Nukume Dori

Chapter Four

By Leareth

       

The warm, slightly tangy scent of tea wafted through the late autumn air, adding to the aura of peace and serenity that pervaded the Sumeragi family home. Leafy trees shaded the lake beyond the veranda, the water rippling with the errant breeze that spun the clouds above into translucent veils in the blue sky. There was no sign of any servant around, and even if had been, the men and women who attended the Sumeragis were as collected and dignified as the family members themselves. The whole atmosphere of the room Ė indeed, the entire compound, a little piece of traditional Japan in a time where the past retreated further and further away Ė radiated the most utmost sense of calm.

Subaru, however, was anything but calm.

The thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan knelt on a cushion that wasnít quite thick enough to counteract the hardness of the tatami-covered floor. His grandmother performed a tea ceremony in front of him, slowly, like an artist arranging a tiny bonsai. Subaru was far too polite and well-trained to fidget, but his eyes roamed restlessly. He tried to find something to focus on, but there wasnít much. Everything in the room was elegantly simple, designed to give the impression of quiet wealth and heavy tradition. The impression didnít really work on him anymore Ė Subaru had grown up in this house, had his earliest lessons in this very room.

Despite its familiarity and comfort, it was Subaruís being here in the first place that was the entire reason for inner agitated state.

He let his gaze and thoughts drift from the woman seated in front of him. Not three days ago, the very day after which he had woken to find himself and his entire world nine years in the past, he had received a summons to go to the Sumeragi family home immediately. Such calls came rarely, perhaps only a few times a year, but when they did, they were expected to be obeyed at once Ė if not sooner. Left with little choice, Subaru had left for Kyoto the very next morning and arrived late last night. If one added in the time he had spent traveling, then Subaru had been away from Tokyo for perhaps longer than a day. One whole day, twenty-four hours in which he had been separated from his sister. Subaru hadnít even had a proper time alone with Hokuto yet, and already he had had to leave her.

But it wasnít just that which was disturbing him. It was the fact that he had left Hokuto alone in Tokyo with an assassin for company.

"Is something the matter?"

Subaru jumped slightly at the sudden speech in the quiet room Ė so much for his pretence of being focused Ė and quickly lowered his eyes to his gloved hands folded in his lap. "N-no," he mumbled before he could compose himself properly, then added a mental curse to himself for the slip that betrayed his nervousness. He fervently hoped it wasnít noticed, and bowed his head further.

There was a still, almost sleepy silence, but no answer. Subaru held his breath as the sound of tea being poured trickled through his ears. He lifted his gaze a little to look at the weathered pair of hands stirring the tea in the bowl. Then, just as he began to fear more uncomfortable questions, the roomís other occupant spoke again.

"So how is work?"

Subaru blinked at the unexpected change of subject. "Um, itís is alright . . ." he said vaguely. It was alright, wasnít it? Even after Hokuto had . . . died, Subaru had still worked, and worked well. He hadnít enjoyed it, but that was beside the point. What mattered was that despite his hardships, Subaru had kept his familyís reputation.

A bowl of tea was placed by his knee. Feeling a little braver, Subaru straightened to face his grandmother.

Lady Sumeragi, it seemed, never changed at all with time. For as long as Subaru could remember, she had always worn the traditional kimono, or if not that, then the robes of an onmyouji. Her hair was as white as freshly fallen snow, and her face, although lined with age, held a sort of timelessness that seemed to say that just as she had seen Subaruís beginning, she would also see his end. She was as regal as any emperor, and Subaru at sixteen had never thought of her as old before.

The Subaru now, thinking back to those nine years now regained, felt a sad twinge of guilt as he superimposed his memory of her then over the face in front of him. In those nine years, it was as if she had aged ninety. The death of her grand-niece had been bad enough, but watching Subaru willingly follow the path to self-destruction had hurt her even more.

Even though Subaru had known what pain his wish would give his grandmother, he had pursued it anyway.

