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The hunter in him was getting impatient. They were month into their little bet and there were no signs that his little prey would win. He hadn’t expected to lose, but he was feeling restless and slightly bored. His instincts were telling him, it was time to move on, that he’d been playing this charade for far too long now. The tree was calling for blood.

But the boy had so much power. It was intriguing and intoxicating to watch him work and learn the secrets of his clan one step at a time. There were so much potential there. So much delicious potential.

And still nothing happened.

The boy was far to naive to even see what was right in front of him.

Maybe it was time to make something happen.

***

“You don’t think it’s a little... You know? Strange?”

Subaru cocked his head to the side to get a better look at the face of Hokuto. His sister was worrying her lower lip with her teeth and her face told him all he needed to know: She was worried. And this time there was nothing he could tell her to make her ignore the fact that there were two bright pink petals lying on the floor of his room.

In mid winter.

“Like someone is leaving a calling card,” she added as an after thought. “Subaru, you can’t ignore this.”

“You’re right, of course. And I won’t.” He gave a sharp nod to emphasize that, yes, he was taking this seriously, that he was going to investigate this.

“Do you think it was...” Sakurazukamori. She did stop there, but Subaru could feel the word reverberating in the air around him as if Hokuto had spoken it out loud. She stared at the petals.

“Are you saying that two sakura petals should be considered a calling card?” Although he tried to sound neutral, his head was spinning. He felt drained and a little tired, but he had slept like a stone.

“You look tired and a little feverish. Maybe you should go back to bed.” Before he could step away, his sister had her hand on his brow and was looking right at him. “You should go back to bed.”

“I have only just gotten out of bed, Hokuto!”

“And that’s very convenient, because this way you don’t have to get back into your pyjamas. You’ll lay down and I’ll get you some breakfast, hum? Don’t argue with me. Big sisters, know best.” It was no use arguing with Hokuto when she got all motherly. Who would have known that better than Subaru? With a sigh he climbed back into bed and looked down at the petals lying undisturbed on the floor. “I’ll get rid of them in a moment,” Hokuto said, interpreting his look.

“No! Don’t!” His own reaction seemed strange to him, but there was this little voice in his head whispering a warning and he really wanted to be sure... “Leave them until I had time to check where they came from. They may be a calling card, but I’m also very sure their a lead.”

Hokuto wasn’t convinced, but relented a little.

The door bell rang.

“Ah, that must be Sei-chan. He’ll be soooo delighted to find you still in bed, hair aaaaaaall messed up. My cute little brother!” She was already hopping out of the room into the hallway and all Subaru could hear was her slightly maniac laughter.

He let himself fall down back onto the bed with a groan. The morning hadn’t started in a good way. He hoped that it could only get better.

***

“He’s sick again?”

Hokuto waved her hand up and down in front of him, and Seishirou was inclined to take that as something very close to a reassuring gesture. He was careful to keep a slightly worried expression on his face. If anything, this little bet was proving to enhance his already formidable acting skills. “Just exhausted?” he asked, trying to sound both worried and hopeful.

“He’ll be all right. Of course, it’s even better now you’re here. You can help me take care of him and hopefully that will make him feel much better.” She turned back towards the kitchen and one of her vivacious giggles filled the hallway with sound. Happy and carefree. Seishirou couldn’t help but smirk a little at the irony. When he entered the kitchen Hokuto was already preparing a plate with western style breakfast.

“Are you trying to make him eat more by using his love for sweet flavours?” he asked innocently enough and reached for one of the three glasses of jam that she’d been putting on the tray. “Not that I’m complaining, of course...”

“You better not. It’s your job to look after him, too.” She turned around and caught Seishirou by surprise by standing on her tiptoes and looking him right in the face. Gone was the friendly expression and bubbling laughter. Her eyes were dark with seriousness. “And you wouldn’t want to hurt him? Would you? Because I’d have to destroy you if you even so much as thought about it.”

He felt his body reacting for him. A confused smile and blinking in surprise should do the trick.

After a moment Hokuto turned away, still unsmiling, but seemingly satisfied with whatever she’d found in his eyes.

“Is there something I need to know?”

“Maybe.” Hokuto picked up the tray and pushed it into his hands. “Then again, maybe not.”

***

“So what you’re trying to do is find out where the petals came from?” Seishirou was sitting on the floor, outside of the protective circle Subaru had indicated to him. Hokuto was leaning in the door frame, watching her bother work. She was serious and quite again, and Subaru was trying to make her see that he knew what he was doing. And, of course, he did know what he was doing now, but had no idea what he’d have to do after.

