"Shigure-sensei?" The front door slammed. And then there were running footsteps pounding along the hallway. Then a white-haired figure burst through the living room, clutching the sliding door for support as he gasped for air. "Sensei?"

"Hatsuharu-san!" Tohru looked up in surprise. Her eyes widened even more when she saw the little girl on Haru's back, clinging to his neck for dear life. "Kisa-san!"

Haru was panting, still out of breath. "We came as soon as we heard."

Then he saw Shigure lying so quietly on the floor. He let Kisa scramble off him before dropping onto his knees, staring at his older cousin in concern. "Daijoubu-ka, sensei?"

"Ha-kun...you came..." Shigure smiled wanly. He freed one hand from the precious grip around his middle to affectionately ruffle Kisa's hair. " I'm sorry, 'Sa-chan...I'm afraid I don't have any candy for you today."

The little girl's eyes were downcast, but he doubted it was due to the lack of sweets.

"Looks like the whole gang is here. Is there a party I didn't know about and I wasn't invited?" He chuckled weakly. But his delight was cut short when a sudden pain caused him to cry out loud.

"Shigure!" Kyo was by his side in an instant. Tohru used a clean cloth to wipe the sweat off Shigure's forehead, her face stricken with worry. But despite his pain, Shigure chuckled again.

"Hey, hey...don't look so scared...I was only kidding," he soothed, but his white face said otherwise.

"Like hell you were," Kyo muttered darkly. His head whipped around.

"And what the hell are you doing here, Haru? Showing up like this all of a sudden?"

The cow just glared at him. "Like I said, stupid, we came just as soon as we heard Shigure-sensei has taken ill. Hatori-san and Momiji ran off so quickly we couldn't quite catch up. I'm not looking for a fight so back off!"

"You back off! How do you expect him to breathe with you crowding and smothering him like this? He needs some air, you mad cow!"

"It's alright, Kyo. Let him stay," Shigure whispered, patting his hand. "Tell me about the convention. Did you have fun?"

Kyo sniffed loudly. "I guess."

Tohru dipped the cloth in cold water before placing it on Shigure's forehead, to try to bring the fever down.

"It was really fun, Shigure-san...a very nice lady put on black kohl on my eyes for me, you know, like Cleopatra-sama used to wear? And then there was a perfectly preserved mummy on display and It's like nothing I have ever seen! Oh Shigure-san, I wish you could have seen it..."

"Heh, it's just like you to get all excited over a black eye and someone who's been dead for centuries," Kyo smirked.

Shigure brought his knees higher up his chest, to see if he could get some relief, if at all. He was exhausted, but he forced himself to smile anyway. "Don't tell me you didn't find it exciting at all, Kyo? It made you feel special, didn't it?"

"I think this fever's messing with your brains. You're not making any sense."

"The Egyptians used to worship the cat, didn't they?"

Kyo's face brightened instantly. "Oh yeah. That was cool. I get to be a god for one day."

"See? Being a cat is not so bad after all," Shigure said gently.

Kyo snickered. "Yeah. On some days. Finally I got to beat Yuki at something."

"You didn't beat me at anything," a new voice joined from behind.

"Yuki."

"Hello, Haru. Didn't expect to see you here." Unfazed by the intense stare the cow was giving him, he seated himself next to Tohru. "How are you holding up, Shigure?"

"Not too bad," Shigure said, licking his parched lips. He swallowed hard. "All this attention is flattering really...but I really hate being so much trouble to everyone."

"What are you talking about?" Kyo scoffed. "The only trouble here is that annoying thing in your body. Once Hatori gets it out, you'll be as good as new."

"Once Hatori gets what out?" Haru asked, fearing for the worst.

"You know, his detox." Kyo announced proudly.

"My spandex," Shigure murmured tiredly. (1)

"His fedex," Momiji chirped confidently. (2)

"Appendix!" Hatori thundered from the door, apparently finished with his phone call. He glowered, looking more than a little pissed off.

"Hatsuharu, what are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay home. Kisa doesn't need late-night outings, and neither do you."

"I was just worried," Haru mumbled defensively.

"I wanted to come..." Kisa's voice was so small it sounded as if she was about to cry. "Please don't be mad, Hatori-ojiichan."

Hatori sighed. How can I? In defeat, he just gave the tiger's head a gentle pat.

