Chapter One: "Love Takes Hostages" [1/6]
The following story splits off from Fruits Basket manga canon towards the end of chapter 105, and contains spoilers through chapter 106 / vol. 18.
"Our history is just in our blood
And history like love is never enough
And soon enough soon enough
This will all be a memory
And soon enough soon enough
This will fade like the photograph
Of you and me"
--Tom McRae, "Human Remains" (Just Like Blood)
It's not the screaming that makes him turn back, in the end. The bond itself burns under his skin, a liquid heat in his belly, at the base of his skull, under his ribs. 'In our blood' is the explanation they grow up mouthing, stupid broken words explaining nothing of the way it lies inside their bones, nestled around their organs and in their brains like a silent cancer. Akito's cries are nothing more than a distorted reflection of what the spirit inside him already feels: a deep, half-sick ache like physical desire stoked to desperation and left unsated.
He hesitates a moment too long, remembering Akito's hands on his, the idyllic peace of being in his god's presence, before--Rin, he whispers to himself, clinging to the memory of her soft breathing as she slept in his arms, the pliant warmth of her body, the way she-- A wave of nausea crashes over him, a need to purge himself of the guilt distorting his thoughts; for one insane moment, he imagines clawing into his own chest to release it.
One step back toward his god is enough to hint at easing the crushing pressure. The bond whispers reassuring promises, of sunlight and innocence if he'll only return to the spot he was born to fill.
Innocence. He takes another step.
"Hatsuharu--" Kureno's hand on his shoulder is an alien weight, something so wholly outside his experience that there is nothing to do but recoil, averting his eyes. The human, thinking part of him knows that he exchanged words with Kureno only minutes ago, but his instincts, already afire from his god's sobbing anguish, recognize nothing but wrongness in the touch.
"Move." Speaking is as awkward as the first attempt at talking after a no-holds-barred punch in the mouth.
"This isn't your whole world." The words slide around the inside of his skull, senseless as birdsong. "Hatsuharu!" Hands on both shoulders now, shaking him, as if Akito weren't still shrieking his name loudly enough to make the walls and the yard echo with it. He imagines the sound of his name caught forever, a piece of himself entombed in his god's voice, and he laughs at the thought.
There is another name in Kureno's words, too, bittersweet and beloved and so sharp that Haru finally looks up, half-expecting it to have cut the older man's tongue to bloody shreds. Isuzu.
He wrenches away from it, and Kureno lets him go. On the threshold he hesitates again, until Akito looks up; their eyes meet, and Haru murmurs a prayer, too faint for anyone to hear. The threats he made only minutes ago might have come from someone else entirely; where he had offered death, he now asks for it, a soft litany that continues until he is kneeling beside the crumpled figure on the floor.
Akito's hand on his head is trembling and tender. The touch of god eases the weight of his guilt, but there is no mercy in it, for either of them.
Haru closes his eyes and listens to Kureno's retreating footsteps, and tries to forget how to breathe.
In the end it all came down to walls and windows with unchanging views. From the Cat's room, the view was an isolated rock garden that required no tending beyond an occasional cursory weeding. Rin remembered each stone in it, from every angle visible from inside. No books, no clocks, no light beyond what came in through the window. No human voices reaching her ears other than occasional, fragmented syllables the wind brought her as people wended their way through the parts of the compound intended for habitation. Nothing to do but sleep and stare at the stones, feeling her own voice rusting and her bones slipping closer to the surface.
The hospital was much the same, although the voices from the hall were louder, and the view from her bed was only a sliver of blue sky. And she was never alone, instead of always. When she woke from her dream of lying on pavement, watching the ever-changing panorama of the street, there was a chair by the door and someone sitting in it. Sometimes it was Hatori watching her; sometimes a nurse.
They tried to talk to her, but her voice was gone; it returned only when they put the needle back into her arm and she screamed, trying to wake herself from the nightmare.
Days passed, slowly lengthening as spring came into its own, and she never asked where she was, no matter how badly the lines blurred between light and dark walls, between stones and sky.
He doesn't go back to school. Akito makes the arrangements, and a tutor comes armed with books; Haru does the readings and answers the questions, glad to have something to occupy his mind.
After a week, Yuki comes to visit him while Akito is away tending to family business. The conversation is almost normal, tainted only by the strain around Yuki's eyes while he tries and fails to comprehend Haru's decision to stay where he is. Haru tries to explain, once, but Yuki has spent too much of his life dreaming of the world's vastness to understand that so much freedom is only that much more opportunity to cut people open and lose them before the bleeding can be staunched.
