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Be Not Defeated By The Rain, My Son

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He saw his grandfather once more before the funeral.

He was still a boy, with limbs still growing—protruding out of chubby skin. With eyes still rounded, but ears sharper, and a mind struggling to keep pace with the bustling world of adults that surrounded him.

“They don’t expect him to make it through the night,” came his mother’s voice. It wasn’t directed towards him. He wasn’t even in the same room.

Rain pattered down on the kitchen windows, a glass of water in his tiny hand. Clouds had blotted out the sky, making the summer day feel cut short. It felt like nighttime. No, it felt like a time that didn’t exist altogether. The gray, pregnant clouds seemed to surround his little world, seemed to pause any violent movement of the sun. He could hear the clock ticking, but it seemed to be counting seconds missed, rather than seconds stretching forward.

“Should we go to him?” His father’s voice responded. Muted through shoji doors and thick humidity.

His mother was silent for a moment.

“No. I don’t want to go to that place,” she said. “Not now.”

Gusts of wind splattered rain against the walls of the house, whistling deeply above the roof. The summer chimes frantically kept their tune in response.

“Are you sure?” His father asked.

Kazuma didn’t hear the reply, but the sound of padded feet heading upstairs seemed more than an answer.

An idle rumble of thunder seemed to mirror the sound of Kazuma’s creaking curiosity in his chest.

What did it look like when a cat died?

When Kazuma opened the door, he didn’t expect it to be quite as loud as it was. Rain drops clapped against the pavement, but also jumped through the leaves and grass like a child jumping in puddles. It was summer, which meant even the spaces of air between drops of rain still felt wet. And another gust of wind didn’t bring shivers, but left pinpricks of gooseflesh where the rain assaulted bare skin.

He didn’t bring an umbrella with him. He walked the path, letting water soak his hair, his clothes. His eyes squinted through the weather, flecks of water sticking to his eyelashes and whipping unkindly against him.

Mud on his shoes, kicked up to his calves, skin soaked, he looked through the bamboo bars. And somehow, it felt as though he were looking into the storm, not from it.

His grandfather wasn’t alone, which was surprising.

Two maids, one older, one younger, sat calmly, impassively by his side. He was strewn out on the floor, chest rising and falling in hurried beats—almost as if he were drowning on land. His arm was clutched by the older maid, held with intertwined fingers. But her expression was like stone—a face he associated with all the maids on the ground. Especially the ones inside.

The younger of the two maids wrung a cloth into a small bowl before placing it on his forehead. Drips of water slipped down his forehead and into his vibrant, orange hair—untouched even by obvious age.

Kazuma didn’t like the sight of the old man. His legs wrinkled and exposed, his sunken in chest feeble and sweating. Death was ugly, Kazuma decided then. Simple words attaching to a scene far beyond his years.

A puff of smoke.

Kazuma hadn’t realized the old man was conscious until the cat lifted itself on shaking legs, only to curl up into the lap of the older maid.

“I don’t want to die while it’s raining,” came the detached, rich voice of the cat. “When the storm passes, so shall I. If you would grace me with your company until then, I would be grateful.”

The women didn’t respond, but the older maid scratched his ears. If animals could smile, Kazuma is sure he would know what it looked like now. It was stupid. He might as well have been completely alone. There was nothing to smile about.

Regardless, his grandfather spoke. And Kazuma listened. Unbeknownst to both that he would be a witness to his final words.

Be not defeated by rain
Nor let the wind prove your better
Succumb not to the snows of winter
Nor be bested by the heat of summer

“There’s no reason to be concerned,” said the man, tone serious as it always was. “As I understand it, this is common for those possessed with the cat spirit.”

“I’m aware,” Kazuma responded.

Kyo was wrapped into himself, sweating through the covers of his futon. Somehow, his jaw was still clenched even in sleep—one that he hadn’t awoken from since the rain began the night before. Still such tension in a child so small. He would awaken even more exhausted than the rain that anchored him into sleep.

