Sakura and Snow

Chapter 19


By Natalie Baan



"There!" Sorata jabbed one finger toward the horizon--unnecessarily, Arashi thought. The keening of awakened power clearly came from that direction, having grown ever stronger and more unmistakable as they drew closer to it, and the slender, upthrust spire of Tokyo Tower could not be missed, even with its lights dimmed for the night. The kekkai was their obvious destination. She decided to save her breath, though, and not comment. "Miss, let's go!"

Arashi nodded, and together they leaped from the roof of the train, leaving it to curve gradually off toward the bay while they took the most direct route toward the Tower. Building to building they sprang, while the train's clattering rush faded into the distance, to be replaced by an odd quiet. Even for the late hour, the city's hush was strange, its traffic and nightlife nearly nonexistent, as if even its most ordinary, unaware inhabitants somehow sensed the gathering tension, the reverberating note of discordance. Perhaps they did. It was so intense now that it seemed an almost physical pressure, the promise of danger looming like some vast, inevitable storm--and then a sudden shift, a release of energy like a slender, far-off lightning strike, a faint shuddering of the city underneath them. Sorata swore softly as they came to rest on top of a billboard, both of them feeling psychically after that brief disturbance, waiting to see if there would be anything more. Uneasily Sorata glanced westward, toward the tremor's epicenter, as if half-tempted to turn aside.

"There's nothing we can do about that," Arashi warned. The kekkai had already broken--a minor one, it seemed, which was fortunate. The Dragon of Earth who was responsible would not be lingering there. Besides, they had a more immediate concern. "Look." She pointed toward the Tower. They were near enough now to make out threadlike tendrils of power coiling about it, licking across its ironwork structure like stray electricity, flickering and restless, and at the highest observation deck there was a gathering incandescence, a ripple of white flame. Sorata gave a low, dismayed whistle.

"Oh, that's so not good. Let's hurry."

They had already been hurrying, but she understood his urgency. Their race across Tokyo had been like one of those archetypal bad dreams--though they'd traveled far faster than normal people, their progress had felt glacial, as if they were merely crawling across the endless city landscape. It was almost worse now that they could see the Tower. It seemed so near, as if they should be able to cross that distance in a single stride, yet remained frustratingly out of reach. They were still about a half-kilometer away when, without warning, the power at its crown erupted--

--a howling flare of raw force, an immense bolt of energy rearing up toward the sky, a crested, writhing serpent--

--a shrill ringing peal, sweet as birdsong, loud as armageddon, the Shinken's song of grief and longing--

--a shout that reached them not as sound but as a wave of anguish, of challenge and desperate need --


"Shit!" They had skittered to a halt on a rooftop, Sorata's arm around her shoulders, turning her toward him in an instinctive attempt to shelter and protect. She clutched at him, absently noting that there'd been a time when she would have objected, but for the moment she was simply and unashamedly glad of that support. Even at this distance, she could taste ozone; her mind rang with echoes, and she felt stripped of skin, scoured right down to hammering heart and too-fragile bone. She blinked hard, swallowed, and was trying to think of something meaningful to say when the building beneath them jolted. The city shuddered again, there was a deep, roaring boom, and for a panic-stricken instant she thought that Kamui, their Kamui, had broken the Tower's kekkai--but no. The sounds of destruction were off to one side, probably in the vicinity of Ginza. As those shocks began to fade, Sorata managed a dry, shaken laugh. "When dragons roar," he muttered--then his breath caught, his hands reflexively tightened on her, and though they were looking in different directions, she knew that he was witnessing the same thing that she was.

On all sides, stretching as far away as they could see, the multitudinous lights of Tokyo flickered, dimmed, and went out.

For long moments they just stood together, on the roof of their anonymous building, while before them that great column of fire burned against the darkness, a ceaseless, raging beacon. In the distance, a stray car horn sounded, thin and complaining, arguing right-of-way in the sudden absence of traffic signals.

"The Dragons of Earth are really moving," Sorata said at last, low. "But I don't know...we...." He faltered, hesitating.

"Kamui?" she offered, because she had no idea how to direct this battle either, and seeing him so at a loss hurt her.

