It was her brother she decided to tackle first. Hokuto knew all too well that it was not a good idea to let Subaru stew in his own juices for too long, for his emotions tended to become more and more tangled over time and soon became difficult to unravel. It was best to talk to him and help him think things through as soon as possible.
She found Subaru sitting tensely on the bed, his eyes glaring darkly at nothing in particular and hands resting tensely on his legs. Upon Hokuto melting through the wall, he looked up and searched her discorporate face warily. However when his sister folded her arms and gave him a hard stare, he dropped his gaze back to the floor.
"So. Would you mind explaining to me just what that fight was about?" asked Hokuto in that cold level tone that was somehow worse than the loudest shouting. It had no effect; Subaru didnít even look at her. "Did you do something?" A faint blush from her brother. Hokuto frowned and prodded further. "Or did Sei-chan do something?"
She could see Subaru immediately tense. His lips thinned and the slim shoulders hunched over, as if trying to ward off a blow. But he didnít answer.
Hokuto sighed. She dissipated into white mist and reformed to sit beside her brother. Subaruís eyes flicked towards her for a brief moment. Her form made no imprint on the silk bedcovers, and he looked away.
"Youíre confused, arenít you," Hokuto said gently. It was useless to put her arms around her brother, so she let her red-gloved hands rest in the voluminous folds of her knee-length skirt. "And I know he isnít making things easier, the way he treats you."
Subaru dropped his head, black hair falling over his half-lidded eyes. They were deep green forest pools, murky with unseen and unknown depths. "He . . . I donít know what to think," whispered Subaru helplessly. "Sometimes, when he . . . touches me, I think that maybe he does care. But then it proves that heís just toying with me again." His hands clenched tightly until the knuckles turned white.
"Is that what happened today?"
Subaru flushed and nodded. "Itís all a game to him," he said bitterly. "Using seduction as a method for torture would appeal to his sadism."
Hokuto frowned. "Is that what you think, that every time he touches you is because he wants to hurt you?"
Subaruís eyes narrowed as memories of the last few days flashed through his brain at the speed of light. Seishirou knocking him over. Seishirou pinning him against the door, first caressing then hurting him. Seishirou . . .
Iím not your toy.
Toy or not, I can still play with you.
The anger that had filled him at those words came back. That was all he was to Seishirou, a living doll to be played with, to provide amusement and give interest to the perpetual boredom of the emotionless Sakurazukamoriís life.
Subaru; the only interest in Seishirouís life . . .
Hokuto was watching his face carefully. "Or do you just assume he is playing with your mind?" she asked.
Her brother jerked his head up to look at her with a questioning frown, his dark reminiscence interrupted. Hokuto merely smiled at him. "I can think of a few times where it didnít look as if he was trying to hurt you. The karaoke for instance."
Subaru turned slightly red as he remembered Seishirou trying to kiss him in the middle of the song. He had pulled away, interpreting the gesture as yet another one of the Sakurazukamoriís games. But what if it hadnít?
Now that he thought about it, there were a few exchanges between them that, upon hindsight, perhaps werenít aimed at hurting Subaru, but rather, something else. The pillow fight, for some unknown reason, sprang immediately to mind. It had actually been quite fun, being able to hit each other without causing any pain. But then Seishirou had changed the mood from friendly sparring to sensual intimacy, and Subaru had again, rebelled because he had immediately assumed again, that the Sakurazukamori was again, going to hurt him.
Close the door, Subaru-kun. Preferably with you on the inside.
Go to hell.
He always ran away. Even though he knew that some part of him wanted Seishirou to touch him like that, he always ran away. And yet for so long Subaru had been chasing him . . .
"He really is obsessed with you, you know that?" said Hokuto, breaking into her brotherís thoughts.
Subaru looked at her but didnít give any affirmation of her comment. Neither did he deny it.
"If you really think about it Subaru," continued Hokuto. "Sei-chanís obsession for you may be the only real emotion heís ever felt. You are the only one whom he feels passionate about. You are the only one who can hold his interest. You are the only one he canít live without."
"He wants to kill me," Subaru protested.
"Why do both of you keep saying that," said Hokuto impatiently. "You donít want to kill each other. You know as well as I do that you werenít really going to kill Sei-chan in that fight just then. And if you havenít realised already, Sei-chan didnít punch his hand through your heart either."
Subaru didnít answer.
"I think," said the spirit carefully, "that itís gotten to the point where you canít imagine a life without each other. And you donít want to kill Sei-chan, just as he doesnít want to kill you, because neither of you want to experience what life is like alone. Your lives have been so entwined since that day you met under the sakura tree I donít think they can be separated anymore."
Subaru fixed his emerald eyes on a point somewhere on the wall between himself and Seishirou. He didnít speak, trying to come to grips with what he had known all along.
