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The Curse of Maturity

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Hatori Sohma is in hell.

There's really no other explanation. He's not sure what he did in a past life to end up here, but it must have been pretty fucking bleak.

He's holding a sleeping three-month old baby in his arms, a nine-month-old is clinging to his pants leg, the other teenagers are already well on their way to being drunk, and God is crying.

Fuck.

He shoots Shigure a lethal look and Shigure puts down his illicit sake to investigate.

"What's happened here?" Shigure asks, and if Hatori wasn't so god-damn overwhelmed, he'd almost be impressed by his friend's gentleness. "Did you spill your tea?"

Akito nods, and Shigure mops it up, murmuring some aphorism or another as he does.

Hatori conducts a quick headcount, making sure none of the younger members of the Zodiac have stolen away while he's been otherwise occupied. Everyone is still present and accounted for, but Momiji and Hatsuharu are starting to fingerpaint each other with red bean paste.

"Oh for the love…" Hatori looks around, wishing there was a single competent adult present, but he settles for Kureno instead.

"Kureno, could you…?" He jerks his head in the direction of the two toddlers, who are now taking turns giving each other food-based warpaint.

Kureno will probably end up covered in mashed-up food courtesy of the rabbit and cow, but that's not Hatori's problem.

The first banquet Hatori remembers was some ten years ago now, and it had been a dignified affair. Most of the other members of the zodiac had been old and refined, and even Ayame and Shigure had been on their best behavior.

He'd commit a murder for some acceptable behavior tonight, let alone "best."

Hatori would pray to God to give him a fucking break, but God is now jabbing at Yuki with a pair of chopsticks.

"Shigure," Hatori snaps, and Shigure tries his best to look innocent as he turns away from the sake he was pouring for Ayame.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm going," he grumbles. He sits between Akito and Yuki - who looks more put-out than any four-year-old has a right to - and offers up his own chopsticks to spar with.

"That's not as fun," Akito complains. But Yuki is spared from the tiny weapons, for now. He still looks haunted, though.

"Sorry, sorry!" Hatori looks over to find Ritsu, holding up a dripping sleeve. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, how could I be so careless with this delicious soup?" he cries.

As Ritsu's volume increases, Hatori feels a jolt of panic. Ritsu is going to wake the baby, and Hatori is going to commit seppuku on the spot.

"Ritsu," he hisses, but the younger Sohma doesn't hear him. He tries again to no avail.

"Rit-chan." Ayame swoops in like some kind of angel and not the demon-spawn Hatori knows him to be. "Did you know dipping your sleeve in soup is the latest fashion?"

"Really?" Ritsu looks up at Ayame, his eyes wide with sheer, unadulterated admiration.

"Straight out of Paris," Ayame assures him, and he offers Hatori a wink when he leaves Ritsu to examine his now-fashion-forward sleeve. "My work here is done," he says as he bypasses Hatori to reach his bottle of sake.

"It's really not," Hatori grumbles. He counts the members off again, thirteen with himself included. Kisa is still mercifully sleeping in his arms. At his feet, Hiro seems content to watch the chaos unfold as he chews gently on a piece of okonomiyaki.

Rin rises and makes her way across the room toward him, careful to avoid the plates and bowls on the floor. Kagura has styled her hair into lopsided braids, their meals discarded half-eaten.

"When can I do my dance?" she asks, looking up at him innocently. "I practiced a lot."

There's supposed to be an order to these things, a ritual, a detailed itinerary for this most sacred of evenings.

Hatori doesn't give a fuck anymore.

"Whenever you want to," he says.

Rin is pretty graceful for a five-year-old, and she finishes her routine with a beaming smile, showing off the space where her two front teeth used to be.

Hatori does his best to clap politely without jostling the sleeping baby. He's fairly certain he's the only one paying attention, with the exception of Kagura and Ritsu, who watch her, enraptured.

He shifts Kisa in his arms to check his watch. It'll be time to put the younger kids to bed soon, he thinks, and his nightmare will be over. For now.

Someone tugs on the hem of his shirt, and he looks down into Kagura's deep brown eyes. "Yes, Kagura?"

"Why doesn't Kyo get to come to the banquet?" she asks.

Hatori wishes she would've asked something simpler, like where babies come from.

"It's a long story.” Kagura frowns, looking very pensive for a six-year-old. "I'll explain when you're older," he offers.

"That's what grown-ups always say," she grumbles before walking away, and Hatori is a little offended to be called a grown-up. He's only fifteen, after all.

It's fair though, he supposes. This banquet alone has aged him at least half a century. He's going to come out of it with a pension. He's going to start the new year yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Is he already feeling joint pain, or is that just his imagination?

He looks over at Ayame and Shigure, still drinking steadily, and thinks they seem closer in maturity to the toddlers, who are once again slathering each other in food. Kureno never stood a chance.

After the servants have cleared the detritus, the parents of the younger Zodiac members collect their children. The only one who even bothers to thank Hatori for his childcare services is Satsuki, who hands him a crisp handful of bills while her husband detaches Hiro from Hatori's pants leg.

"I hope they all enjoyed a peaceful evening," he seethes to Shigure and Ayame later as the two of them pass a bottle of sake back and forth on Shigure's porch, forgoing cups altogether. "I didn't even have time to eat."

"Oh, don't be bitter, Tori-san," Ayame croons sarcastically. "This is our honor as members of the Zodiac."

"There is nothing honorable about babysitting a dozen cursed children."

"You've been babysitting the two of us for years," Shigure says. "I'd say it's your strong suit."

"You're a beacon of maturity," Ayame adds with a flourish.

"And I bet you can't wait to do it all again next year," Shigure says.

Hatori snatches his bottle of sake and finishes it off.

He's definitely in hell.