Chapter Four: "In the Darkness of November" [4/6]
"and now I speak to you are you in there
you have her face and her eyes
but you are not her"
--Tori Amos, "Bells For Her" (Under the Pink)
It took him until late afternoon to find a chance to approach her away from her classmates, when she was sitting off by herself with a cup of coffee and a sketchbook. He sat down only a few feet away, closer than he'd been to her in almost a year. The proximity was enough that when she looked up and noticed him, her eyes didn't immediately skitter away. The now-familiar puzzled look settled on her face and stayed.
"Can I help you?"
Haru's skin prickled at her tone, at the lack of some subtle inflection that had always flavored her voice before. The question was only mildly curious, but her gaze was steady. "You're--" His own voice caught in his throat on the first try. "You're Sohma Isuzu-san?"
She looked over his shoulder and he winced, assuming she'd stopped registering him. But her attention came back at the same moment Satoru passed him and sat beside her, fixing him with a less than friendly glance. Rin gave him a quick smile and turned back to Haru. "That's me."
"You're the high school student who's checking the campus out?" Satoru asked, and Haru realized belatedly that Rin's obliviousness to his scrutiny didn't mean her boyfriend hadn't noticed. "I've seen you around the last few days."
Haru nodded. "Yeah. I'm here for a couple of reasons." He looked back at Rin, waiting until she met his eyes. "I'm Sohma Hatsuharu." Find a crack in the conditioning. Or make one.
"Pleased to meet you," she said automatically, with no change whatsoever to her expression--not even recognition of his family name. Beside her, Satoru blinked.
"You said 'Sohma'?"
"Yeah." Haru took a pen off the table and wrote the kanji on a napkin, turning it to show them. "Same as her." Rin reached out and touched it, not quite taking it, and he let go. "Is there somewhere I can talk to you? It's kind of important--family business." It was the only natural thing to say--every Sohma of their generation, raised within the walls of the Main House, knew what it meant. Jyuunishi business, and secret, and important enough to set aside arguments or annoyances until it was dealt with. Rin got up without hesitation, gathering her notes up into her book.
"We can go down by the studio. It's not being used tonight."
Satoru touched her arm as Haru stood too. "Isuzu, do you know him?"
"No." She stopped, blinking at the floor in bewilderment. "I don't, I just--he reminded me of--what's your name?"
"I think I should go with you," Satoru said, watching her lips shaping Haru's name, as if repeating it would make it stick. Rin nodded before Haru could think of a way to protest; he shrugged reluctant agreement and followed them, unable to avoid noticing the subtle possessiveness in the way Satoru glanced back at him as he took her books for her.
It's not like this doesn't affect him, Haru thought grudgingly. And it was probably helpful to have someone else there, making it harder for Rin's brain to simply filter him out.
The dance studio was dark, and Rin didn't go inside; instead, she ducked into an alcove and leaned back against the wall with her arms loosely crossed. "So you're--" For a moment she visibly blanked, shaking her head while her lips pursed in annoyance. Watching her notice and resist the block on her thoughts was enough to make Haru smile to himself; even more heartening was that she picked up on his relief. "--you're a distant relative or something?"
"Fourth cousin twice removed," Haru said automatically.
Rin stared at him, curiosity turning to polite skepticism. "Uh huh. That's pretty distant. Is this some kind of weird inheritance issue?"
"Then what inspired you to come looking for someone you haven't even met?"
"I'm looking for my ex-girlfriend."
"And you're here because... " She trailed off at the look on his face, and slowly paled. "Get out."
"I need to talk to you."
"You're obviously confusing me with someone else--"
"Sohma Isuzu," Haru said quietly. "You're nineteen. You grew up about eight hours from here, went to a private girls' school, had no close friends."
Satoru finally spoke again. "I think you need to leave."
"You left home to go to college, and here you are, with a far-away family you never think about, no friends back home to keep in touch with, and no memory at all of me."
"I told you to get out."
"The last few times you told me to get out, I did. But you won't remember that."
"Are you out of your MIND?" Anger flushed her cheeks, and for a moment it was almost his Rin looking back at him. Haru fell silent, staring at her: casually dressed, hoops in her earlobes, a few braids too short to be anything but decorative plaited into the hair around her face. Rin. But Rin as she might have been in another life.
He turned to Satoru, suddenly unable to look at her. "Do you have a good memory?"
The question clearly took him aback. "Average, I guess--"
"If I asked you, could you tell me about the day you left home? Or your birthdays? Or how you spent New Year's when you were growing up?" Haru closed his eyes. "How about you, Isuzu-san? Tell me something about New Year's. Anything. Tell me about your parents."
"I--what about them?"
"She doesn't like talking about her family," Satoru said, hurrying to Rin's side when the uncomprehending look started to settle onto her face again. Haru fought to keep his hands from clenching into fists.
"I'm not talking to you. Isuzu-san?"
"It's none of your business," she whispered.
