Disclaimer: Fruits Basket belongs to Natsuki Tatsuya and Kodansha and a whole slew of other people who are unfortunately not me. This is a nonprofit fanwork. The original version of this 'fic begins with Sonnet XLIV (Sabras que no te amo y que te amo) by Pablo Neruda. Look it up, it's lovely and the jumping off point for the entire 'fic. It can be found in his 100 Love Sonnets collection with an excellent English translation.

I'd also like to note that while I am a Kyoru shipper, this is a what-if 'fic I started writing many years before the end of the series (even before the Akito spoiler came out!) when I wasn't extrapolating a particular good ending for any of the characters. So I'm very happy Natsuki Takuya decided to make it a happy ending. Apologies to anyone whose favorite character suffered a particularly terrible fate in this 'fic. I only torture them because I love them so.

Colour of Kyou

Damn that Yuki!

It wasn't an affair. It wasn't anything at all.

It was Tohru sobbing gently against my back, it was me with the aching need to hold her in my arms. It was the two of us together and yet still so desperately alone.

But in his eyes I knew what it was.

Sometimes, I wonder if he can even see me any more. Am I anything but a shadow that was once sharp and distinct but is now nothing more than a faint blur fallen against her light?

--

Can he see her? Is she real to him anymore or is she nothing more than light and warmth on a cold night for someone standing outside in the snow and waiting to die?

I couldn't see his face. He was sitting in the shadows, watching us. I didn't know for how long and I didn't care either. I had long ago stopped hating just as I had stopped loving. Even Yuki who had once been the center of my hate, that center that had formed when I had shifted my self-hatred onto him, my frustration and anger whirling in a mad spiral around him, had ceased to be anything to me.

Just as he had ceased to be anything at all.

--

He lunged forward, jerkily; like a mad thing he stumbled into us, a sad mockery of the grace he had possessed once upon a time.

"You can't leave me, Tohru!" He clawed at his mutilated face, sobbing. "Don't leave me alone!"

"Hush," she whispered, pulling his hands away, staring straight into the ravages of that once beautiful face when even I had to look away. "I won't leave you, Yuki. I won't ever leave you."

She put her arms around his shaking shoulders, held him close to her, and there was such a look of tenderness and despair on her face that I was reminded again, cuttingly, that she loved him. Like that. To the exclusion of everything else.

"Just go, Kyou-kun," she said very softly. "Please."

I don't understand it. I don't understand love. Is it even something that someone can understand? Somehow . . . I don't think so.

I went.

--

When I reached the house, the kitchen door was ajar. That was enough out of the ordinary to put me on edge. I stepped inside.

Kagura was stirring a pot and Momiji was standing by her. They were speaking softly to one another.

Momiji turned as I entered. It lanced through me, the same sharp, piercing pain that came every time I saw him. One can forget many things in an absence, no matter how short, and I always forget. It's easier that way. Harder. The difficulty of interims is nothing compared to the newly discovered pain of each fresh meeting.

Momiji was resting one hand on the wall. If I hadn't looked hard enough I might even have mistaken it for some casual action. If I tried not to see Momiji he might not have been there at all. Already, he was nearly translucent. Light was shining through him as though he was a pane of glass and it frightened me almost as much as it hurt me. I tried not to see.

But that made me think of Yuki and I forced myself to look.

Somehow, it had not yet ceased to hurt.

"Hello, Kyou-kun."

Momiji smiled and it was the same smile as it had always been - as though nothing had ever changed. Momiji was still Momiji. And that . . . was the most painful thing of all.

I swallowed, tried to meet his eyes. Failed.

"Hello, Momiji-kun."

"Kagura and I were talking . . . about old times."

That again.

I hated that. It was like cutting yourself to make sure that it still hurt . . . that you were still bleeding . . . that you were still alive. How can that be called living?

Momiji's smile was serene. He must have seen my thoughts in my eyes. "I like to think about it. I like to think to myself - this was my life. I lived it. Those things . . . happened to me."

Yes, they happened. Wouldn't it be better to forget?

"They happened to you too, Kyou."

I wanted to deny it. Wanted to-

Tohru's face smiled in my memory, blissful and free of strain.

Wouldn't it be . . .

"Let's go for a walk, Kyou-kun. I think we're bothering Kagura-san."

She raised a hand as though to protest, but I saw her from the corner of my eye. It was that face she made. When she was about to cry.

There was nothing left to do.

"Come on, Momiji-kun. I'll make you something."

--

There was a chill in the air as we stepped outside. The dead leaves crunched underfoot and I looked at him to see if he noticed, but his eyes were far away.

"Let's go walk in the woods."

"All right."

