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Nukume Dori 20 [Hokuto]

She looked fantastic. The fitted blue tailcoat over the short puffy skirt, pin-striped stockings with her favourite patent leather buckle-shoes (heels, of course), the jauntily set hat, it all came together to declare confidence and style. Such an outfit was enough on its own but it would get a boost with a good entrance which was why she was restlessly watching the windows of the clinic. It took close to twenty minutes but at last she saw Seishirou come out into the reception area accompanying a customer. Her cue given Hokuto took a deep breath, released it, then determinedly crossed the road to open the door. The cat bells tied to the handle jingled.

"Welcome to the Sakurazuka Veterinary Clinic - ah, Hokuto-san!" That was Michiko, warm and smiling as she stood behind the reception desk. There was a cage on the desk holding a bright green parrot. "It's been a while, did you have a good tri--"

"Ee, Hokuto-chan!" With a squeal Yukari abandoned the shelf of bird supplies and came over to greet her. "I haven't seen you in ages you look amazing as always where did you get that coat?"

Head high Hokuto bestowed the clinic with a smile. "Good morning everyone! My trip was fantastic, thank you for asking Michiko-san, I can already ski on the proper runs! My coat I got in Harajuku we should totally do a shopping trip sometime, how have things been here?"

"Oh, same old, same old, dogs, cats, birds, but we did get a monkey a few days ago! Where's your brother, he's not with you?"

"Subaru's at home, I came back to find he hadn't done any housework whatsoever so now he's making up for it." Hokuto spoke laughingly but she kept one eye on Seishirou who while still with his customer had certainly seen her come in. "You'd think he could have at least separated the trash and taken that out but nope. I mean, really, what could have kept him so busy he couldn't even remember basic chores?"

The customer was being passed to Michiko now. "Better ask Sakurazuka-sensei about that," Yukari advised, grinning as the man himself came over.

"I just might." Hokuto flashed teeth at Seishirou though the expression could just as well been aimed at Yukari as well who, much as Hokuto liked her, occasionally had to be reminded that there was only one girl allowed to tease Subaru about Seishirou and it certainly wasn't the clinic's junior employee. Yukari's grin slipped. "Actually that's what I came over for, to see if I can steal Sakurazuka-sensei for a catch-up lunch. You are free, right Sei-chan?"

Finally addressed directly Seishirou smiled in welcome. "And hello to you too, Hokuto-chan. It's lunch break so I'm certainly free, what were you thinking of?"

"Burgers! Not McDonald's, I read there's a new place in Roppongi all done up like an American diner, I say we try that."

"All the way out in Roppongi? That could take some time and I don't know if I should be gone that long--"

"Since when have you cared about long lunch breaks? Come on!" Briskly Hokuto took Seishirou's arm, and, with some tugging, made the man take off the white surgery coat and hand it to Yukari. "There, officially off duty. Grab your keys, Sei-chan, I'm starving!"

"Hai, hai."

Ruefully Seishirou went to fetch his jacket. He was indulging her, Hokuto knew, but that was fine. As Seishirou returned to go Hokuto gave a small bow to everyone including the customer who had been watching the whole exchange in bemusement. "Thank you all for letting me borrow Sakurazuka-sensei, I promise I'll return him properly. Until then, bye bye!"

Michiko, Yukari and the customer waved farewell, all three looking vaguely intimidated. The parrot squawked. "Itterasshai. Itterasshai."

So that was the opening round done, then.

* * *

The burger place Hokuto had been talking about was busy with the lunch hour rush. It meant a short wait filled with catch-up chat until she and Seishirou got a table, but that was fine because busy meant a crowd and a crowd meant privacy. A level of privacy. They'd still have to be on their best behaviour.

"Thank you for your order, please understand that our burgers are made fresh so there may be a wait until it's served," said the young waitress, her welcoming expression almost as artificial as her blonde wig and uniform cap. "I'll be right back with your drinks."

Hokuto was pulling off her gloves unconcerned either way about the drinks. "Take your time, " Seishirou said with a kind smile, "we're not in a hurry and you look like you use an excuse to slow down. Ganbatte, ne?"

The waitress stared at him, then blushed, then bobbed a bow looking a lot less artificial than before. She left with a spring in her step and Hokuto watched Seishirou watch the waitress go noting how his eyes were cool. "That was naughty, Sei-chan," she accused playfully.

"Eh?"

"Flirting with the waitress! Now she might have a crush on you and while that's great if she brings our food quickly if she slips her phone number in with your plate what are you going to do then, huh?"

Seishirou laughed. "I'd hardly call being nice to her flirting."

"She might not see it that way. Teenage girls are sensitive, everything in and around us is changing and yes, sometimes that means losing common sense when handsome men are nice to us."

"Us?" Seishirou raised an eyebrow at her. "Hokuto-chan, you're the last girl in the world who'd go silly just because a handsome man is nice to you."