"No? How about something else? Do you know what happened to make your ribs hurt when it's going to storm?" His voice roughened with anger of his own, directed at lies she couldn't remember telling. "Want to tell me about the scar on your back?" The stare she gave him in return couldn't have been blanker if he'd suddenly started speaking Cantonese. "How'd you get it?"
"I don't have--" She blinked in confusion, so obviously losing her train of thought that Satoru stopped glowering at Haru and shot her a concerned look. "I--what?"
"Why do you keep your back covered in dance class?"
"Because I don't like being cold," she replied after an uncomfortable pause. "I don't--I..."
"Have you ever seen her back?" Haru asked Satoru.
"Of course he--"
"Look, this is ridiculous," Satoru interjected, slipping an arm around Rin's shoulders. Haru took a deep breath, torn between jealousy and wonder. Another man was touching her. A man. Touching Rin. Chest brushing against her back, and her too far away from everything that had made her Rin to understand what it meant. "No, I haven't seen her back, not that it's any of your business. And if she does have a scar, what difference does it make?"
"You don't think it matters that she doesn't know about it?" Haru demanded, incredulous.
Rin interrupted him. "Hang on, I don't have amnesia or anything." She shifted her weight anxiously, glancing away. "I know who my parents are, I know--"
"You don't know that you've got a scar longer than my hand, that goes straight to the bone." He pushed harder when she winced, trying to take advantage of the fact that she seemed to be staying focused on what he was saying. "D'you even feel it when you wash your back, or do you just blank out when you touch it?"
"You were hypnotized and sent away so the family wouldn't have to deal with what happened to you, and so you wouldn't have to--they decided you weren't strong enough, so they ripped you apart and put you back together wrong--"
"You're saying you want me to remember something so awful that I forgot it?" The distance between them wasn't enough to hide how she was shaking; Satoru took her hand.
"Something bad enough that they made you forget it." Spoken aloud, the words filled him with dread. Secondhand images of what she had been like before the memories were suppressed swam through his mind. "They erased you, and--and part of this is easy to prove." He nodded at Satoru. "Just touch her back," Haru said. "You should be able to feel the scar she can't remember right through her shirt."
Satoru hesitated, looking down at Rin's fingers twined with his. "Isuzu...?" She shook her head helplessly, uncomprehending, and said nothing. "Where is it?"
"Diagonal across her right shoulder blade, almost to her spine." Haru's breath caught as Satoru gently freed his hand and touched Rin's left shoulder, brow furrowed in concentration. "Even if she keeps it covered, I don't know how you didn't notice--"
"She doesn't like having her back touched." Rin stood frozen while his fingers moved to the right side of her back, across the bones in her shoulder, and discovered the ridge of damaged tissue. "Oh, god," he whispered, and Haru's automatic antipathy for him went down another notch--Satoru showed no sign of recoiling, only a pained shock as he carefully traced the length of the scar.
Rin didn't look up until Satoru took his hand away. "Could you feel it when he touched it?" Haru asked. She nodded slowly, and for the first time he saw the beginning of belief on both of their faces. Shaking, she reached up and slid her hand down the back of her shirt, finding the top edge of the old injury.
"A year and a half ago you were hurt really badly." The vague explanation came to mind too easily, a reminder of his own willful ignorance of the details, and he shuddered. "You were in the hospital for almost two months."
Anger tinged her blank expression; Haru couldn't tell whether it was at his vagueness or her inability to find the memory she was obviously reaching for. "What happened?"
His mouth went dry at the thought of explaining. "Do you remember Akito?"
"Yes." She turned to Satoru and added, "The head of my family. I don't know him very well."
"Akito pushed you out of a second-story window." There was no way to soften the explanation--and, he saw, no need. She didn't so much as blink. Haru kept his eyes locked on hers, not looking away to see Satoru's reaction. "Listen to me. Remember Akito." Rin nodded. "Akito hurt you." A thought struck him. "D'you remember what Akito did to Tori-nii?" She nodded again, with only a trace of hesitation. "So you know Akito hurts people when they haven't done anything wrong, sometimes. And that's what happened to you."
She was following him so far. "What did he...?"
"You were pushed," Haru repeated. "Akito was angry at you, and it wasn't your fault, but--he--shoved you out a window. And you fell, and you were hurt for a long time."
"I fell." Her fingers were moving steadily over the top of the scar. "I fell?"
"Do you remember?" She shook her head, but her face was drawn with uncertainty. "I think it was one of the old storage buildings at the back of the Main House. Last July. I remember it being a sunny day."
"You remember it happening?"
"I--we all--got called afterwards. Shigure-sensei called to tell me you'd been hurt." He tried and failed to relax his hands. "Please, can I talk to you in private? I won't hurt you--I won't touch you at all. But I need to..."
"Need to what?" she asked when he faltered.
"I need to see if I can make you remember."
"You said you were looking for your ex-girlfriend." Satoru's voice startled both of them, tight with too many mixed emotions for Haru to do more than wince.
