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an eye for an eye (is both hello and goodbye)

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In the dead of winter, in an apartment and standing over his latest kill, Subaru meets him.

The case started unusual.  Takada Mio, single, age thirty-seven.  Five years ago, she’d lost her six-year-old son in an incident with a teenager from a prominent political family.  The court declared it a tragic accident, though like many others in similar situations, Takada suspected whitewashing, and as a journalist, embarked on a personal vendetta to expose the wrongdoings of those in government.

A common enough story, but what made Takada strange was her efficiency and success rate, with the uncanny ability to know exactly what information was available when, then move in to collect it.  Strange and upsetting enough for several influential politicians to summon the Sakurazukamori.

As it turned out, Takada Mio had enough spiritual power for basic scrying and ward construction.  And because of the latter skill, Subaru finds himself face to face with a child who’d emerged from a closet, all while a cooling corpse lies facedown between them in a growing puddle of blood.  A golden-eyed child, slight but without the gangliness of puberty, who looks uncannily like a young Sakurazuka Seishirou, who should be dead.

The boy blankly observes his foster mother’s body where it lies on the floor, then nudges the shoulder with a sock-covered foot, rolling it over to expose the face.  Having satisfied his curiosity, he slips back to perch against the counter, all while watching Subaru with an almost hawk-like intensity.

Subaru had been careless.  The woman being unmarried and her son long dead, and having watched her leave and enter the apartment alone multiple times this snowy day, he hadn’t bothered to check inside for hidden presences.  Like an illegally adopted child.

The Sakurazukamori leaves no witnesses.  Subaru’s never killed anyone so young before, and something exhausted but vital writhes inside at the idea.  But most importantly, he needs to understand.

So, he bends down in front of the boy and says, “My name is Sumeragi Subaru.  I’m an onmyouji known as the Sakurazukamori.  Would you like to come with me?”

A normal child would never accept such an offer from any stranger, let alone one splattered in the blood of their guardian.  But Sei—the boy merely looks at him with unblinking golden eyes, before squinting them in a smile and saying, “Alright.”

 


 

“What is your name?”

“She called me Kei.”

“But that’s not your name.”

“What’s a name, if it’s not what someone calls you?”

 


 

 

Some rare days, he thinks about meeting Subaru.  If someone ever asked, “Why did you follow him?”, his answer would be, “He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”

Sometimes on those rare days, he thinks about the woman briefly known as ‘Mother.’  Subaru had told him she'd possessed some spiritual power and he thinks that must have been true; that evening at dinner, a tag on the wall blazed alight, and all blood drained from her face.  She snatched up his wrist, marched him to the furthest-back closet, and shoved him inside.

“Kei.”  Her arms tightened around him; her tremors slid along his body.  “If you stay here, you’ll be safe.”  Pressing her forehead against his, she glared.  “No matter what happens, no matter what you hear, don’t come out.”  The tracks on her cheeks shone silver in the dark.  “Promise me.  Promise me you won’t come out.”

For a moment, they stood there, her tearful plea hanging in the air.

“Alright,” he said.

She gave a wet smile.  It was the expression of someone with no regrets.

That was his last memory of her alive.

He ponders her last words.  A warded closet can't stop the Sakurazukamori, and she must have known.  Subaru said they only seek to eliminate their targets and kill any witnesses; did she fear him hearing the noises and rushing out to help her?

She worried too much.

He knows he ought to be grateful to her.  She’d found him, lacking both memories and identity, on the streets right before winter, had fed and clothed and treated him like her dead son for more than a year.  He’d probably have died without her intervention.

He isn’t.  He doesn’t feel anything for her at all.

His mind returns to Subaru and their discussion on choosing names.  More than once, Subaru has called him Seishirou—Seishirou-san, to be precise—and backpedaled after.

‘Seishirou’ isn’t attached to the name, but that’s how Subaru seems to think of him, and he isn’t any more attached to ‘Kei.’

He doesn’t know who Seishirou-san is, and he doesn’t care.

 


 

When he dreams for the first time in a while and sees Seishirou underneath a lone cherry tree, appearing as he did when he ended the Bet, single eye and bandages and all, what leaves Subaru’s mouth is, “Is this another sick game of yours?”

