A/N: This was a oneshot ficlet originally requested by sindysugar on Tumblr, prompt: "cut the chase". It's short, but I liked how it came out and I want to occasionally post stuff until I'm back into my weekly routine. (Just to remind y'all that I am still here!)
The first and only time Haru confesses her feelings is when she is 16.
She is young and foolish and foolhardy and she has watched her understanding of the world unravel in a night. She stands atop a rooftop and confesses her heart to a wooden figurine.
Baron is flattered, naturally, and he turns her down, naturally. She is sweet and brave and still finding her way in life, and he turns her down. He doesn't tell Toto or Muta what happened - they already berate him enough for sweeping clients off their feet; no need for them to know they were actually right.
He adds the case to the completed pile and moves on to the next client.
Haru adds a new tea blend to her skills and carries on with her life.
The second time they meet, it's Lune and Yuki's - King Lune and Queen Yuki's - wedding, and it's a few years later. Haru is still young, although she stands a little taller, a little more secure than the Bureau had found her. The Cat Kingdom magic doesn't enthral her like it did before.
When she talks, it's of her studies, of her friends and of her future. Solid, human things. Things that don't involve other worlds or magic or living statues. Certainly not of developing a schoolgirl crush on a Creation.
And when she meets Baron's gaze, later into the evening, she sees the truth of their last encounter. Sees how easy it was for her to fall for the dashing gentleman who swept in to save her. And she doesn't begrudge him that, nor her younger self for falling, but it makes it easier to look back on it and make sense of it. When they depart, it's with a smile and a simple understanding.
It's many more years before their paths cross again, but they do cross. Impossible odds, really, for two people whose worlds spun so far apart they never should have crossed in the first place. But they fall together anyway. She never meant to find adventure, but she talks to one too many cats and it finds her instead. She runs with the Bureau for an evening and finds this time that she keeps up.
She accepts the invite back to the Bureau, and she shares tea with them. As friends, as equals, as individuals no longer under threat of kidnapping, and when she meets Baron's eyes the blush doesn't rise.
They depart on understanding that chance had brought them together thrice, but they have their own lives, their own worlds, to get back to and they make no arrangements to follow up their encounter . And so it is with half a laugh and pleasant surprise when Haru sees him again, one Halloween night.
He's at human height in the Human World, and Haru finds she no longer has to look up the way she once did to meet his eyes. And she can't help it; she is once again dragged into their world of adventure and magic and when it comes to walk away, she doesn't.
She visits often after that, and it surprises her how easily she falls back into the Bureau. She would say it was like she had never left, but that would be lying. The Bureau has changed. She has changed. A spell lies over the Bureau's doors now; all who enter now take on a more appropriate height and it's just as well for she's not sure she would fit on the chest she sat on once before.
The tea is never the same twice, but it always tastes good.
Muta and Toto still argue. Muta doesn't seem to have aged, and she doesn't ask how or why. She guesses some things just never change.
And then there's Baron.
She doesn't mean to fall again, but she does. But this time she doesn't fall for his waltzing skills, his gentlemanly habits, his easy grace - although none of them help - but instead she falls in a hundred little moments. The sound him making tea. (That tap-tap of a teaspoon against the cup.) The way he made her laugh after a bad break-up. The night they watched shooting stars. His dry humour and his tenor laugh and the secret smiles they share as Toto and Muta bicker across the Bureau.
She falls and she falls and she can't help but wonder if she falls alone.
Never a client.
He would never fall for a client, he had promised himself. Never. But she is no longer a client and those words had been a lifetime ago. A generation ago. Before Haru. Before she had fallen back into the Bureau a second time, and that is really all that matters.
Before, somewhere along their cups of tea and starlit moments, he fell for a human woman.
He doesn't put voice to the thought; he barely puts the thought into words, but it lingers, nonetheless. The realisation comes in flashes, at the meeting of eyes, the edge of laughter; single brief beautiful moments, and he feels it but he does not speak it.
