Sakura and Snow

Drift III - Exchange


By Natalie Baan



In the shrine's inner sanctum, light fell into shadow: pale sun spilling slantwise through the open doorway and onto the tatami floor. Deeper in the room, beyond direct reach of daylight, faint reflections glimmered along the curve of a statue, burnished the muted gold of an incense holder, outlined the edge of a freestanding screen. A spark flared, yellow and blue, then faded into minute orange embers, fire caught and smoldering in compressed, aromatic herbs. Threads of smoke arose, slowly interweaving, the patterns they formed scarcely visible in the dimness.

Seishirou drew the wands of incense through the air, then placed them upright in their holder. He closed his eyes, inhaling as sandalwood began to overlay an already present sweetness, a cloying scent complicated by a metallic tang. Then, opening his eyes once more, he gazed at the burning incense, a slight, almost absent smile playing about his mouth. Beneath and around the holder lay a carefully outlined sigil, slick and impenetrably dark as if it had been painted with ink. The incense sticks were smudged with a subtle stain of the same color. He stared into the curling wisps of smoke that layered over each other like a thin wash of brush strokes, a sumi-e of sky and blowing wind. Releasing his mind into trance, he let it soar free, skimming the conjunctions of place and time. He was hunting for the fortuitous moment, the ideal location for his encounter.

For the resolution of this latest assignment....


With a whining roar and a rumble of massive wheels that made the ground tremble, the jet thundered along the runway. It lifted, suddenly imponderous as it rose and then banked, turning with implausible grace across the fume-hazed horizon, tilting above the expressway and the hotels beyond, a sleek silver artifice poised between earth and sky.

On a triangle of winter-browned grass between three crossing runways, Subaru turned from the himorogi that marked out holy ground, the last energies of his spell drunk down into the land beneath the airport, leaving him with the sense of being oddly translucent, in the moment of suspension that followed a working. He raised one hand, half to ward off the reality of deafening noise and stark, too-pallid sunlight and half to keep his coat's hood from being blown back by the thin, unpitying wind. Staring toward the city, its buildings blurred by distance and the morning's traces of smog, he wondered about the abrupt sensation inside his chest.

That faint tug, like longing.

Like a warning.


* * * * *


Subaru started and looked at the cup in his hand, half-full of cooling jasmine tea. On that limpid green surface, his reflection was indistinct, more the outline of his head than anything else. He raised the cup toward his lips, hesitated, then lowered it again. He set the cup down on the counter, the liquid inside it shivering at the contact, disrupting that shadow image.

He just couldn't quiet his thoughts.

Getting up, he left the counter and began to pace. Seishirou wasn't home yet. He'd been a little surprised to find the apartment empty when he'd returned, considering how long it had taken him to get back from the airport, a surprise that had continued to niggle at him as the day went on and Seishirou still didn't appear. Nevertheless, Seishirou had his own life, his own things to do--and Subaru's mind flinched, skittering around the edges of what those things might be. He knew the likelihood, the almost certainty that they were some sort of transgression, driven by the imperatives of being the Sakurazukamori, the Dragon of Earth--and was it collusion, to suspect evil deeds and do nothing? He halted, shaking his head. No, he wouldn't even start down that path. For him, all that mattered, all that he would deal with was what lay before him, true and plain to be seen: not suspicions, not conjectures, not unproven fears. To do anything else would end in madness. Drawing a breath, he stared at his shadow, which stretched away to one side, cast by the late afternoon light that lanced almost horizontally through the bedroom window. From his feet, it splayed out across the living room floor until it rose up inside a diffuse gold frame on the opposite wall, next to the apartment's front door. He resumed walking, and its legs scissored, thin and strange as a wading bird's, before they took him out of that box of light and themselves out of existence.

Shadows. Shadows. He felt himself in abeyance, as though he were secluded in a tower, somewhere high above the world. He wished Seishirou would come home--he wanted the physical reality of the man, present and tangible, filling the emptiness, replacing those dim, fluttering ghosts that rustled in unquiet corners of his brain. He wanted Seishirou's touch on his body, wanted it with a flash of startling but welcome heat. Turning, he walked back and paused once more in front of the bedroom doorway. He gazed toward the window, his eyes half-lidded and unfocused against the light as he visualized how it would be: the train slowing as it pulled into the station, and Seishirou already uncoiling, swinging easily to his feet, waiting with casual impatience behind a clear pane of plastic until the cars stopped and the doors slid open, setting him free.

The walk up the hill, those long, just slightly rapid strides devouring the distance--a cloud of warm breath frosting, and in its wake an anticipatory quirk of Seishirou's lips, the wryly amused, sensual mouth that Subaru was suddenly eager to kiss. Distracted, he rubbed his fingers across the back of one hand as he drew at those threads of excitement, memory and imagination alternating in him, weaving the scene.

Then the glass door of the apartment building opening onto the lobby and Seishirou going through it like a black wave, heading for the elevator, no, for the stairs, through the fire door and up the first flight, the second, moving more swiftly, muscles in his legs tensing as he leaped steps, pulse accelerating with the exertion--oh, it was his own heart, his own breath catching at the thought of Seishirou drawing nearer, as though some smooth, strong force of attraction were pulling them toward each other. He hugged his arm against his chest as if he could make himself more dense, increasing that gravity--slid his hand down until its heel grazed cloth-covered yet sensitive flesh, the quickening nub of one nipple, a brief, sweet flowering of sensation that kept him from implosion. Swaying back against the doorframe, he traced his other hand down his cheek, then extended it toward the window, the beams of light stabbing between his spread fingers and half-blinding him, a star alight and blazing through his hand. The rhythm of rapid footsteps beat in his blood as he pictured Seishirou coming closer, coming to him--

A key clattered in the lock, and he spun, startled out of all thought, blinking in an attempt to clear sun-dazzled eyes. The door opened, quick as the sweep of a wing, and Seishirou was coming through it, a dark blur already shrugging off his coat--the motion arrested, one arm half out of its sleeve, as his head turned to find Subaru. His one eye caught the sun and burned with it. Then the coat was off, an untidy swirl as it was tossed over the arm of the chair, and Seishirou was up from the genkan and already halfway to Subaru, sliding into clarity amid the glare spots as he advanced, so that Subaru could see on his face the intense single-focus that was like an arrow's release, the clench of a raptor's talon, its aim a fatal, foregone conclusion. Subaru froze, a white-cold paralysis in that confusion of reality and imagining, of an answered yearning and stark, mute panic. Seishirou's mouth descended onto his parted lips, hard, irrefutable, and eager. Seishirou's arms closed around him, one hand behind his shoulder as Seishirou bore him back against the doorframe, the other curling into his hair, and Subaru arched full-length into him, arched up to answer that insistent kiss, his own hands reaching to twine behind Seishirou's head, then scrambling down to knot in the man's shirt as that ice liquified, melting into a hot surge of desire, a wordless yes.


The doorframe's edge was a dull blade down the center of his back, Seishirou's weight a tide with only one direction, pinning him, a boat swept up and crushed against a seawall. He chose the ecstasy of the embrace, the body thrust up against his, the intimate slide of Seishirou's tongue over and around his own, any discomfort vanishing in importance next to those things. He got Seishirou's shirt half untucked before Seishirou seized one of his arms and wrestled it out of the way, then leaned into that exposed side--hot breath followed by a fierce, sucking kiss low on Subaru's throat--and Subaru gasped, spun with that motion, rolling them both to his left, off the wall and into the bedroom. The sun flashed gold past Seishirou's shoulder, blinding him again. Another turn, like that time when Seishirou had caught him up and whirled him across the floor, but this a different dance, without such easy grace, both of them with the same intention but their limbs somehow at odds as they struggled, like hopelessly entangled combatants. He got some of Seishirou's buttons undone, in no real order; his own shirt was half-open, the tail of it out. Seishirou's hair, windblown and still cold, pressed his cheek as Seishirou's teeth raked his collarbone, a caress-bite at or just past the edge of ungentleness, he wasn't sure which. Bending backward, he yielded to that uncertainty, that shivery, equivocal thrill. His foot caught on Seishirou's instep. His leg buckled--already off-balance, he clutched at Seishirou, and then in one lunge Seishirou had lifted him, arms curving beneath his seat as they spun through a last half-turn, a dizzying gyre of sun and, for him at least, heart-stopping flight.

They crashed together onto the bed. The bedframe sang with the impact, and Subaru's breath huffed out of him, partly from surprise and partly from being landed upon, although he thought fleetingly that Seishirou must have spared him the worst of that by catching most of his own weight on his arms. Rearing back, Seishirou undid the couple of buttons that were still keeping his shirt closed and whipped it off, a white flare behind his muscular body, then twisted to remove the shoes he hadn't bothered--had forgotten?--to take off in the apartment's doorway. With a start, Subaru groped at the front of his own shirt, his fingers clumsy with haste and trembling. Buttons for them both today--he was going to give up wearing shirts that buttoned, honestly--and Seishirou had him by the hips, was dragging him down the bed, his shirt riding up as he slid.

Seishirou buried his face in Subaru's bared stomach, ravenous kisses again, his tongue laving deep into Subaru's navel, his teeth a prickling scrape that raised the fine hairs on Subaru's neck and arms. Seishirou's hand was brusque yet deft at the closure of Subaru's pants, and Subaru's pulse acquired specificity: a leap, a sharp, forceful throb. He yipped, writhed, one arm stretching above his head, flailing at the nightstand drawer that was just out of reach, the shirt not important anymore. Then he jerked, gasped again, a thin, threadbare sound, as his pants and underwear were stripped off together.

He felt the air and the ache of helpless, uncompleted need only for moments before Seishirou's strong grasp covered him, far better than the inanimate bonds of clothing, but still not enough. Seishirou's fingers molded themselves to his already urgent sex, drew up and down along it with an almost cruel slowness, Seishirou's thumb rolling about the end on each upward peak--all around just below the head's flare and then back and forth across the top, teasing, swirling the foreskin about on the glans, tiny but excruciating tugs alternating with gliding strokes, shattering him into a scintillation of needle-bright, ever-changing sensations--until that hand kept moving down, down, further down, no longer satisfied to linger. It weighed his testicles before letting them sift through appraising fingers, pressed lightly into the smoothness behind that, sending a different kind of shuddery jolt through him, deeper, more all-encompassing, his heart leaping with it as if rocked by the surge of an unexpected wave swell, and then Seishirou's other hand had joined the first beneath him, kneading the two sides of his rear before spreading them, Seishirou's fingers rubbing in between, suggestive of what was to come. Tantalizing but unfulfilling touches--a preliminary, and one that did what it was meant to, sent desire singing higher, carried on frenetic wings. Still straining, Subaru's fingertips swiped at something on the dresser, sent it clattering to the floor, caught the edge of the drawer at last and yanked it open. Seishirou's hand moved to his knee and lifted--he felt breath on his inner thigh before Seishirou's mouth skimmed there in passing, a lick of fire tracing the crease where his leg joined his body--and as Seishirou raised his head Subaru took advantage of the space, the new flex of his knee to lunge the little distance necessary. His fingers closed around smooth plastic.

He transferred the tube to Seishirou's waiting hand, then fell back, drawing his leg up again, trying not to shiver with the impatience that made pulse and breath want to come so quickly. Seishirou's gaze glanced across his, brief, acute as glass but with an inward focus, his eye dark amber now, the setting sun's light coming in from the other side. Then his attention shifted, and Subaru instead watched Seishirou's hands: the flip of the tube's cap, the glisten of lotion across Seishirou's fingers.

The touch, when it came, made him jump despite anticipation; the cream was cool, the slicked fingers sliding into him were efficient, no longer mere implication, and that was fine--what he craved was something else, something more. Panting, he squirmed and twisted as they turned within him. They brushed that one most sensitive spot, lit him with a ghost spark of that fire, and an inarticulate protest escaped him, his hands knotting in the bedspread: not yet, not like that. Seishirou made a low sound, part chuckle, part crooning growl of interest. Then Seishirou's other hand fastened around his shaft once more, slid down to form a firm ring about the base. Seishirou bent toward him--another breath, warm, humid, heralding the damp, curving sweep of a tongue--and Subaru had to close his eyes on the sight of Seishirou taking the head of his sex into an avidly rapacious mouth, Seishirou's gaze gleaming up at him through a fall of dark hair, gauging his reaction. Oh, it was too much: those intense, dissolving waves of suction, Seishirou's lips sealing just below the head's rim and then being drawn up over it with relentless deliberation, again and again. A concentration of tight heat was building in him, and he was already hard, so hard--and another shock of pleasure, rolling up over him from inside, shaking him like a seizure, as Seishirou's fingers, unerring and merciless, pressed into that inner place once more. They moved on it, giving no rest, no hint of surcease, only more and more sensation, more than he could possibly stand. He cried out. Trembling, he jerked his leg up, hooked it over Seishirou's shoulder as he arched his body, trying to lift his hips, but Seishirou's palm against his groin forced him down. He tossed, flung his arms up about his head to clutch at the pillow, a dampness starting at the corners of his eyes as he moaned, gasping, "Please, please--"

With a final punctuating lick, Seishirou's mouth abandoned its play, and those fingers pulled back until they rested just outside Subaru, stirring gently against him, a reminder or a promise. Subaru drew in a huge, heaving breath. The momentary pause was both reprieve and pain as he quivered in the aftermath of those touches, as he ached for their return, for release, the expectation of what had to come next rising within him like a full moon tide, liquid and inexorable. His heart thumped; he could hear the whick of Seishirou's belt end falling, the jingle of the buckle, the metallic purr of the zip.

