Love Remains ~ Epilogue
It was like watching a dream, Tohru decided. Events felt curiously distant, rather like she was seeing the end to a movie rather than the end result of her friends and her efforts. It was hard to believe they'd actually succeeded.
Ahead of her was the grand oak door, swinging open as they approached. Tohru felt a shudder of anticipation go through her companion, and she stole a look at his face. Hatsuharu looked intent, serious, and yet somehow expectant. The expression on his face softened into one of utter contentment and Tohru turned to see why.
Rin stood in the middle of the hallway, waiting for them. If she'd looked beautiful before, the expression of joy on her face made her a thousand times more radiant. Hatsuharu paused on the threshold and for the longest time they just looked at each other. Then leaving Tohru at the doorway, Hatsuharu started towards her.
Tohru was abruptly caught up in a fierce bear hug. "You did it!" Arisa proclaimed, hugging her tightly enough to choke her smaller friend. "I can't believe you did it!"
Tohru unexpectedly felt tears running down her face. "I know. I know--"
"Tohru," a quietly authoritative voice called her, and she was surprised to see Hatori sitting between Kyou and Yuki, the contents of a first aid kit spread out about him. "Are you all right?"
Tohru hurried over to join them. "I'm fine. Yuki, Kyou--are you . . . ?"
Yuki's eyes slid away from her sadly. As Tohru stared concerned, Kyou managed a rough smile.
"We're both fine. A little sore, but we'll live."
"Good." Impulsively Tohru flung her arms around both of them. "I'm glad . . . so glad--"
"Tohru--" Yuki said hesitantly, his voice full of disbelief. "You--"
His sentence remained unfinished. Akito had made his presence known.
Two metres away from each other Hatsuharu and Rin had halted, just looking at each other. Rin had tears in her eyes, and the expression on the young man's face was enough to make Tohru's own eyes wet. It seemed too entirely perfect to be believed--
"And isn't this a charming scene."
Aktio stepped out of the shadows, a sneer across his elegant features. "Forgive me if I interrupt this happy reunion but I find this sort of insipid sentimentality so wearisome."
The other ghosts were clustered around the base of the stairs, Saki supported between Ayame and Shigure, Hiro glaring fiercely at Akito, Kisa her hands clasped fearfully. It was strange--they seemed to be intent on watching the scene in front of them, yet somehow . . . not alarmed.
Concerned, Tohru looked to where Hatsuharu and Rin were still looking into each other's eyes. Maybe they were lost in the moment, or maybe they just hadn't heard him, but they made no response.
"Don't think you can ignore me!" Akito cried out sharply. A harsh wind rattled around the hall, whipping Tohru's hair sharply against her face--but not affecting Rin or Hatsuharu at all.
Instead Rin spoke.
"You're late," she said, melodic tones breaking a century's silence.
Hatsuharu bowed, not taking his eyes from Rin's face. "Forgive me. I think I took a wrong turn somewhere along the way--"
Rin laughed, and threw herself into Hatsuharu's waiting embrace.
"No!" Akito's harsh cry echoed around the hallway as he interposed himself between them. "I won't allow this to happen, I won't let you!"
His protest trailed off as Rin passed through him, unnoticing.
"What's happening?" Tohru asked.
"Shush," Arisa said, staring at the scene before them.
Rin was smiling beatifically as Hatsuharu held her so tightly it seemed he would never let go. A soft light seemed to envelop the two of them, or was it that they themselves were in fact the source of that light--
Akito screamed pure fury, rounding on them violently. However, as he neared them, the light hit him and he froze, staring in horror at his hand.
"What's happening to him?" Tohru asked, watching as Akito's arm seemed to almost unravel before them, rapidly falling away into dark shadows that dissipated into nothingness.
"The obstacles surrounding the node point have been removed. Its force--his power--is returning to its source," Yuki whispered, unable to take his eyes from the scene. "At least, that's my guess."
Something was happening to the other ghosts too. They seemed to be growing more distinct and to lose their pallour at the same time. As Ayame smiled at Shigure, she could see that the bruise on his forehead had faded and he'd taken on the same almost luminescent quality as Rin and Haru, as had the other ghosts.
