Well this is my first time writing fan fiction, so I hope it entertains anyone gracious enough to spend time reading it. Comments, suggestions, and/or critiques are all welcome!
Disclaimer: Fruits Basket is not mine, it is the property of Natsuki Takaya.
The Taming of the Cat: a Fruits Basket Regency Romance
Chapter 1: Look what the Dog dragged in
Tohru clung to the gelding's neck, praying for a sign of shelter beneath the darkening sky. Loose strands of brown hair whipped around her face. Endless fields of green mocked her search for shelter. A hut, a barn, a grove of trees...she didn't care what she found as long as she and her horse could be safe from lightning and mostly dry.
But after tonight, well, she'd have to stop running sometime. Stolen vegetables and berries scavenged on the road would only sustain her for so long. Was it paranoia to think she hadn't gone far enough?
Hooves pounded the packed dirt of the road behind her. "Hoa there!" a man's voice called above the rising wind.
Tohru tensed. She groped for Bellsire's reins, cursing the hunger that dulled her reflexes.
"Miss!" The rider appeared at her side. He swung down from his mount and caught her horse by the bit. "Miss, are you hurt?"
Fearing she'd see a long, hooked nose and gaunt cheeks, Tohru forced herself to look up.
He was tall, elegant and strikingly handsome for a man his age, which had to be close to forty. With his black hair and perfectly formed nose, the stranger bore no resemblance to the man who murdered her father. Tohru sighed. "No, sir. I'm not hurt."
His answering smile was so warm and joyful her delirious mind carried her back home—to memories of the vicarage and the slobbery welcome of Papa's old wolfhound.
But what good is a welcome without Papa?
Her last scrap of strength deserted her and she succumbed to the darkness.
A gentle swaying motion roused Tohru to open her eyes. Her nose filled with the scent of cologne, and a white starched neckcloth tumbled just inches from her face. She looked up into the dancing eyes of the stranger and realized with a start that he was carrying her up the steps of a building. She couldn't see the entire structure, but the soaring marble columns and carved mahogany door told her this was no cottage.
"Ah good. You're awake." Still smiling, the man set her down just outside the door. He winked. "Won't do to upset the countess by carrying you over her threshold."
Countess? Tohru blinked, wondering if fainting had affected her hearing. And her eyesight. "You've brought me to a countess?" Her thoughts began to smooth and pick up speed. "But I'm not fit, look at my dress, and my hair, and oh, where is Bellsire? I have to keep moving, I—"
The smiling man laughed and held a finger over his mouth. "What you need is some food, a bath and a warm bed." He placed his other palm on the door. "And whether the countess likes it or not, you shall have them." Casually, he shoved the door open and gestured her to step into the brightness beyond.
Awestruck, Tohru obeyed and found herself in a little half-landing before a short set of steps. Hundreds of candles lit the corridor. The sound of the door closing behind her made her heart give a frightened thump. This man was more than twice her age, but did that mean she was safe?
He bounded up the steps and turned, grinning. Why did he keep reminding her of a dog? "Come now," he said. "I assure you, I don't bite."
Tohru mustered a shaky smile and lifted the hem of her hopelessly ruined dress to climb the stairs.
"Shigure, is that you?" The voice rang through the hall. A moment later, a woman appeared beneath the vaulted arch of a softly lit room. Her features were not particularly feminine, though the fine-boned structure of her face did lend a certain fragility to her otherwise imperious presence. Her gown of green silk contrasted with the rubies glittering in her dark hair. With a sinking heart, Tohru knew this was the countess.
The woman's eyes swept Tohru from head to toe, then speared the man with a look. "Who is this?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," the man, Shigure laughed. "Do you think she'll fit one of your nightgowns?"
"One of my—" One perfectly sculpted eyebrow climbed to a dangerous arch. "Hundsford. Surely, you're not suggesting she—"
"Oh Hundsford, now am I? Don't get your feathers in a twist. The girl needs a bit of kindness. When I found her, the poor thing nearly fell off her horse in a dead faint."
"Nearly?" The countess's eyes narrowed. "You didn't catch her, did you?"
"But I'm sure Mrs. March will see she's cared for properly, so you needn't worry."
A woman in swishing black skirts materialized from somewhere behind Tohru and bowed to Shigure. "Very good, milord. Will there be anything else?"
Startled, Tohru looked again at the man Mrs. March addressed as 'milord'. His elegance of dress, his confident manner and lack of ceremony around the countess...her smiling, dog-like stranger was an earl!
"Yes, actually," the earl said, tapping one long finger on his chin. "Have some brandy sent to the library. The countess will want to have a lively debate, and I simply cannot perform to her expectations without refreshment."
Beneath the drooping lace of her cap, Mrs. March's face betrayed no reaction. "Indeed, milord. You will have it at once." She turned to Tohru. "Miss...?"
"H-Honda," Tohru said. "Tohru Honda."
"Miss Honda, then. This way, please."
With a quick glance back at the earl, Tohru climbed the steps behind the housekeeper in silence. She had a hundred questions, but she was too tired and polite to plague this woman with them.
Thus bathed, clothed and fed, the fugitive Tohru Honda slipped beneath the covers of an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar house and thanked her guardian angel for deliverance. Tomorrow would be another trial, but for tonight, she was happy.