Chapter 16

Like a Brother

Momiji heard everything.

He saw Tohru and Hana meet up with Uo in their little tucked-away nook at the edge of the school grounds and was running towards them when he heard Tohru speaking. He hid and listened to the whole thing, clamping his hands over his mouth to stop himself from crying out.

It all made sense to him now. He was angry at Kyo, but also terribly worried about Tohru. His concern for her out-weighed his anger at Kyo, and while he didn't know where Kyo was at the time, he knew that he had to do something. Both for Tohru and the life that she now carried inside of her.

He remained hidden, crying as he heard Tohru crying in the arms of her best friends. He stole a quick glance at Tohru through the bushes before he ran off towards the school. The bell for classes to begin soon sounded and he hurried even faster, in hopes that Tohru, Uo and Hana wouldn't see him. He ran into the nearest boys' bathroom and splashed some cool water on his face.

Doushite? He asked himself. Why? Why? Why?

He stared at his reflection in the mirror. His large brown eyes were red-rimmed. His golden bangs hung out of his hat and into his eyes a little bit. He looked like a tearful little girl, and he suddenly didn't like what he saw staring back at him. As the second bell rang, he had made his decision.

...

At the start of lunch, Momiji went to the student council office. Yuki was there. Momiji wasn't expecting to see Yuki there. He had hoped that he could talk to someone else, but as soon as Yuki saw him, he gave a little nod to signal to the curious girls that he would take care of this student's concerns. The girls looked mildly disappointed that they couldn't at least talk to the cute little blond-haired boy wearing the girls' uniform.

"Hello Momiji-kun," Yuki greeted. "What can I do for you? This isn't about something Haru did, is it?"

"No, no, Haru's doing fine. He hasn't turned black or anything," Momiji assured Yuki.

Yuki sighed with relief. "One last thing to worry about..." he murmured under his breath.

Momiji wondered if Yuki knew about Tohru. He thought the chances of Yuki knowing were slim if Tohru was just telling her closest friends now. Besides, Yuki was acting far too calm and fluid for someone to know such details about a girl he was emotionally close to.

Momiji noticed Yuki watching him curiously. Momiji realised that he wasn't behaving in his usual happy and bouncy way. "Ah," Momiji began," I came here to get some new uniforms."

"Oh," Yuki replied, somewhat surprised. "What's wrong with your current ones? Did something happen to them?"

"No..." Momiji answered a little shyly, "I just want to... wear the boys' uniform now..."

Yuki blinked repeatedly-not sure if he heard Momiji correctly. He didn't expect Momiji to want to start wearing the boys' uniform all of a sudden without being forced to.

"Winter's coming soon, and..." Momiji stammered," I thought now would be a good time to get some new uniforms before it gets too cold."

Yuki nodded, but was still surprised by this news. "Okay, "I'll go get you some..."

He left in search of the uniforms, leaving Momiji alone in the office for a moment. He breathed in and out calmly. Why did he suddenly feel stressed about this? Maybe it's because he knows something about Tohru that Yuki doesn't. Or maybe...

He swallowed again.

The girls in the student council office were now timidly approaching the blond boy, curiosity getting the best of them.

"Are you sure that's a boy?" one girl whispered to the other.

"Yes, he's in my little sister's class. She thinks he's so cute!"

"He is! He's so cute!"

Momiji sighed before he turned his frown upside-down. "Hi!" he said. "I'm Sohma Momiji, Yun-chan's cousin!"

Their eyes widened, sparkling, as they clasp their hands together in front of their chests simultaneously. "Uwaaa! Kawaiiiiii!"

Works every time.

The girls asked him a few questions and he responded giddily by the time Yuki returned with a sigh. "I'm sorry Momiji-kun, but I could only find one winter and one summer uniform in your size. So I brought you an order form. Usually we don't start ordering winter uniforms until next month. If you return this form tomorrow, we'll have your new uniforms in next week."

Momiji nodded and thanked his cousin before skipping out the office door.

...

Tohru was feeling weak today. She used the last of her strength to tell Uo her secret. It was hard for her to sit through her morning classes. She felt like everyone's eyes were on her, watching her, judging her... like they all knew. Which was crazy. She had to remind herself more than once that no one but Uo and Hana knew, so she had nothing to worry about. Yet. She knew that in another month or two she would start to show and then she wouldn't be able to keep it a secret much longer.

And then... what will I do? she thought worriedly.

Lunch time caught her by surprise. Hana could read Tohru better than anyone, so Hana had become incredibly responsive since last night. Tohru would be alone one moment, and then the next she would find Hana next to her.

"Daijoubu, Tohru-kun," Hana said reassuringly ("It's okay, Tohru-kun") as she put a hand on Tohru's shoulder.

