Part One of Two
Rin was almost asleep in Haru's arms by the time they reached Kazuma's home. Almost asleep, or half-unconscious; Haru wasn't exactly sure how to distinguish, but her desperate hold on him had been easing for the last while. "Are you awake?" he'd whispered from time to time while he walked. Sometimes she responded with a faint sound; sometimes she didn't.
Kazuma met them at the door. "Hatori-kun told me you were coming," he said, holding the door open. "Bring her inside."
"I didn't know where else to bring her, Shihan," Haru replied. "She's not safe at home."
Kazuma nodded, but said nothing until he had led the way down the long hall and slid a door open. "She'll be safe here." The calm certainty of the words took the edge off the tension that had been building around Haru's skull since Rin had drifted off. He carefully laid her down on the bed, and glanced around.
"I've never been in here before," he said. Rin stirred at the sound of his voice, and he knelt on the floor beside the bed, putting a light hand on her arm. "She told me you keep a room for her, but I didn't want to poke around."
"Why didn't you bring her in when you came to see her at New Year's?" Kazuma adjusted the curtains as he spoke, letting the late afternoon sunlight into the room.
Haru shrugged awkwardly. "She would've known for sure it was me."
"She knew." Kazuma turned back and looked at Rin's still form for a long, silent moment. "She was particularly irritable the next morning. Not the best way to start the New Year, Hatsuharu."
"I wanted her to start it being loved," Haru whispered, stroking up Rin's arm to her shoulder. "Why didn't you keep her, Shihan?" He traced her bones where the hospital clothes didn't cover her, dipping his fingers into the dark hollow between her shoulder and clavicle. The ridges of her sternum were clearly visible through skin gone translucent without exposure to the sun.
"My first responsibility was to Kyo," Kazuma said, kneeling beside him. "I wanted to keep her here, but...they clashed so badly, and Isuzu didn't carry the stigma with the family that he does, so I felt she had a real chance of being happy elsewhere. I hoped she would learn to be comfortable with people again, and I believed she would be safe away from her parents. This--" He gestured at the stark bones Haru was still caressing. "I sometimes think that the things our family allows to happen will stop being able to shock me. But over and over, these things happen, and that child-'god'..."
Haru's chest tightened painfully. "Akito--I--" The bond surged up inside, a throb of anguish, and he closed his eyes. He barely registered Kazuma's arm going across his shoulders.
"Focus on what's here," Kazuma said. "I can't fully understand what you're feeling, but I know Isuzu needs you."
"Rin." Haru forced his eyes open and slowly stroked her face. The bond's demands twisted into nausea. "How much did Tori-nii tell you?"
"That she's been in isolation and will need careful handling. Little more."
"You mentioned Akito."
Kazuma smiled wearily. "Some things go without saying, Hatsuharu. Stay here. I'll be right back; I want to take care of her feet."
"Okay." Haru focused on Rin's feet, the shallow lacerations and dried blood from her barefoot journey. "Rin," he whispered. "Rin, can you hear me? I'm with you, and Shihan, and we'll take care of you until you're strong again."
Her eyes didn't open, but a small smile touched her lips. "Haru," she murmured, and her hand moved. Haru caught it in his, and lifted it to his mouth, kissing each finger. "I'm so tired," she said, and her eyelids flickered as if she were trying to wake up. "I feel like I've been sleeping forever." Muscles moved visibly under her skin as she turned onto her side.
"Do you want to sit up?"
"No." She put a hand down on the mattress and looked up at him. "Sit here?"
"'kay." He got up and sat down beside her, and she lifted her head, resettling it on his thigh. Black hair spilled across his lap, and old habit made him want to work his hand through it, twine glossy strands around his fingers like rings. Her bare neck looked exposed and fragile, framed by the ragged edges of the careless haircut. "Rin?" No reply; she had drifted away again.
He pulled his other leg up onto the bed and leaned over her, inhaling her scent. Closing his eyes made it almost possible to imagine that nothing had changed, that they were stealing an afternoon in her old room, that Akito had never touched her.
For a moment he allowed himself to be lulled, to listen to the soothing plea of the bond--of course Akito wouldn't hurt her, not one of the Jyuunishi, not deliberately--and then he shoved it away. Rin stirred against him, as if the pressure of the bond was echoing down into her, and he rested his cheek on her shoulder. This is real. All of it.
The sound of footsteps in the hall and the door sliding open brought him out of the daze; he sat up as Kazuma and Kunimitsu came in, exchanged nods with them. Kunimitsu paled at his first glimpse of Rin, and Haru remembered that Kazuma's assistant had been with him long enough to have known her as a child. Pity and horror crossed the young man's face, and then were replaced by calm professionalism.
"I have the most experience patching up the students when they're hurt," he said. "From what I remember of the curse, it should be safe for me to bandage her feet."
Haru opened his mouth to say that he wanted to do it, but Kazuma shook his head. "Stay as you are, Hatsuharu. Either of us can deal with her injuries and bring her food. You're the only one who can hold her." Kazuma touched the top of his head as if Haru were a child again. "Did she mention whether she wanted to eat something? Kunimitsu put some soup on while I was finding the bandages." He crouched down beside the bed and gently laid a hand on Rin's arm. "Isuzu."
Rin came awake almost violently, trying to sit up and take in her surroundings in an instant. The three men stayed still while she stared at them, wide-eyed and shaking, and then her face relaxed. "Haru," she breathed, touching his hand tentatively.
"Right here," he replied, closing his fingers over hers.
"Do your feet hurt much, Isuzu-san?" Kunimitsu asked.
Rin used her free hand to brace herself against Haru and finish sitting up. She stared down at her feet, taking in the damage. "Not really." Her eyes had the strange blankness that always accompanied discussion of injuries, as if they had nothing to do with her. It was a familiar expression that invariably sent chills up Haru's spine.
She cooperatively swung her legs off the bed and let Kunimitsu begin washing her feet, but Haru could feel her tensing at the unfamiliar touch while the assistant gently cleaned and disinfected and applied bandages. She didn't relax at all until Kunimitsu stopped and stood up.
"I think that'll do it."
"Thank you," Rin said automatically, and she paused, seeming to hear the flatness in her voice. She looked up and summoned a faint smile. "Really."
Kunimitsu smiled back. "You're more than welcome, Isuzu-san. I'll get you some soup." Rin's hand went to her stomach as he turned away, as if the mere mention of food made it hurt, but she didn't argue.
After eating half a bowl of soup, Rin managed to stay awake until after nightfall. She said very little, but she sat out in the living room with Haru and Kazuma after Kunimitsu had gone home, drinking tea and listening to their sporadic conversation. Once, after a long lull, she rested her head on the kotatsu's table and looked for all the world as if she were listening to something.
"What is it?" Haru asked quietly, trying to not startle her. The wariness he was used to had evolved into outright jumpiness, although it seemed to be due to her forgetting that she wasn't alone rather than fearfulness.
"Night sounds different here," she replied, closing her eyes. "In the Main House everything sounds walled in." Her voice faded a little as she spoke, and Haru reached out to stroke her hair.
"D'you want to go to bed?" He interpreted the way her head moved under his hand as a positive one, and then a thought struck him. He risked a glance at Kazuma. "Shihan, is it okay if I stay with her?"
