Why was the landscape of dreams always black? Why couldnít it be white, or green, or blue or pink? Or maybe the colour depended on the individual. If that was so, then what did the black dreamscape say about Subaru?
Right now Subaru found the darkness downright depressing. So when he opened his Ďeyesí, he immediately willed the dreamscape to change. He didnít really care what, but waited to see what his unconscious mind would conjure up. A shape shimmered into existence before him, tall with wide boughs. Tiny pink blossoms burst into bloom on every available surface and fallen petals appeared on the ground, entirely carpeting the immediate area before dissolving into the shadows just beyond the reach of the longest branches.
"Very pretty," said a heart-breaking familiar voice.
Subaru spun around, his long pale coat billowing out. Hokuto stood behind him, for once in his memory dressed normally in a long flowing white dress with short sleeves. There was a pair of translucent wings peeking out from her back, but it wasnít part of the dress. Neither was the softly glowing halo that floated above her tousled black hair.
Subaru smiled. "Nee-san."
His smile was reflected in his twin, but he only managed to catch a glimpse of it before Hokuto flung herself into his arms. Subaruís eyes widened in surprise, but then he squeezed his sister to his chest as hard as he could, laughing and sobbing with relief.
"I can . . . touch you," he whispered into her ear.
Hokuto leaned her head on his shoulder as she held him. "Weíre both spirits here," she explained quietly. "You donít know for how long Iíve been wanting to do this."
"Oh I do," Subaru replied. He closed his eyes and turned his face to bury it in his sisterís hair. "Iíve been wanting too."
He could feel his twinís smile. Then she stiffened.
"What is it?" Subaru asked worriedly.
Hokutoís arms fell from around him. Subaru reluctantly let her go as she stepped backwards a little to look up into his face.
Hokuto pouted. "Youíre taller than me."
Subaru blinked, then realised the pair of emerald eyes he was gazing into were a few centimeters lower than his own. For the first time he really looked at his sister who was standing with her arms folded an adorably annoyed expression on her pixie-like face, and realised just how much he had grown. Before, Hokuto had always been levitating so he hadnít noticed any difference, but now that they stood on level ground, Subaru was painfully aware of the years they had lost.
Because of him . . .
A slim hand reached out and touched his cheek. Subaru relaxed muscles he didnít know he had tensed and took a deep breath.
"Donít think about that," Hokuto whispered. She smiled gently and drew her long fingers over her brotherís cheek, brushing away the glistening tear that ran down the smooth skin. "Itís not important."
Subaru closed his eyes and nodded wordlessly. He reached up his left hand to cover her hand in his almost entirely. His Nee-san, forever sweet sixteen while he was now twenty-five. And if he somehow managed to survive beyond the Final Day, he would get older.
On sudden impulse, he pulled his sister roughly towards him and enclosed her in his arms again, as if trying to make up for so many years in a few moments. Hokuto held him likewise, her arms only just crossing behind Subaruís back. They didnít speak Ė there was no need for it among twins, especially twins as close as they were. Their bond was enough to share every emotion that couldnít be expressed in the dry limitations of speech.
After what seemed like eternity and still too short for Subaruís liking, Hokuto released him. She smiled at him as the warm sensation of completion faded into the back of his mind, then let her gaze fall to the cherry blossom tree behind Subaru. The spirit stepped lightly past her brother, a long white shadow stretching from her feet and right hand held delicately under her chin in a thoughtful expression.
"I wonder what scene will play under these branches," she murmured softly. "Will it be the day you met the person who would change your life forever? Or will it be that day when you lost me?"
Behind her, Subaru had no answer. His head dropped and he closed his eyes.
Hokuto didnít turn around. "Maybe it will it be another memory?" she continued. "Or something else entirely?"
Subaru didnít respond. Hokuto fell silent as a shape began to form a short distance away from the thick trunk of the tree. Slowly it gathered substance, solidifying, colours appearing as if layers of translucent veils were being stripped away. Soft black hair waved in the slight breeze from under the brim of the black hat. The red band around the hat was the exact shade of the short jacket the boy wore over a sleeveless high-necked black top. His emerald green eyes were wide as they gazed into the up into branches of the sakura tree as if trying to find the answer to some mystery in their shadows, black-gloved hands hanging by his side.
Subaru didnít look up.
A second shape was forming behind the first. The pink blossoms swirled in response to the new figure as it came into focus, dancing around the flare of black suit and playing with the long dark hair. Two clear honey gold eyes peered through a pair of glasses at the boy, who did not seem to notice the newcomer. Then the man reached out and touched the boyís shoulder, turning him so that they looked at each other directly. The boy jumped but didnít move away when the man bent down to whisper something into his ear. Whatever he said made the boy blush, but he obediently gave in as the man guided him with a light touch on his back to a third figure.
