Chapter Thirty-One

Tohru felt light-headed as she put distance between herself and Akito's room. I can't believe that just happened. It wasn't that she regretted anything she'd done; she was merely in shock of her own audaciousness.

"What I feel for you…it's not just friendship. It's more than that."

Never in a million years had she imagined that she would have cause to speak those words during today's visit. If anything, she'd expected Akito to be asleep when she and Hatori arrived. I wouldn't have minded, if that were the case. Her sole purpose in coming to the hospital had been to confirm that Akito was alive and on the path to recovery, and now that she'd seen with her own eyes that he was, in fact, very much alive, the relief she felt was beyond compare.

Expressing that sentiment hadn't felt right, though. Or rather, it hadn't felt like enough. Because what she'd said earlier was true: she'd been awake most of the night worrying obsessively about the outcome of Akito's procedure. Over and over, she'd forced herself to consider the possibility of a future without him.

The thought had been almost unbearable.

Now, telling him that had felt right, like it was a truth that had been a part of her for some time, a closed door waiting to be let open. She'd just had to acknowledge the door was there in the first place, and she was so glad that she finally had. Yet, as she continued down the hall, there was another thing she had to confess: I'm afraid of what comes next.

Once Akito was released, she had every intention of continuing to visit him at Sohma House. In fact, she had to figure she'd be spending twice as much time there as before. And servants gossiped, as did Hatori and Shigure, which meant that it would only be a matter of time before everyone knew about their relationship.

Is that really so bad, though? It wasn't as if Tohru wanted to hide her regard for Akito. The thought of even attempting to do such a thing made her feel dishonest and, moreover, ashamed. Because what would Akito think, if she insisted on keeping their meetings secret? He would think she was embarrassed by the whole thing, and that she was only spending time with him out of kindness. And she couldn't let him think that, not only because it wasn't true, but because Akito hated pity above all else.

No, I have to be open about everything. With everyone, including Yuki and Kyo.

And that, she knew, was the crux of it. Even the thought of having that conversation filled her with all-consuming dread, because she knew they would never understand. They might even hate her. Though Tohru knew it was unlikely, she at least had to acknowledge that it was possible she would soon lose two of her dearest friends.

I might lose Isuzu, too. The idea of her choices having the power to make enemies of people she cared about was terrifying, and she hated not knowing how things would turn out, in the end. I bet this is similar to how Kureno felt, back when he made the decision to leave Sohma House-

She rounded a corner, and nearly ran smack into a man who was moving swiftly in the opposite direction.


Tohru threw out her hands, only just managing to catch herself before toppling over. "Oh my gosh!" she gasped, heat rushing to her cheeks. "I am so sorry. I wasn't looking where I was going, and I-"

"It's all right." The stranger's voice was soft and deep and tinged with humor, leading Tohru to believe that he was more amused than annoyed by the situation. Even so, she kept her eyes on the ground, too mortified to meet his gaze. "I wasn't looking where I was going, either," he admitted. "Sounds like we both need to be more careful."

Why does he sound familiar? After a brief hesitation, Tohru glanced up, only to find herself staring into the warm brown eyes of Kureno Sohma. Odd. I was just thinking about him.

The ex-rooster smiled as recognition lit her features. "Hello," he said, "it's good to see you again."

"Um, yes," Tohru mumbled, still in a half-daze. "The pleasure's all mine..."

"May I ask where you were running off to in such a hurry?" He leaned forward, still sounding very much like he wanted to laugh. "I hope it wasn't because of anything Akito did. The way I hear it, the two of you are becoming fast friends."

Tohru blinked as she realized what her hastiness must've looked like from an outsider's perspective: a retreat. She shook her head. "No. I mean, yes, I did come from Akito's room. His doctor…well, he sort of kicked me out. Not because I did anything bad," she added quickly, and Kureno did chuckle that time. "He just needed to do some tests. I thought I'd visit Isuzu in the meantime, since she's right upstairs."

"Then, Akito's awake?"

She nodded, and Kureno's expression at once turned contemplative. "I don't suppose there's any chance he'd agree to see me? Hatori called this morning and told me everything. The curse…" He gave a mystified shake of his head. "Well, I can hardly believe what he said. It just doesn't seem possible. I guess that's kind of a ridiculous thing to say, seeing as my own curse has been broken for some time. Still…"

His voice quieted before he trailed off and fell completely silent.

"You didn't know, then?" Tohru asked when she felt certain he wasn't going to speak again. "When the curse broke, you…you didn't sense it?"

