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Nukume Dori - Convergence

Chapter Text

"Why a vet?"

The vaporiser flow was precisely adjusted. "What do you mean?"

"Why a vet and not a – I don't know. A lawyer. An electrician. A NHK license-fee collector. You could do almost anything or nothing at all, so why a vet? Other than the ... convenience ... for sakanagi."

"Why not?" All ready. The dog was brought over. "It's a high-skilled, respected occupation; it's independent; and the patients don't talk. Put him on his side and keep him calm."

Subaru did so carefully so that although the dog whimpered it otherwise remained obediently still. "And you enjoy it?"

"I always enjoy a challenge." Clinically Seishirou brought the mask close; the dog flinched and quickly Subaru began to pet it, whispering words of reassurance and taking the mask from Seishirou to fit it gently over the dog's snout. "The performance aside it doesn't hurt to test yourself in different ways, and keeping an animal alive is more challenging than killing it. Hold the mask steady until the anaesthesia takes effect, and make sure there aren't any kinks in the hose. The last thing we want is the patient waking up in the middle of the operation ..."

... the hiss of gas, the beep of monitoring machines, the silence of concentration. Masked and anonymous the surgeons worked with reddened rubber hands, the torn body before them reduced to a problem to be solved. Its face under the mask was deathly pale and still.

A shadow brushed by the scrub nurse. She shivered but determinedly kept her concentration readying the suture threads, and never saw the ghostly bird perched in the corner staring at their patient with burning, golden eyes.

 

* * *

 

Hokuto's left knee was jittering. It bounced endlessly up and down like an overworked piston and she couldn't stop it. She couldn't do anything. Just sit outside the surgery staring at the floor her thoughts a mess and wait. Maybe the surgeons would change their mind about needing her blood – blood from a twin sibling, they couldn't get any better than that – maybe someone would come out and say it was over, and maybe a meteor would strike and she would wake up to find this was all just a horrible nightmare—

Shoes came hurriedly down the corridor. Hokuto could see them enter her field of view (low block-heeled Ferragamo pumps in classic black, very nice) and stop before her. "Sumeragi-san?"

Hokuto jerked her head up swiping at tears. A middle-aged woman, practically but elegantly dressed in a dark skirt suit, looked down at her with obvious worry. Hokuto had no idea who she was. "My name is Ayame," said the woman soothingly. "I'm the hospital director's secretary and I met your brother two days ago when he came for some work. You look just like him."

Hokuto tightened her grip on her self-control. "We're twins," she managed to say, throat raw.

"I thought so. How long have you been here?" 

"Since—" What time was it? She had long lost track, all she knew was that it gotten dark outside. "I-I'm not sure. I woke up around eight thinking something was wrong but I thought it was a bad dream so I just got dressed and ate breakfast and didn't check my phone messages until much later—"

She choked back another round of tears. Ayame knelt down placing a steadying hand on her knee. "Is there anyone here with you?" she asked gently. "What about your parents, have they been told?" 

"We don't have parents. Died when we were babies." For the first time in years Hokuto wished she had a mother. "There's our grandmother in Kyoto, though – y-you haven't called her, have you?"

"One of the nurses should have done it. Can I get you anything?"

"A friend is bringing some food." She wasn't hungry. Subaru had asked her not to let Lady Sumeragi know about what happened. Hokuto would always support her brother's wishes but the phone message he had left implied that ... "Why was my brother here at the hospital this morning?"

"I don't know. I understand he was attacked in the room of a patient he had made friends with, however I can't tell you anything else reliable. There are some wild stories flying about – I hope nothing reaches the news reporters."

"News reporters?" Fear and revulsion coiled around Hokuto's chest. To have Subaru's name, the Sumeragi name out there in public for every voyeur and talking head to twist their tongues around— "Please, Ayame-san, you can't let my brother's name get out! He's already been hurt so much, for his privacy to be lost as well—!"

"I know. And I won't let it happen." That last was spoken with hard eyes that made Hokuto wonder who was the hospital's actual director. "I need to get back and make phone calls but—" Ayame pulled a pen and pocket-book from her jacket, tore a page and wrote something. "My direct line. If there's anything in this hospital that I can help you with, please don't hesitate to give me a call."

She held the paper out. Hokuto took it without thinking. "Get some rest, Sumeragi-san," said Ayame, smiling reassuringly as she stood. "This hospital has one of the best surgical teams in the country. Your brother is going to be all right, I'm sure."

Hokuto couldn't return the smile, but she did bow her head a bit. "Thank you, Ayame-san."

The woman patted her shoulder and walked away, those gorgeous shoes echoing hollowly. Hokuto could hear them even after Ayame turned a corner, but not for long. All too soon silence swept back around her lengthening the shadows and wilting Hokuto's sunflower dress. She had picked the dress thinking today was going to be wonderful, with plans to catch up with her friend from the ski slopes before meeting up with Subaru and Seishirou. She had grown used to them spending nights together now, and if she still felt pangs of jealousy they were immediately forgotten each time she saw how happy Subaru was. She herself was happy spending time with Seishirou as a member of her family, and seeing her brother and Seishirou together was even having thoughts about what it would be like to have her own special someone. Oh she had imagined and gossiped about plenty of boys before, even dated some but never seriously; she had too much independence to be someone's girlfriend just for the sake of it, and too much pride to measure her self-worth by her relationship status. By her request Subaru never asked about her dates, because if Hokuto wasn't serious about them they weren't worthy of Subaru's attention let alone his inevitable empathy.  Hokuto took great care to keep Subaru from pouring too much of himself out to the world. She had expected Seishirou to do the same.

Seishirou had not.

More footsteps came, these ones measured, more deliberate. She knew whose they were, and didn't look up to greet their owner when he stopped at her side. "I got us bentos," Seishirou said evenly.

"... Thanks." A plastic bag appeared in front of Hokuto's face. She took it and Seishirou sat down beside her. Inside was a bottle of green tea and a cheap takeaway bento warm to the touch. Seishirou must have gotten someone to heat it up. "I don't think we're supposed to eat here," said Hokuto, exerting all effort to be civil.

"I won't tell if you don't." He had already opened his bento and was beginning to eat. The smell of teriyaki made Hokuto's mouth water – maybe she was a little hungry. And she needed to keep up her strength for Subaru. Popping the lid she snapped the chopsticks and began to eat.

An uneasy quiet followed filled only with the sounds of chewing. Hokuto barely tasted her food, abstractly marvelling at the stillness compared with that morning. If she hadn't been crying or screaming Subaru's name she had been pinning down nurses demanding to know what happened, where her brother was, his condition, who was taking care of him and anything else that popped into her head. Asking questions made her feel like she was doing something. She had probably caused the hospital staff a lot of trouble. Thankfully Seishirou had been there and calm enough to keep her from breaking down completely.

