James Birdsong (Guest): Lol, for a sec I thought you'd left the same review twice

Ukitakeitalialover041757: I'm glad you're liking it

Lizyeh2000: I'm hoping to eventually get on a schedule and update regularly :\

Lizziecats: It's so cool to hear from you again! Five years later and your username was still somehow familiar. Reviews like yours are what makes writing so worth it. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Imma be honest with you guys, I'm feeling the urge to go work on one of my other fics. My fic of choice switches back and forth without warning, so I doubt this urge will last for long. It's for one of my sorely neglected fics so I'm sorta excited to get back to it. On the other hand, I don't want to leave this fic either. We'll see. Maybe I can give them both attention for a while.

Also, I'm playing around with the idea of leaving notes on the chapter at the end of each, just giving background and reasoning for choices I make. Just keep you guys in the loop a bit more and such.

Disclaimer: Mmhmm.

[o]

Chapter 7

Spring Comes

Going back to school was difficult after having a few days off, yet somehow despite this the week passed by all too quickly. Before I knew it Tohru and I found ourselves standing in front of the large, intimidating wooden doors leading into the Sohma's main estate.

"We'll be fine," I reassured Tohru once again, shivering slightly in the frigid air. "He can't really do anything to us." It was a somewhat true reassurance. I'd already explained to her my thoughts on the matter of him making us promise secrecy. Just the same, a sketchy stranger had called us to his home without anyone else's knowledge. My pepper spray was safely tucked away in by bag, ready to be pulled out at a moment's notice.

"Hallo!" I jumped, but more from my sister's shriek than the surprise greeting. The foreign call had come from Momiji, and despite his rambunctious personality I couldn't help but be thankful for his appearance. Not only because he could lead us to Sohma Hatori's house, but because he could act as moral support. And a witness if we disappeared.

As we followed Momiji through the eerily quiet estate I felt both my own and Tohru's nerves growing more and more frazzled and I reached over to grab her hand, fingers numb as the day only seemed to grow colder. She squeezed it for both of our comfort. Just the same, by the time the blonde boy ushered us into a house Tohru was nearly panting out of nervousness and my hand not gripping hers was closed in a tight fist as I forced myself to analyze the situation. Hatori-san met us calmly inside the door, and so far he wasn't jumping us, Momiji was here as witness (and seemed perfectly at ease) and surely some of the neighbors would hear us if we screamed. There wasn't any traffic to mask the noise. Yeah, this is okay. We're fine.

"Come in. Momiji, bring us something to drink." Tohru's formal house greeting seemed exhausted yet it was there nonetheless and I found her oddness comforting in the new environment as I loosened my jacket to accommodate for the sudden warmness inside the building.

We were led to a large room before Hatori-san excused himself, so while we waited for him to return my eyes began to wander over the sparse room. It was immaculate and organized, which really didn't surprise me. In fact, after having met the man even briefly I would've been shocked if the place had been anything but immaculate. Randomly an image of Sohma-kun's disaster of a room flashed through my mind.

Despite the doctor's put-together disposition I mused that he could be hiding a disorganized part of himself. After all, if I've learned anything about the Sohmas it's that nothing is as it appears.

"Tori, look." I looked where Tohru was indicating and blinked in surprise at the framed picture of a smiling woman before meeting Tohru's gaze.

"I guess anything's possible."

"It's true," came a voice behind us. I jumped and for a second worried it was Hatori-san and he'd be upset by the fact I thought it was surprising he would have a girlfriend, but it was only Momiji with the drinks. Was he the hand here, or something? Is that considered child labor?

We sat at what looked like a little reception area and accepted a warm cup of tea. As Tohru sipped softly at hers I wrapped my hands around my mug to thaw my fingers, not entirely comfortable with drinking anything until I knew why exactly we were here. Soft footsteps sounded behind us and I turned to watch as the man returned, standing near Momiji's seat as Tohru took another sip to calm her nerves.

"Uh, Hatori-san, did you have to take off work at your clinic for this?"

"No. I don't treat anyone outside the Sohma clan. I'm the family doctor." Okay, that makes sense, so now why are we here? "About half of it consists of babysitting Akito. Constantly getting sick is Akito's specialty." I blinked at the head's casual appearance in the conversation. Was this guy everywhere? I wasn't sure if it was normal for a clan head to be so prominent in the clan members' lives.

"Plus, all of the Sohmas are super busy today, so nobody will come for an exam."

"Huh?" It didn't look like everyone was busy. In fact it looked like the place was deserted.

"They're getting ready for New Year's! It's a big event, so outside people help, too, not just inside ones.

"Is that why it's so empty here?" The boy nodded his head at me.

"Mm."

"Wait," Tohru interrupted. "Outside? Inside?" The boy explained the terms and I recognized the description Sohma-kun had given of the different parts of the family what seemed like ages ago as we walked around the school building. At the thought of school my recent problems with Yuki's stalkers came to mind and I tuned out the conversation, sucking the inside of my bottom lip between my teen and biting down. Not that the group of petty girls bothered me, but right now I had more pressing concerns to focus on.

