Disclaimer: All the characters you recognise are not mine.


"Haa-kun, as much as I love taking off my clothes for you in what little spare time I could find, this is getting a bit redundant."

"Speak any louder, Shigure, and I will personally hold you responsible for what I'm going to do to you next." Hatori had not walked two feet past the threshold and already he felt like throttling him.

Shigure crossed his slender arms and tapped his index finger on his sleeve in mock exasperation. "Relax, my parents are away for the night. I had a feeling you were coming."

He wiggled a finger. "And that's not a very nice way of asking for help, Hatori! And here I am, willingly offering my body to be subjected to abuse again and again, and oh what I wouldn't do for you, dear cousin! And it's all free of charge too, umph-!" Hatori successfully smothered him with the palm of his hand perfectly aimed at the noisy lower half of Shigure's face.

Shigure bounded up the stairs taking two steps at a time like a hyperactive terrier. "So what's it to be tonight? My chest? My stomach? Head?"

He made a lunging dive for the bed, throwing off heavily bound journals and classic literature onto the floor. "Other very well-endowed parts of my body? You name it, Haa-kun, it's yours."

Hatori glowered at the lanky form sprawled on the queen-sized bed, his legs splayed so wide it was almost obscene. For all his moaning and whining, Shigure sure looked excited. "You look like you're enjoying yourself there."

"What, pray tell, with your hands on me, Hatori-" Shigure propped himself up on his elbows, a mischievous grin peeking out from underneath his unruly bangs. "What more could I possibly want?"

Hatori's face darkened. "I don't think Ayame has mentioned having any plans for tonight. Excuse me."

Curtly, Hatori turned around on his heels and walked away. Before he could get very far, something hit him hard on the back of his head. He whirled around just in time to see Shigure propel a pillow in the direction of his skull with deadly precision. Hatori ducked and the pillow sailed harmlessly over his head.

"Please, don't go. I was only kidding." Shigure raised his hand in apology. "You've come all the way, so please stay."

Hatori huffed and reluctantly marched back toward the bed. He grudgingly sat down on the spot Shigure was patting earnestly.

"Haa-kun, you're so uptight! Chill." Shigure laughed. "I have barely seen you since you got back for the winter break, and you can't even walk in a straight line."

"I told you, Shigure, my clinical skills exam is in two weeks. I don't have time to be playing around." He tensed up a little when he felt Shigure's fingers crawl up his biceps, but relaxed when Shigure proceeded to massage his shoulders firmly but gently.

"You've been working too hard, you're all knotty." Hatori let Shigure knead the tight muscles in his shoulders, half-listening to him grumble away as the deft, skilled hands milk away all the tension that had accumulated in the joints and tendons. "And you're stiffer than a corpse!"

A lingering scent of aftershave flitted under Hatori's nose as Shigure stuck his head forward and peered at him out one eye accusingly. "You haven't been sleeping."

Hatori wanted to smirk but grimaced instead when Shigure drilled the pad of his thumb viciously into the bottom of his spine. "Guilty," he grunted finally.

Shigure hmmphed thoughtfully and rested his chin on Hatori's shoulder. Stray strands of hair tickled Hatori's cheek. He could smell the nutty, coconut fragrance of Shigure's shampoo.

Shigure was right. He really was tired.

"You're the patient. You get to choose."

"Eh?"

"What do you feel like doing tonight?"

"Haa-kun, you're the one taking the exam. I agreed to help you. So whatever you want to do, I'm fine with it."

Hatori eyed him suspiciously. "You sure?"

"Uhmm…well…maybe we should save the abdomen for last. I'm kinda ticklish." Shigure smiled sheepishly, wrapping a protective arm around his midsection.

Hatori raised his eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Haa-kun, don't you go getting any ideas!" Shigure batted a hand at him and fluttered his eyelashes, feigning bashfulness. Hatori laughed silently.

"My cardiovascular exam technique is a bit rusty. Why don't we do that?" He rose off the bed.

"Eh? I thought we did that yesterday?" Shigure asked, frowning as he watched Hatori snatch his pillows from off the floor and prop them into a sturdy stack against the headboard.

"That was respiratory," Hatori answered absently. "The lungs and the heart are examined differently so they've got different marking schemes..." He rummaged in his backpack for a short while before pulling out a crumpled piece of paper, eyeing it for a while to check if he had the right thing before handing it to Shigure.

"This is the one for cardiovascular, so you just need to check the scheme while I go along so I don't miss anything."

Shigure sighed in resignation. He hated trying to make out Hatori's writing, it was so small it bordered on micrographic, and to make things worse it was a messy, scrawling cursive too, much unlike his elegant and classy own. Talk about a doctor's handwriting in the making.