An unyielding stretch of darkness cocoons them.  Everything seems oddly tall, and he realizes that he’s dressed in a red frock coat with a matching hat; soft leather gloves envelop his hands.  He's sixteen again.

Seishirou rewards him with an amused look as he stretches back to rest against the trunk.  “I must have unsettled you badly, if you’re dreaming of me and making accusations.”

“He’s not you.”

“No?  But you taught him a few simple spells, didn’t you?  What did his magic feel like?”

Subaru presses his lips together.  There’d been no mistaking the thrum of energy when the boy cast the simplest light spell.  Weaker and more erratic, but Subaru would recognize Sakurazuka Seishirou’s magic anywhere, having dreamed about it for the past ten years.

That, and he was picking up the basics far too quickly, almost as if he’d learned them somewhere before…

But then the blank face after he’d mentioned the blood-drinking cherry tree surfaces, and he sets his shoulders.  “Even if it’s the same soul,” he says, “memories make the person.  Otherwise, all reincarnations would be the same, and the system of karma meaningless.”   He glares.  “Thinking about him that way would be unfair to him.”

“If that’s the case, why did you bring him back?  Shouldn’t you have let him live the life of a normal child?”

Subaru wants to say that there are many, many reasons, all solid and true.  The Sakurazukamori leaves no witnesses.  The lack of official identity.  The poor state of Japan’s childcare institutions, the awful fate of many Japanese orphans, all made worse by the earthquakes.  The boy’s bland expression as he’d kicked his foster mother’s corpse.  That he shouldn’t exist at all, since Seishirou’s soul should have been consumed by the cherry tree, and even if it hadn’t, it’s only been a little over a year since his death.  Less than a year since the Final Day.

He can’t bring himself to say any of them.

“Ha.  Lost for words, I see,” Seishirou says, scathing.  “But putting that aside, if I wanted to play another game, I wouldn’t do it without any memories.  Even more if my opponent knew everything.  It’d be like walking into a gunfight blindfolded.”

“Then what is it?  What else can it be?”  He clenches his shaking hands and directs his gaze down at his boots.  “A second chance?”  He laughs.  “You died and left me behind.  You took everything away, forced me to live, and just because you told me…just because you said that right before your death, you think you deserve a second chance…?”

A soft huff of laughter reaches his ears.  He looks up to see Seishirou with a hand hovering near his mouth, smirking.  “You’d do well to remember, Subaru-kun, that all this is happening in your subconscious.”  His hand falls, and he continues.  “The real Sakurazuka Seishirou, if not bound screaming to that cherry tree, is in your apartment as an amnesiac child.

“So really, by saying those words and dreaming of me, here, it seems you’re the one who wants it to be a second chance.”

Subaru’s heart leaps.  “No.”  He shakes his head.  “No, that’s…”  But Seishirou’s smile only widens—

 


 

He doesn’t understand.

Subaru sighs at the form, then reaches into his breast pocket to pull out a cigarette, before lighting it and taking a long drag.  On the page, written in neat print, is ‘Sakurazuka Seishirou.’  He can’t believe this is going on the official records.

He can’t believe any of this is happening at all.

It wasn’t even hard to get this far.  In public, the late Sakurazuka Seishirou had been a model Japanese citizen, every inch of him spotless and shining.  He was private and kept a low profile, even the right age to have a ten or eleven-year-old son, and the resemblance is so strong, no one can look at their pictures and deny they're related.  Using the same name is rare, but not unheard of.  Nothing would stand out to anyone doing a quick scan, not enough to alarm them into a more thorough look.

And even if they do, Subaru’s influence and plentiful connections had already smoothed over the rest.

He taps the cigarette against the desk.  How laughable.  He hasn’t been this unsettled since…well, that day.  But then, has he truly cared about anything, since that day?  He’d been content to watch the world burn—or flood—after all.

Sei—the boy unsettles him.  He’s too much of some things—too obedient, too serene, too polite—and too little of everything else.  He does and says all the right things, but none of his actions or words carry any weight, as if they’re mere facsimiles, in the same way a trained parrot’s recitations, no matter how well-learned and articulate, can never move any hearts.  Whenever Subaru looks, he can only see the unchanging smile of a plastic doll, crafted to perfection but hollow underneath, sincere in its insincerity.

