It was just like any other day. I got up, showered, ran a comb through my hair, and got dressed. My blond curls fought against the product I forced through it, not to be tamed.
With a sigh, I let them do as they pleased before rushing downstairs, where a familiar scent welcomed me.
"Good morning, Momiji."
There she was, like she always was, standing at the table - setting a place for herself, for me, for Shigure, and for...
I breathed deeply, willing the rage and pain to subside within myself before smiling at her.
"Good morning, Tohru. What's for breakfast?"
She smiled, just like she always did, her eyes cast downward, though her gaze was much further away than just that.
How long had it been since she had been able to meet anyone's gaze? When was the last time I saw her eyes? It had to have been that day.
The day that never was - rather, the day that no one would talk about.
The day Kyo was taken away.
I loosened the fist I had unconsciously been clenching before taking a seat at the table. Tohru sat next to me, Shigure sat on my other side, and Kyo would have sat across from me.
Tohru used to sit across from Kyo, but she would stare at his empty plate all morning.
When she began to lose weight, I took her spot, claiming I preferred it because the lighting would enhance my handsomeness.
She smiled and laughed at that, but it wasn't the same. It was a hollow sound, like something you'd hear when tapping on an empty shell. It was only an imitation of life inside.
"I made rice, grilled fish, miso..."
Her words trailed off, fading to a quiet muttering. Her voice had been fading more and more recently. It was like she didn't even have the energy to hold onto her voice.
Her soul was fading day by day, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I looked at Shigure's empty space.
"Shigure probably won't be here. I think he went out drinking with his writer buddies last night. He hasn't come back."
That was the truth.
Tohru smiled and nodded before taking a fervent glance at the empty seat next to her. I cleared my throat, dragging her lowered gaze back to my plate.
"I think Kyo is out training in the mountains. I am sure he will be home soon."
That was a lie.
Tohru smiled and nodded before taking portions of the meal she had prepared.
It was a lie I would tell over and over again if it meant she would stay here. If it meant what little of her was left would remain tethered to this world.
Even if it made bile burn my throat and made everything I tasted sour for the rest of my life. If a lie like that kept Tohru with me, I would tell it as many times as I had to.
I swallowed down what bile had forced its way up into my mouth, leaving behind a bitter taste that made my nose scrunch in disgust.
Then, I took my own heaping portions of Tohru's breakfast before digging in. It was all aromatic and lovingly prepared, warm and comforting, but all I could taste was cardboard.
Still, I ate it with enthusiasm and passion.
Tohru would laugh and scold me for eating so fast in response - 'scold' was a strong word. Tohru didn't scold anyone. She lovingly said everything to everyone, even when they didn't deserve it.
Something about that made me feel empty inside, probably as empty as Tohru felt every second of every day. Was this the pain she felt?
Did he cause her the same pain?
"Momiji, where will you go today?"
I chewed up what little food was left and swallowed it. The rice formed a thick paste that sat like a rock in my stomach.
My stomach acid gurgled angrily in response, threatening me with more bile.
"I think I'll stay home today. I want to have a fun day with you, Tohru!"
My voice was bright when I said it, even though I was all dark and dim inside.
She smiled and nodded her head. Then, she reached out to me with one hand, and without a second thought, I took her offered hand in mine. Her hand was cold but quickly warmed against my skin.
She laced her fingers between mine and gave a squeeze.
"I would like that, Momiji. Thank you."
I didn't need to hear her thank me. Feeling her squeeze my hand was enough. It reminded me that she was still there, that she was alive and by my side.
She wasn't the Tohru I wanted, she wasn't the Tohru I had fallen in love with, she wasn't a Tohru that loved me back, and she might never be. That was fine, though.
As long as she was still there, it was fine.
"Well, good morning, you two."
I turned, and Shigure was standing in the doorway. He was still in the suit he had left in yesterday, and the scent of alcohol radiated off of him. Even so, he didn't seem drunk in the least.
That aloof smile was ever-plastered on his face.
"Good morning, Shigure. Please sit and have some breakfast."
