Special thanks to Dvorah Simon and Karin for editing and other good stuff!
Immortality as expressed in this tale is from Highlander, which is copyright 1997 Davis/Panzer Productions. These characters are all pretty much my own, though certain bits are out of Japanese tales. Any resemblance to real persons or events may be coincidental. This is fanfiction, not to be considered canon, nor will it infringe upon the aforementioned copyright. No money is being made off this story. Darnit.
The Isobe family was not large. Husband and wife, their eleven year old daughter Yuriko, their six year old son Makoto, and the husband's mother. When the economy of Japan had been burgeoning, this pair had not needed what might be considered regular jobs. Instead, they had opened their house to foreign tourists. Visitors wanting to explore the "real" Okinawa were charmed and delighted. The Isobes provided food of their guest's country or food of the island, as well as Japanese food. The children were, therefore, raised to believe that it was perfectly natural to have a succession of odd-looking gaijin, foreigners, living with them. Makoto, though, insisted that the Drakes were the best guests ever. He utterly doted on Mariah and thought the world of Dige. Perhaps it was because they came to his school for Sports Day and similarly doted on him.
Their visit was winding down. The stay on this island had netted no more information than any other. Dige's mortal memories were not as clear as his Immortal ones. If his people had been on this island, it seemed time and war had distorted any landmarks he might have recognized. That the Okinawans had once traditionally worn whorled tattoos was not enough reason to believe they were the same people. The pattern had been clan-specific. It was too much to believe that his clan had taken over the entire island.
Long, long ago, he and Mariah had talked about their mortal lives. Dige had been shy about talking of his because Mariah's had been so terrible. She had been curious, though, and so he told her what he remembered. A tropical island covered in a variety of plants and strange animals. He had no reference for its size, only that it was not small. His tribe had lived in part off the bounty of the sea, the men out on the water in boats carved from the long trunks of trees. The women roamed the forest near their village gathering fruits and tubers. They cared for the homes and children. He had been married and his wife of ten years, Kao, had been his best childhood playmate. Though it became obvious that she was sterile - it never occurring to anyone that Dige might be - he did not put her aside. When she did become pregnant, she smiled for the first time in a year at Dige's joy. The boy's birth killed her and the baby. Broken-hearted, Dige ignored all the offers of people's young daughters to become his new wife. He joined his brothers in their expedition to see the lands beyond the sea.
He could laugh about it over a thousand years later. Well, in a way laugh. "It hadn't occurred to others that I might be sterile, but Kao had thought of it. It took me three wives and almost a century before I accepted it." One of his fellow hunters had born a striking resemblance to him. Just before everyone learned that Kao was pregnant, the man suffered a mysterious, fatal accident. "Maybe she killed him, maybe she didn't. It doesn't matter now."
He searched for his homeland because he had never performed the funeral rites for his brothers, nor had he attended the ones for his wife and her baby. This had not bothered him until recently. These days, though, the need for closure with his mortal life somehow was essential.
Mariah had closure with her mortal life before she was even fifty years old. Women's logic, the past is the past. Only the future matters. This trip would, it seemed, be the last. She had seen the sag of his shoulders and despair in his eyes. Closure he had never had. He was supposed to find closure, coming to the village shrine and praying for his dead. His wife, his brothers, the boy, and the man who perhaps Kao had killed to protect the secret of her child's parentage. According to what Dige remembered, in not performing the rites at the village shrine, he had left those people in a sort of purgatory where they would remain as long as he lived.
"It wasn't your fault," she would tell him gently. He would smile and wrap her tightly in his arms. She knew he did not believe her words. She was too close to him. There had to be someone, somewhere, to help both Grey and him. She asked every other Immortal she came across, even the evil ones, if they knew someone who could stop one of their kind from committing suicide. Some suggested Darius, the warrior-turned-holy man whom Tran had already rejected for the purpose. Others said Paul, who was much like Darius. Still others suggested Grace Chandel; a younger Immortal purported to be among the most sane and stable.
Tran rejected holy Immortals. Grace Chandel might be able to help Grey. Dige was another matter. Mariah knew that he would not take a woman seriously in such a role. It was annoying, but it was true of him. Why he should be so different from Grey, she did not know.
