Hatori dipped the stained cloth into the basin for the tenth time that night, feeling absolutely drained yet at the same time mesmerized by the blossoms of red tainting the clarity of the hot, steaming water; the tangy rusty smell wafted through the small room filling his nostrils in a noxious, heady miasma of blood, pain, and-

"How is she?" A voice interrupted his train of thoughts.

Hatori did not have to turn around to know who it was.

"Long or short?" Curt. Concise. Tired.

"Hmm. Enough?"

As if on cue, the sound of violent coughing reverberated through the hallway; he imagined it shaking the wall separating the small makeshift office and the master bedroom where she, who was once the most important person in the world to him, lay in wait.

"Her lungs are filling with blood. There is nothing I can do."

The figure at the door did not budge.

"So. It is to be tonight."

Hatori said nothing. He threw the dirty cloth into the waste basin more viciously than he intended, still refusing to turn around.

"Don't be angry with her, Haa-san. She has decided."

"No, I am angry with you." Hatori slammed a hand down the table, and whirled around. "You who boasts in private of his hold over her-"

The ex-dragon marched across the room, furious- "You who prides himself as the one closest to her, you who claims loves her most, and yet you do nothing! For heaven's sake, tell her to stop all this nonsense and come with me to the hosp-"

Hatori's voice died in mid-sentence as the dim light of the room finally illuminated the tall figure standing rooted at the door. A familiar face, and an even more familiar smile. And yet-

"Shigure, why are you dressed like that?"

After a beat, the pale ghost of a man finally shifted, moving a hand down his thigh to smooth out the black silk of the hakama in an almost reverent caress. A puzzled expression slowly contorted his forehead into a thousand fine creases and the fingers of his other hand ghosted over the bodice of his haori…but as suddenly as it had appeared, the frown smoothened out, and the handsome face Hatori knew so well once again broke into a smile.

"I don't even know myself, Haa-san."

Hatori could feel the blood drain from his face.

"Shigure." His throat was so dry he could feel his vocal cords grate against each other like sand paper. "What is going on?"

"I do not know what you mean."

"You are dressed for a funeral." His jaw clenched so hard his teeth ached.

Again, the honest frown.

"I told you, Haa-san. I don't know-"

"Do not play with me," Hatori hissed through his bangs of jet-black hair. "What are you hiding from me?"

"I am not hiding anything." Shigure's arms dropped to his side, a picture of serenity. "The North Star outshines Sirius tonight. Did you see it?"

Shigure's face was unearthly pale, Hatori noticed with rising alarm.

"Shigure, you look ill." Even his lips were void of colour.

Shigure only laughed soundlessly. "Surely that is not all that you see, Haa-san. You of all people should know. The strength of our spirits...far surpasses the forces that bind our physical beings to this world."

"Let me look at you."

Hatori grabbed his cousin's arm and pulled him to one side. Shigure resisted. "There is no need-"

"Shut up, Shigure." He physically pushed Shigure down onto the floor, forcing him to sit-

"Oya oya-" Shigure said teasingly, still trying to squirm out of Hatori's vise-like grip. "Haa-san, you're so rough. Surely they taught you at least some people skills back in medical school. And why are you examining me anyway? I'm not sick-"

"Shut up!" Blood roared in his ears and for a second, Hatori saw nothing but red. The next thing he knew, Shigure was sprawled beneath him, a hand clasped to his stinging cheek fast turning a bright scarlet against his pale, shocked face.

"Haa-san…"

"You're not going anywhere." There was a frantic urgency in Hatori's voice, and despite his pain, Shigure found himself chuckling in ironic amusement as he watched Hatori fumble with the instrument tangled around his neck.

"Haa-san…" He knew he was not supposed to speak, but the diaphragm of the stethoscope felt like ice against his chest; it was the only thing Shigure could do to take his mind off the almost-physical pain clenching his heart.

His body, already very weak, was finally reacting to Hatori's slap. When a sudden spell of dizziness sapped all energy from him, he found himself sagging.

It was near time.

And Hatori had to learn to stop doing the unnecessary.

He grabbed hold of Hatori's wrist, and gently pulled the annoying medical instrument out of his cousin's hand.

"Haa-san, listen to me."

Hatori's lips thinned into a line. Shigure waited until he had stopped all he was doing and was really listening. "Ne, Haa-san…"

"I am supposed to be man's best friend, yes?" The grip around Hatori's wrist did not loosen.

The angry look in Hatori's eye wavered slightly. The unspoken question behind it however did not.

Perhaps Shigure should explain.

"I serve my master and no other," he whispered. "Where my master goes…I go."

Hatori peered into his face, still not following, or perhaps refusing to. "Go…where?" he asked softly.

It was near time. Shigure inhaled deeply.

"Wherever," he answered shortly. It was the longest, yet the shortest, most concise answer he could give. The only answer.

Hatori only stared at him unblinkingly.

It took longer than it should but the precious seconds were not wasted; when understanding finally dawned on him, he was quick to wrench his wrist away and seize the front of Shigure's kimono.

"You liar," he hissed in fury. "You said we were free!"

The confusion in Shigure's eyes looked too real to be faked. "You are free."

Hatori's bad eye twitched, and when he spoke, his tone of his voice chilled his blood down to the bones.

"Yet you are dying."

Shigure's eyes softened into something resembling a genuine smile.

"Ah, Haa-san. How mistaken you are." The cold fingers reached up and wrapped themselves around Hatori's own warm hand. "I am staying."

Hatori cocked his head questioningly.

"I have chosen to stay a long, long time ago. I have chosen to stay with her."

The tremor Hatori had been trying so hard to suppress gave itself away; his hands were visibly shaking. No doubt Shigure could feel them himself. Exhaustion, grief, and hopelessness from watching Akito slowly wilt away had long since robbed the life from his eyes-and now this.

