It was Golden Week, again. It was that time of year when love was in the air and, if distilled to an essence, would reek of cherry blossoms.
The teenagers were gone and Sohma Shigure's house was vacant.
Life had returned to normal, with minor modifications. Shigure looked out the window and sipped sencha and closed his eyes as a light breeze coasted across the lawn, ruffling his hair, setting the wind chime to jangling. Life was normal for a Sohma, as far as that went. And normal for him: the quiet of an empty house, the red of deadlines pushed upon him by his publisher, a calendar counting down the days and loneliness.
Shigure gazed out the open door and set down his tea cup and lifted a hand.
He slapped himself across the face: once right, once left.
That done, he patted a cheek and climbed to his feet. "Don't let it bother you, don't let it bother you," he singsonged, and began to hum a catchy little J-pop tune that had been playing on the radio that sat beside his writing station.
Like the Dog, Shigure was nothing if not endlessly inventive. It wasn't in his nature to let himself go for long without entertainment.
That, he supposed, was why he and A-ya got along so well.
Since Tohru-kun and the others were off on a vacation, Shigure saw no reason why he shouldn't be so lucky. He was ready for adventures. He had gotten this house built for many reasons, peace and quiet amongst them, but now that this house was empty again after being full for so long Shigure had no use for it.
He wedged his hands in his sleeves, pausing in the hallway to stand for a moment, contemplating. He had an idea. Yes, he had an idea.
Shigure put a hand to his chin, striking a pose both reflective and studly that had taken about ten minutes of practicing with a mirror to perfect. It was a good idea. He examined it from all angles, pleased.
Since the house was empty and he could do as he liked, Shigure skipped down the hall on his way to the telephone. It was the kind of action that would make Yuki-kun freeze and stare with wide eyes, trying to decipher what law of propriety had been broken. Kyo-kun would call him an idiot and keep going. Shigure knew as an elder he wasn't much of an example, and that was why he considered himself a good example: life should be fun.
Especially if one was a Sohma, it was important to stop and remember that every once in a while. So in that way, Tohru-kun had been very very good for them all.
"Ha-san? It's me," Shigure said when the other line picked up, before the typical greeting could be tendered.
"...All right," the mellow-deep voice on the other end of the line replied, sounding quite wary.
How cold! Already, he was suspicious! Shigure considered a swoon but there was no one on his end of the line to appreciate his histrionics. "I've decided," he began, with what he considered to be an appropriate amount of determination.
"Decided what?" I'll play along, Hatori's tone said, but I reserve the right to hang up on you.
"I," Shigure began, pausing to let the drama and expectation build, "am going to the Sohma family chalet! For a bit of rest and relaxation."
Silence on the other end of the line. Then: "How were you planning on getting to the chalet, Shigure?" By the sound of it Hatori was not particularly impressed by his declaration.
Shigure deflated. Well, like the Dog he was nothing if not determined.
Pause. Perk. "Well, I'm going to drive, of course!" Shigure caroled. "Ahh~h, I'm so looking forward to it...the speed, the excitement, the wind in my hair...I'm going to rent a car and everything." He didn't need to see Hatori's expression just then to intuit the twitch that spasmed beneath his good eye.
"You will not," Hatori said flatly. There was a sigh on the other end of the line. "You're not even licensed, unlike that paper driver Ayame; you never have been. What time would you like me to pick you up?"
"Ahh, Ha-chan, I wasn't suggesting--" Shigure began in wounded tones.
"Shut up," Hatori grumbled, but Shigure's keen ears pricked. He could tell his cousin wasn't truly put out. "How many am I going to be ferrying this time?"
"Yuki-kun and the others are away on a field trip," Shigure replied. "So it's just me." He waggled his eyebrows, grateful that Hatori couldn't see him.
"All right. So when do you want to leave?"
Shigure thought about it, chin in hand. "Hmm...Well, the sooner the better, really."
Silence on the other end of the line, for a moment. Then: "I'll be over as soon as I make arrangements." There was a faintly martyred inflection in Hatori's steady voice, one that put Shigure on notice that Hatori knew he was being manipulated and went along with it because he followed the path of least resistance.
That, and the thought of Shigure zooming along a back road in a rental by himself with the window down and his head sticking out gleefully was sure to throw Hatori into nervous convulsions.
"Wonderful! Beautiful!" Shigure enthused, throwing himself into an ungainly but heartfelt dance of victory. "So I'll see you soon."
The phone clicked before either of them attempted a farewell. Shigure smirked at the receiver, then hung up.
On to the final phase of his plan: packing, then the sadistic arrangements intended for his number one favorite victim. His publisher would surely rip her hair out over this one.
"The place is well tended," Shigure noted, shucking his shoes off by the door and moving freely about the first floor of the chalet. It was near the sea, about a twenty-minute hike from the ocean, and Shigure paced for the window with a kind of brisk delight. It felt good to stretch and get out of the house for a change.
"Can you answer something, Shigure?" Hatori sprawled out on the western-style couch before one of the windows, lean body dressed casually in a sweater and khaki slacks. Comfortable traveling clothes.
"Mmm," Shigure mumbled noncommittally, shading his eyes with a hand as he peered over the grassy hillocks that degenerated into low hills and coastline further on. The ocean was so very blue, he thought. He'd always liked that, the unending stretch of blue that shaded into the sky by degrees, a circle unbroken.
