This has been in production since...mid December, and only now is it lucky enough to be finished and to see the light of day. I didn't intend it to be as long as it turned out, but...Tokyo Babylon isn't Tokyo Babylon without Seishirou flirting and social commentary. I hope that I portrayed the times in this accurately, and I will happily change it to what is accurate should I be wrong.
Hokuto rubbed his hands together gleefully as he watched the sun just beginning to creep over the horizon of Tokyo, sending the buildings into startled relief against a sky tinted rather like the outfit he had prepared for his dear little sister.
It was quite the stunning dress, long enough that Subaru wouldn't flip out at the slightest breeze, short enough to show off white leggings underneath that emphasized well-toned legs and in a bright medley of cerulean, fuchsia, mandarin orange and thin strips of scarlet and gold fabric down the carefully pressed creases.
And he knew it would fit his twin, because everything that Hokuto made for her did.
He crept out of his apartment, and to the one next door, sliding the key into the lock as quietly as he could.
There were no lights on inside, which led Hokuto to throw a fist in the air in silent cheer, sending the long wings on his sleeves fluttering in translucent green, rippling not at all like butterfly wings do, but still stunning in an eye-catching way. It was so hard to get up before his little sister did, mostly because Subaru was always determined to do her duty for all of Japan, even if it meant not sleeping between jobs because she had to prepare between them.
Hokuto was always trying to get his dear twin to take some time off, but that was easier thought than done.
He carefully held the masterpiece of a dress off the ground, and crept along the floor, careful to not make the boards creak.
The door to her bedroom was slightly open, and it was easy enough to slide it open to see Subaru curled up in her polka-dotted pajamas, eyes scrunched tight and a frown pulling the space between her eyebrows down.
Hokuto crawled back from the door just as quietly as he'd gotten there, and stood up once he was a safe enough distance to not make too much noise.
The dress was carefully laid over one of Subaru's chairs, bright fabric lighting up the plain room by sheer power of color alone, and Hokuto began to open up the cupboards to try and find a decent breakfast in their contents.
There was, as usual, a large amount of tea in varying flavors, and, also as usual, very little that was actually edible. There was one box of food that Hokuto distinctly remembered being from a month ago, some aromatic meat that Subaru had eaten half of and then promised to eat the rest for breakfast.
Sei-chan would be so disappointed to know that Subaru was not taking care of herself again.
Hokuto frowned and shut the refrigerator with more force than needed, the slamming sound echoing through the apartment. Then he cringed.
Perhaps very fortunately, Subaru's only response in suddenly waking up was to make a soft noise in the back of her throat, seemingly not annoyed. Hokuto sighed quietly as he walked over to the open door of the room. Subaru was never annoyed at any of his accidental noises. His little sister seemed incapable of getting annoyed by his antics.
Which was good for his matchmaking efforts, Sei-chan would have had so much more trouble without Hokuto inserting his nose into every denial that Subaru made, dissecting it effortlessly into a tangled mess that usually ended up with the two (or three if Subaru got too flustered to handle herself) going out.
The girl yawned and some of the frown vanished from her face, smoothing out into a face that stopped hearts and brought joy with every smile. And one of those angelical smiles indeed lit up her face as she met the eyes of her brother. "Good morning Hokuto-chan." she greeted, her voice husky from sleep.
Hokuto grinned back, impishly. "Good morning Subaru." he greeted, not using an honorific in return. Then he set a frown on his face, winged sleeves swooping dramatically as he planted his hands firmly on his hips. "You need to eat something other than tea this morning." he said with no room for argument. "Get up, I already have your clothes set out."
He strode away from the door, the tails of the wings ghosting in the air with all the agitation of their owner's causing them to flutter rather more violently than needed.
He may have heard a thump that was Subaru failing to extract herself from the blankets securely, but resisted the temptation to make sure that his little sister hadn't hurt herself, and instead went straight for the telephone standing on its base demurely, and picked it up.
Hokuto knew the number very well by now, and it was only the work of a moment before it was ringing merrily. "If you aren't awake, I will be very surprised." he muttered to himself, and his knowledge of the recipient of his call proved flawless once again.
