Chapter Two: "Human Remains" [2/6]
Waking up in his own bed, as if nothing had changed since he'd left home, was one of the most surreal moments of Haru's life. He turned his head just enough to look out the window, squinting against the sun. After so long in Akito's house, where the overhanging roof kept all the rooms faintly shadowed, the brightness of his childhood bedroom struck him as glaring.
It took him another sleep-blurred moment to realize that some of the glare was due to the advanced age of the afternoon, with the sun hanging low and peeking over the rooftops of the nearest houses.
The headache that hit when he sat up almost knocked him right back down again; he swore at the pain, pressing a hand to his temple as he forced himself to his feet. He was almost naked, stripped down to his underwear, and--as he discovered with a grimace when he cautiously turned his head to ease the tension in his neck--in desperate need of a bath.
"Haru?" He jumped at the sound of his mother's voice outside the door. When he made a vague sound of acknowledgement, relief tinged her response. "I thought I heard you up. How do you feel?"
Haru gave up trying to decide whether to find something to cover himself with before bathing, and slid the door open. "Fine. Bit of a headache." An outright lie and an understatement--the unfamiliar stillness at the back of his skull was less of a gnawing emptiness than it had been, but he felt disconcertingly light, as if untethered from the earth. Light, and alone.
"Are you hungry? You've been asleep since yesterday--" She took in his state of near-undress at a glance, reminding him that she had undoubtedly been the one to undress him in the first place, although he couldn't imagine her managing to carry him to his bedroom. He wondered vaguely where his father was.
"I'm not hungry." He shook his head for emphasis, faintly unnerved by her solicitous behavior, and immediately wished he'd kept still.
"I was frightened yesterday," she said quietly. "You came home so suddenly, looking like--well, so upset, and then you fell asleep after--" She looked away with a tiny frown, as if steeling herself before turning back to him. "I kept checking on you, I thought... Was I dreaming?"
"My curse broke." Saying it aloud sent a shiver through him. "So I came home."
"I really held you."
"Yeah." Haru hesitated, and slowly put his arms around her. "Thanks, Mom." She was taller than Rin, a foreign warmth pressed against him in an embrace that felt nothing like what he was used to. Holding Rin meant her body nestled perfectly against his, always hungry for closeness; hugging Kisa was like having a small puppy in his arms, quiet and alert. This was something else entirely, a cautious touch that held more strangeness than comfort. "I think I should go wash," he mumbled, trying to chalk his sense of awkwardness up to the grimy feel of his own skin.
"In a minute." His mother's whisper was strained with the effort of not crying, and a pang of guilt went through him as he remembered the way she'd tried to comfort him when he'd arrived home. His childhood longing to be held had been eased when he and Rin began to offer each other physical intimacy, but his mother had spent her life expecting to hold any children she bore.
"Okay." He tried to relax, to remind himself of the way an embrace should feel, and after a moment it was his mother who stepped away. "Sorry," he said, not entirely sure what he was apologizing for, and wishing his headache would go away. Probably from crying like that, he told himself, rubbing at his eyes.
His mother's expression when he blinked down at her was impossible to read. "What is it?" he asked.
"Who were you holding like that?" she countered, a slight line of concern creasing her brow. "I understood when it was awkward, but just now you hugged me like--" She cut herself off, blushing uncomfortably, and Haru stared at her in confusion before he realized what she meant.
"Rin," he said, and the sound of her name sent a spasm of pain through his chest.
She nodded slowly. "That was my first thought."
"Rin," he repeated, chafing his bare arms against the deep cold that was expanding from his bones. "Oh, god, I..."
"You were sleeping with her?"
"How d'you know?"
A rueful smile crossed his mother's face. "I may not be the most... attentive parent, Hatsuharu, but I know that's not usually how young men hug their mothers."
It was his turn to blush. "That's the only way I know how, 'cept when I pick Kisa up."
"With Isuzu-chan, hmm?" She sighed, but before Haru could bristle, she shrugged with obvious resignation. "I don't really want to think you're old enough for that, but I guess it's too late to try telling you what to do."
"'Old enough'," Haru muttered, stung to honesty. "It's been two years, Mom--kinda late to be worrying about it now."
