Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply
Sohma Hatori was perfectly content to drive in silence but not in one of this kind. After the day they had, they were both understandably exhausted, Shigure more so he suspected, but Hatori had never thought there would come a day he would rather have his cousin chattering away like the broken record he almost always was – or used to be – than this unfounded muteness between them.
The dragon spirit of the Jyuunishi watched his companion's silent countenance out the corner of his eye.
"Are you tired?"
"As tired as anyone would be after a whole day of posing for photos and signing autographs, I suppose."
"I'm surprised you didn't tell the others about your book launch. It is your debut novel after all."
Even Hatori was impressed with the crowd turnout at the first leg of Shigure's book-tour-cum-launch. It was not technically official, but the press coverage was considerably large for someone so new to the world of published literature; it was perhaps thanks to raving reviews of Shigure's latest work – Hatori had one copy on his table he had yet to read.
"I don't need to tell the whole world every detail of my life."
"But you do that all the time." Hatori's brand of nonchalance was indeed legendary. Clearing his throat, he softened his tone. "I'm sure they would have come."
Shigure's monotony was unchanged. "I didn't realise I was such a subject of interest."
"Yes, we are only your family after all." Hatori inched closer toward the edge of his seat on his side of the car and propped his elbow against the wound-down window, oblivious to the extra distance he was putting between his sole passenger and himself. "We get to read about you in the papers. How nice."
"If you didn't want to come with me, you could have just said so in the first place."
"I don't recall saying that at all." In fact, Hatori did not recall saying much of anything. He guessed he was still slightly reeling from the sudden visit; he was beginning to wonder if he would ever get any anymore.
"I could have just as easily hired a taxi, you know."
Hatori took a long, deep breath. "I've been driving non-stop for the past four hours, Shigure."
Once again, Shigure voluntarily lapsed into silence. But this time Hatori was not going to be duped into thinking the conversation was over when it had barely started.
"Look, Shigure, I don't even know why we're arguing about this-"
"Neither do I! You're the one who brought it up."
Hatori was losing his patience at such a dangerous rate that he was surprising himself. He slammed into high gear and stepped on the gas. "Five months. Five months and not a single word from you. No letters, no emails, not one bloody phone call!"
When Shigure remained stubbornly mum, Hatori seethed. He could feel his blood rush to his face. "Then out of the blue, you show up at my door, you drag me on a cross-country trip with no explanation whatsoever-just like that, you expect me to drop everything for you!"
He shook his head and his driving glasses slid a fraction down his nose. The sound of engine was drowning his angry words.
"You didn't even have the common sense to-"
"Hatori, look out!"
"Shigure. Wake up."
Someone was shaking him. His right shoulder. No, left? He couldn't tell.
"Shigure, open your eyes."
Someone was shaking him really hard. It was starting to hurt, whichever shoulder it was.
"I told you, Haa-san. Seatbelts are no good." Bleary eyes blinked open.
"Are you alright?"
"I think I just bumped my head against the window," Shigure murmured. His unsteady hands fumbled with his seatbelt but Hatori gently pushed his groping hands to the side.
"Just give it a minute, catch your breath. You were out for a good minute and a half-" Hatori inhaled deeply, aware of his own heartbeat calming down slightly. "Any pain anywhere?"
"Just my head."
"Any pain anywhere else?"
A shaky breath whistled past Shigure's slightly trembling lips. He was still in a mild state of shock, that much Hatori could see. "No. No, I don't think so."
He shone a penlight into Shigure's eyes, and once he was satisfied that both pupillary responses were normal, Hatori reached behind him without looking and banged the overhead light on. He inspected his cousin as best as he could in the poor lighting.
Moving a finger up and down in all four quadrants of vision including the peripheries, he checked Shigure's eye movements. "Any double vision at all?" Shigure shook his head and immediately winced.
"Move your toes for me. Raise your leg…now the other one…good. Did that feel alright? No weakness or tingling anywhere?"
