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It always felt like static in the back of his head, a haze that would start behind his eyes and slowly work its way forward until it settled over his vision like a black fog. He wouldn't remember anything more until he woke up, usually bruised and exhausted.

Sometimes it had gotten him into trouble, of course. He had a pretty long fuse, and it would take a persistent bully to make him go Black, but there was always one or two. The type that took silence as a challenge. They'd pick and pick and the static would get louder and louder, until he woke up with the poor bastard bleeding at his feet, his hands still clenched in stinging fists.

Sometimes he wondered if it was really wise of Sensei to teach him how to fight.

He'd lost count of how many schools he'd been in. It wasn't usually for fighting. It was fairly obvious that it took a lot of torment for him to retaliate, and he was always a model, if somewhat average, student otherwise. It was the personality change. The profanity, the flirting, the sheer volume. It wasn't possible for him to go Black and not have someone notice that. After a few turns back and forth, the other students would start to avoid him and he'd hear the whispers, "...just flips out...weird...crazy...."

And that was when he'd be transferred to a different school at the end of the year. Quietly, of course.

Sometimes he wondered if the Black was really a part of him, or something else. Something the curse brought with it. He couldn't tell. From what others told him about the Black's behavior, it didn't SOUND like anything he wanted to do, even subconsciously, but that was the whole point with subconscious things, wasn't it? That you didn't think they were there? He thought about this for a long time, slowly, methodically. Finally, he'd asked Hatori if there was any documentation of a former Ox.

Hatori had looked at him strangely. "Why?"

Haru shrugged. "I'm curious about the Black."

Hatori lit a cigarette, sitting down on a stool next to the examining table. "Have you been having trouble?"

Haru shrugged again. "No more than usual. I...I want to know what he is."

"What he is?" It was the first time Haru'd seen Hatori uncertain.

"Yes. If he's a part of the curse. Or he's a part of me. But I don't remember anything about him. I was wondering if maybe the last Ox might have figured something out."

"Why do you want to know? Will the answer make any difference?"

Haru'd stared at his socked feet and not answered. He looked up when he heard Hatori move.

"I don't know if there is anything like what you're looking for. If there is, it would have been confiscated or destroyed upon the last carrier's death. If it exists, it will be in the family archives."

Haru nodded, glumly. The family archives were more jealously guarded than the Sohma compound itself. A thirteen-year-old Ox had about as much chance of seeing anything in them as he did of--Haru's lips twisted mirthlessly--jumping over the moon.

Hatori shifted, standing. "You can put your shirt and shoes back on."

Haru slid off the table, dressed, and was at the door to leave when Hatori's voice stopped him. "Hatsuharu?"

Haru turned. Hatori breathed out a sigh in smoke. "I'll ask. I can't guarantee anything."

Haru nodded. "Thank you."

Hatori had nodded, and he'd gone.

A week later, a cloth-wrapped object had appeared inside Haru's bedroom door. Opening it, he'd found four books. They were journals, covering a span of about ten years between them, the entries sometimes months apart. He felt a small jolt of surprise when he realized, a few entries in, that they were written by a girl.

He read all night. He read about how she'd had few friends and had had to move around constantly, due to her "episodes". He read about her confusion, her constant fear. Evidently her Black was even more violent than his. She would wake up and find that she had very seriously beaten someone, even put them in the hospital. One of those people was her mother. She could never remember anything that happened afterwards. But she lived in dread of going Black and waking up to find that she'd killed someone. She would refuse to leave the house and lived as a recluse. The last entry was when she was twenty five, and consisted of five words. "I can't do this anymore." The date was the day before Haru's own birthdate.

Sitting on his futon, the last journal in his hands, Haru knew he could ask Hatori what had happened to her. But then, he thought, why bother? He had a pretty good idea.

He'd wrapped the journals back up and brought them back to Hatori, leaving them on the doctor's desk without a word.

Sometimes, he decided, you could be better off just not knowing.

He'd biked out to Shigure's house that day, a Saturday, and had only gotten mildly lost a few times. All the way over, something grew inside him, knotting tight, something like the Black, something that he could feel trying to get out, to explode and take over.

He'd let his bike fall in the yard, taking the steps in one bound and only nodding a cursory greeting to Shigure, who'd taken one look at him and said, "He's in his room."

Yuki was studying at his desk and didn't immediately see that he was there. The sunlight fell over Yuki's head in a heavy golden wave, picking out platinum in the pale hair.

Slowly, the clawing thing inside Haru subsided, soothed.

When Yuki shifted and saw him, Haru asked, "Are you afraid of me?"

Yuki blinked at him. "Hello to you too, Haru. What do you mean, am I afraid of you?"

"Just what I asked. Are you afraid of me? Of me and the Black?"

Yuki put down his pencil, turning in his chair. "No." He sounded very sure.

Haru looked at him. It didn't make sense. HE was scared of the Black. Sometimes. "Why?"

Yuki sighed. "Do you remember a few years ago? At the family New Year's party? When one of the older cousins started picking on you and you went Black on him in the middle of the main hall?"

Haru nodded.

"I saw you go, and got to you just after you broke his nose. I had your arm in a lock, but missed the other, and you nearly punched me."

Haru's eyes widened. "You never told me that."

Yuki held up a hand. "I didn't want you to beat yourself up about it. But my point is that you were still Black, and still angry, and yet when you twisted to strike and saw that it was me, you stopped." Yuki leaned his chin on his hand. "You looked at me, smiled, and then you were yourself again."

Haru's brow creased, and he stepped forward. "You never told me that. I could have--"

"But you didn't." Yuki stood. "You could have, and you didn't. HE could have, and he didn't."

Yuki's eyes were so violet and so simply sincere that Haru had to close his own. Even behind closed eyelids he could see the sunlight on pale hair and could feel the tight knot in his chest untwisting, falling open.

Sometimes, he thought, trust isn't something you have, but something you are given.

~End