Crucify My Love

By Leareth

       
"People do evil because really, they are lonely."
Girl, Tokyo Babylon book 7, 12.5 'A Start'

 

He does not exist. Or more correctly, he does not exist in the eyes of the people moving around him. They see him, but do not see him. They merely accept his being there as fact, and leave it at that.

They don't know or care why he is at the Tree.

Of all the sakura trees that live in Ueno Park, this one is by far the most glorious. Strong branches keep the grass around the thick trunk in perpetual shadow, and reach majestically high into the sky, like a king among subjects. But it is the flowers, the beautiful cherry blossoms that attract every eye without fail. They flourish on every available surface of the wood and dance in the breeze; small delicate stars a strange shade of rose pink one can never find in any other example of the species.

This Sakura, however, is also deadly.

It is the corpses that lie entwined in the Tree's roots that make the blossoms so hypnotically breathtaking. There are thousands of them, buried over the centuries. But people only see the flowers. How blissful ignorance is, he thinks bitterly, for the many admirers who travel for miles to see the Sakura, never knowing that blood, perhaps blood from their very own ancestors, give it its loveliness. They never know that one day it could be their own blood staining the flowers.

And even knowing this, he still finds it beautiful.

Sumeragi Subaru sighs, hands hanging limply by his sides, long pale coat blowing in the gentle breeze. His right eye is covered in gauze. The other still retains its emerald lustre, but the light that shone there in times long past has died.

It died on this day nine years ago, when she had given her life under this very Tree. Ever since then, he has shunned this place.

Yet today . . . he has returned.

       

Come . . . please come . . .

He ran as fast as his little legs could take him, far from where he was supposed to obediently wait, far from the safety of watchful eyes, following the distant cry.

"Who . . . who is calling me?"

Help us . . . we hate this place . . . free us . . .

Faster he ran, white robes fluttering about him like wings. The streets of Tokyo were dark and unfamiliar yet he continued resolutely, determined to help the voices beckoning him.

Come . . . come and find us . . . come and join us . . .

       

Subaru stares dully at the dark soil that is wet with moisture, or maybe it is something else. He ignores the voices he can sense at the back of his mind clamoring for release.

She died for him so that he could live. But he died anyway. His life is nothing. That is why the passers-by pass him by. He is nothing.

Except, perhaps, to one person.

Hunter.

That one person, who killed her, and buried her beneath his feet adding her blood to the Tree's beauty, adding her voice to the voices calling to him in desperation.

He can't hear her voice. There are too many.

Where is she? He wonders if he could find her.

Slowly, Subaru bends down to rest on one knee at the foot of the Tree. He stretches out his left hand, paying no attention to the wind that suddenly springs up, ruffling his short black hair and throwing the fallen blossoms at his face. Hesitantly, he touches the rough wood just a hands-breath above the grass.

The world turns dark.

Subaru flinches sharply at the silvery light that suddenly burns on his hands and tries to pull away. Immediately thin branches snake out to ensnare his wrist and drag him back. He gasps at the Tree's vice-like grip and half-stands, pulling away with all his strength without success. Angrily the onmyouji draws an ofuda from his sleeve with his right hand and casts it at his living bonds.

"On!"

The white paper talisman flares up in a burst of flame and falls to the ground as ash. In desperation, Subaru tries to forcibly rip the whip-like branches from the trunk, twisting left and right to no avail. The Tree seems to play with him, neither pulling him back, nor throwing him forward; just holding him. Playing with him like a toy.

"Let me go!"

He leans back, booted feet digging into the ground. It is covered in a thick blanket of sakura blossoms. Subaru stares at them, then with a sinking feeling in his heart, looks around. The brightness of Ueno Park has vanished to be replaced by a starless night that stretches away to infinity, into nothingness. The maboroshi has swallowed the world leaving Subaru alone. Alone with the Sakura Tree Barrow.

Suddenly the Tree seems to slacken, causing Subaru to trip and fall backwards. Scrambling onto hands and knees he tries to run away but the Sakura has not let him go, merely lengthened the leash with which it holds the Sumeragi. He grits his teeth against a curse threatening to erupt from his mouth as the branch holding him sprouts with tiny green buds. Above him, the Tree rustles in a non-existent wind. It seems that it is silently laughing at him.

Subaru seethes. "Damn you . . ."

The laughter turns real. Subaru whips his head around trying with his seeing eye to identify the one who finds his situation so amusing. It is rather pointless, for he already knows who it is. How could he not know?

Sakurazuka Seishirou steps into the area sheltered by the Tree's broad limbs, impeccable in elegant suit and tie. The flowers respond to his arrival, rising from the ground in a swirl, dancing with the wing of black trench-coat as they brush the dark hair and smooth cheek in greeting. The assassin walks deliberately over to the prisoner, stopping just at the young man's shoulder, and gazes down at Subaru sprawled helplessly before him on the bed of sakura blossoms. Eyes hidden behind a dark mirror, he smiles. It is not a smile that promises relief, but rather, the exact opposite.

"Well, this is a surprise," says Seishirou amiably. He takes no notice of the Sumeragi's angry glare. "I did not expect to come back from hunting to find my prey waiting for me."

Hunting . . . Subaru rises to his knees and unwillingly looks past the glossy black shoes into the darkness beyond. There at the very edge of the sakura's glowing shadow, lies a crumpled form with its head at an unnatural angle and a bloody hole in its chest . . . oh gods . . . Subaru tears his handicapped gaze away back to the Sakurazukamori. The man's smile grows broader as he raises his left hand in greeting.

It is dripping with blood.

"Who was it this time?" Subaru manages to bite out. The bindings holding his wrist burst into bloom and he stifles a cry of pain as the branches tighten their grip, digging into his soft flesh.

"A girl," Seishirou supplies immediately with no trace of remorse. "Sixteen, still studying. She was so scared." A hint of nostalgia colours his voice as he remembers the kill and Subaru drops his gaze. Still, like always, he is competing with them. "A pretty little thing . . . would you like to see her?"

