Disclaimer : Standard disclaimers apply.
Author's Notes: To mark the beginning of a new year, here is my offering to all those born under the sign of the dog-and to all Shigure and Hatori fans! Enjoy!
Warning: Slight language, spoilers definitely. Hint of AkkiGure, AkkiKureno.
"What are you doing, taking a nap at a time like this?" He growled at the prone form lying on the floor he'd almost stepped on.
Despite the lavish decorations and the colourful, sparkling lights brightening every house in the Sohma estate, Hatori had opted his office to be decoration-free; one, so he could keep up that professional air Shigure was always teasing him about, second, so he could have a smoke without fear of burning the whole compound down. And right now, he needed one really bad. And guess what he found?
Hatori reached for the light switch but a soft groan stopped him.
"Please, no lights..."
"Shigure, what are you doing in my office?" Hatori had always disliked him coming and going as he pleased, but his two so-called buddies had been doing it since their Hana Mabudachi Trio days so he tolerated it. Although often barely.
And stranger still-
"Shouldn't you be at the banquet?" Hatori asked, puzzled. That was strange. He didn't see Shigure leave.
His cousin didn't answer immediately.
But Hatori knew he wasn't sleeping. He nudged Shigure's exposed ankle with his toe, prompting him to speak. Shigure drew his legs away from the touch, curling into a fetal position.
"Leamme alone..." he whined, wrapping his arms tightly around himself, as if to will away the biting cold.
Hatori blinked. "It's New Year's Eve, Shigure," he said a little dumbly, stating the obvious. He was too confused.
Shigure sighed and finally turned his head sideways to look up at his cousin, his face hidden in the blur of the shadows. "My stomach was hurting. I needed to lie down."
Hatori stared down at him.
"Did you eat something bad?"
A slight frown. "Just the same as everybody else," he mumbled finally.
Hatori kept looking at him, his expression unreadable.
He had seen this before. It hadn't been that long ago that he had forgotten.
Hatori resisted the urge to sigh. He should have known better than to hope for at least a moment of peace on New Year's Day. And here he thought, it wouldn't be so bad, with it being the Dog Year and everything, he thought he could witness what should be an interesting start to the year-
He thought wrong.
"Is the word 'compassion' not in any of your fancy doctor dictionaries, Haa-san? You're talking to an awfully sick man here."
A vein throbbed somewhere behind Hatori's ear.
"Get up and go lie down in my room. Unless you want to freeze to death."
"Aww, I should have known-" A flicker of a smile. "Are you worried about me, Haa-san?"
Hatori said nothing. There was something behind Shigure's teasing words, something lurking behind the shadow of his smile-Like he said, he had seen this before.
"What's wrong?" He hated this. Having to ask questions. Especially to someone like Shigure, who could complicate even the simplest query, just by not answering. Or by giving stupid answers.
"I have a tummyache," he said simply.
Now that's a stupid answer.
"That's a stupid answer."
Shigure pouted. "Someday I'll die in my sleep and you'll regret ever saying all the mean things you've said to me for the past 25 years, 'Tori-chan!"
"I didn't start speaking until I was four, Shigure," Hatori said tiredly.
"You do the maths, Haa-san. You're the one who can think straight right now."
Maybe he should rephrase.
"Did something happen?"
"What do you mean 'something'?"
"You left in the middle of the New Year's Banquet, Shigure. And you're the Jyuunishi of the year too. Now being the highlight of tonight's event, and being the attention whore as we all know you are, you would never have skipped out on us, certainly not just because of a stomachache."
"Your opinion of me surpasses my own understanding of myself, Haa-san." Shigure was impressed.
A derisive snort. "You think you're the only clever one around here?"
"I'm stupid one second, and clever the next. Which is it?"
"You're avoiding the question."
"And you're being a pest-I'm in pain, for God's sake!"
"Did you take anything for it?"
A fist reluctantly unclenched open, revealing crumpled foil wrappings, their contents missing. Hatori counted them silently in his head.
He was quiet for a while.
"Better now?" He asked finally.
"It's not that bad."
"Four rolls. A bit much for not that bad, are they not?"
"Could use a few more. You used to keep a truckload."
"Don't see the need anymore. You grew out of it." A slight frown. "Or I thought you had."
Against his better judgement, Hatori sank to the floor, silently crossing his legs. He stared at the stiff curve of his cousin's back. They had dressed him up like some mindless mannequin from a museum. Although none of them was particularly crazy about being the Jyuunishi of the year that much (well, except for Ayame maybe, but that would be going off on a totally different tangent), New Year's Eve was enough a reason to be merry, if only for a few days out of the whole year-
There was only one person in the world who could cause Shigure this much stress and make it show.
"This is very unlike you, Shigure. You don't normally let he-him get to you like this." Hatori caught himself just in time at the sounds of footsteps walking past his door. It was tough keeping secrets in a house with so many people around, but hey, what else is new?