But that was then, he told himself silently as he accepted his tea. I have a reason to live now.

"There was a letter from the Ministry of Health and Welfare for you," continued Lady Sumeragi, interrupting Subaruís internal amendment. "He thanks you for the Tokyo Tower job the other day.

Tokyo Tower job? What Tokyo Tower job? Unable to think of a proper answer, Subaru simply said, "Oh," and hoped that was the end of the subject. Unfortunately, it was not.

"I heard there was a young gentleman with you when you did the exorcism," his grandmother said, seemingly off-handedly, but the subtle flick of an eye at his face said otherwise. "Friend of yours?"

Subaru frantically tried to remember what she was talking about. Tokyo Tower, exorcism, friend . . . oh, now he remembered. That girl, the failed actress who committed suicide and whose spirit haunted the Tower. He and his friend had talked to her . . .

Friend . . .

 

"Subaru-kun."

"Seishirou-san?"

"Do you think Iím sexy?"

Before he realised it, Subaru blushed. What would his grandmother say if she knew the company Subaru was keeping? "Uh, well, you see Ė"

"I donít know the circumstances, but itís not good to have civilians present when you work," the aged twelfth head of the Sumeragi chided. She didnít seem to care much about Subaruís social life. "Thankfully Tokyo Tower wasnít a difficult exorcism, but it would have been a problem if anything had happened to your companion."

Subaru lifted his bowl to his lips again, thus hiding his sardonic smile. He knew first-hand what the Sakurazukamori was capable of. I donít need to worry about anything happening to Seishirou-san, do I. He can most definitely take care of himself.

And not just himself . . .

Something niggled at the back of Subaruís memory, but when he tried to catch it, he couldnít remember what it was. Even as he tried to chase it, it was pushed to the side as Subaruís inner fear rose again. Seishirou-san is an assassin, fully capable of murder Ė what if he does something to Nee-san while I am gone? And Iím in Kyoto, I wonít know until itís too late.

No matter how many times his mind told him not to worry, that last time, the first time this day had passed, nothing had happened, Subaru was itching to return. What was keeping him here?

"Youíre the thirteenth head of the Sumeragi, Subaru-san," said his grandmother, her aged and modulated words breaking into his thoughts.

Duty. That is what keeps me here.

Subaru looked at his grandmother, her back perfectly straight, the kimono she was clothed in calling up echoes of a time long ago. He often wondered about her, how she could devote her entire life, her entire being to this one thing Ė

"We Sumeragi have spiritually protected Japan for centuries, but we also have an important duty to oversee how onmyoujitsu is used by others."

Ė without longing for something else.

"Are you listening to me, Subaru-san?"

Caught out, Subaru hastily rearranged himself and his thoughts into a manner more befitting a quiet, obedient sixteen-year old. "Y-yes, Grandmother," he mumbled, chastened.

Lady Sumeragi was understandably not pleased. "You have let your discipline slip, grandson." Her eyes, dulled slightly by age but still sharp, bored into him. "You, more than anyone else, must have complete control over yourself. The strength of your spiritual power, even amongst our family, is very rare, and so, you must exercise caution around other people."

Subaruís mouth tightened slightly. How many times had he heard this lecture, about his power, this one thing that separated him from everyone else, and, either directly or a roundabout way, had been the cause of all his troubles. It wasnít as if he had asked for it or anything.

"Yes, Grandmother," Subaru said, with only the slightest hint of a sigh.

Perhaps satisfied with his response, Lady Sumeragi poured herself more tea. "Now, about the Sakurazukamori," she began.

Subaru looked up, interest caught for once. "What about him?" he asked coolly.

The old hands stopped with the abruptness of a party falling silent at a dropped glass. Although he couldnít see his grandmotherís face, hidden as it was in the shadow of her hair, Subaru had the distinct impression that her eyes were trying to penetrate him. Subaru gave no to reaction to this, but rather, drew on the experience his sixteen-year-old body did not have to wall off any probing gaze.

