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Nukume Dori - Convergence

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The hospital director was a dignified man who took meetings with dignified weight. "Please make yourself comfortable, Sumeragi-san, while I ask my secretary to ask someone to let you up onto the roof," he said seriously, gesturing to the tea he'd had brought in earlier. "It shouldn't take long."

Forcing a smile Subaru settled into the chair, trying not to fidget as the old man exited his office to find his secretary. Already the usual ritual of formality and greeting had taken longer than Subaru liked, and the director had drawn things out further with his genuine curiosity about onmyoujitsu that Subaru was characteristically too kind to fend off. Over half an hour had passed since Subaru had arrived here and he hadn't even started the job. A waste of time when there wasn't much time left.

The antique clock on the desk ticked away seconds and with some effort Subaru ran through a breathing exercise for calm. The past two weeks or so had passed in a blur though it hadn't felt like it at the time, it had just felt like a languid dream. Spending time with Hokuto as she let her creativity fly. Coming home from jobs to find her cooking and merrily chatting with Seishirou. Going out with Seishirou, sometimes with Hokuto as well but more often just the two of them either on Subaru's jobs or on dates, or going nowhere at all and simply lying tangled in each other. That last especially was the most magical and Subaru still found himself wondering with disbelief that he and Seishirou were now lovers, especially with Seishirou being so accommodating. After all their conflict and troubles since Subaru had woken up in this life, the past fortnight had been sheer bliss with arguments simple scheduling negotiations, Seishirou's darker impulses mischief, and any fighting mostly play before Subaru yielded beneath Seishirou to a kiss. All of it was almost too good to be true, though Subaru deliberately refused to follow that thought far. He had simply enjoyed things as much as possible without any thought or talk of the Bet, just as he had promised Seishirou.

The dream had ended when during yesterday's routine call from Kyoto, Lady Sumeragi informed Subaru of a job at Shinjuku Hospital.

Slow footsteps re-entered the office followed by the quicker sound of ladies' heels. "Here we are," said the director. "My secretary Ayame-san will take you up to the shrine herself, if you care to follow."

Subaru was already on his feet and bowing. Ayame, a middle-aged woman with a softer air than her boss, bowed as well before gesturing him to come along. With another thank you to the director Subaru grabbed his bag and left.

The hospital corridors Ayame led him down were busy with people: nurses hurrying between stations, doctors on rounds, patients passing in wheelchairs and crutches and their own two feet. Visitors too were everywhere and more than once Subaru had to break his walk to navigate the traffic flow falling further behind Ayame who, obviously more accustomed to these halls, glided through like a fish. They passed wards and rooms that Subaru did his best not to pause at trying to hold reassurances in his head. This life was already so different to that last; he was together with Seishirou, they knew each other, and Subaru was here for a job, not sick queuing with other patients—

A small face arrested Subaru as he passed an open door.

Yuuya was just as pale as Subaru remembered, with large dark eyes that were far too sombre for a boy so young. He sat upright in the hospital bed looking forlornly out the window with a picture book in his lap. Unlike other child patients Yuuya's room was stark, not a single balloon or toy or card in sight, and calculating days in his head Subaru realised Yuuya must have been admitted just this morning collapsing after dialysis treatment. Still Subaru hesitated. They had not met in this life and after all his failed attempts to fix the lives of other people in this second chance, Subaru was loathe to try again. Maybe as Seishirou had said, the only life Subaru had a right to change was his own. There was no need for Subaru to go inside – but he had already been noticed.

"Hi!" Yuuya said cheerfully. "Are you looking for me?"

Subaru flinched. "No," he said quickly, "no, no. I was ... just looking."

Yuuya's face visibly fell. "Oh. Um, what are you looking for?"

"I—" He couldn't finish. He couldn't stay. "I don't know."

And he left.

People jostled him in the corridor. Subaru mumbled apologies not daring to meet anyone's eyes as he walked away faster. He tried not to think about the disappointment on Yuuya's face, or how other than his mother Yuuya had no visitors. There was only so much Subaru could do, and his life and that of those he loved was more than enough to worry about— "Ah, Sumeragi-san, there you are!" exclaimed Ayame. "I thought you had gotten lost."

"I'm sorry, I ah, took a wrong turn." Absently he wiped damp hands on his trousers. "Is it much further to the shrine?"

"It's just up these stairs ..."

The unheated concrete stairwell wasn't as cold as it could have been. Winter was in its last stages and the end of the Bet's year inexorably close. Subaru tried not to dwell on it as Ayame walked him across the hospital's flat expanse of roof to the weathered Shinto shrine surrounded by old potted plants. "It was installed for the hospital's fiftieth anniversary in 1958," said Ayame, raising her voice above the wind. "The twelfth Sumeragi head – your grandmother I believe? – did the rites for it."

"How do you know that?"

"I looked up the hospital records. Obviously I wasn't working here then, but I was curious when the director said he was keeping the tradition of inviting the Sumeragi to perform the purification. Your grandmother is an impressive young woman in the photos." Ayame smiled at him. "You have her eyes, just in a deeper colour."

"... Thank you." Yesterday Lady Sumeragi had called during breakfast. Subaru had answered the phone between his laughter at the ridiculous conversation Hokuto and Seishirou were having, not realising the three of them could be heard. Only Hokuto's quick thinking had rescued Subaru from Lady Sumeragi's incredulous inquiry as to what they were doing and with whom, but it was just a delay of the inevitable. Eventually Lady Sumeragi was going to find out about Subaru and the Sakurazukamori, the only questions were how and whether it would put her in a wheelchair with a dead grandchild. "This shouldn't take long, but if you have other things ..."

"It's fine, I have time."

How he envied her for being able to say that. Clasping hands together as Ayame respectfully stepped away Subaru bowed his head, tried squashing his guilt and panic, and began to work.


* * *


"So I said buying tea doesn't buy my phone number ..."

Silently Subaru pushed sauce-stained rice about his plate barely looking up from the table. Hokuto and Seishirou's partners-in-crime banter was going perfectly well without extending to him which he was grateful for. Hokuto had noticed his mood immediately when he came home, however instead of trying to push her brother out of it like she used to, now she kept a watchful eye on him and waited.

"... ridiculous crush on today's train ..."

Seishirou had also picked up on Subaru's mood of course, but other than an initial query when he arrived had taken Hokuto's cue to leave things be, at least for now. Even as the back-and-forth with Hokuto was kept up he was looking at Subaru, curious and cool in a way that made Subaru tense. No doubt at some point the Sakurazukamori was going to ask what was wrong. Subaru was waiting for it, but didn't know what he was going to say.

"... high expectations of people ..."

