposite the sun, and I can feel the pull of the stone like a pulse.

Shukaku slowly, carefully, lifts his eyes from my neck to my lips to my nose and to my eyes. I can feel my pupils go wider, scarier, large enough to swallow him up and leave him buried in black. “You know I do, Kurama,” he says. I can already feel what it would be to become myself, to have my ears flick at his words and my nose twitch with anticipation; I can already feel how the rows of teeth in the newly created mouth would be like home.

YOU WILL LOSE, I tell him. A part of me wants it. I want someone stronger than a human, someone I can shove into the dirt and hold there, someone who will struggle indefinitely instead of falling victim to death.

The words I-would-never die on his tongue.

BUT I WILL INDULGE YOU, I continue. WOULD YOU LIKE TO FIGHT, BROTHER? He does, you know. He actually does, isn’t just playing me. Shukaku always wants to fight, always wants to hurt, always always always wants to sink his teeth into something and pretend that’s what cures him. He’s sick. He’s alone. Half a percent. He always wants to fight. IF WE FOUND THE OTHERS, YOU WOULD NOT BE SO OUTMATCHED, I say, this time the words escaping directly out of my fake human throat. They scratch on the way out.

I watch him.

Sand’s slipping from his hands like sweat, chakra flaring and nails digging into his palms. He says nothing. Anything he could say—they’re all secrets. It’s a secret he loves me, a secret his nightmares still howl him awake, a secret the sage is gone and the humans remaining only seem to scream.

He’s alone. When I’m with him, his soul feels complete, almost. It’ll be better when I have won entirely, when the Juubi is born again to raze nations and turn seas to ice. Shukaku is a means to an end.

The sand spilling from him will be gone within the hour. Even this is made only of our power. It will evaporate into the air and return to us. It’ll be gone, back to chakra, back to energy, but I pinch just a bit of his sand beneath my fingers, molding it to my skin. I bring my index finger to my lips, pulling just a hint of it into my mouth, tongue licking it from the corner of my lips. He watches.

It’s my version of an apology and he knows it.

(The sand sticks in my throat the same way the words do, but Shukaku follows when I leaves. That’s what he does, you know. He hates this, hates that he can’t help it, hates he has to follow me, hates that he’ll follow me anywhere. Shukaku likes to blame the bond between tailed beasts. He likes to think it’s because I have nine tails and he’s only the one.

The tails, the power—neither have nothing to do with it.)

“You’re a real bitch, Kurama,” Shukaku breathes out, his eyes burning against me. His grey shirt sleeves are filtered yellow in the dust.

“Oh, yes,” I derive agreeably, “but I’m the Kyuubi no Kitsune. You have never been able to say no to me.”

He says nothing. It is true, and he hates it.

There is a bond between beasts—none of them can say no to me, not any of them. None of them can. This is the way the relationship works, the way my relationship with the Sage worked. The connection, the need to obey—this only died when he did. But I am not so fragile as the Sage was: Shukaku can’t kill me.

“I’m going to find all of our siblings, Shukaku. We’ll be together again.”

He frowns. Raises an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he says. “Good luck with that.”

“You’re going to come with me,” I say, an easy order, and he sighs, because he knows he can’t say no. None will ever be able to say no.

“Have you considered they don’t want to be with you?” he asks. He says it to be cruel, because we both know the others don’t. He should also know I don’t care. The others are ignorant, stupid. They don’t realize we are all empty, broken, hollowed—parts of a whole the Sage split apart. They must be guided, like children. Like disciples.

“You are coming with me,” I say again.

Shukaku stares at me. “Only for you, Kurama,” he says, and it sounds like he wishes it weren’t so.

I bare my teeth, head falling back in a laugh. I can feel his eyes on the smooth skin of my neck, and I almost wish he were stupid enough to try and rip my throat out. “I wish I could say the same,” I tell him, snorting at the mockery of it.

We both know I’m the strong one here.

You used to know a girl who sat in her school desk as though it is a throne built for a king, spine straight and shoulders raised, chin up. She would be halfway to leisurely, legs crossed over one another and her hands linked easily together. Sometimes she might think to lean down, let the clasped fingers support her chin, but instead she’ll pull herself straighter. A world like this—the world of the detention hall, the school building silent, her uniform sleeves fitted around her wrists, Mr. Taylor typing in quick clicks on his buzzing desktop computer—has always seemed the best place for a person like her. She’s the girl huddled in the back of the room. Her thin wrists, her sharp jaw, her angrily curved mouth—all appear to prove it: she belongs in places of discomfort.

Such an assumption would be incorrect.