He reads to pass the time, and plays video games once his father brings some of his things, and endures Akito's touch during evening visits that last for a handful of minutes or hours. Against his will he comes to anticipate it: the cool feel of fingers in his hair, lips brushing his cheek in whispers, hands stroking his back and arms. Being touched means that he is still safe, not alone, not condemned.
Hatori sighed and leaned back in the unyielding chair, steepling his fingers while he stared at the unresponsive girl sitting opposite him. He'd thought it might be one of her good days when he first entered the room and found her looking at him. On Akito's orders, he was the only one of the family to visit her regularly, and even that concession had taken a fair bit of persuasion and reiteration of just what his responsibilities as the family doctor meant.
After a few weeks of 'treatment', she sometimes spoke to the nurses who brought her food and took her out into the garden. Hatori was privately skeptical of the practice of treating such a profound withdrawal from the world by encouraging meditation, but he was no psychiatrist. The nurses insisted on taking her occasional small conversations as a positive sign, but he watched the tapes and disagreed. Isuzu's voice was soft when she answered their questions, and in her eyes he saw the determined look of a child continuing to talk to imaginary playmates long past her grudging realization that they existed only in her mind.
Her responses to him were different: she presented him with a silence so complete he might have thought she'd succumbed to the selective mutism that occasionally cropped up among the younger Jyuunishi, if not for the tapes... and if not for her occasional flares of temper when he figured out how to push her buttons.
It was enough to make him wish Shigure were permitted to see her--if ever there was a use for his gift of antagonism, this was it. As it was, almost every reaction Hatori had gotten out of her was a response to something Shigure had suggested. Even so, nothing reached her for longer than a few minutes; the world she'd been born into had spent her lifetime rejecting her, and she showed every sign of turning the tables on it.
Haru keeps count of the days and weeks as they go by; when summer comes, he goes outside more and more often, studying in the gardens, returning to Akito's home at dusk. Life goes on as usual in the Main House, and he passes through it with as little effect as a ghost. Servants and uncursed family members alike know better than to interfere with a Jyuunishi when Akito's will is so strong. They nod to him as they pass, murmuring "Hatsuharu-sama" under their breath, never looking into his eyes, the eyes of someone born to love the god of the zodiac. As long as his every action is devoted to Akito, there is no room to do anything else.
The other Jyuunishi are another matter.
Yuki is seen more often in the compound than he has been since he moved out; Haru hears the servants commenting on it, as if they believe his new closeness to Akito has deafened him. The older boy rarely spends long stretches of time with him, but there are at least a few minutes every day or two--light touches framed by awkward, worried smiles that never reach Yuki's eyes.
Kisa slips into the house one day after school, bravely shoving fear down under quiet formality. The worry on her face makes him want to hug her as he used to, to ruffle her hair and try to make her smile, but he feels Akito's gaze on him and doesn't dare touch her. It's the only time she visits him, and he's almost grateful for it.
Hiro, when he comes, says almost nothing. The betrayal in his eyes speaks volumes, a silent cry of rage that ends in an unmistakable accusation thrown over his shoulder as he goes:
"Rin's not coming back."
Haru stays outside for the whole night afterwards, lying on his back in the grass, gazing blindly up at the stars until the tears stop. In the morning, Hatori comes to retrieve him, and they stare at each other for a long, frozen moment. The resentment that wells up in Haru's chest is the most intense thing he's felt in weeks; it burns against the dawn chill, and lasts until he watches Hatori glance at the sunrise, and sees the way the doctor's left eye barely squints against the glare.
Shigure and Hatori are the people he sees most, after Akito. Shigure alone acts as if everything is normal, keeping up a flow of casual conversation and demonstrating a remarkable knowledge of the gossip at Kaibara High. From him, Haru hears some of the wild theories that went around the student body when his class finally realized that he wasn't returning. Shigure passes them all on with the same amused look--all but one. Instead, he watches the ceiling while he relays the rumor that Haru had dropped out to live with his older lover, and there is a soft edge when he adds, "Young people these days, and their ideas, hmm, Ha-kun?"
Kureno comes by Akito's house every day, but Akito has forbidden them to speak to each other, and Haru is as glad of it as he is of anything. Sometimes Kureno watches him from the doorway, and Haru lets his face--his eyes, his mind--empty until he is alone again.
In midsummer, a nurse met Hatori at the door with a hint of anxiety leaking through her professional demeanor. "We're worried about her, Dr. Sohma." Hatori made an attempt at polite, reassuring noises, and fooled neither of them.
