It is the nature of the cursed to take on the traits of their spirit even in health. The Snake is overly prone to chills. The Dragon is strong, so it takes a powerful illness to overcome his defenses. When the Dragon is ill, he is not the only one who suffers.
-Sohma Jiro, Tiger, 1875
Hatori ignored the slight pressure in his head and chest as he knelt and waited for Akito to acknowledge him. He hadn't slept well, and now his mind felt slightly hazy--not a good thing when dealing with Akito.
"Good morning, Akito-san." His throat felt a little odd. Perhaps he should have gotten that cup of coffee before coming. It might have made him a little less groggy.
Akito’s eyes were narrowed as he turned to study the doctor. "You are not well." The words were an accusation. Hatori blinked, and started to really consider how he was feeling. Before he could draw his own conclusions, Akito continued, "It was really quite inconsiderate of you, Hatori, to come see me like this. You know how easily I get sick."
"My apologies." Hatori kept his gaze down, hoping not to cause any further annoyance, even as he sought inside himself to be able to deny the accusation. He could hear the soft sounds of fabric moving. Still, he refused to offer any excuses.
The silence was unnerving, but familiar. Akito didn’t want excuses, but he did want to… play. "Hatori." Akito was on his blind side--the blind side that Akito had created--and close, trapping Hatori between the impulse to yield to that caressing voice, and the need to hide, run, protect himself somehow.
Akito smirked at the careful way Hatori turned to face him. "Hatori, you've displeased me, but I can be forgiving." Oh, please, be forgiving. Akito slowly brushed the hair away from Hatori’s good eye, and smiled that small, pleased smile when Hatori shivered faintly. "You are going to go back to your house, and not leave it until I say that you can. You are not to do any of that paperwork you’ve so carelessly let pile up. You are not to do any housework, either. Your meals will be sent over. Do you understand?" Akito's hand still rested in Hatori's hair, the lightest pressure, not letting him look away.
"Yes, Akito-san." He tried to convince himself that the catch in his voice was from whatever illness was plaguing him, not fear, not the need to obey. He wasn't scared of Akito, and he certainly wasn't scared of where his thoughts would go without the distractions of work. He wasn't.
"Good." Akito dropped his hand and walked back to the window. Relief and loss hit Hatori simultaneously. But... he had not dismissed Hatori explicitly.
"Ah, Akito-san?" This was, perhaps, not a good idea, but he hadn't been directly forbidden to ask this. "Are you-"
"Hatori." Now there was anger in Akito's voice. "I am no worse than yesterday, and it seems I must repeat myself. No. Work. At all. Do you understand me?"
"H- Yes, Akito-san. No work at all." The room was spinning around him slightly. It seemed that the realization he really was sick was the signal for his fever to spike.
Akito gave him an unreadable look. "I will have Kureno escort you back to your house."
"Yes, Akito-san." He retreated to formality, hoping that repentance might lighten his sentence, even though he knew it wouldn’t. Not only was Akito punishing him for something beyond his control, but people would be checking that he stuck to the terms of the punishment. The loss of trust cut much deeper than the anger.
"Wait outside for a moment."
Hatori bowed, though not as deeply as he should have, and left the room. Instead of waiting by the paper screen, as he normally would have, he moved down the hall so that he could lean against a solid wall. He didn't even try to eavesdrop, knowing that Akito was just making sure Kureno knew the terms of this punishment, and, most likely, giving some additional instructions. Well, maybe he did try to eavesdrop, but he was too far away for the sounds to do anything but swim oddly through his ears.
He couldn't come up with a decent excuse for not noticing when Kureno walked up to him.
Hanajima's quote is from chapter 29 of the Tokyo-pop translation.
We juunishi are always closest to each other, but it seems that the closest bonds form between those who are the same age, regardless of how compatible their personalities seem they should be. I could probably write a doctoral thesis on it, but I'm not sure my colleges would believe me.
-Sohma Yori, dog, 1963
Hatori expected to be barred from his office completely, but he was allowed to get a prescription pad and pen on the theory that he could diagnose himself and send someone else to the pharmacy.
Diagnosing himself was harder than it should have been. He couldn't keep his mind focused enough to take his own pulse. He quit trying as if it was completely intentional that he didn't get a number. Taking his own temperature was much easier, and he jotted down a list of instructions while he did it: no matter what, lots of liquid; if my fever is over this, do this; if my fever is over that, do that; if my sinuses act up, take this medicine, etc.
At some point while he was writing, he ended up with a blanket tucked around him and a mug of tea close at hand. He set down the pen and looked up to see Kureno's disapproving frown. "You were supposed to write out a prescription for yourself, not write a manual."
Hatori opened his mouth to give an icy reply, but remembered in time that Kureno would probably report everything back to Akito. "Right." His precise handwriting marked out a prescription for a course of antibiotics.
"I could be healthy tomorrow." Hatori didn’t sounds like a whiny three-year old when he pointed out that little, unlikely detail. He didn't. He didn't. He didn't. Hatori closed his eyes and massaged his temples. "Fine." He pulled out an extra piece of paper, and made a quick shopping list for some non-prescription medications.
Kureno looked over the list and left, while Hatori quietly sipped his tea. Once he was alone, he removed his tie and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. Hatori knew he should probably go to his room and just go to bed, but the couch was so comfortable, and there was even a pillow here, and…
Aside from Hatori, there are very few people who can tell what Shigure is thinking.... He may be smiling on the outside, but on the inside, he's up to something.
Hatori woke up disoriented. The angle of the sun was wrong, and the ceiling was.... He started to sit up, but fell back with a dizzy groan. Ah yes, he was sick, and must have fallen asleep on the couch. Fever? Check. Aches and pains? Check. Sinuses? There was some pressure building up there. Shigure sitting in a chair watching him? Check. In short, everything he would need to be miserable was present. He threw his arm up over his face, as if blocking the sight of Shigure would make him not be there. Why couldn't they all just leave him in alone?
"Because you’d miss us if we went away, Haa-san." Hatori hadn't meant to speak aloud, and was almost positive he hadn't, but Shigure was still talking. "No, you didn't say anything, but I know that ungrateful look. And after I took the trouble to come down here, leaving those children to get into who knows what trouble in my house." Hatori tried to block out Shigure's voice, but the man was on one of his rambles where he projected his voice straight through one's skull and directly into one's conscience.
Hatori was actually considering apologizing when Shigure tugged his arm down away from his face. "Here." A mug appeared in his field of vision. It seemed that Shigure's voice really had been moving around, not just drifting in and out of focus. "According to your own instructions, you need liquid, so don't...." Hatori accidentally made eye contact with Shigure. He didn't know just what his cousin saw in his face, but it made Shigure's voice drop several decibels, even if it didn't make his stop talking. "Don't just lie there and brood. You'll give yourself wrinkles. Here." Shigure pulled him into a more upright position and sat down on the edge of the couch, maintaining his monologue so that Hatori couldn't find a way to make a dignified protest.
The contents of the mug--it might have been tea, but Shigure's cooking skills were not the greatest--was too hot to drink, so Hatori tried to focus on the soothing warmth in his hands, instead of the insistent pain in his head. He winced as Shigure's voice started rising again. Shigure broke off mid-sentence. "Oh, I almost forgot." The writer produced a pill bottle from the sleeve of his yukata. "You're supposed to take one of these now, and...." He gave a bag on the floor a meaningful look. "You should probably pick something else from that bag of goodies you requested."
Hatori eyed the bag with distaste. Inflicting medication on others was one thing, but he had no desire to experience such things for himself. The dry, false alertness of some medications was just as bad as the foggy drowsiness of others. He didn't even want to take the antibiotics, and those would barely affect how he functioned. All Hatori wanted to do was go sit at his desk and bury his mind in paperwork, but Akito was punishing him for daring to be sick in his presence.
"Haa-san." The hairs on the back of Hatori's neck started to rise at the falsely sweet way Shigure said his name. "Haa-san, if you don't tell me what to give you I'm afraid that my concern for your health could cause me to give you everything, and you don't want me to have to live with the guilt of um, overdosing you and-"
Hatori cut him off with a resounding sneeze, and added on another three sneezes for emphasis. The hot liquid in the mug slopped over his hand and onto the blanket. Hatori just gaped at it, until Shigure took the mug from his hand, and wiped the tea away with a towel. Shigure was surprisingly grave as he did this, but he handed the half-full mug back when he was satisfied with his cleaning job. "Drink, or I spoon feed you your lunch." Hatori blinked a few times at the smiling steel in his cousin’s voice, and drank. Shigure might be a manipulative pervert, but he was a manipulative pervert who did things for the good of his family. Which meant that even if he was Akito's watchdog--Hatori had to be feverish if he found that pun amusing--he would also make Hatori do things for his own good. Hatori still found himself thinking of big needles.
A tray appeared in front of him, and he realized he was no longer holding the mug. He was fairly sure that Shigure was talking, but it was from far away and he couldn't be bothered to make it penetrate the fog surrounding his brain. The drifting feeling was actually rather pleasant--it made the sense of failure go away--until a hand roughly grabbed his chin, and forced him to look into Shigure's very close and very worried face. “Hatori?”
"Y-yes?" His voice rasped.
"Haa-san, please eat your lunch. I don't want to spend my afternoon feeding miso soup to a seahorse with an eyedropper."
Hatori's eyes widened at the implicit threat, though he didn't wonder just how Shigure would make him change. First Akito was mad at him, and now Shigure was taking advantage of his... of his something. For the sake of his dignity, he tried to eat the soup, but he couldn't keep his hand steady with the room spinning. Hatori was starting to get very annoyed with the room.
Shigure made a frustrated sound and took the tray. Hatori wanted to protest that he was trying, but another sneezing fit distracted him. This time, he could feel the rush of mucus filling his nasal cavities. "Here." Hatori accepted the tissue from Shigure gratefully. When he was able to breathe through his nose, Shigure handed him another mug, this time half full of soup. "You aren't getting out of eating so easily. Drink."
When he emptied the mug, Shigure put the rest of the soup in and handed it to him again. This time, Hatori couldn't bring himself to finish it. He gave Shigure a wary look as he set the mug on the end table, but the Dog was reading the labels on various medicines.
"Ah, Haa-san, you finished. Is your throat bothering you?" Shigure was back in his harmless-cheerful mode.
Hatori glared at him suspiciously, but nodded, and then realized that Shigure wasn't looking at him. "Yes."
"All right, then. I guess this one will do." Shigure held up the bottle that just happened to contain the medicine that would not only make him the wooziest, but also the worst tasting. Why had he put that on the list? It wasn't like he had a fever, a sinus problem and a sore throat all at the same time. He was just a little dizzy. And he was a doctor! Doctors didn't get sick, right? He coughed a few times, and sniffed to try to clear his nose.
Hatori was just fine and he was going to get up, and go do that paperwo... No, wait. Akito had said he wasn't allowed to work. Akito was mad at him. But he was going to... going...
Shigure caught him before he fell forward. "Ah, yes, Haa-san. Good idea. We should go and get you out of that shirt before the stain sets in." Oh, of course. That's where he was going--his room.
"Shi-Shigure? Why are you pulling at me like that? It's making me dizzy."
"I'm not pulling at you. You’re sick." The reply was one of someone who was suffering deeply.
"Am not. Doctors don't get sick. I'm just-" Hatori stopped walking and started coughing.
When the fit passed, Shigure handed him another tissue. "C'mon Haa-san. Let's go back to your room."
Wait, he didn't want to go back there. It was the middle of the day. He needed to be working, but he wasn't allowed. Something was wrong. "You're trying to trick me. 'M not going to play hooky. I should go and work. I didn't finish checking Akito." There was something heavy in the way that wouldn't let him turn back down the hall--Shigure's arm.
"Haa-san, I'm wounded. When would I ever try to trick you?"
Hatori gave his cousin a flat look that somehow conveyed total disbelief, scorn and distrust all at once. The amused affection that usually accompanied the mix was missing, but Shigure didn't seem to notice. Hatori was positive that his cousin was acting oddly, but he couldn't figure out why.
"Oh, right. But, Haa-san, you spilled tea on that shirt. Didn't you want to change it?" Hatori tried to push his cousin out of the way, but his arms wouldn’t straighten. He ended up not-quite cuddled against Shigure's chest, which was odd, because Hatori was taller. Shigure placed one arm around Hatori’s back and used his free hand to brush Hatori's hair out of his face.
"I need a haircut. Everyone keeps playing with my hair." Hatori tried to scowl, but had to change it to an attempt at not sneezing directly into Shigure’s face.
"Maybe we'll get Aaya to come over and do it for you. But let's get your shirt changed." Shigure carefully coaxed Hatori down the hallway.
Hatori's mind drifted off again, and the next thing he knew was that he was swallowing some incredibly foul tasting medicine, and being tucked into his futon. "You did trick me," he mumbled into the pillow. "I'm going to...."
"Of course you are, but rest now." Hatori drifted off to the feel a hand running through his hair.
Haa-san has something that Aaya admires. He looks up to him... and adores him. Once, a long time ago, he talked seriously to me about it. I guess--to put it simply--he loves him.
Once Shigure was sure that Hatori was sleeping, he rose from the edge of the futon and silently left the room. He leaned against the nearest wall, and carefully did not bang his head against it. Aside from having no audience for such histrionics, he had no desire to wake his cousin. Getting him into bed once had been quite enough work already, thank you very much.
Keeping him in bed until the fever went away would be an epic feat, and it called for reinforcements. Fortunately, the phone was far enough from Hatori's bedroom that Shigure didn't think he would disturb the man. It was time to set some plans in motion.
He dialed the number without looking, and waited for an answer. "Aaya, darling! Do you miss me?"
"'Gure-san! Indeed, I am but a wilting flower, alone in a sea of darkness without your light!"