"Yeah." He nodded slowly. "Yeah, we have to. Let's go." He had to release her as they started off again--they couldn't spare the concentration that it would take to keep in contact as they traversed that irregular path of rooftop peaks and street lamps, signs and wires. She thought fleetingly that it was something she'd like to try someday, holding hands along the city's high road, making a game of it, just to see if it was possible, and she felt a stinging, bittersweet pang, that she was thinking of games and of this person. Pushing the distraction aside, she focused on getting to where they needed to be. If she looked straight at the Tower, the light blinded her, so she kept her eyes on the way just ahead, or on the buildings to either side, lit up by its glare. That was how she spotted the swift-moving figure traveling in the opposite direction, a flash of pale robes against the night sky.

"Subaru-san!" She swung aside, leaping across the street to intercept his path, Sorata trailing a little behind, caught off-guard but quickly catching up. If Subaru was leaving the Tower, then he must know...but why, if he'd heard her call--and he had stopped short, so he must have--did he not come to meet them? He stood poised on a rooftop railing, a little above the dead neon sign where she had come to light, with Sorata at her side an instant later--stood like a statue, unresponsive, with his face turned away and his hands closed into fists. Unease stalked her, clutching at that briefly unfurled hope. "Subaru-san...what...."

"I'll keep Seishirou-san out of it." She almost wasn't sure that she was really hearing him, with the soundless roaring static of Kamui's flame splintering the edges of her perceptions. His voice was low and strained. "There's nothing else I can do here." Without waiting for a reply, he launched himself again, vanishing past the edge of the roof, then briefly visible once more, a flicker between buildings before they cut off all view of him, while Arashi stood there with her mouth still open, a thousand questions unasked, the loss of those answers an empty void within her, like the prelude to mourning.

Sorata put his hand on her arm. "Miss...."

"I know," she said, numb now, feeling an obscure sense of doom in all these little fractures, these things not as they should be. But there was nothing to do but to go forward. In silence, then, they turned and raced on.

As they reached the Tower at last, that peak of power began to ebb, the fire-dragon sinking down and dwindling into nonexistence, although the Tower itself continued to burn. The Tokyo Prince Hotel was the nearest and best vantage; as they went tree to tree across the park toward it, she spotted a waving figure on the roof, silhouetted against the light. Another shadow moved up to join it.

"Sorata-kun! Arashi-san!" It was Seiichirou who was calling to them, with Karen at his side. With a feeling of dim relief, Arashi followed Sorata to a landing in front of the other Seals. At least it wasn't just the two of them anymore. "Where is--" Seiichirou broke off with an apologetic grimace, and continued in a more normal tone, "Sorry. Where's Yuzuriha-san? Have either of you seen her?"

"No. I don't think she ever went back to the house." She could understand his impulse to shout, with that conflagration of power so nearby. She felt it constantly on her skin like the bloom of sunburn, a ceaseless, searing prickle, an blaze of white noise in the brain--and how on earth was Kamui sustaining this level of energy for so long, she wondered. Was it the Shinken? Some effect of the Tower? Or just the sheer power of being Kamui?

"We passed Subaru-san," Sorata was saying, and Seiichirou and Karen looked both anxious and grave.

"He was up on the Tower talking to Kamui," Karen explained. "But then he came down again, just as Kamui...." She waved one hand expressively toward the Tower. "We don't know what they said to each other, though. Kamui won't let us get near him."

"So it's just us, then," Seiichirou said, entirely too somber, and the four of them gazed toward the Tower as if it might hold some answer to the question that they all seemed to be thinking: What do we do now? In the distance, there was another low booming, not quite an earthquake, perhaps the fall of weakened buildings, and Arashi bit at her lip.

"You know," Sorata said at last, slowly, "while Kamui's going at this with maybe a bit too much of the crazy...he might actually have the right idea." They all stared at him. "If you think about it, there's no way we can guess where the Dragons of Earth will strike. We could run all over the city and just keep missing them. The only thing we can really do is take the most important kekkai and hold 'em, no matter what. Even if they bring down everything else, if we can keep just those from falling, then we've won."

