ĎGo get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your handí
This high above the city, all one could hear was the occasional screech of car horns and sirens. They came sporadically, the only sound to break the uneasy quiet of Seishirouís bedroom, a thin reminder that the rest of the world out there still existed. Not that Seishirou paid any attention to it.
The Sakurazukamori sat in the dark, completely at ease with shadows and blue half-light, in the easychair that was in the corner of the room. He rested his chin on his folded hands, mismatched eyes narrowed and watchful. They never strayed from the still figure before him, never blinked, as the mind behind them prowled like a restless panther.
The whole situation was . . . disquieting.
Subaru lay on Seishirouís bed with arms by his sides and chest bandaged, a body in preparation for burial if it werenít for the fact that he was still breathing. His eyes were closed, his face peaceful. There had been a time, long ago, that Seishirou would have felt something at having Subaru vulnerable like this. Those instances during the year of the Bet that Subaru had fainted and his sister ignorant (or perhaps not so ignorant) Seishirou had been tempted to take the game to new levels Subaru had never imagined. Rather sorely tempted, too. But for some reason, he never had. Yet here they were again, in this situation, another opportunity. Fate was funny like that.
This time, again, he did nothing. Instead, the Sakurazukamori gazed as his prey coolly, noting all those small things, how little space the spare frame took up on the mattress, the play of light-and-shadow over the long lines of arm and leg. So many details that Seishirou had known, mentally Ė obviously Subaru had grown up during the last few years Ė however, actually seeing them was a different matter entirely.
Watch the city lights slide by on pale skin. After what seemed like half the night there was a subtle tensing of fingers Ė it seemed his guest was waking up. But who exactly was his guest?
Seishirou waited quietly to find out.
Slowly, the body on his bed returned to life. A hand was lifted, touching forehead and covering one eye as it made certain limb and mind were still connected. Then, with a small moan, the body sat up, wincing as healing tissues protested against the movement.
"Iíd stay still if I were you."
It was amusing to see Subaru start at the sound of Seishirouís voice, looking frantically about the unlit bedroom in fright. Seated as he was, Seishirou was almost invisible. At least his little dramatics went the way he wanted Ė they were one of the few things that did this night. Before the other could realise that the darkened chair held an assassin in it Seishirou stood up and crossed in front of the window to the bed. Seeing him Subaru immediately jumped, scrambling backwards to the edge of the bed.
"That was quite a blow you took," said Seishirou conversationally. Subaruís eyes darted wildly about Ė was he looking for a way to escape? Rather pointless; Seishirou could easily defend the door, and Subaru was hardly going to jump out the window. "I do hope youíre not going to blame me," he continued, moving to pull the curtains shut, "it was all your own fault. After all, you should have known that blood magic sakanagiĖ"
He had thought that Subaru would do something foolish, like bolt for the door. That didnít happen, for the simple reason that this wasnít really Subaru.
Seishirou instinctively ducked as his bedside table-lamp was ripped from its socket and hurled at his head. There was a crash as the makeshift missile smashed through the window, plunging out of sight. The sudden gust of wind blew the curtain into Seishirouís face, entangling him in its folds. He struggled against the thick material and freed himself just in time to see Subaru leap towards him, hands outstretched and expression insanely furious. Before the startled Sakurazukamori could dodge Subaru slammed into him, knocking him to the glass-strewn floor. Slender fingers grasped a nearby shard; just the razor edge touched his neck Seishirou punched Subaru across the face. The smaller man was sent sprawling. As he struggled to find stability Seishirou kicked him in the bandaged area of his chest. The ghost gasped in agony with Subaruís voice.
Seishirou glared irritably. "I thought that death was a release from pain. Isnít that why tortured prisoners beg to be killed?" He kicked Subaru again, and this time the other coughed up blood. "On the other hand, I suppose feeling pain means that you are alive." He grabbed Subaru by the shoulders and threw him back onto the bed. Using his foot to flip the piece of glass into his hand, the Sakurazukamori raised an eyebrow. "If that is what you desire, Iím more than willing to help you."
Blood trailed from the corner of Subaruís mouth. "I thought you didnít want such a pretty face to be damaged," he said hoarsely.
Seishirouís eyes narrowed. He weighed the shard in his hand, it was just right for throwing. "What do you want, shiko?"
"To hurt you, Sakurazukamori." The possessed Sumeragi spat the words out. "I want you to feel pain like I did."