Although he had not wanted Hokuto to jump to conclusions, before there was any incontestable evidence, it was obvious that there was no natural explanation for petals on his bedroom floor. Any unnatural explanations he could think of where troublesome at best. The suspicions Hokuto hadn’t quite voiced this morning and the repeated warning of his grandmother were on his mind since he had seen the flowers.

He wasn’t even sure why he was thinking the word Sakurazukamori over and over again. Light pink cherry flower petals and the component sakura in the name seemed too obvious to be likely. But with the spirit world names had power and meaning. He couldn’t leave this uninvestigated. He didn’t turn his head but looked at Seishirou for a moment from the corner of his eye. Not everyone named Sakurazuka must be part of the Sakurazukamori. But how did you tell?

With a slight shake of his head he tried to clear his mind. Seishirou had been nothing but a friend. There was nothing but Hokuto’s teasing that had every connected him to the destructive clan of killers that their family had fought through the decades. He folded his hands in front of him, starting the ritual by taking a deep breath and finally clearing his mind from all thoughts and notions.

On san zan zan saku sowaka ”, he began his incantation. “On san zan zan saku sowaka... On san...” There was a slight rustling that didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular; wind ruffled his hair that had no place inside a room. Subaru could feel the magic building up around him reaching out. His own power turned into an extension of his senses. For a second everything was still as if the reality around him was talking a halting breath. Then the foreign magic struck, assaulting his wards without a warning.

He was prepared though. His shielding spells were up and working well, before the first shimmer of dangerous magic had even been active. Subaru was no fool, who dealt with unknown magic lightly. But now he at least knew that their fears had been justified.

This was a powerful spell. Magic of the darkest kind. He tried to counter it, careful not to entirely cut it off, because he still had to find where it had come from in the first place. He changed his enchantment, when suddenly he heard Hokuto scream out behind him. His concentration momentarily broken, the dark magic exploded through his shields as if they were nothing, and darkness engulfed him.

He crashed into something hard and lost his bearings. Darkness. Nothing but blackness all around him. Hokuto. Seishirou-san. For a moment he didn’t know if he was awake or asleep. Dead? But there was no way that the magic had managed to kill him with all these protective measures... After all the caster had been miles away, hadn’t he?

“Hokuto?! Seishirou-san?”

“They’re not here.”

Subaru spun around to find the source of the voice, but he couldn’t see anything. Don’t panic, he told himself. If he wanted to get out of this alive, he’d have to stay focused.

“How nice of you to visit me in your pyjamas, Sumeragi-san.”

“Visit?” He spun around again as it seemed that the voice was still coming from somewhere behind him. “What are you...?” A dreamscape? Illusion? It was likely that he was still physically back in his room.

“Just a short, little visit I’m afraid. I don’t want to be rude. You’re busy person after all.”

“Who are..?”

“Doesn’t really matter now, does it?” The words were followed by a low, dark chuckle, that sounded purposefully menacing.

“What happened to my sister and Seishirou-san? Where am I?” He was trying to think of a spell that would shatter this illusion without any bad consequences for himself or the people waiting for him back in reality, but he couldn’t think of anything.

“Do you like your Seishirou-san?” What had that to do with anything? He was taken aback by the absurdity of the question. Footsteps sounded, like someone was walking down a hospital corridor. The darkness was still hindering him from seeing far, but he tried to figure out where the person would be coming from, and gasped when he practically bumped into his adversary. A hand shot out to grasp him by the wrist, pulling him closer. “Tell me. Do you like him?”

Subaru looked up, a spell ready on his lips - and froze in shock. “Seishirou...-san...?”

Cruel smile. No glasses. Brown eyes filled with coldness instead of warmth.

“You’re not... You’re not him?”

Lips curled in another smile. “Am I not?”

“No...” He stumbled backwards trying to get away, but the hand held him in an iron grip.

“Wouldn’t you like this to be him?” the stranger who was wearing Seishirou’s face asked, pulling Subaru against himself. Even his voice was cold like ice, and still so much like his voice. Another hand gripped his chin, forced him to look up.

“You’re not him,” he said softly.

“But you want me to be.” The man bent forward and forced a kiss. Shocked, Subaru tried to free his arm, tried to shove him away with his free hand. But the hand on his chin gripped him only more tightly. The lips on his were surprisingly warm.

“What do you want?” He had to know. This wasn’t right. Not right at all. Who are you?

“You don’t remember me now, little one. Don't worry. I’m Seishirou for now.” The man - Seishirou - was pulling him down to the floor. Subaru was worried about his own passiveness. Shouldn’t he try to get free and shatter this illusion?

He was lying on the floor, before his thoughts were even making sense again.

Shouldn’t he run?

The floor was soft and Subaru could smell grass and something flowery. Distractedly he tried to get a better look, and had a glimpse of a sea of cherry blossoms. Everything was swimming in cherry blossoms. A bed of cherry blossoms.