Then Seishirou's fingers were removed, and a greater warmth bumped against him, prodding at him, as Seishirou sat up and shifted forward. Subaru's knee lost its purchase on Seishirou's shoulder as the man moved, but Seishirou caught his leg and kept it raised, pressed to Seishirou's body, Seishirou's hair a heavily silken wave against his ankle. That stretch twinged along Subaru's muscles, a chill sweat stuck his shirt to his chest, to the small of his back, but most of his awareness was on the hot width of Seishirou's sex as it settled into place against him. He recalled himself just enough and just in time to suck in a breath, to concentrate on being as relaxed and yielding as possible--and Seishirou thrust in hard and fast, was seated in one surge, a burning invasion that seemed to explode into Subaru, that rocked him from the base of his spine all the way up to the back of his skull. Stars burst behind his still-closed eyelids, the shock of that entry mixing with a terrible, wonderful ecstasy, the ache of being so overpoweringly filled. He tilted his head back, lips parting as he managed another, deeper breath, and another--not so bad once he'd learned the way of it, the physical control that any mystic or martial artist learned turned to the purpose of mastering his body's instinctual rejection, and whatever pain was left was nothing next to such close and perfect union: one need, one heat, one rhythm pulsing between them, their bodies deeply and essentially joined.

Seishirou's arm slid under Subaru's back, his other hand cupping Subaru's seat, at the top of the thigh, and then Seishirou lifted Subaru: he was swept up, crushed to the firm swell of Seishirou's chest, still pierced by Seishirou's shaft, gravity helping to drive him down onto it even further. He choked, wrapped his free leg around Seishirou's waist in an effort to support some of his own weight, managed to twist the other enough to hook his heel behind Seishirou's neck. He felt the strain all down the back of his thighs, as though he were the string of some instrument, tuned to sound a high-pitched note, taut and transcendent. Shaking, he clasped one hand on Seishirou's shoulder, the other on the arm that curved around his back, and as Seishirou raised him he gave what help he could, heaving himself upward, his own saliva-slicked erection jammed between them as their bodies ground together. Minute rise and then fall, slithering down to meet Seishirou's hips driving upward, over and over, Seishirou's breath stertorous next to his ear, stirring the ends of his hair--he found himself whimpering, digging his fingertips into Seishirou's arms, bucking with each plunge, striving for more, more friction against his sex, more penetration, to help Seishirou push inside him, striking that pleasure place and sending brilliant strobing sensations throughout his entire body.

His eyes had opened, he realized--across the room he glimpsed in a flash the full-length mirror, and the two of them reflected in its glass. He saw his head flung back, his mouth parted with soft cries, his expression that of a stranger, transported, his limbs wrapped about Seishirou's strong, naked back and arms, enfolding the man in his embrace. Seishirou's pants, down about the hips, and his own white shirt fluttering off his shoulders made them look like two halves of a whole, as though they were merging into one convulsively moving being.

He tightened his arms and legs, arched himself into Seishirou, squeezing them even closer together as Seishirou drove up inside him, his body lowered to meet that thrust and then lifted again. Every time he came down he could feel it, himself taking in all of that pulsing, straining shaft, right to the limit. Shivers flooded him, the stress and excessive pleasure mounting, his excitement gathering into the place between them where his sex was trapped, rubbing against the rippled muscles of Seishirou's stomach. He lost focus whenever one of those long shudders from inside rolled through him, but the awareness of building tension kept returning, stronger and clearer every time--until that intensity peaked, a hurtling rise into the heart of a fiercely burning sun, a white-hot fusion that started with his groin and sped through him, gaining power and incandescence, until it reached critical mass in his brain. Crying out more sharply, he closed his eyes, spasming against Seishirou as he was flung into cataclysm--a fire, a fire, and himself the shower of sparks thrown against a midnight sky. He was broken into a thousand searing stars, dwelling an eternity at the apogee of flight--

--and then falling--

So slowly he was falling, floating down from that unfathomable height, the dwindling aftershocks of pleasure still chasing each other along his nerves, veiling all thought. His head settled onto dreamy softness, the yielding mound of a pillow. He opened his eyes. Seishirou was laying him down--he could still feel Seishirou's hardness inside him as the man settled onto him with a low, rumbling groan. Seishirou twisted his shoulder out from under Subaru's leg, crooked that arm behind Subaru instead, and Subaru let his leg slide down to join the other around Seishirou's waist, relief thrilling through his tremoring muscles. Seishirou drew back, almost all the way out of him, slid forward again to rest deep--a new rhythm of in and out, longer strokes than he'd been able to manage while holding Subaru aloft, and Subaru let that imperative guide them both, only giving back to it, languidly eager. He ran his hands down Seishirou's spine, then back up to the shoulders, pulled Seishirou closer so that he could feel the man's chest move against his, could breathe heedless words into his lover's ear, "yes, yes." Seishirou appeared not to hear--was he ever truly oblivious, or was it that the words held so little importance, that "yes," "no," or inarticulate cry were all the same, irrelevant to the fulfillment of his need? No matter, no matter. It was enough to be the answer to that need, to be capable of returning blind, abandoned lust for lust, unafraid, unashamed, to read Seishirou's hunger, that restless, questing ache, in a catch of breath, a possessive curl of fingertips about his shoulder, a flicker of nearly closed eyelids, and to match it with his own longing, just as strong, the two of them giving and taking as equals. He knew he couldn't live in that shining place he'd seen, that territory where they were fused into one creature--nothing human could. But that they could meet like this, if only for a time--

Seishirou lowered his head, pressed his lips to Subaru's neck. They marked its length, a march of disorderly kisses that traveled up and then down to encamp at the hollow where Subaru's throat met his collarbone, warm breath panting onto moistened skin. Turning his head, Subaru traced his tongue along Seishirou's ear, nipped at the earlobe, moaned low, close to its whorled curve, as his body was jerked by stronger thrusts, Seishirou's movements gathering speed and force. Subaru reached up, fingers clutching into Seishirou's hair, and Seishirou raised himself a little, drove into Subaru with a few last shorter strokes, then froze, breath held, unmoving except for a minute shuddering. His eyes were closed, his lips drawn back into something more feral than a smile, showing just a hint of teeth. Then that intensity faded, the unself-conscious animal focus that Subaru always found so enthralling, as Seishirou's face softened into an expression not as predatory but to Subaru's mind even more unforgettable, a thousand times more captivating: the almost-tenderness of release.

Seishirou let out that constricted breath, long and slow, then shifted backward. Subaru felt the wetness in and along his rear as Seishirou's shaft eased out of him, as well as a not-unexpected soreness. The twinge was small enough to be scarcely noticeable, especially in the hazy afterglow of extraordinary pleasure. In any case, he had no regrets. He unhooked his legs so that Seishirou could sink down next to him, settle at full-length against his body, stretched out and fitted to him like a great cat lying along a tree branch, some improbably amiable and contented jaguar. Seishirou's cheek made the left side of Subaru's chest its resting place, as usual, Seishirou's head lying over his heart, perhaps to enjoy the lullaby of its gradually calming rhythm, perhaps to lay claim to it and to muse upon its eventual demise.

Seishirou was Seishirou, Subaru thought, powerful and arrogant, frustrating and enchanting, and in some things just as ignorant and stubborn as a child. But sometimes he believed he was actually starting to know the man, to understand those contradictions, to grasp what was real behind the outward form.

With a smile, he turned his face against Seishirou's hair.

"I missed you too," he whispered.

Seishirou's thumb, which had been tracing lazy circles on Subaru's chest, stopped moving. It was still for a breath, then tapped once and resumed circling, more deliberately than before. "Subaru-kun," Seishirou said, the merest suggestion of a singsong whine creeping into his voice, "I'm hungry. What are we going to do about dinner?"

Subaru blinked, trying to reorient himself to the usual games. "Um, I don't know." He glanced toward the window and was surprised to see that the sky had gone to pale rosy gray and faded blue, the molten gold of the sun sunk into twilight. Still, it was winter, and the sun did set early--it wasn't that close to dinnertime, so he didn't need to feel guilty for not having made any plans. As he pondered their options, Seishirou's hand folded about his, playing with the fingers, distracting him. His hand was lifted, brought to Seishirou's lips; he felt their warm impress on his wrist, a lingering kiss--and then the unexpected nip of teeth. "Ow! That's not food," he told Seishirou, removing his arm. Seishirou put his chin on Subaru's chest and stared mock-piteously. Subaru sighed.

"Well, we could make something pretty quickly, even if it's only ramen," he reflected, rolling his head back to regard the ceiling. "Or we could order take-out." He hesitated, another possibility occurring to him, though not without a vague premonitory qualm. "Or...we could go out."

"Steak?" Seishirou pushed himself up on his arms with immediate exuberance. He hovered above Subaru, mismatched eyes alight. "Subaru-kun, have you ever heard of Yoshihashi? They've gotten rave reviews for their grilled Matsuzaka beef. I've been dying to try it. What do you think?"

"M- Matsuzaka--" He'd heard of it, even though he wasn't a food connoisseur--it was famed for its melting softness and rich flavor, and for being even more expensive than the famous Kobe beef. "But--to spend that much--!" Faint recollection came to him, talk overheard among some of his more wealthy and powerful clients, and he quailed further. "And that restaurant--it's very exclusive, isn't it? You need reservations well in advance--and a suit and tie--and I don't--"

Seishirou placed his fingertip on Subaru's chin, and Subaru faltered into silence. Seishirou was smiling, his "kind," coaxing look, but Subaru could see the determination behind it. That absolutely fixed and self-assured resolve had always been there, even in the Shinjuku days, whenever Seishirou had decided upon a particular course of action, especially when it was one that was "fun" or involved food. Or, as seemed likely in this case, both.

"Don't worry, Subaru-kun," Seishirou said, gently enough, but with a disquieting note of glee. "I'll take care of everything."



* * * * *



"Just a minute." Seishirou frowned at the two ends of the tie. No, broad went over narrow, and then around and up behind. It was a bit different, doing a necktie for somebody else--it was the reverse from looking at his own reflection, and his hands kept wanting to move according to habit. But now he had the wider part of the tie haggled through the loop; he pulled it to fit, snugged the knot up against the collar with tender care, then folded down the crisp yet finely woven white cotton. Running his fingertips beneath the jacket's dark lapels, he traced their paired inward slants, slowly, until he reached the topmost button. He fastened it and moved on to the second, taking the opportunity to shift in even closer, leaving nearly no space between them, his head, bent in concentration, almost touching Subaru's shoulder, his hands trailing lightly over Subaru's stomach as Subaru drew in a breath. Alas that there weren't just a few more buttons, he mused. He straightened the jacket's lie, brushed his fingers along one arm as though to remove a speck of lint, then eased back a couple of steps. He watched as Subaru half-turned, glancing at himself in the surrounding mirrors.

Off the rack though the suit might be, it fit Subaru as though painstakingly tailored to him. Fortunate, considering they didn't really have time for serious alterations. Soft yet sleekly shaped, the black Italian wool caressed his shoulders and chest, tapered in to follow his waist, then flared almost imperceptibly above slim-cut trousers; the muted silvery grey of the silk tie made a subtle contrast to the shirt. Against the fitting room's blandly neutral beige carpet, the metal and glass of mirrored walls, Subaru was a velvet darkness drawing the eye, an elegantly simple figure, all the long, lean lines of his body accentuated, with no ornament to distract from the effect. Subaru turned back to face Seishirou, the movements of his arms graceful as he gave a minute tug to one of his cuffs; then he met Seishirou's gaze with a tentative smile, a question in his eyes as he offered himself for inspection, posed yet somehow artless.

Indeed, an ideal dress-up doll, Seishirou thought.

He smiled, nodding his approval, and stepped close once more. Standing on the raised section of floor that was used for fittings, Subaru was nearly the same height as he was, perhaps ever so slightly taller. Seishirou traced one finger along the top of Subaru's collar, then curled his hand behind Subaru's neck to draw him in for a fleeting kiss (with a brief quirk of amusement at the thought of the sales staff, who had been banished from the room at the start of things, to their bewildered dismay), a kiss that lingered as Subaru swayed against him. He ran his other hand along Subaru's arm, stroking it through the fabric. Yes, very nice.

