I can feel you falling down into infinity. You're going somewhere I am not, and all I can do is stand by your side and paste on a smile of false brilliance to let you know that I'm going to be all right…even though I'm not.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Illusory Tandem

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Kanaye was feeling torn as he sat upright on the barstool, doodling various mundane designs on a napkin.

"You need to get over whatever it is you're having such a problem with and sit down and talk to Mashiro-san. If he didn't care, why would he still be here?"

The more insistently the line echoed in his head, the harder the pressure on the napkin became. He only snapped out of his spell when he heard the distinct raking of pen against countertop. Scowling, he lifted the shredded napkin to find a series of jagged scrapes embedded in the table's design. He cursed under his breath and set the pen down.

Frowning, he mindlessly drummed his fingers against the marks. His thoughts were lost in another time – another place – another year. A younger year. He remembered school bells and lunches and, most importantly, friendship and love.

Had things really been so different five years ago? He closed his eyes and let his mind travel to school days – times when he really believed Mashiro cared for him. It was a time when Mashiro had almost seemed to love him. But it had all been a lie – his father had been paying the older boy to watch over him. Mashiro had been a hired bodyguard, and he had cared nothing for Kanaye in the end.

Everyone on campus had known of Kanaye's affection for Mashiro, and everyone had expressed wonderful wishes for a bright future. Eventually, he had gathered his strength to confess his love for the older boy. But Mashiro had been cruel – had been toying with him all along – had been ruthlessly joking about the younger boy's undaunted affection to his friends.

"I can't return your feelings."

That was all he said, with an irritating display of pity in his eyes. But the day after that, the whole school knew, and on top of having a broken heart, Kanaye was forced to deal with teasing and jokes and cruelty. So, naturally, he fired Mashiro. Immediately. The day after that, his mother was killed in a plane crash, and he was hit with the fact that the two people he loved most in the world were going to be nonexistent in his life. No more smiles and no more hugs, and there was never going to be a chance for real romantic kisses that meant something.

And then, the night had happened, and he ran away forever – turning his back on his father and living on his own. His father tried to contact him non-stop with apology after apology, but thankfully, the presumptuous man had given up on the possibility of being forgiven after a year or two.

Then, Kanaye had been alone for a while, but unexpectedly, Mashiro had come back. He had come back, even though Kanaye told him he hated him, and he had not really left his side since. It was bizarre and admittedly nice, but since Mashiro still seemed to be in contact with Kanaye's father on a regular basis, Kanaye never could find it in himself to completely trust his claim that he was not being paid for staying close to him. And yet, despite his suspicions, he still wanted Mashiro by his side. Whatever job he took, whatever new idea he had – the Yoshioka Modeling Agency project for instance – he always wanted Mashiro with him. It was as though the older man had become his security blanket, as ridiculous as the notion was to attach to another human being.

Kanaye slumped in his seat. But it would never be all right. He would never find the courage to talk to Mashiro about love again – not after what had happened the first time.

You need to get over whatever it is you're having such a problem with…

The problem was…not Mashiro. Not really. Kanaye leaned over and covered his face with his hands. The problem was his father – Yoshido Shigure. He swallowed, mind aflame with wildness. Maybe it was time he confronted the man. Maybe it was time to talk about it. After he worked through those issues, maybe – just maybe – he would be able to talk to Mashiro about…everything. As things stood now, Mashiro would undoubtedly make his routine visit in a few hours, but Kanaye had already decided that he would be gone before the other arrived. He picked up his pen and grabbed a new napkin.

"I never told him about it," he whispered, scribbling out the details of his most haunting memory on napkin after napkin. "He'll read this, and then when I get back, we'll talk about it. Yeah." Standing, he left the napkins strewn messily on the countertop and walked over to the phone.

Shakily, he dialed his father's number.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Kiyoshi awoke groggily, the sunlight leaping down through bare branches to slice at his eyelids. He moaned and rolled over, throwing his arms over his head in utter misery. He wanted to claw through his skull to get at the insane center that caused him to think – no…he wanted to tear out that area that contained his pitiful and very human heart. The mere memory of the events of the previous night was too painful to acknowledge.

He had fallen asleep in the park again, though this time unshielded from the rain. His coat clung to his frame and he peeled himself from the wooden bench that had served as his bed. The path under his feet was still moist, and his boots sunk slightly in the mud. Strangely, his shoes felt a bit big for his feet – the rain had most likely expanded their boundaries. He took a few unsteady steps, feeling his balance sway terribly as he did so. Within a minute, he had tripped – all clumsy limbs and no grace – to sprawl belly-down on the wet green ground off to the side of the road.

