inkpawprints: (OTP)
[personal profile] inkpawprints
Work has been ... hellish lately. On the upside, it means I try to write more.


Nukume Dori 20
Rating: R, warning for sexual content

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 consented entirely."

"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 wanted 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 their bill. "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 with fluttering lashes. "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 gave a beautific smile. "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 armor 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 dialed 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 ..."


* * *


He arched beneath him, hot, wanting. Hazy with triumph and arousal Seishirou held Subaru down on the bed revelling in how the younger man shuddered, no longer the Sumeragi but pleasure made flesh helpless in Seishirou's grasp. He pushed deeper, riding the thrill of Subaru's moans, forcing himself to be slow even as Subaru looked up to meet his gaze emerald eyes bright with knowing--

"Even though they're always hidden behind your glasses, I can see your eyes are not like those of normal people."

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

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


Hungrily the Sakura surged sending Seishirou out of his thoughts. He blinked, belatedly realising that the body in front of him had gone limp dropping its book, and was now being swallowed by a storm of flowers. The petals glowed pale pink against the maboroshi's black and whirled with more violence than usual. Apparently the Sakura still wasn't happy with what he had done yesterday.

Yesterday ... closing his eyes Seishirou allowed himself a smile. Yesterday had been a victory. It had taken a lot of time and frustration but in the end it had all been worth Seishirou's patience -- and his bruises. Not that Seishirou had planned to goad Subaru into a fight, mind. More correct to say that Subaru had goaded him by repeatedly rebuffing Seishirou's manipulative efforts to seduce, especially after meeting that old man. Choosing that old man over Seishirou had simply been the last straw -- even the Sakurazukamori's patience had its limits. Besides, it had been profoundly irritating watching Subaru waste the Bet's time meddling with complete strangers instead of focusing on the only person who mattered.

So, they had fought. Actually it had been rather welcome. Subaru could throw a hard punch when angry. He could also be incredibly alluring, and Seishirou had surprised even himself during that fight with his determination to not only subdue Subaru but take him, either by manipulation or by force both of which Seishirou had tried and to hell with the Bet's rules. Hokuto was a sharp girl to have sensed that, even if she didn't know anything more and perhaps never would. Still, even in the heat of the moment such loss of self-control was unworthy of the Sakurazukamori so it was probably for the best that Seishirou hadn't gotten what he wanted then. Far better to have Subaru come to him willingly--

The flowers' susurration turned into a hiss. Seishirou told the Sakura to settle down -- I know what I'm doing -- and enjoy its meal. Though he himself should really get going ... lifting the maboroshi Seishirou stepped over the soulless corpse (what was it the man had done again? oh yes, not done, was going to do fueled by a sense of personal injustice and a reckless disregard for international relations) to retrieve the book and flip through to a folded page. Impressively the curse described there was written correctly making the book all the more dangerous, certainly too dangerous to return to its library, so with a flick of his cigarette lighter Seishirou set it on fire before dropping in the rubbish bin at the side street's mouth. With a last glance at the stars and stripes flag obliviously fluttering above the embassy walls Seishirou left. The parking on his van a few blocks away still had ten minutes to go.

His pager beeped during the return drive -- actually his pager this time, not the alarm he had set to intercept his target and which had so conveniently gone off with Hokuto. Seishirou didn't have to look to know what it was about. Humming a little along with the radio he sat back enjoying the drive in the fine day -- very welcome after yesterday's rain -- until he returned to the clinic. He had a good idea of what awaited him.

"Oh Sakurazuka-sensei thank goodness you're back!" exclaimed Michiko the moment Seishirou walked in the door. "I paged you but I didn't know if you were driving or if you couldn't hear your pager over lunch--"

"I was driving," Seishirou said calmly, even smiling a little as was appropriate for his Sakurazuka-sensei persona. He had put his glasses back on in the car. "Obviously I couldn't get to a phone while driving but I'm here now, what happened?"

There was a cacophony of barking and yowling from the back of the clinic. Michiko looked disturbed. "I'm not sure what happened but Yukari-san is in the surgery, she was frantic saying one of the dogs suddenly started vomiting blood--!"

"Oh dear." How inconvenient. This was why Seishirou generally preferred to do his real work outside clinic hours. Still, the benefit of having ready sakanagi targets around that few would question was worth it. "Stay here, I'll deal with it."

Michiko was already handing him his white coat. Seishirou thanked her graciously -- she was always so considerate -- and headed to the main room that was the surgery and examination room. "What's going on?" he demanded as he opened the door.

