Sakura and Snow
By Natalie Baan
The explosion tossed them both into wakefulness at the same instant as a roaring wave of force rocked the apartment building. Seishirou rolled swiftly on top of Subaru, one arm raised wardingly above their heads. With the other, he held Subaru against his chest, all his senses skimming outward, searching for the instigator of the blast and finding just a vanishing gleam of power that winked into the distance like a shooting star. There was a confusion of crashes from around the apartment, one final vibration, then silence. After a pause, Seishirou pushed himself up on his elbow. "What was that?" Subaru whispered, and Seishirou frowned.
"I'm not quite sure. "
Summoning a small light into his hand, he sat up further. Subaru glanced at his face, green eyes troubled almost to black, then eeled out from beneath him and padded to the window. Disheveled and fragile-looking in rumpled white pajamas, Subaru pried open a crack in the blind and peered out anxiously, while Seishirou watched with a carefully guarded expression. In the aftermath of that precipitous awakening, he couldn't tell which was more perturbing: the near-miss itself or the quandary of Subaru's presence when he probably should go out and investigate it.
"I think it hit the garden apartments at the bottom of the hill...whatever 'it' was," Subaru was saying. He craned his neck, then went up on his toes as well to get a better view. "I can see fire."
"Ah." Still a bit disconcerted, Seishirou hunted for the bedside lamp and found that it had tumbled off the nightstand. Fortunately it hadn't broken. He picked it up, straightening its shade, and turned it on. Its warm, ordinary glow replaced his magical light with the more comfortable illusion of normalcy. Subaru turned to blink at him, then faced the window again, shading his eyes with one slim hand. Seishirou wondered what the onmyouji was trying to see out there. As far as he could tell, all the fireworks were over and the guilty party long since gone.
As Seishirou scanned the bedroom for further signs of damage, he continued to probe the mystical undercurrents of the surrounding area, searching for whatever clues might be left behind. He could feel the disruptions that the power had caused, but not any real hint as to its nature. For a shockwave of such magnitude, though, and with that particular resonance, there were really only two possibilities.
Dragon of Heaven.
Dragon of Earth.
Either one was a complication to his tryst with Subaru.
At the moment, though, he couldn't sense any immediate threat, and the only casualty he'd found was the plant stand, which had tipped over, spilling his plants onto the floor. It was a good thing he'd left them in their original plastic pots; he'd only have to sweep up a bit of dirt. Since there didn't seem to be any pressing danger, he decided to let the matter slide for now. In the morning he might put some effort into unraveling it, if he could manage to distract Subaru.
He was reasonably sure that no one knew where they were living and that the attack therefore had been a mere coincidence: some aerial battle passing by. But if he were wrong and it had been a deliberate attempt or perhaps a warning that they'd been discovered, then some words would be exchanged.
He didn't want Subaru getting involved in that.
"Nobody's out there." Subaru's shading gesture had shifted into the two-fingered focus of his own psychic probe. Now he dropped that hand from his forehead. Sighing, he pulled down a slat of the blind and futilely gazed out once more. "At least, I can't find anyone. What were they after? No kekkai went down."
Seishirou didn't answer, not being eager to encourage his lover's interest. After all, the success of this relationship game lay largely in avoiding the endless sparring match that presaged the destruction of the world. Far better to continue as they had been, separating themselves from even the thoughts of Seals and Angels, keeping their allegiances under cover and out of sight. Stifling a yawn, he decided to put off inspecting the rest of the apartment in favor of luring Subaru back to bed and to sleep, or perhaps to something nicer.
What a nuisance they'd had to be awakened so rudely, though. It really didn't set a proper mood.
"All those people," Subaru was murmuring. "It's so senseless. I wonder...."
And there was a fine dusting of ceiling plaster in the bed sheets, Seishirou noticed suddenly. It was probably all over himself as well. Distastefully he swiped one hand across his hair and scrutinized the white powder layering his fingers. As he glanced up again, his gaze unexpectedly met Subaru's. Subaru was watching him, those expressive eyes opening onto darkness as transparently as the crack of window visible in the blind's narrow gap. Everything that Subaru didn't say hovered at their surface, shimmering like the lamplight's reflections. Bemused, Seishirou stared at the silent onmyouji, then lowered his hand and smiled, with only the slightest of inward sighs.
