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It was snowing again.

The soft breeze spun the flakes into flurries of white confetti. They fell and landed in silence, a strange stillness lingering in the air, as it always did when it snowed. Hatori observed the fall from his porch, hands buried in his pockets. He stood lost in thought, allowing melancholy nostalgia to settle over him. Usually he wasn't so generous with his time, but the worsening snow was so deep the authorities had issued a warning for people not to leave their homes. So Hatori found himself in the strange position of not being able to make house calls. Which meant no work needed to be done.

That never happened.

At a loss of what to do, he was reminded of why he'd become a workaholic in the first place. It starved off painful memories.

Taking out a cigarette and lighting it, he mulled over calling Ayame or Shigure. Which was also strange and never happened. They always rang him first, Ayame to gossip nonsense or Shigure to wryly observe some latest mischief he'd made. Taking a drag, Hatori padded inside and exhaled slowly, dialling for Ayame.

'Due to the poor weather conditions, we cannot connect your call at this time. Please try again later.'

Ah, that explained things. Even Akito wasn't around to send for him. The entire Sohma estate lay empty, with him the sole occupant. Everyone else was busy enjoying their time off for the holidays and he'd been so caught up in work he'd ignored the weather warnings. The open doors shuddered, the wood starting to rattle against the bellow of new, harsher gusts of wind. Pulling them shut, Hatori frowned to himself, sighing. Good thing he had a heater or the room would be freezing.

Tired eyes slanted towards the single bed in the corner of the room longingly. Maybe...he could just sleep for a little while? Uninterrupted rest was rare, he should make use of it. Hatori took a step towards it before catching sight of his desk. Kana's picture frame stood empty now, but something about it still made his mouth thin. He looked at the filing cabinet instead. That's right. He needed to check over some prescriptions first before sleeping.

He could always rest later.

Not like he'd been up for 48 hours already.

Hatori let the cigarette hang loosely from his mouth, sitting down and pulling open the cabinet. He thumbed through it, fingers lingering on the letter 'T' just as his door suddenly flung open.

Brunnet hair and blue ribbons caught his eye first. Her wild pants and red face suddenly registered, sending his heart skittering.

"Hah- hah- whew!" Tohru panted, struggling to close the door against the gusts of wind. "It's crazy out there!"

A pale hand pushed the door shut above her head. Tohru blinked snowflakes from her lashes, looking up at the doctor.

"Miss Honda. How-" his mouth clicked shut, good eye slightly wide. "Why were you out in the storm? Didn't you hear the news?"

"Hm? Oh no, I haven't heard anything. I'm so sorry to barge in on you like this, I'm sure it's an inconvenience." She fussed, lingering by the door and not moving to take off her snow drenched coat. White flakes sprinkled her shoulders, nose, even the top of her head. Tohru gave a worried smile, hands moving animatedly in the air. "I did notice it had started to snow while at work, a-and some of the staff decided to wait out the weather there. But I thought it'd be over pretty quick. Next thing I know it's like a blizzard, but oh- I'm sure you're busy with work," she babbled.

Hatori noticed their proximity and leaned away, wondering if he made her nervous. He took a drag from his cigarette, letting her ramble until a few certain words caught his attention.

"No, you're not going out again." His quiet gaze settled on her, tone dropping.

Tohru blinked, putting her bag down and holding her gloveless hands. He noticed they were red, fingers no doubt stiff. "Are you sure? I don't want to interrupt."

"Please do," he muttered flatly, offering his hand to take her coat. "Work isn't exactly keeping my focus right now."

"Well then," she smiled hesitantly at first, before beaming outright. "I'm happy to be your distraction."

His heart did another funny thing in his chest. Hatori firmly folded it away just as he hung her coat on the rack over the heater. Tohru rubbed her hands and sighed with relief as she unwound her pink scarf from her neck. Hatori offered his hand again, setting it aside.

"That's better," she chirped, dusting some melted snow off her. "I couldn't get through to anyone on the phone, so when I passed by the Sohma estate, I wondered if it would be alright to use yours."

"There's not much point. The phone lines aren't working."

Tohru paused, "oh." She deflated a little, and he regretted being so blunt. Unfortunately, that was just in his nature. He blinked when she smiled anyway, "that's okay. The electricity still seems to be working," she gestured to his lamp. "Would you like some tea? Or I can cook something if you'd prefer."

The former dragon zodiac stared. He then swallowed, removing his cigarette from his lips and snuffing it out on an ashtray. He could hear Shigure now, simpering about 'sweet little Tohru' and her kind ways. She always threw him. Because while he listened to Shigure and sometimes Ayame drone on about her latest feat, he never expected her kindness to extend to him.

But she always offered it freely, and so easily. He hadn't gotten used to it despite knowing her for years now. "Tea would be...nice," he uttered, clearing his throat. "Thank you."

