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the simple shallows

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i.

He realized too late that he remembered her most by sounds and smells. The epiphany came to him while half-sprawled on his tatami mat, the infernal pitter-patter of rain barely drowned out by his pillow. Tohru smelled of wet plum blossoms and pancake syrup. Like citrusy detergent, linen and miso. 

Her soft giggles were a chorus in his head. Her Kyo-kuns , because there were several kinds of Kyo-kuns ---with admonishment, the one followed by a cheery “good morning” , the stuttering, embarrassed Kyo-kun that meant he was teasing her a bit too much were all carefully filed away.

Kyo scowled into his elbow. Fuck. He needed more. Kyo-kun and citrusy pine were well and good but it wouldn’t be enough for when he’d be locked up. He wanted to memorize her, stitched behind both eyelids so she’d be there in the suffocating dark, torching the Cat’s Room ablaze with her resilient light. 

He needed it all. A lifetime’s worth. 

And then, maybe...

ii.

The sight of Kyo’s paper flower on her oak nightstand was bittersweet for Tohru. She remembered the earnest, heartbreaking look he gave her when he presented it to her. She can still feel the twist in her gut as she cupped it and held it close to her heart. Kyo’s hardened knuckles lightly rubbed against her palms, breathing in the heady scent that was all him -- she reminisced and revisited, but not like with Mom, where remembering filled the permanent hollow in her heart for a spell.

No, the memory of Kyo’s paper flower didn’t make her feel good at all. It was unshed tears she had to fight, it was bile rising in her throat, and fear of never, ever seeing him again.

It hurts, Mom.

iii.

There were many things Kyo knew to be true about Honda Tohru, but the most surprising was how soundly and deeply she slept. It was a trait she shared with the sickly rat. He observed it for the first time after visiting her mother’s gravesite, as she laid out on the balcony, her hair tousled around her like a halo, face wholly serene.

I’m sorry.  

He definitely couldn’t relate, as he often slept in that weird purgatory between awake and rest, fists clenched, waiting for battle. He wondered what she was dreaming about, and how he hoped it gave her some solace. A well-deserved break from constantly chipping away at the hard rot that was the Sohma’s and their curse. 

He tested his theory over the past summer, as she’d taken to sleeping in the oddest places, no doubt influenced by Momiji and perhaps a burgeoning level of comfort that made him feel warm. He’d find her curled underneath the pull-out sofa, leaning against a sturdy tree, on the small breakfast table in the villa---and he’d watch, listen, move closer and start revealing in a whispered rush. 

I hate how I need you. 

It was dangerously stupid of him but the lightness in his chest after his confessions became too addictive, too freeing. 

He could pretend she knew everything in this small, pathetic way. Tohru knew , she didn’t care…she forgave him and maybe, hell, even felt the same way too. 

But inevitably, like all things in Kyo’s life, the content of his confessions became less about him and more about her. He’d keep it locked in, he reasoned, because— shit , that was inevitable too.

I hate how I need you.

But I hate not being with you more. 

iv.

“Ready?”

Kyo waited expectantly at the sliding doors, slightly ajar and a snapping winter breeze blowing in. The sky was milky and still, last night’s snow like sprinkles on the tufts of grass.  Kyo was tucked warmly in his favourite bomber jacket, hands stuffed to the brim in his pockets. The swell of butterflies, fluttering in her chest before they settled in her belly at the sight of him, were hardly a surprise. She seemed to have no control over her recent past-time of staring at Kyo, and opportunities had become more frequent with it being just the two of them commuting back and forth from school. Yuki’s presidential duties reserved more and more of his time and although she missed him dearly, she took advantage of drinking Kyo in shamelessly, wondering when she’d ever be sated.

When will it be enough, Mom?

She bounded quickly to Kyo’s side, slipping on her ankle boots with little preamble. 

“Where’s your other coat? The big, red one?”

“Oh, it got ruined in the dryer,” She murmured, flushed with embarrassment, “It’s alright. This one’ll do.”

He had that reluctant edge in his jaw and finally nodded. She took her perfunctory spot to his right, her leather messenger bag gripped loosely at her front as they bounded down the length of stone stairs. Her chest clenched, like always, when she noted how he slowed his pace for her. Months ago, he’d skip two steps at a time as she and Yuki trailed behind. From her peripheral, she could just make out his shoulder, his tanned neck flanked by his jacket’s brown collar. 

She instinctively wetted her lips, her throat already seizing. The painful desire to take a photo of him just in this moment gripped her. 

It’s cruel, Mom.

They walked to school silently, Tohru’s mind fretting as usual. Kyo had longed stopped asking her what was wrong---most likely out of resigned respect for her boundaries, and maybe a small part of him had even given up. She’d been unfair to him, answering in riddles and half-truths. She just knew if she looked up and to her left he’d be giving her that worried, sidelong glance. His eyebrows furrowed, lips tight. 

It’s cruel that I’m already mourning Kyo-kun when he’s so desperately living. 

v.

No, he decided, he’d remember Tohru most like this.