She winced, and then smiled faintly. "I suppose you could do a lot worse. That girl's got a mouth on her sometimes, but if a few sharp edges are the worst thing about her, she turned out better than the family had any right to expect." There was a long enough pause for Haru to take in her unusually forthright assessment, and then she added, "Last night, you said you'd made a mistake...?"
Haru flinched, then tried to steady his voice. "N-no, it's a lot worse than--" The pain came thundering back into his chest, as sharp and maddening as the day Rin had broken up with him. "Worse than 'a mistake'. I have to make sure she's okay."
"Isuzu-chan's left the Main House. That's what I heard from Satsuki-san, and--" She cut herself off at the look on his face. "No one knows where she is, Haru, but that's what everyone's saying."
"Have you talked to her parents at all?"
Her lips tightened. "No. They don't seem too concerned."
"Big surprise." Haru tugged thoughtfully at the studs in his left ear. "If she's really gone..." Fragmented pieces of an overheard phone conversation played in his head, Akito's voice shaking with feeling. "If Akito had her sent away, her curse might have broken too. Must have. I can't be the only one, can I?" He closed his eyes, remembering a dream of blood and disintegration. "I'm gonna take a bath and go talk to Tori-nii. Kureno mentioned him when he and Akito were fighting about Rin."
He turned toward the bathing room, almost itching to be clean and doing something. His mother's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Haru?"
"What did you do to break the curse?"
Haru took a slow breath, remembering the feel of Akito clinging to him; somewhat belatedly, it occurred to him to wonder whether there were visible nail scores on his back or sides. He'd always been acutely aware of any marks Rin left on him, had liked touching them later.
Haru debated calling Hatori to make an appointment, but finally opted to walk over unannounced. The door to the office was closed, so Haru sat down to wait, flipping aimlessly through a book and tuning out the occasional sounds of voices--Hatori, a woman, a child.
By the time the door opened, he'd dropped the pretense of reading, and sat with his elbows resting heavily on his knees, staring out the window. He'd dressed carefully before leaving his parents' house, choosing sleek, all-black clothes and intricate silver jewelry as his armor. Sifting through his collection had reminded him of visiting a shrine or a graveyard, all the trappings of a life he'd deliberately stepped away from. It felt like a ritual: taking off the rings he'd constantly worn for so long, slipping new ones over his fingers, exchanging the simple earrings in his lobes for small spiked hoops. Rin had chosen them for him, six tiny rings that caught her eye one day, but he'd rarely worn them--her habit of toying with his jewelry made truly sharp edges an annoyance, and after she'd left him, it had been hard to wear things she'd picked out.
Looking at his reflection when he finished had been eerie, like seeing his own ghost trapped behind glass. He could almost imagine Rin slipping up behind him, her arms warm around his waist as she ducked her head under his arm, her soft laughter sparkling in his ears.
Please be okay. The silent litany ran through his head in a constant loop as he made his way to Hatori's home, and continued as he waited. Even if you can't forgive me, please...
The first person out of the office was a girl he only vaguely recognized--maybe five years old, just one of the next generation of Sohma children being raised inside the family estate, growing up breathing air full of rotting secrets. She looked him up and down with open curiosity until her mother steered her away, murmuring polite phrases of greeting.
"Come in." Hatori waved him into the office, and said nothing else until Haru was seated again, with a locked door between them and the rest of the world. "Is this a medical situation?"
"Tell me where Rin is."
Hatori grimaced, turning to look out at the sunset. "I was afraid it might be that. Akito was rather upset when we spoke last night."
"I don't care. I only want to know about Rin. Did Akito have you send her away?"
Silence stretched out between them, thick and heavy. "That's correct, yes."
"Where is she?" Haru repeated, haunted by déjà vu; the answers he'd received the last time he'd demanded them, and his own response, stirred the beginnings of a renewed headache.
"She's attending a college out of town."
"She--" Haru frowned, trying to process the reply. "When did she apply? Is anyone there with her?"
"I am in touch with her regularly, Hatsuharu. She's fine, and I think that's all you need to know."
"I want to see her."
"That's not possible. Akito--"
"I don't care!" Something twisted painfully in his heart, and he shoved it down with a silent curse. "Akito can't control me anymore, Tori-nii. I need to see Rin."