A passerby stopped in his tracks, staring at the white-skinned, shivering form in the vibrant grass. He curled his newspaper under his arm and stepped forward. He was a doctor after all, and it was the least he could do to check on this unfortunate person.

"Are you all right?" he asked softly, leaning over the trembling figure.

The doctor was unable to shake the feeling that the person was familiar, and that he should recognize him. The revelation lingered barely out of mind, and he recalled pale hospital sheets wrapping around a crumpled figure. Perhaps this was a patient of past days, he speculated – a patient that obviously was still in need of some form of treatment.

He reached out to grip the shoulder of the person, but said person thrashed around and skittered a couple of feet away before he could make contact. When the soaked boy in baggy black clothes turned to face him, their eyes met for a brief second – then, he was gone. The doctor wasn't sure how he had disappeared so quickly or so silently, but he was terribly worried. He had treated him before, after an outrageous fall from a building – Sumeragi Subaru.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Subaru rolled onto his side and stretched, a few joints clicking as he did so. He yawned before snuggling back into the source of warmth, tucking his ice-cold hands against a broad chest. He was trembling – there were a million cold needles shooting through his bloodstream. He had no idea why. Clenching his teeth together, he fought against the chills that racked his body. He wrapped his arms firmly around a warm body and tangled his legs with those that belonged to another. Against his will, a small whimper escaped his throat.

The response to this sound was a low groan and then shifting. He blushed as he realized that the body he was intimately wrapped around was moving; he could feel muscles tensing and relaxing against him. An arm looped around his back while the other slid down to caress his hip through his pajama bottoms. Subaru's breath caught in his throat.

"Seishirou…san…!"

All at once, a myriad of events ran backwards in his head – the release of the memories like floodwater breaking through a dam. His face heated up exponentially, and he absently brought his frigid hands to his cheeks to cool the feverish flesh. He let out a small surprised noise at the wrongness of the feel of his palms contacting his cheeks. Wildly, he glanced around for his gloves, unable to quell the rising panic he felt at being bereft of them.

He wondered, dimly, how he could have done such a thing – with a man nonetheless! Shameful, sinful – all sorts of words crept into his mind, all spoken by a part of his mind that sounded exactly like his grandmother. He turned his gaze to Seishirou and was surprised to find the man fast asleep. Previous thoughts of gloves and hands and danger evaporated as he focused on the older man's gentle breathing. Eyes glowing curiously, he stretched out his fingers and brushed them just barely over the other's lips.

Last night had been so strange. His stomach muscles clenched when he remembered some of the more specific details. He was caught between too many feelings – among them fear, shame, and an unidentified fluttering in his chest. Resting his fingertips against Seishirou's cheek, he smiled when the man twitched with discomfort. His fingers really were cold, but not cold enough to wake him it seemed. Seishirou didn't look particularly vulnerable in his sleep nor did he carry the image of an angel, a phrase many attached to sleeping loved ones – in fact, his expression seemed quite grumpy. His eyebrows were scrunched slightly and his mouth, although drawn in a relatively straight line, had a vague pout. It was childish, Subaru decided, running one finger across the bridge of the man's nose, but still cute. He smiled secretively, putting off the feelings of guilt for a little while as he watched Seishirou sleep.

It didn't get old. In fact, Subaru was startled to discover that he wouldn't mind staring at him all day. He curled up in Seishirou's arms and curled his cold toes between the older man's warm calves. Closing his eyes, he released a puff of air that resembled a sigh and relaxed. His shivering didn't stop completely, despite the fuzzy feeling that had washed over his entire body. Delicately, he ran his tongue back and forth over what he discovered were his very swollen lips. It had been too long since he had enjoyed the warmth of another. When he and Hokuto had been children, she would sometimes sneak into his bed to cuddle, but as time had gone on, they had gradually branched off from one another to enjoy more privacy – separate rooms, separate apartments.

"Hokuto-chan…" he whispered, a thought tugging at the back of his mind. He had forgotten something. Something important.

When you're going somewhere – from now on, I want you to come and tell me. I'll do the same. No matter what time it is, no matter who's busy with what. Promise?

A strangled gasp tore from his throat at the memory.

Promise?

