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small voice, dark hall

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“Mom?”

Kyo wasn’t sure if he heard it, the small voice across the hall so late in the night. He had perked when he heard the far-off shuffle of feet, her door creaking open, but paused as nothing followed the question hanging in the air. There was only a long silence before the door shut again, and her footsteps receded.

For a moment, he watched his door, as though trying to see through it to her’s, and held his breath in waiting. A breeze from his window rustled the papers on his desk and ran a chill through his arms. There were the usual creaks and crallows of the house setting, like popping joints. The nighttime quiet seemed normal. He started to settle back into bed again, where he hadn’t been sleeping anyway, and began to shrug it off. Maybe she started sleepwalking...

The thought was disrupted by a couple muffled hiccups and the strong, painful in-heave that came from her room.

He sat up fully, where the cold hit him square -- he had tried to will himself to sleep with some fresh air and white noise, but ended up fidgeting through it anyway. Chilled, he grabbed the pullover draped over his desk chair once he got to his feet, and shut the window, bringing the house into further silence. As he neared his bedroom door, her cries were more pronounced, despite what he imagined were her efforts to cover them up.

Damn it. With his hand on the doorknob, he hesitated. To ignore it (to give her space, he reasoned) made his stomach feel heavy, but there was the chance that checking on her would make things worse. Would she try to cover it up, act as though he was hearing things? Would she divert the conversation, apologize for waking him? Try to hide behind the fact that it was late, apologize again…

He knew the answer to these questions, and yet he pushed down on the handle and stepped carefully into the hallway anyway, taking only a couple long, silent strides to reach her door. Before he could hesitate again, he knocked a gentle one-two with his knuckle.

The noises stopped abruptly. And then there was a long silence. He wondered, then, if she was going to take the bold route of feigning sleep, choosing not to answer the door at all. Like a child wanting to be carried in from a long car ride, unresponsive to being jostled.

Despite that, he called her name, trying to keep it quiet. While on a usual night he wouldn’t care if he woke the other two, he didn’t exactly want to bring attention to her when, it seemed, she wanted no one to hear her at all.

“Tohru?”

It took a moment, but he did eventually hear the soft landing of her feet on the floor. He stepped back when she neared, and when the knob turned, the door parted, revealing her flushed face. She looked up at him, then quickly downturned her gaze. 

Seeing her made his chest hurt. That was just a normal truth now. When she smiled, it hurt. When she laughed, spoke, sang to herself when she thought no one was around, the heaviness in him struggled, wanting and unsure. But seeing her embarrassed into silence, mouth trembling, hands trying to cover up and smooth her expression, felt more like needles deflating him than a rock sinking and settling down beyond his ribs. He watched her try to even her breathing, flinching when her breath hitched.  

Tentative, he raised a hand a placed it on the crown of her head. The gesture made her shoulders jump, but with another swipe at her eyes, she looked up at him again.  

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Her mouth gaped. For a second, it seemed as though she were going to speak, but as she tried, her expression soured again, and again she turned her face down to hide behind her hands. She struggled to suppress a whimper. Shifting, she sniffed against her sleeve.

“Tohru,” he said again. He felt nervous as he slid his hand under her bangs, feeling for a fever and not finding one. “Was it a bad dream?”

A pause. Then, she nodded minutely against his hand.

“I’m sorry,” she finally managed, “I didn’t mean…”

She couldn’t finish. He sighed, removing his hand from her forehead to instead bump his knuckles softly against it.

“Goof. You didn’t wake me up. Don’t worry about that.”

Let me worry about you, he thought, and the back of his neck burned for it.

She didn't respond to him. She focused instead on pressing her fingers against her eyes, as though willing the tears to go away.

“Well...do you want to talk about it?” he asked. When she looked up at him suddenly, he quickly added, “You don’t have to if you don’t want, but if you do, I’ll, you know. Listen. If you want.”

She sniffed again, hiding her nose behind her hand. Then, she turned her head to stare at something in her room, and he watched her face contort again. (What was in that corner, Kyo couldn’t for the life of him remember, what with the so few times he went in there.) When she turned back to face him, she gripped the outer door handle and carefully stepped forward. She shut the door behind her, and they stood in the hallway, oddly close, until Kyo took a half step backwards.

