Disclaimer: Standard Disclaimers Apply. Fruits Basket belongs to Natsuki Takaya. Submitted to the Furuba Lemon Basket ML Fanfiction Contest.
Grass Under Your Feet
Meet me in the morning
I'll have the motor running
I shouldn't have come, but I am here and there is nowhere else to go. The address that Shigure gave me burns in my hand like a firebrand. Already the piece of paper has been crumpled and re-crumpled into wrinkles, almost smudging the handwriting with my carelessness.
The house is a modest bungalow with a small lawn, and I am surprised that you chose to live near the city when you were so comfortable in the outskirts we grew up in. I guess marriage does that to someone -- rearrange your principles, rearrange your life without even asking for permission until you wake up one day and realize that things are so different from what they were before. Soft chimes tinkle above the door, swaying in the early morning as I press the bell to proclaim my presence, unwanted though it may be.
Until now I do not know what brings me here to your doorstep. At first I stayed away because it was necessary. We were in college and pursuing different interests; the letters we exchanged had not been enough to keep the ties. And then by and by, the intervals between them drifted further and further, until that announcement from Ayame that you were getting married. I was the last to know.
But now I am here, and does it matter that I was too selfish to attend your wedding? Does it matter that both my pride and my heart suffered too much for me to even write or call since then? Does it matter that I still love you until now?
Maybe I should have called. Maybe it was too early.
Or maybe it was too late.
The door opens. "Yuki-kun?"
Your voice is tender, and I break once more.
Down frosty lanes, under a glass blue sky
This is living, this is living
I straighten up a little more, subtly smoothing the gray shirt I am wearing. I had carefully chosen it last night, hanging it out to air in the hopes that the shade would somehow show me more dashing than ever, a breath taller perhaps, or a stroke paler. Anything that would make you think better of me after ten years. But your eyes smile gently at me, and I realize that it wouldn't make a difference if I had worn a striking black shirt or an orange one the color of his hair. You are beyond such thinking.
"Tohru-kun," I say simply, taking a step forward and bowing deeply.
You clasp your hands in delight, no trace of bitterness or regret in your eyes. "It's been so long."
The years have been kind to you. Your face and your figure have filled out. Your hair still falls in thick brown curtains around your face. You will never look as sleek as your mother does in the photos you have of her, but in her place you have grown softer, gentler. In the eternity that passes I wonder if you would have been the same if we had married. Maybe you would have been different.
Maybe I would have been different.
A small boy with mousy brown hair peers from behind your skirt. "Kaa-chan," he stammers, "who's he?"
You smile apologetically as you lean down. "This is your Uncle Yuki," you introduce, prying his fingers from the crumple he has made of your skirt. You lead him forward so I can take a better look. "This is our youngest, Kentaro. He just turned four."
He has your hair, and your eyes. He has that idiot's stubborn chin. "Ohayou," I greet him, as pleasantly as I could. How do you greet a child you wish had been yours?
"How could I be so rude?" you admonish yourself. "Gomen ne, Yuki-kun, for letting you stand there. Come in," you urge me, reaching out a hand. "Kyou would have loved to see you but he's visiting Kazuma-san for a few days. But what brings you here?" you ask as I follow you inside. You turn to me and I look away, afraid that you will see my heart in my eyes. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
I haven't come to be a stranger
I haven't come to break your home
The words die in my throat. Do I dare tell you that I suddenly want to sweep you off your feet, spirit you to my bachelor's pad in Hong Kong with its minimalist furniture and its cold bleak walls? It is far cry from the dainty wallpapered rooms of this small house. But you do not wait to hear my answer, momentarily distracted as Kentaro slips free of your grasp and dashes deeper into one of the back rooms. You make no effort to follow, chuckling softly at the energy of toddlers.
"When did you return to Japan?" you ask, motioning me to sit down.
"Just last week," I reply smoothly, seating myself opposite you. "I've been staying with Shigure until he urged me to pay you a visit."
Then you bring up the inevitable. "We would have loved if you had been at the wedding."