As always, they didn't draw out dinner. As always, Seishirou helped clean up with Hokuto handing him her pink apron to wash dishes while Subaru quietly cleared the table trying not to remember Yuuya's disappointed face. Between the three of them they made quick work of it and could move on to tea and cake which Hokuto, ever the consummate hostess, insisted on having on the balcony. "We can do with some fresh air," she said gaily, "and I bought some lovely candles from Isetan today, it'll be romantic!"

"Won't it be cold?" asked Seishirou.

"You've barely been outdoors at all today, have you Sei-chan, otherwise you'd already feel how spring is just around the corner! But if your old bones do start freezing there are blankets..."

Onto the balcony they went, where Hokuto had already placed candles that Seishirou lit with his cigarette lighter. Subaru poured tea and the three of them sat around Hokuto's little white outdoor table under the Tokyo night. In the light of the candles the intimacy of their trio was given shape in sculpted gold and shadow, and Subaru's heart clenched. This, here and now, the three of them siblings, friends and lovers together in a normal life was what he had always wanted, and all the more precious because Subaru knew there was a life where it never existed while in this one it lived on borrowed time. Like air pressure before a typhoon he could feel the end coming, so much so it seemed impossible that the others were unaware. Hokuto at least had an excuse since she didn't know this life was their second, but Seishirou ... surely he knew?

"Ooh, ooh, I just remembered!" Hokuto exclaimed with a muffled clap; her outfit this evening was from the 1920s, with long white gloves and a white fur coat over a narrow dress of pale gold. She had woven tiny white beads into her hair like frozen raindrops. "As payment for eating my cooking yet again this week you, Sei-chan, are required to give me some help!"

"Help with what?"

"I'll show you! Don't worry, you won't have to move anywhere, let me go get it..."

In a tiny whirlwind of white and gold she left them, though not before tossing off a half-serious reminder not to get up to anything naughty while she was away which was apparently unnecessary this time. On other nights Subaru was usually sitting in the circle of Seishirou's arm by now, but tonight he kept to his own chair and Seishirou likewise. They drank tea in silence looking out at the Shinjuku skyscrapers glittering not too far away until finally, as expected, Seishirou asked. "What is it," he said calmly.

Knowing the question was coming didn't make Subaru any readier for it. "I ... met someone today. On my job at the hospital."

"The hospital. Of course."

"He's a little boy," continued Subaru, ignoring Seishirou's tone, "really sweet and cheerful despite his circumstances. He has a kidney disease, the same that killed his sister some years ago, and is in desperate need of an organ transplant but since there isn't one available he has to go in for constant dialysis treatments."

"And you feel his pain. What do you want to do, donate your own kidney to him?"

Subaru winced. "No, no." Though I did think that, once. "We barely spoke, I left almost immediately. But it's hard not to think about him."

"And?"

"And what?"

Seishirou gave an impatient sigh. "And what else? This boy isn't just another poor soul you wish to help, there's something more otherwise you wouldn't have run from him."

"I—" He had run. He knew he had, knowing full well his cowardice. And although Subaru had promised not to talk about the Bet he felt he would crumble if he didn't say something, at least about— "We've met him before in that previous life. He ... causes us pain."

"How?"

The knife in the distraught woman's hands. Himself falling still, allowing her to attack. The protective shadow in front of him bleeding and breaking his heart. Never again – or so Subaru fervently hoped. Could he change that at least, since it was their own lives? It would be his last chance before ... "Meeting him sets off the events that lead to you losing your eye," Subaru said tightly.

"Ah." Behind their glasses Seishirou's eyes had taken on a glint. "And here I thought I would lose it in a fight with you. So? How does it happen exactly and when?"

Forcing words out Subaru told him the basic details of the confrontation with Yuuya's mother, its date and location, and their own involvement in it. "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have been hurt," he finished, still feeling that guilt. "And thinking that I had lost you, that's when I realised my feelings for you."

"Which is something you already know in this time." Casually Seishirou reached up to caress Subaru's face, cupping it in long, warm fingers. Subaru leaned into it immediately his eyes falling shut – funny how even the lightest touch felt different now that they had made love. "And the solution if this is all you're worried about, is simple: we, most certainly I, just make sure not to be anywhere near the hospital on that day."

All that Subaru was worried about? Was Seishirou deliberately ignoring how close they were to the Bet's end? Did he not wonder how Subaru must be feeling about it? Or did he not care? "That being said," continued Seishirou, rubbing Subaru's cheek with his thumb, "I'd like to meet this boy."

"What!" Subaru jerked straight to look at him. "Why?"

"Call it curiosity," Seishirou smirked. "Also it'll make you feel better. You feel guilty about running from him, I'm sure."

"Yes, but—"

"You say the stabbing is supposed to take place the day after tomorrow, right? So tomorrow itself shouldn't be a problem. We'll go mid-afternoon, how about that?"

Any protests that Subaru could have come up with were stopped as Hokuto reappeared behind them with a large basket of clothes. "Sorry for taking so long!" she sang, setting the basket heavily on the living room floor. She had changed outfits as well from her glamorous dress to a pair of navy patterned shorts, thigh-high black socks, a black top and a metallic dark blue jacket with elbow-length sleeves. It all looked vaguely familiar. "Subaru and I have been going through his wardrobe cleaning out all the stuff he no longer wears. Some he can definitely keep, some I've kept myself—" here she waved at what she was wearing "—and then there's the maybe pile which is where you come in, Sei-chan. Keep or no?"

She reached into the basket and held up a red jacket. Hands back to himself Seishirou struck a thinker's pose. "Oh that is cute. I remember Subaru wearing it during the case with the actress's ghost on Tokyo Tower. And Subaru looks good in red, it'd be nice to keep it, what do you think?"

It had taken some effort, but Subaru had managed to control his irritation at Seishirou's decision. "I ... I'm not particularly comfortable in that kind of thing anymore," he said defensively.

"Not even for me?" Subaru gave Seishirou a Look that made him laugh. "Then maybe not, Hokuto-chan."

"Aw, Sei-chan, I was hoping you could help me convince Subaru to keep some of his cuter stuff! Okay, what about these?"

A pair of narrow trousers in sapphire blue was held up along a matching oversized blazer with vertical blue, red and black stripes. Subaru flushed with embarrassment and shook his head. "Better not," said Seishirou.

Hokuto rolled her eyes and put the set with the red jacket. "How about this, then?"

She brought out a long coat in unadorned off-white. "It's a bit plain," Seishirou remarked, "but it has an elegant cut which I rather like and which fits with Subaru's preference now, yes?" Subaru nodded, careful not to react any further. "Keep."

"Surprise, surprise. Then again, I am the one who bought it in the first place so I'm taking it as compliment! Now what about this ..."

In ones and twos more of Subaru's clothes were brought out and assessed: printed shirts, coloured jackets, hats, ties, belts, tailored trousers and coats and more. With each decision the sorted clothes took on a distinct tone, with one pile in bright shades of every hue, the other a mix of black, whites, greys and muted colours. "Sumeragi twins in laundry, an installation art piece," Hokuto pronounced much later at the end of the long exercise. "I'm going to have to go through the discard pile for anything else to keep for myself!"