He reached for his bag. "You okay there, Shigure?"

It took him a while to answer. Alarm bells rang in the Dragon's head. But Shigure finally opened his eyes.

"It hurts, Ha-san."

Hatori's jaw twitched. Admitting to being in pain was something Shigure was never good at. Now that he was...Hatori's hand shook a little as he filled a syringe with some colourless liquid from a tiny vial. "Just try to relax. And don't talk."

"Yuki, Hatsuharu, could you move all the things from the front and backseats of my car and transfer them to the boot? We need to make some room for Shigure. Be careful, they are all medical supplies I've just bought and they're quite expensive. Don't drop them." He groped in his pocket and tossed his keys to Yuki. "Here."

"Where are we going?" Shigure mumbled. "And don't think I haven't noticed the size of your needle."

Hatori grunted in disapproval. "What did I tell you about not talking?"

Shigure only whimpered. When Hatori finally injected some super-strength analgesics into his vein he didn't even flinch. A few minutes later, the drugs began to take effect and his eyes began to flutter. But Hatori could see he was still fighting to stay alert.

"Sleep, Shigure. The sooner we get you stable, the better. We have to get you to the surgery immediately."

"Okay..." Shigure sighed softly, his body slackening as he finally succumbed to restless unconsciousness.

"Shii-chan..." Momiji was not used to seeing him like this and it scared him. He held on tight onto Tohru's hand. "Tohru..."

"Shii-chan will be alright, right Ha'ri? You'll make him better, won't you?" The blond boy's eyes were big, trusting; desperation and fear making him appear even younger than his years. Hatori just looked at the floor, not saying a word.

Kyo narrowed his eyes. Hatori was naturally reticent, that much he knew, but this unnatural silence was not like him at all. To choose not to answer such a question was enough an answer for Kyo to realize that the situation was even worse than the Dragon had made it seem.

Hatori wordlessly wrapped a thin blanket around his cousin's thin, lanky frame, all the while fervently praying the painkillers were enough to keep him under, long enough to get him to the surgery, long enough to keep him from transforming.

"I'm coming with you," Kyo said roughly.

"No, you're not. You stay here with the rest."

"But Hatori-"

"Just do as I say, Kyo." Hatori's face darkened. "I can't be distracted right now, alright? Just stay here and wait." He glanced at Tohru out the corner of one eye. "Honda-kun, can you keep an eye on everyone and make sure all of you eat something for dinner? It's getting late."

"H-hai."

"The car's ready!" Haru yelled from outside.

Kyo took one last look at Shigure's pallid face. A dark cloud passed across his own. "Alright. I'll stay here. But don't you dare let him die, Hatori. I mean it."

Hatori's lips thinned. "I'll try my best."

"You'd better." With that, Kyo broke into a run and dashed out of the room, nearly crashing into Yuki and Haru who had just returned. Without so much as an apology, he disappeared up the stairs. Yuki had a vague idea where he was heading, though.


"Nee."

Hatori yelped and nearly lost control of the car. His heart racing, he whipped his head sideways and snarled at his best friend huddling curled up in the passenger seat next to him "You're supposed to be sleeping, damn it!"

"Ha-san..." Shigure's eyes were closed but his lips twitched as he drowsily struggled to get his words across. "Ha-san, listen to me."

As one of the few select people whom Shigure regarded as worthy enoughto sometimes show his serious side to, the very least Hatori could do was shut up and listen. He kept his eyes on the road and waited.

"If anything happens..."

Oh no, Shigure. Anything but that.

Hatori unconsciously tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He forgot to shut up and just barked, " Stop talking nonsense."

"Do me-" Shigure's breath hitched as a bout of pain gripped his body. His teeth clicked. "-a favor."

"One more word, Shigure, and I'm going to hit you," Hatori said dangerously.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Shigure had to smile. But he had to say it. He needed to.

Just in case.

The drugs were once again trying to pull him back into the blissful world of slumber but Shigure focused on his pain to try to stay awake for just a few more seconds. He reached out as far as he could without keeling over and finally his trembling hand found Hatori's knee.

"Keep them safe," he whispered, blinking languidly as grey shadows blurred his vision. A fresh bout of cramps ravaged his insides and his grip on Hatori's knee tightened.

Them?