He would have bolted upright in bed, but Seishirou's arms snaked around him and held him still. Gasping, he twisted his head around, halfway expecting Seishirou to be wide awake and smirking. But Seishirou's eyes were closed, and his breathing was deep and steady. Heart throbbing insistently, he thought of Hokuto. He had made a promise to her, and now he had broken it on only the second day.

He lowered his lashes and glanced ashamedly at Seishirou. He had rushed out and ignored his promise…all to see this man – all because of a fanciful nightmare that made less sense than the previous visions he had suffered. And then they had…he reddened and shook his head. How had that happened? Why had that happened? The circumstances leading to the bedroom were a blur. Subaru remembered being in the pounding rain, and he remembered Seishirou pulling him inside and…kissing him and touching him. He had liked it, he admitted to himself. It had been enthralling and frightening and unlike anything else he had ever experienced in his sixteen years of living. Seishirou had carried him upstairs to the shower after that, and clothes had disappeared and gloves had been discarded like trash, and then Seishirou had carried him to the bed and – and…things had progressed quite quickly. Subaru was torn between being horrified and ecstatic. Wrenching himself from Seishirou's grip, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

He had to go home. He had to get there before Hokuto noticed his absence, otherwise explanations would be tedious. A million jittering nerves danced in his body as he imagined what it might be like to attempt to excuse his behavior. And Hokuto knew he had not gone out on a job; even if he tried to lie, a quick call to the Sumeragi house could inform her of any business-related things he had been involved in. He swallowed loudly and stood up…only to flop right back down on the edge of the bed, causing the springs to creak loudly. Nervously, he glanced back at Seishirou, expecting the man to pop up and wrap him in a prison of arms. But thankfully he didn't. He remained in a deep sleep. Subaru clenched his teeth and eased himself to his feet more slowly this time.

He was sore, he realized in mortification.

Blinking back tears of embarrassment, he made his way to the doorway of the bathroom and scooped up his discarded raincoat. Buttoning it firmly over his sparse form, he let his mind wander to the feel of Seishirou's lips against his neck. Dazedly, he pulled on his boots. He heard the springs of the bed shift and he got nervous, but the silence returned shortly thereafter. Taking a shuddering breath to calm himself, he clumsily hurried along to make himself as presentable as possible.

He shuffled to Seishirou's bedside and glanced at the time – it was five o'clock in the morning, so surely he would make it home before Hokuto made breakfast. Hesitating, he reached out and ghosted his fingers over Seishirou's cheek. Glancing nervously from side to side – even though there was no remote possibility that anyone was watching – he leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to Seishirou's forehead. When he pulled away, he could feel the steam rolling off his own face in waves. Though he was embarrassed, he couldn't help but feel a surge of selfish happiness. If he could have seen himself, he would have bee surprised to see a tiny self-satisfied smile lifting the corners of his lips.

"Bye," he whispered softly, his tone filled with giddy warmth. He tiptoed out of the room and down the stairs and finally out the door. Only when he reached the street did he release the breath he was holding.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Hokuto paced a circle around the couch for the thirteenth time since entering Subaru's apartment. Restlessly, she continued her pacing back into the kitchen where she checked on the vegetables she was cooking for breakfast. Distractedly pulling a glass out of the cupboard, she clucked her tongue. She turned the tap on and filled the glass with water. Bringing the edge to her lips, she let the liquid trickle down her throat that was tight with worry that felt like tears.

"Where is he?" she asked aloud for the one hundred and seventh time. She knew she was being paranoid. She knew she was being unreasonable.

Clink – the glass broke as she set it down. Chink – reminded her of the sound of breaking mirrors. Clink – a dream of another Subaru clawing his way out of a mirror and snatching her Subaru and pulling him inside. Clink – her blood ran down her hand.

She cursed. Throwing the remnants of glass in the sink and not bothering to clean up the small puddle she had made on the countertop, she tended to the small cut she had made on her ring finger, seeking bandages from the bathroom. The vegetables were left untended, and they promptly boiled over, hot bubbles spilling unnoticed onto the floor.

She whirled into the living room after meticulously wrapping her finger. Ripping the phone from its receiver, she glared hotly at the antennae pointing from its head.

Twins.

Twins should be able to reach each other, she thought, even over long distances. She paced another circle around the couch – the fourteenth journey of the morning – and tightly clutched the cordless phone in her hand, shooting it accusatory glances every few seconds, as though it were the source of her foul mood. A couple of times, she turned it on just to hear the annoying hum against her ear.

She thought about calling her grandmother. She thought about calling the police. She thought about a lot of things – like rushing out to look for him, or perhaps rushing out to wrestle help from Seishirou. She felt like breaking things, but since she was in Subaru's apartment rather than her own, she refrained from doing so.