“Then there was no need to waste our time, was there?” The man stood, taking the stethoscope from his ears to place around his neck. Beside him, a young man in a high school uniform, looking grimly down at the young boy.

Kazuma knew some about the curse, was learning more since bringing Kyo into his home. But he wondered if the dragon boy could feel the seeping fatigue of the cat through their bond. Or if Kyo was really so disconnected from them all that it looked nothing more than a child taking a restless nap. The young man’s face didn’t seem to reveal either.

“Hatori, let’s go,” said the older man.

“Yes, uncle,” came the obedient reply.

The man sighed, “I’ll be happy when you’re old enough to take over your father’s work, already. I’m tired of catering to every beck and call of this family.”

Kazuma bit his tongue as he followed the two men to the entryway to see them out.

“As long as he stays hydrated, he should be fine. He’ll wake up when the storm passes.”

Kazuma looked back into the other room, at the startling still form of the boy. How his ragged breaths seem to pass through him with no guarantee.

“Licorice root,” Hatori said. Kazuma looked away from Kyo to the boy. “It should help subside the exhaustion when he wakes up. I remember reading it in my father’s notebook.”

Kazuma smiled, giving him a nod, “Thank you.”

“We’ll be going.”

Water misted inside the entryway as the door opened, a barrage of rain against pavement too loud for the quiet afternoon, before silence was vacuumed back into the house at the departure of the two men.

Kazuma approached Kyo again, kneeling down beside him. It had only been three weeks since Kyo moved into his home. It was still difficult for the boy to meet his eye. It was still difficult for Kyo to speak above broken, muted words.

Kyo hadn’t yelled since the funeral—hadn’t said much at all since the funeral, really. But his eyes, his posture, his chest burned with screams that had taken root deep in Kyo’s stomach. Kazuma could tell.

Even now, as he panted against sleep, each breath seemed as though it should be accompanied by a shout, by curses and yells. It was too much folded into someone so young.

A deep, horrible shiver racked against Kazuma’s body—the rain against his roof sounding so much like the rain against the cat’s cage when he was a boy. Kazuma instinctively gripped the hand of the boy.

Words Kyo would never hear, parroted off his tongue, as Kazuma kept the small hand in his throughout the night.

Be strong in body
Unfettered by desire
Not enticed to anger
Cultivate a quiet joy

“KYO!”

The shout was ignored—no, overpowered by Kyo’s own cry.

Kyo’s arm sliced through the crowd of students grabbing at his arm, grabbing at his waist to pull him back from the already defeated boy. The fist came down like a hammer, regardless, and the sound of knuckle against skin cracked through the dojo.

Kazuma rushed through the mob trying to hold the boy back, gathering together as if to stop an ocean’s tide. Even as Kazuma pulled him up and away, Kyo flailed, screaming as he was peeled off his now weeping sparring partner. Blood running down the other boy’s nose, the same blood that stained Kyo’s knuckles and clung to Kyo like saliva as he was peeled away.

With Kyo contained in the arms of their teacher, the students crowded around the boy, instead.

“What’s your problem?!” One of them called out.

“You’re crazy!”

“Let me at him!” Kyo only snarled. “I’ll kill him!”

Kyo wouldn’t calm down, wouldn’t settle in Kazuma’s tight grip. He carried the boy outside, despite the falling rain that started to beat down on them both. Every drop feeling like another weight on his hands, every shiver from the cold feeling like another convulsion from the boy in his arms.

He set him down, but kept his hands firmly on Kyo’s arms. Once on his own feet, he hunched, bending under unseen chains dragging him towards the mud, bending as if the rain falling over Kyo had the force of a mountainside waterfall. Still, Kyo tried to right himself.

“Let me GO!” Kyo struggled, garbled sounds scraping against the backs of Kyo’s teeth.

“Calm down, Kyo! You’ll make yourself—”

Kazuma was cut off by a violent retch as Kyo unloaded his stomach onto ground and Kazuma’s socked feet. He coughed up every thing in his system, somehow still sounding angry as he did. Somehow still looking charged and emboldened despite the ragged inhales, and his inability to hold both his body and his eyes up and open.