Rin took a deep breath and reached out to touch Satoru's hand. "I think maybe I should talk to him alone."
"Are you seriously comfortable with that? Isuzu, just because he says he knows things about you--" He hesitated, looking at her shoulder as if he could see through her clothes to what he'd felt. "--even if it's true, you don't have to--"
"I'm not comfortable," she said. "He's making my head hurt, but that's not normal. It's not normal that I can't make sense of half of what he says."
"Well, he's saying some crazy stuff--"
"I mean the actual words." She turned and stared at Haru, frowning. "There's something wrong in my brain. I've never had anything feel like this."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." There was steel in the single word, and Haru smiled faintly at it. "What?" she demanded.
"I don't think Tori-nii was counting on how stubborn you are."
"What does he have to do with..." Haru waited while she put the pieces together. "He knows about this--this whatever-this-is?" He nodded. "But I--"
"He thought it was the best thing."
"And now he's changed his mind?"
"You asked me to help you," Haru said softly. "So I came. It'd been so long since you asked anyone for help, and I wish you'd asked me months ago, or sooner, before everything got so messed up, Rin--"
"'Rin'," she echoed, hugging herself. "No one's called me that in a long time." She turned to Satoru without looking up to meet his eyes. "I'll call you later?"
"Sure," Satoru said, and Rin cringed at the dullness in his voice. He touched her shoulder instead of hugging her, and left without another word.
She stared after him until the sound of a closing door at the end of the hall drifted back to them, her fingertips digging into her arms. "Are these memories I'm supposed to be missing worth hurting somebody I care about?"
"I don't know how to measure it for you, but I know you didn't want to lose them."
"You 'know' because we had some kind of relationship?" she asked, her tone sharpening.
"I know because I've known you my entire life, and 'cause I saw the tape of you begging for it not to happen. It's not a few memories, Rin, or just bad stuff--it's your life. You. Things you wouldn't believe if I tried to tell you what you were."
"This is insane," she muttered, shifting her weight uncomfortably.
"Do you remember my name?"
"Hatsuharu." She stumbled on it, but it was the sweetest sound he'd heard in months.
"Only a couple of the adults call me that. It's just Haru when I'm not in trouble."
"Do you get in trouble a lot?"
"All the time. It--you didn't always like it, but sometimes you thought it was funny."
"Did it bother you?" Something in her voice changed, regret flavoring what had been abstract curiosity. "Haru?"
She understands why it matters. He shook his head, barely able to breathe through the hope tightening his throat. "I loved it when anything made you smile, even if it was just 'cause I was being stupid."
"You weren't...!" The flash of indignation caught them both by surprise; one of Rin's hands flew to her mouth, as if she could feel what had shaped the words. "You--I-I felt--" She stared at him in confusion, sudden terror shining in her eyes. "I don't like hearing you say that." She reached back over her shoulder and touched the top of her shoulder blade again. "Are you telling the truth?"
"Yeah." Fear mixed with anger had always made her intense and touchy; fear alone made her curl in on herself, left him aching to hold her. "Rin, I'm sorry. I just--I miss you, but it's more than that. I saw you the other night, when you were dancing--"
"You saw me?"
"I've seen you lots the last few days, and you never even noticed until I talked to you today. And you looked almost like you were happy, but I saw you." Find a crack. "Even without remembering it, you can feel something missing, can't you?"
"If you're telling the truth, shouldn't I feel like there's a lot missing?"
"Not your memories, something--it felt like you were dancing to look for something. Does it make you happy?"
"It frustrates me." Rin rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. "I'm not good enough."
"That's not it."
"Then what is it?" Half-sarcastic, half-pleading, she stepped towards him as she spoke, close enough that he could reach out and touch her. "If you know so much, what is it?"
"Tell me if I'm wrong," Haru said, staring into her eyes. "Not if it sounds crazy, just if I'm wrong." He waited until she nodded. "There should be voices--never loud enough to make out what they're saying, but enough that you're never quite alone--but instead it's always quiet even when there're people around you. Always, no matter what you do." She recoiled violently, bumping into the wall behind her. "And you dance because part of you knows you were born to do it, but you don't know when or what the dance is, so it's always wrong."
"Stop it." Her pupils were dilating strangely, darkening her eyes eerily while the rest of her face lost all color.
"D'you want to spend the rest of your life not even knowing what you're missing? You're not imagining it, and there's no one here who'll ever have any idea what it is."
"How do--" Barely a rasp, the question stuttering to a halt unasked.
"It happened to me too. I can't show you what your dance was, Rin; I saw it once, but it was yours. There'll never be anyone else whose body will do what yours did." A bitter smile twisted his lips. "You promised me once that you'd show it to me--just for me, that piece of you that was never meant for me, no matter how much I wanted it." Her expression was beginning to go slack; without thinking, he grabbed her shoulders. "Don't. I saw you fight it, I know you can--"
"Say my name." Urgency spilled out in his voice, channeled through his fingers; Rin winced and tugged against his grip.
