When Momiji made his way home through the afternoon sunshine, he found Kyo lounging against a tree by the path.
Momiji stopped in his tracks. ‘Kyo?’
Kyo looked up.
Something was different about Kyo today. Usually, there was a listlessness about him, as though he’d already given up on everything. He never really let people in, even though he got on well with them. Today, he seemed tired and vulnerable, but there was an air of upliftment about him, as though he’d been through an ordeal and won out. He stood erect and met Momiji’s eyes directly.
‘You love Tohru,’ Kyo said quietly. It wasn’t a question.
‘You love her, but you were going to walk away and let me have her so I wouldn’t give in about the confinement.’
Momiji looked away. The rabbit in him screamed at him to run away and hide from this conversation, but he forced himself to stand still and listen. His mind was already made up, but having Kyo probe the wound was almost unbearably painful.
‘Momiji, I know you wanted to save me. And I can never thank you enough for what you tried to do. But I don’t want to win like this.
‘I will still fight confinement. Because I want to live. I want to feel things, and love people, even if they don’t love me back. I want to live for the sake of all the things people have given me. Tohru, dad, that rat bastard, you, I want to live in this world with you and give something back. And I want to live for myself too.
‘I want to be with Tohru more than I’ve ever wanted anything before, but I don’t want to win like this. I’m fighting confinement, but you’re fighting erasure. I know your mother rejected you, and your father pushes you aside, and tramples on your dreams. I know they’ve always made you feel that you come second to everyone else and shouldn’t take up space.’
Momiji stared at him, fighting the tears that welled up in his eyes.
‘But you’re better than all of them!’ Kyo punched his fist into the tree behind him. ‘You deserve to fight for your own happiness! You have to tell her how you feel! Understand? Even if you think you don’t deserve it. Even if you’re afraid to try for your own happiness. Even if she might reject you. You have to dare to be yourself! I don’t know which of us will win, but you deserve to try!’
Momiji hung his head, the tears flowing freely now.
‘But what if… I’ve never been myself?’
Kyo stared at him.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Tohru calls me a handsome prince, but I’ve never felt like one.
‘Nothing’s ever quite fit. Not my boy’s clothes, not my family, not my life.
‘I’ve always been different, looked different, thought in a language that no-one’s ever spoken to me.
‘People tell me I’ve grown into a handsome man, but i don’t know what that means. What does it mean to be a man? i don’t feel like a man, or a woman. I’m not ready to be anything yet. It feels like I’m lying to everyone, everyday.
‘People talk about the love a man feels for a woman, but I don’t know what that means. I’ve never felt the kind of love that wants to possess, or the physical kind of love.
‘I just want to hug her and be with her and talk to her. I want to give her everything, forever.
‘She wants to be with you. She’e never looked at me like that.
‘I don’t feel like a whole person. I want to run away, all the time. I don’t think my love is good enough for her.’
Kyo stared at him. There was a moment’s silence. Momiji felt his throat constrict and his breath flutter like a caged bird in his chest. It was the first time he had made an admission like that, and to Kyo of all people. Would Kyo walk away from him now? Would he think Momiji was a monster? People were always walking away from him. Momiji realised he couldn’t bear it if it happened again.
Then Kyo slammed his fist into the tree-trunk and stood over Momiji, pinning him to the trunk and looking into his eyes.
‘You idiot. You idiot! You stood up to the power of God and thousands of years of history for Tohru’s sake. And you say your love isn’t good enough!?’
Momiji stared up at him, hope dawning in his face.
‘We all have secrets, Momiji. Things we’re afraid to show others, because they won’t understand, or we don’t understand ourselves. You’ve always been the bravest person I know, daring to be kind in a world that tried to knock all kindness out of us.
‘You can be anything you want! Anything, OK? Even if you don’t know what it is yourself. You don’t owe anyone an explanation!
‘You’ve always loved her, haven’t you? From the very first. You were always kind to her, spent time with her, talked to her. You gave her hugs, and companionship, and understood her.
‘And now, to give up on that and walk away, when she hasn’t even had a chance to know how you feel? To keep that much warmth and affection locked up and never let it reach its subject? Can you look me in the eye and tell me that’s OK?’
Kyo’s eyes were blazing, defying him to respond.
He couldn’t say no to the kindness and hurt in those eyes.
Momiji hid his head in Kyo’s shoulder and wept.
‘Hang on!’ said Kyo, startled and concerned. ‘Don’t cry now! It’s all right!’
He patted Momiji on the head awkwardly, but with a surprisingly gentle hand.
Momiji lifted a face shining through his tears. ‘These are happy tears. I thought I couldn’t bear it if Tohru rejected me, but now you’ve given me the strength to face it and do my best. Thank you, Kyo.’
‘I— I didn’t do anything!’
Momiji smiled and hugged him, squeezing him tight. ‘Yes, you did.’
They stayed there a moment under the tree. Kyo ruffled Momiji’s hair. ‘Do you want to sit down for a moment?’
Momiji nodded. They sat down shoulder to shoulder in a patch of sunlight. Kyo reclined against the trunk and played idly with a blade of grass while Momiji’s sobs quieted. His shoulder pressed against Momiji’s with a steadying, reassuring weight.
Once he’d calmed down, Momiji picked up Kyo’s hand and pressed it between his own. Kyo started at his touch, but didn’t resist. Momiji had long known that under his prickly exterior, Kyo was actually very affectionate.
‘Kyo, you really are a kind person.’
‘I’m not being kind or anything. I’d just hate to win in an unfair fight. Especially against an idiot bunny like you.’
Momiji smiled. ‘It’s true, though. You always notice when someone else is hurting. And you always try to comfort them.’
Kyo stared into the distance. ‘That’s not true. There was this one time…’
Momiji turned to look at him in surprise. Kyo sank his head onto Momiji’s shoulder, averting his gaze.
‘That rat bastard. I think he tried to be friends with me once and I pushed him away. I thought he was just a smug bastard who took everything away from me just because he could. I had no idea of what he was dealing with. The things Akito put him through…
‘Maybe all this while I’ve known in my heart. He doesn’t really hate me or want to be my tormentor. I never gave him a chance to be anything else. Akito never gave us a chance…’
He fell silent.
‘Awww, Kyo! Then why are you still picking fights with him?’
‘Because I want him to meet me squarely! He’s always seemed so far ahead, except for that one time. Challenging him feels like the only way I can get through to him.’ His voice sank almost to a whisper. ‘I want him to … notice me…
‘It’s too late for me to say I’m sorry. It’s not like he cares anyway.’
Momiji nudged him gently. ‘He does care about you, Kyo.’
‘Kyo, people don’t understand if you express your affection by punching them in the face.’
‘Shut up,’ said Kyo drowsily, dropping his head into Momiji’s lap. He really is a cat, falling asleep in the sun, thought Momiji.
Momiji stroked his forehead.
After a moment he said, ‘Kyo, I promised to do my best with Tohru, will you promise me that you’ll talk to Yuki? You said it yourself. Even if it feels pointless, we have to let people know that we care for them.’
Kyo sighed. ‘You never would take no for an answer, you idiot bunny.’
Momiji laughed and ruffled his tousled ginger hair. He picked up Kyo’s hand and squeezed it.
‘I know you’ve fought a hard battle, Kyo. I’m proud of you.’
‘I’m proud of you too,’ said Kyo drowsily.