"Well, you see —"
“Here,” Kyo says abruptly, after dinner one evening. “I just remembered.” He takes a folded sheet of paper out of his jacket pocket and passes it over to Toru, who unfolds it with interest to reveal a grainy black and white image of what looks to be someone’s empty apartment: a lone window, tatami flooring, a door off to the right. A smaller photo below shows a tiny kitchen. Another, a second bare room. The last, a bath.
“It’s lovely,” Toru says politely. “What is it?” Yuki has turned from the TV, curious, and she hands him the paper — Kyo’s eyebrows tick but he doesn’t protest. She smiles to herself.
“Oh, right. Master gave it to me… I guess he got it from his computer…? Somehow?” Kyo’s eyes narrow.
“Master-san has a computer?” Toru asks, impressed.
“Honda-san, he must have downloaded it from a website. It looks like a real estate listing, isn’t it?” Yuki says. “You download things from the internet, you know,” he adds, speaking slowly and directly to Kyo, seeming to sparkle a little bit.
“I know about the internet!” Kyo snaps. Toru takes the paper back from Yuki, impressed by this feat of technology. “Anyway — it’s a boardin’ house in Itayanagi. I guess a lotta Master’s friend’s pupils rent from there, so Master thought --“
“Oh!” Toru peers back at the paper, giving the grainy pictures a new look. “It’s quite large, isn’t it?” The two Somas look at her blankly, and she can’t help but giggle. Not everyone in Japan grows up in gigantic traditional houses and estates! “When I was little, my mom and I lived in an apartment much smaller than this! I think it would be perfect for us, Kyo-kun.”
“Good,” Kyo says, looking relieved. “Anyway!” he adds, “it’s just for a year or two, so it ain’t gotta be too fancy, not right away!”
Toru looks back down at the paper — imagining a TV in the corner, a kotatsu by the window — it’s a shame there doesn’t seem to be a veranda for laundry. The kitchen looks so tiny. Maybe she ought to start saving up for a microwave…? Oh! And curtains! Toru could save up and buy them, but she’s struck by a sudden, rather romantic idea: what if she were to ask someone like Ayame-san for help sewing her own? After all, even if it’s just for ‘a year or two,’ it will be her and Kyo-kun’s very first home, and —
“It’s a one bedroom, isn’t it?” Yuki asks, plucking the paper out of Toru’s hands as she daydreams and Kyo gives him a dubious look.
“Yeah, what about it?”
Yuki laughs elegantly behind his hand. “Nothing… nothing…”
“You definitely mean something,” Kyo grumbles, rubbing his forehead. Although they’ve gotten along much, much better since the curse has broken — Toru smiles wistfully to herself. In truth, they wouldn’t seem like themselves without bickering a little.
“It’s a big step,” isn’t it?” Yuki says, beginning once more to sparkle.
“Ain’t much bigger than moving halfway across Honshu once we graduate.”
“Oh, Kyon,” Yuki says, the shine starting to overtake the very room. “Still so innocent.”
“Shut up!” Kyo snaps, half standing from the table, his red face clashing with his hair. “Don’t talk about that shit in front of Toru!”
“Um…” Toru asks, tearing herself away from her daydreams. “Talk about whats sort of thing, exactly?”
“Nothing!” Kyo and Yuki say together, Kyo much louder, even Yuki blushing. “I’m sorry, Honda-san,” Yuki says. “I was just teasing that idiot a little.” Kyo sits back down. “Since he’s such an easy target,” Yuki adds, giving Toru a sweet, reassuring smile. Kyo looks at the TV. “Such an easy, dumb -“
“I get it already!” Kyo snaps, raising himself back up.
After two years, the house has routines — routines they still uphold, even with Shigure absconded to the main house, leaving just the three of them to keep order. Although keeping the kitchen tidy has always been under Toru’s purview, Yuki likes to help with the dishes. In the past, he’d sometimes been annoyed at Kyo for not helping Toru wash up — he’d somewhat enjoyed the feeling of superiority his anger gave him — but now… doing dishes together was one of the few times Yuki could have Toru entirely to himself.