"Let me pick up the plants and get dressed, Subaru-kun. Then we can go outside and have a look around."
Subaru's whole heart answered him eloquently, a wordless fire of emotion kindling in those really too irresistible green eyes. Then Subaru turned, glancing out the window again. Seishirou took advantage of that momentary distraction, since it seemed that there wouldn't be any other fun for a while, to let his gaze roam appreciatively over the view. True, those pajamas didn't reveal much at all, but still...and as he watched Subaru lingering there, unaware of his scrutiny, he couldn't resist the temptation.
"Hadn't you better get dressed too?" he asked innocently, and Subaru jumped.
* * * * *
Walking along the sidewalk toward the sirens' cacophony and the orange-yellow light of flames, Seishirou blew out another soundless sigh, his breath condensing whitely into frost. How had he let himself get seduced into this? Beside him, Subaru kept quickening pace and then slowing again, quite obviously struggling to keep from rushing forward. Calmly Seishirou maintained his own steady stride, an easy rhythm that would get them where they were going more than soon enough. After all, he reasoned, he already knew pretty much what they were going to see.
And as the muddled noises ahead resolved into the muted roar of fire, a chaos of urgent voices, and occasionally, raised over the rest, one faint human cry, Seishirou reflected idly about the pointlessness of this whole excursion and how he'd really rather be back in his bed.
Oh, well...it couldn't be helped, he supposed. Subaru was just that kind of soft-hearted person.
He did wonder, though, as they drew nearer to the source of the disturbance, what exactly Subaru was hoping to achieve.
The structures that they passed began to show signs of damage, shattered windows and facades that had been scoured away, and Subaru picked up speed again. They came around a building that had lost most of its front to the explosion, and as they stepped into the glare of firelight Subaru raised one arm instinctively before his face. They were just across the street from the line of fire trucks and the emergency workers who were frantically manning hoses, so close to the burning apartment building that Seishirou could feel the conflagration's heat prickling against his skin. Fire bloomed from a deep crater in the center of the unit and from the smaller holes where windows and sliding glass doors had been. The strike must have hit the building directly, and then the gas lines had probably gone up, Seishirou judged. The structure was obviously a total loss, and the most the firemen appeared to be striving for was to keep the rest of the complex from burning as well. To him, their efforts seemed rather in vain. Whether from the original attack or the explosion that had come after it, the earth had buckled violently, and the trees and buildings nearest to the impact had been tumbled to the ground like a child's carelessly demolished heap of toys. As far as he could tell, there wasn't very much to be saved.
Subaru made a circuit around the laboring firemen, springing over rubble and cracks in the street, and Seishirou followed. The flames swept a curtain of light and shadow over everything and reflected as a dull orange smudge onto the low cloud cover and the smoke that roiled up to meet it. Seishirou glanced upward, briefly scanning that troubled sky with senses deeper and wider than sight. He could perceive more than plainly the vanishing star-trail of power: a familiar aura, and one of extravagant purity and strength.
Interesting...perhaps this trip wasn't a complete waste of time, not when it provided him with such a tantalizing hint of mystery.
Now why would the Kamui of the Dragons of Heaven be destroying a random apartment building?
They arrived at a larger cross street where survivors were gathering, and Seishirou filed his question away for future study. People stood about in knots, clustering around the assembled ambulances or huddling together with their families. All those worried eyes--many fixed on the flames--were brilliant with that shifting, almost alien light, or perhaps with fear and grief. The air was filled with voices, unintelligible in sheer number. Subaru paused and looked around himself, dismayed.
A few stragglers still were stumbling from less-damaged apartment buildings. Not far away, an old woman tottered to the curb and sat down with a thump. She began to rock back and forth, moaning wordlessly, a low, keening wail. Blood streamed down her face from a cut on her forehead; beneath the coat that had been flung around her blue-flowered nightgown she clutched one arm to her side. Shivering in thin pajamas, a teenaged girl bent over her, plain face smudged with dirt and the tracks of tears. "Obaasan...."
