Ritsu Sohma, for once, stood still.
The victory in this cannot be ignored, for Ritsu’s prone nature to panic left them usually living hunch-shouldered with forever downcast eyes, clutching at their kimono. One might think that Ritsu should in fact emanate stress and nervousness in a situation like this, but the latter happened, and Ritsu offhandedly thought, Ah. Maybe it’s because this is my truth.
“Rit-chan? Are you okay?”
Ritsu looked up, their light eyes locking with the short-haired, curvy woman before them. God, how striking Mitsuru was. Her constant blush every time she so much as glanced at Ritsu, the little peek of her creamy legs hinted at by the slit in her suited skirts—all of this and more, like her incredible editorial work, her own creative short stories she showed to them, only to them. For years Ritsu ached to wear what Mitsuru wore, ached to write stories like Mitsuru’s secret ones, but her clothes never fit quite right and they couldn’t put pen to page like she could. Kimonos and sundresses suited Ritsu best, at least that was what they felt, but so did loose peasant shirts and slacks. Whatever Ritsu wore, Mitsuru, without fail, always freely gave compliments.
“The pastels in that kimono really make your eyes pop!”
“Rit-chan, your hair is getting so long. It makes you look so striking in a suit!”
“Dear, you look so precious in that dress!”
Whether Mitsuru knew it or not, every compliment planted itself in Ritsu’s heart. It never overtook the darkness there, but it allowed room for new love to grow. Love for Mitsuru and, in a way, love for Ritsu themself. It’s true: acceptance from someone else, outside of your family, paves the path ahead for self-love. Kisa-san once told Ritsu that Tohru Honda had said this to her, and Ritsu again was struck by Tohru-san’s maturity for someone so young. Ritsu hoped to be more like Tohru-san one day.
“Rit-chan?” Mitsuru approached slowly, smiling. “You seem off in your own world.”
Ritsu shook their head. “Just thinking.”
“Anything worrying you?”
Reaching for her hand, Ritsu pulled Mitsuru close, embraced her. No curse plagued Ritsu anymore, not the Zodiac curse and not a desire to disappear from this world, save for the occasional anxiety and stress, small remainders of old destructive thoughts and habits. It would never go away completely, but the peace within the last few years that settled into Ritsu’s body was clear, thanks to being with Mitsuru, meeting new friends, and speaking regularly with a therapist. Mitsuru, too, developed her own self-peace. Together, Ritsu felt the two of them were unstoppable.
She settled into their arms. “Oh, Rit-chan. I-I love you.”
Every time was like the first time with Mitsuru. The way her cheeks reddened, her eyelashes fluttered quickly and then suddenly stopped, her short breath. Ritsu cherished her. Without her, Ritsu knew there must be many others out there, for whom they were born for, but he was lucky enough for Mitsuru to be the one they encountered first. They never wanted to let her go.
“I would love to marry you,” Ritsu said. Their cheeks grew hot against Mitsuru’s forehead. “I-if you’ll have me.” Resisting the urge to continue sputtering out their anxious thoughts, they forced themself to wait for her response.
Mitsuru pulled away and planted a short kiss on their lips, smiling all while she did so. Ritsu’s heart soared.
“There’s no one better,” she said. “No reason better than you.”
Laughing together, cheeks matching in color, the two walked together, hand-in-hand. The anxious thrum in Ritsu’s mind slowed. They gripped her hand tighter.