Yukari whirled to face him almost wilting with relief. She was standing by the surgery table and her hands and work clothes were streaked with red. Seishirou couldn't see what was on the table behind her, but the air stank of blood. Nearby through the open adjacent door the animals in the kennel area were in an unholy panic. "Sakurazuka-sensei! I don't know what happened, he was fine just a couple of hours ago but out of nowhere--"

It was impossible to hear properly over the din. "Quiet!" Seishirou ordered sharply. Immediately the noise from the kennel area died down, some animals even retreating to the back of their cages in fear of him. That taken care of Seishirou looked solemnly at Yukari. "My apologies for my long lunch. Let me see what happened."

Shakily Yukari nodded and moved away from the surgery table. Seishirou gave her a reassuring smile as he went to inspect the sakanagi's aftermath, which was messy to say the least. A small pool of blood covered the table surface bright red against dull steel. In it was a medium-sized dog lying brokenly on its side like a discarded toy and oozing blood from every orifice. The dog's eyes stared blankly up at Seishirou much like the man that afternoon had done. It would be interesting to see if Subaru would look the same ...


"Don't let go." Grey flames surrounding them and a warm hand against his heart-- "don't ever let go--"


"Sakurazuka-sensei?"

Seishirou shook his head clear. No. The ending he had seen Within Subaru was quite literally a different time (with a different person, part of him whispered). This was now, and even if it frustrated him not to remember that other life Seishirou refused to let it stop him from living today on his own terms. He would enjoy himself with Subaru, build up Subaru's hopes, shatter them along with Subaru's life at the Bet's end, and that would be it. Good thing he had escaped answering Hokuto's request. Deliberately Seishirou reached out and made a sombre show of inspecting the corpse, opening its mouth, prodding its chest, noting the lingering warmth in the glossy black fur. "There's nothing that can be done, obviously," he said over his shoulder. "I'll have to make a closer examination but it looks like there was a sudden onset of gastric dilatation volvulus, or--"

"Twisted stomach bloat." Yukari was nodding unhappily. "I've seen a few cases at my family's farm. But I didn't know that it could lead to bleeding like this!"

"It's rare, but it can happen in extreme cases," said Seishirou smoothly. "Here, see, the pressure in the pinched blood vessels ..."

Wide-eyed Yukari came up to look, listening attentively and nodding every so often to Seishirou's explanations which were sprinkled with more than enough medical logic to be credible. Seishirou was very adept at covering his tracks. Certainly he was no Setsuka, his mad mother and predecessor who had to be watched on every hunt, and even if there were still those in high offices who were nervous about the Sakurazukamori living out in the open, with a respectable job no less, they knew better than to say so. Being answerable to no one but himself and the Sakura had definite advantages.

Eventually Yukari was convinced and the surgery could be cleaned up. "Poor thing," commented Yukari sadly as she wiped down the table. "I know it's part of the job, but having pets suddenly die never gets easier. And now we have to tell the owners..."

"They should be called before they come expecting to pick up a healthy dog," was Seishirou's off-hand reply. He put the body in a thick bag; the blood had been quick to wash off. "Better bad news now than later."

He felt Yukari look at him. "You know, you're in a really good mood, Sakurazuka-sensei," she said, wondering.

"Hm?"

"You've been smiling the whole day. I mean, of course you're always smiling and good tempered at work, but today your smile feels different. Like nothing can affect you." She gave a mischievous grin to Seishirou's carefully neutral face. "Did something good happen with Sumeragi-kun?"

Usually when Yukari asked about Subaru Seishirou enjoyed stringing out the hints and double meanings. This time he didn't feel like sharing, even in jest. "You've just reminded me that I need to call Subaru-kun about dinner with Hokuto-chan tonight," he said cheerfully. Without warning he slung the bag of dead dog into Yukari's startled arms. "Take that to the cool room after you finish cleaning and don't forget to call the owners afterwards, all right?"

And with that he left.

The phone in the reception was busy. Old Michiko gave him a brief smile as she talked to whoever was calling. With Yukari pouting in the work room that left the kitchenette phone for privacy. The thought of hearing Subaru's voice after yesterday made Seishirou smile darkly. Picking up the handset he dialled the number to Subaru's apartment. After five rings however, the call went to an answering machine.

Slightly irritated Seishirou hung up and made himself some tea. At least, he thought it was his irritation but it could have been the Sakura which despite having finished its meal was still awake in his mind calling for more blood. Seishirou didn't have to ask whose. Be patient, Seishirou admonished, the game hasn't finished yet.