It worked. "You know about the Sakurazukamori, donít you, Subaru-san," his grandmother continued as if nothing had happened. "The assassins that use onmyoujitsu to kill. Even we the Sumeragi do not know the whole truth about them."

Subaru was unable to control himself at this and burst out laughing. Lady Sumeragi was taken quite aback. "This is no laughing matter, Subaru-san!" she snapped as her grandson tried to control himself. "Yesterday I received a visit from an inspector of the Cabinet. He feared the recent unnatural death of a politician might be due to the Sakurazukamori."

Subaruís dark mirth stopped as abruptly as it had begun. His heart caught, and his gloved hands tightened.

Seishirou-san . . .

More reminders, of the danger he was courting. Not that he really needed reminding.

And he had left Hokuto with him . . .

"What is the matter with you today, Subaru-san?" Lady Sumeragi, seated as if though on a throne, looked down at her errant grandson. "You almost donít seem like yourself."

Slowly, Subaru looked up.

"Iíve had a stressful week."

       

Subaru had taken the first train home. During the journey, he had had ample time to berate himself over his interview with Lady Sumeragi. The twelfth head of the Sumeragi clan had known that something was not right with him; he may have deflected all her questions, but there was no way he could assuage his grandmotherís suspicions about his strange, out-of-character behaviour. But he was back home in Tokyo now, and Subaru didnít care about that anymore. Leaving his bag in the lobby, he flew up the stairs to his floor and banged on the door of his sisterís apartment.

"Hokuto-chan!"

No answer. Silken gloves making his hands slippery, Subaru fumbled in the pocket of his close-fitting black pants for his keys. It seemed to take an age to turn the lock. Finally he opened it. Throwing the door wide, he stumbled inside. The apartment was dark, lit only by the lights of the city beyond the window. Finding his way to the light switch, Subaru flicked on the ceiling lights of the hall, then the kitchen, then the bathroom. He ran to each room, turning on the lights like some child left home alone and afraid of the night.

There was no one home.

Standing in the middle of Hokutoís wardrobe room, Subaru tried to ignore the pounding of his heart. He especially tried to ignore memories of blood-soaked white cloth. Where was his sister? He knew that Hokuto had often gone out alone to the city at night and come back late. The fears that always followed young girls in the city never had any hold on her, not with her training in martial arts and onmyoujitsu. There was nothing suspicious about her not being home at this time of night.

All this self-reassurance wasnít working.

Subaru ran to the phone. Grabbing it, he was about to press a number only to realise that he didnít know the numbers of any of Hokutoís friends.

He knew one number though.

Subaru stared at the phone. Almost against his will, his gloved finger pressed the first few buttons that formed the number of the Sakurazuka Veterinary Clinic. When he reached the last digit though, he found he couldnít make himself complete the call.

Press it.

He did.

Subaru lifted the phone to his ear, hand shaking. The neutral ringing echoed through the apartment for several long seconds.

Then,

"Hello?"

Subaru slammed the phone down.

He squeezed his eyes shut. Breathing hard, Subaru clenched the phone cradle for support. Suddenly he wanted to get out of his sisterís apartment.

Leaving all the lights on, he ran out the door and across the hall to his own apartment and bedroom. His clothes werenít exactly sleep-wear; Subaru changed into his pajamas in record time and threw himself into bed, pulling the blanket over his head like a young child trying to hide.

Amazingly enough, he feel asleep immediately.

       

"I will never let you kill Subaru. I swear I will not let that happen."

Two figures, one in white, one in black, beneath the shade of a beautiful sakura tree. Both equally loved . . .

"You canít defeat me."

". . . I know."

. . . both there because of him.

"So . . . I want you to kill me."

Blood, so red on white and black and palest pink . . .

 

"Hokuto!"

Subaru jerked himself awake, only to realise it was a dream.

No, not a dream. A memory.

