A Furuba Fanfiction

By Alliriyan. I do not own or profit from Fruits Basket, except in terms of enjoyment.

MOO COW

1 – The Picture Book

"See the baa-sheep and the woof-dog, sweetie?"

"Mm-hm!"

"And the horse? Show me which the horse is?"

"Tha' one!" cried Haru, pointing at his favourite.

"No, honey," his mother tried to hide her irritation; "that's the moo-cow. Again." Haru looked away from the picture book, uncomfortable whenever she spoke in that tone of voice. It would slip out every now and then, making him wonder – in a simplified way, he was only very little – what he had done wrong that time.

"Tha's the horsie," he repeated, moving his tiny fingers to the correct one. "The rat, the moo-cow, the big-kitty, rabbit, er…dra-gun, the snakey, th' horsie;" he paused to catch his breath, glancing at his mother to see if she was pleased at his knowledge. "An' a baa-sheep, a monkey, the clucken, doggie, and the oink."

She sighed. "Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar. Try to learn the proper names quickly, and the order they go in."

He squirmed on his cushion at the low table. "Why-yyy?" he whined.

"Because people will notice if you don't know it. Tell me the name of the story?"

"Zodiac thingy," he muttered. "You called them baa-sheep!"

"Yes, darling, but we're trying the harder way now. Which one are you?"

"Moo-cow."

"You're the Ox. Year of the Ox."

"Moo-cow," he repeated rebelliously.

"Just say it once for me. You'll get laughed at if you tell people you're a moo-cow."

"Mooooooo!" he grinned, then he mooed again in a way that was perfectly lifelike aside from pitch. Mnyuuurggh…

"Hatsuharu! Behave, please!"

Haru looked out to the garden, where some kid's father was walking round one of the ornamental ponds with a blond boy shrieking on his shoulders. Feeling lonely, he pouted at his mother. "Can I have a hug?"

She seemed to deflate. "You know you can't, baby. I'm not strong enough to pick you up."

He slumped over the handmade picture book, each drawing carefully inked by his mother in what little spare time she'd had when he was even smaller than now. She'd wanted a career as an artist, all those years ago. Perhaps it was true what she'd thought as a teenager: that choosing to have kids deleted all other options. It could have been different. If she hadn't fallen in love with a Sohma, if she hadn't given birth to a cursed child. They'd had no warning, no hint that this was possible.

It was supposed to be a perfect moment; when you first held your baby that you had created, that was yours alone. Even if you were aching and bleeding and longing to fall into a numb sleep, it was supposed to be perfect.

But no, not for her. Her baby had dissolved into grey smoke the instant he was laid in her arms. The nurse waiting to whip the premature baby into an Intensive Care Unit had shrieked as a calf materialised; blotted black and white, gangly and knobbly with an overlarge head. Panicking, the animal had flailed its stick legs, trying to right itself, catching the screaming mother with the edge of one hard hoof. And a cousin of her husband's, who had rushed into the hospital with another cousin, darted forward to pick up the moaning beast by its spindly legs and held it until there was another pock sound, and instead there was a tiny, weakly squalling boy in his grip. She had fainted for the first time her life, completely overwhelmed.

The two cousins, a man and a woman, had taken over. The baby was a cursed member of the Zodiac. The baby was resilient, thanks to this curse, there was no need for special care and the mother would be taken to her new home immediately. Would all staff attending please step into the next room, and talk to the young lad named Hatori? Yes it was very stressful, but not to worry, soon it would fade away. And Sohma-san, there's a certain family secret we're about to let you in on…

Haru watched his mother brush her fingertips along the silvery scar line that ran roughly beneath her left collarbone. She always grew silent when she touched it, with an expression he would recognise as 'haunted' when he was older.

Eventually the boy grew bored and went running out of the room to get lost in the maze of the Sohma Estate. His mother sat silently remembering the agonising time it had taken to accept that he could be real, that curses and magic existed in the world, that this tiny thing could transform into the Zodiac Ox and would never be able to embrace her. She'd teetered between fearing and smothering him. She didn't want to see that awkward, impossible calf again, but she wanted to cuddle her tiny, premature son and protect him from the world.