Seishirou laughed. "Is that all? Youíre not the first to want that of me, you know."
Subaruís eyes burned. "Do you know what itís like, Sakurazukamori? To have your heart torn to pieces until you are nothing but pain? To hurt so badly that all you have left is a rope around your neck?"
"No, I donít." Seishirou lifted the glass shard up before his good eye, looking through it at the distorted image of Subaru presented to him. "Havenít you found that piece of information roaming about in Subaru-kunís skull? The Sakurazukamori feels nothing, cares for nothing." With sudden, lethal precision, he flung the glass across the room. It buried itself deep in Subaruís shoulder; Subaru hissed in agony. "See?"
Subaru was breathing hard in obvious pain. "Then why do you keep hurting this boy?"
Seishirou opened his mouth to answer Ė then stopped.
He wasnít sure what to answer.
That . . . was disturbing.
Warily, the Sakurazukamori eyed the Sumeragi. Moving slowly, his face twisted in pain, Subaru reached up and took hold of the glass in his shoulder. He squeezed his eyes shut and pulled. It didnít move. Gripping tighter so that the edges cut into his palm Subaru tried again, and this time the glass came out. He let it fall from his reddened hand immediately as blood oozed from the wound, staining the bed-sheets. Seishirou sighed in resignation. He would have to do laundry tomorrow after all.
"Stop that," he said curtly as Subaru tried to stem the flow. "Youíre going to make things worse." The bandages he had used earlier were still on the bedside table; irritably Seishirou fetched them and sat on the bed. Ignoring the priceless expression of mixed disbelief and fury on Subaruís face the Sakurazukamori took hold of the wounded shoulder and began to bind it. "Really," he said as he pulled the bandages tight, "you certainly know how to make a nuisance of yourself."
Subaru snarled, jerking away. "Get your hands off me."
Seishirou laughed softly and drew the other back towards him, neatly tying off the ends of the bandage. "There. All done." He ran a finger along his work, critically inspecting it. Satisfied, he sat back. His finger lingered on Subaruís shoulder, trailing over the skin, the terminus between light and shadow there. Fascinating.
"Stop. Touching. Me."
With a little sigh Seishirou let his hand drop. He slid off the bed and stood beside it, gazing down at the young man sitting there, glaring at him with dark green eyes that he knew so well.
But this wasnít really Subaru.
Seishirou didnít like that.
"Itís most curious how easily you have taken over Subaru-kunís body," Seishirou said at last. "I would have thought that the head of the Sumeragi would have put up far more resistance than this."
The ghost laughed. "Not when he is tired and sick at heart."
Seishirouís eyes narrowed dangerously. "Give Subaru-kun back."
"Back to who?" the ghost asked.
Something flickered in the green orbs. "Do you care for him?"
Seishirou smiled a little at that. "Iím the Sakurazukamori. Itís the principle of the matter; youíve taken something of mine away from me, and I want it back."
Subaruís eyes darkened, skittering to the open door and back. "He doesnít want to return."
Seishirouís smile disappeared. Beside him, the curtains swayed a little in the wind. "What are you saying?"
"This man has nothing to live for, except you. And you donít even acknowledge him as someone in your life." Seishirou did not answer to this, and the ghost gave a thin smile, lips encrusted with dried blood. "So you see, Sakurazukamori, he has absolutely no reason or desire to force me out. Thereís nothing for him here. Not even you."
"He wants to kill me," said Seishirou, shrugging. "Isnít that good enough?"
Subaru shook his head. "No. He canít kill you. He wants to, but he canít. Because he loves you."
"Oh?" Seishirou raised an eyebrow, not believing a word the other said. "Which me does he love? The one who killed his sister or the veterinarian who never existed?"
"Does it matter? Either way, he canít do it." The ghost smirked at the Sakurazukamoriís disbelieving stare. "Since he canít kill you, Iíll do it for him."
Seishirou laughed, perhaps just a little forcedly. "Youíve been trying all night to do that," he said. "Obviously you havenít succeeded." There was a flash of anger in the green eyes. "Thereís no way that you can hurt me, shiko," Seishirou explained. He pointed at the bruise on Subaruís face and the bandage on his shoulder. "Physically Subaru-kun is no match for me. Magically Ė" here he pointed to the bandage around Subaruís chest, "Ė you can see the results of that. As for emotionally or psychologically . . ." Seishirou gave a winning smile. "The Sakurazukamori is impervious to anything of that nature."
