Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply.
"Good morning…"

"Oh, Yuki-kun! Good morning!" Her eyes softened at the sight of her half-asleep friend. "Did you sleep well? Would you like some breakfast?"

At the sight of Tohru, all remnants of sleep lifted away like a receding veil of fog, and Yuki rushed over to her side.

"How are you feeling today, Honda-san?" Yuki's violet eyes searched her face with open concern. His voice dipped. "With what happened yesterday…"

"I'm perfectly alright, Yuki-kun." Her gentle smile was reminiscent of the first time he heard her call him by his first name; uncertain in its own right yet strangely convincing nonetheless. "Thank you for worrying about me."

Yuki stared at her. He wanted so desperately to ask if she was still shaken, if her head was still hurting where Akito had tugged on so hard, if she had been crying all night…

The thought of Akito scarring Tohru, be it physically or emotionally, was so frightening to him he found it hard to believe this was the same person who specifically requested for an audience with their God, and stood her ground with nothing to back her up except the strength of her will and the kindness of her heart…which he figured would have been more than enough, if he only had the courage to believe it.

"Yuki-kun?"

She's still here, isn't she? The tiny voice in his head asserted.

"It's nothing, Honda-san. I was just thinking." He smiled in return, his heart a hundred times lighter than it was a mere ten seconds ago. Talking with Tohru always had that effect on him. From the living room he could hear Shigure and Kyo exchanging noisy banter over the dining table, something about salty tamagoyaki and sweet tamagoyaki, and how one was better than the other.

"Salty gives you hypertension," Kyo boasted, with an 'Even-I-know-that much' face. "So it can't be that good. Sweet is the way to go."

Shigure tsk-tsked and was about to say something in the sweet tamagoyaki's defense when the house phone suddenly rang. He looked pointedly at his young cousin who had just appeared from the kitchen.

"Ah, Yuki! Thanks sooo much, you're such a big help." The dog spirit grinned expectantly.

Yuki huffed, and practically stomped his head down the hallway to the phone, muttering all the way, "Who the hell could it be? At this hour? Shesh!"

"Hello, Sohma Residence," he spoke into the phone politely, despite his annoyance. After a few seconds, Yuki's eyebrows wrinkled slightly, before smoothening out again, a peculiar, thoughtful look fast spreading over his features.

"Shigure," he called out. "It's Hatori."

Shigure forgot all about the omelette war and walked over, curiously taking the phone from Yuki's outstretched hand.

"Ah, Ha-san! What a wonderful surprise!" Shigure exclaimed in a sing-song voice. "Miss me? Already?"

Yuki sat on the stairs and propped an arm across his knees. Hatori must be calling from the Sohma Mainhouse. Social calling was not so much his thing as it was say, Shigure's for example…so he tended to associate Hatori's calls with all things important, and not always pleasant.

Shigure's voice had gotten quiet all of a sudden. It piqued his interest.

"Right now?" his older cousin murmured into the phone, looking particularly attentive and concerned, almost. "Can't it wait?"

Yuki cocked his head so he could hear better. Eavesdropping was just as fun to do in the open as it was in private.

"No. That's alright. You don't have to come pick me up, Ha-san." Shigure's lips had thinned into a line. "I'll be there."

"Thanks anyway." A pause. "I'll see you in a short while."

"Akito-san…" Shigure replaced the receiver soundlessly in its cradle, a thoughtful look on his suddenly solemn face. "Akito-san is asking to see me."

A curtain of silence suddenly befell the house.

Akito-san? Tohru blinked a few times. The name still felt foreign on her tongue, even after their brief if not turbulent confrontation the previous day.

"Do you have any idea why, Shigure?" Yuki asked his older cousin uneasily; Shigure's eyes looked so far away.

Kyo was also paying attention now, a shock of red hair sticking out into the hallway through a slit through the sliding screen doors as he cocked his head to listen to Shigure's answer. When it did not come, he walked his knees across the mat and slid the door open wider. "Oi, Shigure!"

