26An X fanfic
By Natalie Baan
It was February 19, and Sumeragi Subaru was sitting in the furthest-back corner booth of a coffee shop. A cup of tea, cooled, barely tasted, lingered by his hand. From that twilight retreat, that arbitrary privacy of a box of fake wood paneling and green vinyl seats, he gazed past the few other mid-afternoon diners at the people walking back and forth outside: a shadow-play that hurried across its backdrop of cars and buildings, the scene washed in pale gold by the weak but well-intentioned sun of a year that was still quite new. About him, though, on some half-acknowledged level of perception, there was darkness, and the timeless fall of cherry petals. One faint rose wisp, unseeable by other eyes, slipped out of his penumbra to settle briefly onto the formica tabletop before fading like the memory of a brief qualm.
It was February 19, 2000, and Sumeragi Subaru was not celebrating another birthday.
--He lays the body down once more, down upon the snow, the insubstantial touch of that girl-woman's lips upon his own like a single snowflake, present for an instant of contact and then gone. /Setsuka. Mother./ Smiling, he arranges the lie of one sleeve, admiring the sweep of long, black hair spread out about her like a child's snow-angel wings, the sinfully crimson blood upon pale silk, on paler, doll-like hands. He turns his head, looks back toward the house and the teenaged boy lying on the garden path, those outflung arms held wide as though to offer or answer an embrace. The boy's eyes are closed, and his face wears an expression of conscienceless and untroubled serenity.
In the real world, his is the only body--beneath the camellia, only bones and silk lie amidst those fallen flowerheads.--
The cashier chirped some long-practiced, barely conscious inanity at him as he paid. Subaru stared through her, and her voice trailed off on a high, uncertain note. Seishirou had always covered up the uncanniness of his amber-lit gaze--and later his discordantly brown-and-white one--with glasses, sunglasses, the easy banter and smile that set people at ease and made them not see; had covered up the truth of his unlife with appreciation for good food and fun, with a seemingly intense engagement in the mortal world and the minutiae of modern life in Tokyo, a feigned fascination that was mirror and mask to his predatory alertness. Subaru, for the most part, was disinclined to put effort into such games.
Then why the pretense of drinking tea in a coffee shop, of coins--real, solid coins--left on the counter to pay the bill?
Habit, perhaps, one of the accumulation of human habits that made up the entity that still dared to call itself "Subaru."
He pushed open the coffee shop's glass door and stepped outside.
In the sunlight, he disappeared, fading into invisibility. At need, he could manifest even in full day, but there seemed little point, not here where he was anonymous, just another shadow in the crowd. Mortal lives hastened through him, unaware of his presence as he stood on their sidewalk, their passing a hint of warmth, a breath of unidentifiable fragrance. Glancing up, he saw the cinnabar spire of Tokyo Tower rising in the distance, above the leafless trees and the roofs of lower buildings--and for an instant he saw about it the insubstantial fire and smoke, the upper third of the Tower breaking off and falling, forever falling, a destruction that did not exist in the real world, where a boy's heart and kekkai had held firm even through a vast grief. In the deepest places of Subaru's being, something pulled at him, a thread tugging, a feeling almost like pain.
Turning, he began moving along the sidewalk, through and among the bustle of the living.
--/"A long time ago, when I was a high school student, there was Pink Lady in the Tower Doll Shop on the third floor of this Tokyo Tower. Today, if I try going with Hokuto-chan, they've yielded their place to Madonna and Michael Jackson. The flow of time is cruel, isn't it...."/
And he remembers being that boy, aflutter even in the quiet before his work begins, like the white birds that his shikigami mimic but alive, wings beating within a cage of glass and girders high above the city, just as his heart beats strangely fast within his body. He remembers, through the Sakura's power, being the man, calculating and intent even while seeming tender, laying the snare strand by strand, stalking his victim with misdirection, with the details of a feigned life. The memories overlay each other, edges fuzzing as perspectives shift; both are familiar, both are remote from what he has become. Prey and predator--like a few other Sakurazukamori over the centuries, he has been both, not only in inherited memories but in himself, in his life and in his death.
If only he could have been neither.--
He still worked, the work that he'd spent his whole life doing, and if those unquiet souls that he released went to the Sakura instead of the other world--well, the families that they left behind were relieved just the same, knowing no better. The irony wasn't lost on him: an unalive exorcist, feeding his existence with his clients' dependence upon him, their need and their gratitude, feeding the source of his curse with once-human psychic shells and, at times, with the blood of the truly foolish who summoned them. Unlike Seishirou, he found no sensual pleasure in the kill--he took the accidents, the deliberately selfish ones, the ones there was no saving. It was a duty to him, nothing more. He was a routine of mystic rites and incantations, a skein of memories knit up by all who had been the Cherry Tree Barrow Guardian before him, and around that, giving him shape and particularity, he wore the identity of the young man he had been while he was alive, the one who had loved and been broken and betrayed until he could feel neither the love nor the anguish of its loss. And yet, there was one last thing, one other piece to him.
The fetter that kept him bound to the mortal world.
--"Listen! Kamui! If you don't leave this dream, nothing will begin and nothing will end. Things will only get worse. Just like with me." Around them lies the night world of a boy's inmost heart, quiet now, if not at peace, its darkness both infinite and intimate. "You can hear my voice, right?"
The child-Kamui nods, gazing up at him, those lambent eyes wide, still wet with recent tears.--
Kamui, within whose heart he had traveled, placing the memory of the most essential moment of his own life there, an unchanging crystalline vision, so often and so perfectly remembered, yet no longer his alone.
Kamui, who still thought of him--who wondered where he was, what he was doing now.
Who was sealed to him by suffering and by a shared understanding of the necessity of holding onto one's most profound wish, no matter the cost or consequence, even when that wish was a lie so complete that even the heart was fooled....
Someday Kamui would die and release him from this existence, but as bitter as walking death was, Subaru wouldn't seek to hasten that day. For if Kamui died by his hand, if Kamui splintered under his betrayal, if Kamui at last became irrefutably convinced of his death and shattered in the fist of that sorrow--and there were a thousand other dangerous possibilities--if Kamui's heart was ever lost to this world because of him, there would be a new Sakurazukamori. Maybe the world itself would die then, the last kekkai finally broken, but the end of the world meant no more to Subaru than it had at any time during the last nine years. Instead, it was an improbable hope and longing that kept him far away from Kamui, a new wish, the memory of the violet-eyed boy to whom he had once said, with all the honesty of his own painful experience, /Live./
Shadowless, a great, dark eagle swept above the oblivious mortal crowd, its voice a clarion chime ringing from the cloudless sky.
Black-coated and silent, Subaru followed the bird, his will, into the tangled streets of the city.
[Author's note: This fic was inspired by reading Tanith Lee's novel Kill the Dead, which I highly recommend as reference material for writing Subaru or indeed any other exorcist. It's a sequel to my other short fic "13," but is somewhat less unremittingly dark. In fact, considering that it features DeadSakurazukamoriSubaru, I think it's almost upbeat. ^^ The quote at the beginning of the second flashback secion is from TB1, translation by C. Sue Shambaugh; the quotes at the beginning of the last flashback are from X9, translation by Shinobu and Nataku. Please see my disclaimer page for all other copyright information. Thanks go out to K-chan and Kristin O. for prereading. Oh, the title? Not only is it twice thirteen, it's the age Subaru would be in the year 2000.]
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