AN: Bloody hell. This is… so, so late. It's been written for ages, even, and I just never got around to posting it.
Ah… yes, though. Before FF.N yells at me for inactivity. Do they do that? Probably not; it's been like a year by now probably.
I dedicate this to everyone to whom I owe reviews. I swear, I am going to get on that. It's just… college. (Kurai Himitsu. Your name haunts me. I really, really am getting there.)
Anyway, here we go. Penultimate bit of my Inverse. I want to tie up my loose strands and then move on to canon-ish things. Ooh. Windswift - thank you for knocking some sense into my head as to how to deal with my rose here. Not that she's responsible for what I did to her poor suggestion.
Disclaimer: Fruits Basket and all attendant wonders belong to Takaya Natsuki alone. Or - and to TokyoPop and some other places like that, probably. But you know. And the song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is Andrew Lloyd Webber's. Which, it doesn't play a part in the fic as such, but I was thinking of it, and the title is from it.
There is a rose.
It is not an especially attractive rose. It's large, by the standards of its variety, but small by the standards of plenty of others. It was picked some time ago now; the edges are black, and there are a few petals scattered around it like the refuse from a ship throwing off its cargo to stay afloat those last few hours to find land. Of course, these particular sailors are, figuratively speaking, living during the Flood and before the dove. They have possibly sent out the raven. But it's not going to help.
It's one of the side affects of life. The only one you can be sure of, really. Other than taxes. Or including. One could say it is a tax, really - the tithe of mortality.
The rose is in a florist's shop, a small one which smells of flowers left too long in too much heat. It will probably go out of business soon, due in no small part to Camellia across the street, which sells flowers and candy, and also has proper uniforms for everyone who works there.
The rose is in its own vase, which is plastic and filled halfway with slightly yellow water. The vase was, at some point in history, clear, but this was probably at about the same time in history that the proprietor of the shop was considered a real looker and had boys stringing out the door to ask her on a date. They are both, vase and woman, now a sort of gray color. All in all, it isn't even for sale in a technical sense, but more for a sort of hopeful display. Hoping, for example, that the customer was very nearsighted.
But the girl sees it, and instantly cries out in delight, "Oh, Florist-san, this one! This is perfect! I mean I would love to buy a whole bouquet for Hatori-san, he deserves them, really he does, but I don't… I think that he would understand if… and it's such a pretty flower! What kind is it?"
"…A rose," the florist ventures. She suspects that they are not looking at the same flower or, for that matter, the same world. "Crimson Glory." And, because she is a business woman, "A fine example of its breed. Very popular."
"It's so lovely!" The girl leans closer, hands falling just short of actually touching the flower, not out of any healthy concern for insects or infectious diseases but with reverence. "How… how much would it…?"
The florist, who is eighty years old and hasn't gotten there without burying several husbands and a child, or by giving charity, looks into huge brown eyes overflowing with perpetual cheer. She thinks about charity, about when she'd last had the money or the time. Or the decency. She finds that she's kept putting it off till she has more when, in fact, there are never enough of any of the three in one place long enough.
She names a price which would have, under normal circumstances, bought the girl one of the blacker, crispier petals littering the display table.
"Oh, but, Florist-san, I couldn't… are you sure Crimson Glory-san doesn't cost more?"
"Go on," says the florist. "There ought to be more flowers and things. Smiles. Makes life worth living. Sometimes you have to be nice to a pretty girl. Things seem better, after." She winks. "And I'm sure your Hatori-san will be very pleased with any selection, coming from you. Just you be sure to hand it to him over a home-cooked meal. Way to a man's heart, I've always said, is through his stomach." This is not in fact her private belief, but you had to hope that this Hatori had some common decency.
The girl's smile never wavers. Not even her eyes change. It's something else. Then it's past, and she is bowing and paying and thanking, and nearly forgets the rose.
In the end, the madam gives the girl another discount. It just makes her feel good to be alive.
The rose looks better out in the daylight, which is unusual, especially with this kind of daylight. It is the kind of daylight you can get only in the dead of winter, when there are at least a few feet of snow on the ground. It is not the yellow light of summer, or even the searing white-hot light of cruel days in places where you can be killed over a drop of water while bandits let the sand cover over the gold bars you were carrying, along with what will be - in over a week - your bleached bones.
This light is a different kind of white. It is brighter, even, than that desert light, partially because the earth itself is allied with it and throws the light back up via your eyeballs, through your skull, and into the sun again. It does not allow for concealment. Everything looks better when the blow of reality is softened by a bit of dimness, which is why candlelight is popular for romantic evenings. Candles do not actually cast light so much as they do shadows.