Subaru didnít look up.
The third figure was seated on a cloth spread over the ground with a basket beside her, legs curled underneath a pool of blue skirt. She looked up, emerald eyes sparkling but the expression turned to outrage as the wind caught her sky-blue sun hat, decorated with a white scarf and sent it soaring away. Too late the girl clutched the back of her head, the black hair cut in the same fashion as the boyís flying around her face. The boy immediately jumped to catch the rogue hat but it was the man who was able to reach high into the air to grab it. The sound of laughter carried clearly to the Sumeragi twins as all three of the figures sat on the ground and opened the picnic basket.
Hokuto smiled. "Why this memory, Subaru?" she asked. She watched the scene with a wistful look in her eyes as the girl said something to the boy that caused him to blush and turn red while the man just laughed.
Her brother, the real Subaru, sighed. Suddenly it all disappeared, the memory of himself, his sister and . . . how would he describe Seishirou now?
"Itís one of the better ones," Subaru said quietly. "Certainly better than . . ."
Beneath the tree, a figure dressed in white ceremonial robes approached the shadow of a man leaning against the thick trunk. The man looked up, one eye dark gold the other cloudy white. He smiled and stepped away from the tree, raising his hand. Power flared around his fist as a flurry of sakura petals suddenly blew up, obscuring the image and blowing it away. Hokuto turned around, trying not to think about what she had just seen.
Her brother didnít look at her.
"Do you hate him?"
A tense, hesitant pause, then a quiet, "Yes." The timbre of his voice implied a question rather than a statement.
Hokuto sighed patiently and rolled her eyes. "No you donít. You canít deny it anymore, not after this evening."
Subaru looked up with a blank expression on his face. "What happened this evening?"
His sisterís eyes widened, then held a hand in front of her lips, trying to stifle her giggles. The giggles just grew louder when Subaru stared at her, puzzled. "What?" he asked.
The word just served to make Hokuto dissolve into helpless laughter. Subaru could only stand there patiently while he waited for her to regain control. He knew that it would be impossible to get two words of sense in the meantime.
Finally Hokuto stood up straight and gave her twin a wide smile. "Donít worry," she said with a knowing look that told Subaru that he should worry. "Iíll tell you when you wake up."
"Canít you tell me now?" pleaded Subaru. He had a feeling that whatever had occurred was going to be another of those things that he was never going to hear the end of.
Hokuto waggled a slim finger in front of his face. Then the smile faded slightly as the spirit folded her arms across her chest. "So you are still insisting that you donít love him."
Subaru dropped his eyes, though he was now twenty-five and she was still sixteen. "What does it matter if I love him or not? He doesnít feel anything."
If he had looked up, he would have seen that look on Hokutoís face that immediately triggered off warning bells. "You might be surprised," she said slyly.
"What is that supposed to mean," asked Subaru, suspicion and disbelief evident on his features.
Hokuto raised one eyebrow at him. "Would I be correct in saying that you are, shall we say, obsessed with Sei-chan?"
A dark silence as Subaru instinctively glanced at the beautiful sakura tree his unconsciousness had created was answer enough. Hokuto smiled.
"And would you agree that obsession is a part of love just as much as something like passion?"
A single wary nod. Hokuto shone.
"Then itís settled!" she chirped.
Her brother blinked. "What is?"
"I might have to start thinking about wedding arrangements!"
Subaruís eyes bulged. "Ho-Hokuto-chan!"
His sister gave a ringing laugh and skipped lightly towards her brother. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she brought her mouth beside his ear.
"You know, Subaru," she murmured. "I donít care how this plan of mine ends, whether you and Sei-chan kiss and make up or go your separate ways. All that matters is that you two have been able to talk and weíve all been together again for a while."
Subaruís hands came up to clasp Hokutoís head. He buried his face in her hair, and kissed her. "Iím glad too," he whispered. "I just wish that it could be forever."
Hokuto hid her face and tears in her brotherís coat, a single white shadow streaming out from their feet. "Well if you two end up happy thatíll make me happy," she said lightly. She felt her brother stiffen, just slightly. "Iím serious, Subaru," Hokuto said, closing her eyes as she rested her head on his shoulder. "I may not have the power you have, but I know when Iím right about things. Especially matters concerning my twin."
"But . . ."
"Just bear with me a little while longer, okay?"
A sigh, too soft for audibility. It was more felt and Hokuto sensed not resignation, but rather, acceptance. As if her brother wasnít as upset about the arrangement as he was making out to be. He certainly wasnít enthusiastic either, but at least he was willing.