The Sakura hissed. It had been doing a lot of that ever since it started demanding Subaru's life now instead of leaving the time up to its Sakurazukamori. Rolling his eyes Seishirou mentally left the Sakura alone so he could enjoy his tea in peace, after which he called Subaru once more. Again, the call went to the answering machine. Obviously Subaru was out, but the question was what was Subaru out doing. Checking that the kitchenette door was securely closed Seishirou went to the little rectangular mirror on the fridge that Yukari had stuck back when she started working so she could do hair and make-up, and whispered a spell that turned the mirror into a window. The marks on Subaru's hands meant the image came immediately.

For a while Seishirou watched Subaru make his way around a supermarket with a list in hand presumably written by Hokuto given the pink paper. The young man wore a cream-coloured coat with a slight military cut that flattered his shorter hairstyle, and charcoal-grey narrow jeans accentuating legs that Seishirou wanted wrapped around his waist. At least Subaru hadn't found another stranger to get attached to. Letting the scrying go Seishirou wryly called Subaru's apartment again and this time left a message to meet in Shinjuku at seven o'clock.

The owners of the dead dog came over around three. Seishirou had been busy with a woman and her pet iguana at the time and so other than coming out to express his regret and sympathy he left Yukari and Michiko to deal with the crying as the corpse was handed over. They hadn't been happy about that, so afterwards Seishirou magnanimously gave Yukari some money to go to the nearby cake store and bring back something to lift the mood. It did the trick and the rest of the afternoon was filled with appointments, many rescheduled from the past two days when Seishirou had abruptly closed the clinic to go after his prey. Yukari did try where possible to tease again about Subaru only to keep failing as Seishirou loaded her with tasks and subtly supported Michiko's disapproval of her behaviour. Like Michiko Yukari had been hired as someone competent who wouldn't ask questions -- Michiko because she would never dare, Yukari because she was too self-absorbed -- but there were times when Seishirou considered shutting her up permanently.

Subaru arrived at the clinic close to six.

"Sumeragi-kun!" Yukari's welcome filled the reception in a way that made the customer's French Bulldog -- the last appointment for the day -- whine and lie down. The man who owned the dog seemed taken aback but then he saw Subaru and openly stared. "So good to see you but you should have come at lunch with your sister, did you get all your chores done?"

"I, ah, yes, thank you, Yukari-san." Subaru looked rather overwhelmed by her energy and his green eyes were huge. Those eyes, very predictably, turned to Seishirou who was working with Michiko at the desk. "Hello, Seishirou-san."

"Subaru-kun." The man with the French Bulldog was still looking appreciatively at Subaru, so Seishirou left him to Michiko and very deliberately went to Subaru's side. Unlike before, but, he didn't kiss Subaru in greeting -- they were beyond that now. There must have been something intimidating in his attitude as Yukari fell back and quiet. "I thought we were going to meet later at the station."

"I ... thought I'd come here early and help close up." Up close Subaru's cream coat showed to be double-breasted, with two lines of buttons and a belt at the waist. Those would have to come undone. Subaru was smiling but in a way that seemed somewhat uncertain, like he wasn't sure what had brought him. He glanced over at Yukari and the customer with Michiko. "Have I interrupted an appointment?"

Casually Seishirou dropped an arm around Subaru's shoulders and smirked at the expression that fell over the dog owner's face. "No, it's finished. Some paperwork and cleaning then business is over. Michiko-san, Yukari-san, I trust you can take care of that?" The two women responded yes. "Then I leave it to you."

He guided Subaru back to the surgery room. Once away from the eyes of other people Subaru noticeably relaxed, though there was still an air of restlessness about him. "What time did you get my message?" asked Seishirou as he shut the door behind them.

"Um, about four? I was out getting grocer-- oh."

Seishirou tasted tea. Subaru's lips opened, and he pressed against Seishirou warm and pliant. When Seishirou pulled away from the kiss the younger man's eyes were closed. "Hello," Seishirou said again, lowly.

Subaru looked up at him shyly. "Hello." His green eyes focused on something. "You should take those off," he said.

There were many ways Seishirou could take that, but the calm tone of voice didn't hint at any of the more interesting ones. "Take what off?"

Subaru tapped a gloved finger against the side of Seishirou's glasses. "You don't need these now."