Speaking it would make it real.
And that would be a mistake.
She makes the mistake of a dance only once, but oh, that once is all her heart needs.
They're at a Cat Kingdom celebration and she speaks without thinking, a hand before her and a request on her lips. She echoes the same question he offered, many years before, and they both falter.
But he takes her hand.
He takes her hand.
The waltz that fills the air is lighter than before - she can't help but compare - and her feet comply in likeness, or maybe that's her heart's influence. She dances bolder than before, about as slipshod, but the latter's no matter. She dances, and it's then that she realises it's too late - she's no longer falling, she's fallen.
And in his eyes, she can see he's done the same.
No whiskers grow - it is not the world that calls her, after all - but she feels a part of herself linger in the Cat Kingdom long after they leave.
They continue to dance even after they've left, but it's around unspoken words and careful glances back at the Bureau and Haru wishes she could steal back those few unharried moments once more.
Sometimes she wishes she could wish back her heart.
Excuse me, good sir, she wishes she could say, but you have something of mine. My heart, you see, you stole some years ago and I could do with it back. You see, good sir, it's terribly inconvenient to have one's heart in another person's hands and I fear you do not know what to do with it.
But such words would admit that she had ever been careless enough with her heart in the first place, and so she keeps those words inside her. The words stay with her and her heart stays with him.
She asks him, once, why his policy against clients.
It follows a case where a client displayed interest, and so she likes to think she isn't wholly transparent, although she holds little hope of that. He looks to her and tells her it's a matter of professionalism.
But I'm no longer a client, she wants to say.
And immortality, he adds, as if he can see her muted protest. In time, everyone leaves.
I won't, she promises.
His smile is sad. One day, you won't have a choice.
She grows older.
He does not.
You'll spend her whole life avoiding the truth if you're not careful, Toto warns Baron.
And I'll spend many more lifetimes without her, Baron replies.
Toto looks at his oldest friend and, for all his talk of immortality, sees the years that have passed and the years that roll, unending, ahead weigh heavily on his shoulders. Some things are always going to be temporary, Toto tells him. The point of life is to make them worth it.
He does not.
A few days before his passing, Muta pulls Baron to one side. Even with the Cat Kingdom magic and Sanctuary magic on his side, time is finally catching up with the old feline. His once white fur has dulled to a grey, his eyes watery, his senses dulled.
I ain't the sappy sort, Muta tells him, but get moving with Haru. Else I'm not gonna live to mock ya for it.
And for once Haru is Haru, and not Chicky, and that unnerves Baron more than he cares to admit. He looks into the tired eyes of his friend and sees the future for Haru. One day death will take her as it is already taking Muta, and he won't be able to stop it.
Muta never does get the chance.
He does not.
Somewhere along the wasted years, they have stopped dancing. He doesn't notice it immediately, but it happens all the same. Somewhere, the furtive looks became sure, the secret smiles opened out, the unspoken words settled. She sits beside him as they drink tea, her head resting on his shoulder, and her free hand is intertwined with his as she tells tales of Hiromi's grandchildren. She catches his eye and she holds it with easy confidence.
Somewhere along the wasted years, they have stopped dancing and he doesn't understand why.
He does not.
He stands beside the hospital bed, not a day aged since the first time they met, so many years ago, but Haru is old and grey and beautiful and tired. A glamour is held over him, disguising his face as human but Haru sees past that. She smiles, her mouth now lined by many years of laughter, and intertwines her hand once more with his.
You said you wouldn't leave me, he whispers.
I lied, she whispers back.
For wasting all those years, he says. For worrying about the future, instead of focusing on the present. We could have spent our life together, if only I hadn't been so stubborn.
She smiles again, and it crinkles her eyes. She tightens her grip.
You idiot, she whispers. We've already spent a lifetime together. What do you think we were doing all those years?