Tradition was valued highly in the Iki family. It was why this house had been passed down religiously through the generations. Woman to woman. Devout believer in the supernatural to frightened child.
Hiyori was somewhere in the middle of that. Having her mother's ability to sense when the eyes of the no-longer-human were watching her and her grandmother's ability to yell at them when they got too close. (Not in public of course). The older woman must have known Hiyori would take care of the property and not sell it out of fight like her mother would have.
Tires left the roads of her mother's hometown and started scraping up an absurdly long gravel driveway. It would be a lie to say Hiyori wasn't afraid at all, among other things. The trip through the town she often played in as a child while visiting her grandmother had been a nice change of pace from the city. It hurt knowing the woman was no longer with them, and it was nerve-wracking to think she might still haunt the walls to berate her about proper etiquette.
The trees seemed to stretch on forever. With sharp branches and black bark. The sun faded behind gray clouds.
The place was frightening as well.
Hiyori's car whined to a stop even though it was fairly new. Stepping out, a mansion loomed before her. A large, mix-matched house of traditional Japanese structure and Victorian-era architecture with a splash of different building fads. (The house was prone to…accidents…)
Events of the bad luck kind that required long renovations that could never seem to quite get done. Plus the Iki's had been known to rent it out to other families, it had definitely been passed around by more than a few hands.
Who knew where the movers put her things. The house itself was a labyrinth even after her grandmother tried to undo all the different multi-family apartments and such.
Leaving her car, Hiyori took careful steps up the porch staircase. She eyed the place wearily, waiting for something to pop out, for her grandmother to open the doors with wide arms, or for someone to tell her to leave.
There was loneliness, Hiyori also knew. The type that came with an empty house that no one wanted.
Except the spirits, it seemed.
Hiyori found the bedroom the movers picked for her - the wrong choice but was there even a right one? - and was met with a nasty note on the wall.
Closing the door, Hiyori retreated to her grandmother's room, left untouched, and closed her eyes atop the covers. She didn't want to know if the message was written in real blood or not, but she hoped whatever dripped from the walls didn't get on her things and would be gone in the morning.
"Leave this house."
"Yep, this place is haunted." Kouto Fujisaki said with all the certainty of a local monk who could sense spirits but not see them.
"I highly doubt that," Hiyori rubbed her arms even though it wasn't cold. Inside, the writing on the wall could not be washed off and her boxes were ruined with water (she hoped it was water) doused all over them.
All night there had been stomping thuds and the sound of whispers and moans. Hiyori wondered how her grandmother stayed sane all alone, and if she would be able to as well.
"I can tell," Kouto said with pride, "cursed."
Despite coming unannounced, Hiyori had the sense to lock the doors to the rooms where the ghosts left their mark. Claiming she didn't not know where the key in the kitchen drawer was. She did it more for her own comfort rather than her uninvited guest.
He smiled at her in a way that was meant to be charming - impress her - but it came across as condescending and Hiyori frowned.
They walked around the outside of the house, a very fine spring day. Kouto adhered to her request to help her turn on the water and electricity.
"Look, it's fine, I'm just getting settled in," Hiyori said like a line in a play. She wondered if he could feel the staring too.
Looking up at the back of the house, Hiyori could feel herself meeting the unblinking eyes of something she couldn't see. She wondered if ghosts felt monks to be just as off-putting as she did, especially this one in particular.
"Is that old tree still down there?" He looked far beyond the large backyard, down the hill they used to go sledding on, past the trees. He was talking of a very old cherry tree that stood thick and strong at the edge of the property, wearing her family's shimenawa like a proud sash.
"I believe so," Hiyori replied, "I really haven't had a chance to go down there. This house is enough work as it is."
"Come on, Hiyori! You're free to tear down the place as you please! At least let me do a thorough purification! I can get some other religious leaders down here, I'll do a deep clean. I can even stay with you, if you'd like?" Something cold shivered through her that Hiyori couldn't quite chalk up as supernatural.