"...ah." Reaching up Seishirou removed his glasses wondering what -- or who -- Subaru had seen. Irritatingly this gave Subaru the opening to slip away to the far side of the room room. Seishirou watched him go with narrowed eyes. "You know the same applies to your gloves," he remarked, placing the glasses on a nearby bench. Momentarily closed his right eye trying to imagine how he would have seen Subaru in that other life.

"Yes, but we're going out soon and there are people outside," Subaru replied. He unslung his bag and put it in its usual corner. "Did Hokuto-chan come at lunch?"

"She did. The two of us went for burgers and chatted about her trip. Seems she had a great time." Seishirou studied Subaru carefully across the surgery table. "She also knows what we did yesterday."

It was impossible to miss how Subaru stiffened at that, or how he paled. "Y-you told her?" he demanded, sounding slightly strangled.

"No, she figured it out herself. She's a very sharp girl, your sister. She hasn't said anything to you?"

"No, no, I didn't think -- I mean, I came home yesterday and she was cooking dinner but we just ate and talked about her trip and this morning she cheerfully said she was going out--"

"All she asked was whether you were all right and knew what you were doing," Seishirou cut in. He stepped towards Subaru only for Subaru to distractedly pace as well so that the surgery table was kept between them. "I told her yes and she seemed to accept that."

"Seemed?"

"I would think it's obvious she wants you to talk to her."

"Of course and I will it's just--" Gloved hands clenched and unclenched in nervousness. "It's just not something I'm ready to do yet," Subaru finished finally.

"Why not?"

Subaru flushed. "It's embarrassing!"

"Embarrassing? But you've wanted me for a long time, yes?"

The look on Subaru's face was deliciously red even under the cold white surgery light. "You've been Within my mind, you know the answer."

"True," replied Seishirou, not even bothering trying to hide his amusement at the other's discomfort. "But since you've mentioned that I'm wondering who you wanted: me, or the me in your head."

"... What?"

Slowly Seishirou began to walk around the table. "You dreamed of me for nine years, nine years which haven't happened yet as far as this world is concerned. Nine years which haven't happened to me." He raised an eyebrow as he came close enough to look down into Subaru's rigid face. "The dreams you've had since this life restarted, are they of me as I stand before you or as I was then?"

It seemed an age as Subaru stared at him. Then, unexpectedly, Subaru reached up to grip the back of Seishirou's neck pulling down so that their foreheads touched. "I love you," Subaru whispered forcefully. "Past, present, future, another reality, I will always love you and want you with me. And I want you with me alive."

He could feel Subaru's words against his startled face and all he saw was emerald. Seishirou smiled triumphantly over his racing pulse. "Good answer," he purred, wrapping arms around Subaru's waist. Green eyes widened but before anything could be said Seishirou shoved Subaru back against the edge of the table, bodily trapped him there, and kissed him.

Somewhere the Sakura howled. Seishirou told it to shut up.

The room was already too hot. Impatient, Seishirou undid the belt of Subaru's coat and began working on the buttons. Distantly he could feel gloved hands tangling in his hair as Subaru kissed back fierce and eager arching his body into Seishirou's, which made it all the more perplexing when the kiss was broken off-- "Wait, Michiko-san and Yukari-san, if they hear--!"

"Then you're just going to have to be very quiet," replied Seishirou, knowing he was being maddening. He had finally gotten Subaru's coat open and was now pushing it down and off to reveal a black long-sleeved t-shirt. He slid a hand underneath caressing skin for a moment before moving downwards under Subaru's jeans to apply some force there. Subaru gasped round-eyed and Seishirou gave a wicked grin. Subaru trying to keep quiet was going to be fun.

The cream coat dropped to the floor. Resuming the kiss Seishirou slowly overwhelmed Subaru with both hand and tongue until the only reason Subaru was still standing was because Seishirou was holding him up. It made him so much easier to maneuver onto the surgery table where just earlier a dog had bled its life out. A few irritating moments as Subaru's boots were wrestled off, then Seishirou could strip Subaru of jeans and underwear. Subaru shivered. "Cold?" asked Seishirou innocently.

Emerald eyes looked at him heavy with arousal. "If we're late for dinner I'm blaming you," Subaru whispered. "Your fault entirely--"

A small moan stopped the accusation. Massaging cruelly between Subaru's legs Seishirou simply smirked. "Then you shouldn't have come early," he replied, pushing Subaru back so that the young man's lower body hung over the table's edge. He opened his own trousers; he still had his white coat on.