Very calm.

Carefully Hokuto turned to look at Seishirou. It was the first time today that she was paying him any real attention, and it was certainly better than thinking about a future without Subaru ... fingers curled she forced herself to study the man beside her. He sat casually, focused on his food as he ate. His hair was neat, his glasses polished, and his black suit only slightly rumpled after a whole day's wear. For all that Seishirou was nine years older than her Hokuto had never felt the age gap other than as something to tease about, but now she found herself profoundly grateful that he as an adult could be the responsible one while she cried like her world was ending. At the same time, that gratitude made her defensive. Seishirou was not someone she wanted to look vulnerable in front of. She couldn't afford to because, because ...

Chopsticks up, chopsticks down. Hokuto watched his steady hands with horrible fascination. For a man who had just seen his lover stabbed by a madwoman, Seishirou was remarkably composed.

Tea was drunk then put away. "If you don't eat quickly your food will get cold," said Seishirou, not looking at her.

"... I'm not that hungry." Hokuto told herself not to overanalyse Seishirou's demeanour, not that she was in much shape to do so anyway. In the hours since that morning Seishirou could just have moved past any kind of breakdown into taut quiet just as she had, everyone had their own way of dealing with a crisis, he had been in and out the whole day with hospital staff and— "What did the police say?"

"They have the woman in custody. They're waiting before formally pressing charges, though."

"Waiting for what?"

"To see whether the charges will be injury or homicide."

Or homicide. Her knee was jittering again; she felt chopsticks crack under manicured nails. "You were there," Hokuto said, biting out every word. "You were right there. Why didn't you protect him?"

"I was too late."

"But you saw it happen, right?"

"I can't control everything, Hokuto-chan."

"I bet that hurt to admit." The words came out bitter. Seishirou still wasn't looking at her. "Why did he do it? Why was he even here this morning?"

"I don't know."

"Like hell you don't. You spent the whole day and night yesterday with him, you have to know something."

"All I can say is that we came here yesterday to visit that woman's little son, the one who needs a kidney donor so badly. Subaru had met the boy during his job at the hospital earlier and of course, being Subaru, felt for him. Even so, I don't know why Subaru came back again this morning."

"You didn't come with him?"

"He left before I woke up."

"How unromantic." Subaru hadn't told her about meeting that woman's son. Subaru hadn't told Seishirou that he was heading out. Something more was going on here, but whether Subaru was going to be able to explain himself ... "So how did you know he was going to the hospital?"

"He called me."

"Did he say he was sorry? The message he left me said he was sorry and asked me to make sure Obaa-chama doesn't know. Obaa-chama." Hokuto put hands over her face for a moment taking a shuddering breath for strength. "Can you believe I'm following his request and haven't told Obaa-chama about all this? Though maybe the nurses have, and Obaa-chama's on her way here right now to haul us back to Kyoto."

"I spoke to the nurses. I told them to leave it to me to tell the family."

"And have you?"

"Of course. I've told you."

Hokuto couldn't help laughing but it was a short, cracked sound. It made her feel better. "Nice."

The quiet came back. Seishirou had finished his food; Hokuto for her part was now finding the bento sickening so she shoved the half-finished box back into the plastic bag not caring about being tidy. The bottled tea she opened and drank deeply cooling her raw throat. It made the next words easier to announce. "I think Subaru did this on purpose."

She sensed Seishirou tense. Finally. "Why do you think that?"

"The message he left me sounded like he was expecting something bad to happen. And you said he sneaked out on you this morning." She thought of the bits and pieces she had been told about the sick boy Yuuya and his desperate, desperate mother. Even if the woman had been mad enough to try cutting a kidney out of someone it should have been easy for Subaru with all of his martial arts training to disarm her. "Subaru feels deeply for other people and will go above and beyond to help those in need. And this boy needs a kidney so badly – would Subaru go so far as to sacrifice himself? For a complete stranger? Is that what he's done?"

"It looks like he has."

The man still spoke so calmly. Then again, seeing him sitting glacier-still and staring into the space ahead, Hokuto now thought there was something edged about it. Like Seishirou's usual face was taking effort. Good, she thought viciously, except the thought was followed by guilt and then a flash of memory. The way Seishirou had dealt with the idiot who had dared to lay a hand on Subaru in that café so many weeks ago—

The doors to the surgery groaned as they were pushed open. Immediately Hokuto was on her feet both desperate for and dreading any news; behind her Seishirou remained seated though he did turn to look. A doctor in scrubs stood before them, and there was a smile on her face. "He's out of danger," she said with satisfaction. "Still a bit of work before we can release him but there's no permanent damage, and he's going to be fine."

Hokuto's head reeled; she could have wept with relief and she did, collapsing back into her chair as all at once every shred of pent-up terror and tension flooded away. To her surprise she felt Seishirou place an arm around her shoulders. It made Hokuto cry harder. Subaru was alive, he hadn't left her alone— "Go home and get some rest," the doctor told them kindly. "By the time you come back tomorrow he'll be in recovery and you can see him then. He'll probably even be awake. Don't turn up looking like he should worry about you, okay?"

"We won't," Seishirou replied. Smiling tearfully Hokuto leaned into Seishirou's arm too overwrought to say anything as he took charge. "I'll see her home, and we thank you very much for your hard work."

There were more things said, no problem, it's our job, we are eternally grateful, some of which Hokuto joined in on but with the worst of the ordeal over she was now ready to let herself collapse. Carefully she was pulled to her feet and with Seishirou still keeping a hand on her shoulder they walked slowly through the hospital to the main entrance where Seishirou asked someone to call a taxi. It didn't take long for one to show by which point Hokuto had recovered enough to push Seishirou away to get into the taxi herself. Even exhausted, Hokuto still had her pride to maintain.

"What time do you want to come back tomorrow?" asked Seishirou as they drove.

Hokuto couldn't help thinking that he was only asking to be polite. "Whenever I wake up. I'll call you in the morning – you won't be going to work?" Seishirou replied no. "Good."

They rode in silence, the lights of Tokyo blurring by outside. A whole world out there that didn't know or care about what had happened today. Hokuto wanted to be mad at it but now that she knew Subaru was out of danger she was too drained to feel anything but limp relief. She had nothing else left, not her frustrated anger at Seishirou, not even her fury at Subaru's piteous attacker. Oh she still wanted that woman to answer for what she had done of course, but it was miles better than before when Hokuto had wanted her dead.

"Hey, Sei-chan."