Like how through this whole conversation Momiji seemed happy and unconcerned and yet hadn't stopped hugging the couch pillow to his chest. Surely we weren't making him uncomfortable? Or maybe something about the whole situation was upsetting him. Should that be making me upset? What did he know that we didn't? Or was he simply upset in general? Before I could analyze it any further he re-caught my attention at the mention of our friends.

"Shii-chan and Yuki used to live inside, too." I knew Sohma-kun had with how bitter he was about it, and obviously Shigure-san had.

"Kyo was outside, though." That was news, but not that surprising when I thought about it. It went with everything I'd heard so far about him not being accepted as part of the zodiac.

Hatori-san finally turned from his position facing out the open doors and began walking past us towards his desk, effectively cutting off Momiji's words.

"To put that another way: even among the family, only a small number of people know the zodiac secret. It's outrageous for complete strangers like you two to know it." Alright, this is leaning towards him hypnotizing us to protect his family. My hand inched towards the bag on my lap even as he took a seat at his desk, just in case he was waiting for a good moment to get us while our guards were down.

"Ordinarily, I would wipe your memory right away," another inch towards my bag, "but Akito didn't order me to, and even permitted you to live among us." My arm relaxed and I felt some tension leave my neck. Okay, not going to wipe our brains while our guards are down.

"Do you have a fun life at Shigure's house?"

"Yes, very much."

"Mm."

He abruptly turned to face us with a glare, and despite my thoughts just a moment ago my hand was now inside my bag. Maybe I'll just keep it there. Just in case.

"I recommend that you move out." I heard Tohru gasp quietly in surprise while my own eyes narrowed back at him. What is this guy's angle? If he really wants to get rid of us he can, but he just keeps going back and forth. If he's gonna attack us he should just get it over with!

"Stay away from the Sohmas from now on. Our possessed family isn't fun and games like you think it is." Fun and games? Okay. From how depressed everyone is that's exactly what I thought of the family.

"We're monstrous. Loathsome. Cursed." Ooo-kay, that took an abrupt turn for the dark. "Leave before you regret ever associating with the Sohmas. Akito is trying to use you." That was already somewhat clear, but suddenly it became apparent why he called us here and told us to keep quiet about it. He was trying to warn us and didn't want the others to know.

My shoulders went down as the stress noticeably left me and I took my first deep breath since coming here as my hand left my bag. So he wasn't the crazy psychopathic kidnapper/maniac I was slowly starting to imagine him as, he was simply terrible at being kind. Just as he finished speaking the doorbell sounded out of nowhere and I jumped imperceptibly at the unexpected sound. I thought they said no one would come today?

He excused himself once again and went to answer the door. Once he left the room Tohru straightened in her chair and brought her hand up to her mouth in that way she does when she's thinking hard about something troubling her.

"You know," Momiji started, catching our attention once again. He looked more down than ever. "Harry's almost blind in his left eye." I slowly processed the new bit of information, wondering what he was leading into with this.

"He used to have a girlfriend. Her name was Kana. She was really nice." Used to? Was? That's a lot of past tense. "They even got engaged." He lowered his face to the point it was nearly buried in the top of the pillow. "But Akito got angry." At the name something dark grew in my heart, and I began to realize a part of why everyone I met in the Sohma family was so upset. It had to do with Akito, and his power over them. My lips pursed and I listened with new ears as he told the doomed story of Harry and Kana, and the shadow named Akito looming over them.

"Even then, he never blamed Akito."

"Why not?"

"Because that's the curse." During his story Momiji had left to sit outside on the porch in the chilly air, still curled in on himself as he spoke, so we were now standing behind him. Something in me ached to go over and comfort him, but I knew that doing so would only end up changing his form. A passing thought made me wonder if he'd ever even been hugged before. Were there any men in his life that were willing to comfort a hurting child?

"Harry doesn't want there to be any more people like Kana. He doesn't want either of you to get hurt like Kana did." As he spoke I felt Tohru begin to shake beside me and before I could support her she had fallen, crying, to her knees. I knelt down beside her, wrapping an arm around her back, and at the sound Momiji turned in concern.

"Wait, are you crying?" The concern in his voice was palpable, and despite his own misery he quickly got to his feet and joined me in comforting her. "Did I make you cry?! I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."

"You didn't make her cry," I reassured him, because I knew Tohru well enough to know that guilt was eating her up inside.

"No, it's just that Hatori-san is so kind…I'm glad I met all of you." A faint sound alerted me to a new presence and I felt eyes observing the three of us. I squeezed my arm even tighter around Tohru and turned my head slightly to meet Hatori-san's gaze.