Tohru smiled and wandered to the kettle, kneeling to open the cupboard and take out some mugs. Her actions were thoughtless- like she spent many hours there with him. Hatori sat at his desk, running a hand through his heavy bangs. He supposed she did visit sometimes, usually with an entourage of their strange, colourful friends.

Tohru padded back when she was done, placing his mug down on his desk, only to wince and move it onto a coaster. Hatori rose a brow, glancing at the water rings on the wood. It wasn't like he would ever yell at her, let alone over something so simple.

Thanking her again, he took a good measure of comfort from wrapping his hand loosely around it. He watched the steam rise from the cup and attempted to make casual conversation.

"How has your health been?"

Damn it.

Tohru took a seat on a cushion by the low table. Hatori averted his gaze as she blew softly on the steam from her cup, nursing it close. "I've been wonderful. No worries here, what about you?"

His good eye slid back to her, as though unable to do anything else. People tended to forget to ask doctors that. "Yes, much the same."

She tilted her head, gesturing to the space under her eye. "But you have bags under your eyes. Are you sure you've not been pushing yourself too hard? I suppose you must have a busy schedule in winter, lots of colds. Please remember to rest." Tohru seemed to notice how prying her words could come across and opened her mouth to apologise-

"Pot kettle black," he muttered, cutting her off.

Tohru blinked, tilting her head. "Um, do you want...black coffee instead?" She made a weak guess.

A huff of amusement escaped him. "No, I'm referring to your own dark circles. You should take your own advice and 'please remember to rest'." Hatori quipped, lips curling up at the edges.

Her cheeks flushed scarlet, and she drew her knees up, hands curling in the thin material of her black tights. Hatori noticed her legs shaking slightly.

"I-I have been resting, honest. You're starting to sound like Yuki and Kyo," she smiled, eyes widening when he stood and grabbed a nearby blanket, tossing it over her legs. Pale hands settled on the tops of her knees as he leaned down slightly over her.

Black hair slid forward, exposing one sightless eye. "Do you also lie to them to assuage their worry?"

Tohru's eyes widened, gaze fixed on his. She then bit her lip and smiled coyishly, "pot kettle black."

He inhaled, lips tilting up while he straightened. "Touché."

This wasn't flirting, right? He'd never been good at it so he hoped this was simple banter. Because he was not flirting with a woman 12 years his junior. He had firmly filed that particular thought into a cabinet known as - never to be reflected upon. Even when she'd graduated and grown into a young lady of 19, he assured himself that he'd never open the cabinet.

"I really like that tie," Tohru changed the topic of conversation, looking at him over the rim of her mug. "It looks very nice on you."

He cleared his throat for the umpteenth time. Again, not flirting but an innocent compliment. He touched it uncertainly. A gift from Aya.

"A biased opinion. Isn't pink your favourite colour?" Hatori muttered, retreating to the safety of his seat. Her smile froze on her face, before she busied herself with sipping her tea, the steam causing her cheeks to grow redder.

An awkward silence descended upon them, and Hatori cursed his social skills. They hadn't been...alone together for a very long time. Usually their louder friends were filling the silences. Why couldn't he have just accepted the compliment?

"How did you know that?"

Oh. That's what was bothering her. Hatori shrugged, "you mentioned it once."

And he'd remembered.

Tohru smiled slightly, before shivering and rubbing her legs over the blanket. Hatori noticed and leaned forward, angling the heater near his desk more toward her. Tohru made a face and pulled the cushion closer to him so that they were sharing the heat. Hatori's lips tilted up slightly. She was stubborn in some ways.

"I wonder how long the blizzard will last for," she mused aloud.

Hatori lifted a shoulder, resting his chin on his knuckles. "The news said at least a day. Unfortunately, it looks as though you're stuck with me for company, miss Honda."

Tohru jolted and shook her head violently, ribbons ruffling in her hair. "N-no! That's- I mean, you're wonderful! Please don't say that, and you really can call me Tohru you know," she said, standing suddenly. "We just need to take our minds off the snow and how people are probably worried about us! Do you um...have any board games?"

Hatori stared at her, blinking slowly.


 

"Let's see, one, two- six. I scored six!" Tohru chirped, leaning over the scrabble board. It was the Western version, something Momiji had brought over, but luckily the two were proficient in English. They'd played a number of games for a few hours, punctuated by idle chatter, before landing on this one as their favourite. Tohru didn't have the strategic eye for chess and Hatori didn't possess the same enthusiasm for 'Old Maid.'

Hatori walked over, carrying yet more tea. He placed the tray down and rose a brow, looking at the word. "Dragon, hm," he took his place opposite her at the low table, wondering why he could feel a slight chill in the room. "You know you could have scored higher by utilising this triple letter score," he tapped his figure on the blue square.

"Yes but then I wouldn't have been able to spell Dragon!" She giggled, obviously more pleased by the word than winning the game.

He rose a brow, feeling a warmth in his stomach. Her enthusiasm for pointless things appeared to be infectious. Glancing at the letters on his side, his lips curved up. Taking hold of an 'i' he placed it under her 'r' and began completing his own word. Sitting back, he looked at it with quiet satisfaction.