"Yes. I see." Seiichirou straightened his glasses thoughtfully. "And the biggest kekkai that are left are...."

"That'd be Shinjuku. And the Yamanote Line. Since Kamui's got the Tower." Turning from the spectacle of that flame-wreathed landmark, Sorata grinned at Arashi. "So, Miss, how do you feel about a hot date at Shinjuku?" Her breath caught, despite herself--the ambivalent promise of action at last. She nodded tautly.

"Then we'll take the Yamanote Line," Karen said.

"We'll probably need to split up, to cover the whole thing," Seiichirou murmured. Karen glanced at him, then inclined her head in acknowledgment, a faint smile touching her lips.

"Okay! It's a plan! Then let's go!"

Like a flight of arrows, they took off, one outward-darting motion but with different aims as Seiichirou angled left, Karen right, and Sorata and Arashi together cut straight up the middle, toward the shadows of Shinjuku's towers that bulked dimly against the star-flecked sky. The roofs before them were bleached pale by moonlight from the wide, waning crescent overhead, a half-ring about the staring pupil of an eye, lighting their way. They went in haste, but Arashi glanced back once, toward the fiercest concentration of force at the Tower's peak and the lone figure there, unseen but sensed: the emanation of a tense, defiant will, the Shinken's plangent cry rising once more, softer now but still yearning.

We are not abandoning you, she would have said to him, her heart a ringing ache within her, as hollow and echoing as a temple bell. Wherever we go to meet this fight--still, we will be with you. Always, always--and Subaru-san, too....

As much as anyone can go to meet their destiny and not, in the end, be alone.

Of necessity, then, she turned her attention back to the way beneath her feet, those widely spaced stepping stones across the city's highest places, to the destination that loomed ahead in the distance, and to the unfaltering presence tracing his own comet's path by her side.


* * * * *


For all the lateness of the moon's phase, its light was strong and pure. In the absence of the usual electric glare, that light lay over the city like the aftermath of a blizzard, forming a landscape of dreamlike, disorienting whiteness and deepest charcoal shadows. It was a world both stark and diffuse, hauntingly familiar and deceptively foreign, where even the everyday sight of the Metropolitan Police Department building, normally more reminiscent of an air-traffic control tower, could take on an aura of enigmatic fantasy. Subaru glimpsed it from the corner of one eye, a brooding alien landmark, as he flashed past it, leaving the deathly still ministries of Kasumigaseki behind at last. His body carried him northeastward across the city as if by some homing instinct while his awareness flickered back and forth between his surroundings and the battering inner whirl of thoughts and emotions.

He had known. Lying awake in the dark, with Seishirou a slumbering warmth beside him, he had known--even before his pager had gone off, even before he had stood barefoot next to the genkan, in the dim circle of light by the phone, and heard the voice of the secretary of the CLAMP School's chairman, tense and controlled, saying against his ear, Kamui has taken up the Holy Sword....

He had known. He had felt the tension growing, slow as the grinding of great gears, and as inexorable. He had sensed the distance narrowing, the resonance of the Shinken intensifying, rising in pitch as Kamui had drawn nearer to it, even bound and dreaming as it was, until it had awakened, singing out beneath the touch of Kamui's hand, a clarion peal of release, a glasslike shattering of the chains that had constrained its power. And then an uneasy hush, as if the sword had ceased to cry--or, perhaps, had been crying for someone else to hear.

But knowing had meant nothing. It had been not the least bit of comfort, lying there, to watch the end of everything approaching, with the full and sinking awareness that there was no hope now of stopping it or turning it aside.

That he had, in all likelihood, been the trigger that had precipitated it.


The Imperial Palace moat lay dark and still beneath him as he sprang across the bridge to the Sakurada Gate. A glance to the left might have caught the steep peak of the Diet Building, a distant smudge at the end of its broad avenue, but he kept his gaze fixed firmly ahead. Over the low gate building, and he was in the Kokyo Gaien, the gravel of the plaza a blur under his feet, scarcely crunching as he crossed it in a ground-skimming, leaping run. To his right, the park rolled off toward Marunouchi, its forest of painstakingly shaped pine trees like black calligraphy scrawled across pallid sand, kanji overwritten upon each other and impossible to read in this haste; on the left, the two bridges of the Nijubashi were lost in shadow while the white guard tower beyond glimmered against the night, an image of poignant, ghostly defiance.