"That's because I've been hanging out with you too long." Two tall glasses of cola each with a straw and a scoop of ice-cream appeared on the table. The waitress beamed as Seishirou took his drink with thanks and an obvious relish. Hokuto pointedly ignored her. "That and looking after my brother."

The waitress left. Seishirou paused mid-sip. "Do you think Subaru-kun has lost his senses with me?" he asked.

"He's in love with you." Stirring her drink Hokuto winked. "You should know that losing your senses is what happens when you're in love, right?"

"What are you saying, Hokuto-chan."

He hadn't taken the bait to banter. Maybe for once they were going to drop their usual play acting. Hokuto took a deep breath. "I want to know whether or not you took advantage of Subaru yesterday," she said bluntly. "I want to make sure he was all right."

The lunch crowd noise filled the space between them, loud and meaningless. Seishirou's smile had turned strange and Hokuto wasn't sure if she liked it. "I recall a conversation last year when you said it was fine for me to seduce Subaru-kun if he was okay with it," he said at last.

"I did say that. But even though he's grown up a lot Subaru is still pure-hearted: for him to fall in love with someone is to do so unconditionally, to the point of losing all sense of reality and becoming weak."

"And you think I took advantage of Subaru-kun's weakness?"

Images of Seishirou kissing her brother, her brother's mouth opening in complete submission-- "I don't like thinking it," Hokuto replied, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "But I do think you're capable of it."

"Really." The way Seishirou spoke made the word significant to at least three decimal places. "May I ask why you would think that?"

He seemed amused rather than offended. Hokuto hoped that was a positive sign. "I'm really happy that Subaru fell in love with you, Sei-chan," she said softly. "But there are things that make me worry, things that I don't get. Like how you're always kind and smiling to people but when they turn away you feel different."

"Oh? How?"

"You feel colder. Not only that, your eyes look colder. Even though they're always hidden behind your glasses, I can see your eyes are not like those of normal people."

It was impossible to miss how Seishirou's eyes narrowed at that. "And that's why you think I took advantage of Subaru-kun?"

"It's why I think you're capable of it."

Silence, except for the crowd and, briefly, the chatter of the waitress as she placed their orders in front of them. This time however she was completely ignored and after a moment she must have picked up on the tension between Hokuto and Seishirou because she quickly left. Eventually Seishirou sighed and picked up his cutlery. "I did not take advantage of Subaru-kun, on that I give you my word," he said calmly. "Subaru-kun knows what he wants."

"Were you careful with him?"

"Yes."

Hokuto mulled that over. Intuition told her that she could generally take Seishirou at his word, but her reservations meant she felt a lot better doing so if what he said could be corroborated. She had watched Subaru like a hawk last night and all of this morning, and while her brother had been quieter and more absent-minded than usual there hadn't been anything in his behaviour that set off alarm bells. Actually, if she was completely honest he'd seemed ... calm. Happy. And he had long ago admitted to her that he physically desired Seishirou. "Good," she replied, and meant it as she picked up her burger and bit down. Freshly cooked beef and onions with sauce deliciously filled her mouth. "Very good," she added after swallowing. She flashed a smile to lighten things. "I'm glad -- I mean, it's not like Subaru gets to attend health class since he stopped school!"

"Somehow I doubt school health class would cover homosexual sex," Seishirou replied dryly, dipping his fries in ketchup before eating. "So you're okay with what we did, then?"

No, but it was done, from all indications on Subaru's choosing, and she was going to have to learn to live with it. Eventually. "You know how long I've been wanting you two to get together," she said instead. "But I'll see once I've spoken with Subaru."

"You haven't spoken?"

"Not yet."

"Then how did you know that we ...?"

"Secret special twin power." Hokuto winked.

Seishirou laughed. "Ah, of course! Well, as long as you don't use it to tune in--"

"Sei-chan!"

Horrified by the very notion she kicked him under the table, or tried to anyway, which just made Seishirou laugh harder, and just like that the tension broke and they were back to their usual selves, madcap and unrepentant in the eyes of everyone who turned to see what the fuss was. Hokuto found herself grinning with relief and real delight: Seishirou may have become part of her life because of Subaru, but it was good to know that she and Seishirou had their own relationship which she genuinely valued. They were friends, he and her, strange friends who shared a penchant for dramatics, sharp jokes, good food and loaded conversation. Friends with one very special person in common, and in contention.

Hokuto hoped she would never have to use a knife on Seishirou.

They finished their burgers over a non-stop exchange of lighter topics that ranged from radiation effects and pop music to politics and fashion. "Yes you're allowed to judge people on their appearance!" cried Hokuto as the waitress silently brought the bill over. "How you present yourself to the world reflects who you are and/or how you want others to see you."

"But isn't that rather unfair?" countered Seishirou. "What about people not born with model good looks, or fashionably acceptable body shapes? Are you going to judge them for not being up to standard?"

"Judging people on appearance doesn't equate to valuing people based on their appearance. Besides, I'm not talking about beauty, I'm talking about confidence and individual style which anyone can have if they know how to dress for their own body."

