She dragged him by the collar of his white robe, urging him to keep them covered. Every now and then he would whimper, complaining of pain here and there and reach for her like the lost child he truly was. His round face would twist in earnest injury, begging her to please, oh please forgive his mistake. He had not meant for it to happen, and it hurt – oh it hurt, but he was so sorry.
But his sleeves were long, and they covered down to his pinkish fingertips, so she said nothing for now.
She kept her head down all during the trip back, snapping at him whenever he revealed even the slightest sliver of skin. He curled about himself like some caged bird while she fretted over her stupidity once more.
Such a fool, such a fool – leaving him there by himself in the expanse of an unfamiliar city.
She hauled him inside the main house, ignoring the questioning expressions of servants and brushing Hokuto aside, nearly screaming as the girl tried to greet her brother with an overabundance of enthusiasm. She had to be harsh in ordering the servants to restrain the child, and Hokuto yelled obscenities that were entirely inappropriate for a nine-year-old. She demanded to know what was wrong with Subaru, a complaint that quickly raised the suspicions of all the people around. A quick glance at Subaru let him know he was to continue hiding his hands from view.
She ordered the female twin to be locked away in her room for now while dodging the inquiries related to Subaru. She truly hated it for Hokuto to be upset, but now – oh, Subaru was in danger of death. He was going to die if she did not act immediately. It was for the best that they were separated once more, if only for this brief time.
She pulled Subaru into a private room and locked the door behind her. Subaru was frightened, clinging to her robe and saying over and over again, "Obaa-chan, I'm scared."
She exhaled a heavy breath and dropped to her knees. Mournfully, she hugged the child close and willed herself not to cry. Smiling sadly, she rested a hand on the top of his adorable head. Caressing the baby-soft hair between her fingers, she reached inside her heart to find a state of eeire calm. Such was the discipline of an onmyouji.
"Give me your hand, Subaru-san."
The touch of his hand was a conflagration, searing into Lady Sumeragi's skin through flesh and bone and traveling like an electric current to her eyes, where she saw nothing but dark pentagrams taunting her with the fact that her only grandson would never be able to hold his sister's hand again.
Hokuto wormed her way in to see him after the second week. She ran eagerly to her younger twin, who sat on the corner of a bed that was much too big, wearing a nightshirt that dwarfed his tiny body. The sleeves hung down to his knees.
She crawled up and promptly nuzzled into him, showering him with the affection of a twin who had been away from him for a year. She kissed his cheeks and hugged his neck, but he responded with nothing more than the ghost of a smile and a quiet "Hello, Hokuto-chan."
There was something in his eyes that was dead, Hokuto thought. She made a humming noise before deciding on the best method to cheer him up.
"Let's go outside!" she suggested cheerfully, looping an arm around his shoulders and steering him off the bed.
He looked at her dully before replying quietly, "Why?"
"To swing, silly! I've missed swinging with you, you know, Subaru." She spun in a dizzying circle. "Now, you need to get into some play clothes!"
"I'm not allowed to take this shirt off," Subaru murmured quietly, eyes flickering nervously to his sister.
Hokuto wrinkled her nose.
"Well, I guess that's all right," she condeded, "but that's silly because it's so dull and the sleeves are too long!"
Subaru averted his eyes.
Once they reached the swing set, Hokuto practically shoved her twin into a seat. Then, she stole the one next to him and gripped the chains. She kicked off with her feet, accidentally losing a slipper in the process. She laughed boisterously as she swayed backwards and forwards; then, she noticed that Subaru was not swinging.
"Come on, Subaru! You're not just gonna sit there like an airhead, are you? Swing!"
Peripherally, she noted Subaru raising his arms hesitantly. She let go of her chains once she reached her high peak and sailed through the air.Landing acrobatically on her feet, she ran quickly to take her place behind her brother. She chuckled mischievously as she began pushing him forcefully.
"I'll push you, Subaru – don't worry!" she declared, only distantly registering his panicked cries. He was usually such a baby when it came to having fun.
She heard a painful yelp and then her hands were pushing at air.
"Subaru!" she gasped, staring at the heap in front of the swing. Subaru had fallen face-first into the gravel ground below. "Oh, no!" she shrieked, hurrying to his side. "Subaru, I'm sorry! I didn't think I was pushing you that hard!"
He sobbed pitifully, awkwardly stretching out his arms and struggling to get up.
But there was something horribly wrong in the way he was trying to brace his weight on his hands. He could not seem to get up. Eyes glistening with morbid curiosity and a mixture of deep-seated dread, she reached to grab his hand.
Hokuto screamed, too.
"Subaru..." she breathed, slowly rubbing the nub at the end of his arm in disbelief. A quick poke at the other revealed a similar space. She wailed and gathered her twin in her arms, shoving back the abnormally long sleeves until rounded bandages were revealed.
"Where are your hands?"
Somewhere, the smell of dead flesh lingered.