"Trust me. We may no longer be dating but I want to make sure you're okay," He stepped in front of her and held out his hands. For what, Hiyori wasn't sure. She would hardly call them going to a few school dances together as dating either.
"No." Her grandmother had been quite clear about purifications outside of what the family had been allowed from the spirits.
"No…to all of it. Just…for right now," Hiyori kneaded her forehead, "I just want to get settled in and handle the transfer and paperwork and…finish grieving." The genuine guilt and concern she saw flash across his face reminded her why she said yes to the boy in the first place.
"Of course, I understand. I just want to make sure you're okay."
They left it at that, entering the house through one of the back screen doors. To the left, a small tube box television in the kitchen was on again. The cooking channel on a volume used only by the elderly or partying college students. Kouto wrinkled his nose and turned it off, again. Hiyori considered taking out the batteries with how often she had to keep doing that.
"Did you turn that on?" He looked at her.
"Yes," Hiyori answered, "I like the noise."
Three weeks in and things have been growing tedious, if not annoying.
Getting up out of her grandmother's bed, Hiyori fixed the seal on her door and started down to the kitchen. She shivered from the unnatural air conditioning of the house, trying to see which rooms the ghosts were in based on the drops in temperature. Whoever was stomping around at night - dragging around furniture and vacuuming - made a hole in the floor that Hiyori stepped over. One trip was enough. She kept an eye out for any trip wires or banana peels.
The way the ghosts tried to ward her off was harmful, sure, but they were equivalent to pranks. As if children were the ones trying to get her to leave but couldn't think of more creative ways. Some of the methods were terrifying, like the sounds at night of people being stabbed or running, or the blood splatters that kept appearing. But most of it she could ignore.
The transfer to the local hospital went through, and now she had somewhere to go every day. Hiyori walked past the living room to turn off the craft channel and entered the kitchen to turn off a baking show. No, it was the little things. Like the fact that the televisions would be turned back on once she left and that the ghosts cared not for the electricity bill. Or the mean messages written in permanent marker that told her she didn't belong here, that her family hated her, and that her makeup was done all wrong.
Hiyori scowled as she started packing her purse with her keys and wallet that were never where she left them. (Under the carpet this time). (She did trip).
A chill ran up her spine and she whipped around, glaring in fear at the ceiling. She hoped she was meeting the eyes of whatever never ceased to stop staring at her. She narrowed it down to always being in the farthest corner of the room, always looking down at her from on high. She kept up her glare as she slammed the front door.
When she tripped down the stairs, Hiyori feared for her life for a moment, until she caught herself. With more glaring and embarrassed cheeks Hiyori slammed her car door, feeling like the subject of bullying. She wondered which things of hers they would break by the time she got home.
It wasn't a thing that awaited her when she got home. Sure, there were still broken mirrors and hateful messages, but what Hiyori was greeted with was a child knelt on the floor. Her mind knew it to be a teen, processing that the boy struggled to put batteries back in the remote. She couldn't comprehend that the batteries kept slipping through his palms rather than his fingers. He hissed in frustration as the objects clattered the floor again. Sensing the gaze of the natural, he turned and Hiyori was met with annoyed amber eyes.
"Ah great, she's back again," he muttered before going back to his seemingly ineffective task, windy blonde hair spiking with irritation. He wore a rather old fashioned outfit, like one her father used to wear in high school. The kind with sweaters on top of button-ups and cuffed jeans. All the colors on him were dulled and seemed to shimmer in and out.
Hiyori flinched when he did a double-take, his head whipping around so harshly Hiyori was conceived he had no vertebra. When their eyes met - with equal shock and fear over the fact that their eyes met - Hiyori's purse slipped to the floor with a thud.
"Yato…" the boy warned, as if he were about to tattle on a sibling who broke something important. Hiyori's breathing went too fast for her to keep track of and before she knew it, she was sprinting to her grandmother's room. Her grandmother's comforter still smelled like the old woman and Hiyori curled up into them as best she could, pretending she was in the woman's protective embrace rather than a cursed house.
