Author's Note: Wow, look at all the reviews! Thanks so much, guys! Sorry I didn't update when I said I would. I had some personal problems, and my Internet was also acting up, so yeah. Warning: serious Ayame in this chapter.

Title: Ayame Sohma

Rating: PG

Spoilers: Episode 20 of the anime… and some other stuff…

Summary: Mine is Ayame's best friend. Will she be able to handle knowing his secret?

Disclaimer: I don't own Ayame (sigh), Mine, or anything else in Fruits Basket.

Setting: This story takes place after episode 20.

!!! = setting change

italics = emphasis

-The Sohma Family-

Ayame Sohma disappeared right before Mine's eyes.

Confused, the young woman looked around, searching for Ayame. She glanced down at her feet. To her surprise, a whitish-silver snake lay on the floor. "Oh, what a cute little hebi!"

"Why thank you!" Ayame's voice boomed from the floor.

Shocked, Mine stared at the snake. "Ayame-san?"

"Yes, Mine." The snake slithered to the doorway. Ayame reached the other room just as he transformed back into himself. "Mine, could you get me my clothes?"

"Oh!" Mine blushed and bent to pick up Ayame's clothes, which had been left on the floor.

!!!

After Ayame put his clothes back on, he and Mine settled down in two comfortable chairs directly across from each other.

Bright-eyed, Mine asked, "Ayame-san, how did you become a snake?"

Ayame sighed. "I don't want to make you sad," he said, "but I'm afraid I have to. You want to know the truth about me, so I will tell you the secrets that not many people are privileged to know."

Mine's large brown eyes were focused entirely on him.

"The Sohma family—is cursed," Ayame began.

Mine furrowed her brows. Cursed?

"As I demonstrated, I turn into a snake when I hug a member of the opposite sex. That's why—that's why I never let you do that."

Mine blinked.

"There are twelve others like me. Each of them turns into a different Jyuunishi animal—for some reason, the cat is included."

She nodded.

Ayame held her attention with the steadiness of his gaze. "We can hug each other without transforming, but when it comes to those who aren't of the Jyuunishi—"

"I see." Mine was troubled by this. Ayame's fear of exposure must be great. And yet, Ayame brought extreme confidence and boldness wherever he went. Fear was never something that Mine had associated with him.

"The head of our household is Akito Sohma. He controls the Sohma family—especially the Jyuunishi." Slight bitterness entered his next words. "My parents always wanted his approval, ever since he was born. I couldn't understand why they respected a baby so much when they seemed to care nothing for me, their own son. When Yuki was born, Akito formed an attachment to him—his attention is still constantly fixated on Yuki." Ayame tilted his head almost thoughtfully. "Yuki is afraid of him."

Mine remained silent, allowing him to speak freely.

"I don't know why we obey him. Maybe we're all too afraid of him," Ayame mused. "Even those of us who are older than he is."

A minute passed. Neither Mine nor Ayame moved.

Finally, Ayame shifted in his seat. Mine watched him curiously.

"Mine, do you understand the nature of our curse? It is meant to destroy us. We have survived so far, but the burden becomes heavier with each generation. We are desperate to find a cure. We need one, because the curse extends not only through us, but through the rest of the family as well. My mother is cursed, just as Yuki and I are. She—she doesn't know whether to hate or love us, and the fact that she has two sons of the Jyuunishi—"

Mine closed her eyes for a few seconds, trying to imagine the pain that the Sohmas must feel every day of their lives.

"I want to make people happy," Ayame told her. "Why do you think I'm so cheerful all the time? There is so much sadness in the Sohma family. I guess that one day I decided that I wanted to change that. I focused on others so much that I ignored Yuki. I forgot that he needed help too," he said sadly.

"Ayame-san—"

"When I was growing up, I loved Tori-san the most," he continued. "He always said what I needed to hear. And he was so kind-hearted. He cares so much about everyone that sometimes he forgets about himself." Ayame paused before continuing. "I loved Gure-san too. He was like me, always wanting to have fun."

Mine listened carefully, not wanting to miss anything he said. Ayame had poured out his soul to her about his poor relationship with his brother, but he had never told her anything like this. If he was going to be this honest with her, she could at least pay attention.

