Penance



 The young man walked slowly up to the small hut, a bag of rice in one arm and a small doll in the other. Half-way to the house, a young girl with short brown hair pulled into two buns ran out to greet him.
 "Onii-san!" she cried in delight, holding up one arm in a plea to be lifted. The other arm hung limply at her side, broken, a small trail of blood leading down to drip from her hand. He smiled in recognition, and leaned down. The girl took the doll happily, freeing one of the boy's arms to lift the young girl up.
 "Onii-san's been gone all day." the girl said scoldingly, looking the young man in the eyes. A trail of dried blood trailing down her chin cracked slightly as she spoke, but the boy knew the blood would remain no matter how she talked, nor would it wash off with water or any amount of scrubbing. "Yuiren-chan was lonely."
 "Gomen nasai, Yuiren-sama." the boy answered fondly. "Did you like the present I got you?"
 "Hai, she's pretty." Yuiren answered, holding the doll in her good arm. Then she frowned down at it. "But she doesn't look like Yuiren-chan." The boy watched as Yuiren lifted the doll to her mouth, and used her teeth to rip one of the doll's arms half off, then bit and nibbled the stomach until the stuffing began to come out there as well. "There. Now she looks like Yuiren-chan."
 "Hai, Yuiren-sama." The boy nodded. He expected it. That's what she did with everything he tried to bring her, mutilated it to match herself. He'd stopped being nauseated at it a long time ago. Now it just felt dull, like everything else. Like the pain deep in his own chest, where a gaping hole still dripped blood and still burned whenever he looked down at it. He'd learned to stop looking down.
 "Come on! Everybody's wondering where you are!" Yuiren pulled lightly on his hair, then gestured to the house emphatically. "Let's go, Onii-san!"
 The boy obediently walked into the household, stepping over the small trail of blood leading out the door. Inside, things were just as they always were when he came here. There was Otou-sama, sitting at the table, waiting to finish his dinner. There sat Chuei-sama, in the corner, smiling up at him full of friendliness. He always was in the corner, simply because there was no where else that he could go, with  his left foot lying a scant few feet away on the ground. The boy leaned down to let Yuiren run around the house as she would, then walked to Chuei-sama, crouching before him and smiling.
 "Would you like me to put your foot back on, Chuei-sama?" he asked softly. Chuei nodded.
 "Please." he answered, no strain in his voice at all, nor did he seem disturbed by the idea. The boy took the missing appendage in one hand, and with his other reached under his belt to pull out a needle and some thread that he always brought for this purpose. Somehow, no matter what he did, whenever he returned the foot was off again, and the boy had to return it to it's former place.
 Chuei didn't cry out when the needle pierced his skin, nor did he seem hurt. In fact, he simply seemed excited to have the chance to use his foot again. The boy didn't say a word as he slowly and carefully pulled the needle through the child's skin. The unlikelihood of such a crude surgery working didn't seem to bother either of them. As soon as the boy tied a knot to hold the string in place, Chuei leaned up against the wall to push himself up to his feet. He smiled up cheerfully.
 "Arigatou, Onii-san." he said politely, bowing. As he bowed, he was careful to put one hand over his waist so nothing inside could try to escape through the rip in his lower stomach. He then turned to walk over to his little sister Gyokuran, his left foot pulling off of his leg ever so slightly with each step. Nonetheless, the string held. The boy turned to Otou-sama then, who still sat silently and patiently. A bowl of rice lay turned over onto the floor, and the man looked at the boy expectantly.
 "Hai." the boy said without being asked, and walked over to the stove. He began to prepare rice, the sound of Gyokuran's choking laughter at her older brother's games filling his ears. He turned to watch Chuei amusing his sister, wondering idly what Gyokuran's laughter would sound like were it not for the fact that both of her lungs had been pierced and had long ago deflated. Beside her, the younger brother Shunkei watched in wide-eyed silence. Although the boy wouldn't admit it, Shunkei was his favorite, maybe just because his own name was so similar. He was always very quiet, probably because of the large part of the back of his skull that was missing. The boy had looked for it to try to replace it, but he couldn't find it anywhere and finally gave up. Besides, most of what the skull had been protecting seemed to still be there, and that was what mattered, even if the sight of hair matted down by blood and the red running down Shunkei's back always managed to make the boy a little sick.