Shigure released his grip around the telephone abruptly as though he had just realised he was holding onto it. He looked up. "Hmm?"

"Why does Akito want to see you?" Kyo pressed. He could not help but state the obvious. "Didn't you see him like, yesterday?"

"Yes," Shigure's smile was unsure and somewhat shaky. "I suppose he just wants to…talk?"

Kyo made a face. "What kind of reason is that? You all went to talk with him yesterday and look what happened!"

He knew for his sake, Tohru had left out the part where Akito had grabbed clumps of her hair and jerked her around; trust Yuki to be helpfully informative when it came to Tohru. Right now Akito was the last person Kyo wanted to see, for fear of what Kyo might just do to him, that bastard. God or no God, there was a limit to what he could do, Kyo fumed.

Shigure frowned. "You know I don't have a choice, Kyo."

When they said nothing, he continued. "Ah well, it's nothing to worry about, I'm sure!" Shigure smiled brilliantly. He made a move for the stairs.

Tohru jumped to her feet on reflex. "Aren't you going to finish your breakfast, Shigure-san?"

"Oh, no, I'd better not-" At the crestfallen look on Tohru's face, Shigure was quick to quip, "-that was a very delicious meal, Tohru-kun! It's just-I'd hate to keep Akito-san waiting, that's all."

Yuki rose onto his feet slowly. Shigure's apologetic smile did not quite reach his eyes. "Do you…want me to go with you?"

In utter surprise, Kyo gave the other boy a sharp look; Yuki would never voluntarily go anywhere near the main Sohma Manor unless it was absolutely necessary.

Without thinking, he called out, "Oi, nezumi-"

Yuki ignored him. He looked at Shigure expectantly.

"Naaah, there's no need, Yuki-kun." Shigure waved his hand carelessly. Refusing to meet Yuki's eyes, he turned to Tohru and Kyo who were both sitting at the dining table again.

"Finish your breakfast, guys. I'll be gone for a while, so I shall see you later today, hmm?"

"Shigure," Yuki started, but was instantly silenced by a look.

"Yuki-kun, it's such a nice day, why don't you accompany Tohru-kun to the grocery store later and help her with shopping?" Shigure winked. "It's curry rice day today, do you not remember?"

Kyo glanced at the rat out the corner of his eye. Yuki had a somewhat dissatisfied look on his face, and Kyo could not quite figure out why, although he had a feeling it had something to do with Shigure and the sudden summoning order he had received. And after what had happened the day before…

The three of them watched as Shigure rushed upstairs, presumably to change, and came back down ten minutes later dressed in his best shirt and suit, his longish hair combed straight to the back. He did not look at them once.

Kyo and Yuki furtively exchanged glances. What in the world is going on?

"Take care of the house while I'm gone, kids." Shigure grabbed neither his coat nor his wallet on his way rushing to the door.

"Shigure-san…" Shigure had just finished putting on his sandals when he heard his name. He turned around.

"Yes, Tohru-kun?" Seldom had he ever seen her look as worried.

"I-" She took a breath, and started again. "Shigure-san, I know it is not my place to say this, and I do apologise for being so forward with you, but…"

Shigure waited. Tohru's lips moved, but for a second, no words emanated from her throat. She wrung her hands in her apron anxiously. "Shigure-san, is something wrong?"

"Why do you say that, Tohru-kun?" A little frown formed between his eyes.

Tohru was silent for a while. How could she tell Shigure-san that she had a bad feeling about this? That Shigure-san was not acting like himself? That Shigure-san seemed to be hiding something from them…and how his eyes seemed to say something different to what his lips were saying?

"Shigure-san…if I have wronged Akito-san by going to see him yesterday…if I have wronged you in any way, I'm very, very sorry!" She bowed fervently. "I did not mean to cause the family such trouble-when you even told me not to go-"

"Tohru-kun."

Her heart was beating very fast against her ribcage. Shigure-san looked so serious, like he always did whenever Tohru broached the subject of his family, and the family curse – it was exactly how he always looked whenever she dared raise the issue of Akito.

