Yuki saw the fist coming; but instead of easily deflecting it like he normally would, he found himself unable to move. From a distant, he heard a scream; Honda-san?

His heart was not even pounding as hard now; it was as if he was accepting everything with all he had. Immobilised, he just squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the blow to land.

It never did.

He opened his eyes. Kyo still had one hand bunched around his collar, but his head was hung low; his long red bangs obscuring the upper portion of his face. His lips...the thin line of his lips...reminded Yuki so much of how Hatori's had been. A lump rose in his throat.

Kyo's other fist was buried in the noticeboard behind him amidst torn pieces of flyers and notices; so close he could feel the heat from the cat's skin graze his temple.

His Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed hard, a line of sweat rolling slowly down the curve of his neck. Yuki let go of Kyo's shirt as if it was burning coal, his arms falling limply to his side.

"Hit me," he whispered.

Tohru was weeping openly now, unable to do anything but watch.

"What are you waiting for?" Yuki's shaking voice rose a notch, but there was an edge to it; he was not challenging Kyo to do it. He was begging. He raised his fists and grabbed Kyo's shirt again, rocking him back and forth violently. "Hit me, come on!"

A male nurse tried to pull them apart, but they were inseparable.

"What, are you scared?" Yuki yelled in his face, his eyes wild and crazed. Feverishly, he grabbed Kyo's fist from the side of his head and tried to make it move, flailing it around. "Do it! You wanted payback, right?"

"You damn bastard!" Kyo yelled back. No matter how angry he was, he could see through Yuki's act. He slapped Yuki's hand away and bunched his fist around a clump of silver hair, pulling the rat's head forward until they were mere centimetres away face-to-face. Yuki winced in pain.

"I don't give a damn about you, Yuki. I never have and I never will," Kyo hissed, his eyes burning crimson in anger. "If you want someone to hit you so badly, ask Shigure to do it. Don't expect me to make you feel better after what you did."

With that said, Kyo threw him one last, disgusted look, pushed him away and stalked off.

Tohru tried to grab his elbow as he marched past, but he shook her hand off. "Don't touch me!"

Kyo ignored her cry of distress, knowing full well he was going to regret it later. But he couldn't help himself; this burning, raging fire inside seemed to devour every fibre of his being. He couldn't remember ever being this angry. Angry enough not to hit Yuki when he so deserved to be hit.

He walked on with no clue whatsoever as to where he was going; he just let his feet lead the way.

He had to get away. Anywhere but here.

"Yuki-kun..." Tohru dropped on her knees next to him on the floor. She wanted so badly to reach out, to wrap her arms around him, to ease his fears-If only she could. If only.

"Honda-san..." His voice broke.

She grabbed one of his hands and held it against her knee. His fingers were icy cold.

"I'm a bad person," he whispered finally.

She shook her head anxiously. "No, you're wrong. You're not. I know you're not."

"You must hate me." Yuki banged the back of his head over and over again lightly against the wall, his eyes dull, empty.

She shook her head again. She wished she knew just what to say; but she couldn't even begin to imagine how distraught Yuki must be feeling right now. So she did the only thing she could. She sat with him.

And when Yuki's head dropped forward in a gesture of defeat against his emotions...she grabbed it with both hands and placed it on her shoulder; his forehead burning hot against her bare skin. Yuki closed his eyes as her smooth hand raked through his hair, realizing with a jolt how much he had needed this, the touch of another human hand-

How do I say it, Honda-san? His eyes burned, but he still couldn't get the words out.

How do I say I'm sorry?

"There may have been a slight damage to parts of his cerebral cortex-"

"But his speech seems fine," Hatori murmured. "The Broca's still intact then."

"It might seem so..." Dr Tachibana appeared troubled. "It could just be a temporary deficit to his language area though, seeing how he can still speak and understand spoken words, but not written ones. A mild degree of aphasia perhaps. Word blindness."

Word blindness. An inability to understand written words.

"Are you sure it's that? It could be a cerebellar problem. He may not be able to coordinate his fingers for fine control needed to write instead," Hatori insisted. "Can he still read? Have you tested him?"

Dr Tachibana shook his head. "I was planning to do that next but..." He glanced in through the glass window partially obscured by the curtain.

The younger man drew himself up and forced a smile. "Well, you know what they say, Sohma-sensei...we have to remain optimistic! I suggest we wait until tomorrow at least to determine the extent of the damage further. For all we know, it could just be shock, and that he'd recover in no time. That has happened, I believe."

Hatori gave him a look. How naive. He wondered if he was like this when he first started out working. Must be nice to think that good things happen more often than the bad. But a part of him wanted so badly to agree with the other doctor. Think positive. Think positive.


He left the young doctor standing in the middle of the hallway and pushed the door open. The light in the room had been dimmed, casting huge shadows across the lone figure lying quietly on the bed.

Silently he dragged a chair across the carpeted floor and brought it next to the bed. His cousin was curled up in a fetal position, his arms wrapped around himself.

Shigure had been so frightened.

But he seemed calmer now; he was breathing easier, and his heart rate had gone down to normal level. Guess the excitement had been too much for him; the sedatives seemed to be working like a charm. He didn't know how wrong he was.

Hatori sat down.

A sniff. Then a hoarse whisper. "Not so close. You smell."

"Your fault I ran around so much today." A smile graced his friend's boyish features, his eyes still closed. He owed Hatori so much.

"Dangerous to leave the stove in the house when there's a leak." A huge yawn.

"I took care of it."

"The kids?" Shigure mumbled slowly.

"Around here somewhere. Don't worry about them."

"They must be bored out of their minds," his cousin smiled. He felt as if he was floating in the air.

Hatori grunted. "Right now I'd worry more about Kyo strangling the life out of Yuki, but I'm sure someone would page me if he succeeded."

"They're still fighting...about Tohru-kun?"

Hatori stopped blinking.

Shigure didn't know.

No one told him.

God Almighty.

"Just sleep," he commanded gruffly. "Talk about it later."

Shigure yawned again. "Okay..."

But a second later, a small frown lined Shigure's forehead.

