Ok, wow! I just checked my stats and I've found that 91 people have put me on their favorites list for this story! How amazing is that? I am so honored by the support and reviews I've received, so thank you for being kind enough to leave even the smallest of comments. I love reading them! In other news, Nathan's 1st birthday came and went; doesn't time fly? This whole year has been a blur. Hopefully I will be able to update regularly in the new year, but I'm just glad that people are still reading this. As sad as it is, all good things must come to an end and I can see the final horizon approaching for our characters. Ahh, clash of the titans.
NB: I haven't had time to properly edit this chapter, so sorry in advance for the mistakes if you see any!
Much love, hugs and kisses to all the readers out there; I hope you all had a Merry Christmas.
Oh, and have a Happy New Year!
The Honke was ridiculously silent as Ayame stepped towards the large doors that would lead him into the house. His previous anger had been forgotten and instead, worry took a hold of him with cold finality. He would be signing Mine's death warrant if he confronted Akito... But it had to be done. Whatever trials and tribulations the demi-god would set in their path, they would eventually overcome and rise out from it stronger than before. They had to. He knew that their love was strong and infinite... And that they would pull through. Gods, he loved her like nothing else in the universe. And that was his only reason for coming to confront the Sohma family's tormentor. She was his purpose.
Raising his white-knuckled fist, he gently rapped on the door.
The old, gray-haired housekeeper answered with a small scowl on her face. "Master Ayame-san," she said smoothly.
The snake nodded. "I wish to see Akito-san."
"Master Akito-san is not well, he does not wish to see anyone."
Ayame's golden eyes flashed coldly. "Tell him that I'm here. I'm not leaving until I see him."
"I already told you!" The woman's voice rose, "He is not fit to have visitors."
"And I am telling you to move out of my way, or I will be forced to shout for him to come out."
The housekeeper's scowl deepened dreadfully. "Follow me."
Mine hummed quietly to herself as she set about checking the inventory and stock of Ayame's fabric store.
Part of her was worried about the phone call Ayame had received and the other part couldn't help but smile broadly at the feelings of love that washed over her; it was like the gentle waves of an azure ocean caressing a pristine white shore.
A warm, coying sensation filled her heart in place of the blank void that had encompassed it before Ayame had confessed his love for her.
Who knew that love could be worth all the pain in the world? Who knew that she could ever be this happy? It was all so sudden, but it felt remarkably right. Like it was meant to be. Of course, there were many things that still needed to be discussed between them but Mine was sure that, given time, their relationship would flourish to new found heights, unparalleled and incomparable.
Sighing slightly, she grinned and caressed the roll of pale pink chiffon that rested on one of the shelves. Absently, Mine wondered if that roll of fabric could be turned into an alluring gown or uniform... Most definitely a uniform. With a grin, she imagined the cut and detail, and created an adorable pink dress suitable for a nurse, all within the imaginative confines of her mind. Never let it be said that she was slacker, even with thoughts of Ayame, she still managed to find the capacity to do her job and do it well!
Fully grinning now she wrote down the number on the label in the roll of fabric, so that she could deal with it at a later date, convincing herself that Ayame would be in for a treat once she was done.
As she moved to the other side of the shelf, Mine started at the sound of the shop bell ringing, announcing a new arrival. Which was particularly odd considering the tiny fact that the 'closed' sign was still in place. Eventually, she concluded that Ayame must have forgotten to lock the door after he left.
Frowning with frustration, Mine slowly walked around the shelves and went to investigate.
As soon as the entry-way came into view, she abruptly froze as the man in the doorway turned to face her. His deep brown eyes regarded her silently as his floppy chestnut hair grazed the side of his angled face, sending a deep tremor of trepidation down her spine. That face... That damnable face. How had it followed her here? How? Trembling visibly, she took a step back from the force of shock that pounded into her chest. "What are you doing here?" Her barely choked whisper felt fragile against the bitter wind that swept into the room through the gaping doorway.
All thoughts of happiness and joy fled from her mind as the man gazed back at her with a significantly shy but somewhat lascivious smile. "Hello, Mine-chan. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
Mine felt the urge to flee and run increasing with every second that passed.
