Chapter Three: "Where the World Bleeds White" [3/6]
"You're sure that's what you want?" The woman behind the counter looked up from the paper Haru had handed her, idly massaging the freshly-inked vine wending its way up her inner arm. "Getting tattooed is addictive--I mean, I got my first one when I was pretty young, but it's kinda my calling."
Haru took a third look around the studio. The sample artwork on the walls was stunning, a silent explanation for the prices that would make most potential customers his age walk right back out. "I got this on a whim," he said, pushing his sleeve up to expose his left bicep. "I don't regret it. And that--" he nodded down at the paper "--isn't a whim."
She picked it up, tracing the lines of the design. They were as strong and graceful as the work on display, done by an uncursed relative who'd been apprenticed to a master calligrapher in his youth. "Aren't you too old to be year of the ox?" A calculating glance swept over him. "I'd guess you're a bird?"
"Boar," he admitted, shrugging. "Never suited me."
"Huh." Another appraising look at the paper resulted in a faint smile. "Well, this is gorgeous, and I guess if you're already inked you know what you're getting into. Where do you want it?"
"Between my shoulder blades." It was the only part of the decision that had required any thought.
"Exactly this size?"
"If it'll fit well. Can you scale it a bit if you need to?"
"In my sleep." She came around from behind the counter and held the paper up beside him. "Do you want it done now? I have enough time before my next appointment."
"Yeah." Haru shivered, remembering the last time a needle had touched his skin. Rin's hands had been cupped around his right fist, her eyes trained on the steady movement of the gun. She had insisted on being there, as if her physical nearness could ease the pain that distressed her far more than him. That tattooist, an older man, had picked up on her anxiety and kindly worked around her without commenting on either her distress or the electric vibe that had built up between her and Haru while he worked.
Having her there had taken the experience even farther beyond the quick puncturing of his earlobes than he'd expected. She had no comprehension of the euphoria he felt from the mix of vulnerability and endorphins, but she responded to it through her own discomfort. She'd kissed him once while the tattooist left the room for a moment, running her fingertips just below the design taking shape on his skin; half-intoxicated on his own brain chemistry, he'd pulled her close with his free arm, grinning foolishly against her mouth.
"Take your shirt off." His current artist arched a brow at his distraction, gesturing to her working table. Haru came back to the present with a start and obliged, draping the shirt over the back of a nearby chair before stretching out on his stomach. Small, strong hands touched his back, sizing up their canvas. "You've got good muscle tone, so that'll help. You know it'll hurt more when I do your spine?"
"Can I ask you a question?" Haru made another agreeable sound, obediently rearranging himself when she prodded him. "Are you half?"
"No." Confused, he lifted his head. "Why?"
"'Cause you look Japanese, but most tats like this wind up on foreigners, even if the calligraphy's not as good. I mean, I'm decent at it, but it's not the kind of art I'm best at. And this is amazing--but yeah, there's that and your hair. No mysterious ancestors?"
Haru snorted, thinking of the family's watchful eye on its bloodlines. "'fraid I know my whole family tree for about seven generations back and out to about five degrees on either side. We're kinda into that." He tried to sound friendly about it, but bitterness seeped through.
"One of those families, huh?"
His curiosity about what she might be thinking wasn't strong enough to keep him talking. Instead, he closed his eyes and waited while she finished prepping his back and began to outline the design on his skin; he came back to full alertness only when she took a photograph and showed him what it would look like. He examined every stroke, picturing it nestled between his shoulders: the symbol of his possession reduced to fleeting blood and permanent ink, only the size of his outstretched hand.
"It's good. Thanks." He lay back down and waited, trying not to brace himself against the initial shallow stab, forcing himself to relax for it.
When it came, he imagined it in his eyes.
His entire back throbbed with pain by the time it was finished, as much from his prolonged stillness as the fresh tattoo. He had refused her offers of breaks or water, preferring to feel the lines being etched continuously into his skin in slow, burning waves. With his eyes closed he could visualize it taking shape, a reclamation of the tiniest bit of what he'd lost when he gained his freedom.
It was almost like being in the mild trance of karate practice, with his mind floating slightly above the pain--close enough to touch it, from time to time, and enough like a dream that he half-expected to imagine Rin's presence, her wide-eyed fascination with what he inflicted on his body. Mortification of the flesh, she'd challenged once, but you're no monk.
Like you don't think it's hot, he'd replied, not quite arguing. He liked the difference between them, the smoothness of her skin unbroken by ink or metal.
The memory was interrupted by the artist's voice. "Do you have someone who can help you take care of it?" A bandage was carefully taped down between his shoulders. "It's not the easiest place to reach."