"Did you know, the first night you were here and you slept on the sofa, Sei-chan got out of bed to watch you sleep?" said Hokuto off-handedly.
She had the pleasure of seeing her brotherís eyes widen and stare at her in dismay. "What?"
Hokuto smiled. "He just stood and stared at you while you slept." She could immediately see from her brotherís pained expression what he was thinking. "No, he didnít do anything," she said reassuringly. "I wouldnít have let him."
Subaru relaxed slightly and perhaps unconsciously rubbed the backs of his hands, eyes clouded and thoughtful. "I canít understand him," he said finally. "Why is he doing this to me?"
"Perhaps heís lonely."
Subaru looked at his dead sibling with a surprised expression. "Lonely? The cold-blooded Sakurazukamori is lonely?" He laughed shortly. "I find that very hard to believe."
Hokuto didnít share his mirthless chuckle. "You might be surprised."
Subaru stopped. "If Seishirou-san is lonely, thatís his problem. Not that he really cares about it anyway," he said.
The spirit of his sister folded her arms and raised one eyebrow. "Subaru, you would never leave people to suffer, even if the person is Seishirou. Admit it, you do feel sorry for him, because he is so isolated that he doesnít even feel the pain."
Her twinís face darkened, the warring of differing desires evident in his eyes. Hokuto watched him struggle with his feelings without speaking, leaving him to come to his own decision.
Finally Subaru heaved a great sigh and dropped his head again, hunched over as if withdrawing into himself. "I do feel sorry for him," he said finally, softly under his breath. "And . . . I want to help him. But the fact that he is the Sakurazukamori and that he is capable of doing such horrible things makes it difficult."
"People do evil because they are lonely."
Subaru looked up, startled. Hokuto flashed a secretive smile at him. "I met an acquaintance of yours," she explained. "She told me that she hopes you will find someone who will make your sad face happy."
The onmyouji smiled. "Tell her ĎThank youí, when you see her again."
"Iíll tell her that youíve found someone you love," replied Hokuto, grinning impishly.
Immediately her brother tensed, his hands curling into fists and back stiffening. He opened his mouth to protest, but paused when he saw the look on his sisterís face.
"Why do you keep insisting you donít love him, even now?" asked Hokuto, shaking her head. "Canít you accept it?"
Subaru looked away. "I want to hate him. But I canít."
If he had glanced at his sister he would have seen her roll her eyes. "Subaru, I really hope youíre not talking about me being killed. Iíve told you a thousand times that I donít hate Sei-chan for what he did. And if truth be told, I donít hate him for what he did to you."
Subaru spun and stared at her, a betrayed look in his emerald eyes.
"At the time I wanted to rip him to pieces, and I still do when I think of how broken you were," explained Hokuto, forcing herself to meet her brotherís gaze. "But when I think about it, no matter how cruel and painful the experience was, it was in the long run good for you. If you were still that passionate, innocent boy, there is no way you would be able to deal with the Final Day. Even if the world wasnít going to end in 1999, it would have been difficult for you to live in todayís world."
Her brother could only look at her mutely, eyes unreadable as he turned his attention inward to ponder his sisterís words.
"It would have been perfect if you had someone who would shelter and protect you," Hokuto continued resolutely. "And thatís why I wanted you to be with Seishirou, because I thought that he would do that. But lifeís not a fairy-tale, Subaru. You had to grow up."
"Nee-san . . ."
Hokuto flowed from her seat beside Subaru to kneel in front of him. She turned pleading eyes on him. "Donít be angry with me, Subaru. I wish that things were different, that we could have been happy together, the three of us, but it didnít happen. You canít change the fact that youíre the Thirteenth Head of the Sumeragi clan and Seishirou is the Sakurazukamori, and you canít bring the dead back to life. But you can live with it."
Instinctively, Subaru reached out to embrace his sister, but his arms swept through empty air. "Nee-san, Iím not angry. Really, Iím not," he insisted, as he let his arms fall, trying to heal the sad look in the ghostís eyes. "I Ė Iím surprised, yes but . . ." The living Sumeragi twin gave a shaky smile. "I know, even if I donít like it, that . . . youíre right."
Hokuto looked up at her brother with a shining smile. Then she closed her eyes and touched him, not physically, but rather, through the bond of twins they shared, the Ďonenessí that even death couldnít change. In a way, it was closer than an actual embrace, though not the same.
"I want you to be happy, Subaru," Hokuto whispered. "Because youíre my twin brother. If youíre happy it makes me happy."
Slowly, inches away from her, Subaru opened his eyes. They were clear, peaceful. "Thank you, Nee-san. For knocking some sense into me."
Hokuto laughed. "Now," she said, Ďstandingí and facing her brother with arms crossed. "I want to hear it from you when youíre not drunk."
Subaru looked up at his crazy sister with an expression of calm on his face.
