Ayana isn't sure where she fits in the world. Kazuo knows what that feels like. He's not sure how to fix it for a kitsune, but he has an idea who might. Ayana is not entirely on board with that idea. Neither is Kazuo, really...

Date: 2017-04-01
Pose Count: 35
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 19:37:47 74357
Ikiko's visit went well, but once Ayana fled the scene of the conversation, she hasn't reverted to girl since. It's been more than a week, and the kitsune has gladly stayed in her furry four-footed form, acting more the pet than the guest every day. On the bright side, it means clothes are not strewn about in every room! On the not so bright side, it is probably an indication of some actual upset that she doesn't even try to communicate telepathically via Mamoru.

Then again, she did say she just wanted to be a fox for a while.

Regardless, finding Ayana curled up with her arms clutched around her legs, sitting on a couch in the livingroom may come as something of a surprise. She isn't trying to hide her fuzzy ears or fluffy tails, but she's at least in a more human form, with a little black sundress on and everything.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 19:56:16 74358
Being a fox for a while has not been protested. She has a safe, dry place to stay. None of the humans bother her den unless she tugs them over to do something for her. She's been able to line it as she chooses; there is food and water where she can get to it, always, and the food varies day to day; and there are humans perfectly willing to sneak her food, or to provide pets and scritchings, or just to sit in company. There are things that people don't mind her using as toys (and there have been an unremarked More Of Them appearing as time passes), and there are doors that can be pushed open so that she can get outside ... though she's been warned that a certain rosebush bites back if one isn't careful.

Kunzite keeps an eye on her, and picks up after her, and spends time around her when he's not otherwise occupied. Sometimes he talks, a little, though he never seems to have any expectation of her listening; the words are there, things about the day or the people in the household or getting the boys' books arranged for their school starting this week or doctor's appointments set for one person or another. She can do with them what she wants to: pay attention, or ignore them completely, or nap through them, or store them for later, or not care enough even to ignore them.

When he finds her on the couch, though, with skin instead of fur --

He doesn't say a hello out loud. He comes over instead and runs fingers through her hair just behind an ear, nails light on a human scalp for a moment; then takes his hand back and seats himself in the near corner of the other couch. It's still close by; she could lean a little and put out an arm and touch him. Convenient for seeing, or talking with. Not so close that he's impinging on her space.

No words, this time.
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 20:10:26 74359
That simple contact--affection laced with concern--draws Ayana out of whatever daydream has carried Ayana away. Her ears twitch briefly, and her chin rises as she leans into the brief contact. But then it's over, and the way her ears slowly wilt down to either side is the only evidence she gives to her disappointment.

When he sits, she says nothing. She doesn't move towards him, doesn't lean upon him, although there's a brief instant--a look and an expression only--where it's clear the instinct to do so is present.

She fights that instinct, and instead remains silent and self-contained, at least a little while longer.

After a few minutes, Ayana takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly; a heavy sigh drawn out over the silence. It's then that she says, "I don't feel like I belong either way."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 20:14:20 74360
There is quiet to that statement, too, but not a rejecting quiet. Attention paid to it, to her sigh, to her ears and eyes and the corners of her mouth. And quiet that evolves, given time, into words again. "Do you know what you feel like you're missing?" he asks.
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 20:24:06 74362
Ayana's response is immediate: a face of annoyance--not with him but with the situation--a furrow of her brow. She shakes her head almost violently. But then she stops and looks at him, then shrugs a little. Maybe that initial reaction wasn't quite so accurate.

The foxgirl worries at her lip with a fanged tooth, then looks away and shakes her head again--this time more in denial than rejection.

"When we met," Ayana mumbles, "I was an awful person. R...Riventon made me infiltrate her school, and pretend to be a magical girl. I pretended to help her fight against some villain, but I didn't really do anything. Just threw illusions that looked like I was helping."

Apparently 'we' did not mean Ayana and Kunehiro.

"I didn't know I was in love with her," Ayana explains, "until the first time I drained her almost completely. I realised it hurt me to do that to her. That I hated seeing her like that. I never wanted to do it to her again."