A smile spread across Tohru's face as she looked up at Hana. "Hai!"

Uo joined them ("I'm starving!") and the three of them went to their usual place for lunch. Uo and Hana chatted while they ate. Tohru was rather quiet, sometimes listening, and sometimes she was thinking intently.

"Oh my god."

Tohru heard Uo's hushed exclamation and followed her gaze. She saw Momiji and Haru approaching and... Momiji was wearing the boys' uniform?

"Tohru~~!" Momiji shouted joyfully as he ran toward her.

"M-Momiji-kun!" Tohru's mouth hung open in surprise, but she finally managed to close it.

"I never thought he'd ditch the girls' uniform while we were still in school," Uo said softly to Hana.

"Yes," Hana agreed. "Something's changed. I wonder...?"

"Tohru~~!"

"Momiji-kun! You're wearing the boys' uniform!" Tohru stated the obvious as Momiji and Haru (slowly) arrived.

"Duh," Haru could be heard muttering under his breath.

"What's up, pip-squeak? Why did you ditch the girls' uniform and upgrade to the boys'?" Uo asked.

"Because his balls finally dropped."

"Oi, don't be so obscene in front of Tohru!" Uo snapped, glaring at Haru.

Hana cracked a smile, but was silent. Tohru merely cocked her head to one side and Momiji proceeded to giggle.

"Himitsu desu," Momiji said. "It's a secret."

"Momiji-kun, you look more grown-up in the boys' uniform," Tohru said.

Momiji laughed ("Hee, hee, hee!") with a big smile on his face.

"I wonder where Yun-chan is today?" Haru declared, glancing around. "I thought he might be here with you guys."

"Oh! I saw him in the Student Council Office. He has duties today, I guess," Momiji told him.

"Did you just come back from the Student Council Office?" Uo asked Momiji.

"Ja! That's when I picked up my new uniform," Momiji replied, looking pleased with himself.

"Maybe we should kidnap him so he can spend the rest of the lunch period with us?" Haru suggested with a mischievous grin spreading across his face.

"Ja! Ja! Then we can play a game with him! The more players, the better!" Momiji declared, bouncing up and down.

"No, I don't think that's a good idea."

All heads turn to Tohru. "I mean," she continued, "he joined the student council for a reason. He can't just abandon his duties so he can play a game with us. He has some days off, so we can ask him to play with us then. But he has a responsibility so... we need to support him in his decision, even if that means he has less free time with us."

They stared at her, stunned.

"Dammit, Tohru!" Uo grabbed Tohru and pulled her into a tight hug, tears stun the corners of Uo's eyes.

Haru tilted his head to one side, wondering why the yankee was getting all choked up, but everyone else knew. Momiji felt guilty and was mentally kicking himself for saying something so childish. Tohru was the one who needed support for her new responsibility and although she hadn't formally told everyone else yet, Momiji, Hana and Uo knew the fear that hung within Tohru's heart.

...

After school that day, Momiji tried to sneak away from Haru for a moment and searched for Tohru. He found her outside with Hana and Uo, almost off the school grounds. He sighed, realizing that the chances of getting Tohru alone for a minute were slim. Uo and Hana were going to be permanently attached to Tohru from now on. He needed to figure out a way to get them to trust him enough so that he could be alone with her for a little while...

"Tohru~~!" he called after them, running to catch up with them.

The three girls turned at the sound of Momiji's voice. He waved excitedly as he ran over to them.

"Momiji-kun, will you walk with us?" Tohru asked with a smile.

"Ja!"

"Where's Haru?" asked Uo, looking behind Momiji.

"Eh? I don't know..." Momiji lied. "Maybe he got lost?"

"What!" Uo didn't make the connection that Haru was always losing his way.

"Ah, maybe he did," Tohru replied. Momiji knew that Tohru understood his cousins well. Even Haru. "Maybe we should go back and look for him?"

"That won't be necessary."

They all (minus Hana) jumped at the sound of Haru's voice behind them. Somehow, he had gotten in front of them!

"Dammit! Don't do that!" shouted Uo, raising a fist in the air.

"Ehhh? How did you get in front of us Hatsuharu-san?" asked Tohru in disbelief.

"I lost sight of Momiji for a second and found myself here. A mystery..." was Haru's response.

Hana smiled to herself.

Momiji was disheartened. It seemed to him like Haru had him on a short leash... Why was it so impossible for him to be alone with Tohru? He sighed, which caught everyone's attention because it was uncharacteristic of him. He decided to change the subject quickly to something worthy of a sigh.

"Poor Ha'ri," he said. "He's been working awfully hard lately. I haven't seen him around too much. But you're okay now, aren't you Tohru?"