Isuzu was lying down when he went into her room, staring out the window at the clouds. Hatori pulled up a chair by the bed, bracing himself for another unproductive visit; it had been a month since she'd spoken a word to him.
Her head turned slowly, until she was meeting his eyes. Her face was deathly pale, framed by the shoulder-length hair fanned out on the pillow. The only trace of color was the pink flash when she licked her lips. "'s strange seeing a man, Tori-nii." Her voice was steadier than he'd expected, and so devoid of emotion that a chill went down his spine.
"Are you still eating?" The question came without thinking; her weight had been fluctuating severely since her admission. When he'd found her on the street the day after her release from the Cat's room, after she'd fled the hospital, there had been an orderly line of scratches across her stomach. It was one of the only things she'd explained, during a responsive moment: eight scratches, the oldest so faint it might have gone unnoticed without the others. One for each day she hadn't eaten before Kureno found her, a silent tally kept with skin and fingernails in the absence of any other tools, a way to give herself some idea of how much longer she might live.
"Enough." She was still looking at him, with eyes so dull that he almost wished she was still silent and blank. "Enough to live," she added, as if his failure to reply meant he needed clarification.
"Enough to keep your body alive." Her shoulders moved in minute confirmation before she lifted her arms, tracing a fingertip over the too-visible veins.
"That's all that's needed." A faint sigh escaped her as she dropped her arms again. "Akito... Akito didn't mind if I died, before."
"And now?" He didn't ask how she knew, or wonder whether she was imagining things. The terrible stillness of her face couldn't conceal the banked fires of the bond, the demands it made on her even after human needs had been abandoned.
Thin fingers touched the bones of her sternum. "I can't." She turned away, back towards the window, and bitterness blossomed in her voice. "I can't even die."
The dream doesn't quite wake him. He lies inside it, half-aware that he is outside the real world, watching the pulsing of the blood-web passing through his skin. The steady beat of his heart moves it in and out of him, through a million invisible gates--smaller than pores, smaller than molecules, an inexorable movement of blood flowing through him and out of him and down pathways where other hearts take up the rhythm. Sooner or later the blood escaping him returns, moving through his body, carrying whispers and sighs from the others who share it with him.
Haru tries to count the separate hearts, to distinguish voices among the harmony in his mind, and fails. He thinks, dimly, that once it was easier, that the web was brighter, the work and communion differently balanced. And because he is looking, he feels the sudden spark and interruption; the distant cry that filters back to him is too faint to interpret, but his heart lurches for a moment as the act of beating becomes more of a strain.
He wakes to the taste of blood and the sound of Akito's ragged breathing, audible from where his god sits by the window on the other side of the room. "Akito?" It hurts to speak; he probes his mouth with his tongue and finds that he's bitten the soft inside of his cheek.
Akito stands, face hidden by the darkness, and comes to kneel beside him. "You'll stay here." Forever is the silent ending to the sentence, too weighty and important to be trusted to mere speech, and Haru finds himself nodding. Akito's palm brushes his hair back, and then a thumb rubs at his cheekbone, smearing tears. "None of us will ever be alone," Akito says, before going to the door and leaving Haru alone with the tremulous echo of the words.
He curls up on his side, shivering against the heat and humidity, listening without paying much attention to Akito's one-sided conversation down the hallway.
"What--I don't care. Just..." The words drift in and out of his awareness. "Just--Hatori, just deal with..." Akito's voice rises with an emotion Haru can't identify, falls again. "...arrangements... what money's for, isn't it...?"
This is important. Against his will, he begins to listen, straining to overcome months of lethargy, unable to determine why. She's gone. A whisper in his head, fragment of a dream, fragrant with the taste of blood.
"...just make her go away," Akito says, something cracking in the words, running deeper than Haru can follow. The heavy sound of the phone slammed into its cradle ends the conversation.
Haru falls asleep waiting for Akito to return, and is still alone when he wakes again, with no memory of further dreams.
"sit in the chair and be good now
yes, I know
sit there and then everything
everything, everybody else's girl
maybe one day she'll be her own"
--Tori Amos, "Girl" (live improv.) (Little Earthquakes)
Rin kept her eyes closed when the door opened, all of her attention focused on breathing steadily. Opening her eyes meant letting the world in, which meant tears she was no longer able to control; the nurses brought her water as often as she asked for it, but it wasn't enough to banish the dehydration headache.
A chair scraped along the floor, pulling up next to the bed. "Isuzu."