Kazuma met his eyes evenly. "Are you asking my permission to stay in the house, or in her room?"
"Both, I guess."
"I certainly don't mind you staying here for a few days, but I'd be happy if you let your parents know." Haru twitched guiltily. "As for the other...well, it's Isuzu's room." Kazuma looked back and forth between them. "That's her decision. You're not children anymore. We don't have to fill out paperwork for you to stay together."
"Paperwork?" Haru echoed.
"When you stayed with me in the hospital," Rin said, lifting her head and rubbing at her eyes. "Kazuma-san had to fight with the doctors to get permission."
"I wouldn't have thought you'd remember that," Kazuma murmured. "They didn't want to listen to anyone but your parents--"
"And Mama was gone." Rin took Haru's hand, lacing her fingers with his. "Stay with me."
"You should try to eat something else before you go to sleep," Kazuma said. "I called Hatori-kun earlier--"
The wary look that flashed over her face was one Haru remembered. "Why?"
"To let him know you're safe," Kazuma replied, unperturbed. "And to ask him how to take care of you."
"He'll tell everyone where I am." She rubbed her eyes again, hard enough that her skin reddened from the pressure. "Why am I so tired...?"
Kazuma sipped his tea. "Hatori is one of the most discreet members of the family. If anyone learns of your presence here, it won't be from him. As far as tiredness goes, he told me it might take a while for your sleep cycles to settle back into a normal routine. I certainly won't be offended if you want to go to bed."
"I--" Her face went eerily blank for a long moment. When Haru touched her shoulder she jumped in surprise, focusing on his hand before she looked over at him. "I... Sleep sounds good." She pushed herself to her feet, graceful despite her unsteadiness. "I'm going to go wash up first." Her gaze flicked to Haru, questioning, and he nodded. "Good night, Kazuma-san." She disappeared into the hall before he could reply.
"Good night, child," Kazuma said, and Haru caught a glimpse of unadulterated grief in his eyes. Kazuma gestured for him to stay silent, until the faint sound of running water reached them. "Hatori-kun also warned me that she might be somewhat...disoriented. How was she when you found her?"
"Hallucinating," Haru replied. "She--she's always had that happen a little, if she's sick or having nightmares."
"Hmm. I hadn't realized that." Kazuma peered thoughtfully at his empty teacup. "Is it severe?"
"I don't--" Memories surfaced like bubbles, and Haru examined them, trying to be objective. "It doesn't happen that often, and she snaps out of it pretty easily. She just...gets this look, like...I don't know how to describe it. She knows it's happening, kind of; she told me it's like having double vision. You just have to tell her which of the things she's seeing is real, and then she's okay."
"What a thing to be used to," Kazuma murmured, and Haru frowned.
"She's not--it's not a big deal, Shihan, she just...slips a little, and not often--"
"I just want to know what we're dealing with," Kazuma interrupted gently. "We'll take care of her, I promise. She's welcome for as long as she wants to be here."
The sound of the water had stopped, and Haru stood up. "Thanks for letting me stay, Shihan."
"Go call your parents and get some sleep. The phone's in the hallway."
"I'll be here if either of you need anything. Wake me if necessary."
Haru nodded, and obediently went to find the phone.
"said your name
and i started to climb
and it must have been sweat but i drank it like wine
it was sweet and my mouth was dry
i heard you scream but i made no reply
i can still taste it now if i try"
--Bright Eyes, "The Awful Sweetness of Escaping Sweet" (A Collection Of Songs: Recorded 1995-1997)
Rin was already lying down when he entered the room and slid the door closed behind him. He took a closer look around than he had earlier, taking in the simple furniture and the soft color on the walls. The bed was larger than most people would pick out for one girl, but that was no surprise; like his, Rin's Jyuunishi form was large enough that anything smaller would be useless if she fell ill and transformed. There was a bedside table with a lamp, and a mirror on the wall at the foot of the bed. Clothes were hanging in the small closet; the look of them made Haru suspect that Kunimitsu had been sent to buy something in her size. He guessed they would fit her well enough, and some attempt at replicating her taste had been made--he noticed a skirt with a high slit, and imagined Kunimitsu trying to buy it without blushing--but none of them looked like anything Rin would have chosen for herself.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked, turning back to face the bed. Rin looked questioningly up at him. "I mean, do you...do you want things to be different, or the same, or d'you want me to just be in the room...?" The glow from the lamp eased the paleness of her skin, softened the lines of her body.
"I want you close," she replied quietly.
"Okay." Haru stood still a moment longer, looking at the sleeve of the nightgown she was wearing. It's her room, Kazuma's voice murmured in his head. Haru nodded to himself, glad Kunimitsu had found something for her to wear to bed. He considered the situation, and silently took off his shirt and most of his jewelry. Rin's eyes tracked his movements sleepily, and he hesitated before stripping down to his underwear. One layer more or less meant little to the way her body would feel against his, but it seemed like the best compromise. He sat on the bed and stroked her shoulder. "Is this okay?"
She nodded, and he pulled back the covers and slid in next to her, switching off the lamp. In the darkness, warmth radiated off her like a beacon. He turned onto his side, facing her blindly, not sure what to do. He had been touching her gently ever since they'd arrived, had carried her halfway across town in the light of day, but the faint sound of her breathing in the dark sent tremors of anxiety through him.
He imagined reaching out to touch her and finding that there was no warmth there, no flesh and blood body to hold, only the echo of an indrawn breath. But his eyes were adjusting to the traces of moonlight creeping around the drawn curtains, and she was reassuringly tangible when he touched her. His fingers traced a familiar path up the inside of her arm, and he moved closer, felt her nestle suddenly against him.
"Rin," he whispered.
"Stay with me," she murmured back, and Haru nodded, locking his arms around her. Her mouth moved lightly against his throat, and he felt her inhale. He closed his eyes and did the same, flooding himself with her scent. He imagined it going into his lungs, being pulled out like oxygen and sent into his bloodstream; his body's involuntary response was overwhelming. Her fingers closed around his arm when he tried to move away from her a little. "Don't let go."
"I won't. I won't, it's just--" He caressed her back gently through the thin fabric separating their skin, felt the ridges of her spine and the scar gouged deep into her right shoulder blade. It felt strange under his fingers, and he slid his other hand down the back of her nightgown to feel it better. Rin whimpered under her breath, and he froze. "I've seen it before," he whispered. "Is it that different if I touch it?"
"No one's ever touched it. It feels strange." Her voice broke, and Haru took his hand away.
"Shh, sweetheart, it's okay." He closed his eyes against the room's dimness and held her tighter, losing himself in the feel of her heart beating against him, the rise and fall of her chest. She relaxed gradually as sleep claimed her, but Haru lay awake, relearning the feel of her in his arms. Time passed; he faintly heard the sounds of Kazuma locking the house and getting ready for bed. And then there was nothing to hear outside of Rin's room.
He must have dozed off, although it couldn't have been for long. The moonlight was suddenly coming into the room from a different angle, and he found himself wide awake and convinced that Rin had stopped breathing. He held his own breath in a panic, listening desperately until he heard the soft sound of her exhaling. It was so quiet that his own pulse in his ears threatened to drown it out.