He squinted at the first line of instruction.

"So...I gotta sit up 45 degrees like yesterday?"

"You don't need to say anything so hush. I'll give the instructions and you can check if I've given you the correct ones, based on that marking scheme."

Shigure shrugged. "Simple enough."

Hatori fished out something else from his bag.

"Ooh, you've got yourself a new stethoscope! Lemme see, lemme see!"

"There is no way I'm letting you near it. You had your chance the last time and you ruined it by dipping the earpieces into your breakfast milk."

"That was an accident!" Shigure whined. "And besides your old one was ugly."

"That was no reason for you to dispose of it. It may have been ugly, but it was mine."

"I said I was sorry…" Shigure pouted. "Please let me see it, Hatori."

Hatori sighed. He couldn't say no now, could he? Not when Shigure was looking at him like that. Resigned, he held his expensive new stethoscope out to Shigure's eager hands.

"Oh wow…it's even got your name engraved on it! Sohma…Hatori," Shigure read slowly. He fingered the elegant black finish of the instrument, almost reverently.

"Doctor Sohma Hatori," Shigure mulled the name, liking the feel of it on his lips.

Hatori could not help but look at him affectionately. "I still have two and a half more years to go, Shigure."

Shigure beamed. "Never too early to start practicing, Haa-kun." He walked his knees across the bed and looped the stethoscope around Hatori's neck.

"There. It looks good on you, Hatori-sensei."

For some reason, Hatori's cheeks warmed. His best friend was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve but he knew Shigure well enough to know when he was being playful or when he was being sincere.

But of course, he was not about to let Shigure know how much he missed him during his time away at university.

"Let's…start by positioning you correctly." He flustered a little but hid it behind a nervous cough.

Shigure pretended not to notice. He sat up against the pillows Hatori had propped up so he was sitting in a 45-degree angle. He did not say a word when Hatori told him to take off his shirt, exposing his chest and back down to his waist.

"Looking a bit on the thin side there, Shigure. You sure you're eating at all?"

"I eat enough," Shigure said vaguely.

"Right." Shigure's scrawny ribs were too tempting not to count but Hatori guessed that would have to wait till later. Hatori began by examining Shigure's hands, rattling off clinical signs one would expect to see in a real patient.

"…no signs of anaemia, peripheral cyanosis…tar stains…you haven't been smoking, have you?" Hatori asked suspiciously.

Shigure stared back at him with wide-eyed innocence. "Who, me?"

"Smoking isn't good for you. It's easier to quit early than to quit later. Better yet, don't smoke at all." Hatori was still looking at him sharply. "Don't make it a habit, Shigure."

"Hai, hai." Shigure rolled his eyes. "You sound like an old woman when you nag."

"Try saying that to me again when you're blowing out your lungs in chunks coughing fifty years from now."

"I'll remember to, don't worry."

Now it was Hatori's turn to roll his eyes. He continued with his examination, turning Shigure's hand over. "No signs of finger clubbing…"

"Name three cardiovascular causes of finger clubbing," Shigure murmured.

Surprised by the sudden question, Hatori looked up. Shigure merely looked at him expectantly.

"Uh…let's see…" Small lines formed between Hatori's eyes. "Endocarditis, congenital cyanotic heart disease and…"

Shigure tapped a finger on the scheme on the bed next to him. "One more, Hatori."

"Hmm. Is it hypertension?"

"Nopes. Atrial myxoma." Shigure's eyes disappeared behind his grin. "Write that down 100 times, Hatori. You won't forget it."

Hatori registered the answer down to memory, amazed that Shigure could remember something he had only read once. "Done, and remembered."

Hatori then looked at his neck, and felt for Shigure's carotid pulse. Satisfied, he moved onto the face. He pulled down Shigure's eyelids to see the inside of his eyes. "Stick your tongue out for me, please."

The tip of Shigure's tongue darted out. And disappeared out of sight again when he remembered something exciting. "Ayame wanted to teach me how to French the other day."

Hatori's blood chilled. "Let me guess. You let him teach you anyway."

Shigure grinned. "He was so excited I just didn't have the heart to tell him I already knew how."

"I really don't need to know that," Hatori muttered under his breath.

"What are you talking about, Haa-kun?" Shigure squealed. "You know perfectly well how learned I already am! I showed you how to do it back in third gra-"

And for the second time that night, Shigure found himself muzzled.

"Hush," Hatori ordered sternly. "I'm trying to concentrate here."