Her hair tied in a bun, loose strands escaping its hold, the ombre oranges and reds of the setting sun their only audience as they sat silently on the sloping roof. Fingers were tentative, unsure but reaching. Kyo pretended he couldn’t see her fingers trail forward, unbearably slow. He knew, deep in his gut, his calluses would catch on skin like hers. The delicate, soft pads brushed against his own roughened fingers as she stared resolutely ahead--the mark of her bravery overwhelming her entire face. 

His urge to lace their fingers was tempered by his desire to lengthen the fragile, rare moment. He needed to memorize it all, her fading pink cheeks, her other hand fitfully tucking in wayward strands, but most of all her defiant eyes facing the lowering sun.

This is enough. A lifetime’s worth.

vi.

The guilt was numbing. She so desperately wanted to take a look at the Cat’s cage-- just a peek, she told herself . Her search in finding Kureno-san, in finding answers had left her unsatisfied and depleted. She obsessed in her dreams and even during the day. The visions were incessant as of late, of the Sohma estate levelled in ash by her hand and Akito-san’s harrowing gaze at the carnage.

And then, predictably the blinding guilt swam with heat. Burn it. She was rubbed raw on the inside from her quiet rage. Drowned in the shame and the heat burning hotter, wilder, vengeful--

“Tohru?”

The soft, low timber of his voice wrapped around her chest like a vice.

Heat.

She torched inwardly from the shame but mostly from his voice. 

Tohru felt that inexplicable, alluring tug again, just like in Kyoto. The pull that began in her belly, travelled up to her chest and sought until she found Kyo, his intense eyes pinning her to the ground. Despite it all, the yearning want begged her to go closer and closer and to take hold of him, to grab his hand and---

Never, ever let go.

She closed her eyes tightly, willing away the burning in her chest, in her throat, on her cheeks. 

“Ah, Kyo-kun,” The lilt in her voice was high, sheepish “Sorry, I was just washing dishes. I didn’t even notice you coming in!”

He leaned over her right arm, the red fabric of his sweater brushing her bare skin. The curiosity was evident in his eyes as he surveyed the filled sink, suds and soapy water had her left arm nearly elbow deep.

“Clearly,” he murmured, “You’ve probably pruned yourself up.”

She eyed her hands in the reflective water--pink, raw, and definitely pruned--with a gulp.

“I’ve bested the dishes quite violently today,” she said, awed at the sight of her own hands. 

Kyo snorted, bumping her shoulder in that affectionate way she liked. The way he touched her was compelling and curious. It tickled her insides, stoking something altogether foreign, confusing and unfamiliar. And yet, It was the one constant that kept her anchored.

Kyo-kun, Kyo-kun’s laugh and Kyo-kun’s touch.

She smiled a thousand apologies. For not being more present, for being a mulling, hopeless mess. For wanting everything to burn. 

“Weirdo,” He breathed at the sight of her smile, but surely she wasn’t that weird because his hand was moving, fingers outstretched and brushing away restless strands, past her ear, behind her ear, finally tucked securely. He eyed his work for a moment, head tilted just so, then his eyes sought her face, then scanned lower still--

Heat. 

vii.

When Kyo opened his bedroom door, the last person he expected to see ricocheted to the nearby wall, red-faced and trembling. She was all lace and fuschia under the glowing golden tint of the hallway light. 

“You’re beautiful,” he wanted to say. Or, better yet: “Go to bed.”

But instead, voice thick, he demanded, “Why are you here?”

Dammit.

He waited, shame-faced, for her familiar frantic waving but instead her hands were firmly behind her back, as she shyly toed the wood floor eyes scanning everywhere but him. Odd. He moved closer, his curiosity piqued. He padded outside his door as Tohru crouched against the wall, grimacing.

“What’s behind you?”

“Can we--,” She hesitated, his words seeming to steel her spine as she straightened, “Can we go inside your room first, Kyo-kun?”

He tugged lamely at his t-shirt collar, all at once horrified and tantalized by her request. His room? At night? In her nightdress? He swallowed his rising panic. Tohru would never come to his room and want to be--to be alone unless it was serious. Very, fucking serious . Most likely she tried Yuki’s room first and realized the rodent was knocked out asleep. It was past midnight, after all. He let out a low breath, collecting himself.

He pivoted sharply, robotically walking back into his room and held the door open with his stiffened back. Rigidly keeping his head forward, he heard tentative footsteps as she shuffled in, murmuring a hurried word of gratitude. He sharply gulped as she brushed past him. When he finally sought her whereabouts, she was pacing back and forth in front of his slightly ajar window, bands of moonlight and shadows striped across the floor. 

Tohru’s hushed voice filled the room. 

“Kyo-kun, do you think that I-- maybe, if it’s okay with you of course--if I could---”  Her head was bent down, bangs obscuring eyes that usually revealed far more than she was scarcely aware. 

With a few shaky breaths, she finally blurted: “If I---could-I-please-take-your-picture-- please ?”