"Even if I have the life I do now because I'm being used for something, I want to say 'thank you' for it." He met my gaze but I knew he was listening to my sister. "The only thing I know I'll never do is regret meeting Sohma-kun and the others. I'm who I am now because of them."

"And me?" I turned back to the boy in front of us without any further acknowledgement of the man behind us. "Are you glad you met me?" It was the question of a child who had never felt wanted. And though I was sure the boy was in his early teens, that doesn't mean there wasn't a child crying for love inside of him. So, despite only having met him, I answered in sync with my sister in a way only twins could really do.

"Of course." Though hers was considerably more teary than my own answer. Then, like with Sohma-kun when he gave us his first true smile, it became clear that this soft smile on his face now was the true Momiji, hiding under the cheerfulness he employed each day.

"Don't worry, I promise we're not using the Honda twins." All three of us turned to face the new voice. One I certainly hadn't been expecting hear.

"Shigure-san!" "Shii-chan!"

"Haa-san here just phrases things way too dramatically." At Shigure's arrival Tohru stood, and I reluctantly followed. He's a pervert, we already know that, and now I can add stalker to the growing list. In any case, we told him and the others that we were visiting a friend's house. Was he planning on spying on us while we visited our friend? I narrowed my eyes at his stupid innocent grin. Creep.

"What brought you here?"

"My gut! It told me to come, Tohru-kun! We authors need to have a keen sixth sense."

"He was stalking us," I hissed to her. Said creep didn't appear to notice, but I could've sworn a faint smirk formed on the doctor's face before he turned away with disinterest.

"Stop lying. You only came to check on the New Year's prep."

"The common folk are so quick to envy geniuses. Tragic, really."

…Are they acquaintances?

"They don't act like it, but they're BFFs."

"I keep telling you Akito-san doesn't mean them any harm, but you never listen and now you've scared them. What if they really do move out?" Something about that whole conversation was tickling my brain and I wondered what was so wrong with it. Perhaps that Shigure-san was the reason I knew we were being used in the first place, and was now claiming this 'Akito-san' didn't mean us any harm when all he seems to do is do people harm. Yeah, that's it. My low regard for the pervert, though tinged by gratefulness for lending us his house, had plunged even lower.

Tohru walked up to Hatori-san and bowed deeply.

"I'm okay, really. Thank you so much for worrying about me. But I plan to keep living with – "

" – That reminds me," he cut her off. He wouldn't be the first person she's made uncomfortable with her over-formality. "I should give this to you before I forget." He pulled out the camera and held it out to me over Tohru's head. I easily grabbed the camera he was holding. I'd only asked him to delete the picture, but if I was going to get an admittedly nice camera out of this I wasn't going to complain. Gift-horse, remember? "Like we agreed."

I was tempted to ask if he'd make any copies but decided he didn't seem like the kind of person who'd pull something underhanded like that after he'd given his word. So instead I lifted my purse flap and placed it next to my pepper spray.

"Thank you." Shigure-san covered his mouth in a clear attempt to be dramatic.

"I see, you made a trade. I'll let you know that Haa-san would've given it to you even if you hadn't asked. He's soft like that." I didn't know the doctor well enough to know if that was true or not, and even if I had known him better I'm not sure if that's something I would've wanted to risk.

"Come to think of it, I haven't introduced you to Akito-san yet." Which I didn't particularly mind on one hand, but on the other I kind of wanted to meet the person behind so much misery. After all, there's that one saying. How misery breeds misery and is only then satisfied. I think. But if that's to believed this 'Akito-san' must be a truly miserable person indeed.

"It's alright, I don't mind. So, Hatori-san, you're one of the zodiac? What year are you?" Now that she mentioned it I realized I hadn't even put thought into which he is, though I hardly knew all twelve animals to even begin guessing.

Shigure immediately turned away from us and began laughing into his hand, as if she'd just told the most hilarious joke.

"Great question! It's hilarious, really – " At this the previously calm and collected (read: intimidating and mysterious) man drew level with the novelist with a deadly aura.

"I'll call up some publishers and tell them every embarrassing thing you've done since you were four."

Shigure's voice grew strained and all previous humor was gone. "Sorry, can't tell you." Based on his reaction it seemed like the doctor's threat was a very real one, probably proven through past threats made at the pervert novelist.

Suddenly, I decided that I really liked the mysterious man who could control idiots without effort. In fact, I really admired him. He's amazing. I think from now on he'll be Hatori-sama. Maybe someday I can be like him.

Threat effective, he turned back to the three of us.

"I'm…sorry for today." I turned up to face him, but he seemed more focused on Tohru. "Apparently, I do nothing but make people cry." Because of my admiration for him I wanted to shower him in false assurances and make it clear that Tohru cries for everything, it's not his fault. But lies never really got anyone anywhere, so as Tohru took his words to heart I turned to humor instead.

"You're a doctor. I'm pretty sure it's part of the job description."