It had been so difficult to breastfeed him, knowing if she held him wrong an animal with no right to be there would appear. And although the House was beautiful in her aesthetically trained eyes, it was a prison. It hadn't helped that her husband – whose fault this was for carrying Sohma genes, for being in their unnatural family – couldn't believe there was a curse, wouldn't accept that this thing was his son or that it was human.

But whenever she thought about escaping…she would think of that other mother, the German woman. The one who was driving herself insane in fear and disgust of her beautiful, golden-curled boy – who just happened to turn into a rabbit.

Hatsuharu's mother knew that the only way to keep from hating herself was to love her son. Every day she struggled against her natural instinct to reject the alien born from her body. It just hurt every time he caught a glimpse of her doubt; and slowly began to mirror it.

There had been a month or so when she had adored him ceaselessly, and had painstakingly painted the zodiac story for him to capture the moment. He treated the little book like glass. She'd even illustrated the cover with his bull form, carefully matching the markings on his short-haired hide, right down to the messy tuft of mane between the ears. There was a message written in kanji for the day he could read it.

She propped her head in her hands and looked at the short note. Today was not one of the days when she agreed with it.

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It was many months later and Haru had learnt the Zodiac, as well as a host of other things to do with the curse, and he could babble away quite nicely now with an ever-expanding vocabulary. And yet…he still hadn't learnt his way around Sohma House.

He was thinking that he should maybe befriend a gardener, because where ever he got lost his surroundings never failed to look spotless. That meant the gardeners knew every nook and cranny of this labyrinth, and could help him. But then, how did you go about finding them?

He'd wandered into a small garden, less well-tended than the others, and was leaping along the stepping stones in the grass. Looking up, he saw that the nearest building had a kind of opening, bamboo poles barring a wide window. There were heavy shutters blocking his view into the room beyond, so he abandoned it and searched for anything of greater interest.

He discovered another boy. He looked slightly older than Haru, and he had hair as orange as a carrot, or a goldfish. When their eyes met, his were a startling deep ruby red.

"Hey," Haru greeted him, guardedly. When there was no answer, he added; "Don't you speak?"

"Cat got my tongue?" asked the boy. "That's what the rest say." His voice was a little hoarse and quiet, as if he hadn't spoken for a long while. "I ain't talked to any of them in a week. All they tell me is a load of…" he hadn't left the House and discovered swearwords yet, so he settled for "stupid stuff."

"Like what?"

"Like…" the older kid nodded towards the side of the house; "when I'm eighteen they're gonna lock me up in the room behind those sticks."

"You'll be really really old by the time you're eighteen. Why they gonna do that?"

The redhead looked at him as if that was the stupidest question he'd ever heard. "I'm the Cat, you dumb-brain. Can't you tell?"

"Oh! I'm the Cow, see, I have this cool hair too." Haru twisted round and pointed at the back of his head where sure enough black hair sprouted beneath the white. The Cat grabbed his head in one hand and inspected his claim.

"Too?" Does he mean as well as me, or as well as being the Cow? "Hey, didn't anyone tell you cows are girls?" He let go of the two-tone boy's hair and faced him once more.

"What? Girls? I'm not a girl!"

"Yeah, yeah, cows are girls and the guys are bulls. But you're s'posed to say Ox anyway."

Haru pulled a face to show his low opinion of the familiar lecture. "Ox, ox, ox…I still think Moo-Cow sounds better. It's more fun."

"It's stupid."

"Yeah, so? That's why it's fun. Not like you'd know fun, my uncle said the Cat hasn't got any friends."

"Really? Well everyone says the Ox is an idiot, you hear that? 'He's so dumb; he let the stupid rat trick him.'" mimicked the elder of the two.

"He tricked you too! He tricked you worse!" yelled Haru, annoyed that the teasing was coming even from the inferior animal, the cat.

"The Rat is a git." Muttered the boy with hair the colour of goldfish.

"A what?"

"Someone really stupid and annoying."

"Like you."

"Like you."

"Yeah, he is." Conceded the ox, deciding not to drag out the argument. Suddenly he looked uncomfortable. "Hey, Cat-chan, d'you…do you know where a toilet is?"

"Don't tell me you're lost? Man, the Ox really is dumb. This is s'posed to be your house and you're lost."

"I always get lost," confessed Haru, unashamed. "Can you take me to a toilet? Quick, please?"