It was all true, and Momiji really had no idea as to what was occupying so much of Hatori's time. He wondered if it had something to do with Kyo...

"Ah! Hai!" Tohru replied, rather quickly. "F-Fine! No problem these days! 100% healthy!"

She sounded like she was just trying to convince everyone, but everyone, minus Haru, knew what was in store for Tohru in the future.

Momiji wanted to cheer her up, just as much as he wanted to spend more time with her. Even if he couldn't be alone with her. "Good," he said, smiling at her, "then we should have a play-date together sometime! You know, like go and see a movie or go to the zoo."

"Uwaa, that sounds great Momiji-kun! Ne, Uo-chan, Hana-chan, do you want to go to the zoo together next Sunday?" Tohru asked, excitedly, now that the attention had shifted from her health and onto something that sounded more enjoyable.

Momiji was disappointed that she had asked her friends to join them, but in a way, he expected it. He'd steal her away for a quiet moment together when he'd find the chance.

"Aw man, that sounds awesome, but I have to work! Dammit! This sucks!" Uo spat dejectedly.

"That's not very lady-like," retorted Haru calmly.

"What!" Uo and Haru started to bicker, much like the way Uo and Kyo bickered. It was like Haru had taken Kyo's place in that regard... but when Haru was white, he was always calm. Rarely did Uo get him so worked up that he turned black. Uo would lose interest in the argument early though because Haru's laid-back "white" state was less encouraging

But Momiji was happy. He was going to spend Sunday with Tohru!

...

Sunday had finally arrived and Momiji was super excited. He waited at their meeting spot (just outside the zoo entrance) for Tohru, Hana and Haru to arrive. He arrived far too early because he was so excited to have a fun-filled day with Tohru (and of course Hana and Haru). Tohru had also invited Yuki to join them, but Yuki had other (student council related) activities to do. He declined graciously and told them that he would try and join them next time. Momiji waited patiently for Tohru and Hana to arrive. Fifteen minutes later, they arrived, right on time, but Haru was still no where to be seen.

"I hope he didn't get lost again," Tohru wondered out-loud, looking around worriedly for the ox.

Momiji heard his cellphone chime. He opened it and found a message from Haru. "Oh! He must have heard us talking about him!" he exclaimed, followed by a giggle. He read the message out loud: "Lost. Found Rin. She's upset. Gunna stay with her."

"I guess that means Hatsuharu-san won't be joining us," murmured Tohru, a little disappointedly. "But at least he found Rin and will be there for her. It sounds like she needed him, and his heart led him to her."

"Very romantic," Hana said softly.

Tohru nodded. Her face clouded over for a second and she looked as though she might cry.

"Ne, ne Tohru!" Momiji said quickly, wanting to cheer her up. He didn't want her to be sad. Not today. He wanted this day to be special for her. "Maybe there will be big oxen inside! Would that make you feel better?"

Tohru blinked and a couple second passed before a smile spread across her face and she started to laugh a little. Momiji's heart fluttered and a big grin stretched from ear to ear. She may be a little slow, but at least he could make her happy.

"And bunnies too!" Tohru added, laughing.

"Ja! Ja! Let's go!" Momiji exclaimed, snatching Tohru's hand and running to the zoo entrance gate.

Once the two of them were inside, Tohru stopped and waited for Hana to catch up. Momiji was hoping this would be his chance to lose Hana and be alone with Tohru all day... but Tohru stopped, waited, and wouldn't budge until Hana had caught up . Feeling defeated, Momiji waited with her.

Hana took her time catching up with them (which felt like forever for the energetic boy, even though it only took two minutes). Tohru smile at her, and she reciprocated with a small one. Momiji had a moment of feeling invisible, so he grabbed Tohru's hand again so that he could get her attention quickly.

"What do you want to see first, Tohru? Monkeys? Snakes? Rabbits?" he asked eagerly.

"I'd like to have lunch first," Hana spoke up, interrupting Momiji's excitement. Momiji frowned, to which Hana added, "If that's okay with both of you?"

"Of course Hana-chan!" Tohru exclaimed. "We'll go get food right away!"

Tohru's hand escaped from Momiji's as she replaced her hand in Hana's. Momiji was disheartened, but refused to let it get to him. So he hopped over to the two girls and took Tohru's other free hand in his, placing Tohru between the bunny and the flower. "Okay!" he declared with a big smile on his face. "We'll get food first and then look at the animals!" He skipped ahead with Tohru and Hana in tow.

The three of them spent a great deal of time in the zoo's food court, much to Momiji's boredom. Hana was content trying as many different plates of food available, and Tohru was just as happy to sit and chat with her two friends. After what felt like forever, Tohru noticed Momiji's fidgetiness, and suggested that they go see some animals. Elated, Momiji jumped up from his seat.