Hokuto smiled and allowed her shape to fade, still holding her brother even as he held her. "I love you, Subaru."
She was melting into a white mist in his arms, but he could still sense her presence. "I love you too, Nee-san."
And she was gone.
Subaru let his arms drop to hang limply by his sides, and sighed. He looked up. The sakura tree still stood an indeterminable distance away from him, if there was such thing as physical distance in dreams. Putting his hands in the pockets of his coat, Subaru Ďwalkedí resolutely towards the tree. Under his black booted feet, the black nothingness melted into a pale rose pink carpet of fallen petals. The slight wind of his passing stirred them and they twirled with the flare of his long coat. Subaru came to a halt barely more than a meter from the treeís trunk. Lifting his head as more petals floated down, brushing his face, he gazed into the mass of flowers above him.
"Seishirou-san . . ."
Subaru slowly turned around. Behind him and off to one side, an eighteen year old youth kneeled in front of a small boy-child, ridiculously adorable in white ceremonial robes. The wide, innocent green orbs stared as the youth, dark hair obscuring his eyes, lifted each tiny hand to his lips.
Subaru watched the memory, his face expressionless.
"Why did you make that bet?"
His emerald eyes merely became dark and deep as he watched the child collapse, unconscious, into the arms of the young man. Blood dripped from the backs of the boyís hands, seeming to feed the glow of the inverted pentagrams forever imprinted there.
"What did you want from it?"
A swirling breeze tossed the soft pink blossoms into the air, sweeping away the image of the youth and the unconscious boy he held in his arms, leaving nothing but crimson droplets on the ground. Subaru stared at them thoughtfully until the blood also faded away.
Darkness was good. Darkness was very good. It was soothing and comfortable but best of all was the absence of light. Light this morning was not a good thing. Subaru only had to open his eyes once, and the bright light that stabbed into his brain for that brief second quickly convinced him to squeeze his eyes shut and keep them that way.
Lying still was good. The effort of moving his muscles to pull the red silken covers over his head was akin to lifting a leaden weight. Not only that, moving any part of his body made what was a dull throbbing in his temples into a large sledgehammer that enthusiastically pounded the inside of his skull.
Silence was also very good. Unfortunately Subaruís wish for peace and solitude in order to indulge in self-pity was shattered with an all-too familiar, all-too cheerful and all-too loud greeting.
"Gooooooooooood morrrrrrrrrrrrrrning!" sang Hokutoís voice. "Youíve slept long enough Ė time to get up!"
Subaru had always been used to his sisterís rather shrill voice, but today it turned into a drill that worked with the sledgehammer to try and crack his skull open from the inside. He groaned and pulled the covers tighter around his head.
"Aw, does my little brother have a hangover?" his sister asked, none too sympathetically. "Get out of that bed and eat something. Thatíll make you feel better."
The thought of food turned Subaruís stomach. "Leave me alone," he mumbled into the pillow, still keeping his eyes closed.
Suddenly the covers flew off him, letting light and cold air in. Still dressed in his clothes from last night, Subaru curled up into a ball and wished for some merciful person to put him out of his misery.
There was only one person in the world who could say his name like it was melting ice-cream in his mouth. There was only one person who could to make his name synonymous with . . . other things. Subaru buried his head in the pillow. Please not him, he thought. Anyone but him. I am not ready to deal with him. Not at this ungodly hour of the day.
"How are you feeling?" asked Seishirou, his voice full of concern.
Subaru hadnít thought it was possible that the Sakurazukamori could be more sadistic than he already was. Now he knew better. He moaned as the sledgehammer in his brain gave a particularly hard bang.
"Someone just kill me now," he muttered. Luckily he didnít say it too loud Ė Seishirou might have taken him up on the offer. He cracked one dazed eye open. At the foot of the bed the red bed sheet was folding itself in mid air. As the square of cloth got smaller, Subaru could see his sister preparing breakfast. Her dress for the day seemed to be along the theme of a bee, and the loud yellow stripes on her stockings and sleeves were too bright for Subaruís liking at the moment. Seated calmly at the table was the assassin, a cup of coffee in his hand as he looked at Subaru.
"Why donít you have a bath, Subaru-kun?" Seishirou suggested. "Itíll make you feel better."
Subaru sighed. It didnít look as if he was going to be allowed to suffer in peace, so he might as well get up. Willing his protesting arms and legs to move, he climbed out of the bed and focused on the simple task of crossing the floor, past the breakfast table, to the cupboard and taking out a set of clothes. The next challenge was getting to the bathroom.