Shigure retaliated by licking the inside of Hatori's hand, his practiced tongue painting bold strokes along his palm lines and trailing up the lower border of Hatori's thumb-

Hatori found himself holding his breath. "Shigure…"

After a short eternity, Hatori finally took his hand away.

"Just like that," Shigure whispered playfully

Hatori did not know why he did not pull away sooner, nor did he know why he was letting Shigure have his way with him.

But his cheeks coloured nonetheless.

Shigure sank his head back into the pillow and sighed, though in contentment or regret, Hatori could not tell. He tried hard not to look at the way Shigure's glossy hair gleamed in the fluorescence of the bedroom lamp.

This was not going as smoothly as he had planned.

Damn you, Shigure. Damn you and your teasing ways. You complicate things. You complicate everything. You complicate me.

In his anger Hatori forgot all about being gentle and slapped his hand onto Shigure's bare chest a bit too viciously-

And nearly toppled backward when Shigure bucked violently all of a sudden, before hollering, "What the hell, Hatori-!"

"What? What? What's the matter?"

"C-cold," Shigure gasped. "Hand - your hand's like ice!"

"Oh, sorry!" Forgetting all about Shigure's untamed tongue, Hatori retracted his hands and began to rub them together vigorously. "Sorry! I should have warmed them up first!"

Shigure rubbed his chest gingerly. "Would that not cost you points in the exam?"

"Not necessarily...lotsa people have cold hands. It just isn't very pleasant for the patients."

Shigure scoffed. "Tell me about it. That wasn't the first time too. You did it on purpose."

"I didn't!" Now he remembered how Shigure had yelped when Hatori first touched him the night before. He scrubbed his fingers together even harder. "Man, it really sucks having bad circulation..."

Shigure only glared at him suspiciously.

"Right. So let's start again."

"Right."

"Right." Hatori fidgeted. Shigure was still glaring at him

"Hatori," he growled. "It's freezing and as much as I want my shirt back, I know you won't give it back to me. So get a move on already!"

"Shut up!" Hatori said crossly. "I'm collecting my thoughts, that's all."

"Right."

Hatori tentatively placed his hand horizontally just a few inches below Shigure's nipple and pressed firmly, palm down, on Shigure's ribs, concentrating on feeling for the tip of the heart one should feel in a normal subject. He moved his hand about as he tried to locate where he was feeling it strongest-

Shigure ignored Hatori now that his hand was warm and nice and scrutinised the marking scheme for something he could quiz Hatori on. "What are you looking for now, Candidate No. 126?"

Hatori wrinkled his nose at Shigure's awful impersonation of a snooty examiner. "I'm now looking for the apex beat, which is the lowermost and outermost point of the cardiac impulse palpable on the chest wall."

"And where is it normally located?"

"In a normal subject, it should be in the fifth intercostal space in the mid-clavicular line."

"An example when it is abnormal?"

Now Hatori had to think a bit. "It…could be displaced if the heart is enlarged for any reason. Heart failure is an example."

"Correct." Shigure nodded seriously. "Go on."

Hatori resisted the urge to smirk. Shigure could be helpful, but only when he wanted to.

Hatori resumed his examination, palpating all over Shigure's chest carefully, making sure he was feeling in the right positions.

"Shigure, you really are getting too thin." Hatori could feel his ribs under his fingers. He could not help but worry a little. If he was still around he could at least keep an eye on his cousin, but now that he was away at university…

A hand reached up to circle around his wrist and squeezed gently. "Don't you worry about me, Haa-kun. I'm alright."

"I told you before I left to take good care of yourself," Hatori said accusingly.

"Ah. But I could say the same about you." Shigure's smile was serene. "I'm not the one studying too hard and not sleeping."

"I have half a mind to hand-feed you myself if that could get you to eat."

"I have no objection whatsoever, but only if you agreed to get more rest." A mischievous grin. "You can even sleep with me if you want."

That only earned him a whapping on the head. "Baka."

Shigure released his grip around Hatori's wrist. He turned his face sideways, and said without looking, "I missed you, Hatori. That's all."

Hatori felt a peculiar sense of numbness swirling around in his gut. They had known each other forever, but still there were times when he did not know what to say to Shigure, and he suspected it was the same with Shigure too.

"I'm sorry I haven't called."

"It's okay. I know you've been busy."

To break the awkward silence that ensued, Hatori picked up his new toy. "Well! What do you say we finish things off, hmm?"

Shigure perked up. "Oh yay! I get to be the first you try that on!"

"I don't get why that's anything to be proud about."

"Because it makes me real happy to know I'm the first in your heart, Haa-kun! As you are in mine!" he chided.