While her mother was known to be the more fearful one in the family, it took a few days for her to be somewhat comfortable again. Realizing, in the safety of her car, that it made sense for the ghost to be a teenager. The pranks fit that age demographic, and while they definitely subsided, it also explained why the more haunting writing was replaced with lackluster sentences such as:
"Seriously, get out."
"You will get hurt, for real."
"Leave." (Insert poorly drawn angry face).
She wondered if, to them, she was like batteries. Unable to fully make her leave but still frustratingly trying too. It was a bit frustrating for her as well. She didn't like fearing for her life; worrying about being pushed down the stairs and breaking her neck or the tubs being constantly overflowed in an attempt to drown her (or annoy her because really, shouldn't she be in the tub for that to work)?
The breaking point was preparing to be on the toilet only to hear an obnoxiously loud whoopee cushion noise that frightened her out of her almost-squat and smashed her face into the floor. (That one sent her into a spiral and she screamed at the open air so loudly and harshly that the teen seemed to take a few days off from bullying her).
Now they were back to her ignoring creepy wall writing, turning off the tvs, and throwing out broken things (she found that the teen ghost couldn't lift a lot of weight so anything special was placed under a bowl with a book on top).
Along with the constant, constant staring.
While the ghosts' attempts to scare her out of the house grew less and less. She hadn't actually seen the boy since yelling at him to stop staring at her all the time. (He had been messing with plants when she caught him) (he was faster at disappearing this time). The death of children was never comfortable and knowing his age made the sounds at night worse. Hiyori wondered if he was killed, or if she would join those many sounds of different people dying once he got fed up with her. Child murderers were an even more uncomfortable thought.
Unfortunately, Hiyori found herself to be dreadfully wrong the following week. She made the terrible mistake of leaving her room in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. The house had been silent the last few days. Bundling up in a coat and slippers, Hiyori could see her breath as she made her way down to the kitchen.
With shaky hands the cup of water was made. And sipped on. The house was quiet and still. Hiyori almost finished her treacherous journey when a terrified scream stalled her heart. Footsteps, loud and frantic, fled their way towards her. Hiyori could only clench the cup in her hands as something flew past her and hit the screen door hard enough to shake its hinges. Outside came a yell so loud, Hiyori was sure the neighbors could hear. Slowly, against her own will, Hiyori's head turned just enough for her to look out the kitchen window.
She witnessed a murder.
The victim had been a see-through man with brown hair and long, empty eye-sockets. He was chased by someone made of nothing but shadow, struck down with a sword. The man, now cut open, let out one last unholy shriek before imploding.
The dark figure was left alone under the blackened sky of the new moon. He seemed to glow, just as the blood that bathed his sword and hands seemed to as well. Ghostly essence flowed off him like dark flames, supernatural fire licking tied-up black hair. His blackened kimono was ripped in all places, his skin was pale white. He looked every bit like those old fashioned horror movies and Hiyori suddenly felt like the main character. When the ghost turned, Hiyori saw unnaturally piercing blue eyes.
They were familiar.
Her breathing picked up once more and her shaking hands broke out in cold sweat. It was then Hiyori realized that since she left her room, the feeling of being watched was gone.
Gaze unwavering, the man from another time turned and took one step towards the house only to suddenly appear in front of her.
Hiyori sucked in a gasp so suddenly it brought tears to her eyes. Lightheaded, she finally took her grandmother's warning and regretted ever setting foot somewhere she clearly was not wanted.
"I-I'm sorry," Hiyori trembled before the world tilted and went black.
As it often was, Hiyori woke up to the sound of ghostly whispers. It was like being trapped in an eternal punishment, one she could not shut up or put on snooze. Still, these whispers at least had the benefit of being comprehensible, if not panicked.
"…Is all your fault! You know how creepy you can be!" It was the boy.
"I didn't mean it! It's not my fault she saw me, she never leaves that stuffy woman's room at night! What did you want me to do? Not eliminate all the corrupt spirits?"