The excuse I had used all those years ago comes unbidden now. "The Australian scholarship needed a reply soon. It was too good to pass up." I hang my head slightly, meaning the apology now. "I'm truly sorry I wasn't there, Tohru-kun." More than you will ever know.
What is it about regret that always strikes you at the core of your being, hammering into you when you think that you have put it all behind?
Of course, at that time, Australia had been an excuse. I was just finishing with my degree in Agriculture, content to have gone back to Shigure's house and raised a small family with you. In my self-assurance I had assumed that you would always be waiting for me, pining for me, even. Sometimes, in the middle of class, I would catch myself thinking of you, and as half of my mind debated on falling on my knees to propose, the other half always said, eventually, eventually. I was always so damn calm, so damn confident. But your falling in love with him had not been part of the plan.
"What do you do now?" you ask. "All Shigure and Ayame say is that you're working in Hong Kong, and I don't think even Shigure is sure what you do there."
I recite my answer, as if from memory. "I took another degree in Australia, a Business course. Then I worked for a few years at an Australian consultancy firm before they transferred me to their branch in Hong Kong."
"Australia, then Hong Kong," you sigh with pleasure. "The sights you must have seen. I'm sure you must have enjoyed looking at the countryside, ne? You have lived such a full life, Yuki-kun."
I bite my lips. I had worked feverishly all those years, trying to erase you from my thoughts. The only sight I ever saw was you standing in the kitchen, welcoming me home after I came in late from one of those high school council meetings. Things were so different then. I had your heart then.
I am desperate to shift the topic away from my miserable existence. Does it show? "And you, Tohru-kun?"
You dimple prettily. "I am very happy."
I glance around the small room. A framed wedding picture stands on a low trunk. You are smiling at the camera, but my stupid cousin is staring down at you. He must have had a field day over that photo, seeing how blatantly he had displayed his emotions, now preserved for all to see. How you got him to agree to put it on a frame is a miracle. But maybe he has changed too, grown less rough and impulsive as he was in high school. Despite your meticulous housekeeping, a stray toy manages to pop up here and there -- a red ball, a skipping rope.
"How old is your eldest?" I ask.
"Keiko is six," you reply. "She takes a lot after her father. But she reminds me of Okaasan, too. She's in school right now; a neighbor just came and picked her up a few minutes before you arrived." You look at the wall clock. "Ah, gomen, Yuki-kun, have you had breakfast yet?"
I shake my head. "I don't eat breakfast anymore."
Your face falls. "You used to love eating breakfast."
"It's not much good when you're alone," I answer.
You are silent at my words. Then you smile at me and push yourself to your feet. "Come, Yuki," you say, forgetting the honorific for once. Did you just forget or did you --? But I did not want to be led to conclusions that weren't really there. "There's still much left."
Even after all these years, I still don't know how to say no to you. I follow you to the table, and proceed to stuff myself with the simple meal of fish and rice you had prepared. Just a month ago, I had been treated to a sumptuous buffet at one of Hong Kong's top hotels. But not even the exotic dishes compared to the way you once cooked my meals for me, your watchful eye in preparing, your careful hand in serving. It was the simple things that I missed most, that kept me company on those cold nights. But memories are deceitful companions. They lull you into thinking that everything is fine, telling you things the way your mind chooses to remember them, not as they actually happened.
Once I believed that what you cooked was solely for me, that Shigure and Kyou only benefitted from them because they were there. Now I am no longer sure.
You look pleased at the way I clean my bowl. "See? You should start eating breakfast again, Yuki-kun."
Ah, the honorific once more.
"So what do you do with the rest of your day?" I want to know.
You gesture to the soft playful noises Kentaro is making in the other room. "I take care of my family. Once I thought about teaching but the children needed me. What Kyou earned as an instructor was enough for us, so I decided to stay home."
And there it is, the wistful tone in your voice. It is only a slight hint, but I catch it nonetheless. I hadn't spent the past ten years reminding myself of your every gesture, your every inflection to miss out on it now. I pounce on it before the opportunity slips past. I have learned what it is like to live with regret. "So you stay here the whole day. Don't you miss going out sometimes?"
