Title: And Love Said No

Author: Keir

Rating: R overall, for swearing, violence, and sexual/non-consensual situations

The Gist of Things: Kyou has sold his soul for his one chance, but when his heart is broken, there is nothing left but Akito.

A/N: It's done. It's finished. ;.; OMG, finally. I'd like to thank kccreation sooo much for betaing for me; I was lost on the end without you. This was a long work in progress for me that took a lot of starts and stops. I'm glad I can finally publish and share it. The title is taken from a song I listened to over and over again while writing this (HIM's "And Love Said No"); it also inspired the original design for the story. An additional inspirational song was HIM's "Heartache Every Moment." Credit to HIM for the songs and the disclaimer that I don't own them.

Please note before reading that this story contains non-consensual themes; if you feel that you are not mature enough to be reading such material or that it is something you can't come to terms with, then please don't read. Akito is a man in this particular fiction. Yes, I know in the manga that Akito is a woman, but for the sake of my story she is a man.

"'Kill me,' I begged and Love said no.

'Leave me for dead and let me go.'"

HIM - And Love Said No

Kyou shifted restlessly against silken sheets. The heavy arm laying across him dug in under his ribs, tortured him in his wakefulness. The limb looked frail and he was always surprised by its weight, so heavy. Surprised by the way the skin was smooth and flawless and pale, so pale; it reminded him of another's white flesh. The moonlight was on the ceiling he stared at. He had been here many times before and the way that arm looked touching him was burned into his memory. Memories of the sweet canary the other man owned perched on a finger, singing a beautiful song by sunlight; memories of another's pale hand touching a dark-haired woman's face made his stomach churn. Memories of the second hand almost made him break.

He slid out of the bed, desperate to be gone. He sought out his clothes with questing naked toes in the dark against smooth, polished floorboards. The moon was blinding in the sky and the stars stared down at him. The remains of incense clouds curled around him, cloying. He found his pants and decided to give up on finding his boxers; he wanted to be gone as fast as possible before the other woke, before those eyes slitted open with a terrible purpose. The thick musk of sex clogged his nose along with the incense; he felt his gorge rise thinking about the act, the incense burning, that silent, terrible smile. He found his shirt and hastily pulled it over his head, cringing as the movement from standing rocked the bed and the body laying on it. The man stirred and Kyou's heart kicked into overdrive against his breastbone. Swiftly he opened the window to escape. He had planned to leave by the door and pick up his shoes, but he could abandon the shoes. Gods, just leave the shoes! He was halfway through the window when the other woke.

"Kyou," called the soft, lilting voice. So soft and gentle like the curves of the naked body rising from under the sheets. "Kyou, what are you doing?"

The cat froze, hunched beneath the open window. "I was just leaving. It seemed like you were sleeping and I have an early morning tomorrow," he said, eyes averted.

"Come back here." A pale hand with neat, rounded nails reached out for him and the cat had no choice but to comply. He came to kneel on the bed, head bowed. The hand touched his cheek, caressed in the illusion of a caring lover. "Are cats called by the moon, I wonder..."

"I don't know; I'm not a cat," Kyou answered, receiving a sickly sweet smile from the other.

"Lay down." The younger man lay obediently, eyes staring upward to the familiar moon-bathed ceiling. Pale fingers ran through orange hair. "I'm disappointed you were trying to leave without my permission, Kyou. It hurts my feelings that you don't want to be with me."

The Cat-cursed swallowed around the lump in his throat. "I'm sorry I was disobedient," he murmured without emotion. A hand came to rest on his belly.

"I am unsatisfied. Let us do it again, but rougher this time. Would you enjoy that?"

Kyou steeled himself, willed himself to believe it didn't matter. "Yes." He removed his pants without being asked and turned to lay on his stomach; Akito hated to see the cat's emotions during sex. His face buried in the pillow, fingers digging into the bedsheets, Kyou waited tensely. The head of the family wasted no time mounting his submissive partner, forcing his way inside. Akito rarely, if ever, used lubricant and Kyou found himself almost grateful he had been violated earlier in the night; the semen still buried inside him helped ease the way, though not entirely. He hissed in pain, his breath making the pillow suffocatingly hot, a furnace of shame.

True to his word, Akito was rougher the second time around, purposely using painful angles to draw agonized cries out of the cat. Kyou let the noises pass his throat, as much to cope with the pain as to please Akito. Dark hair splayed like a raven wing across a tan shoulder, warm, sweet breath washing over the cat's back as one body rocked the other. When the dark-haired man had finally found release and rolled off Kyou, the cat was too terrified to move, the pain was so great, but Akito demanded it. The cat rolled onto his side with a small groan of pain, spooning the other and wrapping an arm around him as was customary, as if they were truly lovers entwined deeply in a romantic embrace.

Kyou was not surprised to see blood on Akito's bedsheets when he left at dawn. There was a violent pain in his abdomen yet he ignored it—had to ignore it—just like so many times before. He climbed back into his small room at the back of Kazuma's dojo by the window and cleaned himself up in the locker room showers before venturing to the kitchen to cook he and the dojo master's breakfast. The heat coming from the frying pan reminded him of drowning in his own pained breath, smothered in a silken pillow.

As soon as Kazuma entered the kitchen, Kyou shook off his self-reflection and served him his meal with tea, bowing. "Good morning, Shishou."

"Good morning, Kyou," the grey-haired man said warmly. "Thank you for making breakfast." It was a sentence he said every morning, even if the cat had only thrown burned toast on a plate.

"It is my duty and honour, Shishou." The cat set the teapot in easy reach on the table before heading for the door.

"Will you not eat with me, Kyou?"

The cat briefly thought he smelled breath as sweet as candy, felt fingers running roughly over his skin. "I'm not very hungry right now, Shishou, and I'd like to take time to prepare for the first class of the day." Kazuma nodded understanding and Kyou breathed an inward sigh of relief.

The dojo was quiet and he was grateful for the peace as he donned his gi. He worked relentlessly teaching martial arts every day, yet made no income due to his part of the agreement with Akito. In exchange for the cat's "freedom" and for him to join the zodiac, the cat had had to agree to many of the head's demands. The fact that Kyou had no money of his own forced him to be completely dependent upon Akito's mercy. Their sexual relationship was also a price of their arrangement; Kyou would submit to anything and everything Akito demanded of him. The cat simply had to be grateful that it was not an open agreement and none of the family knew of his meekness.

He swept the wood floors surrounding the tatami even though he had completed the task just the night before. When the first students began arriving he greeted the parents formally and spoke of each child's progress. He led the beginning of the training session, running the students through their sets of katas. Kazuma arrived shortly after and nodded in satisfaction. "You teach them well, my son," he said gently from beside Kyou.

The cat blushed faintly. "I do only as my duty dictates, Shishou. The students are diligent this season."

"As have you been, Kyou." Kazuma paused, glanced at his adopted son. "Is something bothering you today, Kyou? Your jaw is set just so, like when you were younger and you had something on your mind."

Kyou shifted, briefly contemplating lying, yet he knew it would only make Shishou worry about him more. "Some few things trouble me lately and I felt a little sick this morning. I wanted to ask you if I could have leave of my duties this afternoon to meditate."

"Of course, but as your father I must insist that you visit Hatori as well." A small smile. "I know that even if you were on your deathbed you'd never willingly choose to go to a doctor, so I'm ordering you to."

"Yes, Shishou." He could do nothing but agree. Kyou carried on the lessons, students coming and going. He was in the middle of a training session with seven students who would be going through the trial for their black belts soon when his heart stopped. He must be in a dream, a terrible dream. Any minute now he would wake to Akito's face hovering about him in the night. Hatsuharu had walked through the door of the dojo, followed closely by Rin. Kyou could feel the blood drain from his face, felt weak, his heartbeat plummeting. His hands shook as a pale hand rose to touch raven-dark hair.

"Senpai?" The cat's eyes turned sharply, eyes too wide. "Senpai, are you all right? You don't look well." His students looked concerned.