Don't die. He felt his lips shape the words silently, not daring to voice them. Rin stirred against him, and he found himself touching her scar again. He imagined how deep the cut must have been, and then imagination melted into memory: the first time he'd seen her at the hospital after the accident--not an accident, he reminded himself viciously--with bandages over her eye and her throat and upper body, and strangers, doctors, muttering about how lucky she was that her spine hadn't been damaged. She'd been asleep, or unconscious, and he hadn't dared touch her.
No one had said anything to him at all. He wasn't her parent or her husband or her sibling, and he later realized it was only the power of the Sohma name that kept them from throwing him out altogether. But they didn't have to tell him what had happened to her, or how badly she was hurt, and fear of being taken away from her if he tried to force anyone to talk kept him silent. It wasn't until he came again and found her awake that he was given any answer at all.
I fell, she'd said, without opening her eyes. I was leaning out the window upstairs, and I lost my balance and fell.
Why were you--
I don't remember. Bruises halfway around her throat made it hard for her to talk. I hit my head when I fell. And, lucky to be alive, the doctors muttered.
All I remember is falling, she said when he asked again. That's all, Haru. Drop it.
Just DROP IT! The desperate edge in her voice, anger and pain and frustration, silenced him. Told him that she didn't want to tell him.
Told him that he didn't want to know.
One of the last times he visited her, he had to track her down. While nurses were milling around in confusion, he closed his eyes and felt for the tension of the Jyuunishi bond stretching between them. He found her on the roof, leaning over the edge and staring down into the traffic below. In the wind, her hair streamed around her head; he spared a thought for how hard it would be for her to untangle it, and to hope she would let someone help her. Blood had soaked through the bandage on her back and through her shirt; while he watched, a drop of it fell from the fabric and down into the street. He caught her hands and pulled her away from the edge; when she resisted, he sank to the ground and pinned her against him until the wild look left her face. The sun beat down on them and cars drove by on their business below and her blood trickled up his arm, under his sleeve, leaving a dark stain that he never tried to wash out of the fabric. She didn't cry, only slumped against him; not hugging him back, not fighting.
It was six months before he touched her again, and another six before he found her collapsed on the sidewalk: d�j� vu, a prayer of starting over.
"Don't die." He whispered the words into the dark, and she moved under his hands. "I'm sorry, love." Her breathing didn't change. "I'm sorry I didn't see." His face felt damp, but it wasn't until he tasted salt that he realized he was crying. He lay still, trying not to wake her. I'm sorry I believed you. I'm sorry I didn't try harder to make you tell me. I'm sorry I could find you on the edge of a roof and still believe it was all an accident.
I'm sorry I can't make myself stop loving Akito.
Haru lay awake until dawn streaked the sky, listening to Rin's breathing and the soft sounds she made while she dreamed. When tears dripped down her cheeks he kissed her face and whispered to her until she calmed, all without waking her. By the time he heard Kazuma moving around the house, his eyes hurt so much that it took real effort to keep them open, and his muscles ached with the tension of staying still for so many hours.
He slowly let go of her, easing her head onto a pillow and tucking her carefully under the blankets. After a moment's thought, he opened her window enough to let the dawn breeze carry the scents of Kazuma's garden into the room, and pulled the curtain back just a little, so she could see the different view without the first rays of sun hitting her face. He stood still and looked out, trying to imagine the world from inside the Cat's room. It was far at the back of the Main House's grounds, with rock gardens that required little care. By comparison, Kazuma's garden was vibrant; it lined the path down to the dojo, and in summer herbs and flowers ran rampant in a distinctly untraditional riot that would never have been tolerated at the Main House. Haru picked out hakubera and nazuna, two of the spring herbs, and smiled faintly.
He stroked Rin's head gently as he left the room, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "I'll just be outside, sweetheart." Her forehead creased faintly, and he kept a light hand on her arm while he retrieved the shirt he'd been wearing the previous day. I have to get some clothes, he reminded himself as he sniffed at it thoughtfully. His own scent was definitely on the fabric, but it wasn't rank; thinking of how comforting her skin smelled to him, he rolled the shirt up and put it on the other pillow. "I'll be back," he whispered as he pulled his pants on and slipped out.
Kazuma stepped out of the kitchen and intercepted him on his way out of the toilet room. "You look awful. Did you sleep poorly?"
"Didn't sleep," Haru replied. Out of bed, without the soothing feel of Rin's heart beating against him, the conflict in his mind was rapidly giving him a headache. "I--Shihan, can you work me over?"
"Clear your head first," Kazuma said, examining him. "Have something to drink. I'll meet you in the dojo."
"'kay." Haru went into the kitchen and poured a glass of water, drank it down so fast that his stomach tried to cramp. He ran water over his fingers and changed his mind; instead, he went outside, walking barefoot down to the outdoor tap. The water was frigid, and he shoved his head under the stream, letting it pour into his hair and down his bare back. He cursed violently under his breath at the shock, raking his fingers through his hair as he straightened up.
"Awake now?" Kazuma asked from behind him.
"Warm your muscles up." Haru started to protest, and Kazuma silenced him with a look. "I'm not going to risk injuring you."
Haru nodded and went into the dojo, where he began working through the movements that were ingrained in his body's vocabulary. The familiar motions lulled him slightly, eased the headache and the helpless rage that kept trying to build behind his eyes. He barely noticed when Kazuma joined him, and the warming-up became sparring. Haru threw himself into it, pushing at his own limits as hard as he could. The overall ache of tension in his body became concentrated as Kazuma blocked him, sent him sprawling again and again. He dimly felt bruises blossoming on his thigh and shoulders as his concentration and ability to roll with the blows evaporated. Exhaustion and sweat blinded him, but he forced himself back to his feet, throwing himself back at his teacher, until finally he realized that Kazuma was immobilizing him after an attack, not letting him start again.
"Enough." Haru stared blankly, gasping for breath, unwilling to register the word. "Enough," Kazuma repeated. "I'll wear you out, but I'm not going to punish you, Hatsuharu."
"No, Shihan, I--"
"You're done now." The finality in Kazuma's voice was unmistakable. "Kunimitsu's here, and I think we should go back to the house for breakfast, and check on Isuzu."
"She's awake," Kunimitsu said from the doorway, and Haru blinked at him, trying to clear his vision. "I saw her at the window."
"Do you want to torture yourself or help her?" Kazuma asked evenly, pulling Haru to his feet.
"I knew she was lying," Haru mumbled, grinding his palm against his eyes. "But I wanted to believe her, Shihan. I needed to believe her."
Kazuma nodded and steered him out of the dojo and up the path to the house. The sunlight was brighter than Haru had expected, and he stopped walking, tried to imagine being out in it for the first time after a long confinement. The smells wafting up from the garden tickled his nose, and the wind cooled the sweat on his body, making him shiver.
Rin was watching from the back door of the house, leaning against the frame, and the sight of her in the shadow broke his heart. "Come see the garden," he called up to her. "It's not really blooming yet, but--" He trailed off, watched her take a hesitant step forward. She was wearing one of the skirts from the closet, and the shirt he'd left on the bed.
