Chapter Six: "One Day, She'll Be..." [6/6]
Rin found Satoru sitting by a window in the coffee shop they'd used as a meeting place for the last month. There was an untouched mug of tea in front of him, cooled enough that there was no hint of steam rising from it. "Hi," she said, hesitating behind the vacant chair. "Sorry I'm late."
"Hey," he replied, and she sat down cautiously, watching his face. "Are you okay? Did you--remember whatever it was...?"
"I remembered." She debated ordering something, and decided her stomach was too knotted, much as she wanted the illusion of wakefulness caffeine could give her. She frowned at the faint craving as a new connection formed somewhere below the radar of her consciousness: coffee was a recent habit, something she'd always avoided before because it wreaked havoc on her unsteady nerves. "I'm still remembering."
"And Sohma-san is...?"
It took her longer than it should have to realize he was referring to Haru, not her. All of her memories of the school, of Satoru himself, were intact, but it was hard to see how they fit into the context of her life. "He's at my place," she said quietly.
"Oh." Satoru picked up his tea, stared at it, and set it back down. He took a deep breath and met her eyes for the first time. "Did you sleep with him?"
She tried to summon anger at the assumption, but nothing came. Almost three months together, and he had never tried to push her into a more physical relationship, taking her at her word when she said it was something she wanted to get into slowly, when she was completely certain she was ready. Having regained her memory of losing her virginity with Haru made it almost laughable--there had been nothing cautious, nothing planned, only an inexorable progression of touches and kisses that had ended more painfully than she'd expected. But there had been certainty.
"I didn't have sex with him," she replied, when the silence had gone on too long; because honesty was all she had left for him, she offered it, making herself watch the confused hurt that crossed his face. "He wouldn't." And nearly three months of breakfasts, afternoons in the sunlight, and late-night phone calls with no fear of being overheard--all the things she and Haru had never been able to have--were gone, leeched of their strength by a lifetime of memories still surfacing in her mind.
Satoru looked away, gazing out the window at the passersby. "It made that much difference?"
"I remember him," she whispered. "Not everything, but enough. He was my boyfriend for almost a year, and even before that, we were--"
"And then you got hypnotized or something?"
"I... had to break up with him, and we barely spoke for months. And then the really bad things he was talking about--the things I forgot, along with everything else--happened." She clenched her hands in her lap, trying to think through the haze of exhaustion and the shifting patterns behind her eyes. "I didn't lie to you, but your girlfriend--I'm not her, Satoru. She was just a piece of me, and I..." She swallowed hard against the ache in her throat, unable to bear the idea of crying again. "The last few months are the only time I can remember not loving him. Because it was taken away from me."
"If this is a joke, Isuzu, tell me now. You're not screwing with my head?"
Satoru sighed, resting his face in his hands. "So who are you really?"
Rin automatically found herself reaching out to touch his arm, and stopped, staring at her hand for a long moment before she drew it back. "I'm Sohma Isuzu," she said. "I'm one of the Sohmas whose name is on buildings everywhere, and I grew up with a lot of money and nothing else. Ever since I was a kid, Haru was the only good thing in my life."
"Three sentences into the story of your life and he's there?"
"We've been in each other's lives since he was born. I can't tell you anything without him being part of it." She bit her lip, looking away. "And there's not much else I can tell you. There're... things... our family doesn't talk about with outsiders. Ever. Some kids are raised not to touch anyone at all, and Haru and I were like that. But we were really close, and when we figured out how much we wanted to touch each other, we... did." Her cheeks burned violently. "It was all we had."
"Isuzu, you don't have to--" The uncomfortable fascination on his face made her shift awkwardly.
"You deserve an explanation, and I--I'm not good at them. But there's something inside us, and something we're missing, that no one who wasn't raised like we were is ever going to understand."
"So you're not going to let me try." Rin shook her head. "And it's just over, like that?"
"Satoru, I'm sor--"
"Is there any kind of proof of this?" he asked. "I just--I mean, I believe you, I think, but what you're saying is insane."
"Do I even look like your girlfriend?" she countered, rubbing her hands together. The early winter cold felt far worse than she was used to. "When you look closely at me?"
He peered at her face slowly, meeting her eyes again. "Not really. Or not exactly. But it's a heck of a lot easier to believe you're a good actress who gets some sort of kick out of messing with people than it is to try to make sense out of what you're telling me."
"Haru has a video we can show you," she said. "If that'll make it easier for you. If you'll promise, really promise, not to tell anyone. Not just for my sake--the thing that was done to me, they can do to anybody."
"Then why show me?"
A pale sunbeam came through the window as the clouds parted, glinting off his tea. Rin squinted against it as if it were far brighter than it was. "Because I like you, and I--I like being here. At this school. Doing the things I've been doing. I think I'm not who I used to be, either." She shook her head at the thought. "By now, the girl I used to be would have ripped you to pieces for having the nerve to make her feel anything at all."
She got to her feet slowly, smoothing her hands across the fronts of her thighs to adjust a skirt she wasn't wearing. Compared to the fabrics she was used to, the denim felt stiff and unyielding under her palms. "I'm going home. If you want to see that tape, you can come. After today I'm never having it near me again."
"And that's it."
"There's nothing else I can say."
"You really think I want to come see you with him?" Rin flinched from the bitterness twisting his mouth. "I know we were keeping things casual, but I'm halfway in love with you, Isuzu. What do you expect me to do?"
"What do you want me to do?" Discomfort made it easy to let her temper flare up; she kept her voice low, leaning closer so he could hear her, but the razor edge of anger that had always been one of her best weapons was surfacing. "You're not in love with me. Look at me, Satoru. If you're mistaking me for who we thought I was, then that's doubly true." He blanched as she spoke, and she turned on her heel, not wanting to look. "Come if you're coming."
She was almost out the door when he grabbed her elbow. "Can you at least wait 'til I pay?"
A small knot of distress eased in her throat. "Sure."
Haru heard Rin's voice in the hallway before her key turned in the lock, a moment's forewarning that she was no more alone than he was. "I really don't think she'll want to talk to you, Tori-nii." He kept his eyes on the door as it opened, bracing himself. Hatori's call had caught him off guard, although it hadn't been entirely unexpected. "Hey, Rin--"
She was already sliding her coat off, running her fingers through her hair as she met his gaze. There was a hint of silent apology there, which vanished instantly when she saw who was with him. "Hatori." She conjured a blank expression as she spoke, but it began crumbling almost at once, tension gathering around her eyes. "Why're you here?"
The doctor stood, and she shrank back. "When I called to let him know I was in town, Hatsuharu said your memory had returned. I wanted to be sure you were all right."