He had to fight his jaw from slackening completely. She finally presented the item hidden behind her back - a digital camera. She let out a heavy sigh, her eyes screwed shut as the awkward tension pressed on.

“I wanna ask why but I don’t want to give you a stroke,” he managed.

“I’m sorry for putting you on the spot.” Tohru amended, head still bowed down.

“Don’t apologise.” He rubbed his furiously red face, feeling touched and warm and terrified and confused and why- -

“Get on with it then,” he pressed, his voice catching. He was almost positive he would combust.

He stared at her as she slowly lifted the black camera until it eventually covered a third of her face. Even from this distance, he could see her quivering. He absently stroked the inside of his left arm, staring vacantly at the raised gooseflesh, twisting his mouth until he finally settled on a stern line. And with bated breath, anxious for a click or flash, he realized she was clearly unsatisfied with what she saw through the lens. It all came at him in a rush--the thought of Tohru having a picture of him, probably not framed like her mother’s but maybe folded in her wallet and he wanted to be the Kyo she seemed to always see. He loved her enough to give her a smile worth being folded, unfolded, worn and yellowed. A smile she could revisit tomorrow, next year, and decades later. The corner of his lips curved upwards reflexively. He had to hold back, just a bit. Just like the bars of light on the floor, he was shackled. 

Then, click .

He shuddered an exhale, glancing up at Tohru. She stared quizzically at the camera, her face revealing poorly disguised relief. 

“What do I get in return?” He teased, inching closer as she stood huddled against the wall.

“Um, what would you like?” 

“Let’s make it a proper trade.” 

He knew this was dangerous ground. He blamed it on the pancake syrup in his nostrils, the lace trim just above her knees, his impossibly tiny room that couldn’t fit him, Tohru and all of the fucking things he felt and had to always swallow. 

“I’m not sure I u-understand, Kyo-kun” She stammered, finally scorching him with the weight of her gaze. 

He closed their distance, hovering and he felt small, vulnerable, stupid . He whisked the camera away from her, furrowed his eyebrows, thoroughly puzzled on which damn button to click when he heard her sniffling. 

“I was just teasing,” He said quickly, frowning. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m sorry Kyo-kun, it’s not you at all--I’m just--”

He reached over, taking hold of her bare elbow, palm scalding. She looked down at his hand, at his clumsy attempt to soothe her and a torrent of tears spilled forth. 

“Hey,” he whispered.

And his hand shifted to the back of her head, settling at the nape of her neck, fingers entangled in fine, impossibly soft hair. He was keeping her steady, he reasoned. She wracked with guttural sobs, eventually slowing to a hiccup. I’m calming her down. He was acutely aware of brushing the back of two fingers along her wet cheek.

I’m the worst fucking liar.

“All done?”

“All done,” She echoed, giving him a watery smile. He nodded, wordlessly tapping her forehead with his closed fist.  

“If I take this picture--know that you’re going to have to smile, dope.”

She gave him a solemn nod, patting her cheeks and inhaling once, twice. She shifted against the wall, her shyness palpable.  

“Just a moment,” She murmured, turning around so that her face was practically colliding against his bedroom wall. He took a hulking step back, embarrassed. He could see her elbows jutting out, hands probably clasped in front of her, shaky breaths slowly steadying. 

And when she finally turned around, it wasn’t her dopey smile at all that he faced. It was the fleeting turn of her lips, private, secret…just for him. As the camera zoomed in and out of focus, the distant familiarity of her smile reverberated in his head --in Kyoto, on the roof, after the school play and now. Kyo could live with that being the only bit of Tohru he possessed. 

Click.

viii. 

Kyo-kun couldn’t have known of course--that beneath the fan of her eyelashes she could make out his hazy silhouette. He was so fuzzy, blurred and soft around the edges.

He couldn’t have realized that he was so, so close. So close that his stilted breath tickled across her face, alighting the peach fuzz so they stood on end, that there was now a current between them. The static so visceral she could feel it from the middle of her stomach all the way to the underside of her toes. 

His fingers glided across her face, millimetres away from her skin. He mapped an unseen route, connecting moles and rosy indentations. Middle part of his brow knotted in concentration, his mouth that ever-grim line. 

Forefinger just above her cupids bow--dipping slightly after a second, following the shape of her lips.

X marks the spot. 

And then he gathered himself up, head firmly nestled into the crook of his elbow, the assortment of books a wall between them. He was parallel to her, sighing so defeatedly that it nearly shook her resolve to stay rooted.  He was already floating away, she realized. With another blink, Kyo was ephemeral like smoke rising from a hot pan. Fleeting like the first delicious taste of vanilla ice-cream on a humid, summer afternoon.

All he had to do was turn and look and he’d see. See that her breathing was staggered, see her flushed face, her eyelids fluttering so fiercely for release. 

But he didn’t. He couldn’t have known. 

But she knew. She knew and one day soon, when she was brave like Uo-chan, she would tell him. Tell him all the ways he made her fall so deeply, irreversibly. 

She had to.

This isn’t enough, Kyo-kun.