Warnings: None - apart from the usual warnings for OOC-ness
Word Count: 1403
Summary: “It's never too late to have a happy childhood.”
― Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
The first time it happens is for her, as most things Miketsukami does are for her. They had only been dating for a short time, and she was still nervous around him. He had tried to set her at ease, to make her comfortable with him. She had been surprised by the form he chose – all big eyes and fluffy tails, practically swimming in clothes far too large for his tiny child's frame. He'd been adorable and surprisingly innocent. He'd looked at her with wide eyes full of trust, over-sized ears pulled back and tails stiff with uncertainty as he waited for her to judge him. She'd found herself reaching out to lightly stroke his ears without even thinking about it, and his obvious pleasure at her gentle petting filled her with warmth.
She'd never really just touched him before. Never been the one to initiate contact, or offer physical comfort. He hugged her often, and seemed to make it his duty to invade her personal space whenever and wherever he could, but this was the first time she could think of that she had made the first move. When he'd looked at her with his innocent child's eyes and asked her if she loved him, she had told him she did easily, without any of the nerves that normally left her stammering and blushing, and he had melted into her arms as she pulled him into a tight hug. She hadn't even noticed the tension in his tiny frame until it was gone, and she had allowed herself to cuddle and pet him as she never had before.
She found herself almost too at ease with him as a child, and when she felt herself leaning in to his tiny arms as they'd hugged her back, she'd pushed him away. After all, despite his appearances, he was a grown an. Seven years her senior, and not some innocent child in need of gentle love and affection. She'd pretended not to notice his disappointment when she moved him off of her lap, the way his ears and tails had drooped at her apparent rejection, and she had welcomed the familiar awkwardness of dealing with the adult woman he had become next.
The second time it hadn't been for her, and that should have been strange. Kagerou, insistent that he would win his fiancee back from Miketsukami, had picked her up immediately following school. As always he had ignored her protestations, refusing to take her home when she asked and instead flitting around like a hyperactive butterfly, seemingly intent on fitting as many dates as possible into a single evening. She had insisted that Roromiya and Watanuki join them, and had actually managed to enjoy herself at dinner, although the service had been a little slow and the food a bit spicy, which Kagerou found quite sadistic. While she had been too shy to perform at the karaoke bar, and never quite able to figure out what was masochistic about the microphone, she had been intrigued to learn that both Roromiya and Kagerou were surprisingly talented singers. Things had gone well all evening, in fact, even with Kagerou's apparent frustration at the operator of the Ferris wheel at the park he'd taken them to, who had rather sadistically chosen not to trap them at the apex of the wheel's rotation as Kagerou had hoped. But despite the fun she had found herself having, she'd missed spending time with Miketsukami.
They'd only been dating for a few months, and she treasured every moment they spent together. So when she was finally returned to the Ayakashikan and Kagerou had driven off for another of his many trips, she had hurried up to Miketsukami's apartment, eager to spend what little free time was left before bed with him. But his apartment had been empty. She had searched the lounge and asked the other resident, but no one had seen him. She'd almost begun to panic as she made her way to the rooftop gardens, sure that something terrible must have happened to him. Then she heard the laughter, followed by a high-pitched squeal, coming from the area near the gazebo. There was a rustling of leaves and a flash of pink as Hana came running out from behind a bush, squealing with glee. A second later a blur of white followed as a tiny kitsune bounded after her, tails wagging happily as he chased her back around to the far side of the gazebo. She stood and watched them for a moment, as they weaved around the trees, Hana occasionally pulling ahead, only for Miketsukami to leap forward and almost catch her. They were on their second lap around the garden when he spotted her. He froze for a moment, tails and ears stiff, and then there was a flash of light and a swirl of cherry blossoms as the child disappeared, and 22-year-old Miketsukami stood, smiling shyly.
“Ririchiyo. Forgive me. Hana's mother had asked Kotaro to watch her again tonight, but they needed him in the kitchen, so I offered to help. We were,” he paused as the little girl giggled and ran past him, close enough for him to reach out and grab. She squealed and tried to wriggle her way out of his arms. “We were playing.”
Hana stopped in her struggles, staring up at Ririchiyo as she nervously chewed on one hand. “Yeah, playing.”
Ririchiyo watched as Miketsukami adjusted his grip on the little girl, and decided not to draw attention to the blush slowly creeping up Miketsukami's neck. “Playing, huh? Looks like fun. Maybe I could play with you too?”
Hana grinned, gave a particularly violent squirm to free herself from Miketsukami's grip, and ran at Ririchiyo. She slapped one tiny hand lightly on Ririchiyo's arm, and giggled. “Tag, you're it” she shouted, as she spun away and ran back towards the gazebo. There was another flash of light and swirl of cherry blossoms, and then Miketsukami's child form spun off and ran away after her. Ririchiyo laughed and took off in pursuit. “Tag, I'm it.”
It isn't until the third time she sees it that she begins to understand what exactly it is Miketsukami is sharing with her. They've been together for almost a year, and he's started spending more nights in her apartment than in his own. She's gotten used to waking up next to him, his presence warm and comforting beside her on those rare nights when she still wakes up from a nightmare. And so when she wakes up one night and finds herself alone, and his side of the bed cold, it is with some trepidation that she slips out of bed, pulling on a robe as she searches the apartment for him.
She finds him in the living room, sitting quietly on the couch in the dark. He's pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. His child form seems even smaller than usual, buried as he is in a blanket he's pulled from who knows where. She sits down next to him, and feels him trembling when she wraps her arm around his shoulder. His cheeks are damp, and he tries to quietly sniffle as he turns to face her, eyes focused anywhere but on her.
"Bad dreams?" she asks softly, voice barely above a whisper. He doesn't say anything, but slowly nods his head. She sighs, reaches out and pulls him towards her. He holds himself stiff for a moment, pushing against her, but she waits and finally he collapses into her arms, burying his head against her and locking his arms tightly around her. She pulls him into her lap, rocking him slightly as she strokes his hair and pets his ears.
She isn't sure how long they sit like that, him trembling against her while she whispers nonsense into his hair. Finally, after what seems like ages, the trembling stops and she feels him relax against her. She looks down, smiling gently as she realises he's drifted to sleep. She shifts him slightly, spreading his slight weight more comfortably across her lap, and kisses him softly on the forehead. He sighs and leans into her, but doesn't wake.
"It's going to be alright," She whispers, to herself and the man she loves, and to the child he once had been. "I'm here for you, now."