"But what would I do? My life is here now," you answer. "Uo-chan has moved to Osaka. Hana-chan is now a famous author," you add with a giggle, "but nothing like Shigure. She travels all around Japan now, signing and promoting her books. Sometimes she stops by when she's in town." You raise your eyes to meet mine. "I'm very happy now, Yuki. Really."
Something tells me that you are trying to convince yourself, and part of me curses myself for taking delight in this small dissatisfaction. But what the hell? A man with nothing to lose has nothing to be ashamed of. "But there must be something that you've always wanted to do but never found the chance."
I cannot read the look in your eyes. "Why did you come back?"
I haven't come to harm your children
I've come to be your love
Do you really have to ask?
Instead I say, "I want to do something for you, Tohru-kun." I pause as you weigh my offer. "For old times' sake. Anything you want."
I've already given you my heart. I would have given you my life if you asked for it.
It seems like lifetimes before you speak. "Well, I've always wanted to go to an amusement park," you volunteer shyly.
My mouth hangs open at your innocent request. "You've never been to one? That baka neko has never taken you to one?"
You blush, at the admission or at my reference to your husband, I do not know. "Well, there was college, then there was getting married, and starting a family… I guess we never really found the time."
If you had been my wife, I would have brought you to every amusement park in Asia and you would have had your fill of roller coasters and Ferris wheels. If you had been my wife, I would have stayed here and never let you out of my sight. How easy it is to claim the things that I would do, especially when I would never get the chance to do them. I had enough practice being alone.
I make my decision, suddenly reckless. I should have done this years ago.
"I have a car with me. We can take Kentaro. I'm sure he would love it." I manage a smile. "You're only young once, Tohru-kun. Don't let this chance pass you by." Suddenly I'm the expert.
You glance around the house, suddenly conscious. "But the house--"
I laugh. "It will still be here when you get back."
"But what if Kyou--"
All my life, I prided myself in always getting the best of my cousin. He was always second best -- in school, in our daily fights. I never thought that in the end, he would take away what meant most to me.
I get up firmly. My tone is sharp, almost desperate, but I cannot force the words back in more than I can stop my heart from beating. "All I ask is one day."
Don't let the grass grow under your feet
The sands of times keep running
For now at last I'm down on the street
With the engine running
As I drive down the street, I have to blink twice to convince myself that this is no dream, that you are there, by my side, Kentaro squirming on your lap. His hands reach out in every which way.
"He likes travelling," you say almost apologetically. "Whenever Hatori visits, he insists on riding the car."
You are closer to my family than I have ever been. Now I am even more of a stranger to people who share my blood. There has always been that quality of yours, that drew us in. You have a subtle of slipping past our defenses and we realize too late that we can never be free of your smile.
Something tugs at me. "Did you want to come?" I ask finally.
You glance at me over your son's head. "Of course, Yuki-kun. You've always been so kind to me. I appreciate you doing this for me."
No, that's not what I meant, but I make no effort to clarify your response. One day, I tell myself. All I have is this one day, this one chance to change your mind.
The amusement park is only thirty minutes from your home. I wonder why you never insisted that Kyou take you there. It was probably the money, or your selfless way of putting everyone else before yourself. It was probably knowing that after a hard day's work, Kyou would be too tired to take you and the children anywhere.
Kentaro is delighted, and watching you from the corner of my eye, so are you. Since it is a weekday, there are relatively few people. I hold Kentaro's left hand as you take his right, always the protective mother. Then it strikes me: this should have been my family.
He insists on a riding those airplanes that go round in circles. I see you cast a longing glance at the wild roller coaster, but of course, you allow yourself to be led and strapped on to a red plane. "Are you coming, Yuki-kun?" you ask.
I shake my head with a smile. It is enough for me to stay at the sidelines. "Maybe later."
The ride starts and Kentaro waves his hands in the air, even wildly than he did when he was in the car. I wave back as they pass by where I stand. "Your wife is very pretty," a middle-aged woman beside me says suddenly.