All of us ended up walking further into the inner estate to drop of Shigure and Momiji before heading back to the exit. My coat was once again fastened, and I hunched over myself to try conserving body heat. While we were inside it had gotten even colder, and now our breaths were visible as wispy puffs in the air as we trudged on in the gloomy light due to the heavy cloud covering. It was a short walk filled for the most part with babble from Shigure and curt replies from his friend, and before long we stopped at another wooden archway that I assumed was as far as Tohru and I could go as outsiders.

"Okay," Shigure addressed us. "I'm going to go take a peek at the New Year's setup."

"And I have to go to the dance rehearsal!"

"Dance?" Considering the time of year, it must be a New Year's thing.

"It's like an annual ritual for us." He then turned a serious face to Hatori-sama. "Hatori, you're not allowed to do anything pervy to Tohru-kun and Tori-kun." With an equally serious face I took the liberty of responding.

"That's more of your thing, Shigure-san." He blanched at my accusation. "Be careful Momiji-kun." Said boy giggled and grinned.

"Hai!"

And with that Hatori began walking away, with the two of us following.

"Bis bald!" I'd never learned any German, but it was easy enough to guess that was a farewell of sorts. Tohru turned and gave a small bow.

"I'll see you later!"

I turned my head with a smile and waved over my shoulder before shoving both hands deep into my warm coat pockets. For one so emotionally tormented he somehow remained rather cheerful and energetic. I doubted it was fake, as it didn't seem as forced as Yuki-kun's happiness, and it didn't seem quite like Tohru's coping mechanism to remain happy. It's quite possible that he's simply a happy person, even with the hard times. I hope he stays that way. It's quite endearing.

"Er, Hatori-san," Tohru broke the silence we'd been walking in. "Are you and Shigure-san 'BFF's'?"

He repeated the term with a slightly depressed aura. Seems he wasn't so fond of it. Tohru caught onto the change as well.

"Huh?! Um, I mean, Momiji-san told me that!"

"I'm stuck with him, that's all." I wonder if Shigure was aware of Hatori's opinion of him. Having lived with him the past few months, I really couldn't say for sure. He's difficult to read. Yet, I somehow felt that even if he did know he wouldn't care all that much.

Tohru adopted her befuddled thinking face and I sighed at her expense as I followed Hatori down the short stairway leading to a new pathway.

"Oi, watch your step." He hadn't addressed either of us in particular so I figured he was just being cautious. Tohru, after all, could look like a bit of an airhead at times. And I happened to share her face, so it's almost natural for people to nag us about things like this.

"Huh? Ah!"

And for good reason, I suppose.

I yanked my hands out of my pockets a moment too late and watched with relief as Hatori-sama caught her before she could do any damage. Despite telling myself I should be used to thinks like this by now I rushed down the remaining stairs just as there was a soft pop and an explosion of purple.

"Tohru!"

"I…I'm fine. A-are you all right, Hato – Eep!" At the shocked sound I turned to the pile of clothes and scanned them quickly, looking for the animal he turned into. It took me a moment to spot the tiny, yellow…seahorse. I blinked.

"I didn't know there's a seahorse in the zodiac." And, cue freak-out.

"H-Hatori-san?! Water! Wait, does he need salt water or fresh water?!" I knelt next to her crouched over form and grabbed her shoulders to quite-literally pull her attention onto me.

"Calm down. Freaking out won't help him." The crazed look in her eye was still there, but she seemed to be trying to calm down. Now let's see. I was tempted to look back down at the sea creature just to confirm that it was actually there but resisted knowing that drawing attention back to it would set her off again.

This had to be a semi-normal occurrence. There's no way he's gone his whole life without being transformed at least a few times. He did have a girlfriend at one point after all, and that's bound to lead to a few accidental transformations. That being said, salt water isn't readily available in this part of the country which would lead one to believe he should be dunked in just regular water. There was a large stream past the gate we had reached so we just had to find an opening near a spot where the drop wasn't so far down and we could reach the water. Right.

By this point Tohru seemed to be back to normal, more-or-less, so I addressed her once again.

"You grab him, I'll take his clothes. We need to find an opening in that gate so we can reach the stream." She nodded and gingerly scooped up the creature in her hands as I quickly scooped up his clothes. They seemed expensive so I tried not to bunch them up too much, but priorities. Once she had the animal cupped in both hands Tohru took off at a run and I followed quickly after her, fumbling with the clothes as I tried to catch up.

Before long Tohru stopped with a despairing look on her face.

"There isn't a way to reach the water!" I clenched down the inside of my cheek, trying to think of another solution, then looked at the seahorse and frowned. Despite being unconscious he didn't seem any worse-for-wear. I didn't know how long he could survive without water, but maybe if his transformation wasn't long he'd be fine without it. With that in mind I quickly approached the bridge ahead of us that lead over another branch of the man-made stream. And just over there was a little rest area protruding out from the walk-way.

"Let's get him covered up over there. Hopefully he'll transform back soon."