How is this possible for a child of only ten or eleven?  Was this what—the backs of his hands prickle, and he crushes the thought.

Subaru had wanted to understand, and he’d tried.  The first night they arrived in his apartment together, after the boy fell asleep on Subaru’s bed, he dove into his mind, hunting for clues.  Whereas most dreamscapes were surreal, even dangerous, in this one, there was only black, black, and more black no matter how he looked, with a weak smattering of ghostly wisps providing light.  He’d been thinking, despite his uneasiness, that everything corroborated the amnesia, when one curling tendril drifted close.  Something about it caused him to bristle.  He seized the wisp and tore it open to see Takada Mio hugging ‘Kei,’ tearfully begging him to stay put, and his blood chilled in his veins.

He’d seen this type of pale, lifeless afterimage before in the minds of others, but only for routine or trivial recollections.  Such as their breakfast that morning, or a dry conversation with an acquaintance.  Not the last time they saw their parent alive.

Desperate, he scoured every inch of the dreamscape, ripping open each wisp, and each replay he viewed reinforced his fears: every single one of the boy’s limited memories assumed the same empty mold.  It was as if nothing he’d experienced had any emotional impact.

Then, Subaru noticed the echoes.  Feebler than even the wisps, their presences so faded there was nothing to touch at all.  Instead, he pressed close to each and strained to see, catching glimpses of scattered images.  A red comb.  Red lips.  White skin.  Long, black hair.  A cold house.  A dark room with iron bars.  More imprints on the subconscious than true memories, and he knew with certainty they didn’t belong to ‘Kei.’

Whatever allowed this soul to come back hadn’t followed the rules of reincarnation.

Subaru left, shaken.

He looks down at the student registration form again, at those wretched characters printed in the corner.  The boy’s answer when he’d asked him the reason behind his choice still rings in his ears.  “It’s as good a name as any other,” he said.  “And I thought it’d be more convenient.”

Subaru knows if he asks directly, “Could you please change your name?” Sei—the boy would comply without complaint.  But he doesn't ask, and to be honest, he doesn’t understand that, either.  He’s not sure if he wants to.

 


 

—and Subaru tries to swallow down the bitterness blooming on his tongue.  “Then,” he says, thinking of plastic smiles and hollow insides.  “Then…tell me this…Is that your true self?”

Seishirou blinks.  “I thought you said we weren’t the same?”

“You’re not,” he grinds out.  “But the soul is still fundamental.”

“Hm.”  Seishirou looks away.  “Truthfully, I’ve never understood the obsession people have with their so-called real selves.”

“Most people value honesty, even if you don’t.”

“Everyone adjusts their behavior according to company.  For example, no one acts the way with their boss that they do with their mother.  Especially in Japan, with its strict social hierarchy.  Does that make them all hypocrites?”

“Different social situations may require different conduct, but they can still let their barriers down around those they trust.  You didn’t have anyone like that.  That’s why you wore all those masks.”

Seishirou snorts.  “Is that what you think?  That I didn’t show anyone my true self because I was afraid of what they’d see?  What a cute way to think, Subaru-kun.  Cute, but wrong.”

It’s like everything Seishirou says and does is specifically engineered to get a rise out of him.  He grits his teeth.  “You were always pretending.  Always.”  He can’t keep the spite from his voice.  “Even now, in my dream, you’re still wearing a mask.”

“You mean the personality of the Sakurazukamori?”  At Subaru’s glare, he chuckles.  “Ah, well, I wasn’t attached to being the Sakurazukamori any more than I was to being a vet, but surely you knew that already.  Though”—another slow grin starts—“are you sure about the first?  Didn’t you see an exception, once?  Before Rainbow Bridge,” he clarifies, when Subaru opens his mouth.  “You might not have realized, but Hokuto-chan did.”

Subaru frowns.  “What are you—”

The only thing I would concede about him, is that he stopped pretending.

It comes rushing back.

He sees the two of them in the hospital near the end of the Bet, where Seishirou had brushed away tears and offered comforting words of ‘not your fault.’  He sees in echoes and stutters the Seishirou who’d laughed off the loss of his eye like it was nothing, who’d been neither vet nor assassin, only gentle.