Kazuma waited, patiently—as he always did, before cutting through the exaggerated pants of Kyo.

“What did he say to you?”

Kyo wiped at his mouth, narrowed eyes not meeting Kazuma’s, and the boy’s watered down blood replaced spare bits of vomit around Kyo’s mouth.

“I hate this place!” Kyo said instead. “I hate it here! I hate it! I hate the Sohmas! I hate this house, I hate this family! I HATE IT!”

“What did he say?” Kazuma repeated, firmly.

Every child Kazuma taught was a Sohma. Every child that lined up by Kyo, that practiced by Kyo, that spoke to Kyo in these walls was a Sohma. Kazuma began to understand that when the whispers and malicious glances were brought to his door in the form of mothers and fathers and uncles and grantdparents and adults laying eyes on one, broken, orange-haired child.

Kyo wasn’t the only one beginning to feel stifled.

“He said—! He… My mom! He said I—!” Kyo couldn’t put the words together, tripping over his rage. And Kazuma softened. “I’ll kill him, too!”

“You need to calm down, don’t push yourself so much when it’s raining—”

“No, no, no,” mumbled Kyo with glassy eyes, shaking his body in order to free himself from Kazuma, or perhaps just to wake himself up.

“They’re just words, Kyo—you have to be stronger than words.”

“I AM!” Kyo cried back, rain and dehydration working viciously in Kyo’s system, making his eyes unfocused and his body limp, yet lifted and moving as if through unrelenting strings of a marionette.

“I’m not weak. I’m not weak!” Kyo cried out, fighting how his body longed to collapse.

Deliriously, Kyo brought his hand to his beads, “I’M NOT WEAK!”

“NO.”

Kazuma snatched Kyo’s hand away a little too forcefully, a little too abruptly, feeling his nails accidentally scratch against the back of Kyo’s hand, leaving a welt that began to skid with superficial blood.

Kyo collapsed. His body dragged him down, weakening his legs before anything else. Kazuma caught him by his shoulders before his head could topple any which way, but didn’t bring him closer—his breathing coming harsh and frightened.

He knelt there with Kyo for awhile, rain on his skin, boy an arm’s length away.

Shakily, Kazuma began, “Be not defeated by ra—”

“Don’t.”

Kyo’s voice was tired, distant. Firm.

Kazuma continued, anyway. If only to calm the rapid beating of his own heart.

Count yourself last in everything
Put others before you
Watch well and listen closely
Hold the learned lessons dear

“Thank you, as always,” Kazuma said to the woman in his doorway, taking the bag offered from her. “Would you like to come in?”

“No, I shouldn’t. I need to get home,” she said. The drops on her umbrella sang deeper, lower, than the ones on the pathway to his home. “Kagura made me promise you would let him know who made the soup.”

“I will,” Kazuma said, with a smile. She said her farewells, and he watched her walk down the path as she did.

In the kitchen, Kazuma poured the still steaming soup from the plastic containers into porcelain bowls. It smelled good, but it smelled foreign. The scent of it was left behind from a kitchen that was not his own. Ingredients floating in broth that were not from his pantry or fridge.

Kazuma berated himself. Berated his untouched, unused kitchen. Berated his lack of skills that would come so easily to a natural parent, he was sure.

When he opened the door to Kyo’s room, he was sitting up. Pale skin bunching around drooped eyes as Kyo watched the rain fall from the open balcony door in his room. His futon was crumpled against the wall so Kyo could sit up. He looked calm.

But, then again, Kazuma noted that Kyo looking calm was one and the same as looking defeated.

“Kagura’s mother brought you soup,” Kazuma said, but Kyo didn’t look his way. “Kagura made it.”

“I don’t want it.” Kyo’s eyes drooped shut, but his breathing harshened, as if forcing himself awake.

Kazuma knelt by his side. His hand gripped the back of Kyo’s head, not unkindly, but without a gentility Kazuma realized he also lacked in this stature. He brought the bowl towards Kyo’s lips with his other hand, tipping it down into his mouth.