"Ah, Aaya, no, you are my light!" There was a pause. A huge grin suddenly split Shigure's face as he and Ayame both said, "Yosh!" together. Across town, Ayame's face would be lit with an identical grin of mischief.
"So, 'Gure-san, why did you call me, aside from the need to talk to the wonderful, magnificent me?"
Much more serious than he would normally be, Shigure asked, "Ah, well, are you very busy in the shop right now?"
"Very busy in that I am working like mad to fulfill the dreams of some truly discerning customers and have many orders for special items, and these items are quite complex, with the flounces of white lace, and the special decorative embroideries that will offset my brilliant designs perfectly, but there aren't any customers in the store, so I am really busy only in theory."
Shigure interpreted that as "not at all." "Do you think you could work on those orders some where else?"
"'Gure-san? What's wrong? It isn't Yuki, is it? You'd tell me right away if my little brother was sick, wouldn't you? You wouldn't be so cold-hearted-"
"Aaya. Stop. Yuki is fine. Haa-san has a cold."
Ayame said nothing for several moments. When he finally answered, it was in that rare solemn tone he seemed to only use for Hatori. "Ah. You've already gotten him into bed, yes? I'll just get a basket and give Mine some instructions. Jaa." The soft click meant the line had been cut off before Shigure could reply.
It was still too early for Shigure to call his own home and expect and answer, and he didn't dare leave Hatori alone. If Hatori woke up, and decided that he needed to be doing something, well, seahorses were rather petite, and could be very hard to find even in a house this small. With an ear open for Hatori waking, Shigure settled on the couch and returned to editing his current project.
He'd only gotten twenty or so pages in when there was a light knock on the door. The door slid open to reveal a rather subdued Ayame balancing a basket on one hip. "How is 'Tori-san?"
Shigure smiled reassuringly. "He's sleeping quietly. It's been about an hour since I got him to take the cold medicine. Come in."
"Do you think...." Ayame bit his lip slightly, uncertainty testing its way across his features as he slid the door shut behind him. "Do you think I could sit in his room? I don't want to bother him, but...."
"Go ahead. I'm only out here because I wanted to watch for you, Aaya. There should be enough daylight that you can sew. Someone should be near him no matter what."
"'Tori-san will be fine, right?" Shigure almost didn't recognize the expression on Ayame's face--it was just so odd to see Ayame worry about anything. Normally, Ayame would simply laugh, and dance madly across whatever thin ice life presented him with.
"Of course he will. We'll be looking after him." Shigure rose, and gently pushed Ayame down the hall. "I have to go... out. I set his alarm to go off when he needs to take another dose, even though I think I'll be back by then."
Shigure was about to close the door to the bedroom again, when Ayame turned and caught his arm. "'Gure-san?"
"He'll be fine." The reassuring smile slipped away to reveal a fierce determination. "We won't let him be anything else." I won't let him be anything else, his eyes said.
Ayame's face reflected his determination, and then suddenly split into a grin. "Yosh." He kept his voice soft, but it was just as fierce as Shigure's.
Yuki's quote comes from Chapter 16, Tokyo pop translation. Shigure's quote comes from Chapter 22, Tokyo pop translation.
The kami is at his best when he is clearly needed. No matter the madness that drives him, he is most suited to being that which he is meant to be: the one who holds our lives in his hands.
-Sohma Jiro, Tiger, 1874
"He was sleeping on the couch when I arrived. When he woke up, I convinced him to eat, and take the pills he prescribed himself. By the time he was done eating, he was feverish enough to begin denying that he's sick, but he wasn't as insistent on working as I expected him to be--as I remember him being last time.
"I was able to get him into his bed without much trouble, and Ayame is with him now.
"I don't... I'm sorry. The last time he was ill must have been four or five years ago. It's hard to say what is different, because time always makes things seem less bad than they were, but... it seems like something in him isn't fighting the way he did before."
Shigure shook his head. "It's the only possible cause I know of, but my instinct tells me that's not all of it. I've been busy with my house and my novel, so I don't just know everything. She might be part of it, but... I’m sorry, I don't know. Maybe I just want to believe he isn't still hurting from that so badly."
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Your instincts are good. You’ll flush it out, one way or another.”
Shigure couldn’t help feeling a surprised pleasure at the praise. Praise from this source was so rare, so precious, but for doing something as small as this, it was odd. From his kneeling position--exactly the same as Hatori's earlier that day, though now Akito was lounging on a couch--Shigure studied Akito, and wasn't entirely displeased by what he saw.
Akito’s hands were in a relaxed position, but white knuckled. He had the tightness around his eyes that usually warned of rage, but his eyes weren’t focused on anything in the room. Seeing Akito worried was even more bizarre than seeing Ayame worried, but it meant that Akito was taking the illness seriously, and would set his games aside for a time. Well, he would set some of his games aside. Akito’s nature seemed to deny him the ability to do anything normally, whether he willed it or not.
The calm competence that Shigure had hidden himself in since that phone call suddenly started to shred. He wanted to comfort Akito. He wanted comfort for himself. He wanted someone else to take charge, but the only other person who would was Hatori. Shigure’s hands flexed with the restless need to do something.
“Shigure. Come here.” Obediently, Shigure rose from the center of the floor and knelt at Akito’s side, fighting down yet another worry. Akito’s hand was cool against his face, gentle as it ran through his hair. Shigure yielded to an impulse and relaxed so that he was half on the couch, half sprawled across the floor. “My faithful hound, so loyal to me, so faithful, but you need your pack, don’t you?” The gentle soft voice wove itself around Shigure’s mind, bringing his dog-nature to the front of his mind, reminding him that no matter what he thought when he was away from the house, part of him belonged here. “Don’t worry. Your loyalties won’t be divided over this. He’s mine, too. We can protect him together. We can give him the space to heal. I’ll even try to make sure he doesn’t have to worry over me. Now. Tell me, Shigure. Tell me what worries you.”
Shigure’s mind resisted words; not Akito’s words--he suddenly wanted to tell Akito everything--it simply resisted coming out of the warm comfort of letting his master worry over everything. Akito’s hand still ran through his hair, gently tugging the words from him until they could fall freely. “I worry. I worry that I don’t know enough. I worry that we might need a doctor for him, for you. We don’t have any other doctors now, no one but her. And, oh, god, it would break him. It would break him to see her, to be helped by her, and then to make her forget again. It would break him if you needed someone, and it couldn’t be him.” That hand still ran through his hair, pulling out his fears to the light, and then brushing them away. Shigure spoke without reserve because he knew he spoke a truth that he knew Akito wanted to hear. The best manipulations were always from the truth.
“And if you grew sick, or Ayame did, worrying over him like this? Wouldn’t that hurt him, too?” Shigure knew Akito was testing him, and testing Hatori through him, but again, the truth was the right answer. Or maybe Akito simply needed to know the answer, even though only one would please him.
“No, not as much. He’s used to us getting ourselves into trouble. We’ll get ourselves out of it, or he’ll help us, but he knows it’s our natures, and he'll be mad at us, not himself.... But maybe you can tell him not to use such big needles on us?” Shigure lifted his head, to make--what else?--puppy eyes at Akito, and smiled wanly when he received a small laugh in return.
“Is that everything?”
“No.” Shigure let a pout slip into his voice. “Those boys are going to destroy my house with their fighting while I’m gone, and then I won’t have anywhere to stay, and I’ll have to stay with Haa-san, and he’ll kill me.” Akito’s hand slid through his hair one last time, and then pushed at his head in a wordless signal to sit up. The test was mostly over, and though Shigure wasn't certain of the results, he did feel better for speaking his fears. He was faintly surprised to feel an honest expression on his face, instead of the pleasant expression he normally wore for Akito. He let his face fall back into a calm, collected mask.
“Would you worry less if they were here? I can send for them. I don’t want you distracted right now.” Yes, the test was mostly over, but not completely.
Shigure shook his head slightly. “Please, don’t send for them. They want their illusion of freedom.” He paused with a question on the tip of his tongue.
“Shigure. I need you focused on Hatori. Ask.”
Shigure knew he would be on thin ice, but he couldn’t safely ignore a direct order. “Would you mind if I told Tohru-kun that Haa-san is sick?” He watched Akito out of the corner of his eye, expecting a negative reaction.
Akito merely looked thoughtful, though his tone was bitter. "I suppose she'll offer to come over and make soup for him, or some such nonsense. And I suppose that would make at least one of the boys offer to escort her, for her own safety, which will, of course, stop them from fighting.” Akito didn’t say that Yuki and Kyo would want to protect her from him more than anything else, and actually sounded slightly pleased. Shigure wondered why this particular bit of pleasure seemed like such a bad thing. “Yes, let them keep their illusions for now. Tell her.”
"Yes, Akito-san." Shigure was relieved by the final answer, but still troubled. Was his idea too obvious? Were his attempts to manipulate Akito too obvious, or was there something he didn't know? More importantly, did it matter, if it got the results he needed?
“If you need me there, send someone, any time. If Hatori asks, tell him I’m resting quietly, staying out of drafts, and all those other things he worries about. Now go.”
Shigure left with less to worry about, but a great deal more to puzzle over.
My grandfather tells me the tales that his grandfather told him. I hear of the stories lost in a fire long ago, so that there are no written records. He tells me that, once, the baby dragon would grow and become a great dragon, as the Dragon grew. I do not know if I believe this, but I will let future generations judge.
-Sohma Nobu, Snake, 1548
Hatori knew he was dreaming, at first. Only in dreams could he swim through the sea and sky equally. Only when he dreamed was his zodiac form glorious. Then the knowledge of dreaming slid away, and he simply reveled in flight, speed and heat.
Light grew around him as he soared towards the sun, and the ocean fell away behind him. The joy of flight drew him upwards, and he ignored the warmth of the sun in favor of the rush of air under his wings. The wind chanted in his ears a confirmation of life, and he had some sense of the oneness with his other form.
Hatori had heard Ayame and Shigure talk about the animal part of their minds, and how they often felt most at peace when they were in tune with their zodiac natures. Or they would make a comment about how they had done something with the animals that naturally flocked around them. Most of the time, he couldn't even move when he changed, and there weren't exactly schools of seahorses around that could flock to him at his command. Through the fog of dream reality, butterfly-winged seahorses swam up around him, only to scatter when he snorted at just how silly they looked.
His thoughts were interrupted by the dry heat that was starting to creep over his skin. Hatori thrashed around, trying to find the water, but he was lost in a sky of hot, bright blue, and the sun was pulling him in deeper. His mouth was too dry to give voice to his cry as the heat dragged him up, and his vision went to white.
Sound came first--the wind rushing past him, parching his throat, his skin. Even his eyes felt dry. Slowly blue and brown shapes resolved before his eye. The sun baked him from above and the hot sand from below. His tail and fins twitched uselessly, not even stirring the scorching air. He was surrounded by footprints that all led away from him, and the wind was wearing away any sign that people had ever been near him. Of course they turned their backs on him. He was the "funny" one, who didn't even have a proper animal form. He was the one who pushed them away until they finally left. He was the one who always brought harm to the people around him.
The wind's tone shifted to a howl, driving into his skull and turning the discomfort to pain. He awoke to the pop and smoke that announced his own shift back to human form, the howling stopping as suddenly as it has started, as Ayame stopped yelling in panic at Shigure.
She spends all her energy helping other people. I'm really bad at that sort of thing.
When Shigure returned to Hatori's house, he had told Ayame that he was back, and then went back to revising on the couch. It was still too early in the day to call home, and for all that he liked to tease his editor about not being finished, he only liked to do it when it was a lie.
Ayame had been quietly sewing, or at least quietly pretending to sew while watching Hatori sleep. It was unlikely that Ayame had finished a single seam--or that he would finish a single seam before Hatori's fever broke--but Shigure would never dream of having his cousin anywhere but here.
Despite all his worrying and plotting, Shigure was able to lose himself in his work. He was reworking a key bit of dialog, when some dissonant, panicked yodeling jerked him back to the present. "'Gure-san, 'Gure-san, 'Tori-san transformed and I don't know what to do and he needs to take more medicine and do I give him a normal dose or a seahorse sized dose and 'Gure-san, what do I do?!"
Shigure pointedly didn't run down the hall. He wanted to, but the last thing he wanted to do was slip and injure himself. He did, perhaps, open the door a little too forcefully, and he narrowly missed hitting Ayame in the face with it. Before he could say anything, Ayame started yelling again; he had only stopped to catch his breath. Doing his best to ignore Ayame, Shigure retrieved a set of handwritten instructions from the floor. He flipped to the sheet he needed, and checked his watch. Two minutes before he officially needed to worry--not that he wasn't already concerned--Hatori changed back, coughing at the smoke.
"Ayame, too loud." Hatori's voice was quiet and raspy, but Ayame cut off mid-word and gesture to kneel by the futon.
"'Tori-san." The one word was full of affection and relief. Off to the side, Shigure watched his favorite cousins. Ayame was happy to be finally able to do something besides wait, and Hatori... Hatori looked miserable and confused, but pleased to see Ayame. "How are you?"
Hatori coughed a few times before saying, "Thirsty."
"Hear that, 'Gure-san? He's thirsty! We should get him-" Ayame turned around glowing with purpose.
Shigure handed him the bottle of cough medicine and a spoon. Ayame's eyebrow twitched to express his opinion of such a dirty trick. Shigure shrugged and smiled, indicating that he didn't care, but it would work. "You can blame me. I'll go get him something to drink. Make sure he stays awake until the tea is ready."
Shigure headed for Hatori's small kitchen, mostly so that he wouldn't annoy his poor, sick cousin by laughing at whatever response the medicine got.
