Memory Lane: Remembrance
- - - - -
When Subaru entered the hospital room, he didn't know what to think, or how to act. He just stood there and stared at the man in the bed, with the single thought repeating itself over and over in his mind.
"It's been five years. It's been five years, and this was not the way I expected to meet you again."
- - - - -
The call came unexpectedly this morning. Subaru had just returned to his apartment after a job, when the phone rang. He thought to leave it to the answering machine, as usual, but suddenly changed his mind and picked the receiver. His eyes widened, while he listened to the other side.
There was a man, the doctor said, who was admitted with a serious head-injury yesterday's evening. He suffered complete memory loss, and there were no any documents about who he is.
The only thing he remembered when he regained consciousness, the doctor explained to Subaru, while taking him to the room in question, was one single name.
The doctor said that it was all that man could remember. He didn't even know who was that, when asked. He was sure it wasn't him, but didn't know who should it be either. That's why they decided to find Subaru.
"I apologize deeply for inconvenience, Sumeragi-san," – the doctor walked through the hall with the onmyouji following. – "But his condition is serious – he might never recover his memory at all. That's why we'd like to know at least that he'll be taken care of by someone he knows."
"But do I know him?" – Subaru frowned.
There were warning bells echoing in his mind, and the feeling in his gut was telling him from the beginning it might've been that person. But even so… The doctor shrugged.
"I've only assumed, since he told us that name. If you do know him though, please, let us know. I don't think he can take care of himself being in his condition, and no relatives or anybody were searching for him, as far as I know."
"I understand. I'll see if I can talk to him and find out anything," – the onmyouji promised, and stepped inside the room.
- - - - -
His life really loved to turn everything upside down on him, Subaru thought. It's not that he wasn't used to it, ever since that day five years ago. But still, this, out of all possible things…
"It's been five years."
Subaru was standing at the door, unable to bring himself to come closer. The murderer of his sister, the man who broke his heart, the one he was searching for all these years, was lying just few steps away from him, yet the onmyouji found himself unable to move. He could only stare in disbelief at the silhouette in the bed. There were bandages on his head, his skin was pale, his unseeing right eye and golden left… Subaru's hands trembled.
"Seishirou-san," – he breathed.
The man shifted in bed, focusing his sight at Subaru. He showed no sign of reaction or recognition to the boy's presence. Subaru felt his chest tightening.
"This is not how he would react. Does this mean that he really… really doesn't remember?"
"H-hello," – Subaru said stupidly.
"A bit more," – he mused. – "And I'll burst into hysterical laughter."
After all these years, to find his enemy being in this pitiful condition. After all these years, to have the chance to take revenge, and not to take it. After all these years, to stand like this and look at him again, yet being unable to do anything, or ask anything.
Subaru bit his lip, trying to control his emotions and calm the storm inside his heart. It was difficult.
"Good afternoon," – the man said, looking a bit guiltily. – "Are you Sumeragi-san?"
Subaru's hand twitched.
"He never called me like that. He doesn't remember. Kami-sama, he really doesn't remember."
There was yet another thing that struck Subaru when he was watching the man: his face. For the first time Seishirou's face was showing emotion. Subaru had no idea, whether he should be laughing or crying. For the first time since Seishirou took his mask off in front of him, there was actually a human emotion on his face.
"Or this might be just another show for two," – the thought suddenly crossed his mind. – "He is a fantastic actor. I must keep that in mind. But the thing is, he doesn't seem to be faking it."
Hesitantly, Subaru took a step closer to the bed. And another one. And another one. Until he found himself staring down at Seishirou's face, carving every little detail of it in his mind.
The assassin hasn't changed much over the years. He was still the same – same haircut, same mismatched eyes, same everything. The only difference Subaru could see right now was that his face was looking human. That is, the man was apparently feeling something. The onmyouji wet his dry lips.
"I… I am," – he said hoarsely. – "My name is Sumeragi Subaru. Seishirou-san, what happened to you?"
The man blinked.
"Is that my name?" – he asked, puzzled.
Subaru felt completely dazed.
"He can't be faking it, can he?" – the doubt was still in his mind. – "But what if he does? What will I have to pay with this time?"
"Yes. Sakurazuka Seishirou," – his voice trembled a little. – "That's your name."
"Oh," – the assassin smiled gently. – "Thank you."
Subaru caught himself smiling weakly in return.
"What am I doing here? I should be running away from him. Or throwing ofuda at him. Not smiling at him. Kami-sama, what am I doing."
Seishirou frowned a little. Subaru tensed.
"Is there something wrong? You look so pale," – the assassin was looking at him with concern.
"Wrong? Where do I even start?" – Subaru laughed mentally. – "You destroyed me and my life, you killed my sister, you shattered my heart, and you're asking me if there's something wrong? Should I give you a list, Seishirou-san?"
"I'm so sorry for bothering you… but you do seem to know me, right?" – the man continued in the meantime, looking rather worried.
Subaru closed his eyes. He nodded.
"Yes, I do know you," – he said quietly.
"Are we related somehow?" – Seishirou asked with curiosity.
Subaru suppressed a bitter laugh, and shook his head.
"We are… were… friends," – he answered neutrally, keeping his tone calm. – "I…" – he started, but was mercifully interrupted by the doctor, who came into the room.
"Sumeragi-san," – he nodded to the onmyouji. – "How is it going here? Do you…?"
"Yes, I know him," – Subaru sighed. – "I know him too well."
Seishirou frowned, looking at him in confusion, but not daring to speak in front of the doctor.
"Well then, he has to stay another night in here, but would you come to pick him up tomorrow?"
Subaru swallowed. To pick him up. To bring him to his place – Subaru didn't know where Seishirou lived after he closed his clinic and moved from Shinjuku. To bring the enemy into his home. He looked at Seishirou uncertainly. The man looked… lost. Lost and confused. There was no way Subaru could leave him like that. Even though he knew this might prove as a fatal mistake.
"Yes, of course," – the onmyouji noticed with astonishment, how Seishirou looked relieved after his words.
Was he… scared? Scared of being left alone?
"But you did leave me, Seishirou-san. You left me," – Subaru's breathing was fast and shallow.
"Good," – the doctor smiled at Seishirou. – "See, it'll be okay now. Sumeragi-san knows you and will take care of you."
Seishirou nodded slowly, his eyes fixed on Subaru's face.