There were times when the strain of it seemed too much for her. She and Tran had been searching for solutions to Grey's depression. Between their few challenges Grey would be listless. He would live in the routine of the farm and do nothing outside. Before Meerschweine, he had never stopped doing things. Now... he was only alive when they were on the hunt for their challengee. As with Dige, she was too close to him. Her words of comfort fell on deaf ears. All of them. She had known them all her life. If Grey went, would Tran be far behind? He seemed so centered on Grey. In the growing frustration, Mariah had almost taken the head of the last man they had challenged. Such a narrow line between fighting to hone her skills and fighting to destroy something for anger's sake. She was unaccustomed to the anger and it outraged her to find any lack of control in herself. Tran had become temperamental; Dige was showing the same signs of depression as Grey. It was as if the tall, silver-haired man was the glue that bound their small group to life. Without him their disparate personalities were driving the others to seek death.
She knew it was not her fault. She knew that there were things in this life she simply could do nothing about. But it hurt, and drove her sometimes to wander late at night, seeking trouble in order to fight something that she could touch and defeat.
And then one morning Mariah and Dige woke simultaneously. They lay facing each other as they often did, heads angled to allow free breathing. They gazed in confusion into each other's eyes. Both felt the same thing. A warmth, a release of tension that opened up their hearts. A breath of anticipation. Dige smiled and whispered, "What is this I feel?"
Mariah returned his smile and shifted to taste his lips. They made love slowly at first, then built to a fever pitch until both desperately found each other's mouths to silence their cries. The almost-abandon was a relief from the melancholy lovemaking they had done for several months.
Afterwards, Dige laughed freely against Mariah's shoulder. "Not that the whole household doesn't know I make love to my wife," he began.
She finished, "But they needn't know when or for how long."
Mariah knew what they were feeling. It was what she had felt when she met him and realized why he had come. It was hope.
Later that day they were in a bookstore with their hired translator, going through the historicals, when they sensed another Immortal. They both shifted, turning their heads to see the person who had just stepped in the store. She stood just inside the doorway, a small, delicate woman, darker-skinned than most Japanese women preferred themselves to be. Her eyes lit on them with defiance and curiosity. Mariah shot a smile at Dige. He returned it and went back to discussing the books with their translator. Mariah crossed the store with light steps.
She found herself towering over the other Immortal woman and skimmed back a step or two as she always did with Tran. Another would have classified the woman as a very small adult, but Mariah had lived long with another like this. Child-Immortal, probably no more than thirteen at first death, if that. "I do not hunt now, Sister," Mariah said calmly in Japanese.
The other woman raised her eyebrows in surprise. After a moment she said, "Neither do I."
"Suzuko no Wataru," the girl replied.
It was Mariah's turn to raise her brows. The name was an odd one amongst present-day Japanese. The girl was claiming centuries. Suzuko the Wanderer. Japanese no longer used a no between names.
The girl tilted her head slightly towards Dige. "Your handsome friend, he also does not hunt now?"
Mariah did not turn from the other woman's eyes. "He hunts his past and does not find it."
A little one-upmanship there. Only someone very old would be able to seek their past in Japan and fail to find it. Wataru raised her brows again and gave Mariah a curious glance. "It is sad to be without a past," she allowed mildly.
Mariah shrugged slightly and gave the other woman a friendly smile. "It is difficult to be Peter Pan."
Suzuko's smile lit her face and was gone in a flash, though her eyes danced. She said in English, "It would have to be Peter Pan. We don't have the luxury of playing helpless female if we wish to live for long."
They nodded agreement, sharing careful smiles. Suzuko's eyes flashed wistfully past Mariah to light on Dige again. Mariah was reminded of the way Tran looked at Grey sometimes. She said thoughtfully, "We are not exclusive."
Suzuko startled. Her cheeks flushed darkly in clear embarrassment. "No, no. Other Immortals are not for me. He is simply very handsome."
Pain stabbed Mariah's heart. She said softly, "He is dispossessed." She silenced herself and forced her eyes to continue to meet Suzuko's, though she felt the pang of tears in them. As are we all, though most of us live with it.
Suzuko's eyes narrowed, flashed again over to Dige and back to meet Mariah's. "Does he seek help for himself?"
"No," Mariah said softly.
Suzuko's lips tipped downwards. "Perhaps we should talk."
After a brief explanation to Dige so that he would not worry, the two women went to the Soba/Udon shop next to the bookstore. As they sat at the counter waiting for their order, Suzuko said, "I have a friend in France who might be able to help, if your man needs it."
"Oh?" Mariah did not waste this opportunity by hedging or acting proud. She was far too experienced for such foolishness. She did ask though, "It isn't Brother Darius, is it?"