When he returned with the tea, Ayame was still apologizing, but he'd also gotten Hatori back into his pajamas. That hadn't even occurred to Shigure, which, on reflection, probably proved how perverted he was.
Hatori regarded the tea suspiciously, and Shigure didn't blame him. Shigure had also brought three mugs with the teapot, so that he could prove his innocent intentions. "Haa-san, don't give me that look! I'm a much better cook than Yuki-kun, you know. Why don't you sit up?"
"Tried." Hatori coughed. "Room spun."
"Ah, well, that's very inconsiderate of the room, isn't it?" Hatori sneezed in what Shigure presumed was agreement. "Well, you can lean against Aaya, so that I still have my hands free to pour the tea. That way Aaya won't put too much sugar in your tea." Shigure managed to babble over all of Hatori's attempts to keep his dignity, and soon Ayame was on lounging on the futon with Hatori half in his lap. Shigure stayed next to the futon so his sick cousin wouldn't feel too crowded.
Hatori was clearly not happy about leaning against Ayame. He had never indulged in the casual touching that Shigure and Ayame were comfortable with, and he had physically withdrawn from them even more since... since his eye was damaged. On the other hand, he was coaxed into drinking three half mugs of tea, so Shigure didn't care if his cousin was happy with the arrangement. Best of all, they only had to stop Hatori from trying to go do something else twice--though it seemed Hatori had been about to get up more times than that, and had thought better of it.
Hatori was starting to drift off to sleep again as Shigure tidied up the tea tray. When they started to help him back into his covers, he held onto Ayame's arm and said, "Stay."
Shigure would have laughed at the pure astonishment on Ayame's face if he hadn't been equally shocked. Ayame tried to pull away anyway. "But, 'Tori-san, you..."
"Ayame, stay, please."
"I... Of course, I'll stay. I'll be right by the window." Ayame looked at Shigure with 'What should I do' written across his face.
Hatori was half-asleep already, but his grip was as firm as he could manage. "Stay here. Stay holding..."
Shigure watched the naked emotions on Ayame's face. Ayame wanted to hear Hatori say things like that almost desperately, but to hear those things because the fever drove him to need physical contact.... This was cruelty on a level that not even Akito could devise. Ayame's face was as close to blank as he could manage when he whispered, "I will."
Shigure silently helped Ayame settle Hatori into the blankets without letting go. There was a moment of confusion where they silently tried to sort out if Ayame would be under the blankets or on top of them. Ayame won, and stayed out of the blankets. Shigure countered by getting an extra blanket from the linen closet and setting it where Ayame could reach. "Aaya, you might want to nap, too. I'll be back in two hours with something for Haa-san to drink."
"You're going out?" Ayame looked close to panicking again, an interesting dichotomy to the gentle way he held Hatori.
Shigure shook his head. "No. I just really have to get this manuscript finalized. I'll leave the door open so you can yell for me?"
"Yeah, sure." Ayame's voice was dull, painful in its neutrality.
"Aaya? I...." Shigure shook his head, and didn't say any of the dozen things that wouldn't be comforting anyway. "Try to rest while you can." They both knew how much worse it could get.
What the Cat chooses to protect, he protects with all his heart. Pray, Juunishi, that he chooses to protect you.
-Sohma Nobu, Snake, 1547
Kyo and Tohru walked home from school not-exactly-together. They walked the same route at almost the same pace--Kyo never let himself get too far ahead of her--but they were both thinking their own thoughts. It was a very comfortable sort of not-exactly-together.
Yuki would have also been not-exactly-together with Kyo and Tohru, if he hadn't had a student council thing right after school. If Yuki had been there, the silence would have been uncomfortable, and they would have filled it with bickering that might or might not have turned into another battle. Either way, Kyo wouldn't have heard the ringing before they could see the house.
But he did hear it, and he heard a second and third ring as well, so he said, "Phone!" in Tohru's general direction, and took off running towards the house. His hello was a bit breathless, and the long silence almost convinced him that he'd been too late.
"Ah, Kyo-kun? I was about to hang up; you took so long to answer the phone! It really is rude of you to keep people waiting." Kyo could almost see Shigure pulling his "wise man" face, but before he could do more than bristle at the tone, Shigure dropped it. "So, are Tohru-kun and Yuki-kun home, too?"
"No, Yuki's got some meeting, but she's just coming in now." Behind him, Tohru called out that she was home.
"Good, good, put her on, please."
Kyo turned, and shoved the receiver at Tohru. "It's Shigure."
"Hello?" Tohru accepted the phone nervously, but then, from what Kyo had seen, phone calls were rarely good news for her.
"Good afternoon, Tohru-kun! Do you have work today?" Shigure's voice was easily loud enough for Kyo to hear the words clearly. It was also cheerful enough that Tohru immediately started to relax.
"No. I was just going to study and do some cleaning this evening." Tohru had that soft blank look that meant she was completely confused. Kyo was confused too, but, since Shigure was involved, he was also had a rather bad feeling about where this was headed. So, of course, Shigure switched his loud cheerful tone to one that Kyo couldn't easily eavesdrop on.
Tohru's side of the conversation didn't give Kyo any clues at all. "Oh. ...Well, of course. … It wouldn't be any trouble at all! ... I see. ... I wouldn't want to be any trouble. ... Oh, yes, that is a good point. ... Ok, I'll ask them. ... I don't mind at all. ... Ok, bye!"
Tohru turned to look at Kyo as she hung up the phone, and she looked slightly taken aback. Kyo realized that he was bouncing impatiently, and perhaps the concentration on his face could be mistaken for anger. "Well? What did he want?"
Tohru smiled, hopefully realizing that Kyo wasn't angry at her--hopefully because he didn't want to apologize or risk any cracks about curiosity and the Cat--and said, "Shigure-san won't be home for dinner tonight because he's staying at Hatori-san's." Kyo's eyebrow twitched slightly at the oddity. "So we shouldn't wait dinner for him."
"That's it?" Kyo mulled over the conversation. "He seemed to have a lot more than that to say."
"Ah, well, yes, but he asked me to tell you and Yuki at the same time." Kyo wondered what his face looked like right then, because Tohru started to apologize frantically.
"It's ok! It's ok! Geez. I'll go... go something." Kyo stalked off before he really did something that upset her. Normally, he was fairly good about making it clear that he wasn't mad at her, but in this situation, with him mad at that damn Dog and her knowing things he didn't, a strategic retreat was called for.
He ended up doing his homework, and then climbing to the roof, so that he wouldn't directly piss off anyone. He had a sinking feeling that Shigure would somehow get this to turn into another unnecessary lesson in getting along with Yuki. Of course, Shigure would also get him pissed off enough that he'd walk right into the lesson without thinking about it. Sometimes, Kyo just wanted to tell that idiot Dog about the bet just to prove he wasn't as stupid as he normally acted.
Tohru's head appeared at the edge of the roof far earlier than he would have expected. "Dinner's ready. I know it's a bit earlier than normal, but I'll explain while we eat. To be honest, I'm not really sure why he asked me to wait on telling you."
"I'll be down in a minute," Kyo offered as a not-apology for sulking all afternoon.
He headed into the house with a minor detour to wash his hands. By the time he arrived, Yuki and Tohru were waiting at the table for him, and the table.... There were almost twice as many dishes as usual, though it was perfectly portioned out for just the three of them. Kyo couldn't help being impressed. "You did all this since we got home from school?"
"Yes. It's not really a big deal." Tohru blushed in pleasure at the implied compliment. "Please, sit down."
Kyo noticed out of the corner of his eye that Yuki was starting to get the overly pleasant expression that would lead to pain. He sat down quickly because he really, really wanted to know whatever Tohru was going to tell them. "Itedakimasu!"
Kyo made it through two bites of food before breaking down and asking, "So, what was it that Shigure wanted you to tell both of us at the same time?"
Yuki looked up surprised. "That's right, Honda-san. You only said that Shigure wasn't going to be here tonight. Do you know why?"
"Yes. Shigure-san said that he and Ayame-san are staying at Hatori-san's to, um, 'look after a difficult patient.' And Shigure-san had wondered if perhaps I could bring them some extras from dinner, since I don't have work tonight, so we're eating early so I can walk over. And, um." Tohru paused to study her fingers intently, a sign that she didn't want to cause an inconvenience to them.
"And you want someone to help you carry the bentos, Honda-san?" Yuki's smile was small, but it was genuine this time. Tohru really was cute when she was trying to avoid asking for favors.
Tohru nodded quickly, relieved that the help was offered.
Kyo's eyes narrowed. "And Shigure suggested this?"
"And Shigure wanted you to tell us at the same time?"
Another nod. Tohru looked on the verge of apologizing simply because of Kyo's tone.
"What game is he playing now?" Yuki probably would have asked as well if he'd spent all afternoon brooding over the puzzle.
Yuki had looked about ready to hit Kyo, until that last question. "He's up to something, but wh- Honda-san, did he say who or what was wrong?"
She shook her head. "No, only that he was difficult. I'm sorry, I should have asked who it was! That was so thoughtless of me!"
"It's all right, Honda-san..." Yuki was calming her down, so Kyo went over what Tohru had said one more time, and got that slow sinking feeling in his gut.
"Wait. Are they helping Hatori or just helping? What exactly did Shigure say?" Kyo suspected that he had part of the answer, but he really didn't want to be right. Yuki and Tohru were both looking at him blankly, wondering why the distinction mattered.
"It seemed," Tohru answered slowly, "he said looking after a someone, and didn't say anything about helping Hatori-san. But that's silly. Isn't it?"
Kyo buried his face in his left hand, and made a wide gesture with his chopsticks that didn't really mean anything at all. "Well, they probably are helping Hatori. Hatori is probably the one who's sick."
Crickets chirped. Kyo risked a look up. Tohru was working from worried to panicked, but she was doing it quietly. Yuki broke the silence first. "But, why? I mean, Hatori never gets sick."
"Are you calling me a liar, you damn Rat?" Kyo leapt to his feet, fists ready.
"Stupid Cat, Would you really be able to do anything about it if I did?" He stood up and took a deceptively lazy stance.
"Wait!" Both boys froze, and glared in a way that should have caused spontaneous combustion. It wasn't that Kyo or Yuki were obeying Tohru, so much as hoping she wouldn't grab one of them to stop the fight. The smoke from transforming always gave food an odd aftertaste. "Yuki-kun, Kyo-kun, we don't have time to repair the house if we're taking food to Shigure-san! Yuki-kun, why are you so surprised that Hatori-san could get sick?"
Seeing Yuki's attention go to Tohru, Kyo warily relaxed out of his fighting stance and returned to eating his dinner. "Well, it's just that I can't ever remember him being sick."
Kyo shook his head and tried not to snarl. Shigure could have just left a complete message, not a riddle for them to solve. "I remember him being sick once." Kyo's voice was flat. "It was several years ago, maybe five or six. I overheard some conversations, but I wasn't allowed near him, of course.
"They were worried because.... Well, I guess that Hatori almost never gets sick, but when he does, well, they said, he makes up for lost chances. So it was bad. And they were worried 'cause he was too sick erase people's memories. I think they were trying to decide if they needed to bring a doctor in from outside."
Yuki frowned. "I don't remember any of that."
"No. You wouldn't." Kyo finally remembered the last bit of the conversation. "They weren't considering getting a doctor for him. They were worried about you." Kyo sneered slightly. He remembered why those gossips had been worried: Yuki was Akito's favorite, and everyone had wanted to keep the head of the family happy, not because they were worried about Yuki personally.
He realized the tone of voice he'd used about three seconds too late. Fortunately, the fight ended up outside, so the only things damaged were the bushes and Kyo.
When did we stop keeping our distance and start rejecting?
-Sohma Yuri, dog, 1960
Shigure sat on the couch and pretended to edit the manuscript while he brooded. He'd just finished his turn with Hatori, and there were far too many uncomfortable thoughts drifting through his mind. There were also some very uncomfortable feelings drifting through his stomach; he hoped Tohru would arrive soon.
Despite his playful protests, he was quite capable of working while hungry, and, through sheer force of will, was able to drag his thoughts back to the little black marks on the pretty white paper. As the grammar improved, the story started growing darker and more bitter. Shigure acknowledged the change, and shrugged it off with the consolation that his editor had been pushing him for a serious story recently.
Shigure's stomach attempted to communicate in a non-human tongue, but the terms it used would have been inappropriate for duplication, if Shigure could speak growling-stomach-ese. Had Shigure given the sound words, he probably would have seconded the emotion and been appalled by the language.
A knock at the door startled Shigure out of his work. He blinked a few times, wondering if he had gotten too caught up in it to hear Tohru and her escort approaching, but he didn't hear any voices now. He hoped that Tohru hadn't walked all this way alone, and not just because he wanted the boys there.
His relief at seeing three people on the porch had him momentarily speechless, so his stomach greeted the teenagers for him. Tohru immediately blushed and started to babble, "I'm so sorry it took so long, but I wasn't sure how many people would need to eat, and we had to get our school bags so we could do our homework here, and-"
Yuki interrupted. "Honda-san, why don't you go in? Please?" Shigure blinked and realized that while Tohru had one fairly small tray, both boys were fully loaded down.
"Yes, Tohru-kun, come in!" Shigure swept to the side, going into full dramatics mode. "My sweet angel of mercy, bringing me delicious treats in my most desperate hour of need!"
Yuki and Kyo had their hands too full to hit him, but they death glares they gave him were refreshingly normal after the day Shigure had had. He beamed at them--which made Yuki blink, and Kyo scowl--and led them into the kitchen so they could set down the packages. Tohru divested the boys of their loads, and took over the tiny kitchen with her customary efficiency.
While she sorted everything out, Shigure folded his hands into his yukata's sleeves, and turned to the boys. "Yuki-kun, Kyo-kun, how much do you know about how the juunishi handle illness when we don't have a doctor privy to the secret?"