"And the rest?" asked Seishirou as Subaru quietly put away the remainder of the cake.

"Charity. Sorry, Sei-chan, no sleepovers tonight, Subaru promised me he'd help sort donation bags."

Seishirou gave a theatrical pout, following Hokuto towards the door. "I suppose I can't complain since it's only been a couple of days ..."

"I'll come by tomorrow," said Subaru firmly.

"I know." Seishirou flashed a smile as he fetched his coat. "Three thirty, at the clinic. I'll tell the staff to take the rest of the afternoon off."

"Adjusting your work around Subaru, very good!" Still holding a pile of clothes Hokuto went up on tiptoes to kiss Seishirou's cheek goodnight. "And you and I will do lunch sometime?"

"Of course, later this week..."

Helpless, Subaru watched Hokuto and Seishirou laugh and smile together like the closest of friends which they both were and weren't. For the first time in weeks he could see them beneath the cherry tree ... "So tomorrow, then," said Seishirou, moving close to Subaru's face. Hokuto, Subaru noted, had gone to put the clothes away in an all-too-obvious gesture to let them say a private goodnight.

"Tomorrow." Challengingly he met the Sakurazukamori's gaze through the glasses. "And how many more afterwards?"

The amber eyes narrowed. Suddenly fingers grabbed Subaru's chin holding him in place for a quick crushing kiss that Subaru fiercely returned. "Remember," Seishirou warned when they broke off, "you promised not to ask." Before Subaru could challenge this, Seishirou had turned back to Hokuto. "Goodnight, I'll see you soon!"

"Bye, Sei-chan!"

Seishirou's fingers were the last to leave trailing from Subaru's cheek to follow the rest of him out the door. Subaru leaned after them, yearning, as the clang of Seishirou's exit echoed through the apartment. "Don't be a stranger," added Hokuto quietly, waving to empty air. "You all right, Subaru?"

"... Yeah." He took a deep breath to steady his frustration before facing his sister. "Shall we clean up?"

Together the two of them went back onto the balcony and began collecting the tea things, a fine set of white bone china painted with baroque patterns and edged with gold. Hokuto had found it in a pricey antique shop and bought it on the justification of decorating a future matrimonial home. "So did Sei-chan help?" asked Hokuto.

He could still feel an echo of Seishirou's heat on his lips. "A little," Subaru replied, and also no.

"Well I'm glad to hear I didn't leave you two alone for nothing." Taking the teapot she went to pour the rest of the liquid into the pot plants. "Was it something to do with your job today? You were at the hospital, right?"

"Yeah. And there was—" He stopped, chest tight as he thought of Yuuya, and carefully chose words that would tell Hokuto something without revealing too much or lying. "Being at the hospital with that kind of atmosphere and people facing their end, I can't help thinking that ... nights like this, with the three of us together, it can't last forever. It's morbid I know but it's just, well—"

"I know what you mean."

Sharply he looked at her, thinking for an awful moment that she had somehow figured out what was going on. His sister smiled at him wistfully. "You're right, this can't last forever. We'll grow up more, I'll go on to work, you'll take over being head of the family, I'll meet someone special, and who knows what else. Whether we like it or not, inevitably things will change." Subaru didn't answer this, unsettled by her sensitivity which although inaccurate was disturbingly on the mark in sentiment. "Have you thought about the future? You and Sei-chan, have you discussed it with him?"

This at least he could be frank about. "No."

"You'll need to at some point. Things like living together obviously, but there's also Obaa-chama and that's a big one. She may even already suspect there's something going on – when she phoned me today she asked about yesterday how when she called up she heard a man's voice laughing with us. I deflected her again, but it's only a matter of time until she finds out. Though I wonder, does Sei-chan also share this feeling? Of something ending, I mean."

You promised not to ask. "I don't know."

"He was the first one you turned to." Her hands clutched the teapot, pale and slim. "Both of us knew there was something weighing on your mind, but Sei-chan was the first one you confided in."

She looked so fragile standing there, Subaru didn't dare reach out to touch. "I'm sor—"

"Don't. Don't say it." Defiant Hokuto glared at him. "You have nothing to apologise for. Just—" She stopped.

"Just what?"

Her hands were trembling. "Just ... don't leave me, okay?"

The delicate teapot was in danger of cracking. Gently Subaru removed it from Hokuto's hands and placed it on the table before gathering his twin into his arms. "Never," he whispered fiercely, feeling tears on his shoulder, "never. And never will I let anyone hurt you."

Like a candle-flame she shook against him. Squeezing his eyes shut, Subaru clutched his sister closer and wished time would stop.


* * *


"Here," said Seishirou, holding out a small white box. "Let's bring this."

Subaru took the box without thinking. They were outside the clinic which had already been closed before Subaru arrived to find Seishirou waiting dressed in a dark suit and tie and his long black coat with glasses. "What is it?" asked Subaru.

"Cake. It's appropriate to bring something when visiting a hospital patient. Shall we go, then?"

Of course Seishirou would think of bringing a gift to a hospital patient he had never met. Lips thinned, Subaru followed Seishirou as they went on foot and public transport for once instead of driving. They stood gripping the handholds of the packed bus restrained from conversation by place and preference. For all that Subaru did dearly wish to make amends to Yuuya this excursion filled him with apprehension – he and Seishirou had obviously agreed they needed to avoid repeating the loss of Seishirou's eye, and yet Seishirou had deliberately chosen to step onto the path that led to it.

Chosen ... or was it inevitable?

The bus jerked. Jolted off-balance Subaru braced against the crush of people which never came. Looking up, he realised that Seishirou had stood his ground between Subaru and the rest of the passengers keeping some space. His free hand supported Subaru's waist. Heart clenching, Subaru nestled into the warm shelter of Seishirou's side, the two of them unnoticed in the crowd.

His tension only grew when they reached the hospital. Subaru led the way through the corridors towards intensive care not even needing to ask directions, and arrived all too soon outside Yuuya's hospital room. The door was closed. Subaru lifted his gloved hand to knock and found he couldn't. Seishirou had to knock himself. "Come on," he said quietly, turning the handle as a small voice answered, "let's meet this harbinger of yours."

Seishirou opened the door and stood aside. With a mix of gratitude and dread, Subaru stepped through.

Yuuya was just as pale as yesterday, perhaps even more so when contrasted with his eyes which were shadowed as if he hadn't slept well. There were crayons and a colouring book on his lap. Unlike yesterday, his face didn't light up when he saw Subaru, rather he just looked confused. "Huh?"

He was so small and so alone in this hospital room. Even knowing what this boy meant Subaru still empathised with him. "Hello," said Subaru softly. "We met yesterday, do you remember?"

