inkpawprints: (OTP)
[personal profile] inkpawprints
*peeks in*

Ah, hello. I'm not dead. Though there were some times I thought I might have been. Uh, I wrote something? It really shouldn't have taken this long, but there was a lot of travelling, work, some depression, and more work >.>

Previous chapter
Nukume Dori - Annex Box

"Oo~oh, one in Tokyo, one in Ginza..."

There was always music in here. It had replaced time so that instead of hours and minutes I counted songs instead. I'd long forgotten how many had passed.

"So they are, a tragedy, never meeting..."

This song, oh, I liked this one. Mid-range soprano right in my comfort zone with a few high notes to add challenge. The lyrics on the other hand were another matter. Sometimes it isn't a tragedy not to meet someone. Not meeting him would have saved me this heartache.

"...never meeting, oh~"

The music faded out and took me with it like foam on a cold ocean. When I eventually had thoughts again I heard chatting back and forth, as if I had fallen asleep in front of the television.

"--put in a random number and whatever song comes up you have to sing it!"

"What if you can't sing it?"

"Then you pay a penalty!"


"We-ell, apparently it's taking a sip of beer but since Subaru and I can't have alcohol ..."

You don't take a sip of beer, you scull a whole glass, I wanted to correct fuzzily, but I didn't. People often got irritated when I start lecturing how to run a karaoke session, which in my defence I only did because I love karaoke and sung regularly. Being stuck in a karaoke box for all eternity was taking things a bit far, but.

"--dangerous, but I do like the idea of Subaru having to do whatever I say."


"Sei-chan! Get your hands off my brother and go fetch us more soda! We can't sing on dry throats!"

"Hai, hai."

That being said, as personal hells go I suppose a karaoke box isn't that bad. Back in my home village students would talk about how the train station bathroom was haunted by a young man who'd died there either of cold because the bathroom was the only shelter he found one snowy night, or of a drug overdose after a midnight summer party depending on who was telling. I never really believed the story, but if I had to use the station bathroom I'd hope any ghost was stuck on the men's side and think how of pathetic it was to get stuck haunting a public toilet of all places. At least in my karaoke box I can distract myself with music and people singing instead of taking a shit.

"--dropped the honorifics?"

"We um, thought it was appropriate."

"Because you've slept together?"

Drunken salarymen letting loose after a long day's work, kids pretending to be pop stars, groups cheering on their musical and entertaining friends. Couples regaling each other with love songs and having quickies on the couch. Tonight's (today's?) distraction seemed to be a friends group having a catch-up, and by the sounds of things there was a lot to catch up on.

"I-I was going to tell you eventually--"

"I know. I also know why you didn't say before, so don't think you have to apologise."

"... Are you okay with it?"

"As long as it was your choice. It was your choice, right?"


A new relationship, by the sound of things. Good luck with that. Just don't be as stupid as I was with him ...

"Did you use protection? Oh don't look so mortified, I'm just trying to check that-- what?"

"There's something here. A spiritual disturbance."

"You mean a--"

It's never easy clamping down on bad emotions, but I've had enough practice and plenty of incentive. If this is my punishment for all eternity the last thing I want is to scare people off so they stop coming here. I liked to think I had become rather good at it, which is why it was an utter shock to realise that the two teenagers in the room were looking not through me, but at me. "How are you doing that?" I demanded stupidly.

The two teenagers stared. One of them was dressed like a particularly stylish Harajuku girl with a bright blue tailored coat over a fluffy skirt and a tiny hat perched on her pixie-short hair. The other was a young man in a black long-sleeved t-shirt and dark jeans, he had an arm stretched out in front of the girl and there was a piece of paper between his fingers. The two of them had identical faces and green eyes and couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen, but for people looking at a ghost were remarkably calm. "I'm sorry, we didn't realise this was taken," said the young man at last, glancing at the girl who had her eyebrows lifted. His voice was gentle and still pitched high enough that he had to be younger than his appearance. "We didn't mean to disturb you."

Incredibly calm, actually. Maybe they didn't realise what I was - I don't look like glass and I'm capable of interacting with the physical world. And I have been seen before by people too drunk to realise the random woman they invited to join their karaoke party turned up out of nowhere and is actually dead. These two teenagers weren't drunk, but then again I didn't exactly get a manual on the ins and outs of ghost-hood. "Well, you did," I said huffily, trying to act natural and alive. "This is our regular room, even if I dozed off you can't just come in and take it over!"

"As my brother said, we're sorry." The girl smiled at me. "The front desk probably messed up and we're sorry for intruding, but since we are here why don't we join you? More the merrier?"