"Do you love Sakurazuka Seishirou?"
Sumeragi Subaru smiled shyly.
Subaru blushed prettily and hid his face.
"I do," he said softly. Hokuto smiled at him as he raised his head and spoke in a clear voice.
"I love Seishirou-san."
Hokuto left her brother with a desire to start singing and yelling out her happiness to the whole world. But there was still one problem to solve before she could do that.
Sakurazuka Seishirou would be at the same time an easier and more difficult knot to unravel. Easier in the sense that he was a cool thinker, but difficult because it was so hard to read him. Even with her own talent for seeing into the hearts of people, Hokuto would have to tread very carefully around the Sakurazukamori. However, her empathy did gave her the advantage of seeing things in Seishirou that he himself might not be aware of, or understand.
Schooling her features into a more strict and cool expression that gave no hint of the conclusion of her previous conversation, Hokuto stepped into the other half of the room.
Even though she made no sound, the moment she became visible Seishirou turned to look at her. He had taken advantage of his solitude to clean himself up from the fight beforehand and now stood in the middle of the room dressed entirely in black as if he were merely ready to go out for dinner. Any speech Hokuto had prepared went out the window as Seishirou pierced her with a level gaze.
"Have you come here to tell me off, Hokuto-chan?" asked Seishirou mildly.
Hokuto blinked. "Um, no," she replied. "Why did you think that?"
The assassin spread his hands expansively. "I assume the reason Iíve been left alone for all this time is because youíve been talking to your brother. No doubt he has been regaling you with countless tales of how Iíve been treating him."
"Actually, no he hasnít," said Hokuto, unsure of what to say. She wasnít intending to tell Seishirou about her conversation with Subaru. Neither was she planning on telling Subaru about Seishirou either for that matter. All she wanted was to give enough information to each of them to allow them to find their own way.
But she hadnít counted on Seishirou asking about it. Hokuto was reluctant to say much, but she couldnít have Seishirou laboring under the assumption that Subaru was verbally abusing him either.
"We did talk, yes," Hokuto said finally when Seishirou looked at her, waiting for her to say something. "I just needed to help Subaru sort out a few things."
"Regarding me, I would assume."
Hokuto shrugged as nonchalantly as possible. "Of course. I just had to get him to accept the fact that he loves you."
"Subaru doesnít love me, Hokuto-chan," said Seishirou patiently. "He loves Sakurazuka Seishirou, veterinarian, not Seishirou, Sakurazukamori."
"Oh yeah? Then why did he come out and say to you, when he knows who you really are?"
"Subaru was drunk."
"All the more reason to take notice of him Ė he wasnít sober enough to hide what he feels."
Seishirou shook his head. "I suppose Iím not in a position to argue with you about your twinís feelings," he said. "You, after all, know him best."
"So you should listen when I say that despite the fact that you are ĎSakurazukamorií, Subaru still loves you." Hokuto suddenly tired of following Seishirouís line of conversation and decided to take the initiative. "Why, Sei-chan?" she asked the Sakurazukamori. "Why do you insist on treating Subaru this way?"
Seishirou smiled. "I find very few things to interest me in life. Subaru-kun is one of them."
Hokuto smiled at this. "So does that mean you wonít kill him, because then your life would get boring."
The assassinís smile turned cold. "Donít worry about that, Hokuto-chan," the Sakurazukamori said softly. "I will kill him. When I feel the time has come, he will die."
The spiritís smile grew wider. "Obviously the time hasnít come yet. It didnít come at the end of that one year, it didnít come during all those years after I died, and it still hasnít come even though Iíve shoved you in the same room together and Iím not letting you out. Iím beginning to wonder if itíll come at all."
The Sakurazukamoriís face darkened. "Itíll come."
Hokuto shook her head. "I donít think you can do it, Sei-chan," she said teasingly. "You had your hand over Subaru-s heart today and the time still didnít come."
Seishirou looked slightly annoyed. "There was no reason to kill him," he replied, voice ever so slightly sharp.
Hokuto raised one fine eyebrow at him. "He had his hands around your throat. Iíd say that would be a very good reason to kill him."
The man smiled at her. "Arenít we bloodthirsty, Hokuto-chan," he said, with his usual talent for changing subjects. "If I didnít know better Iíd say you want me to kill Subaru-kun."
"Donít change the subject, Sei-chan," admonished Hokuto, waving a finger at him. "Youíre not going to get away this time."
Seishirouís usual smile faded, replaced by his cool predatorís gaze. He watched Hokuto warily as the ghost stared at him intently, searchingly.
"You really canít bring yourself to kill him, can you Sei-chan," said Hokuto finally. "Heís been part of your life for so long you donít want to lose him."
The Sakurazukamoriís face darkened. "What makes you think that?" he asked coolly.
