Chapter Five: "The Lost and Unchosen" [5/6]
Memory spins through her mind like a constellation coming to life, moments vying for attention with the flickering brilliance of stars. Before they shatter into pieces--some recognizable, others too far off to make out; still more dying, unsustained--she is herself, outside of time, every breath of her existence drawn at once.
The Jyuunishi bond sings its song around her, running between her fingers like water, between her ribs like a blade, between the cells that compose her flesh. For the first time in her life she exults in it, and mourns the loss of something that had aspired to eternity and caught her in its snare. But for this instant it is more than memory, living on in the parts of her life that have passed. Together forever. Broken, but not gone until the last of them has passed into dust, and the earth itself binds them together again.
She dimly feels Haru's arms tighten around her when she cries out, rooting her in the present where her body breathes and shudders under the weight of her life.
"It's gone," she choked. Underneath their weight, the futon creaked in protest as she pushed against him, bringing her hands to her face. Haru kept his own hands on her shoulders, watching; there was something grotesque about the grace in her movements. Ripped out of the fabric of myth and impossibility that they'd been born into, he saw the unnaturalness of the curse's birthright. Rin twisted beside him, in a way that made her bones look as if they were on the verge of splitting out of her skin--he could almost imagine the horror of a literal shapeshift, of a body collapsing and stretching into a new form--and somehow it was still beautiful. "It's gone. I can't hear anyone. Can't feel you."
"It'll be okay," he replied, for what felt like the hundredth time. Her hands flew from her face to his, tear-damp palms molding themselves to his cheeks, thumb against his lips to silence him.
She is five years old, and Shigure has brought her home with her knees and his palms scraped after a minor accident involving an out-of-reach bough of sweet plum blossoms. "Rin-chan's fine," he tells her mother, rubbing an unbloodied knuckle proudly along the part in Isuzu's hair. "Just a little scratched up. She didn't even cry." Later, not for the first or the last time, Isuzu hears her mother complaining to her father that Shigure's joking name for their daughter is going to stick.
She is eighteen, and her name is the only thing Shigure says to her that doesn't hint at secrets or amusement. "I named you," he says one afternoon while she sits in a sunbeam, half-drunk on the silence, the unfamiliar freedom from demands on her thoughts. "Does that make you mine? How many pieces can you divide yourself into?" She imagines herself dissolving into grains of sand, being washed away by the sea, and smiles.
She is eleven, and no longer has to consciously think about how best to move when things are broken under her skin. Her body has become something that hurts constantly, and she pays it no more attention than she would an unwanted alley cat trying to follow her home.
There is a week when she and Kyo are both under Kazuma's roof and refuse to say a word to each other. Kyo might not hold grudges that aren't against Yuki, but Rin does, and he has no patience for her sullenness. Kazuma drives them to speech by maintaining a silence of his own, utterly devoid of anger, which neither of them can bear. He sips tea and listens with amusement when they finally start bickering again.
Haru is almost fifteen when he kisses her--she remembers it that way, has to think to remember her own age, and can't quite bear to think "fourteen" even as it happens. It's easy to block it out, with his new height and hands that are more a man's than a boy's.
She is in Tohru's arms, the first time anyone but Haru has held her since... She doesn't think about it, can't think about it, but the strangeness isn't in the unfamiliarity of the embrace. The difference is that Haru was hers, comforting her through an intimacy so deep she could never imagine holding anything back from him. Through her tears, she tries to understand how a stranger's hands can comfort her through instinct alone.
Listening to Rin cry made him ill, but it was worse when she fell silent, her head shaking back and forth against his shoulder until he tilted her chin up and looked at her face. With only moonlight to see by, he could still make out the constant, minute workings of her muscles as they tried to form a recognizable expression. "Rin." Her eyes snapped into focus, but she was gone again before he could react.
He held her closer when she shivered, whispering endearments and reassurances until he ran out of words, chanting meaningless syllables after she protested his helpless silence with a whimper. From time to time she tried to claw at herself, as if opening her skin would let the rising memories flow out of her like water; the first time, he pinned her wrists until she quieted, and let go again. The second time he kept his grip even after she went still, waiting for the telltale shift in her muscles.