"Haru," she whispered. "Hatsuharu." Her eyes snapped back into focus, frightened, and he let go; she blindly reached up to her shoulders, retracing the path of his hands with the same disbelieving hesitance with which she'd touched her scar.
"I can show you my dance," he said. "That's all I can do to tell you what it was, without you remembering a little."
"I'm scared." She flinched when he reached out instinctively, wanting to soothe the plaintive note away.
"I'm not touching you, okay?" He tried to make himself step back, to give her a little more room, and couldn't. The idea of voluntarily putting any more space between them made his stomach turn. "I'm not touching you. You can walk away if you have to, if you really don't want to know." Tears ran slowly down her cheeks as she looked at him. "I know it hurts, but please--please, please, let me do this. Even if it doesn't change anything, or mean anything to you, it's a promise I made.
"Let me dance for you. That's all. If you want me to leave you alone afterwards, let you think for a while, I will."
The offer hung between them while she stared at him and he tried to hold perfectly still. She was so close to bolting that the air was charged with it. Breathe, he chanted to himself, clinging to the memory of Kazuma's steady voice talking a class through ritual exercises. Breathe. One muscle at a time, he made himself relax, watching through half-lidded eyes while Rin's flight response gradually shut down.
"Okay," she said at last. "Come in here." He followed her into the small dance studio, blinking into its darkness before she turned on the bank of soft lights over the mirrored wall. Rin slowly locked the door behind them. "Show me."
Haru leaned over to unlace his boots, rolling his shoulders and the bones of his spine while he undid the knots. Each muscle in his body had its own message, varying states of tightness and relaxation; he didn't dare take the time to fully warm up, but he did what he could, aware of Rin's eyes following every movement.
Even uncursed, his own instincts felt the wrongness of what he was doing. The lack of ritual itched--there was a time and place for this, and his place in the cycle hadn't come around.
It'll never come again, he told himself fiercely, stripping his shirt off without letting himself look at her. He touched his jewelry uncertainly, remembering the bells woven into every Jyuunishi's clothing before they danced; after a moment, he set his necklace and rings aside, leaving only the plain collar at his throat and the studs in his ears. There's only this. The well-loved wood of the floor was almost soft underfoot, and the room's acoustics caught the sound of each footstep as he moved away from the wall.
He didn't look at Rin again until he'd knelt, facing toward her. She hadn't moved from her place by the door, and he remembered that, for her, the space had its own rituals and comfort. He gave her a quick nod of acknowledgment, and lowered his head to listen to the echoes still resonating inside his chest. The absence of sound and the shape of the void held the memory of what had once been among his most primal instincts.
The Ox was gone, but his body remembered the dance like long-worn clothing carrying the imprint of the wearer's shape.
Remembering, he moved.
It had been three years since his sole performance of the dance that embodied the Ox's joy in the bond to its god. Alone in his skin, the experience was keenly different: he was fully attuned to every change that time's passage had made to his body, the ghost of animal instinct murmuring that he was stronger now than he might ever be again. The pleasure of testing his own strength in karate was magnified into a pure, uncomplicated delight as he moved through the steps that no one living knew but him.
A corner of his mind felt the lack of Akito's gaze on him, but Rin's attention--riveted, undiluted--more than made up for it. If there was loneliness in the Ox's absence, there was also joy in knowing he could offer every movement, a part of himself that had never before been his to give, to her without reservation.
He danced the tale of god's invitation, of accepting it, of a solid, unquestioning love born in an unending celebration. Every touch of his foot on the ground was steady and sure, reflecting the Ox's connection to the earth; it held nothing of the impossible speed and lightness of the Horse's dance, seemingly performed half in the air, but it was dense with a different grace, a power rooted deeply in the wood underfoot, in the stone and soil further below.
It ended in a position that hinted at submission, that was brutally hard to hold but easy to shift out of; the trust in it was implicit, as clear as the fact that no one but him could keep him there. Haru held it, half-remembering the sound of bells at his wrists and ankles chiming softly into silence, half-focused on Rin's presence. Every muscle trembled in his sudden stillness, as if the weight of the sweat on his skin was almost too much to bear. He heard Rin take one step towards him, and another.
He didn't look up when she stopped in front of him, barefoot out of respect for the dance floor; it was a strange thing to look only at her feet, to have the sudden certainty that he could recognize her by them alone, that he knew her arches and sharply-defined Achilles' tendons and fine-boned ankles almost as well as he knew the fit of her hips in his hands.
He tilted his head back only when she spoke. "I've seen that before." He nodded. "But I've never--not like that, I can't have."
"It was different for you."
Rin walked around behind him, stopped, and stood facing him again. "Your back," she said, frowning uncomfortably. "The Ox. And that was what I was thinking of while you were dancing...?"
"It's the same. It's what I was."