But the rose, dingy as it is, looks better. The red is brought out against the snow and sun, all that white, as a comforting crimson. The grungy black bits, while fading to rusty brown in the outdoors, and also appearing more frequently, look oddly at home. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Ergo, everything this girl looks at instantly becomes beautiful, and grows in loveliness the longer she looks at it. So, in the sunlight, the rose looks worthy of its recipient.
She is humming as she wades through snow well over her brown boots, along a path she knows is there but which is visible only as a sort of tracery under the white. She is also sheltering the flower under her coat, so that the petals still there will stay on despite the wind.
And that is the other thing wrong about this kind of light. As it occurs only in wintertime, it is a mockery. Since it requires that there be no clouds, it usually accompanies brisk winds. Snow, ice, and air, all the same temperature and honed to razorblades, hiss through the atmosphere. Temperatures drop below zero and keep on going, presumably looking into a vacation in Antarctica. All of this while the sun is smiling.
But the girl is humming. A red-mittened hand swipes at her long hair every few moments as her nose slowly changes color to match the mittens. She starts shaking, but she keeps plodding.
Around her, skeletal trees give way to an nearly open field. The snow grows deeper, the wind sharper, dancing in every loosened bit of clothing and stealing away the warmth. Of course, there are still blocks to the wind. The family this girl lives with is very large, and very old. Thus its cemetery has several acres to it, and also very full.
Finally, at the far end of the graveyard, she reaches a stone in front of which she stops. It is very tall, and very plain. Impressive, forbidding. There are only a few lines carved into it, a sharp contrast to the poems flowing across many of the monoliths surrounding it. There is a name, and then there are two years with a dash between them, counting off twenty-eight years. Then there is a message, three words long. There is nothing else.
The gray thing towers over the girl, and she waves at it cheerily. "Hello, Hatori-san." Gingerly, she removes the rose from beneath her flapping coat. "I brought you a gift! I don't know what kind of flowers you like, but I thought, well, this one reminded me of you. It looks a bit somber, but it's a rose. Roses aren't somber, really. Lilies, maybe." She laughs, and sits down on the lip at the bottom of the stone. It's cold, but everything is, and the snow on her coat won't melt until she goes inside.
"And it's… well, it reminded me of Mom, too, in a way." A petal blows off in the wind, pinwheeling into the air along with the daggers of snow, and she whispers, "It reminds me of everyone. In a way."
She watches the petal drift and whirl until it strikes the scarlet coat of the man approaching her, and he looks up, startled. The she stands up and waves to him, as well, rather more energetically. "Ayame-san!" she calls as he draws close enough to speak without yelling. "What are you doing here? Not that - Hatori-san is your cousin, and your best friend, and I have no right and I'll leave right now if you want to be alone with him I only meant aren't you going to get cold and transform and then what if you were alone -"
Fortunately for all involved, the man wrapped in scarlet, hair sparkling with half-melted snowflakes, isn't particularly interested in her self-flagellation, and speaks over her. And he's louder. First he stares, past startled, as if he's seen a crocus growing in midwinter, but he has a remarkable recovery time.
"Tohru-san, my dear girl! Long have been the hours since last we parted! How are you faring? I, myself, have never been better! I thrive on work, you know, and business is absolutely booming - speaking of which, that hat looks perhaps less than fully fit for your delicate beauty; you must come by sometime and allow me to fit you with one that does you justice. What brings such a vivacious girl here to this cold and gloomy place on a lovely day?"
"O-oh, I just… I wanted to visit Hatori-san and give him this" she waves the rose "and catch him up on everything that's been happening, maybe. I thought that no one else would be here, and I didn't want to interrupt anyone, or want him to be lonely, so I thought today would be a good day, but I really didn't… So I'll just go now. I was done." She beams, light as empty as the sun's.
"Tohru-kun." The man puts a long-fingered hand, smothered in two pairs of gloves, on her shoulder. "Why don't you stay on with me?"
"Would that… would that be alright?" Wool mittens close tight over the rose's stem as she clasps it to her chest hopefully. "I could keep you company, Ayame-san!"
"That would be nice," he agrees, matching her grin and raising her a twinkle in the eye.
The girl nods fervently. "I would like that." She turns to the stone. "It's a nice marker, don't you think?"