Suzuko smiled. "No, it isn't. His name is Sean. Sean Burns." Her smile warmed and reached the depths of her eyes. "He is a most extraordinary Immortal. No child, either. He is the most persuasive...." She trailed off, her gaze turned inward. Mariah could not help but smile at the fond expression on the other woman's face. "He could make the sphinx roll over and beg. He can reach you, in whatever darkness you are lost, and help guide you out of it. He could help your man."
They stopped talking to eat their udon, slurping up the wide noodles in their tasty sauce, the delight of the occasional slice of green onion counterpoint to the noodle flavor. At the end of lunch, Suzuko wrote Sean Burns' address on a piece of paper and gave it to Mariah.
As they stood outside the bookshop, Mariah realized Suzuko was leaving. Before she could speak, the smaller woman said, "I was... ill. Another Immortal, I don't know who, led Sean to me. The good doctor claims patient confidentiality whenever I inquire who my benefactor was. In giving you Sean's address, I pay back some of what I owe."
Mariah vowed to be careful not to lose the address. She fingered it in her pocket. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me," Suzuko said with another smile. She bowed to Mariah and added, "May we never face each other."
"May we never face each other," Mariah replied. She watched the small Immortal walk away for a minute, before joining Dige again in the bookstore. Her heart leaped in her breast for the first time in a very long while. No longer resigned, she could laugh openly again without the constant underlying sorrow.
Dige sat on their futon perusing the notes the translator had made. Not for the first time, he wished he had studied Japanese when they first came here. He was studying now, but the written language was much more difficult to gain a working knowledge of than the spoken. Even native speakers of Japanese carried dictionaries with them in case they encountered oddball Kanji. He chuckled. Most written languages in the world were easy to learn. However, Japanese had two alphabets and thousands of Chinese symbols they used almost every day. The translator, Mr. Wakabayashi, was expensive to hire; but a man who owned substantial stock in successful computer companies the world over (and had made a killing when Windows 95 went on the market) could afford such things. This being a very personal mission, he had never once thought of using funds from the farm.
Whether or not this trip would prove as fruitless as any other to the islands strung along the Asian coast, he did not know. There remained a strong sense of optimism and he wallowed in it. He had not felt so hopeful in decades. The door to the room slid open and Mariah walked in. Ah. He almost felt embarrassed for not noticing her approaching presence. Though he could distinguish her from other Immortals it was dangerous to assume it was her. Dige set his notes aside to gaze at her. She slid the door shut, dropped the latch on it, then glided with feline grace across the room to settle in his lap. With a sigh of pleasure, he put his arms around her waist. Her body was warm, muscles firm against his arms. Her hair tumbled in long, heavy waves down to her waist and smelled of roses. Her eyes were deep and blackish-brown, mysterious even after all those centuries together.
He kissed her tenderly and flicked his tongue teasingly along her lips. Then he set his forehead against hers. "Why do you still love me?" he asked softly, settling her body more firmly against his.
"Because there is no one else like you in the whole world," she replied in equally soft tones. She shifted invitingly, smiling. "Because you believe in me." Her expression suddenly tensed and she tilted her head. She was listening, he knew. What was it? She frowned at him. "Did you hear something?"
Honestly surprised, he shook his head. His wife was going mystical as she sometimes did. He took some pride in the fact that she was even more magical than Tran. It always amazed him that Mariah, as logical and sequential as she seemed, was not troubled by her visions. "What did it sound like?" he asked.
She closed her eyes, moving her head in a semi-circle. "It's gone. It sounded like a child. Just a happy sound."
"Do you want to track it?" Sometimes she did. He would go with her until they found the source or lost the signal.
She shook her head. "It's... around here, somewhere. I didn't get a strong impression. Just a brief hint." She leaned in, pushing him until he was on his back. "I think we can leave it for later," she whispered. He was happy to demonstrate his enthusiasm for that idea.
That night they had dinner with their hosts. Mariah, Dige and Yuriko's friend Aho were all of the guests that evening, other visitors having gone out. Makoto was bubbling with suppressed excitement. He sat at the table, his little legs crossed under him, wiggling and squirming. His father smiled indulgently at him and shook his head. Mrs. Isobe kept herself busy in the kitchen, a curious little smile tugging her lips. Mariah wondered at the suppressed excitement emanating from both of them. Before they had finished setting the table, the boy could contain himself no longer. "Look, look!" He yanked a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and waved it at his father.
Mr. Isobe took the paper and read it. He smiled proudly down at his son. "Makoto won first place in the track meet today at school! Very good!" He turned intending to stamp his seal on the paper.