"Has Aya-kun taken leave of his senses?" Shigure muttered, moving to follow his cousin and fellow cursed Jyuunishi. He stopped abruptly and pensively as Hatori's hand fell upon his shoulder, halting his motions.
"You know that when Ayame puts his mind to something, no-one can change it," Hatori uttered softly. "Let him go."
"Nothing good will come of it," Shigure remarked absently. Sighing with frustration, he shrugged off Hatori's hand and moved to kneel on the tatami floor before he could change his mind. For some reason, he preferred being nearer to the ground. He believed that it had something to do with the canine nature embedded deeply into his soul. As his cousin eyed him curiously, Shigure shook his head with a wry smile playing at the corner of his lips. "Out of all the Jyuunishi that could have found love; it had to be him," he grunted, "What are the odds?"
The irony was not lost on the dog and dragon. That they could be so unlucky in love, and that Ayame would succeed where they had failed; it was beyond comprehension. It was inconceivable and yet, neither could deny that the Jyuunishi snake was one of the luckiest men in world to have found a lover as understanding as Mine. Both could only hope that Akito would not lash out... But deep within, they knew the truth. And there was nothing they could do to help; they would only make things worse.
Hatori could not stop the mirthless chuckle that rumbled deep within his chest. "You know that Ayame's the only one foolish enough to pursue his dreams. Just because Akito doesn't take a particular interest in his life, doesn't mean that he will be given leave to do what he wants," the doctor trailed off, gazing out of the nearby window with a frown. "It doesn't work like that. Not with Akito."
"Should we go after him?" Shigure asked softly, following his cousin's gaze. "It could get ugly."
Contemplating the question for a brief moment, Hatori shook his head. "This is Ayame's fight. We would only give Akito more ammunition to use against him." Then, almost to himself, he whispered, "No good would ever come of that."
Peering at the tatami mat before him, Shigure gave a subtle nod, his thoughts drifting towards Mii. She was a woman that he had fallen deeply in love with. He wondered why he wasn't as brave as Ayame in expressing his feelings and emotions. He teased and harassed his assistant for years, but to what end? All it led to was arguments and derogatory comments and though he enjoyed dishing them out and receiving them, he doubted that Mii would ever revel at the idea of a relationship based upon constant irritation.
He was a fool. For the first time, Shigure realized that all his scheming machinations did more harm than good; especially in the case of a loved one. He finally came to the sound conclusion that nothing could be gained whilst he behaved in such an appalling manner towards the woman that held his heart. Could he change for the better? He would certainly try, but until that time, he would give Mii no reason to doubt his feelings for her.
Coming to such a decision, made Shigure feel lighter than he had in days. It was like someone breathing fresh air into him for the first time. So pure and clear; no doubt nor fear assaulted his mind. And for the first time, Shigure felt his heart lighten and countenance brighten considerably.
Hastily, he rose from his position on the floor and made a move towards the exit.
"And where do you think you're going?"
Shigure stopped in his tracks, grinning sheepishly at his ebony-haired cousin. "Er—I need to take care of something."
Hatori was not impressed. He had seen the vacant expression on Shigure's face and knew that the dog was up to something. "Do it later," he commanded adamantly.
Shigure's protests were cut off as Hatori raised his hand in finality. "Tohru-kun needs us now more than ever. Whatever you need to do can wait until later."
Hatori was right. But the Jyuunishi dog's smile widened considerably at his cousin's words. It was too easy. "Ah-hah... What is this Ha-san? Feeling a little frisky again for young Tohru-kun, are we? Hm, hm?" Wiggling his eyebrows, Shigure winked suggestively, unable to let such a jibe slip out from his fingers. Teasing the good doctor was so much more appealing than anything he could imagine. "I won't have it you know, you dirty old man," he sniggered, "She is my young bride after all."
Huffing indignantly, Hatori shook his head in consternation. "She's already a married woman, you buffoon."
"So Ha-san likes to dabble with married young women! Didn't know you had it in you."
