"Something's wrong with Yuki."
Kyo turned to find Haru standing at the gates of the school, apparently waiting for him. Momiji was nowhere to be seen, but Kyo was out late after detention and the kid was probably already home.
Kyo grunted. "I figured. He hasn't been in school all week."
"No," Haru shook his head, falling into step beside Kyo. "I mean I saw him yesterday. There's something wrong with him."
"How'd you see him?" Kyo's head snapped around.
"Snuck in while Akito was busy. Rin kept a lookout."
"Shit, man, you're playing with fire." Kyo ran a hand down his face. "So it's not just another cold?"
Haru shook his head. "He wouldn't even speak. Don't think he even knew we were there."
Kyo frowned. It was true that Yuki had been getting quieter and quieter lately, the bags under his eyes getting deeper and deeper. Haru had tried prodding about his home life, but Yuki would always smile that fake smile of his and insist that everything was okay.
Kyo didn't know Akito very well; the only time he'd come into contact with the God of the Zodiac, the boy had ordered him to remove his beads. Even knowing what he would become without them, Kyo had been compelled to obey. The transformation had been witnessed by Akito, Shigure, and a few maids—it was the most painful and humiliating experience of his life. Every time he went near the main house and the maids saw him, he was reminded of his shame. He lashed out, of course, but deep in the pit of his gut, he knew he was the monster they saw him as. None of the other zodiac needed a magic talisman to keep their human form.
Still, he'd heard rumours. Akito was prone to temper tantrums; just last new year, he'd slapped Momiji around for seemingly no reason other than he didn't like the sound of the boy's voice. Before that, Shigure had been cast out of the main estate for no reason that anyone could fathom, and he'd been a long-standing favourite. Just recently, he'd wounded Hatori's eye for daring to ask to get married.
He remembered what his father was like, in the days after his mother's death. His gut clenched uncomfortably.
Kyo wasn't allowed near the main house. Even if Shishou would have allowed it, the maids would refuse him entry. He had no way of seeing Yuki until he came back to school.
"I don't like it." He said eventually. Dark, blurry memories of hateful words and blunt fists echoed in his mind. Going to live with Shishou had been the best thing that ever happened to him. "Him being there. Why don't his parents take him home?"
Haru shrugged. "They get paid extra if Yuki's there, I heard."
"That's fucked up." Kyo snarled, his fists clenching.
"Yeah, it sucks." Haru agreed in his usual monotone. "If Akito wanted me to live there, I don't think my parents would even give me time to pack." He sighed. "He needs to get out of there."
"How?" Kyo rolled his eyes. "You know Akito won't let him go."
"I have an idea." Haru said, tipping his head to the side. "I'll tell you about it if it works."
As it turned out, Haru never got the chance to tell Kyo his plan. Final exams came and went, and he graduated from middle school with decent grades. He'd heard that Yuki had moved in with Shigure for some reason, but hadn't been able to go see him yet. With preparations for school and Yuki's health being precarious, Kyo had decided to wait a little while and give him a chance to recover.
He was on his way to his first day of high school, which started a week later than most others, when it happened.
He recognised Honda Kyoko easily; the woman's bright orange hair caught his eye, and when he'd seen the profile of her face, he'd recognised her instantly. He hadn't seen her since the day Hatori had erased her memories, being under strict instructions not to go anywhere near her lest he trigger flashbacks.
But she was there. He followed her without thinking for a few blocks, watching her. He wondered if he could get away with talking to her now, since he was so much older and looked so different.
She never saw the car coming.
He hesitated for a fraction of a second too long; he could drag her out of the car's path and save her, but expose the curse—there was no way he could fling her to the side or push her out of the way without getting hit himself. But fear of exposing the curse kept him rooted to the spot. Akito wouldn't care that he'd done it to save a life. There were too many people around; exposing himself would be a one-way trip to the Cat's Room.
He managed a strangled "Kyoko—!" half a second before the car struck.
Her body flew through the air like a ragdoll, cracking her head against the pavement. He could tell from the way her body splayed out that she had several broken bones—the pool of blood that began to spread rapidly from under her told him that there was no way she was going to survive.
He met her eyes—she'd fallen very near his feet. His shock rooted him to the spot as her eyes flashed with recognition.