"Be careful, Subaru," called Hokuto, as the bed sheet laid itself out on the bed. "In your state you might drown in the bath tub."
He could feel Seishirouís smirk. "I suppose I could help him bathe Ė if heíd let me."
Subaru steadfastly chose to ignore that and closed the door. The sledgehammer had turned into a dull ache, probably the result of blood flowing through his body, though every few steps he felt dizzy. His mind was fuzzy and he realised he couldnít remember much of last night. Half-concentrating on the task of stripping himself he tried to walk through last nightís events. He remembered Hokuto going on about a dinner date, he remembered something about a birthday, he thought he remembered something about a fork, or was it a knife? After that his memory was a total blank.
However he did remember his dream last night. A plethora of images flashed through his mind Ė Hokuto-chan, the sakura tree, the memory of one of the many picnics they had shared with Seishirou during that one year at Ueno Park. His sister, finally being able to hold her and touch her. What had she said to him, about his feelings for Seishirou-san? It was something about obsession, and that tiny implication that Seishirou wasnít so emotionless as he imagined him to beÖ
He couldnít stifle a gasp as ice-cold water shot out of the shower-head and onto his naked skin. Fumbling with wet fingers to turn on the hot water, he realised the one advantage of the cold water was that it had washed a lot of the ill feeling away. His memory didnít seem enthusiastic to return to him though. Subaru grasped the soap and tried to see what else he could remember of last night. It was dinner, they had been talking, there had been red wine. A lot of red wine.
Subaru leaned his head against the cool tiles, water running down his face and into his eyes. He shut them. He had a bad feeling beginning to grow in the pit of his stomach.
Well. At least he was awake now, and prepared to face whatever trials today would bring. Turning off the water, he reached for the fluffy pink towel and dried himself. Now that he thought about it, he vaguely remembered talking a lot when he was drunk. He remembered falling off the chair when in search of his spoon. No, it was a fork, he realised, taking hold of his clothes, he definitely remembered a fork now that his mind was clearer. Unfortunately no matter how much he tried he couldnít remember anything else.
He brushed his still wet hair out of his eyes and took a deep breath. Time to go outside, and hopefully he would get his wine-sogged memory back before he got into trouble with Hokuto and Seishirou.
"We should get Subaru drunk more often, oh, hi Subaru," said Hokuto, waving him over to the empty seat. There was a plateful of food in front of him but first he reached for the coffee.
"I agree, Hokuto-chan," replied Seishirou from the other side of the table. "Subaru-kunís so much more fun whenís heís loosened up."
"A bit too loosened up, werenít you, Subaru." The ghost flitted over to stand beside him, bending down to look at his face. Subaruís bad feeling began to get bigger.
"Um," he began hesitantly. "What did I do?"
Seishirou put down his cup and looked at him. "Donít you remember, Subaru dear?"
The word Ďdearí sent off silent warning bells in Subaruís head. It didnít help that Hokuto was laughing her head off beside him. Subaru looked at her quizzically. Finally she stopped and looked at him, grinning like a cat whoís been at the cream.
"You drank too much," she said.
Subaru nodded slowly. He had figured that out.
"You talked too much."
"You fell off your chair."
The frown got bigger.
"Then when you stood up you fell onto Sei-chan and he had to put you to bed."
Subaru glanced at Seishirou, who merely smiled at him.
"You told Sei-chan that you loved him."
Subaru half-rose out of his chair and stared with wide eyes at his sister, who had collapsed into giggles again. Then he looked at Seishirou. The man had that naughty smile on his face again, which just grew wider at Subaruís obvious consternation. Subaru tried to say something, but nothing came out and he was left looking like a fish as he opened and closed his mouth. He looked wildly back and forth between Hokuto to Seishirou, realising that there was no way he could take back what he had said. He slumped into his chair and held his head in his hands.
Hokuto wiped tears of laughter away and floated over to her brother. "Why so glum, Subaru?" she asked. "Sei-chan doesnít mind."
There was a deep chuckle from the other side of the table. "Of course I donít," Seishirou said. "Itís the first encouragement Iíve had from Subaru-kun. It would be foolish of me to ignore it."
"Oh Sei-chan! You make me so happy!"
"Anything for my future sister-in-law!"
Subaru wished he could fall through the floor. What in Godís name had his slip of the tongue done? What kind of consequences was it going to bring? And what did Seishirou-san think about it?
He peeked through his fingers at the man seated opposite, not hearing Hokutoís cheerful bantering.
Seishirou caught his gaze and smiled. His mismatched eyes were intent, but the expression on his face was . . . thoughtful? Introspective?
Or even . . . a little confused?
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