"You knew this was going to happen." A raw, accusatory whisper.

Any other day Shigure would have given anything to not cause Hatori such grief. But there was to be no other day, no other time. And Hatori needed to know. Shigure owed him at least that.

"Did you honestly think I would have pursued it if I knew she would end up all alone?" Shigure's question was laced with such gentleness whatever malice he might have intended, if he intended any at all did not show.

"I would not have let the curse be broken, if it had meant Akito dying alone." The dark glint in his eyes softened neither his gaze nor his countenance. "Not even for you."

An indescribable rush of emotions flooded over Hatori-anger, grief, anxiety, and pain, all mingled together in an instantaneous, tumultuous rage. "You bastard."

Shigure had been the happiest, the day the curse was lifted.

Even when all the other Jyuunishi members wept, in silent, or with each other…strangely Shigure had decided to have none of it. He had stayed by Akito's side with Hatori watching from the shadows. Even from afar he could tell…Shigure was happy. But he had never asked why.

"You selfish bastard," he almost wept; he felt so uncontrollably angry.

How was he to know Shigure had kept such a big secret in his twisted, rotten heart?

Something wet dropped onto his hand-

How was he to know the price Shigure had paid, to release everyone from the curse?

Another tear fell onto his knuckles.

Shigure saw, and only gripped Hatori's hand tighter affectionately. He slowly leaned forward.

"Be free, Hatori." Dry lips brushed against Hatori's ear, the hoarse whisper bristling through hot, heavy and raw with emotions…emotions Hatori had not heard from him for so long-

"Free to love, as you once have loved."

Shigure pulled away slightly but still kept his face close enough their noses almost touched, his eyes telling a secret Hatori had always known.

As I have loved you.

For years they had been bound by that one invisible thread no one thought severable.

As I have loved all of you.

"Is there no place in your heart for any other, Shigure?"

Shigure's eyes widened in horror and almost frantically he grabbed Hatori's face in his hands. "Please don't misunderstand me, Haa-san-"

"Haa-san…" The fingers clenched tighter, as if by exerting more strength it would make his next words less painful to hear- "I do love you."

Again, the stinging hotness in his eyes...such words would not normally sway him, as unexpected as they were, Shigure had always had his way around words, all the stupid things he was always saying, boring him to death…but as though to mock him, when Hatori finally mustered enough strength to find his voice, it shook.

"But not enough to stay."

"There is no somewhere in between."

Hatori did not believe his heart could sink any deeper, but it did.

"I need to have somewhere to go, Hatori."

Hatori could not bring himself to look at him. He turned his head away. "You bastard."

"Tsk tsk. Such language, Doctor." Standing up took a bit of a struggle, but once the room stopped tilting, finding his balance was not of much difficulty. Shigure tried his best to straighten out the creases in his kimono. He had to look presentable. He had to go. He could not keep Akito waiting for longer.

He threw his cousin, his one true friend, one last smile. "Sore ja."

With lightning speed, Hatori's arms reached out on their own volition and grabbed hold of Shigure before he could walk out, his fingers clenching around the other man's shoulder joints so tight he could feel them creak under the pressure.

Without a warning, the ex-dragon buried his forehead against the trench between Shigure's shoulder blades; even with the protection of his clothes, his cousin felt so cold.

They stood like that, rooted to the floor, one clinging to the other for what felt like hours.

"Deny me this one last thing, Hatori…" A tear slowly trailed a crooked path down the hollowed arc of Shigure's left cheek, but he paid it no heed. Hatori could not see it after all. "And I will never forgive you."

Hatori stopped breathing.

The room fell into a heavy silence, the air thick and stifling.

A lone cricket strung its own melody of the night, a forlorn, sombre tune.

And after what felt like eternity…Hatori let Shigure go.

"Make sure Kyo-kun and Tohru-kun name at least one of their children after me, Haa-san."

The gnawing pain in his heart intensified, but he fought it. A proper farewell was what Shigure had come for, and Hatori could at least give him that.

"As if they would." It was meant to be a derisive snort, but it was not as easy to do as he thought what with all the stuff clogging the back of his throat, making it impossible to breathe, let alone speak. Shigure merely laughed.

They locked gazes for one last time. Shigure was the one to finally break it. "Mata ne."

Hatori nodded. "Take care of yourself, Shigure."

"Always, Hatori. Always." At the sound of his name, Hatori closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, Shigure was gone.


"Shigure."

"I'm here, Akito-san."

"It's cold."

"Shall I hold you?"

"Hmm." A long, pregnant pause. Then a confused whisper- "You're cold too."

"Shhh. It will be warm soon. Just hold me."

"Hmm."

And as fast as the night fell over the skies and all that was living, the two bodies grew colder, and colder.

When all was still…

The only sound audible through the thin yet protected walls of the Sohma fortress remained the soft sobbing of a free man, lamenting for the days of the dragon, the dog, and their one true God.

THE END

Glossary:
Sore ja/Mata ne : See you later.
Mofuku : Mourning dress
'In the old days, people used to wear white in funerals. Especially the chief mourner was expected to wear "Shinishozoku" to act as substitute for the deceased. Today, people wear full dress in black for a funeral. A man usually wears a black mourning dress or a set of haori (Japanese traditional half-coat) and hakama (divided skirt for formal wear for men) of black silk material (called Habutae) with five crests.'

AN: This is the result of my trying my best to procrastinate (because my books were boring me to death.) I'm afraid the end-product is not very good (because it was a bunny I had to kill, and kill fast because as boring as they are, books will still be books and still have to be read no matter how hard you wish them gone) so if you've gotten as far as my ramblings then I know you've been reading, and I hope you have enjoyed my little offering even if just a little. Happy Weekend, and take care!