He smiled at me. "It's a bother, I know, but Autumn smells best in the woods."

"I said it's fine, didn't I? I haven't been by the old wall in a while anyway."

I picked up a fragment of firewood on the way and pocketed it. We walked slowly in silence, Momiji breathing deeply in and out, the sun slanting through the trees bathing his face and leaving patterns from the swaying branches all across him. Leaves fluttered in a light breeze, red and brown and dusty gold. A handful came swirling down to brush lazily against us. Momiji plucked a yellow maple leaf from his shoulder and twirled it between his thin fingers.

We were in no hurry but the walk to the wall was a short one. Even so, it was almost too much for him. He sat without making a show of it, but his breaths were shallow and fast now. Sweat beaded his brow. The leaf fell from his fingers to his lap before floating gently to the ground.

I leaned back and looked up at the slowly moving clouds. Let him breathe. There was nothing more I could do than that. The air was so pure and cold I felt like I could slice it into pieces and place them in a jar for him to taste on future days.

A furry caterpillar made its slow way from one side of the wall to the other, gathering itself up and flattening itself down. It was going to be a cold winter.

His breathing grew more normal and I leaned forward and turned to look at him looking at nothing.

"I'm sorry," Momiji said quietly. "I didn't mean to make her cry."

I shrugged. Still as perceptive as ever. Still strong. It made me want to hit him, sometimes, that seeming strength. It made me so angry . . . to look at him smiling when I knew that all he wanted was to cry. But I was frightened. Frightened by what would happen if that bright facade were to crumble away.

I couldn't be strong.

--

I took out the knife and began whittling. A rabbit then.

First, the shape of it, round and alive and quivering - as a rabbit is apt to quiver, nose and ears.

Next, the look and feel of it, bright-eyed, long-whiskered, soft to the touch, warm and comforting.

Last, the life of it, brief but full . . . and here my knife faltered, my hands fell still. I stared at the rabbit in my hands as though it could tell me why I, who had made it, had failed to imbue it with life. I closed my knife and placed it in my pocket. I held the carving out to Momiji who took it, stroking it with two fingers.

"Thank you, Kyou. It's very cute, isn't it?"

"How are you?" I asked. It was a question I never wanted to ask but always forced myself to each time I saw him. Some part of me had to know.

"I am glad to be here right now. It's a lovely Autumn, isn't it? I think . . . this will be my last one." This was said with quiet acceptance and a smile.

I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes. While the replies changed every time, for Momiji was invariably honest in his responses, always before they had been along the lines of, "A little worse today, I think," or "I smelled flowers today and felt so alive," or even, "Some days, I am afraid," but never, "I think I am going to die." Never that.

"It's a bit of a relief to everyone to know, I suppose."

"Don't." I couldn't stand it. A drop of rain fell. "Don't try so hard."

"Ah," he said, his voice trembling. Another drop. "Yes." Then it wasn't rain falling. Just his tears. He tried to smile. His lips stretched but did not reach. The effort ceased. Suddenly, desperately: "I wanted to live a little longer, Kyou. Just a little . . ." His hands clutched the carving. It was spotted with rainwater. "Long enough to see Momo grow up. Just . . . that long-"

She was dead. Stabbed sixteen times in the back by a drugged-up high school student last Spring on her way home from a violin lesson.

Life was brutal. Unfair.

What could I say? There was nothing to say.

"The curse," he said and drew a shaky breath, "is like a chain that weighs less and less as time goes on. Someday it will crumble away on its own. But for now I can hold it and pull it and follow it to its source. I can feel my way to you and Kagura and everyone else.

"Because of the curse, I can believe because I must, because there is no other way. I believe in God," he confessed, scrubbing at his eyes, "but I don't believe in Heaven. How can I, Kyou? Heaven for me was always just being alive."

I shook my head. The trees lashed their multicolored leaves overhead. Rain splattered with a sound like the steady crackling of fire. Scooping him in my arms – he weighed less than a child - I ran for the nearest cover, a thick stand of trees still clothed by leaves, and set him down in the driest spot I could find.

But I don't think he noticed the rain. I don't think he could see through his own tears. And I was frightened, but not as much as I thought I would be. Because, from that first moment when he had turned to us after speaking to the doctor, his eyes too bright, smiling feebly, this had been inevitable.

I held him close as he cried, the rain dripping into my face and hair. I held him as he howled.

Somehow, it was better this way.

I felt weak - my whole body - but I couldn't change. Not now. Not like this.

Momiji who accepted everything . . . even he could not accept that side of me were I to transform before him now.

It seemed I still had to pretend. Had to cling to that non-existent strength.