The walls creaked lowly as thick winds passed through the area.

She swallowed before speaking again.

“Um, can we…?”

Again, her words quickly grew thick, but as she pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, she gestured at his bedroom door with the other. When her breath hitched, she spared a glance down the hall at Yuki’s room, wary.

He took her hand in his without much thought (alright, he shot a short fuck that guy to Yuki, hoping he wasn’t secretly awake, judging him, doing fuck all) and guided her the few steps it took to reach his room. When they stepped in and he flicked on the light, her hands immediately went to her arms, and he, too, felt the chill that still hung in the room circling his bare feet.

He shut the door, praying that Shigure wasn’t lurking around downstairs, awake and listening, putting two and two together.

“Ah, right, uh. I had the window open before.” He stepped around her and crouched in front of his dresser, tugging open one of the lower drawers to pull out an extra blanket. “I couldn’t sleep, so…”

He stopped as he stood and shut the drawer with his foot, noticing that Tohru was just standing in the middle of his room. Though she looked on the edge of waterworks, she hesitated, looking at him as though awaiting permission.

Her waiting stare made him uncomfortable, but he realized, then, that this was the first time she had really been in his room for more than a few moments, for more than a casual doorway conversation, or to let him know dinner was ready. He reached up to rub the back of his neck, still hot, and with the blanket in his hand, he gestured at his bed before thinking more clearly of it.

“You can sit, you know.”  

He turned away when she stepped toward it, grabbing his desk chair in his free hand. When he turned back to face her, her face had returned to her hands, and she sat hunched, elbows to her thighs, hair cascading around her arms. The scene made his heart pang. Gentle, he set the chair in front of her, and before sitting he draped the throw blanket over her shoulders.

When she finally let out a full sob, the needles came back.

This wasn’t new, not exactly; he had seen her cry before. Usually soft and quiet, lost in thought, though there were fewer times where it was more like this, distraught, difficult to contain. His mind flashed briefly to the spring when she had seen him -- that -- but he shut it down as quickly as it had come. This wasn’t about that. No, this was about…

He reached out a hand to brush her bangs away from her face, sitting quietly as she cried into her hands. It never got much easier hearing it, watching her. But, he supposed, it wasn’t easy to cry so often, either. When she let one of her hands drop to her lap, he handed her a few tissues that he had grabbed from his desk, and she nodded a near-silent thanks.

All in all, she didn’t cry for very long, though it seemed that way so late in the night. When she finally settled, swiping at her nose with tissues, eyes with the cuffs of her pajama sleeves, the house seemed too quiet. The winds outside had passed, dulled down to normal breezes rustling the trees. The walls knocked every now and again. He pulled the blanket closer around her, even though the chill in his room had mostly dissipated.

“You okay?” he asked, voice low.  

“Yes,” she said. She swallowed away the last of the thickness in her voice, then said, with more clarity, “Thank you, Kyo-kun.

He shrugged. “I didn’t really do anything.”  

At that, she smiled at him, soft and tired. Her face slowly lost its flush, though the redness still hung around her eyes, alongside, he noticed, a little darkness. Two dark, little crescent moons clung to her lashline.

“No wonder you cry so much,” he said, reaching up the thumb the dark spot under her left eye. “You’re so damn tired all the time.”

Her brows perked, and before she could mutter out an apology, he stopped her, saying, “Don’t apologize.”

She closed her mouth. But, her face grew a little frustrated, and he knew she wanted to say “I wasn’t,” but she said nothing. He smiled lightly at her.

“It’s fine. Seriously, though, you wear yourself down. Bet you get stress nightmares.”

“Ah...mm. Maybe...”

She tugged the blanket closer around herself. She looked at his door, then down at her hands in her lap, brows pinched.

“I…”

He watched her face contort. Not as though she was about to cry again (though, he had learned, her well ran deep), but that she battled with herself. A few times she looked ready to restart her sentence, only to fall quiet again.

Is it about your mom, he wanted to ask, while a thought echoed back, You don’t want to go there.

Together, they battled, quiet, until Tohru finally said, “I think we should go to bed. I’ve kept you up pretty late, Kyo-kun. I’m very sorry.”

“You didn’t,” he said. “I probably would have still been up.”