Tohru tilted her head, blushing slightly. "Rice ball...hmm, isn't that two words, Doctor?" She said playfully.

He blinked and checked it again, his own cheeks dusting with heat at the mistake. "...I suppose. Hm, should have gone with onigiri."

She let out a carefree laugh that sounded like the personification of sunshine. At that moment, the orange light of the heater that had been casting orange hues onto her face made a distressed noise. It then abruptly shut off. Hatori frowned, shifting the rack away to fiddle with it.

"Oh no, is it broken?"

Hatori turned off the power and removed the back, fiddling with it. "No need to panic, it's probably just a faulty-" he broke off a wire. The heater probably needed that. He calmly returned the broken piece to its place. "...Yes, it may be broken." Funny how his hands could be so careful when treating patients and yet he had an allergy to tinkering with electronics.

Tohru's brows drew together when the room started to grow colder. The Sohma house was old-fashioned, with no radiators in sight. She sat up, holding her arms, "okay, um. We need a battle plan! This is fine, my mom couldn't always pay for the gas bill and we made do!"

Her hands balled into fists, face determined. Hatori straightened, noticing her shiver. He hummed, removing his white doctor's coat and placing it around her shoulders, touch lingering. They felt much too thin and small under his hands. "Extra blankets are a must, I'll take care of finding those."

She smiled bashfully and nodded, "mhm! And I'll see if you've got any electric ones! Or candles. I've also got a bento box leftover from work that we can share. Keeping well fed is integral for fighting the cold!" She nodded sagely.

Dark hair slid forward as he leaned down, tugging on one of her ribbons lightly. "You didn't eat earlier? Miss Honda...am I going to have to strictly monitor your health?" The calm tone dropped once more, ice leaking into his words. And yet, vague worry lingered around his perpetually melancholy eyes.

Reaching up to fix her ribbon, Tohru slid her arms into the sleeves of his coat, which slipped past her hands. "There's no need to worry~ I promise! Now, let's begin operation: Fight the cold!" She quickly turned with yet another curiously red face. Hatori wondered if she were coming down with something.

Something foreign heated his veins though when she padded away, the coat swaying out behind her like a cape due to it's size. Her long shapely legs were visible for a moment under the billow of white- and his breath caught.

Hatori quickly adjusted his tie. No, put that thought away damn it. Just because she looked like a woman didn't mean Tohru deserved to be disrespected by his unwanted attention. He quickly strode into a new room, opening the cupboards and bringing out all the blankets he could find, loading them into his arms. Now if Shigure were here, or- Hatori shuddered- in his place. Alone. With Tohru. The former dog could not be trusted not to cause a scandal. But Hatori Sohma, lonely and admiring of Tohru though he was- never caused scandal. He was the straight-laced doctor, a man of discipline, routine.

Besides even if there wasn't an age gap and even if in some mad parallel universe Tohru returned his affections-

Hatori shook his head, returning to the room and glancing at the empty picture frame. He couldn't do it, not again. He needed to stop thinking about ridiculous things.

He'd vowed never to hurt another person ever again.

Tohru came padding in, holding a tub of various sized candles but sadly no electric blanket. She smiled amiably at him, before pausing. "Hatori...what's wrong?"

Lean muscles froze. He placed the blankets down, straightening slowly. Fishing in his pocket, he brought out a lighter and offered it. "Nothing, here. Just don't burn yourself," he muttered.

Cold fingers closed around his own, gentle and soft. His lips thinned.

"I-I'm not that accident-prone," she lightly teased, giving a smile. It fell on her face a little when he didn't respond. Accepting the lighter, she turned and with his help, began arranging the candles around their make-shift nest of comforts. They didn't provide much of a heat source, Hatori wryly observed. If anything, they were more of a fire hazard.

Tohru concentrated on lighting the wicks, glancing up at him every so often. Hatori pulled out a spare futon to spread beneath them, sitting on it as he worked on making their surroundings as comfy as possible, spreading blankets everywhere like a fort. He didn't own a kotatsu, much to Tohru's dismay. Once they were done, Tohru brought out her bento box, grabbing a spare set of chopsticks and handing them to him.

"Since you haven't eaten, it would be best if only you-"

"You're eating too~!" She smiled brightly, to the point that Hatori sweatdropped, backing down. He still had reservations about taking half, but she divided it evenly, placing the box in between them.

Digging in, Hatori quietly appreciated the food, noting the amount of care she'd put into every part. The attention to detail that she afforded every meal. A thought surfaced in his sleep-deprived head- tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop it.

"You'll make a wonderful wife, someday."

Tohru made a noise, chocking on her food. He winced, mentally kicking himself as he offered her water. She gratefully accepted, chugging it down. "A-ah! Thank you, that's very sweet of you to say. You'll make an amazing husband too!" She rambled, also wincing.

His limbs locked, coldness skittering down his spine just as his pulse raced. "...I don't think that's something in my future, but thanks," he quietly admitted.

