Author's Note: I'm finally back with more of this. I've struck plot! Okay, none of it really shows yet, it's still just situation, but rest well knowing that I have a firm and unique direction to take this in. It still might take forever because I've found I'm very careful when it comes to writing things in this fandom. (Anybody else feel like they're walking on glass? ~laughs~)

So, I would like to again thank Larania Drake for all her assistance with this fic. I'd also like to credit Mars-sama, my Seishirou-san, for bringing me back into the right frame of mind to write this. And, of course, I must thank everyone who has read this and left a reply. You warm my heart.


Silence and I

Chapter Three: Pieces

Hokuto rushed into her brother's apartment to find him sitting on the couch, staring blankly at the floor. He gave her a half-hearted smile when he saw her, but he looked more lost than she'd seen him look in years. His voice on the phone had worried her, but seeing him made her heart wrench in her chest out of concern. "Subaru?"

"I'm fine," he said lightly, but the pain never left his eyes.

"Like hell you are!" She crossed her arms over her chest. "You can't lie to me, and a perfect stranger would have seen through that anyway!"

He nodded, eyes returning to the spot on the floor he'd been staring at so intently before she rushed in. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and she realized it wasn't the floor he was staring at, but his hands. The backs of his hands.

Hokuto let out an exasperated sigh and sat down next to him. "Now, tell me what happened. Everything."

Subaru gave her every detail of the evening, from how he fell in the theater to talking over dinner, to how Seishirou had finally walked him to his apartment door and wished him goodnight before literally disappearing into the shadows. "I feel like I'm drifting into a nightmare. This isn't going to be like when we were sixteen, no matter how much that's what I've been wishing to have again."

They both lapsed into silence, until Hokuto suddenly looked up with a smile. "Of course it won't be the same. Even if Sei-chan had never left, today would not be the same as then."

"I know," he said softly. "I'm scared to see what I'll find out about him. What if I hate him, after all is said and done? What if I only loved the lies he told and the illusion he showed me to deliver them?"

"That's not what you're most scared of though, is it?" She reached over to hold his hands comfortingly.

"What if I love him?" His voice cracked over the words, revealing his deepest fear. "When all is said and done, he's a murderer. He is everything I have fought against, and everything I could never be. Grandmother would--"

"Deal with her when you know. You've got enough to worry about right now."

"H-Hokuto?" He sounded shocked, and she thought at first it was for her suggesting they keep something this important from the current head of the Sumeragi Clan. She was about to defend herself, when he pulled on her hand. "What's this?"

"What--oh!" Hokuto realized what he was staring at almost immediately. In fact, this was the first time she'd looked at it in light, and she gave an involuntary shiver at just how beautiful the engagement ring was. It was a plain gold band that gleamed in the light, just as she'd expected. The stone was a glittering diamond cut in an unusual shape though. It looked like it could be a teardrop--or half of a heart. It was truly breathtaking. "Kakyou proposed to me tonight," she said with an impish grin.

"You let me sit here and worry, when you could have told me the good news?" He tried to pout and look scolding, but it didn't stick. He was soon grinning along with her; genuine happiness on his face. "I'm so happy for you. Congratulations."

They hugged, and Hokuto could no longer hold in her excitement. They began talking about her future now, and both became animated and dynamic. It was easy for Subaru to get swept up in Hokuto's enthusiasm, and just as easy to avoid talking about Seishirou.

It was just impossible to stop thinking about him.

*~~*~~*

A week passed in drudging normality; the only thing different was the charged feeling in the air. Change was upon them, and the future was in flux once again. Kakyou allowed himself a frown of worry before he knocked on the apartment door, but by the time Hokuto answered he had allowed himself an indulgent smile. The present was wonderful. Seeing her, touching her, smelling her subtle perfume as she wrapped her arms around him...these things made everything worth it. The future was in a precarious state of balance, but what mattered to him was not the future. It was the present.

As he stepped into the apartment though, he lost his smile and became more formal and guarded. They were gathering for a congratulatory dinner that Subaru had insisted on taking them to, but Hokuto had come up with an idea that Kakyou wasn't sure how to feel about.

"He's not here yet," Hokuto teased, poking her fiancé in the belly. "You don't have to get all defensive."

"I'm not," Kakyou insisted. "You just don't know..." he trailed off, unwilling to share things he'd seen in his dreams years ago.

"I'd know if you'd just tell me," she reminded, hands on her hips.

Subaru walked into the living room from the kitchen at that moment, carrying a tray. He immediately set it down though, backing away. "Oh no, I'm not getting in the middle of one of those again."

"We're not fighting!" Hokuto said, glaring at her twin now.

Kakyou grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her close, on the verge of laughing at the exchange.

"We weren't fighting! You just won't tell me anything." She was pouting now, but leaned closer to him.

"Maybe some day," he murmured in her ear. "Just not today."

The doorbell chimed. The easygoing and fun dynamic died, filling the air with tension. Kakyou found himself wrapping his arms protectively around Hokuto, feeling more than ever that he didn't want to let her go. Subaru smiled nervously and started walking toward the door. "I'll get that."

"It's fine," Hokuto whispered, giving Kakyou a kiss on the cheek and jumping from his arms. Even as Subaru was formally greeting the latest arrival, Hokuto bounded over enthusiastically. "Sei-chan! It's been years!" She crossed her arms and pouted. "I'm mad at you, and I don't know if I'll ever forgive you. You didn't even call!"