His eyes snapped back to her, and Tohru thought she saw a hint of sorrow in them as he answered, "No. I had no idea. Which, I guess that isn't altogether surprising. After all, how could I have sensed such a thing, when my own zodiac spirit was gone? Even so." He paused. "Ever since I lost my connection to the zodiac, there was still a part of me that felt tied to it all. I couldn't find peace. It was impossible. I guess I just thought that maybe…"

Regret filled his eyes. It was a look that Tohru recognized as belonging to someone who feared they'd spoken too freely. He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't trouble you with all that. You already know my story, after all. And I guess it doesn't matter anymore. It's over, which means that I can finally try to move on."

An idea occurred to Tohru then, something that she thought might lift his spirits, if only a little. "Does that mean," she whispered hopefully, "that you might…maybe…possibly…consider getting in touch with Arisa?"

Hearing her friend's name, Kureno's face went slack. Tohru thought his color grew a shade paler, as well. She quickly put up one of her hands. "I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to-"

"It's all right," he assured her. "You just caught me off guard. The truth is…I thought of Arisa the second I saw you. Every time I even hear your name, I think of her, because of the connection that you two share. And because of what you told me that day on the beach." He glanced away, looking, Tohru thought, shier than she'd ever seen him. "But now that you mention it…do you think there's a chance Arisa might still be interested in seeing me? It's been some time since we met, and I don't want to presume, but-"

Tohru laughed. She couldn't help it. His stuttering and stumbling around the subject was adorable, and even though he tried to downplay his feelings, it was clear that he very much wanted to see Arisa. She does the exact same thing whenever I bring up Kureno. They really are perfect for each other.

"It hasn't been that long, when you think about it," she said, still giggling. "And yes," she told him emphatically. "If it'd been months, or even years, I know that Arisa would want to see you." She beamed as a new idea occurred to her. "Do you have a pen and paper? I can give you her contact information-"

Kureno cut her off. "She still works at that same convenience store, right?" When Tohru nodded, he said, "I'll stop in sometime and surprise her."

A comfortable silence passed before he scratched the back of his neck and asked, "So,'re sure that it's safe for me to visit Akito? That is, he isn't going to go off and throw something at me, or...?"

Even though Tohru felt like she should laugh, she didn't. After all, that had once been a very real concern for him and the other zodiac. "No," she replied. "If anything, I think you'll find Akito to be much improved."


His eyebrows lifted. It was clear he doubted her, and Tohru couldn't blame him. "Yes," she said confidently. "Even before the curse broke, Akito had begun to see how wrongly he'd handled things with his family. He wanted to be better. Ask him," she urged. "He'll tell you."

Though Kureno still looked skeptical, he seemed to consider her words. "I will. Oh, and Honda?"

Her eyes grew wide, startled by his directness. But when he spoke again, he only said, "Get some rest. You look exhausted."

Tohru gave a nervous squeak of a laugh. He's probably right. I guess that'll happen when you get twenty minutes of sleep in a single night altogether.

"I mean it," Kureno told her. "I may not know you all that well, but you seem like the sort of person who puts everyone else's happiness first. But you need to have a care for yourself, too. More than that, actually. If you don't…"

His expression grew dark, and Tohru got the feeling that he was speaking from personal experience.

"If you don't," he continued, "your happiness will begin to fade. You may not realize it's happening, at first. But in time, you'll find yourself smiling less and less frequently. Because by worrying so much about others, you'll have lost all sense of what makes you happy."

He is speaking from personal experience. He was talking, she realized, about what happened to him after his curse broke. He spent two years thinking about all of his family members that were still cursed, worrying over how his choice to leave had affected them.

"Always remember that the happiness of others isn't your responsibility."

Tohru felt like he was directing this statement more at himself than at her.

Before she could talk herself out of it, she reached out and snatched one of Kureno's hands. "It wasn't your fault that your curse broke," she told him earnestly. "And you weren't a bad person for wanting to enjoy your new life. In fact, you were fully within your right to do so."

She squeezed his hand. Kureno gaped at her for a long moment before turning away. She might've been wrong, but she could have sworn that his eyes were glistening. "You have that right too, you know," he murmured. "To pursue your own happiness."

You have that right. The words reverberated in Tohru's head, though with each repetition she began to hear them spoken in a very different tone of voice. A higher voice. A livelier voice. A happier voice.