"Thank you," – he said. – "Please, have a good rest tonight. And I'm sorry again for troubling you."
Subaru merely nodded, and walked out of the room. He couldn't speak. He was afraid that the moment he'd open his mouth, he'd begin to scream.
- - - - -
Subaru closed the door to his apartment, and slid down to the floor, staring blankly in front of himself. The whole situation seemed surreal to him. That Seishirou-san would be in such condition – he could never imagine anything like that. Yet there he was, he saw it for himself – lying in that hospital bed like a lost child, not remembering anything, looking confused and insecure.
Subaru rubbed his temples, trying to chase headache away.
Seishirou didn't remember.
He didn't remember what he's done to him. Or who he was, for that matter. As well as he didn't remember Hokuto-chan. Subaru reached in his pocket and pulled his cigarettes out. His hand was shaking.
Why did he agree to take him? Shouldn't he just leave him there? Even more so – shouldn't he inform his clan about the Sakurazukamori?
Subaru dragged the smoke in and threw his head back, leaning over the door. He laughed hoarsely, coughing, as the smoke caught in his lungs.
"You know, Seishirou-san," – the onmyouji said, his voice sounding cynical. – "Sometimes I truly hate my kindness."
- - - - -
"Don't upset him," – the doctor warned Subaru the next day, as he was preparing to pick Seishirou from hospital. – "We cannot foretell for certain if his memory will return. It might happen, but not necessarily. I cannot guarantee anything for that matter. So for now it would be the best not to disturb him, and slowly fill him into usual daily life and routine. The fact that he remembered your name means you were really important and close to him – so I believe, as his friend, you'll know what to do."
Subaru nodded mechanically to that, barely listening. He didn't sleep well tonight, constantly thinking about Seishirou and what to do with him now. For such a long time he wanted to find him and kill him to avenge his sister. But now that he saw him, Subaru couldn't bring himself to think of killing him. He just… couldn't.
"I wonder does that mean I'm a weak person," – it's not that he had anybody to ask about that. – "I truly can't kill him, can I? It's just that… the way he looks… I can't," – Subaru closed his eyes. – "Nee-san…"
Seishirou was waiting for him in his hospital room, dressed in suit and a coat. Subaru thought hazily that he needs to buy him some clothes – after all, Seishirou didn't remember where he lived, and it would be stupid for him to walk around in same garments all the time.
"The last time I worried about clothes was how long ago?" – Subaru felt like this was some very strange dream.
Seishirou's coat was torn at his sleeve and shoulder. Apparently something fell onto him, which caused his wound? Subaru wondered. There were still bandages on the side of Seishirou's head. The assassin smiled at Subaru, when the onmyouji came to him.
"Good morning, Sumeragi-san," – he greeted him politely.
Subaru inhaled deeply, gathering his wits to speak.
"Subaru," – he stated firmly. – "Please, call me Subaru. You… you never called me by my last name, so it feels weird if you do."
Seishirou looked genuinely surprised.
"I didn't? Okay then," – he smiled. – "You'll take me to my place?"
The onmyouji shook his head.
"I don't know where you live," – he admitted, gesturing the man to follow him out of the room. – "We… we didn't see each other for five years," – Subaru decided to keep to the facts to a certain extent. – "In the meantime you moved from you old apartment, and I do not know your current address."
Seishirou wrinkled his brow.
"So where are we going?"
"To my place," – Subaru answered simply.
"Why didn't we see each other for so long? I mean… we are friends, aren't we?"
"How is your wound, Seishirou-san?" – Subaru abruptly switched the subject.
He didn't think he was in condition to answer all of these questions. Situation was weird enough as it was. It seemed like Seishirou understood that, and let the matter go.
"I'm fine, don't worry," – he smiled again – gently, sincerely.
Subaru wondered if this was how he would be like, if he weren't the emotionless government assassin, if he weren't the Sakurazukamori? Would he always be smiling so honestly, actually feeling something? Would he actually be that kind veterinarian Subaru considered him for, during that year? Would Seishirou be able to lo…? Subaru abruptly cut the thought. That was impossible, so why bother.
"You'll need to rest when we come home. I'll have to go grocery shopping," – Subaru said out loud, suppressing a sigh – did he even go to grocery shopping this week? When was the last time he ate?
The assassin nodded obediently. The onmyouji suddenly found this ironical. This time he was the one who knew everything, and Seishirou didn't.
"Why, Seishirou-san. Should I make a Bet with you maybe?" – Subaru shook his head violently, trying not to start laughing.
"Are you alright?" – Seishirou glanced at him with concern.
"Yes, don't worry about it," – Subaru replied a bit sharply. – "Everything's fine."
"…not. This is too weird."
"I'm sorry," – Seishirou said softly.
Subaru stopped in his tracks, turning to the man. Pedestrians were passing by on the street, not paying attention to the two of them – just another two faces in a crowd of Tokyo's citizens.
"I… did something, didn't I?" – Seishirou's face looked pained. – "The way you act around me – you're always so tensed, as if expecting me to do something… bad?"
"Don't upset him," – Subaru remembered doctor's orders.
The onmyouji tried to relax and looked into Seishirou's mismatched eyes.
"It's alright, Seishirou-san," – he said softly. – "I was just… really surprised to see you after all this time. Lets go," – he forced a smile. – "You're probably hungry, and we still need to get home."
The assassin smiled to him slightly.
"Thank you, Subaru," – he said simply.
Subaru thought that, once again, he wanted to scream.
- - - - -
"The fact that he remembered your name means you were really important to him," – Subaru recalled those words as he was walking with Seishirou towards the subway station.
The onmyouji wondered if he was going insane, but the thought didn't leave his mind. To be important to Seishirou-san. Impossible. He didn't care, did he? He never cared. He didn't have emotions. But then why? How? Subaru felt his hands are shaking again.
"Seishirou-san?" – he began, when they sat in the train.
"Why," – Subaru halted, gathering his courage. – "Why did you remember only my name?"
The assassin looked thoughtful.
"I don't really know," – he replied slowly. – "When I opened my eyes, the only thought I had at the time was 'Sumeragi Subaru-kun'," – Subaru winced, but Seishirou didn't notice, still drawn in his thoughts. – "And whenever I thought of that name, it felt warm. In here," – he put his hand on his chest.
"A bit painful, but at the same time warm," – the assassin clarified. – "So I thought that you must be really dear to me, and mean something important to me."