Once we were there I folded the clothes – aside from his long coat – carefully at one end of the bench and laid the coat out as she set his tiny head on the make-shift pillow. Once she was satisfied with it and stepped back I pulled the collar up to cover from his little neck down. Hopefully this way he'd be fully covered when he changed back. In the meantime all we could do was wait.

Well actually…

"I think I dropped one of his socks," I confessed to Tohru. The missing article of clothing had become apparent when I folded his clothes. "I'm going to go get it."

At the last moment her hand came up to catch mine as I left the weather cover.

"Umm, how about we wait here until he changes back and then we both go look for the sock." Oh? Seems like some lingering fear for the doctor. Or, more likely…I smirked.

"You're not nervous to be alone with a naked guy, are you?" Her face blazed red and I knew I'd hit the nail on the head.

Thankfully we didn't have to wait long for him to change back and so didn't have to worry about him suffocating. Also thankfully, he was completely covered. While we waited for him to come to I pulled the little digital camera from my bag and pressed the power button. It buzzed quietly as the lens came out. At the sound Tohru looked over curiously. In answer to her unspoken question I switched from the camera to storage and grinned at the first image that appeared on the screen.

"Um, you're planning on deleting that, aren't you?" I held it to myself defensively.

"Of course not! This is a one-of-a-kind picture. Both giving insincere smiles and Sohma-kun wearing a fancy dress home-made with love. Someday they'll look at this and laugh."

She gave me an uncertain frown and I easily gave in.

"Plus, it'll be nice leverage to have over them." As I spoke I pulled the camera away from myself and switched back to picture mode, holding it up as I turned to face the unconscious man.

"And this is for if I ever need something from Shigure-san." Click.

Before she could reprimand me the doctor's eyes slowly opened. Seeing this above the camera I quickly powered off the device and shoved it back into my bag.

"Hatori-san! Are you alright?" At Tohru's slightly panicked voice I shot her a subtle look not to rat me out. She in return sent me a look promising we'd be talking more later. But I also knew she wouldn't out me. Good. While I didn't ever plan on using it on or against him as blackmail, that doesn't mean he wouldn't assume I would.

"I'm cold." Well I wonder why. Maybe he hit his head on the way down? Or, at least, harder than I thought he had.

"That's because under your coat you're…um…" He understood, and both of us turned away quickly as he sat up with a sigh. It sounded like he'd picked something up and begun putting it on, by the rustling of clothes.

"So you saw?" Everything ground to a halt as I tried to process what exactly he just asked us. Maybe Shigure was right about him? I don't usually read people so drastically wrong, but there's a first for everything.

"N-no! I just – "

"You saw my zodiac form?"

…oh, okay. Despite his clarification I could still feel my face burning as I turned to face him with Tohru, figuring if she was facing him and not freaking out he must be decent.

"Oh, hai." The change in his demeanor was astounding and so drastic I quickly got over his miscommunication. Some sort of psychological complex? I guess being a seahorse could be kind of embarrassing. Maybe more-so for a guy? Ooh, I get it. It's sort of like Sohma-kun not liking being called 'cute'. It's not cool enough for their masculine egos.

I nodded, satisfied. That must be it.

"I-I don't think it's weird, though! It's very cute, and there's the surprise factor…" I nudged her in the ribs with my elbow, making her rant fizzle out before it made him feel any worse.

After her little freak out Tohru suddenly realized one of his feet was completely bare, a shoe set on the ground beside it.

"Oh, your sock! We'll go look for it now! I'm sure it's just by the stairs." She then grabbed my hand and pulled me off it that direction, away from the awkward situation. As we hurried back to the stairs Tohru had fallen down I let some of the shock from earlier come back to me.

"I was sure he wanted to know if we saw his – "

" – Don't say it!"

"You thought so too! I'm not the only one at fault here!" As assumed the sock was lying a little ways away from the stairs, probably dropped as I'd been running after Tohru and still trying to gather everything up into my arms without wrinkling it all terribly. Sock found, Tohru snatched it up and hurried back the way we came, not wanting to make the man wait any longer than he already had.

As we returned to the bridge it was to the sight of the first people we'd seen so far aside from the three zodiac. There were three women, and by the happy voices drifting through the chilly air it sounded like one of them was being congratulated. Yet what caught my attention was the tender smile on Hatori-sama's face as he regarded them. Somehow the image from his desk came to mind, and I wondered if maybe one of them was someone he cared deeply for. As we came to a stop behind him he lowered his face, peaceful.

"Congratulations." I blinked down at him, recognizing the farewell for what it was. He was letting someone go, and I looked back up at the walkway the women had disappeared down.

"Congratulations for what?" I blinked at Tohru's voice, looking back over to the two next to me. He brought a hand up to his mouth, and I knew we weren't supposed to witness any of the past few moments.

"Never mind." Tohru, always so easily distracted, disregarded her confusion quickly with a delighted gasp before setting the sock down on his bench and rushing forward to the wooden fence.