"Subaru, you promised me," she breathed in a voice that spoke of both anger and concern. "You promised."

When she entered the kitchen, she was still lost in her thoughts, so she did not notice that the vegetables had completely boiled over until the sole of her bare foot splashed in the scalding water.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Subaru jogged hurriedly down the street; for once, not stopping to apologize to the people he accidentally bumped into along the way. The air was humid, carrying the rancid smell of a nearby garbage dump and the natural scent of moistened earth to his nostrils. His bangs were plastered to his forehead by a mixture of nervous sweat and morning dew.

He scowled and pulled his raincoat more snugly against his body, very aware of the flimsy pajamas – Seishirou's flimsy pajamas – underneath. The fact was a reminder of the indelible actions of the previous night – actions that he was hesitant to dwell on and hesitant to truly acknowledge. Nervously, he chewed on his lip only to wince in pain at bruising that was there.

Hurriedly, he squeezed through a small crowd and nearly slipped on a slick portion of the sidewalk. A strong hand on his arm kept him from falling flat on his face. Unable to ignore expressing his gratitude for such assistance, he straightened immediately and gave a series of hasty bows, mumbling automatic words of thankfulness. Then, without so much as fully observing his rescuer, he turned to go – Hokuto's worried eyes shining like beacons in his head.

The hand clenched his arm tightly. Furrowing his brow, he turned to face the person warily. A round woman was grinning at him from beneath a mop of curls. Her fingers were painful on his arm.

"Sumeragi-kun," she chuckled, inclining her head slightly.

Subaru's eyes widened in surprise, and he scanned his brain for some memory of her. She was elderly, but there was definitive strength in her bones – that much he could ascertain from her grip. Her eyes were black and beady, and her head was a refined style of curls. She wore a classy navy kimono with an overlaid white apron. He could not recall seeing her before.

"I-I'm sorry," he stuttered, trying delicately to inch his arm from her grip. "Do I know you from somewhere?" He pasted a weak smile on his face and waited.

She growled, her face drooping to transform itself into an expression that resembled a hound. Abruptly, she took her hand from his shoulder and crossed her arms over her full bosom.

"I'm Makino," she barked, eyebrows lifting critically as she eyed his flustered and ragged state with suspicion. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of something gold and thin clasped around his pale neck, disappearing in to the red collar of his raincoat.

"M-Makino?" he murmured in confusion, eyes searching her face.

"I came to your boyfriend's place a while back," she clarified. "You know – Sakurazuka-kun's veterinary clinic?"

Subaru's eyes lit in remembrance. But then, as the rest of her words sunk in, his face quickly turned scarlet.

"He's not my…" he started. But images of Seishirou's eyes and lips and hands crept into his mind, and he couldn't find the words to finish.

"Doubtful that you'd recognize me looking so refined," Makino continued, waving a hand happily. "I usually like to go casual in one of my dresses and caps, and I usually never leave anywhere without my carpet bag. But I have a day job today – got to get a move-on to that rich old man's house. Preparations for lunch. Bah, but being a cook beats being a flower vendor, so what can I say?"

Subaru blinked at her and hesitantly met her eyes.

"Thank you for keeping me from falling," he said quietly.

"No problem," the woman chuckled, winking cheerfully. "You look really dazed and if I must say so, quite sexed up, so it was all I could do to help."

Subaru's mouth ran day and all the color in his face drained away. He shifted his eyes from side to side in panic, afraid someone might scream or point accusingly at him due to Makino's words. Turning back to her, he sputtered indignantly, his expression a blend of fury and mortification. She patted him on the head, much to his consternation.

"Now," she said lowly, voice adopting a frighteningly serious tone. She reached out with the speed of a cobra and brushed back the collar of his coat, revealing the beginnings of a gold chain. With one overgrown fingernail, she lifted the chain slightly, eyes studying it gravely.

Shocked, Subaru jerked away, unnerved that she had been able to get so close without him registering her movement. It almost hinted at…some sort of training…or at least a measure of the higher physical discipline. Instinctively, he stepped back out of her range, staring into her black eyes with distrust. If she noted his wariness, she gave no indication.

"Metals like those are troublesome," she said gravely. "The material certainly didn't come from my shop – I was only responsible for the engraving. Things like those are best left in the hands of the family they originated from – not in the hands of a boy like you, even if you are an onmyouji of the Sumeragi."