"Keh. Follow me. Don't wet yourself in my garden!"

Amazingly enough, Hatsuharu managed to lose his way even with a guide. He tried so hard to remember where he was going that he lost sight of the Cat; who had to backtrack, grab the other boy's wrist and drag him in the right direction. "Stupid cow," grumbled his cousin. But he didn't seem to mind so much – it was nice to have someone to talk to for once, even if they did bicker.

Haru looked at the hand gripping his arm. There was a string of black and white beads around the wrist. "I like those colours," said the cow cheerfully.

"What colours?" asked Cat-chan, not really paying attention.

"These," explained Haru, tugging on the beads to show what he was looking at. His new friend shot away from him as if he'd been burnt, whipping his arm out of reach with fearful eyes. "Don't touch them!" he shrieked, backing away even farther.

"W-why not?" squeaked Haru, bewildered. "What are they?"

"My Juzu," said the boy. "And if you ever touch them I'll never speak to you again!" he threatened wildly.

"What do they do?" questioned the cow, careful, seeing how scared those red eyes were.

"They keep me human," whispered the Cat. "I'm a freak without them. A monster. Didn't you hear? They're always talking about it."

"Who?"

"Them. The ones that tease us. Both of us."

It was a serious moment, but Haru couldn't help but squirm. "Let's just find a loo," he gasped. "Tell me later." The other blinked and once again began to lead him, making sure to use the other arm this time. The Ox was a whole year younger than him, and pretty slow it seemed, so he determined to be more careful.

In the end the mini-quest was complete, and whilst he washed his hands he belatedly remembered to introduce himself. "I'm Hatsuharu," he chirped, offering a damp hand to shake. His guide stared at the outstretched hand blankly for a moment.

"I'm Kyo," he replied eventually.

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The Rat had ruined things, again. He was always ruining things. He'd taken away Kyo's only friend within two sentences.

Kyo had from time to time, grudgingly, told Haru that he wasn't really that dumb. He'd been one of the few to stick around when he began to get angry and shriek and fight; responding to the teasing with no sense of proportion – it was something Kyo did too, albeit in a less dramatic way. They'd spent many long hours exploring Sohma House. Between Haru's sad lack of orienteering skills and Kyo's cat-like knack of getting into interesting places, they managed to cover almost every inch of ground in the estate, either by accident or design.

When Haru began to truly detest the remarks, Kyo had trained together with him; both working towards beating the stupid, perfect, nasty Rat.

Haru had been punching and kicking the air as if he hated it.

"Your form sucks," commented Kyo, only to find a face-full of livid Haru threatening to beat him up.

"You can't beat me up," laughed the Cat. "I'm a whole year older than you! What, are you all mad now? Are you Black?"

"Black…?" queried the Ox, lowering his fists for a moment. Kyo crossed his arms and nodded knowingly. "Yeah. When you get really mad and don't listen to anyone. But that's like a bull, isn't it? They either do nothing or stamp all over you. Dunno, though, I've never met a real cow."

"Am I…Is it that different?"

"Yeaaah. Or maybe we could call you Hatsu when you're angry?"

He looked to one side, confused. Standing up from his stance, he muttered that he preferred Haru. "Alright. You can be Black Haru when you're mad."

"What about when you're mad?" challenged the Ox.

"I don't act like a completely different person when I'm mad. 'Cause I'm mad all the time, ain't I? Well…I'm nice to you, but not anyone else. Beware of the Dark side, Haru…" he intoned in a creepy voice, then laughing.

Haru smiled slightly. But then it went all wrong. Then he actually met the Rat.

On the same day, Akito had called Kyo to a courtyard. Lazing in a puddle of kimono, the young head of the Sohma family had peered at the Cat through thinned eyes from the safety of the veranda. "I want to see it." He said eventually. "I want to see your other form."

"But, there's no girls;" objected Kyo. Akito gave a smile that was half amused, half tormented. "Aren't there?" He said softly. "But I meant your other form, Cat. Give me the beads."

"No!"

"Give me your Juzu, I order you to! If you disobey me, I'll punish you! I'll break your arms!"