But I was just so tired of it all.

--

The rain stopped soon after, the sky clearing. But, I thought, it was not so vivid as when we had started out. It was a different blue promising darker skies on the horizon. I walked Momiji home despite his protests. It was cold and he was wet and I wanted to take him back to the house but he wanted to go home, he said, his eyes looking at a destination I could not see. I want to go home.

At his door he turned to me with the carving in his hand, man and rabbit, and said simply, one more time, his eyes clear and focused on my face, "Thank you, Kyou."

He was not smiling and I was not afraid.

I thought to myself, This is good-bye.

--

She was chopping onions when I came in, and didn't look up even when I paused in the doorway.

Sitting down at the table, I looked at her and sighed.

"You shouldn't let yourself get upset."

She swept a handful of chopped onions into a pot and stirred the contents. Her voice was flat. "Dinner's almost ready."

"Kagura."

Something crumbled. "I can't help it." Her hands came up to her eyes, brushing stray tears aside as she blinked and tried to laugh, to keep from sobbing. "I know it's stupid. There's nothing I can do about it. And it's not like we haven't known for a long time, but, every time, I . . ."

I know. "The pot's going to boil over." There was nothing I could say that would make it any better, so I tried, quite deliberately, to make it worse. I hate it when women cry. I even prefer them beating the living snot out of me to watching them cry. I guess I'm stupid that way.

"Ah! Sorry!" she said, hurriedly, wiping away her tears with her apron and stirring the pot with renewed vigor.

It had been a long time since Kagura had beaten me to a pulp.

To be honest, I don't miss it at all. But sometimes I think maybe she does. At least it always seemed to make her feel better even if I ended up feeling worse. But I'm not enough of a martyr to tell her to beat me up. I like all my bones intact, thanks.

"You should visit him tomorrow," I said, getting up from the table. "I don't think he's going to come by again."

I could sense her stilling. Then, softly: "All right."

--

The next morning Kagura went out and I went to the old vegetable garden out back that had once, in another lifetime, been a stupid teenager's "secret base." There were a few late tomatoes that Kagura wanted me to pick before the first frost fell.

Before I reached it I met someone I shouldn't have sitting on the plain bench we had placed alongside the path.

Kisa threw a stick and it rattled and disappeared into the underbrush as she watched it disinterestedly. She looked paler than usual, the sickly white color of her skin accented by her black clothes.

They reminded me of Hanajima. That thought alone was enough to depress me.

Kisa was not looking at me. "I thought I would come, for a little while."

"He would've liked that."

"I don't give a damn what he would've liked." Her eyes were flat and cold. "He always gave too much of a damn."

"Yes."

"He was an idiot that way. In a lot of ways. And still-"

Yes. Still. I didn't want to say it, could not bear to hear her say it.

It seemed neither could she because she left the words unsaid. The silence was weighted with memories. Heavy, awkward, painful things.

They'll only pull you down, Kisa. There's nothing to be done with them but to forget them and what they mean. Try, if you can. Try very hard.

"I'm a bigger idiot." Her voice was bitter. "Aren't I, Kyou?"

Why must we remember these things?

"I was young and stupid. I didn't know what kind of pain love brings. I never even imagined."

To hurt ourselves?

"I was a fool."

To punish ourselves?

"But never mind that now," she said, getting slowly and painfully to her feet. I could see the brace, a little, beneath the black skirt of her dress.

"Don't stare, Kyou. It's rude."

"I'm not staring."

"You're looking at me," she murmured, brushing a hand over the skirt, smoothing down the material as best she could to cover the awkward shape of the leg. "I don't like it when people look at me."

"I know."

"It's hard enough to accept pity without craving it on top of that. I'm not like some."

I thought of Yuki. But he had Tohru. Wasn't that enough?

"I've run away," she said savagely. "I've gone away from it all. I'm leaving it behind me."

"Isn't your husband worried?"

"He's always worried. Let him worry. I can take care of myself!" She paused then shook her head. "I don't want go back to that empty house. I don't want to listen to the things that it tells me. Let me stay with you, Kyou, outside of that house. I want to live outside."

I'm not outside.

"Can't I be free?"

Not like this. Not with me.

"Let me stay with you, Kyou! I'll be good. I won't make a sound." Her eyes were too bright.

"He's going to miss you."

"He's not going to come looking," she whispered swiftly, excitedly, her hands reaching up and pulling my face down to hers. "I told him a lie. I told him I was going to see Momiji. He doesn't know. Doesn't know anything,"

No. He knows everything about you.

"Please, let's-" Her lips met mine in desperation and I felt neither the need to break away nor to respond. She broke off the kiss and pulled away from me, tears filling her eyes. "Don't mind me, Kyou."