"Shut up, Shigure."
"What's the matter?" Shigure murmured innocently, "She could be your bride too; I really don't mind sharing. I haven't enjoyed the pleasure of trois-some in quite a while."
Sneering, Hatori resisted the urge to smack his cousin. "You are insufferable."
"And you need to lighten up," Shigure commented softly, his demeanour sobering considerably before his face broke out into another wide grin. "My little flower is a grown woman now, can you believe it Ha-san?" He all but cried.
Ignoring Shigure's idiotic behavior, Hatori set about lighting another cigarette. His thoughtful glare darkened minutely as he put the colored end in his mouth. "She may be a grown woman, but her mind is still that of a seventeen year-old. Just be careful about the kind of things you say to her."
A hurt expression crossed the dog's face. "I would never say anything untoward."
Hatori snorted. "Yes, you would."
"I would like to see the others now," Tohru spoke out against the fragile silence as it swamped the room.
Yuki wished that he could spend more time alone with her, but knew that it was futile and selfish. He turned to leave the room but was stopped by a delicate hand upon his wrist. He looked down at the fingers with apprehension before forcing himself to look up into the beguiling azure eyes that regarded him solemnly.
"Thank you, Yuki-kun," she said softly. "For everything."
He nodded slowly and desperately wished that she would take her hand away. It was more than enough incentive to pull her into another hug, but he certainly did not wish to transform. "You're welcome, Honda-san."
"You still haven't told me about Kyo," her eyes crinkled with amusement. "Are you two still not getting along?"
It was so far from the truth that Yuki couldn't help but smile. A thought came to him unbidden and he knew he could not deprive the Jyuunishi cat of this rare reunion. "Would you like to go see him? He's not here but I can take you to him."
Tohru nodded eagerly, a broad smile tugging at her lips. "That would be wonderful!"
"Then get dressed. I'll be waiting for you outside." And with that, he left the room before he could change his mind. Kyo deserved to see her as much as the rest of them. It was odd to think that he and the cat had been rivals before this time. Before Tohru had left them. Together, they grieved like no other and found that they could tolerate one another more than ever before. For the first time after Tohru's absence, dare he say it, his brotherly affection for the cat had grown enough for him to pursue this course of action.
Gentle fingers brushed away the auburn strands of her shoulder-length hair.
She couldn't bring herself to look at him. But after the few moments of utter silence, Mii raised her eyes and found herself engulfed by compassionate mud stained orbs. She smiled apprehensively as Haruki's strong fingers came to rest at the beating pulse in her neck. He returned her frail gesture with a small kiss upon her forehead, his lips lingering against her damp skin. The soft rush of air from his mouth felt cool and calming against her and she resisted the urge to shudder at the pleasurable chill that swept through her veins.
No words had been spoken since they joined their bodies in the ancient dance of love.
What could she say? Could she lie and proclaim her love for this man, when her heart belonged to another? Mii knew that she couldn't do that, as much as she wanted to and as much as Haruki desired for her to. And she felt horrid for that. She was lying next to a man that ultimately cared for her, loved her and cherished her with all his soul, but she still could not tell him that she loved him.
The world worked in mysterious ways; and sometimes, it just wasn't meant to be. A relationship between herself and Haruki could never be possible, even if she tried to forget about a certain author that held her heart captive in a cruel, bleak cage.
Licking her mildly chapped lips, Mii slowly sat up from the confines of the warm bed. She reached down to the floor and picked up the crisp white shirt that had been tossed there in the heat of the moment, ignoring the black lacy bra that lay only a few inches from it. Yanking on the shirt, she remained seated, staring down at the cream duvet covers as she buttoned up the piece of attire.
A barrage of tears came to her eyes, threatening to spill forth as they remained behind the wall of stoicism she had erected around herself. It felt like her emotions were beating against the sturdy structure of a dam and that at any moment, they would burst forth without remorse and the unkempt sorrow that lay hidden beneath her steely façade.
