“Who’re you calling stupid, you damned rat?!”
Walking a few steps behind the squabbling boys, Honda Tohru sighed. They were at it again, and just when she’d thought they’d finally stepped down a notch or two from open hatred. In the morning, going to school with them wasn’t so bad, because Yuki was usually half asleep and Kyo didn’t dare provoke him then. On the way back home, Tohru tried to concentrate on how nice walking through the trees would be if the two cousins weren’t fighting every step of the way. Sometimes, she had to privately admit, it was funny to watch them argue, but today she had a headache, a startling amount of homework (most of which was due the next day), and she had a night’s work at the hospital ahead of her. On top of all that, she wasn’t sure what she was going to make for dinner. It really was not the best time to listen to the boys arguing like an old, married couple.
“I swear it, you rat!” Kyo screeched. “One day I will beat you!”
Yuki didn’t bat an eyelash,. “You’re all talk. Baka.”
This, as all three knew, was the absolute clincher. Yowling like an alley cat chucked in a swimming pool, Kyo threw the first punch. Expecting it, Yuki dodged easily. Kyo brought his other fist up towards Yuki’s jaw, but his opponent sidestepped again.
Knowing full well how useless it was, Tohru began her usual protests, waving her hands energetically and pleading with them to stop. Once they started this, it didn’t stop until Yuki decided to drop-kick his cousin into a tree.
But Yuki usually contented himself with dodging for a few minutes, thus allowing Kyo to let out some of that pent up energy. If he always beat him down within the first few seconds, the stupid cat would probably give himself an aneurism. He wasn’t exactly sure how or if this was a bad thing, but he continued dodging anyway.
Still shrieking like a banshee, Kyo continued his attack. He aimed his right fist straight at Yuki’s stupid, pretty-boy head. The other boy ducked, not a second too soon. Another instant, and he was forced to jump away from a kick aimed at his crotch. Now that was playing dirty. Furious that he’d missed (again), Kyo feigned a kick to Yuki’s ribs with his left leg. Prepared this time, Kyo drove his fist right in the center of his cousin’s chest with a triumphant shout.
In retrospect, Kyo realized he should have known something was wrong right then, dead wrong, when Yuki didn’t retaliate, didn’t prove himself better, as he always did. The thought that he’d actually managed to land a hit on Yuki was just beginning to sink in when the other boy staggered, met his eyes with a perplexed expression, and promptly fainted.
For a second, time seemed to stand still. Nothing moved. “Yuki-kun!” Tohru exclaimed finally, breaking the spell and kneeling beside him.
“I…I didn’t even hit him…that hard.” Kyo muttered. He knelt down next to Tohru, and instinctually placed a hand on Yuki’s forehead. “Idiot!” he yelled immediately. “He’s burning up with a fever! Feel his head!” He groaned as Tohru did so and realization struck. “Damn. I must’ve hurt his bronchial tubes."
Tohru quickly became so nervous her eyes started to tear. “We have to get him home!” she exclaimed, grabbing one of his arms. “Help me, Kyo-kun!”
“Don’t touch him!” Kyo ordered, suddenly taking charge of the situation. “You could turn him into a rat, and then it’d only getworse! If you wanna help, take his school bag.” He yanked off the said item, shoved it at her roughly, and hoisted the unconscious Yuki over his shoulder.
Kyo marched off at such a brisk pace that Tohru had to struggle to keep up. He noticed this, and under normal circumstances, would have slowed down a bit. Today, it seemed secondary. He needed to get his cousin to bed, even if that meant getting home a few minutes before Tohru. He never stopped to think that he might be worried about Yuki.
Shigure emphasized the serious nature of Yuki’s condition by not making a joke about it. He and Kyo carefully put him to bed while Tohru hovered about neverously, feeling distinctly useless.
“Is he bad? Should I take off work tonight?” she burst after a moment’s tense silence.
Shigure gave her a brief smile. “Of course not, Honda-san. You’ll be late as it is. In fact, I’ll call Hatori to drive you. He’s got to come back here anyway, to look at Yuki, and I think he drops Momiji off at the hospital tonight.”
“D-drive me?” she stammered. “No! I couldn’t possibly—! It’s too much hassle! Yuki-kun’s sick; I should stay—”
“Go to work,” Shigure interrupted. “All Yuki needs is rest. He probably shouldn’t have gone to school today, but I’m sure he didn’t want to worry you.”