"Help her down," Kazuma murmured to Kunimitsu. "Hatsuharu's in no shape."
"What if I make her transform?" his assistant whispered back.
"Then she'll be a horse, won't she?" Kazuma replied.
"You've never seen any of us change?" Haru asked.
"No--Isuzu-san and Kagura-san have always been very careful around us, and I've never seen Kyo change."
"But you believe in the curse?"
"I do," Kunimitsu said, watching Rin. "I've known too many of you not to believe that there's something with power over you." He walked up the path, and extended a hand to her. She didn't take it, but allowed him to touch her elbow and position himself to catch her if she fell. The gesture marked him as an outsider; most uncursed Sohmas who knew the family secret would have been too unnerved by the thought of transforming her to think of catching her. He shadowed her carefully while she walked, one cautious step at a time, until they reached Haru and Kazuma.
"It's bright," she said, stumbling into Haru's arms. She extended a hand toward the garden's leaves, and they sank down together, her fingers stroking the plant as she reached it. Her head craned around slowly as she took in her surroundings--blue sky, the softening earth under her. For a moment Haru thought she was on the verge of tears, but when she rubbed at her eyes and shaded them, he realized it was the sun's glare hurting her. "It's not a dream, is it?" She looked at each of them, her face tense, and Haru snapped a sprig from the hotokenoza, bringing it close to her cheek.
"I..." She winced and closed her eyes, fumbling for his hand. "What month is it now?"
"April," Haru whispered. "The beginning of April."
"April." Her grip went slack. "...three months?"
"Three months." Her hand slipped out of his as she doubled over, staring blindly at the ground. "That can't be right, it's not--" She brushed her hand against the plants, shaking her head. "It was so cold, and the sun, I..." The stream of words fractured as her teeth started chattering, as if the temperature had plummeted.
"You're not dreaming." Haru took her by the shoulders, suddenly unsure whether she even felt the touch. "You're free, you're safe--"
Kazuma stepped closer and rested a hand on the back of her neck. She choked and went rigid, her eyes squeezing shut again. "You've been here since yesterday, Isuzu. Do you remember last night?" Her head shook back and forth, a slow spasm of denial. "Hatsuharu brought you, and we talked over supper." Sweat beaded on her forehead, and a tremor went through her body and into Haru's brain.
"Was she lucid because she thought she was dreaming?" Kunimitsu asked, bewildered, as Haru registered what he'd felt.
"She's changing." The older men stared down at them, and Haru tightened his hands on her shoulders. "She should be changing--weakness and stress--I can feel the curse... Rin?" Her eyes fluttered open, her hands clenching slowly on nothing while sweat ran down her face, soaking through the shirt and dampening his palms.
"C-can't transform." The words were barely intelligible. "...can't let Akito feel me."
The curse was almost tangible around her; Haru looked up at Kunimitsu, barely able to imagine being oblivious to it. "I think you're gonna see the curse," he said. "Fuck. Feels like she's going to set me off, she's pushing so hard--Rin, stop it, okay?" A wild laugh caught in his throat. "I don't even know what you're doing, but it's safe here. Let it go." He rubbed helplessly at her arms. "Did you transform at all while you were in there?"
Her eyes focused on his, desperate. "No, I..." Her skin twitched under his hands, and he pulled her tight against his chest as Kazuma knelt beside them.
"Shihan, it's hurting her--"
"So I see. Are you attached to that shirt?" Haru shook his head. "All right. Let her go for a moment." Kazuma touched Rin's shoulder, and carefully lifted her out of Haru's arms. "Isuzu, child--" He gathered her in a loose embrace, and her eyes widened, tears spilling down her cheeks in the instant before she transformed. Haru gasped as the air around them cleared, a release as welcome as a storm opening the sky. He spared a quick glance at Kunimitsu; the assistant was gaping openly at them.
"You said you believed in it," he said, reaching out to touch the trembling horse. Hooves churned the ground as Rin struggled to gain her feet, and Haru put his arms lightly around her neck. "You're still not dreaming," he told her, running a gentle hand across her flank, brushing the shreds of his ruined shirt aside. "Stop fighting, please...?" He heard Kazuma speaking to Kunimitsu, and then the assistant was hurrying back toward the house.
"He's gone to get her a yukata," Kazuma said quietly. Haru nodded, only half-listening. Rin turned her head to look at him, and he rested his hand on her neck, the wind blowing strands of her mane over the backs of his fingers. Kunimitsu reappeared while they were still waiting for her transformation to undo itself, his arms overflowing with the requested yukata and a thick blanket. Haru spared a thought to wonder how they must look to an outsider, whether the assistant even realized that Jyuunishi retained their human voices in animal form. Rin was silent, ears constantly moving as she listened to the garden's birds gossiping to one another, but no longer trying to pull away from him.
The curse reversed with no warning, flesh and bone melting away into nothingness before reforming into a naked, shuddering girl whose eyes were bright with tears and comprehension. Her balance seemed to have deserted her; Haru caught her, and she slumped down onto his lap. "I'm really outside." Her fingers gouged into the soil. "I'm sorry, I--"
"It's fine," Kazuma said calmly, taking the yukata from Kunimitsu and handing it to her. She shrugged into it with distracted obliviousness toward her own nudity, biting her lip. "It's understandable if you're disoriented, Isuzu."
"Three months," she whispered, and then her head snapped up as she stared at Haru, paling. "Can we stay out here for a while?"
Kazuma turned back toward the house, nodding to Kunimitsu, who set the blanket down beside them. "It certainly is a lovely morning," he said. "Come up when you get hungry."
Left alone, Rin kept staring in silence until Haru brushed the back of his hand against her cheek. His muscles were stiffening up, and the bruises from his spar with Kazuma were darkening rapidly. Rin's eyes flickered over him, taking them in, and she slowly reached out to touch the worst of them, a purpling contusion along his shoulder. She shook her head when he winced.
"Are you really out of practice?"
"Shihan just wasn't holding back as much as usual."
"Oh." Her finger traced the spreading edges, only a faint quiver in the touch betraying the anxiety that other people's injuries often inspired. She looked away from it abruptly. "How did you find me, Haru?"
"Tori-nii called me from the hospital when you...left, so I went looking."
"Why did he call you?"
"He wouldn't let me see you while you were there." A memory of the waiting room surged up, stark white walls and cloying antiseptic, making his head ache. "I went as soon as I--I--Kureno told me you wanted to see me, but Tori-nii said no one was going to be able to see you, told me to go home and wait--"
"Kureno." Her face creased with concentration. "Kureno...found me, and..."
The headache was impossible to ignore. "He took you out, came and told Akito while I was--" He rubbed at his temples, trying to focus on what the bond still struggled to deny. Rin's hands touched his shoulders hesitantly, and he caught hold of them. Her skin was cold enough to jar him back into the present. "You're freezing." He grabbed hold of the blanket Kunimitsu had left behind and unfolded it around her, stroking the back of her neck as he carefully covered as much exposed skin as he could. "Can I hold you?"
There was no mistaking the moment it took her to assess her memories and determine that she had in fact spent the night in his arms. Haru watched, wondering what she might have imagined and discarded. "You were with Akito?" she asked, moving closer and resting her head on his shoulder. Haru wrapped his arms around her, ignoring the flare of discomfort when her elbow bumped one of the fresh bruises.