"I'm sorry," Kyou apologized, rubbing at his temple to shield the ox and horse from his view. "I've been feeling ill this morning. You'll have to forgive me for insisting you must spar against each other rather than against me today." His eyes refused to stray again. He had to stay strong, he had to prevent his mind from breaking down into gibbering madness.

Kazuma gently interrupted his strict instruction a few minutes later, his light touch to the cat's shoulder making the orange-haired boy jump guiltily. "Haru wishes to spar with you, Kyou."

The cat crossed his arms and let his fingers dig into his gi as if it were a lifeline. He was terrified of drowning. "I'm busy at the moment; maybe he'd prefer to spar with you."

"Your cousin insisted it must be you," Kazuma said placidly, his eyes shifting to where Hatsuharu stood patiently waiting for Kyou. "I don't think he can be persuaded from his intentions. Give him fifteen minutes of your time and then you may leave for the afternoon," he coaxed. "I'll take over for you here."

The cat's stomach tightened in knots but he nodded, just wanting to get it over with. He knew how stubborn the ox could be. He shifted to the other side of the room, waiting. He turned his face away when the ox kissed the horse right before she left; he felt physically ill.

Hatsuharu maundered up with a smile, his hands finishing the tie of his gi. Pale, beautiful hands devoid of rings. Pale, beautiful hands almost like the ones that hurt him every night. "Kyou," he greeted warmly.

"Haru," Kyou said hollowly.

"It's been almost three months since I've seen you; it's almost as if we didn't live near each other."

The ox's congeniality made Kyou sink deeper into himself. The cat nodded to him, but made no reply. How could he ever explain to Hatsuharu that he would use any means necessary to hide from him, even going so far as to crawl out windows and into bushes and trees. Why would Hatsuharu want to show up now? Why would he want to talk to the pathetic cat, to smile at him? His stomach roiled. He bowed formally, hands at his sides, and the ox replied in kind.

Kazuma allowed the students to take a break and view the sparring session, believing they would gain knowledge from seeing two such experienced fighters. Yet to his surprise Kyou simply stood his ground and blocked. The cat looked pale, his movements weak compared to his usual harsh katas.

Hatsuharu paused for a moment, staring at Kyou. "Why aren't you fighting? You don't have to hold back with me, even though I'm out of shape."

Kyou looked away from the younger man's smile. Smiles didn't mean anything; they were simply masks. "Forgive me; I don't feel well today. Maybe another time." The cat bowed and left the tatami before the ox could reply. Hatsuharu lengthened his stride and caught up with his cousin.

"Are you going to see Hatori?"

Kyou turned his back as he removed his gi, hanging it in his barren locker. "Shishou has asked me to."

"Then I'll walk with you."

"No," Kyou snapped before reining himself in. "I'd prefer to go alone."

"But I live with Hatori; it's on my way. Besides, Rin will be gone for a while shopping with Kagura."

The cat had no choice but to agree—it seemed like he never had a choice—but he distanced himself from Hatsuharu as they walked, his eyes kept on the ground. They entered Hatori's home clinic through the outside door. The dragon turned, his one good eye fixating on the cat. "Kyou. I'm surprised to see you not being dragged into my office, though I can see Kazuma sent you with an escort. He called ahead." Hatori stood from his seat at his desk. "What can I do for you?"

Hatsuharu excused himself to give them privacy and headed further into the house. "My stomach hurts. Shishou made me come," the cat explained defensively once they were alone.

"Remove your shirt and sit down," Hatori said, indicating the examination table. Kyou pulled his shirt over his head and noted a new hole near the collar; he still refused to ask Akito for new clothes. The dragon moved cold fingers over tan skin, pressing until Kyou hissed in pain. "Your lower abdomen is tender, perhaps from your work in the dojo. For now I'll give you a salve to rub into your skin; it should ease the pain in the muscles there." Kyou nodded obediently, taking the offered tube of medicine and leaving without another word, the brunette's eyes following him out the door.

Kyou walked across the Sohma complex, avoiding anyone he saw. He made his way to the meditation garden on the outskirts next to the formal teahouse and garden. Someone had raked the fine sand into its proper lines. He came to rest on a large rock at its center, his legs folding underneath him. He watched the cherry blossoms drift, allowing his thoughts to float along with them, but there was inevitably only one thing for him to think about: Why had Haru had to show up? The pain welled up as if the wound were fresh, and indeed Kyou had never let it heal.

In desperation Kyou had agreed to his bargain with Akito. In desperation and for love. It was the first time the cat had willingly submitted to humiliation. Without this clemency from the cage, there would be no way to see how Hatsuharu felt about him, and so he had begged and pleaded with the head of the family for a place in the zodiac. He would do anything, anything. The memory of his tortured voice pleading shamed him. He had just needed more time to come to terms and to find a way to confess his feelings.

And when he had finally built up the courage to tell Hatsuharu how he felt... Nothing could erase the brief moment of disgruntled disgust in those brown eyes that marked the moment of death to Kyou's hope. He had nodded in understanding as the ox explained he had no feelings for the cat and that he had started dating Rin again. Kyou had felt as if all emotion had drained out of him, and suddenly there was no more yelling, shouting, sullen Kyou. There was only a shell. That was the first night he had been summoned to Akito's bed, the first time full of terror and pain and afterward, heartbreak. Slowly the passion for life inside Kyou died.

His eyes stared dispassionately at the falling blossoms. He thought nothing could be worse, could be harder than coming to terms with his homosexuality, but he had been wrong. So very wrong. The monster had many sides, all hideous and evil and without love. Every time he saw the ox, Hatsuharu had looked away or ignored him as if he were shameful and so Kyou had chose to disappear...

"What do cats contemplate, I wonder..." The orange-haired boy startled at the dulcet voice. Akito sat on the wraparound porch of the teahouse, dark robes pooled around him like purple shadows. "Have I disturbed your meditation, Kyou?"

"No, Akito-sama." He should have known his own personal demon would appear when he was feeling most vulnerable.

The head of the family played with a delicate pink petal, hands immaculate. "It has come to my attention that you visited Hatori today. What for?"

"I felt ill this morning; Hatori told me it was only a stomach cramp. He said maybe my diet was causing it."

"Diet, is it...?" The pale petal ripped. "Kyou, come to me." The cat crossed the finely raked sand, stepping up onto the deck as Akito stood; the dark-haired man lifted a hand to gesture toward the door of the teahouse. Kyou walked toward it, hand outstretched to turn the knob, terror gripping him at what kind of words were in store for him.

Akito shoved him unexpectedly. He was not a particularly strong man, but it was enough. Kyou's brow slammed into the wood, his fingers grasping at the door frame as a burst of light crossed his vision. Akito yanked the cat's pants down, his own erection springing easily from his robes. The penetration was harsh and Kyou tried to stay quiet, terrified someone nearby would hear. The head of the family kept a hand pressing hard against orange-haired head, the cat's cheekbone digging into the wood. After a while he felt numb to the pain until his hair was grasped and his head slammed into the door again. With this, Akito reached his climax. "You will not see Hatori unless I approve of it, do you understand?" Kyou nodded silently, sliding down to rest on his knees. He felt each grain of wood beneath his palms. Akito continued, "I'm tired of your face; there is no need for you to visit me tonight. But you will have dinner with me on Monday."

The cat nodded, waiting until the soft footfalls had receded before curling up over the pain in his belly. Akito had never violated him where it could be public. The pain always came in a small, dark room. Kyou was terrified to find tears falling down his cheeks, wiped them away quickly while pulling his pants back into their proper position.

He had not cried during sex since the first month. He had not even cried when Haru had rejected him.

His acute hearing picked up steps coming from around the building. In a panic, he pushed the door to the teahouse open and stumbled inside, barely managing not to slam it in terror. He heard Kazuma call his name and the cat tried to curl up tighter upon himself, as if it would make him invisible. After a couple minutes he was sure that Kazuma had left and was no longer nearby. Only then did he allow himself to weep as he should have when Haru had given him that look that told him he would never be good enough.