"No! It won't end this way, I forbid it! I absolutely forbid it!" Akito made a last grab for Rin but dissolved entirely before he could reach her. With a faint hiss the last remaining shadows disappeared, and he was . . .
"Gone," Yuki began to laugh, a trace of hysteria in his voice. "He's gone!"
"Oi," Kyou nudged him. "You all right?" He coughed, putting an arm around the grey haired boy's shoulders. "Not that I care or anything."
"Tohru!" Concerned as she was for her friends, Tohru couldn't help them. She was suddenly glomped by a delighted Ayame. "You did it!" he laughed, as he swung her around. "Tohru--you did it! I told you she would, didn't I, Gure?"
Shigure and Arisa were helping Saki sit down. The ghost rolled his eyes, though his grin showed amusement. "Other way round, Aya." He smiled at Tohru. "We owe you, Tohru, big time."
Blushing happily, Tohru looked at her feet. "I didn't do anything--"
A hand settled on her shoulder and she looked up to see the grave Hatori actually smiling. "This family truly owes a lot to you, Tohru," he said. "Let go of her, Ayame, you're going to make her sick spinning her round like that."
Ayame stuck his tongue out at Hatori but complied. "Spoilsport," he muttered drifting over to Kyou and Yuki. "Yuki, my darling brother, aren't you delighted to see me! And you too, Kyonkichi!"
"I told you to stop calling me that!" Kyou growled as Yuki hid his face.
"I almost preferred the other ghost."
Hatori let go of Tohru's shoulder, taking a shaky step towards his cousin. "Shigure--"
"Ha-san," Shigure gave him a quirky grin. "Before you go getting all emotional on me, remember I don't do tears, hugs or cheesy reconciliation scenes--"
"You brat!" Hatori seized Shigure and quickly had him trapped in a headlock. "Do you have any idea how much I missed you?" he demanded, ruffling Shigure's hair.
Tohru sniffled happily, watching as Kisa spoke softly to Kyou, Hiro beside her, managing somehow to look totally bored while looking completely happy. "Isn't this wonderful?" she whispered to Arisa and Saki.
"If this could get anymore sappy, I'll do Red's yardwork," Arisa said, although she was scrubbing rather suspiciously at her eyes. "Geez, we've been transported from bad b-grade horror flick to a made-for-TV drama."
"It is certainly pleasant to observe such happiness," Saki said calmly. "Although it is sad that it will not last."
"Huh?" Tohru blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Akito and the pain of separation from their loved ones kept the ghosts trapped here," Saki explained calmly, and Tohru with a thrill of dread saw where she was going. "Remove that and there is nothing to hold them here. In time they must surely depart."
At that moment the light surrounding Rin and Hatsuharu increased to the intensity that it was too strong to look at. Faintly, through the brightness Tohru could see that they had begun to dissolve, fading into particles of light that drifted upwards like golden snowflakes.
"No! Mother--" Tohru turned to find that Kisa and Hiro had begun to glow with the same light. Kisa murmured something to Kyou who clutched her even more tightly. "Do you have to go?"
"Sorry Ha-san," Shigure said, drawing back from his cousin. "I guess this is it." He spotted Tohru and smiled at her, a quiet smile. "Tohru."
"I don't want you to go!" Tohru threw herself around Shigure, sobbing. "I don't want you to go!" She cried whole heartedly. Shigure who had been her first friend, who'd cheered her up and encouraged her, who'd made her laugh with his teasing grins-- "I--"
"Tohru." Shigure's arms felt warm around her. "It has to be like this," he whispered. "It couldn't have worked out any other way."
Tohru had her tears under control. "I know," she said, resting her forehead against his shoulder. "But . . ." She leaned up and kissed him.
Warmth and light and a slight trace of salt--from her tears or his, Tohru didn't know. She felt like she was floating, the only things keeping her grounded were the two warm arms wrapped around her shoulders.
Shigure broke the kiss and Tohru sighed, a strange mix of regret and satisfaction. She studied the softness in his smile, the exact grey of his eyes carefully. "I won't see you again ever--"
"Probably not," Shigure admitted.
"Don't worry, Tohru." Ayame smiled, slipping his arm around Shigure. "I'll take good care of him, wherever we end up."