Subaru pulled away from his mouth to whisper teasingly, "I thought you were hungry?" Seishirou was just drawing breath to reply when his stomach rumbled its own answer, faint but assertive. He sighed. Well, the dressing part had been fun, anyway, and there would be time enough for undressing later. Taking Subaru's hand, he escorted Subaru from the fitting platform, then slipped his arm around Subaru's shoulders as they walked toward the door. He opened it, and the waiting sales staff sprang to attention.

"It's perfect," he said. "We'll take it."


* * * * *


The night was pleasantly mild as they strolled up the last stretch of hill before the apartment building: windless and clear, with just enough bite in the air to remind one that it was in fact still winter, and to be a good excuse for stealing one's arm around one's companion. Not, Seishirou mused, that either of them really needed the excuse. It was late enough that the streets in this residential area were mostly deserted, and Subaru for once seemed quite oblivious to what passersby might think. He was actually humming faintly, a snatch or two of something unidentifiable, and once when he put a foot wrong and swayed against Seishirou, he caught his breath, an almost-laugh, and then stayed there, nestling even closer to Seishirou's side with a wordless murmur, his arm creeping around Seishirou's waist.

It was amazing what just a little sake could do.

Seishirou smiled. The evening had been flawless in all respects, from the obliging weather to the graciousness of the restaurant's maitre'd and waitstaff (the right names dropped had certainly smoothed the way to a table, as Seishirou had expected) to the truly exquisite food. The beef in particular--subtly seasoned and marinated and then grilled table-side on open charcoal by an immaculately white-smocked chef--had lived up to its reputation, being truly delectable, as tender as if a tiny piece of heaven had been made earthly and edible, yet with a real, satisfyingly meaty texture and full-bodied flavor, smoky and sweet. The whole meal had been five-star, but the steak--Seishirou paused. He'd been about to reflect that the steak had been most memorable, and of the food it surely had been, but what he found lingering in his thoughts even more was the warm glow of excellence about the whole occasion. It was a confluence of many small perfections, chief among them the pleasures of observing Subaru, by turns self-conscious and serenely composed: the charming tremor of shyness on first entering the restaurant and being greeted, the reaction subdued but still perceptible, especially to one who knew him so well; Subaru's head cocked in grave consideration as he contemplated this new and subtle taste, admired that presentation; his stiff posture and fixed attention to his soup as Seishirou brought out the tired old line about their being there on a date, reproof softened by a scarcely glimpsed smile, swiftly hidden as he raised his bowl to sip from it; his gaze rapt and distracted as he watched the table chef turn their steaks in a deft flicker of implements, the grill's flames leaping, their orange light flowing over his pale skin, reflecting in eyes made dark by the room's intimate dimness, the shadows they cast wavering along Subaru's throat and the side of his face.

A light alive and dancing in those expressive eyes as they glanced toward Seishirou....

Putting aside the memory, Seishirou returned his attention to the present, and the slight form still tilted against him. "All right?" he asked. One couldn't accuse Subaru of having been intemperate, but even so the night's indulgences had probably been something of a shock to the system, considering that Subaru was the kind of person who thought packaged ramen and a glass of water made a full and satisfying meal. "We could have had the driver take us all the way."

"No, this is nice. I was falling asleep in the car." Subaru straightened, though he remained in close contact. "I feel much more awake now."

"Hmm. A long way from practicing austerities, isn't it?" Seishirou chuckled. "Like going to another world--only I'm sorry, Subaru-kun, if you end up having to do extra spiritual work because of it. After all, I know that ritual purity is a big deal for the Sumeragi clan."

"Purity," Subaru replied after a moment's pause, his voice low but distinct, "is overrated."

A snort of mingled surprise and amusement escaped Seishirou. He coughed into his hand, covering a grin. "Ah, right, and that reminds me of something I've been meaning to ask you." Leaning over, he whispered into Subaru's hair, faintly stirrings its strands, "Subaru-kun, was I really your first?"

Beneath his arm, Subaru's shoulders twitched, tensed, the old instinct toward panic, then yielded almost at once with a scarcely audible sigh of affirmation. Seishirou's grin broadened. "Really?" he teased, relishing Subaru's minute squirm of embarrassment and tightening his embrace to keep Subaru from wriggling out of it. "What, not even a kiss? A hot date?"

"Well...there wasn't a date, really...." Astonishment made Seishirou half-pause, fall subtly out of step with Subaru. Subaru pushed himself away, not upset as much as distracted, his arm slipping from around Seishirou's waist as though subconsciously he was drawing himself together, an echo of the attempt to gather his thoughts. Seishirou let him go, curious to see his expression. They had come up to the apartment building, and the yellow-white glare of its lights fell across the sidewalk and the neat foundation plantings that lined it, pyramidal blue-green miniature spruces alternating with the slender, red-barked branches of winter-bare deciduous shrubs. Against those colors, Subaru was a shadow, a rest completing and complementing a lively music, his black coat--also new, and more suitable for their night out than the white one--drinking in the illumination. His gaze was on the pavement, but the light was unmerciful, and Seishirou could read his face clearly, even without recourse to those averted eyes. His mouth was drawn tight with a recurring grief, some old tension caught in the set of his jaw, even when he began to speak at last.

"There was this girl. It was last summer, when I went back to Kyoto." Subaru's hands, gloved against the cold, worked the end of his scarf out of his coat and toyed with it uneasily, but his voice was quiet, almost calm beneath the weight of memory. "I walked into the room in the Sumeragi house, and she was there, with her family--it was an omiai." Seishirou looked at Subaru more sharply, but Subaru's voice remained level, matter-of-fact. "Not officially, but it might as well have been. The moment I stepped into the room, I knew.

"She was so young. Only a teenager. And when she looked at me--" Subaru stopped walking, staring fixedly at the ground, lost despite himself in the recollection. Seishirou took a couple more slow steps, then paused, turning back to face him. When Subaru spoke again his voice had changed, not rising in volume but aquiver with fierce intensity, almost with violence. "I had nothing for her. Nothing." His gaze slid aside, avoiding Seishirou's more deliberately. After a moment to regain his self-control, he went on, his tone nearly even again, "I turned around and walked right out of the room."

"Did you."

"Yeah." Subaru nodded, then smiled ruefully. Lifting his head, he shrugged off the remnant of tension and moved forward to rejoin Seishirou. "My grandmother and I had a terrible fight after they'd left," he admitted, sounding abashed. "It was the worst argument I ever had with her. I was so angry. I said...some awful things."

"Really? You, Subaru-kun? I have to say, I find that a bit hard to believe." They were under the building's awning then, and Seishirou reached out to open the glass door and hold it for Subaru. "I have trouble imagining you saying something so bad to anyone, let alone your grandmother. What on earth did you say?"

" was nothing. Nothing really interesting, I mean. I guess." Subaru pulled on one end of his scarf and then the other, shuttling it back and forth around his neck. As Seishirou came up next to him after the one-person bottleneck of going through the door, he ducked Seishirou's gaze, blushing, clearly wishing he hadn't brought the subject up.

"That's cruel, Subaru-kun! You can't leave me in suspense like this. Come on, won't you tell me?" Seishirou pushed the button to call the elevator. Beside him, Subaru hunched his chin down into the shelter of his coat. His lips moved noiselessly. "What?"

"I said that if she wanted an heir for the Sumeragi family so badly," Subaru faltered, ducked his head even lower, and mumbled something rushed and incomprehensible into his coat collar. Seishirou blinked.

"Pardon?" Fidgeting, Subaru repeated himself, not any more clearly, but on second hearing Seishirou was able to confirm that what he'd heard had indeed included the words "sperm bank." He stared at Subaru for a good few seconds before the first guffaw exploded out of him. He collapsed against the wall next to the elevator, laughing helplessly.

"Seishirou-san!" His voice lifting, atremble with indignation, Subaru swatted Seishirou with the end of his scarf, a light, ineffectual blow, then shoved at Seishirou's shoulder in frustration. "Mou."

"S-sorry, Subaru-kun!" Seishirou wiped at a tearing eye. "It's just...the" Picturing Subaru, with that absolutely serious earnestness that came over him when he got angry, quietly suggesting to his very proper and traditional grandmother that he continue the family line by contributing to a sperm bank set Seishirou off again. He leaned his head back against the wall, his shoulders shaking with mirth.

The elevator bell chimed then, and the door slid open. Subaru marched into the elevator, spun about and put his back forcefully against the wall, his arms folded. Getting himself back under control at last, Seishirou followed Subaru, pushed the button for their floor, and then took up a position next to the onmyouji, his hands clasped meekly behind him. They waited for the door to close.

"That day was the last time I saw my grandmother," Subaru said into the silence. His tone was quiet and level, yet held a complex sadness. "She kept leaving messages for me, asking me to visit Kyoto, but I always refused. Then I got word that she'd died." As if to punctuate his words, the elevator door eased shut.

"And so you never got the chance to make peace with her," Seishirou said softly. He glanced over to study Subaru's profile, the bangs that dipped in front of Subaru's eyes like a dark wave as Subaru lowered his head, the tremor of lashes as those eyes closed. He traced its lines with his gaze, from the rise of one high cheekbone down to the familiar, subtle curve of Subaru's lips, pressed still in sorrow. The corner of Subaru's mouth turned up then, a hint of an unlikely smile. Straightening, he raised his head and shifted his shoulders against the wall, as though making space for an indrawn breath.

"But as for that girl," Subaru said, "I'm not sorry about it. Even though what I did probably hurt her, left her embarrassed and ashamed--it was better that way than for us to pretend. If we'd tried to do what our two families wanted, it would only have been that much more painful for her later, when she learned about the person I was. And that I...I couldn't be the person she was dreaming of like that." Opening his eyes, he turned to look at Seishirou, his head tilted, his gaze luminous with that smile--his whole being alight with the radiance Seishirou could never quite put source or reason to, as elusive and mysteriously alive as a pale flame seen through water, or through the gauzy flutter of a moth's white wings.

"Because," Subaru murmured, his voice soft but unfaltering, "there was only one person who was in my heart."

Slowly Seishirou reached out, moving almost before he was fully aware of the impulse. He touched gloved fingertips to Subaru's cheek. The actual contact was inexplicably surprising, as if some part of him had been expecting to feel--what? A cool tingle of otherworldly energy? A mirage shivering away at his touch? Subaru's physical reality remained undeniable, if suddenly and oddly astonishing. The warmth in Subaru's expression did not fade. Seishirou's fingers drifted, found and followed the angle of Subaru's jawline, so lightly he could feel only a whisper of sensation through his gloves. He ran them along the column of Subaru's neck, following the scarf's yielding line, pressing it aside to brush the skin. Subaru tipped his head back further, his eyes half-closing. Seishirou's hand slipped about Subaru's slim waist to find rest at the small of his back, drawing Subaru closer; Subaru put up his own hand, his fingers playing over the lapel of Seishirou's coat almost absently before curling in the heavy fabric, tugging Seishirou nearer as well. Subaru's back arched against Seishirou's palm as Seishirou leaned forward, seeking and finding Subaru's parted lips.

Real, indeed. He could not touch, could not taste that enigmatic quality that so fascinated him--there was only the vital, searching pressure of Subaru's mouth moving against his own, the heat and intimacy of a shared breath, but that was very fine. Seishirou pulled Subaru right up into himself, thigh to thigh, his other hand burrowing into the nearly nonexistent space between them to grope buttons undone, to brush the coat aside and settle at last onto Subaru's stomach, feeling through Subaru's clothes the shiver of reaction, the lift of breath. Subaru's mouth parted further beneath his, fully willing and amorous, an easy, active yielding, and Seishirou responded with relish, urging or perhaps being urged to greater though still tender ardor--it was hard to say which. Subaru's hand slid up to Seishirou's head, fingers curling into his hair, drawing him down deeper into that delicious joining.

The elevator's bell chimed, and the door rolled open, accompanied by an unexpected gasp. Subaru's attention shifted with a start, his hand jerking back from Seishirou's face, and Seishirou lifted his head just enough to flick a glance toward the interruption. Mrs. Nakamura stood framed in the doorway, mah jong set tucked under her arm, apparently on her way back up to her apartment after her weekly game with her cronies. With the way her tiny, pink mouth gaped in her round face, she resembled an overly made-up fugu fish.

"Sorry!" Seishirou sang out. "Express elevator! No stops!" He reached over and hammered the door-close button a few times. After a moment that felt long enough for the world's end to come and go, the door got the idea and slouched shut. Their view of Mrs. Nakamura cut off and privacy restored, they resumed their monumentally slow upward progress. Unfortunately, Subaru had gone all stiff, and not in any enjoyable way, either.