Sunday was Kyou's only day off since the dojo was closed and Kazuma took care of the managerial duties. Most Sundays he traveled to Shigure's house; Tohru had moved out to attend university with her friends and Shigure had yet to figure out even the simplest household task. Kyou took it upon himself to visit every so often and clean because he hated being alone with nothing to do but think. Akito hated him leaving the Sohma compound, but he tolerated the cat's visits to Shigure's; the dog was, after all, the head of the house's spy.

A scowl crossed Kyou's face as he came into the kitchen by the back door. Yuki was brewing tea on the stove. The rat had also moved out and gone to college, but he must have been on one of his rare visits home; the rat hated being on the main Sohma grounds, so he always stayed at Shigure's. Kyou was even the one who kept the guest bedroom tidy and its linens fresh in anticipation of Yuki's needs, not that he would ever tell the grey-haired boy that.

"Kyou," Yuki acknowledged him politely enough.

"Yuki." The cat got straight into business, clearing the counters and refrigerator of empty and stale take-out boxes. He hefted a few trash bags outside and threw them in the bins, amazed that one man could produce so much garbage. When he came back in, Shigure was there to greet him.

"Oh, Kyou-kun! It's so nice to have you here to clean up after me." The cat scowled but said nothing, scrubbing diligently to clean the counters. "So how is the dojo? How is Kazuma? He never visits with you!"

"It's fine," Kyou said noncommittally. "Shishou's fine."

"Tohru is visiting next weekend; she hopes you'll have time for her," Yuki said, the message delivered over a thin veil of anger.

Kyou hunched his shoulders guiltily. Every time Tohru visited he cut their meetings short or made up some excuse for not seeing her at all. One of Akito's greatest rules was that he was not allowed to see Tohru. "I don't know what I'm doing next weekend, but I'll try to find time to spend with her."

Yuki gave a pointedly cold look to the back of Kyou's head. Though the cat had lost all passion for fighting and never confronted the rat any more, they still had a bitter relationship.

The back door opened and two people bustled in before the two enemies' relations could devolve further. Hatsuharu blinked and smiled as he shrugged out of his jacket. "Kyou. I hope you're feeling better." Behind him stood Rin, who looked disdainfully at the cat; she had always hated him.

"Yeah," he mumbled, staring at the counter. Stupid, he was so stupid! Of course Yuki would have invited people over since he hated traveling to the main house. Of course he would invite the cousin he was technically best friends with. Of course Kyou had put Hatori's salve on and it had done nothing to ease the pain and the bleeding had continued. He suddenly threw his sponge in the sink and turned to face Shigure. "I'm sorry, Shigure; I forgot to make Shishou some dinner and he's far more helpless than you are. I have to go." Rather than head out the back door and have to move past Hatsuharu and Rin, he headed toward the front.

The dog blinked at his haste and called after him, "Don't forget to come make me something next weekend to make up for it, Kyou-kun!"

The cat could barely hear Shigure over the thump of his own heart. He tried to bolt, tried to run, but it became too painful even to jog as something deep inside began pulsing in agony. He leaned against the trunk of a tree, hand curling protectively over his lower belly. How stupid of him to flee like that, but he couldn't stand the thought of serving them all like a slave. How Haru would smile at Rin and talk so congenially with Yuki and he would be standing there handing them food.

It was a long, slow walk back to the home he shared with Shishou above the dojo, and once there he felt obligated to carry out his lie at the look of concern on Kazuma's face; he had poured all his energy into preparing a meal and then gone straight to bed without eating anything. The sheets should have been soft and warm but he felt cold all over with a burning ember still torturing him from the pit of his stomach. Eventually, sleep claimed him.

Kyou had found it hard to look Kazuma in the eye when imparting news of his dinner with Akito. "Well at least I have leftovers from the meal you made with such gusto," the dojo master teased. The cat blushed, remembering his hellbent attitude toward making his adoptive father's dinner the night before. Anything to take his mind from the confrontation at Shigure's.

"A-aa... I worry about you, Shishou."

"I worry about you, too, Kyou." The cat's mouth fell open before he closed it and looked away. "What's wrong, Kyou? It's not simply some stomachache. You refused to spar with your cousin the other day; you never would have before. You stayed here with me when Yuki and Tohru left for college. Why didn't you go with them?"

"I—" The question caught him off-guard. "College doesn't suit me; I belong here. I want to inherit the dojo."

"Even so, there's more to life than just the dojo. You don't go out with friends, you don't seem happy. You never smile any more."

"I never smiled before," Kyou growled. "And no one is friends with the cat." His eyes flashed angrily from beneath his bangs. "Yuki just pisses me off; why would I want to go anywhere with him?"

Kazuma smiled, crossing to the boy and laying his hands on broad shoulders. "There's my sullen son; I haven't seen you in so long that I feared I had lost you."

Kyou blushed, staring into his father's eyes. His body trembled and Kazuma feared he would bolt when suddenly tan arms clamped around him. The warmth of Kyou's breath on his shoulder was fleeting as the cat released him and left hurriedly.

The cat cursed himself for an idiot as he crossed the courtyard. He hated feeling needy and pathetic and it was made all the worse by his guilt. His thoughts chased each other until he was riled and surly as he reached the main house. He scowled, ready to give Akito a piece of his mind. He slammed the door open, splintering pieces of wood, and stopped in shock. A long formal table had been prepared and Akito sat calmly at the head. Around him were gathered the twelve zodiac members. "Kyou, you are late. How rude to keep your family waiting."

The cat tried to swallow his anger. "Sorry," he muttered hoarsely. All eyes were on him.

"Sit with us, Kyou," Akito demanded softly, eyes intensely studying the cat. Kyou took the only seat remaining, struggling momentarily with the folds of his yukata; he hadn't had time to change. To his left sat Ayame and his right Hatori. "Isn't this nice, to have the zodiac complete together. I thought that perhaps since Kyou and I were to have dinner, we should make it a family event."

Kyou kept his eyes studiously on the table but his heart pounded. Akito had alluded to the one think he wanted no one to ever find out about: how intimate their relationship really was. Was the head of the house hinting that if Kyou wasn't obedient their relations would be revealed? Suddenly the game had changed; he had never worried about Akito saying anything before. He sat, oblivious to the family eating around him. What would happen if they all knew? The shame balled up in his stomach. A monster.

He glanced up to find Kisa staring at him from across the table. He looked away and picked at his food. If Akito told them… Had had to keep himself together. "Hiro, pass me the soy sauce." The younger boy glanced up with dark eyes full of disdain before turning away. "Hiro," he tried again, and the sheep turned and made a face at him.

Hatori and Ayame's glasses of wine overturned, staining the tablecloth ruby red as Kyou reared up, hands slamming onto the table. "Hiro, pass the fucking soy sauce!"

"Kyou," Akito admonished softly. The red haze of anger lifted as quickly as it had taken him over. Kisa had scooted back in her chair in fear. "How rude of you to yell at your cousin. Apologize."

The cat scowled and looked away. "Sorry." The zodiac exchanged looks. Kyou, apologizing, listening to Akito? The cat had been banished from the main compound to Shigure's several years ago because the head of the house couldn't control him. "May I leave, Akito-sama? I'm not feeling well."


Hatred roiled through Kyou, but he remained silent. He caught sight of Ayame staring as he sat back down. "What are you fucking looking at?" he hissed. The snake blinked and arched a brow. Kyou briefly locked eyes with Hatsuharu, looked down. Without hesitation he shoved away from the table and stormed out of the room, feeling one pair of dark eyes on his back.

Kyou irritably polished another katana. That morning he had worked his black belt group to the bone, insensitive to their pain; Kazuma had stepped in and firmly admonished him, reassigning him to an inane duty away from other people. The fear of snubbing Akito and what retaliation might come made him lash out. How stupid of him to not control himself at the dinner! How stupid to—

"Kazuma said you were back here."