Shivering, Kyo held out his wrist, his precious beads. His mother checked them every single day – if she found out he'd just taken them off…? Akito pulled the bracelet down off the younger boy's hand and stepped back as white transformation mist began to hiss and pour off the child. With it came a revolting smell, the stench of rotting flesh and fear.

The smoke cleared it hurts! Oh mother it hurts, I promise I'll never take them off again, it hurts! It's so…wrong and the hellish, trollish thing in its place gave a croaky growl. It swung its lizard-like head around on the end of the long brown neck, shuffling on malformed limbs and crouching, pressing itself into the gravel as if it wanted the ground to swallow it. Long leathery rabbit ears trailed down its bony back, its faceted, slit eyes were violet.

Even though Akito was used to his cousins transforming, the hideous goblin crawling before him inspired terror and hatred. Something in its aura was so twisted that it forced the onlooker to feel afraid. Akito covered his nose, glaring sidelong at the monster. He choked out his opinion so that Kyo heard every word, so that the stinking cat knew exactly how disgusting he was.

Kyo was even more afraid…he'd never been in this form before past the day of his birth, and he could tell now that his mother faked her love. No one could love someone that turned into this when they were supposed to be a newborn baby. No wonder she always checked the beads. No wonder she hid him away. She must be so ashamed to be the Cat's mother. So ashamed…

So Kyo screamed his hurt and betrayal and shame through the bizarre shape, the unfamiliar bones and mouth and flesh and self. He wept and screamed and raged until Akito finally, coldly, distastefully dropped the Juzu on the ground. A huge brown claw closed over the tiny, precious beads, becoming a hand once more as it made contact.

Shuddering, Kyo dragged the Juzu onto his wrist and ran away. He knew what he was now. He knew. He hadn't known before, but the truth broke all his hopes that the cruel things the other Sohmas said were just that, just things, just lies. This was what the rat, the malicious Rat, had done to the Cat. He hated him more than ever.

And at the same time, Hatsuharu was discovering the Rat, screaming his hatred, and finding kindness in return. He was meeting the boy who would become his first love for the very first time.

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The next time Haru found Kyo, he was much calmer than before. In contrast, the redhead wore a constant expression of self-revulsion.

"I met Yuki. He's nice. He said I wasn't dumb."

"I said that," said Kyo, suddenly worried. "What makes him so nice?"

"Hey…" retorted the cow. "I can like him if I want to." Haru did tend to just do what he wanted, be it call himself a moo-cow or befriend his archenemy.

Oh, the rat, the perfect, perfect rat. It only counts when he says it, does it? "You can't like both of us," Kyo informed his friend. Scared that he would go.

"Why not?"

"Because we hate each other." Because the Rat is so, so perfect; and the Cat is wrong, so wrong; wrong wrong wrong and it shouldn't exist. No one could like both of those things. No one could like the Cat after meeting the Rat.

"Don't tell me what to do," grumbled Haru. "I'll like who I want to like."

"You can't. You can't! Because he did this to me! How could you like anyone who'd do something like this?!"

"Like what?" snapped Haru. "If you're making me choose then I'm choosing him! He doesn't shout at me!"

"Then go away! Leave me alone!" It wasn't an order, it was Kyo's phobia; but Haru was too young to realise this. He left, as commanded.

See, I am a monster. I am cursed. I chased him away…he met the stinking Rat and the Rat was better! Again!

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Later, Kyo would meet Kagura. He would meet the friend that refused to leave. Even when he begged her to hate him, she just wouldn't quit…again, he realised that he was cursed…

"Marry me!" She was scarier than Black Haru.

"Don't kill me! Whatever! Just put the knives down!"

"Darling…!"

Help.

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Hatsuharu ran up to Kyo, skidding to a halt by his side. "Y-your mother!"

Eyes wide, heart numb, Kyo was shell-shocked.

"Kyo! Cat-chan, why did she do it? Why? Was it because of rejecting you?" He grabbed the boy's shirt, shaking him in a panic. "Kyo-chan, is my mum gonna do that? Momiji's mum forgot him and yours died, she's really upset, I think she's starting to hate me! I don't want her to hate me; I don't want her to die! Kyo!" shouted Haru, frightened out of his wits. "Tell me!"