"Stop it," – Subaru was trembling, his eyes wide.
"Say no more," – the onmyouji pleaded. – "You're lying aren't you? You always do. Just stop it!"
Now it was Seishirou who was staring at him.
"I'm sorry," – he whispered, looking completely lost and puzzled. – "But I wasn't lying," – he added, averting his gaze from the onmyouji. – "I told you what I felt when I woke up, that's it. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Subaru whimpered incoherently, burying his face in his hands.
"So I really did something," – Seishirou stated darkly, after a while.
Subaru jerked up, looking warily at the assassin.
"And judging by your reaction, something really terrible. I'm a… bad person, aren't I?"
The onmyouji closed his eyes.
"I used to think so for a while," – he admitted. – "I used to think many things about you, never truly being able to understand your actions. But I'm no longer sure about anything. Because I… in spite of everything that happened, I want to believe that you're not a bad person."
"But you can't."
"I don't know. For the time being – I just don't know. I'm coming to terms with this… 'new you', should I say."
When the reply didn't come, Subaru glanced at Seishirou's face. He froze. Never before he saw this man wearing expression of such an honest sadness.
"Seishirou-san…" – Subaru breathed in bewilderment.
The assassin looked at him.
"I'm sorry," – was all he could say.
But his expression and emotions his eyes were showing spoke much more to Subaru. Suddenly the onmyouji thought that something good might come out of him taking Seishirou to his place after all.
- - - - -
Subaru unlocked the door and let Seishirou in his apartment. He thought that this was the craziest thing he'd done in his life. Somehow he didn't care anymore. The things Seishirou told him on the train – Subaru clung to those words like a drowning man clings to a straw. Crazy thought was burning in his mind ever since that talk – what if this new Seishirou is capable of experiencing true emotions? If he is – what if he… what if Subaru truly meant something to him?
Subaru knew this was crazy.
Subaru knew this was dangerous.
Subaru wanted this.
So many years he spent thinking and speculating about this man. So many years he tried to understand his motives and his personality, but failed. So many years he spent dreaming of how would it be, if back then things were different and Seishirou stayed with him. Could they be happy together? Could Seishirou love him?
Subaru glanced at the assassin, who was taking his coat off, looking around with curiosity. He caught the onmyouji's gaze and smiled insecurely. Subaru smiled back. This was utterly insane. But this was worth the try.
"Hokuto-chan… you wanted me to be happy with him, didn't you? Regardless of everything, you still rooted for us back then. I wonder if I can at least try to be happy with this Seishirou-san."
- - - - -
"Can I ask you something?"
Subaru looked up from his plate and nodded, encouraging Seishirou to continue. They were in Subaru's kitchen, eating dinner Seishirou made for them. It seemed that amnesia didn't affect his cooking skills – Subaru was glad about that, as his own cooking was rather poor.
"Could you, please, tell me about myself?" – the man asked. – "Who am I? What do I do for living? How old am I? Why am I blind in my right eye?"
Subaru winced at the last question. He hesitated. What was he going to say?
"You're a government assassin that uses onmyoujitsu to kill, the Sakurazukamori. You're an archenemy of my clan. Five years ago you killed my sister and broke my heart. And even after that I couldn't stop thinking about you. As for your eye…"
Subaru licked his lips nervously, trying to buy some time.
"Um… like I said, you're Sakurazuka Seishirou," – he began slowly, carefully choosing the words. – "You were veterinarian here in Shinjuku. You had your own clinic. I used to visit you there quite often."
"There was somebody else, wasn't there?"
Subaru's hand jerked.
"You remember?" – he asked sharply.
The assassin shook his head.
"I just vaguely thought that there was another person coming with you. Was I wrong?"
"You weren't wrong," – Subaru answered barely audible. – "But don't go there," – he cleared his throat. – "So, you were a veterinarian. Your age… you once told me your birthday, but the date was false, as I think now. I'm pretty sure though, you didn't lie about the year. So right now that would make you thirty."
"Wow, I'm old," – Seishirou laughed unexpectedly.
Subaru couldn't help but chuckle.
"You were always complaining that you were old and that you didn't have a good body," – he remarked. – "You were such a child."
Seishirou narrowed his eyes.
"You really do know me very well, don't you?"
Subaru's smile faded.
"We spent a lot of time together," – he said.
"And this?" – Seishirou pointed to his right eye.
There was no any specific emotion in his voice while asking that – only mild curiosity. Subaru looked down at his plate, poking food with his chopsticks, feeling the old guilt coming over him again.
"This," – he said hoarsely. – "You defended me from a mad woman in hospital. She attacked me with a scalpel… and you jumped in between, saving me, but taking that wound for yourself."
Seishirou tilted his head aside.
"So I was right," – he stated gently.
"You are very important to me."
Subaru shook his head.
"No. It wasn't that…"
"If you weren't precious to me, I doubt I'd do such a thing. I doubt anybody would. A person must be very special to another for such a sacrifice, aren't I right?"
Subaru felt a lump in his throat. He couldn't speak. Seishirou got up from his seat and came closer to Subaru. He knelt on one knee beside him, peering into his face inquisitively.
"Subaru," – the man asked gently, touching boy's cheek, making him look into his eyes. – "Were we in love?"
Subaru felt dizzy. His chest tightened and throat went dry. He truly felt like he was drowning now. Inside his head he was screaming for help and gasping for air. Outside, he was like a marble statue.
"Did we break up five years ago?" – Seishirou continued his questioning.
The onmyouji closed his eyes.
"You…" – his voice broke. – "You broke up with me," – he managed to say. – "As for me, I…" – he couldn't go on, but Seishirou understood.
"You never stopped loving me," – he concluded calmly.
Subaru felt like he stepped into the bottomless abyss, when he answered.
Road of Regrets: Repentance
- - - - -
Seishirou looked at Subaru's face, studying the boy. Subaru was sitting with his eyes tightly shut, biting his lips and clutching fists. It was obvious that emotions overwhelmed him. The onmyouji gasped, when he finally opened his eyes, seeing Seishirou's face mere inches away from his own.
"You are very beautiful, you know?" – Seishirou asked him, before leaning forward, and kissing him.
- - - - -
Subaru froze, startled, when he felt the assassin's lips pressed over his own. He stiffened in a complete shock, not knowing how to react, not daring to break the moment. Seishirou pulled away from him, a mischievous smile playing in the corner of his mouth, and sparks in his seeing eye. Suddenly Subaru felt the fear creeping down his spine.