He turned slightly, his glasses lines of reflected light. Hokuto stifled a yawn. "Don't do anything to that woman, okay? Subaru wouldn't want us to and she's not worth the effort anyway. Promise?" There was no reply. "Promise?"

"... All right."

Calm. Still so very, deceptively calm. Distantly Hokuto thought about slapping him out of it but there was the taxi driver and they were pulling up outside her apartment building anyway. Telling the driver to wait Hokuto got out then made herself go around to Seishirou's window which was slowly rolled down, and finally Hokuto could face Seishirou up close. "I'm sorry," she said simply.

"What for?"

"For lashing out and blaming you. Subaru is his own person and makes his own decisions, and I of all people know how hard it is to stop him from doing something he's determined on. Him getting hurt wasn't your fault, and it's unfair of me to treat you like it was. I'm sorry."

Seishirou's eyes were guarded, but even through the glasses there was no mistaking the ice in them. Living ice, ever-shifting like floes on a remote, threatening sea. For the first time Hokuto thought his gaze beautiful. "Thank you," Seishirou said at last.

That would have to do for now. Hokuto leaned through the window and kissed his cheek. "See you tomorrow morning, and we'll both scold Subaru for worrying us, ne?"

"Of course."

The taxi drove away. Hokuto waved after it then finally, wearily, made her way home. Her feet hurt; she had been in heels the whole horrible day. Better to wear flats tomorrow, Hokuto told herself leaning against the elevator's wall, particularly if she was going to spend the day at the hospital again. Maybe she could make bentos and bring those as well; her cooking would be far better than hospital food, and she and Subaru and Seishirou could have an impromptu picnic in the ward. Yes, that was a good idea, she would write up the shopping list to go with her list of questions ...

The elevator reached her floor. Stumbling, Hokuto got out and fumbled for her keys, mind already crawling to the simple comforts of bath and sleep.

 

* * *

 

"Where to next?"

"Roppongi. Anywhere convenient."

Stretching his mouth in a yawn the taxi driver turned the steering wheel to go. Roppongi, huh. At this late hour that area would be buzzing, with good chances of quickly picking up another fare. Not a bad way to end a shift especially if the rest of his passengers were quiet. Like this one.

This one was very quiet.

 

* * *

 

Crowds of people ebbed and flowed, barely touching, eyes never meeting. All of them hurried somewhere, to restaurants, to bars, to places less legal and more secret, anywhere off the streets. On the streets it wasn't safe. On the streets anything could happen.

A taxi pulled up at the intersection of Roppongi-dori and Gaien Higashi-dori. Inside an exchange of money took place after which the door opened and out stepped a man. As the taxi left the man stood a while on the curb, perhaps undecided or lost in thought, a shadow in black coat beneath the neon lights. Then, abruptly, he began to walk.

Murmuring people parted around him unconsciously giving room. This was his element, his territory, yet for the first time the hunter's solitude was failing to centre him. His pace quickened. There was no destination in mind, only a cold fire – and the siren song of flowers.

A prideful shield was forcefully drawn. The Sakura roared unheard.

The next intersection had its lights out. Two police officers stood in the middle of the road directing traffic with white-gloved hands. They did not see the Sakurazukamori watching them as he paused for a smoke, the irritation at having to put up with their questions still simmering behind his glasses along with his headache. Certainly they could not know how he contemplated their white gloves soaked in blood the way star-burned hands had been soaked that morning, at least briefly before iron self-discipline was reasserted. Onward strode Seishirou flicking the cigarette butt under a passing delivery truck spewing fumes that smelled of dust and fire—

—beginning to dissolve, a sign that Subaru was close to death—

—the Sakura frantically wove its roots in secret sealing memories ever-tighter even as Seishirou's determination unconsciously ground away the cold wood—

—rough bandages warm beneath his palm—

"Special menu tonight, sir! Try our crab banquet with drinks for only—"

Glasses were removed and put away. The restaurant touter paled at the eyes that met hers and shakily retreated. Calmly the Sakurazukamori kept walking. Somewhere a hawk was keening that an unconscious body was being moved.

Laughter. A giggling couple nearly ran into him on the corner, their arms linked and the air about them warm and heavy. In the dark street from which they had come a glowed handful of hotel and bar signs, several incorporating a discrete heart symbol. A week ago there had been a joke about trying one which had been met with horror that Seishirou had taken great pleasure in kissing away – and that was his mistake, wasn't it? All his life Seishirou had done exactly what pleased him getting exactly what he wanted. It pleased him to take Subaru to his bed so he had done that, and as it pleased him to please Subaru he had done that too, repeatedly, revelling each time the young man writhed beneath him in their ecstasy, the star-marks carved long ago burning anew each time he re-affirmed his claim.

He hadn't realised how easily a claim became a connection. No – he had known a connection wasn't impossible, but confidently thought he as the Sakurazukamori could stay above it. The Sakurazukamori who proudly adhered to no rules but his own, who arrogantly thought himself untouchable, who woke this morning at the Sumeragi's call following without hesitation – and upon seeing the Sumeragi stabbed, had for the first time viscerally felt something in response.

"—celebrate your engagement drinks are our treat—"

"—yeah man, anything you want!"

The group pushed past loud and oblivious. They were watched by amber eyes that imagined a target unprotected by any promise ... no. The Sakurazukamori killed deliberately and with reason, not randomly or out of pique. He would not let himself be ruled by turmoil – but then again neither could he deny its existence. Helplessness and fury as another attacked his prey, fury at Subaru for putting him in this position, fear at the thought of losing the Sumeragi, at the thought of losing himself—

"—do you even know what your Wish is—"

Roots flexed, reached – mercilessly the Sakura hauled the memory back so that was again buried with the others. It worked but the sentiment lingered insidiously infecting Seishirou's headache as he pulled out another cigarette and lit it with fingers that itched for blood. What did he want? He wanted to live, to continue answerable to no one with no regret and win the stupid Bet he had gotten himself into. And yet at the same time he wanted Subaru to ... to ...

"Hey!"

Smouldering cigarette in hand the Sakurazukamori paused, the dull impact on his shoulder only now noticed. The man he had bumped into was glaring. "Watch where you're going, idiot!" the man yelled.