Lubricant was easily on hand in a surgery. Seishirou didn't bother warming it before he reached for Subaru. The first touch of it made Subaru jump, but the second made him shudder and his breathing became short and shallow as Seishirou carefully worked him open. He was truly beautiful like this, Seishirou noted, all flushed skin and expressive green eyes but unlike those dreams Within Subaru's mind or Seishirou's own fantasies this was very much alive and real. He could have played for longer, but a whole day's anticipation had left little patience for drawing things out. Removing his fingers Seishirou took hold of himself, guided Subaru's legs up, and pushed in.

The cry elicited from Subaru was barely cut off. Dimly Seishirou registered it glorying in the tight heat and thrill of making love to his prey who was shaking to his core. Gloved fingers scrambled helplessly against the table, choked-off whimpers puffed the air ... holding Subaru down Seishirou began to move, forcing Subaru to match his rhythm and take him in. Another strangled moan on the edge of control gave urgency and Seishirou moved faster, leaning over Subaru one-handed as he grasped Subaru's erection and stroked without gentleness determined to break whatever willpower the Sumeragi was using to keep quiet. Unexpectedly he felt gloved fingers on his arm blindly climbing up over his shoulder to tangle in the lapels of his coat -- and then Seishirou was pulled down, Subaru stretching to catch him in a hungry open kiss where all moans were lost as they thrust together again and again, hard and fast, Subaru's legs locked around him to drive him deeper. Suddenly he sensed Subaru's breath break and still, the green eyes going wide as warmth spread between them. They sent Seishirou's already ragged breath to pieces shaking the last of his control and with a growl he gave a final shove into Subaru's loosening body. Ecstasy took him bright and burning; possessing his prey completely made him soar.

When he returned, Subaru was holding him.

His hair was damp with sweat. Subaru brushed it out of his eyes. Thoroughly satisfied Seishirou pressed his smirk to Subaru's smile and lingered there, the two of them catching their breath from each other, bodies still joined. Only when both their pulses had calmed somewhat did Seishirou reluctantly ease himself from Subaru leaving the younger man lying bonelessly on the table one leg bent and perched, the other dangling over the edge. Subaru turned his head following with hazy eyes as Seishirou fetched tissues from the bench. "Do you think anyone heard?" he murmured.

"Can't say. I didn't hear a knock," Seishirou replied, slowly wiping himself down. His clothes stuck to his skin as he rearranged them, he wondered if he had time to change before going out. "Here."

He held out the tissue box. Subaru blinked for a moment before accepting it with a self-conscious blush. With some effort he sat up and slipped off the table, steadying himself against its edge as he found his legs again. Seishirou smirked at the sight. "You're going to have an interesting talk with Hokuto-chan if she sees you walking like that."

Subaru winced. "Please don't say that." He kept his back to Seishirou as he cleaned himself, the modesty incongruous -- and in Seishirou's opinion, ridiculous -- with his earlier abandon. "Bad enough because of you I'm going to have to see her like this--"

In three strides Seishirou closed the space between them and reached around Subaru's chest. "You didn't stop me," he whispered into Subaru's ear. "You could have, you've done it before, but you didn't and I won't have your sister thinking I took advantage of you. Unless of course, you're saying I did?"

"No. Absolutely not. But this ..." He could feel Subaru shudder and warm in his arms. "I'm not used to having what I want. And I spent so long telling myself it was wrong to want this for so many reasons, it's hard to stop. Especially when many of those reasons still apply."

He held out a gloved hand turning it so that the palm faced Seishirou. Even up close the spell worked into the glove was hard to detect, intended as it was to conceal magic and only flare should the concealment be compromised. Seishirou had to respect Lady Sumeragi's efforts, even if they didn't work. "Your actions are your own so you shouldn't hesitate to claim them," he said quietly. This was a delicate act, listening and supporting in such a way to ensure Subaru's expectations were kept fatally aloft, while still being believable given Subaru knew full well he was the Sakurazukamori. Seishirou found it surprisingly satisfying. "After all you're not really sixteen-year old 'Subaru-kun' here."

"Then don't call me that." Turning in Seishirou's arms Subaru looked up to meet his eyes. "Don't call me something I'm not."

Seishirou was caught by surprise. There was a certain logic to the request though, and he had only himself to blame for giving the opening. "Very well, Subaru," Seishirou said. Smiled as if it didn't matter because well, it didn't.

Subaru wasn't finished yet. "I'd like to do the same with you."