And Seishirou started, one hand twitching reflexively after Subaru as the onmyouji vanished from his side. Stepping over to the sidewalk, Subaru swung off his own coat and draped it about the girl's thin shoulders, leaving himself just in sweater and jeans. The girl looked up, and Subaru murmured, scarcely audible from where Seishirou stood, "Are you all right?"
"Yes." Straightening, she brushed her short, straight hair back from her face, concern taking the place of sorrow and loss in her eyes. "But my grandmother...."
"I'll see if I can find a doctor." With a brief but lingering glance in Seishirou's direction, Subaru strode off toward the flashing ambulance lights, disappearing into the crowd. Bemused, Seishirou watched him go, considering the weight of things contained in that look. Not expectation, but rather the opposite of expectation: the simple fact of the situation and the gravity that it held for Subaru. Then, after a moment, Seishirou shrugged. He went over to the woman and with a smile knelt down beside her, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket.
"There now," he murmured, pressing the cloth carefully to the cut on her face, "don't be frightened. A doctor will be with you very shortly." He rested his other hand lightly against her wrist, and the old woman flinched. "Your arm--it's broken, isn't it. Are you hurt anywhere else?"
The woman stared pitiably at the mask of his sunglasses, blood staining her papery skin and matting the thin, white hairs beside her temple. Pain deepened the creases at the corners of her mouth, and her eyes were gummed and red with uncomprehending tears. Gazing into her features, rich with the character of a long and well-lived life, Seishirou made a deliberate effort to smile more reassuringly, even as he studied the landscape of her face with a distant, abstract interest.
Grandmother, these old eyes have seen a lot, haven't they? But they haven't seen anything at all compared to what lies ahead. Indeed, the chaos that's to come will make you wish you'd died tonight among the ruins of your home.
Are you praying for some merciful person to end everything for you swiftly and spare you so much suffering in your final days?
Well, unfortunately for you....
I'm not that person.
Subaru returned, melting back through the crowd with a pair of emergency medics in tow. Consolingly Seishirou patted the woman's uninjured arm and stood up, brushing a little dirt from his knee. One of the medics had blankets, and as his partner began attending to the old woman he approached the anxiously hovering girl. "Oh!" she exclaimed, and fended him off for a moment as she struggled out from underneath Subaru's coat. She offered the coat to Seishirou, as Subaru had already retreated and was surveying the area, apparently in search of other people who needed rescuing. The girl smiled up at him, her face beneath its dirt luminous with gratitude.
"Thank you," she whispered, slipping a shy half-glance toward her grandmother.
Although a touch surprised, Seishirou returned her smile, and with a tiny bow he accepted the coat from her hands. Then, leaving her and the woman to the medics' care, he walked across the street to rejoin Subaru. Solicitously but firmly he put the coat around his lover, guiding the distracted onmyouji's arms into the sleeves, because if he simply handed it over then Subaru would probably just give it to somebody else immediately. Seeming only vaguely aware of Seishirou's presence, Subaru scanned the surrounding faces, his body knotted with tension. He stood rooted in place like a tree by the empathy that twined out from his heart, drinking in others' misery and making it a part of himself. Resignedly, Seishirou put one hand onto his shoulder to break that spell. "Subaru-kun--"
"Momma!" A tiny figure stumbled headlong out of the crowd, caroming into Subaru heedlessly. Staggering back a step, she--for it proved to be a pajama-clad little girl, perhaps about six years old--stared up at them, her enormous hazel eyes round and wet with tears. Then she latched onto Subaru, knotting stubby fingers into the denim of his jeans. "Where's my momma?" she sobbed, her voice rising toward a loud howl. "I want my momma!" And she yanked hard at Subaru, as though she could shake the missing parent out of him.