The hulking dark granite looms over them, snow sifting across it in the wind. "Nice," the man echoes, crossing his arms loosely for warmth. Cocking his head, he adds, "Tell me, Tohru-kun, when are you going to move out of Gure-san's house" breath is drawn, but before she can have an imposition-related breakdown he continues breezily, "and into mine?"
"Ahhh. Um." The girl laughs, and then starts crying. Her face doesn't change, but the tears run down her face in two sporadic waterfalls, some clinging to the petals beneath her chin and slowly freezing. "I'm sorry, Ayame-san!" She wipes furiously at her eyes. "I just, I wish… it's been so long since Shigure-san made a joke like that and even if he did there's no one to yell at him with Yuki-kun moving out and Kyo-kun… um, so I guess that's probably why he hasn't, but I miss… I just wish everything could be…"
"I know." He puts a hand on the top of her head and waits.
The brunette sniffs, rubbing a hand across her face. "I'm sorry," she whispers.
"For entrusting me with your sorrows? For having faith in my inimitable wisdom, sagacity, and patience? Nonsense! Weaker men may tremble in the face of a woman's tears, but in the name of men's romance I forbid such cowardice! Women in tears are meant to be comforted!"
"Thank you, Ayame-san." She smiles, and maybe it's genuine. "I think… I hate to impose, but I think… would Ayame-san do me a favor?"
"Of course! Anything for our princess! You need but name the deed and rest well, knowing it to be accomplished!"
She smiles, a little, and there is no placing the emotion behind the curve of her lips. "Would you… I bought this rose for Hatori-san, but… I was talking to him before you came, and I think that, maybe… I think that Ayame-san needs it more." Her mouth droops, fighting not to let something out.
A hand reaches out, skims hers, and then drops. "Flattered as I am by your too-generous gift, sweet Tohru-kun, I simply could not deprive Tori-san of your affections. He felt quite strongly for you, you know." He smiles blindingly, hands twisting together as if they'd been burned.
"I think - if Ayame-san will forgive me - that Hatori-san would say that he doesn't have much use for it now. I think he would want you to have it, since you can use it."
"Ah, but you see, Tori-san knows that I always insisted on thornless roses with my tender skin, already cruelly punished by the razor swords of my trade, no less painful for their minuteness. He would understand my reluctance."
She smiles a little more. "Mom used to say that the only way you knew for sure it was a rose was if you got pricked a few times." She pushes the stem into his fingers, and holds it in place. "You should go and show Shigure-san. He likes pretty things."
"I think Ayame-san has to." She takes her hand away, and he holds onto the rose.
The house is clean, dark, and cold. The wind howls outside, rattling wood.
The rose has lost more petals, and is beginning to look a bit bald on one side; but then it had a great many to start with, so there are enough left, as well. Another petal drops off and flutters to the floor as the man with silver hair sheds his outer layers, and then slowly pulls open a door to the one lighted room. "Gure-san?"
"Ayame?" The man at the desk looks up, and he would probably have been startled if he could have summoned the will. He looks like the house - clean, in a way suggesting someone else has kept him so; empty; cold. He has a glowing computer screen in front of him, and maybe he was really typing. Maybe no one would want to read what he'd written, in that case.
"Hello." In the door, the rose is waved through the air briefly. "I thought I should…" A sigh. "You never answered my calls."
"I did. I picked up the phone and explained that I was busy."
"The first time. I called many, many times."
"And Tohru-kun explained that I was busy."
"Ah, but Gure-san…" he moves into the room, slowly, looking around as if he'll see something important, "you should have someone more adept at the art of lying do yours for you."
"Well, being such an honest person myself, I can hardly be expected to recognize the opposite trait in others. At any rate, she was handy."
"I'm sorry. That I haven't been here."
It looks like genuine puzzlement on the black-haired man's face. "Whatever for? You have a practice to run, a move to make, and, oh yes, a mad god to console. No one expects you to be everywhere at once."
"…Akito-san wants to talk to you too, you know. I think he's called here as well? He won't let you ignore him for long."
"Hm." A shrug and dismissive wave. "You know, he's got Kureno-kun and you. He'll manage."
Confusion slides over his features. "No, he won't. He'll want you there. What are you talking about?"
"Oh, Aya. Why don't you go do whatever it is you do these days and let me finish my masterpiece, so that my editor doesn't find herself in the awkward position of having to commit seppuku?"
"I… Gure-san, I'm sorry. I am so sorry I couldn't be here for you… that I just wasn't. I could have been. I knew if I had to watch it hurting you too it would only be worse. I was wrong, and I apologize." Golden eyes flare, and fingers curl in a deathgrip on the stem. A bead of blood slips unnoticed to the floor. "But you could have come to me, too."