Meanwhile, Haurki watched her motions quietly, unable to speak out against the silence that has descended upon them. He too sat up beside her, stunned by the events that had taken place. How would they move on from this? What path would there friendship take from this day? So many unanswerable questions, so many things that needed to be said but couldn't for fear of rejection and dismissal.
His eyes drifted towards the clock mounted on the wall opposite. Cursing quietly to himself, he still made no outward gesture to move from the bed—or her side. He was afraid that if he did, the enchanting spell that had been cast between himself and Mii would be broken beyond repair.
Finally, she spoke, "Haruki..." The way in which she whispered his name promised nothing but heartache for them both. It would be better to ignore past events and forget them, rather than wallow in their own self pity and doubt. She never wanted this... Never wanted to hurt him so deeply. She just wanted to feel; and in her blind selfishness, she had used the one person dearest to her.
But now the consequences of her actions had to be dealt with, and Mii didn't know how she could handle it. She didn't know what she could do to make things better—to make them whole again. It wasn't as if she could send a greeting card or a bunch of pretty flowers to soothe away the excruciating pain she had caused him. No amount of words, begging or pleading would absolve her from the perfidy of her actions. Too late, she realised. It was all too late. "Haruki," she murmured his name again, desperately, as if she was grasping for some semblance of reality.
"It's fine, Mii-chan," Haruki murmured at length, unable to tear his gaze away from nearby window. Slowly and lethargically, he rose from the bed, slipping on his boxers before leaning down to place a lingering kiss on the top of her head.
The kiss seared through the very fibres of her auburn hair, igniting her roots as his warm breath caressed her scalp for that one eternity.
Mii flinched, her heart breaking at every kind gesture he bestowed upon her. She didn't deserve the solace he had offered. "I'm so sorry," she whispered quietly, shaking her head.
"It's like I said before," Haruki managed to speak slowly, "Love hurts."
"I never meant for it to hurt you; it wasn't supposed to be like this," she smiled bitterly, brushing her fringe from her eyes. "In an ideal world, I would have been content with you," Mii said, almost to herself. "I do love you, Haruki-kun. I just don't know why I'm not in love with you. I know it would save us both a lot grief.."
Haruki chuckled humorlessly. "You can't control how I feel about you and you certainly can't control love, Mii-chan," he said, walking towards the open doorway. He paused without turning to face her, "In my own way, I will always love you... And besides, I'm strong, I'll get through it. When you definitely know what you want, I'll be waiting." Haruki grimaced, rubbing the side of his face as she took in the detail of his muscled back. "Just don't keep me waiting too long."
And before she could reply, he left her in the room with nothing but the scent of sweat and apple scented cologne permeating in the air around her.
Ayame frowned as he was slowly led down the narrow hallway of the Honke.
Apprehension began to bubble within the pit of his stomach with every step that led him towards Akito's chambers. As he continued to worry himself over the formidable thoughts, he spied the old maid glaring at him from the corner of her eye; he tried to ignore it as best he could but was finding it difficult as she kept sighing in consternation every few seconds. The woman seriously needed a little break from the constant care-giving she supplied to Akito. Either that, or she needed to remove the stick that was permanently shoved up her back—
"You may go in," the maid stopped abruptly in front of a delicately painted shoji panel. She frowned deeply before leaving him alone in the hallway.
Ayame drew in a deep breath and turned to stare intently at the intricate detail that was applied upon the thin rice paper of the panel. The pink petals of sakura floated before him enchantingly as they fell whimsically from the cherry-blossom tree. There was such peace and placidity displayed that it calmed him somewhat. But he knew that beyond the panel, a tempest was awaiting him.
And he was about to step directly into the path of the storm.
Scowling, he turned his thoughts back to the woman that had captured his heart. A remarkable woman. The woman he would move mountains for; the woman he would face his God for. And with those thoughts of her smiling face and laughing eyes, he knelt lethargically and sat on his heels, in the pose that was demanded of guests. Slowly, he slid the panel open and raised his eyes deliberately.
There, before him, sat the deity he had come to confront. It seemed that Akito was regarding him warily, but in his eyes he possessed an unparalleled knowledge that was enough to put Ayame on guard, and make him revert to the man others had always thought him to be; a bit flighty and loud and ignorant.