The boy's face scrunched a little in thought. "Um ... oh! You came in looking for something then had to go. Are you looking for something again?"

"No, no." He made himself smile. "I just ... I'm sorry I left so quickly yesterday. I wanted come back today and see how you were feeling."

Yuuya brightened. "I'm better! I don't have to do anything today so the nurses gave me a book to fill in. Um, would you like to see?"

"... Sure."

The answer made Yuuya's face break into the hugest smile. Subaru's own smile was fragile as he came forward to Yuuya's bedside, the boy quickly shifting to proudly show his colouring book. The crayons he had picked for his work were all the bright ones, and he had carefully signed the completed pages in scrawling orange. "It's really good," murmured Subaru. "And is that your name there? Yuuya?"

"Uh huh!" Yuuya beamed up at him, obviously delighted at the attention. "What's your name, onii-san?"

"My name is Subaru."

"Are you here because you also need to get better?"

"No, I'm not sick. But I have been in hospital before to visit people and when I've been hurt." Briefly he thought of Mizuki and Hashimoto, both hospitalised by the cruelty of others, and of himself receiving a small toy rabbit. Yuzuriha had gifted it to him to help him heal not realising Subaru deserved his blinding for ... "Ah, you're here for kidney dialysis, right?"

"Yup! But how did you know that?"

"We heard about it from the nurse." Sharply Subaru looked up as Seishirou came in to join them, a smile below his glasses and the cake-box in his hand. He gave the suddenly uncertain Yuuya a little bow. "Hello, Yuuya-kun, my name is Seishirou and I'm a very good friend of Subaru's. He told me about how he saw you yesterday and how bad he felt about leaving, so we thought we'd bring you a get well present."

Eyes round and wide Yuuya watched as Seishirou theatrically presented the box and lifted the lid. When he saw what was inside, the boy lit up. "Wow, chocolate cake! For me? Thank you so much, ojii-san!"

Subaru choked a little. "Ah, Yuuya-kun, I don't think Seishirou is quite old enough to be an ojii-san..."

"No, no, it's fine," laughed Seishirou. "Actually not only am I an ojii-san, I'm a veterinarian as well."

"A vet?!" Yuuya could barely contain his excited awe, any remaining apprehension at this sudden visit by two strangers swept away. "That's so cool! Do you get to play with lots of dogs and cats? What about other animals? Any monkeys?"

"Ahaha, you like animals, do you! Well, I get to play with dogs and cats of all kinds, but I also see rabbits, hamsters, lizards, and yes, sometimes monkeys ..."

It was strange, thought Subaru, strange watching Seishirou chat so with a young child who hung onto every word he said. Even knowing the Sakurazukamori's true nature it warmed Subaru to see Yuuya smile and distracted from the monotony of hospital limbo. At the same time, Subaru wanted nothing more than for him and Seishirou to leave as soon as possible.

There were footsteps at the door behind him. "Ah, Yuuya-kun, you have visitors today!" said the doctor, an experienced man with glasses and a friendly no-nonsense manner. He was followed by a pair of nurses and lastly by— "Are you ready for your coming treatment?"

The arrival of more people cheered up Yuuya even more. "Uh huh!"

"Good boy! And you gentlemen are—?"

Seishirou smiled and bowed. "Sakurazuka Seishirou. This is Sumeragi Subaru, he was here yesterday to perform some work for your hospital director. He met little Yuuya-kun then, and since Yuuya-kun is here by himself Subaru wanted to visit again and wish him better."

"How very kind!" the doctor exclaimed, immediately impressed by the Sakurazukamori's confident charm as were the nurses who cooed over Yuuya and his cake. "It's hard for children to be in hospital when they should be at school or playing, and Yuuya-kun is here so often ..."

Subaru didn't listen to them. He was staring at Yuuya's mother.

The woman silently hung back from the rest of the room, dark-eyed and obviously tired. Her neat clothes were worn and her hair was roughly chin-length as if she cut it herself. The thin hands that Subaru remembered holding a knife were clasped together like a lock to hold back and protect Yuuya from her own stress and fear. She was watching her son happily chat with the rest of the adults but she must have sensed Subaru's attention for she met his rigid gaze from across the room and bowed mouthing thank you

"Doctor!" Another nurse burst in urgently. "Emergency, room 302!"

In an instant the atmosphere changed. "Sorry Yuuya-kun, we'll be right back!" the doctor shouted over his shoulder, already rushing out the door with the nurses. They left Yuuya staring after them, Seishirou and Subaru standing still, and Yuuya's mother—

Subaru's pulse skipped. Yuuya's mother was watching the medical staff go with an alarming new light in her eyes, her posture suddenly on edge. Subaru knew what she was thinking, of course he did – and then in a burst of energy she ran after the doctor. Subaru watched her go his feet like lead. They shouldn't have come here. He would not follow. He would not go after her.

"Okaa-san..." Overwhelmed and distressed by the goings-on, little Yuuya looked frightened. Subaru instinctively turned to him, and perhaps Seishirou took it as indecision for he immediately took charge.

"Stay with the boy. I'll go see what's happening."

Before Subaru could speak Seishirou strode out into the corridor following the others. Subaru's heart leaped into his throat. "Wait—"

Seishirou didn't hear. There were cries and screams outside. Terrified of what could happen Subaru ran after him.

"—beg you dear, wake up!"

"—brain-dead, nothing we can do—"

"—let me go!"

Down the corridor there was struggle. Yuuya's mother was fighting with feral tenacity to access room 302 through a nurse who was trying to keep her out. "Ma'am, you cannot!"

"Please!" Desperately Yuuya's mother stretched her hands towards the door, voice tearing from her throat. "For my son – that man's kidney—!"

The nurse was overpowered. Yuuya's mother flung herself at the room just as Seishirou reached her. Even running Subaru felt blood drain from his face as he watched his lover easily catch the woman's arm moving to restrain her—

"No!" Frantically Subaru closed the last steps and threw himself between them. Seishirou stumbled back against the wall; Yuuya's mother fell to the floor half under Subaru. She gave him a violent push scrambling to her feet with eyes fixed on the coma patient's room. Somehow Subaru managed to lunge up and grab her around the waist pinning one arm. "Okaa-san don't – you can't—"

"Let me go!" she screamed, straining against him. "If he's brain dead we can do a transplant now while the body's alive—"

There were people gathering around them, more staff, passing patients, the doctor himself as he came to determinedly block the door. The nurse who had been knocked down was being helped up by colleagues as they stared. Grimly Subaru clutched Yuuya's mother even as she shoved at him, struggling to walk dragging Subaru on his knees with her. "Please, for Yuuya's sake, a kidney—!"

With flat eyes Seishirou came forward to help. Subaru saw and threw him a desperate look begging him – everyone, actually – to stay away. To his immense relief Seishirou saw and understood.