"All--" She choked, so pale that Haru wondered if she was going to be sick on the spot. "'All right'?"
He went to her without any more hesitation, sparing Satoru only a quick look. "Close the door." Satoru frowned, and Haru let his worry out as a snarl. "Close the fucking door! This isn't anyone else's business." He touched Rin's cheek, brushing away the sheen of sweat beginning on her skin. "Rin?" There was a far-off click as Satoru obeyed, locking himself in with them.
"Don't let him touch me."
"I won't. He's not here to do anything to you, but I promise I wouldn't let him."
"'All right'?" she said again. She wasn't looking at him, but he saw something snap behind her eyes, sending a shock of empathy through him. He could almost taste the loss of control, the heady elixir of liberated rage. "How can you have the nerve to come here and say that, after you--after--" Tears overflowed without warning, brightening her eyes so much that Haru wondered if she could see through them at all. "How could you do that to me?" Her voice shredded around each syllable, not quite lifting into a scream. "Get out. Get out, get away from me...!"
"Shigure sent something for you," Hatori said evenly. "Or for Hatsuharu, if your memory wasn't triggered." He reached for the briefcase at his feet, moving with careful deliberation, and brought out an envelope. "He began assembling these when I told him what was happening."
"What is it?" Haru asked, when Rin didn't answer.
"Photographs. I have no idea where he acquired most of them." Hatori set the envelope down on the kotatsu and closed the briefcase again. "Isuzu, I won't insult you with an apology, and I'll leave you alone for now." There was a moment of hesitation so brief Haru wondered if he'd imagined it. "I would like to speak with you at some point, if you're willing. But not until then. And you have my word that I won't interfere with you again.
"Hatsuharu, you have my phone number. Please call when you know what you plan to do." Haru nodded, paying more attention to the way Rin was trembling than to what was being said. "I'll be going, then." Hatori headed to the door, carefully keeping as much distance as possible between himself and Rin, and slipped his shoes on with a quick nod of farewell.
Rin stayed perfectly still once he was gone, staring at the wall until Haru touched her arm. She focused on him with obvious effort. "I need a shower," she said faintly. "And I told Satoru about the tape you showed me last night."
"You--" Haru turned to look at the other man in surprise, and bit back a protest. "Your call, I guess."
Her eyes flickered over him uncertainly. "You weren't wearing those clothes when I left, were you?"
"Tori-nii brought them from the hotel when I told him I hadn't been back," he replied, and watched her face close off.
"Will you show him?"
"The tape? I--" There was desperation lurking under the mask, a plea he could no more ignore than he could stop breathing. Don't make me look again. "I'll take care of it."
Her mouth shaped a silent "thank you" as she turned away and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving him alone with Satoru.
Satoru stared after her. "What the hell was all that?"
Haru grimaced as he sat down, tucking his legs under the kotatsu's quilt. "That was our family doctor. He's the one who told me where Rin was--and the one who blocked her memories in the first place." The radiant heat began to seep through his clothes, a small comfort weighed against the chill in the air. He reached over to the VCR and began rewinding the tape. "You really want to see this?"
"I don't even know what it is." Satoru stepped out of his shoes and came closer, casting a worried look at the closed bathroom door. Under the shrill whine of the tape, the sound of running water formed a steady counterpoint.
"What'd she tell you?"
"She said it's the only proof she has."
"Proof?" Haru repeated. The tape clunked to a halt as he spoke. "Did you ask her for--" He shook his head grudgingly. "She really does like you, huh?" Satoru looked blank. "Rin isn't big on explaining herself to people. Either she really likes you, or she feels like she owes you."
"Which of those makes more sense in the 'dumping me with no warning' context?"
"All things considered, I can't really feel too bad about that." Haru jerked his head at the VCR. "When she was in the hospital before she came here, they taped her sometimes. This is the last one from before Tori-nii--our doctor--'treated' her, after she saw it coming." He trailed off, listening to the sound of the shower. "I had to see it. You don't. It's not pretty, Itou-san."
"I'd like to see it," Satoru said. "I won't mention it to anyone--she already made me promise not to, and besides--" he chuckled humorlessly "--I don't want to sound as crazy as you two."
Haru fixed him with a hard look, and then nodded. "She said to show you, so I will." He touched the play button. "It's not the whole tape--she was sedated pretty heavily for a lot of it, so I only copied after she started to come out of it." He pressed the button without looking at the screen, and put his head down on his arms as the sound of Rin's voice spilled out into the room.
With the volume turned down low, it was somehow even more chilling. He felt Satoru move as if to adjust the sound. "Don't. It gets louder. She sure as hell doesn't need to hear it again."
"...okay." The lingering hint of skepticism in Satoru's voice was already fading. Haru kept his eyes closed, wishing he could get up and leave until it was over, but the idea of even that small refusal to hear Rin's voice was more unbearable than listening. So he listened, while her cries became increasingly shrill and desperate, while they evolved into his name. Beside him, Satoru's silence turned more and more brittle. And in the end, it was Satoru who reached out and turned the tape off, just before the drugs began to subdue Rin's screams into weeping.
"She was broken," Haru muttered into his sleeve, into the sudden stillness. "She almost died. They kept putting her body back together, but she finally broke."
"What happened to her?"
Satoru's dull shock made Haru lift his head. "Family business," he replied. "If she wants you to know, she'll tell you." A hint of threat went unspoken. Don't push her.
With the tape stopped, the apartment dropped into a deep silence broken only by the faint sound of the shower. Satoru stared numbly at the blank screen. "And now she... she remembers whatever made her like that?" he asked finally.
"Enough," Haru replied. "Enough to know what happened. But now she's got new memories between those ones and the life she's living now." He rubbed his eyes and leaned back. "Tori-nii told me to assume she'd be different, but knowing that in my head isn't the same as seeing her..." He frowned suddenly, tilting his head toward the back of the apartment. "D'you hear anything?"
"No, should I?"
"Rin?" Haru raised his voice enough to carry. "Are you okay?"
Satoru grimaced. "She just got out of the shower, Sohma-san--"
The bathroom door opened, interrupting him. Rin slipped out, bundled into a robe; out of the corner of his eye, Haru saw a flash of relief pass over Satoru's face. He couldn't help empathizing--seeing her healthy and whole, after the specter of the shrieking girl on the tape, still made his own heart skip.
Then he saw the angry glitter of tears, and the faint lines of frustration on her face. She tugged hard at one earlobe as she came to them; the other lobe was bright red under the still-unfamiliar hoop earrings.
"Someone pierced my ears," she said. "I knew they were pierced, but I didn't--I didn't really notice until now."
