December passed, winter moved into spring. Despite the terrifying computer glitches that had nearly shut Tokyo down, its citizens bought them, used them and became attached to them. In short, the world had returned to normal after a hectic winter.
Monou Kotori walked along a tree-lined street on her way home from school; the sakura were just hinting at flowering. In another week or so, the whole city would be bedecked with pink petals and picnics. She was looking forward to going to a blossom viewing party with Sorata.
Turning a corner, she waved to a neighbor before stepping beneath the Togakushi Shrine's gate. She called her hellos as she slipped off her shoes, and smiled to hear three voices call back. Kotori crossed into the living room and immediately dropped down beside Sorata and hugged him. Her father smiled behind his newspaper. Even little Arashi's dour expression softened. They had tried to be reserved when they'd started dating; they wanted to appear mature and worthy of parental (and brotherly) approval. But Arisugawa Sorata was anything but reserved, and after two or three dinners at the Monou house, he'd given up the charade entirely. Father didn't seem to mind at all.
Kotori looked around the room. "Where is oniichan?"
Father gestured to the kitchen and Kotori hid a sigh. Sorata patted her shoulder and she excused herself.
Fuuma glanced up from his homework as she walked in and smiled. "How was school?"
"It was all right," she replied with a big smile. "The teacher gave us two chapters of Genji to read though." She busied herself getting tea for everyone. She found the pot and cups on the drying rack near the sink; Father must have washed everything after breakfast. The family had almost forgotten they'd owned such a thing. Kamui had been so good about keeping the kitchen spotless.
They had fallen back into their usual roles, eventually, after he was gone. Kotori didn't miss Kamui because he had done the dishes and cooked and kept the house clean. The three of them had managed well enough before the luxury of a housekeeper; they managed well enough without one. And Sorata sometimes helped her with her chores on Saturdays so they could go catch a movie.
Kotori missed Kamui because of what the loss had done to her brother.
Outside the house, Fuuma was the same as he'd ever been; responsible, polite, hardworking and considerate. If anything, he did more now, with nothing to distract him. But left to himself, he withdrew. Kotori, Sorata and Father had gotten used to not having his company unless they asked for it.
"I remember reading that." Fuuma said as he looked back down at his math problems. "Didn't like it much."
The kettle boiled on the range and Kotori spooned tea leaves into the ceramic pot. "The grammar is so haaaaard." She deliberately whined to get a reaction, a laugh, anything. But Fuuma appeared not to hear as he jotted down numbers on a scrap paper. Her brother's presence in a room did not always guarantee participation.
And all they could do was wait for him to stop grieving.
The kettle started to whistle just as a knock sounded on the front door. Kotori turned off the flame and hurried to answer the door; she got there just before Sorata did.
"Good evening, Monou-san, Sorata-san."
Sorata's face broke into a huge grin. "Hey, Nokoru-san!" He stepped back so Kotori could invite the boy in. "Long time no see!"
Nokoru slipped off his loafers and bowed to them both, offering Kotori a cake box. The box, ribbon and gold embossed logo all looked very expensive. "Thank you, Imonoyama-san," she breathed, a bit embarrassed to have such an important guest with the house in less than perfect shape. "I was just about to begin dinner, would you like to join us?"
The blond boy's fan showed the characters for "humbly decline". "I'm sorry, I can't stay long. He gestured behind him. A limousine was parked in front of the gate, and to Kotori's mortification, the neighbors had come over to take a look. "I have a few appointments on campus tonight," Nokoru continued. "But I had some news I wanted to deliver in person." He smiled, all boyish innocence and charm. Kotori had only met the boy genius once before, but she had liked him immediately. Sorata often teased her at how easily Nokoru made her blush with his genteel manner.
"Is your brother here, Monou-san?"
"Nokoru-san?" Fuuma's voice answered him before Kotori had a chance. The older Monou sibling came to stand beside her. "Haven't seen you in a while." Kotori saw the wariness in her brother's eyes as he looked their guest over. After hearing the whole story, she knew Fuuma and Nokoru weren't friends, but to lose what camaraderie they had had was unfortunate.
Nokoru's fan now read "happy to see you!", the boy's blue eyes sparkled over the edge of the fan before it disappeared. "It's been a busy few months, Monou-san." He clasped his hands behind his back. "Suoh and Akira both ask after you."
"I'm fine, thank you."
Sorata snorted loudly. Kotori poked him as Fuuma rolled his eyes. Nokoru didn't miss any of it, but he was clearly too well mannered to say anything. "They'll be very happy to hear that," the boy replied smoothly. "They would have come with me, but they need a chance to recharge. They've been sorting through data for months now."
Kotori tilted her head to the side. "Data?" Nokoru nodded, his smile as sweet as ever, but he watched Fuuma like a hawk. "What kind of data, Imonoyama-san?"
She couldn't have put a finger on what changed in the boy's smile, but it was decidedly more cunning. "The Imonoyama zaibatsu received a considerable amount of data from the government a few months ago; all copies, of course but nonetheless it was very interesting.
"Subaru-san also sends his regards, Monou-san."
Kotori gasped at the name, looking to her brother, who had paled considerably. "You don't mean.."
Nokoru's eyes danced and by the way he fidgeted, it seemed he was almost ready to do the same. "It took some negotiating to get what was requested, naturally." The boy stepped back and pushed the door open again.
"But I believed it was worth it."
Kotori saw the tousled brown hair and large violet eyes and both hands flew to her mouth.
The persocon stepped into the foyer, looking down at the floor shyly. Kotori could barely see her brother's stricken expression through the tears flooding her eyes.
"We made a few modifications to his appearance," Nokoru said softly, and Kotori saw the huge white ears had been replaced with subtler, more human-looking ones. "But he has all his memories, Monou-san."
Fuuma reached out with a shaking hand to touch the familiar, perfect face. "Kamui?"
Kamui looked up slowly, and smiled as he pressed a hand over Fuuma's. "Hello, Fuuma.
"I've missed you."
And so ends four years of work, procrastination, tweaking and patience.
I want to thank everyone who's stayed with me while I've written this fic. Your reviews have come in far more regularly than my chapters have come out, and I'm grateful to have kept your attention for this long. I started Chapter 18 with the intention of just getting the fic finished; I've gone through long periods of apathy with this story, and I finally just decided "okay, fine, I'll just give them anything and be done with it." As I wrote the Epilogue, I started to remember why I liked this fic so much, and so now finishing it is much more happy and satisfying. I apologize for the sometimes bumpy characterization, plot holes and places I could've worked harder.
But all that aside, I hope you all like the ending, and again, thank you for reading.