“I—But, I—He’s—” she sputtered, then deflated visibly. “Al-alright. But Shigure-san, will you sit with him, please, when Hatori-san’s not here? I don’t want to leave him alone!”
Shigure grinned nervously, sweatdropping a bit. “Um, the thing is… I have a hundred and fifty more pages to write before the end of next week…and my computer’s downstairs…But I will check in on him from time to time,” he added hurriedly.
Tohru hesitated. She really couldn’t afford to take off work on such short notice (what if they cut her pay?), but she didn’t want to leave Yuki by himself (what if he got worse?). “Ano…ano…”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Kyo spat. “Go on to work, Tohru-chan. I’ll keep an eye on the bastard.”
Tohru and Shigure stared at the cat as if they’d never seen him properly before, “What?” he demanded. “I’ll just sit here—” he indicated the corner “—and do my homework.”
“Awwwwww,” Shigure caroled in his most nauseating fashion. “Kyon-kyon is worried about Yuki-chan!”
“I am not!” Kyo protested vehemently, “I—I just don’t want Tohru to miss work on account of this bastard, that’s all.”
“You’re blushing!” the dog accused, not bothering to hide how delighted this made him.
“Am not!” Kyo shrieked, turning steadily redder.
“Please, not so loud!” Tohru hissed, moving towards them, “You’ll wake Yuki-kun—” She tripped over one of the three school bags strewn across the floor and fell into Kyo, who poofed into a cat.
“Right. Well, I’ll go call Hatori!” Shigure zipped out of the room with the intention of avoiding the impending explosion.
Tohru winced at the crashes and shouts when Kyo streaked out after him. It was a miracle Yuki could sleep through this.
“Yuki-kun. Wake up. Doctor’s orders.”
“C’mon, Yuki! Before Haa-san kills me for making him come over here!”
Yuki’s eyelid twitched as the words filtered through. That was…Hatori. And…Shigure. Damn it all. Why couldn’t they let him sleep?
“Wake the hell up, you stupid rat! It’s nauseating watching everyone fawn over you!”
Kyo. Very loud. In his ear. He was going to kill the damned cat. “Nnnn…baka…”
He blinked. A white-ish blur with two darker splotches. He blinked several more times. Shigure and Hatori swam into view.
“See?” Shigure said happily. “I told you he wasn’t dead!”
“You continue to surprise me,” Hatori remarked dryly, then turned to Yuki. “Yuki-kun, can you sit up?”
Yuki frowned. He remembered…arguing…fighting…dull pain… “Wha-what happened?” he croaked. He hurt. Everywhere.
“Apparently, you and Kyo were fighting on the way home,” Hatori replied “He hit you, and you fainted.”
“Tohru…?” he asked blandly.
“Is at work,” Shigure finished. “She wanted to stay here and take care of you, naturally, but I sent her along. So, Kyo-kun volunteered instead!” It was apparent he’d been bursting to say this all along.
Yuki dragged himself into a sitting position and found Kyo seated in the far corner, scribbling something in a notebook. For some reason, this made him grin like an idiot. It was probably the result of the cat’s throbbing temple and pissed-off expression, no doubt a response to Shigure’s last remark. “Baka neko,” he said happily, and dropped back onto the pillow.
“Eh?” Kyo demanded, jumping to his feet. “Who’s an idiot?!”
“Never mind, Kyo-kun,” Hatori said bracingly. “He’s probably incoherent.”
“Yeah,” Shigure agreed. “He looks happy to see you.”
Disbelieving, the cat slunk over to the bed and peeked at his cousin’s face. Sure enough, Yuki was smiling. Definitely out of it, he thought, and retreated to the corner.
Sighing, Hatori ordered silence and moved the stethoscope around his patient’s chest for at least a minute, and injected a needle full of clear liquid into a vein in his arm. By the time he was done, Yuki had fallen asleep again.
“Bed rest,” the doctor prescribed. “No school for at least the next two days. If I find he’s out of bed for more than five minutes at once before that time, Shigure, I’ll skin you.”
“Oh, Haa-san, don’t be so cruel!” Shigure begged, the tone of this voice causing Kyo to twitch.
“And Kyo-kun,” Hatori continued, “make sure he gets something to eat later.”
“That’s what Tohru said,” he grumbled, not looking up from his homework.
“Don’t do anything to him while he’s sick, or you’re the one who’ll be skinned,” the doctor threatened.