"I thought you must've had it done," he said, surprised. "Maybe they did it when they changed your haircut?"
"I can't get them out." Both hands were fumbling uselessly at the hoops. "I don't know how they work, and they're under my skin--"
"It's okay, I'll get it." Haru reached out slowly, waiting until she reluctantly let go of her earlobes. "It's okay. Just come here."
Rin shivered and knelt down in front of him, resting her head on his thigh. She shook when he touched her, holding still by pure force of will while he began carefully unclasping the earrings. Under his more experienced fingers, both hoops came easily out of her left lobe, and she turned her head to expose the other ear. She began to visibly calm down while he worked, her distress turning into a cold anger.
The last earring was stubborn; she made a faint sound of protest when Haru had to use more force to get it out. He stroked the abused bit of flesh gently, shaking his head. "Don't complain about it, sweetheart--it looks like you tried to just yank them out through the lobes." He turned her head toward the sunlight. "If you've got any disinfectant, you might want to put some on--this piercing looks pretty raw."
"Will the holes grow over?"
"Probably enough that they won't be obvious." Haru peered at her thoughtfully. "I think it was done in a hurry--the holes are really small. D'you remember having studs in them?" Rin shook her head. "Yeah, I definitely think it was done to change your looks a little. Piercing studs leave big enough holes that most earrings can go in easily once they've healed. These... you'd practically have to get them pierced again to handle some normal earrings."
He handed her the four hoops as she stood up; she stared down at them, shaking them back and forth in her palm. "I think I'll kill the next person who changes my looks without my permission," she said, biting off each syllable as if she wanted to draw blood.
The flare of temper made Haru smile; she noticed, and focused her glare on him. "What?"
"Seeing you angry feels good," he said, savoring the tiny changes in her expression as he explained. Her face was as contradictory as the rest of her, her eyes softening while her lips tightened with annoyance. It means you're not drowning.
"I'm not the same as I was," she muttered, twisting a damp lock of hair between her fingers. She looked away as if embarrassed, either for finally answering a year-old question with words instead of a blow or for expecting him to know what she meant.
"I know." He rubbed his cheek, remembering the bruise she'd left. It had been his first tangible sign of just how badly she had felt the need to protect herself from him; evidence that she was hiding even more from him than he'd suspected. And even after I went numb I was too scared to look. He blinked back the memory of Yuki's confused eyes when he barely responded to the news that Rin had been hospitalized again. "Neither am I." The white-knuckled way she held the earrings caught his attention. "What're you going to do with those?"
"Throw them out."
"Give them to me?" He reached out for them, and Rin stared uncertainly--first at his open palm, and then at the rows of holes in his earlobes. "Please?"
"I don't want to see them again," she said, but she passed them over without waiting for his nod of agreement, dropping them as if they burned. Haru closed his hand around them before she could change her mind. "Especially not on you. I don't want to touch them." She held his gaze just long enough to make his heart skip at the implicit promise, the reminder of how her mouth and hands lingered on the changes he'd made to his body. He forced his expression to go blank, unwilling to betray how vividly he could imagine her touch on the Ox mark between his shoulders, not with Satoru watching them.
Beside him, Satoru frowned--obviously aware that he was missing something, and too uncomfortable to interrupt. Having someone else in the room at all put Haru on edge; the lack of sleep made it hard to keep his hands and jaw from clenching. Rin met his eyes again, reading his discomfort, and made a careful, totally unnecessary adjustment to the sleeve of the bathrobe she was still wearing.
The gesture loosened some of his tension instantly; the message and the fact that she remembered how to send it were equally comforting. We'll talk later. Spending almost a year hiding their relationship, being forced to be in each other's presence while other people's eyes were on them, had made them resort to a code that became more complex as they made it a game as well as a method of communication.
"Haru showed you?" she asked Satoru, rubbing at the sore-looking spot on her earlobe. Haru refrained from catching at her hand; appreciating her combative moods objectively was a far cry from wanting her to snap at him, even with his instinct to coddle her in overdrive. Satoru nodded, and Haru quickly looked away from the guarded misery in the other man's eyes, as if that could block Rin's response to it.
"What'll you do, Isuzu? I mean about school, and being here--you've been pretty clear about where I don't fit in."
Rin dropped her gaze. "I think I'm going to stay," she said. Haru knelt by the kotatsu and picked up the envelope Hatori had left, trying not to focus on the implications of what she had said.
You knew she had a life here, he reminded himself fiercely. On the back of the envelope, Hatori's precise handwriting read: "Family photographs (Isuzu). Shigure." He unwound the narrow cord holding the flap down, and peered inside.
If the tidy, formal script betrayed Hatori's touch, the loose jumble of pictures inside showed Shigure's. Haru took three out at random, face-down, and studied the backs. Each was labeled by someone different. "'February '87'. 'Isuzu and Kyo, summer 1993'," he read under his breath. "'Rin-chan'."
He turned them over one by one, laying them on the kotatsu like divination cards that held the keys to her life. The first picture was as old as the most distant part of his memory; he reached for it, for a time when Rin had been in school for less than a year, when he had barely known her. Studying the image of her--small for her six years, a spark of mischief in her eyes belying the earnestness of her expression--brought nothing back. There was a man's hand on her shoulder, turning her towards the camera. Her father was gentle with her once. It somehow made the folder of pictures locked away in Hatori's desk even more monstrous.
"You won't tell anyone about this?" Rin was asking, almost steadily. He listened to the murmur of agreement, wondering if Satoru was convinced by her attempt to make everything sound normal.
The second photograph made him smile: Rin and Kyo in the back garden at Kazuma's, caught mid-squabble, both of them looking up at the photographer with identical expressions of startled irritation. The month she had lived there was something she had never said much about, but for years afterwards it was where she had gone when she needed to escape. During Kazuma and Kyo's training trip into the mountains, the empty house had been a safe place for her to meet him without anyone's knowledge; Kunimitsu had been around, but on a predictable schedule, and he was used to them coming and going--Rin from the house, Haru from the dojo. Haru had felt vaguely uncomfortable, but she had been perfectly blasé about it, more at home there than in the house she lived in.
I have a spare key, she'd pointed out. It's not even like we're borrowing someone else's bed. The room at the back of the house was small, with little space for anything other than the bed in question, but Rin breathed freely there; even the time or two when Kunimitsu had come into the house while they were there had only made her switch off the light and burrow silently against him, rather than sending her into wide-eyed paroxysms of alarm. Haru had cherished the memory of those months, of her relaxed smiles, even before she left him.