Somewhere behind him, already far off, a column of flame was still burning toward the heavens. He could sense it, dimly.

He would not look back.

After leaving Seishirou's apartment, he had taken off in full flight across the city. Kamui hadn't been hard to locate, the pulse of raw power and intention as spiritually loud as the raising of a kekkai, and once the direction had been established it had been easy enough to guess Kamui's goal. They had closed in on Tokyo Tower from different sides, Kamui seemingly arriving only a little before him. He had gone up to meet Kamui then, springing girder to girder--cautiously, at the end, picking his way through currents of trembling, steadily intensifying force that made the cables on all sides sing dangerously, like the music of unkind spirits. What kind of spell-- he'd wondered, before he had come up over the edge of the upper observation deck's roof, to see Kamui facing away from him, staring out across the city, clutching the Shinken's hilt.


And he had been greeted, as Kamui had turned so very slowly toward him, by a stare of violet ice and flame.

What are you doing here?

Well, of course he was there. Where else would he be? Hadn't he said it, after all...but as he'd met that guarded, burning gaze, as he'd registered the harsh edge of tension in Kamui's voice, he'd understood that for Kamui his promise had never truly been real. Concerned, vaguely anxious, he'd tried again.

Kamui, I....

Go away! The sudden shout had rung off the girders around them, licked a high-pitched whining note from the Shinken's blade, seemed to shatter the night into glass shards, spinning and falling all about them, a bewildering dance of shock and broken expectations. I don't want you here! Kamui's teeth had been bared, wolflike; he'd struggled visibly, as if to hold in some overpowering fury of emotion, before he'd looked sharply at Subaru once more and the words had ripped out of him, stark and savage:

Go back to him!

Silence, then, as they'd gazed at each other, Kamui quivering with scarcely leashed intensity, with short, constricted breaths. At last, wordless, Subaru had turned away. Like a passenger inside his own body, as if he were looking out through the eyes of a shikigami, he had watched himself set one foot precisely at the roof's edge, white tabi against white-painted steel, and then leap, giving himself to the air, a long, long arc outward and down, the wind snapping at his robes, whipping through his hair. Behind him, he'd felt that aura of power surge and heave, surge and heave, like choked sobs, until finally it gathered itself and blasted upward, a blazing flood of pure energy channeled straight up into the sky, an inarticulate cry of rage and desolation. He'd felt it in the space around his heart like thunder, in his mind and spirit like the blinding glare of lightning--the psychic force of it might have stunned him into unconsciousness if he had been any less threadbare, less translucently empty. Instead, he'd only closed his eyes against the wind that blurred his sight, pulling from him the tears that shock and grief, too new, too raw, too limitless for anything so intimate and mortal as weeping, had left unshed.

He was up to the plaza's overlook already--another bridge, another gate. From there, he leaped to the top of the East Garden's wall and raced along it, following the inside edge of the moat, those massive, mortarless stones impassively solid underneath him, undisturbed by the earthquakes.

As if they might actually be eternal....

He'd had nothing to say to Seiichirou and Karen, when they had met him at the ground, nor to Sorata and Arashi, who had stopped him as he was leaving the Tower. Only that one thing...that one defining intention which was all that was left to him.

He would face Seishirou. He would make sure that the Sakurazukamori's attention was occupied for the duration of the fight.

It was the one way that he could still help Kamui.

And not merely for Kamui's sake....

To be honest, maybe it wasn't for Kamui's sake at all.

Guilt had ridden him most of the night, a gleefully cruel possessing ghost; with that thought, he felt its claws afresh, curved daggers hooking into him. He was dully amazed that there were still new levels of pain to be felt, but it might just be that he was catching up with himself at last, no longer trailing, numb and mute, in the wake of events. His response to Kamui's rebuff had been automatic, and it was only now, kilometers away from the Tower already, that the self-doubting part of him was beginning to wonder, to second-guess those instincts. Had he made the wrong decision? Should he have talked to Kamui, tried to explain, refused to go? Would Kamui even have listened to him, or did those feelings of hurt and betrayal burn too fiercely?