I said nothing. She was reaching out. Was seeking. Was failing to find - There was nothing left to find.

It's difficult to live on one's one.

Sometimes it's impossible.

"He'll be mad," she was moaning, her arms wrapped around her thin shoulders. "He'll be angry. I'm not supposed to do that anymore. I'm supposed to be better."

There were days like this. There were days, too, when she forgot everything and lived blissfully in the past, innocent and naive as a child. Then would come the night and she would wake, screaming that she wanted to die.

There were times she sought death. She tried to hide them - the sleeping pills, the scissors - but always he would find them and put them away. He did love her, somehow, someway. Had married her because she needed him so - because there was nothing left for him to do but throw away his own life so that she might live.

It had hurt them both in the end.

"I'm sorry," she whimpered. "I didn't mean to do it! I can't help it if I'm - if I don't think clearly! Don't let him hit me. Don't let him hurt me!"

"Kisa, he's not going to hurt you. He's never hurt you."

Her eyes seemed to clear a little and her expression calmed. "Yes. He's never hurt me. And that one - the other one - is broken and cracked. Is rotting in the dust. Is festering." Then she laughed and I did not want to hear it, wanted to turn away and leave her.

I turned and saw him standing a few feet away, looking at her with a fixed expression. So. He had come looking for her after all.

She saw him too and her eyes opened wide.

Then her lips cracked into a bitter smile and she bent low in a mockery of a curtsy. "I welcome you."

The words, when they came, were steady and emotionless. "He must be happy to see you, Kisa."

She flew at him, beating against his chest, uselessly, futilely, small fists striking without strength - with only rage.

"I'm not angry with you. You can't help wanting to see him."

Her fists slowed, faltered, stopped. She stood, head averted, hands clenched at her sides.

"Damn you! Why couldn't you have made me forget?! Why couldn't you . . ." She broke into sobs and for a moment, as her hands came up to rub at her eyes, she looked like the young Kisa-chan again, small and alone and vulnerable.

Hatori did not touch her. "Come on, Kisa. It's time for your medication."

She slowly lowered her hands from her still-wet face. Her expression was forlorn, her eyes focused somewhere on the ground. She nodded, once, in acceptance.

They walked away side by side; neither spoke nor touched the other. Hatori looked older than his years; gray was creeping into his hair. Kisa walked like an old woman, limping slowly along on her bad leg. Slowly, she reached up to touch Hatori's arm and he yielded it to her, letting her grab it and cling to it, fingers curling desperately around him for support.

So much pain.

I turned away, my gaze falling on the rundown tombstone graced with a spray of the season's last wildflowers, small, pale, and half-wilted but having managed to survive all the same.

"Sleep well, Hiro."

--

The water had been hot and as I pulled open the shower curtain the contrasting cool air outside almost made me shiver. I snagged a towel from the rack, drying my face and body. I paused as I came to the series of scars, ugly and old affirmations of that day, and touched them gingerly as though, even now, they would still burn me. The muscles beneath them ached a little, but that was all.

"What a monster you are. You don't even scream as I kill you."

No. Those were memories I wanted no part of. Not now.

She was waiting for me when I stepped outside. As she slipped behind me like a shadow I stopped.

Stop.

"Don't touch me!" I snarled.

Kagura dropped her hand. "I love you, Kyou."

That. That again. Always that. Ceaselessly, incessantly, it pounded against me - the force of her love. Someday it would wear me away entirely.

I was weary. "I know."

"I know you know."

Some things were better left unsaid.

"Shigure called. Momiji was just rushed to the hospital."

And on and on.

"Momiji said . . . not to come. Hatsuharu's waiting in the dojo with the students."

"All right."

--

The dojo was the one place where I did not have to think. Instead, I threw myself into running it. I had taken it over for Shisho and Hatsuharu ran it with me. Rin had asked me if that would be all right and I couldn't say no to her - how else would Hatsu find a job to support her (and then the kids when they had come - three, two boys and girl)? Rin stayed at home and drew ads, but that didn't make enough money.

In the end it was fine. Hatsu was good at it and he rarely went black these days - not because he was better-adjusted - maybe because Rin kept him in check. I didn't know. They were like a tiny oasis in the midst of the rest of the family, but they were quiet about it and it was impossible to be bitter. Rin was fragile enough to break at any time - it was a happiness that could be so easily shattered that we all gave it space and prayed that it would grow.

It was soothing in its way, a small comfort, the daily routine of the dojo. The warm-ups, the simple exercises, the repetitious motions, one after another - they were the same for them as they had been for me.

