I'm so sorry that this took so long! School plus a sudden obsession with playing Xenogears does not leave much time for writing, but I finally got this out! I'll try to take less time with the next chapter, but no promises. College teachers seem to think students have no life beyond homework.

Also, I'd like to thank everyone that reviewed so far. I know I haven't said anything about it, but I really appreciate everyone taking the time to leave their comments. Knowing people like my work is what keeps me writing! Also, I'll be posting the first chapters to a Xenogears story soon, so anyone who is interested, please read it!

Chapter 4: Arrival

Hatsuharu breathed a sigh of immense relief as Shigure's house came into view through the trees. The zodiac Ox had been looking for Kyo for the past week. Of course, what this really meant was that he had gotten himself completely lost within the first hour, and spent the entire time both wandering around aimlessly and stopping random people on the street to ask if they'd seen anyone like Kyo. Mostly the people had looked at him funny and said that they had seen no one who looked anything like the Cat, and who'd ever heard of a boy with red eyes anyway? Had Haru loved Kyo any less than he did, he would have given up at that point. But the Ox had continued to persevere, both because he was beyond worried for his cousin and because if he didn't keep wandering, he'd probably never find his way home!

Admittedly, Shigure's house wasn't really 'home', but it was close enough for what Haru desperately needed at that moment. While the week had been, in his opinion, spent productively, it had also been a week in which he had not been able to shower. While he wasn't quite so militantly fastidious as Kyo, Yuki or Hatori, he still felt pretty disgusting by that point. Plus, he was pretty sure that if he didn't wash it soon, his hair was going to somehow develop psychokinetic powers and destroy Tokyo.

And he could hardly blame Tohru when she stared at his appearance in shock once she'd replied to his knock. "Ummm...shower and a change of clothes, Haru-san?" she offered, and Haru only barely held himself back from kissing her senseless. Next time he walked past a temple, he was nominating that girl for sainthood! Outwardly, he just smiled wearily and gave a grateful nod, walking in when she stepped aside.

Haru noticed that she looked tired. She'd probably been losing sleep over worry for Kyo. Again, the Ox couldn't blame her.

When he walked into the main room, he found Yuki reading at the table. "Yo," he greeted quietly, but was startled when the Rat actually looked mildly upset at seeing him. Yuki's next words confused him even more.

"Oh, crap! Tohru-san, get him upstairs before Shigure sees him, or that baka inu will start up again!" the Rat squeaked—squeaked!—and gazed around nervously.

Tohru looked momentarily horrified. "Gomen, Yuki-kun!!! I'll do that right now!" And much to Haru's further puzzlement, she began actively shoving him towards the stairs.

"Huh? Tohru, what's going on?!" Haru yelped, turning his head to gaze back at her.

"No time! We need to get you out of sight before—"

"COW!!!" suddenly barked Shigure's voice, his form appearing in the garden doorway.

"Too late," Yuki groaned, burying his face in his hands.

Haru was about to protest once again that he was an ox, not a cow, but Shigure cut him off.

"Damn all cows! And swamps! My sinuses still hurt from that insane excursion! I can hardly smell anything but really strong mints!" the older man howled. "But do I get any sympathy? Noooooo!"

"Uh, Shigure?" Haru ventured, but Shigure didn't seem to hear him, continuing his rant.

"And then there's Akito, constantly pushing to keep searching even though it's obvious Kyo's long gone! Rrrrgh, why did his part of the curse have to manifest as obsessive and violent schizophrenia?! WHY couldn't he have been catatonic or have multiple personalities?! Hells, I would even have been able to deal with Turret's Syndrome!!!"

Tohru blinked and turned to Yuki. "Yuki-kun," she whispered, "what's Turret's Syndrome?"

"Sudden uncontrollable bouts of swearing." Yuki replied with a sigh.

"WHICH I'M ABOUT TO HAVE A CASE OF RIGHT NOW!!!" Shigure thundered, and stomped into the kitchen, still muttering.

Haru blinked and turned to Yuki and Tohru. "Well, that was surprising. Why is he still whining about his nose? Kyo's already been gone for almost three months."

Yuki looked put out, his violet eyes flashing with annoyance. "He just likes to whine. Usually he doesn't bother, but if anyone says or does anything that relates back to swamps or cows, he goes into a full rant. The man's more of a drama queen than my idiot brother, sometimes."

Haru just shook his head and headed upstairs to shower, contemplating the insanities of his relatives. But foremost on his mind was a certain Cat, and he hoped that wherever Kyo was, he was okay.

00ooo00

Kyo did his absolute best to hold back his temper. He'd finally reached Hokkaido, but found that getting directions to an address was almost impossible. Sure, finding the gaijin district had bean easy enough once he asked people—"Oh, you want the area where the whackos live!"—but the area of the neighborhood was built like a maze, and Kyo had gotten lost easily.