Seishirou didn't deign to turn and, placing the cigarette back between his lips, resumed walking down the dark side-street. The other man, however, wasn't satisfied and followed. "Aren't you going to apologise?" Still Seishirou kept walking. A hand landed on his shoulder yanking him about. "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

Seishirou did. The other man was young, early twenties perhaps, and nearly as tall as Seishirou himself. He was dressed all in black in an almost militaristic style with a high-collared long coat and heavy boots. The spikes of his dark hair were bleached yellow at the tips which fell over eyes given an artificial intensity by gold-coloured contact lenses. Stainless steel studs ran up the man's ears and perforated his lip and right eyebrow. A member of Tokyo's goth or j-rock subculture, perhaps, or maybe the yakuza. And yet something rang familiar—

The Sakura slammed down. The tall young man leered into Seishirou's face. "Can't talk? You dumb or something?" Suddenly he snatched the cigarette from Seishirou's lips. "You're in the wrong neighbourhood, salary-man, 'cause after dark these streets are mine—"

Seishirou lunged. The cigarette dropped to the ground.

The young man struggled. Unmoved, Seishirou tightened his grip. Soon the young man was sinking to his knees hands clutching uselessly at Seishirou's wrists as he choked. His eyes beneath the spikes of hair were wide with disbelief. The expression on Seishirou's own face was flat. No maboroshi, no magic. Just the satisfaction of throttling the life from that infuriating face. The hands on Seishirou's wrists turned limp.

Exhaling, Seishirou let the body drop. The black clothes meant it was hidden from all but the keenest glance. At the side-street's entrance people passed back and forth like shadow puppets and Seishirou took several deep breaths as if to re-centre himself. Already his headache was better but he had been reckless ... the street's darkness became complete as the maboroshi fell for the Sakura to manifest and pierce hungry roots through flesh and soul. At the same time the Sakura stretched branches down to shelter its Sakurazukamori, even offer comfort. Immediately Seishirou reached up burying his hand in flowers. He did not apologise for ignoring warnings or wanting his privacy, and the Sakura did not apologise for trying to take his prey on its own; they did not need to. Yet while there was usually little need for words between them, in this turmoil ... What are you going to do? the Sakura rustled.

Seishirou's fingers tightened. I don't know ...

 

* * *

 

He ached. All around was a tar-thick dark dulling everything except a knot deep within his body. The knot throbbed and itched somewhat undermining his sleep – how long had he been asleep? Why did his sleep feel so unnatural?

Without fanfare it all came back. The knife, the screams, the desperation. His blood hot and bright spilling over his bare hands on which stars were shining silver. The hopeless expression on the woman's face as she spoke I'm not sorry it's for the one I love before agony took him down.

Subaru understood those words. He was not sorry. Slowly, he opened his eyes.

"It's about time."

Hokuto's face loomed above him large and close. Black eyeliner gave her reddened green eyes a painful edge, though strangely wasn't smudged. Water-proof makeup, Subaru noted detachedly, that or his sister had just done a touch-up. Weakly he made himself smile. "Good morning, Hokuto-chan."

"Good afternoon. Good 1:43 p.m., good after lunch, good I don't know how long we've been waiting—" The crisp words were choked off as she flung herself down to hug him on the pillow. "Oh, Subaru!"

Wincing Subaru wrapped his free arm around his twin's shoulders. His other arm had an I.V. in it. Now that he could see past her he could tell from the ceiling and nearby window that he was in a private hospital room, no surprise there. Hokuto shook against him and there were tears wetting his neck. The terror he must have put her through ... "I'm all right," Subaru murmured. "I'm all right, nee-chan."

"No, you're not." Abruptly Hokuto pulled back wiping just below her eyes with short, sharp strokes. Her face once she lowered her hands was grim. "You have an abdominal stab wound nearly eight centimetres deep. You have a ripped diaphragm, ruptured blood vessels, some intestinal tearing creating a risk of infection, internal swelling, several sutures and stitches—" Subaru flinched as each item was recited knowing it was just the build-up, "—you lost heaven knows how much blood and apparently a woman like that shouldn't have been able to stab as deeply as she did but you actually threw yourself onto the knife what the hell were you trying to do?!"

So much for hoping she would take it easy on him. Not that Subaru could really blame her. "I ... was trying to make things better," he said vaguely.

"By sacrificing yourself? For a complete stranger? How in the name of all the kami does that make things better—"

"Hokuto-chan." The calm voice made Subaru's heart pound. "Maybe it would be better to ask later when Subaru has recovered more strength."

Pushing himself onto his elbows Subaru looked to the far end of the room. There beside the door stood Seishirou, black-suited arms folded, leaning against the wall with a smile beneath his glasses and amber eyes. Both eyes. Whole and unharmed. The flip-date on the clock above the door showed there was still three days before the end of the Bet.

Subaru had done it. Things had changed.

"How are you feeling?" asked Seishirou, not moving closer.

Everything was new. Subaru had no idea what came next, and yet surprisingly he realised he felt remarkably calm about it. Whatever happened from now on at least Subaru had done all he could. The rest was up to Seishirou alone. "It hurts some," Subaru confessed, trying to sit upright and managing it when Hokuto tilted the head of the bed up to support him. "But I can move everything and breathe fine, even probably walk if need be."

"I see."

Silence fell as the two of them watched each other. Despite the smile Seishirou's eyes were unreadable, never a good sign. Subaru's composure began to waver and he found himself feeling for Hokuto's hand holding it for reassurance. Hokuto glanced down in surprise. "You don't have your gloves on. I guess the doctors took them off but didn't Obaa-chama say you had to wear them always for protection?"

The mention of Lady Sumeragi made Subaru stiffen. If she knew what had happened— "You asked not to tell her and she still hasn't been told," said Hokuto shortly. "Though she should be, and soon because if nothing else there'll be hospital bills and insurance to deal with. We need to figure out how to break her the news."

Still neither Subaru nor Seishirou spoke, eyes warily fixed on each other across the room. Hokuto looked between them painted lips thinning. Then she rolled her eyes dramatically, let go of Subaru's hand and stood. "I am going to find a nurse," she announced ignoring Subaru's look of alarm, "and let the doctors know you're awake so they can do a check-up. They're all busy so I may be while." As she spoke she headed for the door where she paused and deliberately gave Seishirou a look. "Don't be too soft on him, okay Sei-chan?"

The man's smile quirked a little. "Duly noted."

Head held high Hokuto made her exit without a backwards glance. She closed the door behind her. Subaru could hear her low-heeled shoes walk away.

Carefully Seishirou moved to lock the door. When he looked up again his smile was gone. "Why," Seishirou asked flatly.

Subaru told himself to remain calm. Like that evening at the MS Institute it was clear Seishirou was affected by what Subaru had done, and in recognising that Subaru would hold nothing back from him. "For so long I've wanted to atone for your lost eye. I didn't want you to be hurt again and this way I could make absolutely sure things would turn out differently."