Kyo drank, but not without a glare.

“Don’t let the efforts of kind people go to waste,” Kazuma said, softly. Kyo gulped down another bite, before turning his head away, rejecting the bowl.

Kazuma sighed, kneeling back for now, but not setting the dish aside.

“She’s not kind, she’s guilty,” Kyo bit.

Just like you.

Kazuma let the unsaid words fold into the humid air. Moments like these, moments with the rain pattering against windows, against roof tiles, threatening to invade like an army, Kyo seemed at his most honest.

He seemed at his angriest, his most hurt, his most confused.

Words and sentiments unearned by Kazuma, but given to him anyway because of how the rain loosened Kyo’s tongue and joints.

When he spoke, he felt as though he was taking advantage of that unearned truthfulness. It burned a sick sensation into his throat and gut.

“Why did you run away?” Kazuma asked, finding it difficult to keep the crack in his voice at bay—as if he were the one weakened by the rain.

Kyo didn’t look his way, “I didn’t.”

Kazuma furrowed his brow. Because he did. When he came home, Kyo was gone. He hadn’t returned home all night, though the storm growled and rumbled and trampled the earth throughout.

There were few people he could call. Few people who would care about a disappearing cat. A loneliness bit through Kazuma as he searched with only the thin layer of an umbrella to protect him. He scoured Sohma House, let the darkened air disturbed by the static of rain overwhelm him. An urgency shook Kazuma—wondering if he hadn’t found Kyo by the time the rain let up, if he might never see him again.

As if Kyo would scatter with the clouds.

It was the dog’s mother that found him. Slumped and sleeping under an alleyway awning, a few blocks from Sohma House.

Kazuma was sure repercussions would be seen because of it. She was a nice woman, with a manufactured sympathetic lilt to her voice. But all the zodiacs knew which of those inside reveled in the role. Akito would be soon to call, he was sure.

“What were you doing so close to the estate?” Kazuma tried, instead.

Kyo turned his head away, “The graves are there.”

Horrifically, Kazuma felt relief expand beneath his skin.

“Did you see your mother?”

Kyo took so long to respond, Kazuma thought he might have fallen asleep.

“No,” he said, finally, quietly. “The rain started. I got tired.” Kazuma didn’t need to see Kyo to know he was gritting his teeth. “I couldn’t make it.”

Kazuma kept quiet. Let Kyo simmer in whatever it was that had him looking far and away into the rain. It felt like cheating to press further. I felt like an invasion of privacy to ask to be let in. With Kyo so resolutely doing his best to keep his heart guarded and away.

Because having Kyo speak back, clearly and honestly, with his face as pale as it was, and a weariness so pronounced Kyo could barely move his fingers, Kazuma couldn’t help but think of the honesty of men on their deathbed.

He brought Kyo’s mouth to the bowl of soup again, and he coughed slightly as it went down.

“I want to train,” Kyo said. “Now.”

“Tomorrow,” Kazuma promised.

“I hate the rain,” Kyo said, only half awake. “I hate this.”

Kazuma didn’t reply. Kyo was already asleep. Gently, he brushed hair damp with sweat away from Kyo’s face, and lifted him to lay flat on the futon, rather than curled awkwardly like peeling wallpaper in damp heat.

Perhaps, this gentility wasn’t allowed, either. Kazuma couldn’t tell. He thought, again, that only a natural parent would know the answer to that.

Until then, he watched Kyo sleep.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow
Nestled in a pine grove’s shade
A handful of rice, some miso
And a few vegetables to suffice for the day

Kazuma was not Kyo’s savior.
He knew this.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health

Kazuma was not Kyo’s protector.

He knew this.

If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden

Kazuma was not Kyo’s friend.

He knew this.

If to the south, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear

Kazuma was not Kyo’s father.

If, to the north, an argument or fight ensues:

Kazuma knew this all too well.



Go forth and beg them to stop such a waste of effort and spirit

Their first day in the mountains, it rained.