Hatori's voice startled her into looking at him, and she swore under her breath as a sob caught her. "Tori-nii." It was wrong, unnatural, to not know it was him just from the feel of his presence, not if he wasn't trying to hide from her. The Horse had left her in the night, with no warning, left her gutted and empty and so alone that she didn't dare relax or sleep for fear of screaming.
Being human means being lonely, Kureno had said that morning, when he appeared with no warning, his gaze full of a wretched understanding as he spoke to her for the first time since she was a child. 'Human', he'd said, as if the word had never applied to her before, and 'uncursed', naming the blessing that felt like it might kill her, and 'I'm sorry', words that she couldn't remember anyone ever saying to her before, not with that grief and weight of personal responsibility. I tried to stop him, Isuzu. And something else, some final part of herself, shattered. He tried. He loves you, but he...
It happened to me when I was a few years younger than you, he had whispered in her ear as he held her, as she wept, unable to control herself enough to stop crying or to push him away. Her laughter had surprised them both, a sound that made her want to cover her ears to stop it. Uncursed. Both of them uncursed, and there was no rhyme or reason to it, nothing at all.
Her inability to regain control eventually had the room full of nurses, strangers who knew nothing, who stared at her with professional worry. Kureno stayed between her and them, ordering them not to sedate her until Hatori arrived and approved it.
Dr. Sohma's not scheduled to see her until the weekend, came the protests, and Kureno's grim response planted the first seed of true terror in her heart.
He'll be here.
Only a few hours later, Hatori was gazing at her, face shuttered and unreadable. "Tori-nii?" Tears welled up before he could answer, despite her efforts at blinking them back, and he reached out to touch her as he had during his last visit, one hand resting on her forehead.
"You'll be all right," he said quietly, watching while she trembled. "You will."
Rin tried to say his name again as he stood, but the sobs were too thick in her throat, choking her.
She was still weeping, curled on her side, when a nurse came in to give her a sleeping pill--"Just a little, dear, just enough to make you rest"--and she took it without protest for the first time, desperate for the pain in her head and her eyes and her chest to ease. "It's good news today," the nurse continued, wiping her face with an exquisitely cool cloth while the drug slowly began to take effect. "Dr. Sohma says he knows of an alternative treatment that will help you."
Evidently the nurse had told the truth about the pill's low dosage--it wasn't enough to blur Rin's moment of comprehension, or stop the screams that spilled out of her mouth. They kept coming while her mind chanted desperately about escape, until there were more hands on her arms, holding her down until the prick of a needle in her arm heralded a fog of nothingness as deep as any dream.
Kureno is waiting for him when he steps outside. Haru freezes, a chill running down his arms despite the oppressive heat of the evening. "Hatsuharu--"
"No." He welcomes the dizziness that washes over him, even though he has long since learned that its arrival is a forerunner for violent nausea if he continues trying to think through it.
"Are you going to live the rest of your life like this?" There may be anger behind the words; Kureno is too soft-spoken for Haru to be sure.
"I--Akito doesn't want me talking to you."
"Why are you pretending you don't have a choice?" Haru leans back against the door, struck by the sudden blaze of emotion in the older man's eyes. "You've been cursed and resisting it since you were born, all of you children..."
"Didn't you?" Haru hears himself asking, torn between the urge to flee and the sudden spark of curiosity.
Kureno smiles faintly, and there is such tenderness on his face that Haru almost turns to avoid it. "We knew what it was like to live without a god binding our souls. Akito was our blessing." His voice shakes. "And now you're using that bond to destroy yourself, doing nothing but hurting yourself and Akito, while--"
"I don't deserve anything else!" Before he can do more than try to catch his breath through the pool of queasiness in his guts, there are cool hands on his shoulders, and Kureno is saying Akito's name.
"Go inside," Akito says flatly. Haru obeys without looking back, not wanting to half-overhear yet another of their arguments, with Akito's flaring anger and Kureno's soft refusal to back down or truly fight back.
He's barely had time to open a window on the other side of the house, taking deep breaths of the evening air, when Akito comes up behind him. "Kureno will be doing his work from his own house for a while."
Haru turns in surprise. "But--" Kureno is a fixture in Akito's large house, his voice a familiar sound as he deals with the maids and the traffic of visitors from among the family.
Akito looks up at him then, eyes wide and haunted, and Haru's heart turns over, remembering the dream that haunted him well into the day. A steady flow of blood, painfully redirected, and the salt of tears, a sad substitute for the metallic scent and rhythm that binds them together. "There are things Kureno doesn't understand as well as he used to."
"he's gonna change my name
maybe you'll leave the light on..."