"Why...is Kyo the one doing the strangling?" Kyo was the one who pushed Tohru down the stairs, right? Or was it the other way around? Another strong wave of drowsiness hit him. It was getting harder to think straight.

Hatori could only glare at him. He knew Shigure was sharp, and nothing ever escaped him, unless he was doing it on purpose, but come on!

There was no going around it this time. Hatori was too tired to make up stories anyway. "Yuki was the one who left the stove on."

He regretted the moment the words left his mouth as two brown eyes flickered open instantly.

"An accident," Hatori clarified. He clasped his hands in his lap.

Shigure was staring at him, as if daring him to say that it wasn't the truth. But he knew his cousin seldom lied.

His lips stretched to a thin line. The frown on his forehead disappeared, leaving only a thoughtful look on his face, his mind working over this new, horrible information despite the sheer amount of sedatives pumping through his vein.

Hatori wondered if he should just punch the guy's lights out because the drugs were obviously not working; but he was suddenly put to ease when without prompting, Shigure closed his eyes and buried his cheek deeper into his pillow, his breaths controlled and rhythmic, as if he was consciously concentrating on the act of breathing.

Ten minutes later, Hatori finally gave up on playing along.

"Stop pretending to be asleep, you jackass," He growled. "If you think you can fool me, think twice."

"Ne, Ha-san."

"What?" Hatori sounded more than a little pissed now.

His eyes still closed, Shigure reached out a hand and groped for the front of Hatori's shirt. The Dragon looked on with utter confusion but he let the dog bunch his fist around a clump of his collar and pull him closer toward the bed. The first thought that came to mind was that his cousin wanted to kiss him, but that was just...not funny, even for Shigure, even for a doped-up Shigure...so that couldn't be it.

"What is it?"

Shigure couldn't open his eyes anymore, they were too heavy. But before he gave in to the tempting prospect of a dreamless, painless slumber, he knew he needed to say what he needed to say. He brought Hatori's face closer to his until his lips brushed lightly against his earlobe.

No one saw how Hatori's face changed, how it darkened, as he strained to listen, as Shigure whispered something in his ear. He was barely coherent, but Hatori knew he meant each and every word.

Sheer will was the only thing keeping his face from crumpling. All he could do to will the pain in his heart away was to close his eyes. And that was what he did.

"I understand."

Hatori stepped out quietly from the room. He stared for a moment at the figure sitting on the cold floor, hunched double outside the door.

Speak of the devil. He was wondering where the kid had run off to, and now here he was.

Yuki lifted his head as a huge, dark shadow loomed over him.

Hatori was looking down at him, an indecipherable expression on his face. Yuki couldn't read his eyes no matter how he tried, but quickly decided that maybe it was better that way. Every look, every fleeting glance, every glare sent his way was a stab to the heart.

The Dragon scrutinised his younger cousin's face. No bruises, no cuts, no swelling. He didn't know if he should be relieved or worried.

"Where are the others?"

It took him a while to answer. Hatori didn't sound angry. "I don't know."

Hatori was silent for a minute. Then he turned around and started to walk away. "Come on. Let's go find them. Then I'm taking you guys home."

Yuki shook his head slowly. "I'm staying."

Hatori stopped in his tracks. But he didn't turn around.

"I don't think that's such a good idea."

Yuki's face drained of colour. But he was adamant.

"I don't care. I'm staying."

Hatori seemed to push himself up straighter, his back ram-rod straight, his shoulders rigid. "Suit yourself." Then he walked away. The second person to do that to him tonight.

Yuki cupped both hands over his face, the feel of his icy fingers against his burning skin so salient it was impossible to convince himself he was merely dreaming.

He didn't know what to do. He didn't know where to start. And the only person he could have asked for such advice was now lying in a hospital bed hooked up to machines, and possibly permanently disabled. All because of him.

Tears threatened to spill, but he held them in. Inside however, he was crying.

What do I do?

Hatori stopped by the nurses' station. "Have you seen two kids walking around here, one a red-haired boy-"

"The other a sweet-looking girl?" The curly-haired nurse guessed. She pointed in the direction of the cafetaria.

A curt, "Thanks." He was about to walk away when he hesitated.

"Could you possibly send a cot to Sohma Shigure's room? Room 224?" He asked. "One family member is staying tonight."

"No problem, Dr Sohma." The nurse smiled in sympathy. "I hope your cousin gets well soon."

Hatori just nodded. He wished for the same thing too, but if wishes were trees, he would have an arboretum by now.

Shigure's last words rang in his ear and his face turned to stone.

Yuki, I hope you know what you're doing.

"Shigure-niisan," A small, unfamiliar voice interrupted his train of thoughts; and for a second there Shigure thought he was hearing things; he'd gotten so used to having the whole house to himself, he had almost forgotten about the recent addition to the household. He glanced at the door, and his face immediately broke into a smile.

"Ara! Yuki-kun!" He put down his pen. He gestured for the boy to come in, noting how his a-little-too-big pyjamas hung off his frail shoulders, almost swallowing him whole. "You're still awake?"

Shigure frowned at the clock on his desk. That can't be right. "It's three o'clock in the morning. What's the matter? Can't sleep?"

Yuki stepped uncertainly into the spacious study; this was the first time he'd ever been in Shigure-niisan's workplace, he would have preferred not to disturb him in any way if he could help it, but...His bare feet skidded to a stop a few feet away from Shigure's cluttered desk. He smelled of cigarettes...of leather-bound books...of ink...of fresh, crisp newspaper. He liked it.

A cough rose in Yuki's throat but he suppressed it. It was an unusually cold night, and cold nights were always the roughest. He wouldn't want to get sick the first day he moved into the house. Wouldn't want to overstay his welcome.

"Yuki-kun? Is there something you need?" Shigure tried to remember what it was like when he was Yuki's age, which seemed like seven lifetimes ago. Oh right! There's that one thing growing boys always seem to need- "Are you hungry?"

Yuki shook his head slowly. He disguised the irritating tickle in his chest by clearing his throat. "Do you think you could spare me a..." He hesitated a little, "-blanket?"