"I appreciate what you tried to do, Tohru-kun…and I'm sure deep down, Akito-san does too, whether he cares to admit it or not. Or-" Shigure shrugged a little, "-he might not even realise it. But do you know what's more important than any of those things?"

Tohru shook her head, peering at him in genuine curiousity. Shigure looked like he wanted to tell her a secret, and when he spoke again, his voice was hushed.

"The world needs more people like you, Tohru-kun, sure…but until such a time comes that people no longer have to fight for the right to be happy, you just need to be yourself." Shigure bent down until they were eye level to each other, and in a softer voice, he said, "You just have to keep being my little flower, for a flower is at its prettiest when it blooms for others."

Their gazes locked for the longest time, and it was only when the blush of Tohru's cheeks subsided did Shigure straighten up again.

"So don't be too hard on yourself, alright?"

Tohru nodded numbly, feeling unsettled still, but slightly assuaged nonetheless; everytime Shigure-san's eyes disappeared behind his grin like that, it was hard not to feel reassured. Of what exactly, she could not honestly say.

"Tohru-kun, don't you look so worried! Everything is just fine, trust me."

Tohru trusted him. She found herself able to smile again. "Itterashai, Shigure-san."

Taken by surprise, Shigure laughed and patted her head affectionately. "Looking forward to your curry rice tonight, Tohru-kun."

She could not help but beam. Shigure gave her a small wave, and disappeared out of sight into the woods as quickly as it took her walk back into the house, but as Tohru pulled the door in she said a prayer - not for the first time that morning – that this pit in her stomach was nothing more than an over-expression of anxiety and worry; unnecessary and unfounded.

But Shigure-san did not look back as he was walking away, not even once…and that was something which he had never done as long as she had known him.


Hatori stood outside Akito's room. It was not his routine to sit around waiting whenever Akito held an audience with any of her subjects, but somehow this time, he felt compelled to. Akito had been considerably - no, very upset since the night before; he could only assume Honda Tohru's unprecedented visit had unnerved her enough to keep Hatori up all night with her endless complaints of restlessness and insomnia, not to mention the bursts of temper-

And when she demanded Hatori call Shigure over that morning, Hatori knew there was no stopping Akito, not when she was in one of her frenzies…

And so he stood.

Shigure had been inside for the past forty five minutes. The walls were not thin, yet they were not exactly sound-proof either; no sound had emanated from within, only complete silence. A dreadful uneasiness had long since stirred in the pit of his stomach; when he greeted Shigure at the door this morning, he could sense the dog spirit was in a state of unrest as well.

Akito was an enigma; complex and unpredictable. She could be the kindest, and yet was often the cruelest. Having borne the wrath of their God once before, he could not see how Shigure was going to get off lightly in the event of a second 'misconduct'.

After an hour and a half, Hatori decided he had had enough. Knowing Shigure, he would come whining to him like he always did once they were done doing whatever they were doing inside.


"Stop looking at the clock will you?" Yuki played with his knuckles absently. "It's not going to make it move any faster, you know."

"Shut up," Kyo said irritably. He took a look outside where the falling light of dusk was starting to paint the evening sky a sanguine, eerie colour. It was getting late, and yet there was still no sign of Shigure. Not that he was worried or anything. Just hungry.

Just hungry, he convinced himself again. Without thinking, he asked, "Should we call Hatori or something?"

Yuki did not seem to be too pleased at the idea, although he had been entertaining it himself for quite a while now. Shigure would not appreciate it. "I'm sure he'll call us if something comes up."

Tohru placed the last piece of dinnerware on the table, her face a mask of concern. "But Shigure-san has certainly been gone a long time."

"Sometimes he stays over at the Mainhouse for hours, it's not that unusual," Kyo said after a beat, shrugging his shoulders.

Yuki was looking at Tohru strangely. "Did he say anything to you before he left, Honda-san?"

Tohru did not answer immediately; with much care she straightened the floral placemats so that their edges met right angles to each other. Kyo rocked back on his heels and studied her in curiousity; it was not often that Tohru voluntarily chose not to answer a question.