"Be happy," Shigure told her, leaning close enough to whisper in her ear, "by the way, Kyou as a kid was extremely ticklish on his back and feet and Yuki has always had a weakness for sweet things--"
"Huh?" Tohru said confused but before she could ask anything else the light before her grew too bright and she was forced to cover her eyes.
"Well," Hatori said mildly, as Tohru blinked, discovering that the hall was back to its earlier darkness and the ghosts were gone. "It has certainly been an interesting evening."
Tohru blushed, looking over to the other side of the room where Yuki and Kyou were staring at her, wearing identical expressions of open-mouthed shock. "Ah . . ."
Kyou was the first to find his voice. "You kissed him? That . . . idiot?"
"Who got kissed?" Tohru was suddenly, cheerfully glomped from behind. "Who? Who?"
"Momiji?" Tohru asked. "Is that really you?"
"Yup!" Momiji beamed at all of them. He was still slightly pale, but his smile was back to its usual self. "Who else would I be?"
"Don't you--do you know what happened?"
"I--" Momiji paused. "I was in the attic . . . and he came. And it was very cold and very dark and I couldn't find anyone . . . I almost died didn't I?" he asked.
Hatori nodded. "We're very lucky you didn't . . ."
Momiji nodded. "Thought so," he said brightly. "So, what did I miss?"
As Kyou yelled at him ("You almost died! People who almost died aren't allowed to be so damned cheerful!") Hatori hugged Momiji tightly.
"You had a very narrow escape . . . now you're not going to over exert yourself. Sit down, I want to take your temperature."
"But Hariiiii--" Momiji's whining was cut short as the lights flickered back on suddenly.
"It would appear," said Saki, "that things are back to normal."
"Not a moment too soon either," Arisa sighed. "Man, I am going to be sleeping in tomorrow!"
"The night is not quite over yet," Hatori said. "I'm taking all of you in to the hospital."
It was really over. Tohru looked around the hall, taking in the damage done by Yuki and Kyou's fight, the otherwise emptiness of the hall, the way the house seemed free from even the slightest of shadows. It was like another place--she wasn't sure whether she liked or disliked the change.
"Waaaah! Yuki's being meeean!"
"Shut up, you little pest!"
"Not until you tell me who got kissed! It's not fair, you never tell me anything!"
Things were definitely back to normal.
It was now the height of summer. The scent of roses drifted on the air, and Tohru smiled, enjoying the perfume as she opened the library windows to let the fresh air into the room.
"Isn't a gorgeous day?" she breathed.
"I suppose it's all right," Kyou said diffidently, wiping off the bookshelves with a dust cloth. "If you go for that sort of thing."
Yuki rolled his eyes, but smiled softly at Tohru, his purple eyes warm. "I think it's a wonderful day," he said.
"You would." It was Kyou's turn to roll his eyes.
Yuki thwapped him with one of the books he was putting back in order. "I approve of anything that makes Tohru smile like that."
Tohru flushed a nice rose pink. "Ah--but--"
Kyou reached out, fingering a strand of Tohru's hair with a gentle smile. "I suppose you're right. We don't often get to see Tohru this colour pink."
Tohru went even pinker. "Stop it," she said batting Kyou away. "We're supposed to be tidying the library."
"As amusing as seeing how many shades of pink Tohru can go in one day, she has a point," Yuki said. "These books are not going back on the shelves by themselves."
"Well, whose fault was it that we have to put them all back?" Kyou demanded, turning back to their task.
"Want to come over here and say that?"
"Why? Your hearing as weak as your comebacks?"
"That's it, you are so asking for it!"
Tohru continued putting the books away. Yuki and Kyou still fought, that was to be expected. But they seemed to be lacking the intensity behind their fights somehow. Almost as if they'd reached an agreement of sorts.
There were even moments when they didn't hate each other.
Still, given the fact that Yuki was now living in the Souma homestead and attending classes with Kyou and Tohru, they would have to get on better. Tohru got the feeling though that it was something else.
There was a crash.
"What? It wasn't me!"
"Well, what was it then?"
"I don't know!" Kyou said exasperatedly. "Honestly, everything that goes wrong around here is not my fault!"
"Could have fooled me."