Visions of Kyo, and Yuki, and even Tohru flashed through Hatori's mind. Shigure had been their legal guardian for some time and he may not look it, but Hatori knew the dog would gladly give his own life before he'd let anything harm them.

"Please..." Even to breathe was a struggle. His vision dimmed. "Above all others..."

Hatori took a deep breath.

"I will." Steering the wheel with one hand, Hatori used the other to give the cold fingers on his knee a comforting squeeze. "You know I will."

Hatori squeezed Shigure's hand once more before letting it go as the car turned at a very sharp corner, while still maintaining the speed. For some reason, the journey was taking a lot longer than it should be, but he knew it was only his imagination. The long stretch of road seemed endless, and the dark, shady trees by the roadside cast a shroud of shadow over his powerful headlights as they passed in a blur of black and green.

"Now shut up and let me take care of you, okay?"

No answer.

"Shigure?" Hatori sneaked a glance at his cousin. Shigure's head had lolled forward to his chest, and his arms lay limply by his side; Hatori couldn't even tell if he was breathing.

Hatori's hand snaked out with lightning speed to feel the side of Shigure's neck. Come on, come on...where the hell is it? Cold sweat started to form along his hairline.

Then he felt it. A thready, sluggish pulse. Hatori's heart started to beat again. Damn you, dog. You nearly gave me a heart attack.

Hatori slowed down a little so he could tuck his cousin's hands under the thin blanket, pulling it up higher to cover him from the shoulders down.

He made a promise to everyone that Shigure was going to be fine. And he wasn't intending to break it. With that in mind, Hatori stepped on the gas.


"Would you like a second helping, Hatsuharu-san?" Tohru offered. She could no longer stand the silence.

"Hmm?"

"Would you like some more rice?" She repeated.

"Uh. No." After a beat, he said awkwardly, "Thank you, though."

She nodded, resisting the urge to sigh. She looked around the table helplessly. Everyone looked so down; Yuki was barely eating, Kisa and Momiji were toying with their food. Tohru unenthusiastically stabbed her chopsticks into her own food.

"I wonder where Kyo has gone. His food is getting cold."

"He's on the roof. Where else?" Yuki half-heartedly chewed his food. Normally delicious, now it all tasted like sawdust to him. But he knew it had nothing to do with Tohru's cooking, which was perfectly fine as always.

Glumly, Tohru poured more water into Kisa's half-empty glass. "Kisa-san...don't fill yourself with just water, alright? Try to eat, at least a little."

"Onee-chan..."

"Hai?"

"Is Shigure-ojiichan going to be okay?" The tiger clenched her little hands around clumps of her dress in distress.

A lump rose in Tohru's throat. She would give anything to say yes, to put a smile back on everyone's face. But at last, she decided she was mature enough to tell the truth instead.

"I don't know, Kisa-san. We'll just have to pray, alright?" She smiled bravely.

"Pray for Shigure-ojiichan?" Kisa looked up, her eyes big and trusting.

"Yes." Tohru's eyes met Yuki's. Then she looked at Hatsuharu, who had long since placed his chopsticks down across his bowl.

"Let us all pray for Shigure-san...and Hatori-san too. Let's pray for them together. Okay?" She wrapped an arm around Kisa, and gave her other hand to Momiji, who gratefully took it. She squeezed his hand.

"Now. Be strong for Shigure-san, hmm?" She hugged Kisa fiercely, and to her delight, all the faces around the table perked up a little.

Tohru excused herself, planning to see if she could talk Kyo into eating something. She dragged her feet slowly to the kitchen. Then she stopped short.

The plastic bags filled with jelly buns were still stashed in the corner next to the fridge. Shigure's jelly buns.

Her eyes watered.

Shigure-san has done so many things for me. He took me in when I had no home, even when he had such a big secret to protect. He takes care of everyone, even me. He makes me feel like I'm part of the family. He gave me a new family.

I don't want him to die.

Tohru leaned heavily against the edge of the sink, her vision blurring as she fought back tears.

Shigure-san...please be alright.


"I'm not supposed to let you do this, Hatori-sensei. You do realize what you're asking me to do, don't you?" The usually good-natured doctor was grim, his heavily-lined face serious behind his tortoise-shell glasses.

"I am forever in your debt, Kazuki-sensei." Hatori bowed to him. "I apologize for causing you great inconveniences at this time of the night."

