Synopsis: Sohma Shigure comes down with a cold, but keeps it a secret from everyone. Little does he know that he can't hide it from those who care about him.
Fruits Basket characters © Natsuki Takaya
I thought that it could be disregarded when I felt it last night, but obviously I was mistaken. Despite the symptoms of an oncoming cold I retired to my bed at a normal hour, hoping futilely that my condition would improve by the next morning. Upon opening my eyes to see the pulsing red digits of my digital clock read 5:30 am, I knew that I was officially unwell.
Fortunately I had already completed the first draft of my novelette, although a bit late (much to the expense of my editor, Mit-chan). This meant that after the youngsters left for school I could seize the opportunity to rest without having to fret over uncompleted work. After a failed attempt to return to sleep, I hobbled as quietly as possible down the hall towards the restroom, clasping my beige kimono tightly around my thin frame to ward off the unusual coldness of the house.
It's too chilly for late spring, I thought as I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and tried to make the dark shadows under my eyes less apparent. Everyone was bound to be up in a short while, soon to be bustling about and getting ready for school. In the usual early-morning frenzy that went on in this house, everybody would be too preoccupied to notice that I didn't look as well as I normally did. All the better for me. I couldn't let anyone know that I was sick. That would only create more worry for the ever-concerning Tohru, and I really did not want to do that to her. Besides Tohru, no one was really around to care anyway.
That thought saddened me, surprisingly. I supposed that it was my fault in the first place, since I had a tendency to annoy others with my sarcastic and overly-exuberant demeanor. But that is a story for another time and place. Seeing as the orange sun was beginning to slowly ascend into the light sky, I quickly tousled my thick black hair in an attempt to make it appear less bedridden and splashed my face with cold water to temporarily fend off the headache that I was getting. I sniffed, hoping that when I spoke my voice wouldn't sound congested.
Tohru entered the kitchen shortly after me, already tying her cooking apron behind her back as she proceeded to make the morning's breakfast.
"Good morning, Shirgure-san," she said brightly, rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes.
"Ah, morning, Tohru-kun!" I replied with a big smile, looking up from my newspaper. It was pertinent that I display my usual carefree and goofy attitude until the three of them left for school.
"What do you want for breakfast?" She asked as she turned on the stove.
"Mmm…" The question had me stumped today, since I realized that I was not terribly hungry. The last thing I wanted to do was to waste Tohru's cooking, so I simply replied, "Tea please," in a light voice. Tohru turned towards me with wide gray eyes.
"Um, don't you want anything else?" She asked hesitantly.
I lowered my paper and regarded her with a large false smile, trying to make it look as genuine as possible. "I'm going over to Haa-san's in a bit, so I'll eat there."
Oh, how horrible I was. Lying around my family and little cousins was one thing, but lying to Tohru sent a pang of guilt running through my spine due to her naivety and gullibility. Seeming satisfied, she nodded.
"I'm going to make some eggs anyway for Yuki-kun and Kyo-kun in case you get hungry later." She added, "They should be up soon." As if on cue, yelling and thumping was audible from upstairs, signaling that the two cousins were awake. I sighed and buried myself in my newspaper.
"How noisy," I whined jovially. Their quarreling did not help my headache. Moments later, the cat and mouse appeared in the kitchen doorframe, eager for breakfast.
"Good morning, Honda-san," Yuki said with a yawn as Kyo took a seat at the rectangular table.
While technically the guardian of the house, I did little to interfere with the lives of my cousins. Although family, I was barely ten years their senior and not a real father figure for the two Sohmas and Tohru. Teenagers, especially ones cursed by the Juuninshi needed to learn how to stand up on their own. Besides, I discovered that if you leave them alone they can fend for themselves quite nicely. I sat reading silently as the three enjoyed their breakfast before realizing that my silence would draw attention to the little table if I did not make some sort of comment soon. I sipped my tea to quell my sore throat and tried to clear my sinuses before speaking.
"Yuki-kun, Kyo-kun, I hope you didn't break anything again fighting upstairs," I drawled in my typical 'Shigure-voice.' "The main house is threatening to stop financing our replacement furniture."
The two Sohmas glared darkly at me from their eggs.