"Yeah," he said, trying not to show his distraction. He continued to nod dutifully as she reminded him of each precaution he was to take--no sun, no sleeping on his back, all of it familiar and obvious--and paid without further discussion, comforted by the sign of the Ox throbbing under his skin.
"How is she?"
Haru grimaced inwardly at the sound of his own voice. Regaining normal sleep patterns and making an effort to hang out with Yuki and the others had restored a sense of normalcy he could hardly have imagined the month before, although he still guiltily kept the secret of his freedom. The tattoo on his back had scabbed and healed cleanly, unseen by anyone but his mother, who he had been forced to ask for help with the initial care.
But bringing Rin up, even if only with the adults who knew what had happened, sent fresh stabs of pain through his chest. No matter how exhausted the questions sounded, it was unthinkable not to ask. Hatori alone was in contact with her, and some days the doctor took pity on him and offered vague answers that did little to satisfy Haru's need to know.
Hatori took a slow drag off his cigarette, not particularly responding to either the question or Shigure's arched brow. Despite the coolness of the afternoon, Haru had found the pair sitting outside at Shigure's, sipping coffee like sake as they watched the late autumn foliage falling.
"Just like old times," Shigure said when Hatori didn't answer immediately. "Only it used to be her with the same questions over and over again. Are you trying to take her place, Ha-kun?"
"What was she asking?" Haru countered.
Shigure smiled faintly. "That's between me and Rin-chan."
"Did you help her at all?" The silence was broken only by the flick of a lighter as Shigure lit another cigarette. "I just want to know if anyone was kind to her."
"Do you really think she'd have kept coming here if I'd been kind to her?" Hatori cleared his throat warningly, and Shigure shrugged, getting to his feet. "Your time might be better spent learning how to live without her walking ahead of you." He touched Haru's collar, making a show of examining the spikes. "What are you, underneath what you took from her?" A tiny red dot marked the middle of his fingertip when he took it away, turning his attention to Hatori. "Are you going to tell him?"
"I spoke with Isuzu two days ago," Hatori said when Shigure had gone back into the house. There was a hint of irritation when he glanced up, but Haru wasn't sure whether it was directed at him. "Sit down, Hatsuharu, and I'll tell you what I can.
"She's doing well in her classes," he continued when Haru obeyed, hungry for news. "She says she's starting to feel more at home in her apartment, and she sounds rather frustrated by learning to cook." He stubbed out his cigarette, frowning in thought. "But she's eating, and while it's hard to inquire too directly about her health, it's my belief that she's getting stronger."
"And she's seeing someone."
The sensation of sickness that washed over him was so immediate and intense that Haru only half-realized that he'd made a sound at all. He pulled his knees up to his chest, trying to still the churning in his guts and the shaking in his limbs.
"Do you want to know?" Hatori asked. The genuine empathy in the question was all that made the hand on his shoulder tolerable; his entire body ached with the need to be touched by someone familiar, and there was no one. He nodded, not trusting his voice or wanting to second-guess his first impulse. "She says it's casual," Hatori said, "but she also mentioned that it's been going on for a while, and this is the first I've heard of it. She told me his name when I asked, and I had a quick background check done to make sure he's no threat to her."
"A month or two, I gather. I had no reason to press her for more than that." Hatori withdrew his hand awkwardly, giving privacy where he couldn't offer comfort. "I can't tell you his name."
Any more than you can tell me what city she lives in, or even what she's studying. Haru swallowed hard against the nausea. "I don't want to know." There was no room for anger in the cold emptiness making its way through his veins. "I want her to be happy, more than anything--"
"But she was happy with you," Hatori finished, putting words to the feeling Haru wanted to avoid.
"She was. I screwed up so badly, Tori-nii, but I know she was." He stared bleakly at the madcap dance of the leaves caught in the wind. "If she can be happy with this guy and this life you invented for her, then I'm glad. I will be. But it's not her life, and I don't believe for a second it's what she wanted."
The lighter sparked and crackled as Hatori tried to produce a flame against the breeze. "Would you be more forgiving if I'd let her die? Or if I'd helped her?"
Voices reached them from the front of the house--Kyo and Tohru coming back from school, but if the good-natured tone of Kyo's grumbling was any indication, without Yuki. Haru stood too quickly, and caught himself on the wall as blood rushed to his head. His hand looked unfamiliar against the wood, fingers splayed so that each ring caught the light. The sound of the front door opening and closing seemed to belong to another world; he stood distracted, remembering the contrast of hard silver against Rin's skin and hair, trying to imagine that familiar softness reduced to ash and bone.
"Are you staying?" Hatori asked, pitching his voice low to avoid being overheard by anyone inside.