Subaru was getting that traumatized look, and Seishirou bent swiftly to pluck the child off his leg. Swinging her up into the crook of one arm, he supported her against himself as she burst into deafening wails. He stroked her hair and her frantically heaving shoulders, weaving just a shade of magic around her, a light skein lying across the surface of her mind. He dulled the bright, sharp edges of her grief and fear with the subtlest of mental sorceries, until she lay limply against his chest, still but for the very slow rhythm of her deep breathing.
Subaru stepped closer and hesitantly touched her cheek. "Where did you see your mother last?" he asked. "Did you lose her in this crowd?"
"No." The little girl's voice was flat and exhausted-sounding, affectless under the influence of Seishirou's spell. Subaru glanced up at him in some concern, and Seishirou wondered whether that look had to do with the mother's uncertain fate or with his own covert use of magic. He couldn't tell whether or not Subaru had detected the working.
"Before, then," Subaru murmured, returning to the girl, "was she with you at your home?"
"Mmm." The child moved her head in weary assent. "She went back for my brother, Yu-chan."
"Where?" Subaru asked, the one word gentle but intensely focused, and the girl disentangled an arm from Seishirou to wave in an unhelpfully vague direction. "Can you show us where?"
"I don't know." Letting her aimlessly pointing hand fall, she buried her face in Seishirou's scarf. "Nothing looks the way it's s'posed to."
Subaru stared at her, and then gathered himself, taking a short step backward. Reaching into the sleeve of his coat, he drew out a card. Holding it between two fingers, he raised it in front of his forehead. "Shuku dou." He laid the card across his palm, his other hand hovering above it. "Shou!"
As he withdrew his covering hand, the ofuda lifted and moved as though of its own volition. Trembling into the air, it folded over and about itself, until with a white flare of magical energy it spread feathered wings and burst into the form of a shikigami. The bird gave a scintillating, almost soundless cry and lofted from Subaru's fingers. With the grace of a kite that had a steady grip controlling its string, it began to float along the street, only occasionally stroking its wings. Subaru took off after the shikigami, and Seishirou, collecting his patience, hefted his tiny burden and followed in Subaru's wake.
As they skirted the edge of the crowd, Seishirou eyed Subaru. It never ceased to amaze him how Subaru could be so open in the use of magic, especially around him. From the start he'd allowed Seishirou to witness any number of workings, even against his grandmother's wise advice. Although Seishirou had dropped hints about his own abilities, it had always been with the knowledge that he was breaking cover and a careful calculation of how much it might be prudent to reveal. These days, however, curiously, despite the fact that Subaru knew quite plainly who and what he was, he found himself not merely cautious but at times uneasy, even about the simplest of spells. He didn't want to grow too complacent, of course, to let familiarity trick him into giving away some essential secret, but it was also something more. Ever since he'd seen Subaru clasp that cute inugami master close, torn between contrary forces, he'd known how tenuous this breathing-space they dwelt in was. Any reminder of the powers that they held, the mystical prowess that made them Dragon of Heaven, Dragon of Earth, might be enough to destroy it. And having permitted himself the peculiar luxury of Subaru's presence, he found that he was reluctant to surrender it too soon.
Yet at the same time it had always been hard to resist using magic around Subaru, even so long ago when he'd been concealing his true nature. He didn't understand why that was. He'd been lucky, really, that Subaru had never seemed to question why his friend the veterinarian was so talented at onmyoujitsu. And it was no different in the present--against his better judgment, he kept giving in to the urge to do this or that around Subaru, and then arguing with himself about the wisdom of it.
Ambivalence was not a state that he was used to, Seishirou reflected. Nor was it particularly enjoyable.
They were leaving the mob behind them, and the shikigami turned, drifting weightlessly upward through the smoky air. It wafted over the hillock of a demolished building like a large and ornate white leaf. Determinedly Subaru climbed in pursuit of it, his sneakered feet sure on blocks of concrete and roofing; Seishirou called after him softly, "Be careful." As the little girl stirred in his arms, he touched the back of her head with one gloved finger, murmuring in an undertone, "Sleep." He could feel her sag against him as the spell took effect. Considering what they were likely to find, he'd have more than enough to deal with just to comfort Subaru. He had no interest in soothing a hysterical child as well.