It wasn’t that Toru ignored him or anyone — wasn’t that Kyo hogged her time so completely — but they were increasingly more and more of a joint package, would always be a joint deal, and Yuki was aware that in Toru’s list of priorities and loves, long and encompassing that it might be, Kyo was now first and would likely always be.
He wasn’t jealous. He was happy for Toru. Even a tiny bit happy for Kyo.
But this time, his and Toru’s time, was even more precious than ever before.
Toru is washing, he is rinsing and drying, and they’re talking about Machi.
“I actually have asked her to come over,” Yuki is saying. “I mean… I’ve definitely told her I’d like her to.”
“You should!” Toru says, passionately enough that she half brandishes her scrub brush. “I try to say hello to Machi-san when I find her in school, but I’d really enjoy having a more formal conversation!”
Yuki laughs. “I think you’re starting to scare her.”
“What!?” Toru squeaks, dropping a plate with a splash into the sink.
“You keep popping up at random to say hello… Machi said you might be stalking her.”
“I’m so sorry! I had no idea that I was distressing her in my attempts to be Machi-san’s friend! I should go find her and -“
“Relax,” Yuki says, enjoying seeing Toru so flushed and flustered. “I told her you were just being friendly. I do want her to come over, it’s just…” He looks up at the wall in front of the sink, a familiar visage seeming to cast a shadow on the paint… “I know that person will show up too, somehow…”
“It’s okay!” Toru says. “I’m sure I can do my best to not offend Manabe-san…”
“No, no, that’s not what I’m worried about,” Yuki says. “I just know I’ll get exhausted, and anyway…”
“I know!” Toru says suddenly, “maybe we can all go on a date together! You and Machi-san, and - and me and Kyo-kun!”
Yuki smiles to see her blush, just a little, even after a whole summer of dating Kyo. It isn’t shyness… just ‘Toru.’ He’s so very glad to see her so happy… but… “I’d sooner die,” he says brightly.
Toru visibly slumps. “I’m kidding,” he adds with a smile. “More or less. Forget about Kyo, but I would really like it if you and Machi became friends.”
“Of course,” Toru says. She smiles, bites her lip, and hands Yuki a plate. “Yuki-kun… I’ve been thinking for a while, is it not true that lately you’ve really started to enjoy teasing Kyo-kun?”
“I’ve always liked making fun of him,” Yuki says cheerfully. Toru is giving him such a hopeful look that he allows himself to soften. “We came to an understanding… I guess,” he says.
“I’m very glad to hear it!” Toru says brightly. She doesn’t push him, she never does, and Yuki dries quietly for a moment, silent, smiling. She never pushes him, but he knows he could say anything, admit anything…
He’s content to work silently, but eventually he has to ask the other thing that’s been on his mind. “By the way…” he glances behind him towards the living room, but Kyo is still in the bath. “How are things going with Kyo?”
“They’re wonderful!” Toru says immediately, grinning up at him in a way Yuki finds incredibly, utterly charming — even if it is due to Kyo. Not that he’d expected, or wanted, another answer.
“But I mean…” In truth, Yuki doesn’t know how to ask this. In his head, he can hear Kakeru just bursting out with the question… he doesn’t want to do this, not simply because it’s rude, but because it’s embarrassing. He can hear Kakeru again. She’s his mommy!
No! But yes.
“Yuki-kun?” Toru asks, looking up at him with concern.
“Living together is a pretty big step, right?” Yuki says, losing his nerve to a smile.
“I’m nervous about leaving home,” Toru says, cheerful, so dear, misunderstanding: “but really, in a way, Kyo-kun and I have ‘lived together’ for two years now, so I’m not terribly nervous!”
That’s not what he meant at all, Yuki reflects, drying the last of the plates.
But how they hell do you ask a question like that one in the first place?
Haru is, of course, the one to ask the question aloud.
The group of them had gathered for a late lunch after classes ended Saturday, lingering and swapping snacks and sandwich halves. “We should go to an amusement part or something, while the weather is still good,” Arisa says, sprawled out on the lawn. “Kyon, you can conquer your fear of heights!”