The hike was arduous, deliberately so. Miles of jagged rock, uneven ground, protruding stones, and overgrown, tall grass that blinded clear pathways. Kyo did his best to keep up, knowing that rain was gathering—looming—just above him. It was as if it was chasing him, stalking him like prey. Kazuma listened as Kyo outran the weather behind him and poured himself into a futile race with Kazuma’s stamina simultaneously.

Kazuma kept himself tall, kept his eyes forward, and his stride unwavering. He wasn’t one to be dampened by rain, he wasn’t one to be beaten by the elements. No matter how much it had felt that way, typhoon after typhoon by Kyo’s side.

Rainfall after rainfall watching Kyo falter and fade.

Storm after storm watching Kyo slip farther and farther away.

Until now.

Kyo was so distant from him, so built with a rotted calcium of pain and rage and fury that it was as if he were another person entirely. As if his body was nothing but a vessel to expel unwanted emotion after unwanted emotion.

Until what was left? Kazuma wondered. Until Kyo emptied himself into nothing?

The disconnect from the boy he had taken into his home was enough to remind Kazuma that the rain did not effect him. It did not hurt him. It did not soften his joints and bones.

Kazuma was not cursed.

They reached the top of the mountain just before the first drop fell. A small home, owned by the nearby temple, stood before them. Their home until Kyo decided he had rid himself enough of the world inside him.

Kyo vomited on the steps before he even stepped inside. Before even saying a word to Kazuma since their journey began.

“Go to sleep,” Kazuma commanded.

Kyo entered without a word, and did.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy

They woke with the sun most days. Their time in the mountains had bled into summer, and the heat was relentles. Kyo blazed hotter than fire, seemingly energized by a land burnt and scorched—where the air flickered and danced, thick with heat, and where cicadas chirped and cooed like cracks and pops of a raging house fire.

Their skin darkened. Sweat became their natural dress.

Kyo roared when he kicked, when he punched, when he jumped—noises swallowed by the mountainside. Kyo was nothing but silenced under the seclusion, under Kazuma’s watchful gaze that remained harshly impassive.

There was an exhaustion forming in Kazuma from the inside out, one he refused to show.

One worsened by rain.

Kyo was stripped bare by the rain, peeled apart as if the sky let fall knives and swords rather than summer showers.

In the rain, it all became too clear. Kyo became nothing. Kyo became tired and frail. Kyo fell into a sleep that his bones yearned and screamed for, when he would push himself further and further at any sight of the sun.

Kyo was anger with the sun, but was nothing but a hurt child in the rain.

Kazuma watched him bloom violently, only to retreat so far into himself that he looked like nothing more than an empty body. All on the whims of weather. All on the whims of a curse.

The ebb and flow of it was so extreme, Kazuma wondered how much more Kyo’s body could take, before he simply didn’t return.

Kazuma said nothing. Because Kazuma wasn't his father. Because Kyo had already rejected Kazuma as anything other than a man with a dojo.

So that’s what he would be.

“You’re still imbalanced when you land. It’s not about force, it’s about stability,” Kazuma instructed, voice firm.

Kyo stumbled backwards from the force of Kazuma’s kick, arms quick to come back up into a fighting stance.

“Stretch kicks. Now. You will not attack me again until you find your balance,” Kazuma commanded.

Kyo growled, but kicked his leg up high, landing with legs apart, before sliding his leg back to do the same again. On the third, his body shook, and Kazuma was quick to put a hand on his shoulder as soon as Kyo fumbled into the landing.

Roughly, he pushed Kyo to the side, whose legs faltered beneath him, but he didn’t fall.

“Balance.” Kazuma said again, voice narrowing even further. Kyo looked at him with harsh, determined eyes. “Again.”

Clouds were beginning to form overhead. The gray had been threatening to overtake the sky since this morning, closing in more and more as the day went on. Kyo had kept himself firmly rooted in the sun that stretched its beams into the earth. Kazuma could tell that he had ignored the lagging of his arms and legs, pushing through, pushing his body further.