"Did you have a deadline this weekend?" Hatori's tone was calm, reasonable even.
Giku. Shigure hunched his shoulders. "M-me? A deadline? Would I do something horrible and cruel like leaving the prefecture the same week I had a major deadline?" He infused the right blend of mournful indignation in his voice.
Hatori snorted. "In a word? Yes."
It had been three years. Not for any kind of happy anniversary, no; normal for a Sohma included no dates marked with fond remembrance or lightness of heart. It would not be the date of their meeting Hatori would take so hard; it was not the date he had lost most of the use in his left eye. It would not be the day he first said "I love you."
No, Shigure had looked at the calendar and noted it was three years from the day Sohma Hatori had erased the memory of the one best beloved to him.
It had been even longer than that since Hatori had taken physical comfort from his cousins: either he, Shigure, or Ayame. They had been quite the florid trio in high school and beyond until... Well, they were Sohma. Nothing went smoothly for them. It was inevitable, holding someone so close, breathing them in, making their heart beat faster, that one of them would begin to take it seriously.
After Kana departed from Hatori's life, their Hatori had continued to hold himself distant, celibate, and...alone.
They waited, Shigure and Ayame. Not necessarily for the ice to unthaw, but for some sign it was ready to receive heat and warmth once more.
Outside, Shigure and Hatori sat on the wide porch swing side by side, the sea breeze swinging them gently back and forth. Neither of them had anything in particular to say, and so they were silent. It was easy and comfortable and Shigure felt quite sure this was the only person in the world he could sit with thus, feeling perfectly attuned.
Beside him, a shiver went through Hatori's body.
"Are you cold?" Shigure asked, quiet, intent, leaning close with a hand braced in the space between.
"Yes," Hatori replied, curt.
Pause. "Will you let me warm you?" Shigure murmured, asking something entirely different, knowing that Hatori heard it. He was free to turn him down, of course, by pretending to misunderstand.
For a moment Shigure caught his breath, sure Hatori was about to do just that.
Then, in a soft exhalation of breath, Hatori said, "If you would."
Shigure's ears pricked at that barely audible admission. "Come inside," Shigure said, standing, offering his hand. His eyes flicked from Hatori to the porch swing and back. "I need a better workbench than this."
Hatori's eyes were unreadable. He reached up, and accepted his hand.
In the distance, the ocean rushed to shore, battering against and recoiling from the rocks that stood immobile. Given enough time, the water that lapped at the rocks again and again could wear them down to glittering particles of sand.
The bedroom was darkened, warm and musky with the scent that came after sex. Within, they could hear the murmur of the ocean, background noise to their endeavors. When they rested, all Shigure could hear was the steady beat of Hatori's heart.
"A-ya will be jealous," Shigure said softly, nuzzling his nose into the crease of Hatori's neck with enthusiasm. "He wanted to be the one to bring you back to us. Only the way he said it was 'show you the burning golden light of his love.'"
Hatori flinched as Shigure burrowed against him, then he placed an arm around him in return, his good eye fixed on some faraway point as he snorted at the outlandish turn of phrase. "Ayame...I can't give him what he wants most of all. So it couldn't be him."
"He knows," Shigure replied, closing his eyes and breathing in the bittersweet scent of sex, warmth and musk, remnants of togetherness. "He knows." And if the knowledge pricked, that Hatori turned to him because he knew that much about himself and Ayame, then it was lost in Shigure's overall satisfaction.
Like the Dog, he never wanted the whole plate. He was content with the scraps doled to him.
"Shigure," Hatori said after a moment.
"Did you really have a deadline?"
"Ika~n," Shigure intoned, pretending dismay. "I've been found out."
"Hmmph." Hatori's arm tightened. He said nothing.
He was perfectly capable of looking at the calendar, too, Shigure thought clinically. He knew what day it was, just as Shigure knew. And now, like the Dog, he realized his actions had been rather more transparent than he had thought when he'd begun.
"Actually," Shigure began, "I did. I finished early, and decided if the children got a break, I should, too. I arranged to have the manuscript sent by courier, to be delivered with a completion bonus if he got it there exactly one hour before it's slated to go to press."
"Right about the time she begins to have a total breakdown."
"Correct!" Shigure said brightly.
"Your poor publisher is right," Hatori said clinically. "You really are the devil."
"Pfft." Shigure smothered his snicker with one hand. "Are you mad, Ha-san? That I've used you to get her goat?" He held his breath, waiting, feeling thin as shoji, just as easy to see through. It wasn't that minor deception he was asking after; it was the other.
Hatori was silent for a long moment. "No," he said at last.
Shigure reached up with a languid hand to comb away the inky-dark hair from Hatori's eyes. "I guess spring has come, after all." He wriggled closer. He couldn't feel anything but satisfied, now. All he ever wanted was for those around him to be happy. In that, he found his own happiness as well.
Hatori's face was solemn, oh so solemn, but when it lightened in that brief smile he looked younger, and free. "I suppose," he murmured. "Come here, shall I show you what happens when ice melts?"
"Ooh, I don't think that's melting, Ha-san...in fact, I think it's getting har--"
The way Hatori chose to silence him, Shigure spared a blissful thought for it, was the most satisfying thing of all.