"I think all my pieces are still in one piece, Haa-san."
"Do you need any help?" A car had pulled over a few yards away and a youngish, lean-limbed man in a cap and T-shirt stepped out. A lady sat in the passenger seat with a baby in her arms and she peered over the windshield curiously. She nodded her head politely when Hatori pulled himself out of the car and looked in her direction.
The man had a big torchlight in his hand. "Did you have an accident?"
"Yes." Hatori regarded the man silently with guarded eyes. He instinctively stepped around to the front of the car, blocking Shigure from view.
"Is anybody injured?" The man held out a thumb pointing back to his car. "I can go get a First-Aid kit from my boot if you want. That's my wife and our baby."
Hatori relaxed a little. He gestured to the one already open on the dashboard. "We have one of our own, thanks."
"What happened?" The motorist looked worried.
"Yeah, what happened?"
Hatori looked at Shigure sharply. "You don't remember?"
Shigure's forehead furrowed. "We were talking, and you were driving pretty fast-" A pause. "Then there was a blinding flash of light, and the car suddenly swerved to the side…and then nothing."
"Yeah…that's about right." Hatori sighed and pinched his forehead dejectedly. "It was a lonely drive and we thought we were the only ones on the road…but a car suddenly came up from behind and I lost control of the car because of the glare-"
"I was trying not to hit that tanker over there," he said, motioning with his chin towards a large white tanker parked a mere ten feet ahead of them. "But I hit that instead." They all looked at the dead tree trunk with a circumference bigger than the span of their arms by the road.
"This is quite a dangerous stretch of road you're driving – it's straight for ages, and its sudden turns could catch you by surprise." The man shrugged. "We keep telling them truckers to not park those monsters here at night but they never listen."
Hatori too was only half-listening. He was still contemplating taking Shigure to the A&E department just to be sure; with normal function of his limbs there was no need to worry about a cervical spine injury, of that he was quite confident…but he knew he could sleep better tonight if he could have an emergency head scan to convince him there was no occult fracture or bleeding anywhere.
Shigure did not look particularly bothered, just sitting there looking like he was simply nursing a hangover.
"Is there a hospital or a medical facility nearby?"
"Well, I'd say the town clinic'd be your best bet but it's probably closed at this hour…the nearest hospital is a good twenty-five miles away-"
"I don't need a hospital," Shigure said quietly, peeking through the crevices of his fingers.
"And your car is in no shape to go anywhere, pal." The man winced at the sight of the crushed piece of scrap metal that used to be half the front of Hatori's car. "Except maybe the junkyard. It's a miracle you guys weren't seriously hurt."
Hatori straightened and crossed his arms, looking very displeased. It was late past midnight, and the lonely stretch of road was dark and flanked by nothing but the woods. Whatever were they going to do now?
"I wish I could take you all the way to Isawa Hospital but-" The man waved a hand in the direction of his wife and child, and Hatori felt sorry for them; they did look desperate to rush home. "What I can do is take you guys to a hotel near us – it's small, but I'm sure they can accommodate you for one night. We can figure out what to do with the car tomorrow."
"I'm sorry Sir, but we're fully booked tonight and a single room is the best we can offer-" She was already reaching for the phone. "I can call our sister hotel and ask if-"
"We'll take that." Hatori slid his credit card across the counter. He was very aware of Shigure's head resting heavily on his shoulder and he placed a supporting hand on the small of his cousin's back just in case. "Make it quick."
At such a display of obtrusive intimacy, the girl at the reception quickly averted her gaze, a furious blush colouring her cheeks. "Y-yes. Right away, Sir."
"It's not like that." Hatori stared at the hotel receptionist long and hard. He tried very hard not to sound snappish. "We were in a car accident, and my cousin needs to rest."
It was probably his imagination but Shigure could just be holding in laughter, the way his head was shuddering against the side of Hatori's neck. Hatori was still fuming silently even after they safely reached their room.