"Oh! It's snowing!" I blinked at the abrupt transition before following to stand at her side, leaning against the large pillar in the corner and looking out at the white specks flowing down from the sky. "No wonder we felt so cold today." Tohru sent a smile my way and I returned it, knowing full well it was a light-hearted jab at me. Snow was cold, and it got everywhere once it started to pile up, and it was essentially just really cold water. But it's still beautiful, and it makes my sister happy. So despite the numbness in my cold fingers I pulled my left hand from my pocket and stuck it out past the weather roof, watching as the little specks melted as soon as they landed. I was sure there were plenty of comparisons between the snow and the doctor behind us that I could make, but I decided to let them lie. I'd just enjoy this feeling and let myself stop thinking for a moment.

Tohru, wondering at the silence, turned back to the doctor in concern. "Hatori-san? Is something the matter?" I let my hand come back in, wiping the moisture on my coat before stuffing my numb fingers back into my now-cold pocket. At her concern the man stood, and I turned my head to regard him as he came to stand at her other side.

"What do you think comes of snow when it melts?" That was a rather absurd question, especially coming from the logical man. Maybe he really had hit his head.

"Let's see…" I raised an eyebrow at how hard Tohru was thinking about it.

"Water," I deadpanned. His head turned slightly, regarding me with a look I couldn't quite grasp. Then it moved to Tohru as she clapped her hands together and turned to him to share her own idea.

"Spring comes!" His eyes widened slightly in surprise. "No matter how cold it is now, spring will come again. It never fails. It's mysterious, isn't it?" That was such a Tohru answer. Yet, even though my answer was correct, by the way he turned away with a satisfied smile I knew Tohru's was the answer he was looking for. Perhaps the doctor, despite being so logical, had a bit of my sister's romantic side. Being that not everything had to have a logical answer. He looked up and out into the falling snow again, pleased.

"It is."

Not long after that we were again making our way over to the exit of the estate, and this time we successfully made it there without any tumbles or transformations. Snow was already beginning to build up on the ground so our footsteps crunched slightly as we stopped in front of the large doors.

"Thank you for walking us to the gate," Tohru said with a bow.

"Sorry I put you two through some trouble."

"You guys are still here?" I looked past Hatori-sama to look at Shigure-san, apparently having finished looking at the preparations while we had the little seahorse mishap.

"Shigure-san!" As he got closer to us he continued speaking.

"Haa-san, have you been se-" He abruptly cut off, eyes darting over to me quickly and bringing a hand up to his mouth to cough subtly. "Never mind." I blinked. Perhaps he had taken my pervert comment to heart and chose not to tease his friend on the same matter twice only to have it switched around him again?

A smirk grew on my face as I wondered if perhaps something really good had come out of our excursion. Without another word from the Dog Hatori-sama turned and began walking away. I didn't blame him.

"Goodbye." Tohru lifted her hand happily and waved him off.

"Let's see each other again soon!" He lifted a hand without turning back, waving it half-heartedly before putting it back in his pocket. I lifted my hand marginally and waved even though he wouldn't see it. It was almost sad to see him go.

"It was a pain for Hatori to summon you here like that. But he's not a bad guy, really." There, something we agree on.

"I know. He was a very kind man." I nodded in agreement to her words. The man turned with a smile.

"Okay, let's go home. I'm hungry!" The sound of a car rose up from further down the road inside the estate but it was easily ignored as we turned to follow the man. Just as I moved to follow, an impending sense of doom suddenly washed over me and I knew without a doubt that we were being watched by someone dangerous.

I turned to Tohru quickly and knew she felt it, too. At that moment the car grew closer and as one we turned to regard it as it passed us. There were two passengers and a driver, but it was the one in back staring right back at us that held my attention. He was handsome, in the way all the zodiac I'd met so far were, and probably only a few years older than us. But his eyes were deep and dark as they regarded us. I felt myself drawing back slightly at the power contained in them, the knowledge that to him we were nothing. I didn't need a name or a description to know who this was.

The spell was broken abruptly as the car continued on, taking him out of sight. But fear remained in my heart and I watched until it disappeared around the corner. Unaware of what had just happened Shigure-san continued his careless chatter that went ignored by us.

"Shigure-san." Her voice had taken on a haunted quality that immediately caught the older man's attention. He turned back to face us in surprise, bringing his hands down to his side "What's the 'curse'?" I turned to face him fully, hoping for an answer to the question Hatori-sama had brought into our minds. The curse wasn't just that they transformed. There was something darker to it, something that loomed over this family.

"Shouldn't I…shouldn't I do something to help?" I looked at my sister out of the corner of my eye, lowering my head. Wariness had taken a place in her, and knowing my sister she wouldn't be able to live with herself until she did everything in her power to stop the suffering of those around her.