The clock on his bedside table said that it was seven oíclock in the morning. Subaru looked at it, flopped back into his pillow and let out a deep, shuddering breath. Then he remembered. He was about to leap out of bed to run to his sisterís apartment, when a funny sound made him pause.

Subaru stared at his quilt. It was . . . moving. There was something that sounded strangely like giggles coming from underneath it too.

Heart pounding in fearful expectation, Subaru grabbed the end of his quilt in one gloved hand and snatched it away.

"Whoís there?!"

It may not have been what he was expecting, but it still almost gave him a heart-attack.

"Ohohohohoho!" Hokutoís tousled head popped out from beneath the sheets, the many frilly layers of her Elizabethan-themed costume rustling. "What kind of an onmyouji are you if youíre so careless as to let intruders get this close?"

Subaru didnít know whether to strangle her or hug her. "Hokuto-chan!"

The shocks werenít over yet.

"Oooh, so you wear polka-dots to bed, Subaru-kun!"

Seishirouís head and shoulders emerged from the bed-covers, a naughty little smile on his handsome face.

"WAH!"

Subaru scooted to the other side of the bed as fast as he could, while his sister and friend sat on his rumpled quilt and laughed at him, like they had the last time. Subaru sighed, almost exhausted with relief that Hokuto was safe, and annoyance at himself for being so paranoid. Sometimes he really wished his memory were better.

"We came in to wish you good morning!" chortled Hokuto, bouncing a little on her brotherís mattress. Still smiling, Seishirou extricated himself from the boyís quilt and rearranged himself to sit in a more dignified position. "I called Sei-chan to come over as well because you two should really get used to having breakfast together!"

Subaru turned flaming red. "Ho-Hokuto-chan!"

His sister waved off his embarrassment and slid off the bed. "Iíve got your clothes ready, so get changed while I make breakfast." She shot an arch grin at Seishirou. "And Sei-chan, no, you canít stay and watch my brother undress."

Seishirou turned to her, an innocent smile on his face. "Was I thinking that?"

"Yes," the Sumeragi twins replied.

The vet laughed good-naturedly at this, but pretended to be mournful as Hokuto pulled him out of Subaruís bedroom. Subaru watched them go, still a little apprehensive at the sight of his sister dragging the Sakurazukamori by the hand, but glad he had space to collect himself. Waking up to find Seishirou in his bed had been a nasty shock, but at least the fears that had given him nightmares last night had been groundless.

He should have known that in the first place.

Subaru turned his attention to his sisterís choice of wardrobe for him that she had hung on the door-handle. All black today, flexible stretchy cloth matching the colour of his hair and gloves that would fit him like a second skin, showing the world just how effeminate his body was. Subaru sighed. He would do anything for his sister, but really . . . Subaru pulled the clothes off the hanger and began to dress. By the time he was prepared to face the day, his stomach was complaining about its lack of attention. Subaru gave himself a final check-over so that Hokuto would have nothing to correct, then took a deep, settling breath before making his way to the kitchen where Hokuto and Seishirou were waiting for him.

"Perfect timing!" his sister greeted as she placed two bowls of soup on the bench. "Come eat your breakfast!"

Subaru moved to obey, but hesitated slightly when he noticed Hokuto had put him next to Seishirou. The man didnít notice his reticence, but began cheerily eating. Telling himself to act natural, Subaru gingerly sat on the stool next to the Sakurazukamori. Besides, his sisterís breakfast smelt wonderful. How she could be so active in the mornings when she stayed up late so often . . . "Itadakimasu. What time did you get back last night, Nee-san?" he asked as he picked up his chopsticks.

Hokuto leaned her elbows on the kitchen counter and rested her chin in her hands. "Way after you went to sleep. And yet I still woke up earlier than you!"

"Subaru-kun was probably exhausted after being out the entire day, Hokuto-chan," said Seishirou. "He didnít even wake up when you stubbed your toe and squeaked in his bedroom."