Yuki spoke up, "I thought we just got a doctor, and had his memories erased at the end of it."
Shigure shook his head. "No, I mean traditionally, before medicine was reliable enough to be worth that sort of risk." Yuki looked blank.
Kyo frowned. "You guys all hole up together, right?"
Kyo knew, but Yuki didn't? Shigure found it very odd that, for once, Kyo knew more of a juunishi matter than Yuki. "Not exactly. All of the cursed gather, and lend their strength to the one who is sick--not just the juunishi. All of us can do it." Shigure could see Kyo's eyes narrow and his hair begin to tuft up. "You were too young the last time we needed to do it, Kyo-kun, so don't give me that look. Yuki-kun was very ill himself. Hi-kun and 'Sa-chan were far too young then, and are still too young now unless we get desperate.
"Anyway, all it takes is physical contact for it to work. There are some theories about how different Spirits give different strength levels, and about the feelings of the people invol--Thank you, Tohru-kun." Shigure accepted a plate and some chopsticks from her.
"Shigure-san?" Tohru asked. "Is that why Yuki-kun didn't transform right after his attack that one day? Because Hatsuharu-san was carrying him, I mean?"
Shigure smiled at her. "Yes, that's exactly it. Anyway, because of that, and because it's Haa-san, we need to always keep someone with him. Right now, Aaya and I are enough, except that we'd like a break for dinner."
"It is Hatori? But I thought doctors didn't get sick!" Yuki exclaimed. Kyo glared at his rival, and Shigure wondered just what sorts of conversations he'd missed... and he glared at Yuki as well.
"Yuki-kun, please, please do not make comments like that where Haa-san might hear you. Half the time, he's insisting that he's not sick at all. Tohru-kun, your cooking is as exquisite at ever!" Shigure 'subtly' changed the topic. "Are you putting together a dish for Aaya? Excellent! Now, one of you needs to stay with Haa-san so that Aaya and I can both get some fresh air. Yuki-kun, to be honest, we shouldn't call you in unless things get bad; you get sick too easily. Kyo-kun.... There are some differences for the Cat. You have to want to help the person.…" Shigure paused on the pretext of taking another bite of food.
"And?" Kyo-kun was just so suspicious of him these days. It was sad really. Shigure would just have to get sneakier about manipulating him.
"And... it works much better if you aren't wearing your bracelet." Shigure didn't look at Kyo. He was almost sure that Kyo would make the right decisions, but if he pushed, Kyo's agreement might not indicate actual willingness. "Tohru-kun, I swear, your cooking is getting better every day. This is spectacular!" Shigure waxed poetic with his praise until Kyo interrupted him.
"I'll do it," Kyo growled. "Just, just don't go wandering off or anything, ok?"
Shigure couldn't keep his face from showing the overwhelming relief he felt. "Well, then, the sooner we get Aaya fed, the sooner you all can settle in and... Why did you all bring your homework, anyway?"
Tohru answered him. "Oh, well, you didn't really say who was sick, or how, but I thought if it was someone with a cold, I could just make some soup here--that is, if you don't mind."
Shigure blinked at Tohru a few times. It was incredible the way she always thought of others, but he also thought she knew about all the servants the main house had. He supposed it didn't matter much. Besides, her cooking was better, and it would keep her distracted from her worry somewhat. "I don't mind at all. I can't tell if Haa-san's complaining about the food because he's not hungry, or because it's really not all that good, and Aaya's far too worried to be any good in the kitchen right now, and I should stop talking so I can get Aaya." Shigure fitted actions to words, and led Kyo down the hall.
To me, it looks like Kana-kun forgot everything, and obtained happiness for herself, leaving 'Tori-san to take on all of the pain alone!
A bit later, Shigure was sending Ayame out to the porch, and collecting Ayame's dinner from the kitchen. Tohru was starting the soup she'd promised, and Yuki was on the couch checking over some textbook. Shigure figured he couldn't have set things up any better if he had tried.
But Yuki was frowning a little more than his homework called for, now that Shigure thought about it, and he hadn't heard Ayame react to his little brother's presence at all. Shigure shook his head as he stepped outside; first, Yuki got annoyed because his brother paid him too much attention, now he was annoyed because his brother didn't notice him. Or was Yuki actually worried about his older brother? Ayame did look tired.... The air outside was incredibly nice after being cooped up inside all day, so Shigure left the door open a bit. Well, he'd claim it was for the fresh air if anyone mentioned it later.
Ayame sat on the edge of the porch, leaning back on his hands. He wasn't--quite--posing, Shigure decided, when Ayame's posture changed to a defeated slouch. "Here. Sit up and eat." Shigure handed the plate to Ayame, and flopped down on the edge of the porch himself. He leaned forward slowly enough that he didn't lose his balance, but far enough that the stretching in his back moved into his legs as well. "Aaya, eating works better when you put the food in your mouth instead of stabbing it."
"You aren't even looking at me, 'Gure-san." Ayame tried to pout playfully, but he just sounded… muted.
"I can hear your chopsticks hitting the plate. Tohru-kun's cooking deserves better." Shigure flirted with falling back to lie on the porch, but he'd been lying down all day. Really, he wanted to get up and pace, but that would make Ayame even more tense.
"Tohru-kun's cooking? Did Kyonkichi bring it?" Shigure glanced over to see that Ayame was attempting to eat. He would have been more reassured if Ayame had announced that as the unique and marvelous individual he clearly was, he was merely finding an eating style to reflect it--or something like that--but eating was a good first step.
"Something like that." Seeing that Aaya just wasn't ready to talk yet, Shigure applied himself to emptying his own plate. Ayame was still silent when Shigure set his plate down. Shigure was willing to wait all night, if he had to, but he was starting to get that restless need-to-do-something, need-to-fix-something feeling that made his hands flex. But this was Ayame--Aaya--and if he pushed, he would get something to placate him, rather than the truth.
Shigure settled on rolling his head back, to loosen the knots that have been building all day. He got the joints to pop a few times, but the tension was sunk too deeply into the muscles. He closed his eyes to focus on the motions, the pull of the muscles--and to make himself think about anything besides the people he so desperately wanted to make better.
Shigure felt hands on his shoulders for a moment; it was the only warning he received before Ayame expertly dug his thumbs into the knotted muscles. "You could have just asked me to massage your neck."
"I'm already asking too much from you, Aaya." Shigure responded without thinking. He was trying to puzzle out why he hadn't even noticed Ayame get up and kneel behind him.
Ayame's hands stilled for a moment. "You aren't asking anything. If anyone is asking for anything, it's 'Tori-san. But no, I'm offering this... all of this." Ayame pressed on a particularly nasty knot.
Shigure didn't answer right away, mostly to keep from making embarrassing noises. "It still seems like too much."
"'Gure-san, are you worried about me?" Ayame's laughter was far too brittle for Shigure to not worry.
He twisted and captured Aaya's hands. Their faces were painfully close, but Aaya never did anything by halves, and Shigure respected that enough to match him in intensity. This close, he could see the strain in Aaya's face. "Yes. I am."
Aaya... deflated, and sat back on the edge of the porch without pulling away from Shigure. This time, he made no attempts to hide his feelings. "If I can't hide it from you, how can I hide it from myself? It's ripping me up. I keep waiting for him to wake up, for the fever to break, and he'll pull away from me again. I know, I know I should be happy that he wants me near him right now, but he doesn't really. He just wants the juunishi, the contact, and he doesn't really care who it is. I don't even think 'Tori-san can tell who is with him now. And it rips me up to think about just how quickly he let go of me for Kyonkichi--that nickname fits too well now, I think. I feel like I left a piece of me in that room when I came out here. Isn't that crazy? I'm jealous of the Cat, because he's in there with 'Tori-san, when I should be the one in there, waiting to get my heart broken again."
Shigure sat by his cousin, and rubbed small circles in his back, silently letting Ayame know that he was there, and listening. "I hate Kana for what she did to him. I thought I hated her when she made him happy. I thought I hated her when he started spending his time with her, and not with me. Because he noticed her, and I've wanted him to notice me for years. Did you know that Akito knew about her then? He's always known how I feel--I never could hide it. He called me to him, and all but ordered me to seduce 'Tori-san away from her. I wanted to do it. I was ready to try, but then I saw the smile on his face when he looked at her. And I realized that I just couldn't hate her for making him smile like that.
"I hate her for leaving him. I hate her for failing him when he needed her most. I hate her because now 'Tori-san pulls away from me to cling to his own pain. I hate her because he's given up on being happy. I hate her because he's pulled away from everyone, and he just gave up on being happy for himself. He insists that watching out for everyone else is enough, but that's just a way for him to get too tired to remember he hurts. And as soon as his body recovers, he's going to pull away from me again. I could bear it if he was going to be happy, but he isn't, can't be when he's hurting himself so badly. I can't even offer, offer what you can, because it would mean too much to me, and I can't be casual about it, not like with you, it, it would mean something that, that-" It would mean something that Ayame had never, ever dared put into words. Ayame stopped with a small hiccupping sob; he was breathing harshly, though his voice had never really risen to his normal impassioned volume. Shigure was impressed that Aaya had enough control to not risk waking Hatori.
He pulled out a handkerchief, and gently wiped away Aaya's tears. He hadn't known that Ayame had been asked to break up Hatori and Kana, but Ayame would have decided to try so impulsively, and then just as abruptly changed his mind that it made sense for him to never mention it. And he was amazed that Aaya didn't care at all about Kyo's removing the beads, but Aaya had always had a unique way of looking at the world. "Better?"
"Not really, but I don't feel like I'm choking on my thoughts anymore." Which was an improvement, even if Ayame wasn't at something like "good" or even "okay."
Shigure couldn't bring himself to offer any comforting lies--or try to, since he normally just put his foot in is mouth, so he changed the topic. "I called Ri'chan. He'll come by tomorrow to help out, unless Haa-san is better by then."
"That sounded awfully doubtful," Ayame pointed out with a weak smile.
"But tonight, it'll just be us two. I figure we ought to just both stay with him, y'know, like that time in high school, but not." Shigure leered, and mentally crossed his fingers.
"Ah yes, we will warm him with the flames of passion that forever leap between us!" Ayame's smile was genuine this time, even if his eyes were red from crying.
"Yosh!" Shigure couldn't help returning the smile.
Ayame's quote is from Chapter 26 of the Tokyo-pop translation. Also, Aaya said that "Kyonkichi" was too appropriate because it means "Lucky Kyo." I just happen to hate how that looks/sounds in English.
Some times the wisdom of dreams holds the most truth.
Sohma Nobu, Snake, 1543
"Kyo-kun.... There are some differences for the Cat. You have to want to help the person.…"
Kyo didn't have a problem with that. Hatori was less annoying than most of the other juunishi, and he could make Ayame be less annoying. Kyo almost even liked him. He just didn't trust how Shigure had trailed off.
"And?" Perhaps he snarled the word a bit.
"And... it works much better if you aren't wearing your bracelet." Shigure didn't look at Kyo. "Tohru-kun, I swear, your cooking is getting better every day. This is spectacular!"
Kyo did his best to block out Shigure's voice, and think. He was not in any way, shape or form comfortable with his other--he refused to call it true--form. He knew that removing the bracelet wouldn't force him to change, but he was fairly sure that he'd change anyway because he was so upset. He still didn't know if he'd changed back that one night because the rain had stopped, because he'd calmed down or because Tohru had embraced him.
A very large part of him was terrified at the thought of taking off the bracelet--unlike his cat form, it hurt to become a monster. But. Kyo studied Shigure closely, in that way that was always mistaken for glaring for some reason, and he could see the way Shigure's smile didn't quite reach tired eyes. He could see that Shigure was blinking a little too much, and a little too often. And even though Shigure was a meddling, manipulative pervert, who really needed to get a life beyond tormenting anyone who came near him and.... Kyo had a point: Shigure was really worried, to the point where he couldn't hide it, but he was letting Kyo decide for himself, and that made Kyo want to maybe help him. A little.
"I'll do it," Kyo growled. "Just, just don't go wandering off or anything, ok?"
The relief on Shigure's face was so intense that Kyo wouldn't have believed it, except that Shigure hid it instead of played it up. "Well, then, the sooner we get Aaya fed, the sooner you all can settle in and... Why did you all bring your homework, anyway?"
Kyo was already second guessing himself by that point, but he wouldn't back down in front of that damn Yuki. Besides, it was... nice to be something other than the outcast. Kyo tried to focus on that warm feeling, instead of the ball of nervous ice that seemed to be taking up residence in his stomach.
Shigure paused at the door to Hatori's room and turned to Kyo. "Thank you."
"Oh, um, yeah, if you'd gotten that Rat to do it, he'd of just gotten sick, and then I wouldn't be able to fight him." Or rather, 'You're welcome,' in Kyo-speak.
Kyo stared at the floor rather than watch the door open. He was still far too tempted to turn and run, but a rather Yuki-sounding voice in his head was asking if he wanted to spend the rest of his life running away. "Damn Rat."
Kyo's first thought was that this was some sick joke. He couldn't see anything at all in the room. As he stood at the threshold, he realized that, yes, there was a small amount of light in the room, but it was the late afternoon sun, filtered through closed curtains.
Hatori's room was sparse, more a sleeping room than a bedroom, especially since Hatori had a futon instead of a Western-style bed. The room also had an out-of-place looking chair by the window with a basket by it, and a dresser. That was it. Hatori really didn't have a life outside of work.