--Tori Amos, "Mother" (Little Earthquakes)
The following morning, when Hatori returned, Isuzu was sedated past the point of coherence. One of the nurses hurried to keep up with his strides as he walked down the hall, trying to fill him in. "Every time the drugs wore off at all, she just started screaming again, Dr. Sohma--we kept the tapes running, as you instructed, but--"
"Did she say anything?"
The nurse shook her head. "Nothing that made any sense, no."
At the door to Isuzu's room, Hatori paused before opening it. "I'll be administering the treatment now, and turning the tapes off. Effective immediately, she is to be discharged into my personal care."
"Should her medical records be transferred to your home office?"
Hatori considered the increasing tensions between the factions among the Main House's residents and servants. "Keep them here for now. Under no circumstances are they to be viewed without my express permission."
"Yes, Doctor." The nurse bowed quickly and stepped back as Hatori entered the room, locking the door behind him.
A quick glance at the bed revealed that Isuzu was lying on her back, her eyes half-open. The position looked unnatural, after months of seeing her curled into a tight ball to sleep. Hatori grimaced and switched off the recorders, fitting the lens cap on the camera as an extra precaution before he closed the blinds on the windows.
Isuzu offered no resistance when he gripped her shoulders and moved her into a sitting position, leaning her against the head of the bed. Her eyes opened the rest of the way, dull and unfocused. Hatori said her name quietly, snapping his fingers to measure her level of responsiveness. She flinched at the noise, lips parting slightly.
"...Tori-nii?" The name came with an obvious effort, and he sat still for a long moment, just looking at her.
The fact that she was still beautiful was an impressive testament to their blood. Sohma women tended not to have the fragile features that worked well with extreme paleness and thinness, and Isuzu was very obviously ill, offering him a much clearer look at the perfection of her bones than he ever wanted to see again. He kept his eyes on hers while he slowly immersed himself in the pattern of memory, visualizing the network that symbolized the human ability to make connections. Silently, he reminded himself of the roots that needed to be suppressed; with the vital points lost to her, her mind would naturally shut down the pathways to the memories that relied on them.
The curse itself, Akito had said. Her medical history. Her parents' abuse. Honda Tohru. Hatsuharu.
What will be left? he had asked, and Akito's voice shook on the other end of the line.
What--I don't care. Just send her away when you're done. She won't even know the difference, will she? Just--Hatori, just deal with it...
Isuzu's eyes widened as he covered them with one hand, slipping the other behind her head to keep her from thrashing too hard. He hadn't touched anyone's memories since Kana's.
Where Kana had submitted to his touch, Isuzu made a weak effort to pull away. "No--"
The whisper hung in the air while he remembered the broken, exhausted way she had cried. "It won't hurt anymore," he murmured back, holding the key points of her memory in his mind's eye. "It won't hurt." And he reached out, as his father had taught him, and said things that twisted something intangible in her. A slow convulsion ran through her body as her brain fought to protect itself from the violation, and then she lay still in his hands.
The hardest part of learning this, his father had said once, is realizing how simple it is. How quickly a person's mind can be turned against itself. How little you have to do to trigger self-destruction.
Hatori lowered her carefully, calculating how long she would be unconscious while her mind rewrote itself. Long enough--there was no way it could not be long enough--for him to sit and wait for his own memories to subside before he called the Main House and set the next stage of her life in motion.
Autumn comes before Haru hears Kureno's voice again. The long days of summer are just beginning to wind down, coolness seeping through the windows as soon as the sun disappears behind the trees, instead of hours past dusk. Around him, the house is empty; after a quiet day, Akito has dismissed the servants earlier than usual, and gone out into the gardens. Haru walks through the halls silently, dragging one hand lightly along the wall.
True solitude is a rarity, and he finds himself savoring even a few minutes without the servants hovering or Akito touching him. His god's hands have become intimately familiar, light and possessive on the back of his neck, his shoulders, his thighs. Sometimes days go by without another human voice addressing him directly, often enough that Akito becomes his world, with occasional glimpses of the house and gardens, and everything beyond them reduced to a dream.
Kureno's voice in the garden startles him--it takes Haru a moment to identify him, and then Akito answers in a tone that is clearly not meant to be overheard. "We are not discussing this."
"Whether you want to or not, Akito, we--"
"Why are you insisting on this? It's done, and I told you not to come near him--"
"I'm not talking to Hatsuharu. I'm talking to you." Haru leans against the wall, slowly slides down to sit back on his heels. "It's not 'done' as long as he doesn't know what Isuzu--" The wordless exclamation of anger that escapes Akito sends chills down his spine. "After everything, you can listen to her name!" Kureno hesitates, but Akito says nothing. "I talked to her before Hatori-niisan got to her. And if you plan to keep Hatsuharu trapped here for the rest of his life to make up for Isuzu, he's entitled to know what she told me."