Settling the girl more securely against his shoulder, he began to move around the toppled structure, following in the general direction that Subaru was heading. He saw Subaru pause at the peak of the debris and then skitter down the other side. Reaching the corner, Seishirou caught sight of Subaru again: he had halted at a jagged pile of rubble that looked no different from any other. Sinking to his knees, he stared into it for a long, long time. Then he lifted both hands in the prayer gesture and began to chant, his voice clear and remote in the frosty air. Nearby, the shikigami observed the scene from its perch on a crumpled balcony rail.
Seishirou stood on the pavement of what had been a children's ball court, watching Subaru perform the evocation. After a while, dim radiance seeped from the shattered wall. The light drew together into an unclear figure--a woman, one assumed, although the ghost lacked coherence, making it hard to identify. Subaru lifted his head to address the spirit; it replied at some length as he listened to it with grave concern. His attitude spoke of reassurance and polite authority: the confidence he'd had even as a boy, in his work if not much else.
The spirit grew more solid as Subaru said something else, presumably referring to the girl that Seishirou held in his arms. She turned to study him, her intense face framed by long, wheat-colored hair that swept like folded wings down her translucent form. Seishirou smiled back guilelessly, and then Subaru smiled as well, that luminous and compassionate expression. He held out his hand in a final gesture, part invitation, part command. Seeming almost to bow, the ghost reached out in turn, fading toward nonexistence. As their fingers touched she puffed into a shimmer of light that sparkled about Subaru briefly before dissolving away.
Subaru tilted his head back, closing his eyes. Then he sighed, one small breath, and his shoulders slumped.
As he stood and started to clamber down the pile of rubble, Seishirou moved swiftly forward to its base. Settling the child into the crook of his arm, he extended the other one to Subaru. Subaru took his hand and jumped the last short meter to the pavement, dropping to the ground with light finality. Straightening, he gazed into the little girl's face, his expression faraway and troubled, as it frequently was after such a working.
"All right?" Seishirou murmured.
"Yeah." As tranquil even in their unrest as clouds were, Subaru's eyes lingered on the girl. Then he smiled sadly. "The baby had already gone ahead. The mother was only worried about her children, and when I told her that her daughter was safe and would be taken care of, then she was ready to go too. Really, she was brave." Slipping his hand out of Seishirou's, he brushed the girl's cheek again, pushing a lock of hair aside--and Seishirou suppressed a twitch.
Would be taken care of...surely Subaru didn't mean....
"And now, what about her?" Seishirou asked, a cautious feeler toward the other's intentions, and Subaru tipped his head to one side, considering. Then he sighed once more.
"I guess we should take her to the emergency workers. They'll know the proper people to look after her. Maybe she has other family who can take her in. Or if not...." Letting the words trail off, he smoothed the sleep-frown puckering the child's forehead. "In either case, she'll have to be brave too," he said finally. "It'll be hard."
Seishirou felt mild relief wash over him, and he smiled, stifling a tiny chuckle before it could escape. Of course Subaru wouldn't have thought to suggest that they care for the child. It would be ridiculously inconvenient, not to mention pointless, for two opposing Dragons to take in a six-year-old practically on the eve of the deciding battle. Even Subaru had to recognize that. No, he'd mistaken Subaru's compassion for deeper, more personal feelings and had jumped to the wrong conclusion...and in that odd flux-tide of release, he found himself staring at Subaru. Seemingly unaware of his regard, Subaru contemplated the child's face in turn. Fascinated, Seishirou surveyed the vista of Subaru's features, the solemn set of the mouth and the green eyes hazed with feelings as if with rain.
"Subaru-kun," Seishirou said softly, the words rising almost without his willing them, "shall I make her forget?"