"It wasn't my fault!" screamed the Cat, hysterical. "It's not my fault!" he bawled; "it's not! Why does everyone hate me? I didn't kill her, I was just born; why do I have to be cursed?! Why am I a monster?"

Hatsuharu's mother watched from a distance. It was one of the times that she realised they were children. They weren't animals, they weren't zodiacs, and they weren't curses. They were just children trapped in the Sohma house, whose parents abandoned them one by one. She tried to swear to herself that she would never leave Haru. She tried. But the doubts had begun to grow. For now, though, she would be there for him. Just for now.

"Haru," came his mother's soft voice. She knelt beside him and kissed his hair. "Are you?" he asked her breathlessly. "Are you gonna leave us too? Are you gonna reject me?"

She couldn't lie. He was so sincere, so terrified, she could only tell him the truth. "Sweetie…" she wrapped one arm round his shoulders, making him lean against her side. The closest they could come to an embrace. "Honey, I'm trying my very hardest not to. I've always been in-between the two things that zodiac mothers do. But just remember I'm trying my best to love you. That I want to love you. So if I'm ever too weak, if I get worn out one day…I wanted to love you, I didn't want to reject you. But with this curse, and I'm so sorry darling, but it's not just my choice that counts. I'm sorry."

Kyo began to cry even louder. My mother lied. She lied and lied and left me. I killed her, my curse killed her…

Haru began to sniffle, scared that his mother had admitted he was difficult to love. Did that mean she was worn out already?

"Give Kyo-san a hug, Haru. I can't, and he really needs a friend right now, don't you think?" When her son slowly obeyed, perhaps too worried to go against her; Kyo shoved him away.

"You're not my friend! You're the Rat's friend! You can't like the Rat and the Cat, you can only hate the Cat! The Cat's a monster!" The grieving boy shouted out all his hurts, not caring anymore what people thought. Because his mother was gone, his last person had hated him enough to die.

"I'll like whoever I want to," frowned Haru, unsure whether he should bother with Kyo. "You shouldn't push people away. It's mean."

Kyo looked so lost; Hatsuharu's mother had to help him. She wrapped him up in his first voluntary embrace, and when he poofed into a tiny, marmalade cat she let Haru pick him up and carry him into their house. He was too small to push them away, and in a confused sort of way they forced onto him the comfort he'd refused to accept.

With one arm wrapped carefully around her son, one hand stroking the cat, and his clothes folded neatly on the table; the mother prayed that they would not always be cursed. Haru cradled Kyo in his lap, looking with alarm at the way he shivered and extended his claws and wailed a stream of telepathic gibberish; battered by the internal turmoil and pain.

"Kyo-chan," he whispered in a moment when his mother had to leave for a bit. "I'll be your friend even when you don't want me to, okay? It's not fair, your curse, it's the worst curse. But…" he dared to hug the distressed cat again, "It's the curse. It's not you making stuff happen, it's the curse. It's not our fault."

"It's the Rat's fault," hissed the Cat between cries. "It's Yuki's fault and Akito's fault, and I'm the monster so it's my fault too."

"How can it be our fault? We're possessed; we're not the actual spirits."

"It's somebody's fault. And I hate them." Kyo needed someone to hate, right then. Haru stroked his thick fur, trying to calm him down. Eventually he settled, and after that he leapt out of his friend's lap and pocked back into human form. Wearing only the black and white beads, he reached for his clothes.

"Thanks," he muttered as he pulled them on. Haru dipped his head in acknowledgement.

"About your mum…" he blurted out suddenly. Just outside the room, the mother paused. "She loves you enough to tell you the truth, right? My mum lied. She pretended to like me, but she couldn't accept my monster. I know no one can. But she could have been honest, and said that I scared her. I scared her to death, Haru."

Hatsuharu began to shake his white-haired head, Kyo mustn't blame himself; he should blame the curse. The boy didn't seem to notice.

"But your mum, she told you the truth. So when she said she was trying she meant it. Get it? She truly wants to love you. My mum wanted to fake it. But that hurts more, when you realise…"

The Ox's mother bit her lip. It had been heart wrenching, to see Haru's panicky face as she said she didn't always love him. And though it seemed, from Kyo's words, that honesty was the better option; right now she had to be honest again and she really didn't want to.

"Kyo-san," she said, just as he stepped out of the door. He looked back at her. "Your father. They just told me that he's left."