Hatsu was running the beginner and intermediate students through their exercises. I was watching the advanced students spar. Another ten minutes and Hatsu would start prepping the intermediates for their next belt test and Kagura would come in to help the beginners with their stances and movements. She only came in on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour, but it helped us out and she was better at dealing with the younger children than either Hatsuharu or I.

But the person who stepped inside the dojo next was not Kagura.

I let the last sparring match finish, then ordered them to split into pairs and practice their moves on the mats until I returned. I caught Hatsu's eye and he nodded at me, his gaze shifting to the door and back. He'd keep an eye on things.

My uninvited guest followed me out.

"What do you want?" I didn't really have to ask. There was only one thing that he cared about enough these days that would bring him here of all places. To me of all people. And I didn't want to hear it.

Ayame's expression was unreadable. "Please don't go anymore, Kyou. It hurts him."

I laughed at him. Laughed.

"Everything hurts him, Ayame! It's not me or anything! Do you think it's all right to leave him alone in that empty house with Tohru?! Do you think he'll get any better like that? And what about her? Do you even give a thought to her? I've seen him. You haven't. You don't know anything."

"I know you hurt him."

I pulled back my sleeve and showed him the three livid scars that wrapped nearly all the way around my arm. "Where do you think these are from? Isn't it wonderful to be doubly cursed by your god because you tried, once, to help your sworn enemy? I tried to help him, Ayame. You weren't there. You don't know. Those of us there almost died. Hiro did. Kureno, Ritsu . . . how many paid with their lives? And what did it achieve? Where is the breaking of our curse? Where is our salvation?"

"There is no such thing as salvation," he said steadily. "We were fools to ever wish for it. So, for the sake of what we have left . . . please, Kyou. Don't go again."

"Go to Hell."

"That's a bit mild, isn't it? Even Hell becomes mundane once you've spent enough time there."

"Just get out before I throw you out."

He said nothing but turned and silently made his way back to his car.

"Problems?" Hatsuharu asked after morning classes were over.

"No."

He didn't say anything for a moment, then: "I care about Yuki. Once I might've just beaten the crap out of you just for pissing him off."

"You would have tried."

"I'm not asking you to feel sympathy for him. I don't need to ask for that. Just . . . try to be discreet."

"Nothing's going on."

"I know. But Yuki, he can't tell anymore what's real and what's not. He can't tell who his friends are."

"I'm not his friend."

"You're not his enemy either."

"So what? You're not going to try and beat the crap out of me? Not going to tell me to stay the hell away from Tohru if I know what's good for me?" I don't know why I was taunting him to go Black. Maybe I missed it. Maybe I had been lying to myself all along and some part of me wanted to be beaten, wanted to be hurt, wanted to be punished for my sins, real and imagined, wanted to get what I deserved for being the Cat, for being me. Maybe I just wanted a way to let out my anger about Ayame, about Momiji, about Kisa, about Kagura, about Yuki, and Tohru and all the rest of it and brawling with Hatsuharu was the best thing I could come up with. Who knows? I sure as hell didn't.

"No," he said quietly, looking hard at me, "I'm not. You're not the only one who cares about Tohru."

I wanted to say something, but I couldn't find the words. A moment later Kousetsu poked his head in the door and said, "Papa, you're taking too long! Kochi went home without us!"

Mild brown eyes, light grey hair, Hatsuharu and Rin's fourth child managed to resemble absolutely no one in his immediate family. "Papa!" he called again, impatiently.

"Coming," his father said softly. He looked back at me and meeting his eyes, I nodded. No, I was not the only one.

--

Kagura wouldn't look at me as I stepped into the room. Silently, she handed me the phone. I listened to the sympathetic blather of the member of the hospital staff, thanked her mechanically, and hung up.

Without a word, I went back through the house and out the door as Kagura broke the kitchen table in two and fell down sobbing behind me.

My eyes were hot but dry. It didn't seem possible that just a few days ago we had gone walking in these woods. It didn't seem possible that we never would again. That he was gone. It was almost a joke except no one was laughing.

--

I walked for what seemed like hours without purpose or destination. Perhaps I thought that movement would dull the pain, that as long as I kept moving somewhere, anywhere, I wouldn't have to think or feel. But that was a lie. Each step jarred my heart. Each moment of numbness was merely a stroke of whitewash. When it rained again my scars would be washed clean and exposed to the world.

Without realizing it I found myself outside the main house and without thinking I went inside.

My feet chose the path automatically; I went inside the building no preamble but the shedding of my shoes.

Shigure looked up from his desk. A tidy stack of papers was piled to one side. A half-written sheet lay in front of him. "Hello Kyou," he said, tapping his chin with the end of his pen.