In the end, could he have made any other decision? Could he have mustered the strength of will and rationality to stand by Kamui's side anyway, in defiance of his own heart? Or had his choice been made hours ago, up against a bar in a penthouse apartment, and everything else had simply followed from that?

The taste of Seishirou's mouth on his, the taste of sake....

Fool. Fool. Fool.

The wall and moat began their gradual curve to the west. He gathered himself for the leap--a high, floating arc over that night-dark, murky water, suspended with only the painful beating of his heart, until he lighted at last on the pale blue girders that framed the Metro Tozai Line, where the elevated tracks overhung the moat's edge. The catenary line was dead, of course, without even the subliminal buzz of electricity. The Palace grounds left behind, there was just the endless, blocky landscape of buildings jutting up ahead of him, on the far side of the expressway, and after an instant's pause he took off again, overpass to rooftop to rooftop, falling back into the rhythm of it, and back as well, inevitably, into the pitiless unfolding of remembrance.

He had been standing with his back to the bar, bracing himself on its safe solidity as he watched the chaos of people dancing, or attempting to dance. The memory of his own transition from clumsy, embarrassed awkwardness to a kind of release, a quiet, senseless happiness, had still been vividly alive in him: the uplift of breath and pulse; the recollection of Yuzuriha's hands, warm and light in his, and of her easy laughter; the impulse of the body, once moving, to remain in motion. And then Seishirou had been there, sliding around the corner of the bar, moving lightly but with a tigerish, prowling intensity. Subaru-kun. One hand on the bar's chrome edge, Seishirou's outstretched arm had curved beside him like the warding cord of a himorogi, marking a liminal space between holy and profane. His voice had been low, an intimate purr. Will you dance with me?

Don't! Despite that frantic, whispered rejection, or maybe as part of it, he'd found himself leaning into Seishirou, head lowered, fist clenching in the sleeve of that extended arm. It might have been an effort to touch first and thus forestall other, less manageable touching, to be the one to define their physical contact and therefore have some faint hope of controlling it. Because he'd been too close, still, to that freedom of dancing with Yuzuriha, no one caring about how ridiculous they'd looked, not even, in the end, himself--because others had been giving themselves over to the music too, Dragons of Heaven and Earth alike and together, crossing sides heedlessly in this moment set outside a year of desperate battles, and it had been far too easy to imagine himself being swept up, yielding despite his protests to Seishirou's strength and playful determination, to feel the room whirling as they spun, Seishirou's body pressing close to his and the sake filling his head with fire and air and glittering night--

It's all right. Seishirou's words, though no less quiet than before, had cut right through his trembling. He'd caught his breath...he'd closed his eyes, just for an instant, savoring the astonishment, the confused relief, the pure and naked wonder of the tenderness that he'd thought he'd heard in Seishirou's murmur. That he could almost, in the midst of this evening's strangeness, believe might be real.

When it's so important for me not to...when I might have let myself be lost....

You hold back.

Thank you.

And as he'd soared on that exquisite joy, ineffable, unhoped-for, he'd lifted his head again. He'd looked into Seishirou's eyes. If there had been mockery or manipulation there, he hadn't seen it. Amusement, yes, in that warm glint of amber, tolerant forbearance in the face of his near-panic, possession that was content simply in itself, nearly serene. Seishirou, just Seishirou, without cruelty. And that gift....