The sharp no dies before it is even given breath as the Tree awakens. The far-reaching branches stretch hungrily down towards the corpse, entwining about the lifeless hands and ankles, the cold neck. Another probes the fatal wound, testing it, before diving hungrily inside to the heart. Slowly, the Sakura lifts the body and draws it towards itself. Hypnotised by the morbid spectacle, Subaru watches the corpse's passage from where he kneels on the ground. Glassy blue eyes stare down at him, long brown hair falls in lank tangles about the face forever frozen in an expression of fear. Blood soaks the green school uniform with dark stains no ocean will wash away . . . it drips onto the young man's face as the Sakura holds the corpse overhead.

Subaru flinches.

       

"It's raining . . ."

He held a small hand up to catch the droplets, eyes wide with puzzlement.

"Red rain?"

       

"No matter how many I give to her, she is never sated," muses Seishirou softly, watching with hidden eyes as one branch, then another, and another, begins to wrap the dead girl in a coffin of wood and flowers. Blood still seeps through to fall to the ground below, however, onto the bed of sakura, onto the assassin's already red hands, onto the trapped Sumeragi's pale, uplifted face. It soaks into the gauze around his eye. "No matter how beautiful or pure the victim, she always calls for more . . ."

He stops, a wry smile appearing on his face as the Sakura reaches towards him with a branch laden with soft flowers and lovingly caresses his cheek. With a sigh the Sakurazukamori gives in, turning his face towards that cold touch to kiss the delicate blossoms. Still kneeling amongst the fallen flowers, his left wrist wrapped and bound, Subaru looks away. High above in the Tree a pair of dead blue eyes watches them. It is the only part of the face left visible from behind a veil of pale pink. The Sakura trembles in ecstasy as it feeds.

"But for now," murmurs Seishirou, his voice no louder than the breeze, "she is happy."

Subaru forces himself to speak. "And you?"

The sunglasses tilt to look at him. "I'm always smiling, aren't I?"

With an enraged cry Subaru lunges forward as far as his shackles will allow. He hates the sunglasses; he wants to see what lies behind the smile. His free hand lashes out to tear them away before the Sakurazukamori can react, or maybe it's that the assassin lets him. Whatever the reason, the dark glasses come off and Subaru is left standing, holding the mask limply, breathing hard. He looks up into the other's face and sees a smile.

"Bastard." The insult is cast without heat, useless for there is nothing for it to strike. "You god damned bastard."

Without warning the assassin's blood-stained hand flashes out to grip his chin. Subaru chokes as the warm liquid touches his skin or perhaps it is the dangerously close proximity of Seishirou's face to his own that provokes such a reaction. He tries to squirm out the assassin's grasp, still keeping his hold on the dark glasses, shuffling away until he backs into the thick bole of the Tree looming above. Then he can flee no more. The sunglasses slip from his lifeless fingers.

Seishirou watches the fear diffuse over the finely boned face. His expression does not change.

"Why are you here?" he asks softly.

Subaru tenses against the assassin as the voices in the Sakura rise in a whispering surge. Another voice joins them in the requiem, a voice of blue eyes and green dress. Somewhere in that chorus, his sister sings. He wants to find her.

But that is not why he came.

Subaru stares into the hunter's eyes, one seeing and one blind. Like his. He hates the eyes, the way they do not match. They should both be gold or both dead white. He wants to make the eyes not see.

But that is not why he came.

"Why are you here, Subaru-kun?" whispers the other man.

The Sumeragi shivers as a trickle of blood works its way from his chin down his neck, soaking into his shirt . . . it was her blood that flowed on this day. He turns away and blinks back stinging tears that trail down his face, glistening in the unearthly light.

"I don't know."

Seishirou looks thoughtful at this strange answer. Nothing is done without reason.

       

"This is the first time anyone has seen me kill."

Carefully the youth wiped the traces of blood off the baby-soft skin with long, curious fingers.

"What to do with him?"

       

He brushes his hand against the smooth cheek and the blood mingles with the tears. Stealthily the Sakura reaches out to wrap its branches around Subaru's free hand. It lifts his arm high, pulling the limb back and stretching it out to match the left, holding the Sumeragi cruciform against the hungry wood. Subaru gasps as the bonds tighten who would have thought the flowers would be so strong?

Seishirou looks up in mild surprise. "You want him too?" The Sakura trembles in anticipation and his sensual lips pout beseechingly. "But you want everyone."

A twig slithers out to touch the Sumeragi's cheek. It catches the blood tears on its flowers even as more fall from above, and the rose pink colour darkens like a bruise. Subaru shudders as the petals lovingly brush against his skin and cringes away, but the Sakura's reach is long.

Suddenly, the dark onmyouji catches the prying branch in his hand and bends it back. The sakura blossoms rustle in angry protest until gently, but firmly, Seishirou soothes them.

"No," he says softly. "Not this time."

Reluctantly the Sakura withdraws, though the branches that hold the Sumeragi do not loosen. Seishirou lets them hold his prey as he circles his bloody fingers around the vulnerable neck. And smiles into the single green eye.

"This one is mine."

       

A little doll, the kind one brings to bed for comfort, thought the youth as the child bowed politely. So adorable with large glass green eyes and porcelain-smooth skin framed by soft ebony hair. Even the clothes, a miniature version of an adult onmyouji's robes, merely added to the impression of a doll come to life.

The youth smiled. A doll. Something to play with, something to own.

Something to break.

       

In the Sakurazukamori's grip Subaru freezes like a frightened animal. Seishirou can easily sense the rapid pounding of the heart, the adrenaline flowing through his prey's veins. This is what makes the hunt so exciting.

But the hunt is over. Now, with Subaru in his hand, all that is left is the kill.

Subaru has his reasons for coming here today on the anniversary of his sister's death, even if he does not know them himself. Nothing is done without reason.

Seishirou will find out why.

Without haste, he slides his hand behind the slim form of the Sumeragi, bringing him against his body, groin to groin, chest to chest and face to face, trapping Subaru between himself and the Tree. With his tightly bound arms stretched out on either side of him, there is little Subaru can do to resist except glare. Then even that falters as the hunter locks his gaze with his, and he feels the other's body rising and falling against his own with each breath.