"It's not a good idea." The grim set to Hatori's jaw left little room for debate. Haru switched tactics with only a moment's hesitation.
"Is Rin cursed?"
Hatori's stern mask cracked open for a moment, revealing a glimpse of numbed exhaustion. "No."
"My curse broke." Saying it a second time was almost as strange as the first; saying it to another Jyuunishi felt like a betrayal. "I don't know how, I don't..." Haru bowed his head, still unable to deal with the feelings it stirred in him. "But if Rin's free, and Akito can't bind us--tell me where she is!"
Hatori's usual bedside manner was blunt and unhesitating; the careful kindness in his tone triggered a fear Haru hadn't even known he had, before the words sank in.
"Isuzu doesn't remember you, Hatsuharu."
The shock ran through him like a wave, crushing the breath out of him and trying to suck him down into depths he could barely imagine. "W-what?"
"I had my suspicions about the reasons for her 'accident' last year, but I wasn't sure until Akito told me what to--"
"Rin can't have... that doesn't make any sense!"
"If the two of you loved each other, I'm doubly sorry."
"If we--" Haru gasped for breath, holding onto the arms of his chair for dear life. "No, you mean--wait, you mean you erased her memory of that much? Like you did for Kana-san?" He spoke Kana's name without the usual reluctance, desperate to make sense of things.
"No," Hatori corrected, still with unbearable gentleness. "Not your relationship with her. You. Among other things."
"That doesn't--you can't--" He didn't know when he'd gotten to his feet, pacing feverishly within the confines of the office. "How?" Rin was everywhere in his memory, woven deep into the fabric of his life long before he'd ever begun to name his feelings for her. Childhood games, skinned knees (and her mother's annoyance at the trace of blood on the lace frill of a favorite dress), rainy afternoons telling ghost stories... His memory of her kisses, of the way she whispered and stirred in her sleep, was too vivid to imagine forgetting, but there was so much more, running so deep, that he could only see himself unraveling into a shadow without her.
He stopped by the window, shivering violently, and stared through his shadowed reflection into the dark. "What else?" Behind him, Hatori hesitated only a moment before reciting the short list of Akito's instructions--so few words to sum up the loss of an entire life. Haru rested his forehead on the glass, trying to grasp it.
"You murdered her."
Haru pivoted from the window, fists clenched hard enough to cause real pain in his palms. "Because Akito said so, you fucking murdered her, you might as well've shoved a gun in her mouth--" Black sparks flared across his vision, blurring the world.
"Isuzu is happy." Hatori stood and closed the distance between them, anger in his eyes. "I speak with her regularly, and she's happy. By the time I did it she'd been hospitalized for months, too unstable to leave, just waiting to die. I gave her a new life."
"She's not RIN anymore."
"No." The flat agreement hit him like a punch to the gut, slipping past his defenses. "But Sohma Isuzu is content with her ordinary life. If she'd been in any state of mind to choose, she might well have chosen this." Hatori rested a hand on his shoulder, holding his attention. "And you are in no position to rebuke me for obeying Akito's will. Go home."
Haru nodded, stumbling backwards to get away. "If Akito ever asks you to do anything to my memories, tell her--" he threw the pronoun out deliberately "--that someone will die if you try it."
Both of his parents were home when he returned, waiting for him before they ate supper. Haru got one whiff of the food--enough to recognize that he would ordinarily find the smell of it appealing--and his stomach turned over. "I can't eat, Mom, sorry--"
"Did you have supper already?"
"No." His parents exchanged uncertain looks while he wondered if Rin had lived with such constant nausea, or if her sickness had felt more like outright pain. He'd learned to tell when she was hurting, but had never convinced her to talk freely about it.
His father cleared his throat to catch his attention. "Your mother says that you're no longer cursed."
"It's true." Haru straightened up, only half-conscious of the way his posture changed with defensiveness. "I'm sorry, but I think I'm just gonna go lie down."
"You don't seem terribly different," his father said, watching him with a hint of skepticism.
"I'm not magically going to be the normal son you expected," Haru replied, too on edge to ignore his father's obvious discomfort, or the reasons for it. "Can we talk about it tomorrow?" He turned and fled down the hall towards his room before they could argue.