Shigure's face softened. "Oh, you poor thing...you must be freezing!" The super-thick literature journal he had been using as a reference fell unceremoniously off his lap as he climbed to his feet, wincing at the cramps which had settled in his thighs and knees from sitting cross-legged too long. The cigarette dangling from his lips burnt crimson at the tip.

"It does tend to get pretty cold around here, especially your room, I purposely pushed the ceiling higher up so that it helps with ventilation, but unfortunately it makes the temperature drop outrageously low sometimes. Sorry bout that," Shigure finished with an apologetic smile. "Come, let's get you a blanket. Can't have you turning into a human popsicle now, can we?"

His shoulder brushed past Yuki on his way out, and the sudden whiff of noxious cigarette smoke assaulted his olfactory receptors, resulting in a chain of dry coughs.

Shigure's eyes widened. Oh shit! He forgot! Hatori would kill him if he found out! He wasn't supposed to smoke when Yuki was around! He plucked the half-smoke off his lips and crushed it in his fist, snuffing it out hastily, ignoring the burning pain searing through his palm. "Sorry! Are you alright?"

'Fine." Yuki waved a dismissive hand, letting out the last of a small cough. "It's not you, it's just the cold."

Shigure nodded in relief; he quickly rummaged through the storage cabinet out in the middle of the hallway, which, Yuki noted with a degree of amusement, was so disorganised and messy an elephant could crawl in there and hide and noone would find it. But of course, one should always be familiar with one's own mess, and Shigure found what he was looking for in a heartbeat.

"Here you go!" He beamed triumphantly, thrusting a heavy, woolen quilt which smelt curiously of honeysuckles and cinnamon into his arms. "That should keep you warm and toasty. Oh here, take this extra pillow as well! And this hot water bottle too, just for fun! Ara, I didn't know I had a spare food processor in here! Goodie, now we can make smoothies! Do you like smoothies, Yuki-kun? Here, wear these socks, they're thicker than Kyo-kun's head, they'll keep your feet warm-"

Yuki blinked. His first impression of Shigure had been that the dog Jyuunishi was lively by nature, but at three o'clock in the morning? If he didn't know better, he would have thought his older cousin was high on something. He wrinkled his nose in distaste at the thought of wearing Kyo's stupid head on his feet. But then again, that wasn't exactly a bad place for it to be, he snickered inward evilly.

A half hour later...

Damn. That kid's still coughing.

Shigure drummed his fingers against the table, antsy. He wondered what he should do.

Another chain of uncontrollable, hacking coughs shook the partition separating Yuki's room and his study. Shigure winced. They sounded nothing like normal coughs. And painful too.

He couldn't stand it anymore. Bad enough the kid was interrupting his train of thoughts every few minutes, but to sit around doing nothing about it was an injustice to his conscience.

"Yuki-kun...?" He knocked lightly on the door. "May I come in?"

No answer. He slid it open anyway.

The figure on the bed was shivering visibly despite the thick double layers of duvet; the whole bed shaking as Yuki coughed again, his eyes squeezed shut as if in pain, beads of perspiration dotting his forehead in a collage of moisture despite the sudden drop of temperature. To Shigure's alarm, the rat seemed to be struggling to breathe.

An asthma attack? He rushed toward the bed.

"Yuki-kun, wake up," he said urgently, shaking Yuki's shoulder; but the boy was dead to the world. His wheezing was scaring the wits out of him.

What the hell do I do now? The kid obviously can't breathe. Shigure hastily rummaged through the wardrobe where Yuki kept all his medication. Inside the box he found what he was looking for, and his eyes lit up! But a second later, they clouded again.

There were two inhalers, one blue, one brown.

Which one did Hatori say he was supposed to administer in the case of an attack?

He glanced at Yuki; the boy could barely breathe, much less be coherent enough to tell him which one was to be given.

He studied the two dispensers closely, his forehead lined with worry. Blue or brown? Or both?

Hatori wouldn't appreciate him calling in the middle of the night, any other time Shigure would think nothing of it and phone him anyway; but it was just his luck Hatori had gone on a special three-day course on advanced palliative care or something or other and was a good four hours' drive away-

Great. Yuki's wheezing was getting worse.

A lightbulb suddenly flickered to life in his head. Shigure, you idiot!

He ran to his study and rifled through his extensive book collection; Ah! Here it is! Here it is! He frantically flipped through the First Aid Manual for the usual do's and don'ts-

Right. Asthma. Hmm. He scrutinised the content of the page.

Number 1- Keep calm and reassure the casualty. Get him to take a puff of the reliever inhaler.

Whoa, back up. Which one is the reliever inhaler? His eyes scanned the very top introductory paragraph.

'Most reliever inhalers have blue caps.'

Ahah! It's the bue one!

He frowned, scratching the back of his head. What's the brown one for then? Oh. That one's the preventer and 'not an effective treatment for attacks'. Okay. Now I get it. Blue one it is then.

Heh. 'Cigarette smoke is a recognised trigger for an attack.' Right. Rub it in some more, why don't you?

He rushed back to Yuki's room, the manual tucked reverently in the crook of his elbow, a finger hooked securely through the page he had just dog-eared.

"Yuki-kun...come on, sit up," Shigure said in a loud voice to see if he could wake him up. "You shouldn't be lying down."

He slipped a strong arm under and around Yuki's back and gently lifted him up, wincing at the sweat soaking through the ailing boy's pyjama top. Yuki's head lolled, his breath whistling painfully through his obstructed airway and past his slightly bluish lips. Shigure gave him a little shake.

"Yuki. Wake up." Dull violet eyes struggled to open.

Shigure pulled the top off the blue inhaler and placed it in Yuki's palm. "Here, take a puff. It'll make you feel better."

Yuki blinked languidly. Shigure helped him raise his hands to press it against his lips.

Like a man who'd suddenly found water in the middle of a hot, scorching desert, Yuki hungrily blasted a dose into his mouth. With his arm still supporting Yuki, Shigure brushed damp silver bangs from the boy's clammy forehead and cheeks with his other hand so stray strands of hair wouldn't get in the way of the inhaler.

The manual says to ask the casualty to breathe slowly and deeply.

"Breathe slowly and deeply," he instructed matter-of-factly, purposely making it sound as if he knew what he was saying.