Kyo was trying to sort out what he could see of the bed. Two heads stuck out from under the mound of blankets, but they didn't seem to be close enough--or far enough apart. Ayame looked up blearily, and the top blanket fell back. Kyo blinked. Then he blinked a few more times. Ayame was fully dressed, and there was at least one blanket between him and Hatori, even though Ayame was spooned against Hatori's back. Kyo pondered the possibility that he could be in an alternate world, like from one of those dreadful animes that Kisa liked. Kyo knew from personal experience that Ayame was not at all shy about sharing a bed with someone.
Hatori was tucked under the second blanket up to his neck, though one hand had escaped to hold Ayame. His hair was totally disheveled and damp with sweat. The fever had raised red spots on his cheeks, under tightly closed eyes. Even under the thick blanket, it seemed that he was shifting restlessly. Hatori coughed weakly, and the weirdness was doubled when Kyo realized that Hatori wasn't wearing a shirt. "'Gure-san? Is it time to get him to take more medicine?" Kyo was shocked; Ayame was capable of speaking softly?
"No- oh, wait, in two minutes, so yes. I didn't realize it was this late." Shigure's equally soft voice sounded apologetic? Kyo hung back to watch the pod people who had clearly replaced his older cousins.
Without speaking further to each other, Shigure and Ayame began what proved to be a complex task. Shigure got some pills and other medicinal torture implements from the top of the dresser. Ayame attempted to get Hatori into a sitting position without waking him up--or perhaps that was as awake as they could get him right now.
Ayame had started to sit up, which required him to pull his arm from around Hatori. Hatori latched onto Ayame, keeping Ayame's hand trapped against his chest--Hatori, the man who practically pulled back when he saw other people get hugged. Kyo bit back the urge to say something, only because the look on Ayame's face was way too personal for Kyo to want Ayame to know that he had seen it. In fact, this whole thing was way too private for him to be seeing it, which was probably why Shigure was completely ignoring him, instead of attracting Ayame's attention to him.
In a world where Kyo had good manners, he would be looking away right now, but the tone of voice that Ayame was using to coax Hatori into an upright position, and the helpful comments that Shigure was making, well, if Kyo looked away, he knew he'd feel like a lot more of an intruder.
"Come on, 'Tori-san, you just need to relax a little. Let me move my arm. I'm not going anywhere." Ayame's arm was caught at exactly the angle needed to take away any possible leverage he could find to sit up. Kyo made note of it, only because he had some vague idea it might help in a fight. "We need to sit up for this to work."
Hatori mumbled something that might have been a protest.
"Yes, I know it's nice and warm, but you really need to let me sit up. You can hold my arm with your other hand, ok?" Kyo had no idea how exactly Ayame moved that way, but suddenly Ayame was sitting. It probably came from that whole snake thing, and regularly moving without legs. A bit more coaxing, and Hatori was half-sitting against Ayame, with his head just a little too far back.
Shigure tilted his head. "Not the most attractive pose, but at least his mouth is open."
"'Tori-san, you're going to hurt your neck like that." Ayame tried to pull the sick man into a more comfortable position, but the sitting position seemed to trigger a coughing fit.
"How did Haa-san lose his shirt, anyway?" Shigure sounded like he was teasing, but his voice didn't have that same annoying tone that Kyo was used to hearing.
"He transformed again, and when he changed back, he grabbed on to me before I could get him re-dressed." Ayame sounded vaguely embarrassed, and had another one of those intensely personal, yet confusing looks on his face.
"How long was he transformed?" Shigure threw a single, unreadable look at Kyo, and knelt down by the bed. In a flurry of movement that was completely innuendo free, Shigure--thankfully blocking Kyo's view--got Hatori back into a pair of pants.
"About two minutes? Maybe less."
"Hmm. Ok. You get to hold him, I'll put it in?" That- Shigure so said that on purpose.
"Do you think it's getting easier with practice?" Ayame placed one hand on the side of Hatori's face.
"Well, the first one does." Shigure grabbed Hatori's nose, and, in a move that reminded Kyo of leeks, shoved the spoonful of red syrup into Hatori's mouth. "Getting him to take it a second time, that's the real trick."
Hatori coughed, spluttered, and finally opened his eyes. "You two are sick." His voice sounded like a truck going over gravel. "What was th-" Shigure timed the second spoonful perfectly, but it didn't stop Hatori's protests. "What? What are you two doing here, anyway? It's night. Is someone sick? I should..." Hatori's coughs prevented him from talking, and he curled up with his back against Ayame's legs waiting for them to stop.
Shigure held up a pill bottle, and some kind of understanding passed between the men over Hatori's prone form.
"Haa-san, I've got some water for you. It'll make your throat feel better. Why don't you sit up." Shigure reached out to tug on Hatori's arm.
"No." Hatori pulled away, his voice muffled by blankets. "You'll just trick me again."
Shigure shrugged sheepishly at Ayame, and mouthed, "You try."
Ayame tried, though Kyo couldn't see what was done, and he got Hatori to take the pill. Kyo still remained silent because there was something passing between the three men that just didn't include him--couldn't include anyone else, really. And some part of Kyo's mind was definitely wondering why he hadn't left the room, but it was a little too closely linked to the part of his mind that wanted him to run away and never come back.
"Kyo-kun! There you are!" Kyo bristled at Shigure's tone, but managed not to say anything that would let Ayame or Hatori know he'd seen pretty much everything. Although... he really wasn't sure how much Hatori was aware of anything around him. "Aaya, Kyo's going to stay with Haa-san, so we can go get dinner."
Ayame blinked a few times at Kyo, and Kyo had the feeling that Ayame was also wondering about pod people. Kyo looked away first, and glared at the floor. Dammit, he'd been quite comfortable thinking that Ayame had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and now he found himself feeling... something. Kyo didn't know if he liked the change or not, everything was too confusing. Ayame got out about one syllable before Kyo interrupted, "Look, it's just, can you get a shirt on him?"
The floor was interesting. The wood had patterns in it that were almost visible in the dim lighting, and maybe if Kyo stared long enough he could make them out. The heat on his face was just because the room was stuffy, and maybe because he was angry, but he was certainly not blushing.
"Kyo-kun?" Kyo looked up to see Shigure hovering uncertainly. A quick glance showed that Hatori was half in his pajama shirt. "He wouldn't let go so we could get his other arm."
"Um, Kyo-kun?" Kyo shot Shigure a look that just dared him to ask if he was ok. "Kyo-kun, the transformation, it's rather rough on your shirt, right?"
"Why do you think I ask you to get him back into a shirt?" Kyo fought to keep the yowl out of his voice only because both Ayame and Shigure had also made an effort to keep their voices low. He closed his eyes for a moment before pulling off his T-shirt in a single smooth motion, and tried to convince himself that his shiver was from the cool air, even thought it was clearly the hot air that made his face flush.
Kyo carefully folded his shirt and set it on the chair--because he was neat, not because he was stalling--adding his socks as an afterthought, and walked back over to the futon, keeping his eyes locked on Hatori. He stopped a few feet away, simply because he didn't know how much space he needed, and reached with his right hand for his left wrist. He got as far as touching the beads before he realized that he was hyperventilating. Kyo balled his hands into fists, and thrust his left arm at Shigure in a silent request.
The touch on his hand made him twitch even though he expected it. Shigure's hands were surprisingly gentle as they slowly coaxed his fingers into relaxing. The beads were suddenly whipped off his wrist. It was like being doused with cold water, but the chill dug deeper into his flesh, and forced his bones to expand. Every inch of his body screamed in protest at the change.
Kyo tried to keep his eyes focused on Hatori, but his eyes were remaking themselves, and controlling them was impossible. He tried to keep breathing, but his chest was ripping itself apart as fast as it could rebuild itself. He tried to keep still, but his back and legs demanded a new stance. He did his damnedest to keep from shredding grooves in the floor, and he actually had some success with that.
He couldn't help dropping to all fours as the transformation ended, but he remembered to be careful of the claws. He was fairly sure that the harsh breathing echoing in his ears was his own. He risked a glance at Hatori, who had apparently slept through the entire process, and then kept his eyes locked on him--don't look, don't look--Kyo absolutely refused to see the looks of horror and disgust that Ayame and Shigure had to be wearing.
Kyo prowled around the bed--don't lunge for Shigure to take the beads back--and finally settled on the left side of the futon. He reached out hesitantly with his left hand--claw--but flinched back when Ayame's hands tightened protectively--or was it possessively?--on Hatori. Making himself reach forward again was one of the hardest things Kyo had ever done, and he could feel small tremors running across his body.
Kyo's finger had barely brushed Hatori's forearm when Hatori latched onto his own forearm. Kyo's entire body went tense for a few heartbeats before he could make himself return the hold. As soon as he did, he felt something loosen in him and a flood of good-right-belong-warm-comfort-home-peace-safe rushed through him. He relaxed, though he couldn't help thinking that Hatori's arm fit in his hand pretty well, but wouldn't everything fit if he was holding him.... Kyo shoved that thought away, and blinked as he realized that Ayame had already gotten Hatori the rest of the way into his shirt.
Hatori's eyes opened, and met Kyo's. Kyo's chest locked as he shivered and waited for the rejection--screaming, pulling away, sneering, something--but all Hatori did was smile ever so faintly, and then close his eyes again. It was the capstone on the weirdness of the evening, and Kyo swore he could feel his brain breaking from the strain of understanding anything that was happening.
Ayame stood up--Hatori had released him when he grabbed Kyo--and started towards the door. Panic forced its way through Kyo's brain--beads, don't leave with, gimme, mine--but it cut off abruptly as Shigure's hand dropped down to break Kyo's view of Hatori. When Shigure's hand lifted away, the beads lay on the floor, just at the edge of Kyo's vision.
Kyo shifted slightly, so that he was in a more comfortable position on the floor, his attention completely locked into this unfamiliar, but wonderful, feeling of belonging. He barely moved when a blanket was placed over him, and dismissed his glimpse of Ayame's feet as delusion.
You should know that if you bombard someone with one-sided love, then you are nothing but a burden to them, and will just end up hurting them in the end.
Hatori shouldn't have asked Ayame to stay, and he knew it. Letting people love him only brought those people pain: it was part of the curse. But it had been so long since he had let anyone close. There was Momiji, of course, who had less sense of personal space than a boa constrictor, but his hugs had that same sort of crush pressure that didn't make them all that pleasant. And there were times when Akito demanded closeness from him, but that felt like a trial now, because he couldn't quite convince his body--or was it his mind?--that Akito wasn't a threat.
Which brought him back to Ayame. Ayame, who felt so very warm next to him, had been the one holding him, when any warm body would do. He had felt so unbearably alone in that dream, and he had been so terribly comforted to wake, and hear Shigure and Ayame talking. Even with all the time he had been pushing them away, they were still there, and he did his best to push them away again, but he was so tired. He knew he had a standing offer for whatever his sanity needed from Shigure. If Shigure had been holding him, he wouldn't have had to think--or ask--twice, and he asked so rarely anyway.
Ayame never quite offered those things. He might, if given the chance, but Hatori didn't know if he could accept, and it was better to avoid having to reject anything. Hatori didn't know what Ayame would offer him, or what Ayame wanted from him. He feared that whatever it was, it would lead to Ayame being hurt somehow. Ayame hurt himself too much, and it was Hatori's job to heal people, but Ayame was here, and as long as they were touching, Hatori felt much less alone, and it was so hard to think of exactly why this was a bad idea. So, he asked because he couldn't face all those footprints in the sand.
The sand tried to come back, but a golden wall surrounded him and pushed it away. This time, he was a man, and he walked over to the wall. He placed his hand on the shimmering wall and felt safety, reassurance, gentle warmth and home. Hatori placed his other hand against it, rested his cheek on it, and it rippled so that he lay on it, and it flowed over him, slithered around him, and then as he relaxed completely, through him. Then the dreams drifted away, and he was simply wrapped in home.
Hatori surfaced to find the golden wall swirling away, and becoming dark brownish gray wall. It looked more stable, somehow dependable, and it felt of fierce growling protection and willing loyal sacrifice, but it still felt of home. He let himself sink into it again, but it was less comfortable, because there was so much darkness in its weight, and the small flickers of happiness felt stolen. He drifted further down into the river-wall until he found old hope and determination to wrap himself in.
The river forced him back out, and he lay in his back in a golden sphere. Hatori had the odd impression that he had just been something other than a man, but the sphere was his world and things outside did not matter. He blinked a few times, because it felt the same as that golden wall, but now there were white cracks swirling through it, and sand was starting to creep in. He shifted and coughed, and the sphere started to give way, dropping him back into sweat and darkness. He tried to protest, but he couldn't quite get his mouth to work. Hatori reached out with hands that didn't work, and tried to burrow back into the warmth, but an explosion of viscous, red ooze jolted him back.
Shigure and Ayame were there, and they were doing things and saying things, and why couldn't they leave him alone? No, not alone, never alone like that. Why couldn't they just be together in peace? Hatori shivered and curled up, trying to press as much of the warmth at his back--Ayame?--to him as he could manage. No, he would just hurt them if they got close. This would hurt Ayame; he couldn't, he shouldn't.... Did he say anything to them or just think it? His head hurt. His throat hurt. Nothing was right. They seemed too worried, and he was sure there was something he needed to do to make it right, but Akito didn't trust him to leave his house.
Something was happening, something that mattered, but the room was dark, and cold, and all the sounds were so far away again. Hatori's throat was raw, and he thought he could taste sand. The golden wall was cracking from the strain, and he could feel something slipping away.
A warm, orange breeze tried to slip past him, and he grabbed onto it before he could fall. It grabbed back in return and the feelings from it pressed in. Need me? Really need me? How? What? The questioning lostness pressed in, and all Hatori could do was hold on, and want it to stay, want it to protect him from the sand and the loneliness. The lostness changed to wonder. Really need me? Not lonely now? What do I? The answer was simple, and Hatori gave it easily: Just be home.