"You can help by being yourself. I don't think I should tell you about it yet. I'm sorry." I knew that his assurance wouldn't do anything to stop her. The idea that she could help had been planted in her head, and she would keep it at bay just until she found her opportunity.

His answer was unsatisfactory, but somehow I was glad he didn't confide in us yet. I wanted to enjoy the bliss for as long as I could. The bliss of not knowing. This curse was encroaching on us and would become darkness in our lives, of that I had no doubt. But I wanted to enjoy this feeling of happiness and being accepted for as long as I could before it overtook us like it had the Sohmas.

Tohru and I followed Shigure home as the snow fell all around us, blanketing the path in white. I took Tohru's hand at some point, and we held onto the small comfort of each other. Both of us knew that like the snow, the wonder and happiness we were experiencing at being a part of this family would soon leave and we would have to face the dark reality of the world around us.

"We're home!" Silence greeted us despite knowing there were two rowdy teenage boys occupying the house. We removed our shoes and entered, looking for any sign of them. We were faced with a peaceful sight, both boys deep asleep around the new kitchen table and warmed by the kotatsu recently brought out to stave off the winter chill.

"I guess it's true what they say," Shigure-san spoke in a whisper. "A kotatsu can put even a demon to sleep." Tohru laughed up at him, equally as quiet, while I smiled at the scene in front of us.

"I'll wake them for dinner," I volunteered.

"You're brave, Tori-chan." We all split ways, Tohru for the kitchen after smiling at the boys one last time and Shigure-san to his study, probably to work on one of his novels.

I approached the Rat first, kneeling down beside him and resting my head on my propped up hand, tilting it slightly so my face was parallel to his. Dinner wasn't going to be ready for a while so I figured I had some time to dawdle.

He looked peaceful, like this. Free of the expectations he puts on himself, the painful memories he holds, and the sadness he tries so hard to hide and deny. Here, like this, with his mouth slightly ajar and his hair a mess, he looked like the careless teenager he could have been. I kind of resented the fact this had been taken away from him, but at the same time I'm glad I'm here to see this side of him.

I reached out my free hand and used my fingers to smooth a lock of his hair back behind his ear, then brushed his bangs out of his face. At my touch his eyes began fluttering so I pulled my hand back to my lap.

"Sohma-kun," I said softly. His eyes opened slowly but were still hazy with sleep as he regarded me. "Sohma-kun, we're going to be late for school if you don't hurry and get ready." His eyes closed again peacefully for a moment. Then they abruptly slammed open as my words registered. He got hastily to his feet and quickly left for his room without a word. I chuckled to myself and next turned to the ginger. I didn't take as much time to study him as I had Sohma-kun. He was admittedly less tense than he typically was, and the way he'd burrowed under the kotatsu was rather adorable. After coming to that conclusion I promptly stuck my frozen sock-clad toes under the warm table and kicked his leg.

He startled out of his slumber and sat up quickly, arms awkwardly raised in defense as he blinked the sleep away rapidly. I regarded him from the same position as he quickly scanned the room before his groggy eyes eventually landed accusingly on me.

"Tohru's making dinner," I explained dispassionately, mouth-watering smells already wafting in from the kitchen. At that moment Sohma-kun returned to the room with an annoyed frown aimed my way. I gave him the same shrug.

"Well it worked, didn't it? And it was amusing to watch."

"What was amusing to watch?" I opened my mouth to answer Kyo-kun but Sohma-kun cut me off.

"Nothing!" Kyo looked between the two of us before sighing angrily and standing. He then left to join Tohru in the kitchen, shutting the kitchen door behind him with finality. Now free of his rival's presence the Rat retook his previous spot and I scooted over to Kyo's vacated side to give him more space and mooch off the remaining body heat where Kyo had been laying.

"Why must you do things like that?"

"I'm not going to apologize." He sighed quietly and I shot him a sidelong grin. "What gave it away?"

"It occurred to me that Miss Honda never would've allowed me and the idiot cat to spend the whole night downstairs. That, and," he shifted uncomfortably. "I passed a window." I chuckled at his expense, earning an exasperated look.

"In any case, how was your day?" I allowed the subject change.

"It was alright, actually. Better than expected."

"Oh? Who did the two of you go see?" I'd never been one for telling lies, and nothing bad had ended up happening. So I settled on telling it to him straight.

"Hatori-sama." He was up on his feet faster than last time, but this time he stayed and stared down at me with both incredulity and anger. Not liking that he now stood over me I left the Kotatsu's warmth and stood as well.

"I told you two not to be alone with him!"

"Well it's not like we could just tell him no when he told us he wanted to meet."

"When did he tell you that?"

"The evening following the end of the cultural festival." I didn't expect his anger to come out any more than it already had, but it did.

"Right after I warned you! Why didn't you tell me?!" Now his voice was raised so mine naturally had to as well.

"Because you would have reacted like you are now!" Surprise grew on his face before a frown as he looked down briefly. After a moment he looked up again and met my eyes and my own anger faded when I saw his worry.