"Left?"

"Moved out of the Sohma House."

"Can you even do that?" asked Kyo, staring at the high walls of the enclosure before her words sank in. He crumpled to the ground, and this time it was the stress that made him transform. The cat darted away into the grounds without a sound.

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Kyo had gone to ground in some shrubbery, wishing cats could cry. Maybe they should just lock me up now, before I kill everyone.

"Don't say that," said a purple-eyed, girly-faced boy. He had an unpleasant smile. "There's no 'maybe' about it. We should."

"Yuki," commanded the voice of Akito. "I told you not to talk to the Cat. Why don't you do what I ask you? He's a filthy monster, you have to keep away from him."

A flicker of fear passed over Yuki's face, and he turned to follow Akito out of the area.

Filthy Rat, filthy Akito; shot back Kyo, this time shielding his thoughts.

They were replaced by Kagura.

"Kyo-kun! Don't listen to them Kyo-kun! Kyoooo-kuuuuuun!"

He tried to escape, he couldn't bear her at this time when he was so abandoned; but she gripped him fast round his ribs and it was too late. She was older than him by two years, even though she didn't look it, and for a little boy that only made her attention all the more terrifying.

"Don't be locked up before you have to, Kyo-kun," she cried; snuggling her cheek in his fur. "I love you, I really do, more than anything – even when you're a monster – and I don't want you to be shut away because we're going to get married!"

Kyo gagged. "Leave me alone! None of you have even seen the monster! You can't say you wouldn't hate it!"

"Oh, but I love you Kyo! Always and forever! And when you're older you get to leave the House more, so you shouldn't miss out on that! Don't make yourself alone, because we have to be togetheeeeer!!!"

Outside the House? Maybe when I'm older I'll just leave…?

"Kagura get off me…leave me alone – stop squashing me! Are you stupid or something? Of course you are!! My mum's gone, my dad's left, I DON'T WANT YOU NEAR ME!!! GO AWAY!!!"

Kagura dropped him as he dug all his claws into her. "LEAVE ME ALONE!" he yelled, bolting into the bushes for the second time that day.

"Kyoooo-kuuuun!" she wailed. Then she roared, but it was no use. "Kyooo-kuuun, come back to meeeee!!!"

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He stayed at Hatsuharu's home for the four days until the funeral. After the funeral, a stranger came and offered him a new home with a smile. A real smile.

"My name is Sohma Kazuma. I run a dojo near the mountains. Don't worry about what these gossipers say." Kazuma picked up Kyo and swung him into the air. "We're going somewhere higher up where the air is cleaner."

"Why?"

"Did you know that the last Cat was my grandfather? I realised how it felt to be him one day, and I wanted to be your friend." And if you're his complete reincarnation, I wanted to make up for all our mistakes towards him.

"Can I call you Shishou? Like on TV?"

"Ha. I don't ask my students to, but if you like you may."

Something about Kazuma, the sense that he really cared, seemed to instantly brighten Kyo inside and out. Here was someone who wanted him around, who had offered him a home. Even Hatsuharu had been trapped in the House with him. But this man was setting him free…

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A few months after his friend had left; Hatsuharu's mother reached her breaking point. In one fell swoop his father leapt upon the opportunity to escape the House and the abnormal child. They were both gone with brutal haste.

Now nearly all the zodiac children had lost their parents. Akito's mother, Momiji's father, and a few others remained, Haru didn't know about all the zodiacs. Deeply upset by his parents' absence, his anger began to well up again. But surrounded as he was with solemn Yuki and bubbly Momiji, he had no friend to vent on. Shouting at any other person only led to punishment, quickly forming a vicious cycle. As he grew more and more mad, his mind seemed to set up a barrier between the fury and the normal, easygoing side of his personality. Perhaps it was a survival thing, so that he wasn't consumed by it.

Some days, when he was calmer, he couldn't believe that he himself could act to such an extreme. When he visited Kazuma's dojo for lessons and bumped into Kyo, his friend began to call him Black Haru more and more.

Kyo wavered between trying to keep Haru white thanks to his new happiness at the dojo, and teasing him into the dark side for the thrill of an all-out fight to show off his prowess. What eventually made White Haru the more frequent side was a combination of the fact Yuki was annoyed by Black Haru (Hatsuharu was now smitten), the slight fear of the raging madman both separate from and within him, and the sudden decision to show a good example.