"Subaru-kun?" Seishirou attempted. Subaru's hand crept up again, trembling, and latched onto Seishirou's other lapel, so that his coat was being clutched in a two-handed death-grip. Subaru's head was bowed, almost touching Seishirou; all he could see was a silken fluff of black hair. He supposed that somewhere beneath it Subaru's face was ablaze with embarrassment. Subaru's fingers tightened and his shoulders jerked so that his forehead actually brushed Seishirou's chest, as though it was a wall against which he was very, very gently beating his head. Inwardly Seishirou sighed, feeling a remarkably similar impulse, although for him frustration rather than discomfiture lay behind it. Sakura petals were too good for Mrs. Nakamura, he decided. Perhaps he'd send her the illusion that she was being sucked down into her sink's garbage disposal. Right now, though, he had to see what he could salvage of the night's formerly intimate mood. "Um, Subaru-kun--"

Subaru swayed back a step, lifting his head, and Seishirou stared. A light blush colored Subaru's cheeks, but his eyes were bright, and the corners of his mouth quirked upward. His shoulders jerked once more, rocking his whole body; he ducked his head again as a barely audible sound escaped him: a stuttery hiccup of breath.

He didn't appear to be crying. So he had to be laughing.

Seishirou blinked. Was Subaru feeling all right? Could it be he was coming down with one of his fevers and was mildly delirious, or had he just snapped from the stress of being caught kissing Seishirou in an elevator? Or perhaps the sake was having more of an effect than Seishirou'd thought. It was most likely a little of each of the latter two, he judged. Just in case, and because he could never resist hamming it up in his role as a doting lover, Seishirou slipped one hand under Subaru's bangs to feel his forehead. "Are you okay, Subaru-kun?"

Subaru pushed off from Seishirou--he tossed his head back, his green eyes sparkling. As Seishirou watched, almost mesmerized, he broke up completely with that unaccustomed but unmistakable hilarity, had to put one hand on the elevator wall to support himself, the other lifting to cover quiet gasps of laughter. The elevator dinged once more, and as the door began to roll open Subaru whirled, darting out through the still-widening gap. Seishirou started, then leaned over to put his head out of the elevator, peering after Subaru. Light-footed, Subaru scudded down the corridor at a quick-striding walk, throwing a glance back over his shoulder, a flickering look, like a stirring of leaves, barely glimpsed before they stilled. Slowly Seishirou stepped out into the hallway, the elevator closing behind him, left to go where it would. A tension like the gathering of storm clouds had begun to rise in him, electric and pleasurable, mounting like a rolling darkness seeded through with the potential for lightning--the frisson of a tender desire caught up into something more, a coiling excitement, a growing intensity of interest and hunger.

The flutter of a small bird in the shadow of the raptor's wings. The boy, beautiful prey, running before the wind on that day nine years ago, oblivious to the meshes of Seishirou's bet closing around him. With even strides, Seishirou advanced toward Subaru, who had paused in front of the apartment's door--had turned, his back to the doorframe as he watched Seishirou draw nearer, hands clasped behind himself, his eyes alert and alight with that peculiarly reckless merriment.

Reaching Subaru, Seishirou put one hand on the wall close to Subaru's head, the crook of his arm a barrier to keep the onmyouji penned there, containing any further elusiveness. A little color still hot on otherwise pale cheeks, Subaru gazed up into Seishirou's face, that smile lingering about his lips, the intentness of his gaze suggesting that he sensed those stirring undercurrents, that they called something out in him as well. Seishirou imagined he could almost feel the tremors of Subaru's heart beating, vibrating the taut air between them like a drum. Subaru caught his breath, then spun, the door opening behind him without warning. He vanished into the blackness of the room beyond.

Seishirou started forward, then caught himself, hesitating before the threshold. His eyes narrowed. This impulse for pursuit--Subaru, he thought, was playing to it, was playing him with the lure of swift-darting flight, escaping, tempting Seishirou to reach for him. Chase me. Catch me. He could feel the hooks set in, steady tension deep in his gut, a catch somewhere below his breastbone as he resisted momentarily--a fiercer tug at the thought of his hands closing onto Subaru at last, the yielding of that fair, soft skin under his fingers, the taste of it in his mouth, breath and thundering pulse and the solid shape of Subaru pressed against him, the source and solace of this desire within his grasp.


It's not quite...I don't think we're going to play the game that way, Subaru-kun.

Not tonight.

Seishirou pushed the door further open, reached in to flick on the light. It caught Subaru at the edge of the genkan, his second shoe about to join the first on the floor, his coat already hung up on the wall rack. He blinked, then smiled at Seishirou as he straightened, the movement and expression both slow in contrast to the deft quickness that must have brought him there. He dropped the shoe so that it landed heedlessly, at a slight angle to the other.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to use spells when you've been drinking?" Seishirou asked. At the quizzical tilt of Subaru's head, he nodded to the door as he closed it, making sure of the lock.

"You did give me a key." Amusement made Subaru's voice lower, more throaty, a hitch in it like a cat arching beneath a stroking touch. He held up one hand, something silver catching light between his fingers before he tossed it gently toward the coffee table. Metal clattered onto glass and slid to rest. "Besides which, I'm not drunk."

"Hmm." Seishirou turned to the wall, shrugging out of his own coat, a faint, musing smile on his face. He hung the coat next to Subaru's, exchanged shoes for house shoes, then headed for the kitchenette, deliberately not watching Subaru, only catching glimpses as Subaru shed his suit jacket, leaving it draped over the chair's arm in passing, and padded sock-footed across the living room to the stereo, his lean form a sway of controlled yet fluid grace. One hand tugged at the knot of his tie as he crouched to shuffle through CDs. Glancing away, Seishirou took off his own jacket, hanging it on the back of the wooden chair as he went into the kitchenette. He opened the cupboard and took down two glasses. They clinked together in his hand, clash and ring of breakables being held against each other, before he set them down on the counter.

Of course Subaru hadn't used magic to unlock the door. Surely he'd have sensed such a thing. As he delved into the refrigerator to retrieve the bottle of wine that he'd been saving for an especially romantic night, Seishirou shook his head. What had he been thinking? It was conceivable, he supposed, that there'd been some purpose at the back of his mind--a testing of Subaru's mental state, or misdirection as to his own--but such reasoning held the queasy instability of rationalization after the fact. He didn't know. He genuinely had no idea of what had been going through his own mind, and it unsettled him, that sense of being carried by something other than his intention, as though an unseen current had lifted him from the ground while he continued to make treading motions, imagining that he was walking purposefully toward his chosen destination. He had felt something similar earlier in the day, when he'd been returning to the apartment, his augury finished--an instant of vague bewilderment, of looking at himself as though from outside and wondering why he was being swept forward, what urgency it was that quickened his steps without him even thinking about it, that rushed him up the building's stairs as though making haste for its own sake, until he'd opened his door at last and seen Subaru standing there, a darkness framed in light, a slim near-silhouette frozen in surprised recognition, one arm half-raised in invitation or warding. He'd felt the answer then like a blow, a shock of connection, a circuit completing itself in an overwhelming surge of energy: this. This was the unnamed motive force that had compelled him, hope and hunger for this very sight; yet even being named, it lost no increment of its power, only was translated to a new and keener intensity, the need for even greater completion. Beyond that lightning realization, there had been very little thought involved at all. There had been only the imperative to grasp and possess, to submerge himself in Subaru's eager kisses, in that lithe, straining body, in Subaru's absolute and startlingly ardent response. The memory of sex stirred like a ghost beneath his skin, an unquiet tremor at the thought of Subaru lifted up in his embrace, the two of them crushed against each other in a single vehemence, a shared ecstasy of lust--

Seishirou breathed long and deep, to the easy rhythm of wine swirling into one glass, then the other. Recorking the bottle, he put it away and took the two glasses across the living room. As he reached Subaru, Subaru rose, turning to meet him, the tray of the CD player gliding in with a faint whir. Subaru's fingers didn't brush his in taking the glass, a courteous delicacy in the gesture; Subaru's eyes found and held his instead, a far greater intimacy, their green as dark as though they'd taken in the night sky and now held it for him to gaze into, the promise of a place both enclosing and infinite, starlit by Subaru's smile. He returned that smile, a unhurried upward curve of his lips as he stepped backward into the gap between couch and coffee table. Sliding over, Seishirou sat down and set his drink on the end table, then shook his hair from his eyes with a quick flick of his head. His gaze resettled onto Subaru, like a tree's branches falling to rest after a shivering breeze. His smile had not been disturbed.

Dangerous. He had known it from the very beginning of their relationship. It was not, however, the danger he'd anticipated then, the mortal threat of combat, magical victory or loss the only choice of ways. This was the danger of the broken sky from his dream, of a slipped control that left him at the mercy of forces other than his own will. He could feel the void before him, and for the first time he knew in himself the potential to succumb to it, an inexplicable undermining of the inner structures of self-mastery. He watched Subaru as one might watch the cliff's edge, that razor-fine demarcation between the drop and the last point of firm ground underfoot, as though by pure fixity of attention he could remain unmoved between uneasiness and fascination, giving himself up to neither.

To retreat would be prudent, if unsatisfying.

To fall would still that siren pang of desire, though it might well mean his destruction.


Neither option was acceptable.

Having taken a fleeting, almost distracted sip of the wine, Subaru put the glass down on the shelf beside the stereo. Bending, he cued the CD several tracks forward and pressed play. As he straightened once more, he rested one hand on either side of the top of the stereo case, bowed his head and closed his eyes, as though in contemplation.

An opening instrumental drone, and then the first thrum of strings came paired with the round, liquid resonance of hand-drums. The slow rhythm was Middle Eastern, the sound traditional--Seishirou's eyebrows lifted in spite of himself. Subaru nodded faintly, his eyes still closed, the hint of a smile touching his lips. One forefinger tapped twice against the stereo, catching part of the multithreaded beat. As the strings came in more fully, tracing a simple melody line above the percussion, Seishirou picked up his glass again, took a mouthful of wine and held it, letting its layered sweetness develop and deepen on his tongue before he swallowed. Strange but not unpleasant music--was that an oud? He had no real idea what one sounded like. He actually knew rather little about the Middle East and its traditions, just the gleanings that any reasonably educated person would acquire, especially if a practitioner--and he tensed, not quite starting, as some quirk of memory called up words he'd once read in a popular book of translated poetry, lines he'd noted with amusement and then had forgotten. Returning, they hovered in his mind like the wine's aftertaste breathing in the back of his throat, insubstantial yet mysteriously potent, the irony he'd savored before replaced by an obscure sense of threat, something lurking at the twilight edge of awareness.


The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you,
not knowing how blind I was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.


Subaru tilted his face up toward the ceiling, his shoulders shifting back, opening his chest to draw in a breath.

A single violin lifted its voice above the other instruments, a low wail of longing and enticement.

And Subaru began to dance.

It was just wrist and hand at first, a slow roll, a flaring of long, slim fingers, his other hand arching behind and above the first, then the two interweaving, apart and together, never quite touching. The shapes they made recalled to Seishirou the occult gestures of a magical working, yet they never came to rest in any pattern of power, only flowed about each other, constantly in motion, graceful as Subaru's hands always were, curving about a tea cup or a wine glass or playing over Seishirou's body, that light caress trickling along his jaw to find its way up into his hair, stroking down over his hip to settle against his thigh, or seeking him between their bodies to wake fire with each gentle, silkenly intimate touch.

Those small gestures widened into the flex and unfurl of each arm, as lyrical as the music's plaint. Subaru pivoted a little less than a quarter-turn, so his back was to Seishirou, with an unobtrusive hip-swivel that nonetheless drew Seishirou's eye. Of course, Subaru was worth looking at in any case, but this--it was rather remarkable, certainly for Subaru. Rising from the seat of those dark dress pants, Seishirou's gaze followed the immaculate white field of Subaru's shirt, from the taper of Subaru's waist up through the subtle breadth of chest and shoulders to his head, turned so that his profile remained visible to Seishirou, his eyes still closed, that tentative smile stirring at his mouth. One arm stretched out from his side, the other curving before him, as though he were some improbable Noh dancer, Subaru hesitated for a beat. He raised his head, looked back at Seishirou, and Seishirou felt a jolt of instability: a quicksilver liquid chill somewhere inside himself, a sizzle of conducted electricity, the shock of meeting that direct green gaze.

A little color touched Subaru's face. The smile that had dimmed in momentary seriousness bloomed to light again, like a candle flame finding new life after a breath of wind. He swung back to face Seishirou, sliding a step away from the stereo, his eyes closing once more as though he was raptly following some inner sensation, his arms resuming their caresses of the air, the swirl of his hips more pronounced. Their roll deepened, became an understated but sensual writhe, a slow shimmy as Subaru sank down, down, almost to his knees, his arms stretching up to twine luxuriously above his head, then rose the same way, his whole body a play of undulations, as though he was the meeting place of all the music's yearning, complex rhythms, the place where they found unity, became song.