For what felt like the hundredth time, Tohru found herself plagued by the question of what her mother would want her to do next, were she still alive. She knew the answer, of course. It was the same conclusion she'd come to the night before. Above all else, Kyoko would want Tohru to follow her heart.

"Just be yourself. You'll be fine."

Be yourself. What did that even mean? She remembered the thing she'd confessed to Akito a few days back, while they were having tea together at the Main House: "I thought that maybe if I did and said things that reminded Mom of Dad…maybe then she would start to be herself again."

Akito was the only living soul that Tohru had entrusted with that information, and as much as she'd hated to give voice to this great secret of hers, she knew it was the truth.

Ever since she was a little girl, Tohru had been a caricature of her father, the man her mother had loved more than anyone. At first, she'd only done so in order to make her mother happy, so that Kyoko wouldn't slip back into that deep, dark place she'd lived during the months following Kasuma's funeral. And in the aftermath, it had just kind of…stuck.

I don't know what it means to be myself.

The realization was almost enough to send Tohru into a spiral. She took a deep breath and pressed a hand against the wall to steady herself.

Kureno was instantly alarmed. "Are you all right?" He stepped toward her with both of his hands out, as if preparing to grab onto her, should the worst happen. "It wasn't something I said, was it?"

"No," she rasped. "I'm sorry. I-"

She stopped herself in the next second. Because maybe she was wrong. Maybe her attunement to the mental and physical well-being of others was more than just an adopted personality trait. Maybe her kind and caring nature was part of who she—Tohru—was at her core.

It certainly feels right.

Her breaths began to even out. There's no need to panic. All I have to do is listen to what feels right, and act accordingly. That's all Mom meant.

She removed her hand from the wall and stood a little straighter. "Yes. I'm okay," she told Kureno. "It's just…everything is so overwhelming right now. For both of us. But we have to keep going, no matter what. And I think the best way to do that is to live each moment according to what your heart is telling you. You may not always make the right choice, but at least you'll be able to look back and say that you did what you thought was best at the time."

Frowning, Kureno reached out and touched her forearm, as if still uncertain of her stability. "I think I get it now," he said after a beat.

When Tohru's face scrunched up, Kureno released her arm and patted her shoulder. "You've made me feel much better," he explained. "If what you say is true, and Akito really has improved, then I think I know who to thank."

"Oh." Tohru looked down sheepishly. "No. It wasn't me. I…I didn't-"

"Hey." Kureno bent to catch her eye. "I'm not trying to embarrass you. But as far as I know, you were the only one who was able to get through to Akito in all his years as zodiac god. Whether or not you're directly responsible for the changes that have come about doesn't matter. You were still the catalyst. So please, if nothing else, accept that the role you played was significant, and be proud."

Be proud.

There was something else that Tohru had never learned how to do. Whenever someone praised her, it was in her instinct to deny whatever the person had said.

Please don't thank me. It was nothing.

I really didn't do that much.

Don't be silly. I only helped a little.

Anything she could say to take the credit off herself, she would say immediately. And why? Well, now that she thought about it, she wasn't altogether sure. But Kureno was right. Her friendship had shifted Akito's mindset, and in doing so, she'd made life better not only for him, but for the rest of the zodiac. It was silly to act like that wasn't true.

Okay. I'll give it a try. She took a deep breath, faltering. What do I even say?

"Um…thank you?"

Kureno surprised her by bursting into laughter. "No, no. I just thanked you. The appropriate response is 'you're welcome.'"

Tohru blushed and looked down at her feet. Oh Mom, I really am awful at this, aren't I?

"Right. I'm sor— I mean, you're welcome!"

Kureno sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Looks like that's something you'll have to work on. Promise me that you will."

She could only bring herself to nod in response, her face still blazing hot.

"Good." Kureno nodded too, as if it were settled. "All right, then. I'll let you be on your way."

With that, he bid her farewell and strode off. Tohru couldn't help watching him as he disappeared down the hall. I really hope things get better for you, Kureno. Selfishly, she also hoped that he would do as he'd said and get in touch with Arisa. If there was one thing Tohru knew for certain, it was that she wanted the people she cared about to be happy, and there wasn't a doubt in her mind that hearing from Kureno would make Arisa very happy.

She couldn't think too much about that right now, though. I have to concentrate on the things that are within my control. Like Isuzu, for example. I can check in with her and make sure she's still doing okay.