"Maybe we wouldn't wreck the house so much if the idiot-cat wasn't such an idiot."
"What did you say, you rat?"
This was going to be a long day.
"Come to think of it, we have gone through a lot of sliding doors this year," Tohru remarked thoughtfully, turning towards me. "Do you think we should get a wooden one soon?"
I opened my mouth to reply and abruptly sneezed. Tohru's eyes widened momentarily in surprise and she quickly gave her blessings. Yuki and Kyo glanced up briefly from their meal before returning to their quiet arguing.
"S-sorry," I said with a hand cupped over my mouth and nose, laughing uneasily. "Thank you, Tohru-kun," I responded, taking my hand away and plastering a grin on my face. Hoping to distract myself from how poorly I felt I once again submerged myself amidst the text of the morning paper as breakfast continued around me.
Sadly this wasn't for long, for after a few moments I began to feel a prickle in my nose. I had not been sick for at least two years, so I had forgotten about the sneezing fits that were part of my early-cold symptoms. As a spirit of the dog, my sinuses were strong so I rarely sneezed. But, being sick was a whole different situation. I quickly stood up from the table, smiling brightly.
"Excuse me; I have to use the toilet."
"Thanks for letting us know," Kyo muttered. I laughed, nostrils quivering as I walked rapidly down the hall.
Tohru looked up from the sink, soapy dish in hand. She frowned and turned to the other two.
"Have you ever heard Shigure sneeze before?"
I made it in time. Once behind the closed door of the bathroom I began to sneeze repeatedly, face buried in the crook of my elbow in an attempt to make them as quiet as possible. When I was finished I leaned against the door with my eyes closed, feeling somewhat lightheaded. Fortuitously I wasn't weakened quite enough to transform, otherwise I would have been in big trouble.
God, this cold was already a pain, and it wasn't even at its worst yet. I prayed that Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo would leave for school soon so that I could heed the calling of my bed. After wiping my nose I exited the bathroom and returned to the sunny kitchen.
"What'd you do, take a crap?" the orange-haired teen commented under his breath upon my arrival. I decided to ignore his remark, slightly annoyed due to the pounding in my head.
"I have to go finish my draft, so see you guys later," I announced to the kitchen's occupants, cocking a thumb to the ceiling where my upstairs study was.
"Your pitiful editor must be in tears."
"For once I agree with the rat."
I smiled coyly. Luckily none of them paid attention to the progress of my work or they would have known that I had long since completed my outline.
"She'll live. You three had better get going, or you'll be late for school," I remarked, eager to have the quiet house to myself.
Tohru glanced at the analog clock on the wall and began to bluster about in a last-minute attempt to get ready. She rushed out the door, followed by the black-clad Sohma cousins. The silence left in their wake was deafening.
Once the others were gone, I trudged upstairs and flopped onto my bed, too tired to even slip out of my kimono. I was breathing shallowly and my face felt hot and sweaty as I lay on the soft mattress. Tossing tresses of dark hair out of my eyes, I tried to focus on breathing evenly, trying not to shiver. Soon the heavy silence and the sound of my breaths carried me away…
"Oh! I need to stop at Hatori-san's to pick up some papers that I left there before I go to my part-time job," Tohru reminded herself aloud when the school day was almost through. She turned to Kyo in the next isle of classroom seats.
"Sorry, Kyo-kun," she said. "Do you have plans for after school? Yuki has a class advisor's meeting and I won't be home until late--I don't want you to be stuck at home…" she tapered off, averting her eyes. Kyo looked slightly embarrassed as he replied.
"Actually, I have to go work on a class project with my group today," he replied begrudgingly. "I hate doing schoolwork, but it can't be helped. Anyways, I'm not going directly home either so you don't have to worry."
Tohru's face brightened considerably.
School had been let out a short while ago, and Tohru Honda was enjoying the afternoon May air. She inhaled the scent of spring, relishing the deliciously cool breeze that swept through her hair.
Needing to pick up some school papers that she had accidentally left at Hatori-san's place, the girl approached the gate of the main Sohma house. She had been there many times before and no longer felt the twinges of fear upon entering anymore. She pushed open the gate and made her way to the dragon-spirit's house.
