Chapter 7

Had it really been two months since Kouichi had arrived? It seemed like only a little time had passed since I'd first seen him. And yet it also felt like I'd known him for years. Well, technically I had, but I hadn't actually known he was there.

That day Kouichi had finished his physical homework, but decided to take a break before studying for his upcoming math test to go through Mom's old letters to decide which to keep. I wasn't quite finished with mine, and since the thought of going through Mom's stuff was very distracting I had moved back into my own room to finish. Which is why I was mildly irritated when my brother knocked on the closed door about twenty minutes later.

"Kouji?"

I glared at the door. If it wasn't Kouichi, I'd have just ignored him. "What is it? I'm kinda busy."

"I need to talk to you, it's about Mom."

I growled a little and got up to open the door. Kouichi was standing there with an unfolded letter in his hands. His eyes shone with anticipation. Whatever was in that letter had to be good...

"I found out that Mom actually called Satomi when she married Dad..."

My world froze. That woman had actually known my mother was alive? And she had never told me...I pushed past Kouichi, ignoring his startled cry of protest and stormed down the stairs. Satomi was in her workroom now, working on some project or another. She looked up, startled as I opened the door so hard it slammed against the inner wall.

"Kouji, what...?"

"You knew her, didn't you?"

Her eyes widened with confusion. "What?"

"You talked to my mother. You knew she was alive, didn't you? You're no better than Dad is!"

"Kouji!" Kouichi was standing behind me, the frustration clear on his face. "You took off before I could tell you the rest. Mom called Satomi, but she didn't use her real name. She thought Satomi would make a great mother, that's what I was trying to tell you."

I glared at him. He was always taking her side, wasn't he? As if she really was his mother. He glared back defiantly, showing the stubborn side that usually remained hidden under all his sweetness. That was when I heard a sob behind me. I turned to see Satomi with her face in her hands trying to muffle the sound. While a part of me realized that it was my fault for confronting her like that, the rest of me felt nothing but disgust. She deserved it for thinking she could replace my mother.

I turned to go, only to have the door slam in my face. Kouichi? What was he doing? I turned the doorknob, but the door didn't move. He was blocking the door, wasn't he? I shook the doorknob irritably.

"Kouichi, what are you doing?"

"I'm tired of playing peacemaker with you and Satomi! I'm not letting you out until Satomi stops crying!"

"Kouichi, you...!" I couldn't finish the sentence. I was outraged that my brother would do this to me.

"Every time Satomi tried to do something nice for you, you just ignore it. I've had enough! She's a great person, even Mom could see that! Here!" The letter Kouichi had been holding earlier was pushed under the door. "Read it for yourself."

Sure, she did nice things for me, but that was only to win me over, right? I glared down at the letter before finally picking it up. The letter was from about three years ago, to someone I'd never heard of but was probably a friend of Mom's. The first part was the usual stuff about how she, Kouichi, and his grandmother was doing, then...

"...I just found out Kousei is getting married again. Her name's Satomi Uehara. I looked her up and called her. I didn't want to deal with Kousei and his lies..."

I guessed Mom had known Dad told me she was dead, after all. It would explain why she never tried to contact me.

"...So I said I was Tomoko's 'cousin,' Motoko. I was a bit scared at first, but I wanted to see what kind of mother she'd make..."

Only an interfering, nosy, entirely too cheerful one. I continued reading.

"...She's actually a really nice person. It really surprised me. Then again, I don't think Kousei would marry anyone if they couldn't handle being a mother, but Satomi's definitely up for the task of being a mother. Even if we just talked for a while on the phone, I can tell that much."

"I thought there was something funny about the woman that called me that day." Satomi's voice shook as she took her hands off her face. "She knew too much about you for a mother's cousin."

I rattled the door one more time, in the hope of escaping the increasingly awkward situation, but the door didn't budge.

"I wish I could've met her face to face. If I'd have known she was alive, I'd have taken you to see her myself. It was your father's idea for you to call me 'Mom.' I don't want to replace her...I never did."

I paused before turning to her. She would've taken me to meet my mother. What had I done? Kouichi had made a better son than I had. In fact, every time I saw them together I'd stayed away...I'd just stood back and let him do everything with Satomi.

"I...I owe you an apology, Satomi. Not just for blowing up at you like that..." It hurt to admit the truth, but I owed it to her after all the things she'd done for me. "It's because ever since Kouichi came here, I've been letting him play the son in the family. Every time we did something...Fun World, the anniversary...I just stood by and let him make you happy. I thought you were trying to replace Mom...But, I...I was letting Kouichi replace me."

"Kouji!" Satomi got up and before I had a chance to blink she threw her arms around me and held me tightly. "Nobody could ever replace you. Not even Kouichi."