" 'It's not like that.' " Shigure mimicked flawlessly. "Laying it on a tad too thick there, no?"
"Shut it." At Hatori's growl, he raised a hand in surrender and kicked his shoes off before sitting down on the bed with care. His head was still pounding.
"How are you feeling?"
"Still have a headache but it's a bit better."
"You want something to eat?"
Shigure's face contorted in distate. "No, thanks. Stomach feels a bit iffy."
Hatori drew the curtains shut. It was a tiny but clean enough room, with a single bed, a television, a mini-fridge and thankfully, a settee. It would have to do. He turned and surveyed Shigure from head to toe one more time.
"Do you feel like being sick?" he asked.
"No, no-" Shigure waved a dismissive hand. "Just a little queasy. It's nothing a short rest won't fix."
"Maybe we should have gone to the hospital after all-"
"Hatori…" Shigure drawled his name out in a whine. "How many times do I have to tell you, I am fine!"
"Alright, alright!" Hatori relented, and pointed a firm finger instead. "I'm taking you there first thing in the morning. But if you start to feel funny-"
"I always feel funny-"
"Like cotton-wool-in-the-mouth, the-bellboy's-suddenly-grown-a-new-head, the-room's-all-tilting funny." Hatori growled. "I get to know. Is that a deal?"
"Yes." The dog spirit gave in to temptation and sank into one of the pillows, moaning in pleasure as his aching head came into contact with the silky smoothness of the cold, fine cotton. "This feels so good…"
In the background he could hear Hatori banging around and being curiously busy in the bathroom.
"But I have to say, that was some rush," he murmured loud enough for Hatori to hear just as he emerged from the door.
"I used to think people who claim to have seen their lives flash before their eyes when retelling their near-death experiences were drama whores." Shigure opened his eyes to see Hatori stand over him with something dripping in his hand. "I stand corrected."
"But you are a drama whore, Shigure." The dog spirit glared at the mock confusion on Hatori's face, plucking the compress from his cousin's hand roughly. The doctor snatched it back and grabbed Shigure's chin in one hand, tilting it so he could once again take a look at the bruise on the side of his head.
Satisfied that it did not look any worse than when he first saw it, he pressed the icy compress against the lump.
"Ouch!" Shigure grimaced. "Would you please be gentler?"
"You're hardly a child, Shigure," Hatori murmured, but he lessened the pressure slightly.
"What about you, Haa-san? Did the same thing happen to you?"
"I was too busy being blinded by some idiot's high beam to do any flashing of my own," Hatori muttered.
Shigure had to smile, if only to himself. Hatori had to be the only person in the world who could say such things and still sound marginally clever.
"Before I blacked out…well, before I saw heaven and everything-" He raised himself off the bed slightly Hatori could release his shirt from his waistband and out from underneath his back, exposing the front of his chest and stomach. He tried to relax as the doctor began prodding his belly and continued, "I couldn't help but wish I was in an airplane instead, because I'm sure you've seen it on TV, they've got those in-flight telephone things where you can just swipe your credit card and call anybody you want from twenty thousand feet up in the sky-"
He tensed when Hatori pressed on his lower pelvis along the slightly tender area adjoining his hips. "A bit sore there?"
"Yeah, think that's from the seatbelt strap-" Shigure winced. "Ugh. Just what I need. Another bruise. Anyway, as I was saying, I wished I had one of those."
"What, the phones?"
"Yeah…" For the wistful way his lips were curling slowly at the edges, Shigure looked somewhat pensively sad. "That's what you do, isn't it? When in the face of death, you call your loved ones, you say your goodbyes?"
"I suppose so." Fine lines appeared on what was visible of Hatori's forehead. "It's your last chance, isn't it?"
"Last…chance?" Shigure's question hung heavy and still, but Hatori knew him well enough to notice how it was laced with genuine confusion. "Last chance to say that you love someone?"