"Iie..." Doctor Kazuki waved his apologies away. "I understand perfectly that this is an emergency. I just don't understand why you insist on doing it yourself. Performing a surgery without a proper license is illegal, even if you are a doctor and know how to do it."

Hatori glanced through the glass where Shigure was already lying on the operating table.

"Kazuki-sensei, you are a qualified anaesthetist. I need your help to keep him sedated. So that leaves only m-"

"That's why I feel we should call another doctor to help-"

"No." Hatori steeled himself. "Please." Asking for Kazuki-sensei's help was bad enough, and if things were to go wrong, clearing his memories would be inevitable. More people just meant more memories to be erased. At this rate, he would have no more friends left, no fellow doctors to count on at the end of the day.

"I can do this." His eyes were fierce. Trust me, they seemed to say.

Kazuki-sensei inhaled deeply. "If you say so. Now scrub in."


It was a moonless, starless night. It was a dead night.

Still air, no wind, no nothing. Not even crickets.

Just dead.

Hatsuharu crossed his legs and let them dangle over the porch. "Hey Yuki."

"Hmm?"

"How did Shigure-sensei get hurt anyway?"

"What do you mean?"

"How did he hurt his...uh...his whatchamaycallit-dix anyway?"

Yuki frowned. "I'm not sure. He could have hit something, I guess. But it's pretty common really. Appendicitis, I mean. It's the most common surgical emergency, anyone can get it."

"So it can just happen, huh?"

Yuki shrugged. "Something like that."

"He doesn't get sick very often, does he? Sensei?" Haru stared down at his hands.

Yuki shook his head. "Finally decides to get sick, and he goes all out."

"Yeah, what's wrong with the common cold, or hay fever or something? Appendicitis." Haru twisted his tongue around the word. "Sounds fancy."

"That's Shigure for you. Always has to go for the fancy ones." Yuki stared off into the darkness.

Haru raked a hand through his white hair restlessly. "All this waiting is driving me nuts," he muttered.

"Try praying then."

After a beat, Haru bowed his head. "Alright."


Hatori tugged on his surgical mask which was sagging down his nose a little with the heel of his hand, very much aware of the blood smeared all over his gloves. It was hard to see, with all the blood filling up no matter how many swabs he used to absorb it. "Suction." Kazuki passed him the suction, and the sucking sounds it made as it drained the blood seeping into the abdominal cavity made Hatori a little sick to his stomach. Then he saw it.

"You-katta..." He offered a silent prayer. No perforation. The appendix had not burst. Yet. But from the looks of it, Hatori knew it had come close to. Kazuki caught his sigh of relief.

"Still intact?"

Hatori nodded and held his scalpel at an angle, preparing to make an incision. But he froze when he suddenly saw Shigure's head twitch. And he felt the cover protecting Shigure's body tremble.

Oh no. Not now. Please.

Then the table started to shake.

In panic, Hatori's head snapped up. He cried, "Kazuki-sensei! Do it now!"

Kazuki's eyes widened, and his mouth fell open. "I can't! I've given him as much as I could-It's too dangerous!"

"Just do it!" Hatori yelled. "Haiyaku!"


Tohru glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. Hatori and Shigure had been gone for almost four hours.

Kisa squirmed slightly in her lap, unconsciously tugging at the hem of Tohru's skirt in her sleep. A restless sigh escaped her tiny lips.

Hatori-san...

Tohru blinked furiously a few times as her eyelids threatened to close. She refused to fall asleep.

Not just yet.


"Kyo?" He opened his eyes warily. The night sky, vast and empty, offered him no consolation; whoever it was should have known that he wasn't to be disturbed whenever he was on the roof.

"Kyo?" The whoever called again.

"What is it, Momiji?" The last person he would expect. He braced himself for whatever was about to come.

"Can I..." The rabbit crept closer uncertainly, his scared face showing every inch of his young age. "Umm..."

Kyo said nothing.

"Tohru's comforting Kisa and Haru's sitting with Yuki out on the porch..." Momiji stopped in his tracks. "Can I...just sit here with you? I promise I won't be noisy."

The cat blinked once. And again.

He took a deep breath. Being nice once in a while wouldn't hurt. Just like Shigure said. Being happy about being a cat once in a while wouldn't hurt either. He scooted over to the side a bit, so Momiji could sit next to him without toppling off the roof.