…who’d laughed off the loss of his eye like it was nothing…

…like it was nothing…

As if oblivious to the storm of thoughts, Seishirou tilts his head with a carefree smile, the image pulled straight from Subaru’s tumult of memories.  “Well?”

Subaru’s insides turn, and he shakes, bending over in nausea—

 


 

The moment Subaru steps into the apartment, he knows something is wrong.

The air teems with the miasma of dark magic.  Curse magic.  Something clenches his heart in an icy grip; the groceries fall from his arms and land with a thump onto the floor of the genkan.  He leaves them there, forgotten, and instead sprints down the hallway and into the main room, where the energy is strongest.

A child’s form lies in a crumpled heap on the floor, and Subaru rushes to him, lifts and turns him over.  He’s not breathing.

“Seishirou-san!”

Subaru doesn’t think, doesn’t let himself think.  He calls upon the cherry tree, drawing from its power, feels the flaming current flow from his core, down his arm, to his fingertips.  He forces the magic into the child’s body, willing the lungs to move.

Please please please please please

After what seems an eternity, the boy gives a great, heaving cough, and his chest begins to rise and fall again.  Slowly, he opens his eyes to meet Subaru’s.

“There was a cat,” he says.  “It’d caught a sparrow, in Odaiba. I was trying to get the cat before it got the sparrow.  I did it, but I underestimated the sakanagi.”

He almost shakes the boy.  “Why would you do something like that?  You’ve never cast anything over such a long distance before.  A curse…this situation…why for your first try…”

“Why…?”

“You didn’t care about the cat or the sparrow.  Why did you risk yourself for something like that?”

He blinks at Subaru.  Then, instead of answering the question, he asks, “Are you unhappy, Subaru-san?”

It’s a strain to maintain his composure.  “Yes.  I’m very unhappy.”  He raises his voice. “No onmyouji ever casts anything without properly preparing for sakanagi.  No matter what you use, curse or not.”

There’s no reply.  Subaru looks into those eyes, hoping against hope, that there’s something.  Fear, or even guilt or shame.  At least, wounded pride…!

There’s nothing.

The boy finally speaks.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t think about it being unprofessional.”

Subaru clutches him tighter.  “That’s what you think?  You think I’m unhappy, because…it wasn’t professional?  You could have died!  If I hadn’t come back then, you would have died!”

“…I see.”

“…You don’t.  You don’t understand at all, do you?”

“…No,” he says. Suddenly he looks much, much older, because the answer doesn’t seem born of childish ignorance, but something darker, from deep within.  “I don’t.  I don’t understand.”  And instead of a ten-year-old child, Subaru sees a man in his early thirties, gushing blood from a wound in his chest.

He thinks back to the Kamui of the Dragons of the Earth standing before him in a garden, holding out a container after Rainbow Bridge.

“Do you want to use it, or throw it away?” he’d asked.  He remained long after Subaru pressed it to his chest, watching as he removed the golden orb, placed it on his tongue, and swallowed.  “Are you happy?  You received a consolation prize, after all.”

Subaru opened his right eye alone, and found a kaleidoscope of colors where before there’d only been darkness.  “Happy…” he said.  “I’m not broken, like I thought I’d be.  I suppose that’s happiness, in its own way.”  What he didn’t say was that a part of him would have preferred nothing to a consolation prize.  Accepting a consolation prize was, in a way, acknowledging you lost.  And he’d lost, hadn’t he?  To Seishirou, again.

Even in wishes, he couldn't beat Seishirou.  He really was a failure.

“Ah.”  The Kamui smiled.  He knew.  Of course.  “Then you understand, the full meaning behind his wish?”

Subaru did.  He understood what it was, and what it was not.  And now, looking down, he understands one part more than ever.

The Kamui had said Seishirou was selfish.  But the truth is, Subaru is too.

“Don’t do that again,” he tells the boy in his arms, watching for any minute changes in expression.

It’s futile.  The apathy doesn’t clear for even a second.  “Alright.”

 


 

—as he forces out his next words.  “If you weren’t lying…pretending…”  He squeezes his eyes shut.  “Losing your eye…didn’t matter to you at all.”  When he hears no response, the sickness roiling in his gut grows.  “What about your life?  …Would you have been just as willing?”