"Yes, this is the Sakurazuka Veterinary Clinic." a smooth melodic voice greeted, the owner of whom never failed to send Subaru into a fit of blushing.
Hokuto grinned. "Good morning Sei-chan." she greeted the effervescent woman. "Do you have any appointments this morning?"
The voice on the other end became much more sincerely pleasant. "Ah, good morning Hokuto-kun." There was a flipping of paper in the background. "No, I'm free until this afternoon."
Subaru poked her head out of the doorway, black hair still tousled from sleep, and Hokuto pointed at the dress draped elegantly on the chair. The girl grabbed it carefully, taking a moment to gape at the coloring. Which was really what he had expected anyway, so he was only pleased by her surprise. "Then you should come have breakfast with me and Subaru." he said to the woman, who was waiting patiently for him to get to the point. "She's back at the point where mold is the only edible thing in her fridge again. Despite all my efforts to make sure that she remembers to do such things as go shopping."
There was a slightly put out, but mostly amused huff on the other line. "There's a parlor that opened up about two weeks ago, on the outskirts of Shinjuku. I've heard their sweets are quite good. Shall we go there?"
Hokuto grinned at the air. "Come get us in ten minutes." he ordered, and he hung up as Seishirou's laughter died away, barely catching the farewell in the air. Then he went to go check on his sister.
Subaru had the dress mostly arranged properly, but she was struggling with the zipper at the back, which looked like it had caught on some of the lovely deep pink he had found. Hokuto stepped in to the rescue, freeing it up in a moment's work. "Sei-chan's taking us out to breakfast in ten minutes." he informed her as he pulled the ruffles straight so that they hung down properly. He noted that Subaru had indeed added the leggings, and that it had exactly the effect he wanted.
Subaru spun around, her face already lighting up spectacularly. "But, doesn't she have to work?"
"Apparently not." Hokuto replied flippantly, inspecting his work from the front. "And you don't either, so just let her treat us."
Subaru's blush did not decrease at all, and her gloved hands flew to her face, the black fabric making the colors of her dress stand out more. "Hokuto-chan." she said in what could be construed as a whine if she weren't so nice. "Seishirou-san does have to work, she can't drive us around the city all day."
Hokuto put his hands on his waist again, staring at his lovely, but quite dense little sister. "Sei-chan likes doing it. Don't ruin her fun."
Subaru followed him meekly to the door out of her apartment, where she stopped to snatch up the bag that contained her ofuda and pager, and anything else it really was best to have on hand. It didn't quite go with her outfit, but Hokuto could let that slide since she did take her job very seriously.
Too seriously, in fact.
It was part of why he found it so important to make sure that Subaru and Sei-chan had as much time as possible together, because Subaru was, even if only for a short time, able to forget everything she'd been taught about being the head of the family and being an onmyoji and all of that and just be herself.
They were down the stairs, and waiting on the sidewalk, Subaru hiding shyly in the shadows as much as possible from everyone who glanced at her in her bright colors. Hokuto felt the temptation to very gently shake a little sense into her, why would she be in such colors if not to be shown off? But a blink of bright green eyes and he caved in, letting her be.
Sakurazuka Seishirou's dorky van pulled up exactly at the time that he had specified, and the driver of the van smiled out, her grin warm and welcoming as she slid the back door open for the two of them.
"You look very pretty this morning Subaru-chan." she said as Hokuto got himself situated behind the driver's seat, clinging to the edge of the seat as if the car were about to take flight.
Subaru blushed as she carefully arranged the skirts so that they wouldn't be caught by the door, buckling herself in with a loud click before clutching her bag to her chest, which was probably a good safety method considering the woman's driving skills. "Ah, thank you Seishirou-san." she said at last, accidentally meeting the warm amber eyes smiling at her in the rear-view mirror.
Hokuto leaned over as the veterinarian threw the car into drive and into traffic with all the care for space as a bubble. "So Sei-chan, I'll need your honest comments. Does Subaru look better in bright colors or dark?"
They both jumped as Seishirou swung into the next lane with careless precision, somehow avoiding every barrier in their path. "I think Subaru-chan looks beautiful in everything you dress her in." the woman said with a pleasant purr to her voice. "I think Subaru-chan is beautiful."