Yuki nodded, his eyes closed. He took another puff, his fingers stronger now as he blasted the dose.

Like magic, Yuki's noisy wheezing ceased. He was breathing normally now, albeit a little more deeply, but the worst had obviously passed.

"Feeling better?"

Yuki nodded, the inhaler still clenched in his grip. And soon he was asleep again, his chest rising and falling normally, not like how it was just a few minutes ago.

Shigure heaved a sigh of relief. What would everyone say if the kid had choked to death the first night he moved in? He would never hear the end of it. He grabbed a blanket and a pillow from his own room; thinking he should just crash on Yuki's floor just in case his asthma started up again. It was strange, having to take care of another person; the sense of responsibility that came with it...he liked it. It made him feel important, in a way.

He smiled to himself as he lay down on the freezing floor next to bed.

Good night, Yuki-kun.

And that was how Yuki found him the next morning; lying flat out with one half of his body poking out from under the bed, the First Aid manual still tightly hugged to his chest as if refusing to let go even in sleep.

The nurses had made him get up off the floor, and marched him straight into Shigure's room. He couldn't have found the courage otherwise. He could see the unspoken questions in their eyes, they were probably wondering how this sweet-looking, handsome boy who belonged on the cover of a magazine could have such sad, clouded eyes-

God only knew what stopped them from gathering him in their bosoms and squeezing him tight.

Shigure was already fast asleep, thank God for that. Tongue-tied, he wouldn't have known what to say if he weren't.

Just like that night, when Shigure stayed awake till morning just to listen to him breathe...Yuki was doing the same.

The cot was only a few feet away from the hospital bed, but Yuki was shaking in fear at the sheer closeness of it. Through misty vision, he tried to make out Shigure's features; the dark rings circling his eyes, the tight pursing of his lips, the sickly hue of his sunken cheeks. He had aged. In a matter of hours.

They told him his cousin nearly died.

His eyes watered.

Yuki draped an arm over his head and sobbed quietly.

Kyo and Tohru appeared at the door first thing in the morning. No one was more surprised than Kyo to see the rat curled up on the small cot next to Shigure's bed, caught in a restless sleep. It took Hatori more than five minutes to shake him awake, but when he did finally open his eyes, it took Yuki less than five seconds to meet Kyo's icy glare, gather up his clothes and follow Hatori out the door.

Tohru was the only one who made an effort to even talk to him. "Yuki-kun..."

Yuki just gave her a sad look and left.

Kyo stood stiffly in the middle of the room, just staring at Shigure who was still deep in sleep. Tohru pulled two chairs close together and pulled his hand down to sit. They didn't speak, the only sound breaking the silence was the occasional beeping of the someone's pager out in the hallway.

"I'm a bit thirsty," Tohru announced a half hour later. She rose to her feet. "I'm going to get us some drinks. What would you like, Kyo-kun?"

"Hmm?" Kyo tore his eyes away from the bruises on Shigure's exposed forearm where they had drawn some blood. "Uh, a Ponta."

"I'll be right back, Shigure-san," she said softly so she wouldn't wake him up. Kyo watched her leave, her long hair swaying down her back as she walked out. He felt sorry for her. She wasn't even a Sohma, but she had been sucked into the whole Sohma drama anyway.

"Oi. How long do you plan on sleeping anyway?" He muttered under his breath, resisting the urge to poke Shigure's face with his pinkie. "Wake up already."

"Everyone's walking around the house looking like a zombie because of you."

But Shigure remained fast asleep, his chest rising and falling gently with each breath. He looked so peaceful now.

But Kyo remembered how terrified, how stunned he had been last night. He couldn't even begin to imagine what Shigure must be feeling right now, if he were awake. Grief? Anger? Denial?

Kyo could only guess. He breathed in deeply. When he saw Yuki this morning, he had felt a pang of pity in the pit of his stomach. How does it feel, to know that you've nearly killed someone? Not just anybody, but your own flesh and blood? He opened his eyes.

Guess you and I are in the same boat now, Yuki. The only difference? I've been forgiven.

"Honda-kun said she has left some food for you in the microwave. Make sure you eat it. You didn't have dinner last night."

Yuki only nodded mutely.

Hatori stared at him from the driver's seat. The boy looked terrible, there were dark rings around his puffy, bloodshot eyes and his face was so pale and distraught he looked as if he was about to cry. In fact, he did look like he'd been crying.

Hatori's hands tightened unconsciously around the steering wheel.

"Get some rest, Yuki. I'll be back to get you later tonight."

Yuki nodded again.

After a beat, Hatori added. "Call me if you need anything."

Without a word, Yuki turned and walked into the house. Yuki...

Hatori drove away, but his thoughts were still on his young cousin.

Be strong, Yuki.

Shigure sniffed. His sense of smell had its good days and bad days, depending on the phase of the moon (or some other romantic zodiac-related signalling mechanism, it wasn't as if he had a clue) but this particular scent...he wouldn't miss it from miles away. His nose wrinkled.

He brought the grocery bag closer to his face and inhaled. No, it's not from the meat. Shigure tilted his head heavenward and sniffed again. He was sure of it. This blood...smells human.

After depositing the groceries in the kitchen, Shigure slowly walked up the stairs, following the scent; the trail finally leading to Kyo's room. A little worried, he slid the door open and poked his head in.

"Kyo-kun?" The cat spirit was hunched in one corner of his room; his back to him, his face buried in the forearms propped on his knees.

"Kyo-kun, are you alright?" The smell was so strong now Shigure could almost taste the coppery twang of blood on his tongue.

"Fine," Kyo groused, still not lifting his head. "Leave me alone."

He was lying. Shigure marched in and reached down, grabbing his shoulder. On automated reflex, Kyo jerked and tried to swat the hand away, but the grip was there to stay.

"How badly are you hurt?"

Kyo stiffened. How did he know?

"You're kinda bleeding all over the place. Hard to miss," the older man said dryly. "Bloodstains are hard to get out, you know."

Kyo turned around slowly. A three-inch gash over his left eye extending to his temple, almost obscured by the sheer amount of blood caking pretty much most of one side of his face, stared back at Shigure in all its glorious goriness. He winced involuntarily, his stomach turning.