“I’m not—! I wouldn’t—!” Kyo protested. “I’m going to beat that rat fair and square! What do you think I want to do, kill him!?!”
But Shigure and Hatori were already halfway down the hall. “Bastards,” he mumbled, and went back to his homework.
By the time Kyo finished his homework, a faint glow on the horizon was all that remained of the setting sun. He stood up, stretched, groaned, cracked his neck. Stupid teachers always gave way too much homework. He didn’t know why he even bothered to do it. Probably because half the goddamn family, plus Tohru, would nag him if he didn’t. Probably because somewhere in the angry, impulsive haze of his mind, he knew that he needed to graduate high school if he wanted to get a job, and thus escape, if only temporarily, the crazy world he lived in.
Kyo frowned and poked his stomach, which was rumbling. He was hungry for fish, the result of spending a good twenty minutes as a cat earlier that afternoon. These repercussions often happened to members of the zodiac, though he never liked them. Just a few days ago, he’d seen Yuki steadily munch his way through a pound of cheese, a box of crackers, and half a jar of peanut butter.
Oh well. He thought they had some sashimi in the house. Leaving the room to put his schoolbag away, he glanced at Yuki, who was still dead to the world. Kyo grimaced, remembering the look on Yuki’s face when he collapsed. He remembered the same thing happening on the day of the endurance run, while he was fighting with Hatsuharu. The rat probably would have stayed in bed that day, as Tohru suggested, as he should have, if Kyo hadn’t egged him on. Shigure had said that Yuki went to school because he didn’t want to worry Tohru, which was undoubtedly true, but maybe he also didn’t want to hear his cousin ragging at him later, calling him weak. An uncomfortable feeling sprouted in the pit of Kyo’s stomach. It wasn’t until later that he identified it as guilt.
Yuki woke up to Kyo prodding him and yelling something, but what really roused him was the smell. Slowly, the message traveled from his nose, to his stomach, and to his brain. Food. Hunger. Eat. Still half asleep, he sat up, grabbed the bowl, and began shoveling down its contents. Leek porridge. Kyo…leeks…He jerked awake to find the food half gone and Kyo ranting.
“Goddamn rat! Wake the hell up before you choke!”
“I’m…awake,” he mumbled, blinking sleepily at his cousin. “You…make leeks for me.”
Even with the lamp turned down, it was possible to see Kyo blush. “Yeah, well, Tohru said to feed you, and so did Hatori,” he grumbled.
“Hatori was here?” Yuki asked, eating another spoonful of porridge.
Kyo resisted the urge to punch him. “Duh! He gave you a shot and poked around at your chest for about five hours, you stupid rat!”
Yuki frowned. “Yeah…think I remember…”
“I vandalized your vegetable patch again,” Kyo blurted unceremoniously.
The rat shrugged. “’S’ok,” he mumbled. “I shouldn’t’ve punched you last time, really. It was for Tohru-chan and all, and I know you hate leeks.”
Kyo turned a vivid shade of strawberry red, which clashed disturbingly with his orange hair. He stared at the floor and grunted something about not even knowing what the hell a vegetable patch was doing there. “Ano…about our fight this afternoon—”
“Don’t worry,” Yuki interrupted. “We can continue it when Hatori allows me out of bed.” He ate another spoonful of porridge. “This is actually very good. But, what is this Momiji tells me about how you’re practicing to be a good wife?” he inquired, smirking.
“Idiot rodent!” Kyo spat. “Here I am, trying to apologize, and you shoot cut something that idiot—” He stopped abruptly. Oops.
The soup spoon dropped in the bowl with a clink. “Apologize?” Yuki repeated.
Kyo stared at a fixed point on the floor, cursing himself silently. “I was…I was…I was going to say…that I’m sorry about this afternoon. And before. The endurance run. You wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for me. And…and damnit, you stupid rat! Stay home the next time you’re sick! One day, you’re going to really hurt yourself!”
“You would’ve gloated about it endlessly,” Yuki said, staring at his leek porridge.
“Well, I won’t anymore,” he snapped. “Not when you’re sick. How the hell can I fight you if you’re not allowed out of bed?”
“You still couldn’t beat me,” the rat said honestly.
“Nani!?” Kyo shrieked. “I could smash you to a pulp right now if I wanted to!”
“Then why don’t you?” Yuki asked calmly. “You are a housewife.”
“Oh yeah?! Well, maybe that’s what Akito thinks about you!”
There was a nasty, spiraling silence. Kyo looked everywhere except at his cousin. Yuki dropped the spoon again. His hands shook.