Subaru, straight on cue to such a complement, blushed a fiery red, hiding her face behind her bag with a lack of distinctive success, considering the way that the veterinarian braked hard for a red light, and then whipped into a left turn with the precision of a well-trained cab driver.
Hokuto ignored the flaring pain in his shoulder from smacking into the door, and grinned impishly at the woman, watching amber eyes that flicked up occasionally to the rear-view mirror. "Well it's good to know that my efforts to get certain people to look at her aren't going to waste, isn't that right Subaru?"
His little sister blushed even more red, and then clung to the seat in front of her as the woman turned a corner that the van shouldn't have been able to make. "Hokuto-chan! P-please don't say such silly things!" she pleaded in vain, already knowing that it was completely futile to ask something as ridiculous as for him to not tease his dear little sister until she got the point?
However, he was unable to continue up on that point by another sudden turn and then Seishirou slowing down to turn into a parking lot, that while small, was already almost completely full. "Ah, it may be busier than I thought." the woman said with a sound of dismay creeping into her tone. "I thought it would be quieter since it was a weekday morning, and still early."
Hokuto reached over the seat and patted her on the shoulder with his uninjured hand. "The best laid plans of mice and men, neh Sei-chan?"
Subaru held her bag in her lap, and bit her lip in nervousness for a minute before speaking up. "It-it's all right if y-you still want to go in, Seishirou-san. I'm sure it's really nice." she said, the words coming out clearer as she got farther into the phrase.
And for that, she got a smile that was filled with an intense emotion, almost dangerous, before it softened into her usual fare. For that moment, Hokuto had a little difficulty believing that Seishirou Sakurazuka was exactly who she said she was. "Are you really all right with that Subaru-chan?" the words were low, and carried a hint of a double-meaning to them.
Yet Subaru missed it, and nodded with her fading blush. "Yes, it's fine."
Then all the tension from within the van vanished, and Seishirou was parking the car in the one available spot that could fit the van. "Be careful when getting out." she warned, perhaps unnecessarily.
Hokuto pushed the sliding door open, and glanced at the thin strip of pavement between him and the other car. "Are you sure you learned how to park so that the passengers can get out?" he called to the woman, who stood at the end of the space, looking somewhere between amused and bemused. "Cause I don't think there's enough room for my feet."
Subaru, perched behind him, glanced over his shoulder with trepidation. "I think we can do it, Hokuto-chan. Just...be careful." she said, sounding less certain than her words implied.
Hokuto handled this lack of confidence maturely, he stuck his tongue out at her, before hopping to the ground, finding that indeed, there was enough room for his feet.
Subaru glanced out, with her green eyes flashing in the early morning sunlight. Then she cautiously stepped down, one foot after the other, and inched her way out, the bright skirt dawning from between the two cars as she made it out.
Hokuto still made sure to brush off any dirt that collected. "Seriously Sei-chan," he lectured the woman who adjusted her glasses with absolutely no hint of remorse for her 'skills' at parking, "If you can't park or drive safely, you might get Subaru into serious trouble one day, and then where would you be?"
Subaru blushed and held the bag by her side as she submitted to the dress-brushing. "Ah, Hokuto-chan, it's alright. It's a really crowded parking lot, a-and Seishirou-san is a good driver."
The other woman blinked in momentary surprise, then a different smile spread over her lips. "Well thank you, Subaru-chan. I'm glad to know that." An impish twist to her lips had him knowing exactly where she was going. "Then we won't have to hire a driver to drive our honeymoon limo."
Subaru's bag impacted the ground with a sad thump as the owner blushed a furious red and buried her face in her hands. Hokuto almost cheered loudly, but settled for a thump on the back of the other woman. "It may be a good idea to do it anyway," he confided to the smirking woman, "so that way you can have your hands where you want them to be."
"H-Hokuto-chan!" Subaru's cry was almost louder than his comment, and he snorted at her.
"You know that when the two of you get married, that you'll be happier if she can put her hands where you both want." he informed her, and Subaru looked about ready to bolt, scarlet-faced and unable to conceal it with her bag.
Seishirou made a soft sound, and both of them looked at her. "As nice as it is in the parking lot, the sweets are inside the building." she said, and Subaru's look towards her was almost overly grateful for the interruption. "And you haven't even had breakfast, right?" she asked Subaru as the girl picked up her bag again, traces of her blush still lingering on the peaks of her cheeks.