And he hadn't the least idea why he'd made that offer, particularly when his inclination recently had been to hide his abilities. Neither was he quite sure what he expected in response. Perhaps it was the same as the way Subaru's shyness triggered his teasing, the way Subaru's naive allure tempted him to play amorous, at times dangerous games, to desire to touch. Baffled, almost hesitant, he waited as his words sank in on Subaru, and then Subaru responded with surprising evenness, "No. It would take something precious away from her, a little piece of the person she is. She wouldn't remember what kind of woman her mother was, a woman who would sacrifice her own life for her children. And not remembering, she would never understand. Although she may not understand it anyway, still, to forget.... If she forgets everything, it just makes what she's suffered just a meaningless tragedy. Living means to remember it, and then to go on."
Dubiously Seishirou eyed Subaru, his vague unrest somehow not appeased by those quiet words. Then Subaru glanced up the rubble's slope toward the shikigami, which was still awaiting its next command. He called it to him; it took off with a thin, silken rustle of wings, sliding down through the air toward him, and as it mantled above his outstretched hand, it dissolved into white light and a spent, fluttering scrap of paper. A small breeze, rising, snatched at the ofuda, and Subaru captured the card before it could escape. The air was a touch less chill than it had been, and behind its pervading smokiness it carried the weak, wet scent of rain or snow.
The promise of a change in weather....
* * * * *
They'd finally started home from the scene of destruction, and the flames' crackle had faded with the distance. The still-sleeping girl had been given to the rescue workers, who were collecting the other refugees into busses to take them to shelter. In the side street where the two of them now moved, the only reminder of what they'd seen was far-off firelight wavering on windowless brick walls and on the old snowdrifts that lined the curbs. As they walked down the center of the narrow road, empty of traffic at that hour, the wind continued freshening steadily.
Subaru put one slow foot in front of the other, his eyes on the ground.
Seishirou flicked the cigarette that he'd been smoking down a sewer grate. His pause for that put him a half-step in Subaru's wake. Looking at the other onmyouji's back, he remarked, "You feel responsible, don't you?" Subaru's pace faltered; Seishirou moved forward and put his hands onto Subaru's shoulders.
Together they came to a stop there, in the middle of the street.
"Because you're a Dragon of Heaven," Seishirou went on, speaking with deliberate, practiced calm. Subaru was silent in his grasp. "Because you're involved in the end of the world, even if it's not your doing you feel responsible for the harm that comes to other people. You think that you ought to have prevented this, that somehow you're to blame...." He rocked Subaru backward, drawing the other's familiar, unresisting weight against himself. "But you didn't destroy that apartment building. You didn't hurt and kill all those people. If you'd never been born into this world, do you think that human suffering would somehow be diminished? Even if you're a Dragon of Heaven and the head of the Sumeragi clan, nobody thinks you've failed tonight but yourself, let alone that any of this was your fault in the first place. And I'm sure the people that you helped back there would agree with me." Slipping his arms around Subaru and crossing them over the onmyouji's chest, Seishirou rested his cheek against the top of Subaru's head. "So Subaru-kun, don't blame yourself anymore. Okay?"
There was a pause that seemed to stretch out endlessly, and then:
"Eh." The sound was less a word than a breath of acquiescence. After a moment, Subaru's hand stole up to close around his. The thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan settled back against his shoulder, and as though in answer Seishirou turned his face against that silky dark hair.
He had gotten it right again, he thought with a flicker of satisfaction. Yet the adrenaline thrumming through him hadn't diminished a bit.
What was this disturbance, this continuing impression of danger, when to all appearances he'd just changed Subaru's mood for the better and everything ought to be fine?
Seishirou's eyes had closed, but now he opened them again, gazing past Subaru's head. It wasn't that he'd reminded Subaru of the future they were approaching, although that could be part of it. Subaru hadn't flinched at his magic or at his mention of the world's end, but his own irrational desire to avoid bringing attention to either one remained hard to shake. It wasn't even that he'd reminded himself. He had known from the start that this idyll, as pleasant as it might be, would soon be over.
It wasn't the certain knowledge that Subaru was a threat to him, that Subaru had duties and responsibilities that had to do with him only insofar as he was a menace to be overcome, and that one of these days Subaru would have to take notice of that. It wasn't even the pang he'd felt on the Azuma Bridge, the realization that all of this might be stolen from him in a single breath.