"You came here looking for me, didn't you," Seishirou says finally. Subaru lowers his eyes. No denying the truth. The other smiles at this silent affirmation and strokes the blood-stained cheek. "What for? To kill me? That's rather old, don't you think?"

Subaru jerks his face away, presenting his bandaged eye to the assassin. He bumps against the Tree as he does so, and it moves in response. Though it doesn't try to draw the Sumeragi closer, it does tighten its hold ever so slightly. The Sakura wants what it has been denied for so long. But still the Sakurazukamori is not ready to end his game. Firmly, Seishirou takes hold of the delicate chin and forces the other to turn and look at him. When Subaru still does not answer he gives a miniscule frown, staring intently at the shameful expression on the pale face. He sighs, leaning forward and resting his forehead against the young man's dark hair.

"You're so hard to understand now, you know that?" whispers Seishirou. Beneath him, Subaru stirs slightly, shadows playing over his face like the phases of the moon. His emerald eye is glowingly dark and unfathomable, but Seishirou cannot see it with his own eyes closed as he murmurs soft words that reverberate in the air between them. "Nine years ago you were as clear as glass. I knew what motivated you, your desires, your dreams . . . But now . . .

"What do you want?"

For an infinite moment Subaru gazes at the face resting against his own, the face he knows so well. And yet he does not know the face, not the expressions the angular features seem to show, nor the smiles that are worn so easily. No matter how hard he tries or what he does he never knows. The tears rise again and fall soaking into the gauze, mingling with the blood and tracing red trails down the alabaster skin.

He knows it is not right. He knows he must not.

He does it regardless.

A quicksilver flash of what could be shock ripples across Seishirou's face as Subaru suddenly leans forward and touches his lips to his own. Struck by this completely unexpected action the Sakurazukamori pulls back as far as the trapped Sumeragi will allow him, which is not very far at all but it is only a momentary pause. As soon as he realises the nature of the soft pressure, Seishirou leans into the kiss, his bloody hand gliding around to the back of the other's neck to press him closer. Subaru's lips move naively against his, warm with yearning, almost desperate with muffled whimpers . . . the trickle of tears turns into a river, not quite washing the crimson stains away. It runs into their mouths turning the sweet taste salty and almost bitter. Still the tears flow, and in the end it is Subaru who breaks the kiss, abruptly twisting away. Chest heaving with deep breaths, he looks at Seishirou with one wild eye. And wonders what he has done.

It seems an eternity before Seishirou speaks.

"So. That's what you want."

Subaru does not reply. His lips tremble, face contorted in a stricken expression as despair and loathing meld with something else that is . . . longing?

Seishirou does not understand. How can Subaru feel both extremes so intensely?

He stares intently at the blood-streaked and wounded face before him. Gently he touches the bandage covering the right eye, remembering when he had worn such a thing. It is no longer the pure white of before, stained with blood and tears. Underneath the gauze, the eye is blind and hurting. That eye hates him. Its partner on the other hand, still alive and a luminous emerald green, does not.

Which one will dominate in the end?

Seishirou would like to find out.

       

For perhaps the first time genuine surprise was displayed on the youth's face for all to see. He stared at the small boy who stared back, expression completely serious and trusting. The child had truly meant what he said.

Such an innocent and pure being as opposed to himself.

Could such purity touch him?

An idea took root in his mind sending forth leaves, and the dark youth smiled. It would be an interesting experiment, he thought, as he knelt before the child.

"I'll make a bet with you . . ."

       

He takes one step back in order to study the tableau before him and all its possibilities. Subaru hangs limp in the Sakura's embrace, muscles taut under the black shirt from the strain of being trapped in such an uncomfortable position. The long pale coat flutters slightly in the wind as the branches with their hungry flowers grasp Subaru's arms, almost lifting the slim form into the air. Droplets of blood from the corpse above still rain down intermittently onto young man as he slumps forward, held up only by the Tree, head bowed over his chest. He is motionless . . . waiting. Waiting to respond to whatever the other may do to him.

For some reason that irritates Seishirou. But he smiles anyway.

"Well then," he says, as easily as if ordering dinner. "Let us begin."

Subaru jerks his head up as his bindings come to life again. At the Sakurazukamori's silent call the flowering branches writhe and twist, but never enough for the Sumeragi to get free. They slither with a strange sibilant sound, snaking under the cuffs of Subaru's sleeves. He can feel them gliding roughly beneath his clothes against his skin as they travel up his arms to exit from the collar of his shirt on either side of his head. Then Seishirou steps forward. There is a catch in Subaru's breath as the assassin leans over him, rests his bloody hand on his shirt and presses at the base of his neck feeling the pounding pulse there. The hunter's mismatched gaze looks searchingly at Subaru from beneath lowered lashes. The green eye is wide in fear yet still Subaru says nothing. High above them, the dead face watches through the flowers. The Sakura is nearly finished with the corpse.

Seishirou continues. He closes his hand except for one finger that he slowly draws down the front of Subaru's blood-soaked shirt. With a slight exertion of will, the black threads fray and unravel as his finger slices through the cloth, exposing what lies beneath. The pale skin is tinged red and Subaru shudders under his touch. Suddenly the branches that lie along the length of Subaru's arms under his clothes pull sharply upwards, and with a snarled hiss the material rips from wrist to neck. The ruined coat falls away to gather around Subaru's boots and the useless shirt follows suit, fluttering to the ground like broken shadows. With the Tree's branches cutting into his now bare arms, Subaru bites his tongue as the sakura petals brush against his naked chest. Any protest he has is cut off as the assassin places a finger against his lips, silencing him.

An appreciative expression spreads itself over the Sakurazukamori's face as he inspects his work in fine detail. Quite a piece of art the Sumeragi is, the remaining black jeans accentuating the slim figure and setting off the pale skin just so. A pity about the right eye, he always loved Subaru's expressive emerald orbs, but the bandage adds to the impression of fragility. He sighs. Beautiful.

The Sakura trembles. Seishirou is not the only one who desires Subaru. The branches that bind the Sumeragi pull tighter causing Subaru to wince in pain. A pale pink blossom tickles the now exposed throat as Seishirou watches as if to say, Go on.

Seishirou smiles.