Tilting her head, Tohru picked up the pickled plum in her chopsticks, putting it on his side. She knew he liked them. "O-oh um...what makes you think that?"

"Experience," he uttered, placing the plum back on hers. He knew she liked them more.

Her cheeks puffed up indignantly, but on her face, the expression only came across as cute. "W-well for what it's worth I think you're wrong. Yuki used to think something similar, but now he has Machi. Then there's Rin with Haru, a-and Kisa with Hiro. Even Ayame and Mine. I don't really know what's happening with Akito and Shigure but if you're worried about not marrying because of the zodiac then-"

"I know. The curse is broken, and it has been for some time." Hatori interrupted gently, exhaling. He could really use a cigarette, but he didn't like exposing her to secondhand smoke. "I'm just of the opinion that it's...in my personality or fate to be alone. I've become used to solitude, there's no need to fuss over it. I don't find it uncomfortable."

Tohru's brows drew together, and she glanced at the picture frame on his desk. Hatori busied himself with eating, wishing he hadn't opened his mouth once again. He didn't even know why he was talking about it, but Tohru had that effect on people.

"I understand," the words escaped her gently, lifting some rice to her lips. He hated that he'd lowered her mood, but upon looking up, he found the girl lost in thought, not upset. She was...different, miss Honda.

When first getting to know her, he'd surmised that she was a lot like Kana, but as time wore on, that thought had faded. His ex-fiance had been beautifully sensitive, like an orchid. She'd filled his days with colour when she'd blossomed. But under strain and heartbreak, her petals wilted. Tohru, for all her naivete, held a deep well of pain within her. It was like no amount of troubles the Sohma curse threw at her would compare with the loss of her mother. She could handle the secret. Hell, she'd broken it.

Drawn out of his musings, he noticed her fingers had turned blue. "Miss Honda," he muttered, placing his chopsticks down. "Your hands, give them to me."

Brown eyes blinked, nibbling on the rice. She set her own utensils aside, startled when large hands covered her own. The doctor shifted to sit beside her, holding her palms over a larger candle. Lips thinning with consternation, his slightly calloused hands rubbed her smaller digits.

"H-hator-" she jolted when his head dipped down- exhaling on her hands and continuing to massage her skin with his thumbs. Hatori lowered his head once more, the movement bringing his lips shockingly close to her skin.

"We can't afford to be polite right now," he grumbled. "If you're feeling cold, tell me."

Tohru swallowed under his intense attention.

"Alright," she softly agreed, smiling. "You're so kind, Hatori. It's no wonder you became a Doctor."

He hesitated in his touches, before continuing to rub her hands. His eyes stayed fixed on the task, but a slight gentleness warmed his gaze. "I didn't have a choice in occupation, it was something my father did before me. But...I do enjoy it."

His muscles tensed when he felt something light tap his cheek just under his good eye. "Still, you should let other people look after you sometimes too. You look like a panda. Ah!- sorry that came out rude. I meant it as a cute thing!"

Hatori rose a brow. Cute?

Tohru reeled, waving her free hand, "a-anyway. Just how long have you been awake for?"

He checked his watch, mulling it over. "About 52 hours," he said bluntly.

It were as though her spirit had ascended from her body, leaving Torhu with a sucker-punched expression. Hatori reached out and tugged on her bangs almost fondly. "There's no need to freak out, it's quite normal in my line of work."

Still reeling, Tohru snapped herself out of her daze, raising a finger. "That doesn't make me worry less! A-ahh, and you've been staying up to take care of me when you could have been resting! I'm the worst! I am so sorry- here!" She quickly got up, breaking their contact to dash to the bed. She began fluffing a pillow, setting it down. She then tucked a thick blanket over it and gestured to it with the most determined expression she could muster.

"Please rest."

"No."

"W-why not?"

He sighed. "For one thing, it's getting late. You need your sleep more than I do after actually working today, I've only been sitting down and sorting notes. You've been on your feet and out in the snow. So go ahead, use it." He gestured to the bed while dousing the meagre amount of candles they'd put out. He then picked up the bento box and carried it to the kitchen. He heard uncertain, worried sounds as Tohru followed, hovering behind him.

"B-but you need it more than me!-"

Hatori turned on the tap water, letting her ramblings wash over him much like whenever Ayame or Shigure started fussing.

"Besides your schedule is busier, and it's 52 hours, Hatori! 52!"

He calmly washed the utensils and bento box, surprised she wasn't running out of steam talking a mile a minute. So caught up was he in his musings that Hatori misjudged her proximity. Turning to grab a dish towel- he bumped right into the girl. Hatori reeled, eyes widening as he automatically caught her by the shoulders, heart thudding when he expected to transform. To become small, fragile. Something easily stepped on as he fell the great height to the ground.

But nothing happened. He didn't realise his breathing had escalated until soft palms gingerly touched his cheeks, drawing his startled gaze down to hers.

