"Are you okay, Tohru?" Shigure asked again. Before, somewhere around the part where he recounted Hitomi's last moments, she had been tearing up. Now the girl was crying.
Tohru shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve. "I'm so sorry. Please finish, Shigure."
Shigure stared at Tohru before studying Yuki and Kyo. The boys' eyes were watery but nothing fell from them. Shigure assumed it was because they refused to embarrass themselves in front of the other. Sighing, Shigure looked at the clock and saw that it was three o'clock in the morning. "Maybe you should go to bed. All of you."
"W-what?" Kyo said, clearly ready to protest. "You didn't even tell us what you said back to her!"
"Is she in jail at least?" Yuki asked. "Someone like her can't be-!"
"You all have to wake up early, don't you?" Shigure interrupted, removing his glasses. Although there was not a single smudge on them, he started to wipe the lenses anyway.
"Shigure!" Kyo yelled, standing up. "You can't keep us all night and then not finish the story!"
Shigure didn't understand why Kyo wanted to hear the rest of it. The ending was obvious, wasn't it? Maybe he was a better storyteller than he gave himself credit for and his words didn't always have to be organized on paper.
"It's my fault you won't finish it, isn't it?" Tohru asked, wiping her tears away.
Shigure offered a sympathetic smile. "Don't worry," he said. "I made the whole thing up."
Tohru blinked. "Huh?"
"I made up the story," Shigure reiterated with a small smile. "Hitomi never existed. Minako never existed. Not even Akemi."
"You kept us up for the purpose of what then?" Yuki asked, trying to quell an anger that was obviously brewing inside.
Shigure laughed nervously. "That is a good question. Let's see... Oh. Right. I wanted to teach you why you should be careful of what you say when you're angry. It could cause the person left behind great grief as well-!"
"But none of that ever happened!" Kyo interrupted. "You had me crying-!"
"You were crying?" Shigure asked innocently although his smirk betrayed him a bit.
"I was not!" He yelled back. He pointed to the girl sitting next to him. "I meant Tohru!"
"Of course you did," Shigure said, looking at Tohru. "Now that you know that it's made up, there is no reason to feel sad. Such a horrible person as Minako never existed which meant that there was no Sheep prior to Hiro."
"Even so," Tohru said, sniffling a bit, "I feel bad for Hitomi and for you."
"It never happened," Yuki repeated, giving Shigure a dirty look.
"Still," Tohru continued. "I feel bad that Hitomi died the way she did. And I feel bad that her last words to you were that painful. I guess that there is no happy ending."
"Unless I made Minako die," Shigure said thoughtfully. When he saw the shock on Tohru's face, Shigure immediately took it back. "Kidding, kidding."
"I'm going to bed," Kyo grumbled, quickly leaving the room.
Yuki was not that far behind. "Me, too," he said.
Tohru did a quick, grateful bow. "Thank you for the story," she said. "I only wish that there was a happy ending to it."
Shigure smiled. "Me, too." When Tohru left, Shigure stopped smiling. There were only three more hours before sunrise and to be honest, he didn't want to spend them trying to sleep. He reached for the book he was reading earlier and flipped through it, trying to pick up where he had left off. He then remembered that he could barely recall what he had read before telling that story. He let out a sigh as he closed his eyes. "I feel bad for Hitomi and for you." Only Tohru would say that after he had told them it was all a lie.
Shigure heard knocking from the front door. He sat in his chair a while longer before he got up and went to answer. Outside were Ayame and Hatori. Ayame held up a bottle of sake.
"You're not sleeping tonight, right?" Ayame asked.
"You know me well," Shigure said, letting them come in.
The sake was warm but delicious and Shigure welcomed the feeling of the liquid running down his throat. The men sat on the floor around a table. On it were their three glasses and the sake bottle. Shigure sort of wished that Ayame had brought two bottles. However, he knew if Ayame had, he would probably get drunk, worrying Ayame and annoying Hatori simultaneously. That wouldn't bode well, considering the reason they showed up tonight.
"You were reading?" Hatori asked, nodding toward the book abandoned on the chair.