That something he still didn't grasp could be lost like that, snatched away without resolution....
His hands tensing almost indiscernibly on Subaru, he groped his way at last to comprehension. No, it had a little to do with all those things, but the truth was something more. Not the inevitable and doubtlessly ruinous fate that awaited them both....
It was that Subaru saw it also and yet persevered.
In the end, he hadn't wanted that child to forget, Seishirou realized. He had wanted Subaru to. Because if Subaru simply forgot, that he could understand. After all, it was only the kind of thing that he was used to seeing.
But instead, in spite of everything, for there to be this...this....
And as he tightened his arms abruptly around Subaru, he squashed the inexplicable urge to laugh out loud. Instead, he spun that almost explosive impulse outward, releasing it into his magic. He wrapped the two of them up inside his spell, not at all sure of his reasons, but it had something to do with a reckless urge to push this impossible moment, to challenge it and see how far it might extend. The glow of that distant fire transformed itself, filling the air with movement. Its light sealed the world away from where they stood with a shimmering, radiant curtain. Pale reddish gold and orange flickers enfolded them like rain, danced around them like snow, in constantly changing and renewing patterns.
Subaru lifted his head from Seishirou's shoulder. "Beautiful," he whispered, gazing at the play of illusion with something like awe. "How do you--?" Seishirou stiffened--imperceptibly, he'd thought, but Subaru broke off at once. "No. Never mind. I'm sorry." Somehow that discernment hit Seishirou hard, almost like a blow; he struggled to find his balance, caught in a bizarre equivocation. Surely this was more than enough, it was beyond foolishness to think of actually teaching Subaru one of his spells, and yet....
The craft of illusion was one thing, but there was an art to it as well, a wholly different skill that by itself could do very little.
He couldn't help wondering how Subaru would take to it.
"It's not unlike creating a shikigami," he heard himself say, the words slow, sounding almost diffident. He clasped his hands around Subaru's, at the same time laying his touch over Subaru's mind. He could feel Subaru yielding to that caress unreservedly, falling under his will without resistance and entering a subtle trance. "The magician simply draws out what's inside." As if from somewhere outside himself, he watched his fingers thread the strands of sorcery about Subaru's. Then he folded his arms around Subaru again, supporting the onmyouji in his embrace.
"Picture it in your mind," he breathed against the curve of Subaru's ear, "the place that you'd like to see...."
There was a pause, and then Subaru twitched, drawing himself upright with a delicate gasp. The mirage of fire and shadow condensed around them, darkening into a cavernous, poorly lit space filled with solid shapes: the heavy, slanting presence of girders and a tile floor that curved outward for an interminable distance. They were standing a little way back from an immense paned window, through which Seishirou could glimpse a landscape of gray and black buildings against a colorless sky, a view that stretched out below and around them. After a moment or two, he recognized the place.
It was the second observation deck of Tokyo Tower.
This was how it had been on that morning nine years ago, when he and Subaru had been locked in the Tower overnight following that business with the young woman's ghost. Seishirou smiled at the scene, remembering it all quite clearly: remembering how he and Subaru had sat with their backs to a girder, looking out across the city and talking of nothing essential until Subaru had fallen asleep, leaning against him with that pure and perfectly oblivious innocence. How he'd drawn Subaru down to sprawl more comfortably across his lap, and so they'd remained until dawn, Seishirou running his fingers through Subaru's hair and watching the city's lights, patient for once with this waiting. There had been a certain mood up there, suspended above the earth, a feeling as though one were in a different world altogether.
Subaru had caught the spirit of the place quite well, Seishirou thought, if not the architecture.
Amused, he closed his arms infinitesimally tighter around Subaru. That time he'd had to hold himself back from taking a definite advantage; now, of course, there was no more need for restraint. Lowering his head, he nuzzled into Subaru's hair, feeling the memory of that long-ago hunger, so deliberately denied, blending with the spice of his continuing edginess and the illusion's strange, anticipatory aura to form an intriguing savor of desire. He bent to touch his lips to the back of Subaru's neck. Subaru made a tiny, breathless sound before he'd quite made contact, and Seishirou, feeling the tenor of the illusion begin to shift, lifted his eyes.