The cat nearly jumped out of his skin, thrusting the deadly katana away from himself to avoid accidental injury. He crouched, ready to attack, blood rushing through his ears. "Don't sneak up on me!" he hissed.

"I knocked."

Hatsuharu stood just inside the door. He wore a deep blue turtleneck and tight black jeans. A lump formed in his throat at the sight of the ox looking so sophisticated. "What the hell do you want?" the cat snapped.

"I came to spar."

"I'm busy." He set the katana across his lap gently. "I don't like to fight any more." Akito's rules. A tame cat was not a fighting one.

"You always like to fight, Kyou," the ox said matter-of-factly.

Kyou glanced up with scathing words on his tongue that died. His face immediately became shadowed, but not because of the ox. "Akito…"

The head of the house ignored the cat, laying a delicate hand on the black and white-haired boy's shoulder. "Hatsuharu. How is Rin?"

The ox kept his face blank. "She's fine. I heard from Hatori you weren't feeling well."

"Yes, Hatori came with me; he is with Kazuma now. You should join them. I have something to discuss with Kyou alone." Hatsuharu's eyes flicked over to the cat before he bowed and left. Akito shut the door quietly. "Kyou." The cat clutched his polishing rag tightly. "You were very rude at our dinner last night. What am I to do with you?" The cat refused to turn around and look at the other man. He jumped as a hand rested on his shoulder. "How should I punish you, Kyou?"

"However you want, Akito-sama. My life is yours; we have a contract. I will honour it."

"The cat's honour..." The dark-haired man smiled mockingly. "I could put you in the cage for a week, but it seems so boring. Tell me how you think I should punish you."

"I…I don't know, Akito-sama."

The head of the house sighed softly. "You bore me. It seems the only way you're entertaining is without clothes. Take them off."

Kyou bit his lip and stood. "At least let me lock the door."

"No. You're beginning to annoy me. Do as I say."

Kyou flushed angrily as his yukata fell from his shoulders. Fear seized his mind that someone would find them. His underwear fell soon followed the yukata.

"It is unfortunate that a monster such as you should have a form so perfect. So hideous beneath this beautiful skin…" Akito ran his fingers over smooth, tan flesh before he untied the belt to his robe, letting it fall open. Kyou glanced up then away. "Pleasure me like the stupid beast you are."

The cat made no protest as he sank back to his knees. He had to get this over quickly. The first taste almost made him vomit as Akito's hands came to rest on his head. He tried to imagine the dark-haired man as Hatsuharu. What would he do, given the chance? To touch the ox just so, to feel him react? Would Hatsuharu be gentle or rough? Quiet or loud? Akito made soft noises and Kyou clenched his eyes shut, trying to hold on to the fantasy. To have Haru want him…

Bitter, salty fluid flooded his mouth. He gagged and spat, coughing. Akito scowled in disgust, tying his robe closed. "You can't even do that right, can you? Clean yourself up." Kyou swallowed and gagged again. He dressed quickly and scrubbed diligently at the mess on the floor. Akito sighed. "I tire of looking at you so quickly."

Kyou's fingers shook as he finished destroying the evidence. Now that the door was open he could hear students going through katas and sparring. Suddenly the blood rushed through his head and he felt dizzy. Unsteadily, he got to his feet. He had to get away. He had to get somewhere safe. He rushed through the main room of the dojo, oblivious to Kazuma's calls. His feet pounded up the stairs; as soon as he crossed the threshold to his room, he slammed his door shut and leaned back against it. Safe...

"What happened?"

The cat nearly jumped out of his skin. He shied sideways, eyes wide. "What are you doing here?"

"Kazuma said I could wait for you here." The ox lounged on the cat's bed, legs tucked under him.

"Get out!" Kyou snarled, back tight against the wall.

"What did Akito say to you? Was it about dinner last night?"

"None of your fucking business! Get out!" Kyou found himself unable to control the volume of his voice. It was as if he had gone back to the days of high school and his endless battle with the far superior Yuki.

Hatsuharu picked up something next to him on the bed. "You have a picture of me."

Kyou felt the blood drain from his face. "Just get out."
The ox's eyes stayed steadily on the orange-haired boy. "I want to know why." The cat shrunk away further, eyes averted. "You told me you had moved on." He stood and Kyou shied away.

"I'll get rid of it. Leave." His heart throbbed in his throat; he was sure he was surrounded by the musk of Akito. He had imagined things about Haru as he had done things to Akito; shame burned his cheeks.

"Why did you lie to me?" the ox asked softly.

Kyou grabbed hold of his anger like a lifeline. "You want to hear how pathetic I am? Fine. I love you, I never stopped loving you. I'm a disgusting pervert who keeps your picture next to my bed. I spend every moment trying to avoid you and I can't wait for you to leave for college so I never have to be around you again." He swung the door open. "Now leave." But the ox only blinked at him, face unreadable. "What, you want me to cry in front of you? I'm not that pathetic."

"I don't want you to cry, Kyou." The ox moved closer, hand cupping the cat's cheek. All he wanted was a glimpse into the older boy's mind, to see what really lay beneath that roiling exterior. He realized with sudden clarity that this was how he felt when he had first met Rin: confused and mystified and wanting to know more, so much more. The resolution in the cat's eyes almost wavered before they steeled. Hatsuharu felt his elbow lock painfully as the cat grabbed him and shoved him out the door and into the hallway. Those ruby eyes flashed balefully before the door slammed.

"Having a temper tantrum, is he? Or did you egg him on this time, Hatsuharu?" Kazuma asked in his good-natured way from the landing.

"A little of both, maybe," the ox conceded.

Kazuma smiled before turning to the door. "Kyou, Akito is requesting your presence downstairs to see him off."

"Tell him to go screw himself! Tell him to burn in hell!" the cat yelled. Glass shattered inside his room. The dojo master sighed and took his leave, the ox following behind with one last glance at the door.

Kyou knelt, hand hesitating. He picked up the picture frame, avoiding shards of glass. He shoved it guiltily under his mattress before he could have second thoughts. He crawled into bed, curled up in the sheets, alone. Always alone.

Kyou trained mercilessly for the rest of the week, bringing his body to the point of collapse. Every day Akito came to the dojo, his beautiful dark eyes tracking the cat's every movement. Kyou's temper would suddenly erupt when the head of the house entered the dojo, his muscles tensing; Kazuma took over most of the orange-haired boy's lessons as he berated his students to the breaking point. The worst was when Hatsuharu showed up.

The cat's muscles were already tense to the point of cramping; Akito had already been staring at him for an hour when the ox walked in. He tried to ignore it. "Come at me again," he instructed his current student and the punch was easily deflected. "Again!" A simple block. "Again!" Kyou grit his teeth and moved to lock the boy's arm when a strong hand grabbed his wrist.

Red eyes locked onto brown. "Shall we spar now?" the ox asked softly. The cat snarled, hand lashing out like a cobra to grasp the ox's wrist; immediately the younger cousin was on his back.

"Only if you can keep up," the orange-haired boy snapped, eyes blazing. The ox quickly gained his feet and Kyou wasted no time lashing out again. Hatsuharu began to realize very rapidly—for the umpteenth time—why Kyou had always bested him: stronger, faster, more fluid. The cat had always been better. He reminisced that the whole reason he had taken up martial arts was to remain close to Kyou and Yuki. Kyou's stinging blows rained down as the ox poured all his energy into his defense; his arms, hands and legs ached.

"Stop thinking about hitting me and HIT ME!" Kyou erupted suddenly, and through his momentary shock the ox saw his chance. Kyou had made himself vulnerable in his outburst; now was the time to strike. Hatsuharu's fist moved forward and connected.

Blood shined on Kyou's lips, bright red and livid. For a moment the ox worried about a retaliating blow, but the cat's eyes were glowing with an inhuman, zealous light. Those bloodied lips moved, one vicious, hoarse word falling from them.


Hatsuharu blinked. "What?" He hadn't even realized his arm was still extended and he let it fall to his side.

"Hit me again," the cat insisted, his voice low.