Hatori's face was unreadable. "Unless you're angry enough to say the opposite."
A sudden hush descended in the small room. Hatori used the awkwardness to his advantage and resumed his palpation. He extricated his stethoscope from the depth of his carrier bag; Shigure was breathing okay and his pulse was strong, and there was nothing remarkable so far from his examination…
He was perfectly happy to keep observing him just now. The wait-and-see approach was no more superior, or inferior to any other course of action in medicine.
"Who would you call?"
"Hmm?" Hatori closed the snap latch on his bag.
"Who would you call?" Shigure repeated the question and Hatori realised he was still talking on the same subject. He sighed.
"My lawyer probably." It was going to be a long night and he was not going to sleep anyway, so Hatori might as well play along.
"You have a lawyer?"
"He DID draft my will."
"You have a will?"
"You're pretty repetitive for someone who claims to be without a head injury." He added as an afterthought, "Being a hotshot novelist and all."
"No, no, this is all very interesting to me." At the mention of his head, Shigure rubbed two fingers along the length of his forehead as if against a phantom pain, carefully avoiding the livid bruise on his temple. "I did not expect to learn new things about our dear Haa-san so late into our relationship."
Hatori's eyebrow quivered almost imperceptibly. "Do not read me like you do one of your books, Shigure. You know I don't like it."
Shigure being Shigure, he chose to ignore him completely. "But why not me?"
"Why not you what?"
"Why not call me?"
"Now why would I want to do that?"
"Why, to tell me you love me of course!" If he had been in doubt before, he certainly was not anymore. Shigure was sounding more and more like himself. All it takes is a brush with death and he's all normal again, Hatori thought wryly. He should have known.
"I'm not that good with phones. Never liked them."
"You take my calls."
"That's because you're always dying of something every other day."
"Yeah, I know. It sucks."
The phone lines had been quiet in the recent months but neither of them thought it worthy to mention, such was their comfortable state of denial.
"I don't have a secretary." Hatori's mood sank further to a sulk. His hand automatically reached for the ever-present pack of cigarettes and lighter tucked in his back pocket. Shigure saw that his cousin had changed brands since their parting; it was in fact his own favourite, he noted curiously.
"Can I have one?" He asked in a small voice.
The look Hatori gave the figure on the bed could not mean anything but 'You have got to be kidding.' "No smoking is allowed in the hotel room. Did you not read the sign?"
"Oh but it didn't say 'no smoking in the bed.' Come, hop in, Haa-san." Shigure swung his long legs down the side of the bed and before Hatori could stop him, rose to his feet. He wobbled slightly but gained enough balance to pull the bedspread off the top of the bed to reveal the clean white sheets underneath. "There's enough room for both of us. I promise I won't take my clothes off."
Oh believe me, that's the least of my worries, Hatori thought, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, his eyes and mannerism full of distrust as he folded away the heavy hotel bedspread and tucked it into one of the empty wardrobes. "Lie back down right now, Shigure."
The silence that ensued and the absence of activity from the general area of the single bed in the room were so prolonged Hatori thought his cousin was already asleep; he was halfway through his second cigarette when he was suddenly jolted out of his reverie.
"I wonder if she cares."
At Hatori's questioning glance, Shigure gave a careless shrug in place of a proper reply.
Hatori looked away to watch his reflection in the window for a few seconds before he remembered to ash the dying cigarette in his hand. He tapped it once against the ashtray and brought it to his lips again. The seconds ticked away.
"You know…if I live or die."
With measured patience, he continued to watch his reflection in the window while concentrating on finishing the last of his smoke. Hatori's nostrils flared delicately as he exhaled some smoke against suddenly tight lips.
"Do you care?"
"I can't believe you're even asking." With a short, barking scoff, Shigure asked sarcastically, "Is she not my world?"
Hatori chose not to call on Shigure's deliberate misinterpretation of what should have been a perfectly simple question. "Do you care if you live or die, cousin?"