She also had to admit that she was looking forward to having a heart-to-heart with her friend about everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. What will Isuzu say when I tell her that I do have feelings for Akito, after all? She wasn't going to be happy, that was for sure. Again, though, Tohru couldn't let herself worry about that. I have to trust my feelings, and to move forward with the knowledge that no matter what happens, everything will be okay.

Momiji stared out the window, watching as a flock of white birds stopped to gather around the feeder that his father had put there last summer. "To keep you company, in the times where I can't be here."

Remembering this, Momiji felt a surge of anger. He knew Papa meant well, but it was ridiculous to suggest that a flock of birds—or even a pet—could be an appropriate substitute for a parent or sibling. That's just it, though. Papa doesn't understand what it's like to be in a position like mine. He never had, not even in the beginning, when Mama first had her memories erased.

It wasn't as if Papa had pretended that what was happening was normal. But, he had acted like the situation could be managed, and Momiji thought this was equally laughable. He went home to his wife and daughter every night, and visited me when he could. To Papa's credit, that had been nearly every day. Still, a few hours here and there wasn't enough. How could he have ever thought that it would be?

Tears filled Momiji's eyes as he turned away from the window. For years his father had done everything in his power to prevent his son, wife, and daughter from ever meeting face-to-face. Though the circumstances were cruel and heartbreaking, in a way, Momiji had understood and even agreed with his father's decision to keep Momiji separate. Allowing them to interact even on occasion would raise questions, and this would only serve to jeopardize the peace that his wife had found in erasing her firstborn child from her memory. Now, though…wasn't it time for their years-long charade to finally be at an end?

Of course, Momiji had already told his father that the curse was broken. Though Papa had been thrilled for him, he hadn't said anything about reuniting their family. Not that Momiji had expected he would. Still…

The curse is gone. The curse…that part of me that Mama hated so viscerally…no longer exists. And didn't that mean that now he was free to be open and honest about who he was? The answer should've been yes. But Momiji knew that if his father were there, he would disagree. Think of your mother, he would remind Momiji.

That was yet another thing that Papa didn't seem to understand: Momiji did. He thought of his mother almost every second of every day. The last thing he wanted was to upset her by turning her fragile little world upside down. At the same time…

What about me? Did he deserve to suffer this half-existence simply because Mama couldn't handle the truth of who her child was?

No, he decided. Her lack of care for me doesn't determine my value. I deserve to live a normal life with love and happiness, just like everyone else.

Though Momiji had once dreamed of winning his mother's love, now, he found he didn't care so much. Of course, he would never give up hope. But if Mama continued to shun him and deny him as her son until the day she died, then that was her choice. The one thing Momiji knew she shouldn't get to decide, however, was whether or not he continued living in the shadows. And, whether or not he was permitted to have a relationship with his sister.

That should be Momo's choice alone. But how could she have such a choice, if she didn't even know her brother existed?

Momiji slid on his brown boots. He'd always imagined this day happening very differently. He'd told Tohru before that he wanted to put on a concert for his family, one day, when he was an accomplished musician. He'd wanted to shock and awe them with his performance, enough to make his mother turn to her husband and say, "Who is that young man? I'd really like to meet him!"

It had all played out perfectly, in his mind's eye. His family came backstage after the concert. Momiji envisioned himself bowing to his mother and sister, straight-backed and poised, the definition of a well-mannered and respectable gentleman. Momo would be unable to conceal her delight, and when she commented on how much he and her mother looked alike, Momiji would flash her a brilliant grin and say, "That's because I'm her son. And, your brother."

Of course, everything worked out for the best, in this fantasy of his. There was shock and denial from his mother at first, but in the end, they were all hugging and crying and happy, so happy to finally be reunited. His mother would invite him over for dinner, and it would be the beginning of a beautiful new life for the four of them.

Momiji smiled thinly to himself. How naïve he'd been when he first dreamed up this scenario. He'd known for some time that it would never happen in this way. And yet, he'd continued to hold onto it all the same, to lie awake in bed at night and imagine it, over and over, until he had every last detail figured out. What he would be wearing. The make and color of the violin he would perform with. The songs he would play. Where in the auditorium his family would be seated. His mother's hairstyle. The way Momo would fidget until the concert began. Where he would meet them backstage afterwards. What he would say to them. What they would say to him in return.

Life events rarely unfold exactly the way we want them to. Momiji had known this for a while. And now, the time had come for him to finally face the truth of it.

It's okay. I can still make my dream come true. Really, the only thing he'd ever wanted was to have a family. The rest—the concert, the finery, the dramatics—had all been secondary.