"I did not squeak! Speaking of which, Subaru, how could you just let people sneak into your bed like that? You should be able to sense an enemy trying to get you!" said Hokuto, skillfully changing the subject back to her brother.

Subaru primly ate some rice. "Youíre not my enemy, Hokuto-chan, so I didnít sense you-" He stopped at that. Why hadnít he sensed Seishirou either? There was no doubt that the Sakurazukamori was his enemy Ė and yet Subaruís defenses hadnít reacted to the manís presence at all.

"You idiot!" Hokuto glared at him. "What if Sei-chan came to pay you a midnight visit?" Subaru nearly choked at such a thought Ė he wouldnít put it past the man to do something as creepy as that, would he? Had Seishirou done such a thing the first time the year of the Bet had passed? Subaru told himself not to be ridiculous, but then again, the Sakurazukamori was capable of altering memories of others . . . suddenly Subaru didnít feel like eating anymore.

"And what about those gloves?" continued Hokuto in full gear. Having worked herself into a rant, she wasnít about to stop now. "I didnít know you wore them to sleep as well!"

Subaru lifted a slim hand and inspected its covering, tugging a little at the material to make it sit properly. "You know Iím not allowed to take them off, Hokuto-chan," he said. "Grandmother wonít let me." Subaru gave a side-long glance at Seishirou to see if the Sakurazukamori would display any reaction to this; to his disappointment the man didnít even look as if he had heard him.

"Oh yes, dear old Grandmother," sighed Hokuto, with only a slight roll of her eyes. "You saw her in Kyoto, right, Subaru? Howís she doing?"

"Same as always."

Hokuto folded her arms and leaned towards him. "Did you tell her about Sei-chan?" she asked.

Subaru shook his head. "No, of course not."

"Good!" Hokuto nodded with satisfaction. "Cause sheíd throw a fit if she hears the head of the Sumeragi is in love with a Sakurazuka!"

Subaru reached for his bowl of soup. "Grandmother wouldnít throw a fit, Nee-san," he said. "Sheíd probably think I was possessed and do an exorcism on me."

Hokuto blinked. Seishirou looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Subaru-kun is developing an interesting sense of humor," the man observed.

"Exorcism Ė oh yeah." Hokuto snapped her fingers and rummaged somewhere in the voluminous folds of her skirt, pulling out a leaflet. "Youíve got another job."

Now it was Subaruís turn to blink. "Job?" he repeated, taking the leaflet from his sister and peering at it.

"Yeah, a job. It came in on the fax."

Seishirou looked at Subaru and shook his head as if in amazement. "You onmyouji are so trendy nowadays, getting instructions by fax."

Hokuto turned to the vet. "Subaru has no sense of direction, thatís why," she said as Subaru skimmed the simplified map on the last page. "He canít find places over the phone, so employers have to show him where to go."

"Thanks, Hokuto-chan," said Subaru dryly. Mentally, he frowned. The details of the case rang a bell, but not a loud one. I know Iíve been through this case before, but what did it involve exactly?

"You want me to tell your teacher youíve got work again?" asked Hokuto, leaning on the kitchen counter.

Subaru blinked. "Teacher?"

"Yes, teacher. You know, school?"

I go to school Ė wait a sec. "Oh, um, yeah, please tell Sensei that Iíve got work again, Hokuto-chan," replied Subaru, again reminding himself that in this day and age, he was supposed to be a sixteen-year old student with a demanding career, not a twenty-five year old school drop-out with a death-wish.

"Whereís the job?"

Subaru told his heart to stop fluttering as he turned to Seishirou. He was supposed to have a boyfriend in this time as well. "In Ebisu," he said shortly, hoping the Sakurazukamori would drop the subject. Which he didnít.

"Do you have to go soon?" Seishirou continued.

Automatically, Subaru looked at the clock. "Uh, no, if I leave in about an hour . . ."

"Then Iíll take you," Seishirou offered, already standing up.