Mrs. Isobe was there with the seal almost before he completed his turn. Her excitement was held tightly in check; outwardly she seemed perfectly calm. "I also have some good news. I bought a last minute ticket in the lottery this morning. We won."
Her husband blinked. "Oh, how much did we win?" She whispered in his ear. His mouth dropped open and he stopped breathing. He settled heavily on the floor next to his son. His wife covered her smile and waited.
Both of their children scuttled over and shoved at their father playfully. Makoto demanded, "What did we win? Tell me!"
Yuriko said, "Father! Come on!"
He took a deep breath and let it out. "One hundred million yen."
Both children's eyes went wide as saucers. They shouted together, "We're rich!"
As they started babbling about toys and trips to exotic places, their mother touched them gently and calmed the two excited children down. Mr. Isobe was breathing again, laughing every few seconds and shaking his head. "One hundred million yen. Well, we won't have to worry about money again. What a streak of good luck!"
Things took a while to settle down, but before long they ate dinner. The Isobes were distracted, murmuring together about what they might do with all the money they had won. Yuriko and Aho whispered steadily together on the same subject. Dige and Mariah might have felt left out, but Makoto talked to them excitedly. "Can I come to your home and visit you?" he asked hopefully.
They glanced at each other and smiled. Dige said, "Maybe someday. We would have to discuss it with the other owners, first."
Makoto, who had interrogated them mercilessly when they first arrived, nodded. Whether or not he really understood did not matter so much. He was about to speak again when he frowned. He leaned back, away from the table and looked toward the back corner of the room. His frown became profound and he scrambled to his feet. Full of bluster, he said, "Who are YOU?!"
Aho asked Yuriko curiously, "Why is Makoto talking to the wall?"
Yuriko shrugged. "I don't know. There's nobody there."
Makoto turned indignantly and waved his fist at his sister. "What do you mean, there's no one there?!! She's right in front of me!"
Aho shrugged and turned away. "Your brother sure is weird."
As the conversation became heated Dige and Mariah looked on in amusement. Makoto shouted, "She's sitting right there eating a rice cake!"
"You're so stupid!" Aho shouted back.
Mariah turned her head and looked towards the corner Makoto had been talking at. She leaned in close to Dige and said softly, "There is someone there. A little girl in a red kimono."
She had not spoken quietly enough. Mrs. Isobe was close enough to hear and said, "A little girl?"
Makoto, vindicated, drew himself up as tall as he could. "That's right! She's wearing a red kimono, sandals, and she's eating a rice cake."
From the other side of the room Makoto's grandmother, who never ate with foreign guests around and had been reading, spoke. Her words were unintelligible to the two Immortals. Her grandchildren looked suspiciously as if they did not understand, either.
Her son, Makoto's father, understood her. "Mother says Makoto sees a Zashikiwarashi." To that his mother spat a number of unintelligible words. Her son bowed and apologized to her before turning to his guests. "I'm sorry, she's angry because that's Hyoujungo, the Tokyo language. She would prefer I use the local dialect even though none of you would understand it." He did not say the word, though. He was a modern man and did not use old folk terms.
Dige bowed respectfully to the grandmother. "I know just how she feels." Turning and sliding his hand into Mariah's, he asked, "But what is a Zashikiwarashi?"
"A good-luck spirit. In this case, one that looks like a child." He added suddenly in English, "You should not encourage Makoto."
But the grandmother continued, this time speaking for herself in the Tokyo standard dialect. "Makoto can see her because he is special. Like me. She's been here for a few days. She'll move on. Happiness is fleeting."
Aho stamped her foot angrily. "Why is she here at all? YOU aren't unhappy! Why doesn't she come to MY house next!"
The old grandmother looked at the child coolly. "The spirit is capricious. No one can understand why they go where they go."
Mr. Isobe was trying to head off the conversation and failing. The fact that everyone in the house seemed to believe and accept that his son was seeing a ghost from Japanese legends seemed to trouble him a great deal.
Makoto suddenly turned toward the corner where he saw the spirit. He bowed with all the dignity and respect he could summon. "Thank you very much for everything you've done for my family." Then he gasped in surprise.
He and Mariah both swung toward the window. Mariah said, "She must be going to some other house, now."
Makoto ran to the door and slipped his shoes on. "I want to know where she's going!"
Mariah launched herself in pursuit, grinning. Dige muttered, "When in Rome," and dashed after them, ignoring Mr. Isobe's shout and the voice of the grandmother arguing with her son.