Understanding rippled through the orange, and it shifted in his grip, pulling closer as it changed to a deep indigo and wrapped its warm purring self around him. For just a moment, Hatori's vision shifted, showing him brilliantly faceted, cat-slit eyes. Home. He smiled, just a little, and then let the indigo home feeling ease him back into the healing darkness.
Hanajima's quote is from chapter 29 of the Tokyo-pop translation.
The kami is the most important figure in our lives, and we know this on an instinctive level the moment we see that person. What we feel first is not love, nor fear, but the weight of that importance.
-Sohma Nobu, 1544
Shigure and Ayame were still out on the porch when Kureno walked up. Shigure was smoking, and absently nodding while Ayame rambled about his shop, his customers and anything else that came to mind. And if, perhaps, Ayame's chatter seemed a bit forced here and there, at least he had the energy to do it now. It was hard to remember when Hatori was sleeping peacefully, but being close to him right now was draining, literally draining, as the man pulled strength from the other cursed.
Ayame's greeting to Kureno was almost lively, though still quiet compared to his normal volume. Once the good evenings were exchanged, Kureno turned to Shigure. "Akito wants to see you."
"Now?" Shigure was well past surprised and into astonished.
Kureno nodded. "He insists."
"Can it wait until Ayame gets settled back inside?" Shigure suspected that detaching Hatori from Kyo would be at least a two-person maneuver.
"Do you need help?"
Shigure considered Kureno's offer, and was about to accept, but then paused. "Perhaps it would be better if you told Akito that I'll be along in a few minutes?"
Kureno nodded, and headed back to the main house.
Shigure ushered his cousin into the house ahead of him. He was amused to notice that Yuki seemed to have scrambled over against a wall so that Ayame wouldn't see him. Tohru seemed to still be in the kitchen, or had returned to the kitchen. Ayame was so focused on getting back to Hatori that he probably wouldn't have noticed them if they had been wearing pink tutus and dancing a tango. Shigure revised the thought: Ayame would have noticed only if the pink was an unflattering color. This set off a string of amusing mental vignettes that kept Shigure's mind occupied until reaching the bedroom.
Kyo looked asleep, but he was back in his human form, and more or less tangled in a blanket. Kyo's hand was still on Hatori's arm, and, Shigure noted with dismay, Hatori's hand was exactly where Kyo's bracelet would normally rest. For a moment his mind went blank, and Shigure just sort of stared at them.
Then he shook his head, and laughed at himself, because it seemed that Kyo was taking a catnap. "Kyo-kun, wake up."
Kyo shifted, frowned, and reluctantly opened his eyes. He blinked a few times. Finally, he mumbled, "He's not gonna let go of me unless he's touching someone else."
Ayame was already moving. The way he settled around Hatori was a bit possessive--well, for Ayame it was a bit possessive; for anyone else it would have been very possessive--but Kyo didn't react at all. Shigure was beginning to wonder if a very bad thing was happening, not to mention how Kyo was so sure of something that Shigure was only just figuring out.
When Hatori shifted to cuddle against Ayame without loosening his grip on Kyo in any way, Shigure began to genuinely think a bad thing was happening, especially when Kyo didn't really try to get free at all. Shigure had expected that Kyo would leap at getting to put his beads back on. In fact, Kyo was normally very alert as soon as he woke up.
Shigure moved forward with no real plan. When he got within a step of them all, he suddenly found himself thinking how comfortable it would be to just join everyone on the floor. There were blankets after all, and since they were all juunishi there wouldn't be any annoying transforming, and.... Shigure gave his head a sharp shake and frowned. He was sure that had never happened before, not even when Akito-
Akito was still waiting. Shigure mentally crossed his fingers and picked up Kyo's beads. There was so much he didn't know about how and why the beads worked, but hopefully it was just a contact thing, and it wouldn't matter which hand Kyo had them on. Shigure mentally crossed his toes for good measure, and dropped the beads onto Kyo's right hand.
Hatori reacted immediately by releasing Kyo and practically burrowing into Ayame. Kyo shivered for a moment as if he'd suddenly felt a draft, before slowly rolling onto his back and pulling his beads onto his left hand. Then Kyo lay there still shivering, destroying Shigure's theory that the beads would make everything better.
"Kyo-kun? You might be warmer if you put your shirt back on."
"Wha? Oh, sure." Kyo started to get to his feet moving slowly almost as if he was under water, but a sudden puff of orange smoke put a stop to any thoughts that Shigure had about Kyo being okay. To make matters worse, the smoke made Hatori start coughing again.
"Dammit, this was a bad idea to begin with. I'll get him out of here before changes back." Shigure scooped up the Cat and the clothes.
"'Gure-san? It wasn't, really. 'Tori-san's fever feels much lower."
Shigure smiled slightly. "That's not why I think it was a bad idea." Shigure walked back to the living room, leaving behind a very confused Ayame.
He deposited Kyo on the couch, and only said, "He's tired," before walking out the door. Behind him, he could hear Tohru fussing over the cat. He felt a small amount of guilt for dropping yet another burden on the girl, but his main focus was guessing what Akito wanted. He came up with far too many guesses, most of them bad, but none of them rang true.
When he reached Akito's house, one of the servants sent him to the bedroom rather than the room Akito used for audiences. Shigure could feel the frown on his face, but Akito rarely called him to these rooms--these days, anyway. They were among the oldest rooms of the structure, and hadn't even been wired for electricity. It was almost always a bad thing when Akito chose to break his patterns, and Shigure didn't know if he could successfully dance to Akito's whims right now.
He gave his head a quick shake to drive his dark thoughts away, and forced a smile onto his face, before knocking lightly. Akito's voice wasn't weak or ill-sounding when he called out, which threw out any number of Shigure's more reasonable theories. He entered warily, and was mildly surprised to see that Akito was already in bed with Kureno tucked in next to him. Only two candles were still lit, making the scene more, more something. Shigure was too tired to think of an appropriate word, and too tired to feel jealous.
Shigure knew, as did all the older juunishi, about Kureno's sleeping arrangements, but it wasn't something that Akito normally flaunted, at least, not when he wanted something. Shigure occasionally wondered if the discretion was something Kureno requested, or if it was because Akito saw the closeness as a weakness somehow, but it was a question that he would never ask. Kureno rested with his head lower than Akito's, looking almost submissive, but the position of the man's arm was clearly protective. However, even though the positioning clearly defined the relationship, Kureno's face showed absolutely nothing. Shigure realized that he really wasn't too tired to feel jealous after all. Shigure hovered uncertainly in the doorway, and bowed almost formally.
"Shigure, come here." Akito's voice had some negative edge to it that Shigure couldn't interpret, but he managed to keep his body language neutral as he walked to the bed, doing his best to ignore Kureno. From above, in the faintly flickering light, Akito looked even more fragile than he did in the full light of day. His hair seemed truly black, and his skin, ethereal, even more like a doll... or a god to be worshipped.
"Shigure." Akito's voice reminded him to kneel.
Shigure dropped to his knees, allowing one arm to rest on the bed. He found himself reluctant to blink, and had to curl his fingers in to keep from reaching to touch. Akito had been so very young the last time Shigure had reacted this way to him. It had been so easy to blindly love that young toddler, back before life had taught Akito cruelty and Shigure caution. Now, it seemed that Shigure was too tired to remember things like caution, and he was inexplicably sad that caution had ever been necessary.
The moment grew too intimate, too meaningful, too intense, and Shigure had to break it. "I came to see you, Akito-san."
"You always have to state the obvious, don't you?" The words should have expressed annoyance, but Akito's tone was affectionate. Perhaps Shigure would have to stare worshipfully at him more often. Before Shigure could think of any sort of a reply, Akito reached for his shoulder and tugged so that Shigure was leaning on the edge of the bed. Shigure twisted his back and neck into a dreadful position just so he could continue watching Akito's face. "Shigure, if you have such a strong urge to be in pain, I can think of more interesting ways to cause it."
He blinked a few times, and then shifted so that his head was resting on his arms, which were lightly pressed against Akito's side. Shigure looked up at Akito and let the expression on his face ask if the position was acceptable. When he received the barest hint of a smile, he settled his weight more fully onto the bed.
This time, Akito stopped the silence from spreading too thin. "How is my Dragon?"
"He is... He is worse than he was this morning, but better than he was in the afternoon." Akito's hand was running through Shigure's hair again, and it took far too much willpower for Shigure to not lean into that hand. "He hasn't really woken up since lunch, but he's been quiet. He's transformed a few times. Oh, and since lunch he's been clinging to us, Aaya and me. We had to get Kyo-" Akito's hand tightened painfully in Shigure's hair. "Him. We had to ask him to stay with Haa-san so that we could get dinner, and-"
Akito interrupted, "Did my Monster take off his beads?"
"Yes. Well, he allowed them to be removed." Shigure suppressed a wince at the appellation, or perhaps at the pain from having a steady pull on his hair.
"How did you convince him?"
"I don't know. I suggested that he was the better choice because Yuki is so susceptible to colds and such... I didn't ask him why."
Akito finally stopped pulling, but the motions of his hand took on a weighing quality. "And that is why my Dragon is better?"
"I believe so, Akito-san. I only know that things are different with the Cat, not how. I don't know if we should ask him again though. He seemed very... drained by it."
"If I asked you to stay a night with me, would you?" The games began without warning.
"Of course, I would, Akito-san." Shigure answered without thinking, or noticing that the steps had begun.
"If I asked you to stay tonight?"
Shigure took a deep breath, and then answered carefully. "If you asked, I would express my doubts that Ayame could watch over Haa-san on his own."
"And if I asked again for my Dog to stay with me?"
"Then your Dog would stay." And the man would be divided. Shigure was drawn too thin, was just too tired, to keep a small hint of reluctance from slipping into his voice.
"Why?" Akito asked the question that the Sohmas so often avoided.
Shigure wasn't sure if the sharp intake of breath he heard was his own or Kureno's, just as he wasn't sure if it was his words or his tone that were being questioned. "Why? Because, you asked me to take care of Hatori, and to make sure I wouldn't be distracted from doing so. If you were to ask me to stay, I would have to presume that the new request was more important to you than the old one. And 'sides," Shigure broke off to yawn before continuing, "it's comf'terble here." Shigure's brain froze, and he tried to figure out if he'd really just said that. It seemed that his habit of acting greedily childish was catching up with him at the worst possible time. If only he wasn't so drained.
"You do seem very concerned with your own comforts, don't you, Shigure? One would almost wonder why you would go to the inconvenience of looking after your cousins." Akito's voice ran like water through Shigure's mind, and it was so tempting to just agree.
"Mmm... no. Need them. Need you, too. You're a cousin, too. Need you all to be ok. The whole pack matters." It felt so right to be there, and the floor wasn't all that uncomfortable....
"Shigure, sit up."
"Shigure. Sit. Up."
He blinked groggily a few times, and finally moved. "I'm sorry, Akito-san. I didn't..." didn't mean to almost fall asleep? Shigure managed to wake up enough to start worrying again.
With Shigure out of reach, Akito started running a hand along Kureno's back. Shigure tried to remember if Akito was normally anywhere near this tactile. "Have you arranged to have more help with Hatori tomorrow?"
This time Shigure managed to follow the topic change. "Yes, Akito-san. Ri'chan is coming in the morning, and I'm going to ask Yuki-kun to tell Ha-kun and Momiji at school. Um, where is Momiji, anyway?"
Kureno spoke for the first time. "He went to Kisa's right after school. Something about a Mogeta marathon."
Shigure's face twitched. That show was spectacularly bad, and really only viewable when it was accompanied by Hiro's scathing commentary.
Akito scowled. "The children are forbidden to watch it anywhere I might overhear any of that drivel." For a moment, the three adults were in silent agreement over the horrors of children's programming. "Shigure, will you and Ayame be enough for tonight?"
Shigure hesitated before answering. "I think so, Akito-san? Ky- er, the Cat seemed to have really helped him, but Haa-san was almost violent in the way he clung to Aaya after."
"I see." Akito frowned slightly, lost in some calculation that only he would understand. The only sign that he was even alive was the faint rise and fall of his chest, and the hand moving on Kureno's back. Shigure's mind started slipping back into rapt fascination with the play of light and flickering shadows across Akito's face.
Akito moved abruptly; his hand seemed to leap from Kureno's back to the man's hair, and suddenly Akito's mouth was pressed to Kureno's. Shigure sat there in shock, not managing to think much beyond "Ooh, pretty," with a touch of "Why do I have to see this?" thrown in for good measure. Maybe he should start entertaining the idea of approaching Kureno.... It took a very long time for Shigure to realize that what he was seeing wasn't so much a kiss as a... sharing of air. Other than a flexing of Kureno's hand every few moments, they didn't move.
Kureno was just starting to tremble when Akito broke off the contact, and his motions held that same lethargy that Kyo had suffered earlier. Akito beckoned Shigure with a gesture, and Shigure had to give himself a shake to move again. He wasn't quite sure what he'd seen, but it had been too beautiful for words. He moved forward, eager to touch, yet uncertain of what to do.
Akito's hands were gentle on his face, but almost painfully hot. Surprised concern flickered across Shigure's face, but it was lost as he met Akito's eyes. Akito was utterly and totally compelling, and his slate gray eyes slowly became Shigure's world. This close, he could see tiny flecks of green and black, and other colors that had no names. Shigure's sharply indrawn breath tasted of heat, life and.... Akito deliberately breathed across Shigure's lips, and Shigure shook with the conflicting needs to throw himself into that warmth and to obey Akito's controlling hands.
The rush from Akito's lips touching his own was moonlit races with his pack, triumph baying at the stars, and sunlit naps in the summer. It was everything good about living, everything good that his human body knew from the so-called curse. Somewhere underneath it all was the scent, for lack of better word, that Shigure associated with Kureno.