"No." His earlier desire for company had dissipated entirely. "No, I'm gonna head home."
"I'll drive you."
Letting himself go numb was almost effortless. Hatori's vagueness about Rin's whereabouts and life had been frustrating, but having a rough idea for his imagination to work with was worse--and somehow liberating. Schoolwork being done, food being cooked and eaten, an apartment of her own; it was the most ordinary of descriptions, made up of things he'd supposed must be going on, but it was confirmation.
She was alive. Without him, being touched by people he'd never seen--his thoughts shied away from imagining detail--but living. He erected that thought between joy that she was alive and renewed grief at her loss, and lost himself instead in the thought that he was the only one who'd seen so much of her life.
The desire that came out of it was to know what he'd missed, what she'd hidden from him; to remember her as honestly as possible. And then what? a small voice murmured, a mix of Rin's love and Shigure's pointed instruction to move on. And then?
For the next few weeks, Hatori steadfastly refused his requests for an appointment. "Go live your life for a while," he said when Haru came to the office the fourth time, cutting him off as effectively as hanging up on a phone call. "Figure out what you actually want." But the only answer that ever came to mind was Rin's name.
"Closure," he said when Hatori opened the door, three weeks after their last conversation. "That's all I’m here about, okay?"
"What exactly are you looking for?" Hatori asked, not unkindly, but with more than a trace of weariness.
"I want to see her medical records."
"Those are confidential," Hatori said flatly, fixing him with a reproving look.
Haru leaned back against the door, crossing his arms. "Sohma Isuzu doesn't even remember them." He made no effort to hide the bitter anger that spilled over. "Whose confidence are you betraying by showing me?"
Hatori minimized the screen he'd been looking at. "Why do you want to see them?"
"Because someone needs to remember, besides you." Haru bit his lip, glancing at the spines of the books lining the shelves. "Because I spent so long not seeing what happened to her, and I owe it to her to look. Please."
Minutes crawled by while Hatori considered it.
"They're not all here," he said finally. "The tapes from this year are at the hospital where she was treated."
"Fine. I'll start at the beginning."
"Hatsuharu..." The doctor stared over his head, obviously torn. "The records I kept are extremely detailed. Most people would have trouble looking at some of the material, and I don't know if you should--"
"Has anyone else seen them?"
"Shigure saw the photos from her first admission to the hospital. No one else."
"Huh." Haru did the math, working out how old Shigure--and Hatori--would have been when Rin was abandoned. "Were you even a doctor then?"
"A student, but that hospital all but belongs to our family. There was a certain amount of looking the other way when I accessed Isuzu's information." Hatori pressed the back of his hand against the windowpane, watching the rain streaming down the glass. "I also did some additional documentation of my own. The Sohma influence made some of the senior staff wary of doing more than was strictly necessary." He took a ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked a desk drawer, unburying a file from beneath loose papers. "The x-rays and scans were done officially. The photographs are mine, although a few that belong in the first folder aren't here."
"Where are they?"
"Shigure has them. They were gone after he looked at the records, and I imagine he's kept them even more hidden than I have." They both looked at the thick, unlabeled file in his hands. "You're sure?"
Haru squared his shoulders, remembering the layers of bandages on Rin's body, and tried to swallow his fear. "I want to see everything."
Hatori slowly handed him the file. "Nothing in those folders leaves this room, except in your head. Understand?" He turned to leave, and made it halfway to the door before Haru called out to him
"Wait--why does Sensei have those pictures? Why'd you let him keep them?"
"You aren't the first to want to remember." Hatori hesitated on the threshold. "Shigure doesn't go halfway. Trust me on this: the ones he took are the ones you least want to see. They don't have any information you won't see in that file, which is one reason why I never had them reprinted or returned." He stepped out into the hallway. "The other reason is that I would prefer not to see them again, and I took them. I'll be back in an hour."
The door slid shut and locked, leaving Haru alone with the ghosts of Rin's past. He hugged the file against his chest before sinking down in the chair by the window.
There were three folders in the file, also unlabeled, but Haru knew what they were before he opened the first one. He named them silently. Sohma Isuzu, age eleven. Age seventeen. Age eighteen. She'd had two birthdays since he'd last had the chance to mark them with her; Kagura's mother wasn't the sort to let them pass unnoticed, but for years Rin had come to him as much to escape the unwanted attention as to accept his kisses and small gifts.
The first folder made no attempt at easing him in gently. There was no paperwork, no explanation, only a photograph of a girl at the very onset of adolescence. Haru stared at it, entranced and repelled. From his own visits he remembered the wan, exhausted shadows in her eyes, that she'd been malnourished enough to need an IV, that there'd been bruises visible when she raised her arms high enough to lift the edge of her shirt. But she'd still been Rin, still older and untouchable.
