Sakura and Snow
Chapter 5 (PG-13 version)
By Natalie Baan
Seishirou hung Subaru's coat on the rack and, shaking the last of the snow from his hair, stepped out of his shoes and up onto the floor. As Subaru bent to attend to his own shoes, Seishirou left him there, moving off somewhat aimlessly in the direction of the kitchenette counter. He felt secure enough at the moment to step away like that--he didn't think Subaru could muster the resolve to do anything without more time to recover. Besides, he needed to consider what he himself should do next. It was definitely a peculiar situation, and one that he didn't entirely grasp. He wasn't even sure why he'd brought Subaru back upstairs with him, let alone why Subaru had come.
He paused and glanced back. Subaru was sitting on the edge of the genkan to unlace his sneakers, his face wearing the closed look of utter exhaustion--exhaustion of the heart, not the body, although probably he was still weak physically as well. There had been too much shuttling back and forth between tension and relief, and Subaru always seemed to feel everything so intensely. Whatever closure he had achieved with his sister's ghost, the process could not have been easy.
What exactly it had been that had passed between them...Seishirou could only wonder about it, and that wondering reminded him of the distance he could not traverse, that space between himself and other people. He looked across the room at Subaru, and although with the damage to his eye he couldn't precisely gauge the width of the floor that separated them, he suddenly was aware of every inch of it, and what kept him apart was infinitely more vast.
Then his eye trailed up along the line of Subaru's body as the other finished with his laces and began to stand, and for a moment the rose fire of the healing magic came back to him: the fire, and the heat....
Perhaps there was a certain distance that he could cross, after all.
He walked back toward Subaru. As he approached, Subaru turned to look up at him, balancing awkwardly with one foot half-out of its shoe, his expression still translucent with shock. Seishirou stopped at the raised edge of the floor. With the extra height the step gave him, it was like looking down at the teenaged Subaru again, only the proportions of the tall, slender body were different, and the close-cropped hair, and the face.... He stared into the face that was raised to his for a long moment. Then he leaned forward, cupping a hand under Subaru's chin, and kissed the young man gently on the lips.
He could feel Subaru become still, the mouth against his own going taut and surprised at the contact, but Subaru didn't struggle or try to break away. He held Subaru there another moment before releasing him. Then Seishirou straightened, gazing down into those eyes that were wide with startlement.
"I don't love you," Seishirou said. "But I want you." It was truth, as much truth as he had ever given Subaru. Seishirou followed the ripples that those words caused in the deep green water of Subaru's stare, the shifting, interlocking movement of emotions that had to be, at best, contradictory. He didn't wait to determine what exactly those emotions might be, or for Subaru to respond. Instead, he bent down again with patient slowness, never taking his eye from Subaru's face, from Subaru watching him draw nearer--and then Subaru tilting his head back, his eyes closing this time as their mouths touched once more and he yielded like cloud or water to the subtle pressure of the kiss. Seishirou let his own eyes shut, savoring the feel of the Sumeragi, that perfectly delectable surrender. He slid his arms around Subaru and kissed him more deeply, felt Subaru's lips trembling against his in the same way that sakura petals trembled the moment before the wind took them, and with the same softness, as Subaru's mouth parted for him and let him in.
Subaru-kun, I can't love you. Perhaps I can't really understand you for what you are....
But I can have you.
And I will....
* * * * *
Seishirou looked down at the slender V-shape of Subaru's torso, at the back of his dark head, his face hidden in the crook of his arm. He felt simply the clean, empty lassitude that usually followed climax. It would be easy and pleasant to abandon himself to that, to lie down and drift in the quietness that followed release, but he probably shouldn't. Rising, he went to the closet and got his robe, taking it with him as he went into the bathroom to clean himself off. When he came out a few minutes later, Subaru hadn't moved significantly.
Perhaps he had fallen asleep.
Wandering out into the main room, Seishirou collected his lighter and cigarettes from the coffee table. He took one of the stools from the eating side of the counter and swung it around into the kitchenette. He sat down there, in the half-light that reached him from the living room fixture, and lit up a cigarette. Slowly he breathed in the rich, familiar smoke.
The experience had been entirely satisfactory.
