Chapter 8

Tohru was lively chattering away as they leisurely strolled through the market, talking about what all they might buy for their bento boxes, her joyous energy infectious, causing him to smile without even realizing it. Hatori smiled and nodded when appropriate as she spoke, his hands in his pockets, the entire time slightly amused by how lively she had become since the night before.

Suddenly, she stopped at a vendor and said, "Hatori, do you like onigiri?"

He nodded.

"Yes, why?"

For some inexplicable reason, she blushed, and then said, in a soft voice, "Oh, no reason. Just curious…"

He stayed near her, but behind her as she looked through the different bags of rice at the stand, and he continued to stay close as she moved on to the next vendor and picked out several fresh vegetables and fruits. Just as she started to pull out her money, however, Hatori stepped in, placing a hand on her wrist.

"Please, Tohru. Allow me. I did ask you, after all, to show me around. The least I can do is pay for our food."

At his words, she blushed a second time, but nodded, and then proceeded to let him pay for the rest of the food that she acquired for their boxed lunches. After they'd made their rounds, she led them over to a picnic table only a few feet from where the market ended, and then separated the food into the bentos, smiling as she did so. It was obvious to the doctor that she genuinely enjoyed doing things for other people, and he couldn't help but think that she would make a remarkable nurse.

"There!" she said, slipping the now full bento boxes into one of the bags that she'd just emptied. "Now we have lunch!" She then stood up and looked over her shoulder at him, where he was still sitting, and said, "So, Hatori…is there any where you would like to start? This is your day, after all…"

Completely unsurprised by her generosity, he smiled and shook his head.

"No, nothing in particular. Take me wherever you would like."

Smiling wide, she unexpectedly put her right arm through his left and said, "Then let's go to the art museum! They have a new exhibit on…" She suddenly paused and turned faintly pink and turned her head to the side and softly said, "Never mind."

Hatori looked at her, confused by her sudden change of demeanor and carefully asked, "A new exhibit on what, Tohru?"

She simply shook her head a second time and repeated her words.

"Never mind, Hatori. It's not important. Let's go to the park for now."

He stopped her and gave her a look, unsure of why she was suddenly acting so odd. Well, more odd than she normally was. She seemed embarrassed…but not about herself. She was almost acting embarrassed for someone else; as if she was afraid of offending them.

"Tohru," he said gently, "What is the exhibit on?"

He felt her grip on his arm tighten, her eyes still trained on her feet, and she said something so softly that even his keen hearing didn't catch the words. He leaned down slightly and asked her to repeat herself, but her grip on his arm tightened even further and she shook her head.

Becoming slightly exasperated, but not wanting to show it and upset her even further, he carefully pulled her fingers from his arm and said, "Tohru, please…just tell me."

She looked up at him, her lower lip quivering, and finally said, in a clear but still soft voice, "The new art exhibit is on dragons, Hatori. That's why I thought we shouldn't go. I shouldn't have…I…I know it must be strange for you to…" She tried to finish her sentence, but instead her gaze changed from one of nervousness to one of confusion as she saw Hatori smile and heard him let out a low chuckle. "H-Hatori? Why are you…?"

He gave her an unexpectedly broad smile.

"I would love to see an art exhibit on dragons, Tohru."

The corners of her mouth slowly rose, and she lifted her head even higher and said, in a tentative voice, "Really?"

He nodded.

"Yes. Really."

A smile on her face once more, she slid her arm back through his and led the two of them towards the museum, a bounce in her step, and Hatori gladly let himself be dragged along. The moment they stepped inside, she let go of him and said over her shoulder, "Now, try and keep up, Hatori!" and proceeded to walk in surprisingly long strides to the southwest corner of the building, knowing exactly where she was going.

He smiled and followed, pleased to see her in a good mood once more. The instant he walked into the more dimly lit section, he held back a gasp of surprise. It was stunning. The artwork was beautifully realistic, and Tohru seemed to be enjoying every moment of it. She was a few feet away from him, standing stock still in front of one of the largest paintings, seemingly mesmerized.

He walked up behind her, placing a hand on her waist, surprised when she didn't make sound at his sudden presence.

Still staring at the painting, her sudden exuberance of energy set at a low simmer, she said, in a soft and reminiscent voice, "This is the one that reminds me of you."

Hatori managed to hide his surprise outwardly, but inwardly he was shocked. This piece was absolutely arresting. Brushed silver and deep grey, with hints of gold and translucent amber along the scales and in the eyes. Done in the Western style, it looked like it belonged on the top of a mountain, it's wings spreading wide and towering imperiously over massive stone monuments, a god unto itself. Somehow, power just seemed to exude from it, demanding the respect of all eyes that dared to linger on its form.

This was the one that reminded her of him? How was he supposed to respond to that? Finally, after a long moment, his hands tucked into his pockets, he managed to elegantly say, "Hm."

There wasn't anything else that he could think of to say.

Tohru, after staring for a moment, moved on to the next piece, strangely quiet, and Hatori followed her, and soon understood why she'd wanted to come. Yes, it may have been a dragon exhibition, but there was a small corner dedicated to the Zodiac, and she smiled when she saw that the cat was included in it, and he smiled as well. There was a table filled with small stone ornaments, one for each member of the Zodiac, and the doctor smiled a second time when he saw her fingers linger on the largest one in the corner, the one that had a gold dragon over a green and gray background.

She moved on from it, but he discreetly paid for the amulet and slipped it into his pocket, and as they went through the rest of the exhibit, Tohru slowly became more talkative, pulling out of the trance that the painting of the grey dragon had seemed to put her in.