Akito pulled back far too soon, but perhaps later than he should have. Shigure felt alert and ready to run races, but Akito was clearly tired as he snuggled back against Kureno. Shigure should have had a mental stutter at thinking about Akito snuggling, but his mind was too active to pause now. Not worrying about the liberties he must be taking, Shigure carefully tucked the blankets around Akito's shoulders, and listened to the orders his kami was giving him.
Just because the Dog will make a point of knowing everything about you, it does not follow that he will allow you to know everything about himself.
-Sohma Jiro, Tiger, 1874
Kyo couldn't help feeling pleased at how Tohru hovered over him, even if just watching her made him even more tired. How she could have so much energy after all the work she'd done, Kyo would never know. On the other hand, she'd tucked her jacket around him, and it smelled very nice. Then again, she was hovering and seemed incredibly determined to help him, which was slightly insulting for some reason. He couldn't summon up the energy to do much more than glare at her, and Tohru seemed to take that as permission to continue. It might have helped if he had the energy to think in complete sentences, but there was something hovering at the edge of his consciousness that he just needed to not face.
She suddenly eep'd and vanished into the kitchen, leaving him alone with Yuki.
Yuki was looking towards the kitchen, but his voice was only for Kyo's ears. "How bad is he?"
"Anyone else would be in a hospital." Kyo also kept his voice low, but he didn't think he could be loud right now if he wanted to. Either way, Tohru was worried enough already.
"Did it hu-" Yuki cut off the question as Tohru came back through the room with a tray. She knocked at the bedroom, and then entered. Yuki waited for the door to swing shut. "You know, nii-san was much less annoying than usual."
Kyo made a noncommittal noise that really meant that he agreed. "Shigure is up to something."
"Yes, he is." Yuki sounded distant enough to make Kyo wonder just what else Shigure had done.
Tohru came back out before Kyo could think of how to ask for more information. His eyes narrowed, and his fur stood up on end when Tohru set a bowl of soup in front of him. He was not that weak, dammit! Although, the soup did smell really good, and it would be a shame to waste Tohru's cooking. He glanced over at Yuki and Tohru, to make sure they weren't watching, but they were already pulling out the homework assignment Kyo had done before dinner.
He should at least taste the soup, since it didn't smell like leeks. Not bad. Maybe a second taste would also be a good idea. The soup was actually better. Would it improve again on the third taste? Before Kyo realized it, he had his face pushed into the bowl and had licked it clean.
A strange noise, like a giggle, caught his attention, and he peeked around the edge of the bowl. Tohru was watching him with that expression normally reserved for puppies and sleeping babies. If she said anything about him being cute.... "Did you like the soup, Kyo-kun?"
"Um, yeah, it was ok." Kyo was so glad that he couldn't blush in cat form. It was way too disconcerting when she smiled at people like that.
"I'm so glad! Ayame-san suggested that you might like it." There were twin thuds as Yuki dropped his book, and Kyo dropped the bowl. Tohru suddenly frowned. "Oops. I wasn't supposed to say that. You don't mind, do you?" Tohru looked imploringly at Kyo.
Mind? To mind, he'd have to process the concept! He probably would have stared in shock at Tohru for another five minutes, if he hadn't poofed back into human form right then.
Tohru predictably jerked around in horror, covered her eyes, and insisted she hadn't looked. There was something that was either wrong or endearing about how she could face the monster-him, but she couldn't face a naked-him. Kyo tried to puzzle it out, so he wouldn't think about how much effort it was taking for him to get dressed again. He was settling his shirt over his stomach, when Yuki asked Tohru about some detail of the assignment they were working in, signaling that it was safe for her to turn around.
Kyo settled back on the couch, and listened to them talk. Yuki was just so good at talking to her. He never seemed to hurt her feelings or give the impression he was upset with her. Kyo closed his eyes, and tried to figure out just which words Yuki was using that let him do it. It had to be a simple trick, since so many other people could also do it. It couldn't be something as simple as smiling, could it? Kyo scowled, and risked a quick peak at Yuki. Nope, Yuki wasn't smiling; in fact, he seemed to be glaring at the textbook.
Kyo frowned some more, and tried to get comfortable on the couch. It wasn't a bad couch, but it just wasn't the same as a roof for clearing his head. The stuffy room seemed to be muddling his head; he just couldn't put his thoughts together correctly. He yawned, and shifted down farther onto the couch. The last thing he thought coherently was something about not expecting to be able to take over the whole couch.
Kyo was jolted awake by Shigure's return. The idiot was bouncing around like an extra-hyper Momiji. He was also talking almost as fast as Ayame normally did--apparently no mere human could match the Snake's tongue for speed. "You're all still here? Good! Thank you for coming by! Yuki-kun, don't worry about Akito wanting to see you: he's far too tired right now. Kyo-kun, thank you again for staying with Haa-san! Or did I say thank you yet? Anyway, thank you! And Tohru-kun, thank you, too! That soup smells deeeeee-licious! I'm sure Haa-san loved it!"
Kyo didn't quite know how to handle Shigure acting this way. Yuki looked somewhere between relieved that he wouldn't see Akito, and panicked that Akito even knew he was on the estate. Tohru was blushing, but couldn't actually manage to say anything self-depreciating, because Shigure was still talking. "So, yes, thank you all of you. And would one of you make sure to tell Haa-kun and Momiji at school tomorrow? We need one of them to come by tomorrow night. I'd ask you all to come back, but school is very important, ne? So yes, we'll need one of them. And you should all study instead of trekking all the way over here. Unless we call you, but we shouldn't need to. And now, you should all be heading home, because it's getting late, and you all have school in the morning." Shigure stopped talking rather abruptly and looked at them expectantly.
Kyo gave him a death glare from the couch, and very nearly rolled over to go back to sleep, except that he didn't quite trust Shigure enough to turn his back on him. When Tohru spoke up, it was in protest. "But, Shigure-san, Kyo-kun doesn't seem to be feeling well. It took a really long time for him to change back from being a cat, and he didn't even bring a jacket! What if he's sick too?"
Kyo glared at everyone impartially. He hated being talked about as if he wasn't there, even if Tohru was trying to be nice, but he was also fairly sure that he wasn't capable of walking all the way home.
"Hmm, Tohru-kun, you may have a point." Shigure tilted his head at Kyo. "Ne, Kyo-kun, do you think you can stand?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Kyo bristled. He really didn't like that gleam in Shigure's eyes.
Shigure gave him that horrible, fake-hurt look and whined. "Kyo-kun doesn't trust me! I'm sure Kyo-kun could get home if he's got the energy to stand, but he won't even try it!"
"Stop it! Idiot!" Kyo shoved himself up from the couch with every intention of beating that look off Shigure's face. He had absolutely no idea exactly how he suddenly found himself running into Tohru. Much later, he was able to figure out that he had been very weak at the time, and she had probably gotten up to interfere somehow, so Shigure had just pushed him into the girl. At that time, all he knew was one moment he was ready to seriously maim the so-called adult, and the next he was a fluffy orange cat that was still ready to maim Shigure. He just couldn't get out of Tohru's grip.
"See? Problem solved! Tohru-kun can carry Kyo-kun, and Yuki-kun can carry Tohru-kun's backpack." Shigure was smiling as if he'd just worked out a way to have world peace, or--more likely with his perverted mind--high school girls parading past him all the time. More disturbingly, Shigure easily dodged the punch Yuki threw at him for threatening Tohru.
Kyo had to admit that seeing Yuki look at his fist as thought it betrayed him was amusing, but everything was getting too damn weird for his tired mind. "Fine. Whatever. Wake me in time for school." He made a show of settling into Tohru's lap to sleep.
"Stupid Cat! How do you know we won't just drop you in the forest somewhere?" Yuki turned on Kyo, probably because Kyo was taking the liberty of, well, taking over Tohru's lap.
"If you do that, at least I won't have to-" Kyo interrupted himself with a yawn, "-see your ugly face when I wake up, damn Rat." His eyes refused to stay open any longer, and he returned to the nice comfortable place that was sleep. Kyo missed the worried looks that Tohru and Yuki exchanged, just as he missed the rest of Shigure hurrying them out the door.
Sensei, you have a bad habit of casually saying things that only pour fuel on the fire.
From Shigure's point of view, he couldn't get those teenagers out of Hatori's house fast enough. It wasn't that he was ungrateful or anything like that; he just had this almost overwhelming urge to grab onto Kyo and share all the extra energy he had with the Cat. Kyo even smelled tired.
Even so, he'd have to find some way to apologize to Tohru for shoving Kyo at her like that. Later. Right now, Shigure needed to raid Hatori's office for writing supplies. In the morning, he would hate himself for leaving these instructions for Ritsu, but he had to be sure that his timid cousin would wake him up.
It was so hard to focus with all the extra energy buzzing through him. He didn't really want to deal with certain calls of nature, nor did he want to take the extra few moments to get a pitcher of water and some cups from the kitchen. He refrained from racing down the hallway only because he didn't want to drop the pitcher. When Hatori was better, Shigure was going to have to run down the hallway just because he kept denying his urges to do so now.
When Shigure entered the room, Ayame jerked out of a light doze and blinked a few times at the clock. "I thought you were going to edit that story."
"I was. Can't concentrate now. Rather be here." It took so much self-control for Shigure to set the tray where it could be reached from the bed. Even though he wanted to fling himself on his cousins--especially the one coughing--he turned away and made himself put on a sleeping robe.
"'Gure-san, is something wrong?" Ayame sounded worried.
Shigure blew out an annoyed sigh and tried to sound gentle when he answered, "No, nothing you don't know about."
"I see." Ayame studied him thoughtfully. "In that case, is something different?"
Shigure had to laugh a little at that. "Aaya, you know me too well. Scoot over. If he's between us and transforms, we might squish him."
Ayame looked doubtful, but did as he was asked while Shigure fidgeted. Shigure was very grateful that Ayame would listen to him on things that concerned Hatori, even if he didn't listen on anything else. And Shigure really couldn't wait much longer to join them; all the extra energy buzzing along his nerves was starting to get painful. Why was it that every gift from Akito was as much a curse as a blessing?
Ayame picked up on his impatience, but managed to contain his questions until Shigure slid into the bed next to him. "'Gure! Are you sure you're okay? You're even hotter than 'Tori is!"
"Well, it's about time you noticed!" Shigure couldn't resist leering at Ayame, even though he knew perfectly well what Ayame meant. He got an elbow in his ribs for the comment, and yipped in pain. "Okay, okay, no flirting when we shouldn't do anything about it." Okay, he deserved that hit, too. He sighed and spooned himself against Ayame's back. He let his hand wander until it found skin on Ayame's arm, and he half buried his face in Ayame's hair to keep from also reaching out to Hatori.
"Shigure. Tell me."
Oh damn, that was his full name. "I think Akito was worried that we won't be enough, but he didn't want to send Kureno. Instead, he... I dunno exactly, he sent some of Kureno's energy with me. He might have sent some of his own as well. He seemed really tired after he did it."
"He can do that?" Ayame sounded stunned, and a little more energetic.
"Apparently. Anyway, you were with Haa-san more than me, so I'd rather let all this extra go into you, instead of possibly overloading his system." The buzzing was finally starting to fade out a bit, and Shigure felt himself relax just a little.
"Could that really happen?"
"I dunno. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to hug you."
"Didn't you just say no flirting?"
"Oops?" Shigure didn't sound very repentant at all as he slowly relaxed against Ayame.
Haru's quote is from Chapter 27, my translation.
In my less kind moments, I sometimes wonder if the Monkey goes around collecting all the personality bits no one else wants to use.
-Sohma Yori, dog, 1963
Just after Ayame returned to the bed, and Shigure left, Hatori woke up again. This time, he woke up fully, instead of lingering half in the fever dreams, for the first time since succumbing to them. The taste of cough syrup lingered in the back of his throat, along with the faint memories of his dreams, to remind him that he was--had been?--sick. He started to stretch from the semi-fetal position he was in, only to be caught by a coughing fit. Still sick then.
Hatori froze when a hand brushed over his forehead. He rolled over carefully and found himself face to face with a quietly worried Ayame.
"There's-" Hatori broke off to cough, tucking his head down so he wouldn't cough directly in Ayame's face. When the fit passed, he didn't try to avoid the glass of water that Ayame placed at his lips. "I feel like I should apologize to you, yet you're in my bed."
Ayame shrugged in a laying down sort of way. "You're sick, 'Tori-san. You need someone to be here." Ayame's voice was oddly soothing, since he was keeping it soft.
Hatori coughed again. "Sorry." He wasn't sure what he was apologizing for.
"Don't be." Something in Ayame's tone made it clear that he meant anything Hatori might think to apologize for.
"How long?" Hatori meant to make the question longer, but this time he was cut short by a sneeze.
"'Gure-san called me this morning."
Hatori couldn't help staring in surprise. He knew that there was no way he should be coherent this soon, if past experiences were anything to go by. "Then how?"
"Maybe you're taking really good cold medicine. Or maybe it's because Kyonkichi sat with you for about an hour."
A dream memory surfaced, suddenly having a context in the real world. "Is that who was ripped away?"
"It hurt. Inside, it hurt." Hatori's whisper was more raw than a mere sore throat could account for. He started coughing again before Ayame could react, and about the time he could breathe easily again, there was a knock on the door.
At first Hatori didn't recognize the person who came in, but it made sense that if Kyo was around, Tohru would be nearby. And whatever was in the bowls she brought in, it smelled wonderful. She balanced her tray carefully as she puzzled over something.
"Tohru-kun, just set the tray over here." Ayame's voice sent little vibrations through Hatori's chest, since they were so close.
