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Plum Blossom (Blue/Green)

[Prince of Tennis] Et Cetera: Pairwise - 03. Oishi & Kikumaru, "Walls"

Posted on 2014.01.01 at 01:32
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
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Third part of the backstory subarc, Pairwise. 2,526 words. PG for this part for minor character death. Feel free to ignore the long ramble at the end.

Et Cetera: Pairwise by Shiraume

03. Oishi & Kikumaru, “Walls”

[Written April 2012 :: Posted January 1, 2014]

Eiji had never been comfortable with walls.

The first difference he noted about the city – Moltania was the name – was not its vast size, but its towering stone walls encasing the city in gray. Those walls did not invite or welcome, but commanded attention, ready to place all who entered in their proper places among the neatly ordered chaos inside. Within the walls of this Cetera-influenced city, he was now known by his barely-familiar last name. Master Kikumaru, everyone called him, except Oishi, who continuously slipped and called him Eiji. If Oishi had also taken to calling him by his last name, he probably would have left that very week.

But city meant comforts. Oishi lived in one of the wealthier districts nestled in the heart of the city, where buildings were beautiful and even had tiny gardens inside. There were marketplaces, big three-story buildings with spacious stalls full of vendors selling everything one could ever need. To Eiji’s delight, city also meant indoor plumbing and hot baths right there in the comfort of their own home. And his own bed, clean soft linen and plush comforter just for him.

And city meant Oishi. His day now began with warm fragrance of morning tea and a cheerful good morning. His morning routines now included trying to keep Oishi out of the kitchen while he cooked, playfully smacking away Oishi’s hand before he stole another piece of cheese for the omelet. Cooking had become Eiji’s exclusive domain the day he arrived, when he realized that Oishi, despite being able to brew two hundred potions from memory, was an utterly unexpected culinary disaster.

So Eiji’s stay stretched on, days turning into weeks, and then to months.

They had never discussed what it meant, Eiji tagging along to the city, living with Oishi. But he’d never been a free-loader even as a child, all but adopted by several families in Mirhea. Besides, he was a fast learner; by the second month, Eiji had learned how to clean and dress wounds, and the basics of healing herbs, balms and potions. And his keen eyesight and sense of smell – superior to that of normal Humans – were immensely useful when it came to medicinal herbs.

Oishi always invited his presence while treating patients, insisting it made the clinic more welcoming. Eiji always thought Oishi hardly needed any help in that, being always so kind and patient. Oishi’s patients placed their absolute trust in him, and always left the clinic smiling.

Three months after Eiji’s arrival, a boy of eleven was brought to the clinic. The boy had been helping his father on a hunt and had an accident with a bear trap. By the time the frantic father burst into the clinic, holding his son in his arms, the child had lost a lot of blood, but was still aware enough to smile when Eiji joked about Oishi’s hairstyle. Oishi stayed with the boy for nearly four hours, and when Eiji switched with him, the boy was sleeping quietly. An hour after midnight, Oishi came in to relieve him.

The next morning, he woke to find Oishi helping the distraught parents arrange for a funeral.

Eiji remembered standing at the foot of the bed. Oishi’s gentle voice. The child’s mother sobbing piteously. But everything felt like a distant noise. The white sheet covering the bed dwarfed the tiny figure underneath. His eyes were hot, his throat burned, and the back of his head ached, but he couldn’t manage single word, not even that he was sorry for their loss. When the undertaker arrived, he had an absurd urge to stand protectively over the bed, to tell him to go away. Instead, he ran upstairs to his own room and slammed the door shut. Everything made him angry, from the open window to unmade bed, and he threw himself down on the chair, pulling up his knees to rest his chin.

“It’s not your fault, Eiji.”

He hadn’t heard Oishi come in. Eiji puckered his lips, irritated. Of course he knew that. What, did Oishi think he was stupid? Eiji tried to glare at Oishi, and was mortified to feel tears prickling his eyes. “I’m fine,” he snapped, viciously rubbing at his eyes. “I know it’s not my fault.”

But when Oishi just held his eyes for a long moment, a frustrated sob escaped him. Oishi’s steps were nearly silent as he crossed the room to lay a warm hand on his shoulder. There was nothing but steady, calm strength in Oishi’s gaze. Tiredly, Eiji sighed and swallowed, dabbing his eyes with his sleeve. “Did you know? That he wouldn’t make it.”

Oishi’s eyes turned pained. He gave a slow nod.

Yet Oishi had tried anyway. Had called on his gift of healing, which Eiji knew Oishi used only as a last resort, because it drained both Oishi and the patient.

“Gift of healing is effective only to a certain point,” Oishi said quietly, as if reading his thoughts.
“Basically, my gift forces a body to heal at an accelerated rate. But the process strains the body quite a bit. If the wound is too deep, no matter how gifted a healer is, the patient’s body cannot endure healing.”

Something about Oishi’s tone – too clinical, too detached – set off a faint trickle of alarm in his mind, but he couldn’t quite pin it down. He looked up at Oishi, wondering what it was that bothered him. But just then, Oishi’s green eyes melted into the usual warmth, and he forgot what he wanted to ask.

