“Tohru! Shishou! We’re back!” The bedraggled boy with the startling shock of orange hair barged into the house, followed quietly and more gracefully by a smaller boy of about the same age.
A cheerful girl, loose dark hair trailing in her wake, came trotting to the front door now banging against the attached wall. “Welcome back, Kyo and Yuki! How is your quest going? Are you hurt? Oops!” In her hurry in checking them over for sundry bumps, scrapes, and missing limbs, Tohru tripped and tumbled into the two boys. Instead of arresting her fall, the duo vanished within two puffs of magic smoke. Tohru hit the floor along with a yowling cat and a rather miffed mouse.
“OBVIOUSLY it’s not going well! And yes, thanks to you, I’m hurt NOW! Get off my tail!” the cat spat at the dazed girl.
The mouse gasped as it surfaced from beneath the folds of Tohru’s skirt. “Don’t blame Tohru, you pathetic cat. It’s entirely your own fault. If you had any skills whatsoever, you could have avoided being sat on.”
“What did you say, you stupid rat?” the cat yowled. This signaled a high speed chase around the girl as she slowly tsked and rubbed her aching head.
“Come on now, you Sohma brothers shouldn’t fight so much,” she admonished fondly.
Both Sohmas paused. “We’re cousins!” they retorted simultaneously, and then resumed their cat-and-mouse routine.
“Oh right,” Tohru laughed. A shadow fell across the three. Tohru looked up into the smiling face of Shishou.
“It’s been a while, Yuki, Kyo! Look at you, just in time and all ready for your regularly scheduled checkups!” he announced with a gleam in his eye, picking up both boys-turned-animal by the scruff of their necks and depositing them neatly on an examining table.
“That’s not why we’re here!” spat the cat, swiping at Shishou’s quickly retreating latex-gloved hand.
“He means that we came to be fed, not for the vet. Relax, Kyo. The less you squirm, the faster it’ll be over with.” The diminutive rat sat calmly as Shishou consulted charts and readied instruments.
“Yuki’s right, Kyo. And lucky you! No deworming today, just your rabies vaccine. Assistant Honda, if you please,” Shishou gravely handed a pair of needles to Tohru, who accepted them with equal assiduousness.
Kyo immediately began lashing out at anything within paw’s length. “NO NO NO NOT THE SHOT OH PLEASE NO –“
“It’s over, Kyo,” Tohru informed him cheerfully, holding up two drained injections.
“Oh.” Kyo finally settled down, wincing. “It’s bad enough having to get shots as a human, but to have to take all the stuff for cats too – “
“You have only yourself to blame,” Yuki interrupted him.
“No, you were there too,” Kyo frowned at him. “I remember all too well.”
It was a warm day. Out on a veranda behind a well-appointed villa, a small brightly-haired boy was playing all alone. However, his solitude was soon interrupted as another boy was suddenly pushed out of hall and landed on the deck, wood double doors slamming behind him.
“What do you want, Yuki?” Kyo asked the intruder suspiciously.
“Hatori and Shigure finally got here, so Ayame kicked me out ‘cause there’s only three remotes,” explained Yuki, sitting up and brushing his silver hair from his eyes. “What are you doing out here, Kyo?”
“Nothing. Just being mad ‘cause I’m so lonely and my mom doesn’t care about me,” Kyo responded glumly.
“Really? I thought your mom cared about you a lot,” Yuki asked curiously.
“Yeah, but she wouldn’t let me bring that super cool game that came out last week, and made me play here, because it’s ‘such a beautiful day outside’,” Kyo griped, forming quotes with his fingers.
“Oh yeah, I really wanted that game, but my parents gave it to Ayame instead since he’s the oldest, and said that we brothers should share. But he never does,” Yuki confided, small fist clenched in grievance.
Kyo sighed. “There’s gotta be something we can do so that our parents give us what we want.”
Yuki rose and dusted off his shorts. “We should check out the library.” He headed for an open set of French windows.
Kyo trailed after him curiously. “There’s a library here?”
Yuki answered him without turning. “Yeah, when we meet up for these family reunions, sometimes I go in there.”