"I tried but then I ended up telling Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki a story."
"About Hitomi and how I messed up." He reached the bottle and refilled his glass, ignoring that Ayame and Hatori had just exchanged looks. "I finished not too long before you arrived."
"...I thought you would never talk about Hitomi again," Hatori said carefully.
"I figured I would show them that you should always be careful with what you say to someone," Shigure said nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders even. "But they became too sad so I told them I made it up." He had thought that he had done enough talking for the night, that maybe he would just kick back and drink with his two best friends, see what was happening with their lives. He was beginning to think that the sake was loosening his tongue to his dislike. The conversation about Hitomi was supposed to have ended when the teens left.
"Are you coming this year, Gure?" Ayame asked. "To visit Tomi?"
Shigure gave him a meek smile. "I never have, Aya. Why should I start now?"
"Because Tomi would appreciate it," Ayame replied.
"Hitomi's last words were that she hated me. I doubt she would want me to visit her grave."
Hatori sighed and took out his cigarette. He put it between his lips. "Hitomi never hated you," he said, lighting it. "You, more than anyone, should know that."
"Even so... I did everything I could for her and in the end she made me feel like I didn't. A part of me is angry at her about that." The rational side of him told him he did so unjustly yet he couldn't help it. The weeks after her death and funeral had been sleepless. He couldn't stay in his bedroom anymore; the guest bedroom eventually had become his. He had hoped that when he had confronted Minako, some of his guilt would have been relieved. But it hadn't.
He could only blame Minako for pushing and subsequently killing Hitomi. However, he couldn't blame Minako for allowing that to happen. If he had run away with her, even temporarily, or had even stopped Minako from reaching her, things wouldn't have turned out the way they had. Hitomi had every right to hate him but he wished that she had kept that to herself. Starting with the anniversary of the incident to till the anniversary of her death, his mind was tormented by guilt.
"Do you know what she told me once?" Hatori said. "'No matter what happens, I know that Shigure would always have my heart.'"
"When did she say that?" Shigure asked.
"Does it matter?"
"She was going to run away without me that evening," Shigure said, finishing his cup of sake. He reached for the bottle and turned it over above his cup. However, not much was left; the remainder barely filled a fourth of his cup. "If Minako hadn't reached Hitomi, she would have been alive."
Hatori blew out smoke, shaking his head. "You can still be an idiot sometimes."
"Hari," Ayame said, frowning a bit.
Hatori sighed. "The day before she fell, she did run away. She got far but she decided to come back for you. Do you know why, Shigure? She needed you more than you probably realized. My point is, if she had managed to escape that night, she would have come back. I can't think of a single time she never came back to you when she could."
Hatori's words lingered in the air for a while before Ayame changed the topic.
"If Hitomi was still alive today, she would have been a great person. She probably would have been a nurse, don't you agree, Shigure?"
Shigure smiled and shook his head. "She would have been a teacher. Or a maybe school counselor."
Hatori took a long drag from his cigarette, thinking about it. "Maybe. But I think she would have had her own bakery. She was good at baking."
Ayame sighed. "Too bad we'll never know."
"You're a complete and utter jerk! It's like you're trying to ruin my life! First you refused to do the project, now this!"
"You mess with my feelings, you make me mad on purpose, and then you laugh about it. You always want to play some messed-up game with me. What the heck was that? Why did you kiss me?"
"I can't lie to myself about this. I never imagined that you would like me. I never thought that you would tell me and kiss me and ask me to do the same."
"I, um... I really do like you, Shigure. A lot."
"The last couple of weeks, I realized that I love you, Shigure."
"Even if I only had you, I'd be okay."
"You do have me, Hitomi. You will always have me."
A few days ago, it had been the night that Hitomi had fallen. Now today was the official day of her death. Shigure found himself in the Sohma cemetery, standing in front of the gravestone with her name. It was a chilly October day, just like it had been then. However, there was nothing that he had to rush for and there were no dire consequences for anything he would do later on.
The breeze blew, sweeping his bangs across his forehead.
"I'm sorry that it has taken this long to come. I'm finally here, Hitomi."