Subaru held on, not fighting, nor trying to subdue, just letting his weight pull Yuuya's mother down. He could feel her pulse thudding against his like a mad thing as little by little the strength bled from her limbs. Still she begged. "Please, let me get the kidney, Yuuya needs a kidney ..."

She sank to her knees. Somehow Subaru pulled himself up to wrap arms around her shoulders, making his restraint more of an embrace. Her entire body was wracked with hoarse sobs making Subaru want to cry himself, but he couldn't. Not now. Not yet. He squeezed his eyes shut and whispered words already spoken long ago.

"For you and Yuuya-kun having an organ donation is how things should be, but at this moment there's a man who's just been declared brain-dead and his family is devastated." She was so thin and worn this woman in his arms, this woman who in another life had changed his world and could still change it again. "There may be no cure to revive him, but as long as his body breathes to his family he is still 'alive' and they hope in agony. You cannot intrude on that with your wish.

"I understand it's a horrible situation. That feeling of utter helplessness, that you have no control and your whole life and that of those you love utterly depends on someone's decision. But much as you wish for something, you cannot demand that decision of them."

"I know that!" The wail from Yuuya's mother was high and keening. "I know the wife suffers and how cruel my wish is, but I still wish it! Watching my children grow ill to death – I envy healthy people who can live without care! Without good health you really have nothing—!"

She broke down weeping in Subaru's arms, heedless of the small crowd surrounding them with silent eyes full of sympathy and useless pity. Subaru's own control was breaking, he had to get away. Letting her go he dragged himself to his feet – immediately a pair of nurses came forward to take his place, either to support or restrain Yuuya's mother or both. She didn't heed them as she sobbed uncontrollably on the floor I'm sorry Yuuya, Maya, I'm sorry I couldn't give you good health and then Subaru couldn't take it anymore. Quickly he turned and walked away.

Seishirou followed. Subaru could hear the man's usually quiet steps striking the cold hospital floor. It fed into the panic roiling within Subaru and Subaru walked faster breaking into a run. His hunter chased him of course, and they couldn't run fast what with all the people in the corridor, so when Subaru turned a corner he was easily caught. There was an open door nearby and Seishirou hauled him through by his grey jacket into an empty patient room. Ungently Subaru was pinned against the wall but Subaru barely registered the slam on his back, barely registered his tears or his own babbling— "It's the same, everything is going to turn out the same, even if some things change in the end it makes no difference—"

Seishirou kissed him. Instinctively Subaru struggled unsuccessfully as the Sakurazukamori pressed against his body trapping him in place. It was a rough kiss, hot and overwhelming, but it did the trick. Subaru couldn't speak, and his breath was forced to slow. Like blood the adrenalin drained out of him and he sagged against Seishirou clumsily kissing back, despairing, desperately trying to hold onto what he didn't want to lose again.

At last Subaru quietened. Carefully Seishirou ended the kiss to look at him amber eyes unreadable behind their glasses. "Why," he asked.

Subaru swallowed thickly as he met that gaze. "I thought I had miscalculated. That even though tomorrow is supposed to be when it happens, her hurting you could still come to pass today."

"Well, thankfully it didn't. And with my curiosity satisfied, you can be sure I won't be anywhere near this place tomorrow."

He was wiping the tears from Subaru's face. Exhausted Subaru made himself breathe more deeply feeling Seishirou's chest against his, the air between them close and damp. In a small voice Subaru asked, "Why would you have done that for me last time?"

"Done what?"

"Protected me from that woman's attack."

"I don't know." Was it Subaru's imagination or did Seishirou sound thoughtful? "But I suppose ... I would have seen it as keeping my word to watch over and protect you during our year."

So as expected, then. And in a few days the year would end. Subaru's desperation twisted. "Let me stay with you tonight," he blurted.

There was the briefest hesitation. "I have a job."

"Then let me come with you on your job."

At such close range it was impossible to miss Seishirou's blink of surprise. "Do you know what you're asking?"

For some reason the question helped Subaru centre himself. "After all you know I've been through? Yes."

The amber eyes narrowed. Outside they could hear the noise of the hospital returning to whatever passed for normal: the squeak of wheels, murmured voices, hurrying feet and soft cries. Life and death both within these walls. Against Subaru's body, the Sakurazukamori was warm. "In that case," said Seishirou quietly, "let's go."


* * *


They ate a simple dinner in a tiny packed ramen house off the main streets. Under the cover of steam and chatter Seishirou set out the conditions of what was to happen that night. They were blunt.

"Keep up. Don't question. And definitely don't interfere."

To these Subaru had mechanically nodded already feeling slightly ill. He barely touched his food. For once Seishirou didn't comment on it and they otherwise finished their meal without speaking. Afterwards outside in an empty alley, Seishirou removed his glasses and summoned his shikigami which materialised on his wrist. The hawk's golden eyes were piercing as the Sakurazukamori softly instructed it, and watching them Subaru could only clench his gloved hands. He had asked for this. He would not interfere.

The hawk opened its wings. With a little smile Seishirou lifted his arm for the shikigami to take flight. It did so swiftly with powerful strokes that took it up to disappear into the night sky. The hunt had begun.

The city streets were full of people. Seishirou moved through them unnoticed with Subaru following closely behind silent and drawn. Every so often Seishirou would pause with head cocked as he 'listened' to his shikigami, and from that pick his direction. His steps were purposeful yet unhurried, as if he already knew the outcome. They passed restaurants and shops, closed businesses and open bars all without exchanging a word with the lights of Shinjuku shining above them like an aurora. Eventually, but, they left the lights behind.

The streets around Shinjuku Park leading to Keio University were quieter and full of shadows. It took a while for Subaru to realise they were now following someone in their sight. Far ahead, a man was briskly walking. Closer, the glow of a street lamp briefly illuminated Seishirou's focused, strangely intense expression. Subaru swallowed.

The man turned right onto a smaller pedestrian street. So did Seishirou, but onto a parallel, Subaru following feeling increasingly ill. By now Seishirou was walking faster, and he made a gesture that immediately dulled the nearby sounds of traffic: the beginning of a maboroshi. Another turn, and Seishirou came back out onto the street the man had taken. A sharp motion warned Subaru to stay out of sight. Of course Subaru did, but not entirely. Anguished, he forced himself to watch, and only watch, reminding himself that this man would have been doomed in that last life too. It didn't help.

The man stopped short as the Sakurazukamori came out to block his immediate path. "Good evening,"  Seishirou said calmly.

The man didn't respond to this greeting. He was a big man, of heavy build and dressed in a brown business suit. Even in the dimming light Subaru could tell his gaze had a dark, flat quality, like the blade of an old knife. "Who's there?" he demanded.

Seishirou smiled. "I've seen your work. It's quite impressive." The smile turned cold. "It crosses a line."