"And if he had called you to erase your memories?" I felt my shoulders come down as they relaxed.

"Like I said, we couldn't just say no. But," I relented, sitting back down and grabbing my discarded purse. He followed me down and eyed it warily as I pulled out my little canister.

"Well, I did consider the possibility and took a couple precautions." He took the pepper spray from my outstretched hand before shaking his head disbelievingly.

"Only you." I shrugged.

"I figured it would at least give us time to run. But everything turned out alright. In fact, it was pretty interesting and informative." At that moment Tohru peeked her head in.

"Is everything alright? We heard raised voices."

"What did you think of our Tohru and Tori?"

"She reminds me a lot of Kana."

"Tohru? Yes, they both have the same optimistic personality."

"The other brought pepper spray." Shigure sweat-dropped. He was reclined back in his chair, knowing his editor would be upset he wasn't working on his manuscript and not caring in the least as he held the phone up to his ear.

"Tori's the cautious one of the two." On the other end of the line Harry's eyes narrowed from his spot at the window, looking out into the dark where specks of white were briefly illuminated by the porch lights on their journey to the ground. He turned away smoothly as he recalled his observations of the three children that afternoon, one of which had her nails digging into the skin of her palms even as she regarded the others normally.

"Is she simply cautious?"

"Hmm?"

"I observed a number of behaviors in Honda Tori while she was here. After watching her for a while I wouldn't be surprised if she suffers, to a degree, from some form of anxiety." Shigure was silent on the other end, deep in thought. "She seems to have it under some level of control, but without properly dealing with it that can only work for so long."

"Tori-chan, before you head up can I talk to you in my office?" Shigure watched as the twins shared a look before Tori nodded hesitantly, leaving the others to gather the empty dishes from dinner. Before following she subtly grabbed her bag which he now knew contained pepper spray. He knew Yuki and now Hatori had poisoned her innocent mind on his intentions and he was sad to know she would never trust him. Not that he would trust him either. But part of him wondered if Tori-san was capable of fully trusting anyone.

Once in his office they took seats at his desk across from each other. Knowing Tori's own tendency to get straight to the point, Shigure decided not to beat around the bush.

"I'm not sure if you're aware of it already, but Hatori brought it to my attention that you show signs that you may have some level of anxiety. Considering some of your tendencies to – " He was cut off as Tori abruptly stood up, an angry gleam in her eye.

"You're wrong." And with that she retreated to her room, leaving Shigure wide-eyed and shocked in his study. Tohru looked up from where she was doing homework at the desk. Without a word I slid behind her on the chair, hugged her from behind, and rested my forehead between her shoulders. I didn't know how to react to the new development. No one was supposed to know. As of last year no one else did know. It was silent for a number of moments, but I could feel that Tohru wasn't moving so I knew she was thinking hard about what might be bothering me. I wasn't going to say anything to ease her mind.

"Do you remember," she finally spoke. "What mom used to do when we were really upset?" I didn't say anything, but I couldn't help the small smile that formed on my face with what she was suggesting. And quick as a whip Tohru had turned around and began dancing her fingers along my side as I leapt away from her onto the bed, shrieking with laughter as she followed and continued her assault. Well, what else could I do but retaliate?

The other three occupants listened as squeals and peels of laughter sounded from the twins in their room and couldn't help but smile. They may all feel darkness looming on the

horizon, but for now they'd enjoy each day as it comes, in the company of each other.

[o]

1. Regarding Tori and Momiji. It's been mentioned with Uo and Hana that she wasn't welcoming towards them at first but eventually they became good friends. Now we've been able to see firsthand as she went through that whole arc with Momiji.

2. It struck me while editing this chapter that the person on the far side of Kana is her friend Mayuko Shiraki. It was nicely done how the anime never revealed her whole face since at this point she hasn't been introduced yet. I almost wanted to have Tori notice her even a little bit, but in the end decided to leave it.

3. When we're first introduced to Kana through Hatori's eyes he states that she was his spring, and eventually she thawed out the winter inside of him. This alludes to his inability to love, and how Kana made him realize that he can love and be loved. Later when he wipes her memory he prays that she'll find happiness, saying he would be frozen forever if she could be happy, since there's no one else who could love him or who he could love. Yet Tohru answers that no matter how cold things are at the moment, winter will always become spring again. Or, as he may take it, no matter how miserable he is presently there will always be another chance at love, which, he agrees, is 'mysterious.' And what I love is that, as mentioned above, Mayuko Shiraki was hiding in the background in the last scene, just before he had this realization.

4. If you suffer from anxiety this may not be how it manifests itself for you. I'm basing Tori's anxiety off my own experiences with it, which is mostly just coming up with endless strategies and techniques to get myself to stop thinking before I go over the edge. When she bites her gums and digs her nails into her palm these are all instinctual habits she's gotten into over time as she's tried to cope with it on her own.