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Reading Abe no Seimei’s Diary

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Kamata-san's glee when Arata brought in the scroll had been a little overpowering. Apparently it was the only surviving example of part of a Heian onmyōji's diary, written in the margins of a calendar that Abe no Seimei didn’t have the rank to legally use. "But he had the knowledge to make it, since he worked in the government office that distributed it to all the highest-ranking nobility," she told him as she returned the scroll. "Very daring, your ancestor. Pity it would reveal too much about Anothers to give it to a museum. My contact nearly didn't return it."

He probably would have handed the scroll back to Yūki, to hide in a corner of the storehouse where he never again had to contemplate having a national treasure that he wasn't really hiding from the government, except that Theo had begun nagging him about reading his family's history, and then Kohaku had overheard and ambushed Arata when he walked in the front gate. "Seimei's diary?" He danced around Arata, wheedling. "I remember watching him write it. You should let me see it. You should read it with me!"

Ignoring Kohaku never worked. This time it led to yowling arguments when Yūki refused to let Kohaku into the storehouse, and dead birds in the courtyard when Yūki turned a nose up at Kohaku's attempts at bribery. The latter only got worse when Arata arrived at the office to find Senda-san fielding calls from Ueno complaining that something had stolen two peacocks from Ueno Zoo.

"Please stop," Arata told Kohaku when he went home that morning. "No more birds."

"I couldn't find any wild turkeys," Kohaku protested. "Those are the best."

Arata sighed. "That's not the point. I'll read the diary, okay?"

Kohaku whirled excitedly, argument forgotten. "You will?"

"Yes," Arata surrendered. "Come on, let's go to the storehouse."

Arata led the way back to the paulownia wood box that held the scroll and took it out gently. He unrolled the start and stared at the script on the page. There was a "four" and the character for "sky," at least. He looked up at Kohaku. "Can you read it?"

Kohaku leaned over his shoulder. "Well, that's Tenryaku 4. I met Seimei in Tenryaku, hmm, one? Two? He had to write the year on so many pages!" Yūki bristled and hissed when Kohaku waved his arms, hanging half over Arata's back, so the cloth of his sleeve hit Arata in the chin and narrowly avoided scraping over the old paper. "Oh, hush," Kohaku told the nekomata absently. "Oh, I remember now! I never learned his written language. It was nothing like the spoken one, and Seimei had the Ears of Sand, anyway. Why should I learn it?" He sat back, looking as innocent as if he hadn't just spent weeks nagging Arata and harassing Yūki to let him see a diary he couldn't read.

Arata turned to stare at him. "So you can't read it."

"Nope!" Kohaku shook his head vigorously. His golden hair clasps, at the base of the two tails of hair framing his face, hit Arata's shoulders.

"Okay, then." Arata clapped his hands sharply and went to roll the scroll back up. Kohaku stopped him.

"No! You have to read it. Didn't your grandfather teach you?"

Arata thought guiltily of those long-ago conversations. "I barely remembered we were related to Abe no Seimei! The only time I ever read this sort of thing was in high school. And that was printed! In a textbook."

Kohaku crossed his arms and legs and hovered in a stubborn lotus position right in front of Arata's face. He said nothing.

Arata sagged and stared at the floor for a moment. Then he got up to go find his high school classical literature textbooks.

Somehow it got around Shinjuku that Arata was learning to read his ancestor's old writing. The pixies of Shinjuku Park laughed at him, and Tarōbō gave him a commiserating pat on the back. Then he apparently told all the other tengu, because the old man who had called him Seimei on his first day what seemed like an age ago insisted on tutoring him. Arata felt like a criminal the first day, sneaking into the park with the precious scroll, but it turned out to be a lot easier to learn with someone else helping him guess which character each cursive squiggle matched to.

The first time he laughed at an entry — Seimei's dry account of a tanuki that nearly caused a riot by pretending to be a wine bottle just outside shrine grounds that rolled away every time the priests tried to grab it, before Seimei revealed its true form — he realized that he might like his ancestor. It felt a little odd, since so many people still thought he was Seimei.

"You're still a kill-joy," Kohaku pouted at him that weekend, when Arata noticed the festival dancers nearest Kohaku getting wilder and sloppier than the rest, slapped a hand over Kohaku's mouth, and dragged him away before he could intoxicate them further. "I like music."

Arata blushed. "You can hear the music from here." Yoyogi Park was packed and noisy, but the drums still carried clearly, a driving beat that made Arata want to dance.

Kohaku noticed. "Dance with me, Arata!" His festival yukata rippled as he moved, much more colorful than most modern men's yukata. The obi was narrow and coarse, without the large bow that Izumi used, but it was also a bright, eye-catching scarlet that drew out the red lines in the stylized geometric flowers on the cotton of the garment. His gracefully-moving arms almost made it look like the stitched flowers were petals floating in a breeze.

Arata shook his head and managed to hold to his resolution until it was time to go to work. Kohaku followed him out, singing in a language that Arata had never heard. He had acquired a drum made of what looked like turtle shells somewhere when Arata wasn't looking, and he beat it in a rhythm that matched his song. Arata gave up on the subway and walked faster when he realized that his fellow pedestrians were beginning to move in step to Kohaku's song. "Don't bring in other people," he hissed.

Kohaku laughed and gave up stalking the salarymen going out for drinks after their weekend overtime. He drifted closer to Arata and tapped the drum quietly enough that only he could hear. "Jealous?"

Arata could feel his heart matching the beat of the drum. "I went to the festival with you."

Kohaku pushed off the sidewalk in a graceful lunge to hover over Arata's shoulder. "You should come to the one next week with me, too."