Subaru opened his mouth to say something, but shut it uncertainly – mind not quite working out what it was that she was trying to say. She snapped out of her serious mood as if she had never fallen into it then, plastering on a too-bright grin and bobbing her head in a ridiculous manner.

"Well," she said brightly. "Take care, Sumeragi-kun, and give my best to Sakurazuka-kun. I'm off to the bastard of all bastards – Yoshido Shigure-sama. But he pays me every Thursday, so what can I say? It was nice talking to you. Have a nice day, and do take a shower when you get home."

Subaru found himself nodding dumbly, automatically displaying manners in hopes that he would soon be free of her presence and free to continue on his way. Soon, Makino was fading in the distance – blending into the throng of Tokyo inhabitants.

"Oh, and you might want to put on a turtleneck," she called over her shoulder. "You're being rather obvious!"

Subaru squeaked and rapidly pulled his raincoat more securely round his neck, not daring to imagine what kind of marks she might have been referring to. He took a steadying breath, and hurried along more quickly than before, the same sense of urgency as before taking hold of him.

He arrived at a crosswalk and waited impatiently alongside the rest of the populace for the light to change. Rocking back on his heels, he tried to ignore the curious and disdainful stares weighing on him from all direction. Perhaps he had failed to make himself presentable after all. Finally, after what seemed like years, the light changed, and the people moved across like an angry storm of bees – two forces moving in opposite directions.

As he neared the other side, Subaru felt distinctly malevolent eyes burning into him, but he did not look up. The hate in the air felt too similar to the gaze he had been subjected to the night before, though he wasn't sure if the collision with the mysterious man had been fictitious or real. His face felt hot, and his heart was pounding, and the sudden fear that gripped him was enough to keep his eyes fixated on the road ahead. He finally turned to look back at the crowd when he had reached the other side, but all the faces blended together and it was impossible to tell where the furious stare had come from.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Subaru twisted the knob of the door and opened it with care. Stepping lightly inside, he took a deep breath and discarded his boots. He hesitated with his fingers on the buttons of his raincoat, opting not to remove it until he was safely in an area where his own clothes were nearby for quick changing. Stepping further into the apartment, he was relieved by the silence within. But Hokuto would be coming soon, he reminded himself, making his way towards the bathroom. He needed to clean himself up and, above all, change out of Seishirou's pajamas. Resting his hand against the door of the bathroom, he expelled a tired sigh, almost but not quite convinced that he would wake up from this bizarre dream in a short while.

A hand clamped onto his shoulder.

"Subaru." Her voice was soft and cool.

He bit his tongue. Hard.

"Hokuto-chan." His attempt to sound glad failed spectacularly – voice stretching and shaking from previous overuse and current fear.

Her grip on him remained steadfast, and he was unaware that she was pulling him away until they reached the living room. She yanked him painfully over to the couch and pushed him down on it. Then she leaned forward, her nose brushing barely against his, and stared at him blankly – eyes betraying none of her thoughts. He swallowed audibly.

"Subaru," she whispered, voice colder than ever. "You – you…" Finally, the shield hiding her thoughts cracked, and Subaru could see the emotion in her eyes. His heart stopped beating for a moment; he hated it when she cried. He hoped she wouldn't. To his relief, she trailed off and remained quiet for a while.

Subaru wanted to say something. He wanted to hug her. Anything.

"When you're going somewhere – from now on, I want you to come and tell me. I'll do the same. No matter what time it is, no matter who's busy with what. Promise?"

His throat burned uncomfortably and his eyes watered under her scrutiny.

"Hokuto-chan," he whispered pitifully, not daring to reach for her.

Her eyes flared, and he shut his mouth quickly. She leaned away slightly, shrewdly letting her eyes wander over his form. He shifted uncomfortably, unconsciously clinging to his coat.

"You left," she said simply, voice showing none of the strain on her face.

"I – " he began desperately, grasping for words.

"You left," she enunciated, "and you didn't say a word to me."

He fell silent, the memory of the promise and the sound of his agreement echoing in his mind. He lowered his eyes ashamedly, bringing his hands together to fiddle with his fingers.

Hokuto, meanwhile, was seeing dreams on repeat in her head, and she was frightened and angry. She rarely lost control like this, but something in her chest was telling her to keep him close. And to keep him close, she forgot about delicacy. And in forgetting, all of her fears came spilling out.

"You didn't even think about me, did you?" she hissed bitterly, letting out words that should have been left dormant. "You don't ever think about me." She sliced a hand through the air, accentuating her words with motion.

