To all my dedicated reviewers-I hope you enjoy this epilogue, and that it seems like a fitting end to a story that grew way longer than I ever intended it to go. What a ride :-)
Disclaimer: Fruits Basket and its characters are the property of Natsuki Takaya.
"But Papa!" The girl bounced on her father's bed, careless of the way the motion sent her long brown curls crashing into each other. "Hiro promised he'd come in time for your party."
Kyo frowned into his dressing mirror and gave his cravat an impatient tug. "That's enough, Isabelle. His valet said he was detained at school, and there's nothing I can do about that."
Isabelle hopped from the bed. She pulled at the tail of his coat of blue superfine to straighten it, then flopped into a chaise and flung her arms wide. "Then when will he come?"
"Hm..." Kyo said, turning slowly to face his daughter. A mischievous smile curled over his face. "Maybe when you stop whining?"
Isabelle knew that face. She squealed as her father pounced and began tickling her mercilessly. "Papa!" she gasped, giggling and shrieking with all her breath.
The bedroom door swung open. "Kyo!" Tohru rustled into the room, gowned in green silk and propping her hands on her waist. "Oh no, look at Isabelle's hair! Chloe will have to get to work fixing it immediately."
Still laughing, Kyo climbed off the chaise and pulled his daughter to her feet. "She got a good start ruining it earlier when she was flopping about, complaining about Hiro's message. I believe our girl has a bit of a crush on him."
"I do not," the seven year old said hotly, her eyes flashing in a direct imitation of her father's. "He's my cousin."
"A once-removed cousin." Tohru smoothed the top of her only child's hair and herded her toward the door. "Go on then. See if you can persuade Chloe to repair your hair. Apologize." When Isabelle was gone, Tohru turned back to Kyo. She folded her arms across her chest.
"What?" he laughed.
Tohru sighed and crossed the room to work on his neckcloth. "Your cravat is crooked, for starters."
"There's a reason I never wear these things." His hands drifted up to take hold of Tohru's waist. "And you like me out of them." He watched with pleasure as twin crimson stains bloomed over her cheeks. Eight years of marriage, and he could still make his Tohru blush.
"Now is not the time," she said breathlessly, finishing with his cravat and smoothing his coat over his shoulders. "The earl and countess could arrive at any moment."
Kyo lowered his head to nuzzle the bare skin at her neck. "I can be quick."
Tohru laughed. She swatted him over the head and danced just out of reach. "That will be the day," she said with a saucy smile. With a flounce of her skirts, she swept from the room, leaving Kyo with the opinion that his clothes were definitely too tight.
But not even that could sour his mood. Good God, how could he mind anything now that his thirtieth birthday was here and he was still as sane as the next man. The day the curse broke, he'd been freed from the threat of the cat's madness, but there had still been his mother's derangement to hang over his head. Time and again, Tohru had told him not to worry, that his mother had been overset, that hers had been a madness of circumstances, not of blood.
But until today, Kyo had never dared to believe she was right.
Outside, carriage wheels clattered over the cobblestone drive. Kyo checked his reflection one more time—decently presentable—and strode out of the bedroom. He took the spiraling stairs with ease, and before his guests could alight from their carriage, he took his place at Tohru's side as if he'd been there all morning.
The new arrivals weren't the earl and countess. Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Hatsuharu Sohma stepped out of the carriage, their pack of children following quietly behind them. There were five of them, ranged in age from six to one, and how Rin could keep them and her husband in line the way she did boggled Kyo's mind. He and Tohru had only one child—Isabelle—and it was all he could do to keep her from climbing trees without him.
If she climbed with him, of course, that was fine.
"Rin!" Tohru reached out to take the other woman's hands. "What a treat to have you and your family back from France in time for Kyo's birthday. If only Yuki and Arisa could have made the trip as well."
Carefully, Rin unpinned her high-crowned hat and handed it off to a footman. Her smart traveling gown of burgundy wool seemed to fit more loosely around the waist than was the fashion. "America is a good deal farther away than France."
Kyo watched the women herd Haru's flock of three boys and two girls up the stairs with them. Since Kyo and Tohru married, and Yuki had made a match of it with the former Miss Uotani, he and Yuki had forged a sort of peace between them. Of course, peace was much easier to maintain with an ocean between them and only the occasional letter with which to irritate each other.
Their living choices were a bit was odd, of course—everyone thought Kyo would have been the brother more suited to the less restricted American way of life, but he and Tohru couldn't imagine leaving the wilds of Scotland for any other place.