Arata nearly whirled to stare at him. "Another one?"

"It's summer," Kohaku laughed. "Of course there's another one."

"We'll see," Arata said quellingly and managed to stay quiet until they reached the ward office. He had never been so grateful that most people on the street couldn't see Anothers.

Theo raised an eyebrow at him when he entered the office. "You look flustered."

Arata busied himself getting out his reports. "I think Abe no Seimei was better at making Anothers behave than I am. He didn't get trapped into drinking contests." Or dancing, he added silently.

Theo flapped a hand at him, clearly not interested in remembering passing out at Kio Gongen's shrine. "You're getting better, even if you do keep letting the god of misfortune get to you."

Arata smiled wryly and started on his paperwork.

***

When Arata finally got back to the diary, it was to an entry about music and dance. "Court dance music from beyond India," he read, puzzled. "The other side of the world."

Kohaku appeared over his desk between one blink and the next. Arata jumped. "You called?"

"No," he started, then bit his tongue. "Maybe. I think this is you." He pointed to the characters that might spell out Ko-Haku.

Kohaku looked at the diary. "Oh, yes, that's me!" He snickered, turning in mid-air until he was floating upside down so that his hair, drawn into a single tail, didn't quite brush the paper of the diary. "He used to write my name on shikigami and send them to peck me when I annoyed him too much."

Arata glanced further down the page and sputtered. "You danced in scarlet layered robes?"

Kohaku hummed agreement, looking faraway. "I perfumed them with incense, too. I didn't feel like learning to write him a poem, so I sang instead, but then I couldn't use scented paper, so I wore scarlet scented robes." Yūki had been watching Kohaku's hair with narrowed attention, claws flexing like he wanted to swipe at the dangling strands, or maybe scold Kohaku for treating the thousand-year-old records with such disrespect, but now the nekomata seemed to be having a coughing fit.

"Yūki, are you okay?" Arata asked. The nekomata swiped at his own nose. "Is there dust?"

"Dust," Yūki agreed. "I'll just go outside for now!" He leapt out the window.

Arata looked after him, then turned back to Kohaku. "Why were you singing and dancing?"

Kohaku's upside-down eyes laughed at him. "I am the god of music as well as misfortune."

Arata pointedly turned back to the diary. Kohaku just hovered, his dangling hair a slow-moving distraction. Seimei hadn't written down the song, which left Arata perversely disappointed but unwilling to ask Kohaku what it had been. He skipped to the next entry, which had Kohaku again. Then the next. And the next. He went back to the first of the three, where Seimei noted that he had been staying in his father's home that week.

"You...visited him three nights in his father's house," Arata said slowly, something about the phrasing nagging at his memories of literature classes.

"And had dinner with him after dancing, before I went home," Kohaku agreed. He huffed, "I spent so long matching our auspicious days. Do you know how hard it is to calculate using both a sixty-day cycle and a thirteen-day one? I spent months watching over his shoulder while he studied before I understood your calendar. It randomly added months!"

Arata rolled his eyes, but his alarm clock saved him from having to answer. He left Kohaku at home to race to the office, but the question continued to nag at him. "Father's house, three nights," he muttered as he patrolled Shinjuku Park. The angels and tengu were quiet, thankfully, and he was relieved not to see the old tengu man. He wanted to figure this out on his own.

"I wonder when Adiel and Tarōbō plan to marry?" he asked Yūki that night, sprawled on the floor. The nekomata sneezed. Something pinged in Arata's mind, and he barely noticed Yūki leaping out the window once more in his rush to reach the desk. He unrolled the scroll and looked back at the entries.

The first, with the formal dance, did not quote Kohaku's song, but now that he read more carefully he found a paraphrase that referenced many future nights. And the three visits, on auspicious days for both Seimei and Kohaku, at Seimei's father's villa. "You married him," he said out loud. Then he looked around wildly for Kohaku, who did not appear.

His dreams, when he finally managed to sleep, were thick and syrupy, filled with traditional incense and the rustle of heavy silks and soft lips. He dreamed of Kohaku's voice next to his ear, whispering that he had played the game according to Seimei's rules, and hadn't he won it properly, and sharp teeth nibbling at his neck, right below his ear. When he woke, his sleep clothes were sweat-damp and his underwear sticky, but his neck was unmarked. He had to wait until after work to confront Kohaku.

"You married him," he said, after he tracked Kohaku down to the streets outside Tokyo Dome.

Kohaku was dancing on air, exuberant after a night of musical performances. He looked like a coyote that had caught its prey, lacking only the feathers poking out the sides of his mouth. "Not according to my standards," he said. "Not enough feasting. But the rules here in those days were so much simpler. Just a statement of intent and a few visits." Arata couldn't think of what to say. He shook his head in slow wonder. "Oh, I know!" Kohaku added. "Do you want to see the costume?" He pulled handfuls of red silk from the air somewhere, and began to shrug out of his usual white over-robe. He didn't have much on beneath it.

"No!" Arata exclaimed, too loud for the morning streets. "Not in public," he said more quietly. He was pretty sure his face was as red as the silk.

He realized his mistake when Kohaku seized his hand and pulled him sailing down the street. Hopefully the few passers-by would not believe their eyes or would at least think his feet were touching the ground. "I'll show you at home, then."

"Kohaku," he began, but even he could hear the curiosity in his own voice, and he gave up. "Put me down. I can walk. The subway will be faster."

"Than flying?" Kohaku looked skeptical, but he grinned anyway. "I'll race you back. I'll even give you a head start while I change."

Arata had no time to answer before Kohaku was gone, in a rustle of silk. He looked at his cell phone. Five minutes to catch the next train. No time to hesitate. He began to run.