“Those are the wrong words, don’t you think?  For one, they imply a strong attachment, an act of sacrifice.  It wasn’t ever about ‘giving up’ anything for you.”  Subaru opens his eyes to see the grin fade.  “It was just the way things were.  My wish, too.  You knew, so why are you asking this?”

No, I don’t.  I don’t understand.

Subaru steels himself.  “How.”

“How?”

“How can I make you care?”

“Care?”  Seishirou looks genuinely confused.  “What an odd thing to ask.  Unless, you truly think the words people say before they die are lies?”

Subaru clenches his jaw.  Over a year ago, on that fated day, Seishirou had spoken those words, and he’s been turning them over in his mind ever since, unable to decide whether or not to believe.  Even now, this cursory mention nearly tips him into the endless wandering of the half-mad.  “Not that.  Not about me.  About…about yourself.”

He swallows, then takes a deep breath.  “How can I make you wish to live?”

Across from him, under the cherry tree, the single golden eye widens—

 


 

One winter afternoon, Seishirou contemplates birthday presents, and an idle curiosity comes to him.  “Do you have any wishes, Subaru-san?”

Subaru makes a brief movement, like the beginning of a jerk, then nothing, and he continues sitting, unruffled.  He looks up from the ofuda he’s preparing for their next lesson with the corners of his mouth pulling upwards.

“Yes,” he says, eyes boring into Seishirou’s.  “Several, and one I've had for a long, long time.  Pleas toward the one I love.”

Seishirou cocks his head to the side.  “You have someone you love?”

The lips stretch higher; the expression is joyless.  “That’s a secret.”

No further elaboration accompanies the intense gaze.  Seishirou turns away, humming a little, and burrows back into the catalogue.  Subaru liked animals, didn’t he?  Maybe a stuffed monkey…?  He leaves the idle curiosity on the floor of his mind; it fizzles out, like bubbles in a lake, and the water’s surface remains smooth and unchanged.

 


 

—and then Seishirou doubles over with a peal of laughter.

“Never change, Subaru-kun, never change!”  He gasps a little before straightening again.  “Honestly, I’m not surprised, because it’s you, but that part of you never gets old.”  He wipes away nonexistent tears of false mirth, which confirms that Subaru’s mind is not all there: nowhere in his memories has Seishirou, in any mask, ever laughed like this.

“I don’t see what’s so funny.”

“Ah, that was rude of me.  I apologize.”  Seishirou swipes across his eye one last time, then rearranges his expression into something blank and neutral.  “Let me ask you, then.  What’s your goal?”

“A goal,” Subaru says numbly.  “A goal.  What”—he pulls at the hem of his coat, feeling his fists shake in frustration—“goal do I need, to hope someone finds life worth living?”  It’s all he can do to not grind his teeth.

“So it’s personal.”  Seishirou pretends not to notice Subaru’s anger.  “Not to mention hypocritical.”  He shoots a pointed look.  “Am I your pet project?”

“Wha—”

“Let me tell you something, then, in honor of how you’re as dense as you are naïve.  You can’t.”

“You—”

“I’ll ask another question before I explain.  Do you think I’m heartless?”

This time, Subaru can’t bring himself to answer at all.  He gapes at Seishirou.

“Chi mo namida mo nai[1],” Seishirou says.  “It’s been said about me, many times.  But, what everyone failed to see, was that such is the essence of things.  Does a glass cup weep when its handle breaks off?  Does it cry out in pain when it shatters?  You can’t understand, Subaru-kun, and they couldn’t either, because to you, people and things are separate.”

Something inside Subaru quivers.  He brings up his hand to grab at his chest, where the same thing feels like it’s about to crack.

“What does a glass cup care, about continuing to exist?  The cup is made, used for the purpose it was created for, and once it can’t fulfill that purpose, it’s thrown away.  Perhaps the users are considerate, and it has a long lifespan.  Or they can break it within a couple of days.  Either way, the cup merely exists, until it doesn’t.  There’s no state it can be in that allows it to care.  Not about others, and not about itself.”  For the entirety of the speech, Seishirou’s gaze stays fixed on his face.  “It feels nothing.”

Subaru can’t breathe.  It's like cement's been poured down his throat.