“I don’t have a fear of heights! Probably!” Kyo snaps.
“That would be a lot of fun!” Momiji chirps. “When should we all go?”
“Yes, please let me know! I have to schedule it with my job…” Toru says. “We’ll have to invite Yuki-kun as well, and perhaps Machi-san would like to join us…”
“Yuki-kun… that’s right, I once knew someone with that name,” Saki says mysteriously, drawing snorts from most of the assembled and even Kyo.
“It’s true, the prince has kinda dumped us, hasn’t he?” Arisa asks. She glances over at Kyo, who is picking absently through a bag of barbecue chips. “‘Good riddance,’” she says.
“I’m over it,” Kyo says with a huff.
“You’ve matured, Kyo,” Haru says blankly.
Kyo huffs again. “Anyway, it sounds fun an’ all, but I gotta get going.”
“Are you headed to Otou-sama’s place?” Saki asks, a hand over her heard.
“None of your damn business!” Kyo snaps, with much more of his usual heat.
Toru giggles. “Lately, Kyo-kun has been helping out teaching one of Master-san’s junior classes!” she says proudly. “He’s turning into a great teacher!”
“Ohh, now that’s something I can’t picture,” says Arisa.
“It’s the kind of thing I wanna see for myself,” Momiji chimes in.
“Kyo… teach me, sometime,” Haru says with great sincerity.
“Shaddup,” Kyo grumbles. “Anyway, I’m takin’ off. Toru, you comin’?”
“Yes!” Toru exclaims, springing to her feet up after Kyo. Within a few minutes, they’ve cleaned up and said goodbye, leaving the other four sitting on the grass.
“Forget Yuki,” Momiji says, a little sulkily, “at least he abandoned us for a girl far away.”
“Well, if Kyon ever tried to pull that shit, we’d all have to stage a riot,” Arisa says with a wave of her hand. “At least until…”
Until they leave, she doesn’t say. Until Kyo takes Toru away, to some tiny, insignificant town she’d never even heard of… true, it’s not like Arisa doesn’t have her own plans, isn’t also planning on going away in a few months… true, Toru is happy… but…
Whether by reading her mind or not, Saki catches Arisa’s eye, and they share the same thought. Bittersweet.
“Do you think they’ve done it yet?” Haru asks, breaking the wistful silence, his voice as flat as ever.
“Like hell!” Rin snaps, clutching her notebook to her, when Momiji relates the previous day’s conversation. “There’s no way Toru and that idiot -“
“Right? Right?” Momiji says, pounding the table with his fist for emphasis. “We have to protect Toru!”
“It’s not really that weird, is it?” Haru asks vaguely, even though Arisa and Saki had reacted in the same way. “They’ve been together for months… and they’re planning’ on moving in together…”
“Don’t talk about it like it’s going to happen!” Rin seethes.
He blinks and then smiles gently at her. “Rin… you’re protective of your friend.”
“That’s besides the point,” says Rin, looking away embarrassed. “A- anyway, this is Toru we’re talking about. She’s -“
“Toru is pure and kind! But this is Kyo we’re talking about!” Momiji says, hitting the table again.
“Isn’t he also pure?” Haru asks. He smiles at Rin and Momiji’s oddly identical looks of exasperation.
“Well… he is pretty dumb when it comes to this kind of thing,” Momiji concedes, resting his chin in his cupped hands. “I guess Toru is safe for now.”
“If she just dumped him, all our problems would go away,” Rin says, flipping to a new page in her notebook.
“Oh, so you’re jealous,” says Momiji.
“Oh, so you missed your chance to confess,” says Haru.
“I am not!” Rin yells. Haru smiles at her, glad — so glad — to see her energetic again, after so long caught in her tangles, lost and alone…
But still… He rests his chin on his own palm. He and Rin did it basically the first time they confessed. Is it really that strange to assume?
“Kyon!” Arisa says, punctuating the greeting by kicking his desk two feet to the side, Kyo’s backpack along with it, sliding to the floor and spilling all over.
