Chapter 7


"You're late."

From the entry way, Tokoyo made a noncommital noise in response and slid his shoes off. Hiroki, sitting on the floor at a low table in the main room of his apartment, made a face at him as he stepped up into the room proper.

"I do have other things to do you know," he pressed.

"I have a new acquisition. It requires special handling and I've had to oversee every aspect of its processing up until now." Tokoyo crossed the room and seated himself across from his brother. Meeting Hiroki's perturbed gaze, he added, "I've been awake for the last seventy-two hours."

Hiroki rolled his eyes, but punctuated the expression with a good-natured smile. "All I wanted was a 'sorry', I didn't ask for your life story."

"It would take longer than that to tell anyway." Tokoyo pulled his sweatshirt over his head and dropped it on the floor next to him, then did the same with his shirt.

While his brother stripped, Hiroki laid his hands out on the top of the table. Tokoyo didn't appreciate being forced into conversation during his visits, but it was the price he paid for his brother's help. Hiroki enjoyed forcing his siblings to talk to him, and his elder brother was especially resistant; baring his teeth in a small smile, he reflected that that resistance just made it more fun.

Naked from the waist up, Tokoyo laid one arm out on the table, palm up. Hiroki winced as he looked it over, and then looked up at his brother's chest and stomach.

"The new weather patterns are not improving your health." He stated the obvious for both of their benefits--for himself so that he wouldn't appear to blame Tokoyo, and for Tokoyo so that he wouldn't have to make an excuse. "Your condition is decaying at a more accelerated rate than normal."

Tokoyo didn't bat an eye at the pun. "I've said as much in the last few weeks."

"I know, but I don't want to let you think you're in charge here." Hiroki smiled playfully, but he knew Tokoyo recognized the bald truth in the statement.

"Anyway, your coloration is speaking volumes for what's going on beneath the surface." Hiroki ran his fingers down the length of his brother's pallid forearm. It was tinged with green, cold and clammy to the touch; the network of his blood vessels formed a lurid piece of lace-work beneath his skin. No wonder he always wore long sleeves. Hiroki looked up and inspected his brother's face critically. "Have you been wearing make up?"

"I can't show up at work looking like this." Tokoyo raised his arm off the table top and then let it fall back into place with a thud.

Hiroki smirked at the thought of the reactions his corpulent brother would get if he did. "So, how low have you got the temperature in your compound down to?"

He had intended the question to be rhetorical, but looked up sharply when Tokoyo answered, "Ten degrees."

"Celsius?"

"Yes."

"You had me worried for a minute." He laughed. "How is it you manage to keep employees working in that refrigeration unit you call a laboratory?"

"I pay them exorbitant salaries."

Hiroki smirked and reached for a wooden box he kept under the table. Setting it beside his brother's arm, he opened it slowly and began to sift through the contents.

"We're going to have to come up with something more permanent," he said, thinking aloud. "Better medicine than what I can do on a weekly basis. But it would take some time to plan. I mean, it would take nearly two weeks just to get a pass to get the herbs from the green houses, and that's even with you pulling strings to make it process faster. And then they'd have to be prepared, which could take up to a month, and the ink would have to be made...."

"I've found another option."

Hiroki didn't look up from what he was doing, though his fingers clenched spasmodically, breaking the fragile glass vial he was holding. A thin green liquid seeped out onto his hands and stung in the cuts on his palms and fingers.

"What would that be?" he asked in irritation, trying to pick glass out of the cuts.

"Do you need help?"

He snarled. "I don't think there's anything you could help me with."

"So now you show your fangs."

Hiroki looked up. Tokoyo's eyes were half-lidded and as he gazed at his brother through his lashes, Hiroki had the distinct feeling of something unspeakable peering out at him. His own eyes narrowed. The silence between them stretched out like an immortal, sapient thing; the air vibrated and the temperature in the room seemed to plummet.

"We're not as different as you think," Tokoyo said. His voice seemed to come from far away.

Hiroki felt a shudder go through him and in response a burning rush of fury that was both alien and comforting. He reached into the box on the table without looking and pulled out a packet wrapped in thin cloth, which he set on the table.

"Mix this with milk. Drink it tonight, and again tomorrow night. If you get a cut or bruise, add a little water to make a paste and smear it on, then bandage it. I'll see you next week."

Tokoyo slipped the packet into his pocket without looking away. His eyes were like shards of ice that Hiroki's charisma could do nothing to melt. For the first time, he allowed his brother to dress and leave in silence.