"Look," says Kazuki. He spins, and the length of gauze flares out around him like peacock-green flame, gold coins tinkling like bells. "Isn't it beautiful?"
The words are directed at Juubei, who nods gravely. Toshiki's hands clench against his will. Kazuki likes beautiful things: this is something they both know, that everyone has come to know. Those living under Fuuga's protectorate bring exquisite, frivolous baubles to their living quarters, in acknowledgment of their leader. Even Juubei does so on occasion. Silver trinkets, earrings, kimonos and saris of embroidered silk, perfumed o-mamori, amber and moonstones and gold... It's likely that each token of accepted value was once a carefully safeguarded heirloom, but memories and tradition do nothing to stave off hunger, and Mugenjou's primitive barter economy purges them of their history soon enough. Kazuki accepts the gifts as his due, and gives them away as freely as he receives them. It's as if his wrists are too slender to prevent the bracelets from slipping off, his body too slight to bear the heavy brocades. A seductive illusion.
The people, Toshiki knows, are moved to tribute out of fear; they wish to salvage themselves from the dark abyss that resides in Kazuki's eyes. Juubei does not fear, but he sorrows, and the result is much the same. Toshiki thinks of himself as different. He carried no heirlooms into Mugenjou, and he brings Kazuki nothing of beauty but himself.
It is the darkness in Kazuki that calls to him.
"Sakura would love this," Kazuki says. The gauze susurrates as it slides down over his shoulders, gold coins catching at his skin. "Give it to her to wear, Juubei, as a present from me."
Toshiki looks away when their hands touch. You have no need for such fripperies, he wants to say. You are stronger than all of us, and someday Mugenjou will be yours.
You have no need for him.
"It is harder to be needed," Juubei says. "One no longer has the selfish luxury of choice, then."
Toshiki struggles up to a half-seated position. He feels light-headed; his body numb and over-heavy, as if sleep were quicksand tugging at his limbs. The other bed is empty, and Kazuki is nowhere in sight.
"Dreams," he croaks. "There are... dreams."
"A witch who carries the Eye bears with it a burden of memories, I have heard," Juubei says. He is sitting on a folding visitor's chair near the window, leaning back against the wall. Too-bright sunlight from outside darkens his profile into silhouette. "The Sight is passed down among them, generation to generation... in their blood."
"I don't understand."
"You're not properly awake," Juubei says. "And I would not like to explain it to you if you were." Toshiki wonders wildly for a moment if he heard humour in Juubei's voice, then decides otherwise. If ever he needs proof that he is dreaming still--
"You're not dreaming," Juubei says, "in case you're wondering. This is real. We're in room 97 of the sixteenth floor of Touen General Hospital, and until an hour ago you were delirious with fever. We brought you here because we couldn't wake you up long enough to give you water." Toshiki takes a shaky breath and lets it out, sinking back down on his pillows.
"I wish it'd stop," he says. "It's..." Too real, he wants to say. Not normal. If his eyes close the images will reform, pull him downward.
"It will. You may as well not fight it, the longer you sleep the faster it'll burn itself out." Toshiki struggles to keep his eyes open nevertheless, stubbornness forcing the issue. He presses his palms against his temples, hard, willing himself to stay awake.
Juubei is moving around the room; clink of glass, water gurgling from a faucet.
"With the doctor. He'll be back soon enough; this is his room as well."
"Is he - will he be all right?"
"Soon enough. Sooner than you."
"I hurt him."
"So did I. Neither of us was thinking."
"No! What I mean is, I tried to--"
"So did I." Juubei's voice is quiet. "Are you trying to make this into a competition, Uryuu?"
Toshiki laughs shortly, staring up at the ceiling. "You'd never hurt Kazuki intentionally."
"I appreciate your certainty, if by that you mean you've stopped considering me a self-righteous prig. I believe the expression is yours."