"That's...going to leave one hell of a scar," he said casually, finally.

"You think?" Kyo growled.

Shigure smirked. "It matches your hair though. Pretty isn't it? All that blood."

"You think this is funny?"

His cousin nodded happily.

"You're so creepy."

Shigure tsk-tsked. He walked to the small chest of drawers next to the window, where he kept the First-Aid kit. "I'm not even going to ASK how you got that."

"Then don't."

"How did you get it?"


"I make one call and not only will you get a mighty scolding from Ha-san, you can be certain of the sheer number of stitches and injections he's going to inflict on you. And I'm not going to help, I'm just gonna stand there watching in glee and enjoying it while it lasts, for he would no doubt tear into me after that for letting you bleed all over my carpet and not doing anything, when it wasn't even my fault to begin with-"

"Rocks." Jeez, his head hurt even worse now.

Shigure's eyes grew as big as saucers. "Yuki's throwing stones now?" He crouched down in front of the injured boy.

Kyo made a face. "Please. Bad enough the sissy rat pulls most of his punches back like a girl-stone-throwing would be more his style...but no, he didn't do this to me." He watched Shigure put on a pair of disposable gloves, and frowned.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Making paper cranes for blind children in Burma. What does it look like I'm doing?" Shigure rolled his eyes exasperatedly. "Hold still."

Using a dampened, clean piece of cloth, Shigure grabbed Kyo's chin none too gently to hold his head in place as he wiped the area around the wound, scrubbing a little to try to get the flakes of dry blood and dirt off. It took all Kyo had not to wince; he gritted his teeth instead. This is embarassing. Like, totally.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" He muttered through clenched teeth.

A distracted, "Hmm?"

Kyo hissed when Shigure poked a little too hard at the cut. "Ow!"

Shigure frowned, but said nothing. He peered closely at the wound. "Either it was a ridiculously large boulder of a rock...or someone bashed your face at the same place over and over again. What did you say happen again?"

Kyo snorted derisively. "I didn't say."

Unfazed, Shigure just patted the wound dry with a gauze swab, pressing a little harder than necessary. "Oops! Have to dry your cut! Have to make it really, really dry!"

"Okay, okay!" Kyo jerked his head back. "Jeez!" He glared at his older cousin out of one eye. If he thought this was embarassing, wait till Shigure found out what happened.

Kyo's eyeballs rolled upward and fixed on the ceiling. He sniffed loudly. "Bumped into some girls. Did a little morphing. Did a little running. Got a little stoned. End of story."

"Which girls? Where? By whom? Start again," Shigure dead-panned.

Kyo gave an exaggerated sigh of exasperation. "Some girls at the school gate on the way back home. Took a shortcut through the bushes at the playground. Some kids saw me, started pelting me with rocks."

A low snicker. A few seconds later, it turned into a barely-suppressed giggle. The next thing he knew, his cousin was rocking back and forth, mad with hysterical laughter.

"You-you ARE-haha-a teeny weeeny little-haha-kitty-haha-HA-"

Kyo's ears burned. He told himself to wait for at least 5 seconds before giving in to the itching desire to strangle his cousin, but he only lasted till 3. With a snarl, he leaped forward.

As if on remote control, Shigure's laughter died so abruptly it left an echo in the air. "Did they see you transform?" He asked seriously, oblivious to Kyo's hands coming to a complete freeze a mere inch from his neck.

Kyo forgot all about the strangling plan and looked thoughtful. Then he shook his head, immediately regretting it when a shard of pain stabbed through his temple. "I ran off so fast I actually thought I left my eyeballs behind."

"And yet you couldn't dodge a rock," Shigure teased. "Well. Whatever it is...we should just patch you up for now, and let Ha-san take a closer look at it later. The fact that you're alive and talking and making lame jokes has brought such relief to this old man's heart-" A dramatic hand on the chest, "-unless you absolutely feel like dying, and would give an arm and leg for an ambulance, a priest and a smoothie? Or better yet, Ha-san? Coz the food processor isn't quite working right now."

Kyo blinked. "You're so creepy."

Shigure gasped. "I just had a pang of dejavu! I could swear over my future grave that I've heard you say the exact words before, in this very room, in this exact setting!"

"That's because I did say it twice," Kyo seethed. He watched Shigure pinch some sterile dressing from its packaging. Kyo braced himself for what was about to come, but the older man was surprisingly gentle, pressing the pad against the wound before tearing off a long piece of adhesive tape and sticking it across the white square. A few seconds later, Kyo was sporting a large butterfly bandage over his eye.

"There. All better," Shigure said in satisfaction. He cleaned the mess up and put everything to one side.

Kyo gingerly touched his patched-up head, expecting the bandage to fall off any second. It didn't. Secure and neatly applied. Surprisingly. "You're pretty good at this."

Shigure smirked. He stood up and loosened his tie. "Ha-san grew tired of having to do it for me all the time so he just taught me how to do it myself. I was a liiiiitle clumsy myself when I was your age...well, not as clumsy as you-" he shrugged, pretending not to see the glare, "-but, what are scars if not memoirs of a lively, fulfilled childhood right?"

"Deranged is more like it," Kyo muttered.

"You should be more careful, Kyo-kun!" Shigure scolded good-naturedly. "Your first week at school and you're already bumping into people, you clumsy ahou!"

"It's your fault for sending me there in the first place!"

"Really, Kyo-chan, between bears and girls...you prefer going back to the bears?" A vein popped on Kyo's other temple.

"Wait a minute, maybe you're not interested in girls! Ah, that must be it!" Shigure waggled his finger as-a-matter-of-factly. "You naughty, naughty boy...hiding it from all of us-I didn't know you swing that way!"

"Argh! Will you please just get out of here? You're driving me mad!"

"Haaai, hai!" Shigure grabbed his coat from off the floor. "But seriously, you have to learn to be more flexible! Like me! If someone comes at you from the right, what you do is you swing your hip graaacefully to the left-" he demonstrated, throwing his lean body to the side in a fluid motion, "-if someone comes at you from the left, well, you swiiiing to the right-"

I can't believe this. I'm stuck. I'm stuck here in this house, with this-this freak-

"And if someone comes at you from ALL directions, well, simple-" Then he did the most unexpected thing in the world.