He bowed with flourish, "Akito-san, it has been a long time!" From beneath hooded eyes, he could see that his loud demeanour caused the demi-god to wince.
"Ayame," Akito breathed, shifting slowly from his knees into a standing position. He motioned for Ayame to enter and the invitation was accepted with some hesitation. "You wished to see me?"
There was a gentle sweetness in Akito's voice that caused alarm bells to ring within the Jyuunishi snake, but he knew he had to finish what he started.
Ayame cleared his throat and stepped into the room, returning to his position on the floor as Akito remained standing. "Yes, I did." It was then that he noticed the sickly pale countenance of the Jyuunishi God. Akito was barely holding himself up, and for the first time, Ayame felt a little worried by what he saw. Though he chose to remain silent in his observations.
Glancing at the snake with amusement, Akito shifted his gaze to the white bird that sat complacently upon his right shoulder. It pecked at his hair, but the demi-god did not seem to care. "We all have things we wish to say," he grinned wolfishly, "But there is never the right time; don't you agree?" Ayame opened his mouth to respond but found that Akito was continuing with his words. "It is such a shame." A wistful expression marred the cool features of the demi-god's face. "So many things left unsaid because we are afraid of the consequences." He turned and pinned Ayame with his stare. "Are you afraid of the consequences, Ayame?"
Swallowing roughly, the snake slowly shook his head. "No," he replied hoarsely.
"Then speak, Ayame." Swaying slightly on his feet, Akito returned to kneel upon the tatami floor.
"I wanted to inform you that our secret has been exposed."
A raised brow was his only answer.
"The woman that works in my fabric store, Mine-chan, found out about the curse and I have told her everything."
"Yes," Ayame continued warily. "She was with me when I transformed; I had no choice but to tell her."
"You wish to know what course of action I will take?" Akito asked with relish.
"No," the response caused the demi-god to freeze. "I simply wished to inform you. No action needs to be taken, I have compete faith that she will keep our secret."
An unidentifiable grin tugged at Akito's lips. "You trust her that much?"
"Yes. Hatori doesn't need to erase her memory."
With a tilt of his head, the dark locks of Akito's jagged hair fell from his eyes. A flash passed through them. "Do you think that you are in any position to make demands?"
His voice was nothing but a mere whisper, but to Ayame it felt as if he had shouted them. Raising his chin in defiance, Ayame exhaled. "I trust her," he insisted, "There is no reason for her memory to be erased. . ."
The curl at the corner of Akito's lips was enough for Ayame to shift nervously. "Trust is a fragile creature, Ayame. One wrong turn and it can be crushed beneath your foot like a paper fan."
Ayame looked down at the floor in front of him.
"You love her."
The statement caught the snake off guard, forcing him to stiffen inadvertently. He chose to remain silent.
"Yes," Akito continued with dry amusement, "What else could it be? What else but love could make you, or any of the Jyuunishi, defy me. Tell me, do you want to marry her?"
The question lingered before Ayame could gather the courage to reply. "If she will have me."
A chilling laugh escaped the demi-god's lip. "What makes you think she will accept a cursed fool like you? What makes you think she loves you as you love her?"
Starting with indignation, the snake frowned at the harsh words that were delicately executed.
"Oh come on," Akito jostled with mock playfulness, "You know it's true. She will never feel the same."
"No," Ayame remained adamant, mildly shocking his counterpart. "It's not! I know that she feels the same and I won't have you telling me otherwise. I am not Hatori-san! Your lies won't work with me." The anger that had been raging in his stomach began to grow.
Akito's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Poor, deluded little snake." He deftly caressed the head of the bird upon his shoulder before allowing it to fly out of the window. "Perhaps you'll believe what you see."
"What do you mean?"
"Meaning, that your little lover has been a very bad girl."
Every nerve within Ayame told him not to pursue the thread of this conversation, but he could not help himself. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're not the only man that has fallen for her, you know."
Ayame shook his head. "You're talking in riddles."
