Tamiko Hironagi's pencil scratched across the paper as she worked on her trigonometry problem set. The routine work was something of a relief for her after the strange events of the past two days. Subaru's face kept appearing in her mind, making her wonder about some of the things he had said, and about her responses. He was a kind boy, and he really didn't seem to care what he looked like. To him, she was just someone else in trouble.
She wished she was worth the effort he was spending on her.
Tamiko glanced down at the paper. She had just made a stupid mistake, writing down part of the question instead of the answer. Her mind was wandering badly -- more than that, she realized, she was tired, her thoughts becoming dull and sluggish. She looked at the clock; it was only eight.
Well, she thought, it wasn't too unnatural. She had been knocked off of a building that day, after all. Why shouldn't she be worn out, mentally and emotionally? Tamiko pushed back her chair and stood up, closing her workbook. She would go to bed now and rest.
It seemed even more like a good idea after she had changed into her nightgown. She was growing cold and even more tired; her arms and legs felt leaden, barely able to move. Tamiko slipped gratefully between the bedclothes, her eyes dropping shut almost of their own accord.
Suddenly -- it could have been minutes or hours later -- a keening shriek brought Tamiko bolt awake. Her eyes snapped open and she saw, amazingly, the angry form of a large eagle, circling tight spirals around her, slashing with its talons at a shapeless, formless thing in the air around her. The thing tore itself away from her, making Tamiko wince in pain, and fled from the eagle, diving for the far corner of the room.
Then, it froze in place, and began to shrink in on upon itself. Wide awake now, with no hint of her earlier fatigue, Tamiko watched the creature writhe and twist in place as, slowly, it seemed to diminish. It went on for what seemed to be forever, until it recovered itself and came soaring back at her, diving and twisting to avoid the eagle, which came at it with renewed vigor.
Then, the eagle dove through the middle of the thing, and pain shot through every inch of Tamiko's body, fire licking along every nerve. The agony ended quickly, though, leaving her shuddering, arms wrapped around herself.
"I'm not surprised that you felt that." The voice was smooth and cultured, but completely devoid of warmth. The eagle soared across the room to perch on the wrist of the tall, handsome man that stood framed in front of the window. The look in his deep brown eyes was so intense that Tamiko barely recognized him as Subaru's friend, without his glasses.
"H-how did you get in here?"
"I don't know why Subaru insists on wasting time on you, but for now I will respect his wishes."
The eagle shimmered and vanished. Tamiko stared mutely; she had nothing that she could say.
"Subaru destroyed half of the ikiryo haunting you. He's very good at that, exorcising the demons of pain and hatred that plague people."
"H-half? Ikiryo? I don't understand."
"You have a real talent," he told her, the ghost of a smile flitting about his lips. "Very few people can attract so much hate against themselves from people who refuse to act upon it."
He chuckled softly.
"Do you know, I have never before heard of an ikiryo formed out of two people's combined hatred? Or of someone so incredibly foolish as to actually manage to summon forth an ikiryo against herself?
"Really, it gives me an all-new understanding of the phrase, 'too stupid to live.'"
He shook his head with mock sorrow.
"You are amusing, though. I find that a...rarity."
He smiled again.
"You will not find my methods as gentle as your counterpart no doubt found Subaru's. Then again, your crime is less forgivable."
The world went black around her, the room and everything in it seeming to shatter and fall away like the image in a breaking mirror. Pain exploded through Tamiko, not physical pain, but a deeper, wracking torment that shot through her soul...as if some part of herself was being violently torn away.
Then the world dissolved again, in a shower of cherry blossoms.
-X X X-
"Hokuto-chan. Wake up, Hokuto-chan."
She wasn't sure if the voice or the hand gently shaking her shoulder woke her, but she opened her eyes to see Seishiro looking down at her.
"Sei-chan? What happened?"
"You fell asleep on guard duty, Hokuto-chan," Seishiro told her, chuckling softly.
"Eh? I would never do such a thing!"
"Oooooh, Sei-chan, you're not telling me something!"
"Well, let's go pick up Subaru-kun. He's done so much on this case that we should treat him to a first-class dinner!" Seishiro shamelessly changed the subject.
"Yes...Subaru must have been successful in exorcising the person who created the ikiryo; you could feel it dissipate as he did so. I'm sure you would have noticed...if you had been awake," he teased.
Hokuto snorted and folded her arms over her chest. She hated when Seishiro ducked out of her questions.
-X X X-
Hokuto could not sleep that night. She tossed and turned in her futon for nearly an hour before she gave up, rose, and threw on a fluffy robe decorated with capering kittens. She left her apartment, crossed the hall, and entered Subaru's home. Brother and sister kept separate apartments for the sake of independence, but that separation was rarely respected by Hokuto. The fact was, she often worried for her gentler twin. He had the compassion that suited his work, but she didn't know if he had the strength of heart to witness all the shades of evil that an onmyouji had to see.
Subaru was still dressed, sitting at the window, looking out at the city with a cup of tea sitting untouched in front of him. Hokuto picked up his jacket, which he had left lying on the floor, and hung it up.
Sisterly intuition, she thought.
"You shouldn't treat your clothes like that, Subaru," she reproved. There was no real force behind her words; it was only a way to start the conversation.
"I'm sorry, Hokuto-chan," he said, turning his head.
She hadn't seen him look that empty in ages, perhaps ever. Hokuto came and stood behind her brother, slipping her arms around his neck, hugging him. She caught a glimpse of the reflection in the window, two faces next to one another with identical emerald eyes. She wondered again what quirk of fate had created two mixed twins who shared one face.
"What's wrong, Subaru?" she asked gently. "What is it about this one that has hurt you so badly?"
He didn't answer for a long time.
"I didn't do any good, Hokuto-chan."
"You saved Tamiko-san's life twice. You dispelled the ikiryo, and it would have kept trying to kill her until it succeeded. You helped Yuri-san to come to terms with her feelings."
Hokuto watched Subaru's eyes in the window. They didn't change.
"Why, Subaru? Why doesn't that count for anything?"
"It won't change anything about the future!" he suddenly wailed. As if a wall had been broken, the emptiness crumbled away, to be replaced by pure, naked agony. He pulled out of his sister's arms and turned in his chair to look up at her.
"Tomorrow morning, Yuri-san and Tamiko-san will go to school, and what will happen? People will look at Yuri-san and they will turn away from her just as they always have! She has a wonderful talent, Hokuto-chan, and no one cares! And what about Tamiko-san? She's in so much pain every day, and no one wants to help her, because all they see is their image of her, the angel or the cruel temptress. It will go on, and on, and on, just like it has in the past!"
His gloved hands clenched tightly around Hokuto's wrists, and now his eyes were clouded by tears. His head dropped, chin sagging to his chest.
"Oh, Subaru..." Hokuto freed her hands and hugged him again. "No one will care, you say?" She tipped his chin up to look at her, then gently turned him to face the window. "Don't you see someone?"
The lips of his reflection turned up in a faint smile.
"We do what we can, Subaru," she told him seriously. "That's all anyone can ask."
She ruffled his hair playfully.
"Now get to sleep, Subaru! I arranged for Sei-chan to pick you up after school tomorrow. We can't have you yawning through your Saturday-afternoon date!"