“It’ll be all right, Eiji.”

Oishi’s hand was warm on his shoulder. Soothed by the calm reassurance of Oishi’s voice, he nodded.

Seasons came and went. As Eiji became more used to his life with Oishi, he came to appreciate just how powerful Oishi was, not just as a healer, but as a Mage. The City of Moltania looked to Oishi not only for healing, but also for protection and guidance. The tradition of court Mages had died out when Humans Mages became all but extinct, but Oishi had been the closest thing Moltania had for fifty years. And – it was only after meeting Oishi’s sister that Eiji realized – Oishi was actually older than he was, at least by two decades or so. True, the way Oishi acted so grave and responsible made Eiji feel childish sometimes, even without Oishi saying anything. But anything that made him feel inferior or smaller, even something as silly as age difference, sometimes grated on Eiji’s nerves.

Something about Oishi puzzled him, however. It was very clear he loved his younger sister very much. But the rest of his extended family – nephews and nieces and their children – barely seemed to know Oishi. They treated Oishi with awe and respect, yes, but also with considerable distance. If they had been his own family, it would have bothered Eiji quite a bit, but Oishi didn’t seem to care. In fact, whenever Eiji brought up the subject of his family, Oishi always found something more urgent to discuss, or remembered some errand he had to run.

But their first big fight wasn’t about Oishi’s family.

On the second winter after Eiji moved to Moltania, when snow covered the whole city like a mantle of gray, they lost a six-year-old patient to pneumatic fever. When Eiji, who’d watched her last moments with the child’s mother, reported to Oishi, there was a pause in Oishi’s movement while he busily prepared the next batch of cough-suppressing potion.

“I see,” was all Oishi said, voice neutral and calm, and his hands were steady while he poured the thick mixture over the cheesecloth. Oishi put two sticks on the gauze and wrapped the gaze around carefully, expertly twisting to squeeze out the brown liquid. “I’ll be right there. Could you get this batch into storage jars? The patients coming in the afternoon will need it.”

Eiji stared at Oishi for a long moment in silence. “Oishi,” Eiji said very slowly. “I said Lyla is dead.”

“I understand, Eiji.” There was no change in the calm, patient tone.

Eiji stood motionless, until Oishi finished putting the bowls away for washing, putting aside the mortar and pestle neatly. Oishi turned questioning gaze to him. “Eiji?” A gentle reminder. “The jars?”

“No. You don’t understand. Lyla’s dead. And you don’t care.”

Something hard flashed behind Oishi’s calm green eyes, but was gone too fast to tell. “It’s not that. But there’s nothing I can do for her anymore. There are others, however, that I can still help.”

The explanation made perfect sense. And it infuriated Eiji, because somehow – he knew for sure, somehow – it was not something his Oishi would say.

“Why did you give her that doll? The one she was holding right until she died? Why were you so nice to her if her death doesn’t mean a damned thing to you?!”

“Because she was my patient.” Oishi’s voice was too quiet when he answered, and only then did Eiji realize he’d been shouting.

“That’s all she ever was to you? Damn it, Oishi, she thought you were her friend! She held out this long for her mom – and for you!”

Oishi’s green eyes no longer resembled summer leaves, but were hard as gemstones. “And I did my best. But I can’t let anything interfere with my efficiency as a healer. My duty is to help those who can be saved. Getting emotional won’t help anyone.”

“Are you listening to yourself?” Oishi’s strange, flat calm was draining him of anger, leaving behind only disbelief. “Efficiency— Duty—” A sliver of hurt rekindled his anger, and he screamed his next words. “Damn you, I thought this was more than just a job to you!” At that, Oishi’s eyes flashed, and Eiji wondered fleetingly if Oishi was going to scream back.

Oishi didn’t.

“It is. But I can help more of my patients if I don’t take fifteen minutes after each loss to throw a fit.” His voice was not loud, but so cuttingly precise, Eiji just stared at him while Oishi turned on his heel and left.

Eiji gritted his teeth. The cough-suppressing potion should be bottled before the prolonged exposure to air made it unusable, but he didn’t care. Oishi could brew his stupid potion again since he obviously knew the answer to every question. Stupid Oishi.

That evening, Eiji went out to eat by himself. And for an entire week, the two of them barely spoke to each other except in curt requests or reports about their patients. By the time weekend came, Eiji was frustrated enough to go out drinking with a few of the friends he’d made at Moltania. The fifth drink for the evening quite convinced him this was the life he should have been living in the city, and Eiji ended up staying out all night. And the next day. And the day after.

On the fourth evening, when Eiji came back in desperate need for a change of clothing, it was a neighbor who told him in hushed tones that Oishi was not home, but at his sister’s house, arranging for a funeral.

“What funeral?” Eiji asked, then it hit him. “Oh. Oh no.”

The neighbor nodded. “His sister – well, when she fell ill two days ago, they knew it was a matter of time. She was eighty-three. At least she passed away painlessly in her sleep. Master Oishi’s been there since yesterday.”