"They've been my friends since before I can remember, and I am grateful to have them. If I hadn't met them, then I'd probably be a very different person." Ayame turned his head, and a few strands of hair obscured Mine's view of his face. "I am not the most cursed Sohma. I am happy enough—I'm one of the luckier ones."

He faced Mine again. "I'm not quite sure how I became how I am today. I suppose I must have unconsciously let my desire to bring happiness into the family affect my words and actions."

A sigh escaped him. "It isn't fair—we live in fear of being exposed by a simple hug from the opposite sex." The oddly beautiful golden eyes were hidden for a moment before becoming visible again. "But I believe that the real threat lies within our family itself."

Ayame looked away from Mine as he spoke his next words. "I'm not sure what our ancestors did to deserve such a curse—but our fates are sealed from the moment we are conceived. Before we can even think or act, the curse is placed on us… Mothers and fathers turn against their children—children grow up forever lonely, when all they need is love… We are a family, and families are supposed to support each other, not—not run away from each other—like I did…" Ayame stopped before the emotions became too strong to hold back.

Mine gasped and put a hand to her mouth. Tears glistened in her eyes.

"I shouldn't have abandoned my family like that. Maybe I'm just too cold-blooded—"

"No." Mine's eyes flickered in emotion. Ayame was warm—always. She wouldn't allow him to say things like that. She couldn't let Ayame Sohma—a man who had given her, a lowly fashion student who had been deemed too eccentric to work for others, a chance to express her art. He had taught her so much—was still teaching her—and she knew that what he had just said was completely untrue.

"No," Mine repeated. "You just didn't understand at the time. But you're older now, and you want to help. That isn't how a cold-blooded person would feel."

Ayame managed a small laugh. "You always manage to make me feel better, Mine." A genuine smile graced his features. It was good to see after such sobering talk.

Mine stood and took a step forward, her hands clasped above her heart. "It's the least I can do, since you trust me with knowing all of this."

"I've always felt so close to you… And that's why—that's why I felt I could tell you all of this."

Mine smiled. "Thank you."

"There is so much more for me to tell you—but not now. Someday, you'll know everything."

"Arigatou gozaimasu." (AN: I hope I spelled that right.)

Gorgeous, confident, and eccentric. Three words that perfectly describe Ayame Sohma. Mine now had other words to describe the man before her. Honest, caring, and loyal were some of these. Ayame wasn't perfect, but he had a big heart.

Ayame was distracted by the serious thoughts in his head. As he had just told Mine, Akito ruled the lives of the Jyuunishi… He most likely wouldn't be pleased to hear that Mine knew the secret. He didn't care much about Ayame, dismissing him as a useless fool. Akito usually concerned himself with the members of the Jyuunishi that Ayame loved most—Hatori, Shigure, and Yuki. But now, with what he had just done, Ayame would be drawing the attention of the head of the family to himself.

Tohru Honda was a special case. Would Mine Kuramae be allowed to keep her knowledge of the Sohma family too?

TO BE CONTINUED…

Author's Note: Good? Please review if you can! I'd like to get people's thoughts on this chapter.

BIG THANK YOU TO: lostlight, Azn ChibiSweetpea, Emmi-chan, Neko-P, Silent Sage, Pseudonym Sylphmuse, Chi-san1, White Meteor, ThistleMarie, Lady of the Ink, midnightcrow, Maeven, Digi-riven, Ohimesama1, GoodGurl, Sailor Panda, Neko-Metallium, JadOo, Blue Quartz, Jessiegurl43953, GoddessLD, SilverMagiccraft, KiwiTenjou, Tenniyo, machoupitchounette, HelloKat, shadowcat15, Aisha C, MetroLuz, Kyou the outsider, Delphine Pryde, lhuntathraeil, Puppet in the Corner, Rein of Review inc, Elfie-chan, GirlWaterShaman, and all the anonymous reviewers!

Replies to:

HelloKat: Thank you! That was what I was trying to get across, and I'm glad you acknowledged that. Maybe I didn't fail so badly after all…

shadowcat15: Yeah, Akito's not going to be very happy at all…

Lady of the Ink: Thank you for your comments. I'm so sorry for not updating for so long and leaving everyone wondering what was going to happen to the story.

Everyone else: Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments! I feel so loved!