"Losing her was no loss. There's no connection between that and his presence here."
"Akito." The sudden gentleness in Kureno's voice warms the air. "Akito, I know you've always been attached to him, but I also know he's all you have left of her." A breeze stirs up the leaves of the garden, making it harder to hear. Haru shifts uncomfortably, keenly aware of his transgression. "...really have done it?" Kureno is asking, and Haru begins to get up again. "Would you have blinded him if she hadn't obeyed you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You do know," Kureno says quietly, each word made more terrible by his calm. "You threatened to blind him. Twice. She told me."
"That girl--" the venom is blistering "--is a slut and a liar."
"She's slept with fewer people than you have." By contrast, Kureno's voice is almost unnaturally even. "She may be a liar, but she had nothing to lose when she was talking to me. She had plenty to lose when she lied to you."
"Did you know she was lying when she confessed to seducing him?"
The scene comes to life in Haru's mind: the way Rin's eyes could harden with determination, a preemptive barrier when her mind was made up and she expected him to challenge her. Rin can be hurtful, but she won't lie to protect herself. His own words, echoing back from a long-ago conversation with Yuki. But to protect me...
He is barely aware that he's moving, almost running out of earshot, back to 'his' room at the back of the house, a room that Akito enters and leaves as freely as he does. For a moment he looks around wildly, trying to imagine never stepping outside it again. Kneeling on the bare floor, he presses his hands against his head in a futile attempt at slowing or stopping the flood of thoughts. Rin resisting when he kissed her outside Shigure's house, and the faint sound she made when she stopped fighting and melted into his arms, her mouth's lies giving way to her body's honesty.
The soft swish of the door sliding open behind him alerts him to Akito's presence, but he can't find the energy to turn.
"You heard?" There is a strange undercurrent to the question, an unfamiliar vulnerability.
"Is it true? That you--" Haru gags on the words, tastes acid when he coughs. "You used me to control her?"
"You hurt her because I loved her, but she let you because she loved me."
"Is--it--TRUE?" He almost screams it, his body's instinctive submission overcome by the need to look his god in the eye.
Akito stiffens, then seems to shrink, and Haru's hands clench, remembering the feeling of that pale throat under his fingers. The silence is reply enough.
"Do it, then." He tries for defiance, but all he can think of is Rin in the hospital bed, alone in the dark to spare him from their god's wrath. "Do whatever you want, just--let it be me this time." He stares up at Akito from the floor, stomach twisting with a need so strong he can hardly imagine its satisfaction. Punish me, take the guilt away, please...
Akito stares back, skin stained by the last colors of sunset, and takes three slow steps toward him. Haru shuts his eyes as the distance between them closes, and listens to the sounds of their breathing, the surge of adrenaline-driven blood in his ears.
The world seems very, very small.
Cool hands touch his shoulders, slip up the sides of his throat to cup his face. Fingers in his hair, thumbs pressing lightly on his eyelids. Haru shudders, waiting; it is the moment before a piercing gun or a tattooist's needle breaks flesh, magnified beyond recognition. "Please," he whispers, and the touch moves, tracing the indentation between his eye and its socket, caressing the bone.
"I never had any such intention," Akito murmurs, and Haru's muscles go slack, trembling so hard he can't imagine trusting them with his weight again. Breath tickles his face, and then he is being kissed, first his cheek, then his mouth. "You're still mine." The words are too like the ones he and Rin always exchanged, earnest even when playful, pleas and affirmations muted helplessly against each other's mouths and bodies. A hand runs up his thigh, preternaturally aware of how to touch him. "You'll always belong to me."
If there is a hint of doubt in Akito's voice, Haru barely hears it; his hands have reached back, making his eyes fly open in surprise. "You're--"
"You've always known," Akito says softly. "Somewhere, you've all known." She takes his hand in hers, uses his fingers to open her kimono. The body underneath is as slight as Rin's--less of a curve to the hips, breasts smaller under the cloth bindings--and he feels himself responding to it all, to warm flesh and knowing hands and the security of being possessed. "I thought it didn't matter to you," she adds, sharpness tinging her voice as she touches him again. "You loved Yuki this way, once."
"Once," Haru echoes, distracted by the way the bond shifts between them, makes him react to her need, the churning hunger that has little to do with desire or a wish for pleasure. "But you know nothing ever--"
Her lips on his throat are soft and demanding. "Are you disappointed? Were you hoping to see what it was like, doing this with another boy?"