He'd scarcely been aware of his hand rising toward Seishirou's face, although he'd felt the brush of skin against skin with preternatural acuity, a prickle like electricity in the first breath of contact, followed by the awareness of warmth, of subtle give and resistance, of Seishirou's pulse beneath his fingertips. Seishirou had looked vaguely surprised. Then Seishirou had bent toward him, lashes lowering to veil a heating and distracted gaze--but he hadn't seen those eyes drift shut, he'd closed his own eyes first, tipping his head back, surrendering all at once to a flood of ecstatic connection and the desire for more, more, without limit, to his mouth on Seishirou's, an offering, to the sweet longing to give absolutely everything of himself in return, to become the vessel of this uncontainable and transfiguring yes--

He snapped back to the present--and to the bizzarely angular shape of the Sofitel Hotel, corpse-white in the moonlight, looming up right in front of him, at the end of the arc of a long, heedless leap. He jerked in a startled breath. He had just enough presence of mind to hit the wall with his feet and run, momentum carrying him diagonally up across one of the building's pagoda-like levels until he caught a railing at the top and vaulted over it, to land catlike on a terrace. For a moment he just crouched there, waiting for shock-reaction to fade and wondering, with a kind of light-headedness, if there were any hotel guests in the adjoining room, if they had been awakened by the night's disturbances, or if they slept on, oblivious, at peace.

No faces appeared at the curtained glass door, and at last he straightened and moved, with a dreamlike slowness, to the side of the terrace facing Ueno Park. The railing was cold as his hand came to rest on it once more, not icy but possessed of a dull chill. Below, Shinobazu Pond glimmered silver, a rising breeze stirring up wavelets that in their brilliant, breaking reflections echoed the moon thousands of times over, while the Benten shrine at the pond's center stood dark and tranquil, its paler, verdigrised roof seeming almost snow-capped. Beyond the shrine, the hill on the far side of the pond rose up in a confusion of leafless trees, a spidery play of shadow and light.

How could you? a forlorn voice within him wanted to say to the Subaru of the party. How could you abandon yourself like that, past all sense of reason and propriety, appall your fellow Seals and cut Kamui to the very soul--Kamui, who relied on you? could he not?

From this vantage point, now, it seemed clear--he should have known, already, what he was capable of. In fact, he found that he could no longer muster an embarrassed heat, or anything more than a ghostly, lambent flicker of shame.

Never for Kamui's sake, although he would have spared the boy if he could, if he weren't driven by something inescapable, as necessary and essential to him as breathing.

Could there ever be such a thing as an unselfish wish?

Enough. Nothing of what he had done, or its consequences, could be taken back. There was no telling what future lay ahead either, or whether there would be any chance for him to make amends. There was only the present, and although it had been done in fury, grief, and pain, Kamui had nonetheless released him. He had to let go too, to put those questions of right or wrong behind him and concentrate everything he had on this next meeting, this all-deciding conflict.

This one last night. He had to make it matter.

Subaru went over the railing again, dropping like a feather toward the street below. It wasn't far now--just one final, focused rush, that place drawing him toward it like gravity. He cut around the north side of the pond, past fields of winter-dead lotuses that caught the breeze and rustled serely, their withered flowers bent toward the water. Ice rimmed the shallows along the pond's edge, though its center was unfrozen. The weather was turning again; the air carried the rumor of mildness and thaw, perhaps rain. Over the gate to the Ueno Park Zoo, and then past the empty exhibits, the flamingo pen colorless and silent, all the creatures taken inside. A pall of unease lay heavily in the air, as if within the zoo's buildings there was restlessness, fear, an awareness of earthquakes yet to come. Somewhere a great cat roared, the sound carrying thinly across the distance. Up onto the monorail's track, then tree to tree over the hill, past Toushouguu and the five-storied pagoda--onward, leaving the zoo behind, through the forest until it opened up at last, until he crested the low, grassy rise and he was there, the slope falling away before him to a paved walk, lined with trees, and back a little way from it, in the midst of the grove...the Sakura.

All was still beneath the equivocal light of the moon--no familiar sense of presence, no sign of human life.

Seishirou wasn't there.

He would come.

But if he didn't--

He would come. Subaru bent forward, hands on his knees, and breathed deeply, settling himself after that long run, grounding the energy that had sustained him. Forcing away a fluttering storm of fears--that Seishirou in a fit of pique would refuse to face him, that Seishirou might have been deceiving him all along and was even now off somewhere destroying kekkai, that after all he wasn't worth killing--he stared down at the tree. He could feel its awareness even at this distance, a brooding vigilance that seemed more alert and specific than usual, as if it knew that he was nearby. He had better not get any closer to it. Only as a last resort, if Seishirou didn't--

He found that he'd straightened, his hands lifting almost without volition--he stopped himself, fingertips hesitating over the back of one hand, not yet touching the mark hidden beneath the skin.