“Haven’t you outgrown this?” Kyo says with narrowed eyes.
“Don’t give me a maturity talk when I’m the one calling you out!” Arisa yells. A few of their classmates glance over, but after three years, they’re all basically used to the two of them having it out.
“Well then stop kickin’ people’s desks!”
“I only kick yours!” Arisa says triumphantly.
“U- um,” Toru ventures, but Saki pulls her aside.
“This is a private matter, Toru-kun,” she says.
“How is it a private manner when you jump me the second break starts?” Kyo grumbles. Where maybe a year before, he would have jumped up and matched Arisa’s yells, he remains seated in his now isolated chair, crossing his arms.
“Dammit, you really have matured,” Arisa says with amused annoyance. “Anyway, me and Hanajima need to have a talk with you. Alone.”
“Is everything okay?” Toru asks, creeping forward again.
“Oh yeah! Everything is fine! Consider this an act of parental care,” Arisa says brightly.
“That don’t sound fine to me,” Kyo grumbles, but agrees to stay a few minutes after class when Arisa demands it.
With Toru waiting anxiously outside, Kyo is escorted up to the roof by Saki and Arisa after class. He’s briefly lost in thought once they emerge — he hasn’t been up here in a long time. With the cat spirit gone… no… he still likes sitting up on the roof of the house when he needs to think, it isn’t like he doesn’t like high places anymore… but that urge to run away and hide up high… was that the cat spirit?
Or maybe he doesn’t need to run away as much as he used to?
“Don’t start daydreaming now,” Arisa says, smacking him lightly on the shoulder.
“My apologies,” Kyo says sarcastically. He leans against the fence bordering the rooftop, trying not to feel intimidated by two girls. “It’s weird for you two to call me out like this.”
“We only wanted to talk to you,” Saki says, smiling, a dark aura emanating from her body.
“That’s right! Ask some simple, friendly questions!” Arisa says, channeling her past self as a gang member.
Kyo gives them both flat looks, kind of intimidated despite his best efforts. “Yeah, but you didn’t have to do it in a way Toru noticed,” he says, scratching at his forehead. “She’s worried.”
Arisa’s expression softens, although Kyo doesn’t notice.
“Oh, that was intentional,” Saki says with an insincere giggle.
“We didn’t want to worry her, but this is a conversation she’s gotta know happened,” Arisa says. “No getting all bashful and keeping it hidden for the better part of a year this time.”
“You’re tryin’ to imply something really specific, but I have no idea what,” Kyo says with narrowed eyes.
Instead of taking the bait, the girls exchange loaded glances. Saki, who has always scared Kyo much more, smiles brightly and is the one to ask the question at hand. “Yes… I think we should get to the point. Please answer sincerely, if you value your life. How far, exactly, has your and Toru-kun’s relationship… progressed?”
Kyo wonders if, without the cat spirit, he would survive leaping from the roof four floors up.
There is a very strange, heavy mood in the air when Arisa, Saki, and Kyo return to greet Toru: she notices it at once, and the feeling is only reinforced by the meaningful looks the three keep exchanging, and the way Saki places both her hands on Toru’s shoulders and urges her to call, day or night, any time, if she needs to. Then they say goodbye, leaving Toru and Kyo to walk home together.
Normally, this is one of her favorite parts of the day -- not that, naturally, Toru does not also love meals with everyone, class with everyone, planning outings with everyone, doing chores with Yuki, etc., -- but her time with Kyo is precious. Even knowing soon they’ll be together in a new town, even knowing the rest of their lives stretches before them… it’s precious. So precious.
Today, however, it’s incredibly heavy. “Um!” Toru finally says, after a few minutes of walking side by side in complete silence. Since the curse broke, Kyo had… maybe not become more talkative than before, but certainly more relaxed. This current silence reminds her terribly of those moments where his mind had been weighed by burdens, and… “While I understand it may have been a very private conversation, nevertheless, if it’s okay, may I ask --“
“Oh.” Kyo blinks. “Oh! Sorry!” he says hastily, raising his hand and looking a little confused. “I got stuck in my own head for a minute there…” he runs his hand through his hair.
