"Taoism tends to emphasize harmony and balance between and among relatively equal forces and aspects of reality both visible and invisible. Whether in the 'religious Taoism' represented by the Japanese 'way of yin and yang' (onmyodo), or in the 'philosophic Taoism' that influenced Zen, these tendencies predominate in the Japanese forms of Taoism."
--Robert Ellwood/Richard Pilgrim, Japanese Religion
Shaman, Chapter 2
released 26th September, 2004
Sakon woke with a start from dreams that he didn't remember. Instinctively he looked over at Ukon's box, reflexively checking that it was still there.
As he had known it would be, it was.
With a sigh, he lay down on his futon, drawing the sheets back up to his chin. The winter had turned cold last week and his bedroom on the north side of the house colder with it.
It was silent, and he thought he could hear the whisper of snow outside, feel its presence softening the edges of sound, brightening the sky with its reflected light. It was comforting, and as quiet as death.
He frowned at that thought and reached into his memory to find what had woken him. But like his fast-vanishing dreams, that knowledge was gone.
Suddenly uneasy, he checked Ukon's box again. He got up out of bed and crawled over to it. Kneeling, he took the top off the box.
Ukon was gone.
Sakon woke with a gasp.
He turned his head and his gaze lit on Ukon's box. Without hesitating he crawled over and opened it.
Ukon lay sleeping inside, red hair muted by the snowy light from outside.
Sakon signed in relief, quietly replacing the lid lest his partner should wake and berate him for disturbing his sleep. He crawled back to his bed and tucked himself under the covers.
"Good night, Ukon," he whispered, smiling as he closed his eyes and fell back into soft sleep.
Subaru did not go inside his home. Instead he walked around it, to the back where koi flicked lazily back and forth in their pond, where snow covered in thin white sheets the ground and the bushes, the sakura and the camellia alike whitened by a silence like death.
His feet left no impressions on the fallen snow.
Standing on the small red bridge that stretched over a dry riverbed, he closed his eyes and turned his face to the sky, letting the snow fall upon him like feather-light kisses, like the cool touch of a lover.
A haunted puppet....
Such things were rare, yet Tachibana-san had been so calm about the puppet's existence, as though it were a part of daily life.
She really was very much like Hokuto-chan.
His hands were in his in his coat pockets and one of them brushed against the business card she'd given him. He smiled a bit, eyes still closed to the sky. Police detective...? He wondered what his sister would have turned to had she not sacrificed herself for his sake. Maybe a fashion designer. Maybe a housewife. The world would never know, and that was his true tragedy, that he'd been the one to live instead of his twin.
"You would have brightened the world," he whispered, and went inside.
"Good morning, Sakon," his mother sedately greeted him as he and Ukon made their appearance at breakfast.
"Good morning, Mother, Grandfather," he replied, sitting down.
Ukon stretched and yawned, covering his mouth with one hand, then gave a wave. "Bad dreams," he said by way of apologetic explanation.
"Bad dreams?" Saemon asked.
"Or maybe 'interrupted sleep' would be closer to it," Ukon said, glaring very carefully nowhere in the area of Sakon, who had murmured his thanks for the breakfast and was one-handedly eating his rice.
Sakon's mother and grandfather smiled as a bouncy "Good morning~!" made its way into the room mere seconds ahead of Kaoruko.
"Kaoruko, you're eating breakfast with us today?" Chizuru asked. "Let us get another setting for you."
"Not breakfast, just stopped by to say hi," Kaoruko demurred, sitting down at the table's free side.
"Better get a setting," Ukon advised, and was the prompt victim of a bonking.
"Be quiet!" Kaoruko admonished. "I thought you might be interested in hearing who I met last night."
"Oh?" Saemon asked.
Kaoruko nodded. "You've heard of the Sumeragi clan, right, Dad?" she asked.
"The same. Last night I ran into--or rather, he ran into me--none other than Sumeragi Subaru. The young, handsome, wealthy, and very eligible head of the clan."
"You're as boy-crazy as ever," Chizuru said, smiling indulgently at her sister as one of the maids set rice and miso soup down before Kaoruko.
"My eligible years are ticking away!" Kaoruko defended herself. "We can't all be lucky enough to find our one true love in the flush of our late teens, Neesan!"
"So what was he like?" Ukon asked. "Did he live up to the reputation of the scaaaaary exorcists we all hear about?" His expression and gestures were appropriate.
"You have been watching too much television," Kaoruko retorted. "Both of you," she added, looking at her quietly eating nephew. Sakon and Ukon exchanged a glance of mutual unconcern. "Sumeragi-san was nice. Very quiet. Not too much unlike Sakon, in fact, but then, what can you do about that? We had ramen together." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "He seemed like a still lake with deep, dark waters underneath. I think he's seen a lot. Maybe too much. He didn't seem like a happy person at all." She smiled then, like a ray of sunshine shooting through a gray sky. "He said I reminded him of his sister."
Saemon and Chizuru looked at one another in surprise and concern.