"A skill more people should have," Seishirou observed as they put money on the table. He deliberately checked his watch. "And with that done, I should be getting back to work."

"Yeah, yeah."

They stood and left, Hokuto leading the way through the tables preening a little at how several heads turned to follow her. "Are you coming back to the clinic?" asked Seishirou as they exited the restaurant and headed for the carpark.

"Nah, I'm meeting friends in Shibuya. But I was thinking it's Saturday night we could go out tonight, you me and Subaru, say dinner and karaoke. Unless you and Subaru had your own plans ...?"

She took care that she asked casually, like the answer didn't matter. "Dinner and karaoke sounds good," Seishirou replied easily, and inwardly Hokuto breathed a sigh of relief. "You have just come back from a trip after all."

"That I have, and it's good to get back to our normal social routine! How about we meet at seven o'clock at the Shinjuku station west entrance? Since I'll go there straight from Shibuya I'll leave it to you to call Subaru from work and tell him. After all," she added with a cheeky smile as they stopped by his van, "we can't have lovers going a whole day without a sappy phone call!"

"Very thoughtful of you," said Seishirou. Then he raised an eyebrow at her. "You know, Hokuto-chan, you're taking this a lot better than I expected."

She blinked, the very picture of girlish ignorance. "What did you expect, Sei-chan?"

"I don't know -- anger, maybe?"

The smell of blood on her brother, obvious the moment she set eyes on him in the hallway. She had immediately known what it meant and been unable to stop the wave of emotion that had come over her, though she had hidden it well and Subaru had been too distracted to notice. The emotion hadn't been anger, but, or at least not completely. And she remembered what the boy from the ski trip had said about being mature enough not to let those feelings rule her. "Aw, come on Sei-chan, give me more credit than that," said Hokuto, teasingly averting her gaze. "Even if I was angry I'm hardly going to throw a tantrum. Besides, it's a perfectly natural development in a relationship, what's there to be angry about in that?"

"Because Subaru-kun is no longer completely yours?"

Hokuto stiffened. Forced herself to meet Seishirou's eyes properly again, bright emerald to cool amber behind panes of glass. "Subaru is my twin," she said, refusing to be intimidated. "He may have given himself to you but nothing can change the bond we share. Nothing."

Much to her satisfaction Seishirou inclined his head to her. She wasn't finished, but. "I do, however, want you to promise one thing.

"Don't take Subaru away from me. Don't take him somewhere I can't reach him. Please. Promise me."

Seishirou looked confused. "What makes you think I will take Subaru-kun somewhere?"

"I don't know. I think that you--"

Pip pip pip!

Hokuto jumped. Seishirou blinked behind his glasses, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pager. "Emergency at the clinic," he said, reading the screen. He seemed almost apologetic as he re-pocketed the pager and glanced at her. "Sorry Hokuto-chan, we'll have to continue later. I'll see you tonight at seven, all right?"

She let out a breath. Nice timing! she thought viciously at whoever at the clinic had pinged, even as she smiled beatifically. "Sure, sure. Seven o'clock, Shinjuku West entrance, don't forget to call Subaru, okay?"

He waved at her, already getting into the van. Hokuto waved back and kept at it as Seishirou started up the engine and pulled the van out of its space and away towards the carpark exit. Only when the van disappeared around the corner did Hokuto stop.

The carpark was cold. Hokuto's smile had fallen. She had generally gotten what she wanted out of her lunch with Seishirou but that had been a sour note to end on, one that played directly to her fear in a way that her armour of hat and coat could not deflect. Suddenly she no longer felt like going to Shibuya and enduring the cheerful ignorance of her schoolgirl flock, which was stupid really because she had dressed for going out and she didn't want to be by herself. Certainly she didn't want to go home where Subaru was still obviously distracted thinking about Seishirou and still obviously unwilling to tell her they had slept together, but then a thought struck. Leaving the carpark Hokuto found a pay phone and shut herself in the booth. She called one of her school friends first and gave a white lie that she wasn't feeling well and so wouldn't be joining them for shopping. It didn't take long even with the dismay and wishes to get better quickly, and Hokuto soon hung up to make her second call. Unfolding a piece of note paper from her purse Hokuto inserted her coins into the pay phone and dialled the number carefully written under the ski lodge logo. It took several rings all through which she held her breath, but eventually her call was answered.

"Hello, Kuzuki-kun? It's me, Sumeragi Hokuto. Hey, I know this is incredibly impulsive but I was wondering, are you free this afternoon to meet up for cake and tea? An hour's time, really? That's great! Okay, I'm in Roppongi right now, I can meet you at any train station that's convenient ..."

---------------

Feeling particularly accomplished today after spending literally the whole day in bed adding some 2,500 words of Seishirou being over-confident, which brings the chapter to a current total of 6,700+ words. Me and my inability to write short chapters, siiiiiigh
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