The ox stood, confused. Kyou looked almost like he wanted to be hit. The cat's muscles were tensed, fists clenched and battle-ready. He stood radiant like a god of war.

A silky voice broke their reverie. "Kyou." Akito stood beside them and suddenly it was as if a light had gone out in the cat. "May I borrow you for a moment? I'm sure Hatsuharu won't mind."

"Of course, Akito-sama," the cat answered obediently.

"Your bedroom should prove private enough," the head of the house suggested, following the cat's lead. Hatsuharu was left standing alone, wishing he had had time to ask again why the cat had a picture of him.

Kyou shut his door loudly, nerves jangling as he locked himself in with his hated master. He refused to turn around. "What do you want?"

"So quickly you have become impertinent, Kyou. I wonder what it is that spurs you to defiance…"

The cat growled. "Look, if you're here to do it, just do it." His fingers untied his gi as they had a hundred times before. His hands trembled as Akito walked up softly behind him, fingers threading the cat's belt from the loops. The dark-haired man wrapped the belt tightly around tan forearms and Kyou cried out as his limbs were tied painfully behind his back. Akito yanked the bonds, sending the orange-haired boy to sprawl on the floor. The cat lay still as the other knelt over him.

"Your lip is bleeding," the head of the house murmured. The cat startled, eyes finally meeting Akito's. "Why is it that Hatsuharu is always here now? Always here...watching you..."

"Kazuma told me he wanted to get back into practice. He makes me spar with Haru."

"So you did not invite him?" A pale finger traced the cat's jawline.

"No." Kyou looked away. "I know you don't allow me to visit with them." Them. The Juunishi.

"Except Shigure."

Kyou's jaw clenched. "Yes, except your lapdog."

Akito's eyes narrowed, fingers digging into Kyou's arm angrily. The cat feared what punishing words would pass through the other's lips, but someone interrupted with a knock. "Kyou? May I come in?" The ox's voice floated through the door.

Akito's fingers tightened further in irritation. "Send him away," he hissed.

The knocking came again. "Kyou?"

"Go away!" Kyou shouted hoarsely, pain shooting up his arm as Akito dragged roughly on his bonds.

"Kyou?" Hatsuharu's voice seemed concerned. The doorknob rattled.

"If he's going to insist on coming in, I will give him something to look at," Akito said the threat softly as he pulled open Kyou's gi, exposing his chest.

"Haru, just go away! We'll talk about whatever you want to talk about later!" The cat pressed his face into the cool wood floor, heart pounding.

There was a pause before the ox conceded. "All right." The two in the bedroom listened to his receding steps until all the cat could hear was his own rasping breath.

"I trust you won't be seeking out Hatsuharu."

Kyou's body released the tension it held, going lax. "He'll believe anything. Hatsuharu has always been stupid since we were little."

"The ox has always been stupid," Akito agreed, leaning down until his lips touched the shell of the cat's ear. "But nobody is as stupid as the cat."

Kyou's gi pants were pulled down around his ankles and the pain began anew.

As promised, Kyou stayed away from the ox. The job was made even easier since Kazuma had barred the cat from instructing any more students at the dojo until further notice. His adoptive father had been disappointed with his outbursts and temper. "And what about Hatsuharu?"

"What about him?" the cat had asked as he chopped dinner vegetables.

"He's upset that I've told him you don't want to spar with him again. What about his training?"

The cat had paused, then his hands took up the repetition of slicing again. "Hatsuharu was able to hit me; that has always been his goal. His training is complete." Kyou would listen to no more protests; his stomach burned painfully.

He spent his days in the forest, away from the Sohma complex, away from the searching Hatsuharu. Most of his nights were spent in Akito's bed. There was no way to measure time as the days bled together until Kazuma handed him a note one morning.


Tohru and I will be visiting Shigure's this weekend. You'd better show up this time. Don't disappoint Tohru. Sunday at 6.


There was nothing to do but wait. He wanted to see Tohru; somehow she always had a way of cheering him up. Each day the pain knotted tighter with the idea of disobeying Akito.

Sunday night he chose his best shirt—the black turtleneck sweater Kazuma had given him for Christmas to replace the one Kagura had destroyed—and threw on a pair of khaki slacks. He arrived precisely at six on foot and stepped inside quietly, toeing off his shoes. Like magic Tohru appeared in the foyer; sometimes he thought she almost had Shigure's supernatural hearing. A smile touched his lips.

"Oh, Kyou-kun!" She ran forward to greet him and slid on the wood floors, fumbling, trying to right herself. Kyou reached out to catch her. Savored the feeling of a warm, gentle body against his for a brief moment.


"Oh, no, I'm so sorry, Kyou-kun!" The brunette blushed, hands going to her cheeks.

"It's all right, Tohru. It's nice to see you." Kyou shook off the rest of his sweater and sat back on his haunches.

"It's so good to see you too, Kyou-kun! Would you mind…? Since you're already…"

"Go ahead."

The brunette scooped him up in her arms and held him tightly. The cat sighed, his paws resting over her shoulder. It felt like home; she was so warm, so soft, so comforting. For a moment he could forget it all...

And suddenly it was all destroyed. All crumbled to dust. At the end of the foyer stood Hatsuharu, his eyes soft and questioning. "Put me down, Tohru," Kyou said gently.

"Yes, I'm sorry! I got carried away."

His paws touched down on cool wood. "Would you mind putting my clothes in one of the spare bedrooms?"

"Of course I will." She smiled, scooped his clothes up, and took them hurriedly to a room upstairs.

The cat trotted down the hall and looked up into Hatsuharu's face, bristling and ready for confrontation. "Haru."

"Kyou. I've been thinking about you lately. Kazuma said you're taking a break from the dojo."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'I've been thinking about you lately,'" the cat muttered, tail lashing. "I'm not Rin."

The ox stuffed his hands into his pockets, seeming to ponder what to say next. "You said we could talk about—"

"Kyou, it's good you came," Yuki interrupted. The sight of the other in his cat form was not startling any longer with Tohru around.

The cat nodded, eyes flicking briefly to the ox's, torn between continuing the conversation and bolting. He cursed himself for a coward as he broke eye contact and trotted across the house, up the stairs. He didn't have to wait long before he changed back. Even being naked in the same house as Hatsuharu made him feel shameful; now that even his own bedroom wasn't safe or private... He shook off the dark thoughts, dressed himself again, positioning his bead bracelet over his sweater sleeve. He rubbed his fingers over the talisman briefly before joining the others downstairs.

As expected, Rin had come with Haru; the spoke quietly apart from the others. Shigure was bothering Tohru while Yuki fawned over her, as usual. Kyou made a cursory hello to the gathering and headed into the kitchen to take over cooking, fending off Tohru's protests and offers to help. The sound of the knife was rhythmic and lulled him; the chatter in the other room made him feel lonely. His body began moving of its own accord as his thoughts drifted.


The cat jumped, dropping the knife against the cutting block automatically to avoid cutting himself. "Don't do that, Haru!"

"Sorry," the ox apologized softly. "I wanted to talk about that picture."

Kyou sighed irritably. "There's nothing to talk about. I threw it out like I told you I would. It was just a stupid picture."

Hatsuharu stood silently for a moment. "I don't think you did throw it out," he said finally.

The cat froze, stiffened. "What did you say? Are you calling me a liar?" he snarled.

"You always look a certain way when you lie, like you should have a twitching tail," Hatsuharu said. "You're not very good at lying."

Kyou grit his teeth, fingers gripping the counter tightly. Hatsuharu was baiting him and he knew it. The ox would do this every time he wanted to go Black and fight, an easy way to goad Kyou into a fury. "Little kitten…" The black and white-haired boy said the epithet softly.

"Shut up, you fucking idiot! Stupid ox!" The cat broke, bared his teeth. "You don't know anything. You always were so stupid!"