Slowly, sensuously, he slides his body down against the Sumeragi's as he gracefully sinks to the ground, black coat pooling about his shoes and white shirt rubbing against the naked skin, silk on silk. He is fully aware of the eyes watching him he likes that. Unable to resist a chance to play his tongue flicks out swiftly to lap at a streak of blood on the flat stomach, and he delights in the shiver that resonates through them both. He wonders about the conflict that is undoubtedly taking place inside the Sumeragi. So far it seems that Subaru is still torn between wanting and rejection as he stares down at him, emerald eye wide and fearful.

There is an instinctive jerk of a knee as Seishirou's wandering fingers and mouth pass over the area of the crotch. It is ignored except for a predatory smile at the heat that flushes through the Sumeragi. Still the Sakurazukamori continues, running his hands down the long legs clad in black denim as he kneels on the bed of sakura. Absently, he brushes the detritus of fallen clothing off the black boots as he reaches for their laces. He unties the left, then the right, sliding both shoes off one by one and throwing them negligently aside where they are forgotten. Still Subaru makes no move to stop him so Seishirou gently peels the socks away from the feet. As he strips each foot, he kisses one, then the other, before setting them back on the sakura-strewn ground.

Without warning, Seishirou stands up to look directly into Subaru's face.

"Shall I go on?"

Subaru turns away. Perhaps it is to hide his expression that can be interpreted as a plea for release, or to continue. Perhaps he does not wish to look at the one shaming him and give his tormentor the pleasure of seeing how being touched like this hurts. Perhaps he is weary. Perhaps he has given up. "Why ask me?" he says dully. "You'll do whatever you want no matter what I say."

The single golden eye narrows.

Subaru does not look at him.

With a vicious push the Sakurazukamori shoves the silent Sumeragi backwards. The young man's head slams against the Tree with a sickening sound and Subaru sags in his bonds dazed and disorientated.

"So be it."

Subaru tries to look up. Seishirou smiles coldly as he removes his long black coat, letting it fall to the ground like a pair of discarded wings.

"I will take you, and I will hurt you, and you will love me even as you hate me. After all," he adds with a smirk as he lays his palm against the smooth cheek, "isn't that what you want?"

Subaru stares at him groggily. Does he understand?

It doesn't matter.

       

"When we meet again, I will do everything possible to love you," said the dark youth into the wide green eyes. Does the child understand? "If I experience true feelings for you, then I will let you live. But on the other hand, if you mean nothing more to me than that corpse . . ."

He shot a meaningful glance at the broken, bleeding doll lying not far from them before turning back to the child with a smile.

"Then I will kill you."

       

A haunting whisper begins to fill the emptiness as Seishirou lightly kisses the trapped Sumeragi's forehead. Unconsciously, Subaru turns up towards that silken touch while the Sakura sways in a non-existent wind at the play beneath its branches, not a participant, but no mere observer either. Seishirou's satisfaction at the other's submission is not seen but rather, felt. He did not really expect anything else, he thinks, brushing the soft black hair away from the face. He presses closer, into those outstretched arms, pinning Subaru against the Tree.

Gently he bends the young man's head back as he kisses the bandage, the closed rose-petal eyelid, the smooth skin, everything but the lips where Subaru is aching to respond, bringing the almost electric thrill that crackles between them up another notch. He runs his red hands down over the exposed chest to rest on the slim hips to bring their bodies together and Subaru wilts further under the onslaught, unable to protest as his pained whimpers are suffocated into damp silence. But what would he say? Instead, he shuts his eye refusing to look as Seishirou's lips migrate to his chin, behind his ear, down his svelte neck . . . he tilts his head to one side to allow Seishirou to further his sweet assault as he looks up into the Sakura's branches above. A pair of dead blue eyes is watching them.

Is it his imagination, or do they seem to stare at him accusingly?

A sharp nip at the base of his neck evokes a strangled yelp from the Sumeragi, and pain jolts along nerves already aflame with the heat that spreads out from each kiss placed on his body. He can feel the other's deep chuckle as the assassin's hands drift lower, long fingers sliding underneath the black jeans in curious exploration. Subaru shivers, but whether it is in fear of what the Sakurazukamori is doing to him or pleasure as the man cradles the curve of soft flesh behind he does not know. He continues to tremble uncontrollably as the hardness of desire begins to press against his thigh in an echo of the other man's own, the tension pleasing, disgusting . . . he can't stop. An eerie silver light begins to shine from the backs of Subaru's hands, growing brighter with every moment, but Seishirou does not need the invisible marks on his prey to sense the chaos that is Subaru's mind at present. It is plainly written on the Sumeragi's face, the emerald eye half-lidded, mouth parted slightly in a weird mask of despair and revulsion, but the throbbing heat between the young man's legs that Seishirou cups in his blood-stained hand responds to him like a flower to sunlight. With slow, rhythmic movements, he encourages its growth through the black denim, enjoying the montage of conflicting expressions that spread over Subaru's face. The hands clench tightly in their bonds - is it in pleasure or a determination not to give in?

Enough of the playing. Time to move on.

The button of Subaru's jeans loosens.

"N-no . . ." With great force of will Subaru tries to pull away from the hunter's insistent mouth and hands, a futile attempt as the Sakura since holds him fast. In a stronger voice, he begs. "Please . . ."

The plea is ignored or answered, as the final clasp comes undone.

Seishirou begins to pull the last item of clothing away.

"Stop it!"

The Sakurazukamori pauses. Like a cold sun, the golden eye burns into Subaru's face.

"Do you really mean that?" Seishirou asks. The intense mismatched gaze travels down Subaru's lithe body to look pointedly at the evidence that suggests otherwise, and to emphasise his words his strong hand descends into that warmth again, more insistently. "I don't think you do . . ."

A cracked gasp and the single green eye shuts tightly. "Please stop . . ." he whispers.

But Seishirou does not. Did Subaru really expect him to?