 "Ahem." Otou-sama's polite cough reminded the boy of what he was supposed to be doing. The boy blushed with embaressment at being so easily sidetracked, and with a quick "Gomen nasai!" he turned to take the cooked rice off of the stove and bring it over to Otou-sama. Carefully lifting the cracked bowl, and cleaning out the old rice, he filled the bowl with the freshly-cooked rice and put it down for the father to eat. The man nodded in thanks, and began to eat. The boy wondered, not for the first time, where the rice must go since it never came out the hole in Otou-sama's abdomen that surely must cut through most of his digestive organs.
 Now that his last duty was finished, he sat down beside the table, not having the audacity to sit in one of the chairs. Yuiren walked over to sit in his lap.
 "Tell Yuiren-chan a story!" Yuiren commanded in a rather cute voice, looking up seriously. At the mention of a story, Chuei and Gyokuran both stumbled over to sit beside him, and even  Shunkei's head turned slightly towards him, but his eyes were blank and the boy wondered if he even knew what he was looking at.
 "All right, Yuiren-sama." the boy answered, smiling down. "What kind of story would you like to hear?"
 Yuiren thought for a minute, then looked up again. "Tell us about your brother."
 "My brother? All right." The boy leaned back against a leg of the table and sighed thoughtfully. "My brother was the most wonderful person on Earth."
 "Except for Nii-chan." Yuiren corrected him. The boy smiled down at her.
 "Maybe. Maybe my brother and your Nii-chan were a lot alike. My brother took care of me too." he answered softly. "Aniki was the only good person in the world."
 "Except for Nii-chan!"
 "Right."
 "And Yuiren-chan!"
 "Hai, except for all of you." the boy allowed. "Anyway, one day my aniki had to go away. That made me very, very sad."
 The boy continued his story calmly and almost without thinking about it. Why should he think about it? This was the same story he told every night when he came here, and every night they all listened as though they had never heard it before, Yuiren even breaking in at the same times.
 "... and that's why my aniki is in Sailou now, and I'm here with all of you." he finished. They all nodded sagely, except for Shunkei, who still didn't register a word of it.
 "Are you sorry for what you did?" Yuiren asked sleepily, leaning up against the boy, leaving a streak of blood on his yellowish-orange jacket.
 "Hai, very much so." the boy nodded.
 "And you're gonna make up for it?" Yuiren asked. "You're gonna take care of us forever an' ever now?"
 "Hai, I am." the boy answered, just as he did every night.
 "Good." Yuiren's eyes slipped closed. "Goo'night, Onii-san."
 "Good night, Yuiren-sama." The boy lifted the girl carefully, and laid her down on her pallet. Chuei limped over to his own, as did Gyokuran. The boy finally walked over to Shunkei, and lifted him with the utmost caution that his head remained tilted forward, then carried him over to lay stomach-down on his own sleeping place. Otou-sama was already lying down to rest, and the boy went to clear out the bowl of rice before leaning up against one wall and closing his eyes for rest. He didn't sleep, he'd found that out the first day he had stayed here. He wasn't capable of it. It was alright, though. The smell of blood filled his nostrils more clearly now that he could sit and think about it, and his chest burned worse than ever. Gyokuran's choked gasps lulled him into an almost-sleep that lasted until morning.
 As the sun rose, he stood and looked around at the household. The chairs were all neatly under the table. The bloodstain on Yuiren's face was gone, as were all of the other injuries decorating the family. The boy knew that wouldn't last long. He walked out the door quietly, not wanting to wake any of them. He had to buy rice, and a present for Yuiren. She'd be so disappointed if she didn't get one, especially since she didn't get to play with the ball that her Nii-chan had been considerate enough to go and buy for her. When he came back, then it would be time to try to fix Chuei's leg again, and Yuiren would mutilate whatever toy he bought her, and Gyokuran's gasps would fill his ears, and blood would choke his breathing, and he would have to make up for Otou-sama's interrupted meal, and Shunkei would stare at him with those same blank eyes no matter what he did, and the pain in his chest would burn him, and they would want to hear the story again, and he'd tell it, just like he had for every night since... since then. Just like he would for every day and night for the rest of eternity, without sleep and without rest, until the gods had decided that he had had enough, and he could return to his aniki where he should be.
 He walked down the path from the house, beginning his 'day' again.


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