"Nobody is as stupid as the cat," Rin's smooth voice cut in. She laid a hand on Hatsuharu's arm possessively. "As if you of all people could look down at anybody with only Kazuma to pity you." Kyou took the scathing remark quietly, his will to fight withering. The move mystified Rin, who frowned after a moment then tugged Hatsuharu back out into the living room.

The cat finished the dinner quickly and served the others as he served Kazuma every night. "It looks wonderful, Kyou! Thank you for the food!" Tohru complimented. He served himself last. Everyone ate heartily while he merely picked at his food listlessly. "Kyou, is your food all right?" the brunette girl asked with a worried expression, then blushed. "I-I mean, you cooked it, of course it's wonderful! B-but..."

Kyou looked up in surprise. "A-ah, I'm not really hungry." Tohru's face fell in disappointment and he could already see Yuki's brows draw down. "I haven't been feeling well lately. I'm sorry, Tohru."

"So is that why you haven't been working in the dojo lately?" Rin asked archly.

"Kazuma gave me some time off," Kyou answered blandly, trying to eat even one bite of food. His stomach roiled.

The horse frowned and tried to take a different tack. "I've heard Akito has been visiting the dojo and speaking with you." Shigure's eyes took on an interested light.

"Akito hates me. He's still angry about the dinner."

"I suppose it's no surprise; everyone hates the cat." Her malicious dark eyes never moved from Kyou. Tohru looked as if she wanted to protest, but Yuki's hand on her arm quieted her.

Kyou's heart beat harder; the sound of it filled his ears. His stomach burned. He knew he shouldn't retaliate, but he felt almost as if he weren't in his own body. His eyes locked onto Rin's. "I suppose I should be grateful he hasn't thrown me through a window yet." The table went still and silent at the memory of Akito's furious retaliation when he discovered the horse and the ox were dating.

Rin's face flushed in rage. "You bastard! Monster!" She stormed out of the room with the ox in pursuit.

The silence in the room was like a dividing chasm, one Kyou was used to: the cat on one side and everyone else on the other. There was no reason to keep everyone uncomfortable. "Excuse me," he mumbled. He stood and stumbled into the bathroom. His head pounded with guilt; he felt almost feverish. Kyou fell to his knees, gripped the edge of the toilet, and vomited. Burning pain seared his throat as his stomach disgorged its meager contents. His breathing came roughly as he tried to regain his equilibrium, but what he saw sent him into another round of shock.

Blood, so much blood. He had thrown up blood. Terror gripped his mind. Why was he throwing up blood, so much blood? The pain in his abdomen intensified. He stumbled out of the bathroom, gripped the door frame until his knuckles turned white. Frantically he thought about what to do; his first reaction was to go someplace safe. Shishou's arms, he thought briefly, the place he felt nothing could harm him when he was a child.

No, he couldn't, he couldn't risk telling anyone about this. The wrath of some unseen force, it must be. For losing control, for saying something awful to Rin that shouldn't have been said, for loving Hatsuharu.

For what he let Akito do to him at night.

The cat slipped into Shigure's study and through the door to the outside. The fresh air burned his hyperventilating lungs. He was slinking away like a guilty coward; all he could think about was moving from tree to tree, crawling toward home. He stopped once as his stomach heaved again. He had to reach the safety of his room where he could curl up in his sheets and pray for the pain to stop. Where he could pray for the pain to end.

The morning saw the same home, the same place he had known all his life. Somehow the world hadn't changed. Kazuma sat in a ray of light at their small kitchen table, sipping tea and reading the paper. Kyou felt like he was walking in a dream. The dojo master looked up, a smile crossing his face. "How was your evening, Kyou? Tohru is well, I trust."

Kyou nodded weakly, sat limply in the chair across from his adoptive father. A lump of coal sat burning in his stomach. Some sort of relentless, persistent dream. He would wake up any moment.

"Is something wrong, Kyou?"

The cat ignored the question. "May I work in the dojo today, Shishou?"

"Of course, Kyou. You seem much calmer today, much more representing of a sensei."

"I'm just a senpai, Shishou. You are the true teacher."

Kazuma smiled, set his newspaper aside. "You've done well controlling your temper lately. Soon I'm sure you'll be able to control the outbursts. Then it will be time for you to inherit the dojo."

Kyou bowed his head, fingernails digging into the palms of his hand. There was no point in telling his father that although the cat went through the motions and worked hard at his duty, he no longer had any passion for it. There was no longer any reason to fight; Akito had already won.

The morning was spent with some of his older students in the dawning hours before they would be required to attend their classes at the high school. The spring tournament was quickly approaching and every small amount of practice time had to be utilized. Though his students pleaded with him to attend the tournament this year, he calmly turned them down for the twentieth time. He often wondered what a tournament felt like; to win, to be vindicated. The family had never allowed him to compete, or to even accompany Kazuma to a tournament.

Every hair rose on his arms as he contemplated. His shoulders tensed as he looked over his shoulder with dread. Filing in with his youngest group of students was the ox. Kyou felt light-headed, turned away with fear rising in his throat. He tried to concentrate on calling katas, to concentrate on the chant of his students. "Ichi, ni, san!"

"Kyou." The cat almost reeled sideways, recoiled from the hand that touched his shoulder.

"Get away from me." His voice was low and full of threat. He had no illusions about what Hatsuharu would want to say to him, not after his cruel words to Rin the night before.

"Ah, senpai..." One of the black belt group stepped forward, concerned.

The cat glanced sharply at his students and nodded. "Dismissed until this afternoon." He took a breath; his throat burned. He walked away from the others, leading the ox to a more private spot on the mats. "I know why you're here, Haru; go away. I regret what I said to Rin."

"That's not what I'm here to talk about," the ox said placidly, making the cat blink. "I wanted to talk about us."

Kyou fidgeted, scowled. "Whatever you're thinking, that we could be friends or something...I don't know. Whatever you're thinking by hanging around here, just stop. Just go back to Rin."

Hatsuharu frowned. "I don't understand. In high school we—"

"No!" Kyou hissed softly. "You don't get it, do you? We were never friends, Haru." The ox looked uncertain; the cat cut off whatever he was going to say next. "Do you remember a time when we hung out, just the two of us? Do you remember any funny stories about us? Have I ever been the person you've gone to when you're upset about something? No!" the cat bit off the last word viciously. "We aren't friends, Haru. We never were. Do you get it now? I just happened to be around you when you were with friends, like Tohru and Yuki. Whatever you're here for, just go away. I understand you never cared about me." The cat hesitated then took something crumpled from his pocket and thrust it into the ox's hand. "There, so you'll stop bugging me about it."

Hatsuharu worked the crumpled thing flat. It was the picture Kyou had had in his bedroom. In it, the ox and the rabbit were having a splash fight at the hot springs. "Tohru gave it to me," the cat murmured. "I never had a picture of family before."

Hatsuharu's finger ran over the crumple lines now marring the photograph. "Kyou, I..."

"Kyou!" All eyes in the dojo turned, startled. Yuki stormed in, his violet eyes dark with anger. "What the hell is wrong with you? You left in the middle of dinner, left like a coward after being cruel to Rin. Tohru cried all night. What do you have to say for yourself?" the rat demanded, taking hold of the cat's gi.

"I didn't want to leave, but I had to," Kyou said, trying to drop the subject.

Yuki seethed. "The way you act so cruelly is inhuman; you're a disgrace, not worthy of Tohru's affection." The cat took the verbal abuse calmly, which only served to goad Yuki on. "Fight me, you bastard."

Kyou glanced at Kazuma, fending off his adoptive father's intervention. He nodded at Yuki and prepared for the attack. The first punch came almost the second the cat took position after pushing Hatsuharu out of the way. They fought swift and dirty, and if Kyou was honest, it was the longest he had ever lasted in a spar with the rat. Yuki was much more forceful, his fists a blur, his kicks lightning fast, but somehow the cat took it all in stride. In fact, he felt dispassionate about it, detached. Every move was mechanical, the automatic response ingrained from training hours beyond counting.