Kakyou was surprised to hear a pleasant laugh from the figure in the doorway. "My sincerest apologies, Hokuto-chan. Can I offer this as a flag of truce?" He produced a white rose with a carefree smile, offering both to Hokuto.

"I'm not the one you should be giving flowers to, Sei-chan," she said.

"Hokuto-chan! I-it's okay! Really!" Subaru stammered, looking so very young again....

Kakyou frowned. He'd heard stories, hushed words spoken of a time that was both wonderful and terrifying, where Hokuto had felt like she was skating thin ice and decided to take each day as it came. Some days she would tell him how she'd known all along and worried long into the night. Some days she would say she'd had no way of anticipating the truth, and even less of knowing the outcome. Subaru had refused to talk about that time entirely. Now Kakyou felt like an intruder on that life, watching what things must have been like, and knowing he had no place in that memory. He was the outsider, watching something as if it were a scene of the past unfolding before him and untouched by him. Like so many dreams he'd observed without being a part of--

Like the dream where he'd seen Hokuto's death--

"I understand that congratulations are in order." The group moved into the apartment now, door swinging shut, and Kakyou caught sight of the Sakurazukamori for the first time with his waking eyes. His eyes narrowed as he watched the tall figure walk into the room, and the air in the room felt at least 5 degrees cooler. The man was dressed in a dark suit with a black trench coat draped over one arm, despite it being the middle of summer. For that matter, he was still wearing his sunglasses. From what he knew of Seishirou, Kakyou wasn't sure if the sunglasses would be more or less sinister. "What mere mortal could capture the attention of the elder Sumeragi twin?" he asked in a teasing voice.

Hokuto danced across the room and casually draped her arm across Kakyou's shoulders. "No mere mortal. Kyou-chan is the man of my dreams." She giggled, and her eyes sparkled proudly.

As they exchanged introductions, the two men took each other's measure. A flicker of something akin to recognition flashed across the Sakurazukamori's face, and a slight smile grew there. "No mere mortal, then."

Kakyou shrugged. "I hardly think a quirk of fate such as that would be enough to sway Hokuto's heart," he said calmly.

Silence fell momentarily in the room. Hokuto sighed, rolling her eyes. "Oh please. None of that matters for another year and a half. We've got a wedding to survive before we have to worry about the end of the world!"

*~~*~~*

Hokuto was ever boisterous, ever practical, and ever blunt. Subaru felt something within himself snap into place at her words though; at hearing her so blithely speak of the end of the world. Dragons of Heaven, Dragons of Earth...a year ago he'd found himself talking to Kakyou about what was to come. The yumemi had been reluctant to say a thing about the future, but they'd discussed ideas and thoughts about why either side would be right. In the end Subaru had found within himself a greater resolve to protect humanity and hold out hope. Kakyou had concluded by saying that events had not yet unfolded to their fullest, and he could not yet decide. It had been a chilling statement; one he didn't understand and wasn't sure he wanted to. Would he be fighting his brother-in-law on the final day?

He looked over at Seishirou again and frowned. Was there a doubt what side he would be on? Personal feelings set aside, their rolls still painted them into opposite corners.

Hokuto was right. That was a year and a half away. "Why don't we go ahead and leave? It won't hurt to get to the restaurant early," Subaru said softly.

The awkwardness hung in the air as they left, and even as they all walked to the nearby restaurant where they had reservations. Hokuto was the only one who seemed not to notice it, but that never meant a thing with her. It was just like her to deal with awkwardness with her usual cheerful charm and continuing conversation. She walked hand in hand with her fiancé, smiling as if nothing could change the happiness she felt at that moment.

Subaru glanced shyly at Seishirou and thought to himself that she probably had the right idea. As if in response, the older man placed a warm hand at the nape of Subaru's neck. It sent a jolt of electricity through him, a pleasant tingle that he'd never felt around anyone else. He still wondered if he was doing the right thing, but that could wait.

"I thought you were going to be completely yourself now. No more pretend," Subaru murmured softly, thinking of the banter that had gone on when Seishirou had first arrived.

"Who is to say I haven't been myself?"

"It's just, it felt like we'd gone back in time, and the past few years were gone completely. I thought that was the lie you'd told to hide the truth of the bet." It was hard to speak of, but he said the words he had to.

His hand moved from Subaru's neck to his cheek, drawing the Sumeragi's eyes upward to meet the gaze hidden behind dark glasses. "Your sister knows who I am as well as you do, Subaru-kun. I'm not deceiving anyone."

Subaru nodded, though he wasn't sure his question had been answered exactly. He looked down at his feet, watching the pavement pass while he thought. It was really Hokuto who had started it, he realized. She had defined how they would interact with each other, and Subaru had been swept up in the ride. He told himself he wouldn't do that anymore. Those days were done and over with, and he would happily leave them behind.

But, Seishirou had realized his love for the person he had been back then. That's why he left. (Wait, that doesn't make sense! But, what about the Sakurazukamori made sense to Subaru in the first place?) That's why Subaru was alive today. (Yes, that made more sense.) So, if Subaru acted differently now, would that mean to anything they could have between them?

Subaru was so lost in thought he literally walked into his sister's back. "Wake up, we're here," she teased.

"I'm sorry, I'm so, so very sorry," he said, as embarrassed as he ever was when he made a silly mistake like that. By a stroke of chance he looked at Seishirou while he was apologizing--and saw the coldest look of boredom he'd ever imagined.

It was something to think about.