I said nothing and shut my eyes. He wrote a moment longer before setting down his pen and saying grandly, "What brings you to my humble abode?"

"Thought it had been a while," I said briefly.

"Oh?" he said, his mouth quirking. "A rarity, that."

We didn't speak about Momiji. I didn't have the heart to and I wasn't sure if I could handle Shigure's reaction. I wasn't even sure if he would react.

"Ayame showed up at the dojo today."

"Really?" Shigure said without interest. Really, it was hard to tell whether he was faking it or not. I dropped the line of conversation. It was no good going to him about things like that anyway. He had less control over Ayame than ever.

"What are you doing?"

"Working on my new book."

It was soothing to talk to Shigure. You could fool yourself into believing that nothing had changed. You could pretend. Even I could pretend for an hour or two, could talk with him as though we were still on speaking terms, which we hadn't been before the incident, that we lived in the same house and that he would be coming home any day now.

It was easy to fall into the same old pattern.

--

The door slid open behind him and in the darkness of that room I could see a white, long-fingered hand.

"Ah," Shigure said simply and the charade was over. "I'll have to ask you to leave now, Kyou."

I had already gotten to my feet. I didn't want to see. Once before I had caught a glimpse and once was too much.

Shigure turned and wrapped the hand in his, bowed gently over the bone-white fingers.

"Mine," the voice shuddered, desolation etched in each syllable – here was one who knew, "mine mine mine."

"Yes," Shigure said, his voice twisting with irony, with pity, with hate, with bitterness, with love, "I am yours. I will always be only yours."

"Forever. You're loyal aren't you? The only one, the only one who hasn't left me. You wanted it that way, didn't you, Shigure? You'll follow me wherever I go. I'm going soon."

"Yes, Akito, we are," and the voice was so tender I wanted to laugh because crying wouldn't have been enough. Only you, Shigure. Only you can make us all forget, even God. Because only you embrace it all, and hold it dear. This lingering pain, the horror of that day, like a treasure you keep it safe and alive. While the rest of us try desperately not to remember, only you refuse to forget.

I slid the door closed behind me.

--

On the way back, maybe in defiance of Ayame, maybe because I liked to cut myself open after all, maybe because I thought someone should tell her about Momiji, I stopped by her house.

I stopped on the porch and looked at her through the window. She was singing a song as she dusted, snatches of it floating through the open window to me. "Let's stay together itsumo." She paused. Turned. Looked at me. "Hello, Kyou."

"Hello."

She opened the door. I stepped inside.

"Tea?" she said uncertainly, her hands fluttering nervously. I never came in. "Kyou-kun, what's wrong?"

"Momiji," I said, my voice catching on the name, my throat closing up, "just passed away."

She grew very still. Her hands came together, clasped in front of her. A moment later and she raised them, bent her head over them. Silently, she prayed.

Another instant passed before she said, "Was it peaceful?"

I nodded. "They tell me he was smiling."

Tears streaked down her face. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands, choked back a sobbing breath. Without words I put my hands on her shoulders.

For a long time there was nothing but the sound of her sobbing and the ache in my heart from my inability to bridge the distance between us.

The silence was shattered by a picture frame crashing and breaking against the wall. Tohru jumped. I turned to look at the pieces littering the ground. It was the picture of Tohru's mother. Tohru's eyes stared at the wreckage. Her hands trembled.

"Get out. Get away from Tohru and get out," Yuki snarled, and I could only remember when those words had held force and how once I would have answered just as heatedly. But now there was only the echo of the past to give the words any weight. Time had worn both of us down.

"Shut up, Yuki!" I said, too tired too be angry, too full of pain to hurt. "Momiji's dead. He passed away in his sleep at three o'clock. I thought you should know."

He was completely still for a moment, staring sightlessly past me, and I was reminded of Momiji's eyes that day in the woods. Turning to me, a little of the old Yuki seemed to surface, and he said stiffly, "Thank you for telling me, Kyou."

What the hell, I thought with a sudden flash of realization, I've even missed you, Rat-boy.

To Tohru he said, vaguely but sincerely: "I'm sorry. About throwing it."

"It's all right," she said calmly, as though Yuki had just knocked over a potted plant. Her hands were still. "It's just a picture."

"I'm going to my room."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"No." He waved a hand. "Talk to . . . to Kyou. I want to be alone." He looked at me, a little strangely, and said, "Don't you have a home of your own?" before going back into his room.

"It's the first time," Tohru said quietly, "that he's been like his old self in front of anyone but me."

She brushed past me and gathered a dustpan and brush from the corner. Bending over she swept up the loose glass, her hair falling over one ear.