"Oh, ok." As she set the tray down, Tohru's eyes met Hatori's, and she smiled nervously. "I hope you feel better soon, Hatori-san. If either of you need anything..."
"We'll call." Ayame reassured her.
"Ok. I hope you like the soup." Tohru turned to go.
"You might want to try to get Kyonkichi to eat something. Food will help him get the energy to change back."
"Oh, thank you for the advice, Ayame-san!" Tohru's face lit up with a genuine smile. Hatori guessed that she was happy to have some way to help out, and she seemed to have a bit more bounce in her step as she left the room.
Once the door closed, Ayame muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "I didn't even notice she was here." Ayame sat up, and looked from the tray to Hatori. "Do you think you can sit up, 'Tori-san?"
Instead of answering, Hatori simply tried to. Something in his sinuses shifted unpleasantly at the motion, but he managed to sit on his own without too much effort. Ayame picked up one bowl of soup, and handed it to Hatori. "Rest against me, 'Tori-san. You'll stay warmer that way. No one is here to see you lean on someone for once."
Hatori's protest died before he could make it, and it was only after he was comfortably settled that he thought of a new reason not to. "Ayame, you can't eat if you're holding me up."
"Don't worry about it. Tohru-kun also brought a small feast. 'Gure-san and I ate while Kyonkichi was with you." Apparently satisfied that Hatori could feed himself, Ayame placed his arms around Hatori in a light embrace. "Besides, right now, we get to worry about you, so stop worrying about us."
"But nothing. Concentrate on getting better, and then you can worry about us all you want."
"But.…" Hatori couldn't let it go, and it was so rare for Ayame to not listen to him.
"'Tori-san, eat. Rest. Don't worry about us, or we will be forced to be our usual genki selves, instead of the considerate nurses we are trying to be. I brought the most lovely nurse's outfit with me, you know." Hatori suppressed a shudder, and stopped trying to argue as Ayame began to explain exactly why the outfit was lovely. It was a little easier than normal to ignore Ayame's words, but the vibrations from the sound were soothing.
Hatori ate slowly, trying to keep the soup's steam from triggering his sinuses further, but he was able to eat everything in the bowl.
He was setting the bowl back down, when Ayame's monologue drew his attention again. "And, 'Tori-san, what did you mean when you said it hurt? How was he ripped away? You let go of him."
"I'm not sure. The fever... but it hurt." Hatori shrugged uncomfortably. He didn't like being this vulnerable, so he looked for a way to change the topic. "I should take advantage of my lucidity while I can."
Hatori began shifting to get up, but Ayame grabbed on to him. "No work."
"I know. Right now, I know, anyway." Hatori winced as he said it, remembering Akito's orders. "But I should, ah, use the facilities while I have a chance of walking on my own."
Apparently remembering some of the more outstanding moments from the last time Hatori was sick, Ayame agreed quickly. "Good point. Let me get your robe."
The task of getting to the toilet was far more complicated than it had any right to be, and by the end of it all, Hatori was shaking, and the room was spinning slightly. Hatori did little more than shake while Ayame tucked him back in, and it took a disturbing amount of willpower for Hatori to keep from latching on to his cousin.
"Do you want me to stay in the bed with you still?" Ayame's voice was carefully neutral, but Hatori couldn't think coherently enough to piece together why.
"Please." The small corner of Hatori's mind that cared about his dignity was very pleased that he didn't sound like he was begging. The rest of his mind just wanted Ayame to stay.
As Ayame wrapped himself around Hatori, the worst of the shivering stopped. "Is this ok?"
Hatori nodded, and tried to ignore the urge to burrow closer. "'M sorry to be such a trouble."
"Don't worry about it, 'Tori-san. 'Gure-san and I make trouble for you all the time. You just save up all the trouble for something big." One of Ayame's hands found its way into Hatori's hair.
"Where is Shigure?"
"He had to talk to Akito. He'll be back soon. Rest." Ayame didn't seem to notice the shiver that Akito's name triggered, and Hatori lost his battle to focus his mind before he could reply.
Hatori floated in a haze of freezing cold and smothering heat, but even in the worst of it, he didn't try to throw off his cousin, instinctively knowing that Ayame was keeping the worst of the cold's effects at bay. He moved as close as he could, welcoming the feel of Ayame's breath across the back of his neck, letting the rhythm soothe away the gnawing loneliness and failure.
At some point while he drifted, a living flame entered the room. That wasn't the best way to describe it, but there was something warm and alive that Hatori wanted to be close to. His arms were too tangled in the blankets for him to reach out to it--no, to him. Hatori could hear that words were being spoken, but the meaning was lost to him, and he slipped fully back into dreams of deserts and rivers and walls.
The golden wall was back, no longer cracking, but not as strong as before. In the dream Hatori abandoned any cares about dignity, and burrowed deeply into it, wrapping himself in the heat and affection that made up the wall.
From within the golden safety, Hatori could see a sun move closer. This sun was not the hated, burning sun that was still somewhere in the sky, but a welcome protective sun, and it twined itself around the golden wall. Hatori watched, entranced, as the sun slowly became the dark brownish-gray wall from before. The gold grew brighter, but not so much that it obscured the second wall.
Hatori found himself shifting restlessly. The golden wall was warm and affectionate and so many wonderful things, that Hatori should have been satisfied, but he wasn't. That muddy gray wall wasn't nearly so comfortable, but it made him feel safe in a way that the gold didn't. Never minding the laws of physics, or those of logic, Hatori wanted both, and knew with the logic borne of dreams that he could have both if only he could figure out how.
Awake and healthy, Hatori would have been appalled by his greed, but to his fevered mind, he was only looking for what he needed to heal. Asleep, he could admit to the need. And, asleep, he could pursue it.
Burrowing straight through the gold to the brown didn't work. The golden light shifted around him, and the effort only left him gasping and shivering with tiredness. He tried to wait, to recover his strength, but he could barely bring himself to hold still. When his arms didn't tremble with the slightest movement, Hatori began feeling his way through the golden wall. He found quickly that what he saw and what he felt did not match up very well.
By accident, his fingers moved over a thin patch in the stream of golden light, and he grabbed onto the brown by instinct. The walls responded by thrashing violently, and not only did Hatori lose his grip on the muddy brown, he nearly fell out of the gold.
Terrified that he would be abandoned to the desert again, Hatori clung to the gold with all his remaining strength, even after it settled back around him. The brownish gray wall was gone when he looked out. He always seemed to do the wrong thing, always made people leave. He deserved to be alone, for always hurting people. He couldn't be trusted.
Around him, the golden light shivered, the warmth and gentle caring suddenly invaded by a deep sorrow and a need to offer comfort. The denial was wordless, but adamant; Hatori wasn't alone; Hatori deserved to be loved; Hatori should have happiness for himself.
No, the words whispered from the depths of his mind, no, that's not possible. I drove everyone away. I drove Yuki away from the house. I drove Kana away. Akito sent me away because he can't leave. I can't even hold onto the ones that want to help me. I hurt them. I drive them away.
The denial this time was two fold as warmth enfolded Hatori from behind. The brownish-gray protection was tinted with compassion this time, and it wrapped itself tightly around Hatori, sparing him the confusion of trying to hold tightly to two things in opposite directions.
Protected, comforted and most assuredly not alone, Hatori finally drifted into a dreamless sleep.
Something was poking Shigure in the nose. He tried to roll over and maintain his pleasant state of unconsciousness, but the poking thing followed. Poke. Poke. Poke. Shigure bared his teeth and growled. The poking stopped, so he settled back and tried to sleep again. Just as he got comfortable, the poking resumed. Poke. Poke. Shigure suddenly snapped up his head to catch the offending poke thingy in his teeth. At the slightly panicked, but oddly quiet "eep," Shigure finally opened his eyes to see a very startled Ritsu at about an arm's length from his face.
Arm's length. Ritsu. Something poking. Shigure brought up his paws to- Paws? Oh! He released Ritsu's hand, and yawned. When he finished, Ritsu was still kneeling, and looking like he was trying very hard not to say anything. "Sorry. I should have warned you that I don't always wake up so well. Thank you for following the instructions. Let me grab some clothes, and we can go out to the living room to talk." Shigure wondered just when in the night he had transformed, because he was fairly sure he hadn't woken up when it happened. He had a vague memory of when Ayame did, but fortunately Hatori had stayed human. Unfortunately, Hatori's coughing and reacting to fever dreams had not made for a restful sleep for the trio, even after Shigure moved so that Hatori was cradled between them. Shigure thought he might have bruises on his ribs from Hatori's elbows.
Ritsu kept his hand over his mouth and nodded. Then, Ritsu pointed at the sleeping Snake who was twined around Hatori's arm and gave a questioning shrug.
Shigure shook his head. "Not yet. Someone has to stay with Haa-san, and Aaya's even harder to wake up than I am." Shigure forced himself to his feet, grabbed up his robes in his mouth and slowly padded to the door.
A quiet Ritsu was a marvelous, if boring, thing, Shigure thought as he flopped onto the couch. "Ri'chan, would you bring the phone over here and dial the kitchens for me? Just set the receiver down on the couch. Oh, right, have you eaten?" Since Ritsu shook his head, Shigure ordered up three hearty breakfasts and some light soup.
He didn't really notice when Ritsu hung up the phone for him because he was starting to fall back to sleep. He barely realized he was falling asleep before he completely lost consciousness again. Clearly, he had calculated something wrong yesterday, and it would take drastic measures to keep him awake. "Ok, Ri'chan. You can talk now, but you have to keep your voice down." When had Ritsu settled to kneel next to the couch?
"I'm sorry I was so late in getting here. I shouldn't have left you and Ayame-niisan to do all the work." Ritsu did indeed keep his voice down.
"You arrived exactly when I asked you to, so don't apologize for that." Shigure cut him off. He would have to resist getting Ritsu worked up, for Hatori's sake, and that would make seeing Ritsu much more tedious than normal.
"But I'm sure there is something I should apologize for! Oh! I apologize for being so unreliable that you couldn't stand to have me here sooner!" Ritsu's voice was slowly growing louder.
"Ritsu. Stop." Shigure couldn't keep the growl out of his voice. "Sorry, I shouldn't growl at you. No. Stop or I'll bite you until you agree to not talk anymore. Anything that is not right about this situation is wholly and completely my fault for miscalculating how severe Hatori's illness is. After last night, I was hoping that we would be past the worst, but again, I was wrong. And you are absolutely not to get yourself so worked up that you start screaming. Right now, Hatori seems to find loud noises very painful."
The conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a serving girl carrying a heavy-looking tray. Ritsu leapt up to help her with it, and Shigure was stunned that the Monkey only apologized once for the inconvenience to her. He watched as Ritsu took the tray and set it on Hatori's coffee table. Now that he thought about it, the fact that Ritsu was wearing men's clothes instead of traditional female garb was an excellent sign. Hell, the fact that Ritsu was on the family estate was an excellent sign. But it did seem that Ritsu was ever so slowly starting to gain confidence in himself.
Ritsu was sorting out the dishes, when he glanced questioningly at Shigure. "Set mine on the floor. I'll probably be stuck like this until after I eat. You might say I'm dog-tired." Ritsu gave the joke a half-hearted smile, which was more than it deserved. Yes, Ritsu was definitely improving. Tohru had laid the foundation, though she would never be convinced of it, but it seemed that Ritsu had managed to do some of the growing on his own since then.
Shigure slid off the couch--he meant to climb, but he was too tired to do anything that involved being coordinated--and half buried his face in the first dish Ritsu had set down for him. He was so intent on his food that he missed Ritsu's question. "Er, I missed that. What did you ask, Ri'chan?"
Ritsu blushed and poked at his food. "Where are the others?"
"Which others?" Shigure had no idea what Ritsu was asking about.
"The rest of the juunishi." It was almost an indistinct mumble.
"Oh, let's see. Yuki-kun, Haa-kun, Momiji, 'Sa-chan, and Hiro-kun are all at school, or on their way there right now. Kagura-san is at college, and I didn't even call her because I don't want to interrupt her studies.” Shigure ignored the fact that he was interrupting Ritsu’s studies. “Kureno is with Akito, I assume. Rin is still... recovering from her fall. The rest of us are here. Oh, right, and Kyo-kun is also at school, unless he was too tired to go." Shigure paused and counted. "Yes, that's all of us." Shigure turned his attention back to eating.
When Shigure glanced up, he saw that Ritsu was sitting there, looking very stunned. Maybe he had just realized how much trust Shigure was putting in him. Or maybe the breakfast was just that good. Not normally one to pass up an opportunity, Shigure did some mental gymnastics of Olympic caliber, and fought off the urge to say anything entertaining. "Is something wrong with the food, Ri'chan?"
"Huh, no. It's good. Very good. See, I'm eating. Sorry to worry you." Ritsu started eating again, which was ever so much better than his rants about how he wasn't worthy to have food wasted on him.
"Mmm... That's good. I don't suppose there's another dish for me?" Ritsu removed the empty plate and set down a new one. "Thank you! It shouldn't be this tiring to just sit with someone, but he needs to draw energy from us, so it's really important that we eat well right now. Last night, Kyo only sat with him for an hour or so, but the boy was too tired to walk home on his own. Haa-san really needs us at our best right now. He's counting on us to get him through this." Shigure would have kept talking, but he switched back into human form at that moment. Well, hopefully, Ritsu had gotten the idea that he would be quite the opposite of a waste of space today.
He got back into his clothes fairly quickly, and then lifted his plate to the table. "Oh good, I can use chopsticks again." He was too tired to stay in serious family-protector-and-manipulator mode, so he switched back to being a (quiet) melodramatic clown, and spent the rest of the meal lamenting the fact that the food at the estate wasn't as good as Tohru's cooking.