"Are you finished?"
"No! You… yes."
"Then might I get on with my work?"
"Yes, Ayame?" Condescending patience.
"If you're angry -"
"- then say something. Say something awful, something even Akito wouldn't know to say, but do something!"
"As much as your request appeals to me, I must respectfully decline," the seated man murmurs, smiling again. "I'm not angry."
"Just disappointed?" he tries, a cracked laugh falling helplessly from his lips.
"No. I'm sure I'd be proud of you, really. Embracing the pain, or your inner child, or whatever it is."
They both wait for a long moment, one shivering, both hands around the rose now. Finally he speaks, slowly. "Tohru-kun wanted me to come today. To show you this. She bought it for Tori-san, but she thought I needed it more." He walks over to the desk and places the rose on top of the pile of papers, a mass of everything from tax forms to rough drafts under various pennames, ranging themselves in turn from shameless erotica to works of art. "She was right. I needed to see you, and I did need it more."
He bends and plants a kiss on the other man's forehead, then draws back, looking, hoping. There is no reaction but patient boredom.
He bows his head. "Now I think you need it more than either of us. And when you're ready to see me, I'll be waiting."
Then he leaves. The rose sits for a moment, thawing off the girl's tears. Salty water and a bit of blood slowly pool on the papers. The man remaining says into the emptiness, "Don't hold your breath."
Snow makes veils in the air, winding around the petals being tapped against the man's lips thoughtfully. He stands and looks at the house in front of him as if it might do something interesting, the last few hundred years to the contrary.
The interesting things tend to happen inside it.
It's getting dark now. The sky is being torn open to the west, sun melting into the colors bleeding from the wound.
The man lowers the rose as a door slid open and someone wearing a white coat exits. "There you are," he murmurs, much too quietly for the person to hear him, closing his eyes. Crisp, hurried footsteps crunch across the snow towards him, quick but still far enough apart to be coming from someone with very long legs. "I was wondering."
Reluctantly, he opens his eyes on the younger man. "Hm?"
"Are you… are you all right?"
"Yes. I'm here to see Akito-san."
The inter-Sohma password. The man nods. "I see. Good luck." And he continues on his busy way.
The man left glances over his shoulder at the retreating figure. A white coat, yes, but a winter one. Not professional. He mutters to himself, "Doesn't matter…"
He wanders along the path, wind alternately dying out and being funneled by the buildings so that it rips at his hair and coat mercilessly. He shivers, and then starts laughing.
It is not a pleasant sound.
He stops when he reaches the door he intends on using, schooling his face into (sanity) sobriety and mounting the stairs, slipping through the sliding door and clicking it shut behind himself. It's dark in the hallway, but there's light coming from a room nearby, and he enters it quickly.
There is a frail young man at a kotatsu. There is a cup of tea steaming gently beside a chessboard. The young man looks up, and his eyes light up. "Shigure," he sighs.
"Akito-san!" The older man drops a cursory bow, stalking over to kiss the seated one's forehead. "Don't you look glowing."
"I have a fever. And my head hurts." He dodges the kiss. "I have a lot on my mind, Shigure, and you haven't been helping by playing your idiotic games with me. I trust you are here to apologize for your behavior of late."
He smiles a bit, and kneels across from the other, who is rubbing at his temples. "I'm here to give you a present. Well, three presents, actually. And I want you to remember something for me."
Dark eyes narrow. "I knew it. I knew you couldn't just do what you're supposed to! Why can't you ever be nice? I should -"
"What I want you to remember is that the price of getting what you want is having what you thought you wanted."
"What? This is exactly what I'm talking about. You're just here to make fun of me with your stupid paradoxes."
"Enough! Get out, Shigure." He's been looking away; now his head whips around. "But don't leave the house! I haven't - what? Why are you laughing at me?"
"I'm sorry, Akito-san. I didn't come here to tease you." He coughs and stops laughing again. "I told you, I come bearing gifts."
A frown. "…Fine. What gifts?" His fingers dance around the edge of the teacup.
"Whom were you playing?" Brown eyes stray to the black and white board between them.
The pieces are scattered almost randomly. Almost.
"Ah, yes. See, so impatient." He smiles and sweeps his hand across the board, pieces scattering. A knight and a rook tumble over the edge of the kotatsu. "There's your first gift. Game over. You win."
Black eyes widen. A hand like paper, white skin over bone, stops a queen from following onto the floor. "I don't understand."