"Honestly, Shigure, the things you say sometimes…" Hatori shook his head in exasperation. But at least he remembered to warm the diaphragm up first, rubbing the metal disc against the woolen blanket before proceeding to auscultate all over the bare chest, listening intently to the sounds of Shigure's heart.

Shigure did not realise he had been holding his breath unconsciously until after Hatori pulled away, finished at last with his examination, announcing him fit and healthy and not in any danger of dying for at least another hundred years and a day.

"But Shigure, your heart's beating way too fast." Hatori disentangled the stethoscope from around his neck, shaking his head in displeasure. "Maybe you should think about laying off coffee for a while. At least, try not to have so much in the evening."

"I haven't touched that stuff since you told me a few studies have linked it to infertility." Shigure accepted his top gratefully and put it back on with haste. It really was getting very cold. Winter had come early again this year.

"You'll believe anything, won't you?"

"As long as it's about sex," Shigure teased. "To prove my point - Hatori! It's your turn now, take your clothes off! I believe I can imitate what you did just now with my eyes closed and in half the time!"

"No way I'm letting your grubby paws anywhere near or on me."

"No fair. I let you make me your guinea pig and what do I get in return?"

"You get me not kicking your arse from here all the way to Italy," Hatori retorted.

"Haa-kun, you're always so cold," Shigure complained. "You need to learn to have fun."

"If your idea of fun involves doing kinky things with Ayame, I think I'll pass, thanks."

"You and your books." Shigure wrinkled his nose in wry disgust.

"At least my books don't make so much noise when we're making love," Hatori deadpanned.

Much to his surprise, Shigure burst out laughing. It started out as a chuckle, then a guffaw, and seconds later, Shigure was holding himself, paralysed with merry laughter, much like one who had not laughed for a long, long time and had only just discovered how to, again.

Hatori stood over him by the bedside, both bemused and amused. "You're going to get hiccups if you don't stop."

Finally Shigure caught his breath. He wiped a hand across his tearing eyes and sat up. "I don't know where that came from."

"What, my joke, or your short-lived episode of momentary insanity?"

Shigure surprised him by answering with his arms, which he solemnly snaked around Hatori's waist, and before the dragon could pull away, Shigure was quick to pull him in a tight embrace and bury his face into Hatori's stomach.

"Sometimes I wish…"

Hatori could feel his abdominal muscles contract involuntarily at the intimacy of the contact.

"Sometimes I wish I could do more, Hatori."

Hatori frowned at the top of Shigure's head. He knew he should say something, but remember the tongue-tied situations he sometimes found himself in? This was one of them.

"You're going to be a great doctor, Hatori," Shigure said quietly.

Hatori's heart skipped a beat. Shigure...

Of its own volition, his hand reached up to rest on Shigure's hair, and he watched in mixed horror and fascination as his fingers started to play with the soft strands of jet silk he had long since yearned to touch, but never had the courage to. Until now.

"Thank you," Shigure murmured into his shirt.

Shigure raised his face to him, his eyes earnest, his smile genuine and honest. "Thank you, for doing all this."

Thank you for doing all this for Akito.

Hatori stared into the depth of Shigure's eyes and saw the love, the gratitude, the sympathy - and that was then he knew his years of toiling in medical school were not solely just for Akito.

It was for this young man, fast growing up into an adult but already much older than his years. It was for the loyal, obsequious spirit in him that longed to be with his one true god always and to never part –

-and at that moment in time, Hatori knew he would do everything in his power to ensure that the god in question lived, even if only for a little longer. For himself. For all of the Jyuunishi.

But most of all…

For you. Hatori bent down to press his cheek against the warmness of Shigure's temple.

"You're welcome." Hatori's husky voice was comforting, soothing. And Shigure realised with a definite yet not unpleasant sense of finality that there was no other man save for Hatori he would ever let touch him. And at that instant, he knew Hatori felt the same way too.

Shigure closed his eyes.

He could get used to this. Hatori's scent, Hatori's fingers in his hair, Hatori's heart drumming in his chest…

"Your heartbeat's kinda fast too." Hatori did not answer; he merely looked away, but his face was bright red. But still he let Shigure hold him, and that was all that mattered.

Tightening his hold around Hatori's waist, Shigure could feel his lips curl into the beginning of a smile.

No one needed to know how proud he was of his Hatori.

Let that be his secret, and his alone.

To be continued?

A/N: I don't know if I should continue this, or just leave it as a one-shot. I mean, I have an idea or two (who wouldn't, what with the prospect of having half-naked Shigure at Hatori-sensei's mercy?) but yes. Will think more later.