“No! I apologize for having interrupted!” Toru says, turning to him, walking two steps sideways, and then tripping over a crack in the sidewalk.
Kyo catches her by the upper arm. “Don’t try an’ walk fancy while talkin’,” he says with amusement that relaxes her.
“R- right,” Toru says with a bit of a giggle. She sobers again, walking with more attention to the sidewalk when Kyo lets her go. “But… it’s simply that I hope Uo-chan and Hana-chan…”
“No, I ain’t … it’s not like they were mean to me or anything,” Kyo says, looking up at the sky. “It’s just that I’m scared for my life.”
She trips again. Kyo catches her again, yanking her towards him as she careens backwards. In her attempts to regain her balance, Toru clutches onto his arm and shoulder — and even now, months later, has a brief moment of panic: ah! The curse!
But nothing happens but Kyo looking amused down at her. “Maybe we can talk while sitin’ down?” he suggests, pointing over at an unoccupied bench.
“Yes please… thank you…” Toru says, embarrassed, but also glancing, pleased, at his bare left wrist.
Once seated, she waits for another few moments while Kyo gathers his thoughts. She can’t help the feelings of anxiety, but he doesn’t look that troubled, and … Uo-chan and Hana-chan didn’t really threaten his life… probably…
“Okay, I’m just gonna go ahead an’ say it flat out,” Kyo eventually says, waving his hand vaguely.
“Of course, please do,” Toru says, clutching nervously at her knees.
“They wanted to know… if you an’ me…” Kyo waves his hand again. “You know…” despite his promise to say it flat out, he seems incapable, and Toru blinks, trying to perhaps psychically understand his waves. “If we’d… together…”
His hair is clashing so badly with his face… it reminds Toru of something, and that’s when it dawns on her. “Oh! Oh!” She clutches at her own burning cheeks. “You mean they a- asked you?”
“They… wanted to know if I … I mean… ‘cause you’re all innocent an’ stuff… like I was gonna take advantage, or…”
“But you wouldn’t do that!” Toru insists loudly, not sure if she’s more righteously defensive or embarrassed right now — Kyo looks surprised and then his embarrassment breaks. He laughs.
“Well, I guess they’re worried ‘cause we’re leavin’ soon.”
“What did you… um…”
“I kinda just… promised to take care of you an’ got outta there as fast as I could,” Kyo admits, looking back up towards the sky, just beginning to darken in the early evening.
Toru considers this for a moment. “Ohh…” she says, covering her entire face with her hands. “I need to go apologize to Hana-chan and Uo-chan!”
“And I should apologize to you as well, Kyo-kun!” she realizes, lowering her hands to turn and face him. “It’s really because of me you’ve gotten into trouble!”
“I mean, I can’t deny that…” Kyo says vaguely. She can’t help her nervous whimper, and he smiles, reaching over to brush her cheek with his knuckles. “Kidding. Anyway, I didn’t say nothin’. No way in hell was I gonna.”
“I appreciate your discretion very much,” Toru mumbles politely, enjoying the caress but still ever so embarrassed by the whole thing. “I apologize that Hana-chan and Uo-chan believed you would take advantage of me.”
“Okay, that makes it sound even worse,” Kyo grumbles. “They’re just… lookin’ out for you, since you’re so ‘clean’ or whatever. Not that anyone looks out for me an’ my stuff,” he adds as an afterthought.
“I’ll look out for it!” Toru cries out, even saying it a little aware of how silly that sounds, but also meaning it — but oh, Kyo is kidding. He laughs again, and she smiles at her lap, embarrassed again… but also a little bit pleased, at how happy he’s become since the curse broke.
“Too late,” he says. “Anyway, that’s all they were after. I said I wasn’t gonna pressure you to do anything an’ they let me run away with my tail between my legs.”
“Even so… I’ll apologize to them…” Toru mumbles, and Kyo doesn’t argue.
“No way did I tell them how it really went down,” he mutters, half to himself, crossing his arms. “I got some pride as a guy.”