Another deep breath; another heavy sigh, before Ayana explains, "But I did it again. And I've done it since then, too. And ... and she never gets mad at me. She's never, ever been upset with me. He ... he was angry with me a lot. He cared for me, too. He tried to make me not afraid. He tried to encourage me to live--to be a real girl and enjoy my life. But when I made mistakes, he got upset. When I got hurt he worried. I don't ... feel like she knows how to be upset. Or worried. Nothing I do seems to matter to her. Even when I'm hurting, she just smiles and tells me it'll be okay, and doesn't ... help."

"Cuddles don't fix everything."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 20:32:27 74363
"She loves you," Kunzite says, but there is, somehow, no contradiction of anything Ayana's said in those words. It's a statement, not a reprimand, not a correction. "You matter very much to her; she wants you to be well, and she doesn't want you to hurt. But there are things she doesn't understand. She can't always tell when you hurt. She doesn't know how to express her concern in ways you can see. And she doesn't know how, or when, to try to turn being concerned for you into things that will help."

He considers that for a moment, and then adds, a little quieter, "It's as if, being all light, she doesn't understand even a little shadow well enough to recognize it, let alone grapple with it."

He leans a little toward her himself, and puts a hand out toward her, palm-upward. "Do I understand you right? Is that what you're trying to say?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 20:37:32 74364
This time, Ayana doesn't answer right away. She looks at his hand, then follows it up to his face. Blue eyes meet grey, and she seems to melt into his offered hand, losing the fight to avoid leaning against him. Little nods of the kitsune's head are the only direct response he gets, but it's certainly an affirmation of his explanation.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 20:44:49 74365
"There are some ways," he says quietly, gray eyes steady, "in which she's less experienced than you are. This is one of them. There are things that you've been through, that she hasn't had the experiences she'd need to understand. Things that you feel, that she doesn't understand. You may need to learn how to deal with them on your own, in time. You may need to learn to lean on other people, or on other entities. You may find you lean on people for a while, and then stand on your own; you're still growing, and so is she."
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 20:53:04 74366
Ayana closes her eyes, as she leans onto his side. "I don't even know how to describe what I feel," she mumbles. "I don't understand the feelings. I don't feel like a fox. But I am a fox. I don't feel like a girl, but I am a girl. I don't want to be with people, but I'm lonely and I'm sad. I don't feel like I belong. Anywhere."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 21:02:28 74367
Kunzite shifts closer to make the leaning easier; he's quiet for a little again. There are words that occur to him. There are a number of them.

What he says in the end is, "It's not a warm afternoon, but it's warmer than it was. Would you come for a walk with me?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 21:03:53 74368
That's just cheating: offering a canid a walk. Ayana's ears perk up, and she looks up to Kunzite confusedly for a moment. There's silence, before she observes, "I didn't bring my leash. Ikiko has it still." As if somehow this is a barrier to taking a walk.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 21:06:43 74369
"We might walk on two legs, if that wouldn't disturb you too much," Kunzite suggests. "Human feet are soft, but we should be able to find shoes downstairs that would be a minimum of bother." There are rarely advantages, from his point of view, to living over a mini-mall. But that's one of them.
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 21:15:13 74370
A memory crosses Ayana's mind: a walk through the entertainment district, with a teacher escorting a younger kitsune and teaching her how to better fit in in a world that reviled her. Decidedly less benign, both of their motivations, yet highly formative for the foxgirl on what it means to be a in the world between fox and man.

With a nod of her head, Ayana agrees to the suggestion, then slides off the couch and up to her feet. There's a moment where she's concentrating, focusing on a skill she's allowed to somewhat atrophy over the past week--a skill she was never particularly good at. Her ears slowly fade from existence, and so too do her tails. She's barefoot, but at least she looks like a young (sharp toothed) girl, instead of a strange magical creature.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 21:30:00 74371
Kunzite fetches his own coat, black like her dress and carrying his scent foremost, and secondly the scents of some of the others in this place: humans, roses, other flowers, the faint edge of the hint of smoke. He escorts her out and downstairs with that peculiar hint of gravity. Downstairs, among the shops, he draws a shawl from a display: lightweight, soft, warm, and most importantly black. It'll do to match the sundress, with luck without driving her mad. Without luck, they can give it away. Shoes -- he insists on finding something; but sandals will do, so long as they fit her, and they're quick enough to acquire, and her reward for being patient enough to let him is something to nibble on on the way.

He doesn't say where they're walking to. He doesn't talk much, in fact. Not a forbidding silence; he's quick enough to answer if she says something. But he makes it easy to fall into watching people around them.