"I learned a lot in the last few days." The previous night's half-dreams bubbled up in the back of his mind, Akito's voice hissing a vicious counterpoint. "Rin--"
Haru held her in silence for several minutes, trying to organize the blur of information. When the words started to come, she lay still against him, listening while he told her what Hiro had said, what Kureno had done. Akito's words stayed caught in his throat, too raw and hateful to repeat through the guilt that churned in his stomach.
When he was done, she sat up and clutched the blanket around her shoulders, staring past him at the garden. The distance in her eyes chilled him. Finally she shook her head and seemed to return to herself. "Poor Hiro," she said quietly. "Being the youngest didn't spare him anything, did it?" She leaned back and looked up at the sky. "I didn't tell him what Akito did to me. He just happened to walk by and see what was going on." She rubbed at her eyes as if the sunlight still hurt. "He ran downstairs and stayed with me until Tori-nii came, and I--I didn't mean to tell him anything, but it hurt so much...I made him promise not to tell anyone."
"He tried not to." Haru touched her arm through the blanket, and she turned back to him. "He was really angry with me for a long time, but I didn't know why. He wanted me to know."
"It was my choice," Rin replied. "Not his."
"Are you mad at him?"
"...I don't know." She gazed down at her hands, twisting the edge of the blanket. "Kureno would still have found me, and--"
"Would you have ever told me? Any of it?"
Her hands stilled. "No."
"I don't need to be 'free' from you, Rin." He brought his hand up to the ragged edge of her hair. "You gave me a year of 'freedom', and I think I love you more now than I did when you left." A tear hit his hand, and he softened his voice. "Are you really going to stay?"
"You don't know everything--"
"I know I love you. I know I don't want you to hurt yourself anymore, keeping secrets like this. I know everything isn't okay, and I know there're things I can't protect you from." Another tear started down her cheek, and he brushed it away. "I think maybe I finally started growing up." He leaned close and kissed her forehead.
"My head feels all foggy," she whispered, as tears began to fall in earnest. "Like there're too many thoughts but they're stuck in weird places."
"Tori-nii told Shihan it would probably take you a while to adjust. It's okay."
"It's okay," Haru repeated. "As long as you're safe, that's all I care about."
"We're not safe," she said, bitterness flaring through the tears. "We're possessions."
"I don't think Akito can touch us here." At her disbelieving look, he added, "The whole family respects Shihan too much for anyone to challenge him. And I don't think Akito will come after me even if I'm somewhere else. I left." A sudden wave of nausea rushed through him. "I left, and Akito--" Akito is still crying for me. He shook his head, trying to clear it. "We should go eat something. Can you walk?"
Rin looked at the bruises on his arms and the shadows under his eyes, and took his hand carefully in hers. "I think so. Can you?"
He let himself laugh, putting an arm across her shoulders as they stood up. Despite her teasing, she leaned heavily against him as they made their way slowly up the path to the house.
"these are the scars that silence carved on me"
--Vienna Teng, "Gravity" (Waking Hour)
[One Week Later]
Rin tried not to jump with surprise when Kunimitsu peered in at her. She was curled up in her now-usual place under the kotatsu's quilt, the book she'd been unable to focus on set aside, and she had heard his footsteps coming down the hallway toward her. But the sudden appearance of another human face was still enough to startle her and send her pulse racing. It had been nightmarish at first, until the men realized that their karate-trained soundless steps were making her jumpiness worse. Now, after a week of getting used to her fragile nerves, the house was filled with deliberate footfalls and unnecessary throat-clearings, all to give her some idea of where they were.
She appreciated the effort, along with everything else they were doing to make her comfortable: canceling most of Kazuma's classes so she could have free run of the grounds, letting Haru stay at the house without a word about the amount of schoolwork he would have to eventually catch up on--although Kazuma had sent him home once, to inform his parents of his whereabouts in person, and to collect some clothing. Kunimitsu seemed to have abandoned all of his usual duties in order to cook for her, judging by the frequency with which small servings of food appeared to tempt her appetite.
"I don't need anything," she said, trying to sound polite but decisive enough to fend off his list of offerings. It was hard to find the right tone of voice after being silent for so long, hard to focus on her surroundings when she'd become so accustomed to staring at unchanging walls. She had gone outdoors on her own on the second day, and the immensity of the world had left her clinging to a tree, nails breaking as she dug them into the bark, torn between panic and awe.
Only Kazuma's steady reassurances kept her from believing her mind's soft mutters about real insanity--it was hard not to believe him when he said it seemed like progress that she was sleeping for less than fifteen hours a day, that she was able to eat small amounts of rice and soup without vomiting, that she was increasingly able to focus on conversations that lasted longer than a few minutes without her mind going completely blank.
The only progress she was sure of was that she still wanted to go outside, even though the bright vastness of the sky had made her keep a death-grip on Haru's hand for the first few days. Going outside alone during the day still made her uneasy, with the sun's intense light leaving her nowhere to hide; but at night the moonlit world beyond the house tempted her with its soft shadows and whispers of freedom. Under her skin, the spirit of the Horse itched to venture out into the darkness and run, to push her strengthening body to its limits, to remember the wind in her hair and the earth under her feet. Kunimitsu's fear that she might fall ill and slow her recovery kept her in out of the cold, but every evening she found herself staring out the window, trying to breathe through the memory of confinement.
Haru stayed by her side, day after day, and often said very little; hours would go by with all of their communication conveyed by touch, a constant interplay of entwined fingers and comforting hugs. There were too many things that needed saying, words that were waiting to spill out when she was ready for them, and the haunted look in his eyes hinted at things he was holding back.
She almost never saw him sleep; even when she woke in the middle of the night, he was usually watching her. At night she didn't question it, only accepted the security of his arms--stronger than they had been a year ago, as his shoulders and chest were broader--but during the day she noted the dark shadows under his eyes, and the bruises he continued to demand from Kazuma. His arms and sides were a constantly-changing mess of dull purple and sickly green, and he said nothing about the need that kept pulling him away from her and down to the dojo. Kazuma and Kunimitsu each sparred with him daily, exchanging worried looks over his increasing exhaustion, unable to ignore the demons that drove him. Rin simply waited for him, for the temporary calm in his eyes when he was done.
I love you, he whispered sometimes when he folded himself down beside her, bruises and unmarked skin scrubbed equally raw in the shower. Sometimes she followed him to the bathing room and stopped him before he went in to rinse, wrapping her arms around him and inhaling the warm smell of his sweat, letting it seep into her clothes. I love you.
"Are you sure, Isuzu-san?" Kunimitsu asked from the doorway, and Rin jerked back into focus, scrambling to remember what she'd said to him. It took only a moment, and then she nodded.
"I'm sure. Thanks."
"He's helping Kazuma-san with something. Not sparring." She didn't spend the energy to remember what the chore was. Kunimitsu still stood watching her, and she shrugged. "I don't need him with me all the time." It was true; after so long apart, denying herself his presence and his touch, it was almost unbearably sweet just to know Haru was nearby. There were fewer moments each day when she was convinced she was dreaming, as his touch and voice became familiar again.