She is six the first time she transforms, that she can remember. One of the younger servants, unused to the breakneck speeds she can reach when she runs all out, accidentally gets in her way during a game of tag. It's precisely the reason why access to the Main House is so restricted; she collides with him and changes, so quickly she hardly knows what's happened. There is nothing strange or uncomfortable about her body, suddenly four-legged instead of two. The servant bows and stammers apologies for his touch, as if it's somehow contaminated her, and the children she was playing with are dumbfounded at the manifestation of the family curse, but she is safe. One of the older maids takes her aside and dresses her when she reverts to human form, and delivers a perfunctory lecture on being more careful, but Isuzu is distracted by her own mixed feelings. After a lifetime of being called "cursed", however respectfully, and of having only intangible evidence, it's almost pleasant to have physical proof that she is different, that the strict boundaries on her life have meaning.
Thirteen now, her bones aching with an oncoming storm, and Haru slips his hand into hers. Anyone looking might assume it's her comforting him--she's grown enough recently that the age gap between them is obvious--but the gentle squeeze on her fingers soothes her like a mother tucking blankets closer around a sleeping child. She doesn't yet suspect how she loves him--will love him--but already it feels perfectly natural and desperately wrong.
In her dreams, her human and animal shapes are fluid and interchangeable--she has hands to lift things, and hooves to carry her when she wants the wind on her face. Dreaming, she knows herself to be a vessel of flesh for something immense and glorious, and never wonders at the strangeness of the Horse's spirit being bound up within the heart of a frail human girl.
Without a watch it was hard to gauge time's passage, but the moonlight had spread from a thin beam at the edge of the window to a wide swatch of silver across the futon by the time Rin began to quiet, sobs punctuated by sounds of lesser pain as she rubbed at her eyes and throat. "I'll get you some water," Haru said softly after she'd curled up on her side, pillowing her head on her own arm, and she nodded.
He didn't switch a light on in the kitchen; his eyes had adjusted well enough to the darkness that he was able to find a glass and fill it without fumbling around too much. He drained it himself, swallowing slowly to let the water quench the burning ache in his throat, and refilled it. Halfway back to Rin's side, he belatedly remembered how long it had been since they'd taken their easy familiarity, the automatic willingness to share drinks and utensils, for granted.
Well, it's not like we weren't making out earlier. He knelt beside the futon again, touching her face. "Rin. Drink this."
She propped herself up so unsteadily that he held the glass to her lips instead of giving it to her; her hand closed over his, offering weak guidance while she drank. "More?"
"Sure." Another refill, another trip across the moonlit room, his eyes darting to the unfamiliar shadows of her furniture and artwork. She didn't finish the second cup of water; when she lay back down, Haru carefully moistened his fingertips with the remainder and wiped them across her tear-stained cheeks, a few cool drops at a time.
"Come back," she whispered eventually, not opening her eyes. "I can't--I can't stand being so alone." He set the glass aside and lay down beside her again, stealing an unused pillow to ease the ache in his neck. "Touch me?" His breath hitched, the lucidity of the request ripping away his ability to ignore that he was lying in her bed for the first time in over a year, pressed closer than he'd dared think about.
She kissed his shoulder when he didn't respond, her tongue moving across his collarbone. "Haru." It wasn't an invitation. They had given themselves too completely to each other for him to mistake it for anything but a demand--one he had never refused, only delayed occasionally for the pleasure of watching her turn fierce with need. The way her voice changed under his touch was one of his private joys: the soft, breathy moans that deepened into a sound that electrified his spine. Almost a snarl, as if the spirit that shared her body with her--with them--had fangs and claws.
Touch me. Her hands were warm on his hips, but her mouth was warmer, wordlessly tearing at the wall she'd forcibly put between them a lifetime ago.
"and keep your eyes on her
keep don't look away
keep your eyes on her horizon
on her eyes
on her horizon"
--Tori Amos, "Carbon" (Scarlet's Walk)
She isn't quite seventeen when she gives Haru her body. For all her fear, it's an easy choice; he has her heart already, and her troublesome flesh is better off in his hands than hers. She marvels at the look on his face when he moves inside her, astonished that the skin and bone that only cause her pain can give him so much pleasure.
It's a wonder, too, when he learns to give it back to her, but it's not the fleeting bliss and forgetfulness that reduce her to amazed tears. In his arms and kisses, tangled in sleep or lovemaking or playful wrestling matches that he sometimes lets her win, she finds herself at home in her skin. Slowly but inexorably, he returns her body to her, makes her possess it again, makes her care for it, if only to avoid the distress in his eyes when her health falters.