"No clue what you're talking about," Shigure only mumbled, burying his face deeper into the small, miserable piece of cushion he had taken from Hatori's work chair.
"No lies, Shigure."
Hatori never did find out the reason why Akito kicked Shigure out of the Main House two years ago. One minute they were hanging out together in his office, smoking and talking, with Shigure doing most of the talking, of course-the next, Shigure was packing and walking out the door.
But Hatori knew better than to ask-it took Shigure nearly a month to recover fully from the constant stomach aches plaguing him afterward. Stress-induced; that was what Hatori had told everyone who even showed an interest.
"Have I ever lied to you, Haa-san?" Shigure asked light-heartedly.
More times than I can keep count, Hatori answered silently.
But as sharp as the dog spirit was, Hatori was even sharper. Shigure had not been the only one who had noticed that 'spectacle' at the banquet table, the most blatant display of disrespect he had ever seen Akito show-
"One does wonder sometimes who it was to have taught her such open indecency."
Shigure barked a short laugh. "Sure as hell wasn't me."
Hatori allowed himself a slight smirk. "You're lying right there, cousin."
But the light-hearted mood was destined not to stay. For Shigure to unconsciously acknowledge the subject of their God's explicit behaviour Hatori had purposely brought up conferred solid evidence on what was troubling his cousin so.
"He has no choice but to be here, Shigure."
"He doesn't have the right."
"Not for us to decide."
"He doesn't have the right!" Shigure repeated heatedly, a furious blush colouring his cheeks, immediately wincing as he discovered raising his voice wasn't doing much good to his already aching stomach muscles. "He has no right..."
"He's never missed a banquet before, what makes you think he wasn't going to join us this year?"
"Oh we're letting outsiders in now, are we? While we're at it, why not get Kyo to join us too? Or better yet, Tohru-kun? She was born in the year of the dog after all." Shigure said viciously.
Shigure's rash words were making Hatori a little nervous.
"Shigure, calm down."
"Don't patronize me, Hatori."
The Dragon blinked. But he was unfazed.
"You know she only does as she pleases. If she wants Kureno at the banquet, then he'll be at the banquet. It's that simple."
"Guess I'll never be as selfless as you are. Sorry for being such a drag," Shigure said bitterly. The only person he could stand being himself around was Hatori. And right now, he knew he was taking it out on the Dragon but he was hurting too much to care.
Hatori could see that too. But he couldn't resist, although doubting if he had any say at all-
"You want him to leave. Akito wants him to stay. Why should he choose to appease you instead of her?"
"It's my fucking year, Hatori." Hatori's bad eye quivered involuntarily; Shigure rarely expressed his anger quite as openly as this.
"It should all be about me!" Shigure's eyes flashed. "Me!"
This time Hatori was silent. He didn't know what to say to that.
Shigure was closer, much closer to Akito than the rest of them, that was a given, but no matter how much Akito gave him, he still wanted more. Like a dog latching onto a bone, not wanting to let go.
But looking at him now, this miserable husk of a man almost bled dry emotionally to the point of breaking-
Hatori had never felt sorrier for him.
Must be tough for you to put on that happy mask you call a face all year long, 'Gure.
"I understand how you feel."
Shigure sniffed. "Do you really?" He asked quietly.
Hatori was surprised to find no trace of mockery in Shigure's question.
"I do." Hatori rose to his feet. He spent the next few minutes silently filling a hot water bottle with hot water from the kettle.
"I do understand..." he said, sitting back down, handing his cousin the warm object which he gratefully accepted. "But, Shigure-"
Hatori shook his head solemnly as he watched Shigure hug the bottle close against his torso.
"You shouldn't be too hard on him. He's...trapped here too."
Shigure's eyes hardened.
"Whatever gave you that impression, Haa-san? Did he seem unhappy to you, with Akito draped all over him like that?"
The other Jyuunishis might mistake the closeness Akito shared with the ex-rooster as simply the unbreakable bond between a God and His subject. But every touch of hand, every contact of skin, every kiss shared between the two...was a knife to Shigure's heart.
He couldn't even close his eyes. And that music...that damn music, kept playing over and over again in his ear. The dance is over, he thought in rage, but still the stupid Koto was playing in his head-
The dance is over.
He couldn't even close his eyes. Everytime he did, all he could see was Akito nibbling on Kureno's ear, her eyes, sharp and knowing, piercing into his like a hawk's...all he could hear was her soft giggles as Kureno let her slide her slender fingers into the open flaps of his robe, exposing the expanse of his chest-
And the others...the others could only watch as Shigure pretended to lose himself in the haunting notes of the harp, clueless as Shigure swayed his slender hips in time with the slow, languid rhythm of the dance-the jingle of the bells on his wrists tinkling with every slow, controlled breath-
Everytime he closed his eyes, he could see the faces watching him in awe, entranced-faces of the people he knew, and some he even loved...but not one of them knew.
The humiliation. The pain.
Not a single one of them knew.
He had danced for her.
Only for her.
But she had killed him tonight.