The Cat swore he would never make fun of Haru's lack of directional sense ever again after this.

So he'd made a typical tourist's mistake and asked a resident for directions. That had sent him on another long and winding trek, through areas he didn't think he could name. It didn't help that he was dressed as a woman, having finally gotten comfortable enough with the water bra that he could carry it off convincingly.

He'd gotten the insane idea somewhere that if he was going to be living in Hokkaido, he'd better look like a girl from the start. So he'd brushed his now shoulder-length hair, put on a dark blue blouse and matching skirt, and put on a small amount of lipstick and eyeliner. The outfit didn't match too well with his battered sneakers, but there was nothing to be done about that at the moment. He was immensely thankful that his body hair was naturally very fine—almost invisible against his pale gold skin—and thus he wouldn't have to deal with the ordeal of leg shaving. He'd read about it in the magazines and listened to women complain about it in bars, and it didn't sound like any sort of thing he'd be willing to put up with. The Cat was beginning to suspect that all women were masochistic, considering some of the things they did to look pretty.

So not only was he dealing with whistles and gazes from strangers, but he was decidedly ill-dressed for traipsing through areas that involved a lot of hiking and climbing.

Why had the directions included climbing that big oak tree in the park, anyway?! And why had he actually bothered to climb it?!

The cat spirit within him purred. Oh, right. He was part cat. Cats looooved trees. Cats didn't care about getting wrinkles in skirts. Neither did Kyo, really, but he at least had to make the appearance of caring, especially since he did all his own laundry.

Considering all that, it was no wonder that the redhead was rather short-tempered by the time he reached the apartment of Uo's friend Bess.

Bess lived in an apartment building in the cheaper side of town. The building itself was old, but at least it was fairly clean and in good repair. The halls had been painted white at some point, but time had turned them a sort of dingy gray that no amount of soap could brighten. The carpet was hideously ugly, a checkerboard pattern of green and red, but it was at least clear of any sort of debris or odors. There was no elevator, much to the tired Cat's chagrin, so he had to walk up the seven flights of steps to her apartment.

"Seventh floor...apartment of Floppy Willow Boulevard. Who the fuck named these streets, anyway? Gaijin are nuts..." Kyo muttered, reading the slip of paper in his hands. He walked down the hall, stopping at the door with the number 728 painted on it and a plain brass knocker. At least, as plain as a brass knocker that made faces at you could be. Kyo wondered if Uo was getting back at him for something. Taking a deep breath, he knocked.

There was the sound of a thump and a clang, followed by a loud and cheerful voice. "Hold on! I've just gotta get my foot out of the waste basket!"

Kyo sweatdropped and wondered if it would just be better to run away as fast as he could.

More thumps, another clang, and something that sounded oddly like the popping off of a cork from a wine bottle. Then footsteps approached the door, and it opened.

The woman in the doorway was a few inches taller than Kyo, perhaps in her early to mid-twenties, and pretty in a plain sort of way. She was slender, with a round face that looked like it held more smiles than frowns. She was wearing faded jeans and a T shirt that read "Honorary human". Brown hair was tied back with a blue bandanna, and sharply intelligent dark eyes took in every detail of Kyo's appearance.

"Oh, baby," she purred, her grin taking on a flirtatious cast that made Kyo very nervous. "What's a hot little number like you doing here? It's not my birthday..."

"Hands and eyes off." Kyo growled, his voice still more masculine than feminine. He really hadn't been able to do much about that without having someone for feedback.

Bess looked startled and slightly disappointed, then suddenly snapped her fingers. "Oh, you're Kyo, aren't you? You're late."

Kyo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but I was walking, and I was doing the whole fucking sex-change thing on the way. I didn't want anyone to see me until the act was believable."

Bess grinned. "Well, you've done a great job so far. You even fooled me for a moment, and I know what to look for! Now c'mon. Get your tail in here and take a load off." She stepped aside to grant the tired redhead entrance.

Kyo stepped inside, looking around curiously. The place was, to put it mildly, a bit of a mess. Bess was one of those people who seemed to thrive on clutter, and it spilled over her shelves and down to her furniture and across the floor. Herds of dust rhinos thundered across the floor in the background. The Cat grimaced. "Tell me we're not sharing the apartment," he said. If he was going to be stuck living here, he wasn't going to be responsible for what happened when his Clean mood took over.

Bess snorted. "Naw, don't be silly! This closet? Besides, Uo told me you weren't comfortable living with women, and I find living with guys too silly to imagine. You get the apartment next door. I leased it out for you. You owe me a month's rent, by the way. It's unfurnished, that's what keeps this building cheap, but it's weathertight and there's a discount furniture store down the street. Can I get you something to drink?"