"Hoping for...?" He flinches and presses into the touch as she strokes his face with the back of her hand. "I never even thought about anything like this."
"Are you sure?" She kisses him before he can reply, and he shudders again, unable to pretend it's revulsion that makes him shake. With only her touch to satisfy his deep need for physical contact for so long, he is excruciatingly aware of her.
He keeps his eyes squeezed shut, not resisting or returning her caresses. If his refusal to look at her is a deterrent, it doesn't show; her hands keep touching him slowly, everywhere, exploring bare skin. His mind demands images to accompany the sensations, and thinking of Rin is unbearable--for one vivid moment when Akito's touch reminds him of hers, the accompanying wave of guilt wrenches at his stomach in spite of the way the rest of his body is still responding.
He wonders if Akito can feel it through the bond, the way he can feel her irresistible need to reaffirm her possession of him. And then she takes him in her mouth, deep and sudden; irrationally, his mind calls up Kureno's reply to her scathing denouncement of Rin. She's slept with fewer people than you have.
His eyes flash open for an instant, enough to see what she's doing to him, and he shoves the image away. Unable to think of Rin, he lets himself imagine Yuki in a way he hasn't in years, not since he was young enough that the idea of touching anyone was mysterious. What he imagines now is different, rendered more vivid by his own experience. Differences of mechanics aside, skin is skin, and kisses are kisses, all heat and hunger.
The illusion crumbles when Akito straddles him and uses her hand to guide him inside her, but by now his body is on autopilot, aroused to the point of real need. Haru groans at the sensation of her, lets her pull him down on top of her. It's all instinct, a purely physical pleasure running through his bones; he gratefully lets his thoughts slip into silence, leaving only the temporary connection of flesh, and the eternal connection of the blood binding them together.
He is somewhere beyond emptiness when it breaks. Exhausted by the months of guilt and shadows, every part of him has slowly been stretched as thin as a spider's web, and between one heartbeat and the next he sees it. Only the bond has remained the same, and as the thread binding him to Akito snaps, the links between him and the other Jyuunishi follow, leaving him alone in a way he can barely comprehend.
He is in his own body, only his body, and the flesh and bone that were once constricting now hang loosely around his single, disconnected soul. The void echoes around him for a small eternity, invisible and dark, with nothing to hold on to. And then feeling returns like blood to a pinched limb, rushing in as inexorably as the sea: guilt, and loss, and a rage so pure and bright that his body's pleasure is forgotten.
He wants to scream, but there is a desperate mouth on his, words cracking under their own dead weight. "Nonononono don't go, don't leave me, DON'T--" Fingers claw at his back, trying to hold him in place, slipping in the sweat pouring off him.
"Rin does that," he says, and laughs, a broken, sick sound that tastes like bile. "Feels different, though."
Akito's arms tighten around him, refusing to let go even when he puts his hand on her throat, and a shock runs through him as he realizes he's still physically inside her, a useless shadow of her presence in his mind. "Don't go."
The storm building in his chest is blinding, a razor-sharp edge of emotion he had almost forgotten. It seethes through him like lust and fire, makes him bare his teeth against the sob that tries to escape. Akito moves under him, still holding on, her hands on his hips in a desperate attempt to maintain the last connection between them.
"You know what's inside me," he says, so softly that even he can barely hear the fury shivering under the words. "You know. And you still want this?" His hand is still on her neck, almost tender, reflecting something deeper than desire, too dark to ever be unleashed on Rin's body. It makes his stomach turn over: the silent awareness that he is still hard inside her, still capable of taking pleasure from a body he wants to hurt.
Akito says nothing, nails dragging across his hipbones, and Haru repositions himself so that their upper bodies aren't touching. When she tries to pull him back against her, he stiffens his arms to maintain the distance, mimicking the barrier that has always separated him from people whose minds and souls don't touch his. Stray tears escape down his cheeks and onto her breasts, melting into her sweat; he watches for a moment, before slowly meeting her eyes.
He holds her gaze while he thrusts into her, hard enough that her entire body jerks; she stares back, pale and unflinching, and he moves again. And again.
"That's all it is," she whispered when he finally pushed her aside. Haru turned away from the tear stains on her face, rubbing at the salt crust on his own cheeks.
"Not with her." He spat the words, wanting them to hurt, and Akito lifted her head to match his glare. "Do you really think that's what I was doing with Rin? Do you think that's what I wanted with her?"