The girl waved him off dismissively. "Of course, we have to introduce ourselves first! I'm Hokuto, and this is my twin brother Subaru. He doesn't sing much but I'm going to convince him otherwise. What's your name?"

"... Maya," I said warily. The girl -- Hokuto -- was warm and welcoming like a lamp in winter. "But I don't know--"

"Sorry for taking so long." The door opened letting in a tall man with dark hair and for a second my heart stopped. He wore glasses which was different but his stature, the confident way he moved reminded me so much of-- "Cola for Hokuto-chan, lemonade for Subaru and--" He saw me on the couch. "We seem to have an unexpected guest."

"It's all right," said Subaru quietly. The piece of paper he'd been holding had disappeared, I belatedly noticed. "There's no danger."

"So I gathered, but that doesn't explain what she's doing here."

The man's voice was pleasant and friendly enough, but his similarity and the way he looked at me like I was an stray dog made me defensive. "I should be asking why you're here--"

"Maya-san, this is our friend Seishirou. Sei-chan, this is Maya-san." Hokuto's eyes were encouraging but the smile she was giving was steely. "Maya-san had already booked this room which we didn't realise, but rather than arguing I thought we could all join up and make a bigger karaoke group. If," Hokuto added, glancing at me hopefully, "that's okay with you, Maya-san?"

I was being pitied, surely. What reason did these young people have to invite a single lonely woman into their fold? But I was sick of singing karaoke alone and if they really didn't know what I was ... "Can you do 'Diamonds' by Princess Princess?" I asked excitedly.

"Can I! I love that song!" Hokuto literally clapped in delight. "Let's sing it together!"

They really couldn't tell. Quickly I stood up restlessly smoothing out my skirt as Hokuto called up the track. She handed me the microphone which I accepted careful not to touch her fingers. The last person I touched here had shivered to his core and made his friends go home early. Already the song's opening lines were onscreen over a video of a woman sitting dreamily on some faraway beach. I took a deep breath and dived in. "Tsumetai izumi ni suashi wo hitashi ..."

'Diamonds' is a high energy song, with fast lyrics and an insistent bounce that leaves no time to think. Determined to show off I threw myself into the difficult passages and raked fingers through my long hair like a diva, making it clear to these people this was my turf. To my surprise I found Hokuto matching me with infectious enthusiasm, even harmonising in places. Fun, just like the song said, toe-tappingly so. By the time we reached the end I was grinning my head off and when the others bowed I gave a little bow. "So good!" gushed Hokuto happily. "I've been wanting to do that song for ages and Maya-san made it sound amazing!"

"That was wonderful, Maya-san." Subaru's voice was warm. "Are you a trained singer?"

"Hardly, this is just my party trick," I replied loftily. To tell truth while I probably could have done singing training I never could be bothered. I had enough natural talent to enjoy myself and impress people, and that was fine with me.

“Trained or not, that was great,” said the other man - Seishirou, I reminded myself. The more I used his name the less I would associate him with the one who left. He was sitting next to Subaru and had his arm stretched out behind the younger man's head. “You’ve given a hard act to follow but I’m sure Hokuto-chan will give her best.”

“Hey, why me again? You’ve only sung once and Subaru not any!”

“You seem to be having such a good time! Besides, I want to see if Hokuto-chan can pull off Japan’s first female lead singer for a rock band.” He was already pressing keys on the remote.

“Oooh!” Hokuto gave a glare that was too mischievous to be taken seriously. “A challenge, is it? So be it, Sakurazuka Seishirou-san, but you should know girl power always triumphs - Maya-san?”

She reached out to me and without thinking I accepted; the music was making my heart feel lighter than it had for ages. The moment we made contact I realised what I had done and froze, but Hokuto didn't react like there was something strange, rather, she gripped my hand tightly like she was about to take off bringing me along for the ride. And a ride it was, Hokuto leading with a great Maki Watase impression; she certainly had the energy for a pop star, and with her outfit and hairstyle would have been right at home in the middle of a stage. She even improvised some simple dance moves that she encouraged me to shadow until the two of us were striking poses like extras in a Madonna video and laughing at the end. "Thank you, thank you!" declared Hokuto, bowing to the room. "And thank you especially to Maya-chan for singing along!"

"Thank you Hokuto-chan for inviting me!" I gasped shakily. "I haven’t - I haven’t felt this way for ages!"

Hokuto squeezed my hand again. "Don't think about it. Do you want to sing again?"