In the photo, she looked back wearily, her shirt hitched up under her arms to show the fading purple marks running up her side and onto her back. The picture itself was carefully shot, taking advantage only of the natural light, not uncovering any hint of the curves that were beginning to think about reshaping her body. Haru looked at it with a stranger's eyes, seeing a child almost six years younger than himself instead of a girl he was constantly struggling to catch up to.
"She was just a kid," he whispered to the empty room, looking at the awkward way she held herself--in pain, but also uncertain of her limbs, the changing boundaries of her skin.
The next photos were worse.
He kept looking, going from one folder to the next without really noticing. Rin's body changed dramatically between them, belonging to a girl on one page and a woman on the next, but it was a blur; it was impossible to reconcile the images with his memories of desire and pleasure. It was a nightmare collage: photos of open wounds and bruises, x-rays of ribs with fractures in all stages of healing, closeups of gloved hands stitching flesh and muscle back together over an exposed shoulder blade. A note paperclipped to one of the surgical images included only a name he didn't recognize: Akechi Norihide, reconstructive surgeon.
Haru turned to the next picture, thoroughly heartsick; he had touched the permanent evidence of so much of what had been done to her over the years, had seen her bandaged and battered, but seeing what had been covered by bandages and scars--by her skin itself--was something else again. And looking at the next photograph, he froze.
The date in the corner of the image was months more recent than the ones he'd set aside. The moment it had captured was within hours of his own enraged entry into Akito's personal rooms. The picture showed only Rin's face and neck, enough to tell him she'd been thinner than he'd ever seen her; with her eyes closed, set too deep in their sockets, she looked dead. But it was her hair, fanned out in a black corona, that caught Haru's eye. He had never even imagined her without the glossy length of hair that had been her defining trait among the family; until she began displaying her looks in what was widely regarded as an appallingly inappropriate way, her beauty had been a quiet source of pride among the old aunts. The other Jyuunishi, with their unnatural coloring, were mostly off-limits for the polite bragging that went on among the wealthy families, but Rin...
A flash of dream-memory came to life in his mind, of Rin's fingers adjusting hair that fell only to her shoulders, and his spine prickled. He turned the picture over and read, in Hatori's precise script, "Three hours after admission. IV administered. Hair trimmed by nurse Hasegawa."
There weren't many more photos past that one, and none that were more revealing. Copies of charts referred to the stress-related pain she had suffered for years, and commented on her continued low weight, but there was little else. In the few pictures, her face and eyes stayed empty, the only sign of the final trauma that had broken her in ways that were impossible to measure.
Hatori returned not long after Haru had closed the file and set it gently on the desk. The doctor assessed him thoughtfully while he locked the information away again. "Did you find what you wanted in there?"
Haru turned away from the window and the soothing gray of the view it offered. "You said there were tapes?"
Entering the hospital at Hatori's side was an entirely new experience. The comparison was unfair; logically, Haru knew that he hadn't set foot in the place since the third or fourth time he'd tried to visit Rin and been unceremoniously kept from seeing her. The Sohma name might have power, but she was as capable of calling on it as he was, and the staff had been far more invested in her state of mind than his.
"Other than the tapes, there's nothing here you haven't seen," Hatori said as they walked, nodding briskly in reply to the bows and greetings directed at him. "Most of them aren't terribly interesting--she was too uncommunicative for audio recordings to do much good, and the general opinion was that recording her visually when she was responsive would be too invasive."
"Is that why you said I could see them?"
"I said you could see them to keep you from feeling that I'm holding out on you." Hatori stopped at a nurses' station and collected a key, opened a door immediately across the hall. "In here."
The small storeroom was full of tapes and CDs, all carefully labeled, but the apparent filing system made no sense until Hatori said, "They're in the process of digitizing some records. Isuzu's haven't been touched." He produced a second key from his pocket and opened a drawer in a small filing cabinet at the back of the room. "Pick which you want to look at, and I'll take you down to an A/V room."
Haru knelt carefully by the drawer, running his fingertip over the spines of the cases. They were largely identical, with Rin's name and the dates tidily noted in Hatori's now-familiar hand. Occasionally, other words followed: "responsive" was marked on a few, while others said less encouraging things. Some cases still had post-its attached, with more detailed notes written by nurses. "Non-stop crying," he read aloud as he turned one over. "Twelve hours, with recording interruptions."
"That was when her curse broke," Hatori said. "There should only be one or two more."