“I’m sorry,” Kyo said finally, his voice barely audible. “That…was a horrible thing to say. I know…how you feel about him. I…I always…say mean things…to you…to Tohru…to everyone…”
Yuki fixed him with one of his penetrating stares, eyes glowing ever so slightly, not noticeable unless one looked for it, but Kyo did that automatically. He never met that look; he could almost feel little rat teeth gnawing a hole in him and burrowing down, down, down, into places he didn’t even know about and taking out everything wrong and ugly and shoving it back in his face. He didn’t want to know what those eyes would see if he met them with his own. He didn’t want the truth.
But Yuki eventually refocused his attention on the leeks, and all he said was, “That’s twice you’ve apologized to me, without being threatened, in less than a minute. If you don’t watch out, you might stop hating me.”
Kyo crossed his arms, simulating indifference. “I just shouldn’t have said that. About Akito. That’s all.”
“Akito takes his inner pain and projects it on others,” Yuki said, as if this were obvious. “Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s how he is, and he’s the head of the family.”
“So it was ok for him to hit you all those times?” Kyo asked, not knowing why he did.
Yuki stiffened. “What’re you complaining about?” he questioned defensively. “It’s not like he ever did anything to you.”
“Well, not more than anyone else did,” the cat grumbled. “Just looked at me like I was some sort of damned cockroach. Still does.When he looks at me, which isn’t often, and I think it’s by accident when he does.
Yuki snorted. “Consider yourself lucky.”
“Why?” Kyo demanded. “Because I’m the goddamn family outcast because of the way I was born? Not that you’d understand, stupid rat, everyone thinks you’re so—”
“Because you can get along with people!” the rat burst out angrily, shocking his cousin into silence. “Regular people! I try so hard to fit in with them, but I’m so distanced! You—you just go in there, running your stupid mouth like you always do, and they just like you!”
“Regular people?!” Kyo shot back. “D’you think I’m a regular person, Yuki? Just because they like me? At least you’re part ofsomething! If a girl hugs me, I still turn into an animal, same as you, and because of you I’m shut out of everything! All because of the rat! What the hell do you know, anyway? You’ve always been everyone’s favorite! What do you know about me? You’ve neverfelt it, every time it rains, you don’t…you don’t…” He trailed off, wondering what had made him say all that. Usually, he would have just started punching him or run away.
Yuki finished the rest of the bowl in silence and thanked his cousin quietly.
Damn rat and his manners, Kyo thought, taking the tray back to the kitchen. He washed everything carefully and put it away. If Yuki kept his damned mouth shut, no one would have to know.
Around ten-thirty, Kyo left the bathroom, yawning and ready to go to bed. Shigure was still in his office, but he decided against saying goodnight. The last time he’d made that attempt at being civilized, he’d been very nearly blinded by a rather disturbing pornography video playing on Shigure’s computer. Supposedly, it had been emailed to him by Ayame, not that Kyo cared. He just didn’t want to walk in on that again.
Pasisng by the stairs, he heard a cough from the second floor. Not my problem, he thought. Yuki coughed several more times. It sounded nasty. Kyo got a vivid flashback of punching him in the chest. Damnit, he thought. What would Tohru do? And so, muttering curses under his breath, he located a teaspoon and some cold medicine and headed up the stairs.
“Hey!” he called softly, shaking his cousin. “Hey, rodent! Wake up!”
Yuki snored on. Up close, Kyo could see he was flushed red with fever. Apparently, whatever Hatori had injected him with was no longer working.
“Gaaa~aaaaah!” Kyo yelled, jostling the other boy’s shoulder violently. “Wake up, you damned rat! Wake up, wake up, wake UP!”
Yuki coughed again, as if to spite him.
“Fine, then!” Kyo exclaimed, leaving the medicine on the bedside table. “Take it when you’re awake!”
He had halfway turned around when Yuki’s hand grabbed his wrist. The wrist with the beads.
Kyo froze. Yuki was still asleep. He was stronger when he was asleep. If he tried to get away now, the beads might break, and he didn’t want to know what could happen then.
“Damnit all to hell, I’m tired,” the cat complained to no one.
Yuki rolled over in his sleep. Not expecting it, Kyo was dragged on top of him, with barely enough time to make a startled noise. Hastily, but taking care to not disturb his beads, the cat managed to secure his own bedspace. His cousin seemed to decide he was a body pillow, and Kyo was violently reminded of a fish being swallowed by an octopus. He glared at the unconscious rat, who was breathing right into his face.