At last, Seishirou sighs, his eye fluttering closed.  “And that’s why you can’t, Subaru-kun.  You’re asking for the impossible.  That’s all there is to it.”

 


 

“—Subaru-san.  Subaru-san?”

Subaru opens his eyes to see a middle-school uniform and a serene smile.  “…Wha…”

“I came to get you for breakfast, but it looked like you were having a nightmare.  You were tossing and turning.”

“…A nightmare.”  With some effort, he manages to sit up, then sighs and leans back against the headboard.  “Ha.  Well, it certainly wasn’t pleasant.”  The contents of the dream rush through his mind, and he’s suddenly uncomfortable with the things the boy might have heard.  “Did I say anything?”

“You kept saying, ‘Seishirou-san, Seishirou-san.’”

Of course.  He swallows.  “…I see.  I apologize.  I…I wasn’t calling for you.”

“I know.  You never call me ‘Seishirou’ on purpose.”  He tilts his head to the side.  “Do I look like him?  Seishirou-san, that is.”

He wants to say ‘no,’ because this line of conversation can’t possibly end well, but looking into those placid gold eyes, he finds himself choking on the lie.  “…Yes.”  Something torn and ragged throbs inside him.  “Yes, you do.”

The calm expression doesn’t even flicker.  “I see.  Would you like me to comfort you instead then, Subaru-san?”

Subaru’s heart stops in his chest.  He couldn’t…he couldn’t have heard correctly…He stares, feeling like every ounce of blood in his body has been replaced with lead.  The cool gaze remains, its owner still waiting for a reply.

“Why…” He manages to gasp out.  “Why…are you like this?  Who”—he grabs the uniform collar and wrenches it forward—“made you like this…!”

“Eh…?”  The boy blinks in surprise, hands landing on the duvet in an attempt to keep his balance.

Subaru can’t bear to look at his expression.  “Don’t,” he pleads.  “Don’t…don’t say things like that.”  When there’s no answer, he clutches the slim shoulders in a bruising grip.  “You’re just a child, don’t say that…”  He clasps him against his chest, tucking his face into the back of the uniform.

Silence.

They’re trembling, but Subaru can tell it’s all from himself.  The form in his arms is deathly still.

Chi mo namida mo nai, he hears.

He grits his teeth, wishing he could still cry.  Most of his tears had dried up when he was sixteen and lost his other half, and the rest he left behind on Rainbow Bridge, but now, for one moment, he wishes he could cry again, if only because this Seishirou can’t cry either, not even for himself.

He feels Seishirou shift to hold him back.

“Alright.”

 


 

“No,” Subaru says, quietly.  Trying again, he channels more strength into his voice.  “No.  You’re wrong.”

Seishirou’s eye opens.  “Am I.”

“You said you couldn’t love me, once.  But then, on Rainbow Bridge, you said that.  So you did care about others.  You cared about me.  And if you were wrong once, you can be wrong again.”  He stands taller.  “You can care about yourself, as well.”

“Ah…so you’ve chosen to believe, then.”

“Yes.”

“I already knew, you know.”

Subaru stares, confused.  “How—”

“How did I know?  That’s because, in this dream, even though I’ve taken this form”—Seishirou smiles—“I haven’t raised a hand against you once.”

A stiff breeze blows through the surroundings with those words.  From a point in the distance, the darkness permeating the dreamscape begins to lighten, slowly suffused by a glow reminiscent of sunrise.

Seishirou must have noticed too, because he turns towards it.  All scornfulness has faded, replaced by something gentle, and as pale rays strike his face, bathing it in light, Subaru’s breath catches.  It’s the expression Seishirou showed right before his death.

When he turns back, his face is neutral once more, cloaked in the cherry boughs’ shadows.  With a quiet voice, he starts again.  “Still, I’ll warn you.  Even if we play along with your theory…even if we assume I’m capable of wishing to live, it changes nothing.”

“Again with that word.”

“Because it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t.  Isn’t that what’s most important?”  Seishirou’s fingers dig into the bark behind him.  “Which brings us back to your main question.

“You cannot force someone to have a wish.  They are personal, selfish things that bring happiness to the wisher.  Thus, they must be initiated by them, too.  What you might be able to do instead, is force your own wish onto them.  But then they’ll be unhappy, so it still isn’t their wish.”