Haru picked up the last tape, one of the few videos, and frowned. "You didn't write on this one." The post-it was still firmly attached. "'New treatment? Sixteen hours.' You let them tape it when you--"
"No, I had the recorders turned off. Let me see that." Hatori took the tape and turned it over in his hands. "I haven't reviewed this one. Akito's orders were to treat Isuzu immediately, and afterwards I spent most of my time dealing with the result." He passed it back reluctantly. "The nurses said they had to keep her sedated for most of the time this was recorded."
It went on top of the pile Haru was assembling; balancing carefully, he straightened up and followed Hatori back into the hallway and down to a small room with tape decks and screens.
Some of the tapes went by quickly, fast-forwarded over hours of complete silence until some brief, empty exchange of words was made. They watched one of Hatori's interminable and fruitless sessions with her, and several of her erratic conversations with nurses, which clearly encouraged them. Haru supposed he could see why it seemed like progress to have her answer questions coherently, but when she spoke, the girl on the screen bore more resemblance to a marionette than his lover. At least in her silence he could recognize her.
Even the second-last tape showed very little. It had been turned off when Kureno visited, and no one had thought to turn it back on afterwards. Before that, the footage only showed Rin curled around herself, tears soaking into her pillow. "She was like that from the moment the bond released her," Hatori said softly. "The actual release wasn't recorded, which may be just as well."
"She looks different." Haru kept watching, listening for the faint sounds when she gasped for breath. "They just left her like that?" Hours of watching and listening had almost numbed the horror left by the images he'd seen in the morning.
"There wasn't much they could do at that point--there was no reason to think she was a danger to herself, and she's gone on record repeatedly saying she doesn't want to be sedated unnecessarily."
"'At that point'?"
Hatori leaned forward, wearily resting his elbows on his knees. "After I left that day, they did wind up sedating her. It's also when someone turned the camera back on." He nodded at the unlabeled videocassette.
"Which you didn't look at before 'treating' her."
"This is not a justification, but you know as well as I do how hard it is to disobey Akito's explicit orders. I altered Isuzu's memory as soon as I was able to make arrangements to move her somewhere safe. There was no time to do anything more."
The last tape was cued to the very end; Hatori rewound it with a small frown. "It looks as if the tape ran out and no one noticed." Back at the beginning, he fast-forwarded while closely watching the screen. "She was still sedated for the first stretch of time," he explained. Haru watched the counter in the corner, minutes and then hours speeding by with no apparent activity. When there was finally a sign of movement on the bed Hatori stopped it, rewound again, and began normal playback.
Rin's voice hit Haru like a physical shock--a piercing shriek of terror that hardly broke for breath. The room the tape showed was dimly lit, presumably in the hope that something resembling darkness would help her go to sleep; it was a decision Haru couldn't argue with, but he wished he could see more clearly. Hearing her was hard enough without leaving his imagination to fill in her expression.
It lasted only a few minutes before a trio of nurses hurried in, flipping the light on but blocking the camera's view with their bodies as they tried to calm her. All women, Haru noted--apparently the lengthy list of specific instructions for her care hadn't been altered. And they were clearly hesitant to drug her again, even when her cries changed to pleading that sounded irrational even to his ears, knowing what he knew.
"Hold her down," one of them said grimly, and they put actions to words, two of them pinning Rin's arms while the third began preparing an injection. Haru finally saw her face clearly as she struggled, her voice building back to a scream.
"He's going to kill me!" The desperation in the cry gave the nurses pause for a moment, staring at her in bewilderment; he remembered that they had probably treated her for weeks, if not months. "Don't let him, let me go, please, he's coming back to kill me--Tori-nii, don't--" The nurse with the needle was saying soothing things, but Rin showed no sign of hearing. Finally, when it was clear she couldn't be calmed, one of the women restraining her stretched her arm out and immobilized it.
For the moments it took to them to inject her, Haru was transfixed. Despite having seen her with IVs before--despite his willingness to let needles puncture his own skin--there was a horrific fascination to seeing it done to her. He belatedly registered that she choked out his name while it went in.
And then her screams were nothing but his name, punctuated with the same pleas: "Don't let him, please, Haru," over and over again, searing into his brain.
"Do you want me to turn it off?" Hatori asked.
Haru shook his head and continued staring numbly at the monitor until the sedatives kicked in and Rin slowly quieted, still sobbing his name. The nurses dispersed after gently rearranging her on the bed, trying to make her comfortable; one of them returned with an IV and did esoteric things to connect it to the needle in her arm. "To keep her from coming out of it," Hatori explained softly, and Haru nodded, unable to look away until the tape ran out abruptly and the image crackled into static.