Tohru released my hand and was already up, starting to plate portions for Shigure when he motioned her to sit back down.
"No, no. No worries. I am going to get changed and head to the Sohma compound."
Tohru flinched at the mention of that place. That was where Akito was. That was also where Kyo was. I wanted to scream. No, I wanted to hit Shigure.
I wanted to slam my fist into the side of his stupid, scheming face and scream:
How dare you. How dare you say that name. How dare you go to that place.
How dare you when you know what it does to Tohru - to the one who takes care of all of us when we couldn't take care of her.
But I stayed silent. Instead, I took Tohru's hand back into my own and squeezed. She squeezed back. She was still there.
Shigure hummed and hawed as he made his way into the house. He hadn't changed at all since that day. Whether Kyo was here or not mattered very little to Shigure.
All that mattered to that man was the person back at the Sohma compound, the being that controlled all of their lives.
"Momiji, you should probably come too. Akito asked about you."
Tohru's gentle squeeze quickly shifted to a desperate grasp as her other hand quickly made its way to clasp the other side of my hand. Her arms shook along with her shoulders as she squeezed.
I finished off the stack with my other hand on top of hers. She was always worried when one of us went to the Sohma compound. I would be lying if I said I didn't somewhat enjoy this.
It was the few times I received a genuine emotion from her.
It was also the only time I felt like she might love me - somewhere deep inside, perhaps the image of Kyo was being replaced with my own.
What little relief or joy I might have received from her reaction, though, was always immediately replaced with guilt and sorrow. This was not how I wanted to win her love.
"Please no, Momiji. Please don't go there. I don't... I don't want..."
Once again, her voice trailed off, but this time dissolved entirely into sobs. Tears cascaded from her face, falling across our hands.
A sharp squeezing pain filled my chest, with heartburn radiating up into my throat. Tears were beginning to fill the corners of my eyes as I shakingly pulled her around the table into my arms.
I only had a few moments of comfort when the familiar feeling of the change washed over me. The Momiji I knew faded away. Tohru's body pulled away from me and with it her warmth.
Darkness enveloped my shrinking form as my clothes fell around me. It felt like it took hours, but it was only a few seconds in reality.
Once it was done, I found the neck hole of my shirt with my front paws. Tohru was looking down at me, and for the first time in months, I could see her eyes.
Full of tears, they sparkled with despair, and even as the tears soaked into my fur, I couldn't stop myself. I crawled up into her lap and nuzzled my head against her face.
I wanted to catch every tear. I wanted to soak up every drop of pain and misery that haunted my once bright Tohru and take it into myself.
I wanted to take it into myself so that I could destroy it.
But it wasn't so easy. I couldn't take away that pain, no matter how much I wanted to. Even so, Tohru was still Tohru. No matter how despaired she was, she always cared about others more.
Her fingers - carefully, delicately, as if she was touching something precious - found their way into my fur. She wiped and wiped, hiccuping as she spoke:
"Oh no, Momiji. Your fur is going to get all matted."
I pulled my face back, just enough so I could meet her gaze, which for the first time in a long time, met mine.
"It's fine, Tohru. Let me wipe your tears."
For a moment, only an instant, I saw her. Tohru was in there - the Tohru that I first fell in love with, the one that died the day that Kyo was taken away. No. The day he walked away from her.
It was a slight twinkle of recognition in her eyes, like recognizing a long-lost friend on a busy sidewalk. But then, it faded.
That betrayal seemed to play across her face once again, and that Tohru faded into the background of despair. Her voice quivered when she spoke next:
"Please. Don't go."
I pressed my forehead to her cheek.
"I promise. I am not going to leave you."
I wasn't sure if she believed me or not. Either way, she wrapped her arms around my small frame and pressed me to her. It was more than I could have asked for.
Shigure, having been a silent witness, cleared his throat then.
"Alright, well. I'll let Akito know you send your regards. I'll see you later."
His footsteps echoed through the silent home as he slipped away, out of sight, leaving Tohru and me desperately clinging to one another.