"The plan was to avoid the hospital entirely yesterday. Yet you came here deliberately, deliberately called me to follow, and deliberately put yourself in that woman's way. Did you do it because you couldn't bear the possibility that some stranger could be stabbed instead? Or did you do it to test me?"

Subaru tensed. The look in Seishirou's eyes at that last— "I did it for all of us, but myself most of all," Subaru answered truthfully. "Despite what you and Hokuto-chan may think, just because I want to help people doesn't mean I can't be selfish."

Seishirou seemed to contemplate this. Then he removed his glasses, pushed himself off the wall and approached the bed. "Show me the wound," he commanded.

Nervously Subaru pulled the hospital blanket to one side. He was dressed in the hospital's standard pale blue gown which crossed kimono-style at the front and was fastened by ties on the side. Subaru fumbled to undo these only to stop when Seishirou impatiently took over. The moment the ties were loosened Seishirou spread the gown open. Instinctively Subaru flushed; he wasn't wearing anything underneath, only a gauze square stuck low between his navel and left hip. It was easy enough for Seishirou to peel partly back.

Wordlessly Seishirou leaned over to inspect the wound, and morbid as it was Subaru couldn't help but look as well. There, under the gauze and glistening with ointment, were four thick black stitches holding together a short bent line of dark red. It didn't look that bad but beneath ... Subaru's vision swam a bit as he recalled the knife bleeding all feeling from his body, only to refocus as Seishirou placed long fingers beside the wound. They were cool, gently pressing into Subaru's flesh with an ease refined from examining animals on the clinic table – or all those times they had made love, Subaru couldn't help thinking with a shiver. He breathed more deeply; he could faintly smell Seishirou's cologne.

Carefully the fingers shifted to replace the gauze, pressing firmly around the edges to ensure it stuck. What had been comforting soon became painful and Subaru bit his lip. He must have made a sound for Seishirou turned catching Subaru's gaze with narrowed amber eyes and kept that eye contact as he pressed down harder, experimenting, calculating, pushing until Subaru's hands fisted on the mattress and his sight blurred in agony. Just when Subaru thought he would cry out the pressure lifted. Then it moved lower.

Subaru's breath hitched. Surely Seishirou wouldn't – determinedly Seishirou began to play him with practiced strokes, sharp and firm, holding Subaru's gaze with his own grim one until Subaru shuddered and spread his legs for more ready to give whatever was needed. The way Seishirou was looking at him ... his body was heating, jerking, pain and pleasure mixing like two oceans beneath Seishirou's touch. Still Seishirou watched his face. Revelling in amber Subaru could only moan; he hoped the doctors had secured their work well.

Hot breath against his hair as he writhed. Seishirou leaned over him dark and close. Dizzily Subaru reached to grasp the back of Seishirou's head, his other hand stretching down to fumble at the man's trousers. Lips crushed together. Belt and button came undone with Seishirou's help and Subaru blindly groped inside, grasping, caressing, trying to match Seishirou's own quick movements. Desperation. Pain lancing through his body Subaru swallowed Seishirou's harsh breaths as they thrust into each other's hand – I'm here, I'm alive – the star-marks burning bright—

"—you fool—"

—he couldn't stop himself crying out in his release, and some moments later heard and felt Seishirou do the same.

An oppressive silence fell. Awkwardly Seishirou rested his head on Subaru's shoulder, hand on Subaru's hip, the rise and fall of his chest slowing. Subaru rested his own damp hands on the bed. His loosened body hurt; distantly he wondered if he had done himself anymore damage.

It didn't feel like it. Far from it. Instead, Subaru realised he was feeling something he had never felt before.

Triumph.

 

* * *

 

Eyes closed Seishirou simply breathed savouring peace. Here. Now. Nothing to think about in this moment but Subaru's pulse beneath his ear. Soothing.

Arms came up to encircle his back and tightened. Seishirou instinctively stiffened. Quietly Subaru began to speak.

"When all this is over maybe we should go somewhere. Somewhere outside Tokyo away from so many ghosts and crowds. Kanazawa, perhaps, you mentioned there at the affinity test? I've never seen the western sea.

"We can go somewhere. Just the two of us."

Seishirou did not move. Hidden in the crook of Subaru's neck, his eyes were open wide.

He saw the woman, her hands red and face hopeless as she spoke I'm not sorry it's for the one I love, you know. He saw Hokuto holding a knife to his throat with every intention to use it and eyes green as jealousy as he claimed the centre of her world. He saw himself in the grey fire of Subaru's memories on the Final Day, that inexplicable expression on his face before he welcomed death in his prey's embrace; and he saw his mother, his predecessor, filled with joy in the cold white snow to die at his hand, and her revelation that the Sakurazukamori could only be killed by the one they loved.

If love was self-sacrifice, to put another first regardless of the cost to one's self, whatever undeniable turmoil Seishirou felt for – no, because of Subaru ... Seishirou could not say it rose to that.

Subaru was gently stroking his hair. Seishirou made sure his smile was soft as he pushed himself up. "Perhaps," he said, meeting those beautiful green eyes, "but for now just focus on getting better. Hokuto-chan will be returning soon."

Subaru reddened at that which gave space for Seishirou to go and take some antiseptic wipes from a nearby wall dispenser. He cleaned himself first straightening his suit back into respectability, then returned to Subaru's bedside to repeat the task there. The intimacy made Subaru sigh and Seishirou couldn't help bending down to kiss him again warm and lingering. No, Seishirou told himself, not couldn't help. Calculated.

He was still smiling when he pulled away. "I need to return to the clinic and take care of things, but I'll be back later tonight, all right?"

Subaru's own smile was small. Glowing. "All right."

Seishirou held the gaze a moment longer. Then he turned, discarded the wipes, and calmly unlocked the door to leave with Subaru's eyes upon him. In his mind the Sakura was singing.

 

* * *

 

"I still say they should charge her."

Subaru sighed and poked at the unappetising mush that was his hospital dinner. The doctors, although much pleased with his progress when they had done their check-up, had forbidden him from eating Hokuto's homemade bento citing sterilisation needs, which hadn't gone down well with his sister who had been made to eat hers in the hall outside and ended up giving Subaru and Seishirou's bentos away. She was still glowering about that, and everything else understandably. "We'll see, Hokuto-chan, but I’m hoping she won’t be," he replied.

"Subaru, I know your kindness knows no bounds but this woman nearly killed you! How can you forgive something like that?"

"There's nothing to forgive because she clearly wasn't in her right mind when she did it." And I took advantage of that, Subaru added guiltily.

"That doesn't excuse what she's done. Sei-chan would tell you exactly the same if he were here." Scowling Hokuto kicked at the legs of her chair. "When is he coming back anyway?"