"I certainly don't mind but..." I trailed off, glancing at the corner where Subaru and Seishirou were huddled talking in voices too low to overhear. "Shouldn't we let the others have a go?"

"Depends what they're talking about. Hey, lovebirds!" The two men looked up. I blinked when I saw that Seishirou's hand rested so as to caress the skin of Subaru's neck above the shirt collar. "Are you really discussing work here and now?"

"Sorry, couldn't help it," called Seishirou. "Something unexpected came up."

"Obviously. Have you finished or shall I sing some more with Maya-chan?"

"Hm..." Seishirou glanced at Subaru who gave a slight nod. "We're done."

"Great!" Hokuto gave me a reassuring wink before hopping over to the couch and shoving her microphone at Seishirou. "Your turn then. Sing something about love for Subaru!"

“Oh no,” groaned Subaru, and his blush was visible even in the karaoke room’s muted light.

“Are we still playing the game?” Seishirou asked, eyebrow raised as he took the microphone. Still clutching my own microphone I quietly took a seat on the sofa’s far edge.

“Yup! And even if you are an old man, Sei-chan, if you don’t know this song you’ve been living under a rock!” Grinning wickedly Hokuto cued up a track and gestured to Seishirou. “Come on, stand up!”

“Actually I think I’ll stay right here…”

I felt my eyebrows lift as I saw Seishirou drape his arm completely over Subaru’s shoulders, and the opening jaunty piano chords of ‘Ai Wa Katsu’ gave sound to mental pieces falling into place. So this was the relationship I'd been overhearing about earlier. I had heard of such couples of course but never thought enough to have an opinion on them either way, let alone known any personally. This first encounter here in our-- the karaoke room was odd to see, even bizarre. At the same time I couldn’t help being touched.

"Carry on, carry out, motomete ubawarete ataete uragirare ai wa sodatsu mono ..."

Seishirou sang well in a strong tenor though with more drama than musicality, exaggerating the earnest lyrics which he directed solely to Subaru. Embarrassed, Subaru tried to hide his red face but he was also smiling in Seishirou's hold, theirs the intimate body language of lovers who knew and welcomed each other. The young man blushed more than I would in his position, but otherwise their embrace was the same. Once I had had a man like that who sang like that to me in this very room. Once.

“Donna ni konnan de kujikesou demo, shinjiru koto sa kanarazu saigo ni ai wa katsu...”

The song finished. There were tears in my eyes.

"Uh oh." Quickly Hokuto - she had been watching Seishirou intently as if assessing his performance - came to my side to pull me into a hug. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean--"

"I-it's all right." Shakily I wiped my eyes. "It's nothing, don't worry ..."

A gloved hand briefly touched mine. Startled, I looked up to see Subaru kneeling before me. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," he said quietly, "but if you do, I promise we'll listen."

There was an amused sound from the room's far end. "Not the way I would have done it," commented Seishirou.

"Then it's a good thing we're doing things my way," Subaru returned mildly. He kept his eyes on me as he spoke, grave and empathetic. Like his sister's they drew me in; these were eyes I could trust. And they saw me so clearly ...

"You know what I am, don't you." Subaru nodded in a way that made me feel vaguely stupid. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Because we didn't know if you knew yourself," said Hokuto, still with one arm around my shoulders. She would have been warm, I'm sure. "It happens sometimes, and it can be a bad shock to find out."

"You've encountered others like me?"

"My brother is an onmyouji, it's his line of work. I'm support." Hokuto winked.

My shameful tears were rapidly changing into wide-eyed fascination. "That's amazing! A pair of sensitive siblings, I can hardly believe it." I glanced at their companion. "And him?"

From his lazy perch Seishirou chuckled. "I have a little ability in the area."

"More than a little." Subaru said wryly. "One reason I'm attached to him."

Three sensitives. Joined together not just by common ability but by love. I felt even more alone. "Did you pick my karaoke room on purpose, then? Because you knew I was here?"

"No, that was just coincidence," said Hokuto. "We really had no idea until you woke up. I hope it wasn't someone's bad singing!"

I had to laugh a bit at that. "No, no. It was--" The words caught automatically.

"It was us," Subaru finished gently. "We made you think of your own relationship."

He already knew. This unassuming, beautiful young man had a perception that was uncanny. "Yes. I had a relationship and it's because of that relationship that I'm here. It ... wouldn't bother you to listen to a lost woman's tale of woe, would it?" Subaru shook his head as did Hokuto. I didn't bother looking at Seishirou. Still, just beginning was hard especially since I had been silent for so long ...

"I'm immoral." The words pulled from me soft and raw. "I did immoral things with my boss."