Lower and lower the hands slide, gently separating black cloth from white skin. Seishirou hums and rests his cheek against the flat stomach as he peels it all away, basking in the heat and the sound of racing heart that beats faster as he frees Subaru from the last of his clothes. The Sumeragi fights like a fish on a hook as he frantically tries to prevent his divestment, but it only serves to amuse Seishirou further as his prey writhes attractively beneath his touch. Playfully he darts a light kiss over what is revealed to him, the silken thighs, the velvet hardness . . . he savors the taste of musk and blood on his tongue and Subaru is unable to suppress a moan.

At long last Subaru stands completely bared, left with no veil save his body's own natural grace. The Sumeragi is as slender as a young sapling, pleasing to view, all fine lines with no harsh angles. The flesh is almost white, only the pale rose nipples and splashes of blood add any colour. He looks ethereal, ghostlike, as if at any moment he might disappear. Then a furious blush spreads over his pale skin as Seishirou pulls back in admiring scrutiny, cold amber gaze visibly travelling from the wild expression on the face all the way down past his arousal with a possessive eye. Subaru tries to glare in anger, but fails.

In some perverse way, he finds fulfillment in the vertigo before the abyss.

For one brief moment, Subaru looks at the other without flinching and Seishirou frowns ever so slightly. What was that he glimpsed in the single luminous orb?

No matter.

Subaru starts like a frightened bird as the Sakurazukamori embraces him tightly, the arms encircling his body no less entrapping than the unfeeling branches still entwined about his wrists. A balmy wind ruffles the hair on the nape of his neck as desire made flesh probes into his loins, heat radiates from the body fitting so closely with his own . . . how can someone so cold feel so warm? He forces himself to remain still, remembering something someone told him long ago.

Never show the predator that you fear him.

But . . .

He hangs in the grip of the Sakura and Sakurazukamori, as if all his unshed tears drag him down. But what about hate or love? Do you show that, and hope that the predator will spare you?

Can you even hope?

Seishirou watches the internal conflict, desire for his prey burning like it has ever since that fateful meeting demanding satisfaction. With a slight effort of will he ignores it - no hurry, a delicacy such as him must be savored. He touches the bloodstained gauze around Subaru's head. Should he leave it on or take it off like everything else?

Something stays the assassin's hand.

For one moment everything is still, a single instant suspended in time like the corpse dangling in the branches above. Seishirou is the first to shake himself free of it, wondering at his hesitation. He knows what he will see. He knows he will see an eye, a blind eye, a hurting eye, a hating eye . . . so how come he is so unwilling to remove the mask?

Subaru looks up at him, emerald eye bright with unshed tears.

Why is he so sad?

"What's the matter?" asks Seishirou softly. "Don't you love me?" He stretches out and entwines his fingers with those still wrapped in flowers, enjoying the way their bodies fit together. "Don't you want me to love you? Then help me . . ."

Still Subaru gazes at him without speaking, so Seishirou gently brushes his lips over the silent mouth as if asking for permission. Almost against his will the Sumeragi finds himself responding, hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, he has touched that emptiness and perhaps he has as Seishirou kisses him with the desperation of those who have no tomorrow. Nothing stands between them here in this world, this haunted world where they are the only ones breathing. All around them the sakura blossoms stir in an unnatural storm; amongst the vibrant pink petals fly scraps of cloth once a fresh green, now a dirty red. They scatter to the edges of infinity where they are lost to the void. With growing confidence Subaru pours more of himself in the kiss, the frantic voice in his mind fading as the other seems to give in . . .

Seishirou laughs.

Instantly Subaru pulls back as if his lips are burnt. He stares at the Sakurazukamori's sinister smile, despair slowly replacing the shock on his face. Shamefully he tries to turn away but cannot as he is forced to face the mocking eyes of his tormentor. The assassin's fingers leave pale, bloodless marks on his throat.

"Always such a cute fool," Seishirou whispers maliciously.

The Sumeragi bites his lip against the tears, and a bead of blood oozes out from where he had cut through his own skin. Still smiling, the Sakurazukamori bends his head down to lick the crimson life the Sakura wants so badly.

It tastes sweet.

Sweeter still is the feel of the other against him, so close . . .

Not close enough.

Impulsively, Seishirou clutches the slim shoulders with strength enough to bruise and with a torturer's skill, begins to lay claim to the Sumeragi yet again. Unable or unwilling to repel the assassin, Subaru can only watch helplessly as the hands, killing hands stained with blood, explore him; a gentle caress here, a harsh blow there. Subaru quakes with each contact, reacting instinctively to every touch that whether painful or pleasing is arousing, increasing the tension, the desire to an unbearable level, a violin string strung too tight. Every secret of his body is hunted down and exploited without mercy as the Sakurazukamori wills, filling him with torment . . . it hurts, oh yes it hurts, but the hurt feels good because it is him. If Subaru tries to fight the other man off he is beaten back, sometimes by fists, sometimes by flowers. The flowers hurt more. They are the ones that draw blood and make him scream. One particularly vicious punishment leaves warm red life dripping down Subaru's arms from where the Sakura had sliced his skin, and Seishirou shakes his head reproachfully.

"Don't struggle. You'll just hurt yourself. Or," whispers Seishirou huskily into the soft curve of Subaru's ear, "is that what you want?"

The wooden vice around the captive's right arm shuts with a wet snap.

Subaru's cry of pain goes unheard.

There is a satisfied smile from the Sakurazukamori as the young man collapses in his arms. Almost tenderly, he takes advantage of the weakness to lower the shivering Sumeragi to lie back on the bed of sakura blossoms. The Tree extends its long branches to help, thoughtfully careful not to jar the broken limb as it lashes the slashed wrists together. Still reeling from the shock of injury with his hands bound by flowers above his head, there is little Subaru can do as his body is laid open to whatever force his antipode may choose to inflict upon him. Red blood drips down his arms onto the ground where it quickly soaks into the sakura like water, and the Tree whispers for more.