Even before the dance was over.
Shigure flung an arm over his head, masking his face with the huge sleeve of his elaborate costume, but not the quiet, muffled mumble of his sigh-"Greedy bastard."
Hatori blinked a few times. For a second there, he wasn't sure if Shigure was referring to him-or Kureno.
"He has everything..." Shigure sounded almost as if he was weeping. A strangled whisper-"He's free."
Hatori looked away, gazing out into the night. His zen garden was nothing but a blur of greys and blacks. Miserable. Maybe he should have put up some decorations after all.
"A bird is only free if it flies away."
"And yet, he's still here. Acting like he's one of us."
"To the others, he still is."
Shigure's blood began to boil again. "My dance was not for the whole bloody world to see."
Only the chosen and the cursed had the right to see him dance.
To think that Kureno had feasted his dirty eyes on his little performance-
It made him sick.
He wished he had stayed home. Shigure clutched himself even tighter; the nauseating pangs of pain steady and unrelenting.
"I liked it." Hatori finally said it, albeit a little grudgingly, reluctantly.
"Your dance. Even if you did miss your footing and nearly step on Ritsu, who still hasn't stopped apologizing for allegedly getting in your way by the way-"
Shigure had to laugh. "Miss? I think I did that on purpose."
"-but yes, I found it...quite beautiful."
Shigure's laughter died. He was quiet for a while.
"Haa-san, stop it. I don't need this. Not tonight."
"Stop being nice to me."
"It is the Year of the Dog after all."
"I wish I could share your enthusiasm." Shigure gingerly flipped onto his other side, facing Hatori at long last. He dropped his head forward until his forehead found the warmth of Hatori's crossed legs; promptly burying his face against the Dragon's knee.
"Hmm?" Hatori unconsciously fingered a silky lock of fine black hair splayed on the floor next to his thigh.
"Take me home..." Shigure lifted his head up and peered imploringly into his cousin's face. Hatori's heart stopped. Now he knew why Shigure was so keen on hiding his face. His eyelashes were wet. "Get me out of here..."
"I can't," Hatori whispered, his face strickening.
Shigure's lower lip trembled. "Please?"
There was no way the lump in his throat could get any bigger. Hatori closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Shigure."
Shigure thumped his forehead against Hatori's knee again, making an audible 'thunk' sound. It must have hurt, but Hatori knew that nothing, not even the most terrible pain in the world, could compare to the pain in Shigure's heart.
If there was only something Hatori could do to make it go away, he would do it in a heartbeat. But there wasn't.
We're all trapped here. Until the day we die.
Hatori reached down uncertainly, and was just about to lay a comforting hand on the back of Shigure's head when the door suddenly flew open. With lightning speed, he drew his hand back as if he'd just touched fire.
"Young Master Shigure, there you are! We've been looking all over for you!" An irate-looking man, one of Akito's servants, popped his head through the open door. "It is time for your special toast! Please return to the banquet hall immediately!"
Hatori's heart was still racing. He cleared his throat in the attempt to get a hold of himself-
"Shigure isn't feeling well right now; too much sake. He will have to do it later-"
"No. I'm alright." Shigure lifted his head a fraction off the floor, finally letting the light cast triangles across his face, which was a little too pale for Hatori's liking. "Tell Akito-san I'll be there in a minute."
He struggled into a sitting position, propping himself up on one elbow, using the other hand to straighen out his elaborate costume. Hatori only watched him silently. For Shigure's sake, he could only hope the dog spirit was feeling better; that was all he could do for him.
"I'm alright," Shigure whispered again, much more softly this time, more to himself than to anybody else.
Shigure...and Akito...whatever was going on between the two...they were too far gone.
And as the two of them stood in front of the main double doors of the banquet hall, as Hatori marvelled at the sounds of music and soft, muffled conversations trickling through the crevices of the aged, elaborate wooden panels of gold and ceramics, the chinks of glasses colliding with one another, the boisterous wholehearted laughter that could only belong to the one and only Ayame the snake-
He turned his head slowly to the man by his side.
A hand slowly rose to slide a stray lock of jet black hair underneath the heavy, gleaming headpiece, tilting it into its rightful position. Before his eyes, Hatori watched as a smooth, suave smile erased the wrinkles of pain from earlier, emotional and physical alike, bit by bit; until there was nothing left but the face of an ordinary young man, with a taste for women he could never hold, for a God he could never possess...for a cursed life he didn't have the courage to end.
"I am, Hatori." The smile was still there, familiar, still bright as always...but the sight of it only made Hatori feel all the more like crying.
As they pushed the doors open together, Hatori caught neither the slight faltering of that smile, nor the inaudible sigh of breath whistling past those smiling lips-
Koto - a Japanese harp
Author's notes: Hah! Take that! I killed the plot bunny! Hurray! That scene has been playing in my head for so long, I just had to get it out before it kills me. Did it come across as well as I had pictured it? Let me know what you think!
Happy Chinese New Year, minna-san!