Oishi’s sister. Dead. She was the only family member Oishi had left, the only one who loved Oishi as Oishi Syuuichirou, not the Mage and the healer.

Without another word, Eiji dashed upstairs to change. When he arrived at Oishi’s sister’s house, it was already quite late. Oishi was alone in his sister’s room, sitting by the bed like a statue made of stone. Eiji remembered her laughter, her twinkling eyes that belied her advanced age, her humor, her life. He had only known her for a short time, and he couldn’t bear the thought of her being reduced to this cold little bundle covered in white sheet.

“Hey,” Eiji called softly.

Oishi’s head shot up, and the green eyes widened in disbelief. “Eiji.” Oishi stood up as he walked to him, and Eiji winced; Oishi looked like he hadn’t slept for a few days, and without Eiji around, probably nobody reminded him to eat, either.

“I’m sorry,” Eiji said. For your sister. For not being here. “I’m so sorry, Oishi.”

Oishi’s sudden lunge startled him, but Eiji caught him reflexively as Oishi collapsed. “Eiji,” Oishi whispered, voice muffled against Eiji’s shoulder. “Eiji,” he repeated, arms tightening enough to drive the breath out of him.

“Oishi – too tight.” Eiji squeaked, but he was secretly pleased. Before, Oishi, being so reserved and proper, wouldn’t even hold his hand, let alone embrace him.

“Sorry.” Oishi slackened his grip, but not by much. Hearing the stutter of Oishi’s breath, reading the gratitude and relief in Oishi’s trembling shoulders, Eiji was so glad he’d come back in time. “You...won’t leave?” Oishi asked, and the sudden fear in his rough voice caught Eiji by surprise.

During all their time together, Oishi had never reacted to his patients’ deaths. And Eiji had assumed it was because Oishi didn’t fear death anymore, being an ageless Mage. Or hardened by his long years as a healer. But that wasn’t why, after all. Oishi was afraid. Not of death, perhaps, but of losing people. That was the reason behind Oishi’s strange distance from his extended family and all of his patients: if he had no one important, then he couldn’t lose anyone important.

And Eiji was all he had left, now.

“No,” Eiji declared fiercely. “Never.”

As years passed, Eiji continued to sound out the shape and strength of the walls around Oishi’s heart. Somewhere along the way, so that each death did not cut into his soul, Oishi had locked parts of himself away. Else, how could someone so kind and compassionate remain so detached from other people? Oishi was open and tolerant to everyone, but accepted no one inside his heart. By being meticulously fair to everyone, he kept them at an arm’s length from him. But those invisible walls, impregnable as they seemed, weren’t perfect. Simply by the virtue of long acquaintance, Fuji already had a passage through those walls. And Oishi genuinely feared losing him: that thought was enough to keep Eiji from blowing his fuse at the layers of cotton wool Oishi continuously tried to wrap around him like a protective shield. He wasn’t a child Oishi had to protect, damn it, he was Oishi’s partner. And Oishi was going to learn that, one way or another.

Fortunately, he also had time on his side. Oishi had helped him research the Chisu, and by all accounts Eiji would have several times the lifespan of a normal Human, as would Oishi. Eiji might be impatient in daily affairs, but he knew how to be patient when it really counted.

He was Kikumaru Eiji. He wasn’t going to stop until he won. Oishi wouldn’t know what hit him.

Notes: So I’m ringing in the new year 2014 with an update for Et Cetera. And this one comes with a confession: this is the backstory that took 5 years to complete. Not a joke; it drove me absolutely nuts for that long. And – more to the point – this is the very story whose failure to materialize prompted the whole story being taken down from archives back in 2009. The problem lay in chapter 3, a primarily Golden Pair chapter. The dynamics between Oishi and Eiji in that chapter were too different from the other two backstories, as a friend pointed out back in 2006. That was actually the entirety of Cetera in a nutshell. In the main story the characters would react in certain ways that did not make any sense in that context because – duh – I’d never actually gone back and explained where they were coming from. And every one of the characters came with a full backstory that I simply had no time to incorporate in the main storyline. So I started writing backstories, but even with those, it hit a point where I simply couldn’t manage. So I took down the whole project instead. But that bothered me. Personally, I hate, absolutely HATE unfinished fics. And Cetera was FINISHED, damn it, and I was going to see it fully posted if that was the last thing I ever did. So I tried again and...ran into the same problem.

So in April 2012, exactly five years after I first started the backstory “Walls,” I gave myself an ultimatum. Either I finish this story somehow or I admit defeat, give up on the whole project, and live with my shame. I did finish. Perhaps not quite to my satisfaction, but finished. And after dry spell of maybe two years, I was able to write again. Then, near the end of 2013, I became very worried that Cetera was not going to finish its posting run even in 2014 at this rate, and did I mention Et Cetera was born in November of 2004? Ten years, for crying out loud.

So this is my new year’s fic-resolution: I’m going to do my best to get this story fully posted by the tenth-year anniversary. Wish me luck!

Happy new year, everyone!!

Crossposted at http://shiraume-fic.dreamwidth.org/29629.html.

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