"J-Jari…" she croaked, and Kyo felt ice curdle in his gut. He took a stumbling step backwards. Her fingers twitched like she wanted to reach out to him. How had she remembered?! "Tohru…" she wheezed. "…won't forgive…"
He didn't come out of his room for days. Kazuma and Kunimitsu came and went with food and gentle suggestions that he bathe, but Kyo couldn't even find the energy to lift his head.
His fault. It was his fault.
He could have saved her. He should have saved her. Now her daughter no longer had a mother. And wasn't Kyoko's husband dead, too? That meant her daughter was an orphan.
Days blurred together. Hatori came and went. Kazuma spent inordinate amounts of time sitting at Kyo's bedside. An expulsion notice came in the mail from the school he never went to.
Eventually, Kazuma had evidently had enough. He dragged Kyo to his feet and forced him to shower. When Kyo emerged, Kazuma helped him dress and Kunimitsu handed him a backpack. Listlessly, Kyo dragged his feet after Kazuma as he led him to the train station. He sat when he was told and rose when he was told, truthfully not caring where his guardian was taking him.
It was almost worse than when his mother had died. He'd been a little kid back then, too powerless to stop her. But this time… this time he'd seen the vehicle coming and could have saved Honda Kyoko. But he chose himself.
He really was the worst kind of person.
No. Not a person.
"Kyo's gone missing?"
Yuki blinked at Shigure across the table.
"More like Kazuma-dono's assistant won't tell anyone where they went." Shigure corrected. "I heard Kagura nearly tore the place apart looking for him." He chuckled. Yuki's face blanched at the mental image. How Kyo survived Kagura's particular brand of affection had always been beyond him. "Haa-san wouldn't give me too many details, but apparently Kyo was unwell enough that he was called to see him. That was over two months ago."
So that explained why Yuki hadn't been able to get into contact with Kyo. The three months he'd spent at Shigure's house had done wonders for Yuki's health and general wellbeing; not being under the thumb of Akito and hearing his black words every day had allowed him to begin clawing his way out of the depths of despair. He wasn't completely out yet, but he was making his way.
Shigure's constant happy-go-lucky manner hadn't been something that Yuki had expected of Akito's old favourite, but when questioned about, well, anything, he simply laughed and diverted the conversation. Three months of living with him, and Yuki still didn't know why he'd been banished from the main estate. He still wasn't sure why Shigure had taken him in, or how he'd managed to convince Akito to allow it, but he was grateful.
"Shouldn't you get going?" Shigure looked at the clock. "You'll be late for school."
Yuki sighed into his leftover takeout. "Yeah. I'm gonna head off." He stood from the table, not bothering to clear his dishes.
"Have a good day!" Shigure called after him jovially as he rounded the corner into the hall.
The walk to Kaibara Municipal High School took over half an hour, but Yuki enjoyed the feeling of the breeze on his skin. Going to a co-ed school was dangerous, he knew, but he no longer wanted to live his life as dictated by Akito. It hadn't been easy to convince the main house to allow him to attend a different school—but Yuki was over an hour away from the school that Kyo was supposed to be attending. Eyebrows had been raised at the choice of a mixed-gender school, but Yuki had argued that it made the most sense—it was a good school, close to where he was now living, and since it was a private school, its reputation was better than most. With the proviso that he would be transferred if anyone found him out, Yuki had been given permission to attend.
He didn't know how it happened, but he seemed to be popular at this new school. Where before the boys at his middle school would pick on him for being girly-faced and grey-haired, he now had girls approaching him to tell him how beautiful he was—which made him self-conscious about how feminine he looked, but it was better than the alternative. He did not miss most of his old classmates.
"Good morning, Soma-kun!"
"Good morning, Yuki-kun!"
"Good morning, Soma-san!"
Yuki smiled and returned the greetings of everyone who called out to him on his way to his homeroom.
Honda Tohru and her friends were already there by the time he entered. It had been a shock to the system, the first time he'd learned her name. He remembered her, of course; she and her mother had had their memories erased when Yuki was eleven. He'd heard that her mother had died a few months ago, right at the beginning of the school year. He wondered if Kyo knew. The woman had been friendly with him, if he recalled correctly.