"It's okay, Hatori. See? Nothing- nothing happens anymore..." she murmured, seeming to only now realise he hadn't tested his newfound freedom yet.

Hatori caught his breath, wondering why sweat dotted his temples. He trembled slightly, touching her hand on his face. He hoped he imagined leaning into her touch. "I apologise. I guess it was just a shock..."

She nodded empathetically, gazing up at him. She stroked her thumb over his jaw slightly, before blushing and letting go. "U-um...so- like I was saying," she murmured, holding her hands as they slowly padded back to his room.

"Fine, look see, I'll sit down." He took a seat on the bed, that he admitted was much comfier now that she'd plied it with blankets. Still, this was not enough to assuage her as Tohru placed her hands on his shoulders.

"Okay! Step one is done~ now for step two! Lying down," she beamed, putting all her strength into trying to force him to lie back. Hatori felt her hands shake and noticed her grunt with effort, but he did not budge. He sighed. Reluctantly, he allowed himself to fall back- head hitting the pillow and scattering his dark hair in disarray.

However, the sudden movement made the girl lose her balance. She landed with a squeak directly atop him.

Hatori stiffened immediately, shifting to get up, "m-miss Honda."

Tohru seemed to misconstrue his motives to escape- as she placed her palms firmly down on his chest, trying to keep him there. "N-no! You shouldn't get up! Go to sleep!" She blushed scarlet. "I'll keep you like this if I have to!"

"I can hardly rest while you're-" he sucked in a harsh breath when her hips squirmed. Directly against his. His head hit the pillow once more, mind screaming. Alright, so Tohru was essentially straddling him. No big deal. It wasn't like he could also feel the gentle curves of her body pressing against his, smell her scent of fresh linens dancing in a warm summer breeze- or sense the line of tension in her spine. His hands reluctantly settled on her lower back.

"This isn't necessary. I'll sleep if it means that much to you."

Tohru shifted atop him, tilting her head up where it rested on his chest. Heat surged down his stomach, curling his fingers in the material of her blouse. Suddenly seeming to realise how indecent their positions were, Tohru lifted her upper body, hair frazzled. It hung down to tickle his nose.

"I-I um- okay. Just make sure you rest!" She blushed, moving carefully to try and untangle their limbs. Feeling the warmth leaving his chest, Hatori surprised both her and himself by halting her movements.

His hands had settled on her waist.

Tohru paused, cheeks seemingly incapable of losing their red hue. "H-Hatori?"

Exhaling, violet eyes stared up at her. He quickly grasped a blanket and tossed it around her shoulders, tugging her to lie back down on a mad impulse. "Let's just...both get some sleep. You're as bad as me when it comes to watching your health and pushing yourself too hard. I don't trust you not to stay up."

Surprising him, she gave a soft, mumbled giggle. "You make us sound so rebellious. Like Black Haru or something."

The former dragon stared up at the ceiling, his heart thundering quicker at the sound. He was certain she could hear it in his chest. He'd forgotten what it was like to hold another human so close. The alien feeling was dissolving into such a pleasant sensation he feared he'd grow spoiled from it.

"Hatori...this is okay, isn't it?" Came her small voice.

His hand glided up her back to rest on her head. "Of course. Unless it bothers you."

"Oh no, not at all," she murmured, grip tightening in his shirt. He wondered why. "I mean, we're friends!"

"Yes. Friends."

Tohru made a noise of quiet affirmation, settling closer. "Goodnight Hatori."

Hearing her breathing even out, his attention shifted down, glancing at the crown of her head. Brunette strands of hair were sprawled over his chest, some spun into gentle spirals. His pale fingers stroked the soft locks, before clenching and drawing away.

"Goodnight...Tohru."


 

Hatori was floating on clouds. Or at least it certainly felt that way. He slept long and deep, breathing in heavenly smells and feeling oddly…safe.

Releasing a dusty sounding breath, his lashes fluttered. Surfacing from sleep slowly, he lifted his head groggily. At once, he noticed their positions had changed. Strands of hair were stuck to his lip, his face inches from Tohru's neck, where he assumed he'd been resting just a moment ago. Somehow they'd changed positions in the night. He was now laying on his stomach, trapping her more petite form under his. His felt his arms wrapped around her, and more alarmingly- hers around him.

Shifting, Hatori's face flushed when he felt something. Ah, it seemed her leg had hooked around his in the night too. Fantastic.

Grasping her wrists, Hatori gently untangled her from him, shifting to get up. He braced his hands on either side of her head on the pillow to rise.

Of course, her lashes opened.

"H-hatori," she breathed, eyes widening. She then smiled shyly, hands grasping the covers tighter. "G-good morning! Did you sleep well?"

Hatori made a noise, quickly moving to rise. He half-heartedly tried to fix his bed-hair, only to give up. "And you?"

"Yes, very well thank you," she chirped. "It felt very warm."

He adjusted his tie, wishing he could stop damn blushing. He strode over to his desk, "I'm going to see if the phone's working."