Inside, he was unable to hold still long enough to lie down. Nervous energy burned through him, keeping him moving in a way he was unaccustomed to when not in the grip of his temper. "Rin," he whispered, as if her name were a charm to stave off the bleak horror of what had happened to her. "Rin, I'm sorry."
In the end he resorted to the calming rituals Kazuma had taught him as part of his karate training, forcing himself to breathe and balance while her name stayed on his tongue like a living mantra. The moon was high by the time he was able to sprawl on his bed without immediately getting up again.
"round here we talk like lions but we sacrifice like lambs
round here she's slipping through my hands"
--Counting Crows, "Round Here" (August and Everything After)
When he next opened his eyes, Rin's presence was the only giveaway that he was dreaming. "Hey," she said, smiling the wistful, lopsided smile that bore no resemblance to the expressions she showed the world. She sat cross-legged by his head, casually leaning forward in a way that gave him a clear view down the low neckline of her shirt. "Miss me?"
"So much," he breathed, extending a hand to touch her.
"Don't." A quick gesture stopped him as she lay down, leaning on her elbow. When she brushed her hair aside, a gleam caught his eye; he rolled onto his stomach for a better look, and saw two small earrings glittering in her earlobe.
"Are you haunting me?" he asked, watching the way her muscles moved when she stretched.
"You have to be dead to be a ghost, don't you?"
"Aren't you?" A hint of a smile was her only answer. "If I touch you, will I wake up?"
"Maybe." Rin let her head loll back on the pillow, exposing the graceful lines of her neck and collarbones. Desire washed through him, a clean, pure hunger that eased the anguish of what he'd done with Akito.
"Forgive me," he breathed, drinking in the sight of her, praying he'd remember her smile in the morning. "I did everything wrong, lovely girl, and I'm sor--"
"I know." She moved closer and cupped his cheek in her palm, leaning in to kiss him. "I love you."
He woke with the warmth of her mouth lingering on his lips.
Rin's absence haunted him as he tried to rebuild his life. Discussions with his teachers made him opt to finish the year's work with his tutor; far-off plans to return to school for twelfth grade looked good on paper, but did very little to help restore any sense of normalcy.
After Hatori, he told none of the other Jyuunishi about his new, unsought freedom. Yuki and Momiji watched him anxiously when they thought he wasn't looking, sensing the change without recognizing it. Haru's mind adjusted to the stillness--the absence of the other spirit that had shared his skin, the silence where the faint echoes of the other Jyuunishi had sounded--leaving only a vague, erratic sense of isolation.
Yuki was the only one he told about Rin, leaving the older boy helplessly trying to think of comforting words. Otherwise, he spoke of it to no one--not the adults, with their fading curiosity; not Hiro, whose eyes still flashed with bitter anger when their paths crossed; and not Kazuma, whose innate kindness would be even less bearable.
Haru still dreamed of her, but never with the calm clarity of the first time; the memory of one soft kiss was outweighed by troubled sleep full of betrayed, accusing eyes against which he had no defense. "It was my fault," he told Yuki, one afternoon when he ventured over to Shigure's house, and Kyo and Tohru were out of earshot. "All I can think of is needing to make it better, make it up to her."
"What's today's philosophical topic?" Shigure stood yawning in the doorway, disheveled from either sleep or habit. "I wonder if Tohru-kun feels like making something breakfasty to go with supper?"
"Unforgivable sins," Haru said bleakly, not rising to Shigure's mock-hapless expression.
Shigure snorted. "That's easy--go into a monastery and pray all day, or fall on your sword... there're centuries of tradition. Option A means you can shave your head and not worry about girls hugging you, but all that chanting sounds awful." A huge yawn interrupted the last word. "It's too early in the day for that kind of talk."
"It's almost five o'clock," Yuki muttered, and Haru made an agreeable sound as he vaguely registered his friend's annoyance, but if any more words were exchanged they made no impression on him after Shigure's.
Fall on your sword.