She picked up the picture frame, shook free some glass, and looked at it. My throat closed up on me but I forced myself to look. I forced myself to watch. Kyoko was smiling the same as ever.

Opening the back she pulled out the photograph and laid it down on the table. With her fingers she began gently picking up each remaining glass piece.

I walked over and crouched down, picking up a gleaming splinter.

--

Tohru was speaking.

"The world is made up of different colours. Each one is beautiful. Each one is unique. Some of them . . . we can't even see. We'll never be able to see it - our eyes aren't built with the capacity to see them. They're always going to be invisible . . . not because they're not there, but because we can't accept their reality."

She was beautiful. It broke my heart to see her gathering the shards of that picture frame. If I was the same man I had been I would have held her hands in mine, would have run from there, pulling her along beside me, would have fled from that fortress, that prison, that jail . . .

Yuki had warned me once, about the gilded cage.

I hadn't wanted to believe him.

Solitude is a cage all its own.

But a man's solitary pain is nothing to the layers of accumulated suffering that soaked the foundations of that house. Was nothing to the tight line of pain in Tohru's mouth.

I wasn't that man anymore. Even if we ran . . . there was no place to go.

"Kyou-kun's colour," Tohru murmured, "I've always seen it. But I've never let myself see."

She rested a hand on my chest for an instant without turning back to look at me and I took it gently within my own, holding it. She was terribly cold.

"I can't let myself see. I have a dull, ordinary colour . . . but I have to keep it. It won't ever change. Do you see, Kyou-kun?"

I didn't see. I didn't see at all.

She pulled her hand away from me and reached forward to pick up a shard, pricking her finger on it. Blood welled slowly from the wound and she placed the finger in her mouth.

"Yuki-kun's colour . . . I saw it once. It was beautiful. I thought if I touched it, I would be gilded by that shimmer, but instead his radiance faded. I tarnished . . . that light."

"Tohru, that wasn't you! It was-"

"It couldn't be helped. Tell me, Kyou-kun, when you look at me, what colour do you see?"

"Tohru has always shone to me."

"You see . . . that's why. That, and nothing else. Why I can't let myself . . . ."

"Why-"

"I'm just an ordinary brown, Kyou. That's why. I can't change what I am."

"I don't care!"

She shut her eyes and lifted her face to the sky. "To me, Yuki-kun's colour was always the most beautiful. And never was it more beautiful than when it lost its shine."

"Tohru-"

"You see?" she said simply. "I am a terrible person after all, Kyou-kun." Her fingers traced her mother's face through the broken glass. "Akito was right. No, don't be angry. There was something that only I could do . . . and I did not do it. I was not willing to give up what I should have, years ago. And I know now what it is that I lost instead."

Her hand touched mine and our eyes met. I don't know what mine were like but hers were wistful and heavy with something that might have been regret. "Forgive me, Kyou," she said gently.

And guilt, hot and terrible, the guilt I had buried all this time in the depths of my heart welled up inside of me. "No. I should be the one-"

She pressed her fingers to my lips, shook her head. "No, Kyou. What's gone is gone, what's past is past. That girl and that boy and everything they did and did not do, that too is gone."

"You wouldn't say that if you knew what I've done."

"My mother told me once that the only way people can continue to love one another is if they continue to be able to forgive one another for their faults and for their mistakes. And that goes for yourself as well. "If you have been forgiven, I don't expect you to be able to forgive yourself. Make amends if you must, but move on. What is the point of seeking forgiveness if even granted it we cannot move forward? Forgiveness will not wipe clean our sins. But it lets you make a new start." I don't think she was wrong. People must accept forgiveness from others the same way they accept love. If people offer their love to you then you are loved. If people offer their forgiveness to you then you are forgiven. It's not something you can refuse.

"All the same "to love oneself" and "to forgive oneself" are the most difficult things. It is far easier "to love others" and "to forgive others." So, in a way, it's a little like cheating. I will go on, though, loving and forgiving others and trying to love and forgive myself. It's all I can do."

"How do you love people the way you do? What does happiness mean to you?"

"Kureno and I spoke about it once, a lifetime ago. About everything, it seems, although I didn't understand that then. About love and duty, about needing and giving."

"You give and you give . . . but what do you get in return?"

"What I strive towards is ordinary happiness. Just that. Nothing great or big or extraordinary. Just ordinary happiness."

"What about Kousetsu?"

She paused, looked away, and I knew this hurt her, hurt her more than anything else could possibly hurt her.

"Kousetsu is happy. Kousetsu isn't a part of this. He didn't deserve to be dragged into this, did he, Kyou?"

"No. But then, neither did you."