"It was going to be my turn soon." Color tinged her cheeks as she glanced at him and away, hugging herself. "Wasn't it? I feel... jealous, I think?"
"This time it would've been Aya-nii. The next year would have been yours." Haru finally let himself relax into a more natural position, still kneeling in front of her, entranced by the uneasy way she shifted her weight.
"I danced once." Each word came slowly, dragged from somewhere that didn't want to give it up to her. "Once. Were you there? There were people watching me. Lots of people? I can't see them. Only Akito."
Haru remembered the way the world fell away during the dance, leaving nothing but Yuki's ritual handing-off of the year, those few minutes when they moved together, and then only his own breath and movement and Akito's exultant smile. "Only Akito," he agreed, cringing inwardly at the thought of his last contact with her. "But I saw you. I was six. You were--" Beautiful. "--eight."
"maybe you'll leave the light on
just in case I like the dancing
I can remember where I come from"
--Tori Amos, "Mother" (Little Earthquakes)
She is eight years old, almost too young to perform her Year's dance--some of the maids cluck disapprovingly while they craft her clothing--but so many of the Jyuunishi are so young, now, that an exception is made when she asks for it. Hiro is a toddler, too small to dance for either of the following years; three years would be too long to wait for a full ritual performance of the banquet tradition. And she wants it, wants to show them the Horse surging under her skin, wants to share in the warm light of the bond instead of the fetters of the curse.
She doesn't understand until she begins, body following a rhythm it knows as well as breathing, and by then it's too late to stop. Too young, but she dances every step flawlessly, drowning in the tide of her own blood. They offer her food when she's finished, and she takes nothing, not even water. Instead she sits by Shigure, who casually guards her silence with his own banter, and waits for the ancient spirit inside her to settle back into a restless slumber where "Sohma Isuzu" is little more than a dream it conjures to pass the time.
"You saw me," she echoed, and Haru's pulse abandoned the idea of slowing down. Still flooded with the adrenaline of the dance, he shook when she reached out towards him. "There was a spirit that wasn't me, using my body--"
"Sharing it. It was with you before you were born." Her hands moved near his head, disturbing only the air between them. "You were born under the Sohma curse."
"Possessed by the vengeful spirit of the Horse." Rin said it so unsteadily Haru wondered if it meant anything to her. "So no one touched me. And you're here with the mark of the Ox on your back." Fingertips brushed his face and lingered. "It wasn't there before…?"
"You had it done without me?" The possessive undercurrent that surged up was sharp and hungry under the tremor in her voice. Mine, it whispered, clearer than the words.
Ohgodpleaseyes. Language every Jyuunishi knew, reached for and recoiled from. "Yes."
Blood wells up and is wiped away from the green ink that changes Haru's arm into something unfamiliar; it's gone so quickly that she barely registers it, but the angry red skin around the new pattern makes her queasy. It's hard to imagine it healed, to wrap her head around its permanence.
The look on his face scares her, eyes intensely focused on something she can't see, breathing steadily through his mouth. She stays as close to him as she can, holding on; it's far too late to ask him not to go through with it, to do anything but keep her hands on him and feel the excitement pooling in his muscles.
Everything else is in my genes or from the curse, he said before they went in, ruefully running his fingers through his hair. I want to control my body, you know? Decide something about it for myself.
She doesn't know, but his response to it is familiar--the glassy sheen in his eyes is disconcertingly like his expression in the throes of arousal. Seeing it in front of a stranger knots her stomach and quickens her pulse, all at once; she leans forward and kisses him, reclaiming the look that should belong only to her.
She wasn't his god. Her touch couldn't reach the ache in his chest that craved Akito's response to his offering. But she was touching him, fingertips awkward on his cheek, her eyes bright as fire as she stared down at him. "I--I don't--"
"Please remember me," he breathed. "Please come back, Rin--it's all still there somewhere."
"I feel like I should know you." Her eyes focused on his hair, taking in the distinctive coloring. "Like I met you once, a long time ago."
"I've held you through more nightmares than I want to think about." Memory tightened his throat. "I've been inside you." A fresh blush started spreading across her cheeks, but he made himself hold her gaze. "D'you want details? I've had my mouth on every inch of your body, and I remember it all."
"Stop it," she whispered, but her eyes were locked on his.
"I was your first lover, and you were mine."
Under the color in her cheeks, her face went eerily still; Haru shivered, leaning into her touch while her eyelids drifted shut. Her fingers slid down under his jaw, cradling his head. "Ohh," she whispered, head lolling slightly to one side. The change settling into her body was subtle and lovely, robbing him of breath even before she looked at him again. Shared secrets lurked in her eyes, a reminder of the months when they'd hardly dared glance at each other in public for fear of betraying themselves.
Her kiss caught him off guard, the warmth of her breath on his cheek the only warning he had before her mouth was on his. Hesitant and uncertain, it was more of a question than a caress; he could almost feel her trying to map it onto whatever memory had run through her.