When the oldest Zodiacs died, Haru decided he wanted to make sure that the new Ram and Tiger had a happier time than he had. He couldn't do that with his Black characteristics, so it was White Haru that treated Kisa like a little sister. And the fact that Hiro's mother loved sheep gave him the tiny hope that they weren't all so badly cursed.

The ups and downs mingled into the rollercoaster of growing up for all of the Zodiac children…

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Nowadays Hatsuharu had, with his unique style and lack of caring about other people's opinions, become the third pillar of the Triumvirate of schoolgirl obsessions. Yuki, Kyo and Haru. Yuki avoided his fan club, Kyo was oblivious to the admirers and Haru both ignored and encouraged his in turn.

Haru's split personality had become his norm. Perhaps it was because he was tall, chilled out and/or evil that he was so popular. He didn't do it on purpose, so he couldn't really tell. He still got lost. He spaced out on the odd occasion when he needed to suppress Black Haru. He fought against anyone who tried to mould him into a particular shape – what was true in the days of moo-cow was true in the days of the head of the student council.

He sniggered. That never failed to make him laugh, whether Black or White.

And he still liked Yuki. He still was very protective of Kisa; and on the odd occasion Momiji as well because despite being the same age the rabbit flatly refused to grow up, the difference deepened further by Haru's apparent maturity.

Kyo on the other hand had regressed, despite formerly flourishing under his Shishou's care. When he'd had to leave Kazuma he'd gone straight to pick a fight with Yuki. Something had made him determined to defeat the Rat, and the goal seemed to consume him. Repeated failure made him irritable towards everyone, and it had long been true that he and Haru only really met up to fight. But Tohru calmed him down with just a few words, or failing that a long moralistic speech on his good qualities. And after four months of intensive training Haru had to admit that the Cat had grown stronger. Sparring only when he was Black and too mad to stop himself now meant that they were inching in the direction of their strange friendship of old.

But one amazing occurrence had been when Kazuma returned, removed the hated, indispensable Juzu and confronted Tohru with Kyo's grotesque true form. After a long time struggling with her fear, he heard she'd forced herself to go after him, and that she hadn't loved this other form. What she did was accept it was a part of Kyo, if a terrifying part. Her honesty and desire to still be his friend had settled him enough to return to human shape without the beads. No one had known it was even possible before that night. The older members of the Zodiac, especially Shigure, seemed to hint that this signified a weakening of the curse.

Tohru had visited Akito, suffered his wrath, and returned smiling with mind intact. Perhaps she was charmed. It seemed that every person to meet her benefited from the experience.

It seemed like, even without their parents, they'd all managed to survive, possibly even thrive.

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.moo.

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Back at his home in Sohma House, Hatsuharu was searching for one of his necklaces – a miniature cowbell on a black cord. It had been a present from Hiro. Also in the collection was a cowboy hat from Ayame, a potted cowslip plant from Kisa, a recipe for oxtail soup from Yuki (the rat had been annoyed with him at the time), a book about dairy farming from Shigure (he'd broken yet another of the screens), a stuffed cow handmade by Kagura, and a small, silvery ornament of a bull with long horns from Kyo. It had been a consolation prize, or so he'd said, for being beaten five times in a row by Kyo at Kazuma's dojo, two years ago.

Rooting around in the back of a deep wardrobe, Haru found a small box he'd forgotten about a long, long time ago. He'd hidden it away just after his mother and father left. Sitting down at his desk, he lifted the dusty lid and carefully tipped out something wrapped in plastic.

He breathed out noisily. "Long time no see," he muttered, peeling back the plastic to reveal a book. The Zodiac picture book of his childhood, painted by his artist mother. On the cover was a careful depiction of his animal form. Just inside, he vaguely recalled that there'd been something written that he couldn't read at the time he'd concealed it.

His eyes widened as he understood the kanji, in her elegant calligraphy, for the first time.

To My Moo-Cow,

I Love You Always.

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. moo . –

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Please leave an opinion, concrit or even just a :-) on your way out. This is officially the longest chapter I have ever written as of now. I hope you liked it.