"What if he's toying with me again? What if this is just another game of his? How can I know for sure?"
"You taste sweet," – the assassin observed, his tone calm and reserved.
Subaru kept looking at the man, his eyes opened wide in shock.
"Why did you kiss me?" – he asked almost inaudibly.
"Because I felt like it," – Seishirou shrugged. – "I thought it might help me remember."
Suddenly, Subaru laughed bitterly.
"You're still the same," – he ran his hand through his hair absently. – "Yes, you're still the same after all. You just do what you want, when you want, on a whim."
Seishirou arched his eyebrow.
"Are you relieved I'm the same?"
Subaru smiled wryly.
"Lets put it this way – at least I know who am I dealing with."
- - - - -
He made Seishirou couch in the evening, and went to the bedroom himself. Subaru lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, his hands crossed behind his head. His heart was racing, pounding at his ribs as if trying to jump out of his chest.
Seishirou kissed him.
He kissed him.
Subaru touched his lips with his fingers, recalling the sensation from that kiss. As brief as it was, it was enough for him to get lost in it completely. Should Seishirou the Sakurazukamori return in that moment, Subaru would be a goner, caught off guard. But this new Seishirou… the way he looked at him…
Subaru turned to his side, crouching in a fetal pose. His nerves finally gave in. This was way too much for him to handle at once. He sobbed silently into his pillow. This was too much to deal with, after so many years of emptiness, despair and pain.
"Nee-san," – he whispered into the darkness of his room, tears streaming down his face. – "What do I do now?"
He didn't know.
- - - - -
Few days have passed. Seishirou didn't make any attempt to kiss Subaru again, nor did he ask anything about his past anymore. He did the house chores and cooked for them, while Subaru was at work, but mostly Subaru caught the man drown deeply in his thoughts.
Subaru didn't like that. He felt uneasy when Seishirou was thinking about something and wasn't telling him. The onmyouji feared he might remember his past, or come to some strange conclusion, and everything would fall apart. He didn't want that. Not this time, not again.
It wasn't as if he trusted Seishirou, but he didn't want to be hostile either. Subaru was yet to find out what he really wanted from the man. But one thing he knew for sure now – he did love him. In spite of Hokuto's death by his hand, in spite of everything he's done – Subaru still loved him. The thought made him feel both fear and relief at the same time. At least he was finally honest with himself.
- - - - -
One evening Subaru came to Seishirou, who was getting ready for sleep on the couch, stretching out the blanket.
"Seishirou-san?" – the onmyouji called him softly.
The assassin looked up at him.
Subaru took a step towards the man.
"I was wondering… I have a free day tomorrow… would you like to go out to a dinner with me?" – he smiled slightly.
Seishirou blinked, suddenly gaining a sly look.
"Are you inviting me on a date, Subaru?" – he asked.
The onmyouji firmly met his gaze.
"I think I do, actually," – he replied, sounding surprised with himself.
Seishirou came closer to Subaru, looking at him with amused expression. He raised Subaru's face by his chin, and studied his eyes, his other hand entwined around Subaru's waist. The boy didn't back away. He merely tensed a bit, but didn't try to break free from Seishirou's grip.
"Very well," – the assassin said then, releasing Subaru from his grasp, and turning away. – "The date it is then. Good thing we bought me decent clothes," – he chuckled.
That night Subaru slept peaceful, his face calm in his sleep, and shadow of a smile hiding in corners of his lips.
- - - - -
Subaru chose a small restaurant in Ikebukuro. It was Seishirou who brought him here once, very long time ago, and now Subaru did the same. He wondered distantly what if Seishirou remembered. He glanced at the man – dressed in black suit and pale pink shirt – but Seishirou just smiled at him, without recognizing this place. Subaru studied his appearance briefly, before turning his gaze away – it was Seishirou who chose his clothes when they went to the mall to buy him new garments. Which meant that even without his memories, he still liked this particular style. Subaru wondered was that good or bad, and what did it mean, if anything. The man was always a mystery to him, now even more so.
"Subaru?" – Seishirou called, when they settled at the table outside – the evening was warm enough.
"Yes?" – the onmyouji was digging through his pocket, searching for his cigarettes.
He didn't smoke in front of Seishirou before, but now he felt like he wanted to.
"You never told me – where are you working?"
Subaru tensed a bit.
"I mean, you're going away practically every day, but you don't have any specific schedule, do you?"
Subaru shook his head slowly.
"I don't, you're right," – he smiled weakly. – "I… I'm an onmyouji."
The assassin raised his brows.
"It's… um," – Subaru tried to think of the best explanation to make it simple. – "I'm a spiritual protector of Japan in a way," – he sighed. – "I'm the thirteenth head of the Sumeragi clan, who has a long onmyoujitsu tradition."
Seishirou stared at him with amazement.
"Wow," – he commented.
Subaru couldn't help but laugh, seeing his expression.
"It's nothing that special, really," – he added tiredly. – "Brings me more trouble than any good, in fact."
Subaru pulled out his cigarette, but before he could find the lighter, he halted, seeing Seishirou's face.
"You're smoking," – the man stated, barely noticeable reprimand in his voice. – "It's bad for your health."
Subaru put the cigarette away.
"You care," – he said with disbelief.
"You…" – Subaru was looking at the assassin intensely, as if trying to see something behind his eyes. – "You care about me?"
Seishirou looked hurt.
"Why, of course!" – he snorted. – "You don't think I should?"
"No!" – Subaru shook his head. – "It's… not that. I just thought you didn't care about me, that's all," – he lowered his gaze.
"Well, I do now," – he tilted his head aside. – "And I'm pretty sure I did before too, regardless of what you may think. By the way… do I smoke?"
Subaru took a sip of his tea before answering.
"You do," – he said quietly. – "Mild Seven," – his hand quivered again, and he put the cup down.
"Subaru, if you find it too difficult to deal with me, you don't have to."
The onmyouji looked up, startled, to find Seishirou looking at him with both concern and sadness in his eyes.
"I mean… I can leave. I'm alright now, I can take care of myself."
For a very long moment Subaru stared in his eyes, trying to make a choice. He inhaled deeply, calming himself.
"I don't want you to leave," – the onmyouji whispered eventually.
"Are you sure?" – Seishirou asked mildly. – "I'm not angry or anything, if that's what you're afraid of."