"She hides cause you're-! You're-! Creepy! Staring at her all the damn time! You're like one of those old horror movie demons!"
"Says Casper the Prickly Ghost over here. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to get permanent marker out of the wallpaper?" This voice sounded older and less underwater like the other ghosts. Hiyori's eyes opened without her consent. She was in what was supposed to be her room, boxes molding in the corner.
Standing - floating? - beside her bed was the almost comforting sight of the blonde teen. Beside him was the horror-movie ghost, hands and face cleaned of his crime. Black hair tied up in a short ponytail, kimono no longer ripped, he pouted at the bickering boy.
His eyes suddenly widened and snapped to hers and Hiyori froze, fearing cardiac arrest. In a split second, the man disappeared. Hiyori could feel his wide, unblinking eyes still watching her. It was more frightening now that she could put a face to the feeling, not liking who it belonged to.
"No, no, no! Wait! Don't leave me here with-!" The boy reached up towards the furthest corner where Hiyori was positive she was still being stared at.
"You suck! You creep!"
He turned to her awkwardly, grimacing at the pale faced way she did her own open-eyed staring. She snapped out of it when he made motions with his arms, grunting. Like he was trying to disappear but couldn't.
"No, wait!" Hiyori reached for him. This would be the only time she could make sure they'll listen. He stopped and blinked at her. When she didn't move or speak he looked rueful.
"Don't be stupid, she can't hear us."
"I can hear you," Hiyori said dumbly. This stalled the boy. He peaked over his shoulder at her, longing.
"Really?" He asked like a wish.
The boy's name was Yukine, he died at 14 almost 60 years ago in this very house. He was rather shy, disappearing after she asked him not to, but appearing a few days later. He, like his counterpart, stared at her from around the corner.
Hiyori had the day off, cocooned in blankets, trying to flip through channels only for them all to be static except for crafts and cooking. Shivering in yet another drop in temperature.
"He doesn't like the new tv," the boy muttered from behind, "he doesn't like change too much." At the ready, Hiyori whipped around with a kitchen knife pointed over the couch.
"That won't work." The boy stated, floating just a big closer. He fiddled his fingers.
Hiyori put the knife down.
"Well, he could say that himself." Not that she wanted him too.
"…he's shy…" Yukine responded. It was ironic how long it took him to float around the couch and sit, the furthest away from her as he could. He kept glancing at the far corner of the ceiling. Hiyori refused to acknowledge the other man in the room. She felt like a goldfish.
"Hmph," Hiyori hummed, looking the teen up and down. Eerie silence stretched on until Hiyori took a deep breath and turned to the ghost. He flinched so violently his being flickered in and out of view.
"Those pranks of yours were mean, you know. I didn't appreciate them," she frowned when she sounded like her mother.
The ghost frowned too, "well, you wouldn't leave."
"This is my house."
"We were here first."
"My family owned this house first," Hiyori wasn't sure that was true, but they've probably owned it far longer than the boy was alive and based on the way his mouth twisted she knew he couldn't refute.
"S-so, um, knock it off." Hiyori lamely finished.
The ghost teen didn't catch her sudden lack of confidence.
"It's not just me," he muttered sourly.
"Right…there's also," her eyes flickered up but she refused to actually look at the corner. Refused to acknowledge the other existence.
"Yato," Yukine supplied, "and my name is Yukine. Not 'bully-ghost.'" His own eyes looked up and behind her, worry creasing his brows.
"I won't say he won't hurt you…he just," Yukine dropped to a whisper, "doesn't like me talking to you." The way he said it had Hiyori worried for his safety. It couldn't be easy trapped in a house for eternity with a psychopath.
"Well, I don't like him staring at me." Hiyori muttered back with some bite. Yukine frowned and fiddled with his fingers again.
"Yeah. He's…shy," Yukine repeated again, "doesn't like new people… or people…" They fell into silence again. Despite his apparent warning, Yukine didn't leave the couch, his nails picking at her grandmother's furniture.