Subaru gives a dry laugh.  “Like what you did to me?”  In the back of his mind, a wounded memory emerges.  “It’s impossible for everyone to be happy.”

“That’s true.”  Seishirou’s lips curl into another smile.  “I suppose you did change a little, Subaru-kun.  But,” he continues, visible eye sharpening, “even if you commit to such cruelty, you’ll need lasting leverage for it to work.  Do you have that?  Unlike me”—the smile becomes a sneer—“he doesn’t love you.”

Subaru’s insides blister white-hot.  Snarling, he charges forward, slamming into Seishirou and forcing them both to the ground.  As he pins him down, hands on shoulders and knees on thighs, he distantly notices that his body is no longer that of a sixteen-year-old boy, but a man in his late twenties.  He leans in.

“If no matter what I do, I can’t stop you from leaving—if no matter what I do, I can’t tether you to this world—then, at least”—he wraps his hands around Seishirou’s neck—“let me send you off.”

The mocking slant of Seishirou’s mouth softens into something wistful.  “So we can reach an understanding.”  His hand raises to sift through the fringe of dark hair, only stopping when it rests on the cheekbone.  “Subaru—”

 


 

“—-san?”

He snaps awake with a start.  A pair of bright gold eyes stare down at him.

“You were having another nightmare again.  It’s the third time this week.  Are you alright?”

In the gaze lies empty curiosity, and nothing more.

You’ll need lasting leverage for it to work.

“Subaru-san?”

Unlike me, he doesn’t love you.

Subaru seizes a uniform-clad arm and pulls.  He ignores the slight gasp, rolling them over and pinning him to the bed.  Even if Seishirou had resisted, it wouldn’t have been a challenge; the boy’s body is long and slender, in that stage of puberty where his bones are stretching out with the muscles yet to catch up.  Subaru is a grown man in his prime.

But other than briefly tensing at the beginning, he hadn’t resisted, and that makes everything far, far worse.

You’re asking for the impossible.

“Subaru-san?” Seishirou asks again, and through the all-encompassing apathy, Subaru hears an edge he’s never heard before, one that colors the well-used address with something lopsided, unbalanced.  It’s alien and unfamiliar, and suddenly, he thirsts to hear his name said like that again.

Does a glass cup weep when its handle breaks off?

He grabs the arm where it lies on the bed, pulls it towards him until he can see the bones of the wrist and the veins beneath the translucent skin.  No sound.  Desperate, he rolls back the sleeve, watches as blackness furls to expose a smooth expanse of milky white.  His other hand comes up…

“Wha—” Ah, there it is, that edge he’d been looking for…

Does it cry out in pain when it shatters?

Seishirou had leaned against him, smiling…

If I can’t tether you to this world, then at least, let me send you off.

There’d been blood, so much blood, how could he have said…!

Chi mo namida mo nai.

He skims his fingers across that pale stretch; he feels the flare of magic…

 


 

“No.”  He smiles that plastic, doll-like smile.  From his left forearm, blood drips forth beneath where his fingers grip.  “It doesn’t hurt.”

 


 

“Seishirou-san.”

He pauses in the middle of preparing breakfast to look up, and sees Subaru standing by the bedroom door, head bowed slightly, framed in the shadows of an early winter morning.  “Yes?”  It’s rare for Subaru to be awake now; Seishirou usually calls him to eat around the time he leaves for school.

“You can leave the food for now.”  Subaru lowers his head further and uncrosses his arms to produce a slim object bound in white fabric.  The ceremonial dagger.  He presses his fingers into the creases of the silk, sliding them along with an almost restless energy.  “There’s something I’d like to do with you today.  I’ve already called the school.”

“Alright.”  Seishirou turns off the heat and moves the pan of mackerel off the stove.  Giving his hands a quick rinse, he prepares to move to Subaru, and is stopped by a raised hand.

“I thought I should tell you what we’re doing today, first.”  He leans against the doorjamb.  “I’ll need one of your eyes, Seishirou-san.”

Seishirou freezes.  One of his eyes?  His hand jerks up to hover over his right one, brushing against his cheekbone.  “Is it for a spell?”

