First Higurashi one-shot.

Please note that I'm taking many authors' liberties here, and certain facts may be completely changed, especially regarding Satoshi's Syndrome and Irie's knowledge on the matter, as well as his behavior. Please enjoy.

He looks different. He's limping and the shadows in his eyes are darker. But he still smiles at me and it makes my throat tighten.

It's been a year. Or perhaps two? It makes no difference.

Satoko-chan has returned home a long time ago. I managed to find a cure; just a moment before Takano decided that she can only be used as a test subject. What did he come here for? His examinations have been completed, and as much as unrecognizable feeling stabs at my thoughts, there is no reason for him to come here.

He greets me with a smile, and I return it. Outside the clinic, cicadas are chirping in the sweltering heat. We are sitting in my office, the sharp smell of antiseptics flowing in the air. We sit in silence; there is nothing to be said.

Not much has changed; only a few bruises have appeared on his body. I offer to attend to them; he declines and we return to being silent.

There is nothing I can do.

I take a sip of my coffee; it burns my tongue with a bitter taste. I have had trouble with sleeping lately, staying awake at night. Thinking. About Takano. Jirou. Me. Satoshi. Why things are turning out the way they are. A lot of things have happened – I've invented a new cure for the Syndrome, as well as a vaccine. Satoko's Aunt and Uncle returned to Hinamizawa. An abuse report was filled a week later.

So why do I have the feeling that nothing is different? That everything which has taken place so far, has occurred before?

I blink. My glasses are misting up from the steam of the coffee, so I take them off and lay them on the desk. Satoshi looks at me, a darkness looming over his expression.

Is it me, or has his hair thinned? His skin paled? He looks unhealthy and I'm tempted to take a blood test. Has he been sleeping badly, just like me? Does this feeling of unavoidability keep him from falling asleep? Or is it his Aunt's shouting at Satoko-chan keeping him high-strung all the time, on his guard every second?

Takano's grown restless; I often see her with an anxious look twisting her face. The Hinamizawa case isn't progressing as well as it was expected to; medication has been found, so the disease is no longer dangerous enough to attract public attention. At that point, we're not much different; I have failed my father's case and she is failing to prove her grandfather's research. But where I have accepted it, Takano has been taking action with more and more recklessness; she barely contains her paranoia, the usually smug look on her face cracking with each failure. Soon, she will start to search for the guilty; the question is only, who will die first. Me or Tomitake-san.

I personally wouldn't mind dying, but I still have few things to accomplish. I need to stay here for Satoko-chan and Satoshi-kun as long as I can. God knows I'm utterly helpless; everything I can do for them, is just be there for them. My association with the Yamainu and Tokyo disallows me to do anything. I'm supposed to stay in the shadows.

Satoshi's gaze finally drops, and he tangles his hands together, shoulders slumping. We stay still, the clock ticking in the background. The time passes by slowly; after a millionth tick or so, Satoshi asks me if he can leave the baseball club. I agree, faking a cheerful tone. I don't know why I bother. We both know why he is doing this.

A sinking feeling encages my chest; how much time does Satoshi-kun have left? For how long has he been denying his medicine, leaving it to Satoko-chan?

I finally decide that it's time for him to return home, as the evening rays shine on my back.

I raise myself, my body all too heavy and Satoshi lifts himself as well. We drag ourselves to the door; I lay my hand on his shoulder, not knowing what to say. Satoshi gives me a tired look, and I understand what he feels perfectly. Acceptance.

It's not always like that. Sometimes he is manic; sometimes, he is the responsible older brother, who knows what he has to do. Sometimes, his depression kicks in and he quits taking the medicine at all, but I know better than to leave him alone and come to his house.

Now, however, I see it.

Soon, he is going to leave me. He's stronger than me. I can't save Satoko. But he can. If he accepts that, if he's willing to, I have no right to stop him. Even if it's going to leave me heartbroken.

I embrace him, and regret that I never had the strength to show him how much he meant to me. Or to tell him. But Takano would have noticed and then, we'd both be in danger. I ask him if I should tell Satoko what he is about to do. A pained look twists his expression. He doesn't want me to. I accept it, wordlessly, silently thanking him for having the courage I don't. He walks out of the room; the tapping of his shoes quickly dies. I resist the want to follow him.

Soon, Satoko-chan will be happy. And that's everything what matters.