All too soon, they were done with the exhibit, but she seemed to have renewed her reserves of energy, as she was bounding once more in front of him, tossing over her shoulder, "C'mon, Hatori! If we hurry, we can see the horses!"

Oh, dear.

He knew that she loved them, but he and the animals had never gotten along on the best of terms. However, he followed her, albeit with less enthusiasm, determined to make her happy.

As they approached, several of the horses seemed to become restless and shied away from the side nearest where Hatori stood. He was not surprised. Prey animals were much more aware of his true form and their' senses were telling them that he was a predator and that they should run, but they couldn't see or smell the predator, hence their uneasiness.

Tohru seemed to notice their discomfort and frowned.

"Why are they acting that way, Hatori?"

He let out a soft sigh, and said in a voice that only she could hear, "Because of me, Tohru. They are sensitive to…people like me. And I am, after all, a dragon."

She smiled a tremulous smile and nodded.

"Oh, of course. Sorry, Hatori."

He shook his head and quickly reassured her.

"No, Tohru. I should have told you. I do love animals, but not all of them share the same affinity towards me that I do towards them." She looked shyly up at him through her lashes and said, "You like animals?" He nodded. "Yes, I love them. But a dragon only tends to make friends with the predators, I'm afraid."

She tilted her head and replied, "Oh…I see. Well, do you want to see the wolves?"

He blinked at her in surprise. They had wolves?

She saw his surprise and grabbed his hand.

"Follow me," Tohru gently commanded.

Curious, wondering if she was right, he let himself be led by her small firm fingers. They wandered down towards another part of the outside pens, and as they walked closer, they heard a young woman's voice over a loud speaker saying, "As you can see, we have a full pack. They have access to a twelve-thousand-acre habitat, but we are lucky today and they have decided to come closer to our exhibit area. We do not like to coerce them into showing themselves, and we maintain a respectful distance when we do."

They were finally in view of her, and Tohru tugged at his wrist, and he let her lead him to the front of the very tiny group that consisted of no more than five people. He glanced through the chain-link fence and caught glimpses of gray fur and gleaming eyes.

"The one you see here, closest to us," the guide said, gesturing behind her, "Is Amiko. He is the leader of this pack and has been for the past seven years, which is quite a long time."

Tohru tugged on Hatori's wrist again and whispered, "I can't quite see him, Hatori. Where is he?"

He lifted his hand and rested it on her shoulder and then used his other hand to gently turn her head to look in the right direction, and he whispered back, "There," and he knew she saw it when she let out a soft sound of awe. Hatori smiled. Wolves were quite a lovely sight…though he would never admit it to Shigure.

The woman continued to speak, and as she did, several people let out loud gasps as Amiko approached the fence, coming closer than anyone had obviously expected him to. He was now within just a few feet of the fence…and Hatori knew why. The wolf took a step forward, stopped, and then stared him in the eye and chuffed. The guide looked behind her and said, her tone bright, but with nerves, "Well, would you look at that! Amiko is coming to say hello! This is quite a unique sight to see, visitors!"

The wolf stalked closer to the fence…until it came to a stop in front of where Tohru and Hatori stood.

It sat down on its' haunches.

It chuffed again. And then, after a moment, let out a long whine and laid down in front of them, resting its' head on its' massive paws, looking up at Hatori with its' deep golden eyes. Tohru was tense, Hatori could feel it, so he gently squeezed her shoulder, and then moved her behind him and knelt down on his side of the fence.

"Nice to meet you, Amiko," he said softly, and the wolf's tail thumped in pleasure and he chuckled as Amiko's tongue lolled out and he rolled to his side, putting a paw in the air.

Everyone looked at the wolf with surprise…

…Luckily, the guide finally managed to recover with, "Well, how about that! It looks like he likes our guests! So, if you would like more information on our conservation efforts, please follow me," and everyone followed, camera lights flashing, while Tohru and Hatori stayed behind.

"Wow," Tohru said after a long moment, during which Amiko had come closer and butted his head against the chain-link fence. "Wolves seem to like you a lot, Hatori…"

He nodded.

"Like I said, Tohru: dragons make friends with predators."

He then glanced around them to make sure no one was watching…and then reached his long, sure fingers through one of the links in the fence and scratched Amiko behind the ears, and the wolf gave out a soft whine of contentment. He then looked at Tohru.

Her hand clenched and unclenched, like she was restraining herself, and he sighed and grabbed her hand with his free one and said, "Come here," and tugged her so that she was nestled between his knees and his hand was over hers, reaching through the fence a second time and he could feel her holding her breath as her fingers touched the wolf's fur. "Breathe," he whispered into her ear, softly squeezing her hand, feeling her warmth through the palm of his hand. "He won't hurt you, I promise," he gently reassured her, and she nodded.


She slowly relaxed…and then smiled. She was petting a wolf.

They stayed there a minute longer, and then he removed their hands and said to the animal, "Go on, now. Your pack needs you," and it got back up and gave out a soft bark and then loped back into the woods. They stood back up and Tohru suddenly turned to him and said, "That…that was amazing, Hatori!"

He smiled.

"I'm glad you liked it."

She blushed.

"I did."

And with that, they headed down the pathway, once more, Tohru leading the way. As they walked, she reached back for him, and he fully expected her to wrap her small, but strong fingers around his wrist…but was taken aback when instead she slipped her fingers between his.


Well, he wasn't complaining.

Part 8/?