Title: Coming of Age
Author: Celeste
Feedback: (Yes!) keviesprincess@netscape.net
Rating: PG-13 for yaoi themes and implied NCS
Pairings: Really indirect mentions of Haru/Yuki
Summary: Companion piece to "The Price of Peace and Quiet," "Healer," and "Storyteller"- Shigure finally confronts his unavoidable rite of passage.
Spoilers: Not that I know of, really. I've only seen the anime, so whatever's going on in the Manga is completely unknown to me.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my sad, twisted scenario. As far as I know, anyway… *sweatdrop*
Dedication: Mel, because I'm going to make up for quality with quantity.
A/N: So, I know I suck, and I apologize. *sweatdrop* I wanted to try and do Shigure justice just once. Still working on that, apparently. But hopefully I did better this time than last time. Ooh, and it's not POV, which I'm also proud of, because I should stop doing those. Apologies for OOCness, bastardization, subject matter, randomness and stupidity.
Distribution: Just lemme know.

~~~~~~~

Shigure never wanted to grow up.

It wasn't because he was innately irresponsible or lazy, as his cousin Hatori had constantly accused him of being during high school when he would steal the other boy's notebook and hastily copy down those thrice damned science notes or last night's impossible calculus homework. It wasn't because of anything like that. And it also wasn't because he felt he was beyond the societal conventions of maturity and limitation that Ayame sometimes believed he was when he arbitrarily closed his little fetish shop during what were supposed to be normal operating hours because he refused to be a slave to the torrential whims of an evil free market. It wasn't for any reason like that. Shigure liked to think he was less practical than Ha-san but slightly more so than Aya.

He didn't want to grow up because he saw it as one of the singularly most destructive acts of all time.

He always believed that growing up meant cutting oneself off from a crucial innocence that allowed one a window into dreams, that let one imagine and fantasize unhindered by the dregs of adulthood. To him, maturing to outgrow the imaginary play of his childhood and the fantastic whims of his young mind would be too much like slamming his eyes and ears shut to the world, like closing off his connection to everything in life that held beauty and wonder while he was forced to tackle more pressing matters, like work or responsibility.

He loved beauty and the wide-eyed wonder of a child that saw everything in that particularly beautiful light. To be able to never grow up, to never have to shut himself off from that part of his soul, was one of his most precious things.

He always wanted to be able to be mystified by life, to take enjoyment from little things and to laugh unhindered by anything other than his need for oxygen.

Shigure loved things like that. Small pleasures and childlike wonder, lighthearted, honest laughter.

He loved to laugh.

He thought, he always thought that he'd be able to hold on to that. He may have physically moved beyond the years of his carefree youth and was indeed, a man who had a home and charges in his care which meant he needed to earn a living, but he liked to believe that despite those small changes, the spark of young life that remained burning bright within him would never extinguish. It was how he always wanted to be, what he always wanted to share with the world.

It was why he wrote.

He wanted to write about wonderful things, about the infinite wealth of beautiful things that true life had to offer everyone. He wanted to write to make people happy, to help them see the world through his stories in the same way that he and millions of little children everywhere saw it- full of endless possibility and boundless joy. That was also why he believed that stories should have a good ending, that they should always leave the audience something to be hopeful about, something to look forward to. To smile for.

Because life was beautiful.

And he wanted to share how beautiful it was with everyone else.

"I write true life novels." That was why he wrote.

Not because he was an unrealistic dreamer with a head full of air like the elders in the family had sometimes accused him of being, wanting him to be more practical like Hatori and use the talents he did possess towards some productive ends for the great Sohma family. "Try and make something of your life, Shigure. For the family."

It wasn't that he didn't want to help the family. He did. He loved his family. In addition to his dreams, his family was his other most precious thing.

He would always love his family, and would use his abilities to help it whenever he could in his own way.

But he didn't want to be what they wanted. He couldn't.

Because…

…he had too many beautiful things to share with the world.

His parents had constantly barraged him with argument after argument that included in some way, his going off to college to make something 'real' of himself.

"Gure… we want you to be the family lawyer."

"Eh? Why?"

"Why not? It makes sense, doesn't it? You've always liked reading. And you're always turning us around with those words you love to play with so much. Why not use it for the benefit of your family?"

"Ne…but papa, that sounds soooo boring! Heehee, but I did get a funny picture of you and mama spinning around in a field of daisies and holding a dictionary…"

"Could you try and be serious for once? Listen to your father…please…"

"I was listening, mama! If I wasn't, I wouldn't have heard the part about turning words and the image wouldn't have…"

"See that? You do that all the time. Why not make a job of it? Go to school and learn how to do it right… and then come home and work for the family. Make something useful of yourself, Shigure. Prove us wrong."

"There's really nothing better, Gure. You'll be right out of school and already have a job, a place to stay. It makes so much sense!"

"And your cousin is doing the same…Hatori will become the family doctor."

"He's a very sensible boy."

"You should try to be more like him."

"You're both 18 now. But he's the only one that's grown up!"

"Please… just try a little harder, Shigure."