Laughing outwardly, Akito pulled up the fabric of his yukata as it slipped from his slender shoulder. "Do you think that I'm blind to your life? Me, a god, blind? I know everything. I see everything. I was wondering when you would come to me and inform me about your little intimate sessions with Mine-chan.." The air began to close around Ayame. How could he have known—?
"Yes," Akito confirmed upon seeing the startled expression of the Jyuunishi snake. "I knew from the beginning and I know the outcome of your little relationship. Tell me—exactly what do you know about her? Have you ever spoke about her past? Met any of her family—hm?"
His mouth was open, but there was no answer. No. Mine-chan had never spoken about her past. Ayame had always assumed she had no family to speak of. But deep down, he realized that he knew nothing about Mine-chan, save for the fact that he loved her for who she was. She was... Mine-chan.
"You can't answer me, can you?"
"I don't need to," Ayame ground out forcibly. "Her past has no precedence. It means nothing to me."
"I wouldn't be so dismissive, if I were you," Akito murmured demurely. "Why, even now, her past has caught up with her. And with it, some very conflicting emotions."
Ayame's head snapped up, every muscle bunched with anticipation. Something was dreadfully wrong in the way Akito was speaking to him. "What have you done?"
"You will thank me in the end."
The mad glint in Akito's eyes caused Ayame to stand up, his body shaking with fury. He was holding himself back with only a shred of restraint. "If you've hurt her in any way—"
"—Hurt? That will be the least of your worries," the rest of Akito's words were cut off as Ayame launched himself with a snarl at the demi-god. Caught by surprise, Akito twisted and snatched the wrist of the fist that was about to make contact with his cheek. Without preamble, he grabbed the other man's silver locks and pinned him to the floor, his cheek pressing painfully into the tatami mat. "I am very disappointed in you, Ayame," he breathed heavily as the snake's golden eyes glared up at him.
The slap that resounded in the room seemed to echo through the halls of the Honke.
Ayame closed his eyes against the burning sting upon his cheek. A rush of blood flowed to the area as he was held down by the seemingly fragile hands of his God. But there was an unfathomable power within Akito that made no sense.
"Run to her, Ayame," Akito hissed quietly into his ear. "Run, and see if you can salvage your love."
The dark-eyed man slowly advanced.
Mine felt her heart clench in apprehension as he moved closer. Blinking heavily, she shook her head to dismiss the groggy sensation that clouded her mind.
This could not be happening.
He couldn't be here. Not now.
"Leave me alone," she managed to whisper fearfully. Finally gathering her wits, Mine hastily took a few steps further back away from the concerned hand that reached out to her. The clipboard in her hand clattered to the ground; it went unnoticed by the occupants of the room.
"Mine-chan, it's me," the familiar, deep voice murmured softly, moving forwards again.
Shaking her head, Mine closed her eyes, hoping with every strand of her being that the man before her was a vision. A horrible vision from the past. "You're not real," she muttered fervently, "You're not real!" As those words fell from her lips, a familiar calloused hand touched her cheek.
It was enough for her break down there and then. She let out a heart-wrenching sob.
Years of picking up the shattered pieces of her past had amounted to nothing in that one brief moment. In that one delicate touch where skin met skin, Mine found that she had lost everything she'd worked hard to build over the past decade of her life. Every utterance of sanity came tumbling down around her like a fragile house of cards; the cards she had taken years to gather and forge. As her past life flew before her, tears came unbidden and rolled graciously down the angled slopes of her creamy cheeks.
Everything she had salvaged. All of it; gone with that one touch from him. "Tomizo," she uttered his name dully as she pushed his hand away from her cheek. She couldn't let him touch her. Not like that. Not after all these years, especially not after she had found happiness with the one man she had truly found love with.
"I've missed you, Mine-chan," Tomizo said quietly as he stood mere inches from her. "It took me a long time to find you."
Mine shivered. She knew that he wished to touch her. Where fear had been, anger now bubbled in her breast. Deftly, she wiped away her tears. "Don't."
"Don't, what?" He tilted his head in confusion, the chestnut strands of his hair shifting to reveal more of his deep brown eyes. Eyes she once thought to adore. Before... Before the rejection.