"That was my choice, all those years ago. The only choice I know was right."

"And his choice?"

"I'm not ashamed. I don't seek to hide anything from him. If he comes to me one day and asks for the truth, I will tell him honestly and simply what it is." She looked me straight in the eyes, and sought neither to hurt me or to drive me away, but merely to make me understand. "But isn't it terrible, Kyou, to refuse to be acknowledged by a parent?"

"Yes."

"I love Yuki, Kyou. Yuki loves me. But Yuki refuses to acknowledge Kousetsu just like he refuses to acknowledge anything . . . after. It is my hope that one day he will learn to accept everything that has happened. That is the day I am steadily guiding him towards with all my love."

"I know."

And I really did know, had always known. This is who she was and nothing that had happened, nothing that would ever happen could change that.

Tired and full of pain, she smiled, and she was beautiful.

--

The lights were off when I came home. In the dark I climbed the stairs, opened a door, and looked at Kagura sitting in the dark, her hands still, a piece of orange knitting in her lap.

The first words spoken were hers.

"How is she?"

"The same."

"And you?"

"I don't know. I love her. Even now."

Kagura dropped her knitting to the ground and bent to pick it up. Her fingers were shaking.

"There was nothing I could give you, after all," she said quietly, twisting her fingers in the cloth. "Nothing that I could give you that you could accept. Not love, not anything."

I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

"So," she said, and there was something that masqueraded as fury in her voice but was softer, more desolate, "the only thing that I can give you. Take it, Kyou. Your freedom."

Did I want it? Did I want even that? I could walk out the door and disappear forever. I could vanish in the mountains, disappear off the face of the earth. I could go and never see Tohru's pained expression again, never see the bitter twist to Shigure's mouth, never see any of them, Haru and Rin and Kisa and Hatori and Ayame, never see that damned Yuki's mutilated face and feel like hurting him and crying for him and hurting him more for everything, everything, never see Akito's face with death lurking in those empty eyes - a broken, useless god, never see any of it again.

Never see Kagura. Never feel her clinging to me so desperately, never feel her arms wrapped around me, never hear her crying, never see her tears, never suffer her anger, never think of her again. Never.

It was strange, the feelings that went through me. It had been so long since I had felt anything . . . it was strange. I no longer knew how relief felt or despair. I realized I no longer knew anything, had perhaps never known anything since the days when I had lived in that house and laughed and learned how to feel light and free, had achieved a taste of normalcy and had it ripped away.

Kagura was looking at me steadily, her eyes on my face, reading everything she saw there. When she saw me looking at her, she turned away. "Go, Kyou. It's the only thing left for you, isn't it? To go and be free. Go on, Kyou. Just go."

But I knew that even if I went I would never be free like that. We were birds, all of us, trapped in a cage. We would never get out. Not like that. We would never be free while we lived and were still so inextricably bound to one another. There would be no freedom then. Not for me. Not for anyone else. We were limited by this thing called life. We were restricted by so many things.

No, that freedom that I sought was an illusion. Something akin to happiness. No. Everything that I had right now--as hard as it was to stand, as bitter as it was to swallow--everything was real.

"Kagura," I said, looking at her back, "I hate this type of stifling love."

"I know."

"Hold still, won't you? Let me touch you."

She turned and there was a sort of wondering acceptance in her eyes. "Kyou," she said quietly, tears brimming in her eyes, her lips trembling, "I hate you."

I reached forward and slowly - oh so slowly - cupped her face in my hand. I kissed her; felt her body respond to mine, felt an emotion for the first time in such a long time that I could not even begin to think of how long it had been.

It was hope.

I did not love her. Not yet. I didn't know if I ever would or could when my heart was still so full of Tohru. Kagura accepted that calmly and painfully. But still, lying beside her, listening to the noises of the night outside, learning to laugh again, learning, gently, the things that I had known once and had long since forgotten as Kagura and I taught them again to one another, two people learning what it meant to live, I could feel myself beginning to change, to accept and grow. I could touch humanity, could realize it within myself.

Is that all? Is that all? my heart would cry, but no, it wasn't all; everyday I changed and grew and became someone that I had wanted to know for a long time and had never been able to meet. His name is Kyou.

And one day too, if they learn that this is all that there is and there can never be anything more unless you make it yourself, allow it to grow within you, to reach for that thin trickle of light and grow in that ray of hope, the rest of the Jyunishi will learn that curses don't matter, that the only one who can curse you is yourself, that the only one who can cure you is yourself, that humanity is something that can't be taken away but must always be won one painful step at a time.

Then the cage door will open for real this time, and, unless we let it, it will never shut again.

-Fin-