The idea rooted in his mind slowly, part of him calming as he took it in. Rin stopped appearing in his nightmares, and if she never returned in quieter dreams, he reasoned, it was no less than he deserved. He touched his eyes more and more often over the days that followed, staring at the world as if he'd never seen it before. Everything he'd seen for the last few months, every moment, Rin had paid for with her silence and despair, and finally with her self. Pressing his fingertips down on his closed lids, with the thought that it was his own hands that would settle what little of his debt could be paid, was strangely soothing.
Revisiting parts of the estate where they'd spent the most time together--secluded areas, mostly, behind gardens and flowering hedges--occupied much of his time for a few unfocused weeks. Sometimes he imagined he heard her voice, the ghosts of their childhood and innocence whispering together. If Sohma Rin was dead, while her body breathed and continued without her, it seemed reasonable enough to think that the lost part of her would return to those places.
He avoided the Cat's room for a long time, unable to bear the idea of it, but eventually his feet carried him there unthinkingly. The thought of using his life to buy back whatever honor it might pay for had made itself completely at home, without generating anything as concrete as a plan or preparations. But--here, something breathed, a slow settling in his stomach when he found himself staring at one of the small windows that had given Rin her only view of the world during her confinement. Here, of course, where else? He had no idea how many cursed members of their family had lived out their lives on the other side of that window, staring out at sunlight that would never quite reach them again.
The door was unlocked; he slipped inside, barely noticing the layer of dust that had settled over everything. The single room was almost empty, holding only a narrow futon and other minimal, impersonal effects. He tried to imagine Rin--her vibrant eyes, her occasional smiles, the sharp sweetness of her voice--withering away inside these walls, and was mercifully unable to do it. The only tangible sign of her presence was the light scattering of long black hairs on the floor, evidence that the last efforts at cleaning the room had been hurried and haphazard.
"Rin," he whispered. Only silence answered him. This wasn't a place her spirit would come back to, even in his imaginings. He glanced around, already sure that he'd find nothing sharp lying about--he could hardly be the first person hoping to hurry his life's ending in the room built to contain the darkest incarnation of their curse. And there was no ghost, no manifestation of his guilt to helpfully materialize appropriate tools. In the end, there was only him.
He pushed away from the wall he'd been leaning on, bent to gather up a lock of hair from the floor. As he had so many times before, he twined it around his fingers; stroking it lightly with his thumb, he went back out into the world for the last time, to see what he could find.
Kureno bumped into him--almost literally--on the path to the gardeners' outbuilding. Coming unexpectedly face to face after so many weeks startled both of them more than it had any right to; the Main House had extensive grounds, but truly avoiding another member of the family was possible only if their habits were carefully observed.
"'Scuse me," Haru muttered, his eyes flicking away as if Kureno were nothing more than a shadow between him and the sun. Looking at him sent chills down Kureno's spine: there was an eerie calm behind the blankness, as if the mask his face had become during the months with Akito was now covering a void rather than a seething mass of suppressed emotion.
"Are you looking for something?" Kureno asked, one of the habitual questions the family had learned to ask Haru when he was a small, easily-distracted boy who might be found anywhere in the compound, bruised or lost or entangled in any manner of trouble.
"No." A hint of impatience showed in Haru's small frown, but he made no sudden movement--there was no flash of sunlight on metal, no quick flurry of attempted concealment. It was only coincidence that Kureno glanced down and saw the edge of a blade nestled between his fingers.
Akito, was his first thought, a cold swirl of dread passing through his belly. And then he looked at Haru's face again and knew. "Hatsuharu...!" The blood relationship between Haru and Isuzu might be distant to the point of needing a chart to work it out, but in that moment Haru's eyes reminded Kureno sickeningly of hers--not the fevered pain of when he had found her in the Cat's room, half-starved and delirious, but the deadness that had come later.
They're only children, he thought numbly, unable to look away. Children, and what we've done to them... "What are you doing?"
"The first honorable thing I've done in months." Haru's reply was soft and steady, only a tightening of his fingers betraying a hint of emotion. One slipped a little, skin parting cleanly on the small knife in his hand.
Kureno reached out without thinking. "You can't--"
"Why the hell not?" A step back took him out of Kureno's reach. "It's the only thing I can do."
"If you live, you won't hurt this badly forever."
Haru stared through him. "It's not about not hurting."