"Come in, Tohru," Hatori welcomed, regarding her with the one hazel eye that was not hidden under locks of dark hair. "You are here to retrieve your papers I presume."
The teenage girl jumped at the sound of another voice. The excited voice was pleasant, male, and strangely familiar.
"A-Ayame-san?" Tohru turned to meet the peppy, lime-colored gaze of another Sohma.
"Yes, Ayame paid us a surprise visit today, as it would seem," Hatori said from the other room, sounding neither surprised nor pleased.
"Oh, it's absolutely wonderful to see you again, Tohru-kun! I just arrived here this morning on my way and I thought, 'why not stop and pay my beloved brother Yuki a visit?' I'm sure he'll be thrilled to see me—I mean, who wouldn't…"
The other two listen to Ayame's jubilant ramblings politely, Hatori having returned with the designated papers. After a while Hatori cut the silver-haired man off, speaking to Tohru.
"I don't want to make you late to your part-time job," he said quietly. The girl smiled. "Thank you, Hatori-san. I'll be more careful with my papers from now on."
"You should leave your things here more often!" Ayame called from Hatori's office. "That way I can get to see your pretty fa—"
Tohru laughed, not helping herself. Ayame was so completely different from his brother, the impassive and timid Yuki that it was fun to watch. His bubbly personality was one of a kind. At the door the girl stopped on her way out, remembering something.
"Oh, did you have fun with Shigure today? It must have been a nice surprise for him to see you here, Ayame-san," Tohru said to the pair.
"Shigure?" Hatori's expression looked slightly confused.
"Yes," Tohru quipped. "He said he was going to visit you this morning."
"Ha, ha! We haven't—"
The family doctor quickly cut Ayame off. "Why don't you head over to your job now, Tohru?" he advised.
"O-okay," the girl replied hesitantly, heading down the stone pathway to the house's exit.
"By, Hatori-san, Ayame-san!" She called cheerfully from the gate of the main house, waving. Soon she was gone, lost behind the pillars of the gate.
Hatori was silently thankful that Tohru was so naïve.
"What was that about Gure-san?" Ayame inquired in a slightly more serious tone. Hatori shook his head.
"I don't know. Apparently he was going to stop by today, though he didn't call here or anything."
"Hmm…" Ayame's serpentine face suddenly lit up with the premonition of an ingenious idea.
"Ah, Tori-san! Let's go say hi to Gure-san—I haven't seen him in ages!"
For once Hatori found himself agreeing with his old friend. He wasn't sure what was going on, but it was unlike Shigure to schedule a visit and not show up. In addition, although he would not say it aloud, Hatori had a bad feeling about this. He scolded his mind for jumping to conclusions, but could not seem to shake the notion that something wasn't right.
Hatori nodded and motioned for Ayame to follow.
"Tori-san, can I please drive this time?"
I opened my eyes slowly, momentarily disoriented. My body was shaking with chills, yet I was covered in sweat.
I thought I had heard Haa-san's voice…
But, when my eyes were fully open I saw none other than Aya, his silver hair clouded around his face as he leaned over to look at me. Haa-san was standing behind him.
"…Aya?" I blanched at the sound of my voice, which sounded tired and hoarse. "What are you doing here?" I sniffled.
"Why, Tohru-kun said that you were going to visit us, but you never did," Ayame responded. He stared at me with wide eyes.
"You sound sick, Gure-san."
I sat up and gave a laugh, trying to ignore the dizziness that made me sway back and forth. "Don't be silly, Aya," I said.
"I should say the same to you, Shigure," Hatori spoke from behind in a disproving tone. "You're obviously as sick as a dog, pardon the idiom."
I sighed. However, since I had been asleep for most of the day I had not discerned how congested my lungs had become and I began to cough, turning my head away, eyes tearing. It hurt my chest, and I was unable to stop for a few seconds. When I had caught my breath I turned to the other two, regarding them with pitiful brown eyes and massaging my chest.
"Ah, I supposed you're right."
"Ha, ha! Gure-san, it's so rare for you to get sick." Ayame grinned. "Don't worry, I shall take care of you!"