"Sure, kid."


That's it. With mechanical movements, Hatori took off his mask and goggles and finally his surgical gloves, with a numbness he had never felt before. Stunned, he dropped everything onto the floor.

It's over. It's finally over.

He could feel Kazuki's eyes on him, intense and piercing. He guessed he owed him some kind of explanation, sooner or later. He voted for later.

Right now he had to get rid of his blood-splattered scrubs, and...what was that again? Oh right. He had to make a phone call.

He slowly pushed the double doors open, dragging his feet wearily across the floor littered with discarded tube packaging, bits of cardboard and plastic. The heavy doors closed behind him with a swoosh, abnormally loud, resonating in his brain. Empty.

Now. Where did I keep my phone? He wondered numbly. Oh right. The doctor's lounge.

He started to walk. He could barely feel his feet.

Have to tell them. Have to tell them the news.

A small frown creased his paper white face.

I wonder what Honda-kun cooked for dinner.

He walked on.


When the phone finally rang, Tohru thought she was dreaming. Her head snapped up and her eyes widened in horror. She'd fallen asleep!

She kept still, waiting to see if it would ring again. It did. She hastily lifted Kisa off her lap-Gomen, Kisa-san!-and placed the still sleeping tiger as gently as she could down on the floor.

Tohru fearfully pressed the phone against her ear.

"H-Hello?" In the distant, she could hear running footsteps stampeding down the stairs. Kyo landed a few feet away from her, his intense gaze searing through her like two pieces of burning coal. He must have heard the phone ring from all the way up on the roof.

"Honda-kun?" Yuki and Haru appeared at her side, their eyes bleary. She wondered what the time was.

"Hatori-san!" Yuki pressed in closer, wanting to listen in on the conversation; resisting the urge to just grab the phone from Tohru's hand, checking himself just in time.

"How is...Shigure-san?" She wasted no time in getting straight to the point, yet her voice was small, hesitant. She listened intently, biting her lower lip.

In growing suspense, Yuki watched as Tohru's face changed, as all the colour drained from her cheeks-and when her lips started to tremble dangerously, Yuki knew something had happened.

He stumbled backward a few steps, but Haru was quick to catch him before he could trip over Kisa and fall.

"Oi, what is it?" Kyo marched toward Tohru, his hand stretched out as if to snatch the phone away from her. "What happened?"

Still hanging onto the receiver, Tohru's eyes started to fill as she kept listening to what Hatori was saying.

Still not understanding, Kyo could only stare at her dumbfounded. "Tohru?"

After what felt like forever, she finally spoke, her voice trembling. "Hai. I understand. Goodbye, Hatori-san."

Her hands shook when she finally put the phone down, the loud click it made echoing against the four walls; it made her feel a little claustrophobic.

"Shigure-san..." She faltered, her voice trailing off. Yuki stepped forward and grabbed her by the shoulders.

"Honda-san. What did Hatori say? How's Shigure?" He gave her a little shake.

"Gomen..." Tohru sobbed. She finally lifted her face. Tears were streaming down her pale cheeks in rivulets. "I was just..."

"I was just-" She dabbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, but the giant droplets kept on welling up. But she was smiling. "I was just...too happy..."

Yuki's forehead wrinkled.

Too...happy?

Does that mean-?

"Shigure-sensei..." Haru exclaimed, his eyes dancing with excitement. "He's...alright?"

Tohru nodded emphatically, spraying her tears of joy everywhere. She was no longer capable of words, her grin so wide she felt as if her lips would snap. "He's alive! Hatori-san said the surgery was a success!"

Kyo let out the loudest whoop she had ever heard, and he punched his fist in the air, leaping so high up his head almost hit the ceiling.

"He's alive..." Yuki leaned heavily against the wall, literally feeling his heart expand. He covered his face with one hand and started to laugh. A small giggle at first, but then sheer relief took over, crashing into him in waves, and soon he was shaking with laughter. "Shigure's alive..."

Shigure-san...

Tohru breathed a silent offering of gratitude. Thank you, kami-sama. Thank you.

And thank you, Hatori-san. How can I ever repay you? Ah...how about, a nice dinner? Yes! A very, very, very nice dinner!

And then she giggled.