The day they’d visited Kyoko’s grave together, Toru had come to Kyo’s room after the house had gone to bed. He’d been in his pajamas, already half asleep really, the futon laid out — but she’d knocked and he’d, surprised, let her in. Followed her as she sat down formally in the middle of the room and sat down opposite her. Toru had that stubborn look on her face — her I got something on my mind look.
Kyo didn’t have to wait long, all things considered.
“Kyo-kun, I have been thinking, if that’s alright with you,” Toru had blurted out.
Has she ever noticed she gets even more formal when she’s embarrassed? Kyo wondered. Although honestly, he found it cute as hell. “Yeah?”
She took another few seconds to muster the strength. “Now that it’s been decided we’ll be living together in the future, I would like - I mean — eventually, I hope we’ll also get married…” she trails off, almost too quiet for him to hear — the pounding of his heart in his throat probably a contributing factor.
“Y- yeah! I mean, sure, but only - not that I’m sayin’ I don’t wanna, but at least I think I should be able to provide for us first, so…!”
“Right! That’s fine,” Toru says with her dopiest smile that makes Kyo think of all sorts of dopey shit like she’s so cute and I can’t believe I get to… — “I want a few years to save up money working as well.”
“Okay,” he says, finding himself smiling somehow.
“Yes!” For a few dopey seconds they just kind of grin at one another. “But in that case, with that future decided…” Toru stops to take a deep breath, blushing as she does, “I believe we ought to now m… make love.”
All words and thoughts and feelings have left Kyo’s body. He is an empty shell. His soul departed. (He hadn’t even let himself consider whether or not Toru—) “C- come again?”
They managed it somehow.
“It ain’t like I’m not happy about this,” Kyo says after. He’s feeling a million things at once: happy, a little anxious, and kind of sparky – like his whole body is fizzy, even now that it’s over, the scary part done, never to come back. It’s the thrill, too, the weird thrill, of being able to just touch someone as much as he likes. To hold someone, to hold her, without fear of changing. To touch someone without having to calculate how much is safe, to know where the threshold is —
It’s almost better than the sex part.
(The teenager in Kyo immediately walks that one back. Because. How had he never known how great that was gonna be?)
“It’s just…” he continues, struggling to regain his train of thought when he has just lost his virginity, and Toru is still here, they’re on his futon together, him on his back, staring at the ceiling he’s stared at for so many nights before, but never with Toru snuggled up in eighty percent of his comforter…
He glances over at her, a little worried by his silence. Too late to fret about rejection now, but… he’s relieved by her dopey expression. “Are you even listenin’ to me?” he teases, reaching and poking her shoulder.
He’d had this idea that everything would be completely altered and changed after, too, if it had ever even happened. Kyo’s immensely relieved that he feels no different at all.
“I’m very sorry,” Toru says with a dopey giggle, snuggling further into the comforter. “It’s just that I was thinking just now… Kyo-kun is really handsome.” He never quite knows how to reply to things like that — whether he looked “good” or “bad” was never even in the back of his mind; he’d always simply been a “thing,” a monster. But when she says it, it doesn’t bug him.
“Well… I’m tryin’ to get around to somethin’ serious here,” he says, but fondly: rolling to his side to face her and putting his arm over her just because he can. “I didn’t think you’d - I mean — I never woulda expected you to just come in here an’ say —“
“I understand!” Toru says with a giggle. “It’s true that compared to Uo-chan and Isuzu-san I’m inexperienced -“
“You really don’t have to bring them up right now,” Kyo says with fond exasperation.
Toru sits up, full of a strange (and adorable) sort of pride. “Well you see — when I started high school, Mom prepared me well! She sat me down and told me all about the birds and the bees and what to do if - Kyo-kun?”
He’s covering his face with his hands. “Your mom is the last person I wanna think about right now!” he grits out. “I just promised to take care of you, and the very same day, I —“
She giggles at him, lying back down - with only slight hesitation, both of them reveling in the safety, the lack of curses and changes, snuggles up against his side. “Don’t worry,” Toru says, still giggling a little. “I’ll tell her it was all my idea…”