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Beneath the Sakura

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"Are you really so hurt that I've betrayed you? Things like this happen in Tokyo every day."

Distantly, Subaru could hear the Sakurazukamori (Seishiro) speaking. The rough bark of the tree shifted around his limbs, and fingers touched his face; Seishiro's fingers were as warm as his voice was cold, and Subaru fell a little deeper into himself. He couldn't catch up, his mind reeled, couldn't accept what was happening.

Better not to try.

The voice stopped, for a moment, and the tree shifted again. Subaru knew it was a spell, knew he could have seen through the illusion if he chose to look. He didn't want to look. He didn't want to see. But something was different now, the way it was moving was different, purposeful. A branch, whip-thin and flexible, slid under the collar of his shirt, pulling the fabric away from his skin, and Subaru felt a stab of new anxiety under the smothering blanket of shock.

No. He wouldn't feel. Wouldn't see.

"Do you want one last chance to change me?" The voice was Seishiro's again, the voice Subaru knew so well. Kind. Warm.

False. Better not to listen. Better not to see.

The tree branch--it felt like a vine, moved like a vine, for all that cherry trees had none--wound around Subaru's chest under his shirt, squeezing his cracked ribs, but Subaru didn't flinch. He'd locked himself away from his feelings, away from his body.

There was a soft laugh that was nothing like Seishiro's kind, full-bodied laughter. "Or maybe I just want to see if I can make you react, even now. You always made such curious faces."

More branches moved, and the trunk of the tree parted just enough to give them room to work. Subaru felt air against his bare skin as one tugged his shirt up. When another snaked past the waistband of his trousers, a flicker of panic broke through the haze and Subaru's mind surfaced--fully, painfully aware.

Seishiro was still standing there, watching dispassionately, and the lack of expression on his face cut Subaru to the heart once again. He tried to retreat away, but every time he got close to that quiet numbness one of the tree branches found a sensitive spot and he was pulled back into his body.

Subaru felt a blush creeping up his neck as the tendrils tugged his trousers down to his knees, and he turned his head away so that he wouldn't have to see the way Seishiro was looking at him--like he was a mildly interesting insect, worth observing for only a moment before crushing it. But the movement drew Seishiro's attention, and those warm fingers were at his chin again, forcing his gaze back to Seishiro. "There you are."

Even as the branches wrapped around his bare thighs and slowly--horribly slowly--made their way up, Seishiro's eyes were empty of anything but vague curiosity. Subaru tried to jerk his chin from Seishiro's grip, but the hands that had been so strong and gentle for the last year were now brutal, implacable, and all Subaru could do was close his eyes.

The tip of one branch slid around Subaru's hips, strangely warm and soft against his skin, like it was a person--like it was Seishiro--touching him. But there were more branches than hands, exploring his abdomen, his chest, his back, his thighs, his...

Choking back a cry, Subaru twitched in his bonds as a tendril wrapped around the base of his penis, not squeezing like some of the others but gently, almost tentatively.

This could not be happening. None of it made any sense, but this... Subaru bit his tongue until he tasted blood, and he didn't wake up.

Seishiro leaned closer, licking the blood away from the corner of Subaru's mouth. "It doesn't get to play with live people very often, this tree."

Slowly, the tree started stroking him, every branch moving independently but with a coordination that never quite let Subaru catch his breath. As soon as the one between his legs paused, another one flicked at a nipple. As soon as that one moved on, a different one trailed up the inside of his thigh. And, when his breath was coming in little hitching gasps, one slid between his cheeks and probed at his entrance. It was slick, somehow (it's all an illusion, it can be whatever Seishiro wants), and Subaru felt fresh tears wet his cheeks as it pressed in.

This wasn't... he'd had those dreams, he'd wanted... but now, like this, it was a nightmare. Seishiro was barely even touching him, just that firm grip on his chin, the occasional brush of lips or tongue when Subaru cried, when he bled. It shouldn't feel good. It couldn't feel good. What was wrong with him, that it did?

More tendrils had joined the first one, and they stretched and filled Subaru as they pushed in, one slow inch at a time. If there was pain it was lost in the greater pain of his wounds, in the pleasure from the branches still teasing and rubbing at his most sensitive places. The thing inside him found a spot that lit his nerves on fire, and he heard himself moan.