The urge was strong, Seishirou realized, to move his own hips in echo of Subaru's, an instinctive, answering grind against the couch's leather seat--better yet, against Subaru, in the carnal dance for which this was only a promise and a tease. All the muscles of his lower body were tight, controlling it. A different tightness was in his groin, the pressure of imminent heat, and he made sure he was breathing steadily, into the belly, keeping that tension in balance, not yet letting it overtake him. He discovered his glass still between his fingers--an annoying distraction, but after all it was something to occupy his hands. He took another long swallow of wine, and what had been honeyed on his tongue suddenly had bite, the alcohol's edge clashing on a growing inner ferment, like two swords meeting, metal on metal, keenness against keenness, its sweetness fading next to the far sweeter thought of Subaru's kisses, the shuddering and soft cries of his ravishment, the pleasure of releasing this swiftly gathering burn into his flesh. The wine slid down into Seishirou, fiery and cool at once; it seemed to raise all the contradictions he'd been feeling to a more acute pitch. He kept his face a neutral mask, intent but expressionless, as he sought equilibrium, or at least some reasonable explanation for this bizarre mood.

It was only wine. Subaru was only dancing, playing a little game of coy flirtation, of amateur if quite appealing seduction.

Then why was a casual smile, a joking quip to defuse the moment, so completely out of the question?

Why, if he felt such danger in this temptation, did he find it unthinkable to look away?

Running his thumb along the lip of the glass, Seishirou stared hard at Subaru, separated from him by the shimmering plane of the coffee table.

What was this uneasy weight inside himself, this oppressive, leaden moil of confusion?

Subaru turned full circle, then turned again, as if to display himself from every side to Seishirou's gaze, though he seemed blissfully unaware of what was smoldering behind it. The overhead light shone down on him, a warm glow drunk into the black pants, caught by the luminous white shirt, reflecting in a muted sheen of highlights on his dark hair. Revolution within revolution--the gyre of his steps, his body's lissome arch and sway, each roll of his shoulders accented by a sinuous gesture--he crossed along the far side of the table.

As he moved, he lifted the already loosened tie over his head. Putting one hand through the open loop, he tugged its noose closed about his wrist. With abrupt swiftness, he wound both hands about each other so that the silver-grey silk bound his arms, then stretched them toward Seishirou, as if in supplication. He held them there only for a couple of measures of music before drawing them back in to his chest, twined hands nestling against his cheek. His eyes springing open, he returned Seishirou's stare with one of his own, bright with barely contained vibrancy, laughter, a glimmer of provocation--and the heavy knot that had been clenching and coiling inside Seishirou tore itself apart, each strand distinct, a quivering lash of tension.

He understood, now, what he was experiencing.

Anger, that Subaru felt free to play such games with him, to use his knowledge of how to arouse Seishirou at will, so careless of the consequences--indeed, that Subaru had such knowledge in the first place.

Resistance, a stubborn reluctance to submit to desire except on his own terms.

Underlying both, the dull, chill thread of fear--that his self-command might be so compromised that he really would forget himself; that he was feeling such an immediately compelling physical need, as though it had been months rather than mere hours since he'd had release; that fear and anger themselves had become recognizable acquaintances, turning up in him yet again--and against that denial and resentment there was an opposing tension: the ache of the storm that hadn't broken, an enlivening breath that couldn't be drawn. He wanted Subaru, wanted to close that space between them, to take all that was offered to him, no matter what the cost, and that one craving was so extravagant, so multivalent and intense, that it somehow held its own against all other impulses. Those contrary urgings locked up against each other, a flood tide running in one direction, wind and weather driving it back. Out of that turbulence there rose a glimmer of self-seeing clarity, and for an instant something in Seishirou wanted to laugh. The reaction wasn't ordinary amusement, but something more tremulous and unidentifiable.


Was this what I was looking for when I made that bet?

Long practice in concealment meant that Seishirou was reasonably sure his face betrayed little of what he was thinking--but how could Subaru, looking into his eyes, not catch some sign of his inner disturbance, not sense the danger, the slow, seething potential for violence? Subaru showed no more trepidation than anyone might who was nudging up against the boundaries of his own experience and daring. There was the merest faltering at Seishirou's failure to respond, and then his shoulders lifted--an indrawn breath, a tilt of his head, that smile like sun melting through an insubstantial cloud edge. His arms lowered, reversing their spirals more slowly, the bonds loosening into lazy rings of cloth about his wrists. As he slipped one hand free, the music sped, an unexpected skitter and saw of strings, and Subaru whirled with it, sweeping his arms wide in a jolt of abandon, the gesture joyous and free. A turn, and then a second turn, the tie unfurling in Subaru's wake, a long flash of silver flying out--

With a lunge, Seishirou caught the tie's end in his fist.

Brought up short, Subaru stumbled and had to catch his balance. He glanced back, eyes wide and surprised, the tie's length running from the noose still around one wrist to Seishirou's outstretched left hand. Leaning forward from the couch, Seishirou stared at Subaru, watching for any least shiver of reaction, and as layers of thought and emotion shifted visibly behind Subaru's gaze, puzzlement becoming consideration and then a softly settling resolution, the shiver was his, as though cool fingers had stirred upward along the back of his neck. Not so unexpected, really, so then why--but after all, he thought, there'd been so much strangeness already.

He wasn't sure, even now, that Subaru would continue to do any of the things that he expected.

With careful and deliberate steps, Subaru moved toward Seishirou, around the corner of the coffee table. Wary anticipation tightened the cold steel coil inside him by another increment. Slowly he sat back against the couch, his attention never leaving Subaru as he drew in his arm, keeping the tie taut between them. If his stare made Subaru uneasy, Subaru gave no sign. Steady and still graceful, even though he was no longer dancing, he came closer to Seishirou, until Seishirou had taken up as much of the tie as he could without acquiring a new grip. The glass was still in his right hand, he realized. Amazingly, he didn't seem to have spilled anything on the couch or on himself. He began reaching over to put the glass down on the end table, and Subaru bowed above him, touched his wrist, forestalling the gesture. Subaru's fingers rested there, light as the warmth of a subdued sunlight, as Subaru placed one knee on the couch next to Seishirou's thigh and transferred his weight to it with exquisite intention. Subaru brushed Seishirou's arm aside just enough to slip within its curve, to sink down and kneel astride Seishirou's lap. Subaru's legs closed on either side of Seishirou's, a tender clasp and slide as he positioned himself more evenly, the tie falling loosely between the two of them, a broad ribbon draping across Seishirou's body. Subaru's head was turned, his gaze averted, the bend of his neck reminiscent of a bashful swan's. Seishirou wondered if an eager, anxious pulse was drumming there, low and fast beneath the shadowy fair skin--if it echoed the rhythm that jarred inside of him, startling, destabilizing, yet invigorating.

Subaru's fingers slid over the heel of Seishirou's hand, tangled with his own fingers, and somehow came away with the glass. Lifting it, Subaru took another hummingbirdlike sip--no wine-tasting connoisseur, apparently--before leaning over to set the drink down on the table. Straightening, he gazed into Seishirou's face, his lips barely parted as though he was on the verge of speaking or catching his breath, in his eyes the hesitation, the extraordinary concern without which Subaru would not ever be Subaru. Their focus gradually shifted, dark lashes lowering to half-veil them as that acuity mellowed into something deeper, more inward: an ineluctable calm certainty, like the lapping of a nighttime tropical sea.

Subaru bent toward Seishirou, touched Seishirou's lips with his own, a grazing nuzzle so soft it hardly seemed substantial, like the savor of food from a dream, which would vanish upon waking. Yet Subaru's mouth persisted, a whole chain of evanescent, snowflake contacts, now lipping almost imperceptibly harder, now nearly drawing away, constant but from moment to moment never the same. Without rushing, Subaru explored the range of still-chaste kisses, nothing more than breath and sweet, stirring motions that coaxed Seishirou to answer, his responses equally fleeting and desultory, taking the pleasure as it came. Behind his languorous enjoyment, however, excitement began to flare as those kisses pursued each other, becoming more searching, more thorough. Subaru's mouth engaged his more fully, urging them both toward opening, melting into one another, a warm, wet, intimate slide of tongue seeking tongue--and if Subaru didn't grasp the finer points of appreciating wine, Seishirou mused distractedly, the same could not be said for him and kissing.

One hand braced on the couch back, the other brushing fingertips against Seishirou's cheek, as though needing just that tiny extra reassurance of his presence, Subaru rocked lightly on Seishirou, his body echoing the avid rhythm of those kisses. Seishirou curved his hands around Subaru's hips, felt the flex and stretch of muscle as Subaru moved. He kneaded his thumbs in slow circles against Subaru's stomach, then dragged his hands upward--and as Subaru arched into the touch, head flung back in pure abandon, Seishirou knotted both fists in Subaru's shirt and wrenched it open. Buttons scattered, minute patterings barely audible over the music, and Subaru gasped, shivered, probably less from the air's touch than from the unexpected recklessness of the gesture.

Extravagant, indeed.

Seishirou grinned.

Pulling Subaru toward him by the shirt, Seishirou ducked his head to lap at one exposed, pale rose nipple. Already well-defined, it hardened further under the swirl of his tongue, became a pebbled nub that he took into his mouth and began to suck. Subaru made another sound, this one more of a moan. Shuddering, he swayed with the rhythmic draw of Seishirou's mouth, his legs tightening on Seishirou's, his hips reprising the roll and pitch of the dance, though seemingly with less self-consciousness, their cadence closely circumscribed and visceral, the taut pulse of need. Subaru's hand shifted to cup the back of Seishirou's head, to fan and twirl slim fingers in his hair, not guiding his motions so much as urging their continuance, their intensification. Seishirou gave him what he asked for. Panting, Subaru squirmed as Seishirou closed teeth on his nipple and twisted, tugged, careful of causing any real damage but otherwise wholly unmerciful. Releasing that vulnerable morsel at last, a moment's deceptive reprieve, Seishirou stabbed at it with his tongue, probing and raking it, then sucked long and hard, with an eager fierceness that almost surprised himself. Desire had kindled full-blown in his blood, its throb crouching tensely in the center of his body like a ravenous animal barely leashing its spring. Subaru bucked with more force, scrabbling to press as close as possible without quite crushing himself into Seishirou's face, his low-voiced whimper scaling up a ragged note, the first stirring of an erection already in evidence as it nudged Seishirou's stomach.

Enveloped in Subaru's writhing, in the fair, sleek expanse of his chest as he reared above Seishirou, in his light but heady scent, captured in the shirt's open falls, Seishirou flashed back once more onto the afternoon's encounter: that upsurge of passion, that flood tide in which drowning and rising seemed not mutually exclusive. Subaru's uninhibitedness, his own flash-fired and burgeoning heat, even their positions reminded him of that strange intensity, an extremity that was nearly like crisis. That feeling as though something was overflowing, the energy too much to contain within a single skin, and needing something other, needing something in Subaru, to drink him down and be replete or else to be swept away, releasing himself into that--

Seishirou's eyes widened as a speculation flashed to light inside his mind, became possibility and then a snap decision. The inspiration gave him focus, and its appeal was enough to take over some of his excitement, taming his agitation to a more manageable level and letting him regain his self-control. Turning his mouth from Subaru's nipple, he leaned his forehead against the other's chest, feeling the heaving movements of Subaru's body slowly ease, feeling Subaru breathe--breathing out a puff of air himself, a small, soundless chuckle striking Subaru's skin as he thought over what he intended to do. He rocked with the last gentle remnant of Subaru's rocking--he wasn't sure quite when his body had begun to echo Subaru's motions, but it didn't really matter--then brought himself gradually to stillness. Leaning back, he ran his hand down Subaru's side, firmly enough to be not quite ticklish, let that touch trail behind Subaru's hip and over his seat to the back of his thigh. He smiled up into the loveliness of Subaru's slightly flushed, still-yearning face as he tapped two fingers against the underside of Subaru's leg.

"Up," he murmured.

He watched puzzlement creep into Subaru's expression, a wavering of hesitation, before Subaru relaxed, answered Seishirou's smile with one of his own, honey sweet with affection and a returning gleam of mischief. Subaru wriggled backward off Seishirou's lap, taking his time about it. As he stepped back onto the floor at last and straightened, Seishirou came off the couch, a fluid, lithe uncoiling right up against Subaru's body, so that he stood as near as if they were embracing, his face turned close to Subaru's hair. He traced his fingertips down Subaru's chest, just under the edge of the open shirt, and felt Subaru shiver.

"Take off your clothes."