Hokuto's half-embrace neither tightened or slackened, and that along with Subaru’s unwavering attention as he sat at my feet gave courage. "He was the head of my department at work. And married. I know, stupid of me, right? But there was something in his arrogant, cocksure attitude, I couldn't help falling for him. And he noticed me back, so we started talking. Afterwards we went for drinks. We slept together on the third date."

I paused there, trying not to get too close to the memory of that first night with him inside me and holding my breath for some judgmental reaction. Since one didn't come, I provided it myself. "The younger me would have been horrified at what I did. I come from out in the country with parents who raised me right, and all the TV shows made me think Tokyo was a horrible place. Yet three months after I moved here for work I was completely swept away not just by the lifestyle and shopping, but all the possibilities. Here in Tokyo, you can do anything you like.

"I thought I had it clear in my head with him. I knew from the beginning he had a wife and child, so I only intended to have a bit of fun and he thought the same. Eventually I'd meet someone to marry at which point I'd leave him behind, but somewhere along the way my feelings for him turned serious. His face, his voice, his cheerful personality ... it drove me crazy. I thought he was magnificent."

"You were in love," said Subaru, still gently. "You can't help falling in love."

Somehow I managed to give a smile; Subaru definitely knew what he was talking about. "Thanks. Yeah, I loved him, enough to overlook his smoking habit which usually I hate. We'd come sing karaoke here almost every day after work, just the two of us. He had an incredible voice.

"I never liked tragic songs about people who'd been dumped. I thought that those were pitiful women and didn't deserve my respect because I believed it'd never happen to me. Like everyone believes until they lose their own love." I glanced at the far end of the room where Seishirou was coolly keeping his distance, but held back. Maybe he'd find out someday, and maybe he wouldn't. I didn't need his respect anyway. "So I lived in a dream. I was hoping he'd leave his wife and marry me.

"And then one day, out of the blue, he said, 'Let's end it.'"

Hokuto's fingers on my shoulder tightened, just as mine did on the microphone I was still clutching. I thought of his crooked tie and the ugly hotel room carpet and wondered why other than his words I only remembered little things. "It seemed like the lyrics of a song," I said, trying to sound detached and failing. "He said it coldly without any discussion or warning and looked at me like I was a complete stranger. I knew then my life had ended. I, who had always laughed as I sang tragic karaoke songs now found myself like one of the girls in those stupid, stupid songs. The whole world must be laughing at me--"

"No." Subaru's soft voice was firm, and stopped my increasingly uncontrolled words. "No. Your pain and suffering is real, not a pop song. No one could laugh at you."

"We're definitely not," added Hokuto hotly. "For a man to just call it off like that - what a jerk!"

My eyes stung. Somehow I managed to hold myself to sniffling instead of completely breaking down-- "Is he a jerk, though?" asked Seishirou from across the room, whereupon I immediately tensed. "You said you got into the affair as a bit of fun and he thought likewise. It doesn't sound like you ever told him things changed for you so why he should have been serious in ending it?"

"Because it's the right thing to do!" Hokuto scolded. "Breaking up a relationship should always be done with respect and dignity no matter what the circumstances!"

"Ah, but what about his dignity? If he thought she was just fooling around with the affair then it would be strange for him to approach the break-up as if they were a committed couple: it would look as if he had been taking things seriously. For a man like him that would be a loss of face, especially when as far as he knows she doesn't have any serious feelings."

"He still didn't have to do it the way he did," Subaru quietly replied, and I felt immensely grateful. "There's no need to be cruel in ending a relationship, Seishirou."

"And if he knew even just as a suspicion about her feelings then he's a complete and utter bastard!" declared Hokuto with finality. "Oh Maya-chan, I'm so sorry this happened to you!"

Somewhat back under control I tried to smile. "You're so kind - maybe if I had had friends like you I wouldn't have... well. You know."

"We do, and there's no need to tell us how. But you had no one you could talk to?" Hokuto asked.

Forcing myself to go to work knowing he'd be there. Pretending to everyone that nothing had happened. Crying myself to sleep in a cold empty bed. "The worst thing about an affair is that it's a secret," I said softly. "And it's still a secret even when it's over. I couldn't tell anyone - he had a wife and child, and I was the other woman. Most of my friends were from work, and my parents would have been horrified. So I hid everything and smiled a rictus smile to the world while I fell apart inside. I thought the pain would end if I killed myself. Instead I ended up in one place my lover and I were able to let loose and honestly be together. The irony - I figured it was my punishment."