"What is it?" Rin was standing beside him, looking down over his shoulder. Haru laid the third picture down, and she crouched to see it. "Oh." She picked it up by one corner, lines of concentration creasing her forehead. "I think Gure-nii took this one." She glanced at the back and nodded. "Yeah, no one else calls me that."
"How many nicknames do you have?" Satoru wanted to know.
"Just one." Rin turned the picture so he could see the inscription, with its honorific. She and Haru looked at the image itself: New Year's, the year of her dance. Shigure had taken the picture while she was still being prepared--she already wore the ceremonial clothes that had been crafted for her, and was kneeling while a young maid braided her hair with bells. Every Jyuunishi who danced wore bells somewhere, but Rin's ensemble had been designed to incorporate far more than usual, in recognition of her name. Haru's memory of her dance was vibrant with the sound of them, accentuating each step, every subtle movement of her hands or head.
In the background of the picture, one of the old aunts was staring disapprovingly at Shigure's intrusion, but Rin herself was smiling up at him, pride and determination shining on her face.
Rin set the photo down beside the others. "I was pretty young," was all she said, only a tremor in her hands betraying her memory of it. She looked at the other two pictures in careful silence, revealing nothing.
Satoru cleared his throat awkwardly. "I should leave." The uncertain pause that followed made room for formalities that none of them had energy for. Rin didn't argue, and Satoru continued as if replying to himself. "I guess--well, you know where to find me. If you need anything, or... You know. I'll be around."
"Sure." She stood up with a sigh. "I'm--I really am sorry."
"Yeah, I know." Satoru nodded slightly at Haru and turned away, letting himself out. He hesitated on the threshold without looking back. "Take care of yourself, Isuzu."
When he was gone, Rin dropped back to the floor beside Haru, settling herself with a familiar, brisk efficiency. He took no particular notice of how she was moving until she stopped mid-gesture. "Oh. That's why."
"I trained myself to sit down without flashing anyone when I was wearing short skirts all the time." Amusement hid under her small frown. "I think I've been doing it all along, but I don't have skirts like that here." She touched the envelope of photos lightly, tracing the kanji of her name. "Can we not look at these right now?"
"I'm just hungry all of a sudden." She shivered, pulling the robe closer around herself as she looked at the clock. "Guess that makes sense--it's almost three. Are you hungry?"
"I could eat."
"This is creepy!" she burst out, putting her face in her hands. "I'm never hungry. I remember that, that food was just--just something I had to do. But I've been eating, like..."
"Like everyone else?" Haru asked softly, when she faltered, and she nodded. "Please don't stop. Watching you eat scared the hell out of me by the time you left me, 'cause you barely tasted anything."
"Because it made me sick."
"Yeah, sometimes. And sometimes you were punishing yourself for having the nerve to have a body at all."
"That's not tr--"
"It damn well is true!" Rin stared at him as if he'd hit her. "If you've been eating, don't stop just 'cause you didn't before, okay? Even if it's harder now?"
"All right." It took two tries for her to get the words out, but she moved closer, tentatively putting her arms around him. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I knew it worried you, but I didn't know it was that bad."
"I didn't want you to know." He leaned forward to rest his cheek on her shoulder, letting himself sink into her embrace. He couldn't remember the last time she'd simply held him, how long it had been since he'd admitted to needing it, with or without words. Her silence was as perfect and cocooning as her arms, strengthened rather than broken by the steady sounds of her heart and breath.
"Guess we really should eat something," he said finally. Rin nodded, turning her head to kiss his hand when he touched her face.
"I don't have much food here, but there's a place around the corner I like. Just let me get dressed."
She picked an outfit with much less indecision than she'd shown the first time she'd gotten ready to face the day, winding up in a skirt that flowed around her legs like smoke and a black shirt that covered everything but clung to her. Against the stark fabric, his pendant gleamed below her collarbones, only slightly brighter than the small hooks securing the shirt from throat to waist.
After brushing her hair, she picked up a handful of clips from a shallow dish by the futon, and dropped them again. They clinked back into the dish one by one. "It's been a long time since I wore my hair loose," she said, touching its edges. "Haru, when we're out--can we be careful? A lot of people here know me."
"And you don't want gossip?"
"I don't want it to be how they find out about me and Satoru." She bit her lip, gazing steadfastly at the floor. "I've spent enough of my life being whispered about, and I don't want him to be 'the guy I cheated on'. For either of our sakes."
"Because I'm staying here." She spoke so quietly he had to strain to hear her. "I am. I can’t just go back and live my life at home like nothing happened, and I like this life. I want to stay."
"What do you want me to do?" Haru asked. He touched her chin when she flinched, gently pushing her head up. "You need to tell me."
"Go home." She kept her eyes squeezed shut. "Go home with Tori-nii. Let me figure things out."
"Do you still want to be with me?" His throat tried to close around the words; he made himself let her go before his hands clenched. Her lips shaped a silent "yes". "Would you come with me if I begged you?"
"I don't--" It took him a moment to realize that she was crying. "Yes."
"Then I'll be okay." He didn't quite dare take her back in his arms; instead he touched her face again, caressing her cheek with the barest tips of his fingers. "Do what you have to, and let me know what you want. Come home, or ask me to come to you, or whatever. Anything."
"'Anything'?" she echoed, conjuring a shadow of a smile.
"Maybe let me know in advance if you want me to live someplace where they don't speak Japanese." Gratifyingly, the smile became a little stronger, reaching her eyes. "You know you're the only thing I've ever wanted."
"Did Tori-nii say when he was leaving?"
Haru nodded slowly. "He's taking a train this evening." A stricken look crossed her face, quickly reined in. "I'll go with him."
"When you get home, do me a favor?" She rubbed her arm over her eyes, and plucked at the tear-dampened sleeve in annoyance. "Send me my clothes so I can see what I want to keep? And my jewelry? Kagura might help."
"Okay. I can do that." He touched the necklace around her throat, twisting the cord between his fingers. "Minus whatever I take to replace this."
Rin closed her hand over his. "I changed my mind about going out," she said. "I don’t want to pretend I'm okay, or that you're not my boyfriend." Two steps brought her close enough to rest her forehead on his shoulder. "You call Tori-nii, and I'll order something to eat. What do you want?"
"Anything's good." He curved his hand around the nape of her neck, sharply aware of the softness of her skin under his palm and the too-light weight of her hair against his knuckles.