"You do, Akito." There is something like gentleness in the man's eyes.
The same hand moves to clutch at the front of his robes, curling around the queen until it cuts into fragile fingers. He smiles. His eyes burn.
"Your second present is that I forfeit."
"You've done that."
"No. I said you'd won. I said I gave up trying to own you. I didn't say I gave up everything." He leans his chin into his hand, smiling again. "I've built my life on that, though. Without that dream… I don't have a life. I could try to make a new one, but… it's awfully late in the game. So, if I can't have you, you can have me." He shrugs. "I forfeit."
"You'll stay here."
The bony hand closes on the edge of the table, tiny white queen staying between two fingers as if forgotten as the man stands. A lovely smile disfigures his face. "Finally. Your pathetic little games." He caresses the other's face. "Over…" He laughs, and then laughs harder, until it turns into a hacking cough that doubles him over, sweat plastering his coal-black hair to his forehead. The older man catches him, moving back from the table to cradle him in his lap. "I knew it. I knew you couldn't win. I'm god, Shigure. You stupid, stupid… never again. Not ever."
"Good." He laughs again, tears collecting in one eye as his lungs rasp. "That's good."
"I'm glad you think so."
"You think I'll change my mind, Shigure. You think that now you're not my opponent, not my equal, I won't love you." He reaches up and runs his fingers through mussed hair down a still-cold cheek gently. "You're wrong." His lips twist. "You're wrong about everything. I always loved you."
"Oh, I know." He catches the twig-like fingers and the queen in his hand, holding them to his face. "You love us all."
A nod. Burning, shining, teary eyes are drifting closed.
"Here. This is your last present." He pulls the rose from his sleeve and pushes it next to the queen.
"A flower?" He smiles. "Do you remember…?"
"Yes. This one is different, though. Aaya gave it to me, because he thought I needed it, but I think I won't be using it." He strokes wet hair back from heated temples. "I don't suppose you will either, but you should have it."
"You've gone and pricked yourself." He tightens his hand around the bundle of fingers, stem, and ivory. "It happens."
"You're not to leave this room until I give you leave."
"As you wish."
"Shigure, you still love me."
The rose and the queen are dropped together on the table. There's blood on the white figurine. "You can't hurt me anymore."
"I know." He smirks. "That rose was intended for Haa-san. It was a gift from Tohru-kun."
"…And now it's mine…" he smiles, and his eyes close.
It's hours later that another man walks in. The room has only one occupant now, the younger of the previous two. He's slumped over the kotatsu, hands cupped over the heap of petals and ivory.
"Kureno," he says.
"Akito - Nii-san is moving back in?"
A smile. "Yes. He told me he's given up. What do you think of that?"
"I… I don't understand. He's…"
"Given up. You lose. All of you, watching him and too cowardly to even do what he did, praying he'd win for you."
"I'm happy for you, then." He sinks slowly, belatedly, to his knees.
"Beside the point." He picks up the rose. "Shigure brought me this. He doesn't think I'll use it." He brushes the petals, and a few flutter to the ground, followed by a delighted laugh. "It doesn't matter. It wouldn't last." He rises, both hands closing, and pulls open a window. Snow dances in, clinging to his hair and face as if there is no body heat to repel them.
"So arrogant. Thinking he has anything to do with it. It was never him, you know? It's always been her… this game isn't his to surrender." A shrug, silk rippling across bony shoulders, and the auburn-haired man shivers in sympathy. "She never stood a chance, though, and once she admits that it will be over. You love me, all of you love me. You have to."
Soft brown eyes close. "No one has to love her, though, and they do."
The fist closed around the ivory queen slashes across his face. "He was right about one thing." He looks from his companion to the rose as if seeing it for the first time. "I won't use it." He throws the rose and queen together out the window, and they spiral into the snow; says, "I'm sorry."
The auburn-haired man rests a hand on his own damaged cheek, then inspects his fingers when he pulls them away with a wince. "It doesn't matter." A smile. "It's not even bleeding."
"No… it isn't."
The windows close. The snow piles over red and white and green, until there's nothing left.
AN: There we have it! As always, it being me, there are multiple references to things of Joss Whedon's, Terry Pratchett's, and, in this case… erm, the movie Interview With the Vampire. I dunno if the line was in the book. Although the trait is; Louis gets very polite when he's angry.
My point is, there're lots of things, and I don't remember them all because, again, this was written ages ago. But I can go through and find them if anyone is suspicious.
And… review. Please. Even though I don't deserve it, because I disappeared. It keeps me going. College! cheap pity plea