"No, he did not," Tohru said finally, her eyes downcast and worried.

"Well, he'd better come back soon," Kyo huffed, and lay on the floor, tucking an arm under his head. "Food's getting cold."


"You just left," Hatori said accusingly.

"Awww. Were you worried about me, Ha-san?" Shigure cocked an eyebrow, walking slowly toward the front door against which Hatori was leaning, his broad shoulders tense and rigid. "I can find my way in the dark you know, dog vision and all. Not that good with colours, but still."

Despite the dimness of the porch light, Shigure was not blind to the look of anger on Hatori's face. He sighed. "Try knocking next time, Ha-san. On a good day, the kids would have probably let you in."

Hatori remained silent. He had just arrived himself; a servant who saw Shigure leave Akito's room had been quick to inform him, and when Shigure did not show up at his door, Hatori realised Shigure had wished to make an escape without his knowing after all.

He knew he took a driving license for a reason.

Shigure met Hatori's gaze defiantly, his face stoic yet haggard despite the obvious effort he was making to stand without slouching; Shigure looked exhausted.

They stared at each other for the longest time, exchanging no words…only to have the heavy silence broken an eternity later by the sudden swinging of the front door.

"Shigure-san!" Tohru exclaimed in surprise. She did a double take as the person standing in front of her turned around. So it was not her imagination, the sound of a car she heard earlier. "Hatori-san!"

Running footsteps echoed from somewhere behind her. Yuki poked his head out, his facial expression a mixture of exasperation and relief. "You've been gone an awful long time."

"Were you waiting for me?" Shigure brushed past Hatori and walked into the house. He sniffed the air. Something smelled nice.

"No, we ate without you." Kyo deadpanned. Then he rolled his eyes and made a sweeping gesture across the table which had obviously been set for dinner. "Of course we waited, you idiot. You're the one who couldn't stop talking about wanting to eat Tohru's delicious curry."

"Ah yes. Tohru-kun's cooking is always the best." Shigure looked at the lavish spread on the table regrettably. He made no attempt to sit down.

"It's cold now, and obviously it's your fault." Kyo looked his older cousin up and down. Shigure's jacket hung loose and misshapen from his slumped shoulders, no longer crisp and sharp as it had been when he left that morning. His hair was tousled, and he looked a bit pale.

Yuki was more direct. He was dying to ask what Shigure had been doing at the Mainhouse the whole time he was away, what Akito had said to him – but Shigure was looking worse for wear. "Shigure, is something the matter?"

Hatori stood at the opposite side of the room, ever the silent watcher.

"No." Shigure managed a wan smile. "No, nothing's the matter. I ah…I just need to wash up for a while – why don't you guys go ahead and start, and I'll join you later, hmm? You said it yourself, food's getting cold."

Almost abruptly, his head swiveled to the side. "Hatori, will you not join them? You haven't eaten, have you? Tohru-kun's curry is out of this world."

Tohru blushed. "Shigure-san, I've only ever made it once or twice-"

To everyone's surprise, Shigure ignored her completely and left; they finally lost sight of him as he disappeared up the stairs, his steps heavy and trudging.

Both Kyo and Yuki swiveled their heads toward Hatori, clearly waiting for an explanation. "What happened, Hatori?"

Hatori merely looked at Yuki, and said nothing. He shifted his gaze in the direction of the staircase.

"Have your dinner," was his only order. He began to walk.


"Ah, Ha-san." Shigure peeked through the small crack of his bedroom door. "Why-what's the matter?"

Hatori had been knocking for ages.

"Something's wrong." The accusatory tone of his voice was rivaled only by the glint of suspicion in his good eye.

"What? Naaww…whatever are you talking about?"

"Let me in, Shigure."

"I don't think that's a good idea right now. Why don't you go back down-"

"Let. Me. In." Hatori was starting to sound very angry. "You're as white as a ghost. Now open the bloody door!"

Left with no choice, Shigure reluctantly slid the door open, revealing the cluttered state of his room.