In a way, though, there was something almost disappointing about that.
Although the physical pleasure was enjoyable enough, while it lasted, in the end it was just as brilliant and as transient as any other thing. He could not build upon it...he could not make it into that human connection.
And it didn't tell him anything about what it was to love.
He knew better than that, of course. After all, it was foolishness to think that sex could solve anything. For what the evening had been, it had been very good, and he took it for that, and savored it, and then set it away, gently, into memory.
Seishirou heard sounds of movement from the other room then, and he put his reflections aside, becoming attentive again: listening and waiting. It seemed his "guest" was awake after all. In a little while, Subaru appeared in the doorway. It took him a few moments to locate Seishirou, sitting in the unlit kitchenette; when he did, he approached haltingly, almost disjointedly, as if neither body nor mind were quite functional yet. Subaru had put his jeans back on, but he was barefoot and wore Seishirou's shirt. Seishirou wondered if that was significant, or if it had simply been the first article of clothing that had come to hand.
As Subaru came to the end of the counter, Seishirou pushed the cigarette pack wordlessly toward him, and this time Subaru accepted, tapping one out with quiet dignity and a steadiness that belied the awkwardness he'd shown coming across the floor. He didn't meet Seishirou's gaze, however. Seishirou held out his lighter, and as Subaru leaned close the flame's glow flickered over his face, the gold of it flowing across his pale skin, leaving shadows here and there, at the line of his jaw, and in his half-closed eyes. The cigarette caught, and Subaru straightened up and nodded, murmuring a polite thank you, then retreated. There was a wooden chair in one corner of the kitchenette--Subaru went over and curled himself up on it, as if trying to make himself unobtrusive, and then lapsed into stillness, doing nothing but staring into space. Seishirou watched him for a minute, but he didn't seem to notice, lost in whatever thoughts might be going through his mind.
Perhaps there were no thoughts at all. Perhaps Subaru had withdrawn into himself and was merely existing until the next force came to act upon him. He had been like that occasionally in times past...perhaps he still could be.
Leaving part of his attention on the onmyouji, Seishirou returned to his own silent musings.
No, nothing had really changed in him, but now he was aware of the motivation that had escaped his conscious mind until tonight: aware of that hunger, that hidden need...that loneliness. He was a bit disturbed that he could act on such an impulse for so long without recognizing it. If there was one thing that he counted on, one thing that was true and certain in his life, it was his own self-identity, the knowledge of who and what he was, that intimate familiarity with his capabilities and with every aspect of his mind, heart, and body.
Sakurazukamori. That was the largest part of it, as necessary to him as breathing: the piece of him that gave shape to all the rest.
Being the killer, being the "cherry tree barrow guardian"....
Should he be lonely?
Should he permit it?
Seishirou stubbed out his cigarette and clasped his hands thoughtfully before his mouth. It was a difficult question. For a brief moment he found himself wondering if any of the others who had come before him had felt loneliness, wondered if they had been capable of love, or if that lack was unique to himself.
Then, he shrugged. Really, he didn't care. Whether they had been like him or not--
It didn't matter.
There was only himself now, and the one important thing was that he recognized what lay within him, acknowledged it, and then took steps to make certain that it served his will. A "feeling" couldn't betray him as long as he was aware of it, as long as he was watching out for its effects.
And now, he was.
There was a short, violent burst of coughing from the corner, as Subaru's newly healed throat and lungs protested the cigarette. Seishirou smiled wryly to himself. Funny that it had been the healing spell's return that had broken him open, that had cracked his mind wide enough to let him see such things. Just as he had used that living flame of power to clear away the shadows that had clouded Subaru's body--to restore the onmyouji to a normal state of health--in just that way the magic had tried to "restore" him, opening him up inside to reveal this hidden thing. He had meant to probe Subaru's damaged heart and instead had found something quite surprising in himself.
Healing out, healing back, although not as I might have intended it...and because there wasn't any "harm," my protections didn't function. I understand now. Still, I can't help but wonder, Subaru-kun, if you hadn't warded me then...
...what might you have found, when I woke up.
That feeling of disintegration, which he remembered quite clearly from his dream, the pull from that fractured sky....
Would he even have been recognizable as himself?
