The first few times Kyo heard her coughing he didn’t even really register it. She’d been cooking the evening meal for them all at the stove like always and it was just the occasional little sound that she muffled with her hand. Nothing to worry about, nothing to note. While they’d been eating, she’d covered it up so well he forgot he’d even heard her coughing at all.
The next day it got worse.
Kyo firmly told her to stay home from school the minute he saw her. She coughed even while she shook her head, but it had clearly kept her up all night, though she’d somehow masked it well enough that it hadn’t woken even him – and he was a notoriously light sleeper. (Probably a Cat thing.)
She looked at him with horror at his suggestion, but her usually bright brown eyes were glazed with the look of someone trying to mask their discomfort.
She’d had a cold recently, but it hadn’t seemed that bad because she’d still been making it to school, and she’d been straight on the cold remedies to treat the symptoms, instead of letting herself get as bad as last time. Nobody had expected her to get this kind of cough as an aftereffect. She’d probably kept so much of it inside instead of blowing her damn nose that she’d made her chest bad. As if on cue Tohru turned away to cough with a violence that shook her tiny frame and made him wince in sympathy.
Of course, Tohru had naturally tried to get dressed and go to school today, insisting she was fine, despite her weakness from all the coughing. Her cheeks looked pale and pasty from the lack of their usual pinkness and even her smile wobbled with the effort it took to put it there.
She looked like shit.
And yet… each time she broke into a coughing fit she’d turn away, like she was ashamed and embarrassed, clutching her chest with the effort of trying to repress it, and he’d feel his heart clench. His hands had balled into fists before he’d even registered it and he was yelling at her to stay at home before he could stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth.
He was powerless to help her from her own symptoms; from her pain, her discomfort, her guilt and embarrassment, and that pissed him off. Give him something to fight for her and he’d do it. Standing around and just ‘letting her get better’ was not his style.
Especially when she was so bad at looking after herself. She never seemed to give herself the consideration she gave everyone else.
When she coughed so hard for so long that she started gagging the three Sohmas had eventually persuaded her to get back into bed. Despite her loud and frantic denials. “Miss more school,” she’d said in a panic, “I-I can’t. I-I made a promise. I can- I can still go, I’m feeling better, I-”, but whatever she’d wanted to say after that got cut off by the painful sound of her coughing and wheezing.
He was glad when she’d gone back to bed and he didn’t have to look at her pathetic face anymore. Shigure had reassured them that he’d be staying at home all day writing, so he’d listen out for her in case she needed anything, and that he was going to call Hatori to see what he could do for her. It was a surprisingly emotional speech for someone who didn’t really care all that much either way. He just knew what retribution would be waiting for him from the rest of the family if he didn’t look like he was trying to help.
Kyo swore it was like she’d somehow earned the love of the whole damned messed up Zodiac.
School was a trial that day. Even more than usual. He alternated between glaring at people and glaring at the classroom clock. Neither did anything to help. His classmates were determined to know the source of his bad mood, bugging him relentlessly between classes, and that damn rat wouldn’t stop huffing at him with a feigned ignorance whenever he was asked about his ‘sour cousin’. And the clock refused to go faster.
He wasn’t sure why he was even that bothered about whether Tohru was well or not. She’d been sick before and he’d been angry about it before, but this time he was taking it even worse. He just knew while he was at school, he wasn’t at home, and that meant he had no idea how she was. Was she still trying to hide her coughs? Was she getting worse? Would she need to go to hospital? While the same knot of questions bounced endlessly around his head, he was continually denying the guilt settling in his stomach for not taking her seriously that first night. He hadn’t even really noticed. He hadn’t asked her if she was okay. That damn Yuki probably had while he’d been out of earshot – then why didn’t he do something about it then? He could have called Hatori over right away. Maybe that would have prevented how pathetic she looked this morning. The rat should have done something dammit. Isn’t that what he always did? Swooped in and saved the day?
Kyo’s mood darkened enough that his classmates finally seemed to sense that it would be best if he was left well alone.
He glared at Yuki instead. But he didn’t notice.
And then, finally, he was able to go home.
He took the long staircase back to Shigure’s house two at a time, easy with his long legs and supernatural balance – (good for sleeping in trees without falling out and for racing up ridiculously tall and narrow steps without falling over, he noted.) It was odd that he wasn’t even bothered that he hadn’t caught his breath back by the time he’d flung the door open and kicked his shoes off, so that his breathless question of, “How is she?”, came out as one word.
Shigure looked up from his newspaper and raised his eyebrows high. “Well, aren’t we the concerned one today? Did you race all the way back from school to find out how our poor Tohru is fairing?”
Kyo didn’t have time for Shigure’s shitty habit of answering questions with questions, but he gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to lose his temper – knowing that was exactly the reaction the damn dog was looking for.
Shigure laughed. “Oh, well now, that’s certainly a dark look. You’re so easy to tease Kyo, I’m always glad when you come home from school.” He wiped pretend tears from his eyes.