"This is not enough
This is not enough for me
This is not enough for any of us to be"
--Tom McRae, "Human Remains" (Just Like Blood)
The apartment never really warmed up, Haru decided. They ate--later, he couldn't even remember what--nestled under the kotatsu that took up most of the floor space unoccupied by the open futon. "I like lying down while I read," Rin explained, sticking to ordinary topics until the food was gone, "so I don't always bother putting the futon away. I wasn't expecting company." He wondered, but didn't ask, whether she was avoiding stressful discussion during the meal out of habit or a genuine need to keep her stomach settled.
Instead, he quietly appreciated the heat more than he usually did, glad to have warm feet. By silent agreement, he opened the envelope of photos once they'd cleared the food away, and carefully began looking at the contents.
It was an odd assortment. Rin made no move to touch the handful that Shigure had obviously acquired from her parents, but Haru studied each one individually. Every image of her as an uninjured child, whether laughing or solemn--"You were way too cute," he murmured once, shaking his head, and Rin frowned as if she wanted to protest--was something to be weighed against the things that had come later.
She seemed more puzzled than anything over the number of photos taken at Kazuma's, spanning far more time than she had lived there. It seemed to be years, not months, that were haphazardly represented. "'Karate master'?" she said, picking one up in disbelief. "He's a ninja! I remember this, and there wasn't a camera anywhere--"
"Let me see." Haru tilted it to a better angle, and she leaned against him, resting her chin on his shoulder. "Ow," he complained; she laughed, sending a surge of warmth through his chest, and adjusted so her cheek was resting there instead. "When is this?"
"The summer Kagura's family tried to make me go on a 'family vacation', and I stayed with Kazuma-san instead. Look--" she pointed "--my knuckles got all bruised. They kept making me hit things."
There were only two photos of the two of them together. They both looked at the first, taken at the last New Year's when Haru had danced, for a long time. It was incongruous at first glance: him in his ceremonial clothes, her in an outfit accented with spikes instead of bells. "You were pretty hardcore when you started dressing like that," he said mildly, and without looking, he heard the smile in her reply.
"Like you weren't getting off on it."
"Guilty." He laid the photo down gently, wondering whether anyone would have thought to take it if their clothing hadn't jarred so completely.
The other picture was from an afternoon in Kazuma's garden. He'd been taking double classes that spring, and in between two sessions he'd found Rin flat on her back among the plants, half-dozing in the sunlight. In plain view of the house he hadn't touched her, had only sat down and talked; they'd wound up trying to top each other with outrageous descriptions of formations they pretended to see in the clouds. The back of the photo betrayed its origin--in Kunimitsu's slapdash scrawl, it read, "Isuzu, smiling".
"I don't remember this," Rin whispered, lifting her head to stare at it. "What were we doing?"
She took the picture from between his fingers, gingerly, as if it might disintegrate. Haru watched while she stared at it, her brow furrowing a bit more with each passing moment, until her eyes began to unfocus from looking so intently. "I don't remember," she repeated. "Tell me."
"That was--" he wracked his brain quickly, trying to recall the moment's framing details "--during Golden Week a couple years ago. When we were sorta starting to touch each other a little, and still acting like it didn't mean we were in love." Rin nodded slowly, accepting the context, but there was no flicker of recognition. "You were hanging out there a lot 'cause you kept fighting with Kagura-nee, I think. And it was warm out, and you were falling asleep in the garden..." He kept talking, dredging up every detail he could think of, until there was nothing left.
"There's nothing," she said eventually, after he ran out of things to say. "I don't know if it just means I forgot before, or if it should be there." Subtle tension pinched her features, lingered when Haru touched her cheek.
"Tori-nii told me you probably wouldn't get everything back, but he didn't know how bad it would be."
The careful breath she drew in was ragged around the edges, but her eyes were dry when she looked at him. "Can we talk about something else? Or not talk?" Her hand closed over his. "What time do you have to leave to catch the train?"
Haru checked the clock. "Maybe in an hour? I have to meet Tori-nii back at the hotel and check out."
"Want to lie down?" Uncertainty shone through the casual question; he looked quickly back at her, at the way her eyes flickered away from his, and guessed that she didn't know what she was asking any more than he did.
"Yeah." He untangled himself from the kotatsu's warm quilt and tightened his grip on her hand, letting her lead him to the futon. The blanket she spread over them was soft and heavy, and he impulsively pulled it up over their heads, closing the rest of the world out entirely.
She was close enough for him to watch her pupils dilating in the unexpected dimness, to hear the way her surprised laugh caught in her throat, becoming taut and fragile. For the thousandth time, he marveled at how small she was; when he held her, not even the intensity of her presence could maintain the illusion that she took up any kind of space. It was hard to remember that he had spent most of his life looking up at her.
Kissing her came as naturally as it always had, softer than the previous night's stark hunger; her response was equally undemanding, even after that kiss became the first of many. "Tell me what you need," she said finally, lips moving against his ear, still barely audible.
He rested the back of his hand against her jaw, curling his fingers around loose wisps of her hair. "Just this." The slight arch of her eyebrows was eloquently skeptical. "I'm not saying I'm not turned on," he added, kissing her lower lip. "If you want more than this, I'll do anything you need."
"You know I love you?" she asked, reaching up to trace the bone above his eye. The caress sent a violent jolt through him; she froze in his arms when they tightened around her, hardly breathing until he leaned into the touch, shutting his eyes as a crystal-sharp shiver ran down his spine.
Her touch was even softer and more certain than he'd remembered, mirroring the fine control that let her capture the world with pencils and charcoal. Fingertips circled his eyes, brushed against his lashes and eyelids, as if she could erase the ghost of Akito's hands on him. The memory it brought up, guilt and desperation gnawing at his chest, made it a struggle to think clearly. Rin caught her breath but said nothing when he fumbled at her shirt, undoing the tiny hooks that held it closed over her breasts. It fell open as if he'd torn it, and he pressed his cheek against her chest, bare skin on skin.
The rhythm of her heartbeat slowed and then gradually quickened again, betraying some shift in her emotions that he couldn't read. Finally she freed herself from beneath him, light hands on his shoulders keeping him from moving with her. "Take your shirt off," she said quietly. Haru obeyed without replying, letting her push him down onto his stomach, and managed not to stir when her fingers began moving over his back. Stroke by stroke, she compulsively traced the ink under his skin, fulfilling the promise she'd made earlier.
Her mouth followed her hands, laying impossibly soft kisses on each bone of his spine, along the lines of the tattoo. And then it was tears, obscene in their silence, betrayed only by the wet smears across his shoulder when she settled beside him, lying half on him so that he couldn't move to hold her. Her weight was more comforting than it had any right to be, almost distracting him from the way her fingers kept blindly outlining the calligraphy.