"That's it! We're taking this outside!"
"Kyou, Yuki," Tohru said, stepping between them. "It sounded as though it came from upstairs."
They blinked at her, Yuki's eyes taking on a gentle, almost sorry tone. "Tohru . . . you know that that's not possible. It's been three months."
There was another, louder crash.
They met Kyoko on the stairs, also going up to investigate the noise.
"Just when I was getting used to having an ordinary house," she sighed, ruffling Tohru's hair.
"You think any house with Momiji in it qualifies as ordinary?" Kyou asked sceptically.
Tohru smiled in response. With Akito's defeat, the Souma family had returned to the homestead to live. Hatori had set up his own practice nearby, and Momiji, Momo and Yuki had all started school nearby. Ritsu spent most of his time tending the garden. Tohru hadn't expected either of them to return, but with the ghosts gone, it was like a different house . . .
"Well, damn," Kyoko said as the reached the upper drawing room to find two shattered vases on the floor. "Those were antiques."
"Were being the operative word," Kyou observed, leaning back against the door.
Kyoko thwapped him. "Go get the broom."
"Why me? Why not Yuki?"
"Because I said!"
As quietly as possible Tohru slipped out the door. She held her breath all the way to the library, a happy excited feeling growing inside her. She pushed the library door open eagerly, looking towards the armchair. "Shigure?"
It was empty. So was the rest of the library.
Tohru leaned back against the door. She'd been so sure . . .
"Tohru?" Yuki questioned. "Is . . . ?" The question trailed off as he took in her dejected posture and answered his own question. "I'm sorry Tohru. Although, it's probably for the best . . . if the ghosts are no longer here, it must mean that they're happy . . ." He brushed her cheek gently and smiled. "Cheer up, Tohru. Let me see your smile."
Tohru obliged, turning pink in the process. "Yuki, thanks for trying to make me feel better . . ."
"I've been meaning to ask you something," the silver-haired boy said. "Kyou and I have been talking. The school ball is next month . . ."
Tohru blushed a vivid pink. "But I thought you two had agreed--"
"As you couldn't chose between us, and it would be unfair to force you to, we agreed that we could tolerate each other and share your friendship for as long as it takes you to decide how you feel about us," Yuki said, softly. "That hasn't changed, Tohru. But if you don't mind . . . we'd both like to take you to the dance."
"But--that's not possible," Tohru protested. "The tickets are only sold for pairs--"
"We bought two, and gave the extra one to Saki. She was planning on going by herself anyway."
"Oh," Tohru said, staring at the floor.
"You don't have to decide now," Yuki said. "But we'd like you to think about it. Of course if you wanted to take just one of us, we'd understand that too--"
Tohru shook her head. "If I can go with both of you . . . then that's what I'd like to do."
"I'm glad," Yuki's smile was real and almost blinding in its intensity. He lingered beside her a moment, looking at the armchair in the corner. "Tohru," he said. "Do you miss him much?"
"Yes," Tohru explained simply. "He was my friend."
"Do you ever think," Yuki said, hesitating. "Things might have been different . . ."
Tohru blushed. She understood what he was asking. And things could have been different . . . Shigure had been smart and funny and kind. But so was Yuki . . . and Kyou was too, in his own gruff, endearing way. "It might have worked, if things had been a lot different," she said. "But things aren't and . . . I miss him but I like things the way they are now." If she wasn't scarlet, Tohru didn't know what she was.
The look on Yuki's face was worth any embarrassment. She'd never seen him so . . . joyful. "Tohru," he said warmly, trailing off into astonishment. "Hatori? What happened to you?"
Hatori opened the library door from the patio but did not step inside. The reason for this was obvious--he was drenched from head to foot, water running from his clothes to puddle on the patio floor. "Get me a towel, please Tohru. And Yuki? Can you tell whoever it was that thought it would be funny to turn the hose on me that I am not impressed and would appreciate it if they kept out of my way this evening?"
"Momiji," Yuki sighed, turning to go find his cousin.
"But Momiji's at a friend's house, has been all day," Tohru said.
"And Kyou was with us all afternoon . . ." Yuki trailed off as a last alternative suggested itself.