Subaru’s lips curl in a thin imitation of a smile.  “A ritual for the succession,” he says, and raises his face.  The yellow eye gleams in the dark; a skin-colored cloth patch covers the left side of his face.  He taps the wrapped knife against his palm.  A small, glowing green orb drops from the folds.

Ah.

Seishirou’s left hand slackens at his side.  “I understand.”

Subaru really does smile then, and it’s bright and beautiful.  He steps forward to take Seishirou’s hand in his, pulls him towards and into the bedroom.  Everything is ready; two glass cups sit in a corner; one is cracked.  A mist of lingering magic permeates the air; it clings to skin and coats the insides of noses and mouths with a metallic stickiness.  It smells of blood.  They kneel.

It's silent.  Subaru watches him with narrowed concentration, fingers clasped around the bundle, and begins unwinding the cloth to reveal the end of a blade.  A resigned wariness settles into the single yellow eye; it squints further.  Perhaps he's fretting about taking extra care.  With damaged depth perception, the chance of hurting Seishirou during the ritual has increased.

Subaru never likes hurting him.  Seishirou knows this fact like he knows the sun rises in the east.  “You should have done it to me, first.”

The wrap spills to the floor in a sigh of silk; Subaru’s slipped the knife free.  The eye pays it no heed and remains fixed on his face.  “Would you have let me?”

He finds himself at a loss.  Subaru is the stronger onmyouji; it doesn't matter what Seishirou would or wouldn’t let him do.  He’d suggested what Subaru should objectively see as the better choice, but saying this to him will make him unhappy.  He prefers the smiles, like the one from before.

Subaru reaches up to cradle his cheek.  With a steady hand, he lifts the dagger, holds the glowing point hairbreadths from Seishirou’s right eye.

“It won’t hurt,” he promises.  The voice is soft and sad.

He eases the knife forward.  Seishirou resists the urge to blink, and the blade slides in, delicate and gentle.

Subaru’s right.  He feels nothing.

 


 

 


 

Seishirou enters the apartment to find snow.

On a rock by a pond, stark against all the white, Subaru brings to mind a witch’s cat: two yellow eyes and swathed in black on black on black.  He meets Seishirou’s eyes and smiles.  “Do you remember, Seishirou-san?  The weather when we met that night, five years ago.  It was like this.”  He draws a deep breath and raises a blood-colored hand to catch a few snowflakes.  Others settle into his hair and onto his clothes.  “Today, I killed my last victim, and you will kill your first.”  He glides across the vast emptiness separating them and raises his clean hand to stroke Seishirou’s cheek.

Some days, Subaru is deeply affectionate.  Other days, he’s restrained and distant.  Seishirou has long learned to read the cues.

Today seems to be the former.

These days, he’s almost as tall as Subaru.

He brings up his own hand to cover the one caressing his cheek, then closes his eyes and leans into the warmth.  He hears a hitch of breath and knows he made the correct decision.

Fingers brush under his right eye, and he opens both to see Subaru press their foreheads together.  Their breaths mingle and fog in the cold illusory air.  Subaru seems to be mapping his face with both touch and sight, like he’s trying to memorize something that won’t be wiped away the moment Seishirou kills him.

Some time passes, and Subaru draws back, places a hand on Seishirou’s shoulder, and pushes him to sit.  He follows him down, settles with his back in Seishirou’s lap.  In the reflection of his eyes, Seishirou can see his own: one yellow and one green.

He places his hand on the base of the ribcage.

“I love you,” Subaru says.

Somewhere, a water surface ripples, stirred by an invisible wind.

Seishirou tenses his arm, and he’s pushing up, up, up, through the chest wall and between the lungs, towards his beating target.  The yellow gaze doesn't waver; he watches the pain spill into their depths.  Blood gurgles up from between lips and paints them red.  It’s beautiful.

He withdraws his hand and leans down to taste metal.  “I love you too,” he says, and feels nothing.

The snowscape begins to unravel; Seishirou pours his own magic into it.  Subaru smiles against his mouth.

“Goodbye, Seishirou-san.”

“Goodbye, Subaru-san.”

 


 

 


The following spring, under the cherry tree and cradling his latest kill, Seishirou meets him.

“Hello.”  The boy bows.  He straightens with a smile, and his eyes are as green as Seishirou’s right.  “The cherry blossoms are beautiful, aren’t they?”