In her school desk sometimes sunlight will catch on her caramelized hair and flash over her pale skin, pushing her profile to overexposure, the brightness overwhelming. Her brown eyes would be warm in the glow, like honey, like pits of amber. But then she’ll tilt her head a bit, lean back in her chair to avoid the spilling sunlight, and her eyes will turn to blackness, go back to being dark as a spiraling staircase, leading down-down-down to an impossibly deep coldness.

“Hey, Taylor,” she might call, voice echoing around the empty corridor, bouncing like a stone on a river as it dips across the room.

“That’s Mr. Taylor,” he will correct her, not looking up from his typing. His voice might sound mild, but not calm. He won’t sound relaxed or comfortable. He will be simply uninteresting.

“Think I could leave early?”

He might laugh when she says this. He might frown. “No.”

The girl will sigh, adjust her legs, lean further down on the desk, slipping until her hands rest flat on the wood and her chin is similarly flat against her knuckles. Her legs will stretch forward under the desk in front of her. When she sighs out an exhale, her energy escapes with it. Her pleated skirt will rise a bit at the movement, the cloth disturbed. Her gray cardigan will be itchy against her arms.

God, it’s so boring—anything would be better. All the things you can think of that would be better: sleeping in the snow, bleeding out in the shower, jumping off a bridge, taking a train across the country, stealing a car, cutting off a finger, jumping off a bridge—anything would be better. She could do any of them. Maybe one day she will. Or maybe she’ll just tuck her face a bit more closely against her hands, her cheek warm on her fingers, long brown hair going over her shoulder and into her eyes when she turns her head to the side.

Boredom is something intrinsic inside her. It is animate, living within her, coiled up in her stomach or dissolved into her blood. Her apathy is unexplainable, so deep she could drown before even making it halfway down, be dead in the water of her acedia before even starting to sink. She might do something about it. Maybe she’ll stand up and walk out and go straight into traffic and maybe she’ll make it out the other side. Or maybe her foot begins to tap and that’s the end of it.

She didn’t realize she was complete on her own, didn’t know she was human and whole and scars heal and there weren’t any scars because it’s just a body, and bodies can be fixed. She was an idiot. Don’t worry, though.

She died for it.

The first and perhaps most important thing to know about Shukaku is he’s gorgeous.

His eyes are golden and wild and beautiful, framed by a thick layer of dark lashes; his hair is dusted golden, fluffy and full; his jawline could cut glass. He’s so beautiful it shocks people. He’s so completely, ridiculously gorgeous. This isn’t something godly. He isn’t particularly talented in other areas of life—not on the scale of a Bijuu. But he’s beautiful, and he knows it, and so does everyone else.

It’s a hindrance.

Animals and children like him purely by instinct. It’s unnatural. Children are often attracted to my godly nature, while animals tend to be intelligent enough to stay out of my way. They think because he’s beautiful he’s special, because he looks like he could be a god he is one. They’re wrong. That’s all he has. He’s clever, too—he is. I’m not saying that just to mock him. He’s clever. But he’s never managed to fool me, and that’s how I know he isn’t godly clever.

Here is the miscalculation Shukaku always makes: He assumes I am perfect.

He’s made this mistake hundreds of times before, perhaps thousands, and each time is more hilarious than the last. I am perfect, don’t mistake that, but Shukaku thinks this means I make no mistakes, means no one will ever betray me, means there’s always a motive behind my every action. He doesn’t realize how much I enjoy spontaneity, doesn’t realize how often I allow myself to float along without purpose. He doesn’t realize mistakes are fate when a god does it.

He thinks the world works the way I make it. Shukaku thinks the world is as I am.

He’s wrong.

This is what always breaks him in the end. He plots and schemes around the assumption that I’ve been plotting and scheming, too. And then, when there’s no scheme at all, his plans fall apart. This is what he never brings into account: I may not be human, but I know how a human thinks. I can be careless like the leaves of a tree growing reckless, the way the stems of flowers look the same if you get close enough or go far enough away.

Shukaku doesn’t speak to me much as we walk. This doesn’t offend me. He isn’t the best conversationalist. The most avid talks he has are usually with himself. His hair and skin are dusted with a pale, almost gold sheen; his skin is unblemished and unscarred; his smile could fool lambs. That’s all he has. We’re family, he and I. We’re the same soul. I’m just larger. We’re the same, but he’s nothing.

Shukaku twists back around to look at me while we walk. It’s the third time he’s done it. He’s still holding a grudge. Our maker might have been the strongest human to live, but he was still human. With or without me, the Sage would have died eventually. At least Shukaku is practical enough to keep himself at a suitable form.