Immediately, Subaru rose from his seat and waved his hands as if to physically ward off the manís offer. "N-no, itís okay," he stammered hastily, mind racing for an appropriate excuse. "Youíve got work too, Seishirou-san." Like feeding that damned Tree of yours.

"I donít have any patients today."

"But -"

"You two go through this every time . . ." muttered Hokuto from off-side, rolling her eyes.

Seishirou smiled, obviously refusing to be discouraged. "I insist. Donít worry, I see it in magazines and on TV all the time!" He held up a finger to emphasize his point. "Driving the car for your sweetheart, whatís it called . . . rasshii . . . nesshii . . . or something . . ."

Subaru gave the man a look, knowing full well that the Sakurazukamori never forgot anything.

"Itís asshii," Hokuto stage-whispered.

"I knew that!"

Subaru rolled his green eyes and sighed in defeat.

       

He had forgotten the van.

Subaru sat in the front passenger seat, staring moodily out at the city passing by. The leather upholstery beneath him seemed to stick to the material of his pants, so he couldnít move without attracting attention. Not that he was uncomfortable, no, far from it. The van, white with a red strip down each side on which characters advertised the Sakurazuka Veterinary Clinic, was Japanese-make, spacious and reliable without shortcutting anything on comfort. Perhaps the only thing slightly uncomfortable about it was the faint, musky smell of animals that refused to go away no matter how clean the vanís interior was, but Subaru could live with that quite happily.

There was nothing wrong with the van. It was perfectly ordinary. That was why it was unnerving Subaru.

Slowly, Subaru ever so slightly turned his head to the right, relying on the brim of his hat to hide his eyes as he looked at the driver. Seishirou drove the wheel with a steady touch, completely in control, relaxing so far as to lean back in his seat and drive with one hand. His eyes, warm-gold behind the glasses, stayed on the road in front of him. There was even a smile on his face.

Subaruís lips tightened, and he turned to look out the window again. The whole situation was just . . . not right. Sakurazuka Seishirou-san, veterinarian, drove this vehicle. Seishirou-san the Sakurazukamori, no. Something expensive and lethally fast, a black Mercedes or Ferrari maybe, would be far more appropriate. But this was the Sakurazukamori playing at being human, and Subaru knew that the man could live the role like an actor of the highest caliber.

Knowing the reality of the face behind the glasses, Subaru expected at any moment for Seishirou to turn around and hurt him again. He hadnít yet . . . still, Subaru knew what the Sakurazukamori was capable of. He was getting very tired of being on guard all the time, though.

On the other hand, why was he worrying so much? Seishirou hadnít done anything so far. Subaru had left Hokuto alone with him when he had gone to Kyoto, and nothing had happened.

Nothing, except for the suspiciously unexplainable assassination of a politician.

Subaru glanced up at a building-side television screen as the news updates came on. Although the incident had happened enough days ago to be relegated to the inner pages of the papers, it was still one of the major current affairs on everyoneís lips. The dead man in question hadnít been at all popular and had been receiving increasingly intense media focus regarding his near-radical and possibly dangerous political views, but that was beside the point. The point was that the Sakurazukamori had killed a living person.

Seishirou was the Sakurazukamori. And quite simply, Subaru didnít trust him.

He tensed automatically as he noticed Seishirou moving a hand in his direction, but the Sakurazukamori was doing nothing more dangerous than changing gears. Subaru gritted his teeth at his racing pulse, annoyed. It was all Seishirouís fault in the first place that he was this jumpy anyway. But could he be faulted for feeling like a stalked animal, considering what Seishirou had done to him?

In this time, Hokuto was alive, but the lie Ė and Subaruís pain Ė remained. He couldnít look at his sister and Seishirou together without thinking of blood. He couldnít be in the same room as Seishirou without feeling as if he had to prepare for combat at any moment. At present, Hokuto and Seishirou were probably dismissing his jitteriness as the adolescent shyness they were used to, but Subaru couldnít help but fear that sooner or later, Seishirou would realise that Subaru knew his true identity, and take steps to remedy the fact.