Momiji tightened the laces on his boots one last time and stood. Enough waiting. It's time.

He opened the door and stepped outside. He didn't need to be distinguished or impressive in order to meet Momo. She would like him exactly the way he was. The conversation he'd had with Hatori's assistant the previous day confirmed this. Mama, on the other hand…

He gulped. I don't think I'm ready to face her yet. And that was okay. He could do that when the time felt right. If it ever felt right. Momo was a different story, though.

"You've got yourself an admirer. She says she can hear you practicing sometimes. By the way she talks, you're practically a master already!"

Hearing Hatori's assistant say this had given Momiji hope, and above all, courage.

His heart pounded as he made his way down the paved path toward the Sohma estate's outer circle, where families who weren't in on the secret resided. The summer air was stiflingly hot, but Momiji barely noticed as he passed house after house after house. Finally, after several long minutes, he spotted a gray shingled roof that stretched only just above the tree-line. It didn't look any different from the other houses. In fact, all of them were completely identical, minus a few personal touches here and there. But this one stood out to Momiji among the rest.

His palms began to sweat as he drew nearer, which annoyed him, because he knew that it didn't have anything to do with the heat. I'm just going for a walk, he reminded himself. It's not like I'm going to go and knock on the front door. Even though he wanted nothing more than to do just that, Momiji knew that his best course of action was to lay low, observe, and wait for the right opening. I'm only going to see if Momo's around.

He slowed his walk as he passed the house that his mother and father shared. The doors and windows were all shut tight. Though he listened closely, the inside was as quiet as a sleeping bunny rabbit. Nobody's home. Oh, well. He smiled to himself. There were, after all, plenty of beautiful days like this one ahead of him. I'll come back and try again tomorrow.

He turned to go. That's when he thought he heard a creak behind him. He barely had time to register the sound before a sweet, soft voice called out, "Um, excuse me. Hello. I don't mean to be rude, but…are you Momiji Sohma?"

Momiji spun. A little girl with a head of bouncy blonde curls was peering at him through a crack in his parents' front door. Momiji smiled, though he kept it subdued so as to avoid appearing too happy to see her. "Yes." He bowed his head formally in greeting. He was a stranger, after all. "And you're Momo. I know because I've seen you at the office building where my friend works."

"Yes." Momo opened the door a little wider so that she could step out onto the porch. "I remember," she told him slowly. "But...I've seen you at other places, too."

"Really?" Momiji blinked, feigning surprise. "Like where?"

"Violin lessons!" She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, suddenly full of energy. "We have the same instructor," she explained. "I heard you playing one day while I was out in the waiting room with Mama. Your lesson was right before mine. I heard you practicing, and you were incredible. I looked at Mama and told her 'someday, I want to be just as talented as that boy.'"

Momiji felt his eyes crinkle at the edges as he laughed. "Why, thank you," he said. "And you can be just as good as me, even better! All you have to do is keep practicing and trying your best."

"Oh, no." Momo's yellow curls flopped back and forth as she shook her head. "I could never be better than you."

She stepped out and sat on the edge of the porch, her short legs dangling over the side. She swung them back and forth, as Momiji often used to do when he was her age. Heck, as he often did still.

"I do wonder about the song you were playing, though," she said, sounding thoughtful. "It was very…" Her face fell as she glanced down at her swinging feet. "Sad. Amazing," she quickly added, as if she were afraid she'd offended him. "But still sad. I wonder…did Master pick that song for you? Or did you pick it yourself?"

Momiji considered her question for a moment. He didn't want to risk ruining the conversation by getting too real. All the same, he found he couldn't lie to his sister. "It's a piece by Chopin," he said carefully. "And it was me. I picked it."

"It's a favorite of yours, then?" she asked, and again, Momiji found he had to be honest.

"It is," he said. "From the moment I first heard it, I knew that I had to learn to play it."

"Then you…" She gnawed on her lip. "Are you a very sad person yourself, Momiji?"

Momiji stared at her, dumbfounded. She's only 9 years old. How is it that she's so perceptive?

"I don't know." He shrugged, nonchalant, like that single question hadn't struck him to his very core. "Most people who know me probably wouldn't say so."

"But what do you say?"

Again, Momiji regarded her with surprise. "I'm not often sad. But...I am very lonely," he confessed. "And loneliness can sometimes lead to sadness."