"R-really?" For the first time in my life, I didn't try to shake her off. In fact, I felt tears coming to my eyes, too. That hadn't happened to me since Dad married her...

"Of course." Satomi took one arm off me long enough to pull off her glasses and wipe her eyes. "Just because I won't replace your mother doesn't mean I don't want you around. In fact, it's the opposite "

I leaned into her shoulder as she wrapped her arm around me again.

"When your mother died and Kouichi came to live with us, I was sad that you couldn't meet her...And this close to hitting your father for lying to us." Satomi held up her fingers an inch apart before moving her hand to stroke my ponytail. "It wasn't until I had a chance to cool down a little that I realized that having a brother around to talk to might be good for you...And Kouichi, too. I didn't realize how good until I saw you two, the day Kouichi was sick. You tried to hide it from me, but I saw the way you two smiled at each other. He made you happy, and you did the same for him...That's all I wanted. It's all I want for both of you...And I think your mother would have wanted that too."

"She did..." I managed around the tears that threatened to overwhelm me. "That's what Kouichi told me. You're doing a good job, Satomi. Don't let me, or anyone else, tell you otherwise."

"Kouji..."

I kept going. "Your birthday's next month, right? I'll give you the flowers myself. I'll...I'll get you the biggest bouquet I can find. Because you deserve it, Satomi. You aren't my Mom, but you're just as wonderful as she was."

She didn't, or more likely couldn't say anything through her tears, but just hugged me even tighter. I hugged her back, feeling the tears running down my cheeks. It took us a few minutes to separate and pull ourselves together.

"Thank you, Kouji." Satomi paused to wipe her eyes again. "Oh, I need to go and wash my face now."

"Me too." I grinned sheepishly at her. "I haven't cried like that since you two were married."

"You cried? I never saw it."

"That's because I did it when I was in bed...I was so angry at Dad for betraying Mom's memory and marrying you...Never mind. That's all over. Let's hope Kouichi will let us out so we can wash our faces."

"He'll let us out if it's me asking." Satomi walked to the door behind me and opened it easily. There was no sign of Kouichi, and I suspected he'd left when Satomi and I had started breaking down. There was no sign of Raiko or her leash, and I guessed that he'd probably taken her for a walk.

"Well, we might as well get our faces washed." Satomi briskly headed upstairs in the direction of the bathroom. I followed her up long enough to wash my eyes off, but then instead of going back to my homework I went back down to her workroom with her.

"Satomi?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you still have that extra picture frame I got you for Christmas? I was wondering if I could use it...I've filled up my other one with that picture of Mom and the one of Kouichi and me at Fun World...I need a place to put a picture of all of us."

"It's in the closet upstairs." Satomi paused. "I need to see if your father can get one of all four of us together...We haven't really had a chance to do that." She looked around. "I wonder where Kouichi went."

"Kouichi's probably off walking Raiko...It's about that time, although I've never seen him walk her before. I hope he can handle her if she sees a squirrel."

"He'll be okay. Besides, he can just call us if she gets away from him." Satomi settled down in her chair. "He brings me food sometimes, and tells me to take a break when I've been working too long. I think he's trying to take care of me because he can't take care of his mother anymore."

"Yeah, that sounds like something he'd do." My brother had lived with an overworked, probably underpaid mother and had constantly worried about her health when she was alive. It only made sense that he wouldn't want to see anyone else overworking themselves like that.

"He's a nice kid." Satomi turned to her computer. "We're lucky to have him around. Speaking of which, is your homework done yet?"

"Almost. I got a bit distracted when Kouichi found that letter..." I looked down to where I'd dropped the letter when Satomi had hugged me. "Might as well give it back to him...Can I wait until he comes back? I just want to make sure he's okay with Raiko."

"Sure."

I went outside and leaned by the door to wait for Kouichi. About ten minutes later, he came back panting a little from the exertion of being pulled around by an enthusiastic Raiko. He gave me a shy glance.

"Feeling better?"

"You might say that." I took a deep breath. "Kouichi, I want to apologize for making you go through all that. I was just so mad at Satomi...I was such an idiot."

"You were, but it's over now, right?"

"Right. No more making you the peacemaker, big brother. I promise."

That sweet smile lit up his face. "Apology accepted. Now are you gonna stand there all day? That homework isn't gonna do itself, you know."

"Don't you still have to study for that math test tomorrow?"

He cringed, proving that with everything going on he had in fact forgotten about the math test. I smirked a bit at the expression of horror on his face.

"Honestly Kouichi how did you get past your math tests before you met me?"

"Mom helped. She was great at math..."