The world around them was turning to black as the maboroshi darkened everything except the man and Seishirou whose presence now burned before Subaru's other-sight, all the strength and power of the Sakurazukamori breathtakingly unleashed. Apparently the man could see it too and it terrified him, for he immediately turned to run only to be brought up short as with a victorious screech Seishirou's shikigami intercepted clawing the man's face and forcing him back—

Seishirou struck. The man didn't even have the chance to scream.

Fists clenched, Subaru made himself look. The Sakurazukamori's bloody hand through his victim's back, the stunned expression on the man's face, the spill of stinking red – the kill was a horrible sight especially against Subaru's memories and knowledge that in a short while the victim could again have his own face. Yet even in his agony Subaru rigidly kept watching, keeping his word, knowing that much as he hated it he had long accepted this part of Seishirou, and he couldn't pretend otherwise or turn away.

Had he done the right thing when he woke up in this life all those months ago?

Broken, the victim was being lowered to the ground. As Seishirou gently withdrew his arm from the man's body in the weird light of the maboroshi Subaru stared at the face he knew so well. Poised and engaging. Power and tenderness. Frightening – and beloved.

"The important thing is that you do and choose what you want, what you believe in – and once having chosen, have the strength to see it through all the way to the end."

Knowing all he did now, Subaru would still decide to repeat the Bet.

"Y-you—" The dying man was gagging on his own blood, yet still tried to reach up to his killer. "Who are...?"

Seishirou looked down. He still wore his easy cold smile. "You have no need of my name."

The man seemed to sob. Just like that, on that sound, his life ended. But the ordeal wasn't over yet.

Beyond Seishirou the Tree was coming into view. Terrible and beautiful, its knurled branches were heavy with flowers that glowed palely in the surreal night and fell like snow. As Subaru watched frozen in place, Seishirou stepped back allowing roots to reach up and greedily wrap around the corpse as its soul tried to struggle free. At the same time, the Sakura lowered branches before the Sakurazukamori who lifted his dripping hand in welcome. As the soul cried out the flowers caressed Seishirou's hand absorbing the blood there the pale pink turning bruise-dark—

The flowers stilled. Suddenly a surge of petals roared towards Subaru with deadly speed. Caught off-guard Subaru could only take an instinctive step back eyes wide and frightened as the Sakura surrounded him—

"Enough!" The command cracked out like a whip, and the Sakura storm stopped, just, swirling threateningly around Subaru who didn't dare move. Through the mass of petals Seishirou's eyes were hard as flint. "My prey, my time!"

The flowers rustled, an ominous, hollow sound. Then, almost sullenly, the Sakura storm gathered in on itself and twisted back towards the Tree in a rush. Like a proud king exiting a hall the Tree swept away and disappeared in a matter of heartbeats taking the bloody corpse and maboroshi with it. Seishirou and Subaru were left standing in the empty, ordinary street. Subaru realised he hadn't been breathing. "W-what was that?" he demanded.

Seishirou's face was unreadable. "Nothing," he said, "nothing. A bit too long between meals, that's all."

He spoke lightly, but there was an uncharacteristic evasiveness to it. Had the Sakura surprised Seishirou with what it tried to do? Subaru strongly suspected yes, and that disturbed him greatly. From the way Seishirou's eyes were narrowed, but, it wasn't a good idea to try inquiring further. "Are you all right?" asked Seishirou.

Just remembering what happened to the man's soul made Subaru's gut twist. "No."

"You'll move on, just as you did at the MS Institute," said Seishirou absently. He was inspecting his coat sleeve which glistened wet and black in the ambient light. "Damn."

The MS Institute was the night Subaru had confessed his love amongst other things. Seishirou too had revealed some of himself and his work ... "Can you at least tell me why he had to die?" Subaru asked in a small voice.

"He had the Sight and the will to abuse it. In threatening the lives of surviving children, he could blackmail ghosts of the recently deceased to do his bidding generally with the aim of climbing up the bureaucratic ladder. He had been doing quite well out of it until now." Seishirou removed his coat and draped it over his right arm so as to hide the blood-soaked sleeves from casual view. "I think it's best we walk back. Shall we?"

When I kill someone it's because of something. I have my place in the order of things, and that place is just as necessary as yours. None of what Seishirou had said, either then or now, made Subaru feel any better about what had happened. Yet while it was impossible for Subaru to condone the Sakurazukamori's actions ... he thought of ghosts desperately pleading with a flat-eyed man who held a knife over their grieving sons and daughters. Perhaps Subaru was beginning to have some better understanding of the Sakurazukamori, even if only a little. And only at the end.

Seishirou extended his free hand to him. Somehow Subaru forced himself to smile – he could give Seishirou that at least – before sorrowfully shaking his head. Before the Sakurazukamori could say anything Subaru stepped past to stand by the place where the man had died. There he bowed his head, hands together, keenly conscious of the hard way Seishirou was watching, and murmured a purification to ensure no harmful spirits would be attracted there by what had happened. Only then did he turn to lead the way home.

They walked. Side by side, not touching or speaking, a pair of shadows passing in the night. With the scent of blood on Seishirou's clothes they kept to back streets where the few people they encountered could be avoided. It lengthened their journey significantly and by the time they reached Seishirou's apartment Subaru was heart-sore and weary to his bones. The moment the door was open and his shoes and jacket off Subaru went to the couch to lie down where he curled up into a tight, fragile ball without turning on the lights. He squeezed his eyes shut; he heard Seishirou walk past.

Water flowed distantly. Exhausted, Subaru buried his face in a cushion unable to cry. He felt hopelessly drained; the dream of the past fortnight was over, and today had been full of tragedy beyond his control. Yuuya's condition, his mother's despair, Seishirou's kill – Subaru had watched it all unable or unwilling to interfere, helpless in his knowledge that any attempt to change things would fail just like all his other attempts from the Dial Q2 girls to Matsumoto. And still the worst was yet to come.

Groggily, Subaru lifted his head. Down the corridor he could see in the far mirror a bright reflection of Seishirou standing shirtless in the laundry as he washed his clothes of blood. Those who saw the Sakurazukamori at work weren't allowed to live. Had Seishirou allowed Subaru to accompany him this night because Subaru had asked? Or was it because in a few days the Bet would ...