The strangeness now was in sleeping together--not quite chastely, as their bodies responded to each other's closeness--without the kisses and caresses that they were used to sharing. The pretense of innocence made Rin hypersensitive to his sidelong looks, to the way she felt herself flush in the dark when he held her and they both tried to ignore the more obvious signs of his desire for her. One more thing they didn't talk about.
"You'll call me if you need something?" Kunimitsu asked, and Rin nodded.
"I will." She tried to smile at him, unsure what the expression really looked like. Too long without other people's faces to act as a mirror for her; he met her eyes and nodded back. Footsteps beyond him heralded Haru's return, and she touched the cover of her forgotten book. No time to fake a busyness he would see through.
Kunimitsu shot her a parting look, and she clearly heard his murmur to Haru as they passed each other in the hall. "Come have lunch. Maybe she'll eat something if you do."
"I liked it better when he used to get exasperated with me to my face," she said as Haru came in and dropped carelessly to his knees beside her. He slid his hand across the kotatsu and she met it with hers, working her fingers under his.
"I heard a weather forecast on the radio," he replied, a typical-Haru non sequitur approach to casual conversation that made her smile. "Sounds like the nice weather's going on vacation for the next few days."
He shook his head. "Not so much. Just wetter than usual for this time of year." The reference to the season almost slipped under her radar--quick reminder to center her in the here-and-now. "People are hoping it won't screw up the cherry blossoms; they're already a little slow."
"Blossoms," she echoed, trying to remember the last time she'd gone out to look at them. She'd avoided them the past few years, not wanting to be surrounded by so many people, and last year--last year she and Haru had been taking advantage of everyone's attention being elsewhere. She had a sudden flash of memory: laughing while he let her push him back on the bed, the heady smell of spring intoxicating them through the window. Their last full night together, before Akito had found them out.
"He's just worried," Haru said, and it took her a moment of backtracking to realize he meant Kunimitsu.
"I know, but I can't eat every time he gives me food." The flare of frustration--she couldn't quite tell if was directed at herself or the assistant--made Haru look obscurely pleased. "I ate the miso and rice he gave me a couple of hours ago. And I think he's trying to drown me with tea." Haru stroked the back of her hand with his thumb, and she noticed that her fingers were clenching.
"You sound okay," he said suddenly, and she looked at him in surprise. He leaned closer and rested his free hand against the side of her neck. She had the disconcerting impression that he was feeling for the words they both knew had to be said sooner or later.
"You don't know what's in there," she whispered, and he slid his hand down across her collarbone, stopping just above her breast.
"Not until you tell me." His eyes had gone opaque, shadowing the lurking things that bruises were failing to drive away.
I don't want to go first. The warmth of his palm over her heart made her shudder, and his gaze softened. "You don't know," she repeated, tucking the quilt more securely around herself, wanting to push his hand away, or fall into his arms. Sick weariness held her still. "You don't know what I--"
"We don't have to get through everything at once," Haru whispered, and she nodded slowly.
"We can't stay like this forever, can we?" Rin lifted her head and looked around the room. The house was quiet, except for the faint sounds of Kunimitsu and Kazuma working in the front yard. A safe timelessness for her mind to wander in--no interference from the outside world, just enough distractions to hold off the things she had seen in her isolation.
"No." The edge of longing in Haru's voice hit a chord in her chest, and she took a deep breath.
"Can we go outside for this?" she asked, and he nodded, reaching out to help her up.
The sun felt warm on Haru's face, blocked by only a few gathering clouds. Beside him, Rin was shivering despite the sweater she had brought with her. It dwarfed her small frame, made her look even more fragile and worn. "Do you want to go into the yard?" He watched her eyes scan the garden and the winding path down to the dojo, and then she looked up past the overhang of the roof. From their vantage point, standing at the back of the house, the sky was reduced by half. She shook her head and took his hand firmly in hers, pulling him down beside her as she sat on the bench beside the wall.
"Seven days already," she said, staring at the horizon.
"Yeah." Haru slid his arm across her shoulders, and she leaned against him, settling her head on his chest. "You really do seem better today." He glanced down at her. "Like you're really here."
"I'm trying." Strain was leaking into her voice; Haru tightened his arm around her, breathing in the subtle scent of her hair. "I need to tell you things."
"And you don't want to?"
"I have to." Her head moved against his shoulder, muffling the words that followed. "So you can leave if you want to."
"So I--" Haru leaned back, staring down into earnest eyes that were too clear for him to shrug the words off. "I'm not leaving you. There is nothing you can have to tell me that'll make me--"
"Will you kiss me?" she whispered. "Please?"
He nodded slowly, trying to watch her face as he lowered his mouth to hers. Their lips touched tentatively, a soft exploration of once-familiar territory. He meant to keep it light, a slow beginning, but her response sent an almost painful jolt of need through him. He found himself sliding down to his knees, pulling her into a full embrace. Her back arched under his hands, pressing into him, and for a blissful moment it was as if the year of separation had never happened.
Rin broke the kiss with a quiet sigh, her eyes squeezed shut. "I'm sorry," Haru said, unsure whether he was apologizing for the kiss itself or something harder to name. Her head snapped up in surprise.
"Don't be sorry." She rested her hand against his face, thumb across his lips, and shivered when he kissed it.
"I don't want anything to happen just because I want it." His voice sounded strained to his own ears.
"It won't." She stared into his eyes again. "But I--I have to talk to you about some things--" Her hand closed over his, and for a moment she glanced away, her lips moving soundlessly. I can't do this.
That was a feeling he understood. "What kinds of things?" The tension on her face made him want to hold her again, let their secrets melt away unspoken.
"Things I need you to know...I..." Her fingers tightened. "Just listen to me, okay?" Haru nodded, not wanting to break her train of thought. "When Akito cut my hair--" her voice faded again, and he realized it was the first time she'd directly mentioned the event to him. "--he said he couldn't stand the idea of me looking like that even if he didn't have to see me."
"Like a whore," Rin said flatly, and he flinched at the starkness of the words. "He said he wouldn't have anything of his looking like a whore. Even if I was locked up and couldn't act like one anymore. And the next time I saw him, he--" She was silent for several minutes. Haru touched the ragged edge of her hair, let the uneven fringe trail across his fingers. "The cutting wasn't so bad. When I saw the scissors I thought he was going to blind me."
"Blind you?" Haru whispered.
"He talked about--" She stopped short, and then finished, "Tori-nii's eye." She shook her head when Haru started to speak. "Listen. I thought about it a lot. What Akito said." Determination was creeping into her voice, something grim and unfamiliar, and he couldn't stop himself from lashing out against it.
"You're not a whore!" Rage ran white-hot along his bones, and Rin shook her head slowly, a strange sorrow in the way she looked at him.
"You're wrong," she said, and the simple words broke through the rage, left him too startled to feel anything. "I--it didn't come to anything, but I tried--that's what I made myself into, in my head. I thought Gure-nii could help me, so I..." She faltered, and Haru wondered vaguely what his face looked like. "I tried to sell myself to him. There wasn't anything else to give him, and I had to know if he knew. About the curse."
"That doesn't make you a--"
There was a fierce resignation in her eyes. "Do you have a better word for it? If he'd taken me up on it, I'd have let him fuck me for the rest of my life. I told him I would."
