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Machi woke to the sound of rain.

She didn't mind the rain. It broke the occasional perfect stillness of silence (not that it was silent very often in the area around her apartment, which she liked), and it disturbed the leaves of the trees on the street; Machi liked that very much, too.

Her apartment was dim. She thought, muzzily, that she must have fallen asleep again studying. She tottered to her feet, bracing herself on the low desk, and swayed towards her bed--

There was a noise cutting through the quiet sweep of the rain: young, keening, and scared.

Machi blinked into full wakefulness. Yuki, slumped atop his notes from university, was a hazy shape in the darkness. His head was buried in his arms, his fingers were knotted in his hair. As she watched, his shoulders shook. "No, no," he pleaded, "I don't want to go back, no--please--"

She lunged across the table. Under her hands, his shoulders were tension-stiff, cold with chilled sweat under his shirt. "Yuki, wake up. Wake up!"

Swinging out, still asleep, he nearly struck her in the face. They both scrambled backwards, her catching only a flash of a dilated, terrified gray eye.

"...M-Machi?"

"It's me. You fell asleep."

"Oh." Yuki looked at their schoolwork. "Oh! Sorry, I was going to leave, but I guess I..." A red flush rose to his pale cheeks. "I was dreaming, wasn't it?"

She nodded, then said, "Wait." Crossing to the kitchen, she filled a glass of water, pressing it into his hands before tugging him to sit beside her on the bed. "Did you have a nightmare?" she asked quietly.

Glancing at her, he tipped his head back before answering. It was one of her favorite things about him: the way he often paused before speaking, taking a moment to consider and gather his thoughts.

Finally, he exhaled, dropping his gaze, and replied, "Less of a nightmare... more like a memory."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

The two of them were careful with each other in many ways. He understood her, she thought, very well. And she hoped she was reliable enough for him to lean on her, in turn. She always tried to keep note of the things that bothered him, because she wanted him to be happy. There were so many places he was raw, still fragile, and so she never pushed.

The surface of the water in the glass trembled.

"I haven't really talked about this with anyone," said Yuki, "but... it might be time." His lips shifted into a poor facsimile of a smile. "It's not a very happy story, Machi. I'm sorry."

Machi leaned against his side, hoping to warm him. "Don't apologize. It's okay. I'm listening."

They sat not speaking for a moment; outside, the rain fell more heavily. He put the water down and curled an arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

"My family, the Sohma clan... how much do you know about it?"

She glanced up. "Not much. I know that the Sohma are wealthy. I've met your brother, and a lot of your cousins." She hadn't met his parents; he'd never offered it.

"Wealthy is a word for it. It's wealthy because the Sohma history goes back hundreds of years. And the Sohma have always had traditions. Some of those traditions applied to only a few people..."

"To you?"

He nodded. "Yes. I was born into it. I didn't have a choice. If I did--" He shrugged; she understood. If she had had a choice, she wouldn't have wanted to be born into her family, either.

"Because of those traditions," he continued, "in the Sohma family, the power of the head of the family was absolute." His tone was factual but also bleak. "When I was a child, the head of the family was only a few years older than me. Among other things, she took a liking to me... and my parents handed me over to play with her. You could rise in status in the Sohma family, if you did what the head wanted. So..."

He was clenching his hands, nails cruelly biting into the palms. Machi took his hands in hers and gently unfolded his fingers.

"So... I was young. I didn't understand at first, but I did eventually notice my mother wasn't coming back for me. And then the head of the family became ill. She broke, mentally. She's... she's a complicated person. She's doing better now. But back then--she would tell me terrible things, us alone together, in that room. Now I realize it must've been things she was afraid of. 'The world is pitch-black.' 'You're weak.' 'You'll never be needed by anyone.'" Yuki intoned the words flatly. "I started to believe her. That's what I was dreaming about. That room."

"Yuki--"

"Can a child that young really contemplate suicide? I don't know, but I stopped eating. I was always ill then, and it got worse. Everything was gray. But I guess I did want to live. I ran away from the Sohma compound, not knowing where I was going, just needing to get out. By accident, I saw a girl my age who'd gotten lost, and I helped her find her way back to her mother, who had been looking for her. It was the first time I felt that I really existed; that I could actually be needed by someone. By the time middle school was ending, I'd gotten old enough to be afraid of my own thoughts... I had to get away again. I argued with my mother about allowing me to attend Kaibara instead of one of the schools picked by the Sohma, and one of my cousins made it so I could move into Shigure's house. I..."

His eyes widened. "...Machi, you're crying."

She scrubbed her fingers over her eyes roughly, uncaring, and launched herself at him. He landed on his back on the bed with an audible oof, Machi sprawled across his chest.

"I'm so glad you're here," she muttered into his shirt, his heart beating too fast under her ear. "I'm glad I'm here, too. I'm glad we--"

Yuki's embrace was painfully tight, but good. "Yeah."

The kiss she placed on his bared throat was innocent.

They lay like that for a while, arms around each other, until she spoke again. "I don't understand, though. If she was treating you like that, why didn't anyone--" Do anything? Say anything? It was a bit of a foolish question. She knew in her own experience that there were people that didn't care if children were being hurt, if they could gain something from it.

"...the blood bond."

"What?"

The phrase had been heavy and old. Even if she repeated the words, she thought she'd never be able to make them sound the way Yuki had: something somehow terrifying and outside her comprehension completely.

Brushing her hair from her face, though, he smiled, and she was happy to see it looked steadier. "I... not now, but later... I'll tell you later, okay? I promise, Machi."

She nodded, and smiled back. "Okay."

*

"Oh," he said idly some time later, when they were both on the verge of sleep, "I haven't told Kakeru yet, but meeting him was good for me."

"Don't ever tell him that," Machi muttered. "You'd never hear the end of it."

Yuki paused, and said, "Right."