Hands clenched on his shoulders, and then she was settling onto his lap, alive and warm, pressing against him in a way that made his head swim. Haru caught her by the hips, pulling her down into a second kiss that had him hard and pushing against her before he had time to think. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of her gasps, keenly aware of the few layers of cloth keeping him out of her. When she slid back a few inches down his thighs, he almost pulled her back.
"I left you, I remember--" Haru looked at her, at the sudden shock whitening her face, and made himself relax his grip on her.
"Do you remember why?"
"Does it still matter?" Rin made a low sound of anguish that sent a sympathetic shudder down his spine. "You don't have to--" Her mouth on his interrupted him--her body was electric, every possible inch pressed close.
"I thought I was a virgin." She ran her hands over his back, skin on skin, dizzying him. "I..."
"Trust me, you're not." He laced his fingers behind her neck and kissed her, rubbing his thumbs against the pulse points in her throat. "You know you're not."
"No," she breathed, a strain of confusion in her voice that he identified and forgot as she returned the kiss with a need that matched his, as if a part of her mind had been waiting as long and desperately as he had.
Don't push her, don't make her feel like she has to do anything... The warnings he chanted to himself barely kept him from sliding his hands under her clothes, pushing things further--anything to close the distance between them. Anything to remind himself of how it had felt to be locked in the Jyuunishi bond with her.
"Look at me," he said when she buried her face against his neck. She shook her head, still shifting herself hungrily on his lap; she didn't look at him or pull away, and he tried not to think about what that meant. "Rin," he whispered, her name melting like smoke on his tongue. "Rin, Rin, Rin," in time with their bodies' movements against each other, her mouth working against his throat with a skill that no amount of instinct could account for.
"If everything is just the way it should be
Why am I
why am I still hungry?"
--Sarah Fimm, "Be Like Water" (A Perfect Dream)
She is seventeen, has been his lover for long enough now that she no longer blushes when she thinks about it, long enough that they are becoming comfortable in bed together, sharing laughter with their kisses. She's beginning to understand not only how deep the violent streak he tries to bury actually runs, but how much gentleness is under it, under all the layers of control and loss of control.
She is not yet used to how much power her touch has over him, how she can make him tremble with a kiss, how beautiful--she loves whispering the word to him, watching him laugh--he looks lying under her. It intoxicates her, tangled with wondering whether he'll move and turn the tables on her, or let her keep him there until she's taken what pleasure she wants from him.
Sometimes she tries to imagine sharing this connection, this secret language of perfectly-placed touches, with someone who hasn't shared her entire life. In the safety of Haru's arms, she examines the idea with vague horror before cuddling back against his familiar warmth. "No one else," she whispers, trying not to rouse him from his light doze. "No one but you."
She pushed away from him with no warning, huddling in on herself as soon as their bodies weren't touching. "Haru," she whispered. "You're Haru. I r-remember you being a little kid, and when you started high school, and when you got your mom to teach you to make ohagi because I liked it--" The choked sound that broke the flow of words made him cringe. "But it sounds strange when you say my name, and I have a project due in four days that I need to finish--it's been years since I cared, but I care, I want to do well. And this hurts, and I..." She trailed off, burying her face against her knees. "I just cheated on my boyfriend."
Haru flinched, and she shook her head as if she'd seen. "I've never done anything but kiss him. I thought--I really like him. Kind of a sweet crush, you know?"
"No," he whispered.
"...I guess not. It's a nice feeling." Tears streamed unheeded down her cheeks. "It's not like this."
He didn't dare touch her, with his nerves so attuned to her. "I'm sorry."
"You said I asked you for help?" There was no blame in the question, only heartache. "I don't understand how...?"
"There was an echo of you in my head. Sometimes I dreamed about you and it was just dreaming, but sometimes--after the curse broke--it was like you were still there. Connected just a little. And then Tori-nii showed me the tapes from the last time you were in the hospital--"
"You keep talking about tapes...?" Rin lifted her head, wincing as if the dim light hurt. "I don't remember. What time?" She pressed her hands over her eyes with a soft moan. "I don't remember. My head's too full of empty space to let everything in. It's too heavy."
"Tapes from before he made you forget. Before your curse broke." She hid her face again, fingers scrabbling at her legs. "What do you remember?"
"Nothing." She stirred restlessly, tracing the floor's grain. "I--things are coming, but it's not enough."
"It broke you," Haru said. "Something finally broke you, and Tori-nii thought it was the right thing to do what Akito wanted. But I saw the tape, and you were begging me to stop him. I didn't know. He didn't know."
"I don't remember."
"Would--" he paused and licked his lips, unsure what to do. "Do you want to see it? I made a copy. Tori-nii doesn't know."
"I don't know." She got to her feet and began to pace, running her hands over her ribs and arms and wincing. Haru stayed where he was, afraid of spooking her. It was too easy to imagine her running out into the night, with fragments of memory reassembling themselves. Watching her was dizzying; she moved as if she might fall at any moment, somehow graceful even as her balance crumbled.