Helplessly, Subaru reached for her hand and held it between his own. Two seconds passed before he gasped and let go as if he had been scalded, abandoning his plan to comfort her. He whimpered and jumped to his feet, racing towards his bedroom like a madman. She stood still for a moment, jaw hanging as if it had been unhinged.

"Your hands," she choked in disbelief, quickly taking off after him – limping on a burnt foot. "Your gloves!" she yelled, confused and emotional and imperceptibly jealous. "Why aren't you wearing them?" She was nearly screaming by now.

Subaru was cursing himself over and over again for being so careless. The subject of his gloves had crossed his mind from the moment he had awoken, and yet he had managed to forget all about them when he had dressed. His originals were probably still hanging limply on the towel rack in Seishirou's bathroom, he realized in horror. Throwing open a drawer in his room, he ripped out a pair of new gloves and shoved his hands inside, ignoring Hokuto's furious protests and demands as she entered the room. His throat was starting to close up even more, and he feared he would start crying full force at any minute.

She put her hands on his shoulders again and spun him to face her.

"What is going on?" she demanded, voice rising in pitch with each second. "Why are you always like this? You hide from me!"

Her eyes took in the state of her brother for the first time, and she admitted that she had been denying his appearance since he had arrived. His hair was a mess – sweaty and tousled. The skin that was showing was suspiciously rosy and bluish in a few places. His lips were fuller and redder than her own, even though she was wearing lipstick. Before she could stop herself, she had reached forward to rip at his raincoat, tearing open the buttons until the coat hung wide open.

Subaru let out a cry and closed it, but it was too late.

She had seen. She had seen the trail of bite marks decorating the column of his throat and disappearing into the fabric near his collarbone. She had seen the terribly oversized pajamas, rolled up at the sleeves, drawstring pulled so tight that the cords hung past his knees. She staggered backwards at the sight, knees nearly losing strength.

"Subaru," she whispered hauntingly, an accusatory note in her voice.

He wrapped his arms around himself protectively, and hurt was in his eyes more than shame. Mind spiraling dangerously, he stared at her, watching sullenly as she painstakingly pieced the puzzle together. Blanching at the sight of her trembling shoulders, he tried to conjure magic words in his mind – words that would make his sins disappear and her smile resurface.

Hokuto moved forward. Her chest was aching and burning and flaming. Her dream came back in great chunks – images of a young Seishirou lifting a younger Subaru upon his shoulders and paying no attention to her – images of mirrors grotesquely morphing their bodies into monsters – a wicked Subaru with one golden eye pulling her Subaru inside and never letting him out again – Subaru looking only at Seishirou, wanting to be with him all the time and ignoring her presence.

Slap.

Subaru's face flew back at an awkward angle, a fiery red handprint showing up immediately on his left cheek. His eyes were wide and disbelieving – teeth clenched in effort to hold back a sob. The skin stung, but his chest was worse – tight and unable to beat. After a long moment of silence, he turned tearful eyes to his twin.

Her eyes were wild.

You never think about your own safety or how much you mean to us.

The unspoken statement hung between them.

"Sometimes, I wonder if you're even human," she whispered.

Subaru took one rattling breath, wrapped his coat around himself, and fled the room – feet pounding hard against the floor until he reached the door, threw on his shoes, and disappeared the way he had come.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Seishirou awoke with his arm thrown out to the side, groping for something out of sight. He yawned and frowned when he realized he was still feeling around his bed for another body.

A dream?

He sat upright in bed, rolling his shoulders and stretching his arms. Grinning lasciviously, he chuckled. A very good dream. He glanced at the clock and raised an eyebrow. After nine o' clock – certainly later than he usually awoke. Drowsily, he kicked off the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He got to his feet and stumbled – gracefully, mind you – towards the bathroom. The door was open and the tile-lined floor inside was cold against his bare feet. When he reached up to divest himself of his shirt, he found that it was missing. In fact, he realized, he was completely naked. He quirked a brow. Very interesting indeed.

He showered cold and was feeling more than awake by the time he finished. When he stepped out and grabbed a towel from the rack to dry himself off, he was surprised when something small and black fell to the floor. Snatching it up for closer inspection, he was more than a little surprised to find that it was a glove…one much too small to be his own.