"Ah, no." his sister replied, looking slightly embarrassed. "I haven't gone grocery shopping in a little while." She twisted the handles of the bags between her hands and averted her eyes.
Hokuto would have been annoyed if it weren't for Seishirou's next action; reaching out to brush her fingertips lightly against Subaru's cheek. "You really should remember to eat, Subaru-chan."
Subaru turned her face back to Seishirou's, and although he missed the look that went between them, there was something immensely satisfying about the exchange.
They reached the entrance with no more conversation exchanged, and Seishirou gallantly held open the door for Subaru, a fact that made Hokuto almost offer up a comment on the courtliness of it were it not for Subaru's shy smile that made such comments inappropriate.
The waiter who showed up was almost overly exuberant, and the sounds of the cafe mingled and twined together into a mindless blur of voice and energy. They were offered a tiny corner table with another chair pushed up to the side as a vague apology for being so crowded so early.
Seishirou scanned the menu from behind thin-rimmed glasses. "Do you know what you want, Subaru-chan?"
Hokuto watched as Subaru hurriedly snatched up her own menu, and did not miss the calculating gleam in the veterinarian's eyes. "Ah..." his sister began, "it all looks so rich for breakfast food. And expensive..."
He put his foot down, although not quite literally, and interjected into the conversation before Seishirou could make some comment of her own. "Subaru, it's something different. And Sei-chan's going to treat you, right?" he turned his gaze onto the amused woman, watching without comment. "Try something new for once, and don't be ashamed of eating something with thirty-seven times the sugar that you actually need; because you could do with a lot of sweets."
"I have to disagree with you," Seishirou's eyes sparkled mischievously from behind her glasses, "Subaru-chan is quite sweet enough without devouring too much sugar."
Subaru's menu was lifted as high in front of her face as it could go without seeming overly useless, but it did nothing to conceal her blush from Hokuto. "What have you picked?" he asked Seishirou, leaving his sister to hide in the chocolate baked goods. "I take it it's something sweet."
The menu was tilted enough that he could see it, and Seishirou's fingertip was resting against a chocolate cake with fudge sauce drizzled over it, fudge filling, a large dollop of french vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It was wholly decadent, the tooth-rotter of the century, and there was really only one appropriate response for the woman.
"Why are you choosing your breakfast from the dessert menu?"
Subaru peeped out cautiously from behind her menu as Seishirou laughed, her low voice easily cutting through the medley of sounds swirling around them. "None of the breakfast options were sweet enough." Seishirou said contently, "So I went and found what I want."
The last bit of her comment was said with her eyes resting on Subaru, but his twin missed that for once, and instead looked at Hokuto with big green eyes. "Do you know what you want to eat yet, Hokuto-chan?"
Hokuto accepted the topic of conversation being turned to him, and flipped through the menu briefly until he remembered what his breakfast choice was. "This." he said, indicating the hotcakes with chocolate chips sprinkled into it. "And I'm getting bacon on the side, like the Americans do." he explained to Subaru, who looked slightly baffled. "It's sweet without being tooth-decaying." He stared at Seishirou as if to bore the words into her head.
"What do you want, Subaru-chan?" Hokuto pouted at the woman as she ignored her effortlessly, and Subaru scrambled to grab her menu. Seishirou folded her own menu neatly and placed it under her elbows at the table as she watched Subaru's flustered energy with the intensity of a stalking cat.
Hokuto watched her just as much, to see the gaps in the weaving.
"Ah...I'd like to have this, if it's alright with you, but I'm fine with picking something else, something less expensive..." Subaru continued to babble as Seishirou took the menu from her to look at the selection.
"There's some sugar in it," Seishirou began, already singling out the most important part, typical Sei-chan, and continued, "There's meat, and carbohydrates, and some fruit. It's well balanced."
Subaru let out a shy smile as she was given the menu back. "T-thank you Seishirou-san."
Hokuto crossed his fingers under his chin, letting the tails of his sleeves dangle down to almost brush against the floor, and resisted the temptation to smirk with triumph.