Makoto's energy seemed unflagging. He took corners, Mariah staying close in the fear that the child might stumble out into traffic and get himself killed. She could easily see how he had won the track meet at school. They passed few people. It was early evening and mothers were making dinner, most children were at cram schools, and most fathers probably had not left work yet. There was a teenager who, chancing to be in the ghost's path, had found a ten thousand-yen bill on the ground. There was a little girl who found a shopkeeper kindly giving her the last sweet-filled bun for free.
Following the ghost down a narrow street Makoto said happily, "This is great! A ghost that spreads happiness wherever she goes!"
Panting, Dige replied, "Well, your grandmother said she was a good luck spirit."
Makoto stopped so suddenly the two Immortals nearly ran him over. "She's stopping," he whispered. "She's going into that house on the right."
The house stood at the end of a group of modern apartment buildings. The property was walled off but the gate stood open. It was an older house, built in a very traditional style. A man-made pond, a sweet, simple garden.... A pair of wooden sandals lay on the mat out front.
Mariah studied the house. "This must be where she's going to live, next."
They entered the yard quietly and looked in through the open door. Makoto nodded his head. "She's kneeling in front of the Butsudan."
"The what?" they chorused. He pointed. There was a Buddhist altar against the wall. As was traditional, it had a small bowl of sand with two incense sticks burning. There was a cup of rice on the side. A vase of flowers stood next to the plaque bearing the posthumous name of the dead family member.
"Oh, Dige, that picture!" Mariah murmured.
The photo was old, black and white. It was of a little girl, perhaps five years old. Her bangs were cut straight across, the rest of her hair falling heavily down to her waist. She smiled cheerfully from her seat, tiny hands holding up the box of candy traditionally given in the once a year national celebration for all girls turning three, five or seven years old.
"That's her, isn't it?" Dige asked Makoto. The boy nodded.
Another voice spoke, old and creaking. "Why, who are you?" Dige jumped in surprise. Makoto and Mariah turned to follow the movement of the spirit as she raced away. A tiny old lady, her hair up in a bun, stared at them from the door of the house.
Dige and Mariah knew that the Japanese as a whole believed in spirits of all kinds. There were shrines everywhere, only the smallest ones lacking a Shinto gate to pass through. There was even a famous temple somewhere on Honshu, the main island, to which people went to pray for the spirits of aborted babies. Thus when the three explained that they had followed a spirit who looked like the girl in that photograph, the little old lady believed them at once. She invited them to have tea with her. They left their shoes outside at the door and followed her to the traditional low table, where they sat on cushions as she served them tea and rice balls.
When they were settled and reasonably sure of their welcome, they asked about the picture.
She smiled, with the wistful acceptance of those who have lived too long for the agonies of the past to hurt them anymore. "That photograph is of my daughter, Haruko, who died fifty years ago."
Makoto's mouth dropped open. "You're the mother of a Zashikiwarashi?"
His use of the Northern word did not seem to distress the old lady. She settled herself more comfortably. "I thought it might be something like that. I have always felt her near me."
Mariah's hand curled about Dige's and she asked softly, "How did Haruko die?"
"She became ill. There was no medical help to be had, the hospitals were packed with wounded soldiers from Japan. I kept her as comfortable as I could, but she just kept getting weaker. Our house had been destroyed in an air raid. We were lucky to have shelter in a little shack. There was almost nothing to eat, and we were afraid of the next air raid." A tender smile crossed the old woman's face. Dige, watching her, wondered at the peace he saw there. Then she continued speaking. "Haruko was a generous, giving child. She always shared her food with the other neighborhood children. She always had a smile and a word of encouragement. But the gods are cruel. She was dying. On her birthday, the neighborhood children all came to our shack. They knew she was dying. They had made her a birthday cake of mud and party foods of grasses and stones. She thanked them from the bottom of her heart. And she said, 'I wish I could make you all happy.' Those were her last words."
The old lady took a kerchief from her pocket and used it to wipe her eyes, gingerly. Makoto sniffled. Dige cradled Mariah's hand in his and thought, I wish....
"How?" Makoto asked between sniffles. "How did a child whose life was so unhappy become a Zashikiwarashi?"
Dige found it hard to speak past the lump in his throat. He touched Makoto's shoulder with his free hand. "It must have been because of her dying wish." What about for Immortals? he asked himself. Can my last wish before my head is taken affect what happens to me?
The old lady spoke again. "We had nothing after the air raid. Yet after Haruko died, I never had any more difficulties. I suppose I could have married and had other children, but I never felt alone." She sniffed again, smiling sadly. "I wonder if she ever tried to talk to me?"