Subaru shut his eyes again. When he could next force them open Seishirou was sitting by his feet, a can of drink in hand and moonlight on his bare shoulders as he contemplated the room's shadows. It took a while for Subaru's thoughts to link together; he must have blacked out briefly. Like old marble his body was cold and heavy, unable to do anything more than see and breathe. Powerless. Powerless to help as the people he met suffered again, powerless to act as Seishirou killed, powerless to do anything but watch as this life fell towards the Bet's end. The only thing Subaru had managed to change was his relationship with Seishirou but whether it was enough Subaru didn't know. Couldn't know, not when they were bound by word not to talk about the Bet let alone its reckoning mere days away—

His heart twisted. Somehow Subaru made himself move, hauling his body upright to turn to Seishirou who watched him carefully, almost suspiciously. Subaru paid the expression no mind as he wrapped arms about Seishirou's neck pulling himself close so that he straddled the man's lap. He buried his face in Seishirou's shoulder and there he breathed, feeling the heat of Seishirou's skin, the hand that slowly came up to press against his back holding him in place, the lump in his throat that kept him from crying, before lifting his head to kiss Seishirou deeply. The Sakurazukamori yielded to this; already Subaru felt warmer. He pulled away a little. "I want you inside me," Subaru whispered hoarsely.

He felt muscles clench between his thighs, but otherwise there was no reply. Seishirou simply looked at him eyes narrowed and dark trying to study Subaru's thoughts. All Seishirou had to do was ask but of course he didn't ... Subaru leaned forward kissing Seishirou again, tasting sweetened tea and feeling like he could break apart at any moment. Hotly Seishirou kissed back, shifting his weight to put his drink down before gripping Subaru's hips with a strength that made Subaru burn and grind against him. Clumsily Subaru broke off the kiss to touch his gloves; the moment the spell was disabled Seishirou pulled them off to fall somewhere neither of them cared. His hands went under Subaru's shirt.

What are you thinking? Have you already decided or will you make your decision on the day? Is there anything else I could do to make you love me? All the questions Subaru held and could not ask tumbled through his mind as he was deliberately stripped of clothes and defences both. As he tangled hands in Seishirou's hair he was tipped back until he lay hard and trembling against the couch, Seishirou poised above. His eyes were unreadable amber. Desperate, Subaru pulled him down.

They moved disjointedly. Like that moment at the hospital Subaru couldn't stop himself from struggling, his need urgent and restless against Seishirou's deliberate control. More than once he tried to pull Seishirou to hurry only to be roughly pushed back, and eventually it seemed Seishirou had enough – the next time Subaru tried to take Seishirou's hands Seishirou caught his instead. As Subaru watched trapped beneath his lover's body Seishirou eased the belt from his trousers and wrapped it around Subaru's wrists before looping the rest about the raised armrest. Subaru swallowed thickly, instinctively pulling against the restraint, his desire now sharp and edged. "S—"

A finger was laid on his lips. In the shadows above, the Sakurazukamori made an imposing, implacable figure. Only when he was satisfied that Subaru was quiet did Seishirou remove his finger and replace it with a kiss. Bound as he was Subaru could only lift himself to kiss back even as he was pressed into the couch, Seishirou's weight shelter and domination both. It left Subaru gasping and he tensed when he realised Seishirou was moving down, breath damp and hot over Subaru's stomach. Some of the moonlight had caught in the Sakurazukamori's eyes making them gleam, only to disappear as Seishirou bent his head to take Subaru's erection into his mouth. Subaru shuddered.

His hands were burning. They always did when Seishirou was making love to him. Subaru found a perverse pleasure in it. He arched as Seishirou began to move, first teasing, then deeper, caressing with his tongue until Subaru trembled to Seishirou's rhythm, his body no longer under his control. Arms wrapped around his legs restraining him further, and Subaru made his fingers grasp the belt, holding onto that one solid point as he closed his eyes, breathless, panting, the throb in his hands meeting the pleasure in his body burning away all thought. Suddenly he felt Seishirou press fingers into his body and Subaru made a cracked sound – no, please no, not like that – even as he bucked helplessly into Seishirou's mouth, needing, wanting—

Seishirou stopped. Subaru moaned in exquisite agony. The cruelty of it, but of course the Sakurazukamori could be cruel ... dizzily he felt Seishirou settle over him like a great cat, hot and slow, and like a cat he seemed pleased with himself as if Subaru were a captured bird. Somehow Subaru mustered the presence of thought to weakly but reproachfully glare only to be met with a light smile that should have irritated but didn't. It was the first time that Seishirou was smiling like that today, Subaru realised. "Better," murmured Seishirou, stroking Subaru's damp cheek, "much better. Now, close your eyes."

Aching as he was Subaru did as he was told, even found some relief in the instruction. He felt a chill as Seishirou stood up, then long fingers brushing past his arms as the belt was loosed from the armrest. Almost ceremonially Seishirou folded Subaru's bound wrists against his chest, thumb brushing over the star marks as if to reaffirm them. Subaru shivered – yours, always yours – but otherwise kept still as Seishirou slid an arm under his neck and another beneath his knees to lift him. Carefully he was carried into the bedroom, and just as carefully set down on his side into soft cloth.

Subaru breathed. In and out, trying to temper arousal with patience, any sense of time suspended like mist. He had not been told he could open his eyes but he did so anyway to see Seishirou standing shadowed beside the bed undoing his trousers. Even now it made Subaru blush but he met Seishirou's eyes and held them, enjoying the reveal of his lover's body. His bound hands he clasped together; the stars on their back were glowing faintly and Subaru couldn't help running his fingers over their lines noticing how the gesture made Seishirou's gaze sharpen. Subaru's own eyes stung.

Take me. Enjoy me. Not just tonight but for a thousand nights after.

I know my love for you means nothing, but for yourself, these last few weeks ... haven't you been happy?

He wanted to ask. He almost did. Then Seishirou possessively came down.

Skin to skin and pulse to pulse. Subaru's body was no longer his. Bound and filled in Seishirou's arms Subaru closed his eyes, urged his hunter deeper, and desperately lost himself in ecstasy.



* * *

 

Six a.m. Subaru watched the sunlight crawl over the floor and clock with haggard eyes. He had barely slept, and not just because of the night's exertions. Against him Seishirou slept peacefully, warm and still. Such a difference to two months ago when the Sakurazukamori never turned his back on Subaru.

Time passed. Lying like this Subaru could feel the seconds fall away in his breath and in the beat of Seishirou's heart. They struck something within him, something that had crystallised out of the despair which had fragmented under Seishirou's body, and now sat within his chest clear and fatalistic. Subaru held it close. He knew what he had to do.

An age later, the bed shifted. Subaru froze as Seishirou moved, but the man was only turning in his sleep. The arm that had been carelessly flung over Subaru moved away. For a short while Subaru stiffly kept his position waiting for Seishirou's slumber to settle again. Then he quietly slipped out from the quilt, got up, and tiptoed across the floor.

Clothes first, that's what he needed. He found them all in the living room scattered about the couch, and silently gathered them to dress. His gloves were caught between the cushions; briefly Subaru hesitated, then erred on the side of caution and pulled them on. There was still plenty of time.