Hatori placed the phone against the receiver, wincing a little as he involuntarily rubbed his ear. "Damn, those kids are loud!"

A soft chuckle came from the other end of the room. "Yes. They are, aren't they?"

"They got mad when I told them you were going to stay here for a few more days. Started arguing that you needed to be in a safe and happy environment to recuperate."

Shigure sweat-dropped.

"My sentiments exactly. You'd be much safer staying in a kennel. Judging from the repair bills and maintenance charges you keep on forwarding to the main house like the responsible adult you are." But the jibe fell on deaf ears.

Shigure stared at the ceiling. "They do have a point."

Hatori looked at him sharply. After a beat, he walked out onto the porch and inhaled deeply, the night air heavily-scented with the fragrance of fresh spring flowers. "Don't worry. I'll keep an eye on you. No one is expecting anything from you. Just stay in bed and concentrate on getting better."

Shigure closed his eyes. On top of the pain from the stitches, for some unknown reason, his chest was hurting as well; he even he thought he saw some bruises marring his torso when Hatori helped him dress earlier. How very strange.

"I don't think I can go anywhere even if I wanted to."

"I know. It will hurt for at least a few more days. Until then, you're staying here."

Shigure pouted, scrutinizing the empty, bare walls of Hatori's room/workplace with its shelves of rows upon rows of books and the paperwork piling on his desk. "I want my own desk. I want my own books."

"I've already told Yuki to bring some over tomorrow when they come visit."

"Along with my jelly buns?" Shigure dared to be hopeful, crossing his fingers.

"In your dreams," Hatori retorted.

Shigure pouted. "You never let me have fun."

"You don't deserve any fun," Hatori said, glaring at him. Viciously, he slid the porch door shut with a sharp crack.

Shigure turned his face away.

"Do you realize what could have happened if we had even been fifteen minutes late? You gave everyone quite a scare." Hatori sat down cross-legged next to the futon and stared down at him accusingly.

"Gomen. I didn't mean to," Shigure said softly. "Really."

The Dragon pursed his lips. At last, he managed an almost imperceptible nod, his fingers unconsciously playing with the edge of Shigure's blanket as he drowned himself in his thoughts.

He didn't know how long he stayed that way but finally, Hatori bowed his head. "I almost didn't keep my promise."

"Hmm?" Shigure gazed at him questioningly. Then his eyes softened. "You mean the one you made in the car?"

Hatori shook his head slowly. He was silent, but his eyes were stormy, alive, as if he were reliving a painful memory.

"What is it, Ha-san ?" Shigure's tilted his head to the side so he could take a better look at his friend.

"Whatever is troubling you, please, do tell." The dim glow of the lamp cast soft shadows across the sickly hue of Shigure's face. The raw concern in his warm brown eyes was almost more than Hatori could bear.

"Shigure..."

"That's the least I can do. After all, you did save my life."

Hatori stiffened. "I almost...I almost didn't."

Shigure frowned. "Ha-san?"

Hatori stared down at his hands, hard. "I'm telling this to you, and you alone."

A lone cricket pierced the still air of the night with its forlorn tune, a sombre melody which strummed a note of pain in Hatori's chest.

"Your heart stopped on the operating table." His words seemed to resonate against the four walls of the room with the impact of their meaning. He bowed his head and a shock of dark hair tumbled across his forehead, obscuring his eyes. He kept staring at his hands.

"For three full minutes, it stopped beating."

Shigure fixed his eyes heavenward, as if he had suddenly found something interesting on the ceiling. Hatori couldn't even bring himself to look at him.

"It was the longest three minutes of my life," he whispered. "I promised them. I promised Yuki, Kyo...I promised everyone that you were going to be alright, that you were going to make it. Maybe I had too much faith in myself, maybe I had too much faith in you-I don't know...but at that moment..."

"You had to choose which promise to break."

Hatori sucked in a breath. "I promised you I would take care of them if-" his jaw clenched.

"Hatori..." For the first time in ages, Shigure was addressing him with his full name. Hatori wasn't surprised. Despite the laid-back appearance and the ridiculous antics, there lay hidden one of the most intelligent people Hatori had ever known; and when he wanted to, Shigure could see through people so well it was scary. "Hey."

Hatori lifted his head slowly. Warm, twinkling brown eyes met the unfathomable depth of grey.