"Ah, sure. I guess I'll start making breakfast then."

"You don't have to-" too late, she was already gone.

Hatori dialled for Shigure and lifted the phone to his ear.

'Due to the poor weather conditions, we cannot connect your call at this time. Please try again later.'

Not good. It was only the second day but spending any more time with Tohru alone might make her catch wise to his feelings.

"Hatori!~ Would you like some eggs?"

Then again, it was Tohru. He was quite fortunate she saw everyone around her as strictly friends. Sighing, he tried to fix his expression into a calm mask and joined her in the kitchen.


 

While they contentedly tucked into their breakfast together, he noticed her pause mid-meal. Finishing a bite, he waited for her to speak up.

"Hatori, remember yesterday when you said you didn't think you'd get married?"

He made a non-committal noise.

"I-I don't think it's in my personality to be alone, maybe I'd make a good wife-"

"You would," his tone brooked no argument.

"Hmph. Pot kettle black," Tohru smiled with a hesitant impishness.

Violet eyes danced. "You think I'd make a good wife?"

She gave a laugh, lips tugging up as warmth lit up her expression. She then sobered. "It's just that...maybe I'm afraid of marriage in a similar way. Afraid of someone being more important to me than my mom. If I got married, then I'm worried they'd take her place in my heart. I don't like to admit it, because it makes me a bad daughter- but I can't...picture her face clearly anymore. I have to rely on her photo. I-it's awful. I'm terrible."

Something vicious attacked his bloodstream at her put down. "Don't. Your mother would be proud of you." His voice became haunting steel, before softening. "For what it's worth, I'm the same. I can't clearly recall Kana's laugh, but I know it was distinct. I can't see her face, but there's the recollection of her eyes or how she used to stand that I do know. I'm sorry, she's not deceased so it's not the same-"

"No, no. It is- because it's just as painful. You still...lost her."

He stopped, that reserved quietness in his bearing softening for her. "Just because we loved them...doesn't mean we have to be alone to honour them, Tohru."

She stared, tears collecting in her eyes. "Does that mean you'll reconsider becoming an old maid?" She sniffed, smiling teasingly while trying to ignore her red nose and wobbling lip.

Hatori's gaze shifted over her honest features, before returning to his now cold breakfast. "Perhaps. If the right suitor came along."

It was at that moment the electricity decided to shut off, dousing the room in faint blue tones.

Tohru had let out a yelp and panicked, hands fluttering everywhere. "H-h-hatori! Oh no! If there's no electricity then we can't cook dinner!"

"Calm down. We'll find a way, besides there's enough food to snack on if this isn't just a short power cut."

He heard her get up, but she was on his sightless side- moving closer. "But what if it lasts longer than- GAH!" Something knocked violently against the table, making the plates rattle.

Hatori turned in alarm, hands reaching out and finding her form stumbling. Firm fingers wrapped around her arm, steadying her. He shifted to stand, brows drawing together.

"Tohru? Are you alright?"

The lights flickered, before turning back on. The whole room was bathed in soft hues once more, and the girl exhaled in relief, looking up at him. "O-oh, yes I'm fine. I just tripped."

"You're bleeding," he deadpanned, attention fixed on her torn tights. Her left knee was scrapped, some bruising starting to rise to the surface.

Tohru gaped, peering down. He decided to take it upon himself to pick her up, leaning down to allow her to place her arm around his shoulders as he slid one arm under her legs. He didn't think of it as some gallant thing, he just couldn't be bothered to wait as she hopped over to a chair. He placed her down in his desk chair and retrieved some antiseptic, along with a plaster.

Though he knew her to be a grown woman he couldn't shake the habit of tending to even the most minor of injuries, especially when it came to her. He'd taken the car to Shigure's house on several occasions when it was reported she had a headache or scrape from a new fall.

Hatori knelt down to grasp her ankle, placing her foot on his thigh to elevate her knee and allow him to see it better. She made a noise, though he wasn't certain why. His fingers then rubbed the cream onto her wound, and this time he understood the hiss between her teeth.

"The pain will pass…am I being too rough?" He muttered, trying to gentle his touch.

"N-no not at all," she murmured.

He hummed and placed the plaster over the scrape, smoothing the edges to let it stick. He felt mild satisfaction at such a simple task, ready to move away.

Hatori shifted, raising his head. He froze, finding her closer than anticipated. His breath stilled, eyes widening marginally. She wasn't…pulling away.

Her eyes shone from the light of the nearby candles, giving the brown a brightened earthy glow. Some loose strands of hair hung forward, lingering near his cheek. His nails caught in her tights as his fingers clenched- and he inhaled. He needed to pull away. Needed to stop. But the look on her face remained gentle and inviting. He couldn't understand why.

Hatori's heartbeat thundered in his ears like a roaring tide. He leaned forward-just a touch. Just to see. To know. Tohru didn't scream or pull away. Her cheeks coloured red, mouth parting a touch. Those kind eyes flitted down to his thin lips.