(Our dear father was human, brother, and he created us, I said, and he melted like metal in the face of a boiling river of tar, sinking deep under the surface where the shiny, glossy steel will evaporate into nothing.)

The Tailed Beasts have no bodies. We are energy, power, incarnate. There are no rules for us. No rules for me, anyway. My younger, weaker, inferior siblings have but one: Listen to your elders. The older we are, the stronger we are, after all.

I am the eldest.

“You are still angry with me,” I say carefully, words weighted. Shukaku smiles.

“What could I be angry at, sister?” he asks, and I nod approvingly.

“I’ve no clue,” I agree. Then, a little bit more contemplative, “Do you know where our siblings have hidden themselves away?”

He tenses so minutely that if I didn’t know him half as well as I do, I would have missed it. “No,” Shukaku says, because he wants to run away but my words are a jail, a noose around his neck, and I smile.

“Well,” I say, “we’re going to have to change that, right? I miss them—our siblings—so much. Don’t you?” I watch his shoulders. My smile widens. “We’re looking for them. You do know that, right?”

“I do,” Shukaku says, hollow, and I nod. I look at his hunched shoulders and I know I’ve already gotten one. Only seven more to go.

The best way to a man’s heart is through his chest, just under the ribs and aimed upwards at a diagonal. The rib cage doesn’t extend as far as it should, instead only half covering what it is intended to protect, and often, when broken, the heart is hit by a stab of bone, and the body ends up killing itself. The human body is imperfect in this way, as the species only ever needed to survive adolescence and reproduce. It’s riddled with mistakes, with errors. Humans were never meant to live forever. The same construct of the human body is settled across every single person in the world, and therefore the rules of murder are consistent. Generalizing the entire human race into a single set of rules is difficult, but possible. Humans, much like most of the living, do not live for long and do not matter much. They have small differences, small details, that differ. The human is a creature created by luck, with genes controlled by circumstance, and quite frankly, no one of worth cares.

The first thing to understand is how meaningless these differences are. Focusing on them is a waste of time, of effort. If it helps, think of them as…oranges. Are all oranges the same? No, they are not. Each orange, in this hypothetical, has thoughts and feelings. Each orange is different and special and magical in a way no one else will ever be able to fully understand. No, each orange is not the same. Does it matter?

No. It doesn’t.

Blood and other similarly occurring bodily fluids can be a hindrance, but if one wishes to avoid them entirely, they may simply avoid murder. Blood isn’t dead or empty but instead alive, spilling down out of a wound as though it has been longing to escape, as though it is not an inanimate liquid but instead something like a cat, weaving its way between buildings until it’s reached a place where it cannot be followed. Much like a cat, it is an annoyance when bothered, but surely it’s obvious—the cat is twice as annoyed with you than you could possibly manage to be at it, and therefore the better option is to leave the creature alone and wait for it to seek you out, instead.

In terms of murder, any wait at all often appears counterproductive, but patience is a virtue. A virtue one must reject at the proper time, like all moral codes and ideals, but a relatively good one when used in moderation.

My siblings and I have long since learned that, for a tailed beast, these rules are invalid.

...

“I told you he wouldn’t know where Matatabi was,” Shukaku grouches, flicking a hint of what looks like flesh—the remainder of an arm, probably—from his shoulder. “Did you have to kill him like that?”

I step over the body and wipe my mouth on my sleeve. It’ll stain. I shrug. “It isn’t like anyone is going to miss him,” I say easily. “He was an arms dealer. The clans wouldn’t trust him enough to buy his wares anyway.” I pause, then add, “He smelled a bit like Matatabi, though. Disappointing.”

If I told Shukaku why I killed him he wouldn’t understand. It isn’t that man’s fault, Shukaku would say. What mortal wouldn’t want to fuck god? It’s a compliment. It’s not like he could’ve, anyway. Not unless you let him.

Let him, I would gasp out, appalled. Why would I let him?

Well, Shukaku would say, getting sharper now. I once knew a girl who once knew a man who once—

“No one will miss him,” I repeat. “Let’s go.”

Shukaku’s watching me. He’s always watching me but sometimes the way he watches makes bare skin itch, makes my stomach crawl.

“Matatabi’s nearby,” I tell him. “I can feel her.”

I used to think family was just a word people used when they wanted a word that didn’t attract questions. But it’s different for me now. The pieces of my soul are the only family I will ever have, the only family I would ever want. I glance over my shoulder at the man, at his dirtied hair, his wide terrified eyes and his broken bones. He looks better this way.

“Yes,” Shukaku agrees lowly. He’s watching me. Then he says, “We should go find her,” and I smile bright at him and he looks away.

“Yes,” I say. “We should.”