"You brought me back. That's all that matters. Right?"

Immediately he felt a lump rise in his throat.

"You don't have to hold on to that promise anymore. I came back, see?"

"You almost didn't." Hatori wrapped his arms around himself, feeling a shudder all of a sudden. "And it would have been entirely my fault."

Still not understanding, Shigure only stared at him in confusion.

"I thought you were going to change, when I was cutting you-I suppose I must have hurt you somewhat because your whole body started trembling, and the only explanation I could come up with was that you were about to transform, right then and there on the operating table-"

"I made Kazuki-sensei increase the dosage of the anaesthetics even though I knew how dangerous it was...I made him do it."

Hatori raised a hand and cupped it over his mouth. How strange. All the words-the confession, it was all pouring out of him in a torrent.

"The sedatives managed to stop you from transforming. But they also suppressed your heart and they almost killed you."

Shigure breathed in deeply; he didn't tear his gaze away. He knew what the haunted look in Hatori's eyes meant.

"I almost killed you."

A sudden heavy silence befell the room.

Shigure's hand unconsciously crept under the blanket and rested on the incision wound. His expressionless face appeared somewhat thoughtful, and Hatori would give anything to know what he was thinking.

"Well..." The corners of his lips tugged upwards. "At least you've seen me naked."

Hatori's jaw dropped. "W-Wha-" His face involuntarily turned bright red. A cheeky grin was not the response Hatori was expecting. Much less such an outrageous-outrageous-

"Shigure, did you even listen to a single word I-"

"I did." The big grin dissolved into a thin, mirthless smile.

"You did what you had to do, Ha-san. You did what you thought needed to be done. It's really that simple. And if it's forgiveness you're asking for, look elsewhere because I'm not giving it to you."

Hatori's heart sank.

"You didn't do anything wrong. I know you didn't do it just to protect the Sohma secret. I know you did it for me. If I had transformed, with all those scalpels and tubes and God knows what other fancy instruments you doctors use still inside my body, it would have killed me anyway. You made a judgement call. And you had no way of knowing if you had made the right one."

"But life is just that. A gamble. A huge risk in itself. So no, it wouldn't have been your fault."

"On the contrary, you are quite the hero. You have just saved the life of Japan's current best-selling romance slash fine literature novelist and you have no idea how many high school girls and pretty young ladies would bow at your feet, shower you with kisses and hugs-" Shigure smirked a little at the irony.

"You have salvaged the romantic dreams of the entire female population nationwide..." Shigure sighed contentedly. He cracked an eye open. It wasn't like Hatori not to respond to one of his bubble-headed rants. This guilt trip thing must really be getting to him. Oh hell. Just say it, Shigure, and save him the heartache.

"Thank you. For saving me." Hatori's jaws visibly clenched. He blinked furiously.

Shigure looked at him strangely. "You're not going to cry, are you, Ha-san?"

Hatori almost barked a laughter. It was typical of Shigure, making him want to scream and laugh and cry, all at the same time. But for some reason, he found himself wondering if he were too. But to let Shigure know? Hell, no. He would never let him live it down.

"What, over you? You must be joking." Hatori couldn't help but smile. He brought his knees up to his chest and propped his chin against his crossed forearms. The smile disappeared just as rapidly as it appeared, however.

"You know what will happen if you do this to me again, don't you?"

"A few ideas do come to mind. One involving a lifetime supply of sake, perhaps?"

"Make it Belgian wine and it's a deal."

"Save it. I don't intend to go through all that again anytime soon." Shigure sighed, exhaustion from hours of intense pain, once again taking a toll on him. He cracked one eye open and peered at Hatori curiously. "How many appendixes do I have left, anyway?"

Hatori started to laugh. It was such a rare sound; Shigure had never thought he would hear it again, not after Kana. Although he was overjoyed at such a change in his best friend, Shigure was more confused as to why he was laughing.

"Did I say something wrong?"

Hatori shook his head, his body shaking with mirth. "No...I have taken out the only one you had."

"You-katta..." Shigure snuggled his head even deeper into the pillow. He was getting sleepy again.

"Would you like to see it?" Hatori turned around to grab for his bag.

"Eh?"

Hatori produced a small jar filled with a yellowish liquid with wispy buoyant strands of orange inside. Floating in the centre of the jar was a small, almost tubular solid structure about the size of his index finger; the pinkish-reddish hue of its tissues made it appear swollen and inflamed.

