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Extending the Apple Branch

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Extending the Apple Branch
(Kunikazu)

The change of heart was something.

For once, I cannot properly articulate the effect it’s had on me. The others—Niijima-san, Shinya-kun, myself—I can tell you my feelings on their journeys and on my own clearly. I can’t do this for Tohru.  It’s hard to say just how relieved I feel, how reassuring it is to have him with me, to know that he’s going to grow in a positive way thanks to Goro and I, and also that he’s willing to keep our secrets and even join us on our quest for change.  But sometimes the pressure of being probably one of the only people he can lean on and trust to keep leaning on creeps up and overwhelms me, not to mention how utterly insufferable Adachi Tohru can be, change of heart or not. He drives me up the goddamn wall when he wants to, and even on the rare occasions when he doesn’t.

So the entire ordeal was something a little unexpected, to make an understatement. Or, rather, Tohru’s change of heart encouragedsomething a little unexpected from the both of us.

Before traversing his Palace, I found the man darkly alluring, but that was mostly it. I wanted to know more about Adachi Tohru, the sympathetic ear at the bar, the drunken tryst, the policeman strangely nervous with the idea of intimacy outside of sex… And then I uncovered the murderer who almost got away with it, the man who single-handedly tricked his partner, a politician, and a whole town into letting him walk away from a killing spree that he treated as mere entertainment; as a game. I wanted to crack that dopey, fake persona he puts on in front of people he doesn’t trust wide open, see the mess that’s writhing and snarling underneath—The person who cannot hide any longer from a dead man walking.

In time, I got my wish and nearly died for it. That makes three near-death experiences in the span of a month and a half, each one far more painful than the last. I’ve got to stop doing this to myself.

But now that I’ve survived, miraculously, and that I have seen what lies beneath that mask, miraculously, I’ve found I’m unfortunately, irreversibly smitten with that writhing, snarling mess that’s learning how to declaw itself a bit… That, too, is miraculously so. I don’t often show the full depth of my feelings, as I’m prone to reservation, but I do give him hints rather frequently. I reward his bouts of personal improvement with praise and affection; two intangible things he seems to strongly desire, having lived a life deprived of such familiarities.

We’ve only known each other a short time, and I sometimes find myself worrying that it could be anyone—that it doesn’t have to be me he’s interested in, it doesn’t have to be me he confesses to. But then I see the way he reserves certain expressions for me, or the way he’ll let his hair down when we’re alone. These intimacies reassure me enough to continue pursuing this, albeit at my own pace. Annoyingly, I realize that I want to be around him all the time. I can’t wait, everyday, for his façade to crumble and for him to melt into me when he arrives home.

I hear the lock click and turn, and my gaze roams to the front hall. I keep in hand the book I’ve been reading. I don’t want him to have even an inkling that I might have been happily awaiting his return. The smallest thing could cause a shift in our dynamic, which I’m not in the mood to entertain. I know he takes more than advantage of any opportunity to come out on top, and I won’t have such a power struggle tonight.

When I hear grumbling, cursing, and the quiet stamp of a foot, I finally rise, leaving my book face-down to mark my page. I silently amble to the front hall and fold my arms while Tohru grouses to himself. I have noticed this daily struggle of trying to untie his shoes after always tying them too tight; he’s an impatient person and if things do not come easily, he quickly grows irritated. It’s both amusing and endearing, in an almost puerile sort of way. Then again, Tohru as a whole is still a little puerile, even after his change of heart.

“Tohru-san,” I acknowledge him. He jolts, jerking backwards as his eyes fly up to meet mine. “Welcome home,” I continue with a small smile.

“Kunikazu-san,” he replies, mimicking my formality as he cautiously looks me over. “Is it just you?” I don’t reply, simply turn on my heel and start for my seat. There are aggravated little grunts as Tohru hurries to work his shoes off. It almost makes me laugh.

Almost having returned to the couch, I feel a tug on my shirt. Looking back, I see Tohru latching on to my sleeve with one hand, and the other trails down my arm to hold two of my fingers. I don’t bother turning around, rather I knowingly keep up the same pace as he tries to get me to slow down. I can imagine the tiny louer he’s giving me for my attitude.

I take a seat and he immediately plops down beside me, as if he has to be physically connected or he’s irrevocably miserable, even with our current proximity. I manage not to roll my eyes and resume reading, keeping a vigilant ear open to whatever he says.

“Those idiots,” Tohru giggles, mocking whoever he’s talking about. He grins, sardonic and smug, like cat who’s caught an annoying little mouse. I lean over and catch sight of an article open on his phone, some drivel about Inaba and Namatame. “Still don’t have a clue… Shit, this world’s full of dupes.” Tohru cuts himself off to cackle another villainous laugh. “He deserves this, they all do! Too blind to notice anything. The world will still go to shit at this rate. Everybody wants the easy conclusion, the—”

“Shut up, Nietzsche; you’re better than that,” I sharply admonish, and he immediately shrinks away from me with a sour look on his face; the cat’s been scolded for trying to eat something he shouldn’t. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I sigh.  My hand reaches out to snatch him back, and I let it rest on his shoulders. The other man relaxes; I can feel said shoulders droop, even though he remains peeved at me. Tohru plays at ignorance as he thumbs the screen of his device.