As for Yuki, he seemed to relish his newfound freedom.
"They're a veritable herd, aren't they?"
Shaken from his thoughts, Kyo turned to see Haru's smug smile. The man clasped his hands behind his back and rocked evenly on his heels. He wore his unique white and black hair neater now, but eight years had changed his appearance in few other ways. Recalling the loose fit of Rin's gown, Kyo narrowed his eyes. "Is your wife pregnant again?"
Haru laughed. "You're getting rather observant in your old age. Yes, four months along. I'm surprised Tohru didn't say something the moment Rin stepped into the house. Women can sense these things like hawks."
"What are you trying to do—restock the army?"
His cousin glanced to the upstairs door where Tohru had taken his family. "No, we just can't seem to help ourselves."
A squeal rent the stillness of the house. "Papa!" Isabelle came tearing down the mahogany staircase, her ribbons neatly tied and her curls bouncing in fresh spirals against her back. "Hiro's coming—I could see him from my room—he's riding up the drive!"
And that was all the explanation Kyo got before his daughter burst like a squall through the front doors and hurtled down the drive.
A heartbeat passed. Haru glanced at Kyo. "I don't suppose you're going to stop her from making a cake of herself."
"It wouldn't do any good." He grinned at his cousin. "Though I would like to see Hiro's reaction. Shall we?"
Haru bowed. "I thought you'd never ask."
The two men strolled down the drive, their long strides covering the distance only a few yards slower than Isabelle had in her mad dash.
Seventeen-year old Hiro reined his horse just shy of trampling the girl, and a moment later both Kyo and Haru could hear him yelling at her for getting in his way. They heard the teary note in her voice when she responded, and before they could get any closer, Hiro dismounted. He knelt before her, ruffled her curls—Chloe's work, ruined again—and swung her onto his back for a ride.
A groom hurried over from the stables to take his horse in hand.
"I'll ask you to set my girl down, boy," Kyo growled, coming to a halt with his hands folded over his chest.
Isabelle flashed him a rather vicious scowl. "Don't, Papa, I'm fine." She tightened her hold around Hiro's shoulders. "Go on, Hiro, don't stop."
The future earl of Hundsford smirked at Kyo and strolled right past the two men on his way into the house.
Haru let out a low whistle. "I'm glad my oldest girl is only three. That Isabelle of yours is a minx."
What the girl needed was a sibling or two to keep her grounded in childhood instead of wanting to imitate the adults all the time. She was growing up too quickly for Kyo's peace of mind.
But of course in the years since Isabelle's birth, he and Tohru hadn't been blessed with any more children. They were fortunate to have Isabelle—a true joy on top of all the the other blessings they'd received since they first met nearly eight years ago. Kyo turned back up his drive, taking in the rough stone edifice of his house and the way the trailing ivy warmed what might have looked as imposing as the fortress it had once been.
He'd purchased the place as a wedding present for Tohru. No elegant London house, or Greek-revival mansion in the south of England would suit his bride. She wanted a modest house—stone, perhaps-in the countryside where Kyo had known the most happiness.
He'd ignored the modest bit and run wild on the stone, buying a small 15th century castle and having it modernized with all the comforts money could buy. Till the day he died, he would never forget Tohru's reaction when he finally drove her to see the home he'd found for her. She'd gasped, then swatted his arm, then started laughing so hard tears streamed from her eyes.
But when her tears of laughter turned to real tears, they nearly ripped his heart right out of his chest. He'd pulled her to him and asked her, begged her to stop. He said he could sell it, find something else, and only then did she turn her face up to meet his gaze. Perfect happiness shined in her eyes. "I finally have a home," she whispered, "and it's perfect."
After the celebratory dinner, once the men had enjoyed their port and rejoined the women for the remainder of the evening, the nurses brought the children back downstairs to cavort with the adults. In addition to Haru's clan, Kisa had her infant son, and Saki her five- and six-year old daughters. Kagura's twin boys were fresh out of leading-strings, ready to wreak whatever havoc they could. As the oldest of the younger generation, Isabelle eschewed the company of her baby cousins and instead plopped herself down wherever Hiro chose to sit. Or stand.
Lady Akito corralled the younger children to sit at her feet. From his position by the fireplace, Kyo watched her lecture them on behaving themselves in the company of their elders. Just like a mother hen—albeit one who packed a sharp bite and more pride than a rooster into her slim frame. He smiled, amazed that he could remember those same lectures directed at himself and not feel resentful. Growing up, breaking free of a centuries-old curse and marrying the love of one's life could have that effect, he supposed.