Kazuma was glad. He couldn’t watch the rain take this boy again.

Kyo let out another harsh shout as he kicked his leg high, posture straight and neat, his feet coming shoulder width apart and bent. In a flash, Kazuma had regained his fighting stance, sending a side-kick to Kyo, who narrowly dodged.

Kyo fell back into the spar as if it were the only thing he knew how to do other than breathing, and Kazuma wondered if this was all he had given Kyo. If this was all he had been able to offer him in these past years.

The clouds invaded further, turning spots of shade into dulling sky.

Kazuma felt a drop on the back of his neck. Kyo threw his fist at Kazuma’s face, who dodged, dancing so that he was behind Kyo, sending a side-kick that Kyo blocked by throwing up his knee to protect his side. Kyo bounced back, movements definitely lagging now with the crackling energy of rain in the air, sending his back leg back in a switch kick towards Kazuma, who stepped away.

Kyo kicked at nothing, the momentum sending his body awkwardly out of his proper stance. Kazuma swept his foot under Kyo’s unstable legs, and Kyo fell harshly onto his side.

Drops of rain seemed to land around Kyo, dotting the dirt, and making Kyo’s fall seem more pronounced than it was.

“Get up,” Kazuma said. “Switch kicks. Since you seem to have forgotten how to use them.”

Kyo forced himself up, panting harder, and threw his back leg immediately into a kick aimed for the air. Too eager, too sudden. He landed awkwardly again, and Kazuma took a hand and pushed at Kyo’s chest, sending him stumbling backwards.

“You’re not listening,” Kazuma barked. “Again.”

Rain was falling harsher now, and Kyo looked as though he was struggling just to keep his shoulders up. He shifted himself into a proper stance, giving a hearty shout when his leg came forward to kick.

It wasn’t as straight as Kazuma knew it could be in the sun. It wasn’t as neat and perfected and Kazuma knew it could be with the rain scattered and away.

But Kazuma had grown tired of seeing Kyo weakened by the rain.

“Again.”

Kyo did, this one even sloppier.

“Again.”

Kyo gave a shout that sounded more like a pained cry when his leg went flying into a wild and messy kick.

Kazuma stalked over to Kyo, standing behind him and harshly grabbing at his arms to hold him up straighter, forcing him upright in a physical scold.

“Again!”

Kyo shouted, louder and harder and pained in a final kick that sent him so off balance that he toppled to the ground. He breathed harshly, collecting every breath he could as rain beat down on him, Kazuma looking down on him from above.

“I can’t, okay?! I can’t! It’s rain—”

“I don’t want to hear about the rain,” Kazuma said harshly. “You are stronger than the elements. You’re not someone defeated by water.”

Kyo’s teeth clenched, his fists balled up, his eyes narrowed and watering as he forced himself up. Kyo sent a punch to Kazuma, weakened and hazy and with no force other than Kyo’s full body falling into it, sending him into another tumble on the ground.

“Get up, Kyo,” Kazuma ordered, again.

“Leave me alone!” He shouted back, voice strained and dry. “I can’t fight in the rain! I can’t do shit in the rain!”

“You can!”

Kyo growled into the dirt. He lifted himself up again, this time much more slowly. He faced Kazuma, exhausted stance locking in. He delayed a moment before charging head first at Kazuma. Punch after punch after kick after kick, each one weaker than the last. Each less of a practiced technique, and more of a wild throw of fists more suited to a school ground fight.

Kazuma let him go—he dodged but wouldn’t attack back. He stepped just out of Kyo’s strikes, only to step closer, dangling the hope of landing a hit, only to step away again when Kyo threw out belly-cries with sloppy feet.

He could do this. He could be better than the rain. He could be better than this weather. He could be better than the storm building inside him since they left for the mountains. He could be stronger than his grandfather.

Kyo could do this.

Kazuma’s eyes widened when he felt a body fall onto his.

The two fell back, Kyo weighted heavily atop of him, shivering and shaking as if left out in the snow. Eyes scratched red and leaking tears that looked so predominantly different than the rain falling on his cheeks.