Kyo was one more comment away from telling him to piss off and just going up there himself, but Shigure’s expression finally became more serious as he pointed towards the ceiling.
“She’s resting. Hari gave her some medicine for her chesty cough, and it’s eased. He doesn’t think it’s a chest infection, but she needs to take the medicine twice a day to help it get better, so it doesn’t turn into one. So make sure she has it, Kyo.”
“What? Why me? I’m her friend, not her mo-” Kyo clamped his mouth shut. Bad choice of words. Bad choice of words.
Shigure said nothing but his eyebrows raised even further.
Gods what did she ever do that was bad enough for the universe to decide she deserved him as a friend?
Kyo heaved a breath, calming down after realising his shitty mood had made him say the wrong thing again, and was glad Tohru hadn’t heard him.
Shigure let the weight of Kyo’s cut off word hang in the air for a moment more, then he shook his newspaper taut in front of him, it stood straight with a satisfying snap, and let his eyes roam the pages as if he was reading – even though kyo knew he wasn’t.
“It’s a shame we don’t own a cat,” Shigure said.
“A cat, Kyo. Don’t you know?” he went on in an innocent voice. “Cats are supposed to be good for relieving stress.” Shigure couldn’t quite stop the quirk of his mouth at the irony. “It says right here that something happens in your brain when you pet a cat. It makes you feel calm and it even helps with the healing process. If we had a cat Tohru could hold it in bed and feel much better,” he sighed, placing a palm to his cheek dramatically.
“Y’know what – I don’t have time for you today,” Kyo snapped, storming out of the room.
One quick google search later confirmed that Shigure hadn’t been lying through his teeth for once. There were different levels of evidence and success in the studies he looked at online, but it looked like there might actually be some science behind it. Kyo threw his phone onto the bed and dragged a hand over his face. He looked over at the door to his bedroom but stubbornly snapped his head away from it. No.
No. No. No.
But Yuki wasn’t home yet, so maybe he was stuck doing council stuff after school, and Shigure was reading downstairs…
Kyo shook his head, hating the burning sensation in his cheeks.
There was nothing he could do about the cat thing, he decided. But it wouldn’t hurt to check on her anyway.
When he knocked on her door softly, she answered straight away with a cheerful, “Come in!”.
Kyo entered to see Tohru in her pajamas, sat up under the covers of her bed with her hands folded in her lap. Her cheeks were much pinker than they’d been before school and she’d tied her hair into pigtails to keep it out of her face. The smile she flashed him made something warm spread through his chest.
“Kyo, welcome home! How was school?” Tohru chirped.
“U-Uh yeah. It was fine.”
Kyo was stood tense and rigid by her doorway, his arms folded, and her smile faltered a little in the face of his awkwardness. He hated that he was making her feel uncomfortable, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about what Shigure said.
He tried to cast it out of his mind as he approached her bedside slowly. “But how are you feeling now anyway?”
“Much better, thank you. Hatori gave me some medicine.” She enthusiastically gestured towards a clear bottle of green liquid on the side table next to her.
“And you have to drink that stuff?” Kyo scoffed, peering down at the gross looking liquid. “Looks nasty.”
Tohru giggled in response, the sound tingled straight down his spine, but the effort made her fall back into a small coughing fit. It didn’t have the intensity of what she’d been doing that morning though, so he was reassured that the nasty medicine was at least working.
He placed a soft hand on her shoulder, surprising himself by the way he was always seeking to use touch as a comfort for her, and she bent over low as she tried to suppress the coughing. Kyo’s hand slid to her back and rubbed in slow circles as her small body shook. “If you need to cough, do it as loud and as long as you want, ‘kay? Don’t hold it in, you’ll only make it worse.”
Tohru heaved in a breath and nodded, though she didn’t make any effort to sit back up, and Kyo didn’t stop his hand from circling over her back.
Finally, his hand stilled. “Tohru,” he said softly, unable to stop the soft question from tumbling from his mouth, though he could feel the tips of his ears beginning to burn, “c-can I… hug you?”
“E-Eh?” Tohru squeaked, sitting back up so quickly her pigtails whipped around her.
“I- uh- I heard that cats… make people feel better or something dumb like that. Agh, pretend I didn’t ask. That was a stupid thing to ask-”
“Y-Yes. You c-can.”
Neither of them could seem to look the other in the eyes. Kyo sucked in a breath. He suddenly became unsure of how to actually, do the hugging. Should he just lean down? Put his arms around her? He felt like an idiot.
“S-Sorry,” Tohru suddenly whispered, hiding her face in her hands, “I-I shouldn’t have said yes. Please don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine, I don’t want to cause you any trouble, you should just go and I’ll be okay I-”
His arms went straight around her middle. She gasped as his chin briefly, oh-so briefly, rested on her shoulder and his body touched hers, but then the transformation tugged at that strange place in his stomach and his whole body went numb – always the worst part even though it lasted barely longer than a second. A cloud of orange sparkles cleared from his vision as he looked up at Tohru’s red face from among his clothes from his new position on the bed.
“I’ll stay,” Kyo said with a flick of his tail.