"Do that and you'll probably kill him," Hatori grumbled.
I smiled at their friendly banter, closing my eyes and leaning my head against my pillow.
"He's alright, Ayame. Shigure," Hatori said, addressing me. "You appear to have a high fever, so I want you to stay in bed for a while." He stood up and left the room. "I will be back in a minute."
I sat up again, my wooziness having ebbed slightly. "Must I really stay in bed?" I whined to Ayame. The snake-spirit winked at me.
"If I was sick like you I'd have Tohru-kun come and nurse me every day," he said slyly. I couldn't help but smile at that, my slightly perverted and fever-addled mind spinning in all sorts of directions.
"What would I do with-without…ah…" I began in a joking voice, then tapered off, eyes widening. Aware of what was coming, my eyes darted anxiously around the room, looking for any sign of a tissue, unsuccessfully. Unable to hold it in, I broke out into a quick fusillade of sneezes as Ayame jumped back.
"Yaah! Gure-san! Don't scare me like that!" But he was laughing at the same time. "Nice," he replied once I was done, still chuckling. Wrinkling my nose and sniffing, I was too tired to reply. At that moment Hatori returned with a glass of water and (thankfully) a box of Kleenex.
"I thought you could use these," he said, apparently taking one look at me and observing that he was correct in his speculation.
With cool water soothing my throat and Kleenex for my sneezes, I began to feel a lot better. Occasionally I would joke with Aya and Haa-san, but most of the time I would just sit back and listen to their teasing banter. I was actually surprised that they had stayed this long: Haa-san usually had loads of work to do and Aya was just…Aya, all over the place.
"I don't like your coloring, but it is a lot better than it was before," Haa-san noted, surveying my face. I could sense that he was right; my fever was already subsiding. I coughed, trying to rid some of the congestion in my lungs that would only disappear with time. Aya recoiled at the unpleasant sound.
"You guys don't have to stay," I remarked half-teasingly. "Don't you have better things to do than to watch a sick old man use up a room's worth of tissues?"
At this I saw Haa-san raise an eyebrow fractionally, which was a clear sign that he was bothered by something. I knew the dragon spirit well.
"Well, we wouldn't mind if the 'old man' got well soon," he replied in a flat voice.
"Of course, Gure-san!" Ayame cried with a carefree tone. "What would the Mabudachi Trio be without its favorite puppy?"
At that I laughed. And this time I was able to do so without coughing.
"Oh!" I snapped my head up. "I completely forgot--" I groaned. "Tohru-kun, Yuki, and Kyo should be home any minute!"
"All hell will break loose if they find you here, Ayame," Haa-san said quietly. Worry had crept into my pale features, noticeable to the others.
"I…don't really want them to know that I'm sick," I said with a small smile. "But I suppose that can't be helped, can it?" I slumped back onto my pillow with my arms behind my head.
"I will tell them that you are making a full recovery, which is true."
I nodded. "Mmm, seems reasonable enough."
"So long, Gure-san!" Aya chirped. You had to admire his pomposity. "I am glad we were able to care for you in your time of illness!" He switched to his "lover's mode," a kind of inside-joke between us where we in jest play the parts of a lovestruck couple.
"Besides, we can't share a bed anymore until you return to full health," he said, batting his eyelashes comically.
"I will get better soon," I vowed with a false seriousness, my face straight, "so that we can once more spend the nights together." Haa-san rolled his eyes from the door.
"Shigure, remember to drink a lot of liquids and to take it easy for a few days," he said.
I nodded. "Thank you, guys," I told them, all of my wit and sarcasm laid aside. Haa-san and Aya both smiled.
"Come, Ayame," Haa-san said. "Stay in the car while I wait for the others to arrive so I can inform them of Shigure's condition."
"Now, can I drive, Tori-san?"
At some times, you may think that there is no one out there who cares. You may have acquaintances, you may have family, you may have friends who care about you…and you don't even know it. You cannot mask your true feelings from those who worry about you. In times of illness or despair, when you reach out a hand from the blackness, there will always be someone to grasp it and save you from drowning in your own shadows.
Suggestions and feedback would be much appreciated, thanks! I know this is not my best writing by far, but please let me hear your opinions.