Rin squirmed in his arms, trying to pull him closer, and succeeded only in grinding her body against his. Haru gasped at the feel of her, concentrating desperately on the way her sheets twisted in his grip. She sobbed under him, fingers digging into his back, and he stared at her tears, focusing on the raking pain from her nails. "Rin, don't, I can't--" A lie; his body didn't care that she was obviously in no shape to decide what to do. For the second time that night he was so hard it hurt, pressed up between her legs, feeling her arching and straining against him. The stimulation, and the rich smell of her skin saturating the air, were enough that it would be easy to just let himself climax, to worry about the embarrassment and lack of clean clothing afterwards.
"Akito told me--" Their god's name sounded strange in her mouth, as if she was pronouncing a foreign word she didn't fully understand. She shivered, her lips awkward on his shoulder. "--told me I'd consume you. I remember. Is that what this is...?"
There was nothing smooth about the way she moved under him. Afterwards, she would be sleek and languid, something he had no perfect word to describe when 'feline' meant something unspeakable among their family. Now she was pressed against him, arms twined tight around his neck while she bit lightly at his lip, making him open his mouth for her. Under his weight, her movements were unsteady and sudden, the secret language of her body betraying a wanton need her face rarely showed before she was reduced to incoherence.
Memory made his heart skip a beat: the familiar rhythm of their intimacy, making her come under his fingers or tongue, or the mesmerizing sight of her head moving in his lap. Her quiet, deep-rooted fear of pregnancy had made actual sex a rarer thing than either of them wanted, but left them both adept at giving pleasure in other ways. Left them wanting more, always, even on nights when he was inside her and almost praying for it not to end, wanting to die listening to the sound of her voice demanding, begging, moremoremorepleasemore through the muffling weight of his hand; between words her lips parted against his fingers as if she were imagining taking him in her mouth.
Akito told me I'd consume you.
"Do it." He muttered the words into her mouth, tasting her between each syllable. "Whatever you're scared of, do it--take everything, I want you to, I'll give you everything--" Her fingers slipped between their bodies, exploring him through his clothes, and for a moment she went completely still, so wide-eyed that he froze too. The look was familiar, somehow; an uncertain hint of disbelief. He almost laughed when he placed it.
I thought I was a virgin--
"It won't hurt." The need to be inside her, to feel her body clenching and moving, made him dizzy. "You know. I swear it won't hurt, Rin, we've already gotten through that."
"I don't want to hurt you," she whispered. "But I n-need you, and..." The noise she made when he worked his fingers under her clothes and into her shattered him; he shoved himself back on his knees, moving her legs enough to peel her underwear off. It took another moment to undo his belt, fumbling with his own clothes--long enough that he hesitated again, staring down at the way she was shaking.
You think it means something that she spread her legs and let you put that inside her? Akito's voice in his head, as dark and close as if the bond still connected them, sending a searing wave of nausea through him.
"I can't." Kneeling, he leaned down to press his forehead against Rin's, almost choking with the effort of not simply bolting. "Not like this. I just--I need a minute to breathe, okay? I'll be right back."
He fled into the small bathroom before she replied, and slid to the floor without turning the light on. She doesn't know what she's doing, her mind's in pieces. The look on Akito's face afterwards, her uncomprehending desperation and anger, hung behind his eyes, but his body still ached with need too acute to ignore; he slid his hand into his pants and gasped involuntarily. I have to, can't be near her like this-- He pressed his other hand against his mouth to hold back any hint of sound, and the scent of Rin's body pushed him over the edge; he pushed his fingers into his mouth to taste her, trying to block Akito's accusing glare. There was barely any pleasure in the violent climax that wracked him, only a relief so powerful that he stayed slumped bonelessly against the wall for several minutes before dragging himself to his feet to clean up.
One month before her eighteenth birthday, she sneaks out of her hospital room for the first time. Haru helps her, white-lipped with fear he otherwise hides, and she's not sure whether she's more grateful for the assistance or the silence. She's not as strong as she'd hoped or as weak as she'd feared; she makes it to the nearest stairwell before her body betrays her, and manages to sit down on a step instead of falling.
"Where do you want to go?"
Her back throbs with pain when she reaches for the railing, hurts enough that she laughs because for a moment she's incapable of speech, and because her vocal chords insist on making noise. Scream. Cry. Laugh. No alternatives. And because it is funny, in its sickening way, that this battered, breathing meat is meant to be part of her. "Kazuma-san says the journey matters more than the destination," she says, letting go of the railing. The destination--the hospital roof, with its starless view of the sky (the lights below are too bright, she remembers from childhood)--will wait. The journey is reminding herself that she can move no matter how much it hurts.