"It's the only time she ever screamed for me." Cold certainty gripped him; he stared blindly at the blank screen, rubbing at his arms in a futile attempt at banishing the chill. "The only time, and I didn't hear her."
"The bond was already broken for her," Hatori said, and his voice made Haru turn to look. The doctor was unnervingly pale under his composed expression. "She was already..."
"I need to see it again," Haru whispered, and Hatori nodded and got to his feet. For the second time that day, a lock clicking into place told Haru that he was alone. He waited for several minutes before rewinding the tape, making sure he wouldn't be interrupted, and then quietly located a blank cassette in one of the cupboards and slid it into the recording deck.
"blow by blow
her mind cut
only wants to be unmade'"
--Tori Amos, "Carbon" (Scarlet's Walk)
"Can it be undone?" he asked on the way home, the dubbed tape tucked deep in his coat pocket.
Hatori drove for several minutes before answering. "'Undone'? No. I can't reverse the process and make her what she was."
"But can memories come back on their own? Look, I grew up with Momiji--there's no way he wouldn't've seen his mom more often if someone hadn't convinced him there was a damn good reason for him not to."
"Hatsuharu, you saw her--"
Exhaustion made it easy for anger to flare up; Haru's hands shook with it as he rounded on the older man. "Yeah, I saw her. And I heard her pleading with you not to do what you did." The car came to an abrupt halt at the side of the road as Hatori pulled over, provoking honks from other vehicles. "And you heard her begging me for help. If there's any chance in hell I can do what she wants, I'm going to. So tell me if it's possible to get her memory back."
Time seemed to slow to a crawl while Hatori stared past him; it took everything Haru had not to reach out and shake him. "She could never be what she was. Humans are wired to forget things; some of those memories can never come back to her. Others may surface as things she 'knows', but without the corresponding emotions. Do you honestly believe that's what she wants, or are you only desperate to have her with you again?"
"How bad would it be?"
"I have no way of knowing for certain. At worst, I would think... perhaps a permanent loss of a sixth of her suppressed memories, although it could be substantially better. But that level of memory loss due to physical causes would be considered serious brain damage."
"But right now she's missing all of it, and she doesn't even know!"
"She doesn't know there's anything wrong," Hatori said quietly. "What you're proposing means that she'd remember things that no one should have to, and know that there are permanent holes in her mind. Are you all right with that?"
"She always said she was all right because I was with her." The moment of rage had melted away, leaving him almost too tired to keep his head up; Haru slumped against the window, looking at the fog that was all that was left of the rain. "She wasn't all right at all. She was still broken and scared, and I didn't do everything I could for her. But she got out of bed every morning, Tori-nii, and she knew everything was a mess, and she still smiled at me. I don't know if that's enough for her, okay? And I know that a lot worse has happened to her since then. But I want her to choose. Not you. And not Akito."
"She can't just decide to remember, even if I let you see her."
"D'you know that for sure? If her memories are still--if Rin is still there, however deep you buried her--"
"In layman's terms, what I did was rewire her thought patterns to make her incapable of thinking about certain things." Hatori rolled down the window and took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. "If it took well enough, she may not even be able to retain your name if you say it to her, or make sense of things you say. She doesn't remember you because she can't think about you."
"'If' it took well enough?"
Hatori lit a cigarette and inhaled slowly, breathing the smoke out into the fog. "I don't have much experience with subjects who actively resist. Isuzu was too sedated to fight back consciously--" Haru shuddered "--but I'm not psychic. I can't do anything but observe results."
"So if I can make her think about me, maybe...?"
"There might be a sort of domino effect, if you can find a crack in the conditioning. Or maybe you'll do nothing but traumatize her and leave her with no way to deal with it."
Thin plumes of smoke from Hatori's cigarette drifted through the car, visible in the headlights of oncoming traffic; night was falling quickly behind the fog. Haru closed his eyes, not fighting the smell's reminder of Rin's nose wrinkling the first few times she noticed it lingering on Shigure's clothes, before she started associating it with him. He wondered what cigarette smoke made her think of now, if she still remembered Shigure's glee in provoking her or his knack for changing her anger to startled laughter. Scent is memory, a teacher had told him once, and the statement had stuck with him as few classroom lessons did.
He wondered whether Rin remembered that scents had once been clearer for her, when the Horse's heart beat in her chest.
"If I see her and it messes her up, can't you just make her forget again?"
Hatori left the question unanswered while he took a final lungful of smoke and stubbed the cigarette out. Haru waited through the prosaic sounds of a slow exhalation, the car window being raised, and a key turning in the ignition. As the engine sparked back to life, it almost swallowed the doctor's grim reply.
"Have it your way."