Already half-turned to go Seishirou paused. Looked at Subaru again with inquiring surprise bordering on suspicion. The Sumeragi stood his ground. "I don't want there to be any distance between us. If you drop the honorific with me let me do the same with you. I-if you don't mind, of course," he added hastily.

Nine years which hadn't happened yet. Nine years which hadn't happened to Seishirou, and therefore put him and Subaru at the same age. Unsettled Seishirou realised that he had never actually thought about the situation like that before, but the way he was playing things meant Subaru's request couldn't really be denied, even if it was-- "Why would I mind? Especially when you're asking so ... openly."

He deliberately looked down reminding that Subaru was still yet to put his jeans back on. In a flash Subaru turned red and ducked his face away, hastily turning to retrieve his clothes looking adorably flustered which saved Seishirou from continuing the discussion. Though really, what was there to discuss? A little change in the way they spoke to each other, that's all it was. If it had to mean something then at most it meant ownership: he owned Subaru's heart, he had taken ownership of Subaru's body, now he was cementing his ownership of Subaru's mind. It wouldn't be long before he owned Subaru's death as well.

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. Hokuto's insight, always so sharp, threaded reassuringly through Seishirou's thoughts as he retrieved his glasses and watched Subaru dress. The Sumeragi was smiling, small and soft, like a glimpse of morning sun beyond a bedroom door. Happy in love and hopelessly vulnerable just as Seishirou wanted.

Everything was going exactly as he planned.

Subaru stood from lacing his boots. He was wearing the cream coat again though he had not buttoned it, and other than his disheveled hair and bright eyes looked perfectly respectable with no obvious hint of his recent ravishment. Before Subaru could say anything Seishirou opened the surgery door letting cold fluorescent light silently spill in from the corridor. Beyond, the rest of the clinic was dark. "All clear," said Seishirou.

Subaru breathed a visible sigh of relief. Fetching his bag he followed Seishirou out into the darkened reception area where Seishirou swapped his white work coat for a dark jacket and fetched keys and wallet. His jacket had a yellow Post-It note stuck to the collar. Seishirou picked it off and angled it into the light to read. "What is it?" asked Subaru.

Seishirou hid a grin, easy to do in the shadows. "Nothing," he said, pocketing the cheeky note ("Cleaned up but not touching the surgery. Have fun and see you on Monday!"). "Just Yukari-san letting me know something about work next week. Let's go, shall we?"

If Subaru had anything to say to this he kept it to himself. Switching off the lights Seishirou let himself and Subaru out then closed the door behind them leaving the veterinary clinic dark and empty. As they headed for his van Seishirou looked back at it, the shuttered windows, the locked doors, the shadowed letters of his name and and profession less a sign of business than the title of a stage play. Challenging as it had been to begin with, the performance and all its minutiae of staff and schedules had long gotten old. Ending it all with Subaru would be welcome.

Just exactly as he planned.


* * *


Fixated. Anticipation. Unsettled. All this and more the Sakura had sensed at some point from its Sakurazukamori ever since the hunt had been consummated with the Sumeragi, but far more worrying was the overconfidence. So certain was Seishirou that despite everything he could just dispose of the Sumeragi he could not see how deeply he was entwined, or how the want he acknowledged was more than simple sexual desire or ambition to possess. Even so, it was on this overconfidence that whatever passed as hope for the Sakura rested to avert disaster.

Humans measured time in days and hours. These were usually irrelevant to the Sakura but now it was being forced to use such concepts to see which would come first: self-discovery, or the Bet's end. As things were there was still just enough time before the latter that even with the Sakura still diligently blocking Seishirou's memories of that other life the risk of the former was unacceptable. Far better that Seishirou kill the Sumeragi as soon as possible but so far any attempts by the Sakura to achieve this had all been met with stubborn refusal. Seishirou's prideful sense of self, one of his greatest strengths, was now potentially his undoing. Should the worst happen the Sakura had one consolation: that such undoing would not be limited to Seishirou himself.

The Sakurazukamori had never felt profound emotion for anything let alone anyone before. The Sumeragi would find that fundamentally changing the Sakurazukamori's world had its consequences. Fatal consequences.

Two shadows briefly joined in a vehicle's closed space. The Sakura rustled restlessly roots gorged on the day's kill yet still hungry for more. One way or the other, it would have the Sumeragi's blood. Whether the Sakurazukamori would still be himself afterwards was another question ... but it was a risk the Sakura was willing to take.

t.b.c. - Annex Box
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