The awkward one-sided embrace lasted until his cell phone rang twice, stopping before Rin had time to do more than sit up. "Tori-nii said he'd call and hang up when he was ready to come get me," Haru said, rolling onto his side to look at her. She stared back, rubbing at her eyes as if it would disguise the fresh tears welling up.
"Already?" She sucked in a painful breath and shook her head. "I--I guess you should--" Her lips pressed together over whatever else she might have said, and she covered her mouth with a shaking hand, squeezing her eyes closed. Haru pulled his shirt back on, taking a quick look around the room. There was nothing else he needed to do but put on his coat and boots.
He pulled her back into his arms when she didn't reply, wishing he dared ask her to change her mind. Wet trickles ran down his collarbone, into the front of his shirt.
"Call me if you need anything. Anything. I'll come." She nodded without lifting her head. "Don't make me leave while you're crying," he whispered. "Rin, please don't."
She met his gaze at that, just before she kissed him. Her mouth was warm and salt-stained from her tears, almost frantic; she kept kissing him, again and again, until he was dizzy and cupping his hands against her face. "Go," she said, lips still moving against his, not pulling back. "You have to."
Getting up wasn't the hardest thing he'd ever done, but it was hard to remember what overshadowed it. Haru pushed himself to his feet, watching the unseeing way her eyes tried to track his movements through the sheen of tears. At the door, he tied his boots without looking and draped his coat over his arm.
"I love you," he said, and she nodded, mouthing the words back at him. He stared back at her before going out into the hallway, unable to help burning that last sight of her into his heart: still kneeling on the futon, crying too hard to speak but swallowing the sounds of it.
He stood still in the hallway, trying to pull himself together before heading down to meet Hatori, and heard the soft thump of her hands on the wood. Without looking back inside, he knew she was pressed against the door. He leaned back against it, resting his cheek where he suspected hers was. "I love you," he repeated, soft but clear, wondering if she heard.
"Since your things were packed, I checked you out of the hotel," Hatori greeted him as he got into the car. "How's Isuzu?"
Haru shut his eyes and leaned back against the headrest, thinking of fragments of conversation over their meal. "She says she might be home for a couple days at New Year's. I don't think we'll be at the family party."
"I somehow expected you to ask her to come home."
Sapporo's chill was settling too close to his bones; it made him ache for home, with its occasional snowfalls that melted away. He wondered how Rin would endure the winter. "How d'you know I didn't?"
"She's not here."
"You hand-built a good life for her," Haru countered. "Are you surprised she's keeping it?" As the car's engine purred to life, he looked out the window at the nondescript building.
"Do you fit in it?"
"I--" Snowflakes spun in the headlights. "I want to, if she can find a way. Maybe I'll see her in January, and she wants me to visit before I go back to school next year. There's the festival in February..." The smile he felt taking shape was painful. "We've never gone to one together." He cracked the window open, sucking in a lungful of frigid air. "Sapporo seems okay. If Rin can get used to the cold, I can too."
"Preferably without freezing us both to death first," Hatori said blandly, touching a button on his door. The window slid closed again.
"Do we have time to make a stop? There's someone I want to talk to before we go."
"Itou Satoru?" Haru nodded. "As long as I won't be explaining his disappearance to the authorities."
"...you are kidding, right?" He took Hatori's silence as confirmation, and went back to watching the unfamiliar side streets go by. His frequent failure to register or navigate by landmarks that struck other people as obvious was still a family joke, but Sapporo was unmistakably not home; he felt adrift in its strangeness, without the soft tug of the bond to orient him and draw him back. Rin is home. The thought calmed him like a mantra. Warm arms, softly-scented hair, sparks and flares of temper that overshadowed a hunger for stillness. Not my entire world, but home. Enough to ease the strangeness of an unfamiliar place.
He didn't notice that the car had stopped until Hatori cleared his throat. "You don't have long. He lives in 316." The doctor nodded at the building across the street--an unremarkable hive of apartments marketing themselves to students, similar to Rin's. "Take the cell phone I gave you so I don't have to come in after you."
"I'll be quick." Haru got out and crossed the street, reminding himself that it was earlier in the evening than it seemed; full dark had fallen with startling speed. Inside, a buzzer was clearly labeled with Satoru's name--the tag and those around it were the only things in the entryway that Haru thought might be younger than he was.
The intercom crackled with static, but Satoru's voice was recognizable. "Who is it?"
"Sohma Hatsuharu. Can I talk to you?"
The pause that followed was too long for comfort, bordering on discourteous. Haru noted it with the automatic awareness of propriety that the family had instilled in him, and dismissed it.
"I'll come down." The click of disconnection was so quiet that it was the sudden absence of static that told him Satoru had hung up.
Haru shoved his hands into his pockets for warmth, vaguely wishing he had gloves--every pair he owned was designed for looks rather than practicality, and had been left at home when he'd chosen clothing from the less extreme spectrum of his wardrobe for the trip. At that moment he keenly felt the lack of it all; he itched to be in leather and studs, the masculine reflection of the way Rin had chosen to express herself. But thinking of his necklace at her throat made him smile, although its lack made his neck feel exposed; the sign of the Ox throbbed between his shoulder blades, no less comforting for his awareness that he was imagining the sensation.
The bolt on the inside door being thrown back brought him to full awareness of his surroundings before Satoru opened it, peering warily at him. "Sohma-san?"
"Itou-san," he acknowledged, falling back on the careful formality he usually discarded. "I've come to ask you a favor before I go home."
"What can I do for you?" The response wasn't quite grudging, but the currents under it were clear: there was no obligation between them, and if either of them walked away indebted it would be Haru.
"You told Rin she knew where you were if she needed you."
"It sounds really weird hearing her called that," Satoru said, half under his breath, and Haru shrugged.
"I can use her proper name if you want. She'd probably think it was even weirder if you changed what you called her--even in the family, most people don't call her what I do."
"Pet name for your girlfriend?" There was no subtlety to the edge in the question; Haru took a moment to keep himself from rising to it.
"I've called her that since I was a little kid, so not really. It's not just me." He pulled his hands out of his pockets and rubbed them together quickly. "Listen, I might be wrong--she's kinda unpredictable, even to me--but I don't think she'll take you up on that. And you're the only person here who has any idea what's going on with her. No one else who notices a change is going to figure it out."
"I already told her I'd keep it a secret."
"That's not the favor. It's just... if you do care about her, see if she'll let you be her friend. If you can handle it. She likes you."
Satoru stared at him in disbelief. "You're asking me to be friends with your girlfriend, who just broke up with me."
"And for some reason you think that's a good idea."