"The rest of your--"
"One night wouldn't be worth our family's biggest secret, would it?" Rin said, and the lack of emotion in her voice made Haru queasy. He tried to imagine her doing what she was describing, and the cold emptiness of it sent shudders through him; he hugged her as tightly as he could, as if physical warmth would help.
"How can the curse mean that much to you?" he choked out.
"It doesn't." Her lips brushed against his arm, a tentative half-kiss. "You do."
"Did you think I'd be happy if--"
"You would've been free."
"It's not worth it!"
"It was worth it to me." Her arms went around him. "Haru, I... I needed you to know. I need you to understand that I've changed." Haru felt the slight movement against his body as she took a deep breath. "Do you still want--" And she stopped, as if waiting for him to push her away.
"I love you," he whispered back, running a hand up her spine, into the softness of her hair. "I love you so much, sweetheart, and I want to be better at it than I am." Rin shivered, and he kissed her cheek.
"I...is it too soon for you to want to be lovers again?" she asked, her voice catching as she nestled her head under his chin.
He froze for a moment, remembering frightened tears in her eyes. "Are you sure?" She nodded against his chest, and he took her by the shoulders. "Rin." She looked up at him reluctantly. "When we started sleeping together before--did I push you into it?" The words stumbled over each other, trying to stay safely hidden. "Do you remember the first time I kissed you?" His memory blurred with the present: he could almost feel the awkward way their lips had moved against each other, hear the sound of her book sliding off her lap to the floor when he put his hands on her waist and pulled her closer. The supple way her hips moved under his touch had been intoxicating. "You were crying."
"You were scared--so scared--but I--" He made himself meet her eyes. "You told me why you were scared, remember? And I knew you were right, but I wanted you so badly--I wanted to be with you forever. And I wanted to see what touching you felt like."
A small, sad smile flickered across her lips. "What did it feel like?"
"Heaven." His throat ached with the memory. "I didn't think--I didn't let myself know what you meant, and Akito... I'm so sorry."
"And now you're scared of 'pushing' me again?" When he nodded, Rin slid her hands up his chest and behind his neck, pulling him into a kiss that left him breathless. "Don't let me push you, either," she said softly.
"You're still weak," he replied.
"I know." A rueful look shadowed her eyes. "But I... It's important to me. Partly because of what I did with Gure-nii."
"No." She corrected him without hesitation. "If I had slept with him, I wouldn't be with you like this." Her fingers grazed his lips, keeping him from replying. "I need you to understand, Haru. I had to change the way I thought, to be able to--"
She kissed him again, a gentler kiss that left his head clear. "I convinced myself it was just my body," she whispered. "That whatever happened to my body had nothing to do with me." Her fingers dug into his upper arms, a sudden flare of tension that hung suspended between them. "I can't be like that with you. It's no use if I am. I--" Haru could almost feel the effort she made to relax her fingers. "I'm scared of not being able to break out of that."
Haru leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. "Is it okay if we wait just a day or two? I'm not going home or back to school until you're stronger, and right now..." He took a slow breath, a moment of awareness devoted only to her slight weight against him. "Right now I'm still adjusting to the part where I'm holding you again."
"Can we spend a lot of time doing this, then?"
"A day or two," she whispered, and he swung her up into his arms. It was frighteningly easy to take all of her weight.
"You should eat something."
Rin made a protesting noise low in her throat, and buried her face against his shoulder. "You sound like Kunimitsu-san. I'm really not hungry yet." She kissed the side of his neck gently. "Since you're carrying me, will you take me to my room? And lie down with me?"
"That'd be good," he murmured back, and did as she'd asked, not putting her down until they were inside and he had to let her go long enough for her to peel out of the heavy sweater and outer clothes, leaving only a silk camisole and underwear that left far too little to his imagination. She tugged the blanket's edges snug around her as they lay down, and Haru rubbed her back and arms, watched her eyes drift closed with the simple pleasure of it.
"Don't stop touching me...?"
Haru settled himself against her and obeyed. Ran his hands over her, felt the way she shivered and shifted under his palms, under his fingertips. He caressed every part of her body and started again and again and again, her skin warming under the friction. It made him want to touch her with more than his hands, to kiss and taste and nuzzle her, but her breath caught with a sound like pain. "Rin?"
He didn't stop--couldn't have stopped if he'd wanted to, not with that plaintive ache in her voice overriding all the caution he'd wanted to take. His hand curved to fit her hip, the smooth line of her thigh. "Talk to me, love."
She turned onto her side, drew her knees against her chest, and he traced her vertebrae, her scar, the back of her neck. Her head jerked, and when he touched her face he felt the heat of her blush.
"I forgot what this feels like," she said. "Being touched. I almost forgot what you can do to me."
He remembered, with sudden perfect clarity, the liquid fury in her eyes before she'd hit him outside Shigure's house: fury infused with the vulnerability of desire, making the blow feel more like a helpless shriek than an attack. He stopped caressing her hip and held her instead, pressing close against her back. Felt her trembling. "I'm sorry," he murmured.
"It felt good," she replied, her voice muffled by the pillow.
"D'you want me to keep doing it?" he asked, running a light finger down her arm. The tremor that ran through her body in response felt like one of pleasure, but he held still again.
"Not if you're not actually going to sleep with me," she said quietly. "And you're not going to."
Rin twisted her head around to look at him, and he pulled away enough to let her roll onto her back. She stroked his cheek with the back of her hand, as if she were also remembering hitting him, and then smiled faintly. "I can feel you wanting to change your mind," she said, trailing her fingers across his abdomen and then lower. She didn't close her hand over his erection, but rubbed her wrist against it in passing, firmly enough to make his breathing go harsh with wanting her. "I want you to be sure, not just turned on."
"I never stopped being sure," Haru replied, but the words felt distant, shadowed by the memory of her bleeding in his arms. His stomach twisted, and he took her hand away from his thigh, kissing her palm to avoid the searching look in her eyes.
"You should go back to school," she said, and the abrupt change of subject brought his head up sharply. "It's the beginning of the year. I don't want you getting too far behind because of me." She touched the side of his neck, feeling the way his pulse had started hammering. "It's not too bad during the day. And--and you can't stay with me all the time. There's school, and your parents, and--"
"And you're what matters to me."
"You're sixteen," she said, so quietly that Haru wondered which of them she was reminding. "I'll be okay. So go back."
"The others will want to know what's going on."
Her face went blank. "Don't tell them."
"Yuki was asking after you before--he said Honda-san was looking for you."
"Looking for me...?" Surprise broke her attempt at neutrality, but she shook her head. "I don't want her to see me like this. I'm not ready to see anyone else yet." She lifted a hand and stared at it as if it belonged to someone else. "She wouldn't understand, and--why did you have to tell the rat about us?"
"I don't like keeping secrets from him. And I--I couldn't think straight when you left. It just kind of came out. Kyo and Momiji don't know."
"She knows." Haru blinked in surprise, and she grimaced. "I don't know how she found out--Yuki knows how to keep his mouth shut, at least. But she knows." The annoyance in her voice made Haru smile, and she scowled at him.
