The Curse of the Cat

196. I'll Never Leave

'Damn it.' It was frustrating. Fuyuno reached out and grabbed the other's collar.

He didn't flinch. His eyes remained filled with smoke and it drained the fight from him.

Fuyuno's grip loosened. It was easy to be driven forward with reactions, but when he didn't get what he needed to feed those actions…

When had the zodiac members figured him out so easily?

But he'd already known that, hadn't he. They'd both already known that.

And he wondered how many more times he'd do this. How many more chances he'd get, and lose. The dog, then the horse, and now the cat as well.

'Will you come back?' His voice was so pathetically small, right then.

'Are you asking me?' the other returned flatly. Perhaps he meant to sound confused. Perhaps he meant nothing at all.

And, of course, whatever he meant, he wasn't going to make it easy.

'You're the cat of the Zodiac,' Fuyuno said, hopefully equally flatly. 'I suppose you could say the other zodiac members are expendable – to the point where they don't all appear in the same generation, necessarily. But you know who does.'

'The god,' the other replied dutifully, 'the rat and the cat as well.'

'And, because of that, the two a god can never let go of are such. One the most honoured of the twelve, crushed by expectation. The other, in the shadow, crushed by the weight of pain and hierarchy. Both, crushed by attention. Crushed like…'

What was he saying? To the cat, no less.

'Crushed like the god,' Koichi finished.

Fuyuno scowled, but the other wasn't wrong.

'Along the same vein, we are also the ones who can't pity you.'

'Can't or won't?'

Koichi tilted his head. 'Do you want our pity?'

Did he?

197. I'm Here

Their Head was good at talking in circles. But so was he. It was because of that that he'd survived all this time. Words were powerful, that way. Fuyuno might be the head of the family, but the cat was the outcast and that was as much an advantage as it was a curse.

After all, he had a family who loved him, who hadn't cared about the curse, who'd raised him as far away from it as they could manage.

And maybe if he wasn't the cat, he might have pitied him.

He'd already thought about this, after all.

But still, they were still here: the god and the outcast cat.

198. Ashes

'Did you do it on purpose?' Fuyuno wanted to know. 'The fire?'

Koichi shrugged. 'Maybe a little,' he admitted, and there was more emotion there than so far their conversation. 'At least, there was a point – maybe more than one – where there was simply no point living my life out in that room. After all, Schrodinger's cat can be inside the box or out, and nobody will know until they open the box.'

'Schrodinger's cat, huh.' Would have been nice to know about that one, earlier.

Would have been nice if things had gone the way they were supposed to, earlier.

'The little match girl as well. Striking matches and watching the phantoms of happiness until she found that filial love she couldn't let go of.'

For him, that would be his mother, his brother, his friends…

And Fuyuno knew. He'd tried to take one away from another and it hadn't worked.

'The inside is badly damaged, anyway.' And it wouldn't work to find another room, another prison. It would be too obvious. He'd have to explain why. And why there'd been no companion. And then work out a way to keep the others away.

They were better off as they were. That fragile balance that might be impossible to gain again.

Because he also couldn't just cut him off completely. Not the cat. Because then who would be the symbol of the greener grass for them? Who would be the shadow that allowed them a little light?

'The new year's banquets,' said Fuyuno. 'You walked into a cage willingly once, and then you destroyed it from the inside. That's cheating, you know. I'll have you walk into that cage every year from now on.' And, in return, walk out as well. 'Outside of that, you're not to set foot in the compound. However you live your life is up to you.'

'Up to me.' Koichi laughed, and it sounded smoke-clogged as well. 'What does that even mean?'

199. Touch

Fuyuno left. Koji came back in to find his brother staring listlessly at the wall.

'What now?'

'I have till the banquet to figure it out, I guess,' Koichi replied with a shrug. It was hard to see much of anything in an infirmary in the compound.

It was hard to see much of anything after that lonely infinity prison room.

Koji's hand was suddenly warm, on his own.

'How about, before all that, we go home? Apparently you've got the green light, now.'

200. Emptiness

It was strange, thinking of a future after he thought he hadn't had one. He'd done a good job being hopeful, he'd thought… but the ultimate hope was a future that didn't finish in imprisonment and he hadn't been able to see that.

He'd chosen the path where he refused to fight, but he hadn't thought even that sort of path would lead him to this.

He also hadn't thought he'd need to worry about patching himself back together after he broke, and yet here he was doing exactly that.

Nobody else asked him about the fire. Maybe they should have, but they seemed to consider it more important that he was breathing the fresh air again, so to speak. And a summer fever seemed to have gripped them – their other friends. They were organising a world trip after graduation, and he still had to decide what he was going to do about college now, or vocation for that matter. Life was supposed to go back to normal, relatively speaking. He'd never gone much to the compound, anyway. Never had much to do with the other members, except banquet day.

And who knew how the next banquet would look. Would he hold his head high and walk in or would he have to be dragged? It was still so far away. And between here and there were a lot of blank patches that his family and friends were flooding, trying to fill.

And he knew – knows – he could never have pulled it off on his own. The warmth from their company, their persistence… he might be the cat, the shadow of the zodiac, but even he had his lights and love and the matchstick of a bright future.