"Later tonight. After nearly two days away of course he has work to catch up on. You too, nee-chan, you can't just disappear from school."

"Don't worry about me, mister, worry about yourself because I'm not letting you out of my sight until you explain exactly why you—"

A knock on the door interrupted making them both look up. "Come in," called Subaru in relief.

The door swung open revealing Ayame and three strange men, one in police uniform. "Good evening Sumeragi-kun, how are you feeling?" Ayame asked. Subaru replied that he was better. "I'm very glad to hear that, and Hokuto-san, thank you for your bento it was delicious. This is Detective Hideaki from the police, he's asked to speak with you if you're able."

She gestured to the lead man behind her who had a grizzled face and worn tan trenchcoat. Hideaki bowed. "It's good to see you recovering, Sumeragi-san. These are my associates Detective Takatsuki and Sergeant Yamato. We'd like to talk to you about happened yesterday."

"About time," said Hokuto from her seat by the window. "He's been awake for hours, why didn't you come earlier?"

"We had a missing persons to look into, and given that we already have the attacker in custody I'm sure it was good for your brother to rest up a bit before we barge in." Hideaki gave an awkward smile. "We do of course appreciate your time."

Subaru inwardly sighed but given the circumstances knew that speaking with the police was inevitable, so he might as well get it over and done with. "I'll give you what help I can, Hideaki-san."

"As will I, but I do request that a hospital representative be present for the patient's well-being," said Ayame. "Shall I get your doctor, Sumeragi-kun?"

"I'm happy for you to stay, Ayame-san."

"Works for us." Hideaki nodded at his colleagues one of whom took out a notepad. "We've already collected statements from witnesses at the scene but as the victim yours will be of primary importance. Starting from the beginning can you tell us Sumeragi-san, in your own words, how exactly you were attacked yesterday ..."

The interview that followed was about as Subaru had expected, and given his work with police together with his experience of that other life Subaru knew how to answer. He replied truthfully, how he had met Yuuya, the behaviour of Yuuya's mother leading up to and during the attack, as well as the words she had said to him. Only when Hideaki asked why he had gone to the hospital yesterday morning did Subaru take extra care. "I went to see Yuuya-kun again," he replied simply, aware of Hokuto's attention. "I hadn't been able to say goodbye the day before because of his mother, and he's here in the hospital all by himself ..."

It was all true. Just not entirely. And Subaru had one more thing to say.

"For what it's worth, Detectives, I don't want you to press charges against Yuuya-kun's mother." The room fell quiet as all eyes looked to Subaru in various measures of width. "What she did hurt me and those I love, but when she picked up the knife she was obviously in a state of insanity. Everyone working at this hospital knows how long she has been exhausted and under stress by her son's condition, and having Yuuya-kun take a bad turn for the worse only tipped her over the edge. I can't blame her for doing something while she wasn't in her right mind."

The three men glanced at each other. "But your wound, Sumeragi-san," Hideaki protested.

"Thanks to the good doctors I will soon heal completely," said Subaru firmly. "But Yuuya-kun, without a transplant his condition is chronic and other than his mother he is all alone. If his mother goes to prison, what will become of him?"

Again the men exchanged looks. Takatsuki's eyebrow was raised. "You want me to include all that in the statement as well, boss?"

"You heard what my brother said," Hokuto said wryly. "Believe me, I've already spoken to him about this and he's made up his mind, so you had better write it down."

Ayame was beaming at Subaru. "You're a very good man, Sumeragi-kun."

Hideaki sighed. "All right, put it in word for word. I'll be frank, Sumeragi-san, whether or not the charges against this woman go ahead may not be up to me, but we'll definitely keep it in mind and let others know. Is there anything else you wish to add?" Subaru shook his head. "Then we'll leave you be."

The detective bowed copied by his associates. Subaru too bowed as best he could sitting in bed, as did Hokuto who stood from her chair. Ayame nodded. "I'll guide you out, gentlemen, if you follow me?"

She opened the door and, with a smile to the Sumeragi twins, led the men out. The sergeant went first, then Takatsuki, then lastly Hideaki who took one step then suddenly paused. "One more question if I may, Sumeragi-san?"

"Yes?"

"The doctors mentioned they also found light bruising on your wrists, almost like restraint marks. Anything to worry about with that?"

Subaru's bare hands curled, but since they were hidden beneath the food tray table that was all right. His thoughts raced. "I do martial arts, Detective. Even in practice wrist-holds can be rough."

"Right." The detective resumed his departure. "Just wanted to check, as I'm sure you understand. We'll be in contact if we need anything more, until then get well soon."

The door closed behind him. Once it had Hokuto dropped her smile and turned to Subaru with eyebrows raised. "Bruising? Like restraint marks? Just what have you and Sei-chan been getting up to?"

Subaru coloured deeply. "Why would you assume Seishirou has something to do with it?"

"Come on, Subaru, you never lie unless absolutely necessary and usually to protect Sei-chan." Subaru didn't reply to this looking down at his now-congealed food, which was all the answer Hokuto needed, really. "Was it his idea?" she asked bluntly.

He didn't want to tell her. It was private, something shared only between him and Seishirou. But if Hokuto thought that Seishirou had hurt him ... he remembered what Seishirou said that evening in the clinic, I won't have your sister thinking I took advantage of you. "It was his idea," Subaru said, forcing the words out. "But I enjoyed it."

Silence followed. Subaru couldn't bring himself to look up and see what expression his sister was wearing, but then there was the sound of hurrying shoes outside quickly followed by the turning of the door handle. "My apologies," said Ayame as she burst in. Hokuto and Subaru stared; the woman was breathless. "I need you both to stay in this room and keep the door closed. There's a pack of news reporters gathering outside asking about the stabbing—"

"Reporters?" Hokuto's face turned white. "But how?!"

"I don't know how the information got out, and if I find that it was leaked by a staff member I will fire them on the spot," Ayame replied grimly. She drew the curtains across the window. "I sent the detectives out a side-door without anyone seeing, but until I can get this dealt with I need you to stay hidden—"

"What about Yuuya-kun?" Subaru demanded, fearing he already knew the answer.

"A nurse went to move him to a different room but he's gone missing. We're looking for him now, he can't have gone far."

Subaru had known the answer. Stay calm, he told himself, you dealt with this before, things have otherwise changed and there are still three days before the Bet's end. "How much do the reporters know?"

"Judging from the questions, just the basic facts, no names. I'm going to try and keep it at that." Ayame had opened her pocket-book, torn out a page, and was writing something in black pen. "Some reporters may try sneaking in so I'm changing your name as a precaution. I'm sure the police sergeant who came just then won't mind me using his." She folded the paper and slid it into the door-slot covering the 'Sumeragi' label with 'Yamato'. "Stay here until I send word otherwise."