"Ittadakimasu!" Kaoruko said, diving into her second breakfast.
Sakon looked at Ukon and paused, chopsticks hovering above his rice. Ukon was... worried? Uncharacteristically pensive, in any case.
"Ukon?" he asked.
The puppet turned to look at him, blinked, then flashed a million-watt grin at him. "What?" he asked. "So, Sakon, what do you think of Kaoruko's new object of affection?"
Still. Sakon knew his partner, and knew that look had been nothing to be unconcerned about.
Another day, another stack of paperwork. One of the things about detective work was that between the investigations and piecing together of bits of information, there was an awful lot of paperwork to fill out. Kaoruko sucked on the cap of her pen and tried to remember if she had already filled out the form before her or if that had been for another case. This was the part Sakon got to skip. For a kid who would've been in high school had he been born into a non-bunraku family, he and Ukon had seen (and solved, her professional mind grumbled in only a little jealousy at his impeccable track record) far too many murders.
Her phone rang. "Hello, Tachibana," she answered, her thoughts elsewhere.
"Hello, Detective Tachibana," said a voice which banished her absent-mindedness to the sidelines. "This is Sumeragi Subaru. We met last night...?"
"Yes," Kaoruko answered. "I remember. I didn't expect you to call."
Subaru smiled politely, standing in front of Sunshine City, cel phone to one ear as he watched the ongoing reconstruction. A large sign declared the project to be Imonoyama-funded. He still remembered the penguin exhibit fondly, and hoped Nokoru-san had the intention of having an aquarium in the new structure. "I'm sorry to call you at work, but I was wondering... last night you mentioned your nephew's companion being a haunted puppet. If it was possible, I wondered if you might spare me some time to talk more on the subject."
"Of course," she replied. "When and where?"
They ended up on Clamp Campus because Subaru had indeed gone to ask Nokoru about the matter of the penguins, and received his answer in the affirmative before Takamura-san had ushered him out, glowering because Subaru was one of the few people who was on Nokoru's "admit immediately" list and they'd gone into a half-hour discussion on the matter, effectively (or so Ijyuin-san had said) distracting Nokoru from his work for the rest of the day.
Cafe Deukalion had always made wonderful cakes and rolls.
"They are good," Kaoruko admitted, sipping at her tea. "You wanted to talk about Ukon?"
Subaru nodded, watching the students mill around. He thought he recognized a couple of them. "If you don't mind. How long has he been in your family? Is your nephew the only one who can channel the puppet's spirit?"
Her sharp answer caught him off-guard. "Why do you want to know? Are you planning to exorcise him?"
"No," he admitted softly, understanding why she might have thought such a thing. The reputation of onmyoujis in some people's eyes was suspicious. His questions might have been seen as leading. "Not unless someone came to me with a request for aid, or he was endangering people."
"Hmm." Kaoruko sat back, seeming mollified.
"Research is also part of my clan's activities," he tried to explain. "Haunted puppets are very rare, as I said. I simply want to know."
"They're not bugs to be studied," she said pointedly. "Either of them."
"I know that."
She looked at him and nodded. "Right. As to how long Ukon has been in the family--my father purchased him about sixty or so years ago from a villager up north who lived near the village where Ukon was made. It was called Kuribito Village, but it's gone now, beneath a lake. Dad never told me that Ukon had been alive like this for him, so I think it's only Sakon who's woken him."
Subaru remembered. "You said that they'd been together since your nephew was a child. Is he so special, or is it common in your family to give such old puppets to children?"
Kaoruko looked at him oddly. "You don't know who we are?"
Subaru wondered if he should have. "I'm sorry, I don't," he admitted.
She gave him a small smile. "My father is Tachibana Saemon."
It took a second, but when the name placed, Subaru's eyes widened. "The Tachibana Saemon?" he asked.
She nodded, her smile now half a smirk.
"I saw him perform in Kyoto when I was a child," Subaru explained. "My grandmother was quite a fan. She took my sister and me to see him. It was beautiful. But he's retired now, isn't he?"
Kaoruko sipped her tea again. "He is," she admitted. "Sakon is now head of the family. He's also gaining some fame of his own in bunraku circles."
Subaru thought about it. A young professional bunraku performer who was able to bring to life a puppet which had eluded even his grandfather, a living national treasure of the bunraku theater... either his skill was incredible and he would be one of the greatest performers of all time, or....
"Tachibana-san," Subaru said abruptly, "may I meet him, please?"
"My father?" she asked, surprised.
And a part of him twisted, wanting that, wanting to meet the man whose hands and skill had danced before his eyes as a child, but--
"No," Subaru replied softly, "your nephew."
Caveat: I have to thank Watan for sending me photocopies of materials for the anime which gave Sakon's mother's name. And, yes, this chapter goes into more X stuff, but it's from Subaru's point of view, and hopefully I'll get to explain the continuity of where he's coming from in the next chapter.Back to Chapter 1 On to Chapter 3 Tales From a Ramen Stall page Send comments to author