"No, I'm not afraid. I just don't want you to leave."
Subaru smiled at the man, as the decision was made.
"Because I love you, Seishirou-san."
- - - - -
As soon as Subaru locked the door behind them, when they got back home, Seishirou pulled him into embrace, kissing him. Subaru entwined his hands around Seishirou's neck, returning the kiss. The assassin looked at him, breathing deeply.
"You don't have to, if you don't want to," – he said a bit hoarsely.
"You're such a child, Seishirou-san."
The onmyouji laughed, seeing Seishirou's offended expression. He pulled him closer, kissing him first this time, making the kiss deeper and more passionate. He parted his lips willingly, accepting Seishirou's tongue that slid into his mouth, exploring. Subaru thought hazily, this might be a trap, but dismissed the thought. At this moment he didn't care. If Seishirou was to kill him now, at least he'd die happy. The man stroked his cheek, and pulled away from him.
"You're too tense," – he said gently. – "Is everything alright?"
Subaru nodded, returning to reality.
"I'm sorry, Seishirou-san," – he suddenly blushed. – "I've never done something like this before, that's why."
"Oh?" – the assassin smirked, looking at Subaru through lowered lashes. – "In that case I'll claim the honor of taking you first," – he picked Subaru in his arms, looking at the boy's surprised face. – "You're mine now," – he declared, carrying him into the bedroom.
Subaru smiled, looking into Seishirou's eyes openly.
"I've always been yours, Seishirou-san. That never changed."
"Good. For I don't want that to change."
"After all," – the onmyouji added mentally. – "I've been waiting for this for far too long."
"Oh, and Subaru?" – the assassin carefully put him onto the bed.
"Call me just Seishirou, will you? After all, I call you just Subaru."
Subaru nodded, pulling the man closer.
"Seishirou," – he breathed, and smiled happily.
- - - - -
Subaru lay in his bed, staring into the darkness. He still couldn't believe that just a while ago he made love to the Sakurazukamori. After all this time he actually slept with his enemy. Only this Seishirou couldn't be his enemy. He was so gentle and kind – Subaru never thought the man could be like this. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering Seishirou touching him and possessing him. Subaru couldn't deny he liked that sensation. He felt whole in the assassin's embrace. He felt happy and secure, no matter how paradoxical that may have seemed. Subaru touched the side of his neck, where Seishirou left a mark. Subaru's cheeks reddened a little. He already bore so many marks from that man. Subaru glanced at the back of his hand. The inverted pentagram flashed for a moment in the dark, then faded away. Subaru kissed the mark lightly, before turning to his left to look at the man's silhouette in the dark. Seishirou was already sleeping – Subaru could hear his calm and even breath.
The wild thought crossed his mind – he could seal them away. Subaru shuddered, his eyes widely opened in the darkness of the room.
Yes, he could.
He could seal Seishirou's memories away forever. The same way Seishirou did it to him when he was nine. Subaru could now do the same, only would make it permanent. Then the Sakurazukamori would never return. He would never leave him nor hurt him again. He would be his only. He would live with him, and smile to him, and he would recognize only him. They would live happily, Seishirou taking care of him, and Subaru working and returning home every evening, knowing he'll be greeted with a kiss and a smile.
Subaru shivered under his blanket.
He could seal the past away.
The onmyouji climbed out of the bed and fled for the bathroom, closing the doors behind. He splashed his face with cold water, and slumped to the floor, shaking from head to toe. Subaru bit his palm, muffling the scream away, trying to calm down.
He could do it, he could seal everything bad that happened away. There would be no fear that the Sakurazukamori might return. No doubt that Seishirou might've been playing all along. Subaru could seal all the memories away and be happy. It's only that if he did that… he wouldn't be happy. Because it would no longer be the real Seishirou-san, would it? It wouldn't be Seishirou's choice – it would be a mere imitation, not the true person anymore.
Subaru knew very well that Seishirou's memory would eventually return. He didn't hold onto illusion this would last forever. But when that time would come… Subaru wanted for the man to make his own free choice of what to do. Because even after all these years Subaru found himself believing in Seishirou. Even after all these years… he dared to hope that, when the time comes, the assassin would do the right thing.
"Nee-san… is that foolish of me, to believe in him? I wish I knew the answers. I wish I knew. I don't want to be alone anymore. Not again."
- - - - -
Seishirou came out of the kitchen, eyeing the onmyouji, who was pulling his coat on in the hall.
"Going to work?"
Subaru nodded, lacing his boots in a hurry.
"I'm already a bit late for a job. Your fault," – he added with accusation.
"I overslept, because somebody made me stay up late again last night," – Subaru arched his eyebrow mockingly.
"Don't tell me you didn't like it," – Seishirou's smirk was full of self-satisfaction.
He came to Subaru, pulling him into the hug. The onmyouji blushed slightly.
"I loved it," – he breathed honestly. – "And I love you. But I'm still late!" – he gave a quick kiss to Seishirou and turned away, running out of the apartment.
"Will you return before the dark?" – the assassin called after him, peering into the hallway.
"I'll prepare dinner then!"
"Okay! Have a nice day, Seishirou!"
"Take care, Subaru!"
The onmyouji nodded, waving Seishirou goodbye, while the assassin closed the door and returned to the kitchen.
- - - - -
When Subaru came home later in the evening, he thought at first that he had mistaken the place. There were candles in the living room, and small bouquet of flowers on the table. The food was also ready, all Subaru's favorite dishes. Seishirou came out of the bedroom, fixing his tie, when he heard the clicking of the lock. He smiled at Subaru.
"I'm home," – Subaru answered mechanically, still staring at the table and candles. – "What is this, Seishirou?"
The assassin chuckled, seeing Subaru's expression.
"I merely thought to surprise you with a romantic home-made dinner," – he shrugged. – "Consider this as a little token of my appreciation to you."
"But I didn't do anything special."
Seishirou stroked his hair and kissed him.
"You did. And you're still doing. You are special, Subaru."
The onmyouji closed his eyes.
"Say it again," – he pleaded. – "I need to hear you saying that again."
Seishirou smiled softly.
"You are very special to me, Subaru," – he leaned to whisper into the onmyouji's ear. – "I think I'm in love with you."
If Subaru weren't clinging to the man, he would've fallen.
"I wanted for you to say that for such a long time," – he breathed, burying his face into Seishirou's shirt.