"There's nothing else that can cover what I owe her. I can't just live like nothing happened--"
Kureno slapped him squarely across the face, startling himself more than Haru, who didn't even lift a hand to the reddening splotch on his cheek. "I've heard plenty of selfish things in my life, but that is just..." He shook his head, taken aback by the anger stirring under his horror. "Where's the 'honor' in throwing your life away after everything she gave up for you?" A small flinch went through Haru's shoulders. "Do you believe this is what Isuzu wanted?"
"Shut up," Haru snarled, but his eyes were focusing, no longer vague and absent.
"I don't believe it," Kureno continued quietly. "I held her when she was crying for you. You don't owe me anything, but think about this more. For her. Don't do something stupid enough to prove the family gossip is true." He held out a hand, palm up in entreaty, and waited. "Dying isn't the only way to give her your life."
Haru stared at him, wide-eyed in a way that made Kureno wonder if he was seeing him at all. The wind picked up, rich with the scents of dead flowers on their way back into the earth. And slowly, moving with the stiffness of great age, Haru lay the knife across his open palm.
"Come to me before you go looking for a replacement," Kureno said softly. "I know you've no reason to trust me, but--"
"You took her out of that room."
"Tell me about her." A plea burned under the demand, and Kureno let himself release a breath he'd been holding for too long. Under the reddening foliage, he offered up everything he could: how Isuzu's hands had trembled with cold and weakness as she clung to him, how distressingly easy it had been to lift her. How she had fallen asleep in his arms as he carried her, Haru's name warm on his neck as she breathed it out.
When he fell silent, Haru stood shivering in front of him, and Kureno touched his cheek again, gently this time. The tiny response made his throat tighten, as Haru leaned into the contact; he remembered that craving for communion and reassurance, and Haru was famously tactile for a Jyuunishi.
"She's my heart," Haru murmured, and despite the pain in his voice, a faint smile softened his mouth.
"If you die, your heart dies with you."
Haru jerked away at his answer, the fleeting connection broken so abruptly that Kureno half-expected him to bolt. Instead, he threw his head back to look at the sun overhead, squinting against it until Kureno cleared his throat.
"I'll think about it."
"That's all I ask," Kureno replied, and Haru nodded, still staring into the sky.
"looking away, too scared to see human remains"
--Tom McRae, "Human Remains" (Just Like Blood)
I'll think about it.
Haru had agreed grudgingly, responding more to the look in Kureno's eyes than his words. Those had been the last eyes to see Rin before she was taken to the hospital he'd started to think of as her grave, and they'd been fixed on him with such horror that his skin crawled. At first, he thought he'd wait only a day or so, but the thoughts flooding his head through the rest of the day and that night kept sleep from him until sunrise. Watching dawn's colors staining and then dispelling the first gray light sent a pang through his chest; it was the kind of soft beauty that entranced Rin when she was too weary to endure intensity.
Imagining her beside him in the bed was effortless in that light: she would be warm against his side, only her hands cool as she freed them from the blanket to touch his neck, her questioning voice fogged with sleep as she followed his gaze out the window and fell silent at the sight.
"I don't want to die." Said aloud, however softly, the words reeked of selfishness. He curled up on his side and kept staring out the window, watching the movement of tree branches across the sliver of moon still peeking through the gray-and-pastel clouds. "But you didn't want any of what happened to you, love."
"I didn't have a choice." Her voice in his ear was clear enough he could pretend it was real.
"You did," he whispered.
"I didn't." Fingertips grazed the ends of his hair, a touch so light he felt it only as a faint tug at his scalp. "You're dreaming me again, but what I'm saying is true and you know it."
"Dreams say what you want to hear."
"Or they tell you things you already know," she shot back, her voice sharpening with irritation. "You don't have to imagine what I felt for you. Even if it was through Akito, you touched my soul, more than you ever touched my body. You know I had no choice." There was no shimmer or flicker in his vision--she was simply there, between him and the brightening dawn, kneeling by the bed to meet his eyes. "You were my world after everything else was gone. There was nothing else I could've done."
