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Midnight Song

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     "Thank you, Inoue-san," Subaru said, holding his hat onto his head by reflex while he bowed.

     The owner of the building shook his head. "No, please, Sumeragi-san. Thank you. With those fires starting all over the place, I would've lost everything for certain. There was no way the superintendent could keep up. You're sure this will take care of it?"

     Of her, Subaru corrected, in his head only. It might be asking a bit much of any client to acknowledge that incidents they saw as mysterious catastrophes were people once, with whom Subaru talked every night when he came out to a job like this. Tonight, her name had been Chieko-san. But Chieko-san hadn't been anyone whom Inoue-san knew, nor had she known him, so Subaru kept her story to himself for now. It was the only polite thing to do, under the circumstances.

     "I'll return tomorrow to verify that there have been no new fires overnight, and if anything occurs after that visit, the Sumeragi main house will take your call. After tomorrow, the affected tenants should be able to move back into their suites."

     "Then I'll look forward to your visit tomorrow. My greatest thanks, Sumeragi-san. I'm in your debt."

     This had been his third stop today, so his smile was a little tired, but now today was over. Making his farewells, he walked onto the streets of Roppongi. At first, he closed his eyes and stood still in a spot next to the entrance that wouldn't be in anybody's way. Crowds heading to bars, and leaving them, filled the ink black air with laughter while the hum of electricity everywhere was like a cushion between him and the awfulness he knew was everywhere. Even though, he had no doubt, not everyone could be happy right now, Subaru's face fell into a more natural smile that didn't hurt at all.

     Then, and only then, he opened his eyes on the riot of colored light, pulsing neon through the streets. Tokyo was beautiful when the nights ran long. It was like strolling the universe with the stars close enough to touch.

     "I remembered the lights," Chieko-san had told him. "They were the last thing I saw while that man stabbed me. I couldn't see his face, and my eyes fixed on the sign across the street. My vision blurred, and I remembered thinking that it looked like fire. I died thinking of fire. Maybe that's why..."

     Subaru felt the dampness of a few stray tears soaking through his gloves as he wiped them away, remembering the regretful look on Chieko-san's face. She'd conjured a little flame in her hand, and put it right out again. But he couldn't cry her tears for her. And even she still thought the lights were beautiful. He knew that in his heart.

     So, for tonight, Subaru would look at the lights in her place. The memory of Chieko-san inside of him was a little happier, a little less lonely. The neverending melody of the streets kept his feet moving all the way to his front door -- right to the moment when he turned his key in his lock.

     "I'm home," he whispered. On the off chance that Hokuto-chan had fallen asleep on his sofa waiting up for him, he didn't want to wake her, but it looked like she'd taken his call before the last-minute job as a signal to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

     His apartment was still and dark, and Subaru left the lights out. His eyes had adjusted on the way up. The brightness would only hurt. Hokuto-chan had long since gone to sleep, of course, but he should have known she'd leave him dinner. A covered plate was sitting on the breakfast bar in front of his usual stool with a note on top that said, "Subaru, if you haven't eaten all of this when I come down in the morning, be prepared to pay the price!!! Love, your super-amazeballs sister extraordinaire, Hokuto."

     There was no helping the fact that it was cold. Hokuto-chan knew well enough what kind of food she could leave out when he expected to be late. He'd told her he could feed himself, but it was true... he always managed to forget to eat when he came in late if Hokuto-chan didn't put food directly in his path. Today there was a banana, and some kind of pickled vegetables on the side, plus another note that said, "There's a sandwich in the fridge. Do the right thing."

     "Okay, Hokuto-chan," he said to his empty apartment. It was too bad onigiri made his gloves sticky and rice didn't take well to refrigeration, but his sister did make excellent sandwiches.

     The clock on the microwave blinked over to 1:00 AM. With any luck, he'd have school tomorrow, so he'd need to finish his cleansing rituals soon if he wanted to get any sleep.

     He'd change into his pajamas first to save time, he thought. They were just as comfortable as his hakama, and the light of the moon gleaming through his bedroom window made it easy to meditate.

     To let the last traces of Chieko-san's memory leave his soul, because he couldn't take her pain into tomorrow. He had to put all of her to rest so that when he woke up tomorrow, his heart could be calm enough to cry tomorrow's tears, and make it through another day.

     Because that was what it meant to be a professional.


... do you still love Tokyo?