Again, there was the merest pause before Subaru shrugged the shirt off his shoulders, let it slither down his arms. As he removed it, Seishirou obligingly took it from him, then stepped back a pace to better observe Subaru's expression. There was graveness in Subaru's face now, a concentration on something inward as he moved his hands to his belt and began to unfasten it. The shirt was soft and moon-white against Seishirou's fingers; he stroked it, then lifted it and tore the expensive fabric, one jagged rip down its length. At the sound, Subaru jerked his head up, his eyes wide. Seishirou smiled at Subaru with a tenderness that he knew belied the suggestive menace of his action.

"Do you trust me, Subaru-kun?"

Subaru blinked, the startlement going out of his eyes as he stared at Seishirou, leaving them half-lidded and dark, obscuring the thoughts beneath. Finally he gave another tiny lift of his shoulders, averting his gaze._ "Does it matter?" he asked, and in one motion he finished undoing his pants and shoved them and his underwear together down over his hips--a stunningly abrupt vision, the pale columns of his thighs and the shadows between them, his erection flushed and rampant against the sleek black thicket of his groin, and Seishirou didn't know if the lurch inside himself was a new twinge of lust or disquiet at the slippery implications of Subaru's words. Subaru bent over, stepping out of his pants and stripping off his socks at the same time, one leg and then the other, and Seishirou watched the play of his naked body, graceful even in what should be an awkward pose.

"Well, then," Seishirou murmured.

As Subaru finished, Seishirou moved forward and motioned him back toward the chair. Stepping around the little heap of clothes for the moment, Seishirou swept Subaru's suit jacket out of the way, then gestured for him to sit. A minute or two of work involving more cloth-ripping, and Subaru's wrists were bound to the chair's arms with the remains of the shirt--not, perhaps, an ideal material, but the bonds weren't serious restraints anyway. They were mainly to tease Subaru and to keep him from touching Seishirou at will. He didn't think Subaru could do too much harm to himself if he struggled against them. Briefly Seishirou considered securing Subaru's ankles as well, then decided against it--positioning would be challenging enough even if Subaru's legs were free. Satisfied, he stepped back and studied the picture that Subaru made, sitting very upright, the pale, curved sculpture of his slender form a stark but pleasing contrast to the chair's black and chrome geometry, like a magnolia flower sweeping upward out of a modern vase. Subaru's expression was sphinxlike, inscrutable. With an amused twitch of his lips, Seishirou scooped up Subaru's discarded clothes and made off into the bedroom.

In the other room, he dropped the clothes onto the bed, then paused, drew in a long, slow breath. Against the persisting urges of his body, he set the focus of a calming concentration--not to eradicate that desire but to find a center point, a wider one than usual, one that could encompass both physical imperative and magical will. Another breath, and he lifted his hands to unloose his tie methodically, to pick undone the buttons of his shirt. Sly satisfaction and anticipation curved his mouth into a scant, feline grin. Those feelings reflected in the quieting pool of his mind but made no ripples.

He'd never really attempted something like this before. Of course, there hadn't been much in the way of good opportunities. There were few enough practitioners with a high level of training and power and the right kind of energy; of those, fewer still were appealing enough to make him want to bother. And even if the right person had come along, there was a certain amount of opening that might conceivably take place, a glimpse of each other's true psychic essence. Being the Sakurazukamori made that a bit of a problem.

Seishirou laid his shirt and tie on the bed, then put one foot up on the mattress and began removing his socks. No, Subaru gave him an unparalleled chance to try something he'd only read about. Taoist sex magic wasn't typically part of the practice of Japanese onmyoujitsu, although he supposed it might be performed by a handful of esoteric adepts or, in bastardized form, by the occasional sexual predator with a smattering of occult knowledge. Of course, as an onmyouji one learned to regulate and balance one's own mystical energies, which naturally included the sexual, but this was more advanced. To raise and circulate such energies, as well as those of one's partner, to refine them in the crucible of inner power, and then, at the point of climax, to drink up a portion of the other's complementary essence, released by orgasm--in a way, it was a different kind of magical duel, a whole new arena in which the more powerful and skilled practitioner could claim victory and an especially sweet reward. As in any trial, there was some risk, not least that his partner might steal his energies instead, but Seishirou felt secure in the thought that Subaru had surely never done this either, and therefore would have no idea what was being attempted until it was too late. There would be no irreparable harm to Subaru--his body and soul would regenerate the lost energy in time--and if Subaru got upset, Seishirou could always pretend that it had been an innocent magical experiment gone awry.

"After all, I only wanted to give you pleasure, Subaru-kun...."

Undoing his belt, Seishirou grinned wryly. An experiment, indeed, and one he wasn't entirely certain would work. The Taoist manuals he'd read had specified a man and a woman; their applicability to a homosexual pairing was questionable. On the other hand, Subaru was rather remarkably yin for a man--yielding, passive, a dark, immersive mystery, a stillness waiting to be struck with light. And even if the ultimate aim wasn't achieved, the experience should still be intensely pleasurable for them both.

Not to mention, Seishirou thought, an entertaining challenge for him.

Seishirou took off his pants and underwear with brisk, efficient motions and laid them out on the bed. It was more than time to get to the action. Recalling his mind to the focus from which it had somehow wandered, he breathed in deeply, drawing air all the way down to the base of his lungs, drawing energy down into the inner cauldron located at the root of his body, then letting both rise as he breathed out. He rested one hand on his groin. Between that cupping, suggestive touch and the circulation of those currents, he could feel heat ignite in him once more, a steady, controlled burn awakening in his lowest tanden. He thought of Subaru, bound like a sacrifice, an offering for a rite of pleasure, the beautiful object of his desire, and that flame uncoiled, expanded, resonating as it grew with those forces of ki and spirit that already pulsed through him, three notes creating a single harmonious chord. As he stroked his shaft, he could feel himself harden and swell, long-resisted lust finding expression at last, his throbbing pulse and that vibration of moving energy echoing and influencing each other, gaining in intensity. For a moment he closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of potency, of readiness. Then he fished the lubricant from the nightstand drawer and padded back out to the living room.

Subaru, of course, was still sitting in the chair, his back to the bedroom doorway. Silently Seishirou walked up behind him and laid the lubricant on the side table, next to the abandoned glass of wine. Subaru started but didn't quite turn his head. Subaru's erection had lost some of its force, Seishirou noticed, expectation quite not enough in the absence of any stimulation, but that would be readily taken care of. The music continued to play, a woman's voice now rising over the instrumental, singing wordless notes of longing. With the remote, Seishirou turned it down until it was quieter even than a whisper, a mere suggestion of sound at the very edge of hearing. Passing behind Subaru, he crossed to the light switch and dimmed the overhead light to a muted glow. The room became filled with soft-edged shadows, everything ordinary made obscure and suffused with the unknown, the half-imagined.

Satisfied, Seishirou walked back across the room and knelt in front of Subaru._ Subaru straightened, his chin lifting as he stared past Seishirou, his arms braced at stiff angles from his sides, wrists tensed but not fighting the bonds. Seishirou merely gazed into his face. After a moment, Subaru's eyes shifted, found his. The two of them remained like that for several breaths, Seishirou continuing to look calmly, attentively into Subaru's eyes, holding and strengthening that connection. Then he smiled, winsomely warm and tender, and through the entrainment of their joined gazes he could not only see but feel the tremor deep in Subaru, the guarded facade beginning to falter--that resistance not ever wholly serious, but not entirely a game, and now Subaru was wavering, wanting to give himself up to the promise of Seishirou's smile.

But really, Subaru-kun, for what it's worth, it's true.

The perfect closeness, the physical and psychic bliss, the genuine meeting of two souls--

I'm giving it to you.

Slowly Seishirou uncoiled, rising to his feet once more. As he leaned forward, bending close above Subaru, he watched the play of emotion in Subaru's eyes, uncertainty gaining ascendancy as he drew nearer. Reaching out, he stirred the dark fringe of Subaru's bangs before slipping his fingers underneath to lift them, brush them aside. He kissed Subaru's forehead, then parted his lips to lap gently at the skin, and he felt Subaru start again at his tongue's moist touch. Pulling back, he lifted his other hand and with a fingertip traced a character's intricate strokes into the dampness of his own saliva. Subaru's eyes flicked wide as he realized what Seishirou was doing--he drew in a startled breath. Completing the final stroke, Seishirou invoked the character, his voice a low, charged murmur--


--and Subaru's eyes rolled back, a flutter of lashes as they closed, as the power kindling behind them took his attention. With magical sight, Seishirou could see the unfurling of luminous spirit energy, the same soaring white beauty that infused Subaru's shikigami, the very essence of his mind and nature shining out as his uppermost tanden was opened. The character's brief glow vanished into that brighter radiance. Sinking down, Seishirou guided Subaru's legs apart so that he could settle between them, their muscles relaxing into easy readiness as Subaru slipped toward the mental and physical balance of a working. Seishirou ran his hand down from Subaru's hair, skimming Subaru's throat, the side of his chest, until he reached the solar plexus. He breathed onto the skin there, laved it with his tongue, and marked it with a second mystical sign.


The fluid force of that awakening jolted Subaru's whole body, made him arch, toss back his head. This was the seat of vital energy, purified and empowered in Subaru by years of spiritual training that had increased his already strong innate gifts to an extraordinary level. Even contained--for while Seishirou was the one who was rousing Subaru's tanden, Subaru remained fully conscious and volitional, and he was much too conscientious a practitioner ever to let his power slip entirely out of control--Seishirou could feel the flux of ki tingle and crackle against his skin, could taste it in the air, a tang like lightning, cloud, and seaspray. A sheeting wave of resonance shimmered and sparked along his own aura. He drew a sharp, exhilarated breath. Then, recollecting himself quickly, he moved his hand down to knead at Subaru's belly, while his other hand curved lower to cup and fondle Subaru's genitals. Subaru shivered, and the thrill of excitement that chased through his physical body was reflected even more visibly in his subtle one, a ripple of energy that was echoed in Seishirou's. Seishirou bent his head, and on the smooth, taut skin between Subaru's navel and groin he placed the third sign.


The energy of the lowest tanden was purely sexual: a flaming pearl clutched and caressed in the dragon's claw, a bubbling, molten ore contained within the cauldron of an inner furnace. Subaru's shaft flushed with new heat against Seishirou's palm, swelling eagerly in answer to Seishirou's massaging strokes, the fire in his belly expanding to push down into its length. There was immediate reaction in Seishirou, his own erection reasserting itself, returning to the forefront of his consciousness with a fresh, feverish throbbing, an exquisite burning pulse that was partly his restless blood and partly the sear and rush of living magical current. Lifting his head, he noticed with a twitch of mild surprise that Subaru's eyes were open. They caught and held his gaze, entranced but lucid, fathomless green depths letting him sink layer by layer toward the veiled brilliance hidden at their heart. A pang ripped through him, a wrench of redoubled desire, further heightened by the sudden reminder of Subaru's physicality as Subaru leaned minutely toward him, wrists shifting against the bonds. Subaru's lips parted, his chest lifting with an in-taken breath before he murmured, his voice low and urgent, a feline stretch and moan, "Seishirou-san...."

Seishirou stared for a long moment. Then he blinked, ducked his head, his shoulders jerking in a silent chuckle as he set his will back to the working's purpose. Multiple emanations of energy all sought escape, according to their nature; he held them close, calmly and deliberately reaffirming his control.

As he finished regathering himself and rose to his feet, he let his hand slip from Subaru's shaft, then brush briefly across the head of his own. He glanced into Subaru's face, tilted up toward him, its beauty acute with longing and an ecstatic transport of concentration. An enigmatic half-smile seemed to hover about Subaru's lips. Seishirou imagined that his own expression was probably quite different: the kitsune's mask rather than the bodhisattva's, blandly human on the outside but with the fox laughing in the fire behind his eyes, in the taut slash of his grin.

He lifted his hand and in the center of Subaru's chest he traced one last character, the glisten of their mingled pre-cum slick on his sketching fingers, on Subaru's smooth, pale skin. Looking up from the finished sign, he found Subaru's gaze once more. Its ethereal quality had faded somewhat--Subaru held his regard more directly, matched Seishirou's smile with his own, the expression no longer vague but an intimate, knowing gleam, wise and ever so slightly wicked. Seishirou's grin sharpened in answer. Leaning close and putting his lips next to Subaru's ear, his cheek brushing Subaru's, he invoked the final sign in an exultant whisper.