Even that isn't quite true; Haru has to carry her back. He pretends he doesn't realize that she's unable to stand again, and she pretends not to notice the frightened way his pulse hammers against her cheek.
In his arms, with his terror of hurting her further making the embrace infinitely more awkward than any they've ever shared, she begins to steel herself to do something much harder than forcing her abused body to obey her.
He found her sitting up and hugging her knees while the moonlight whitened her face. Without turning, she said, "You came back."
"Told you I would." He sat down beside her, ready to move further away and give her space if she recoiled, but she only sighed. "It seemed like a better idea than starving to death in your bathroom."
"I think I'd lose my deposit if I had to get the landlord to get rid of your body." There was no real humor in her voice, but she angled her head to see him. Haru smoothed a loose lock of hair back off her cheek, an unthinking caress, and she flinched. "I'm sorry."
"You're sorry?" He made no effort to hide his incredulity. "You didn't do anything wrong, sweetheart."
"'Sweetheart'," she echoed. "You've always called me pretty things when no one else was around."
"Figured it was better than writing awful poetry." Rin made a soft sound that might have been the beginning of a chuckle or a sob. "Want me to stop?"
"No." She closed her hand over his, cold fingers resting between his tendons. He winced and touched one of her feet; finding it even colder, he untucked the blanket from the edge of the futon and folded it over her legs.
"How's your head?" he asked, reaching out to take her back into his arms.
"Make up your mind," came the reply, her eyes glittering with more than annoyance. Shadows fell across her face when she moved, nestling against his chest with a sigh. "My head hurts less. I feel like I'm me again, but it..."
Haru kissed the top of her head, hearing the tremor in her voice. "Take your time, love."
"I can't see the empty places anymore, but they're still there." Her arms went around him suddenly, holding on for dear life; her breath against his throat was as warm as her skin was cool. "I can feel all the things I can't remember, but when I look at them they're gone. Or else I remember them and don't realize it, I don't know. I just know there're pieces missing."
"Did I do the wrong thing?" He laid a hand across her neck, acutely aware of her pulse beating against his palm. "Should I have left you alone?"
Rin shuddered. "I don't know. I was happy, but--"
"It wasn't you," he filled in when she faltered.
"No. And to me, that kind of easy happiness is creepy." Her kiss took him by surprise, her hands coming to rest on his thighs while she lifted herself enough to reach his mouth. She broke it off as he arched into her touch, and frowned in thought. "Tell me whatever it is you're not telling me." Her breathing was as fast and labored as his. "If I know anything for sure, it's how to tell when you want me."
"Maybe I'm not okay with kissing someone else's girlfriend," he muttered.
Rin blinked, taken aback, and shook her head. "You never stopped thinking of me as your girlfriend no matter what I tried, and you expect me to think you've stopped now?" He stayed silent, and she sat back on her heels, shivering. "That's not really why you stopped touching me, is it?"
"No." They stared at each other until, unable to bear the look on her face, he drew her into another kiss. "But what'll you do about him, Rin?"
"I--" Her arms twined around his neck, cheek pressing against his. "I couldn't stay with him if I wanted to. He doesn't have any idea who I am."
"Do you want to?"
"I think... I think I wish I wanted to." She got up abruptly and went to the window, squinting at the night's fading darkness. "I don't want to hurt him, but--"
But I will hung between them, as brittle and chilled as the early morning air.
"I know what happened to you." Haru went to stand behind her, resting his hands on her shoulders. The dim glow of sunrise barely penetrated the frost on the window, casting rose-colored shadows across them. She reached back and laced her fingers with his.
"You told me."
"Hiro told me about last year, and then Kureno--he told me a lot of things." He slid an arm in front of her, pulling her against his chest. "He said he visited you after your curse broke...?" She nodded without looking away from the window. "Did he tell you about me?"
"He said you loved me." Spoken flatly, without tears, there was still a deep anguish in the words, and in the ones she left unsaid. You loved me, but you-- "Akito?"
"I couldn't deal with what I let happen to you. Akito made sure I knew how much I'd messed up, and I couldn't handle it--I wanted to die, from hurting you so badly, but Akito kept screaming for me..."
"You listened to the bond," Rin said when he fell silent. "I knew that was what Kureno meant."