Hokuto took no notice of the danger signs. After all, there was nothing he could do to her any more.
"You are totally, completely and utterly obsessed with Subaru," Hokuto said with a shining smile. "Thatís why you canít kill him."
Seishirou looked at her for a brief moment, then laughed.
"Are we back to that subject?" he asked with a dramatic sigh. "Iíve told you, I am not obsessed. Itís impossible for Sakurazukamori to be obsessed."
"Fine then," shrugged Hokuto. "Shall we call it something else then? Shall we call it lov-"
"Hokuto-chan," sighed Seishirou patiently. "You are getting more and more irrational."
"Am I?" asked the ghost. "Sometimes you need to be irrational to think about find the most realistic conclusions." She flitted over, crossing the distance between them until she was less than a meter away from Seishirou. Then she sat down cross-legged, hovering a few centimeters above the floor.
"Since you like logic, then letís look at this from a logical point of view, shall we?" she said impishly, grinning up into Seishirouís strange eyes. "One. Subaru is a threat to you. He has enough power to rival, perhaps even defeat you Ė yet for some reason, you havenít killed him. Agree?"
Seishirou may have been Sakurazukamori, but he wasnít thick. He nodded, perhaps curious to see where the girlís flighty yet penetrative mind would go.
"Two. Youíve had chances upon chances to kill Subaru yet you havenít taken them. Agree?"
Another silent nod. Hokuto grinned.
"Three. This Ďbetí was supposed to end after a year. You say that Subaru has lost and the rules say you have to kill him after that one year. I know you always keep your word, Sei-chan Ė so how come Subaruís still alive even the bet was made nearly twenty years ago?"
"The time hasnít come yet for him to die," said Seishirou defensively.
"And four, youíre finding excuses to prolong Subaruís life!" finished Hokuto triumphantly. "You may lie about it, Sei-chan, but the truth is, you donít want to kill Subaru!"
For perhaps the first time ever since Hokuto had known him, Seishirou had nothing to say in reply.
"Loneliness makes us do strange things, Seishirou-san," said Hokuto sympathetically. "A lot of our lives is spent looking for someone to fill that emptiness, even if itís just someone to prove that weíre alive."
"Iím not lonely, Hokuto-chan."
"You are. You just donít realise it." She rested her chin in her hand as she looked unflinchingly at the Sakurazukamori. "Love shows itself in many ways, Sei-chan," said Hokuto sagely, mimicking a serene expression and a lotus-posture as she levitated above the floor. She giggled at Seishirouís patient expression. "Anyway, how would you know if youíre in love or not? Youíve never felt it, so how would you recognise it when you see it?"
For the second time, Seishirou didnít reply. Hokuto sighed, also at a loss as to what to say next. She had brought Seishirouís attention to what he least wanted to hear, now all that was left was to let her words fully sink in and let him come to terms with it.
Seishirou stared at the blank wall separating himself and Subaru, not really seeing it, then turned his back on it and Hokuto, walking over to the sofa. Hokuto watched him in his introspection for a few moments, then rose gracefully to her feet, turning to leave.
"I donít love him."
Hokuto stopped and turned slightly. Seishirou had his back to her, a single black figure in the middle of the room, resting his hands on the back of the red sofa.
"I donít love Subaru. I donít know if I can. But . . ."
Hokuto held her breath, waiting.
"But I . . . need him?"
He said it so softly, as if she wasnít there, trying to come to grips with something too impossible to be true. But it was enough for Hokuto. A gentle smile diffused across her face as she looked at Seishirouís back. It was tense, she realised.
All the better.
With a simple wave of her hand, Hokuto disappeared, still smiling.
Seishirou relaxed slightly as his senses told him the dead Sumeragi sibling was gone. It had been a most unsettling conversation. Subaru was the more powerful of the twins, yet it had been Hokuto, whose only real power lay in her ability to read the hearts of others who had managed to make him feel . . . disturbed.
Maybe because he had no real idea of how to defend himself against it.
He had been standing behind the sofa, facing the TV. With a sigh, he turned around. And frowned.
The wall dividing the room into two had also vanished. Behind it was revealed the rest of the room. Late afternoon sunlight streamed through the large window, falling onto the bed. Curled peacefully on the silken red covers was Subaru, eyes closed in contented sleep.
Seishirou walked slowly over to the side of the bed, his steps even and eyes thoughtful. Hokutoís theory of obsession ran over and over again in his mind, like a song that refused to stop playing. He stopped and looked down at the slumbering onmyouji, wondering what Hokuto had said about him to Subaru.
Suddenly, Subaruís eyes opened. They caught Seishirouís gaze Ė Seishirou was careful not to let any emotion show as he stared into Subaruís emerald eyes.
Then, for perhaps the first time since they had come to this place, Subaru smiled at him.
Seishirou began to feel uneasy again.
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