"I should have--"
"It's not your fault your world was bigger than me." Haru shook his head in denial, and Rin sat back on her heels. "I never thought you loved me less just because you loved other things too." She pushed loose wisps of hair away from her face, and Haru found himself watching the gesture, unable to pin down what was strange about it.
"If I'm talking to an--an echo of her, or you--why haven't I dreamed about you like this for so long?" The urge to touch her gnawed at him until he had to clasp his hands to keep from reaching for her. "Rin--"
"You weren't listening, dummy." A startlingly soft smile made the old taunt a gentle joke between them. "You were too busy trying to shrink your world down to the size of mine. Wrong answer--dying won't bring you any closer to me. We broke the promise the Jyuunishi made with their god, so our souls'll do the same thing as everyone else's."
"At least we might get reborn at the same time," he said.
The way she rolled her eyes at his stubbornness hadn't changed since childhood. "Haru. I'm not dead."
Amusement and exasperation warred on her face. "Just let it go--you're clinging to this idea, and it doesn't mean anything."
"Why can't I touch you?"
Rin shrugged, a hitch of her shoulder that looked unexpectedly painful. He tried to visualize the scar distorting her muscles, and failed, wincing at the bitter reminder that her body was no longer familiar. "It's your dream. You tell me."
He extended a hand towards her, and Akito's venomous glare flashed across his vision. They both watched as his hand curled into a loose fist, tenderness retreating into aggression.
"I've read that you die if you hit the ground in your dreams," Rin murmured. "But it doesn't always kill you when you're awake." She reached back, curving her hand over his without making contact. "My mind's the only thing I couldn't share with you. My heart and body and soul are all where you left them."
"Tori-nii says you're happy."
"You don't know, so how should I?" A wistful smile shadowed her face. "Will you come if I call you?" This time went unsaid, a reminder of his guilt that he couldn't quite imagine her voicing. He nodded, and she slowly turned her hand so it was under his, open and waiting; he let his fingers relax, and hers darted up between them, thumb caressing his palm. "Wake up."
He came awake instantly, aching with her absence but certain he was no longer dreaming. The world's edges were too crisp and bright to be anything but real. Downstairs the phone was ringing, a single tone that cut off and was replaced first by his mother's voice and then by her footsteps on the stairs.
"Who's on the phone?" he called before she could knock. The morning sun warmed his face, tempting him to keep lying in its light rather than answer the phone.
"Kureno-san." Anxiety tinged her voice, enough that Haru rolled out of bed without further hesitation. It wasn't until he slid the door open and saw the way she was looking at him that he realized it had little to do with who was waiting to speak with him. For the first time in the long weeks since returning from Akito's side, he stopped and examined her, taking in the way her eyes darted to and away from his.
"Are you okay?" he asked as she began to turn away. "Mom?"
Her answer was long enough in coming that he had time to watch the sparkling dance of dust motes in the air. "You're my only child."
"I'm--" He reached out for her arm without thinking, accustomed to that much contact, and then reached further as he remembered that his instincts no longer mattered. Rin's affectionate exasperation hummed wordlessly in his ears--surprisingly intense for a memory of a dream of an echo, he thought--as he pulled his mother into a quick, carefully casual hug. "I'm not going anywhere, okay?"
"You haven't been yourself," she said, and he took an extra moment to further acquaint himself with the feel of an unfamiliar body in his arms.
I've been nothing but myself, tried to come out, but he stifled it. "I'd better go see what Kureno wants."
"I was getting worried," Kureno said when Haru picked up the phone, not quite convincing in his attempt to pass the greeting off as lighthearted. Haru tucked the receiver against his shoulder while he rubbed his neck, wondering how often Kureno had the opportunity to attempt jokes; his sense of humor sounded distinctly rusty. "How are you?"
"Other than my dreams channeling my amnesiac ex-girlfriend?" A long silence met the question. "If I thought dying meant dreaming forever, things'd be different."
"But she told me I was being an idiot, just like you, and it wasn't her, but--" The stinging in his eyes was too sharp to be blamed on the sunlight pouring in through the window. "It wasn't her. Rin's gone."
"She loved you very much," Kureno said quietly. "I spoke with her so rarely while she was growing up that that's the only thing I know for certain about her, but I have no doubts about it."
"Yeah." Haru blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. "Can I come talk to you?"