Hiyori drew another deep breath, "well, Yukine, since I'm not leaving, and neither are you, I think it's best we got to know each other better."
"W-what?" Yukine seemed embarrassed, though without blood it was hard to tell. Hiyori forced a polite smile.
"Tell me about yourself."
Turns out there wasn't much more to tell. Yukine didn't have any memories from his time with the living, but he did have memories of this house. He, at the very least, could tell her what he liked and didn't like (cats for one thing, he loved them) (and the basement, he hated the basement) and where the water heater was located. He couldn't do very many ghostly things yet, (could only float half way through thick surfaces and only lift light objects) (he frowned at her giggling about heavy text-book weights) but apparently those were big deals for ghosts.
"Most ghosts can't do half of that despite being dead for centuries!" Yukine puffed his chest, "Yato says I'm a prodigy." He noticed the way Hiyori regarded the name of the man boring holes in the back of her head. Trembling clenched fists in her lap, eyes nervous.
With a sigh, Yukine rose off his seat. Drifting away like a dandelion in the wind.
"I'll talk to him," he said wistfully. Pulled away by some unworldly force.
"O-oh! O-okay!" Hiyori was surprised how disappointed she was at the first pleasant conversation she had in her new home ending so suddenly.
Hiyori sat in the quiet room until the tv switched on. A middle aged woman explaining her crème brûlée far too loudly. It startled Hiyori, but she didn't dare turn it off.
It took a few long mintutes but suddenly it was as if spring was finally allowed to enter her home. The cold chill blew away and the sun drifted through the windows. As if her house was never haunted in the first place, and whatever dreadful spirit that spent his time staring had been shooed away by a prickly teen who thought enough was enough. At least for a little while.
Hiyori appreciated it.
The house - or the people inside - seemed to do a 180 after that.
Well, not a total 180, more like a 166.
It remained brighter in the home but still dropped in temperature in various spaces. Yukine was apologetic for this, saying that was more his fault than his companion's. Hiyori didn't mind much, preferring to wear pants anyhow.
The house was always clean, spotless in a way she didn't notice before. It was when she heard vacuuming, or saw her reflection in framed art pieces, that Hiyori remembered her very haunted house wasn't anything like its stereotype. She had been too scared before to realize there were no cobwebs, no chipping paint, or broken windows. Sure the floors and hinges squeaked but if she squeaked them enough, oil and new nails were found. Sometimes even new wood.
There were other things as well. For starters, Hiyori felt comfortable putting her things away. She tried spreading herself to the rest of the home. (The rooms she most frequented and felt safe in, at least). It was then she learned that she could do that wrong as well. Mugs were to go in this cabinet, not that one, and could not be left out, or they would be cleaned and put away loudly. Her books and awards must be laid neatly on the shelves - categorized - but not on certain shelves or they would get moved.
Hiyori kept her things away from the mini shrine on the top shelf. Her grandmother had been weary of it.
Even her laundry was done before she could get to it. The ghosts were rather meticulous about this, following each individual cleaning instruction on each of the tags to the letter. If Hiyori wasn't fast enough at putting them away (or putting them away properly, apparently) they would already be hung in her closet or folded in her drawers. While she was used to having someone (her parent's house keeper, a sweet woman) do her laundry she felt weird about it being a total stranger. Unfortunately, unlike her housekeeper, even if Hiyori left the hamper in her room, the clothes would be cleaned before she got home. She drew the line at her underwear and socks being arranged by color and type.
"Sorry about that, he's kinda a neat freak." Yukine apologized for his companion yet again, scratching the back of his head. Hiyori frowned. The nerve of these ghosts, making a child their scapegoat and messenger.
"Oh, there's just us two," Yukine replied when she voiced that last thought, "me and Yato, I mean."
The teen - much friendlier now that the pranks stopped - was helping her put away the last of her things. Hiyori started sleeping in her own room since the harassment was put to an end.
"And he makes you do all the cleaning and apologizing? The jerk," Hiyori huffed. She wished she could see this ghost and punch him across the face and put him in a headlock. She had been researching how to dislodge a knife from an attacker and she knew the creep had been watching her practice.