Haru glanced back through the glass door. "I think it's a bad idea for her not to have someone she can talk to, if she needs to. And she trusted you." The foyer light was just bright enough to make it difficult to see outside; only the glow of headlights across the street betrayed Hatori's presence. "Trusts you."
"Not enough, apparently." Bitterness flared up, and Satoru glanced away in embarrassment at letting it show. "You're really not at all worried about me trying to win her back, are you?"
"I'm not worried about it working if you do," Haru said candidly. "That's got nothing to do with you. Rin is Rin. She does things I don’t understand, but if she ever leaves me again it won't be over someone else." He ran an idle finger down his earlobe, clicking the three hoops together. "If she lets you get to know her, you'll probably understand."
Watching him toy with his jewelry, Satoru frowned in confusion. "Why did you take her earrings?"
"Because I want to wear them." The answer seemed obvious to him, but Satoru's expression didn't change.
The front door banged open behind them; Haru waited while three girls by and went inside before he elaborated. "Because they were under her skin. That's all. So I can put them under my skin when I can't be with her."
Satoru leaned back against the doorframe, narrowly missing the intercom buttons. "Is that what you think being in love means?" A flicker of sincere curiosity showed in his eyes.
"Wanting to be connected to her every way I can? Yeah. She's like that too." Haru cracked the knuckles on one hand absently, rubbing at the single ring he wore. "But it's--okay, you can see I've got my ears done, and there're a couple other things--and that's important to me, that I can do that to myself. It's the other way 'round for her. To her, it'd be something being done to her, even if she decided to do it on her own. And I love her, so I want..." Lost in thought, he half-forgot Satoru's presence. "Something that's wrong for her is natural for me, so it feels like I should be able to carry it for her."
A faint prickle of discomfort ran over his skin as he jerked his attention back to Satoru, in time to see the half-suppressed envy on the other man's face. "And she loves you as much as you love her?"
She did once. The memory of the way she'd kissed him goodbye made it easy to quash the doubt ingrained by so many months apart. "Yes," he said simply.
"When will you see her again?"
"She said she might come home for New Year's, so maybe then." This time, saying it aloud made him shiver; he prayed it was the night air chilling him. "But maybe not. Maybe she'll never come home again. I'll go anywhere she wants me to, and she has a friend who'll want to see her, but I don't know. When she's ready to see me." He glanced at the clock above the door. "And I have to go. Will you help her?"
"Yeah," Satoru said, looking oddly resigned. "If she'll talk to me."
"Okay." Haru leaned against the glass wall a moment longer, trying to decide if there was anything else that needed saying. Nothing came to mind. "Thanks."
Satoru looked at him in silence before nodding and turning away, and Haru pushed the door open and headed back to Hatori and the waiting, by-now-smoke-filled car.
Rin had been right: Kagura was more than willing to help him sort through her clothes, carefully putting some aside for storage and packing the rest to be shipped to her. Kagura was as curious as she was helpful, but Haru's reluctance to answer her questions gradually quieted them.
"But she is okay, right?" she asked finally, trying to figure out how to fold a slippery indigo shirt that was insubstantial enough to fit into the box she'd been about to close before she spotted it. Haru sat back on his heels and watched before he took it from her; it felt like it wouldn't wrinkle, so he lined up the sleeves and rolled it up carefully. "I can't believe she didn't take anything with her. I mean, I knew she wasn't going to live here forever, but..."
"Yeah, she's okay." He held the box closed while Kagura taped it shut, glad he didn't have to try avoiding her touch. Ordinary people had no reason to notice the subtle way Jyuunishi dodged them, but there would be no way to hide it from her. He'd hugged Kisa when he got home, figuring it would be easier to deal with her if she unexpectedly transformed, and there had been no reaction other than her startled squeak.
He'd held her for longer than he meant to, and she'd relaxed into the embrace until he was ready to let her go. Afterwards, there had been a strange look in her eyes; she'd reached out and touched his arm experimentally, but said nothing.
Kagura eyed the open closet ruefully. "I don't know how to take care of most of this stuff, Haru-chan. You and Isuzu wear fabrics I've never touched except on you."
"We don't wear the same things," he said. "She doesn't wear much leather."
She looked unconvinced. "How about I start wrapping up her jewelry, and you deal with her clothes for a while?"
"Sure." Going through Rin's clothing was an act of nostalgia, thick with bittersweet memories. Her wardrobe was a map of her fluctuating health, ranging from garments that clung beautifully to her curves when she was lithe and strong to things that distracted the eye from visible bones. Everything he recognized, he packed into a box destined for Sapporo; everything else, he examined carefully to see if it would be of any use to her.
"She didn't want you to just send everything?" Kagura asked, sitting back on her heels to braid her hair.
Haru set aside the skirt he'd been considering. "It'd be scary if she got hold of some of this stuff and wished she could wear it again."
"Hmm." Kagura looked at it critically. "Yeah. A lot of this is the kind of thing most of us see on the shelves and wish we could wear, but I've seen Isuzu in it. She usually looked really good, as long as you didn't know she wasn't strong enough to do anything. No wonder she didn't go visit Shihan--he would've taken one look at her muscles and had a fit." Haru tried and failed to imagine Kazuma showing any sort of panic, but he could clearly picture the worried gaze that made the dojo's students hang their heads.
"Yeah." He brought her the first dish of jewelry: a deep nest of necklaces, with chains and chokers tangling like vines. Kagura stared down at it in alarm. "This could be a lot worse--at least she's kind of got it organized." He slipped a finger through the loops and lifted some pendants out, examining them thoughtfully. "Hmm. Decisions, decisions."
"She owes me," he explained, turning them over one by one. "I told her I'd swipe one of hers in exchange." He settled on a choker he remembered Rin wearing, black leather studded with silver knotwork instead of spikes. It was something she had toyed with when she was lost in thought, imprinting the pattern into her fingertips.
He had to wear it much more loosely than she had; there was a faint discoloration where the buckle had touched the strap when it was around her throat. It took a minute to adjust it properly, but it sat comfortably when he was done. He touched it as she had, slowly, before draping the other chains and cords out across the dish's edge. "So. Clothes."
"As long as you're not keeping any of those, too," Kagura said as she began picking at two chains that were trying to knot together.
He had no contact at all with Rin until early December, when she sent a message to his cell phone to say that her clothes had arrived safely.
Everything's here, thanks. I remember the necklace you kept. Still getting my head together, but I miss you.
A day passed before he replied, trying to outwait the tight dryness in his throat every time he thought about what to say. He knew the answer to his question before he composed it; it shone painfully between the lines of her note, in the way he could hear her voice saying those carefully-chosen words.
You're not coming back for New Year's, are you?