(Some of their expressions, when sufficiently unguarded, are more than a little like the loneliness and unsettlement Ayana expressed a few minutes ago.)

If she doesn't ask, and if she doesn't recognize the neighborhood from this angle, it's possible that the first time she realizes where they're going might be when the stairs to the Hikawa Shrine come into view.
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-01 21:52:26 74372
The experience of going shopping for more than food is novel enough to Ayana that she manages to behave herself relatively well. She does fidget, and put her hands (and nose) on just about everything, as a toddler might. Unlike a toddler, however, she has the good sense not to destroy everything she touches.

The shawl is admired with wonder, and worn just as well. It serves the double benefit of concealing the dog collar worn around her neck. And sandals are an easy thing to convince her of. "Human feet are so fleshy and weak."

And then they're on their way, on a walk towards a place Ayana has not been in a very, very long time.

It's been nearly a year since she's been to this shrine. The last time, she was praying for guidance from a God that did not answer. Before that she was elevated from a mere fox to a girl. And the time before that, she was burned so badly that she's still got the mental scars of that visit. This is a place of mixed memories; of awe and fear. As realization dawns, the kitsune huddles up a little closer to her escort, as if seeking defense against some unknown threat.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-01 22:40:56 74373
"Humans don't build their armor and weapons into themselves," Kunzite agrees to that comment about fleshy and weak. It's not a contradiction there, either. "It's inconvenient when they're on their own. But they can pick things up and use them, and make up for it with things outside themselves, or with working in groups. You've seen a good deal of that, I think."

(The shoe saleswoman looks at him funny, but doesn't say a word.)

And then there's the Shrine.

Kunzite's hand finds Ayana's shoulder as she edges in. Reassurance, maybe. Or at least assurance that she's not here alone. He's not quite so confident himself, but it takes having the scent of him to know that -- it's not nervousness, per se. It's the sense of being on someone, or Something, else's territory.

Even if Something doesn't generally mind.

The statue that he pauses before, at last, is one that's familiar to Ayana. Not the primary one. But the one that she described, once, as playing with a ball.

He studies the statue of the kitsune for a few seconds, before looking aside to Ayana. "Do you think that one feels like a fox?" he asks. "Or like a girl?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-02 00:54:14 74374
Ayana looks up at the statue of the fox playing with a ball, then shrugs just faintly. "That one is neither," she points out quietly. "It is a stone statute which only comes to life when I or another of my kind choose to animate it."

Missing the point, she is.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-02 01:10:03 74375
"And you are neither, yourself," Kunzite says, "though in the opposite direction. You encompass part of both. But trying to limit yourself to one, or two the other, will never quite make you feel like yourself; it'd be like trying to hunt with your jaws tied shut, or to walk without using your legs."

He gives a little gesture of one hand, an arc that indicates some of the others at the shrine passing by. "Even most human girls don't feel like a girl, much of the time, anyhow. That's why they have what they call marketing, and why it doesn't make any sense. But it makes even less sense for you to worry about feeling like a fox, or feeling like a girl.

"And if you've been concentrating on those ... then of course you don't quite feel like you belong anywhere. A fox's place won't quite suit you. A girl's place won't quite suit you, either, though humans are more flexible and their places might be able to accommodate you more easily in some ways.

"The question is, what does it feel like to be Ayana? What do you need -- you, yourself, not these ideas of what a fox should want or need or feel, or what a girl would, or what a good girlfriend would? Because -- it may be my own limitations, understand -- but I don't see how you can find a place where you feel like you belong until you have a good idea of what you need from it."
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-02 01:51:08 74376
Kunzite asks the hard questions, and it's clear from the kitsune's uncertain expression that they're giving her difficulty finding an answer to. What does it feel like to be Ayana? Mostly confusion and uncertainty. What does she need? Even more uncertainty is all the answer she has.

Rather than answering, the fox-girl merely stares at the statue a while longer, then bites her lip worriedly and looks around.

After a time, she shrugs just faintly again, then sighs. "Food?" It's the only thing she can come up with. But she knows that's hardly an answer to the question.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-02 02:05:35 74377
"Food is a beginning," Kunzite agrees. "And very important. Food, and water; warmth when it's cold outside, shade in the summer, a dry place when the rains come. A place of your own, at best, where you have all of those things and a measure of safety besides. Those are needs that both foxes and girls have in common. So they make a very good beginning.