The conversation had dragged on like that for some time, he remembered. Their favorite argument was that it was like he was fated to fill that specific role and that he should latch on to it, to the opportunity to have a real job in the real world that he could do well in and that would guarantee him some form of financial security at the same time. He just had to take it.

He just had to grow up.

Shigure didn't want that. He'd never wanted to lose himself. Not for the sake of a job, for obligations other than those he felt he owed himself first.

"I'm going to be a writer."

Because he hadn't want to lose his ability to imagine. To dream. Ever.

Hatori had asked him once, when he would finally become serious about life and put his feet on the ground.

Shigure had giggled and picked a flower, twirled it and marveled at it between his fingertips. "Never, Ha-san! Never ever! Ever!"

"Why not?"

"Because you're so serious all the time! It's enough for three people, ne? Besides, someone has to dream for the both of us! Hee hee."

"I don't understand you, sometimes."

"But you still love me, ne?"

"…"

"Kah! I love you too, Ha-san!"

"Get off of me, you idiot, I have to study!!"

Every time Hatori asked him that, Shigure answered the same way. He would wrap his arms around the other man tightly and smile, promising that he had imagination enough for the both of them and that because he loved Ha-san so, he would never give it up. "Never ever!" Not if he could help it.

"You'll never be responsible, will you?"

"Aa. Because I love Ha-san so much. Teehee." *heart*

"Everyone has to grow up some time, Shigure. You'll see."

Shigure hadn't believed that.

At the time.

At the time, he'd thought Hatori was being his usual cranky self because their first semester college exams were upon them and that the dragon would get over it once he was handed back his flawless report card and a pat on the back from the chancellor.

So he hadn't believed it. He didn't believe it then and continued not to for many years after that.

There was just no way. You didn't have to grow up.

Because if you did…

…well, that would be horribly sad.

You'd lose so much. You'd forget how wonderful playing action figures in the mud had been or how you'd put a frog in the teacher's desk and laughed with the rest of the class when she screamed. You'd stop chasing bubbles and petting strangers' dogs when you passed them at the park. You'd stop eating sweets because you knew it would rot your teeth and you wouldn't read the comics in the mornings anymore because you'd moved beyond them.

You'd stop seeing things and wonder, "What if…"

You wouldn't dream anymore.

And that was horrible.

So he'd disregarded Hatori's warning, smiled and hugged his roommate closer, saying,

"Don't say such scary things, Ha-san. Everything will work out, ne?"

Many years later, Shigure had somehow managed to stay true to his word, had followed his own dreams and found a way, somehow, to dig out a living without losing that important spark within him. That youthful love of life.

"I write true life novels."

At that point, he had been absolutely positive that Hatori had been wrong. Things weren't perfect, but they were working out to be pretty good.

And there were still endless possibilities.

Life had been beautiful.

But he may have been too quick to come to his conclusions.

Because over the course of two late night phone calls…

…he learned that Hatori had been right all along.

"Hello?"

"…Shigure…?"

"Ha-san?"

"Did I wake you?"

"Yes you did. I was having a greeeat dream and there was a biiiiig flan with caramel sauce all over and every time a wind blew by it would wiggle a little like it was doing a big caramel flan dance, and I was going to eat it but…"

"Shigure…please… don't…"

"Ha-san…is something the matter?"

Something that sounded suspiciously like a sob in response had made the author's hands turn cold, he remembered forgetting everything that had to do with his delicious flan dream and gripping the receiver tighter, knowing something horrific must have happened for Hatori to make a noise like that.

"Ha-san?"

"God…Shigure…"

"What happened?"

"Haru…"

One year ago last Monday was a day Shigure had considered the worst day of his life. After that day, he felt a little of the joy he'd been protecting so adamantly over the years flicker and die just a bit.

Four in the morning on a school night and the dog had had to hold his own tears in check as he'd quietly trekked up the stairs of his home and slid into a sleeping boy's bedroom to quickly rouse him awake.

He hadn't had time to explain any details beyond the fact that something was horribly wrong and Hatori had called them both a cab to take them to the main house. He remembered trying his best to comfort his charge as they'd waited to be picked up, had held the boy's head against his chest and like a parent, murmured in his ear a series of empty platitudes like,

"Yuki, don't worry. I'm sure…I'm sure everything will be…okay.

Please…don't cry."

That had been a horrible day.

He had felt so helpless when they'd arrived, when he'd looked into Hatori's eyes and saw that the other man looked like he had aged ten years under the weight of his bone-weariness. He wondered what his own face must have looked like to the doctor.

"Ha-san… everything will work out, ne?"

He'd reached out to touch his friend's tired cheek in a silent attempt to offer some form of comfort, his own eyes striving to convey a willingness to help in whatever way possible.

Something that looked like a mixture of relief and immense sadness had washed over the dragon's features at that point as Hatori had wrapped him in a strong hug, and Shigure couldn't help but feel as if the other man were apologizing for the fact that his words to the dog many years ago were suddenly beginning to become the truth.

"Everyone has to grow up some time, Shigure. You'll see."

Shigure remembered feeling his age, that night.