He tipped on the point of his toe and with amazing ease, spun his tall, slender form in a full, 360 degrees turn. A perfect pirouette.

.god. "What the...hell was that?"

Wah! If he hadn't looked so stupid and ridiculous...Kyo would have been impressed.

Shigure raked a hand through his unruly black hair, looking mighty pleased with himself. "Please, don't look so mesmerised! You're making me blush here-"

"Shigure..." That just confirmed it. That amazing balance. Shigure was definitely not under the influence of alcohol.


"You're being insufferably hyper-giddy today, even more than usual. And you're obviously not drunk." Kyo's eyes narrowed. "Did someone die and leave you a country or something?"

"Even better! We're having a barbecue tonight!" Shigure grinned, giving him a thumbs-up sign. "A party!"

"A party?" Kyo's forehead wrinkled. "What party?"

"A welcoming party."

"A welcoming party? For who?"

Shigure gave him a withering duh-isn't-it-obvious look. "For you, of course!"

"For me?"

"Who else? And stop repeating my words like a moron."

Kyo was silent. "Why would you throw a party for me?"

"Because you just broke the Guinness world record for the clumsiest cat on earth?" Shigure winked. "To welcome you into the house, why else? To celebrate yet another not-so-wonderful, but marginally tolerable addition to the household!"

A moment of awkward silence.

A grudging sniff. "Don't trouble yourself. No one's going to come anyway."

"Ah, how mistaken you are, Kyo-chan!" Shigure tsk-tsked. "In fact, most everybody I called has promised to come! Let's see...there's Ha-san...'Sa-chan, Hi-kun, Ha-kun...I'm not sure if Aaya can make it...but Momichi and Rit-chan are coming as well! Although I think they're just looking forward to some mouthwatering barbequed ribs-but don't you worry! You're our guest of honor so I'll make sure you get the best piece of meat. Deal?"

"I bet you said that to everybody to get them to come," Kyo snickered. "We all know you'll keep the good bites to yourself!"

Shigure laughed. "You know me too well..." He leaned down to whisper something in his ear.

"And Kagu-chan said she can't WAIT to see you."

Kyo's eyes nearly popped. "WHAT! What the hell did you call her for! Baka inu!"

"Juuuust kidding!" The older man patted his shoulder. "Now, now, don't get too excited! Ahhh, it's soo nice to see two young people madly in love, who just go mental at the mention of each other's name..."

Kyo buried his head in his hands and moaned loudly. "Shigure, you're killing me here!"

The dog spirit flashed him a white, toothy grin. "I'm so happy you're here, Kyo-kun. It's so nice to have someone to torture other than Yuki-kun. You're such a good sport. Hehe." As if he was finally taking some pity on his injured cousin, Shigure headed for the door.

"Get some rest. I'll wake you up just in time for the party," he said kindly.

One of Kyo's eyes peeked through the crevices of his fingers.

He was not used to anyone being so...nice.

"I've got blood all over the carpet."

"Don't worry about it."

"I'll clean it later."

"Don't bother."

"What kind of person would bleed all over someone else's house and not clean it up?"

"It's the same blood," Shigure answered vaguely. Kyo just looked at him, confused.

Shigure just smiled. "Yours and mine."


Kyo thought of his mom, who was never willing to accept him as he truly was despite the countless times the words 'I love you' passed through her lips...he thought of Master Kazuma, the great father figure who was no longer around...When they parted, Kyo had thought he'd be forced to learn to stand on his own two feet, learn to be his own man even when it still wasn't time-

And now, there was Shigure, who he barely knew, save for the occasional Jyuunishi gatherings and New Year's celebrations...and of course the numeruos times he'd dropped in to say 'hello ala Kyo' (read, to kick one's ass) to Yuki...he knew almost nothing of him or his family. A sick, perverted flirt...but a harmless one nonetheless.

For someone who couldn't even hug a woman...for a man to dream such dreams for 27 years...How sad. He guessed the only person who could truly understand Shigure was Shigure himself.

Yours and mine.

Maybe, just maybe...living with his cousin wouldn't turn out to be so bad after all.

"Stupid dog."

A small, cheerful laugh. "Good night."

He remembered that day like it was yesterday. It had been a great party, even Yuki had been civil to him that night. Although Shigure never did keep his promise, giving all the big pieces of ribs to Hatori instead; the Dragon nearly chewed his head off for not calling him the moment he found that Kyo was hurt. A head injury was not a grazed knee, the family doctor had hollered at Shigure. Good thing the cut on his head worked in Shigure's favor, it wasn't that deep so he wouldn't have needed stitches; but poor Shigure, having had to butter Hatori up with extra meat, leaving almost none for himself.

Kyo studied Shigure's sleeping face. So many lines...on such a young face.

Kyo's ears burned. What the hell am I doing? Staring at another man, who was not only sleeping and oblivous to such invasion of his privacy, but was also his cousin? I don't do mush! He grabbed one of the leaflets sticking out from Tohru's seat and buried his face in it, feeling his face go red.

"Kyo-kun." Did he just imagine it or did Shigure really call his name? He put the leaflet down and his eyes widened. He's finally awake!

"I've always known you were a girl, but do you really have to tell it to everybody?" Shigure mumbled drowsily.


"It kind of gives the family a bad name," Shigure sighed, closing his eyes again.

"Huh?" Again.

A finger pointed at the leaflet he was holding up. Kyo took a closer look at it.


Primary Intervention : Are you protected?

Kyo went pale. His hand shot out and he shook Shigure awake again. "Oi! Wake up!"

"Wh-aaaaat?" Shigure whined, draping an arm over his head. "Can't a man sleep in peace?"

"Read it. Read it again!" Kyo shoved the pamphlet in his face. The poor man, still disoriented with the remnant of drug-induced sleep, recoiled.

"What are you doing?" He cried, his hand flailing about. "That tickles!"

"Read it!" Kyo was glowering now. "Shigure, I want you to freaking read it! Out loud, right now!"