She closed the door and left. Hokuto's stunned expression had turned into fury. "'Mother Of Transplant Candidate Suffers Nervous Breakdown, Stabs Person','" she said contemptuously. "Or how about, 'National Organ Transplant Policies Lead To Stabbing Horror'? Scoop of the week for the press – I bet it was one of the witnesses who told them about it."

"Maybe." Distractedly Subaru pushed away the tray table and removed the I.V. from his arm hanging it up. "I need to find Yuuya-kun."

"What?! No, Subaru, you need to stay in bed! And Ayame-san said—"

"I know what she said," said Subaru sharply. "But Yuuya-kun can't deal with this on his own and I think I know where to find him."

For long seconds Hokuto looked at him. Then she tilted her face to the ceiling fingers curling in helpless exasperation. "Argh! Why do you have to be so, so – so responsible!" Heavily she let out a breath. "Fine. But I'm coming with you, it's not like you can walk fast right now anyway."

Subaru smiled at her. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Let me get something." Quickly Hokuto opened the door and slipped out. She returned momentarily this time pushing a wheelchair. Moving carefully as he was Subaru had barely managed to put on his hospital trousers. "Don't worry, it's one of the standbys from the nurse's station," she said to Subaru's unspoken question. "Come on, get in."

Wincing a little Subaru stepped from the bed and sank into the wheelchair, relieved at his twin's quick thinking. A pair of slippers was put on his feet before Hokuto draped a blanket over him pulling it up to his shoulders. "Keeping you warm and you can also hold it over your face if anyone sees."

"What about your face?" asked Subaru.

Hokuto grinned and pulled something out of her coat pocket. "Since I'm already wearing a white coat I also took a spare nurse's cap. If we're just passing by people will just assume I'm a nurse helping you!"

With a flourish Hokuto put on the cap and closed the buttons on her fitted coat, which at a glance actually could pass for a nurse's uniform as long as no one looked closely, or at her shoes which were far too fashionable for hospital work. Subaru shook his head. "You'd better hope no one stops you for medical help."

"I'll tell them I'm rushing you to emergency. Now," Hokuto said, gripping the wheelchair handles, "where do we find Yuuya-kun?"

"Dialysis room, it's the place he's most familiar with. I think it's on level—"

"I know where." She pushed him out the room closing the door with her foot. "You have any idea how many hours I've spent around this hospital now because of you?"

"N— wah!"

They took off. Subaru scrambled to hold onto the wheelchair arms as Hokuto rushed him through the corridors at a speed just short of outright running. Some people yelped as they passed, but it being the dinner hour with visiting hours coming to an end the halls weren't as crowded as they had been. As luck would have it the twins managed to get on an elevator just as one arrived on their floor, and with no one else inside they went straight to the kidney treatment level. It was empty. Hokuto slowed as they went down the hall listening for ... "Here," Subaru said finally, pointing at the closed door they were just passing. "I think I heard someone crying."

"Me too." Only a little out of breath Hokuto rolled him to a stop and tried the door handle. "It's not locked."

"Let's go in quietly, then."

Hokuto nodded, her fair face flushed and serious. Slowly she opened the door wide then took hold of Subaru's wheelchair again. The two of them entered a large dark room lit only by the tiny lights of machines on standby ... and at the far end, the cold light of a flickering television.

"... again we're broadcasting live from outside the hospital where the attack took place, and where we understand the attacker's son is still waiting for a transplant even as his mother sits in police custody ..."

Hushed, Hokuto pushed Subaru towards the television. As they drew closer they could see a bed with a little shape silhouetted against the screen's light and shaking with sobs. Subaru's heart clenched. "Yuuya-kun ..."

The little shape turned. "Who's there?" Yuuya asked, sounding frightened.

"It's Subaru, do you remember me?" As he spoke he rolled the wheelchair forward. Hokuto went to switch on a nearby light that flooded their end of the room with warm yellow and drowned the television's glow. It made Yuuya blink; his eyes were red and puffy. "Hello," said Subaru, smiling.

A hesitant smile crept over Yuuya's teary face. "Hello onii-chan," he said, almost whispering. Then another sob took him. "M-my 'Kaa-san ..."

Wincing a little Subaru made himself stand from the wheelchair and walk; it was only a couple of steps anyway. With Hokuto helping him he sat down on the bed to Yuuya's left putting his arm around the boy whereupon Yuuya immediately crumpled into his side. "'Kaa-san, she did something, something bad—!"

"... with hundreds of patients also desperately waiting for an organ to become available for transplant this mother isn't the only one living in stress and sorrow – everyone in her position feels the same pain. The question now is whether such a tragedy will affect the nation's policies and attitudes to organ donation ..."

Quietly Subaru let Yuuya cry himself out. Meanwhile Hokuto hunted around the bed until she found the TV remote which she pointed at the screen. The news broadcast changed to a chat show, then a drama, a baseball game, another news channel, then finally an anime. Hokuto put the remote down satisfied as a repeat of 'My Neighbour Totoro' filled the screen with bright sounds and colour. It caught Yuuya's attention and he looked up to see Hokuto crouching by the bed smiling up at him. "I think Totoro is more fun, don't you, Yuuya-kun?" she said.

"Who are—?"

"Yuuya-kun, this is my twin sister, Hokuto," said Subaru. "We have the same face, can you tell?"

Yuuya's eyes widened as he looked between them. "Wow, you really look the same ..."

Hokuto winked. "Yup! Being a twin is great, it means I can play all sorts of practical jokes while pretending to be Subaru. (It was easier when he had longer hair, but.) I'm the older twin, that means Subaru has to call me nee-chan and do everything I say!"

"I had an onee-chan too." Yuuya sniffled. "But I don't have one anymore ..."

Hokuto's cheer faltered. Subaru quickly took over. "It's late, Yuuya-kun, shouldn't you be asleep?"

"I can't, because I sleep during the day already. And then at dinner I heard men talking to Nurse Maho-san outside my room ..." Suddenly the boy started crying again. "They said something about being from TV and asking about the kid who needed a kidney so badly that his mama tried to—"

"Shh, it's okay, Yuuya-kun, those men aren't here now—"

"But it's all my fault!" Yuuya wailed. "Because I'm weak and sick 'Kaa-san hurt someone!"

"No!" Hokuto's voice rang out strong and firm. "It is absolutely not your fault, Yuuya-kun. Those insensitive reporters out there, they say all sorts of things without considering how it affects the people who have been actually hurt by these events! And then making statements like everyone feeling the same pain, or that this happened because of you – they're wrong, absolutely wrong!"