Now came the tricky bit. Holding his breath Subaru eased back into the bedroom and looked down at Seishirou. Even in sleep the man's lips seemed to curve upwards, as if he only had good dreams. Subaru didn't know if the Sakurazukamori dreamed. He didn't know if he would ever find out. Seishirou's slumber did make his next step easier, though, especially since Subaru had never tried it before. Setting his thoughts into the familiar patterns of spell-working, Subaru nervously reached out to brush fingers against his lover's forehead. He closed his eyes, remembering how it felt each time Seishirou had cast this very spell on him, carefully replicating the outlines in his mind. It didn't need to be perfect, and Subaru didn't want it to be. Just good enough to buy some time.

"Sleep," he whispered.

The spell spun out like silk. Seishirou didn't move.

Heavily, Subaru released a breath. He'd mentally gone over the theory enough times on the basis that the sleep spell calmed the the mind's surface not unlike the beginning of the spell to go Within, but never tested it. It gave him some pride to know he had gotten it right. Seishirou wouldn't be kept asleep, but, rather his natural slumber had simply been reinforced so that he would wake late instead of his usual hour. And not even that late ...

Subaru rubbed damp eyes. Leaned forward to touch his lips against Seishirou's cheek. "I'm sorry. I'll see you soon."

And he left.

Outside, the sun was burning away the thin clouds that brushed the sky like calligraphy strokes. Pulling on his jacket Subaru looked out over the still-empty streets. His breath no longer chilled in the air; as Hokuto had said, spring was just around the corner. The bus stop was nearby, opposite the laundromat, actually. Subaru contemplated then decided against it. He began to walk.

Tokyo was waking up. Store-owners began to appear sweeping their doorways, joggers ran by, and cars passed unobstructed on the roads. Subaru broke his fast at a combini buying a couple of onigiri and a bottle of green tea, which he consumed as he walked. The food settled his nervous stomach somewhat, and the walking too was doing good. Checking his watch eventually he found a phone-box and stepped in, inserting coins and pressing numbers for Kyoto. It rang out of course, going to answering machine; at this hour of the day Lady Sumeragi would be performing the morning rites at the kamidana. Subaru didn't leave her a long message, just something about a job and Hokuto and him being well. Enough that she wouldn't need to worry or call for a while. Then he inserted more coins and called Hokuto. It also went to an answering machine.

"Nee-san. I'm sorry for calling while you're asleep, and I'm sorry even more for saying that when you wake up, you need to come to Shinjuku Hospital. Seishirou should already be there, and he should be all right. Please make sure Obaa-chan isn't told anything. I love you."

He hung up before his voice could betray him. Stood there for a while, hands braced against the phone as he gathered himself to step back onto the street. Then he disabled the spell on his gloves, pulled them off, and threw them into a bin.

There was a small shrine not far from his destination. Subaru detoured his journey into it thankfully finding the grounds empty, and found a secluded spot out of sight. There he sat cross-legged, hands resting on his knees and began to breathe deeply and regularly, the beginning of a light trance. His wrists were ringed with bruises and he focused on that recalling Seishirou's smiles, his voice, his hands capable of both violence and inexplicable tenderness, the feel of him buried within Subaru. Soon Subaru was flushed with echoes of the pleasure he had been immersed in last night, and the stars on the backs of his hands were faintly glowing once more. Gently Subaru touched them, caressing, before raising each to his lips. I need you, he thought. Come find me.

The stars burned a little, on the edge of pain. Shuddering, Subaru stood and shook his hands out, resuming his walk. He couldn't be sure of the timing, but after everything he had relived he was certain that Seishirou would arrive on time and what he knew was coming would be repeated. Subaru only hoped this time it would be on his terms.

The hawk shikigami caught up with him at the edge of the hospital. Subaru gave it a smile then headed inside.

The corridors were already busy. Nervously Subaru slipped in with the mill of visitors slowly heading up the stairs to the floor where Yuuya's room was. In the corridor he paused, faltering for a moment as he imagined what would follow. Hokuto would be furious, that was for sure. Seishirou ... he didn't know. But Subaru was tired of pretending, tired of his promise not to talk about the Bet and tired of watching Seishirou act as if nothing was ending. Most of all, he was tired of unwittingly repeating that which had already happened.

Things would change today. Absolutely change.

"Yuuya!" The scream pierced through the air desperate and raw. "Yuuya, Yuuya!"

"Call ER! Tell them code blue incoming!"

Rubber wheels rattled. Pityingly, Subaru watched the medical team swiftly roll a gurney out of Yuuya's room leaving behind Yuuya's weeping mother— "Yuuya! I'm sorry, forgive me for not choosing you—!"

"Move!"

The medical team rushed down the hall. Subaru stepped aside to let them pass. As they did he caught sight of Yuuya lying deathly pale and still. The boy would live through this emergency, Subaru knew, though it didn't make it any easier to see. But he hadn't come here for Yuuya. Bracing himself, Subaru stepped into Yuuya's room.

"... sorry, Yuuya, Maya, I'm so sorry..."

She knelt on the floor, a hopeless, shattered thing. Subaru carefully approached her. "Okaa-san ..."

"... there is no kidney, no one will help, no one will donate a kidney to you Yuuya, no one, there will never be a donor to save you ..."

Detachedly Subaru watched Yuuya's mother stagger to her feet clutching the bedside table for support. There on top was the chocolate cake Subaru and Seishirou had brought yesterday, now half-eaten, and beside it a large cake knife. The woman's fingers were already touching the handle. Subaru's pulse raced – was Seishirou near? He thought he felt his hands tingle.

"Hey." The woman turned to him, knife in hand. Her soft voice cracked; there were tears falling from her reddened, maddened eyes. "You'll give your kidney to Yuuya, right?"

Slowly Subaru raised his hands. "Okaa-san, w—"

She lunged the knife at his chest. Subaru dodged – not yet, not yet! – so that he faced her with one eye on the room's door— "Your kidney for Yuuya!" the woman shouted, lit with desperate hope. "If I don't get it now my son will die—"

"Okaa-san, listen!" The star-marks on his hands were burning, really burning, making him wince with pain and relief. Seishirou was here and soon he would— "Yuuya-kun will be fine, he won't die today—"

With an inchoate howl she rushed him again. There was a familiar tall shadow along with others at the door. Before Seishirou could do anything, Subaru cast himself onto the knife.

A nurse screamed. Choking, Subaru tried to hold onto the woman's wrists. His stomach burned in agony and his vision flickered – fiercely Yuuya's mother drove the knife deeper twisting until he spasmed and collapsed to his knees. Choking again, this time Subaru tasted blood.

"I'm not sorry." Wildly he looked up into his attacker's despairing face as footsteps surrounded them. "It's for the one I love, you know."

She was hauled away. Slumping over Subaru tried to pull the knife from his gut and found he couldn't. Blood soaked his clothes, his hair ... there were hands now turning him over with frantic cries ... distantly Subaru wondered where Seishirou was and what would happen next.

Pain flashed red as the knife was pulled. Subaru blacked out.