Shigure only blinked languidly in confusion. "Ngaa-?"

Kyo grabbed the back of his neck and forced him to look at it. "Read."

"What's the matter with you, Kyo-kun?" Shigure frowned, but he grabbed the leaflet anyway. He squinted.

"Prevention of cervical cancer. Primary Intervention : Are you protected?" Shigure read out loud. Flawlessly.

He held his palm outward in a questioning motion. "What's the deal? It was a good-morning joke. What, you can't take a joke now?" Shigure tsk-tsked.

Kyo was dumbstruck. Shigure could read. Does that mean he can also-?

Kyo dashed out of the room, grabbed a pen from the counter at the nurses' station and made it back to Shigure's bedside in record time. He slammed it on the table, along with the notepad from the side table.

"Write something. Anything."

"Kyo, what's going on?" Shigure was still not fully awake. And right now Kyo was disturbing his sleep.

It took all Kyo had to keep from wringing his cousin's neck like a wet towel.

"You heard me, you dumbass! Now write!"

Shigure winced. Getting yelled at, especially by Kyo first thing in the morning was not very pleasant. "Shesh, Kyo-kun, you're so loud! You could wake the dead!"

Kyo just bared his teeth.

Pretending not to see, Shigure picked up the pen and started to write. Normally. Kyo watched, entranced, as his cousin's wrist flick up and down in a fluid motion as he wrote something in the beautiful cursive he usually reserved for signing autographs.

As the last traces of sleep vanished from his eyes...

'Sohma Kyo is a cross-dressing, leek-hating, bear-fighting gir-' His hand froze.

"I'll be damned..." he whispered.

Kyo grabbed the pamphlet from his still fingers and nearly poked his eye out as he tried to make the words out. His mouth worked, but no words came out.

"Kyo..." His voice was filled with awe.

"I can't believe this," Kyo said finally, swallowing hard. "Last night...were you-were you just-" His eyes were misty as he gaped at Shigure.

His cousin shook his head from side to side slowly. He still looked stunned. "I wasn't...it was real!"

Shigure raised his hands and stared at his palms. "Last night...it was really...gone..." He searched Kyo's face for confirmation, that it was really happening, that this wasn't just a dream-

The red-haired cat broke into the biggest grin he had ever seen.

"Shigure, you bastard!" But he was smiling, he was so smiling so widely his lips could snap. Then he started roaring; a crazy, manic, relieved laughter-

Still staring at his palms, Shigure fell backward onto the mattress, his longish hair stark black against the white of his pillow as it fanned out, framing his face like a halo-

I can't believe it.

Hatori had just stepped out the elevator at the other end of the hallway when he heard Kyo shout.

"You lucky bastard!"

He started to run.

He was being discharged today. He had been issued a clean bill of health, despite the earlier scare; all his sensory and motor functions intact much to everyone's relief. Apparently last night was just a minor after-effect, temporary but it was enough to strike that note of fear in anyone.

It was a miracle.

Even Dr Tachibana had been a wee bit teary when he signed a special autograph for him; his rapid recovery had been beyond everyone's expectations.

Shigure hummed happily as Hatori pushed his wheelchair down the corridor. He didn't really mind. Hospital policy. In fact, he quite enjoyed making people work.

"Ne, ne, Ha-san! Take the longer route! Go round the west wing! Then we can take the elevator uptwo levels and we can go down to the parking lot using the disabled ramp! It'll be fun!"

A vein popped on Hatori's forehead. "I don't know you. I don't know you. I don't know you," he chanted droidly.

Shigure just gave him a sunny smile. "Please? I need to stop by the gift shop."

"Whatever for?"

"I want to buy a get-well card."

"You made friends while you were here?" Hatori frowned.

"No, silly. I'm buying it for myself."

The Dragon sweat-dropped.

"Since you're the only one who showed up on the day of my release, I'm feeling a little bit unloved. So I'm getting myself a card. And maybe some flowers too!"

"Of all the things you could have lost from sticking your head into the oven, you couldn't get rid of that God-awful sense of humour."

"I try." A gentle smile. Looks like his effort to cheer Ha-san up worked.

A long pause.

"Ayame's going to have a fit."

"You were worried about that?"

Hatori was silent.

Shigure sighed and leaned his head back as far as he could without bumping into Hatori's stomach. "Do we even need to tell him?"

Hatori snorted. "I don't know how we can even keep it from him. All he needs to do is ask one of the servants at the Main House and he'll find out about everything."

Shigure looked worried. "How in the world did they find out?"

"You got me running in and out of the house every few hours, driving the kids back and forth from your house to the hospital-of course it raised suspicion."


"You should be," Hatori retorted. "You nearly drove everyone insane. Freaking us all out like that."

"Really, Ha-san, I didn't know you cared," Shigure teased, patting one of the hands on the handle at his shoulder. "Aww..."

"I don't," he replied sourly.

The dog spirit's smile faltered. "How's Yuki?"

At a turn, Hatori swerved to the right. They were going through the west wing after all.

"Haven't seen him since yesterday."

"But he knows-" Shigure tilted his head upward to look at his cousin. "He knows that I'm...alright. Right?"

"I'm sure Honda-kun would have told him," Hatori answered vaguely.

Shigure only nodded.

"He stayed with you the whole night."


"In case you were wondering why he didn't come visit. That first night we brought you in. He stayed."

"I know." A wistful smile.

"You do?" Hatori stopped in front of the elevator and stared down at the top of Shigure's head.

The Dragon shook his head. "You're lying. You were still out cold when I took him home the next morning."

Shigure shrugged. "You know what they say. You can always smell a rat."

Hatori blinked. That would have been funny, if it hadn't been the complete truth.

"What are you planning to do now?"

Shigure stared dead ahead. "We'll just worry about it when the time comes."

"Okay." The elevator door opened and silently, Hatori pushed him in, resuming their little stroll; final destination: the parking lot.

"There's a surprise waiting for you at home."

A cry of delight. "A surprise? For me? What is it? Tell me, tell me!"

"There's a reason why it's called a surprise, Shigure."

"Naa, Ha-san, tell me now! I need to kn-" The elevator door closed.