"There's something else I have to tell you." He reached past her and pressed his fingertips against the glass, watching as the frost began to melt into fog. The early morning light spilled in more freely. "Akito's a woman."
Rin turned to face him, loosening his grip without breaking it. "What? How do you know?" The guilt on his face visibly struck her; she pushed away, staring at him in disbelief. "Haru, you didn't--"
"Once," he said. "The night I was released. It wasn't--I didn't even want her." Rin's silence was worse than crying, broken only by soft, rapid gasps. "I'm so sorry. For that. For everything. I couldn't do what you wanted earlier, not without telling you what I'd done, but I don't know if you want me to tell you--"
"Of all people." She almost stammered, shaking with the betrayal. "If you'd--I wanted you to be happy without me, but--"
"That's not what happened." He cupped a hand against her cheek, holding her gaze. "You don't have to understand, you don't have to forgive me, but don't think that's what happened."
Rin slumped back against the wall, shivering as her bare arm touched the frosted window. "Tell me."
"I asked her to blind me."
It was so rare for her to lash out physically that her attempt to slap him set off his karate reflexes before he could think; he caught her wrist and found himself supporting her weight as her knees buckled. "I told you, I couldn't handle it," he murmured, easing her down. She curled against him without resistance, and he held her while she swore at him, exhaustion dissipating the venom he usually associated with her temper. "It's not an excuse, and it was stupid, and I'm sorry. But I would've done anything to make the guilt ease up."
"Stop talking like you're the one who put me in the hospital," she said, sounding more sick than angry.
"I blamed Akito at first, but you know how hard it is--was--to keep that up. And so much of it was my fault. She wasn't lying. She never had to lie to hurt any of us."
"I know." Rin sighed and rested her head more carefully on his shoulder. "Tell me the rest."
"Just tell me."
"She touched me." He gritted his teeth, trying to reconstruct it into words. "After I went back to her. Every time we were near each other, she touched me. Constantly. And I need--" A small twitch of comprehension went through Rin's shoulders, but she said nothing. "I need to be touched," he said finally. "Somehow. Akito was the only one who touched me for months, and I didn't think about what she was doing. I didn't even know she was a woman until after she kissed me the night my curse broke. She kissed me, and I let her. I let her do what she wanted, and--I wasn't even surprised when I saw her. Not much. It was just mechanical." The familiar way Rin was breathing, the tense, short exhalations that he felt rather than heard, that meant she was Not Crying, made it almost impossible to speak. "Hell, Rin, tell me to stop, please..."
"No." Too bleak for cruelty; her fingers groped for his, as if either of them was capable of comforting the other.
"When we were sleeping together, remember sometimes I was a little rough with you? Called it fucking you." She nodded. "I fucked Akito. And then my curse broke, while I was doing it." Rin made a quiet sound of pain; he glanced at their joined hands, at the white-knuckled grip he had on her, and tried to relax it. "Everything came back. When I fought with her, before I made myself stop thinking, I wanted to kill her for what she did to you. I was inside her and wanting to--and she held on to me, like that would be enough, if she could just keep me from leaving..." A sob caught in his throat. "So I fucked her. As hard as I could. And she just kept hanging on, like I wasn't trying to--I was trying to hurt her, and crying from losing her, all at once.
"I didn't want to know I could do that. I wanted to hurt her so badly, but not like..."
"If--" Rin's voice caught uncertainly "--if you hadn't already been having--doing that--when you lost it, would it even have occurred to you to hurt her that way?"
"No!" His hands clenched into fists too quickly for him to control, left him shaking with the effort of not channeling his anger and disgust through them into the wall. "No. No way."
"Then what you're capable of could be worse."
"It makes me sick thinking about what I was feeling. It was nothing like I ever felt with you. And she deserved being hurt, for what she did to you, but--" He swore under his breath and leaned against the wall, flexing and relaxing his hands.
"Haru." Rin rested her head under his chin, fitting there as perfectly as she had almost two years before. "If Akito--if she--started it, then she knew it was dangerous. You're dangerous, and if she didn't even try to stop you..."
"Can you go back to cursing me out instead of trying to be understanding?" But his arms tightened around her of their own volition, holding her in place. "It hurts less."
"Do you really expect me to hate you?" she demanded. "It makes my skin crawl thinking that you touched Akito like that, okay? But I know you." The slow-spreading dampness on his chest was all that betrayed her tears. "I've been too far inside your head to hate you."