"I-" Shigure swallowed thickly, "I think I'm-okay...Ha-san-"

"The hell you are," Hatori growled, bumping his shoulder hard as he stalked in. "You've been wanting to keel over ever since you-"

Shigure sank to his knees.

In a split second, Hatori was on the floor next to him just as he began to slump, but the hoarse guttural scream Shigure let out the moment Hatori snaked an arm around and across his cousin's chest to hold him up struck a cord of fear in his heart.

Shigure's hands lashed out in the attempt to push him away, but it was a feeble one at best. All the while, his cries of pain continued, slowly dying down into incoherent mewls as he kept trying to squirm out of Hatori's grip-

The dragon spirit moved his hands away from around his friend's torso, only to rest them on Shigure's shouldersgingerly; they were about the only part of him Hatori could touch without causing him further agony.

Up close, he could see the individual beads of perspiration in Shigure's hair, dewing on his upper lips-

And worst of all, he could smell it.

"What did she do to you?" He asked quietly.

After a short eternity, Shigure calmed down enough to gently extricate his shoulders from Hatori's supporting hold, his flighty breaths shallow and measured.

"Ha-san…"

"Tell me," Hatori demanded in frustration, his voice rising by a notch.

"I hope you have the stomach for this, Ha-san." Shigure's half-hearted warning did nothing to assuage the uneasiness swirling in Hatori gut, for the scent of blood was so thick and cloying he could almost taste it in his mouth; he watched as Shigure peeled off his outer jacket slowly and very, very carefully, his face unearthly white and tight.

Shigure's shirt, previously white, was streaked with dark red stains, and in the many places where it was coloured a darker copper, it was shredded and torn across the entire expanse of Shigure's back.

All colour drained from Hatori's face. Just as quickly, it flushed again, as a rush of unspeakable, uncontrollable anger coursed through his stiffened body.

"Damn it, Shigure!" he cursed under his breath.

His teeth bared in a wide grimace, Shigure shrugged what was left of the shirt, only to reveal numerous long, slanted criss-cross cuts snaking their way around most of his upper torso and back. Most of the wounds were dry and already scabbed over, but some were still seeping fresh blood where the whip had cut too deep. By the time Shigure was done undressing, he was breathing hard and fast, his face chalky white.

Hatori could only look on in horror.

Why? The question died in Hatori's throat, but that did not stop the same question from reverberating in his head over and over-

Why? Why did Akito do this to you?

"Tohru-kun…needs to pay her rent, you see," Shigure breathed hoarsely. He must have seen the question in Hatori's eye, the look of horror on his cousin's face-

"What, you think she called me over because she wanted angry sex?"

Hatori resisted the urge to wince, for that would have been exactly the thing Shigure was expecting; Shigure would never knowingly bait him like this under normal circumstances. He must be hurting badly.

"And she ruined my favourite shirt too, would you look at that?" A mirthless smile played at the edge of lips thinly stretched with pain. "Heh."

Shigure's head dropped forward, but he was quick to break his fall with both hands; in haste Hatori grabbed a pillow from his cousin's bed and put it on the floor, his doctor instincts kicking in-

"Lie down on your stomach," he instructed. He gathered Shigure's bloody clothes and discarded them in a pile in one corner of the room. From the bathroom, he let the hot water run and collected a basin, and from the closet, some linen and clean towels. He took the first aid kit from Shigure's desk, and he carried everything to Shigure's side.

Hatori kneeled down. "I'm going to get some supplies from my car. Do you have any antiseptic liquid, or alcohol in your house? I need lots of it."

Shigure swallowed hard. The pain was making him sick to his stomach. "There's-Betadine-under the sink downstairs."

"I'll be back in a minute." He was about to rise, when something stopped him.

"Don't-" A tremulous hand fisted Hatori's sleeve; he glanced down only to look into a pair of brown eyes unnaturally bright with the prodromal lustre of fever. "Don't tell them."

Hatori stared at the fingers clutching his arm so tightly. "I...won't."

A look of relief washed over his cousin's face, but it was short-lived; a painful grimace was quick to take its place. "I hurt, Ha-san."