Seishirou pauses, sitting back on his knees watching the Sumeragi's chest rise and fall. Without haste, he trails long fingers lightly over the bare skin from neck down as if slicing his prey open, tracing meaningless patterns on the alabaster flesh that meander lower and lower. He notes how Subaru quivers as he moves further . . . there . . . his touch lingers maddeningly on the young man's sex and Subaru lets out a small mewling sound, looking as if he would sink into the flowers if he could. His embarrassment is so very appealing strange how someone so emotional is so adverse to passion. Seishirou concentrates his caressing attentions on that erotic sensitivity, delighting in every hot flush that spreads over his prey like a rosy sunset. As if spell bound, he watches his opposite's face, the subtle and yet palpable changes in expression; a tightening of muscles here, a flush of blood there, light playing over the liquid eye like moonshine on water. So pretty. All this he has seen and imitated, yes, but nothing rivals the depth of feeling that Subaru's face displays. And it is all because of him.

The thought is . . . pleasant.

Seishirou smiles hungrily as he warms himself against that dangerously attractive fire. Burn the doll.

Quick fingers fumble for the fastenings of the expensive black suit. It comes away easily enough and is shrugged off the strong shoulders to fall to the bed of sakura like a loose shadow. The tie is next, then the shoes and socks with greater urgency Seishirou removes each one and drops it carelessly away. As if sensing the Sakurazukamori's intention the Tree rustles its branches in a disapproving wind. Seishirou ignores that and the blood that is shaken loose from above as he unbuttons his shirt - he doesn't care about what others think, hide under countless pretenses though he may.

Except with Subaru. He doesn't have to pretend to be anything but himself with Subaru.

The white shirt, flecked with red droplets, floats to the ground as Seishirou undoes the last of his clothes. Still lost in the web of sensation that Seishirou has spun for him Subaru seems not to notice, his eye closed, lying completely still except for his breathing, a doll tossed aside and abandoned. Then slowly, inexplicably, a shadow steals over him, gliding over his pale and bruised skin like dark water. He turns towards that cold ever so slightly as a heavy weight settles on him little by little, strange and overpowering, warm and sheltering . . .

Subaru's eye snaps open. The sight of the other's face and the feverish heat between them sweeps all other feeling away.

"What are you doing?" he whispers breathlessly.

Seishirou smiles down at him, a tender yet mocking expression.

"Loving you, Subaru-kun."

Fear. The green eye dilates and Seishirou smiles. Then he strikes and devours Subaru in a deep kiss; not a chaste, aching communion, but one that is violent in its passion. The young man freezes, but his lips tremble like flowers in the breeze as they are forcefully parted for Seishirou's invasion . . .

Subaru melts.

A cloying perfume wafts through the dark air as Subaru is pressed into the fallen sakura blossoms, crushing them beneath his body. He breathes in a heady dose of it as he gasps - it is more intoxicating than any wine and his head feels light. Only because of the agony in his broken arm does Subaru not lose himself in the haze of warmth and wanting that engulfs him, latching onto the pain as his last anchor on coherent thought.

He had never dared to imagine that Seishirou would want to possess his body the way he does his heart. Desperately the emerald eye searches the emptiness of the maboroshi for any chance of escape or salvation. But there is only the corpse in the Sakura's knotted branches, a silent witness to what is about to come.

He is all alone.

With a small cry, Subaru pushes weakly against the weight of the man atop him, wanting up. His chest aches as breath is squeezed out of his lungs, he tries to twist away from the hot desire that presses into his own with insistent demanding. But Seishirou easily holds him down and digs his fingers into the break in the right arm, making Subaru convulse in agony with a strangled scream as bruised muscles grind against broken bone. Pain, so pretty to watch - he senses Subaru is only hairsbreadth from unconsciousness and releases him. The young man falls back from where he is pressed so closely to his body shaking and sobbing. Quickly Seishirou shushes this effluence of emotion placing his blood-stained hand over the young man's mouth, suffocating the sound to muffled crying.

Why is he silencing him when he knows there is no one here to hear?

He stops as the living eye glares up at him. Carefully Seishirou removes his hand, and immediately the other speaks with a voice of cracked glass about to break.

"Why are you doing this to me you twisted, heartless bastard I hate you, I hate you, I hate-"

Hastily Seishirou cuts him off with a bruising kiss. With one last feeble whimper, Subaru surrenders.

Dance now, intimate and close, dissonance melting into harmony. It is Seishirou who leads, moving slowly, gently, letting his wanting pulse against Subaru's like a second heart to greater heights of desire, letting it guide him to that point where he can take the other as he smothers Subaru with his mouth. Somewhere at the back of his mind he senses Subaru's smooth thighs gliding against his skin as the young man hesitantly, perhaps unconsciously, brings his legs up to cradle Seishirou between them. The Sakurazukamori smiles, skillfully holding the other's lips with his own as the young man half-heartedly tries to pull away, and accepts the invitation.

Moving as if in a dream, Subaru tips his head back exposing a lissome stretch of neck for Seishirou's sucking exploration. His eye shines wetly as he stares up past the face buried beneath his chin into the Tree's branches. Still the dead eyes watch from above. They watch their forbidden passion without blinking. Judging.

If the Sumeragi were to fight with all the magic at his command he could break free. But he does not.

Therefore, is he not also guilty?

Guilty.

Cold blue eyes condemn him through the flowers. The voices of the dead rise in a crescendo of wailing protest as their supposed savior yields to the Sakurazukamori's seduction, and the tears that have been threatening to spill do so now.

"Don't think. Just feel." Seishirou's voice is ragged and labored, easily overriding the soft whimpers. Maliciously the Sakura holds the young man down as he tries to reach out to touch, to hold, and he looks at Seishirou with a pleading eye.

"At least let me go . . ." whispers Subaru.

Seishirou smiles down at him condescendingly.

"I don't think so."

Another kiss, another wound, and all Subaru can do is hold onto himself as best he can as the pressure builds with each pounding pulse. Breathlessly Subaru inhales Seishirou's scent, the smell of blood and sakura as salty sweat, his and his, stings the gash on his lip. Seishirou comes ever closer; Subaru's heavy breathing becomes shallower and he arches his back into the other man as the ecstasy takes him, lifting him on the crest of an immense wave. He wants the pain, he wants the pleasure, but most of all, he wants him. He wants him to feel the pleasure he feels he wants him to hurt the way he hurts.

So close now . . . Seishirou pushes relentlessly for that narrow gateway, greedily lapping at the salty tracks of tears and blood on Subaru's skin that spark fire on his tongue. Beneath him and against him Subaru is tense, every muscle strained this will hurt, but Seishirou doesn't care. After all, he won't be denied anything least of all his prey.