"Don't do this! Not after everything that's happened."
Tomizo frowned. "I don't understand..?"
"You can't be here; you have to leave," she moaned, breathing heavily. "You weren't supposed to find me. I'm not coming back!"
"You're parents grieve for you, Mine-chan," Tomizo sighed, resisting the urge to move and touch her. "They want to see you. You're their only child and they miss you. They want you to come back home."
"Home?" She laughed bitterly, "What home? My home is here now and I'm not going anywhere. Especially with you."
"They're suffering without you," he reasoned, "There is not a day that goes by when they don't grieve. Your mother and father are lost without you."
"Then they should have thought about that before they threw me out!" Mine snapped furiously. "I had no where to go," she cried, "I was all alone and then when you turned me away, I knew I could never go back. I knew I had to leave; so I did."
Where had all this anger come from? She thought that she had overcome it long ago. She thought that she had forgiven her parents years before. But it seemed that the past had a way of catching up with you. And no matter how hard she tried, she could not brush away the remnants of resentment that echoed within the confines of her embittered soul.
"How can you refuse their wish to see you?" Tomizo exclaimed, clearly surprised.
Clenching her teeth, Mine swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. "Easily," she whispered sternly, "The same way they refused to forgive me. The same way you rejected me."
Tomizo grunted unconsciously, worry beginning to settle upon his brow. "We were young when you became pregnant, Mine-chan. We weren't married and they were scared for your welfare. They panicked," he said quietly. "I panicked."
When she did not speak, he continued, "We never thought you would leave the city; not for one second," he hesitated before desperation began to set in at the cold gaze of indifference she offered him. "Don't you see, Mine-chan? I was scared. We were eighteen and I wasn't ready to have a family."
"I was scared too!" Mine countered softly. "Only I couldn't turn away like you did. I was trapped."
Tomizo lowered his head, ashamed, "I wasn't ready before," he admitted desolately. "I am now. But by the time I came to my senses, no one knew where you were. You were gone. It's taken me so long to find you and I want... I hope we can be a family. I hope we can start again. It's not too late."
Mine looked at him incredulously. "Do you honestly think that after all these years, I would be waiting for you to find me?" She snorted, "You must be mentally deranged if you really believe that." She moved to the window of the shop, a frown furrowing her brow as she gazed at the street outside.
Tomizo scowled. He moved to grab his former lover's arm, spinning her around to face him. "Are you sure you weren't waiting for me?" He stared at her intently. "I can see it in your eyes; you still love me. As much as I still love you."
Feeling slightly deflated, Mine removed herself from his grasp. "Things change. You can't just come back into my life after all these years and proclaim such things, Tomizo-san," she began sadly, her previous anger turned into pity for the broken man that gazed at her desperately. She realized he was far more broken than her.
Blinking away the pain, Tomizo shook his head. "Why not? I made a mistake; everyone makes them but at least they get a second chance."
"There can be no second chances. Not after all these years. I've moved on and I think it's time you did as well."
Hunching his shoulders, Tomizo looked at her wearily. "At least let me see our child." His smile grew distant.
The stabbing pain in Mine's chest became more proclaimed. "I can't—"
"Why not?" Tomizo interrupted, all but growling.
Looking away, Mine returned her gaze to the window. A flash of white feathers caught her eye as she saw a beautiful white bird cock his head as it stared her. It fluttered its feathers, a strange gleam passing through its beady black eyes as Mine observed it. A strange chill swept through her body as the snow white bird paused before taking flight from its position on the concrete wall opposite Ayame's shop.
"Mine-chan," Tomizo prompted ominously from her elbow, "Why can't I see our child?"
"Because," she murmured absently, staring at the spot the white bird had vacated, "We don't have a child..." Pausing, Mine allowed a single tear to fall from the corner of her eye. "Two months after I left, I had a miscarriage."
A sound from the doorway caused Mine to shift her gaze. Her heart flew into her mouth as she looked up the ragged appearance that was brought before her. "Ayame," she breathed painfully.