"Yay! Let's see the lions and tigers and bears!"

"Oh my," added Hana with a smile.

"Hai!" Tohru said cheerfully as she took both of her friends' hands.

The three of them scampered away to the nearest animal habitat, where Tohru and Momiji giggled and watched the animals graze on grass, or snooze in the sunshine. Before Momiji knew it, the sun was getting lower in the early autumn sky, casting purple shadows on the clouds overhead. He noticed Tohru hugging herself a little more as the temperature dropped. He frowned, knowing that the day had come to an end and they would have to part.

"I guess we should head home now, ne?" Hana suddenly said, as if reading Momiji's mind.

"Hai," Tohru agreed.

"Ne, ne," Momiji piped up, "first we should go to the souvenir shop! A trip to the zoo is never complete without first going to the souvenir shop."

"Un, okay Momiji-kun," Tohru replied warmly.

"Yay!" Momiji jumped up, took Tohru's hand yet again and ran to the shop not too far away, near the zoo exit.

Tohru was awestruck by all of the plush animals hanging from the ceiling, standing on shelves and lying in big wire containers. Tohru didn't know where to start. Something bright orange caught her eye, so she headed in that direction.

Momiji eyed the candy counter when Hana stepped into the store behind him.

"I know what you're trying to do."

He looked up into the amethyst eyes of the young woman. She was still a touch taller than him by a few centimetres, but he knew that he'd be shooting up soon like a tree. He brushed off her comment. "I don't know what you mean." he said, heading over to the sugar-sticks and attempting to look like he was interested in them.

"Her feelings aren't the same."

"They can always change," he answered, avoiding making eye-contact with Hana.

She looked upon him sadly as he fingered the plastic wrappings around the candy.

"Momiji-kun! Look!" Tohru called from the other side of the store. When she got both of her friends' attentions at the same time, she held up a big plush bunny the colour of sand. "Isn't it cute?" she laughed.

"Ja!" Momiji beamed back.

Neither one of them noticed the sadness in Hana's eyes as she watched the two friends interacting happily.

...

A few weeks passed by and every Sunday, Momiji tried to find something fun to do with Tohru. Hana always accompanied her, Yuki and Haru came one time, and another time Uo came. The weather fluctuated from warm one week and cool the next. A typhoon hit and there was a period of time when it rained non-stop for three days. Momiji, Uo and Hana watched Tohru more closely with each passing day, knowing that soon her belly would become visibly larger.

It was mid-November when Tohru asked Momiji if she could arrange an appointment with Hatori. "Just to check my health," she told him with a small brave smile.

She still had not told anyone that she was pregnant and Momiji was growing more impatient and uneasy with this thought. Why hadn't she told anyone else? Was she going to try the hide the entire pregnancy, or wait to tell people when she was starting to show?

Nevertheless, Momiji wanted to be supportive. "Un, of course."

Tohru's smile widened a little. "Arigatou gozaimasu."

"It's no problem Tohru," he reassured her. "If you need anything, I'm always here for you."

This time, she smiled really big, which made his heart flutter. "Thank you so much Momiji-kun! You're such a great friend!"

"Hee hee," Momiji blushed a little.

"Really, I mean it," she continued. "You're always there for me and watch over me. You're like a brother. Thank you for everything."

His heart sank as Tohru bowed her head in appreciation to him.

Hana was right.

He tried so hard to change her feelings, but it was useless. She would never feel the same way for him as he did for her. She still loved Kyo, and he knew it. He stood no chance of taking his place. He'll always be a friend to her, or like a brother at most. His heart ached. He wanted so much to be loved.

Tohru looked up when she heard a sniffle. She was surprised to see tears in Momiji's eyes. "Momi-"

Momiji pulled her into a hug and transformed in her arms. She held the weeping bunny against her chest, baffled by what could have caused Momiji to start crying. She blinked repeatedly. Before she could ask him anything, he spoke.

"I know... everything..." he whispered as he trembled. "About you and Kyo... the baby... and... I know where he is now... It's not fair..."

She stared at him, her eyes growing large as saucers as she took it all in.

And, I... I love you too, Tohru!

...

AUTHOR'S NOTE: (Oct. 11, 2010) I'm back! Happy Thanksgiving to my readers in Canada! Sorry it took me a few months for this installment! But, I've got this story pretty much all mapped out now. Looks like it will have a total of 26 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue (unless I decide to add anything, in which case it might be longer). So that's another 11 instalments and then OWATTA! (finished)

THANKS FOR READING AND REVIEWING!