At Kisa's urging, Momiji took up his violin and began to play a country dance. Isabelle hopped up from her chair. She clapped her hands and tried to get Hiro to join her in a dance, but he was talking with Master Kazuma and couldn't be persuaded. Exasperated, Isabelle turned to Melisande, Saki's eldest daughter, and swung her into an imperfect but exhuberant dance around the room.
A pale hand slipped into the crook of Kyo's arm. He looked down in time to see Tohru lean her head against his arm. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
"Oh, no." She sighed. "I was just thinking how lovely it is to have friends and family gathered under our roof."
But he heard the tired note in her voice. Kyo slipped a hand around her waist for support. "The birthday planning and providing for all these guests has worn you out. I'll see that they leave tomorrow."
She squeezed his arm. "You'll do no such thing, Kyo Sohma. I want plenty of people around tomorrow to celebrate my surprise."
"A surprise?" He tugged her close against his side, careless of who might see. "Have you been keeping secrets from me, Mrs. Sohma?" he murmured in her ear.
The minx peered up at him through her eyelashes. People might wonder where Isabelle got her spunk, but Kyo knew he had very little to do with it. Tohru's spirit might disguise itself behind a sweet nature and a deeply ingrained sense of justice, but it was there all the same.
"Only a birthday secret," she said.
"A birthday secret! Then hadn't you better tell me first?" Kyo was trying to keep his tone light, but curiosity had him in its grip. He simply had to know the reason for that glitter in her eyes.
"Very well, but don't tell anyone else yet."
"Okay." Tohru looked down, and a furious blush rose over her cheeks. "I'm—that is, do you think Isabelle will mind having a little brother or sister?"
Kyo went very still. She was too sweet, too kind to toy with him if it weren't true. "You're..." He trailed off, unable to form the words in his suddenly dry throat.
She nodded. "I had Hatori confirm it when he arrived this morning."
"But after so many years, when we tried, and tried..."
"He said sometimes it happens when the parents least expect it." Worry filtered into her eyes. "Do you mind so much?"
"Mind?" His voice broke on the word. He laughed. "Mind? My God, Tohru, I'm so happy my voice is cracking like a thirteen-year old's." He couldn't help it. He dragged her up against his chest, kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her lips. "This is—you are the best birthday present ever."
"Kyo Sohma," the countess's voice rang through the room. "That is no way to behave around children."
Momiji's violin stopped. Isabelle spun to see her parents kissing and made a face.
Ruefully, Kyo set his wife back down on her feet. All eyes were on them—even Kisa's baby son watched from his papa's arms.
Tohru laughed. "I knew you couldn't keep this a secret."
Several nervous smiles passed around the room, but only Lord Shigure asked the question. "Kyo, do you and Tohru have something to share?"
"Oh very well." Tohru stepped forward. "I was planning to tell Isabelle in private, first, but I suppose now is as good a time as any." She took her daughter's hand. "Sweetheart, you're going to have a baby sister or brother in about seven months."
Excited whispering filtered between the children and adults.
"Me? Really?" Isabelle's eyes grew very wide. "I'll have sister, like Melisande has?"
"Maybe. I hope that's not too upsetting."
The girl rolled her eyes, a gesture she must have learned from Hiro. "How could that possibly be upsetting? I'll get to play with her, or dress her up, or name her, or—"
"Let's not get carried away now, and remember, it might be a boy." As she spoke Tohru stepped back beneath the shelter of Kyo's arm.
"But I thought you couldn't get another baby."
Kyo decided not to correct Isabelle on the 'get' part. "Life is full of surprises, my girl." He gave her a wink in an attempt to clear the mist in his eyes. "And trust me: you never get used to it."
Wow. All finished :-). It's time I got back to revising my latest novel and sending it out to agents in an effort to get published, so I won't be writing any more fanfiction stories anytime soon. I thought I could do both, but I got so caught up in this that there just wasn't time (or creative energy) to do both. I've had so much fun reading your reviews and interacting with you, and I want to thank you all for the great experience this has been. You're the best.
If anyone is interested in beta reading my novel (YA romance, drama, adventure in an exotic setting), send me a message and I'll send a brief, back cover-type blurb. That way you'll know what it's about and if it sounds like something you'd be interested in reading. Your opinions there would be AWESOME.
Either way, thanks. *Hugs* Michelle