A shadow above him.

“You’re not putting up a fight.” Amusement. Something soft and warm under the coldness. Like Seishirou-san...

The illusion smelled of tobacco and Seishirou-san’s after shave. Subaru felt his thoughts drifting away. A hand touched his brow, stroked softly along his collar bones. “For someone who has a fever you’ve fought my spell very well, I think. But now it’s probably better if we forget about fighting.”

He saw the small movement of the hand, just beside his head, thought about trying to counter the spell with a move of his own, but he was feeling dizzy already... and what was all this about anyway? He couldn’t remember.

A hand grasped his wrist again and pressed it into the soft petals, just above his head. Lips pressed against his own and he looked up, wanting to resist, wanting to fight, but suddenly he was looking into the warm brown eyes of Seishirou. A blush spread over his face and he tried to remember why he felt like he should be resisting this.

“Seishirou-san? You’re here?”

“Yes? Where else would I be?” he asked, and the veterinarians nice smile came to him without effort. No trace of coldness left in his expression. Seishirou pressed his hand against one of Subaru’s slightly warm cheeks. He leaned back against it and Seishirou leaned forward to press a kiss on soft lips. Subaru was surprised at his own reactions.

A hand slid down his leg, touching, teasing. Seishirou was leaning over him now, pressing one leg between his outstretched ones. He could feel his weight, and again the familiar smell made him feel save, although he knew on a certain level that he should be feeling something else. When Seishirou grasped his chin again he was feeling anxious for a second, but Seishirou initiated another kiss. A not so chaste one this time.

He lifted his arms and folded them around broad shoulders, holding on as if for dear life. A low chuckle. Seishirou, didn’t let go or break up the kiss, but he was laughing. Subaru could feel it against him, re-vibrating through his own chest. It was strange and frightening and intimate. Seishirou’s hand was sliding lower, stroking his jaw, then his neck line and finally reached his pyjama top. He carefully popped open the top buttons, and stroked the exposed skin he found there. Subaru gasped at the new sensation and just couldn’t hold still for a moment longer.

Seishirou propped himself up a bit to look down on him. “You have no idea of your own beauty. Beauty is something I can appreciate.” Subaru had no idea what he was talking about, but it wasn’t the moment to ponder these things... Because Seishirou’s weight was suddenly pressing him into the floor, pressing against him and Suabru couldn’t help but writhe and moan slightly. A gasp escaped him when Seishirou bit down on his neck, hard, and Subaru arched his back in surprise. His body was so tense, that for a moment he was thinking he might break in two. These feeling and sensations were all getting too much. “Seishirou-san!”

“Yes?” He wasn’t even out of breath.

“Please, I...”

A hand was playing with the waistband of his pyjama bottoms. Subaru was lost in a whole new world of physical sensation. He wanted to be closer, he wanted to be touched. A hand carefully stroking him. He cried out, lost in the feeling, needing more, needing less, all of it at once. And then it was all too much and he screamed out loud, while Seishirou was making a grunting sound, pushing, rubbing against him. They grew still together, Subaru still holding on to Seishirou, unwilling to let go even now.

The man was pulling his hand out of his pants and looked at it, amused, detached interested.

Something clenched in his chest, like a hand reaching into his chest and squeezing his heart. That was when it came back to him.

“You’re not Seishirou-san.”

Quiet laughter. “Not really. I’m not the man you know, my dear Subaru-kun.”

Anger. Pain. Betrayal. Shame. He tried to get up, to do something, to fight back. But the man - who was still looking like Seishirou - was quicker. A hand grasped his face and pushed his head down hard and everything went dark. The last thing he saw was a fond smile on an all too familiar face and a shadow settling down on the man's shoulder. “It’s a bit sad, that you won’t remember a thing. This was quite pleasurable.”

***

He woke up in his bed. Seishirou-san was leaning over him. “Hello, Subaru-kun. How are you?”

“How am I...?”

“Hokuto told me you’ve come down with another fever.”

That would explain why he felt so tired. “Where is Hokuto-chan?”

“Oh, I think she may have overexerted herself by looking after you. She fell asleep on the sofa a while ago.”

“She isn’t ill too, is she?”

Seishirou chuckled. “I don’t think she is. Don’t worry too much.”

Subaru felt better already. A spot on the floor caught his attention, but he couldn’t tell why. Nothing was there.

***

The hunter was smiling. Something had finally happened - even if the prey didn’t remember. But the game had piqued his interest once more.

It was night and again he was standing in front of the boy’s bed. Yes, he could appreciate beauty.

So much delicious potential. And now that he’d had a taste, the bet was so much interesting again. So much more interesting...