Finally, Yuki made his first mistake, and that was all Kyou needed. The orange-haired boy grasped the rat's overextended arm and immediately countered the punch with a throw that sent the rat sprawling to the ground.

Kyou had won. Kyou had won over Yuki. The cat had finally beaten the rat.

Yet there was no happiness, no joy. The curse had not lifted. Inside he was empty, desolate. This was what he had fought for all his life? It seemed almost fitting, to feel this alone after his great triumph. Someone was calling his name, but he could barely hear it; he felt so hot, dizzy. Somehow he ended up on his knees, aware of furious violet eyes boring holes into him.

His stomach turned violently, and he began vomiting. The sight of blood was not unfamiliar this time as his body heaved. The room spun as his name was called over and over and he fell into black.

The moment he woke, the intense fear was on him. His heartbeat picked up as his eyes rolled around the room. His fingers clawed at the IV in his arm, desperate to get the needle out from beneath his skin.

"Kyou, stop that," Hatori admonished as he stepped into the room.

"Where's Shishou? Where am I?" the cat demanded.

"You were admitted to the hospital. Kazuma is in the waiting room. You always have been a terrible patient since you were little." Hatori sighed, sitting in the bedside chair with a chart on his lap. He rubbed at a temple.

The cat tried not to think about the IV needle, swallowed past the nausea. "Can I go home now?"

The dragon ignored him. "You were always a healthy child, unlike Yuki. Kazuma was always beside himself when you became ill, even with a simple cold. It was so rare for you to become sick that he didn't know what to do; he almost went to pieces as if he were Tohru a few times."

Kyou's fingers bunched in the bedsheets. "Why are you telling me this?"

Hatori's good eye fixed on the cat. "I have something important to tell you, Kyou. I need you to listen." The dragon's stare never left the cat's face. "You have stomach cancer, Kyou. It probably started out as ulcers." When the orange-haired boy offered to question or complaint, the dragon continued, "The cancer has progressed to the irreparable point."

The cat stared. "So you're saying I'm going to die?"

"With treatment we could extend your lifespan, perhaps even for a year."

"And without treatment?" The doctor was silent; Kyou looked away.

"We should begin immediately with—"

"No," Kyou said firmly. "I don't want any treatment."

Hatori rubbed at his temple again. "Don't be obnoxious, Kyou. Another year could mean coming to terms with things, Kyou. Another year to experience things."

"No," the cat said again. "I'm going to die no matter what I do. Can I go home today?" The brunette nodded reluctantly. "Will you...will you tell Shishou about this? I'm too much of a coward." Hatori nodded, his eyes enigmatic as always.

He should have known that even impending death would not stop the violation. He had just wanted peace, to curl up in his own bedsheets and brood. Akito's weight pushed him down into the mattress; the pillow beneath his face was suffocatingly hot. Nails raked down the cat's back, the boy stifling a cry of agony. Akito came to a brutal climax moments later. The head of the house sighed discontentedly, surveying the tiny shivers going through Kyou's body. "I suppose even a worthless toy has its uses. It will be an inconvenience when you die." Akito rubbed roughly at one of the recent wounds he had inflicted, smearing a few drops of blood. "Tomorrow there will be another zodiac dinner. All of your cousins should know about your fate. Some may even celebrate, don't you think?"

"Yes, Akito-sama," the cat replied automatically. The ache in his stomach grew.

Later, the dark-haired man scowled, unsatisfied under the light of the moon. The cat had been, at first, an endless source of amusement and satisfaction. Akito had grasped swiftly at the opportunity to finally control the cat. Who would have thought the monster would come crawling to him on hands and knees, begging for his freedom? The thought of it excited him even now. The cat had surely fought every step of the way, and Akito had relished dominating him, breaking him.

But a broken toy was no fun at all. Barely a moan passed the cat's lips now, no matter what new, inventive torture took place. Kyou's body was exquisite, toned and masculine, much more enticing than a body like Yuki's. Akito's anger stemmed from his own lust for the filthy cat.

It wasn't the dark-haired man's fault, of course. Kyou flaunted himself daily with his boisterous braggart attitude, his flagrant lack of a shirt when Kazuma made him train in the yard during summer. The cat had no shame, was brazen. Akito had been put upon the terrestrial earth for the purpose of taming the Cat. And how gullible the boy had been; for years Kyou had believed he could defeat Yuki and break the curse. At least it had keep the idiot busy and somewhat compliant.

His eyes trailed down the naked skin of the cat, who was forced to sleep on the floor this night. Curled up and vulnerable, the scratches down his back scarlet and angry. Then a word passed those pink lips of the dreamer. Dark eyes narrowed venomously as tan hips bucked gently, the cat's penis hardening, breath hitching. Akito had never been able to bring the boy to erection. The cat would come to rue that word.


Kyou felt deja vu. The Juunishi were all gathered around the long formal table. Ayame sat on the cat's left, Hatori to his right, and Kisa across the table. Kyou kept himself hunched forward, eyes down. The table linens were beautiful and blood red.

Things had changed so rapidly. Kazuma had stripped him of his duties in the dojo, leaving Kyou without a purpose. He watched the practices with dull eyes as the hours dripped by, Kazuma staring at him with worry, fretting that he should be in bed, that he hardly ate. The cat was at the brink of madness being treated as if he were fragile; the way Shishou treated him was far worse than any babying Tohru had ever done. Thankfully Hatori had not said anything about Kyou's refusal for treatment to the dojo master. The sense of terror that rolled off Kazuma was enough already.

Tohru had called him, sobbing, and the cat had found himself comforting her even though he had been the one proclaimed terminally ill. All thoughts of how the orange-haired boy had bailed on the past weekend's dinner had flown out the window. Hatori had also called to ask the cat if he'd changed his mind about receiving treatment, and Kyou had promptly hung up. He had felt guilty, but part of his mind bitterly thought that if he had to live longer under these horrible circumstances, he'd rather just get it over with and die.

That soft, lilting, familiar voice broke him out of his reverie. "My dear family," Akito addressed them all from the head of the table. "Some of you may already understand why I have asked you all to gather tonight, but for those of you who do not, I have an announcement to make." The head of the house rose, his long robes flowing around him. "Our poor cat, Kyou, has taken fatally ill, as Hatori has informed me. A toast to our dear cousin's health, please." Akito raised his glass, a dark fire burning in his eyes. Now was the time to strike. "You were a mediocre lover at best, Kyou, but I will miss your attentions all the same. It takes a truly stupid beast to believe he can buy his way into the eyes of a god with sex."

The vibration of shock traveled down the table, thrummed in the air. Kyou kept his eyes on his lap, fingernails digging bloody crescents into the flesh of his palms. Somehow he knew this day would come, but he still felt unprepared. He felt all eyes on him, finally looked out over Kisa's head at nothing, chin held high and jutting out.

Rin lifted her glass of wine, following Akito's gesture. "To the Cat," she said mockingly.

Kyou looked up the table, body trembling. His eyes briefly met the ox's, which stared ever-neutral back. Hatsuharu had always been good at hiding his emotions where the cat had not. Kyou stood and set his unwavering gaze on Akito. "Thank you for your hospitality, Akito-sama. I will be leaving now. I am, after all, a stupid beast." His knees felt weak as he walked away, but he needed to be strong.

He would be seen at the Sohma estate no longer.

Hatsuharu inhaled another short breath as the rocks cut his hand again. A few drops of blood leaked from beneath the torn skin. He tried to finagle the gauze on his hand to cover the fresh cut and continued on the deer trail. The ox had a good feeling this time; the mountain seemed to be leading him on, providing awkward paths for him to move ever upward. He was confident this was the week he would find Kyou. The cat had been missing for almost a month now, the only clue to his whereabouts was the idea from a distraught and grieving Kazuma that Kyou might have retreated into the mountains like he had a few years ago. Wrestling bears, the ox had remembered Yuki saying disdainfully of the cat's disappearance the first time. Hatsuharu felt compelled to search every weekend for the missing cat, despite the ridicule from some of the others that it was hopeless.