Hatori's jaws clenched. "Try to relax, Shigure. I'll be back."


­­­­

"You guys ever coming down for dinner?" Kyo asked loudly through a mouthful of rice as Hatori rushed past the living room.

"Later, Kyo. Things to do," Hatori answered curtly in passing, ignoring the questioning looks the other two teenagers were sending his way.

"Whatever." Kyo shrugged.


­­­­

"I'm a bad influence, she says," Shigure murmured into his pillow.

"Does she now?" Hatori appeared distracted as he turned Shigure's palm outward and inward and outward again. Shigure was lying on his stomach so finding an intravenous access site was a bit difficult; he finally settled for a vein running perpendicular to the inner crease of Shigure's wrist at the base of his thumb.

"Sharp prick, Shigure," he mumbled a warning.

Shigure did not even flinch when Hatori inserted the intravenous cannula, despite its size. Hatori did not know if he should be relieved or worried; he guessed the sting of the needle could not possibly compare to the pain from the numerous cuts and open wounds marring the whole of his upper body.

"The boys not turning up for New Year's…my fault."

Without waiting, Hatori rapidly injected a bolus of strong analgesics into the cannula and within minutes, Shigure's tense muscles started to relax as the painkillers began to take effect.

"Bringing Tohru into the house…letting her stay…my fault too."

"So what's your sin this time then?" Hatori carefully peeled off the shreds of cloth still stuck to the matted blood.

"So now you're just assuming it was something I did." Shigure's lips puckered and twitched; into a grimace or a smile, Hatori did not know.

"…"

"Come now, Ha-san. You were there." Shigure could not help but scoff.

Hatori looked at him questioningly, not quite following.

Shigure's eyes shone black and hard. "Apparently, I raised my hand to her."

The swab froze in mid-air, and the excess iodine slowly trailed down the side of Hatori's little finger in a rivulet of deep yellow. "Akito was going to flay Tohru-kun alive."

"Doesn't matter," Shigure said softly, cupping a palm over his now closed eyes, clearly exhausted. When he opened them again, he gratefully noted that Hatori had dimmed the bedside lamp to illuminate only his exposed back.

He sighed. "Let's just say Yuki was lucky he didn't come with me."

Hatori suppressed a sudden chill. He, of all people, should know just what Akito was capable of. He silently cleaned the wounds as thoroughly as he possibly could; some crusted with blood which had long since dried over, the rest still seeping fresh and raw. For someone so frail, Akito's blows had caused quite extensive damage, and he was not looking forward to warning Shigure of the many, many scars he was going to have.

"You can't protect everyone, Shigure."

The dog spirit was silent for a while. "I don't know what you mean."

His companion was silent for even longer. "Sure."


Hatori stood on the stairs listening as merry laughter tinkled through the screen doors which opened into the living room. The peals of laughter were followed by indignant cries of protest as someone lost even more fake money, echoing in the air gay and boisterous, and yet to Hatori, they hung heavy and foreboding.

Shigure was finally able to sleep, thankfully; Hatori had dressed his wounds to the best of his ability, and pumped him full of strong opioids which should keep him comfortable for a few hours, plus some intravenous prophylactic antibiotics for the telltale signs of early infection had already set in. The wounds were deep, and had probably been exposed for quite some time. It was a wonder Shigure did not collapse even earlier.

And now, an hour later, he once again found himself standing at the foot of the stairs, watching the shadows.

"Oh come on…" Kyo groaned, burying his head in his hands. He could not believe his luck tonight. That was the third time he had landed on Yuki's most expensive property tonight. "I'm broke, damn it!"

Realising he had just cursed aloud in front of Tohru, Kyo turned slightly red and quickly averted his gaze, concentrating on counting what was left of his money instead. Yuki merely retrieved a hand from under the warm kotatsu and scratched the air with his fingers in Kyo's direction.

"Give," he said in a bored tone.