Once persuaded, Hatori was unstinting and efficient in making arrangements. Haru wondered how he justified going so totally against Akito's will, but made no comment; he remembered the odd flexibility of the bond, the fierce compulsion to obey god's explicit will combined with remarkable leeway when Akito was unaware of what was happening.
Four days later he found himself in Sapporo, armed with a cell phone, a week-long hotel reservation, and notes including Rin's contact information and class schedule.
You sent her further north? The Hokkaido region had barely crossed his mind as a possibility, given Rin's loathing of the cold.
I know someone who was able to quietly help with her admission to the college, Hatori had replied. I needed to send her somewhere where I knew she'd be in good hands while she stabilized. Officially, she was recovering from a severe fever but didn't want to miss any more classroom time than she already had.
The same person who had helped get Rin settled--Haru was unsurprised to discover that Hatori's contact had a Sohma grandmother--put a paper trail in place that, if anyone looked, indicated that Sohma Hatsuharu was considering attending the college once he finished high school, and was spending a few days looking around the campus out of curiosity.
Finding her wasn't the hard part; Hatori's warning to proceed cautiously was unnecessary. For once, Haru paid intense attention to his surroundings, learning the way from his hotel to the campus, and from there to the ordinary-looking building that Rin lived in. The campus itself was more difficult, laid out more whimsically than he was used to, but by the end of his first day of wandering he'd found most of the rooms indicated on her schedule.
It was easy enough to get help from the students; the Sohma looks and his hair drew attention even with most of his jewelry packed away. He was careful to ask only general questions about the school, but the third girl who stopped to ask if he was lost hesitated when he offered his name in response to hers.
"Sohma?" she echoed. Haru looked politely curious, trying not to betray the way his heart skipped. "One of my classmates has the same name as you."
"Hmm? What's he like? My family's not from around here."
"Well, she's a girl." She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Sohma Isuzu-san. She's quiet. She's got a pretty laugh. Well, everything about her is pretty." She cast an appraising look over him and grinned. "You sure you're not her brother or something?"
Haru made himself smile back. "Yeah, I'm sure about that."
"But that reminds me, has anyone showed you the club schedule? There's a dance class I'm in--she's in it too, that's why I remembered--and there's a lot of other stuff to do, too."
Dance. Intuition prickled down the back of his neck. "What kind of dance?"
Her eyes sparkled. "All kinds! It's nothing really formal, but we have guest teachers come in and show us their styles. Is it something you like?"
"I've danced some," he admitted, trying not to show the mix of emotions the words evoked. New Year's, and the bond burning so brightly he half-expected to see it glowing through his skin. Akito's hands on his face when he finished, her cheeks flushed with possessive pride. For a Jyuunishi, that was dancing; everything else paled in comparison, even the memory of Rin's lithe body pressed close to his on a dance floor, on the sole occasion when horrible weather had so thoroughly emptied the club they occasionally visited that they'd felt safe trying it.
If there's one thing Jyuunishi know how to do, it's dance. Together, she'd said once, before that night, prophesying the wonder of it. The two other couples dancing had been easy to avoid in the wide-open space, and Rin had laughed with pleasure, turning gracefully in his arms, outshining everyone else he'd ever seen moving on that floor as if she spent every evening of her life dancing.
The girl interrupted his memory. "You should come check it out while you're here, then. We meet up tonight and Thursday, if you're interested."
Haru scrambled for her name. "It wouldn't bother anyone, Suzume-san?"
She looked pleased that he'd remembered. "Not a chance--not so many guys come, so everyone'd probably be excited that you're showing interest." Her hand brushed his arm innocently, and he managed to smile instead of recoiling.
"Sure, I'll come. What time?"
None of it was enough time, in the end. What felt like a lifetime of loving her, weeks of missing her, and most of an afternoon to accustom himself to the idea of finally seeing her added up to not nearly long enough to still the shaking in his hands. It was almost comforting to know that he probably wouldn't wind up speaking with her, much as it hurt.
He dressed in the tamest clothing he had with him--all black, but no spikes or chains to set it off, much like everything else he'd brought--making sure he looked like an observer rather than someone wanting to participate. Arriving early, he had the chance to check out the small dance studio, with its single mirrored wall and well-worn sprung flooring. Barefoot, he explored the boards, learning the feel of it, and still managed to settle into a corner to watch before the room began to fill.
It was clearly a casual affair. Suzume saw him and waved, introduced him to some friends whose names evaporated as soon as they touched his ears. He had time to wonder whether she'd remember the coincidence of family names and try to introduce him to Rin, but then the evening's instructor began to organize the students--mostly girls, but there were indeed a handful of guys, and he was left alone to watch.
