“Subaru can’t come with you today, Hokuto,” her grandmother explained in a patient tone. “He has responsibilities now that go far beyond yours.”
Hokuto had known that for a long time. Her brother had always been special. And she knew that better than anybody, better than their grandmother even. Subaru wasn’t only powerful - he was special.
“He should really come, grandma! They have red pandas, and giraffes and birds of all kinds. And... And penguins! He didn’t come last time! He has to come with me to the zoo! He has to come. He’ll love it!”
Her grandmother looked at her with sad eyes.
“I’m sorry, Hokuto. Not today.”
In the evening Subaru looked exhausted and didn’t talk all through dinner. Hokuto didn’t prod him and their grandmother didn’t seem to mind the silence over dinner.
Later Subaru was lying on his bed when Hokuto came into his room to climb into his bed beside him. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Subaru said, but when he saw her worried look he continued. “I performed an exorcism. An angry ghost was trying to scare people away from a house. She was really just lonely, I think. Her own brother had murdered her in that place...” He stopped, then looked at her with wide green eyes. “Why do people do things like that?”
She knew there was no answer for him, nothing she could say that would make him understand what she couldn’t understand herself. Instead she leaned forward to give him a hug.
“Let’s go to the zoo tomorrow,” she whispered into his ear.
“But you’ve been today...”
“We’ll go again tomorrow.”
When Subaru watched the penguins with a big smile on his face, Hokuto knew it had been worth it to pester her guardians until they had agreed to take them to the zoo again. This wasn’t about her after all. It was all about her brother, who was forced to see things other children would never have to see.
“I think I love penguins,” Subaru told her laughing.
“I think you love everything you see,” Hokuto declared. And she knew it was true, too. It was one of Subaru’s most endearing characteristics. And she’d make sure Subaru would be able to stay that way, whatever he had to face as onmyouji. If the world wanted to exploit him, she’d be his strength.
“Subaru! Let’s come here whenever you feel down, yes?”
“Un,” Subaru nodded enthusiastically. “Let’s do that!”