Konnichiwa! I know it's been a long time (I actually had time to forget how to use the site). Thank you, Lady Error, Midnight Leo and Raquelle, for your encouraging comments. Were it not for them, this story would probably have remained near the bottom of my priorities for a while longer. But don't worry: I promised I would finish this fic and I will. But I didn't specify when, did I? (Mwuhahaha).

The story is becoming more complex and serious, and having to juggle with all the various elements in order for everything to fall into place seems a bit daunting. Throwing in the Twenty Masks element has not simplified matters. Plot has never been my strong point (though by fanfic standards I suppose it's not bad, if you take into consideration that fanfiction is the kingdom of Absolutely‑No-Plot). But after the past months of playing the story in my head on and off, I think I'm getting there.

Chapter 9 - Seventh Anniversary

Suoh felt uneasy, standing before his older brother's tomb. Yet how many times, in the past seven years, had he thus stood here, wearing black clothes, watching the white lilies on the grey stone, yet with a peaceful heart?

Seven years already. Only seven years. Suoh didn't know which it was.

To the Japanese, the seventh anniversary of someone's death was the most important. Was that why, this time, it almost felt like it had only just happened? Was that why the grief and bitterness came rushing back, bringing pain to his heart?

Or had his serenity been recently shaken?

Over the last years, Suoh had felt so sure. So sure he would not suffer his brother's fate. So sure he'd be happy. His family liked him. His friends loved him. All were nice and considerate. All showed him respect, and he had felt free. He had had fun and laughed. He had studied and felt interest for things. He had felt alive, everybody's equal. His brother's story was sad, but it had no direct connection with him. It would not happen again. Not to him.

Why was that crumbling? Why was he suddenly worried at even the slightest fissure in the way he envisioned his future?

-Suoh. We are going back.

His mother's voice, impatient. She did not like being here. She hated remembering, except to praise her deceased son, the one who had given his life for his One, exemplifying the Takamura's spirit of sacrifice. But here, in front of this tomb, you could not smudge the truth, you could not remember only what made you feel well. This tomb was crude as death itself, yet not as cruel as the life before it.

He followed his mother silently, wishing someone other than his family knew about his older brother. The Takamura thought in a Takamura way. They rarely showed their feelings, when they had any. Nagisa-san had known, of course. That was what had linked them together from the moment they had set eyes on each other: the bittersweet comfort of shared grief. But Nagisa-san now lived far away, and Suoh did not wish to contact her. Why wake up the pain that had finally gone to sleep? Suoh wished Nagisa to be happy, far from the memory of the Takamura.

Of course, nagged a voice at the back of his mind, he could at least have told his two best friends, Nokoru and Akira. They both thought he was the eldest of his brothers. Which he was, now. But not from the start. Why had he never told them?

It had never mattered, he realised. He had been too busy being happy to dwell much on the past. That was a good thing. But what was it that kept him from telling them now?

Somehow, the thought filled him with dread...