She tilted her head at him, questioning. He brushed a hand through his hair with a shrug.

“There wasn’t a reason. Just couldn’t sleep, was all.”

“Well…” She paused to think, tapping her finger against her lower lip. “Do you want me to make you something? I could--”

“No way.”

“Ah, but--”

He sighed, shaking his head at her. You’re too much, I swear.

“Don’t worry about me, okay? You need to sleep, too.”

Frustration crossed her face again, but only briefly, before she conceded. For the first time that night, when she smiled, it didn’t come across watery.

“Well… okay.”

She stood, then, sliding away the blanket wrapped around her and folding it, setting it at the end of his bed. He stood, then, too, moving the chair back to his desk. He suddenly felt overly warm in his pullover.

“Kyo-kun…”

“Mhm?”

He turned to look at her. Now, with the space between them, he could see her more clearly. She looked a little more vibrant than earlier, but something still hung heavy on her shoulders, under her eyes. Part of him wanted to reach out and insist that she sit again, to unburden her. His stomach suddenly twisted at the idea that she would go back to bed and cry again, as though he hadn’t done anything at all.

Because you didn’t do anything, idiot.

“Thank you for listening to me. I’m sorry I…”

“Wait.”

She looked surprised, and he felt his ears turn hot. Crossing his arms, he fidgeted somewhat.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked. “I mean, about your dream. You never said what was bothering you.”

Her face started to go red again, and he quickly added, “You don’t have to tell me, but you can. I just…” He looked away from her, sighing. “You aren’t, you know. A burden to me, or something. You can tell me things if you want.”

It was a sentiment he had told her before, and yet it still seemed to struggle to take root in her. He watched her grasp at the ends of her night shirt, nervous.

“Ah...that’s…”

A troubled look fell over her again, and he felt himself start to panic a little. Then, she took an even breath, smoothed her hands, and nodded, smiling gently.

“I know,” she said, finally. “But it’s… Maybe I’ll tell you later.” Her eyes lit in worry, suddenly, as though she had said some terrible thing. “Um, is that okay?”

It took him aback, how quickly her tone changed, and he blinked at her dumbly. “Wh-- Yeah, that’s fine,” he said. “I just don’t want you going back to bed crying, that’s all.”

“Oh!” The worry left her, then, and she returned to some semblance of pep. “Nope, I’m all cried out.”

She laughed a little at herself, and he, too, found himself letting out a breathy chuckle. He closed the gap between them to knock her head softly with his hand again.

“Dope. Go to bed.”

“Okay.” She reached up to touch where his hand had just been, smiling. “Goodnight, Kyo-kun. Sleep well, okay?”

“Yeah.” He reached around her to open the door, and for a brief, aching moment, he wanted to hold her. He bit the feeling back. “You too.”

He watched as she quietly padded into the hall, peering downstairs and at Yuki’s room, searching for any sign that she had alerted the other two awake. There was only darkness, though, and as she returned to her room, she looked back at Kyo, meeting his eye.

They shared a quiet look before she waved. He waved back, and she disappeared as she closed the door with a careful click.

It took him a moment to finally close his door, too. He peeled the pullover off of him and sat heavily on the side of his bed, where she had just been sitting, and he brushed his hands over his head. It was late, but it didn’t feel it, not anymore. Though daybreak would be in some hours, he wasn’t confident he would be up by then, as he usually was.

He looked at the throw blanket, folded neatly, and reached out to put his hand on it. Before he could debate putting it away, he instead picked it up and, still folded, held it against his chest. He pressed it there, as if hoping the heaviness would ease, though he knew it wouldn’t.

Palming the wall, he turned off the light, leaving him in the dark, still clutching the blanket to him. And for a while all he could stand to do was hold the damn thing, sinking down into bed, burying his nose in it, feeling tired, feeling embarrassed, feeling, at least, glad that she had left with a smile. He lied on his back and pinned it to his chest, imagined it as a giant surrender flag. And though he tried to focus on the ceiling, drawing patterns out of the visual snow, he could only think of her -- perfect, sad, beautiful, amazing her -- just across the hall, now quiet, now, he hoped, sleeping, dreaming of softer nothings.

He took note of two things before he eventually drifted off himself: she didn’t call for her mother again, and the blanket smelled vaguely of lavender.