"Self-righteous. Enough to betray a friendship out of bitterness, say, and think it done for a higher cause. I should have paid more attention to your opinion of me." Toshiki turns his head, astonished, but Juubei's face is as utterly calm as his voice.
"You've changed," he says after a moment.
"Indeed," Juubei says. "I find that I perceive the world more clearly, these days."
"I'll let you sleep. There's water on the side table if you want it."
Toshiki hears his steps recede and almost puts out a hand to stop him, but languour more than pride prevents the movement. He finds it difficult to focus his gaze.
The door closes, latch clicking into place.
Toshiki turns, already undoing the cuffs of his crimson vestments. Orpheus - Kazuki, but Fuuchouin Kazuki is dead and buried and erased from this plane, and his purified soul wears another name - stands with one pale hand still on the doorknob, the other clasping his supplicant's robe at the throat. His hair hangs straight down, heavy and dark with water, nearly brushing the ground.
After a moment he looks up, meeting Toshiki's gaze with grave eyes, and Toshiki shivers with triumph.
"Are you cold?" he asks for formality's sake, and Orpheus shakes his head from side to side, gently.
"Not unless it is your will," he says.
"You must be cold," Toshiki says, because it should be true. Orpheus does not react, other than to clutch the robe a little tighter to himself. Toshiki navigates the fastenings of his ceremonial raiment with the efficiency of habit; refolds the long cloak and lays the sash over the back of a chair, pressing his lips briefly to the elevenfold star embroidered in its centre. He feels strangely on edge. Like a spoilt child, he thinks, for whose delectation so many baubles and sweets are laid out that he's less overjoyed than bewildered. He wants Orpheus to feel the chill in the sacristy, but not to clothe himself; he wants to see him subject to another's will, with his hair unbound and his feet bare on the marble tile.
It was Toshiki who draped the robe over Orpheus's shoulders, after the act of immersion, and he is acutely aware of the nakedness thus veiled. If the dark velvet should part--
Laughter, low and scornful.
Toshiki whirls. "What are you laughing for?" he demands harshly. He takes two steps forward, reaches out - then halts. Orpheus's expression has not changed at all; he is still watching Toshiki, head tilted slightly upward, and there is no trace of anything on his face but unconditional acceptance. Toshiki's hand falls back to his side.
"Was that you?"
Silence. Toshiki clenches his hands.
"What would you have me say?" Orpheus murmurs - almost inaudibly - and it brings Toshiki up short. He reaches out again, slowly this time, and takes hold of Orpheus's shoulders. Not breaking eye contact. Was there some trace of mockery in his words?
Orpheus's eyes are dark wells that go down forever, and try as Toshiki might he can't see to the bottom.
"Kazuki," he says, hearing a strange note of desperation creep into his own voice, and of course the name isn't right but - "Kazuki." Kazuki would not be present at his moment of triumph, would not see the universe of his own making unfold, would never be convinced of its perfection. His fingers fumble with the bells in Kazuki's hair, making them jangle dully. That would have been an unthinkable violation once, but now Kazuki belongs to him. A tool or a plaything, a card in his hand - no, not even that. A false ideal to be swept aside.
It can only be thus: Kazuki was himself a wrong done to Toshiki's soul, that needed to be made right.
The shell before him belongs to a stranger. Should belong.
"Kazuki," he whispers again. His sight is dimming. The bells are smooth, the cool metal warming against his skin; the thread ought to have a trailing end, some miniature mechanism like the tuning peg of a koto perhaps, but he cannot catch hold of it. Instead he imagines drawing it out in long, glittering loops, and winding it around his own wrists. Clumsy: one false move and the veins would be shredded, often enough across that there would be no need for the vertical cut. The thought makes him shiver. The sacristy is cold indeed, and the warmth of Kazuki's body draws him like a banked flame.
It's not until he feels a sudden slippery stickiness on his hands and jerks them away that he realises he's touched the thread after all. His fingers are covered with blood.