"You've touched my soul," he whispered, remembering the way she'd smiled at him in a dream.
She kissed him again without any warning: hesitant, salt-tinged, and sweeter than anything he'd ever tasted. He froze, irrationally sure she'd stop if he so much as stirred. "I love you." Her lips shaped the words against his with more than a little defiance. "I won't let Akito take that away." Another kiss, and another. "I won't."
Haru woke to the sound of an alarm clock's persistent buzz, momentarily unsure of where he was. Under his cheek, Rin's skin was warm--the only warmth he felt anywhere. He closed his eyes again while she stirred at the intrusive noise, reluctant to lift his head from her belly. Her legs were covered by the blanket under his arm, and he could feel the fabric of her shirt against the back of his scalp, pushed up under her breasts.
The buzzing continued until she roused enough for groggy annoyance. "Haru, move for a sec--"
He obeyed with a sigh, stealing a bit of the blanket when she untangled herself enough to reach the clock at the far side of the futon. "Is it always this cold in the morning?"
"It's just always this cold." As she switched the alarm off, she suddenly turned back to stare at him. "Haru."
A flash of terror woke him as completely as her shock had taken her. "You remember me, right?"
"Knowing your name's probably a good sign," she replied, summoning a tremulous smile. "How long was I asleep?" Another look at the clock let her answer her own question. "Ugh. I'm not used to only getting five hours anymore."
"Are you gonna get up?"
He was fairly sure the horrified noise she made as she buried her face in a pillow meant 'yes', but she lay still for a long minute before pushing herself up onto her elbows. "It's Friday. I've only got afternoon classes, but I--" The shrill sound of her cell phone going off made them both jump. "Satoru and I usually meet up to study on Friday mornings."
Haru got up when she did, reluctantly going into the bathroom to splash water on his face and give her what little privacy he could. The apartment walls were thin enough that he could hear her rummaging for and answering the phone; it made him wonder how much she'd heard when he'd run from her the night before.
Without actually stripping down and bathing properly, there was only so much time he could kill. When he stepped back into the main living space, Rin was kneeling by the small kotatsu, the phone resting in her palm. He crouched down beside her, took the phone out of her loose grasp when he saw how her hands were shaking. "Was it him?"
"Uh huh. Don't," she added when he touched her shoulder. "Don't touch me. Just for a minute, please?"
"'kay." He folded his arms on the kotatsu table and put his head down, facing away while he listened to her crying. It was nothing like the nightmarish sobs that had so recently threatened to tear her apart. The sheer normalcy of the quiet, exhausted hiccuping sounds behind him made his heart ache in a different way.
"I'm going to go see him," she said finally. "Will you be okay here?"
It took effort to suppress the spasm of jealousy in his stomach, but he nodded. "Yeah. Sure."
"I need to get dressed." Her fingers trailed across the back of his neck as she passed behind him, and he took it as permission to look at her again. She glanced down at what she was wearing--still the previous day's clothes--and grimaced. "Or get changed, I guess." Weariness bowed her head as she picked out a pair of jeans, unfolding them with one hand while she rubbed at her eyes with the other. "Take your shower while I'm gone, okay? I'll want one when I get back."
"Sure," Haru said again.
It felt so normal for her to undress in front of him that it didn't occur to him to do anything but watch until she'd already taken everything off and replaced her distinctly rumpled skirt with the jeans. The look of denim on her legs was unfamiliar enough, even though it hugged her curves in enticing ways, that conscious thought overtook habit. "Um. Rin--"
"What?" She stopped and blinked at him, and then blushed, her fingers suddenly awkward while she finished fastening her bra. "Oh."
"Not complaining," he pointed out, trying to keep his tone light.
Rin muttered something under her breath that he suspected wasn't directed at him, and disappeared into the bathroom. When she came out several minutes later, all evidence of her tears had been washed away and her hair was secured in several clasps that were collectively almost bright enough to distract the eye from how pale and drawn she was. She hadn't added any clothing, and when Haru caught her eye she shrugged. "You just saw me naked. This isn't going to make much difference."
Prudence kept him from pointing out that it made the difference between the quieter state he'd just talked his hormones down into and their current renewed interest; her dismissal had been too casual for her to be unaware of the way he watched her every movement. Carefully oblivious, she opened the closet and began examining its contents one by one. The frown that began as thoughtful deepened into outright discomfort as she looked.