"How does this thing work anyway? There isn't any fire!"

"How is Tohru-kun going to cook if there's no fire?"

"Her wrist is still broken, remember? She still can't cook anyway so why worry about it now?"

"Why did Ha-san get it even when he knew it doesn't work?"

"Anou...maybe it's a foreign-made stove!" Tohru chirped. "We should take a look at the manual!"

"Where is the manual?"

A nervous laughter. "I think I left it out in the rain last night...it's all wet and soggy right now..."


"What are you doing, sitting here by yourself?" He jerked, startled. Someone had crept up from behind. A voice, dry and void of emotion.

Yuki saw a flash of white, and the next thing he knew, a pair of long, slack-covered legs was hanging down the edge of the porch next to his.

"Why aren't you inside?" Hatori was not even making an effort to sound curious.

Yuki didn't trust himself to speak. He made do with a shrug.

He could hear everyone chattering and bantering away happily from inside the house, but the huge lump weighing down his heart was only allowing him misery. That waswhat he deserved, after all.

Hatori gazed off into the distant; the blue sky cloudless, crystal clear. Like the ocean.

"A nice day like this, no one should be lonely, let alone miserable."

Yuki brought his legs up to his chest and propped his chin against the bony prominence of his knees, his arms wrapped around himself. He looked small, scared...young.

"Am I...going back to the Main House?" He asked finally, the quivering timbre of his voice the only indication of the pain raging in his soul. He guessed that was why Hatori wanted to talk to him. Why else?

Hatori inhaled deeply. He knew this was coming. But he would have expected Kyo to bring it up though; not Yuki. He treaded the subject carefully, choosing his words as wisely as he could.

"That depends." He knew what Yuki had had to go through as a child. He couldn't imagine Yuki wanting to go back, to the same old prison, to that same old room. Not when he had finally freed himself. Too many people had sacrificed too much already. Hatori was not going to let Yuki destroy his future just because of a bad stroke of luck.

"Do you want to go back?"

A deep veil of sadness fell over the boy's face, casting clouds over the contours of his pale, blotchy cheeks.

Somehow, Hatori already knew the answer to that. He took another deep breath.

"I'm not supposed to tell you this." A pause, to ensure that Yuki understood fully what those words meant. Yuki's face instantly became a hard mask of concentration.

"That night at the hospital, before he went to sleep...he said something to me." Hatori clasped his hands in his lap. His eyes were far away. "He told me that if he couldn't get better-"

A deep breath.

"If he couldn't recover...he wanted me to erase your memories."

Yuki's rocking form stilled.

"He wanted me to make you forget...that you caused the accident. That you were the one who did it to him."

Yuki suddenly found himself unable to breathe.

A strong, warm hand reached out to grab the back of his neck, and it stayed there, as if to will away the uncontrollable shaking of his body, as the true meaning of Hatori's words dawned on him.

"That's how much he loves you." Yuki's eyes filled instantly with tears.

Hatori had turned his head fully to the side now, his gaze gentle, soft. There was no malice at all. "That's how much he wants you to stay."

Hatori kept staring at the empty spot next to him even after Yuki had leaped to his feet, and run inside.

Slowly, so very slowly, his lips curled at the edges, turning into a wistful, contented smile.

Ah. He sniffed deeply.

Love is in the air.

It definitely is.

They were still admiring the new electric stove in the kitchen when they suddenly felt a new presence at the door. Kyo's eyes instantly narrowed, suspicious. Tohru uncertainly glanced at Shigure and the door back and forth.

Shigure started to turn around to see, but before he could, whoever it was had thrown himself at him, knocking the wind out of him-He uttered a gasp, but the arms wrapped around his waist tightened even more. In shock, he reeled a few steps back, knocking his back against the edge of the sink.

But nothing surprised him more than the sudden trickle of something wet and warm on his chest.

Shigure drew in a shaky breath. Very slowly, he raised a hand, and rested it on the back of the boy's head. He caressed the silver hair awkwardly at first, but when the silent sobs showed no sign of subsiding, his other hand started to rub comforting circles on Yuki's quivering back.

Kyo and Tohru just looked on with amazement.

This is unbelievable. Kyo refused to even blink; for fear of the mirage in front of him collapsing before his eyes. Am I actually seeing this? Yuki...crying? He had thought that was beyond impossible.

Yuki-kun...Huge droplets of tears were forming in Tohru's own eyes, and they were threatening to spill any minute. She had never seen anything so beautiful in her life.

Yuki buried his face deeper into the warmth of Shigure's torso, the sheer exhaustion and pain and worry and despair from these past few days finally taking a toll on him; here he was, having a total breakdown, in front of absolutely everyone. And he was surprised to find that...he didn't even care.

Shigure was alive. And well.

That was all that mattered.

"Yuki-kun." The treble of Shigure's voice rumbled deep within his chest, husky and gentle. "There you are."

And that very second he knew; everything was forgiven.

Yuki's heart soared like it had never soared before.

"Welcome back." His mumble was muffled by the shirt, now wet with drying tears, but Shigure heard it anyway.

"Good to be home, Yuki. Good to be home."


Ha-kun (Hatsuharu) Hi-kun (Hiro) 'Sa-chan (Kisa) Rit-chan (Ritsu) Kagu-chan (Kagura, of course!) Momichi (Momiji, but I find it funny how Shigure always calls him Momichi instead, he's so adorable!)

Author's notes:

(Damn. Why the heck are MY eyes tearing up? Spoken like a true narcissist, gomen!)

There it is. The fic's done. Fin. I wrote the entire chapter with the song 'Kizuna' by Orange Range put on rewind, a song whichI personally think complements this story perfectly; right down to the very last note.

I apologize for not doing much more, I know some of you were hoping for at least some Ayame, or maybe even Akito...but those two, I don't really quite understand them well enough yet to try to bring them into the picture. A mention here, a mention there...but I know the story would have been so much better if I could only integrate the significance of their presence in the Furuba world into the story. My bad.

I hope you've all enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I look forward to more of your wonderful comments and constructive criticism that had kept me going this past month. Thank youfor your never-ending support!

Signing off,

Shigure's No 1 Die-hard Fan.