"Rin, we can't stay here," he ventured. "Would you feel safe at your place?"
"I'm going to fall apart." She came to an abrupt stop only a few feet away, crouching down in a shaking ball. "Haru, I'm going to come apart, please...?"
His muscles protested at moving after holding still for so long. "Can I touch you?" He knelt beside her until she nodded, her nails digging into the sides of her arms. "Okay. I'm gonna help you up, and we'll go back to your apartment." Another nod, and he half-lifted her to her feet, taking most of her weight against his side; she whimpered, but didn't pull away. "What're you remembering?"
She said nothing until he'd led her to the door, where she slipped her shoes on mechanically and stood clinging to the edge of the barre that ended at the doorway. Haru let her go cautiously, yanking his shirt on and letting his fingers lace his boots without his attention. "I can't sleep," she said, touching her head, enunciating the words as carefully as a drunk feigning sobriety. "I can't sleep. You've been gone since New Year's and I know you're fine, you're always fine, but I miss you." Haru straightened up and wrapped his arms around her without thinking. "I wish they'd let you stay with me again. There's a nurse who keeps coming to check on me and she walks too loudly and it hurts when she takes my blood. I don't want to be by myself anymore." Her voice dwindled, as dead and tremulous as autumn leaves. "I want Mama to come back."
"I'll take you home, okay?" he asked, and she stiffened, frowning as if she didn't understand the question. "Back to your apartment. Do you have your keys?"
"Don't leave me by myself!" Panic gouged her nails into his arms. "Don't, it's getting worse, I'll drown--"
"I won't leave you. Rin, shhh, I wouldn't leave you." He kept an arm around her shoulders and helped her out of the studio, taking her keys when her hands shook too hard to lock the door. "Can you walk? I'll carry you if you can't--I don't mind--but people'll notice more if I do." He silently promised an offering of thanks that the place Hatori had found for her to live was so close to the edge of campus they were on; she walked when he did, but it was awkward.
Once on the street, passing students politely avoided staring. From the few murmurs he overheard, he realized that they thought Rin was thoroughly intoxicated. It was a reasonable enough assumption, with the way she was leaning against him, and her hands in constant motion between her temples and the sides of her arms.
Only one person intercepted them--a girl Haru thought he might have seen talking to Rin the day before, who took one look and came to a halt in front of them, fixing him with a warning look. "Is she okay?" Before he could answer, she touched Rin's cheek. "Isuzu-san, what's wrong?"
Rin looked up, blinking rapidly. "Cats make me nervous. They always want--want to be petted, but I'm scared to. He didn't understand that he was supposed to hate us." The other girl stared at her in confusion. "I'm not feeling well," she added, somewhat unnecessarily.
"Are you in class with her?" Haru asked. "If she's not better tomorrow, can you tell her teachers that she's sick?"
The girl eyed him, still suspicious. "I don't know who you are."
"He's from home." Rin rubbed her eyes, shivering. "I've known him since he was born." She turned and pressed her face against Haru's shoulder. "I can't think. You got in trouble for fighting on your last day of middle school, and your mom got angry 'cause she thought they wouldn't let you into Kaibara, and you smiled when you told me."
"She was paying attention," he said softly. "I remember too. Come on, you'll feel better when you get home." I hope. He nodded at her friend and started walking again, guiding Rin carefully; her eyes were squeezed completely shut, as if she couldn't bear looking at the world.
"I don't want to forget this," she whispered when they were in sight of her apartment building. "I like it here. Is everything pouring into my head going to push this out?"
Haru pulled her keys out of his pocket, trying to guess which of them would let them in. "No." She reached out and touched one of the keys, and he slid it into the lock. "Tori-nii said you'd remember everything that's happened since then--things might move around a little to fit together."
"No wonder my head feels seasick." She sounded so shaky and miserable that he picked her up as soon as they were inside the building, letting her burrow against his chest while he figured out where to go. There were only two keys left that he hadn't used; the second one opened the door to her apartment, and he hesitated on the threshold. Rin laughed weakly when she noticed. "You tore my mind open, and now you're worried about coming into my home?"
He stepped inside and set her down, guiltily glad that she kept leaning against him while he closed and locked the door. "I live here," she said, with a quiver of uncertainty, and Haru took it as permission to look around. The layout was familiar from things he'd seen on TV--somewhat larger than most students might expect, if small to a Sohma's eyes. The main room held her futon and a kotatsu with little space to spare, but her knack for detail showed in the ways she'd stored things around the furniture, and he could catch a glimpse of a kitchen through a separate doorway. She had few enough things that there was no impression of clutter, only a casual artistry. "Tori-nii said I could move after a couple of months if I wanted, but it's my space, even if the family--" She cut herself off and stepped away from him, unsteadily making her way to the open futon. "Glad I was lazy this morning," she muttered, curling up on it with a grateful sigh.