I lick my lips, ready to launch into lecture. “You don’t get the luxury of thinking that way anymore. You know this. You know you’ve got to work on atoning and turning yourself around,” I begin. I’m willing to engage and offer advice, but he’s set this trend of measured indifference to it.

“It sucks,” Tohru petulantly harrumphs, not so much as glancing in my direction. Keeping with his usual response pattern, I see.

“It’s life,” I evenly respond. “And you should be glad you still have one!” He twitches when I say that, his lip curling into what would have been an unsavory expression if he hadn’t checked himself so quickly. I raise an eyebrow. He blushes a little, indignant, knowing I know. “Hard work does pay off.”

“It didn’t for me,” he smartly replies after a few beats of silence.

He’s looking at me now, so I return the favor. “That doesn’t mean you’re free to quit.” Tohru presses his mouth into a thin line and his nostrils flare. It’s as if I can see the cogs turning.

I can read him like an open book––his slips have worsened as he continuously gets more comfortable around me. Good.

I turn towards Tohru fully, staring him straight in the eyes and sitting up a bit. “That game’s over,” I say coldly. He grimaces, seeming to search for one of his biting witticisms. I march on, not giving him the time to pull one out of his reserve. “You can’t change that, Tohru-san. The book’s unfinished, but that chapter’s written.”

Tohru’s eyebrows knit together as he conspicuously seethes––conspicuously to me, at least. I’ve become acquainted with his telltale signs that include the gnashing of teeth and a slight rocking back-and-forth as he shifts and attempts to come to terms with what he’s been presented.  I know I’m smiling now, despite my better judgement.

“What?” he spits, as if he still thinks I’m cruelly mocking him. He still doesn’t realize I find it… Cute? Amusing? Idiosyncratic? Something like that. Something good. Something that makes me smile besides myself.

“Nothing,” I try to dismiss that notion. “Really, Tohru—” I realize I’ve been addressing him formally and jerkily replace “san” with a “kun”––we’re alone, together; this isn’t public, this isn’t a meeting, this isn’t even Leblanc: in other words, this isn’t posing and posturing and hoping to God that nobody can tell that I’m not who I say I am.  Tohru knows. Tohru likes me, regardless. And, most importantly, Tohru won’t tell.

He grins more openly, appraising me. “Tohru-kun,” I repeat, knowing I sound more sure of myself this time.

That crooked grin grows bigger as his mood shifts from combative to playful. “‘Kay, Kunkun,” he easily returns, shifting clumsily closer to rest in the nook under my arm. I respond with a fitting look of my own; a kind smile that I hope is playfully reproachful, as well as a slight squeeze of his shoulders.

Tohru’s eyes dart around before coming to rest on my own. He quirks his mouth open and then closed a few times before he finally speaks. “You always make me think I’m slipping backwards, when you change my title.”  Even with his words being anything but happy, he’s still wearing that same goofy grin—it’s practically plastered onto his face. He’s testing me.

“I’m not used to this,” I admit. “I haven’t been used to…” I wave my hand around, trying to encompass the scene around us. “To thisin a long time.” Tohru blinks, absorbing what I’m giving away. “To having someone like you.”

“‘Someone like me’, huh?” he echoes my sentiment, surreptitiously picking at some scar on his arm. I can sense his eyes flicking about; not meeting mine. He doesn’t try to push the situation, nor does he back away as he’s so wont to do.

I nod slowly, allowing him a minute of silence before I pick up the thread. “Yes.” Still nothing. It’s something I’ve wanted to address, but Tohru’s skittish nature has left me questioning when I should drop the bomb. “Someone I’d call my partner.”

Tohru outright scowls, bristling, and I know I’ve chosen wrong. “Lover,” I almost stammer as I immediately correct myself, having kept an alternative up my sleeve for such an emergency. That seems to loosen him up; he no longer feels like a tightly coiled livewire under my touch.  He’s got a bit of a constipated expression on his face, but I’m chalking that up to the intimacy of the situation, a climactic quality that always manages to instill a raw fear in this man.

When he finally dares to look up at me, there’s more conviction in his visage than even he’d probably been expecting. Tohru chews his tongue, not willing to say anything just yet. Instead, he slowly, calculatingly, presses his body higher off the couch to touch our lips together in a soft, tentative kiss. He hastily draws back, eyes focusing on mine.  If what I’m feeling inside is visible, my reaction should promise to safeguard his feelings, as long as he’ll allow it.

“Fair enough,” he says and shrugs, his ever-breezy tone light and amused even though his eyes show something a little different––some kind of acceptance and welcoming, something rich, something that warms the often cold and dark grey of his eyes.  He leans back on the couch, and, dutiful to both our expectations, I follow him down.