This was helped by the arrival of a slightly harried looking server appearing, dressed in a suit that slimmed him down until he was only straight lines and awkward dark hair. "Have you decided what you would like to order?" he asked, seemingly capable of still focusing with two sets of bright green eyes and one of rich amber focused on him.
Seishirou took the lead as usual, "I would like your chocolate decadent cake." she ordered, the smooth syllables rolling off of her tongue with ease. The waiter wrote it down in thin strokes of a pen, Hokuto imagined the delicate kanji flowing down in tiny marks of ink, an unusual request for this time of day.
Subaru seemed to find herself possessed of a strange lack of ability to speak, and merely pointed wordlessly to what she wanted. A soft thanks was all that passed her lips as the waiter patiently inscribed her order.
"I would like the hotcakes with chocolate chips and bacon on the side." he told the waiter when his attentive head was turned his way, and didn't miss the bewildered glance tossed towards his arm hangings. "Do you like the butterfly wings?"
The waiter ignored him, but most likely out of lack of time as opposed to rudeness, as he bowed swiftly before trotting to another table and a less pleased customer. Hokuto caught a hissed reprimand towards the hassled worker, and an apologetic word combined with a request to please be a little more patient, they were all doing their best to make sure that all of their customers were happy.
Hokuto turned his attention back to the two women with him, neither of whom had missed the exchange. "Strange that it seems so understaffed for such a busy day." he observed, watching the only other waiter attempt to keep up with the other side of the parlor without dropping the dirty glasses delicately balanced on her tray. "Smaller places have more people for fewer customers."
Subaru twisted her napkin between gloved fingertips. "There could be a lot of reasons why there are so few people today. Like because they haven't managed to hire enough people to work all of the shifts yet, or because it's usually a quiet morning, and this is unusually busy for them."
Seishirou reclined slightly in her chair, letting the strands of black hair slide down her neck as she adjusted her glasses; her gaze never quite leaving his sister. "It could be any of them, or both, or something else entirely." she said enigmatically, "Who can say what the owners are like, since we haven't met them?"
Subaru opened her mouth to reply, then let it shut, incapable of explaining what she meant, or perhaps of comprehending her own thoughts.
Hokuto picked up the slack. "They could be stingy, or too poor to afford to pay more than two waiters at a time, plus cooks. Plenty of new businesses struggle before they have a steady enough client base to be able to afford such things as enough employees for an unexpected customer boom."
Seishirou turned her intense gaze fully onto him for the first time this conversation, and Hokuto smiled at the approving look in her eyes. "Yes, and with the price of land and supplies and food going up with the larger population in Tokyo, it's even harder for honest people to try and do something, let alone make a profit from it." Subaru drew out of her quiet state to watch Seishirou with her own intensity, focusing entirely on the things that Seishirou was saying to offer her own quiet comments to the whole situation. "It's hard enough for so many honest people that many of them go bankrupt from trying to make both a business and their own home meet ends. As cruel as it is on these two employees, the boom of business today means that there's at least one more day that this place can stay open."
"But it's still uncertain that they can stay open." Subaru offered gently, her eyes dark with worry for these nameless people working or not working as hard as they could to make this place work. "Even if today is really profitable, it could be only today, and one day isn't enough to allow them to grow enough to handle quiet days."
Hokuto smiled at his sister, and enjoyed the feeling of pride in her for managing to speak up and add her own wisdom to the situation. It was always nice when people slowed down enough to let Subaru find her own equilibrium and say what she needed or wanted to say.
So many people forgot that she was just as capable as any adult, until they saw her in action.
Which reminded him... "Subaru," he began, staring at his twin intensely enough that he could pretend that his gaze was boring through to claim her attention wholly and utterly. "Do you have a job today?"
Subaru immediately grabbed her bag almost defensively, before unclenching her fingers from the handles slowly. "Yes." the reply was almost a whisper and easily lost to others in the busy room.
"What is it today?" Seishirou asked with almost genuine curiosity in her voice, watching Subaru attempt to hide the beginnings of a flush of embarrassment beneath her bangs. "I'll drive you over when you need to be there."
Subaru looked up at her shyly. "It's out by the Diet Building, at about one this afternoon, but it'll be really busy right around then."