Makoto was crying, rubbing at his face. "That poor girl. She wished happiness for the other kids and never got any for herself." He fell silent suddenly. Then he blinked the tears away and turned to Dige and Mariah, his face alight. "We CAN do something for her! We can make her happy!"
Dige backed up on his cushion uncertainly. "Er, what are you talking about?" Mariah seemed to catch whatever madness had infected Makoto and she was smiling, too.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Makoto shouted. The other kids, cued in, began blowing their party horns and singing 'Happy Birthday.' Makoto was grinning happily. "Fifty years ago she didn't get to enjoy her birthday. Now she will."
After running home and explaining to the children's friends what was on his mind, they had descended upon a couple of the local stores. They brought a birthday cake, chicken, ice cream, sandwiches, soups and salad to the old lady's house and waited for Makoto to tell them Haruko had returned.
Aho stage-whispered to the boy, "Well? Is she happy? You're still the only one who can see her!"
"She's really surprised," he whispered back. "She's looking all around." He suddenly turned, following the movement of the spirit. The kids all gasped in surprise when a bow on one of the chickens unraveled itself. Makoto said quietly, "She's amazed at the size of the cake. She thinks the soup is too hot. She likes the sandwiches and the ice cream." He didn't have to say anything when one of the party favors suddenly floated in mid air and popped, letting loose its packed contents of streamers. "She's really happy!" he told the other kids. "She's laughing and waving her hands."
The door behind them slid open. The old lady walked in, dressed in an ancient tattered coat and pants. "Haruko, do you recognize me? I'm your momma."
Makoto whispered, "She doesn't recognize her mother, but she's not running away like she did before."
Mariah snuggled against Dige's side and said very quietly in Arabic, "She's puzzled. She's very... present. Has no memory."
Dige asked in the same language, "She doesn't remember anything from before she became a Zashikiwarashi?"
Mariah nodded slightly. "I think she comes to this house because she recognizes the picture in the Butsudan as herself, and wonders about it."
In front of them the events played out. Dige felt a pang. As used as he was to being a spectator in the mortal world, he felt deeply for the old woman and her ghost-daughter.
"Eh? She doesn't remember me at all?" the old lady asked. She began to cry quietly.
Dige looked into Mariah's eyes. She touched his face lightly and murmured, "There might be something I can do." She moved towards the old woman, approaching from behind. She was humming low in her throat, and Dige felt the disturbance, the ripple of power, that Tran sometimes demonstrated. He had never seen Grey do such a thing, but Tran HAD managed to teach it to Mariah. As Mariah's hands touched the old woman's shoulders, they heard a strangled groan. The old woman slumped to the floor and Makoto gasped. He was not looking at the old woman, though.
"She's here! Haruko's mother is here!"
"Mariah, what..?" Dige asked uncertainly.
She looked up at him, something sad in her eyes. "The spirit is willing, but the body was weak."
He looked down and realized that there was no breath in the form crumpled on the floor. The old lady was dead. And Makoto was crying and laughing at the same time. He explained later exactly what he had seen.
The tiny, kimono clad girl stared in utter surprise, which quickly transformed to overwhelming joy. Crying, she flung herself into the woman-ghost's arms. "Momma! Momma! Momma, I remember you!"
They cuddled close and laughed, whispering together for a long time. Then they left together.
Makoto's grandmother nodded as the boy finished his tale. "So the mother is one too, now. That is fitting. They will move from house to house and bring joy everywhere they go."
A few days after the couple returned from Okinawa, Dige came to Grey in private. He sat on a log and held Grey in a loose embrace, leaning his chin atop the silvery head. It was rare for Dige to be physically demonstrative to him, and Grey wallowed in it. He listened to the tale of the Zashikiwarashi. Afterwards he asked, "Do you really believe that? That the mother and daughter are together?"
Dige shrugged. "It seems as though it's all in what you want when you die."
Grey frowned. "There are so many things I could want. I'll probably die too fast to choose something truly worthwhile."
Dige tightened his embrace. "Nothing you'd want could be other than worthwhile. I, on the other hand...."
"You're Immortal. You aren't going to die."
Dige laughed and squeezed so hard Grey lost his breath. "You know, I'll make my last wish for you."
Grey snorted and squeezed Dige's thighs in return. "Hey, don't talk like that. It would break my heart if you died!"
"Then I'll wish for someone to come and heal your heart." Then Dige did something he had never, ever done. He pulled Grey's head back and tenderly kissed him between the eyes.