That was what did it. His fingers rose up to her jaw- touch feather light, bridging the last of the distance between them. She inhaled, her lips feeling soft and pliant under his.

Something crashed down his veins and melted inside his stomach. Rapture and longing collided, hurting in an exquisite, visceral kind of way. Suddenly he was more aware than ever of his loneliness, his secret want of her. It caused his hands to tremble.

He felt her hesitant palm on his cheek, smoothing the long dark strands of his bangs aside. When he pulled away, eyes peeling open, he wished for the first time in a long while to have his full sight back. Tohru remained frozen with rosy cheeks, opening her mouth to say something-

Hatori retreated, standing. He walked over to his desk, facing away from her as he collected himself slowly. A fire churned in his gut, emotions pressing tight against the surface. He wanted so badly to embrace her.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-" she murmured, voice wavering. She was hurt. He could tell.

"Don't be. You have nothing to apologise for. I took advantage-"

"No, no you didn't!" She burst, and he heard her stand. "Please don't turn away..."

His fingers twitched at his hands, hands curling into loose fists that tightened until they shook. "You understand why we can't do this, Tohru. Aside from the age gap-"

"M-my parents were far apart in age-"

"There's also my…disposition. My fate," he said with an air of grim finality.

Despite the curse being broken and the zodiac members free, he still felt fear. He still pictured history repeating itself. That she'd somehow be hurt again just like Kana. Perhaps he should be worried about losing another eye, but Hatori gladly would if it meant keeping her safe.

He heard quiet footsteps approach, and he turned to face her. A guarded look had entered his gaze, haunted with past terrors and agony.

He was afraid. Terrified of hurting her. The empty picture frame stood silent and empty as a grim reminder.

Tears swam in Tohru's gaze, though he wasn't sure why. She clasped her hands, perhaps to stop herself from touching him. "You said it before 'we don't have to be alone to honour them.' Things are different now…they're not what they were a few years ago. No one's going to punish you for being happy, Hatori. Not Akito, and not fate."

That's right, God had stepped down.

Looking to the future felt like an insurmountable task considering the past that still clung to his lonely room. Lingering in the backs of his eyes and resurfaced in his waking thoughts.

But then Tohru…

Tohru sometimes felt like she'd present a 'maybe.' Maybe things wouldn't go to hell with her. If he were just brave enough to take her hand then-

The sound of the phone ringing filled the room.


 

'It seems like the worst of the storm has passed. There is no longer a Red Weather Warning in effect, so you'll all be pleased to know it's clear to go outside again~ This has been your three o'clock weather report.'

Hatori stood outside on the porch, smoking as the radio droned on. He stared down at the empty picture frame in his hand, lost in memory once more as the snow fell. Tohru was busying herself cleaning, though he'd told her it wasn't necessary.

Shigure and whoever else would come to take her home. The mischievous dog had been on the phone, cheerfully announcing that Hatsuharu had found a snow plough for who knows where.

No doubt the roads would be cleared soon. His heart constricted at the thought, though nothing touched his expression.

A soft touch had his eyes snapping down to his hand, where Tohru looked up at him. She gently grasped the picture frame, biting her lip, before looking away. She then summoned the courage to speak.

"I might have to go soon, but um...I wanted to say something."

She paused, and he waited, hanging on the precipice of whatever she chose to do or say.

"Stop me if this is too forward, but I think...it's time to get a different photo frame for your desk." Tohru said, voice gentle. "You don't have to throw this away of course. See it's like if someone wanted to become extra special to me, I could never- never put their image in mom's place. She's important to me, and always will have a large part of my heart."

Hatori felt it now, the pull toward her. His attention was magnetised, hearing attuned to her voice to pick up every soft inflection. Tohru smiled gently, no jealousy in her. "Just like Kana will always have a large part of yours."

She took a breath. "But if...there was someone for me, I'd put them in a brand new frame. That way they're not crumpling themselves to fit someone else's space. I feel like I understand that a bit better now. Maybe I...don't need to be afraid of marriage if I think of it like that."

She really did understand. For a moment he contemplated her. He saw something radiant in her face, a kind of wiseness beyond her years that mingled with her naivete. "I see, eloquently put." Violet eyes shifted over her slowly. "In that case, would you like to go shopping for photo frames together, Tohru?"

His hand hung loosely at his side near hers, fingers curling.

Her lips tilted up, stretching further into a breathtaking, radiant smile. "Yes! That would be wonderful," she murmured, expression softening into something more hopeful and quiet. She released her grip on her hands and also let them hang lose, watching the snowfall. Slowly, as though fearful of rejection, she inched her knuckles closer.

Hatori's gaze shifted down and giving in to the small ray of hope inside him, took her hand outright. He would follow her lead, he decided. She jumped a little and dipped her head shyly, threading their fingers together.

"Hatori..."

"Mn?"

Brunette hair slid over her shoulder, falling in soft waves as she shifted to look up at him. "I don't think...friends are supposed to feel this way about each other."