But Hatori looked so much older all of a sudden.

It was as if everything beautiful in life had been drained out of him.

Shigure didn't know what to do other than wrap his arms around the other man tightly in response, to smile and promise himself that even though it hurt so horribly right now, he still had joy enough for the both of them and that because he loved Ha-san so, he would never give it up, even after all of this.

"Never ever!"

Not if he could help it.

That had made him feel a little better. He'd believed then that despite the burden he and Hatori were jointly accepting, there was still enough left inside of him to dream for them both.

It would just be a little bit harder.

Life seemed a little bit less beautiful now.

But Shigure could always try harder.

"Just try a little harder, Shigure."

And so he had. He'd tried very hard to make life beautiful again. To keep his eyes and his ears open, to chase bubbles and pet puppies and eat sweets and read comics as often as possible.

To be able to never grow up, to never have to shut himself off from that part of his soul, was one of his most precious things.

He didn't want to lose that. "Never ever!"

It was harder after that night, after that phone call. Harder to laugh or smile after that. Harder after he'd moved a futon into his office so Haru could sleep in his room and harder in the evenings when everyone was having supper together and it was so quiet that Kyou would storm off in a confused, worried huff and Tohru was extra accommodating without knowing that it bothered Yuki.

"Dammit! I don't understand what the hell is going on here. I'm not hungry anymore."

"Ah…does anyone want more tea? Oh, Shigure-san, I'll get you more rice. I made a red-bean cake for dessert and…"

"Ah, that's wonderful, Tohru-kun! Isn't it, Yuki? Haru?"

"...Aa…"

"…"

"Er…ooh! You'll never guess, I saw the most beautiful thing on my walk today…"

"I'm not hungry anymore. Please excuse me."

"Me too."

"…the most beautiful thing today... *sigh* "Ah…I'll have some of that cake, Tohru-kun."

It had been hard, but he kept trying.

He never gave up because that would mean losing something very precious.

And not just for him. But for the people most precious to him as well.

There still had to be something beautiful in the world for them. He'd wanted to find it, tried very, very hard.

"Just try a little harder, Shigure."

Last Monday, he'd gotten another phone call.

And suddenly, life lost even more of its beauty. Perhaps all of it.

"Hello?"

"Shigure…"

"Ha-san?"

"…"

"What's the matter?"

No jokes this time. No wonderful story about a giant, wiggly dessert or the fanciful dreams in which it had been featured.

"Shigure, something terrible has happened…"

Akito was gone.

But not without taking two precious young boys with him.

Though they still lived, it seemed that everything beautiful about them, about their lives, had been snatched up by the family head's bloody arms and whisked away to the afterlife with him, where he could hoard that light and watch as those he'd taken it from lived like death for the rest of their lives.

Suddenly, life didn't seem so beautiful anymore.

At all.

And Shigure hadn't known what to do. Could only once more, take one boy's head and lay it on his shoulder like his mother had done to him a long time ago as he whispered,

"Haru, don't worry. I'm sure…I'm sure everything will be…okay.

Please…don't cry."

He didn't know what else to do. He'd never been the adult, had never grown up quite enough to know what there was for him to do in the face of something like that.

Hatori had naturally taken charge, had done his job as a doctor and now stood aside as the single remaining point of authority regarding the whole sordid mess, the characteristics of the natural leader he had always been pushing him to the forefront of the family stage in its time of greatest need. Hatori knew what to do. Even if it killed him, he knew what he had to do.

"He's a very sensible boy."

They expected him to take care of things, the family did. He'd always been the most grown up one amongst his generation, the reliable, reasonable caretaker. The mature one who they could trust.

Akito was dead. Yuki had…

…done something horrible.

And everyone was coming apart just a little bit. No one knew what to do, how to take care of what had come to pass.

They seemed so lost.

Hatori was always the responsible one.

And this… this was such an enormous responsibility.

Who else could have been expected to take care of it?

"For the family."

There quite simply, had been no one else.

Shigure hadn't known what to do either. But he knew that he had to help.

That was the only thing he did know.

"Make something useful of yourself, Shigure."

He had to help here, had to stand beside his best friend and his charges, be mature, help take care of everything so that it didn't completely crumble apart. There was too much for one person to handle here, too much ugliness.

There needed to be more than one adult.

It was true that to be able to never grow up, to never have to shut himself off from that hopeful, beautiful part of his soul had always been one of his most precious things.

But Hatori was also very precious.

"Ha-san… don't worry. I'm sure…I'm sure everything will be…okay.

Please…don't cry."

In the face of this tragedy, Shigure's family needed him. He cared too deeply for Hatori to make the doctor shoulder the burdens of their horror alone. He couldn't let that happen, no matter the price.

No matter the cost. Even if it took one of his most precious things.

As long as it saved the other.

"Because I love Ha-san so much."

So this was how it had come to be. His rite of passage… his coming of age.

Shigure Sohma had finally been forced to take responsibility and grow up.

"Everyone has to grow up some time, Shigure."

He was an adult now.

END