"So you judged yourself as immoral and guilty," Seishirou said. How on earth he had ended up with someone as sweet as Subaru I couldn't imagine. "You believe you deserve this."


"You're right," I replied simply. "I do believe that."

"Which is wrong because you absolutely don't," Hokuto huffed on behalf of the world's women. "Even though he was married he was likewise attracted to you and acted on it. You are not at fault, Maya-chan, and you certainly don't deserve to be punished by being tied to a room feeling despair for all eternity."

"Except feelings don't listen to reason," Subaru returned. Even now as he spoke he looked only at me with those beautiful green eyes of his. "No matter how many times you tell yourself that something wasn't your fault your heart will feel it is, and you can't move on. Some people never do." He took my hand again in his gloved ones. "But you're stronger than that, Maya-san. Even though you're in pain you take care not to frighten those who visit here and still manage to smile and find joy in song. You have not reached the end point. Because of this, you can continue and be reborn."

Something inside me was breaking. Not my heart, that was already broken, and not my will which had already shattered in a glass of vodka and pills. No, I realised, as my vision blurred, what was breaking under the sunlight of Subaru's words was my despair. After so long hiding everything I had not just been listened to, I had been heard. "Th-thank you," I whispered, tears released - there was no image to maintain now, and what was left of mine was drifting apart. "Thank you so, so much."

Subaru smiled at me, still holding my hand as I wept with regret and relief. Only when my tears began to calm did I notice that I could his see his gloves through my skin. "Oh. Does this mean -- am I...?"

"Yes. Don't worry, you'll be fine."

"Just try not to lose your way when you're reborn," added Hokuto warmly.

The twinge of panic I had quietened at their words. There was a growing light around everything, not the artificial glow of the karaoke box mood lights but proper light, like the early morning sun over snow I loved so much as a child. I hadn't realised how much I missed that. "I wanted to sing one more song for you, but I guess I can't," I said, still with damp eyes yet trying for a hint of my old flirtatious self. "You'll sing the song I wanted in my memory, right?"

"Of course, Maya-chan! What is it?"

"When Matsuda Seiko made her debut I was one of her very first fans. I bought all her CDs and loved all her songs but 'Sweet Memories' is one of my favourites. Something about the wistful sound about how sadness can change into, well, sweet memories. Which is appropriate but I also just really, really like the music." Hokuto nodded, her green eyes bright like Subaru's, and even Seishirou shrugged something that could be agreement. In the light I could almost see the bonds between them: the siblings, the best friends, the lovers. "You know, I'm really glad I sang with you tonight," I said softly. "What the three of you have together is so special, it was wonderful to be a part of it even for just a bit. You're so lucky to have each other. I hope it lasts forever."

Distantly Subaru gave me a smile. "So do I."

I returned his smile, or tried to. The walls of the karaoke room had gone and Hokuto, Seishirou and Subaru were rapidly fading into light. I felt there was a wind trying to lift me and, filled with nervous anticipation, I let it. Without looking back, I ran out into sunlit snow.

* * *

Soundlessly, the microphone fell to the carpeted floor. It held the eyes of all three of them for a moment before inevitably Hokuto had to speak. "Well," she pronounced heavily, "wasn't expecting that at karaoke!"

"I'm just glad she could be helped." Again, Subaru added to himself as he stood up, only to wobble as a leg exploded into pins and needles. Seishirou caught him of course. "Thanks."

"My pleasure." Seishirou smiled easily as he always did, wrapping his arms around Subaru and resting his chin on the younger man's head. "Another if unexpected night's work, and you did a wonderful job."

Hokuto gave him a Look. "Not much thanks to you though, Sei-chan. Didn't you once say you always supported the woman? What happened to that with Maya-chan!"

"Just offering another point of view. It takes two to tango, after all, and were only hearing about one -- but we're here for karaoke, not dancing! What was the song she asked us to sing? Get the remote, Hokuto-chan, I think it's about time that Subaru have his turn, don't you?"

"Seishirou ..."

"Ahaha ooh yes, Subaru, you're not getting out of this one!"

The songs used here are all J-Pop chart-toppers of the 1980s, and it was great fun trying to find them (I'm an 80s child...)
Diamonds by Princess Princess (lyrics + translation)
Ai Wa Katsu by KAN (lyrics + translation)
Sweet Memories by Seiko Matsuda (lyrics). Seiko Matsuda also did 'Who's That Boy' from the Tokyo Babylon Image Soundtracks!

Thank you all who are still reading, it means a lot! ^_^ I intend on moving this entire epic fic over to AO3 in the near future, but knowing me, when I read through all the early chapters I'm going to want to edit them!
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