"No, probably not." He somberly agreed, heart thudding as though he were a schoolboy.

Her brows pulled together slightly, and her hand squeezed his. "What do we do?"

For a long while, he didn't reply. The snow fell gently, a silent witness to the quiet regard in Hatori's eye, which was starting to become reserved only for her. "We'll do this at our own pace. However, I wish you'd reconsider and think about being with a boy more your age."

Tohru's comforting eyes sparked with alarm, her mouth opening to perhaps voice an eloquent protest. It then clicked shut, and her heart took the lead in her words instead. "But I only want you, Hatori."

He exhaled sharply, a fragile thing inside him anchoring itself to the warmth of her palm. He wasn't sure if the universe would allow him happiness once more, but he trusted Tohru. However naive it was to hope- he wanted to believe in a future with her in it. He felt his body humming with life, the touch of her skin feeling more tangible the more warmth flooded him. Bringing her hand up- he pressed his lips to her knuckles ardently, breath shuddering over her skin.

"Then you have me."

Outside, the snow slowly began to thaw.

End

 

Chapter Text

Hatori ran a hand through his hair, exhaling smoke.

"I'm too sober for this," he muttered to himself, having taken a brief respite from the chaos inside the traditional house. He sat on the wooden porch steps, listening to Ritsu drunkenly declare his love to Mitsuru for the thousandth time. The wedding had been low-key, probably to prevent nerves. Far less extravagant than Ayame's a few years before. By now Kisa and Hiro had left, leaving the adults to act a little too loose with their alcohol consumption.

The moon above cast a soft glow on the flowers in the garden. Since it was Spring they should've all opened to the sky, but many remained shy and unopened, like they'd forgotten how to bloom despite the gardeners best efforts.

Footsteps sounded out, approaching his sightless side, staggering, before warmth leaned heavily into his arm.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Tohru exclaimed, leaning away from him and adjusting her skirts as she sat down.

Judging by her rosy cheeks and hazy eyes, the 20-year-old had been enjoying her newfound alcohol freedom. He hadn't seen much of her all night, due to her status of being a social butterfly among the former zodiac. That suited him fine. He was by no means clingy.

"It's alright," he rose a brow, taking a drag from his cigarette. "Did you enjoy yourself today?"

"Mhm!" She nodded enthusiastically, long brunette hair bouncing with the motion. "The wedding was wonderful! And this reception has been so much fun! Ritsu and Mitsuru both looked beautiful in their dresses, don't you think?"

Hatori hummed non-committally, hearing Tohru's poor attempts to hide her coughing. Snuffing out his cigarette, he drew long legs down onto the lower steps, turning his full attention to her. Tohru beamed at him, hazy gaze searching. He wondered what she found so fascinating about his face. She remained a strange existence to him even after he'd known her for many years. It would probably always be this way.

That smile fell a little, and she seemed to sober slightly. "Haru and Rin are engaged and… they'll marry soon," she said quietly. "Yuki and Machi were talking about it too."

Goosebumps whispered over her arms, so he shifted out of his dark jacket, placing it over her shoulders. "You shouldn't compare your situation with others," he uttered. "It'll just lead to unhappiness."

Tohru jolted, hands shooting up between them to flutter wildly in the air. "O-oh, n-no I wasn't trying to pressure you or anything, I promise!-" she dipped her head to bow- only to smack her forehead into his shoulder. Hatori clenched his jaw to stop from smiling, wrapping an arm around her waist as she groaned. "A-ah, is the world turning really quickly, Hatori?" She squeaked.

"Technically," he smirked outright, checking her forehead before forcing her to lean down, the back of her head resting on his thighs. Placing a calloused palm on her warm forehead, the doctor looked down at her. His naturally guarded face could do nothing to hide his gentle gaze, dark bangs sliding forwards. "Better?"

Tohru giggled drunkenly, catching his free hand and pressing pale knuckles to a flushed cheek. "Much," she breathed.

Hatori felt the weight in his chest lessen a little. The ring back home in his desk draw came to mind, before he shook it away. Proposing at another person's wedding was in bad taste and he'd been waiting for the right time.

But...if she was becoming fretful he'd do it tomorrow.

He wondered if his naturally unclingy nature had actually made her a tad more insecure tonight. Had she wanted to talk to their friends together, as a couple, and subsequently drowned her disappointment in alcohol? She'd become better at voicing her thoughts, but old habits died hard.

His cigarettes were proof enough of that.

Hearing her quiet breathing, Hatori looked down, seeing Tohru's content, sleeping features. Ah, he was becoming lost to 'moody' thoughts again, as she'd say. Usually she starved away such things with her gentle, assuring presence. He stroked soft bangs away from her face, biting the inside of his cheek when she made a happy noise and nuzzled into cool fingers.

He wanted- needed to be that steady, assuring warmth for her as well. Tohru Honda deserved to bloom.

"I really am too sober for this."