"I don't know about the former me," – the assassin shrugged slightly. – "But, frankly spoken, I think I've always loved you. Just never told you that, perhaps. So I'm telling you know – I love you, Subaru."
- - - - -
In that moment Subaru was the happiest man in the world.
In that moment Subaru felt the strongest urge until now to erase all the memories of Seishirou's past forever to keep him by his side.
In that moment Subaru stood motionless in the assassin's embrace, his face hidden in Seishirou's shirt, his shoulders tensed.
In that moment Subaru's eyes were full of tears – but were those tears of joy, or tears of sadness, he didn't know.
- - - - -
One night, couple of months later, he said it to Seishirou.
"I wish your memory never returns to you."
He said it, lying in the crook of Seishirou's arm, his own arm entwined around the assassin's waist, caressing the bare skin of his lover. Seishirou glanced at him, frowning slightly.
"You'll leave me, if it will. You'll either walk away, or you'll kill me," – the onmyouji said, his voice laden with sadness. – "And to be honest, I'd prefer the latter, rather than to lose you again. That's why I wish you'd stay like this forever. With no memory of the past. Just here, with me."
Seishirou hugged the boy gently.
"I don't want for it to return either," – he admitted. – "Because I'm happy to be like this with you."
"But it's impossible, isn't it?"
"I do not know."
"But," – Seishirou continued. – "I wasn't telling lie when I said I loved you before too, you know. That much I remember."
Subaru shook his head.
"No, you couldn't."
The onmyouji bit his lip.
"You just… couldn't."
"But I did. And I do now. And while we're at it, I think I always will. Because it's you."
"If only you knew, how much do I wish for these words to be true."
"That makes the two of us," – Seishirou gently ruffled boy's hair. – "Sleep now. And please, don't be sad. I love it when you smile to me. You're so beautiful, and you deserve to be happy. So don't cry, Subaru."
"Stay with me then. Forever."
"I will. That's why you don't have to be sad anymore."
"I trust you."
"Even though I know it's not the kind of promise you can keep… Seishirou-san."
Road to Oblivion: Forgetfulnes
- - - - -
It's been eight months since Subaru brought Seishirou to his home. Eight months since his life changed in the ways he couldn't imagine. There were moments, very often, during those five years of solitude after Hokuto's death, when he would dream about living with Seishirou, being the true couple with him. He used to imagine how they would be doing many things together, smiling and caring for each other. And how Hokuto would visit them, and everything would be just like during the year of the Bet. It hurt him each time, yet still he was escaping into those fantasies. After all, during that time it was all he had.
But now his fantasies were reality. For eight months already he lived his dream. And he was happy. He cherished every moment even more, constantly fearing it might be the last one, fearing that Seishirou would remember. He cherished and loved every night when he fell asleep in Seishirou's embrace. He feared to let the man go sometimes, clinging to him, just to feel the warmth of his skin beneath his palms, carving every curve of the assassin's body into his memory.
Subaru also noticed that Seishirou did the same – it looked like the man was trying hard too, in doing his best and making everything as comfortable as he could for Subaru. He was cooking his favorite food, and always was so gentle and kind to Subaru.
But above all else Subaru held the memory of Seishirou telling him he loved him. He repeated that moment and those words in his mind countless times. He prayed to all gods he could think of, that the assassin truly meant it. He prayed for it to be true.
Still, Subaru's utopia couldn't last forever.
- - - - -
It happened one November morning. The night before everything went as usual – making love, and then falling asleep in each other's embrace. The morning itself was no different from any other one too. Seishirou took a shower and went into the kitchen to prepare their breakfast, while Subaru was dressing and tidying up their room.
It was then that the onmyouji heard it – sound of shattering glass, and Seishirou's cry from the kitchen. Subaru fled to him immediately. He saw Seishirou kneeling on the floor, the shards of teacup in front of him. The man was clutching his temples with his palms. Subaru hurried to him.
"Seishirou, what's wrong?" – he asked worriedly, touching his shoulder.
The next moment he cried out in pain, when his head slammed against the stove, Seishirou's hand at his throat, squeezing it roughly. Subaru opened his eyes, trying to focus his gaze upon the man's face.
"Seishirou…" – he tried to say something, but the assassin tightened his grip, and Subaru choked.
"And since when am I 'Seishirou' to you, Subaru-kun?" – golden eye of the natural predator was looking at Subaru both cautiously and mockingly at the same time.
The onmyouji felt his heart sinking. His limbs suddenly went limp. He didn't even try to struggle free from Seishirou's grip, even though by now he was seriously lacking air. His eyes grew dim, the veil of sadness covering their usual shine.
"You remembered," – he managed to wheeze out.
"Welcome back… Seishirou-san," – Subaru closed his eyes in defeat.
The fairy tale was over.
- - - - -
Seishirou didn't let him angst over it for too long though. He shook the onmyouji, still holding him by his throat.
"What is the meaning of this?" – he hissed coldly, his seeing eye never leaving Subaru's face.
He loosened his hold on Subaru just so much so he could speak.
"Don't you… recall… by yourself?" – the onmyouji whispered.
He turned his head – as much as he could in his position – to the fridge door. The Sakurazukamori followed his gaze. Subaru felt his hand stiffening on his throat. Then, abruptly, Seishirou let him go, and straightened up, coming closer to the fridge. The onmyouji collapsed to the floor, coughing violently and gasping for air. He cut his hand, accidentally leaning his palm over the shards of the cup, still coughing.
Meanwhile, the assassin was studying the door of Subaru's fridge. There were photos placed all over it. Photos of the two of them in some amusement park, smiling, hugging, eating ice cream and laughing… Seishirou was staring at them, his eyes wide. Subaru thought hazily, this is a historical moment – the Sakurazukamori in his true form, yet expressing surprise. He wanted to laugh, but coughed instead.
"What are these?" – the assassin demanded sharply.
"Three month ago," – Subaru said hoarsely, not raising his gaze from the floor. – "We went to Hanayashiki on a date," – he halted, coughing again, and closing his eyes for a moment. – "I've explained to you before that it's not particularly good for an onmyouji to take a photo," – Subaru smiled bitterly. – "But you still begged me to do at least few. Because, you said back then, you didn't want to forget that moment. You said that, should your memory return, this would be reminder of the time we spent together. You said that," – Subaru felt his eyes watering, the first tears streaming down his cheeks. – "This way you'll still know that you…" – he chocked on the words, unable to finish, sobbing silently on the floor.