Kyo laid there, breathing hysterical, before shouting out into Kazuma’s robe, only for no action to follow—his limbs shut down. His voice all that was left.

The darkened, paralyzing fear overcame Kazuma again, and without thinking he wrapped his arms around the boy.

“I’m sorry,” Kazuma breathed. “I’m sorry, Kyo. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Kazuma’s eyes clenched shut, and he could feel his own tears relieved from his eyes. He clutched Kyo harder.

“Shishou…” Kyo breathed, voice thick with tears and confusion.

“You don’t have to be strong,” Kazuma said, immediately. “You just have to survive. Please.”

“I’m not weak,” Kyo offered, voice wavering. Kazuma could feel Kyo digging his fists into his robes, struggling to hang on. “I’m not.”

“No, Kyo,” he said. “But perhaps it’s time you were.”

Kyo shivered, a sob wracking through him that Kazuma would never see.

“I don’t want to go back.”

Kazuma let a comforting hand come up to Kyo’s hair. Stroking the back of it, like his mother used to do to him as a child. Like a natural parent would.

“I’m afraid you’ll never heal if we don’t.”

Kyo wept like the sky, but the harsh clatter of rain against dirt, rain against trees, rain against grass, rain against skin, was deafening. And the sounds of Kyo breaking melded seamlessly with the nature around them.

Like a lullaby, he spoke back his grandfather’s last words.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses: Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man.”

“Did you know you always smell like licorice?”

Kazuma looked down at the girl and smiled, “Is that a bad thing?”

“Oh, no! Not at all! I like the smell of it,” Tohru beamed. Kazuma smiled back.

“I’m sorry to intrude, I just thought I might pay a visit today,” he said. “Is Kyo upstairs?”

“He should be. I’ll make some tea to bring up to you,” Tohru said, turning to head toward the kitchen before Kazuma stopped her.

“That’s alright, I’ve brought my own today,” he said, holding up a thermos from his bag. The pleasant conversation only lasted a moment longer, before she bounded back to the kitchen. Kazuma could hear the sounds of pots, pans, boiling water, and stove top fires whistling through the space.

He passed down the hallway, to find the door to Shigure’s office open. They nodded amiably to each other as Kazuma passed by, listening to the sounds of pen against paper scratching through.

Upstairs he could hear the sound of rustling and movement from behind a door that wasn’t Kyo’s—the steady pulse of life undisturbed.

Kazuma knocked twice on Kyo’s door before letting himself in.

Kyo was standing on the balcony, stretching out, before he turned around at the sound of the door opening and closing.

“Shishou,” he said, voice edged happily through sleep. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you, is all.” He stood next to him on the balcony, his hands resting on the wood damp from rainfall the night before. The edges of it still dripped peacefully, and the smell of fresh, clean land still kicked up, mixing with the late afternoon autumn breeze.

“Are you tired?” Kazuma asked. “I thought you might need this.”

Kazuma handed him the thermos, and Kyo took it with a puzzled look on his face.

“You came all this way to give me some tea?”

“Aren’t you tired?”

Kyo opened it, pouring some in the cup for Kazuma, before drinking straight from the lip.

“I guess. Thanks,” he mumbled. Kazuma sipped his own tea, too.

Of all the things Kazuma never realized he would miss when he and Kyo separated were the nights it rained. Kyo had taken over the element in its entirely, had made rain synonymous to Kazuma with his son’s tired eyes, long naps, and honest words.

It hurt to see Kyo crumpled and weak, hurt to see him tired and frustrated.

It never occurred to Kazuma that it would hurt even more not to be the one beside him. It never occurred to Kazuma that trusting your child to grow would leave such a sting.

Though, he supposed it was worth it. If it meant seeing him once the storm had passed.

Kyo gulped down more of the boiled licorice root, and Kazuma placed a hand on his shoulder — playfully jostling him.

“What gives?” Kyo asked, hardly moving under the motion.

Kazuma smiled, “Just checking your balance.”

This is my goal, the person I strive to become