"That skill must've all gone to me, then. C'mon." I threw an arm around his shoulder as we both went into the house, with Raiko following.

I didn't really get much of a chance to talk to Satomi at dinner...Although that was more because I was too busy eating than anything else. Still, I enjoyed myself a bit more than I usually did at dinner. Maybe because I wasn't feeling resentful at Satomi for just being there.

"So, who's hosting the weekly movie this time?" Dad asked.

It had been Izumi's idea. After Takuya and his friends had shown up to watch Godzilla, Izumi had suggested that maybe the next week we could all get together at her place and watch one of those "Spaghetti Westerns." Then Takuya had said that maybe we could do some kind of movie watching thing each week. It would give us a chance to know each other better.

"This week's Takuya's week," I told him. "He's got his brother hanging around, so we're just gonna watch a cartoon of some sort."

Actually, Shinya was not the only little kid who was going to be there. Takuya had also told me that Shinya's friend Tomoki was going to be there that day, which would effectively keep Shinya out of his hair...For some of the time, anyways.

As we were finishing, I saw Satomi start to pick up the plates.

"You want any help with that?"

She blinked, but shook her head. "I'm fine. Thanks, Kouji."

This exchange hadn't escaped Dad's notice.

"You two seem to be getting along better. Did something happen?"

Satomi and I exchanged glances, then I grinned at Kouichi.

"Let's just say we finally had some time to really talk." Kouichi turned a lovely shade of red and looked down at the table. I considered it a minor revenge for locking me in with Satomi earlier. Dad raised an eyebrow.

"I see...Did Kouichi have anything to do with it?"

"You might say that," he mumbled, embarrassed.

"Satomi...Is gone." Dad said, his voice dead with shock. "She was hit by a car and died on the way to the hospital.

I couldn't say anything. I couldn't think of anything to say. Satomi was dead. She might have been trying to replace my dead mother, but she deserved better than to go that way!

I looked over at that picture Dad had taken of the three of us a few months ago. If I had known Satomi would die that day, I would have tried to stop her. I should have said something...Done something.

I should have told her that I really did care for her...

...Now it was too late.

And that one small part of me that remembered how things were screamed in horror. Satomi wasn't the one who died, my mother was. That small part could see Mom, safely home from work, trying to make dinner while Kouichi read, completely unaware of his twin brother. Meanwhile, Mom suffered from keeping her own son a secret from his brother. Satomi dying instead of Mom meant that not only would I not meet Kouichi, We wouldn't have been at the amusement park that one day and wouldn't have met Takuya. I wouldn't have my stepmother, my brother, or my best friend...

Dad started shaking my shoulder, saying my name. Even as he did, the loneliness swallowed me...

"Kouji."

The loneliness...

"Kouji!"

I gasped and my eyes opened. Kouichi was at my side looking down at me, the concern on his face visible in the light from the window. It was only a dream.

"Bad dream?" Kouichi asked gently.

I nodded. How had Kouichi known I was having a nightmare? We weren't sharing the same room that night, and my door at least was shut. "Satomi was the one who got hit by that car, not Mom..." I shuddered remembering the horrible cold feeling of despair. "It was only a dream...Sorry I woke you, big brother."

Why had I had that dream? Was it because I had finally accepted Satomi as a nice person, if not a mother figure? Was it because I'd changed so much over the past few weeks? The blanket under me twitched and was pulled aside, and I turned to see Kouichi sitting down on the bed beside me.

"Kouichi, what are you doing?"

He lay down next to me, wrapping the blankets around him.

"When I was little and had a bad dream, Mom would let me share her futon. I think you need the same thing."

"Kouichi..." My brother's body was a solid, reassuring presence. His warmth next to me did a lot to banish the remaining terror from that dream.

He rolled over with that sweet smile on his face.

"Just this once, all right?"

It was very hard for me to refuse anything he asked with that smile, and I found myself smiling back.

"Just this once."

I couldn't see the picture of Mom from where I was lying...Even if Kouichi wasn't in the way, but I imagined the sweet smile on the old picture, so much like Kouichi's except a bit less shy. She had raised Kouichi, so it made sense that he would act like her. In a way, it was like she had never left me...

...Even if I did wake up the next day in the embarrassing position of having my brother's arms wrapped around me and his face pressed against my shoulders. But after a minute's thought I was okay with it. Besides, it wasn't like Dad or Satomi were around to see it.

It was just another part of being brothers.

FIN

Author's Note: And. It. Is. DONE! Whoo! I can finally concentrate on Pokemon again!

So I guess the question is, what next? The answer...I have no idea! I want to find some way to keep the writing intertia going, maybe putting up some of my abandoned fics might give me the motivation I need...Although knowing my luck, probably not.