The Sakurazukamori didn't make a sound or any comment to that, still looking at the photos, studying them intensely. Then his gaze fell onto the calendar in the corner of the fridge. He drew a sharp breath.
"Impossible," – he said. – "It was supposed to be April."
He finally turned to Subaru, looking at the writhed onmyouji on the floor with a frown.
"It was April," – Subaru corrected barely audible. – "When I picked you from a hospital with amnesia. It's November now. And yes, all this time… we lived together. As a couple."
The Sakurazukamori stared. Subaru thought sourly, that his day didn't start well at all.
- - - - -
Seishirou glanced at the photos again. His face was unreadable, the way Subaru remembered him from that day five years ago. But he thought there was also something else at the bottom of his eyes. Subaru got up slowly, wincing, when he touched his wounded palm. Sensing the movement, Seishirou turned to him, cautiously watching his actions.
"I've spent here eight months? With you?"
"Don't you remember that time?"
The assassin didn't answer.
"Why didn't you kill me?" – he asked instead.
The onmyouji looked up at him with incomprehension.
"Why would I?"
"I killed your sister. Or have you forgotten that, my little cute Subaru-kun?" – the assassin asked in mocking tone.
Subaru shuddered. The blood dripped to the floor from his hand.
"I haven't forgotten," – he said quietly. – "But I couldn't leave you in the condition you were either."
"You truly are… too kind," – Seishirou's voice sounded almost tender.
The Sakurazukamori suddenly went out of the room for a moment, returning with the first aid kit he fetched from the bathroom.
"Give me your hand," – he said, his voice devoid of any emotion.
Subaru stepped closer to him, extending his right hand obediently. He gasped, when Seishirou poured the disinfecting agent over his cut.
"Why you?" – Seishirou asked with curiosity, wrapping bandage over Subaru's hand after he cleaned the wound.
His movements were firm and gentle. Subaru wasn't sure what to think of this sudden development of things.
"Why what me?" – he asked dumbly.
"Why was it you who came to pick me up from a hospital?"
"The doctor called me. He said my name was the only thing you could remember," – he answered, avoiding to look into Seishirou's eyes.
The assassin's hand twitched slightly, as he finished bandaging Subaru's hand.
"And why on earth would I remember your name only?"
Subaru raised his head and looked into his eyes.
"I can only guess. Same reason why you stayed here with me all this time. Same reason why, even though you didn't know who I was to you, you longed for me. And same reason why now you did this," – he raised his bandaged hand.
"And that would be…?" – Seishirou's voice was threateningly cold.
Subaru merely looked at him.
"You love me, Seishirou-san."
- - - - -
Seishirou found himself staring at the onmyouji in disbelief again.
Subaru calmly met his gaze.
"You love me," – he repeated. – "You said that to me by yourself. And more than once. Also, you told me that you loved me 'before' too."
"You know I cannot feel anything, Subaru-kun," – Seishirou objected with amusement in his eyes.
"Yes, that was what I said to you too – that it's impossible. But you kept claiming the opposite. You said that you remembered that much – that you have loved me for a long time, but never admitted it to me."
The assassin narrowed his eyes. Subaru wondered will he grab him by his throat again – Seishirou sure looked like he was going to. Suddenly, the Sakurazukamori stepped away.
"Get dressed properly," – he said, his tone expressionless. – "We're going out."
"Out?" – Subaru blinked in confusion.
"Yes. I need to hear the whole explanation to this, and I'd prefer to do so during a proper lunch. So go get dressed, Subaru-kun."
The onmyouji nodded slowly, and carefully walked past Seishirou to the bedroom.
"This is turning beyond weird," – he thought.
- - - - -
They were sitting in a cafe by the window. The assassin looked calm and reserved, as usual, while Subaru was clearly nervous. He took a sip of his tea, not daring to look at Seishirou after he finished his story. He told him everything – how he saw him in hospital, what he felt back then, how he brought him home… All their talks, all the things they were doing together. Subaru didn't see any reason to keep it secret. Or maybe, deep inside, he was hoping that Seishirou would remember these past months he spent with him.
The Sakurazukamori didn't interrupt Subaru, listening carefully to everything, while drinking his coffee and smoking cigarette – he stopped to buy a pack of Mild Seven along the way.
"Why didn't you do it?" – he asked curiously, when the onmyouji finished. – "Why didn't you seal my memories away? Being the professional you are, you could do it easily enough. Especially when I was completely off guard, and had no mental defense at the time."
Subaru looked at the man tiredly.
"Because I wanted for you to make your own free choice. I was aware of the fact your amnesia wouldn't last forever. Doctors said otherwise, but they didn't count on your magical abilities and faster healing."
"But you knew."
"Yes. I knew you would regain your memory. So… I didn't want to erase the real you, I might say. I wanted for you to decide by yourself what are you going to do, when you would remember."
Seishirou smiled with a corner of his mouth.
"You're too kind, Subaru-kun."
"I hate that sometimes," – the onmyouji admitted. – "But that's who I am."
The Sakurazukamori was looking at Subaru thoughtfully.
"I believe you deserve to know what happened in the first place," – he remarked.
Subaru wrinkled his brow.
"You remember what happened to you?"
"Not every little detail, but I can assume. It was my target," – he looked at Subaru with challenge, expecting the pained reaction from the onmyouji.
Subaru didn't let Seishirou get his pleasure though, calmly returning his gaze. The bruises from Seishirou's fingers were clearly seen on the pale skin of his throat. Seishirou wondered distantly, why didn't he put the scarf on.
"But this particular victim of mine," – the assassin continued. – "Was well aware of his abilities, unfortunately. No, he wasn't stronger than me, not even equal," – Seishirou chuckled at the thought. – "But he had some guts. He attacked me and I dodged, but I failed to see it was his actual plan – he made the building collapse over us. I did finish him off before he got away, but I wasn't able to avoid some of the falling rubble. I didn't know I was hit that badly though," – he sounded a bit surprised.
"I assumed it might be something like that," – he said mildly, spinning his cup between his palms.
"If I may ask you one thing, Subaru-kun," – the Sakurazukamori tilted his head aside, sparks of slyness in his left eye.
"You said you loved me."
Subaru closed his eyes.
"I do. Regardless of everything."
"But whom is it you love?" – the man asked with slight irony in his tone. – "The vet you knew when you were sixteen? The happy-go-lucky person I was during these months? Or Seishirou the Sakurazukamori? Whom is it exactly you're in love with, Subaru-kun?"