Was Subaru insane for trying to live it all again? He knew what was at stake, he knew the consequences and the danger and most of all, the pain. He knew how it had all ended the last time. And even in that remote possibility that Subaru did win . . . what kind of honor could he expect from a man who lived a lie?

"Is something the matter?"

Subaru jumped at the unexpected question despite himself. "N-no, itís nothing," he replied automatically, telling himself to calm down.

He sensed Seishirou turning to him. "Did you have bad dream?" the Sakurazukamori asked.

Immediately, the Sumeragi tensed Ė

 

two figures, one in white, one in black, beneath the shade of a beautiful sakura tree

Ė then asked casually, "Why do you ask that?"

Seishirou smiled. "When I came in this morning, it looked as if you were having a nightmare."

 

"So . . . I want you to kill me."

Subaruís fingers clenched themselves into fists. What could he say? It was pointless to accuse Seishirou outright, because technically, Hokuto wasnít dead yet. "I . . . . I had a dream of long ago," he replied tightly, then clamped his mouth shut.

"ĎLong agoí?" Seishirou pressed.

"It was Ė" Subaru caught himself. Seishirou was still pretending to be the caring veterinarian, he had to remember that. Well, two can play at that game. "It was nothing," he said off-handedly. "Just a weird dream from working too hard."

"It is said that you have dreams so that when you wake, you can feel relief," said Seishirou, driving with a care Subaru couldnít imagine the Sakurazukamori to possess. "So, if you have a scary dream or a nightmare, when you wake up you can think, ĎAh, Iím glad that was just a dream.í"

Subaruís eyes darkened. "It might not have been a dream," he replied, his voice in no way indicating the feelings he kept inside. I should have taken the train, then I wouldnít have to have him drive me . . .

Seishirou turned a corner. "Do you remember what the dream was about?" he asked. "With your powers, it could have been important. A precognition dream, for example."

Precognition . . . to see the future before it happened . . . blood, so red on white and black and palest pink Ė "I hope it wasnít," said Subaru softly. It was surreal. This conversation wasnít exactly a carbon copy of last time, but the déjà vu was so overwhelming Subaru wondered how on earth Seishirou could miss it. It had been the same for breakfast that morning, the clothes Subaru was now wearing, the way Hokuto and Seishirou had woken him up, his trip to Kyoto . . . everything was a replay of last time.

An unpleasant thought struck him. Had his dream of Hokutoís death last night been a memory? Or was it a warning that the end of the Bet was already set?

Perhaps sensing that Subaru didnít want to talk about it, Seishirou didnít follow the thread of conversation any further. Its subject still lingered in Subaruís mind, though, a lurking specter of a question that grew and grew, until finally, he turned to Seishirou and asked, "Do you think precognition dreams are true?"

"What do you mean?" asked Seishirou, showing no startlement at his usually shy companionís sudden desire for speech.

Subaru shifted in his seat until he could see Seishirou without twisting his head. "I mean, do you . . . do you think that precognition dreams show the unchangeable future, or just a possibility?"

Seishirou thought carefully. "I would say that a precognition dream shows what is most likely at this moment," he said. "It could change, depending on what actions you choose to take. Iíd like to think that our future is determined by what we do. Having a foreordained destiny wouldnít be much fun," he added with a laugh.

The sound of clashing swords ringing through the air . . . Subaru looked away. "No, it isnít."

"You sound very worried about this dream," said Seishirou, seemingly concerned. "Are you sure you donít want to talk about it?"

"Yes," Subaru snapped.

Seishirou flicked an eye at him in startlement, but pressed no further. "As you wish. But think about this, Subaru-kun. When your heart is hurt, no blood flows, so you donít know where or why you feel pain. Dreams are important for telling you how your heart has been hurt."

Subaru didnít answer to this, instead turning to stare out the window again as his destination came into view. He blinked away the sudden tears that came to his eyes.

But it wasnít a dream.


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