Seishirou straightened as Subaru's heart center burst to life, sent subtle fire streaming through his body, along all its meridians. Those energy channels marked him with a tracery of rushing light, like dragon lines carrying the power of earth over mountains, through valleys--on a much smaller scale, but proportionally no less potent. His eyes closing once more, his face stricken with bliss, Subaru arched, rolling backward as though Seishirou's hand, still on his chest, had pushed him gently, until he lay against the low, sloping back of the chair. Settling one knee on the seat, between Subaru's sprawled legs, his arm braced on the chair's back for support as he hovered over Subaru, Seishirou reached down and touched Subaru's right hand. He traced two fingers along the curve and dip of Subaru's thumb, over the fleshy heel of the hand, then up the wrist, pausing to slip them underneath the bonds and press firmly on the pulse point before continuing upward and inward, following the primary meridian that coursed along Subaru's arm to his chest. He took his time, letting Subaru feel all of that slow journey, the play of his fingers upon various pressure points, a stronger touch here, a more nuanced one there, that careful stimulation further encouraging the energy's flow, rousing it to run with even greater vigor. Subaru had begun to breathe more deeply, his stomach lifting and falling visibly as he purified and built up the power in his system, supporting Seishirou's work.

A practitioner, after all....

Seishirou followed that pulsing channel along the front of Subaru's shoulder, and as it dipped down again, finally arriving at a point just north of Subaru's heart, Subaru jerked, gasped, a shock of sensation rippling through him._ Seishirou smiled. Brushing his fingertips idly across Subaru's nipple--a tiny sensory thrill to serve as counterpart to the extrasensory one, an additional dash of spice to make the savor even more complex--he waited for that agitation to subside, then returned to Subaru's hand. Along the underside of Subaru's middle finger and across his palm, Seishirou followed the next meridian, its course paralleling the first, until it found the heart as well. Subaru moaned, low and throaty, rolling his head against the chair back, his hips shifting as he stirred, riding that fluxing swell of energy. Then the smallest finger, its meridian running up the inside of the arm, most intimately associated with the heart of them all--Subaru shivered and writhed the whole length of that one, little panting cries escaping him toward the last, and as Seishirou touched the heart center a third time, he arched, let out a choking whimper. His legs closed on Seishirou's; he lifted one, erratically rubbing it up and down along Seishirou's thigh.

Though Seishirou was guarding himself better than before, he still could sense Subaru's inner state through its resonance with his own. Subaru's breath was carrying that heart-fire down into the lowest tanden, heating it further, a burning sexual roil, the essence of which was then borne on the meridians' circulation like smoke, giving every contact with them an intense erotic charge, even beyond the simple pleasurable tingle of moving energy. Seishirou breathed more deeply himself, relishing the undercurrent of tension, Subaru's excitement being conveyed to him and stirring his own tanden, though he was careful not to let himself get too carried away. Instead, he refocused on the attentions he was paying to Subaru, and on the prospect of pushing the onmyouji to even greater heights.

Switching to the left arm, Seishirou traced its first meridian lightly, running from Subaru's little finger over the back of his hand and up his arm to the shoulder, an activating but soothing stroke, a lull to provide some contrast before Subaru was roused anew. He kneaded a point behind Subaru's shoulder, sending warmth seeping through Subaru's back, relaxing and energizing the muscles. Subaru gave an almost inaudible sighing murmur, part pleasure, part discontent. Smirking, Seishirou skimmed his fingers back over Subaru's shoulder and down onto his chest. He flicked them across Subaru's other nipple, a feathery tickle, and Subaru squirmed, let out another inarticulate sound of complaint. Seishirou's smile broadened further. So Subaru wanted more, did he?

Reaching down, Seishirou touched Subaru's index finger, followed the fiery line along its back, over the knuckles and then up the inside of Subaru's arm. He lingered to enjoy the marvelous softness in the crook of Subaru's elbow, dabbling his fingers there as though barely swirling the surface of a pool of water. The contact was too slight to let him feel the pulse of blood, but it was more than enough to sense the strengthening current of power, fed by magically aware caresses, by desire and almost painful anticipation. From there, he pushed onward more firmly, his fingers gentle but merciless upon each pressure point, stroking and stimulating the energy relentlessly, opening every flood gate so it could run without restraint. Along Subaru's shoulder, onto the taut stretch of his throat as Subaru inclined his head back, and then, with sudden, torturous slowness, creeping up over his chin--

Seishirou's fingertips touched the curve of Subaru's lower lip at last, then slid over it to rest on the upper one. Subaru's eyes started open, his expression transfigured as that subtle fire found its culmination. He made no sound at all this time, but that silence, along with his body's rigidity and his wild, abstracted stare, cried out, as loudly as a ghost could cry to those with ears to hear it.

Intrigued and pleased by his success, Seishirou traced Subaru's mouth, intensifying the physical sensation and by connection the psychic one. He could feel the gathered energy buzzing against his fingers, a tingling, living vibrancy--how much more did Subaru feel it on the sensitive skin of his lips? Breathing harder but still showing remarkable control, Subaru hooked his leg behind Seishirou's and tugged with ineffectual insistence. He twisted against the chair, restless once more in that excitation, his lips parting under Seishirou's teasing touch as though by yielding they could entice more of it, yet more stirring of the power that was building with every deliberate breath. Fascinated, Seishirou bent nearer to Subaru. He could see the play of energy refining and transforming itself, a complex, scintillating dance beneath the skin, but more compelling by far was the utter ravishment in Subaru's face, those green eyes half-lidded in purely concentrated pleasure, Subaru's head lifting toward Seishirou in a mute plea for fulfillment--but no matter how enticing Subaru was in his ecstasies, no matter how his arousal burned higher and brighter, communicating itself to Seishirou as a dim but increasing pounding at the back of his awareness (and how high could Subaru go, from nothing more than this?), there was, after all, another point to the endeavor. An orgasm from Subaru now, gratifying as it might be, would spoil things.

Seishirou let his fingers slip away, with some reluctance. Subaru gasped at the loss. His tongue darted out, its tip flicking along his upper lip before vanishing. Seishirou stared at the little gleam of dampness left in its wake, the trembling, urgent promise of Subaru's mouth. As though mesmerized, he found himself lowering his head, his lips parting to taste its irresistible offer.

Contact. His mouth ignited with a lightning-strike fire, a flaring, stunning blaze that he felt all the way to the back of his skull. His scalp and shoulders crawled as though the feet of a swarm of butterflies were clutching at him; the hairs along his neck lifted. Gold light flashed across his vision as power poured from the meridian-end at his upper lip down the front of his body, through his chest, his stomach, until it hit the cauldron around his lowest tanden and overflowed, an astounding torrent flooding him with heat. Pleasure, yes, but strange, sense-confusing, overmastering pleasure that tried to tear him from himself--too much, too much, so that it was almost like a pain, but somehow he wanted more of it, reckless of the cost. He thrust closer to Subaru, bucking his hips half-consciously, frustrated by Subaru's position in the chair, which made it almost impossible for them to press full-length against each other while maintaining their kiss. Thwarted, he drew more fiercely on Subaru's mouth, and Subaru's lips moved against his with equal fervor, Subaru's chest lifting as the onmyouji continued to breathe deeply, even rhythmically, through their clinch. They were breathing in unison, some of the same air shared between them, passing warmed from mouth to mouth; the energies of their bodies were pulsing to the same quickening cadence, throbbing more brilliantly with every beat, growing closer to a blinding fusion--


Seishirou jerked aside. Subaru started forward with another gasp and was brought up short by Seishirou's hands on his shoulders, pushing him down into the chair. Tense, yearning against Seishirou's grip, Subaru made a stuttering, strangled sound, swallowing what was probably a cry of Seishirou's name, then fell back, bereft and quivering. Peripherally, Seishirou knew that Subaru was gazing achingly up at him. For the moment, though, he avoided meeting Subaru's eyes.

Instead, he touched Subaru's hand again, finding the path of the third meridian. He could feel as well the particular energy signature of his seal on Subaru; those marks were asserting themselves under the influence of the working, rousing to pale visibility as he passed his fingers across the back of Subaru's hand. It was natural enough, now that he thought about it--he should have expected as much. In any case, he imagined it might be useful, a further aid to attuning with Subaru.

Not that he needed much more help, he noted wryly. It looked as if there wouldn't be any problems in that regard.

Wasting no more time, now that the tumult inside him had calmed somewhat, he ran his hand up the last meridian, along Subaru's arm and shoulder, a quick finishing stroke to balance the left and right sides. Then, less swiftly, he glided both hands the full length of Subaru's body, down chest and stomach, over Subaru's hips and along his legs until they arrived at Subaru's feet. He could feel power and excitation still burning in Subaru, flickering under his hands as they traveled but growing steadier, gradually leveling out to a new equilibrium, a sustained, brilliantly shimmering peak. Kneeling on the floor, he chanced a sidelong look at Subaru. Subaru's eyes had closed once more; he lay sprawled in the chair, hips slid forward on the seat, neck arched and head rolled to one side, lips barely parted. His erection rose up against his belly, an especially strong concentration of the energies that limned his body and flowered at each tanden. The only motion was the slow writhe of his hands on the chair's arms, Seishirou's marks pulsing in a matching, measured rhythm on their backs; that and the stirring of his breath. At the sight of him, Seishirou felt a pang, a lurch almost of vertigo, as if the floor had shifted like sand. Seeing Subaru given up like this, so far in the extremity of passion now that he'd passed through urgency to the surrender beyond, so desirable, so transcendently, incomparably beautiful as he shone with magic and arousal, with spiritual purity and a carnal flame--

Enough. Shaking off his entrancement, Seishirou leaned over for the lube. When he touched himself, the shock of it seemed to run right up his spine, tightened his belly and groin, as though that alone was nearly enough to bring him to release. He concentrated on his breathing, on methodically coating every part of his erection, on closing the tube after taking a final dollop on his fingers, each act performed as attentively as if it were a ritual, keeping him balanced before that brink. There should be more, he thought almost ruefully as he smoothed the cream into Subaru, there should be some of the many playful techniques of touching, as the manuals discussed, the varied styles as artful yet evocative of the natural as ikebana. Perhaps another time--tonight he was at the edge of self-control, and it would be a shame, anyway, to waste the extraordinary sexual and magical state that Subaru had already managed to get into by letting their momentum be diverted. Even half-lying in the chair, legs sprawled wide for Seishirou, Seishirou's fingers sunk deep and moving within him, Subaru seemed self-contained, almost serene, yet it was the stillness of being overfilled, like a limpid, brimming pool that could spill its banks if disturbed by the careless touch of even a single finger.

Gently, then, Seishirou drew Subaru's hips even farther forward, bringing him right up to the end of the seat. Fortunately it was a somewhat low chair. As an afterthought, he snagged a cushion from the couch, both for the extra height and to save his knees, which were starting to complain. Fitting the head of his erection against the tender pucker of Subaru's anus, he thought fleetingly back to the books again: the nine styles of movement and posture, the six styles of penetration. His lips curled back into a grin, baring just a hint of teeth.

Perhaps not traditional, but--

In one sweep he was into Subaru, plunging deep with smooth, focused intention, and Subaru's whole body shivered, like air fanned by a tumult of wings--was transfixed in an instant, possessed before its repose could be disrupted.

The red eagle flies through the vermilion gate....

The faint ridiculousness of the image, easily as florid as any from the books, made him chuckle inwardly, helped him keep the measure of distance that control required. Subaru was a hot, tight sheath engulfing him utterly, a living lift and fall of breath beneath his hands as they curved around Subaru's waist, a coruscation of energies burning against his senses like strong alcohol going down, sending out tendrils of searingly pleasurable fire. He held onto his center, keeping his own energies coherent and purposeful, tamed to his will. Feeling secure in that self-mastery, he drew back at last, and then began to move within Subaru: long, penetrating strokes--the inward thrust fierce as a dragon's lunge, the retreat a deliberate recoiling--followed by quicker, more shallow ones before driving himself in to the limit again. He counted out that alternation carefully, silently, the numbers important in themselves, a mystical progression, as well as being yet another aid to concentration. He breathed to that same rhythm, and was conscious of Subaru's breaths falling into synch with his; he could feel flashes of sensation surge through Subaru's body as each deep stroke stimulated the prostate, ripples of ever greater intensity bursting across Subaru's aura yet somehow never breaking into release. With each breath, Seishirou drew his own mingled energies up his spine, over the top of his head, then let them flow down his front, crown to lip to heart and on into the blast-heat of the furnace at his root, and Subaru matched him in this as well, circulating his heart-fire in perfect unison, so that power flared up through them both with each thrust of Seishirou's hips, then streamed downward between them, fire licking and curling along fire, that meeting tingling and prickling on the skin.