Tohru squeezed past Hatori and made her way across the lawn towards the willows as fast as she could. She didn't know whether she feared or hoped to find them empty--she didn't have the chance to find out.
Ayame was hanging upside down from his knees from one of the lower branches, his long hair streaming out below him. He smiled and waved as he saw her approach. "Yo, Tohru! Are you not delighted to see me?"
"It's good to see you again," Tohru said grinning happily at the still-upside-down Ayame.
"Naturally," he said, pulling himself right way up. "I don't wonder at you being delighted. And of course Yuki will be overjoyed."
"I hope you don't mind me asking," Tohru said. "But why are you back? I thought--"
"When Akito left, what originally held us to the house was removed. We could have left if we'd wanted to," a dry, slightly amused voice told her. "But in the time we'd been here . . . some of us had formed other bonds."
Tohru spun round, delighted. "Shigure!"
He was lying against a tree trunk where she was pretty certain there hadn't been anyone a moment ago, with a Ngaio Marsh open in front of him and a lazy grin on his face. "You've been busy while we were away," he teased. "Naughty Tohru! I never picked you for the two boyfriends type."
Tohru was beet-pink again.
Ayame laughed. "Just remember, a kinky threesome never hurt anyone!"
To cover her embarrassment, Tohru asked quickly, "So why are you two here now? I'd have thought you'd want to leave."
Shigure looked at her seriously. "We will, eventually. But Ha-san is obviously lost without us."
"When we're sure he'll be all right, we'll go," Ayame said. "Until then you have the pleasure of our company. Aren't we kind?"
Kind was not the word that immediately came to Tohru's mind but she suppressed that thought. "But . . . was turning the hose on him really that helpful?" she asked.
Ayame starting laughing again.
"Ha-san needs to laugh more," Shigure said, a grin on his own face. "Once he sees the funny side he'll be just fine."
"Oh," Tohru found herself grinning foolishly again. She sat down opposite Shigure. "Was that Hiro in the upstairs room before? Why is he still here?"
Shigure shrugged. "Hiro's . . . Hiro."
"He's probably just being annoying," Ayame dismissed him, beginning to pull his long hair into a braid.
"I think it might have something to do with the fact that Kisa also chose to come back," Shigure shrugged, watching Tohru carefully. "She wanted to watch her son grow up."
Tohru smiled. "I'll tell him . . . you have no idea how happy he'll be." She had to look away a moment to wipe tears from her eyes. As she did she saw Ritsu walk from the gazebo to the house, unaware of their presence.
"I wonder," Shigure said thoughtfully.
"You do that too much," Ayame said, nudging Shigure with his foot. "Move over."
As Shigure made room for Ayame to sit beside him, Tohru asked "What were you thinking?"
"Oh? Just wondering if Hiro staying didn't have something to do with him," Shigure nodded towards Ritsu. "Not all of our demons have been laid . . ."
Tohru shivered at the reminder of Akito. Surely they wouldn't have to go through that again . . . ? "But--"
"Is that Ritsu?" Ayame said astonished. "Isn't he supposed to be in hospital?"
"Oh for crying out loud, he was never in hospital! That was a lie the adults made up! And it's been years since he was discharged from the asylum--do you notice anything Ayame?"
"Well excuse me for being dead for ten years," Ayame said loftily. "And you can't talk. Once you get started on a book the house could catch fire and you wouldn't notice."
"Shigure?" Tohru asked before they could get distracted and she forgot. "Is Akito . . . is he . . ."
"I think he's still here. In a very different form. It'll take him years to pull himself back together, I don't think he'll ever be more than a whisper . . . I think," Shigure said, his deep grey eyes meeting Tohru's. "He's going to be here a long time . . . he has to let go of a lot of things before he can move on . . . but his power is gone. He no longer has control over anyone."
Tohru nodded. "Oh."
"Yuki's coming over here to look for you," Shigure said, nudging Ayame. "We'd better go." He grinned at Tohru's surprised face. "We don't want them to see us just yet--we're planning a surprise."
"Don't tell anyone," Ayame added. "We want this to be good."
"O-okay," Tohru agreed. She didn't have the chance to ask what kind of a surprise because the two of them vanished. Smiling, Tohru turned to meet Yuki. If things could get better, she didn't know how.