"But girls need more than that, and so do foxes, sometimes. For you -- what makes you feel like you belong, somewhere? What makes you feel like you have a place?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-02 02:09:16 74378
The kitsune's ears twitch a little in uncertainty. They're visible again, despite her attempts to remain otherwise. She shrugs and steps away from him, then turns around in a circle once, twice, then stops, facing him. "Space," she says quietly. "I like to cuddle a lot. I like to be petted and held. But ... but I also need space. At Ikiko's house, I have a bed, but it's in her room. It's next to her bed. And I always wind up sleeping in her bed anyways. But ... I like living under the sink."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-02 02:16:28 74379
His hand had still been on her shoulder -- but when she steps away, that contact falls away too; easily, with no great drama or implicit message. Except, perhaps, the message that she's safe in stepping away.

"A place of your own," he says, "instead of always sharing her place. Being able to make the choice yourself. That's another thing that foxes and humans have in common -- some humans, at least. You've seen Mamoru this last week." Sometimes social and full of contact. Sometimes making sudden apologies and closing the door to his room behind him, shutting himself off for a while.

"Does having a different place to stay help? Or would it help more if you had somewhere entirely your own, some den that no-one else had claim to?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-02 02:42:06 74380
Ayana's ears perk up briefly, then fold over again as she considers the question. "I like living under the sink," she reiterates. "I like there being easy access to you, and to other people who will care for me. I like having food when I want it. But I like being able to hide when I want, too."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-03 18:22:16 74408
Another glance is taken at the people nearby, but there are people looking at the statue, so this time Kazuo refrains from touching Ayana's hair or ears. Folding over or not. "It's a pity you don't have somewhere to retreat to in Ikiko's house, or near it," he says. "If you did have somewhere like that, would that help? Would it be something you liked?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-03 18:23:31 74409
Ayana sneers just a little, then shakes her head fervently. "I don't want to go to school," she explains. "I don't belong there. They make me go, though. And Sora-chan makes me do chores that I am bad at. I don't want to do that, either."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-03 18:25:51 74410
"Those are things you don't want to do." Gray eyes study her for a moment, evaluating without judging. "What are things you do want to do? Are there any things you want to do someday that you don't know how to, yet?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-03 18:38:37 74411
The kitsune's ears perk up curiously, and she tilts her head. "But I already know how to do everything I want to," she replies quietly. "I can cook, and cuddle Iki-chan, and explore. I guess I want to know how to get clean without having to take a shower. I hate showers. And baths. But I don't think there's anything I want to do that I can't."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-03 18:48:35 74412
"There are ways to get clean without water," Kazuo admits. "But the chemicals they use for that do strange things to your hair, eventually. Probably your fur, too. Water has its uses."

He doesn't, though, seem entirely to have finished. He's still looking at Ayana as if he's looking for something. And after a few seconds, he says, "I don't particularly like getting involved in certain beings' business. But there doesn't seem to be a way around it, this time." He touches just below his own throat, just about where a certain ornament shines on Ayana -- beneath the shawl, anyway. "What were you given this for?"
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-03 18:55:38 74413
Now her ears go back, not in defiance but in brief fear. Thinking about that day is not easy for Ayana--not for a lack of memory, but because of how awful she felt when her memories of the truth flooded back.

The kitsune takes makes a soft hissing noise in the back of her throat, then grimaces and reaches up to touch the star ball. She grasps it tightly, then closes her eyes.

"Serve the light," she mumbles, "serve Inari-kami. Be his messenger, and oppose the darkness. The truth. I'm supposed to be a servant of the truth, but I'm not very good at it."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-03 19:11:56 74414
"You don't have to be very good at it," Kazuo says quietly. "Only to be willing to try. To find ways to learn; to get better, a little at a time. I wasn't very good at being Mamoru-kun's guardian when you met me. But he's been teaching me, reminding me of what I'm supposed to be doing; and I've been learning how to pay attention to what he wants and needs. A little at a time. It's the same kind of thing."

He reaches out in turn; he doesn't try to touch the star ball itself, but does touch the back of her hand. "And even not being very good at it ... you still make a difference, Ayana. Even a very little truth is enough, at the right time and in the right place.

"Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions. Perhaps we should be asking what truth you need, right now."
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-03 19:32:35 74415
"Every time I try, I mess up," Ayana whines at Kunzite quietly. "Like with Norie ... I tried really hard to help her, and she just betrayed me. But now ... she's acting like a good person again, except I didn't do anything. So maybe someone else did it, and I just wasn't good enough. Or maybe she's just waiting for a chance to betray someone else."

The little fox-girl twists her hands over to gently grasp Kazuo's fingers, then takes a tiny step towards him, as if willing him to comfort her. "I don't feel like I make any difference at all. I helped Fate-chan, but now she's missing again. I haven't really done anything good. And sometimes ... I wonder if it was a mistake to leave Riventon. I wonder if he's eating right, if his room is clean, if he's lonely. These are things that I used to care about for him, to make sure he was okay. I shouldn't care anymore; he was just my master, and I didn't have a choice. But I do care."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-03 19:59:42 74416
Kazuo draws her aside, out of where people come and go, and looks down at her. "You made a difference for me," he says quietly. "You called down the sun. You burned away just enough of the poison in me that I could remember gold, for a moment, and roses. That was enough that, a little later, I could come to myself for a few minutes.

"You made a difference for Naru, though she'd never met you, and neither of you knew it; those few minutes were enough that I could warn people she'd been taken, and they could set things in motion to take her back, before her life and soul could be fed to a demon.

"You made a difference for me again; those few minutes inspired Mamoru to try something that let him preserve enough of me that, later, I could be brought back. Given a body again. Made whole.

"With Norie... I think many things have gone into achieving the stability she has now; I think the things you did and tried to do for her were important parts of them. Maybe she'll keep it. Maybe she'll waste it. But she has the choice.

"I don't know about Fate; that's not a name I know.

"I do know that you were terrified of Riventon, then, at the same time that you cared about him. I do know that you believed that he would kill you, and you were probably right. That doesn't make caring about him wrong. More people care about him than he would believe; even Mamoru does, after a fashion. In a certain way, even I do.

"If he's lonely, though -- that's his own choice. He has people he knows care about him. He chooses pride and greed over caring, and chooses tempting lies over truth.

"I've seen him choose truth, for a few seconds, once. If he ever learns to choose that for real, for more than a few seconds -- then, when that happens, you'll have nothing to fear from caring about him. Right now ... the best thing you can do for him, I think, is to learn more about that choice yourself. About the way that sometimes things that look like you're losing turn out well after all. And about what you can do when the time comes that all the lies he's been building his life on betray him."
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-03 20:20:09 74417
Ayana's lip quivers a little, as she listens to the explanations. None of those are things she thinks of herself as having impacted, in even the slightest form. Hearing Kazuo say otherwise, however, is helpful, even if she's a little sad not to have noticed.

When the explanations are done, she closes her eyes and leans into him, ears up, and limbs loose. "I miss her," she mumbles quietly. "I miss her so much. But I don't think I want to live there anymore. I don't know what to do."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-04-03 20:31:59 74418
There's an arm around her shoulders. Nothing in the slightest improper; closer contact than tends to be polite in public, but nothing to blink at. Just an arm. Just a little bit of support, and of shelter.

"You want to belong," he says quietly. "But not to lose yourself in the belonging. To do that, you need to learn how to be -- not her Ayana, or his Ayana; not even your kami's Ayana. All of those might be part of who you are. But you need to learn to be your Ayana, too. To learn how to belong with people you care about, without taking advantage of them on the one hand, without being swallowed up by them on the other.

"If we can learn who that is, who you are when you're at your best -- then we'll have an easier time figuring out what you need, Ayana. Where you'll need to live, what you'll need to do, what you'll need to learn.

"And this -- I don't like dealing with that kind of thing, either. But this is a place where we can get hints of that kind of truth, sometimes. You spoke about being your kami's messenger. Well. This is where we can find out -- if your kami has a message for you."
Ayana Tasogare 2017-04-03 21:24:18 74419
These are all heavy thoughts; much heavier than the little fox really knows how to answer. But then again, this is why she was sitting on the couch, staring at nothing, when he found her. Ayana doesn't answer any of the questions he's raised; she doesn't even try. Instead, she merely buries her face in his side and hides from the questions as best she can. And especially she hides from the idea of talking to Inari.