- - - - -
Subaru was taken aback with that question. Truth to be told, he never really thought about that. He just knew he loved Seishirou. But… which Seishirou was it? He frowned.
The assassin looked amused, seeing emotions overwhelming the onmyouji. He leaned back in his chair, smirking slightly, and crossed his hands before his chest.
"You don't know, do you?"
Subaru shook his head.
"No, it's… not that."
"I just…" – Subaru twirled his hand, trying to find the words. – "I don't know how to explain so you can understand it," – he looked at the man, still frowning a bit.
"Try me?" – the assassin shrugged.
Subaru inhaled deeply, twisting his face in pain a little. Seishirou noticed that, and made a mental note that he went a bit too far with gripping Subaru's throat today.
"I love you," – Subaru said simply. – "It doesn't matter to me who are you. The vet, the housewife," – he chuckled nervously here. – "Or the government assassin. It's still you. And it is you whom I love. Just you – Sakurazuka Seishirou," – he smiled wryly. – "I can't make it clearer than that."
"It's alright, Subaru-kun. I understand."
"You didn't tell me, did you?" – Seishirou suddenly asked.
"Told you what?"
"Who I am. And what I've done to you. You didn't tell me."
Subaru licked his lips.
"I… was afraid it would upset you. And doctor said not to upset you," – he replied.
"No, that wasn't the reason," – Seishirou shook his head. – "You didn't want to ruin your little domestic paradise by it, that's why," – he stated.
Subaru clenched his fists.
"No! I was just…" – he halted.
What did he want to achieve by not telling Seishirou, really? Yes, he didn't want to upset him – that partially was the reason he didn't talk about his past. Also, Seishirou himself didn't ask, probably realizing Subaru wasn't prone to talk about it. And Subaru used that excuse not to raise that topic anymore. Afraid to ruin his "domestic paradise" indeed.
"Well then," – Subaru jerked, startled, when Seishirou stood up from his seat, taking his coat. – "This conversation sure was interesting. Thank you for the meal and explanation, Subaru-kun. Also, thank you for taking care of me for such a long time. You truly are a kind person."
Subaru's heart seemed to stop beating for a moment.
"He is… he is leaving?" – the onmyouji's eyes filled with despair.
"No…" – he breathed.
The assassin didn't hear him – or pretended not to hear.
"I'm sorry I won't be walking you home," – Seishirou said carelessly. – "I have some work to do."
He bowed to Subaru slightly, and the next moment he was gone, leaving the onmyouji alone at the table.
- - - - -
Subaru stared at the place Seishirou sat a few moments ago.
"He left," – the thought was screaming in his mind. – "He left, he left me again, he left me again!"
Subaru jumped from his chair, grabbed his coat and flew to the street.
"Seishirou-san! Seishirou-san!" – he called desperately, running mindlessly through the crowd.
Of course, the man was nowhere in sight.
Not paying attention at the looks people were giving him, Subaru kept running, sobbing and calling for the Sakurazukamori.
"You left me again."
- - - - -
Subaru returned to his apartment late in the evening. He wasn't in a hurry to get there. There was nothing there for him anymore. Instant noodles and answering machine era apparently was back. Subaru smirked sourly, opening the door to his place. He felt empty and numb from all the tears he shed today.
He blinked in surprise, entering his apartment.
The lights were on. And there were two big bags on the floor in the hall, one partially unpacked.
"What…?" – Subaru whispered, completely confused.
"You're late," – Seishirou came out from the living room, his face absolutely expressionless. – "The supper went cold."
Subaru stepped away until he slammed into the door with his back, staring at the assassin with wide eyes.
"I expected you would return earlier today," – Seishirou continued calmly. – "I cleaned the kitchen, so don't worry about that broken cup."
"But you…" – Subaru stuttered. – "You went away…"
Seishirou glanced at him mockingly.
"As much as I appreciate you buying me clothes, Subaru-kun, I kind of missed my old suits and coats, and credit cards, so I went to get them from my place," – he nodded towards the bags. – "I had some business to take care of before that though, so I haven't finished unpacking yet."
"Business?" – Subaru felt stupid.
"I was out of everything for eight months. My 'employers', if you will, were quite upset, you know. I had to report I'm still alive and kicking, so to say."
Subaru looked at his face.
"Because I want to keep getting my paycheck?" – the man offered, shrugging.
"No, not that," – Subaru waved off his hand impatiently. – "Why are you here?"
Seishirou came to the onmyouji, tilting his head aside, and smiling slightly.
"You said today that you wanted me to make my own free choice, as I recall," – he said.
Subaru stopped breathing for a moment, expecting the next sentence. His heart threatened to jump out of his chest, beating so loud he thought Seishirou could hear it. The Sakurazukamori shrugged again, and continued.
"I made it."
Subaru felt his legs giving in. He would've fallen, if Seishirou wouldn't catch him, supporting him gently, but firmly.
Subaru grabbed Seishirou's shoulders, clinging to him, trembling with his whole body.
The assassin shook his head.
"It's all too hazy. But I think I will, once it settles down."
"Does that mean…" – Subaru asked hoarsely. – "Does that mean you're staying? Here? With me?"
Seishirou looked at him.
"Yes," – he answered simply. – "Besides," – he added. – "You told me there were some very interesting things you were doing with me," – Seishirou smirked seductively. – "Things that I'd like to try out by myself too, you know – I hate not remembering that part."
The man laughed. Subaru looked at him seriously.
"But still… why?" – the onmyouji demanded.
He needed to hear it.
"Because," – Seishirou said slowly, with possessive sparks in his seeing eye. – "You were right," – he nodded towards Subaru's bandaged hand.
It was all Subaru needed to know.
He hugged Seishirou tightly, sobbing again, but this time because of relief. He finally relaxed, when the assassin hugged him back.
"Seishirou-san," – Subaru whispered, burying his face in the Sakurazukamori's shirt.
"Don't ever leave me again."
"I won't. So don't cry anymore, Subaru-kun. I like it when you smile to me," – Subaru remembered him saying the same thing few months ago.
And so he looked up at him, and smiled, and the smile was reflecting in his eyes too.
- - - - -
"…Oh, and Subaru-kun?"
"A minor change in the rules – I prefer the right side of the bed."
Subaru couldn't help but laugh to that.