He'd taken notice of Honda Tohru, but had never actually approached her.
"Oh, good morning, Soma-kun!" She greeted him cheerfully, as she did every morning. Her friends echoed less enthusiastic greetings from either side of her.
"Good morning, Honda-san, Uotoni-san, Hanajima-san." He said as he passed and took his seat.
And that was the extent of their interactions for the first few months of high school.
Yuki was just starting to truly feel comfortable in his new home by the morning Honda Tohru had appeared on their property in the fourth month. He heard her voice before he saw her, talking to Shigure about the old zodiac legend—and his heart nearly stopped at that until he heard her mention that it was a story her mother used to tell her. She'd just finished telling Shigure about how when she was a small child she'd wanted to be the sign of the Cat when Yuki rounded the corner and whacked Shigure with his school bag.
"Good morning, Honda-san." He greeted. "My cousin didn't say anything weird to you, did he?"
They happened to be going the same way after school—Yuki on his way home, Tohru to her part time job. They chatted a little on the way, and Yuki decided to test the waters. "I hope my cousin wasn't too strange, this morning." He reiterated. He knew Shigure had a bad habit of flirting with just about anyone, be they male or female, older or younger than himself.
"Oh, not at all!" She hastened to assure him. "He was very kind. He even showed me his zodiac figurines!"
"Oh, yes, I heard." He chuckled. "You were saying something about being a cat…?"
She laughed nervously. "I was a… strange child." She allowed. "But I've always felt sorry for the cat in the legend."
Yuki's lips twitched. "I wouldn't think too much about it." He wanted to laugh, which surprised him. He imagined what face Kyo would make if he could overhear this conversation. He might have to tease him about it whenever he turned up.
"I beg your pardon?" Tohru blinked at him.
Yuki allowed himself a smile. He explained the numerical system, and how the zodiac came to be folded into fortune telling and astrology. She was blinking at him, eyes blank by the end of his discussion, and he allowed himself a chuckle. "So, you see, there was never any room for the cat to begin with."
"Do you… not like cats, Soma-kun?"
He tilted his head to the side. "They're not my favourite." He allowed. "They can be grumpy and temperamental." She giggled at that. "But if they like you, you won't find better friends."
"Yes, that's exactly what I think!" She clapped her hands together. "And they're so cute! You just can't help but love them!"
Yuki coughed to hide a laugh. He bid her goodbye and continued on his way home, snickering to himself. Oh, if only Kyo were around. He could picture the look on his face.
A tent. She was living in a tent. Yuki slapped a guffawing Shigure and invited Tohru to the house for tea to get her story out of her.
Apparently, she'd been living in the tent for a week, now, and no one had noticed. He frowned as he filled up the hot water bottle with ice and water to bring down her fever. He felt he owed Honda Tohru, after getting her memories altered as a child. Without even consulting Shigure, he invited her to stay when morning rolled around.
"Are you sure about this?" Shigure asked as they climbed the stairs. "She's a girl, you know."
"It'll be fine as long as she doesn't hug me." Yuki sighed. He wondered if Shigure knew she'd had her memories erased before. Probably not. But Tohru was almost unnervingly polite. He doubted very much she'd hug him without permission—which left potential accidents, but it was a risk he was willing to take.
She stood in the hall, gaping like a fish out of water as they set her room up. Yuki aired the place out and hauled the random things they were storing in there into Shigure's study while the latter brought up the vacuum cleaner. Within a few mere minutes, the room was liveable, including a spare futon laid out and Tohru's belongings in plastic bags piled in the corner.
"We should get moving, if you're feeling better, Honda-san." Yuki said. "We've got about an hour and a half before school."
Kyo stared at the door of Shigure's house. It was early yet, but he didn't really want to be anywhere else. He didn't even really want to be there, but Shishou had insisted that he go spend time with Yuki.
"You've been away for four months, and you hadn't seen him for two before that." Kazuma had said. "That's a long period for someone not to see their friend, don't you think? Go. I'll see you at the dojo when I get home."
Kyo still wasn't quite out of the funk he'd fallen into after Kyoko's accident, but at least he felt human again. Well, as human as he ever felt, anyway.
He'd just raised his hand to knock when the door flew open and a girl in a school uniform crashed into him.