In two different winters, a child is found in a tree by two different people.
Seimei paused. An old, large tree stood on the corner of their road; in summer its leaves were thick and dark, but now the branches were bare. Which just made it easier to see the figure balanced huddled among them.
"Ritsuka?" he asked incredulously.
His brother jerked his head up, managed to still the swaying caused by the sudden movement, and stared down at him in bewilderment. "Seimei!"
"Ritsuka, what's wrong?" Seimei asked in concern.
Ritsuka hastily scrubbed at the tear marks on his cheeks and managed a watery smile. "I'm okay, Seimei. Um, how was your club?"
"Ritsuka, please don't lie to me," Seimei said quietly, taking a step forward, eyes fixed on the small form huddled in the tree.
Ritsuka wilted under that gaze. "It was Mum," he confessed miserably.
Seimei nodded simply. He'd already known that. "How long ago?"
The tip of Ritsuka's tail twitched. "A couple of hours ago," he confessed.
Seimei considered his brother, who wasn't even wearing a coat. "And you're still up there? Aren't you cold?"
Ritsuka hunched his shoulders. "Yes."
"Ritsuka. Can't you get down?"
Ritsuka's ears flattened miserably and he glanced aside. Seimei waited patiently, letting him feel the weight of his eyes on him and his gentle smile.
"My wrist is sprained," Ritsuka finally mumbled, ducking his head slightly.
Seimei frowned. "Why didn't you run outside like I told you too?"
"I couldn't, to start with." Seimei saw Ritsuka shiver, even with the distance between them. "And when I could I did."
Seimei laughed lightly. "And then you managed to climb this tree? Ritsuka, you must have some monkey in you," he teased lightly.
Ritsuka peeked back at him, a small smile tugging at his mouth. "Seimei!"
"Don't try to move anymore," Seimei continued. "I'll get the ladder and help you down."
"It's okay!" Ritsuka said quickly. "I can probably get down, you don't have to worry-"
"Ritsuka," Seimei interrupted gently. "It's ok."
Ritsuka subsided back onto his branch, tail curling around the smaller offshoots. "Will you be able to carry it though?" he asked curiously, already loosing some of his hunted manner. "Isn't it really heavy?"
Seimei laughed, already walking away. "Have a little faith in your brother!"
The ladder was heavy but not unmanageable, even if it did leave scraped lines on the pavement. But he was able to manoeuvre it up so it was resting against the tree, with only a few meditations on the fact that someone taller and older could have managed it more easily. It was also cold, its metal frame soaking up the winter chill like a sponge.
The cold of its metal rungs even penetrated the gloves he wore as he climbed up to Ritsuka's perch. His brother gave him an apologetic look; he'd already lost the confidence he'd gained as they'd talked earlier. "I'm sorry I'm so much trouble, Seimei," he apologised quietly, staring down at his feet.
"You're my little brother," Seimei teased gently, reaching out to tweak the tip of one of Ritsuka's ears. "You're supposed to cause me trouble. Just not too much." Ritsuka giggled and offered him a shy smile. Seimei smiled back, pleased. Since Ritsuka had lost his memories, he had been the only one to get to see that smile.
"How should I get down?" Ritsuka asked. Seimei considered.
At last they managed to negotiate a way for Ritsuka to slide onto the ladder, back to the rungs and facing Seimei so he didn't have to worry about turning around. Then Seimei balanced Ritsuka in place, holding him steady as they edged their way down until at last they were on the ground.
"We should get home," Seimei said as soon as they found their feet. "It's getting dark."
Ritsuka paused and cast a concerned look back at the ladder. "What about that? It might fall over."
"I'll put it away later," Seimei replied carelessly as he wrapped an arm around Ritsuka's shoulders. "I want to have a look at your wrist first."
Ritsuka nodded, satisfied, and burrowed into Seimei's side.
The house was quiet when they got back. Mother must have exhausted herself with the fit that had resulted in Ritsuka's sprained wrist already and locked herself in her bedroom. Outside their bedroom, Seimei paused. Ritsuka hesitated too and sent him a confused look. "Seimei?"
Seimei smiled down at him. "It's alright. Go and get the first aid kit down and I'll be follow in a minute."
Ritsuka's ears drooped slightly. "Okay."
"I got my hands in some dirt earlier," Seimei explained, giving Ritsuka's shoulder a gentle, affectionate push. "I just need to wash them so I don't get your wounds infected, okay?"
Ritsuka gave him a bright smile and vanished into the bedroom. Seimei smiled as he watched him go.
In the bathroom, he turned on the taps and stripped off his gloves. The dirt on his hands washed away easily, but he had to find the nailbrush in order to scrub the blood out from under his fingernails.
Done, he went to join Ritsuka who'd already laid claim to his bed, and who gave him a defiant look as he came into the room, daring him to make him move to his own bed. Seimei smiled and indulged him, and sat down next to him and opened the first aid kit.
"Which hand is it?" he murmured, and Ritsuka snuggled up next to him, silently offering his left wrist.
He began bandaging it for support, his hands exquisitely gentle. Ritsuka began nodding before they were halfway through, and by the time he was finished he was fast asleep, curled up against his chest. Seimei smiled and leaned against the wall, drawing the bed cover around them.
As an afterthought, he reached and turned his mobile phone off. He didn't want anyone interfering with his time with his brother.
"Ritsuka?" Soubi inquired curiously. "What are you doing up there?"
At the sound of his voice Ritsuka jumped, yelped, and almost fell from his perch in the tree. Soubi took a sudden, futile step forward, his heart pounding, before Ritsuka managed to catch and steady himself.
Ritsuka turned carefully and glowered down at him. "Soubi! You made me jump."
"I'm sorry, Ritsuka," Soubi said sincerely. "Why don't you come down?"
"I can't yet," Ritsuka said stubbornly. "I still haven't got the bird's nest."
Soubi blinked. "Bird's nest?"
"For our science project," Ritsuka explained in tones that suggested that Soubi was the idiot for not realising that immediately. "Yuiko wanted to do it on birds."
"I see," Soubi said absently, eyeing the tree. The only bird's nest he could see in its winter bare branches was near to its edge, where the branches grew thinner. "You could order me to get it," he offered.
Ritsuka just snorted and muttered something that sounded like 'idiot,' and continued edging his way towards the birds nest. Soubi watched, heart in his mouth, and tried to subtly position himself underneath his position. The sudden, sharp crack of a branch breaking was the only warning they got. Ritsuka yelped and tried to clutch at his handholds, but they gave and he was falling.
Soubi leapt forward, fear a sudden spike in his chest, and then Ritsuka's weight slammed into his arms, making him stagger slightly. He clutched the small body tightly in his arms, burying his face in the soft hair between Ritsuka's ears, letting out his breath in a soft, shaking sigh. Ritsuka must have been stunned by the fall too, because he let Soubi hold him for almost a full minute before he started struggling to be let down.
Soubi released him regretfully, letting him stand on his own.
"Maybe we could use a stick to knock it down?" he suggested.
Scowling and blushing Ritsuka glowered up at the tree and the innocently balanced nest, ears flattened in affront. "Maybe," he admitted grudgingly. Then he glanced aside at Soubi, who gave him a quizzical look in return. Ritsuka glared down at his feet, ears twitching. "Thank you," he mumbled quietly. A quick darting glance up and away, a faint blush beginning on his cheeks. "For saving me."
Soubi smiled and reached out to take Ritsuka's hand, letting his fingers trail suggestively over his wrist. "You know I'll always catch you if you fall, Ritsuka."