Subaru carefully took hold of Yuuya's trembling shoulders. "Yuuya-kun, look at me. Please?" Slowly the boy did so, his face blotchy and wet. Hokuto handed Subaru her handkerchief for him to wipe Yuuya's face clean. "That's better. Now, Yuuya-kun, who do you like better: me, or the men from the TV?"

"You, onii-chan ..."

"I like you too, Yuuya-kun, which is why I want you to listen to me. Those things on the TV, or the newspapers or the radio – that's reality, but it's not the truth. Yes, your okaa-san hurt someone and that's a bad thing, but you have to think about why, Yuuya-kun, the reason why your okaa-san hurt someone."

Yuuya's dark eyes were large and fearful. "Because I'm sick?"

Subaru shook his head with a lump in his throat. If he hadn't gone to the hospital yesterday, if he hadn't decided to change things for him and Seishirou, then maybe Yuuya wouldn't be hurting like this. "Because you're precious to her. Your okaa-san loves you and wants so much to make you happy that she's willing to be unhappy herself."

"She wants to ... make me happy?"

"Yes. More than anything else in the world." As he spoke Subaru eased Yuuya around so that the child leaned against his unhurt side; his wound throbbed but not painfully, certainly not as painfully as Yuuya's heart right now. "It's very easy to accept what the television and papers say as being true," Subaru said, quietly stroking Yuuya's hair, "and while most of the news is fact it can never properly tell you the feelings of the actual people involved. The victims, the perpetrators, their families – what they go through can never be understood by people just seeing the news. Because all the news gives is information."

"Infor ... ma ... tion." Yuuya tested the word on his little tongue. "Infor... information – I know that word from school!"

Just that little accomplishment made the boy brighten and look up. Subaru smiled. "Yes. The news is information, but it's not all the information. Right now you have more information than any person watching the news because you know your mother better than any news reporter. What's more, you can ask her yourself. How many news reporters do you think actually talked to your mother before calling her a bad person? None, I'm sure.

"It is important to listen to the news, yes, but it is even more important to judge it. Judge it using your own knowledge and your own information – don't believe the people on TV because they're on TV. You're an individual, Yuuya-kun, the only Yuuya-kun in the world, and you have your own individual thoughts. Do you think your mother is a bad person?"

"No ..."

"Then that's all that's important. And someday soon you can ask your mother yourself why she hurt someone and what she was thinking at the time. It may hurt for her to tell you, so afterwards you need to tell her that you've missed her, that you've been really lonely without her – and that you love her. Okay?"

"... okay." The smile shyly growing on Yuuya's face was small but real. "I want to tell 'Kaa-san that ... that being being with her makes me happy. I'll tell her that the pudding she makes is the bestest in the whole world, better than any pudding made by anyone else or bought from the store—" More tears welled up that Yuuya wiped determinedly away still smiling up at Subaru. "It's bestest because it's 'Kaa-san's pudding."

Fondly Subaru squeezed his shoulders. "You're a wonderful boy, Yuuya-kun."

Yuuya hugged Subaru back. Happily Hokuto wiped at her eyes. "I'll go call someone and say that we found him, and if there are any reporters creeping around I'll punch their lights out! That's what onee-chans are for after all – would you like me to be your onee-chan too, Yuuya-kun? Since you already call Subaru onii-chan?" Yuuya nodded vigorously, his eyes bright. "Then your onee-chan will take Yuuya-kun for a wheelchair ride while Subaru stays here with Totoro for company!"

"W-wait, Hokuto-chan, I don't think you should—"

Hokuto paid no attention as she lifted Yuuya off the bed and plopped him in the wheelchair much to the boy's delight. "Wave to your onii-chan, Yuuya-kun!" she said, taking the handles with a grin.

"See you soon, Subaru onii-chan!"

Resignedly Subaru returned the wave and watched as his sister whisked Yuuya away with a happy squeal that trailed out the room and down the hall. He hoped he and Hokuto wouldn't get into trouble, but then realised that even if they did he didn't care. Yuuya was found and cheered up, and that was all that mattered. Pulling himself onto the bed completely Subaru lay back to wait for their return and for some rest; it had been a tiring first day awake, even if it had only been a few hours, but at least it was ending on a good note.

 

* * *

 

The hospital was quiet when Subaru returned to his floor. Yuuya had been put in a different room where, worn out by tears and exhilaration, he soon fell asleep which was probably why Ayame and the nurses when they arrived hadn't chastised Subaru and Hokuto too much. Still, visiting hours were over and patients preparing to sleep so Hokuto had been made to go home, though not before promising to be back the next day for lunch and with a present for Yuuya. She had been taken out via a side-door; although the news crews had apparently retired for the night, Ayame wasn't taking any chances and had implemented a tighter access policy.

Seishirou hadn't ended up returning to the hospital as he had said he would, but Subaru wasn't worried. After all that had happened between them undoubtedly his hunter needed some time alone. Actually after having Hokuto fussing over him the whole afternoon Subaru could do with some himself. A nurse had offered to wheel him back to his room but Subaru refused; it wasn't that he couldn't walk, he was just restricted to walking slowly so he didn't reopen his stitches. As it turned out, as long as Subaru didn't exert himself he didn't even have to walk that slowly, just leisurely. But it had taken him a while to get back to his room.

The 'Yamato' label was still on the door. Subaru contemplated taking it down then thought the better of it. He still hadn't called Lady Sumeragi, and with reporters now interested in the story it was best to keep as low a profile as possible – especially with the Bet ending in three days. Three days, three tense days of Subaru holding his breath ... and quietly hoping. The way Seishirou had looked at him today ...

Lost in that memory Subaru opened the door and stepped through feeling for the light switch. He didn't find it. Only when he tried again did he notice that the darkness around him was not of night, but of magic.

Pale pink petals flew about on a cold wind. Subaru realised the door had disappeared. But he had been sure, so sure that he still had time—

There was the sound of a shoe striking wood behind him. Heart pounding, Subaru made himself turn.

Seishirou stood beneath the Sakura Tree. He was dressed in black, black suit, black tie, black coat, all poised and perfect just as he should be taking Subaru's breath away. His Tree, the antithesis of Subaru's family, glowed tall and terrible and beautiful, flowers rustling with the whispers of the dead. The whole tableau was horribly familiar to Subaru except for one thing: above the deadly smile, the Sakurazukamori's two amber eyes were unreadable. "It's time to settle the Bet," Seishirou said calmly. Like his prey wasn't shocked to silence. "Are you ready, Sumeragi Subaru?"