Haru knelt down beside her, touching a loose lock of her hair. "Don't feel weird about the family paying for it," he said. "The whole clan together isn't rich enough to pay back what it owes you."
"I forgot." Anger flushed her cheeks. "I remembered that we had money, but I forgot--my whole life, knowing I could have anything I wanted, as if it'd pay for being cursed." She pressed her palms over her eyes, gritting her teeth. "You said you brought that tape? Can you show me now?" Haru hesitated, and she added, "It's still getting worse. I want to see it while I can still think."
"You sound better than you did outside," he said, confused.
"My body's not cooperating." Rin rolled onto her back, shuddering. "I was paying too much attention to walking. And now I remember Tori-nii's memory trick." She turned her head slowly to look at him. "I thought I was going crazy for no reason." Uncertainty laced her voice; he leaned over and rested his forehead against hers, watched her eyes flickering open and closed, so close that her lashes tickled his cheek. "I can feel what's going on, but it hurts, there's so much pressure in my skull."
He kissed her without thinking, grazing his lips against her temple, and she stiffened. "Sorry, I know you're--"
"I'm waking up," she whispered. "I wasn't lying to him, was I? But I don't know how my entire life ever fit into my head, I don't know how much of what I've been here was me."
"What does it feel like?"
"Did you ever make yourself change shape?" Before he could answer, she turned back onto her side, pressing her face against a pillow. "Without a trigger?"
"No," he said in surprise. "Could you?"
"It feels like that time. I needed to be human, and my horse shape felt like the heaviest thing in the world, but my--this body took its place anyway. It was the only time I ever felt like I had two bodies, or like the horse wasn't me, just for that second, and I was both but I could only be in one skin at a time." She caught her breath with a gasp. "This makes no sense, I'm sorry, I just--"
"'s'okay." Haru stroked her hair, shivering at the tension that flowed into his palm. "I've got a year of not hearing your voice to make up for."
"Feels like--like I only have to look at a few things at once if there's something outside to focus on." Her hand came to rest on his thigh as she pushed herself up onto an elbow, wincing. "Show me?"
There was a small TV set in a corner, unobtrusively combined with both a VCR and a DVD player. He rescued the tape from his pocket, taking the chance to tuck his coat and boots away in the entryway, and set it up before he could second guess the offer to let Rin see it. He turned back after hitting play, and caught her outstretched hand, helping her sit up. She slumped against his side when he knelt back down, her eyes fixed on the screen, and said nothing else while it played.
The only sign that she was registering what she saw and heard was the way her trembling intensified, until it was almost painful to touch her while imagining how her muscles must feel. By the end of the tape, she was doubled over, shaking as if the recorded screams were coming out of her mouth; her total silence made it something out of a nightmare. He didn't need to try reading her lips in the faint light from the TV to know that they were shaping his name over and over, echoing the tape rather than in sync with it.
Her voice came back when the screen went blank, a strangled whisper that went straight through his guts, leaving a trail of nausea in its wake. "They drugged me." It was impossible not to flinch back from her utter horror. "They held me down and drugged me, so I knew what was coming and I couldn't even scream anymore."
"I knew you couldn't hear me." Tears finally began to spill down her cheeks; Haru tried and failed to wipe them away. "It was all gray, and Tori-nii came, and I wanted you to be there to hold me while I died. I died. Everything in my mind went away one piece at a time and I couldn't hang on, and you weren't there."
"I'm here now," he said, pressing his face against hers. "I know it's not enough, but please--come back, Rin, I'm here, I'll be here for as long as it takes. I won't leave you alone." Never again, as long as you need me. "You're safe. Let go. Let it come back."
"But it--" She moaned in the back of her throat, shaking her head against his cheek.
She is nine years old, curled up in a tight ball around her favorite doll, too badly in need of comfort to straighten out and ease the pain in her side. The night has disappeared somewhere, without benefit of sleep or tears, and her father stands over her. "Get up. You can't be late for school." The day before, her mother woke her with a kiss. Today, Isuzu stares up at her father without comprehension, trying to reconcile "school" with the ruin of her world; when he says her name like it's something filthy, she recognizes the threat and forces herself out of bed. Her side hurts with every movement, but nothing is broken; she can stand, and dress herself, and walk. In her mind, she throws her name away with the broken shards of the plates from last night's supper.
"--it hurts, Haru, please--"
There was no strength in her arms when they went around him, but he answered the wordless plea, crushing her against himself as he hadn't dared earlier. He let himself fall back onto the futon, pillowing her head with his chest; for a small eternity she was rigid, and then her control disintegrated so violently that he felt nothing but awe that she'd been able to hold back the sobs that were tearing through her body.
He closed his eyes and tried to focus only on the present, to banish the spine-chilling way she'd screamed his name on the videotape that was still in her VCR back into the recesses of his mind.
"It's dark, it's dark, and I'm sorry..."
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.
Comments and criticism welcomed at the above address.
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 "Take Me With You" by Tori Amos, found on "The Piano: A Collection".