Dumbfounded, Seishirou stared as dawn poured over the city, not in its usual tired crawl but instead with sweeping suddenness and delicacy. It was as though the air itself, struck by radiance, had become a swift-moving, nearly physical presence, like the evocation of a spirit. That light dissolved the glass panes in front of them; it lanced around them almost blindingly, forcing Seishirou to half-close his eyes, and then, as its intensity ebbed so that he could see again, he discovered that the world around them had changed. The girders had been thrown into crisp relief, their red color as vividly tactile as an artist's chalks. The floor that they stood upon was washed with gold, and outside, wreathing about the Tower's base and extending widely around it, a sea of faintest rose....
The sakura trees that grew on the Tower's grounds were in flower far below, their forms as indistinct as mist. Framed by the remote, hazy shapes of buildings and an impossibly cerulean sky, they formed an otherworldly expanse, far vaster in this illusion than in reality. Where in truth there had been only a few scattered trees in the first thin days of their blooming, in this memory the sakura rolled away on all sides, extravagant and gorgeous. The Tower's deck had become indefinite when Subaru's attention shifted--there was just the hint of its existence around them and the solidity of its tiles beneath their feet. Through the empty space where the window had been, a swirl of wind licked in at them; Subaru spread out his arms, his coat billowing back against Seishirou's legs. For an instant they remained like that, hanging between earth and sky, seemingly unsupported above the blossoming city. Then the illusion faltered as Subaru confused the perspectives, and as the cloudy branches that had been here suddenly were there, shifting between far and near, Seishirou seized hold of the spell and unraveled it before it could turn vertiginous. The illusion tore apart, fraying into shadows and dull, flickering light until they were standing once more on the pavement of a narrow street. The wind continued to blow, but it was cold now, and carried with it a few presaging snowflakes that tumbled from a darkly lowering sky.
Subaru sagged back against Seishirou's chest. His heartbeat, fluttering like a quaking leaf, trembled in counterpoint to Seishirou's own strangely rapid pulse. The tension, the "fear" from before had gone, but an excitement mysteriously remained.
As though some improbable gamble had been won, despite all odds.
Then Subaru sighed, and Seishirou collected himself, asking the other quickly, "Are you all right?"
"Yes." Folding his hand around Seishirou's tenderly, Subaru lifted it to touch Seishirou's wrist against his cheek. "Thank you." And as Subaru nestled against him, Seishirou gazed down onto that silky, wind-mussed hair.
The shy ease that Subaru showed with him these days, and the illusion, with its wild yet curiously gentle and ebullient spirit....
Was that what Subaru had been talking about when he'd spoken of joy?
"Subaru-kun," Seishirou murmured, then added with deliberate offhandedness, "let's go home." Cupping his palm under Subaru's chin, he turned the onmyouji, tilting the other's face up toward his. "Although it's pleasant to be with you anywhere, perhaps...someplace warmer?" He grinned suggestively.
And Subaru answered with one of those scarcely perceptible smiles, a subtle, almost knowing expression. The alley's poor light caught in his gaze like fire inside a faceted precious stone. Dimly Seishirou wondered why, of all Subaru's features, he found those green eyes so incredibly enticing, but he was already bowing toward their exquisite flicker, capturing the warmth of Subaru's "yes" on his lips before it could be said. Subaru responded lingeringly, then drew back with sweet slowness, his eyes meeting Seishirou's thoughtfully. "Oh, and Seishirou-san?"
"Mm?" Somewhat distracted, Seishirou's gaze wandered Subaru's face as that smile widened ever so slightly.
"Yes. You are."
"I'm what?" Subaru's shoulders jerked, and he ducked his head, hiding the laugh that sparkled in his eyes. Turning, he hopped over a small mounded snow drift and up onto the sidewalk, leaving Seishirou in his wake.
Subaru broke promptly into a swift, almost merry stride, and with a start Seishirou hurried after him as the snow began to flurry in earnest.
Previous Chapter | Author's Note | Next Chapter