Her hair doesn’t grow in black—her eyes don’t turn brown or gray—just because the curse is broken. At first it feels strange, but it makes sense for there to be aftereffects that linger, things other than scars and fractured hearts. She’s heard that Kureno, who was the first, was able to carry Rin without making her transform. It makes sense.
When she moves on to the all-girls high school, the same one Kagura and Rin graduated from years back, the bullying turns into something else, something she never dreamed, much less expected. Kids she doesn’t know often mistake her for a foreigner at first glance, still, but the gazes that follow her from corridor to corridor have less to do with fear or disgust and more to do with something like admiration. Girls ask her what shampoo she uses, and where she buys her stockings. Shy, blushing, not quite able to meet her eyes. She’s very lonely, but it’s cute.
She has never been good at making friends, and high school doesn’t change that either. The old Japanese-style house isn’t a convergent point anymore, but that doesn’t mean the Sohmas have completely scattered to the four winds: She has Hiro, attending the sister school for all boys. He is going through another growth spurt and looks funny in his gakuran again. When he picks Hinata up, she is dwarfed in his arms.
They hold hands on the walk to and from school and trade gossip (I heard Yuki’s girlfriend has finally moved in with him; Ritsu’s wearing long-sleeved kimonos again, he and Micchan seem happier that way. Shihan still doesn’t get that Hanajima’s making moves on him, but Momiji called and it sounds like Kyou’s reactions make everything worth it—). People who don’t know better mistake them for boyfriend and girlfriend. Kisa’s okay with that. The only person whom she would care about getting the wrong idea isn’t here. She worries, a little, about Hiro—he hasn’t got that luxury—but whenever she says so, he just smiles.
“All I’d have to do is explain,” he says. It goes unspoken that he’s enjoying just gazing at his homeroom’s class rep from afar, but she knows. There are things you learn, being a boy’s first love.
It’s so far away to the dojo that she was too nervous to go by herself for a long, long time. She still doesn’t like the train rides, even after Kagura took the time to teach her ways to make perverts let go. She lived for nearly fourteen whole years instinctively fearing crowds, and so it goes against the grain. As it is, she books tickets after rush hour and waits at the station’s yakisoba stand for at least an hour before boarding time.
She doesn’t miss being able to turn into an animal, not really. But there are times that she misses the power of a tiger’s bite.
She drags her trunk by herself all the long way from the station to the dojo. It’s quiet out here. There are more trees, and the mountains seem closer. The sidewalks are bumpier and people are few and far between.
Kisa doesn’t like the train ride but she thinks—once Kyou comes back to inherit Kazuma’s dojo, she will miss this scenery, she will miss this silence. It’s colder here, apparently, and she’s heard that it’s harder to get mail and shop. Crowd-shy as she is, she is used to the conveniences of the city; she wouldn’t like to live here. But it is very nice to visit.
Upon her arrival, she immediately spots Kyou out on the porch. He’s wearing sweaty exercise clothes and his hair is bright against the shade, like a piece of autumn, a keepsake from years that have already passed by.
He turns, and catches her glance. He raises a hand as if in greeting, and she smiles. She might still have trouble holding the gaze of strangers, but the former Zodiac are different.
“Trip not too bad?” he asks when she draws close enough to bypass raised voices.
“No,” she says.
They are quiet for a while. It is not awkward, as it might once have been: Small talk is not a strong suit for either of them. It’s all right, really. Kyou’s reticence is kind.
“So, it was a little late to call you last night, and by the time we tried your house you’d already left,” says Kyou without preamble, “but you ought to know, Herself is crashing at our place again. Things with Shigure aren’t—they’re not going well, still. And Tohru’s too Tohru to say no to moochers. But I don’t just want to spring her on you with no warning.”
He looks at her, protective, concerned, unsure. It makes her smile: She is so glad that Tohru has with this person of all others what she has with Hiro.
“I’ll be all right,” she says. “But thank you.”
Years and freedom have given her distance, and anyway she’s not as good at holding on to resentment as Rin or Haru. But it is still surreal sometimes, like a lucid dream, to come face to face to someone who once seemed to be so powerful and frightening, and perceive them so differently.
There isn’t anything to muster up her courage for, in the end. Akito is asleep on a sofa in the day room. Kisa passes by her on quiet feet. She thinks that they are almost the same height, now, and it’s the strangest realization in all the world.
There is nothing left to fear in this person, prickly and angular, lines on her face from too much scowling, bruises on her arms from being squeezed too tightly. It is still odd to speak to her on equal terms, but the days of cowering before her to deflect the bad temper are as distant and fuzzy as an old bad dream.
It’s habit, by now, even after everything. Despite the things that have changed since then. It would feel strange and awkward to call her anything else.
Tohru’s long hair sways as she turns, joy blooming on her face like a flower. She was lovely as a girl, and is lovelier now as an adult. This, Kisa thinks: This is real beauty.
She doesn’t leap, like she always did before: This is because she is standing at the cutting board beside the sink, a knife in one hand and a half-peeled peach in the other. But—backlit by the window, she seems almost to glow from within.
Kisa sets her bag down by the wall. She straightens up and takes five steps, rests her face against the soft shoulder, wraps her arms around the warm hips.
If this is what it means—to keep walking forward to the next day and the next—then she has never been so happy as she is now, with the future, with progress.