Kyo made a face as they stepped through the low opening. “What for?”
“I look for new names to call Ayame that he doesn’t know the meaning of. That way, he’s too embarrassed to get me in trouble. Here, this one looks good.” Yuki reached up on this tiptoes and lunged for a dusty old book on an upper shelf. After a few grabs that landed pathetically short, Kyo finally brought over the wheeled stepladder.
“Thanks,” Yuki said, climbing up a retrieving the book. He blew dust off the leather-bound spine, embossed with gold letters spelling Secrets of the Sohma Clan: Special Powers and Abilities. After flipping through, he finally stopped on a spread of pages “Whoa, look at this!” he cried, shoving the book beneath Kyo’s nose. “’An ancient and unprecedented power, native to the animal spirits of the celestial expanses!’ We should try this!”
Kyo stared at the proffered book cross-eyed. “I don’t know what half of that means,” he stated bluntly.
“It means we’ll get an awesome power-up that has something to do with animals,” Yuki explained.
“I got that part from reading it,” Kyo scoffed. He thought for a minute. “Do you think it’ll be like those new second level transformations in that super cool game that came out last week?” he asked, a distinct note of interest entering his voice.
“Yeah, maybe!” Yuki agreed, enthused.
“I want to get a lion power-up!”
“I want a unicorn one!”
Kyo looked askance at his cousin. “A unicorn?”
“A unicorn is just as fast as a lion, and has a long horn to stab stuff with. None of the others’ve got that,” Yuki explained seriously.
“Whatever. Where does the book say how to get the power-up?”
“Right here,” Yuki responded, pointing to the appropriate page. The two conspirators read the instructions in silence, then made the necessary preparations and performed the secret ritual. Soon the transformation was complete.
“But wait – what was the ritual? You never told me,” Tohru asked.
Kyo glowered at her. “Then why would we tell you now?”
“It’s a Sohma secret,” Yuki answered more diplomatically. “We’re forbidden to tell you.”
“It was the hokey-pokey,” Shishou stated.
“What, really? You’re joking!” Tohru exclaimed, startled.
“SHISHOU! Why did you tell her? Now she’ll never respect us again!” Kyo wailed.
“Don’t worry, she never had any respect for you to begin with. But how did you find out, Shishou?” Yuki asked curiously.
“Kyo was ranting about it after he passed out from his last shot,” Shishou explained.
“You mean it was seriously the hokey-pokey?” Tohru asked, agog.
“Whatever! Do you want to hear the end of the story or not?” Kyo shouted, thoroughly embarrassed.
“Yes!” said Tohru.
“No,” said Yuki.
“We all already know the end,” said Shishou.
“I’m gonna listen to Tohru ‘cause she’s the only one who’s nice to me,” announced Kyo.
The boys put their left feet in and their left feet out with all due solemnity. Somewhere in the midst of shaking themselves about, they were swallowed by magic puffs of smoke. They looked down at themselves to admire their new powered-up forms.
The whole house came running to the sound of two high-pitched screams.
“And that’s why it’s all your fault, Yuki,” Kyo concluded.
“At least your form is within the same family as what you hoped for. A rat isn’t even remotely related to a unicorn,” Yuki mused.
“I feel like you skipped a lot,” Tohru commented.
“Everyone was shocked and horrified, especially when five minutes were up,” Yuki continued.
“Speaking of which…” Shishou threw two sets of clothes on the exam table, then grabbed Tohru and spun with her to face the wall. She yelped as the small room became flooded with more magical smoke. She squeezed her eyes shut to the sounds of two people getting dressed in record time.
“That sure felt like a long five minutes,” noted Yuki, smoothing down his shirt.
“And then we were kicked out of our homes because our parents are ridiculously allergic to cats and rats, and so we moved in with Shigure,” Kyo concluded in high bad humour, picking silky hairs off his pants.
“But you don’t now,” Tohru pointed out.
“Again, that was Yuki’s fault,” Kyo accused, jabbing a finger in his direction.
“Actually, it was Shigure’s. It’s not my fault before he left and never came back he never taught us what cleaning agents not to mix when cleaning the bath. And you were there too,” retorted Yuki.