"Isuzu's coming," one of the girls said, when the instructor looked ready to start. "She's got a proj--"
"I'm behind on my project. Sorry, I lost track of time."
Haru almost flinched at the sound of her voice, out of breath but calm. Before he could decide whether to turn and look toward the door, or to wait for her to come in, she was in his field of vision, making a quick bow of apology, and taking her place in the room.
If he had imagined for a moment that his feelings for her were bound up in the curse, the sight of her blew the illusion away like seeds in a windstorm. Rin. It was all there--the hunger to feel her skin under his fingertips, to hear the surprise in her laughter, to be in her arms and have her in his, so tangled up in each other that every mood and heartbeat overlapped.
Her gaze skimmed past him without a flicker of hesitation or recognition.
For the first time since leaving Akito's side, he felt a specific absence in the deep parts of his soul, the dangling threads where he had been woven into the bond. One of those frayed pieces of himself had once been part of her, and that piece screamed for her.
He rested his forehead on his knees while the class started, half-listening to the first instructions of a warm-up while he pulled himself together. There was a good-natured warmth to the vibe in the air, a lack of competition; it reminded him of lazy summer classes at the dojo, when sparring was as likely as not to turn into careless roughhousing as soon as Kazuma gave up on drilling kata deeper into his students' bones. He looked up without focusing on anyone in particular, watching only the rhythm and flow of the class' movement.
When the hour-long class was up, his impression of Rin dancing was a mental collage of glimpses from the corner of his eye. Her hair was longer than in the photos he tried not to picture, but still short enough to be held back with clips; she was the only girl in the class whose outfit covered her back completely. And while every movement he saw her make was fluid and deft, it was only her jumps that marked her as starkly different from the people around her. Haru looked every time she left the ground, and since everyone else looked too, no one noticed his particular attention to her. The unusual strength the curse had built into her leg muscles was obviously still as much a part of her as his unnaturally-colored hair was of him.
He wondered if anyone else saw the dissatisfaction that flared in her eyes every time she landed a jump well--when she had room to improve, she simply tried again, but each success left her smile a little more brittle. Before he made himself look away the last time, Haru saw the confused frustration in the way she stared at her reflection, and his heart went out to her. Part of her still knew what dancing was supposed to be, and this--he could almost hear the sharp annoyance in what she wasn't saying--was not it.
Afterwards, he lingered just long enough to nod politely to Suzume before leaving, not wanting to risk Rin passing him by again without being able to reach out to her. He went straight back to his hotel room and lay down on the unfamiliar, too-large bed, where he fell asleep before he'd finished rereading her class schedule and comparing it to the map of the small campus.
If he dreamed about her, he didn't remember it in the morning.
Watching her over the next few days was almost alarmingly easy. Time and again her eyes settled on him, sometimes long enough for a puzzled look to cross her face, but the confusion melted away as soon as she looked elsewhere. After the first couple of times he found it so disconcerting that he began trying to avoid her attracting her notice at all.
It made it fairly easy to build a picture of her life. While she hadn't transformed into a social butterfly, there were several girls with whom she was obviously friendly--a few he recognized from the dance club, and others who lived in her building. She ate and studied in a common lounge, comparing notes with classmates, and he only once saw the subtle, telltale signs that her body was complaining about being forced to take in food. Overall, she looked healthier than he'd seen her since she'd entered adolescence, which made him smile inwardly.
Seeing her with her boyfriend, on the other hand, was both harder and easier than he'd expected. Itou Satoru's background checked out, as Hatori had said, and he was clearly infatuated with her. For her part, Rin blushed slightly when Satoru approached her, although she seemed comfortable with his casual touches; to all appearances, she was a somewhat shy girl going through her first love.
More than anything else Haru saw, that made her a stranger. There was nothing like it in their shared history--with him, even her occasional embarrassment or shyness had been a surface current running over their deep familiarity with each other. Seeing her sitting across the room beside Satoru made his chest ache, but it was more than jealousy that stirred the refrain in the back of his mind. That's not Rin. And in its way it was almost a relief, to see her simply content; it was the only time other than when she was immersed in her books that he didn't catch her hesitating at strange moments, reaching for something that eluded her.
Even he might not have noticed if he hadn't seen her dancing, but having clearly seen that hollow need in her eyes once made it impossible to miss afterwards, even from a distance. Her smiles were genuine, but she was incomplete. And she knows it.
With only two days left before his hotel reservation ran out, he found himself staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping, trying to weigh Rin's apparent happiness against a dissatisfaction he couldn't even be sure she recognized.
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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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 song "Carbon" by Tori Amos, found on "Scarlet's Walk".