The determination in the otherís face wavered slightly, like heat off pavement. "You lie. Thereís no one in this world who is immune from pain."
Seishirou shrugged. "I wouldnít know, since I havenít Ė"
He broke off.
In silence, the Sakurazukamori stared at the young man before him; the pale face against the ebony hair, the blood on the skin, lingering most on the way the darkened emerald of the eyes simmered and burned Ė
Ė saw those eyes closed in death like they were on the rooftop earlier that night Ė
Ė and again, wondered what name to give to the tiny knot of almost-bitter tension that caught him.
Could it beó?
No. Pain was supposed to hurt. This, this tension, or whatever it was, did not hurt. It merely seemed to set him off-centre, disquieting in the way a cloud passes over the sun. Certainly nothing as resonant as what had caused the spirit currently holding Subaru-kunís body to kill herself.
The ghost frowned suspiciously. "Havenít what?"
Speaking of which, Seishirou was getting quite tired of this spirit. Subaru-kun was far more interesting to talk to and play with.
"I donít have the time for this," said Seishirou, moving away from the window and quietly slipping an ofuda out of his sleeve. "Subaru-kun is the one who enjoys playing counsellor to restless ghosts, not me." He turned to the spirit. "I just bind them."
Seishirou flung the ofuda. It hit Subaruís chest and stayed there. When the spirit tried to move the ward burned, sending lances of pain through nerves that immediately subdued any resistance. Seishirou smiled at the otherís struggle. However, the smile disappeared as somehow Subaru managed to lift one hand and draw a bloodied finger across the ofuda. It left a crimson smear. The ward glowed for a moment, then crumbled. Seishirou felt the spellís recoil like a lash from a whip as Subaru tried to dash for the door, but recovered quickly and tripped him up. Subaru managed to turn his fall into a roll and tumble out the door anyway. Seishirou swore under his breath and followed, getting more and more irritated by the second.
Irritation turned into anger when he stepped into his living room and into a trap.
Five white ofuda formed the points of a pentagram on the floor. The moment Seishirou stepped into the middle of them a kekkai flared to life, blindingly bright walls appearing around him. Seishirou threw up a hand to shade his eyes. He had warded his apartment, for sure, but that was against an attack from the outside, not inside like Subaru was . . .
For Subaru was definitely inside, brought here by Seishirou himself, now standing on the landing of the living room bloodied fingers in prayer position. Hatred burned in his face.
Despite his situation, Seishirou stared.
He had never seen Subaru hate before.
It was ugly.
The walls blazed with Subaruís chant; Seishirou stepped back against one, and it scorched him. It was unbearably bright inside the kekkai, like standing in the full glare of the sun in a desert, and rapidly getting worse. It seemed that Subaru Ė or rather, the spirit controlling him Ė was going to burn him to death.
That was unacceptable.
Avoiding the walls Seishirou tried to look for a weak spot. The walls were seamless, the floor without fault. The ceiling of Subaruís kekkai, however, was the ceiling of Seishirouís apartment. That was bespelled by the Sakurazukamori. Ignoring the growing heat and light Seishirou closed his eyes and concentrated on that ceiling above him. Slowly, darkness began to creep into the bright walls of the kekkai, spreading down like ink through sunlit water. Distantly Seishirou heard Subaru intensify his spell, and the light and dark wrestled in the air around him for supremacy. Being the more experienced onmyouji of the two, however, the Sakurazukamori won. The darkness poured through the kekkai walls and into the ofuda at the points. The white spells turned black, the walls shimmered out of sight Ė
Seishirou smiled in the cool darkness of his maboroshi.
He remained there for a short while, taking a chance to rest and recover. That had been close, closer than Seishirou had liked. But it wasnít over yet. Taking a breath Seishirou dismissed the maboroshi Ė
Ė and found himself alone.
For a long moment Seishirou stared coolly at the opened front door, the empty spaces where Subaruís coat and boots had been. The floor around him was blackened in the shape of a five-pointed star. Heíd have to clean that somehow. Not yet, though. He had to find Subaru-kun first.
Subaru-kun could not be found.
Subaru-kun would not be found.
Subaru-kun would not come back.
" Thereís nothing for him here. Not even you."
Seishirou frowned. Why should it matter to him that Subaru wouldnít come back? He didnít care.
But, as he had told the ghost, it was the principle of it.
Seishirou locked that thought in his mind so that it wouldnít slip. Then he grabbed his coat and went out into the night to begin the hunt again.
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