He felt lost suddenly, having reached the end of his running here and there, the constant, urgent movement that had at least made it seem as though he was accomplishing something. Now that he'd arrived, nothing was left but the prospect of waiting, while elsewhere across Tokyo the struggle for the world's future ground on toward its fated ending, leaving him adrift on its fringes, alone. This feeling of breathless suspension, of helplessness, unable to do anything but wonder....

Seishirou-san, what will you do?

What will you decide?

Because that, in the end, was what all of this had come down to--the precious and too-short time that they had spent together, the tentative dance of one reaching out and the other responding, the slow, sometimes sweet, sometimes painful lessons they'd taught one another by words and silences, by looks, by all the multivalent shadings of touch, by simply being near. All of it had been laying a path toward this moment.

Toward this final test of what was between them.

Because I've betrayed you....

His heart clenched, an old, long-accustomed pain. He knew the injury that he had inflicted upon Seishirou--he knew it with all the intimacy of nine years spent living with his own wound, dreaming about it every night, carving it deeper with every day spent dwelling upon it. But could Seishirou feel it in anything like the way he did? And how would Seishirou respond?

Seishirou-san...if I'm being honest, you'll probably try to kill me. If not for this, then because you've always meant to, and it's time. It really is too much to hope for that you'll understand, that you'll have some kind of realization and your feelings will come alive suddenly, that we'll find each other here on the edge of this world's destruction and somehow everything will be all right.

But still--can't I hope for it?

Even something that's so utterly impossible?

All about him the park stretched away into the distance, still and silent, seeming empty of life but for the winter-dormant trees. It gave him no reply. But then, he'd already known the answer.

No. In acknowledgment and acquiescence he bowed his head, the ghost of a rueful smile flickering across his lips. Well, anyway, it doesn't matter. My real hope is for something else.

After all, my one wish has always been the same.

I wish.... He hesitated over the thought, gazing off toward the horizon, in the direction from which that person would probably come. I wish....

That for would just see me. Really see me, for who I am--not as a glass cup to be broken, a stone to be kicked aside, not as your plaything, your possession, your enemy, your lover, your opposite as the head of the Sumeragi clan, but instead just as myself.

That you would see me as I see you.


Moonlight and shadows blurred around him--he blinked hard, swallowed down the growing ache, controlling grief and yearning as assiduously as if those feelings were the threads of spells or spirits to be commanded by naked strength of will. Tears had won him nothing nine years ago beneath the sakura tree. They would win him nothing now.

You only see me truly when I surprise you.

Therefore, I....

Closing his eyes, Subaru bent his head once more, brushing his lips over the sign that marked him. Then, with a faint sigh, he sank down to kneel on the grass, his shikifuku spilling around him. Raising both hands, he clasped them before his face in the mitsu-in, that focusing gesture meant to gather mystical strength and to ward away distractions. He let his mind and heart settle gradually into quiet readiness, into the calm center of knowing what he must and would do.


* * * * *


The moon gleamed between reaching, creeping fingers of cloud. Its faint light spilled in through the window to lie in oblique rectangles across the bedcovers, separated by the black shadows of the window's crossbars. At the head of the bed, where that pale glow failed to reach, the end of a cigarette flared orange for the length of a slow intake of breath. Its brief, dull light barely illuminated the profile of the man sitting there, leaning up against the wall.

Lowering the cigarette, Seishirou turned his head. He stared out through the window at the gray-on-gray landscape of the city, his eyes narrowed. Somewhere in the distance, Tokyo Tower burned with a divine flame. Somewhere in the web of the city's infrastructure, the hand of a Dragon of Earth shifted the flow of its electrical life-current to suit herself. And somewhere out there, the thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan was doing...something.

Seishirou drew once more on his cigarette. Then, leaving it to smolder in the ashtray, he unfolded himself from the bed. With unhurried purpose, he crossed the room, moving toward the closet.

Except for the whisper of his pajamas and his bare feet on the floor, the silence was absolute.




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