I can't, she sent back, only minutes later. Haru sat cross-legged on the floor, leaning his head back on his bed while he stared blankly at the ceiling.
Okay. Nothing else came to mind that didn't sound like an accusation or a plea when he sounded it out. He was suddenly, desperately glad for the impersonal text on a tiny screen, that they couldn't hear each other's voices and silence.
The phone chirped again. I love you, too.
"Come back," he whispered to the empty room. "Rin. Please." His head throbbed with weariness, enough to make him want to lie down and see what dreams came.
Instead, he went downstairs to help his mother start getting supper ready. If his hug took her by surprise, she hid it well; she held him unquestioningly until he broke the embrace. "It feels nice," he said, dropping his gaze. "Thanks." She patted his shoulder gently, and he found the ghost of a smile for her.
Running into Akito the following day was more of a shock than it should have been; the real wonder, he realized later, when he had a chance to collect his thoughts, was that he'd managed to go for months without so much as glimpsing her. Sometimes he'd almost thought he sensed her, the bond's absence pushing them apart as strongly as its presence had drawn them to each other.
They met on one of the paths to Kureno's house as Haru was leaving, and despite his own reputation for wandering obliviously, it was Akito who nearly walked into him after he'd seen her and stopped. His skin prickled uneasily as he waited for her to notice him; a vague dread pooled in his stomach, wondering if some visceral connection might linger between them. She was never my lover, it was-- Months of thought hadn't yet provided him with a word for it.
He didn't allow himself to move out of her way, and when there were only a few feet between them she came to an abrupt halt and looked up, her lips shaping his name before her eyes had reached his face. "Hatsuharu."
He nodded acknowledgement, too struck by her appearance to think of a response. Relief at his complete lack of desire for her was overwhelmed by the exhaustion on her face. She looked so frail that he could hardly imagine anyone not seeing her as a woman. "Who else?" he asked finally. Akito was plainly coming undone, the threads that held her together unraveling. It made her look eerily like Rin.
"Kisa," Akito replied, clearly too worn down to pretend. "Momiji."
"Did you pull the same stunt with him you did with me?" The soft tone didn't fool her; her lips tightened and her shoulders pulled back. No longer his god, but it was still the Head of the family glaring at him.
"Do you want me to apologize for offering you what men always want?"
"That's not an answer!"
"No?" The familiar spite was dulled, but not gone. "Didn't Isuzu think the same thing?" Haru forced himself not to step back. "I held her soul in my hands. Her body--" she spat the word like poison "--was only worth something to her when it gave you pleasure." She shivered in the cold, holding her ground. "She didn't keep many secrets in the dark."
"Maybe she thought that sometimes," Haru whispered. "But I never did. Not once. You held my soul, too--call me a liar! I screwed up and I hurt her, but I never used her."
"For all the good it did either of you."
"You don't know what good it'll do us. You..." He trailed off into comprehension. "No one told you. She remembers, Akito." A blank look replaced her weary malice, followed by disbelief as he smiled. "She remembers you. And me. And all the things you made Tori-nii rip out of her.
"She knows I love her."
It was the first time he'd ever seen Akito struck speechless. While she stared at him, he continued, "Don't ever go near her again. If you hurt her, there's nothing left to keep me from killing you--not the bond, not what I did with you, nothing."
"And who would regret that?" He might have imagined the half-voiced question, except for the way her eyes were looking through him.
"Kureno," he replied at once. "Shigure-sensei. Any of us you haven't driven into hating you, every way you could, and we--" The lost expression on her face almost cut through his cold anger. "We were born loving you. Why couldn't you just love us back?"
She said nothing, and finally Haru turned and walked away.
Two days before New Year's, an envelope came from Sapporo, bursting with paper, and with a hard lump tucked between the pages. Haru ran his fingers over it, tracing a thin chain and the solidity of a pendant. She sent it back, was his immediate numb thought, followed by a building pain in his chest as his heart and lungs both seemed to stop working. Please, please don't let her have--
He made it back to his room before opening the small package; he eased the stack of paper out carefully, hands trembling, and poured the necklace out onto his pillow. A separate sheet of paper was taped to it, Rin's handwriting shaky but recognizable as it spilled across the page. With some effort, he closed his hand over the necklace without looking at it, and read the brief note.
I bought this before you came here, and then I couldn't figure out why. I don't even want to touch it right now, so can you hang on to it for me? I can't do what you do, but later I might want something to remember what I was.
The katakana at the end looked awkward enough that he wondered if she'd ever signed anything with her nickname before. Haru stared at it, and then opened his hand to see what he was holding: a silver chain with a pendant shaping the sign of the Horse, more solidly wrought than most of the jewelry she chose. The kanji was overlaid on the silhouette of a horse's head, blacker than her animal shape had been, stylized but unmistakable. He wondered where she had found it--it didn't have the feel of the merchandise made for and sold to foreigners who were enticed by the idea of the Chinese zodiac.
The rest of the paper was completely covered in sporadically-dated writing and sketches; the first sheet was dated two days after he'd last seen her, and began with his name: Haru, my head's still swimming, and I'm scared... Page after page of raw emotion, words alive with an unfiltered honesty he recognized only from her touch and her tears. The drawings and the writing flowed into each other, a seamless connection of her mind's visual language and the verbal expression she had always found awkward. Crystallized memories, one or two of them disorienting to see through her eyes instead of his own.
The last page ended almost abruptly, her stream-of-consciousness message to him trailing off in perfect coherence. I can't come back. Please come in February, before you go back to school...?
He set it aside and rested his head on his arm, watching the little stack of paper slip and spill across the blanket. February in Sapporo. The Snow Festival Rin had wanted to attend for years, held back by the rarity of a Jyuunishi doing anything of the sort. He remembered shivering involuntarily the first time she'd mentioned it, imagining her in a northern winter.
But look! Haru! She'd pushed the book she was reading at him, wide-eyed with wonder at the ice sculptures in the photographs. Never mind the cold--there're sweaters. And ramen. It had been impossible not to be pulled in by her enthusiasm as she sprawled carelessly across his lap. Artist's fingers had traced the lines of each picture, drawing his attention to details he might have missed, explaining the intersections of angles and light. Pretend we can go, she'd whispered when she was done, squeezing her eyes shut while he caressed her hair.
Pretend. Rin, who had never asked for illusions, who had allowed him his own. He rubbed a thumb across the symbol of her zodiac, the crafted memory of a loss that made her small dream possible.
"You know I'll come," he said to the empty room. "I don't need to know what happens after that."
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 "Girl" by Tori Amos, found on "Little Earthquakes".