I make no move to correct her. "She is one of a kind."
The woman chuckles and takes a picture of a green plane. Instead of kids, a slightly older man waves in recognition. "Today's his birthday," she explains.
I want to ask her what it must be like to be with someone like that, to live every precious moment together. As I phrase the question in my mind, the ride comes to a stop, and the woman rushes off to meet her husband. You and Kentaro emerge from the plane, and I meet you halfway.
This pretense is good for my soul.
As you go from ride to ride, you are conscious of the time, saying over and over that Keiko will be home soon. This is only borrowed time, I remind myself. "One last ride then," I urge you. "The roller coaster."
"Yuki-kun!" you protest with a blush. "I can't possibly!"
"Go ahead, Tohru-kun, you deserve to have fun," I assure you. You look so pretty, looking flushed like that, your cheeks near bursting with that smile. What I wouldn't give to claim that smile for myself. Once upon time, I had been the one to make you smile that way, but now there is always him in your thoughts.
"But I can't do it alone," you say, and I can sense your resolve giving in.
I motion to Kentaro clinging to my left hand. "But we can't leave him here by himself, ne?" With my free hand I clasp your shoulder. The touch seems casual now. After all, we are adults. But inside I am trembling at the contact.
The years slip by and suddenly we are in high school again, at the onsen when you wore those ribbons I gave. Do you still have them? Do you still think of me?
"Go." I struggle to get the word out, and with an amused laugh, you rush towards the line.
I watch you jog away. I feel the distance between us grow.
I haven't come to be a stranger
It is only half past noon when I drive you back. I dread the parting that lies before us. There are so many things that still need to be said. But your house is already in sight and I am torn between stopping and driving past.
I do the right thing. I pull up.
"Arigatou gozaimasu, Yuki-kun," you say as I help you out of the car. I carry Kentaro for a while as you step out, then I hand your son carefully back. We stand outside the gate, reluctant to say goodbye.
I smiled. "I should be the one to thank you."
"It's still early. Will you be going back to Shigure's?" you ask.
"Will you come with me?"
I haven't come to break your home
Seconds later, I realize that I had spoken the question out loud.
"What do you mean, Yuki-kun?" There is a guarded quality to your voice now, one that I haven't heard in all the years I've known you. Did I put it there, this subtle distrust?
If someone had told me years ago that I would end up hurting the one girl I truly loved I would have scoffed at his face. But now I realize that knowing I had that much power to affect you in some measure would be such a satisfaction to me. If you had cried, it meant that you had cared. It may have been long ago, maybe even for the briefest of periods, but it was enough. It was a selfish, selfish love, but it was true. It was real.
It was all I had.
I bowed low, to hide my face. "Gomen nasai for my rudeness, Tohru-kun. I won't bother you ever again. I wish you and Kyou all the happiness."
"Yuki," you say brokenly, and I look up to see tears down your cheeks.
I haven't come to harm your children
I am breathing hard. I am such a coward.
"We were young then, but I waited," you confess. "I love him now." You smooth Kentaro's hair with gentle strokes. "I don't want to hurt you. But there are just some things that we can't change."
Why does your admission pain me more than the knowledge that you belonged to someone else? Is it because now I realize that I should stop blaming Kyou, stop blaming the circumstances? That in the end, all I really had to blame was myself?
"Why didn't you tell me?" I just had to know.
"You never asked."
I've come to be your love
That is my last memory of you, standing there outside your gate, your son in your arms, the afternoon glow in your hair. Later I will erase all trace of you from my life, and move back to Hong Kong. Later I will write Shigure a letter telling him why I have to go, why he shouldn't expect to hear from me in the next lifetime. Later I will pretend to have a life that does not include you in any way.
But today, today I think I will just drive around, headed nowhere. And I will remember.
Author's Notes: I chose not to mention anything about the curse in this fic because I wanted it to be understood by someone who doesn't have a working knowledge of Furuba. The song Meet Me in the Morning is by Everything But the Girl.