Relief poured through the faint crackle of the phone line. "Of course, Hatsuharu."
Kureno's house was small but beautifully maintained, at odds with his apparent absentmindedness. Haru glanced around as the older man led him inside, filing away the fact that the compound staff were clearly not under orders to stay away. There was no unifying motif among the small decorations and knickknacks that personalized the living area; each item seemed to have been chosen for its own sake rather than effect, and the overall impression was of a rather younger person than Kureno inhabiting the place.
He made himself comfortable when Kureno waved him to a cushion, and waited while tea was brewed. It was only after they were both sitting with steaming cups in hand that Kureno finally sighed and met his eyes. "I'm sorry, it's been a long time since anyone's been here. I'm not used to spending so much time at home." The explanation was offered without judgment or apology.
"You're used to being with Akito all the time."
Haru nodded to himself. "I--there's a lot of stuff in my head, and I don't know how much of it I'm okay with talking about. But I've got a question that needs a straight answer." When Kureno said nothing in reply, Haru gritted his teeth and threw the words out, unable to frame them carefully or hide their bitterness. "How many of us has she slept with?"
Tea spattered the table as Kureno's cup slipped in his fingers; he recovered before it could fall. "You--" He winced and set the cup down. "Generally, that's the sort of thing you ask the person in question, and before the fact." Haru flinched, more at the look on Kureno's face than the words, but waited. "You would make three. Including me, as you've undoubtedly guessed."
"I heard you telling her she'd slept with more people than Rin had," Haru said, feeling a disconcerting need to justify asking the question. The sorrow in Kureno's gaze made him bite back his rage at Akito's hypocritical contempt.
"Akito is... confused about these things." Kureno spoke quietly, but granite lay under the words. "And beyond that, it's not my place to discuss it."
"I don't want to know anything else." Haru wiped away a drop of tea with a fingertip. "She's not my lover. It was a mistake, and I can't--I don't--"
"Is she nothing to you now?"
The question gave him pause, made him assess Kureno again. She's his lover, he told himself, trying to make the idea click into his world view. "Not exactly."
"When it happened to me, I loved her even more." Kureno raised his cup and sipped slowly, the last wisps of steam bathing his face. "I could see her pain, but I could only feel my own."
"'When it'... oh." Comprehension blazed up, thousands of small mysteries falling into place: Akito's demand that Kureno be isolated from them, his detachment, the sad way he watched them from time to time. "When did you--"
"When I was fifteen. Long enough ago that she and I had both started believing I was an... an anomaly. Something that could never happen again."
Haru frowned, trying to recall the dim dreams that had haunted him with Akito. "Is there anyone else?"
"I don't believe so. There was no one else before Isuzu's curse broke, and now yours..." Worried lines creased Kureno's brow. "I can barely imagine what she must be feeling, having lost both of you so close together. And it seems to have been harder on you two than it was on me." Haru shot him a questioning look. "I saw Isuzu in the hospital afterwards. She took it very badly."
"You saw her?"
"Briefly." Kureno took a final mouthful of tea and grimaced, setting it aside. "If Akito's mental state was anything like hers afterwards, I'm amazed the house survived."
"Why didn't you come back?"
"I tried." A rueful sigh punctuated the words. "I'm not--accustomed to fighting with Akito. It turns out she has no tolerance for it. I've been relying on reports from the servants for quite some time."
"They answer to you?"
"Of course." Faint surprise lit Kureno's face. "You don't have to be Jyuunishi to see that Akito is unpredictable."
"She's fucking insane," Haru corrected, but Kureno continued as if he hadn't spoken.
"She rarely comes out of her private rooms these days, and she still won't let them admit me. Whatever--happened between you two, Hatsuharu, she--"
"Am I supposed to care?"
The reproach in Kureno's reply was clear. "She has never made so little pretense of upholding her responsibilities to the family before."
"I don't owe her or the family anything," Haru said, holding his voice steady with an effort. "I'll live my life for Rin, like you said. But no one else."
"What about for yourself?"
"Don't." He pushed to his feet, shaking his head. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I'm done with her."
"What do you intend to do, then?"
"I intend to make sure I never forget anything again."
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.
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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 is also taken from the song.