"That's it?"

"Yes."

"That's the thing that almost killed me?"

"In a word, yes."

"It's...kind of small."

"You sound disappointed."

"I just thought it would be bigger."

"Would your near-death experience be more...romantic...if it had been bigger?"

"In a word, yes."

"Would it make you feel better if I told you that a healthy appendix doesn't normally get any bigger than your pinkie?"

"Ah. Sow-ka."

Hatori placed the jar back very carefully inside the magical bag, like it was some kind of prized token. "Back in medical school, most of the patients would want to keep it like some kind of trophy. I had a feeling you'd want to do the same."

"Hmm," Shigure murmured drowsily. "As a reminder, perhaps."

Hatori nodded. A reminder. Of your very close brush with death.

"You were lucky, Shigure."

Shigure's only answer was a smile, his eyes already closed. "I was, I was."

Despite how exhausted he was, Hatori decided he should stay up and watch Shigure just for a little while. He might as well do some reading. As he rose to get his journal from his bookshelf, he almost missed it; the inaudible sigh, from someone he thought would always be around, someone he very nearly lost.

"I had you."

And Sohma Hatori smiled to himself in the balmy darkness of the rising sun.

THE END

GLOSSARY

Sensei : What you'd call a doctor/teacher/etc. In the context of the story, that's what Haru calls Shigure.
Daijoubu-ka: Are you alright?
Onee-chan : Big sister
Ojii-chan : Grandpa
Nee : Hey
Hai : Yes
Iie : No
You-katta : Thank goodness
Haiyaku : Hurry/Quickly!
Sow-ka: Oh/Really/I see
Gomen : Sorry
Kami-sama : God

References:
(1) & (2) : These funny lines are actually from an awesome Magnificent 7 fic by Karin entitled 'Breaking the Chain'. I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing them just for a little while. They really cracked me up. No intentions of plagiarising, whatsoever!

Solo Shadow : Here, I've written more! This one's for you!
MystiKoorime : Oh goody! I guess I was a bit too worried about everyone being OOC, hehe! Thanks!
Ustrel Flowright : Hatori and Shigure look soo good together I just couldn't resist! I'm just a medical student, who spends waayy too much time watching anime and dreaming up storylines for future FB fics.
Oku-San the Monk : Nah...I wouldn't kill off our beloved 'Gure-san...he's too adorable!
Aeris : Thank you for that very, very long review! And I'm glad you liked the story-tried my best writing each and every character's personality as accurately as my limited knowledge of the FB world would let me. Hope you'll like this one as well.
Sun Moon and Spoon : I am very particular myself about the medical terms I use in my stories-in order for a fic to be readable, it has to be complemented with adequate accuracy of facts, just to make it more alive, in a way. I strive too. Hehe. Thanks!
jaarli : Thank you for your reviews! And I'm glad you liked the story!And may God bless Shigure always and forever.
Ryu-chan : You no longer have to worry...Gure-sensei is perfectly alright. See)
dimonyo-anghel : Shigure didn't really get hurt...it was more of an acute, spontaneous thing. It can just happen-hope that little conversation between Yuki and Haru cleared things up a bit for you! Thank you for reviewing!
Patterns of blood : Yeah Yuki has a mild asthma. Or so I've been told...hehe, you're not the only one who thought Shigure was pregnant)
aniki19 : Please don't be mad...here, I fixed Shigure up for you! I'm a rat, like Yuki...But I'm a Scorpio too! We do have the most fun, don't we)
anime : Shigure-san is perfectly alright. Looking as good as ever.

Author's notes:

First of all...thank you to all those who reviewed! You guys are so sweet. Hehe.

Secondly...That has got to be the funniest, strangest, most daring appendectomy scene ever. My knowledge in the area is still quite limited (I've got a few more years to go till I graduate, but what the hell, I've tried my best) Hope it didn't turn out that badly. Just having a bit of fun, that's all.

That felt good, finishing a story (I know I'm inviting the wrath of some of my Mutant X readers...Gomen-nasai!) but you know how it goes...when the story wants to play itself out, it will...sooner or later...

So there. Hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I had fun writing it! I know it's nothing great, but please, do leave your comments. Feedback is greatly appreciated!