Take him.

There is a single cracked sound from Subaru as Seishirou truly begins to fill him, excruciatingly slow . . . he can feel every inch of that living heat moving inside of him, a terrifying ecstasy of penetration and he clenches his fist in the flowers. Seishirou's mismatched eyes never quite completely close as he leans into that feverish tightness, restraining his urgency. There is no resistance, none at all, and the tears flow over Subaru's face like rain . . . why oh why must love hurt so much?

But perhaps . . . it is the only way Seishirou can love him.

Subaru gasps as his body is forced into a rhythm beyond his control, the livid bruises on his arms darkening as they rub against the wooden shackles. Seishirou swallows the sound into himself and rubs his cheek against the gauze bandage as he increases the tempo. Like a delicious poison the pain from his shattered arm spreads through Subaru's veins as Seishirou moves so intimately within him, and the young man lets out a low moan.

It hurts as much as it pleases. But he doesn't ask for it to stop.

Strong arms wrap around his battered body lifting him off the sakura-strewn ground, crushing him closer, closer . . . again Seishirou thrusts tearing flesh and Subaru cries out he never knew that the act of love could be such an exquisite torture. Mercilessly Seishirou continues playing with him

faster, rougher

Subaru's arms strain at the flowering manacles as hot breath explodes into his mouth . . . he feels the other man buried deep within him, possessing him heart, body and soul as he soars through a sea of stars that streak into a dizzying swirl with every fiery touch

"S-seishirou-san . . ."

they spin together into a single light so bright

"Don't speak . . ."

too painfully bright to look at

". . . please-!"

The light explodes. It shatters into a million stars that scatter across his vision and he plummets through them as one by one they wink out, leaving nothing but the empty dark . . .

empty. . .

. . . he gives one agony-filled cry of release, and the last star dies.

       

He took hold of each of the small hands, gently so as not to startle, firmly so that escape was impossible. Before the child could react, the youth raised each of the hands to his lips. At the first kiss the boy fainted but he didn't fall, couldn't fall, not while he was held so tightly. The dark youth cradled the unconscious form close as blood began to drip from the backs of the child's hands, feeding the silver glow of the inverted pentagrams forever carved there.

"These marks show that you belong to the Sakurazukamori . . ."

       

The body against him has gone still Seishirou barely notices, moving in and out of Subaru with almost frantic urgency. He will touch him, he will have him no matter what - dimly he can hear muffled whimpers as he strains towards his own climax, so close and yet so unsatisfying

now

One single, most exquisite moment, like the last heartbeat before death.

At last.

And then it is over.

Seishirou lingers in the lassitude of release, trying to hold onto that brilliance. There is nothing, only the sweaty heat against him and Subaru's heavy, damp sobs in his ear. Carefully, reluctantly, he withdraws

leaving a trace of himself behind

and glares almost angrily at the one he has violated, lying there tied in the Sakura, so lost in the hollow aftermath of what Seishirou has given him.

For a long moment, there is nothing.

Impatiently the Sakura shakes its branches sending flowers flying; Seishirou watches with an unreadable expression as the young man's breathing gradually steadies. He could leave now if he chooses, leave Subaru broken and tormented by how Seishirou hurt him and how easily he gave into the torture. It would be the final twist of the knife, to abandon that sensitive heart to bleed alone in the darkness.

He should leave. Now.

Moving slowly, Seishirou rises, straddling the exhausted young man. He ignores the blood and cum that falls wasted to the flowers as the green eye looks up at him with broken accusation. Seishirou responds to that unspoken question, touching the sweat-soaked bandage that still half-masks Subaru's face.

"This is your fault, you know that?" he says softly. "You gave yourself up. After all," the Sakurazukamori adds with a dark smile, "you're nothing without me."

Subaru starts.

What?

Curiously, Seishirou pauses and looks down at the body he has laid claim to. Subaru's single emerald eye stares into his face, wide and starkly open and yet there is something there, something indescribable, a revelation of a sort. It seems to penetrate him, deeper than anything he could ever do to Subaru, past the mismatched eyes as Seishirou's words die like melting snow in spring.

Seishirou freezes in that gaze for one weightless second.

What does Subaru see?

Just before Seishirou shakes himself free of the spell to ask, something flickers subtly in that forest-green eye, a ripple across the surface of a lake. He gazes uneasily into the watery orb, trying to discover what in the dark depths he has stirred.

Then the eye closes.

The dark onmyouji frowns. He reaches up and lays a hand against the smooth cheek, willing the eye to open again. It doesn't. Instead, the flesh beneath his fingers relaxes as Subaru sighs, his breath brushing against Seishirou's sweat-soaked hair like a passing spirit. The twisted expression melts away as muscles lose their tension to be replaced by the somnolence of sleep . . .

. . . or death . . .

. . . and Subaru is gone.

It is quiet. Seishirou is disturbed. Hesitantly, as if with a single touch the skin could shatter, he presses against the delicate jaw. The head gives way under the force, lolling limply to one side. His frown deepens. What is wrong?

"Subaru-kun?"

There is no answer. The Sakurazukamori stares. To reassure himself he feels the pulse deep in Subaru's throat. It still beats, and the slim chest against his still moves with each gentle breath. The body lives, but the mind is . . . hidden. Away.

An expression of what might be interpreted as annoyance crosses Seishirou's face.

"Subaru-kun." He sits astride the naked form, rocking the slim shoulders gently. "Wake up."

The eye does not open. Seishirou shakes Subaru again, harder this time, but it is difficult to do so when the body's wrists are tied and bound. Glaring darkly, Seishirou reaches up to the bruised and blood-streaked arms, brushing the dark pink blossoms aside to run his fingers along the smooth wood that cuts into the skin. He closes his eyes, communing with the centuries old sentience that ensnares his prey.

Release him.

The Sakura does not. With an impatient snarl Seishirou clasps Subaru's limp hand and bends his will upon the Tree

"Release him!"