His reply came swift and immediate. "Not particularly," Shigure chirped merrily.
The forgotten cigarette stopped rolling in his suddenly stiff fingers as Hatori replayed Shigure's answer in his head, searching in his voice for some hints of hesitation - but alas, there was none. Hatori wondered if he was at all surprised, or if he had known the answer all along but still needed to ask anyway.
He suspected the latter. There was an emptiness in Shigure's eyes he had never noticed before, a hollow void that had been absent before their reunion, absent for as long as they had known each other – something had happened.
Something had happened in the Sohma Mainhouse five months ago to have caused Shigure to leave.
Something had happened and it had changed him. It had made him not care.
Hatori felt something inside him turn to ice.
"You look upset."
"I'm a doctor, Shigure. I'm used to seeing people die." Hatori's fist balled involuntarily on the coffee table. "And I'm used to seeing people want to die. It's my job to stop them, and I'll be damned if I can't stop you."
Shigure sniffed derisively. "That's rich coming from you, Hatori."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Hatori was starting to sound very angry.
"Well, you did nearly kill me today!" Shigure's voice climbed a notch, and his lower lip visibly began to tremble. "And you didn't even say sorry!"
He abruptly seized his face with his hands and cupped them over his eyes and mouth to frantically stifle a low, guttural moan.
Hatori shoved himself off the chair and lunged for the bed.
"Shigure, what is it? Are you hurting?" He asked in alarm.
The dog spirit's chest rose and fell with the increasing effort to breathe, but the sobs were too powerful, too violent to contain.
Hatori stood stock-still, eyes dark and wide with utter shock.
"What's wrong with me, Haa-san..."
At the sound of his name, something in Hatori gave way.
He sat on the bed and gently felt Shigure's forehead.
"Shhh…" He chastised softly as Shigure's breaths hitched uncontrollably. With his thumb, he rubbed soothing circles over the tight, tense muscles, brushing his fingers lightly against the angry bruise-
Hatori bent forward and took away his hand, replacing it with his cheek, pressing it against the hot dampness of Shigure's skin-
I'm here now. Tell me.
But if Shigure could hear him, he did not show it. The heels of his hands were still ground deep into his eyes but he could not keep it all in; when they finally fell away, they were smeared wet with tears.
"What's he got that I haven't?" A lone tear dewed along the length of Shigure's eyeslashes.
Hatori was so close he could feel Shigure's shallow breaths on his face, the stray strands of ebony against his cheeks…and yet…
The look in Shigure's eyes was so far away, he was out of Hatori's reach. Like so many times before Hatori had been close, so close to finding out the mystery within the mystery-
So close to calling out this monster Shigure was constantly fighting.
And as the veil fell once more over Shigure's ash-grey eyes, the same hollowness Hatori was learning to hate wholeheartedly began to dawn across his tight, pale face again.
Once more Shigure was a closed book.
Hatori straightened to a sitting position and swiveled around, letting his legs dangle down the side of the bed. His back was turned but he did not pull away; he could feel the heat of Shigure's hand fisted in his shirt as if not wanting to let go. Hatori did not know how long it had been there.
It was Hatori who first broke the silence.
"I was angry," the dragon spirit finally admitted, albeit reluctantly. "I was angry with you."
Shigure slowly turned his head to look at the dragon's tensed back with eyes still misty and glazed.
"One minute you were in my room, reading my books, drinking my tea, smoking my fags…" Hatori's jaws tightened. "Then the next thing I knew, you were running around like a man gone mad, packing your things, boarding up your old house –"
"You just upped and left."
"I'm sorry." Shigure's voice was soft.
Hatori hung his head.
"You weren't before."
"It's hard to feel sorry for anyone but yourself when you've overstayed your welcome in your own house."
For reasons unknown even to him, Hatori felt an uncontrollable anger take over him like a chokehold.