Seishirou's smile was pleasant when the glasses concealed any glitters of less altruistic purposes in her eyes. "That's alright. I won't have any trouble getting you there. I'll be happy to drive anywhere to get my dear Subaru-chan to where she needs to go."
Subaru's mouth fell open, and her face lit up a fluorescent red as she attempted to stammer out something that was either 'Thank-you-but-I-don't-want-to-take-up-your-time' or 'Thank-you-but-I-don't-want-to-make-you-go-out-of-your-way-for-someone-like-me-surely-there-are-more-interesting-people-around-than-me.' Either one made Hokuto want to drop his head into his hands and ask for the patience of an angel to deal with his little sister and her lack of self-esteem.
Seishirou brushed aside her stuttered protests. "It's alright, I don't have any appointments until later this afternoon, I have no problem with driving you to your job. It makes me happy that you let me do such a thing for you."
The words may have been emptier than he'd like, but they had their desired effect on Subaru, who gave up on protesting, and attempted to hide behind her bangs and her bag at the same time.
The same harried waiter who had taken their order before trotted up with three plates balanced delicately on his tray, and with deft, sure movements, he had them all set down where they needed to go. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" he asked, sounding breathless
Subaru gave him a grateful smile, and shook her head. "No, we're all right, but thank you very much."
She got a soft smile in return from the waiter, before he saw another of his customers waving at him, and dashed off to go see what they needed. Hokuto noticed the rather black look that Seishirou was giving his retreating back, and decided to sooth ruffled feathers before it all got out of hand. "You have to admit, Sei-chan, that it's impossible to look at Subaru without thinking that she's the most beautiful thing that the world ever made."
Seishirou stabbed her fork into the point of the decadent cake slightly harder than she should have, and Hokuto almost winced at the grinding sound of metal against porcelain. But she let out a breath and the nearly invisible shaking in her hand disappeared. "Yes, she is the most beautiful thing the world has ever made," she agreed, watching as Subaru picked at her slice of strawberry listlessly, a tide of pink over her face saying that she clearly wasn't missing a single word of the conversation, even if it was likely to make her more embarrassed than a normal conversation. "She's the kindest and gentlest too." Seishirou continued her complements around the tines of her fork, sliding off every smear of chocolate with the ease of practice. "She could have anyone in the world that she wanted."
Hokuto smirked as Subaru's ears got pinker, and she busied herself with pushing the food on her plate about even more, some of it making it into her mouth. "And she wants you, out of all the people in the world."
Seishirou's fork clinked against her plate, and the flash of disbelief hovered in amber eyes before swept away and concealed again under a veneer of a rather ditsy woman who nevertheless was smart enough to keep up with the Sumeragi head and her twin brother. "Me? A veterinarian, who's the same gender as her? Who has nothing to offer such an amazing girl what she deserves to have in the world? I'm really quite lowly compared to her, why would she want someone like me?"
Subaru leaped to speak before Hokuto could open his mouth. "T-that's not true, y-you're just as amazing, more amazing than I am! You're beautiful and strong and gentle, a-and amazing." Then she seemed to realize what words were falling from her mouth, and covered the bright blush that stained her face with her gloves almost immediately. A slight whimper of embarrassment came from beneath her hands, and Hokuto was sure that she was about ready to die of mortification for such concealed thoughts coming out.
Seishirou's smile was tender, and she watched Subaru shaking in her chair with a gentle look to her eyes. "I'm glad you see me like that." The words themselves were genuine, but he couldn't divine the meaning behind them.
Subaru looked out at her cautiously from behind her fingers, still unable to calm herself enough to reveal her face again. Hokuto speared a piece of pancake on his fork, and ate it while he waited for Subaru to remember that they were in a public place and that they were supposed to be eating.
Seishirou took what must have felt like the very heavy weight of her gaze off of Subaru, and returned it to her cake. Subaru shyly slid her hands away from her face, and began to again poke at her food, a tiny bite of strawberry vanishing into her lips.
A comfortable silence fell between the three of them, and although Hokuto was sure that he, or Seishirou, or maybe even his sister would begin another conversation before they left, he was content to let it sit and settle among them.
The hotcakes were really good.
Questions? Comments? Thoughts? I'd love to hear any of it.