"This is wrong." Her fingers danced through the hanging shirts, one after another. "None of this is me."
"Even if I'd thought to bring clothes for you, I wouldn't have known which things'd fit you right now," Haru said mildly.
The glare she shot him was as tired as her reply. "Please tell me your mom brought you up well enough that you're not commenting on my weight."
"I'm not gonna pretend I can't tell the difference between 'so thin it feels like you're going to break in my arms' and 'feels like you might actually eat now and then'. You look really good." He couldn't make out her answer. "Hmm?"
"I said, anything you remember me wearing when we were together would probably fit. I think I'm about the same weight now." She looked back in the closet and pulled out a dark green shirt, examining it critically. "I don't really pay much attention when I'm not in the hospital--" a pause while she pulled it over her head "--so the only numbers I know are the ones that make the nurses smile or get upset. And I guess this'll have to do."
"It's fine." Haru looked her up and down critically. "It's a little weird seeing it on you, but you still look gorgeous." He stood up slowly, stretching until his joints crackled. "Here." Stepping closer, he took his necklace off and slipped it over her head, tightening the knots to bring the pendant up between her collarbones.
"Better." Rin's eyes shadowed with uncertainty as she reached up to close her hand around it. She leaned forward into his arms, offering him tacit permission to touch her again, and shivered when his hands settled on her hips.
"It's pretty strange," he said softly, a conversational tone that ran against the hungry way his fingers kneaded at her. "I used to know I had some animal instincts because the old aunts who knew about the curse told me we all had them. But it was just something in me, something I couldn't pick out, and now--" His hair brushed against her cheek as he bent to kiss her neck.
"Now?" she echoed. He ran his fingertips down the sides of her thighs, trapping her between desire and guilt.
"Now I can tell that's a little weird to want to leave my scent all over you before I let you go to another man. Part of me is telling me to sleep with you before I let you leave, and the rest of me knows that'd be pretty tacky."
"And no part of you thinks I get a vote?"
"Not on the instinctive level of my brain, sorry." He kissed her shoulder and let her go. "The civilized part wins this round."
"I'm already wearing your jewelry to see him," she said. "He'll know. He's a good guy, Haru, he doesn't deserve this."
"I know he's a good guy. See the part where I'm not snapping his wrists because you let him kiss you?"
"Is that the animal part of you too? Wanting to hurt him?"
"Probably not." He bent to brush his lips against the delicate ridge of her ear. The unfamiliar metal rings in her earlobe felt strange; he toyed with them for just a moment, remembering her fascination with his piercings. "Go if you're going, sweetheart."
Rin pulled away slowly, nodding. "Get some more sleep. Or eat something if you want." At the door she hesitated. "I'll be back."
It was strange being in her home without her. He had been in her room at Kagura's house only a handful of times, other than looking through the window when he rapped on the glass to get her attention. His parents had always been so much more casual, or inattentive, than Kagura's that it only made sense to use his space as their retreat from the world when they were feeling brave enough to meet within the Main House instead of slipping away to Kazuma's. It hadn't been too hard to find undisturbed hours to spend together there, and his mother hadn't seemed to think there was anything unusual about it when he began doing his own laundry, to make sure she didn't notice stray strands of Rin's hair on his sheets. Kagura's house, by contrast, had been a place they used mainly to reinforce their alibi that Rin was helping him study; he came by from time to time and sat in the living room with her, heads bent diligently over textbooks while she helped him with his English pronunciation and algebra.
After showering and reluctantly putting his worn clothing back on, he wandered around in the small living space, looking at her bookcases and decorations, trying to decide whether he felt so out of place because he was unused to being in her space, or because the girl who had made herself at home there had been a stranger who knew nothing of him or their lifelong curse. For the first time in months he let himself try to imagine what it would be like to really live with her, to build a home, to see what kind of life they might craft together.
He lay back down, finally, although he couldn't imagine his head quieting enough to let him fall asleep while he waited for her. The futon sheets held lingering traces of her scent, just enough to be soothing, to tell him the strange place was home; he wrapped himself up in her blanket and focused on his breathing, on how many times his heart beat between each exhalation.
The familiar exercise had just begun to still his mind when the cell phone Hatori had given him rang, jolting him back to full awareness. He was across the room, reaching into his coat pocket, before he remembered that Rin didn't know the number.
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 "The Reach" by Dan Fogelberg, found on "The Innocent Age".