"It must be against the rule or something to own Regent Street, Oxford Street and Bond Street all at once!" Kyo seethed as he handed over his last wad of bills, glaring daggers at his arch nemesis who was getting richer by the minute.

"It's called investment, stupid."

"I demand a rematch! Or at least repossession!" Kyo slammed a fist on the table, jarring a few hotels and houses hard. A few even toppled over. He turned to Tohru in rage. "Oi! You're the banker aren't you? Do something!"

He watched the three shadows play against the light cast out into the hallway; like a puppet show, the silhouettes appeared larger than life and told a story-

A story of a trio of teenagers whose paths had crossed in the most intriguing way imaginable; a story of a group of high school kids learning to live together within walls so sheltered and protected they would never know of what it took to keep it standing...this house Shigure had meant to be a sanctuary-

This house of sand and fog Shigure fought so hard to keep.

Entranced, Hatori found himself lost once again in the shadow play, only to have a sickening realisation jolt him back to reality-

"Hatori?"

"Ah, Hatori-san!" Tohru chirped. "I'm sorry I didn't see you standing there! I saved your dinner in the kitchen, would you like to have it just now?"

"We wouldn't have waited if we'd known you weren't eating," Kyo grumbled. "I was starving!"

"You and your pitless stomach, is that all you ever think about?" Yuki asked snidely.

"Yeah, that, and the fact that I hate Monopoly," Kyo retorted sullenly. He pulled out a deck of poker cards from his pocket. "I'm not playing anymore."

Yuki in turn said something sarcastic. But Hatori was suddenly aware of Tohru looking at him strangely. She was probably wondering why he was just standing there motionless and not saying a word. "Is there something you need, Hatori-san?"

Before Hatori could stop her, she had already jumped to her feet. "Do you and Shigure-san want something to drink? Some tea, maybe?"

"Whatever it is, make it yourself, Hatori," Kyo growled, shuffling his cards clumsily. One fell onto the table and he bared his teeth at Yuki who was surreptitiously eyeing the fallen card. The rat spirit snorted derisively. "She's not your maid, you know."

"Oh no, no, it's really no trouble at all! I like making tea for everyone! In fact there's nothing I don't like making really-" Tohru waved her hands in the air, smiling sheepishly.

"Don't worry about it, Honda-san. I'll do it." Yuki climbed to his feet and stretched the muscles in his back which were aching from sitting up too long. "Stupid cat's taking forever to deal."

"But Yuki-kun, are you sure?" Tohru asked, looking particularly worried.

"I bet you two hundred fake dollars your hot chocolate turns out unsafe for human consumption," Kyo sneered evilly.

"It's chocolate. How on earth can you possibly mess it up? And besides, who do you think kept the kitchen running around here before you came?" Yuki asked haughtily. "If Shigure didn't complain about it, I don't see why I have to listen to you."

"Shigure smokes a bajillion cigarettes a day, you really think he's capable of tasting anything?"

"He's got better taste than you, that's for sure." Yuki walked out and headed for the kitchen. "Stick around, Hatori. There'll probably be enough for you and Shigure too, if you want some."

As Hatori watched Yuki disappear into the kitchen, he felt something in his chest break. There was also a stinging in his eyes and a constriction in his throat which he could not quite explain.

At that very moment he knew just what it was…the story Shigure wanted to tell, and to keep telling-

It was the story of a family.

This is Shigure's new family, he thought in awe.

"I'd love some, Yuki," he whispered at long last, more to himself than to anyone else.

Of their own volition, his legs began to lead him up the stairs once more, and in the direction of the room at the very end of the corridor.

Hatori towered over his bed, marveling in silence as his shadow cast huge triangles across the contours of Shigure's sleeping face.

The curse was never going to be broken.

But he did not think he had ever been more proud of Shigure than he was right now.

They'll never know, Shigure.

He reached down and readjusted the cold flannel on Shigure's forehead, letting his fingers linger against his cousin's hot, damp temple for longer than was necessary-

As long as I'm here.

THE END

AN : I really miss Furuba. T.T

AN #2: A review or two would be really, really nice…Thank you for reading nonetheless!