"Subaru-kun," he murmured aloud, finding the match still dangling over the towel rack. An image of a deliciously naked boy flashed through his mind and the corners of his lips tugged into a very wicked smile. Not a dream, then. The memories were clear now.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Kanaye felt awkward and small as he walked through the gallant hallways of the place he has once known as home. It was one of the older houses of the district, and it retained some of the traditional fashion of a Japanese mansion. Yet, there were modern touches as well – state-of-the-art technology that refused to blend in properly with the rice-screen and wooden décor.

The pictures he passed did nothing to quell his nervousness. The once-upon-a-time story of a perfectly happy family mocked him from thirty-five millimeter film. His father's face had been reverent back then, not to mention much younger looking. And his mother had been alive, her lovely face in the photograph outshining even the shadows that licked at the paper. Despite the fact that their features were similar, Kanaye thought his own face was a poor imitation of his mother's.

At last, he arrived at the dining room. Hesitating at the threshold, he almost reconsidered his decision to face his father. But his hand slid the door open, acting on the will of his heart. A man was seated at the table, staring intently at him. This was the elegant businessman with slicked hair and polished shoes – this was the powerful man half of Japan was afraid to cross. This was the man Kanaye had spent the last few years desperately hating. Grudgingly, he settled himself on the cushion across from him, sitting upright and proper as he had been taught long ago. He looked straight into those gray, unsettling eyes.

He bowed his head after a while, staring at the polished floor. No words were exchanged for a while.

"Kanaye," his father finally began, breaking the silence like a gunshot. "Good day."

Kanaye chewed on his lip.

"Good day," he replied, shifting restlessly on his cushion. He began slowly, trying to quell his inner anger as he broached the topic, "I've been wanting to talk with you."

His father's jaw clenched, a flare of hope sneaking into his eyes.

"But I still hate you," Kanaye declared venomously, voice low and eyes dark. He had seen the hope seep into the man's eyes – seen it and wanted to crush it immediately.

His father, Shigure, nodded silently.

"Let us, at least, eat this lunch in peace," he begged. "I haven't seen you in so long, Kanaye."

Kanaye sniffed defiantly. All plans of being the perfectly composed son had flown out the window the moment he locked eyes with the man.

"I'm here," he breathed in a poor attempt to be controlled, "to settle things."

The man narrowed his eyes in confusion.

"What things?"

"Mashiro. I want you to stop using him as your lapdog," Kanaye bit out, raw emotion seeping into his words.

The man looked utterly surprised at the accusation.

"Kanaye, Mashiro stopped working for me years ago," he said seriously, letting the words roll off his tongue slowly.

"Liar," Kanaye spat. "He still checks in with you. He's told me this. Stop using him to watch me."

The man sighed and seemed to sink back into his seat.

"He does this of his own free will, Kanaye," he said in exasperation. "He's like a son to me, and he knows how much I – how much I care about you. There is no pay involved – only acquaintance."

"And we all know how you treat your sons" Kanaye hissed, eyes flashing. His shoulders started to tremble. "I know how you treat them."

That stung the older man. He flinched, eyes scrunching up and jaw pulling itself to force his mouth into the triangular shape of grief. The next thing Kanaye knew, his father was beside him, strong arms coming out like some tortuous play of a shield. They wrapped around him, and he jolted, memories of a long time ago coming back too fast.

"Let me go," he started, entering a state of half-hysteria.

"I'm so sorry," his father began, deep voice cracking like an old smoker's. "I didn't mean for your mother to go on that plane in my place. She did it for me. There was no way for me to know that it was to become the target of such a plot. So, your beloved mother – my wife – and Ryuzai's mother as well… It's all my fault."

"I don't care about that!" Kanaye yelled, cursing his own stupidity at losing his nerve and the correct command of his words. "It's what – it's what you did to me afterward!"

"I've prayed to every God of every fucking nation for forgiveness!" his father boomed. "I've given to every charity and every poor child I've come across, but what good does it do if my son – my own little boy – is incapable of forgiving me?"

"If I'm your little boy, why did you hit me? Why did you touch me?" Kanaye whispered. "I didn't ask to be some god-forsaken, washed up drama. I didn't want to be the simpering fool that stood in the corner, a textbook example of a kid gone wrong – a teenage girl's sexual kink."

Shigure was at a loss for words. "I was angry and grieving and you're so much like her" – the words sounded inadequate to even his own ears. He tightened his arms around the boy, remembering the times when those eyes of his had looked on him in total adoration – the times when Kanaye had allowed him to fly him like an airplane all over the house.

A loud knock on the door interrupted their thoughts. There was the distinct sound of wheels rolling over hardwood floor as the door opened and one of the maids entered. She blinked beady, black eyes at them and smiled sweetly.