"I have to tell Yuki," he said, and kissed her lightly. "He won't say anything."
"You and that--" Rin cut herself off, and he wondered if she had any idea how much she sounded like Kyo when she talked about Yuki. She sighed and wrapped her arms around him. "Fine. If you have to."
"Do you really want me to go?" he asked, and her eyes softened.
"No." Her hand moved awkwardly against his face, and he kissed her again, savoring the soft warmth of her mouth. "But I'll be all right. Just come back."
She burrowed herself against him with another sigh. "I think I need to sleep some more." One fingertip moved under his eye, tracing the exhausted bruising. "You should sleep too."
"I'm okay." He tightened his arms around her, stroking her back through the thin layer of silk, and she made a low sound of frustration.
"Don't do that. Don't pretend." Before he could reply, she moved so that she was lying half across him, her lips grazing his shoulder with a kiss that held more than a hint of teeth. His hands slid down her sides, rings snagging on silk and bones, and pulled her the rest of the way onto him. She lifted herself enough to stare down at him, her breasts barely brushing his chest. "You're not okay," she whispered. "Don't lie to me."
Guilt and desire gave way to anger for an instant, a smothering urge to lash back and remind her of how much she'd lied to him. Whatever showed on his face made her pale, but she held his gaze without flinching. Her muscles tensed under his hands, and something indefinable in the way she held herself--steeled determination, bracing herself without withdrawing--melted the anger away.
You're wrong. I need you to understand that I've changed.
He reached up and laced his fingers behind her head, and she let him draw her back down. The unapologetic fierceness of her mouth against his made him glad he wasn't trying to stand up. He closed his eyes and focused on the wordless ways their bodies communicated, a level of intimacy where neither of them had ever lied.
"I can't sleep," he murmured. She eased herself back onto the bed beside him, and he nudged her further, spooning himself against her back. "I just keep waking up."
"Sometimes." Rin nodded and said nothing. Her silent empathy made him wince; he remembered holding her through sporadic night terrors, not quite understanding her panicked refusal to close her eyes again. "Go to sleep, sweetheart. I'll be fine. I'll go back to school tomorrow and get back into a routine, okay?"
"Okay." Her voice was fading with weariness. Haru kissed her shoulder and tucked the blanket closer around them.
Leaving for school in the morning was even harder than he'd expected. Rin didn't quite wake up when he slipped out of bed and got dressed. It took him a minute to figure out the date and be sure that the dark winter uniform he'd brought with him was still what he was supposed to be wearing. "I'm going now," he said, bending over her and kissing her forehead. One small hand worked free of the heavy blanket and he caught it gently, squeezing her fingers. "I'll be back later."
She nodded groggily, and he left without letting himself look back.
His classes passed by with little incident, although Haru absorbed almost none of what the teachers said. His homeroom teacher took one look at his face and said that she was glad to see he was feeling better; he learned from Momiji that his parents had called the school and told them that he was out sick. No one pushed him for answers until lunch, when Yuki tracked him down.
"Momiji said you were back. Where've you been?" They were leaning against a fence at the back of the school's property, Yuki automatically sharing his lunch. "At Shihan's?"
Haru barely managed not to choke on his mouthful of rice. He was no more willing to waste Tohru's cooking than any of the other Sohma boys. "You knew?"
"Well, Momiji said you weren't at home, and Kyo hasn't been going to the dojo all week. If it was anyone but Shihan telling him to stay put and not ask questions, we'd be missing more than a few doors at our place. Is Rin there?" Yuki took another bite of food and chewed, watching him thoughtfully.
"When was she discharged from the hospital?"
"She wasn't." Yuki blinked in surprise, and Haru tried to relax the muscles that were clenching in his jaw. "There was no hospital until last week. Akito--" A wave of dizziness hit him, the bond's attempt to protect his god from him. "Rin's in bad shape. She's nothing but bones. We've been trying to take care of her."
"You don't look all that well yourself," Yuki said. "Are you two talking again, at least?"
A little of the weight on his heart lifted. "Not just talking."
"Not--" Yuki cut himself off, and Haru shot him a sidelong look. A hint of color showed on the older boy's pale skin. "Um. Well, that's...ah--"
"I didn't mean we're having sex," Haru said mildly, and Yuki blushed harder.
"I hear a 'yet' there," Yuki replied, obviously trying to ignore his own embarrassment, and Haru eyed him steadily. "...or maybe I should stop asking about things I don't want to know about."
"If it's gonna bother you that much," Haru agreed. "Listen, I told her I was going to tell you she's safe, but she doesn't want anyone else to know what's going on."
"Like she wants me to know."
Haru shrugged. "You already knew most of it."
"It was just a theory before. Honda-san's worried about her."
Haru looked at the remains of the lunch Tohru had made. "Rin can't keep it secret forever, okay? But she's not ready."
"Does that girl even know what she needs?"
"No one's seeing her yet." Haru's voice flattened. "I'm not kidding about her being in bad shape, Yuki. Even Shihan doesn't know everything that happened to her."
Haru leaned back and squinted at the sky. "Probably not." Clouds were drifting in, thickening the air with the promise of heavy rain, but the sun was still poking through in places. "She's told me a lot--" His throat tightened and he shook his head, dropping his gaze. "The kinds of things that make me think life's never going to be simple again, you know? Remember last summer I told you she'd changed?" Yuki nodded. "I had no idea what I was talking about. None. I feel like, if she's so different now, did I ever know her in the first place?"
"But you still love her?"
"It's only been a week, and I can't even remember how I survived a year without her." Haru pushed away from the fence and stretched. "Thanks for sharing your lunch--I completely forgot I'd need one."
"It's okay," Yuki replied. "Haru--"
"Did she tell you what she was protecting you from?"
"Not in so many words." He glanced over, half-heartedly curious, shivering a little as the wind picked up. "How'd you know?"
"I put some things together, and she denied them a little too hard." Yuki shrugged. "Your girlfriend doesn't play so well with others."
"Do any of us?" Haru rubbed at the back of his neck, trying to muster the energy to go back to class, and a worried frown creased Yuki's delicate face.
"Are you sure you should be here? You really look like you're going to keel over any minute."
"Sure, I'm okay." The skeptical look that greeted the statement reminded him of Rin's brief anger the night before, and he winced. "Could be better."
Yuki's hand closed tentatively over his shoulder, and Haru leaned into the touch, wishing for the millionth time that the other boy were more tactile. But there was nothing for it; Yuki was awkward and uncomfortable with physical contact, and painfully aware of it. Haru summoned an exhausted smile and let his head drop onto Yuki's forearm for a quick moment before they started walking back toward the school.
end of part one
Fruits Basket belongs to Takaya Natsuki and Hakusensha; English-language versions by FUNimation (anime) and Tokyopop (manga). This piece of fiction is in no way approved or endorsed by any of the copyright holders. Please support the original work!
"Alive Through the Dawn" � 2004-2006 by
Edited by Alishya Lane; additional beta work by Flamika and Ginny T.
Head cheerleader: KawaiiAyu.
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All quoted lyrics/epigraphs are the property of their copyright holders, and are also used without permission. The title "Alive Through the Dawn" comes from the song "Crazy" by Tori Amos, found on the album "Scarlet's Walk".