Sullenly the Sakura obeys. The wooden ropes unwind, recoiling with a rasping sound like old bones as they sink back into the Tree's thick trunk. As they disappear, the flowers drop off and float away, some falling onto Subaru's still face. Freed at last, Subaru's slashed arms droop listlessly to the ground. The broken limb hangs unnaturally; carefully Seishirou lays it as comfortably as possible by the young man's side. The other hand he cradles close to himself like some precious thing, as he traces the softly glowing outline of the inverted pentagram there. Eyes fixed on the face before him, Seishirou silently calls through his mark with his own dark magic.

Wake up.

With each pulse the light shines brighter, bathing the assassin's face in silver it does nothing to Subaru. Determined to raise some reaction from his toy, the Sakurazukamori viciously feeds the fire with the Tree's blood-power, so recently increased by the corpse the Sakura still holds tightly. The blinding silvery light radiates outwards, creating more shadows in their shadowy universe before being swallowed by the blackness. It burns, raising angry star-shaped blisters on the Sumeragi's hands. Yet despite this, Subaru does not respond.

Seishirou stares, strangely repulsed. The wind has died. Even the Tree is still, no flowers falling. The only sound to Seishirou's ears is the beating of his own heart. Furtively his gaze darts around the maboroshi as if seeking something there it is empty save for the glorious Sakura that holds so many lives inside it, and the two entwined in its glowing shade. They are the only ones breathing . . .

Or maybe it is only Seishirou.

With a frustrated half-cry Seishirou pulls the unresisting form off the ground, barely restraining the impulse to strike the still face. Angrily he shakes the bruised shoulders with both hands as if to jolt the puppet into animation, calling a name, once, twice, again and again, voice raising until his shouts echo hollowly in the maboroshi with no reply. With each jerk the blood-stained bandage masking Subaru's right eye loosens. It tangles with the silky black hair, but it brings not a flicker of reaction from the closed eye. The tail of the bandage works free and Seishirou grabs it, wrapping the cloth around his left hand, his killing hand.

He pulls sharply. Effortlessly the gauze comes away and Seishirou looks down at Subaru's face in wild expectation.

The wounded eye is also closed.

Seishirou stops. Stares at Subaru lying motionless before him on the bed of sakura. He pulls his hands back as if he has touched something cold. This lifeless body beneath him, a pretty little thing like the dead girl in the branches above, is almost . . . obscene.

Whatever barrier Subaru has withdrawn behind, the Sakurazukamori cannot break it.

The bandage drops from his hand. Like a ghost, a single thought whispers into Seishirou's mind

You left me.

and before he realises it, Seishirou latches his fingers around Subaru's throat. He digs his thumbs into the fragile windpipe and instinctively the young man cranes his neck backwards - an automatic reaction, nothing more, there is no fighting back Seishirou growls and squeezes harder as the sakura blossoms suddenly surge up in a storm of anticipation and the trapped ghosts call.

"Don't do this." Seishirou spits the words out as if they leave a foul taste in his mouth. "You can't leave. Not after what I gave you."

Flowers soar and voices wail in discordant harmony. Only Subaru remains silent. Seishirou tightens his grip, mismatched eyes wild. Subaru's sleeping face seems to mock him savagely the Sakurazukamori leans his entire weight into the stranglehold, hands trembling with the sheer force being exerted through them

"Look at me!"

The eyes open.

With perfect clarity, time freezes into crystal silence. A brief, terrifying flash of illumination . . .

". . . Subaru . . . kun?"

. . . then the moment falls.

Seishirou's grip slackens and slips away as Subaru's green and white eyes look up into his face. Too late, he realises his own gaze is as naked as himself, and he abruptly averts it to the Tree, the maboroshi, anywhere except down before him. He glances up into the mass of pink blossoms above. The dead blue eyes still stare without seeing.

The Sakurazukamori flinches.

Then a gentle hand reaches up and touches the right side of his face. Seishirou starts at the unexpected contact before turning to face Subaru, shaken. Subaru gazes straight up at him, right arm lying limply by his side, a twisted, broken thing. The pain manifests itself in the young man's eyes, but it is beautiful. Even the blind right eye is given the life of the emerald one by unshed tears. In wonderment, Seishirou brings his hand up to trace the back of Subaru's hand. A bitter-sweet smile graces the young man's face, just for him.

As Seishirou watches, Subaru's hand glides through his hair to the back of his neck, a motion that makes him tense even as it soothes. With tender ease Subaru draws Seishirou down to lie against him Seishirou gives in numbly and lets Subaru hold his head against his chest. Dimly he wonders just what exactly happened here . . . but the slender body fits warmly against his own, a hand cradles the nape of his neck in tender comfort, and the Sakurazukamori rests.

At last.

Seishirou sighs, allowing himself to relax into Subaru's embrace. Subaru holds him as best as he can with one arm, caressing the other man's dark hair. Softly, he presses his lips to Seishirou's forehead.

"I'm here," Subaru murmurs. Quiet words, soothing words . . . slowly, Seishirou closes his eyes, listening.

"I'm here, Seishirou-san."

Then the Tree strikes.

Subaru barely has the chance to register the skeletal branch curled around the wrist of his broken arm before the Sakura pulls. His eyes widen with shock, but it immediately turns to sheer terror as the branch is joined by another and another, until a tangle of writhing wood jerks him backwards, out of Seishirou's grasp with a bone-jarring snap. His hand is forced against the thick trunk the wood gives way beneath him like hard water and Subaru sinks inside. Before he can react, his arm, then his shoulder, legs and chest are encased in a deathly cold that creeps up past his neck. Seishirou, stunned, stares as Subaru stretches his free hand out towards him in desperation.

For one fatal second Seishirou hesitates. Then he too reaches out, reaches out for Subaru.

Their fingers touch then slip apart.

Subaru disappears into the Sakura before either of them can speak.

The wind cries. It carries a swirl of flowers and ghostly laments about the maboroshi, sweeping them around the lone form of Seishirou kneeling naked on the bed of sakura, with one hand reaching out towards something lost forever as understanding dawns, too late.

       

For one moment, just one, the people in Ueno Park stopped. Uneasily, they listened to the wind.

Was that a shattered, empty cry on the edges of their hearing?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

It didn't matter.

They moved on.


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