"Am I interrupting something?" Her curls bounced as she spoke in falsetto. She smoothed out her kimono and apron and dragged the cart holding the food trays a bit closer.

Kanaye shot his father a wet-eyed glare and the man promptly let go of him, withdrawing his arms as if the glare had burned him irreparably.

"No," said Shigure, clearing his throat. "No, no. Please, come in, Makino-san. We've been looking forward to this lunch all day."

The maid stared long and hard at the tears Kanaye was blotting with the backs of his fists. Then, she turned her attention to her employer, a tiny devilish smile working its way onto her face.

"As you wish…Yoshido-sama."

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Kiyoshi had nearly walked into a lamppost after losing sight of Sumeragi Subaru. He didn't know why, but the urge to follow the boy was stronger than it had ever been before. He hadn't meant to come across him. He had merely been waiting for the light to change in order to cross the street, and then suddenly, the boy was there – rushing past him in a disheveled frenzy. The notion of replacement and the notion of cancellation had chased what little sanity he possessed all the way to the border of nonexistence, and he found himself wanting to wrap his hands around that smooth, white neck.

The desire was a throbbing insistency.

The necklace looped around his neck was throbbing, too. Beating like some kind of foreign heart, right where the cross lay against his moist skin. But that was ridiculous, because it sported the name "Seishirou," and certainly nothing named "Seishirou" could possibly have such a thing.

And to make matters worse, he kept tripping in his boots as he ran – kept tripping on his leggings, which had gotten too long again. Had he lost that much weight already? Hokuto was going to scold him again. Maybe she'd even cry this time. She'd cry and cry and Subaru's – no – Kiyoshi's heart would break again. Or maybe it wouldn't. Did he have one or didn't he? What was a heart anyway – in the romantic notion of the word?

His stomach was lurching and oh, he was ill. The sweat was cold and clammy – perhaps the effect of sleeping on the saturated bench in the rain. But what had he been thinking, really? Kissing Seishirou like that…was he out of his mind? The answer, he knew, of course, was yes, but that certainly didn't excuse his behavior. What had he been thinking? He'd been thinking of Seishirou's lips and of Seishirou's arms and how, in his life, he'd never ever kissed the man.

Most of all, he just wanted Seishirou. More than any Wish he'd harbored the past few weeks, he wanted Seishirou now.

He rushed through the streets, head throbbing in earnest. Distantly, he wondered if he'd make it to his apartment without getting mowed over by a car. He was certainly too delirious to discern if the signs read "Walk" or "Do not walk." A sigh of elation escaped his lips when he reached the building that housed his apartment, and another dizzy smile of victory crossed his face when he managed to squeeze his way past too many people to get into the elevator. And after steps – too many thousands of steps – he was at his door, jangling a key as he hurried to unlock it.

Once inside, he slung off the boots, not even having to untie them since they'd gotten so loose. He spun around and glided to the bathroom. This was a room he visited far too often as of late. It seemed he only got sicker and sicker. The more food he put into his body, the more trips to the bathroom he made. Vomiting was painful, throwing his muscles into violent discomfort. His clothes were victimized by the experience, and he shrugged the loose garments off with disturbing ease. He had to crawl in the shower to bathe. And he was too tired and disoriented, really, to notice the vast array of differences he should have noticed. He simply sat in the cold water, bony hands clutching the burning cross around his neck like a lifeline.

It wasn't until he completed his relatively new routine of mirror-gazing that he recognized the tragedy properly. The face glaring back at him was more delicate than usual – eyes much too wide, despite having the correct amber and green colors. His first reaction was traumatizing – his fist flung out and smashed into the glass because that child – that boy had to die. But he was so weak today, he only partially cracked the glass.

Ten minutes passed, and still the illusion didn't fade. Three hours ticked by, and the face in the mirror didn't elongate – the eyes didn't narrow. Kiyoshi finally looked away from the glass to stare down at coagulated blood on hands that he could have sworn had not been that small yesterday. He sat back on his rear then and simply stared in panic-stricken horror at his younger body.

Then, he threw back his head and screamed in a fit of the purest rage.

END.

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I know. Long time no update. Thanks for all the kind words – I'll now be using the review reply feature, since it's so handy. (Unless you want otherwise?) This was tentatively proofread by Berserker-M, but it is now in the process of being proofread by better people. (Sorry, Berserker!)

Love all of you dearly,

Tanuki