There! The ox spied what could be a faint footprint in the dirt. He shifted closer to see what direction it was leading or if there were any more like it. As he drew closer, he stopped, breath faint. There, standing in the tree line, was the cat.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Kyou's voice was rough as he stepped out into the light. The ox stared at the cat, almost unable to believe he had finally found him. "Well?" Kyou demanded, a scowl on his face.

"I came to find you," Hatsuharu said, studying the other. Kyou had deteriorated so greatly in only a month. He was skin and bones, his cheekbones sharper than ever. The ox noted the prominent wrist bones which jutted out next to the cat's bead bracelet. The dark circles under Kyou's eyes were deep, the crimson orbs lifeless.

"Go home, Haru," the cat sighed, moving past the ox in a painfully slow manner. The younger boy watched as the cat pushed aside some brush, uncovering the hidden opening to a cave. Hatsuharu ruefully thought that he could have passed this place a thousand times before without knowing such a place existed. He followed after the other disappeared from sight. Kyou sat with his back against the rough cavern wall in the dark, breath rasping softly. "I told you to go away."

Hatsuharu ignored him, setting his backpack down before seating himself across from Kyou. The cat's angry eyes slitted open, glancing down at the ox's hands. "If you're going to sit here, at least let me look at that." The ox questioningly offered a hand and Kyou took it, muttering as he unraveled the bandages. The cat grabbed Hatsuharu's water from the backpack and carefully washed out the wounds, then reapplied the gauze in a tight, secure wrap. The effort seemed to tax the sullen boy's energy.

"Thank you," the ox murmured. Kyou grunted and went back to resting, closing his eyes. Hatsuharu watched him for what seemed like hours until the cat stirred. A while later Kyou uncurled himself and stood without a word, then pushed aside the shrubs and left. Hatsuharu stood after a moment and followed. The cat sat on the edge of the cliff the cave sat on, legs dangling out over the air. The ox sat a couple steps back from the edge, more than aware that his balance was inferior to the cat's.

"The sun is setting," Kyou said softly after a moment. The ox blinked. "I always watch the sun set," the cat explained, not turning around. "In case I don't wake up in the morning."

"Kyou, I want you to come back with me."

The cat ignored him, leaning out far enough over the abyss to alarm the ox. "Hatori wanted me to do the treatment, said it would give me time to deal with things." He paused, eyes fixated on the hues of red and gold in the sky. "There are a lot of things I haven't done in my life. I never traveled, I never learned to drive, I never got to really live on my own. I've never been kissed," he said the last softly, almost a whisper; the admission wrenched at the ox's heart.

"I thought you and Akito..."

"Don't you dare fucking talk about him!" the cat hissed. "I did what I had to to stay out of a cage."

Hatsuharu looked down, rebuked. "If you wanted I could..." He said softly, left the offer hanging in the air between them. The thought of the cat's lips on his own set his skin tingling.

"No." Kyou glanced back, then away, angry tears forming in his eyes. "I wanted it to be with someone who loves me." His body trembled. "Why did you come here, Haru? Go home."

"I broke up with Rin," Hatsuharu blurted out, then cursed himself. "She knew about how you felt about me. I told her a long time ago. She told Akito." The cat made no reply, so the ox continued, "Akito asked if you spent time around me. He asked everyone." Kyou nodded and they watched the sun fall the rest of the way in silence. When twilight was creeping in the cat suggested they take shelter inside and the ox could do nothing but agree.

Hatsuharu unstrapped a sleeping bag from his backpack and rolled it out on the ground. "We can share this tonight," he said, crawling under the covers. The cat scoffed and turned his face away, arms wrapped around himself. "Please, Kyou. I'll sleep outside if I have to. You're freezing; I can tell just by looking at you."

The cat clenched his jaw, but swallowed his pride and slowly slid in beside the younger boy. Warm arms circled his emaciated body and he couldn't stop the convulsive shaking to tell the ox to stop it. Hatsuharu held him tighter until it had passed. The darkness of the cave seemed timeless as they lay there, pale fingers gently stroking a tan arm. Kyou felt the long line of the ox's body pressed against his; his heart beat faster and he was shamed that his body still reacted sexually.

Hatsuharu had never been so confused in his life. Somehow, Kyou fit perfectly in his arms. To hold Rin had always been nice, but to hold Kyou... It was as if they were two parts finally brought back together; the curves of the cat fit just so against the ox. The scent of the orange hair he couldn't see called to Hatsuharu in ways he had never known. Never before had he been afraid to speak his mind, and never before had he felt so compelled to not stay silent.

"You could have been the one for me, I think. My soul mate," the ox whispered and the cave seemed to swallow his words. They had an eternity here, he felt; an eternity to set things straight in the dark. "I think I made a terrible mistake because I thought Rin was the one, but since that day I first walked you to Hatori's I couldn't stop thinking about you."

"Shut up," Kyou rasped, a fire in his chest. He didn't want to hear this, to be lied to again. All that was left in life was lies.

"You made me feel the way I felt about Rin at first, but not at the same time. There was just something and I looked past it before, and now I can feel it." The ox paused, trying to gather his thoughts. "I think I love you. I think that's why I came after you," Hatsuharu continued.

"Shut up," the cat repeated, fists clenching. His thin frame shook.

"I love you, Kyou," the ox whispered softly against the cat's ear. "I didn't understand at first why you scared me; I thought it was because I didn't want you. I was wrong." The orange-haired boy began to cry; the ox had never seen him cry before. Hatsuharu rolled the cat onto his back, blanketed the other with his warm body. "Kyou," he whispered over and over and over, planting kisses over tan skin until finally they came together. The ox took Kyou's lips, hot on cold, until languidly he worked his way into the other's mouth, tongue on tongue. The cat clung to him desperately. "Kyou."

And the cat finally answered. "Haru."

Neither could stop their passion, the clutching fingers, whispered words, arching bodies. Soon the ox had divested them of pants, heated flesh against flesh. Then he was entering, penetrating, claiming and Kyou's arms were wrapped so tightly around him with those sweet, soft cries. It was gentle, it was maddening, it was euphoric. And when they both spiraled out of control, there was nothing but joy, and then the quiet kisses and then, finally, a sated sleep.

Hatsuharu awoke disoriented. The birds were trilling loudly outside, hailing the daybreak. They had never sounded so beautiful. The ox smiled, arms tightening on his lover, and then he touched the other's skin. Dread set in.

Kyou was frigid.

The ox reared up, desperately turning his lover over, shaking him, pleading with him. The cat didn't draw a breath, his lips pale, skin bleached of colour.

The cat had left in his dreams. Kyou was gone.


The incense smoke curled upward, wrapped around the kneeling man in tendrils. Hatsuharu took a cleansing breath and exhaled. He set the carton of milk down beside the stone. "You always liked milk," he murmured.

He was alone here, in the place they brought the Cats of the family. The leaves rustled and the wind picked up the incense, twirling it up into the air. A week ago he had made the trek up the mountainside again with Kazuma and—surprisingly—Yuki in tow to help him carry Kyou down. The cat had since been cremated and passed from the memories of most of the family.

But Hatsuharu could not forget. He couldn't forget the passion they had shared, the rightness of it all. The feel of Kyou against him. And although Rin had come to him, told him they belonged together, he had refused.

Because his heart belonged to someone else.

The ox carefully dipped the brush and set to work. He knew his handwriting wasn't the best, but he did his best, each stroke long and careful. The red stood out brilliantly against the cold grey of the stone. When he was finished, he sat back on his heels and studied his work. Next to the engraved 'Sohma Kyou' lay 'Sohma Hatsuharu'. A tradition. A promise.[1]

"I love you, Kyou," the ox whispered, a tear sliding down his cheek. "We will see each other again."

And the breeze seemed to whisper back, "I love you, too."

[1] - It is traditional for spouses to have their names engraved together on one headstone; when one spouse dies, the other paints over their own name in red as a promise to join the other in afterlife. When the second spouse passes away, the family washes away the red paint.