“Nnnnn….kitty….” Yuki mumbled.
“If you weren’t delirious, I’d kill you,” Kyo said.
Ten minutes later, he was asleep.
Tohru got home her usual time, feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of unfinished homework assignments and a little depressed because, for the first time in a long while, nobody had walked her home. She’d been half-wondering if Kyo might, and hoped that he’d spent the time looking after his cousin instead, however unlikely that was. One could hope.
She was surprised and a bit concerned to see the light on in Yuki’s room. Hurrying up the steps, she screeched to a halt in the doorway, only to find Shigure there—with a digital camera, snapping photos.
“Ano…Shigure-san?” Tohru greeted hesitantly.
He put a finger to his lips and beckoned for her to come inside, whereupon he gestured towards the bed excitedly. “Aren’t theyadorable?” he asked in a stage whisper.
Tohru’s face gained its usual shocked expression as she looked on a scene that would have made any girl in the Yuki fan club explode into a million squealing pieces. There lay Kyo and Yuki, fast asleep and curled together like puppies in a basket.
“Hai, how cute!” she agreed, smiling.
“One more for the photo album!” Shigure said, taking another picture. “Ayame’s gonna love this!”
“Eh? ‘Zit mornin’?” All the commotion had woken up Kyo. He lifted his head up, looked at Yuki, blinked, looked at Tohru, turned red, looked at Shigure, turned redder, looked at the camera in Shigure’s hands, and turned white.
For a second, all was silent. “Aaahhhh!” Kyo shouted, lurching upward. “What do you think you’re—”
He was cut off by Yuki, who tugged him back down. “Kitty,” he said.
“Go,” Kyo told them, voice muffled by the pillow. “Go, and let me die of shame in peace.”
Even Shigure had enough sense to leave at this, though it may have been because he was itching to call Ayame and Hatori, completely forgetting bow late at night it was. Tohru was grateful that there were no guns in the house, because with Kyo, one never knew.
By the next morning, Kyo had gotten Yuki’s cold. This made the following days quite interesting. Half the time, Yuki, being delirious, treated his cousin like a teddy bear. Tohru was surprised to see Kyo putting up with it, until she overheard Yuki helping him with the schoolwork she brought home for them. Kyo was so engrossed in the work (which actually made sense for once) that he forgot to react when Yuki called him an idiot. Maybe this was good for them.
In fact, hell didn’t break loose until three days later. Hell came in the standard form of Ayame, who had tagged along on one of Hatori’s daily visits, and the newly developed photographs.
A delighted Shigure skipped home to find everyone crowded into Yuki’s room. Yuki and Kyo were busy pelting used tissues at Ayame, who was laughing. Tohru was keeping up her usual stream of exclaimed protests. Hatori was leaning out the window, smoking a cigarette and pointedly ignoring the chaos.
Abandoning his well rewarded efforts to antagonize his younger brother, Ayame spun around to greet Shigure exuberantly. “Gure-san, my love, it had been too long!” he yelled, wrapping his arms around Shigure’s neck and planting a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
“Aaya-san, do not doubt my faithfulness,” Shigure replied airily (Yuki, Kyo and Hatori made identical gagging noises). “And I have the pictures,” he announced.
The atmosphere in the room changed instantly. Ayame grabbed the pictures eagerly and Tohru came to look at them over his shoulder. Even Hatori turned around, unable to hide his curiosity. Kyo and Yuki flushed vivid shades of red, which had nothing to do with high temperatures.
“Why do I get the feeling those are going to miraculously appear in the yearbook?” Yuki asked dully.
“I would kill your fangirls,” Kyo grumbled.
“They turned out very well, Shigure-san,” Tohru said cheerfully.
“They’re so cu~ute!” Ayame squealed. “It reminds me of that love story about the angel and the demon that Gure-san wrote!”
“I did base the characters on them,” Shigure admitted.
“Nani!?” Kyo and Yuki shrieked, sitting bolt upright.
Hatori took one look at the photos. “Child pornography is illegal,” he said. “Now get out, both of you, and stop antagonizing my patients.”
But Kyo and Yuki were already chasing them down the stairs.
“You used us for two of your crappy romance novel characters?!”
“You read it?!”
“You liked it?!”
“Sick bastard! What did you make us do?!”
Five minutes later, Hatori’s workload was doubled.