From Seishirou's lowest tanden, a coil of concentrated power began to rise, throbbing upward in time to those thrusts, those breaths--the same power rising in Subaru also, as if twin serpents were lifting their heads, their scales slithering flame. That power in them both touched the second tanden, merged with the vital energy that was generated there. Seishirou felt molten heat build in his stomach, pleasurable in a vaguely disquieting way; it flooded the muscles around his spine in a rush, relaxing them so that a new freeness came into his hips' movement, an effortless inevitability in their sway to meet Subaru's, in the lift of Subaru's hips to meet him. Those combined energies surged up and down between the two centers, rising and falling, repeating and repeating--and a new blaze flared to breathtaking life inside Seishirou's head as his uppermost tanden answered the others. Subaru's eyes drifted open, and as they met Seishirou's gaze, their own not quite in focus, he could see a chatoyancy in them, the flickering play of a pale light, ethereal and otherworldly, and amidst its comings and goings a subtle reflection of gold, like a candle flame mirrored in water. As he stared into them in fascination, he could feel that newly roused power inside himself start sliding downward. He could taste it in the back of his throat, sweet as honey, flowing like water, could feel it in his chest, almost cool in comparison to the heat his lower centers were throwing off, a heat that made him swelter as if it were summer, that made his skin and Subaru's sweat-slick against each other. Down and down, until it met the union of the other two in the bottommost tanden, and there all three combined, flash-fused in that conflagration, in the pumping of Seishirou's hips, faster now, counted strokes dissolving into a single imperative of in and out, in and out, deep as he could go, as if he could plunge in far enough to reach the similar vortex of power in Subaru, to enter it and make their fires one.

Recollecting himself and his ultimate aim, he forced himself to slow once more, to rest a minute in the barely contained tensions of alchemy and desire. To his magical sight, everything around them had gone dark--nothing could be as bright as they were, mystical light running through vein and channel, pouring from their skin, radiating to form a hazy aura around them like a cloud shot through with tiny lightning trails, lazy, restless wanderings of escaping energy, cracklings of taut bliss. The circulation of their breaths continued, moving that light almost without the need for conscious intent now, stately circlings like two vast weather systems turning, touching rim to rim, where they swept against each other a silent weight of thunder gathering, a promise of rising air, the release of rain.

Seishirou began to move again, each thrust careful but emphatic. Subaru's body rocked, receiving him: a flex and ease of Subaru's stomach, a twitch of his hips, a delicious friction as his passage clasped Seishirou's shaft on every stroke. There seemed no end to the enthrallment of those sights, those sensations, the musky redolence of sex and sorcery, the yielding of the flesh that embraced him--it felt like he could possess Subaru like this forever, and yet--and yet--

He swayed forward. Clenching his teeth on a groan, he closed his eyes. Not enough, after all--not the place that he needed to get to. He was caught in those flaming coils of energy, the cycling of breath, the repeated animal motions insufficient for more than their own eventual peak and quick death--all these closed circles turning about each other, and he didn't know how to be free of them, to be free of himself. Vision flickered unexpectedly past his awareness, like the afternoon's augury but less clear, confused flashes of sight and sound and presence: the creak and groan of a tree--the Tree?--its crown dipping and tossing in strong winds, its roots winding deep into the earth, clutching greedily, holding fast to the soil; an endless dark ocean under night sky; a silvery mirror, cool to the touch, wondrously reflective; and through and around them all there was fire, this fire--

Let go. Sheathed to the limit in Subaru, Seishirou froze, then bent low over Subaru's body, as though that passing thought had taken with it all his strength and will to move. In that sudden and complete stillness, both physical and mental, the emptiness at the gyre's heart, he could feel his own heart beating, could feel another dim throb against his stomach: Subaru's erection, pinned there, the charge it held a faint shock as it met his own energies. Distractedly, he eased a hand between them and enfolded Subaru's shaft, rolling his fingers about it, guiding it to rub and butt against his body. Tiny bursts of ecstasy swirled through him at every touch, remote but distinct. The reactions of Subaru's energy-body, transferred to his by their proximity? Really, it seemed unimportant. For a timeless while, then, there was only that gentle, oddly engrossing exploration, Subaru's heat and pleasure encompassed in his hand.

Now. He raised his head. As Subaru's eyes opened, he met their gaze, dark once more, that dragon light drawn down into Subaru's center to join the rest of the energies simmering there. Subaru's expression was still, expectant, quiet but indescribably tender, like a hand cupped in a warm caress against Seishirou's face. The corners of Seishirou's mouth lifted, acknowledging the smile implicit in Subaru's look, a communication more rich and intimate than any love-words. Then he straightened and began to push into Subaru again, each plunge long, confident, sliding deep without hesitation or haste, his whole being infused with perfect calm.

And amidst those firefly physical pleasures--the soar and flare of sensation as he drove into Subaru's body; the stab of intensity each time he hit the sweet spot of Subaru's prostate and felt Subaru shudder with unrestrained reaction, the resonance washing up his own spine to break like daylight inside his head, rushing out along all his limbs in a rapture of trembling; the eager pulse of Subaru's shaft beneath his hand like the pulse of his own inside Subaru, like the pulse of his stars drawn into flesh, yearning, calling--in the stillness surrounding those perceptions, he could feel the power inside himself shift, beginning to rise, rise, ascending in a single narrow column, channeled through his body slowly but with tremendous force. Hot waves pounded up his back, advancing a hand's breadth at a time; he was aware of the same waves rolling upward in Subaru, crashing to the same rhythm. Rise. Let it rise. Faster now as they passed the level of his heart, of their hearts, moving more smoothly, surge and surge of two tides paired in progress, each one a burning glitter like a torrent of jewels, unstoppable--terrifying on some level, but it was much too late to go back now--and he threw himself wide, letting it come, letting himself receive that power as it burst through the last gate at the back of his skull--

A sun, a white-gold sun, born of that expanding fire, unfurled through the top of his head like a ceaselessly blooming chrysanthemum, layer upon layer of petals opening. The shining took his sight, left him in a world of blinding glory, exalted, transfixed, and alone. For an instant he was lost, uncertain of where he was or what to do. With an unexpected jerk Subaru lunged upright against him, a jolt of opposite polarity as Subaru's tanden and heart came into alignment with his, a more physical collision as Subaru's face hit his nose, surprising and slightly painful. Subaru's lips fumbled across his cheek before closing on his mouth. Their soft, ardent motion gave him focus and immediacy, something to react to. Something real. Seishirou kissed back hard, eager--Subaru's mouth yielded, and as their tongues met, twining and sliding against each other, he was vaguely startled to taste not wine or sake or the staleness of a dinner that now seemed so long ago, but surpassing sweetness, a flowing liquid like nectar, faintly peach-flavored. It welled up, filling his mouth, passing between the two of them as they kissed; he swallowed some, a mingled essence so cool and light in his throat that it might have been a fantasy of drinking, the drug of some immortal spirit to make human beings have visions of another world. Subaru's tongue curled, lapping beneath his before withdrawing, and he felt the catch as Subaru gulped, quick and delicate, Subaru's body straining toward him, quivering as Subaru pushed upward against the bonds. Clarity and finality filled Seishirou, a surrender to desire and necessity, a fierce relief--a joy.

This was it. This was the last.

Drawing back, he thrust brusquely into Subaru, again and again, striving with each jerk of his hips for that ultimate union. He was fighting the crystalline stillness of a rarified spiritual state as well as their awkward positioning, but the effort made each stroke a more searing accomplishment, made the pleasure all the more piercing for its price. Seishirou opened his eyes--his sight had come back, he found. Looking into Subaru's face, he watched the shudders, the tremoring of Subaru's jaw and closed eyelids, the way Subaru's head jolted with each push, each breath. The sight of those mindless, purely reactive responses excited him even through his abstracted focus, made him want to--to-- His hand redoubled its motions on Subaru's shaft. Somehow--it was important--that Subaru--that Subaru first--and as if in answer Subaru tipped his head back, his spine straightening, stretching full length as he leaned away from Seishirou, his lips parting on a final, caught breath as he let go, as the circulation of air and fire stopped at last--

There was no preparing for such a thing. All that energy, all that pure, flowering aura, cloud and swirling water, the elusive flicker of soul, the power of a Sumeragi--and not merely any Sumeragi but this one, the thirteenth head of the clan, Dragon of Heaven and Seal upon the human world's fate--all that strength and strangeness and immeasurable complexity broke onto Seishirou, a flood beyond any control or encompassing. Eagerly he drew that energy and ecstasy into himself, more and more, filling himself with it as he thrust harder into Subaru, trying to drink all of it, Subaru's transcendent orgasm, his spirit, his very essence. Whether it would drown him or not didn't matter. He had to have it all. More and still more, a tide that wouldn't end, filling his groin, his belly, pushing upward through his body, throbbing with ever-increasing intensity, lifting him out of himself--he was coming too, he realized dimly, pumping his seed into Subaru in terrible spasms. No, wait--but he couldn't stop, he couldn't hold on, he was being taken too, himself from himself, his energy drawn out and into Subaru, even as Subaru's energy surged into him. Unbelievably, he could feel yet more power rising from his lowest tanden, pleasure expanding inside him as that center was stimulated further, as it generated more fire that burst upward through his body and was poured out into Subaru, just as that other ceaseless current was pouring into him. Power circled and grew, circled and grew--he wasn't spilling any more seed but he was still coming, relentless waves of sensation breaking through his body and brain, shattering all understanding.

He found himself staring into Subaru's eyes, those green mysteries, and somehow other eyes, unmatched white and gold, were looking back at him with faint surprise. He was being drawn in deeper; he could feel Subaru's shaft warm and damp in his hand, giving up its last hardness, Subaru's release wet and already starting to cool on his stomach, his hips still jerking with hunger, pushing him into Subaru's body, the close, so-good embrace of Subaru's flesh around him, the hot fullness that stretched him wide to accommodate its movements, the tired, languorous ache of being taken so hard for so long, the pulse of desire not yet exhausted, heart beating in synchrony with heart. Their bodies were merging into one, dissolving into the free flow of energy that wheeled through them, that was rushing faster now, without impediment, a ceaseless waterfall roar that left them deaf, blind, and still the pleasure, ah, the pleasure, growing and bursting outward until there was nothing else, only this rising, this insane, all-engulfing flight--



Seishirou stirred. Very slowly he began to realize that he was uncomfortable in several ways: he was sweat-drenched and starting to chill, he seemed to be slumped at an awkward angle, and his knees and ankles were giving serious twinges of complaint. He pushed himself up on his elbows. He was draped over Subaru's lap--Subaru was sprawled in the living room chair, seemingly asleep or unconscious, and he was kneeling between Subaru's legs. With some effort, he uncrumpled himself, started to shake his head, and then stopped. He felt--strange, tired and oversated, warm in an inexplicable way, disquieted and at the same time far removed from that disquiet. He could remember everything that had happened, now that he thought about it, yet the essence of it was in a place he couldn't really touch. He could only recall the experience as though from a distance: extraordinary sweetness, the disturbing loss of control (frightening? yes, at couple of points it had been--he'd admit that), a release so great it was like self-annihilation, that amazing, absolutely unrivaled pleasure--

Seishirou smiled faintly, then frowned. Subaru was moving. The onmyouji turned his head, his eyes still closed, shifted one arm against its bond and flinched. Seishirou leaned over and began picking at the knots. As the cloth came loose, he saw the red, painful-looking chafe-mark on Subaru's skin. He scowled, displeased. Reaching out to the sakura--he was still near enough to trance-state that the contact came with ease--he drew a trace of power to himself, then ran one finger along Subaru's wrist. Rose-gold magic followed that track, smoothing away the soreness and leaving flawless, unblemished skin. That was better. Glancing up, Seishirou realized that Subaru's eyes were open and Subaru was watching him. Subaru smiled, and Seishirou blinked, then looked sharply aside as he undid the other bond and concentrated on touching away the small injuries there. Shaking off the last glimmer of power, Seishirou took a moment to breathe deeply and make sure that there was no other residue of their working lingering in his body or mind. All seemed clear--in fact, swept clean, as though he'd undergone some austerity or spiritual purification.

He supposed, in a way, that he had.

With a little sigh, he sagged forward onto Subaru, his head coming to rest on Subaru's stomach. It lifted and fell beneath him, the motion steady and somehow reassuring. He closed his eyes. Aside from being tired, he felt disjointed, as though he'd come back to a house where he'd lived as a child and found it smaller than he'd remembered, or having a different style of furniture, or--something. The hush between them drew out longer; he opened his mouth, hesitated and then released that breath without speaking, took another one and let it out the same way. Finally, he smiled wryly and shifted his head, his cheek nuzzling Subaru's stomach as he resettled himself almost comfortably. He curved one hand about Subaru's side, his thumb slowly stroking the skin.

"Well," he murmured. His voice caught a little; he paused to clear his throat. "Subaru-kun. Your grandmother certainly didn't teach you that."

There was silence, and he wondered abruptly if his words had upset Subaru. Considering their earlier conversation, which he'd forgotten about until that moment.... Then Subaru's stomach contracted slightly, convulsing beneath him as Subaru laughed, the sound quiet but free. After a pause, Seishirou started to chuckle as well. Then he was laughing outright, the two of them shaking with shared amusement, helpless and exhausted in each other's arms, and Seishirou gave himself up to the novelty of it, the relaxation and perfect rest.

An experiment, after all.




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