"You think it means something that she spread her legs and let you put that inside her?" The rancor in the question made him turn away; he found his pants and pulled them on while she kept talking. "She's an idiot, just whoring herself to make you--"
He stood and headed for the door, listening as the ghosts of a lifetime ago whispered and hissed at the threshold. I'll kill both of us.
"You're no better than her," Akito said from behind him, and this time he refused to glance back at the despair in her voice.
"Neither are you."
The walk to his parents' house took an eternity, although the paths within the Main House were familiar enough that not even he could get too badly lost. The moonlight was obscenely bright, shining off the dying blossoms filling the gardens.
He shivered, unable to regret leaving most of his clothes behind in the darkness of Akito's house, half-oblivious to the attention of the servants who passed by on their last errands of the evening. The looks and murmurs followed him, but no one got in his way, or tried to speak to him; he found himself hating them, the hive of people supporting the Sohmas' illusion.
He found his mother in the entryway of the house, talking on her cell phone while she stepped into her shoes. Perfectly made-up eyes widened at the sight of him, her mouth shaping his name; he stared at her, trying to remember how long it had been since they'd seen each other.
After a long moment of silence, the buzz of a voice on the other end of the phone broke through her surprise. "Sorry, no--listen, I'm not going to make it on time. Go ahead without me." Haru walked past her into the kitchen, barely registering her voice behind him as he poured himself a glass of water. "No, my son--my son's just come home, he's been away, and I--right. Later, then."
She was standing in the doorway when he finished drinking, clearly at a loss. "Haru...?"
"Do you love me?" The question surprised him as much as her; under his gaze, she slowly blanched.
"Haru, you know I--"
"Would you have loved me more if I wasn't cursed? You've always lived 'inside', so did you k-know what it meant?" He wasn't sure when the pleading entered his voice, only that he couldn't banish it again. "When I was born, did you know it meant I didn't belong to you? Did you care? That I was Akito's?" The edge of the table was sharp under his hand, not enough to hold him up; the floor, when he reached it, was blessedly cool. "Mom?"
"I love you," she said, closer than he'd realized--kneeling beside him, carefully maintaining the distance they'd shared since he left her womb. "You're my son, Haru--"
"I'm Jyuunishi." The word hung in the air like a curse all its own, weighted with a lifetime of watching lives destroyed around him. "Same as Rin, and Yuki, an' Momiji, but--" He gritted his teeth against fresh tears, trying to stay coherent.
"I've always been Akito's, my whole life, and I tried to--to give myself to Rin, to be hers instead, but I fucked up, I--everything broke, everything..."
"Haru, what happ--" She stopped, taking a deep breath. "What can I do?"
"Hug me," he whispered.
She stiffened in surprise. "Why do you want--"
"Be my mother." The words hurt coming out, a resentment that took them both by surprise; he registered the tears on her face, but couldn't quite piece their meaning together. "Please...?"
It wasn't as natural as he'd imagined when he was growing up; not, after all, as if a mother instinctively knew the unique, precious way of holding her own child. His mother's arms were awkward when they went around his shoulders, waiting for him to transform. There was no sense of homecoming in her embrace, and a small part of him mourned that dream as it died.
She didn't understand at first, as he shook against her, still human. "Haru?" And then she sobbed once, a burst of pain and wonder that cut through his misery, ever so slightly. Her arms tightened around him, holding him close: unfamiliar fingers stroking his hair, tears on his bare shoulder. "My son."
"I fucked up," he repeated, his throat so constricted with pain that he wasn't sure she could understand what he was saying. He swore again and again, vicious, broken words that didn't come close to giving voice to the anguish ripping through his chest; eventually they died away too, leaving only wracking sobs that went for far too long, leaving the floor and his mother's carefully-pressed dress soaked with tears and sweat.
Fruits Basket is the creation of Takaya Natsuki, and is licensed in North America by FUNimation (anime) and Tokyopop (manga). Used without permission or the intention of making a profit. Please support the original work!
"History, Like Love" © 2006-2007 by
Edited by Alishya Lane; additional beta work by Flamika (chapter one).
Comments and criticism welcomed.
This story may be reproduced and archived so long as the original text is preserved and the author's name and contact information remain attached. Notifying the author of any such use is an appreciated courtesy. NO CHANGES OF ANY KIND ARE PERMITTED.
All quoted lyrics/epigraphs are the property of their copyright holders, and are also used without permission. The title "History, Like Love" comes from the song "Human Remains" by Tom McRae, found on the album "Just Like Blood"; this chapter's title comes from the "Sandman" series (volume 9, "The Kindly Ones") by Neil Gaiman.