Kyo flopped down on the couch—or what he thought might have been the couch before the clutter bunnies had turned it into a breeding colony—and shrugged. "What do you have?"

"Oh, I've got water, some soda, orange juice, some milk..."

"Milk sounds good."

Bess nodded and pulled the carton from the refrigerator, proving that there was a tiny kitchenette under the mountains of Stuff. She put it on the counter and walked over to a cabinet to get a glass, but stopped when Kyo just reached over, grabbed the carton, and drank it dry. She raised an eyebrow as Kyo licked his lips and looked smug. "You sure you weren't a cat in a past life or something?"

"Not a past life, no." Kyo replied, thinking about the curse on his family.

"Coulda fooled me. Ah, well. The discount furniture store's open late today. Wanna head down once you've rested a little?"

Kyo nodded. "I don't think I want to sleep on the floor. By the way, is the carpet in the apartments as ugly as the hall? I can't see yours." He kicked at a random Godzilla bobblehead figure.

"What carpeting? When I said unfurnished, I meant unfurnished! That upholsterer's drug dream out in the hall is someone else's fault. Every day, I go out and spill something on it, just to dull the glare."

"Doesn't seem to work. That thing looked spotless."

"I blame the pixies."

Kyo stared at her and wondered just what Uo had sent him to.

00ooo00

The Happy Clutter didn't sell high-class furniture, but it was cheap and well-made, so far as Kyo could tell. There was also a surprising variety, catering to both American and Japanese styles. Kyo was a simplistic person by nature, really only needing the basics, namely a low Japanese-style table, some cushions, and a futon, but the moment he saw the giant basket chair, the 'papasan', as the tag named it, he was hooked. Bess, who had been pointing out various things and had her back turned, found him sprawled in the thing, purring softly and looking all the world like a sunning feline.

"Kyo, that's a window display. I admit, you're drawing a crowd, since people like to see attractive women sprawled over things as a matter of course, but the supervisor has a rotten temper, and if he catches you up there, we'll be tossed out."

"I could take him." Kyo answered, his voice slightly dreamy from the effects of the warm sun.

"I don't know about that. He's four hundred pounds and can bench press twice his weight." She grabbed the redhead's arm and dragged him from the chair. "C'mon, out. We can buy you one on the way out, but you need a real place to sleep. Those things just aren't good sleeping places. I remember one time I slept in one, and couldn't stand straight for days. Made my job a living hell, that's for sure."

Kyo blinked. "What do you do?"

"I work at a crappy night club. The Crappy Nightclub." she said, grinning. "When you're on stage, no one wants to see you shuffle around like Quasimodo."

"Quasi-who?"

"Never mind. Go choose your furniture." She gave him a slap on the rear to get him going, which earned her an annoyed yowl and an affronted glare.

Half an hour later, Kyo had arranged for the delivery of a table, a futon, several cushions, and a papasan. Then Bess dragged Kyo into the store next door, a tiny shop that sold household items including sheets, blankets, dishes, and toiletries. Kyo stocked up, glad that these were discount stores. He may have raided Akito's cash box, but after he paid back Bess for rent on his apartment, he was probably only going to have enough to keep him for another two months. Just enough time to completely perfect his image of femininity with Bess's help before looking for work.

However, after dinner at a local restaurant, all Kyo bothered to think about was moving his new furniture into the tiny bare apartment that was now his own and making his bed. He was tired and looking forward to the first night in three months on something softer than dirt.

He got undressed and washed off the makeup, pulling on an old baggy sleepshirt, and sat down on his futon, taking a moment to stare around his new home. With the urgent needs of his travels no longer occupying all of his thoughts, the full realization of what he'd done and what he was doing began to dawn.

He began to shake, his hands clenching tightly in his new blankets. Gods...I actually did it. I threw away everything I knew and ran away... He'd effectively excommunicated himself from his entire family. After this, he could never go back. Akito wouldn't just lock him up; he'd kill him outright. He'd most likely never see any of them again, nor would he see Tohru or any of the friends he'd had in school. While actually on the run, the magnitude of his actions hadn't really registered on him. But now that he was finally at his destination and it was quiet enough to think, he found himself feeling very frightened and alone. The only one who knew he was here was Uo, and he probably wouldn't dare to contact her any time soon. There was no security in knowing Bess was next door, because he didn't know her beyond being Uo's friend. Trust would come with time, but not now. Now, Kyo just sat in the dark, shaking, and suddenly wishing for anything familiar.

I never even got to tell Haru I loved him. That thought lanced through the rest of his delayed fear, making him feel all the more lonely, because there was no way to ever tell him now.

Kyo cried himself to sleep.