"Name me one time, one time that I turned my back on you," Hatori could not help but hiss; he could feel the fingers loosen around the cuff of his sleeve.
You only needed to come to me.
"You're too kind, Hatori."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to save the ones you-" Hatori caught himself but not before his defensive demeanour got the better of him. He looked away abruptly. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to save."
"And that's why you misunderstand me all the time." Shigure's tone was kind.
"I never said I wanted to die. I simply said I didn't care."
"Because I'll know what to say either way. See, if I knew death was coming for me, I would say to her…I'd tell her that I was sorry for what I did and that I wish she could someday forgive me."
"Now if I were to live…then it does not matter, what I say or do not say." Shigure's gaze fixated on an invisible crack on the ceiling, his beatific smile serene in the dimness of the low-lit room. "I'll just wait."
When he turned to look at Hatori, his smile still did not waver; it only took on a more teasing nuance. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Hatori looked at him for a long time. In defeat, he finally shrugged. "A story told is a story told. Did you understand the Tale of Genji the first time you read it?"
"Nope. Too many blank pages."
"But you read it anyway," Hatori said, sounding mildly triumphant.
"Now who's reading who here, Haa-san?"
Hatori could feel a smile, his first smile in two days, tug on his lips. But why it appeared to so quickly disappear again, God only knew.
"What you just told me. Why can't you tell her now?"
"The same reason why you wrote a will, Haa-san." In astonishment, Hatori watched Shigure's throat bob up and down as he spoke.
"It's the final message. It cannot be told before its time."
"But you told it to me. Why?"
"So you can pass it on." A sharp flick of narrowed eyes caught Hatori's in mid-gaze. "For me. If anything happens."
All the colour drained from Hatori's face. Shigure saw and laughed.
"Don't you worry about a thing, Haa-san. There's still life in this old man yet." Shigure gave him a wink and his trademark smile. "I can't leave the world angry."
Shigure inhaled deeply. The scent of salt was still lingering in the air. But it was this other scent he savoured more; the scent on his forehead, on his hair, on his cheeks-this familiar scent he had come to miss the most-
" "Whenever you know me to be alone, come, no matter what day." "
Hatori looked at Shigure curiously. The novelist's answer was a simple, soft smile. "An English poet once said that to his beloved fiancée."
"And did she?" Hatori asked quietly.
Shigure's lips were pursed, torn between keeping the ending to himself and sharing it…but he supposed if he had anyone to share anything with at all, he'd rather it be Hatori. "He died of consumption before she could. It really was quite tragic."
Hatori's own lips thinned into a line.
"I never stopped waiting." His bad eye twitched defensively, refusing to meet his cousin's gaze. I was not the one who left.
"You didn't come find me." Shigure's tone was not accusatory as such, nor was it completely free of hurt either. Hatori's breath halted momentarily, before returning with an audible sigh; of regret or of resignation, neither of them quite knew.
The cold fingers he did not realise he was clutching instantly came to life, and curled around his own. That was when Hatori knew.
"And I'm sorry. For nearly killing you."
He was forgiven.
"That's alright. Do it as many times as you like." Shigure waved his other hand casually and broke into a long, genuine yawn, stretching his aching limbs languidly. He gently pulled his hand away from Hatori's grasp to turn onto his side, and promptly buried his face into his pillow.
But Hatori could tell he was smiling.
"As long you save me in the end."
Shigure was Shigure again.
And so in secret, Hatori too, smiled a smile of his own.
1. The Tale of Genji was written in the eleventh century by Murasaki Shikibu of Japanese nobility in the Heian period, considered to be one of the world's first novels.
2. The English poet mentioned briefly is John Keats (1795 – 1821)
A/N: Hatori and Shigure are my favourite characters, and writing them always calms me-it's so therapeutic. Now I have to get back to my books, but I hope you've enjoyed reading this even if just a little bit. And if you have time at all, please do feel free to leave a review! Any comment would be lovely.