It's ironic, isn't it, Subaru-kun? In trying to protect me, you may well be the reason that I'm still the person I am. Still the same person...in the end, I haven't really been changed.
Seishirou shrugged again, abandoning that thought, and returned to the issue at hand. What should he do about that "loneliness"? What action, if any, could he take? To block the ache from his mind would be at best a temporary solution, no more than what he had already done for years unconsciously, and he suspected that trying to eradicate it completely would somehow be unwise. In any case, he found as he considered the matter that he didn't particularly want to make that attempt, didn't want to lose even that slight, strange awareness of lack. Even this "feeling," odd and uncomfortable as it was...it was still a part of him. And anything that was part of him, he would not let go.
So instead of destroying it he would leave it be, Seishirou decided, simply remaining at all times aware of its existence and its possible ramifications, in much the same way that he would allow Subaru himself walk out that door tonight and live for the few brief weeks until the final storm broke and he died as Seishirou had always intended that he should. It was overconfidence, perhaps, that Seishirou considered both the Sumeragi and the need he answered to be acceptable dangers. Perhaps that surety was a weakness in and of itself. But he was aware of that too. It also was a part of him, and he would no more relinquish it than he'd allow his eye and his will to leave the prey that he had chosen.
He would not let Subaru go...at least, not permanently.
After all, Subaru's life--and death--still belonged to him.
For tonight, though, Subaru could certainly leave: just like the little bird in a nukume dori painting, allowed to escape the falcon's claws and fly into the sudden respite of an open sky. Yet sooner or later the day would come for it, too, and the little bird would fall, its bright feathers scattering over the snow.
He had always liked that image.
Seishirou nodded to himself, then glanced at Subaru.
"Subaru-kun, wake up. You're going to fall off the chair."
Subaru sat up with a start. He uncoiled partway from his seat, putting one foot down on the floor, and as he moved the long tail of ash at the end of his cigarette fell off onto the linoleum. "Sorry," he began automatically, and fumbled for the ashtray on the end of the counter.
Seishirou couldn't help smiling slightly at Subaru's obvious and very appealing confusion. Still so easily flustered, even now.... Reaching into the cabinet underneath the sink, Seishirou pulled out the dustpan and broom. He went over to where Subaru was sitting and, kneeling, began to sweep up the spilled ash. "Go and get dressed," he said gently. "I'll call a cab for you this time. On a night like this, to find one just driving by--I doubt you'll be so lucky again."
"I want to stay with you."
Seishirou glanced up at Subaru, the briefest of glances, and then dropped his eyes, hiding his amused expression. He had rather thought so, seeing Subaru come out of the bedroom in his shirt. It seemed that Subaru was once more beginning to harbor illusions about the person he was, as well as about what this night might possibly mean. Seishirou bent forward, chasing a bit of stray ash that had fallen under Subaru's chair. "Don't be silly, Subaru-kun. You can't stay here--"
"I know what you are."
The sudden, raw starkness in Subaru's tone stopped him at once. His gaze flicked up again.
"Sakurazukamori," Subaru said, the word taut and fierce, spoken with a strangely complicated intensity. "I know. I want to stay." Seishirou found himself staring at Subaru, into the shadowed places of those green eyes that had always communicated far more than language could for Subaru...and indeed, Subaru's voice faltered a little as he met that stare.
"If- if you'll have me," he said.
Of course, there were all sorts of very good reasons why Subaru absolutely could not stay. Seishirou reached for them, but he found that they somehow weren't coming to mind--were scattering even as he looked for them, like light fracturing on ripples of deep green water. Subaru was still looking at him, those beautiful eyes filled with something aching, and Seishirou wasn't at all certain of what it meant.
Then Subaru reached out toward him, moving very slowly, a deliberate and careful gesture that couldn't be construed as danger. No, not even a spell...he pushed his fingers into Seishirou's bangs and lifted them, brushing them aside, then ran that quiet touch like rain down Seishirou's cheek. His hand slipped behind Seishirou and drew him forward--drew him down until Seishirou's head was resting on Subaru's knees.
Subaru began to stroke his hair with gentle fingers.
And just for one moment, Seishirou closed his eyes.