Momo nodded, and Momiji thought she looked like she was agreeing with him. Or rather, like she understood. "That makes sense. I'm lonely a lot, too, because I don't have any siblings. But no matter how much I beg my mama and papa for one, all they ever say is, 'If it will be, then it will be.'" She shook her head, scoffing a little. Momiji tried but failed to conceal his amusement. She's so spunky. I wonder who she gets that from. Probably Mama.

"They never give me a real answer," she went on, her frustration clear as day. "I even told them that it's fine if they adopt. I would love my new brother or sister, no matter what. But at this rate, I don't think it's ever going to happen."

She glanced up at him before shyly averting her eyes. Momiji couldn't help but wonder what she might be thinking.

"Um. So the reason I'm talking to you actually has to do with violin lessons," she said after an extremely long pause. "I was wondering if maybe…you'd like to be my new instructor?" She said those last few words rapidly, her voice so full of hope that Momiji wanted to rush toward her and pull her into a hug. "It'd only be once a week," she clarified, "and Papa would pay you well-"

Momiji cut her off there. Even though it broke his heart to tell her no, he knew that he had to. "I'd love to teach you what I know," he said. "I'd do it for free, even. But…somehow, I don't think your parents would approve."

Momo didn't say anything, though her disappointment was palpable. Momiji forced himself to continue, if only so that she might see where he was coming from. "Your father wouldn't want some kid like me hanging around, and besides, I'm a stranger. Your mother wouldn't-"

"You're not a stranger, though," Momo insisted, jumping to her feet. "You're a Sohma, which means that we're at least distantly related. Maybe even closer. You and my mama look so much alike, after all."

She scrutinized him, as if only to confirm that what she'd said was true. "I look like her, too," she said, "and I know that if anybody saw the two of us standing side by side, they'd think we were brother and sister. I told Mama that. She disagrees, but I know it's true. We do look alike! That nice doctor lady said so."

Momiji's eyes swelled as he fought against the burning threat of tears. All this time, I thought she didn't notice me. But she had. No, she'd done more than that. She'd made connections and started asking questions. No wonder Papa was so frantic when he learned we took violin lessons from the same instructor. Seeing him more meant that Momo would make even more connections, and ask even more questions. And he couldn't have that, not when his wife's happiness depended on her not knowing about Momiji. Again, Momiji felt a stirring of anger in his chest.

"You're just as nice as I thought you would be," Momo went on. "And even though we aren't brother and sister, I feel like you'd make a really great big brother, exactly the kind I'd want to have."

That did it. A single droplet of water escaped Momiji's left eye. Though he quickly tried to turn his head and conceal it, his sister's sharp gaze missed nothing. "What's wrong?" she asked, her voice turning soft again. "I didn't say something to make you sad, did I?"

Get it together, Momiji scolded himself. You're ruining this. He forced a laugh. "Of course not," he said. "If anything, what you just said makes me very happy. I've also always wanted to have a sibling."

"So then why can't you be mine?" Momo pouted, and Momiji almost laughed again. Oh, dear. This is going to be a very long conversation with Papa.

It was past due, though, and this time, Momiji swore he wasn't going to hold any feelings back from his father. I'm done pretending like I'm okay with all of this. Because he wasn't. The truth was, he never had been, not even in the beginning. His father had explained the way things had to be, and even though Momiji said he understood, deep down, he hadn't. He'd wanted his mother to be brave, to tough it out. Then again, he supposed that was a selfish desire.

But wasn't she also selfish? By actively choosing to forget about her son, she'd denied him a family. Did she stop to think for one second about how hard it would be for him to know that his mother and father were out there in the world, just a short walk away, and that he couldn't be with them? No. She likely hadn't thought of that. And even if she had, she clearly hadn't cared enough to let it stop her. Yes, she was also selfish.

And she could keep on being selfish. Momiji decided right then that he was going to let her, at least for now. I won't tell her about me. Not yet. But he would fight for a relationship with Momo. Even if she didn't know the full truth, getting to spend an hour with her every week practicing violin would be a dream come true. And he would tell her the truth, one day, whether their father liked it or not. But for now…

Baby steps.

"I don't know about lessons," he said, returning to the topic of Momo's earlier request. "I still think you should be learning from a master. But I'll talk to your papa. Maybe he'll let us practice together sometimes."

Momo clapped her hands in excitement. "Oh, would you? Would you really? That'd be amazing!"

Papa's going to be so upset with me.

But for once in his life, Momiji found that he didn't care.