“Actually so were Shishou and I. I remember,” Tohru said dreamily.
Shishou stumbled through the wreckage of the small apartment. It looked like the explosion from Shigure’s now former residence had cause a lot of collateral damage to his neighbor’s. He searched through the building, but found no one. No one, that is, until he saw the girl motionless beneath the broken window. Shattered glass surrounded her where she sat, but fortunately she herself appeared unharmed. He walked up to her, only to have two big brown eyes fixed on his own.
“Excuse me, mister, but why did my neighbors just fly through the window and land on me?” she asked politely.
Maybe she was not as undamaged as he thought, in the head anyway. “But there’s no one on you,” he responded gently and slowly.
“These two are,” she answered firmly, indicating a small mouse and tawny cat, both scared stiff.
Shishou sighed and rubbed his eyes. The things he had to deal with in this family. However, this time it was only a little girl. It shouldn’t be too hard to convince her it was just her imagination. “Oh, those two? Do you mean your neighbors’ pets?”
“No, they’re my neighbors. But they turned into these after they landed on me. You can see their clothes right there,” she explained, nodding to one side while absently stroking her lap’s two occupants simultaneously.
“Here, let me get you some help. You must be under a lot of stress, poor thing. Your neighbors couldn’t have turned into pets.” Shishou stated decidedly.
“I’d agree normally, but it happened anyway,” Tohru answered just as decidedly.
“It must be your imagination,” Shishou said, desperation rising. The cat and rat’s heads nodded vehemently. Shishou frowned at them, as that wasn’t helping.
Neither was the magical smoke as it suddenly appeared, bringing back two young teenage boys.
“See? I didn’t imagine that, did I?” Tohru said triumphantly, breaking off with a small “Eep!” as two bare chests came into view through the clearing magic smoke.
Yuki and Kyo scrambled into their clothes as Shishou led Tohru off to one side. “In short, they are victims of a terrible family curse. We must ask that you keep this a secret.”
“Oh, that’s okay. It’s not like I talk to anybody anyway. My immediate family’s dead and my extended family doesn’t really interact with me much. So no worries!” she concluded brightly.
Shishou gaped at her. Was this girl, living on her own with her apartment just destroyed, simply too sweet and brave to be believed, touched in the head, or just in shock from trauma? He leaned toward the latter as her eyes started brimming with tears.
“But you know, now that I think about it, it’s just too sad,” she sniffled.
Shishou muttered “There, there” and patted her back supportively.
She wiped her eyes, then subjected him to their piercing gaze. “Their situation is just too sad! Two brothers, on a quest to free themselves from cruel fate with no clues to go on, only able to rely on each other!”
Shishou paused. There were a number of inaccuracies in her summary, but she continued before he could decide which one to point out first.
“I’m going to help them!” Tohru declared, mind made up.
“And so I became Tohru’s guardian and made her my apprentice veterinarian,” Shishou concluded. “You’ve come quite a ways in such a short time, Tohru.”
Tohru beamed. “Thank you, Shishou! I mean, originally, I always wanted to grow up to be like my mom –“
“Your mom was in the yakuza,” Kyo pointed out.
“But once I met you, I knew I was meant to help you fulfill your dream of living free from your curse,” Tohru finished, smiling at the pair with sisterly affection.
Shishou patted her head fondly. “You know, I’ve always thought of Tohru as the most irreplaceable member of our little family. I mean, while we Sohmas are all related but estranged, like fruits of different types, Tohru, while not a Sohma herself, is the one that brings us all together, like a basket to hold fruit in. She always cares about us and protects us, so that makes her a very strong basket. A fullmetal basket!”
“A fullmetal basket! That’s so sweet of you, Shishou!” Tohru hummed as she left to dispose of the empty syringes and used gloves.
After the door closed behind her, the two boys looked at the older man with something similar to disgust.
“A fullmetal basket, really, Shishou?” Kyo asked disbelievingly.
“That would be one impractically heavy and therefore useless basket,” Yuki mused.
“Well, I don’t know. You could always use it to brain unsuspecting enemies with,” Shishou replied nonchalantly.
“Oh,” they answered.