"Huh? Oh, that's not me. That's Yato."
"Yato?" Hiyori imagined the bloodied man.
"Yeah," Yukine repeated, "he's kinda a neat freak." Yukine went back to flipping through her books as she found he often did. There was a library with books damaged from frost that the teen preferred to spend his time in.
"He does all the cleaning?"
"He will. Once he starts liking you…I think?" Yukine seemed confused by his own statement. Like he wasn't sure where the information came from. Hiyori hummed, hearing the baking channel downstairs. Must be hard trying to think as a ghost, memories intangible.
"Does he clean often?" Hiyori tried to fill the silence. Despite his fearful words and glances, Yukine talked about the other man the most. Must be one of the few things he did know.
"Today he cleaned the attic, it's Wednesday." There was a loud thud this morning, followed by furniture being dragged across the floor.
"So that's what that sound was." It was a frequent occurrence Hiyori didn't want to dwell too much on.
"That's why he gets so ruffled when new people move in. Things get moved around, broken, moving men drack dirt everywhere," Yukine smirked at her, "your mom hired a lot of moving men. You should have seen his face."
Hiyori could understand the frustration. If she spent most of her immortal existence cleaning only for people to barge haphazardly into her life like they owned the place - which she did - she would be annoyed as well.
Hiyori thought of the boy's eternal, finally-back-in-style outfit. If Yato's clothes were stuck from his time with the living, it made sense Yato was so offended by that kind of thing. It was a very old fashioned thing to be offended about. Like inisting the tv be turned on loud.
Later that night, out of boredom and nothing more, Hiyori followed the easy instructions of the late-night craft channel. It ended up with a mini capybara made out of old fabrics.
Hiyori set it just beside the shrine and went to bed.
If the ghost didn't like it, he could move it himself.
The ghost liked offerings.
He liked them a little too much.
When Hiyori woke up the next morning, she jolted at the fuzzy image of someone standing in her closet only to blink and realize her clothes had been hung up. She squinted at the eye-smarting outfit and wondered where the ghost even found those.
"I'm a doctor, you know!" Hiyori neglected the offering.
She did not neglect the piping hot breakfast that was a wonderful step up from her cereal bars and coffee.
It was too salty. Definitely made by someone who couldn't taste-test. But the coffee was good. He liked her grandmother's fresh beans rather than the instant. (Now in the trash, the nerve).
The meals were a constant after that and Hiyori almost felt bad. Then again it was her grocery bill so, Hiyori just took extra care to clean up after herself. Plus the lunches found in the fridge were much better; Traditional bentos with little animals and characters.
"He likes to try new things," Yukine said while she made tea, "he has a grocery list he wants me to give you."
"When he provides for the bills, I will." Hiyori spoke loudly so he could hear. It was a weak rebuttal, Hiyori wanted to know what he would cook next.
"Haha, good luck. I think he was poor in life too." He lifted the empty mug she put out next to hers, pretending to sip it.
"...I appreciate the food though. And the house being cleaned…it feels lighter," Hiyori confessed, "when I first came here this place felt so dark and dreary."
"Hmm? That's cause it was," Yukine floated on a seat at the porch table, "since there weren't a ton of people here, corrupt spirits easily gather. It was scary but Yato dispels them. That other guy was the last of them."
Yukine went quiet for a bit.
"Immortality and death makes people go crazy. And when they do bad things as ghosts it makes them more violent," Yukine shrank, "that's why Yato looks after me and wants me to stay away from people. So I don't grow wicked or anything."
Hiyori remembered that night. Of the spirit covered in blood. She noted the sword Yato always had on him.
"So he's…not a corrupt spirit?"
"I'm not sure…he's the most coherent one I've met since I've been here but…he's also the oldest. And the scariest…I think."
Hiyori hummed and sipped on her tea.
That night, Hiyori left Yato an offering of a small thank you note. Yukine said flattery went a long way with him.