Real human fingers wrapped around his penis, then, and that branch withdrew. The ones inside Subaru moved a little faster, while the hand--Seishiro's--stroked lazily, just once, twice, and that was all it took. Subaru came into Seishiro's hand, and cried. Seishiro said nothing, but once again his lips touched Subaru's cheek.

Subaru's clothes were back in order, the tree only binding him, holding him immobile. Subaru could feel the memory of what had happened slipping away, tried to hold on to it despite everything. And then it was gone, and Subaru let himself fall away from the harshness of his reality once again.

"I don't hate you. But then, I don't love you, either."

--

The smell of cherry blossoms was thick in the air, and Subaru felt like he was choking on it. Every spring, it seemed like the scent followed him, even when he was indoors with the windows closed. Coming from a job dealing with a spirit haunting a prime hanami spot, it was worse than ever.

Maybe that was why he didn't react immediately when the transition happened, when he stepped from the streets of Tokyo into illusion--an echoing void dominated by a tree, by that tree. Memories of betrayal and pain seized Subaru, brought a moment of hesitation, just a single heartbeat, but it was enough. The ofuda were in his hand, but someone (it could only be one person) grabbed him from behind, covering his eyes with one large hand, and everything went dark.

When Subaru woke, he was still in Seishiro's illusion, lying on the floor--if it could be called a floor in this boundless space--at the foot of the cherry tree. He tried to rise, but his limbs felt heavy, sluggish, and he only managed to roll onto his back. The roots of the tree dug into his hip, and Subaru realised that he was naked.

In that moment of realisation, Seishiro was suddenly there, crouching beside Subaru with that half-smile on his face. "It's been a while, Subaru-kun." He trailed his fingers down one of Subaru's bare arms until he reached Subaru's hand, tracing the lines of the inverted pentagram there. "Still not wearing your gloves, I see." He kissed the back of Subaru's hand, lips lingering as the marks he'd left flared to life under his touch.

Subaru grit his teeth and tried to pull away, but his limbs barely responded and Seishiro's grip didn't waver. Four years of being unable to forget, of trying to lure Seishiro out, only to end up trapped again. Petals drifted down from the tree, brushing against his skin and filling his nose with their scent, weighing him down like they were made of iron.

"You've let yourself be injured again. Let some small fry damage you." Seishiro's grip tightened on Subaru's wrist, the delicate bones grinding together from the force of it, while he explored a deep, healing cut on Subaru's thigh. He dug his fingers in, stitches popping under the pressure, and the wound started to bleed freely again.

The instinct to make excuses was still there--part of Subaru still wanted to explain, to make Seishiro understand why sometimes he would rather be hurt than hurt someone else--but Subaru forced it down. Instead, he tested the strength of the spell binding him again, hoping Seishiro was distracted, but his body was still slow to respond, like a connection was broken somewhere.

Seishiro traced curved and lines on Subaru's thighs, painting his bare skin with his own blood, pressing on the re-opened wound again and again to keep it oozing, and Subaru grimaced in disgust as much as pain. But as the patterns started to take shape, Subaru felt another spell settle over him--the bloody lines on his thighs glowed and heat began to spread through his body. The warmth was soothing, at first, draining the tension from Subaru's limbs, but it continued to build until Subaru was panting from it, his skin feeling too tight, too hot, too sensitive.

Finished with his spell, Seishiro drew his hand away from Subaru's wound and the pain faded to a dull ache, quickly forgotten in the all-consuming heat. Everywhere that Seishiro touched tingled and burned, and Subaru writhed under the lightest brush of his fingertips. His cock hardened between his legs, and he felt sick with shame. "Stop. Why are you--"

"You always ask that." Seishiro let go of Subaru's wrist, shifting both hands to Subaru's thighs, spreading them when Subaru tried to press them together, to hide his reaction to the spell. To Seishiro.

Always? The thought flickered and then was gone, washed away by another pulse of heat.

The hands on his thighs were a torment, sending shocks of pleasure through Subaru with every subtle movement, but instead of trying to get away, Subaru found that he was shifting his hips to get closer, arching into Seishiro's touch. He tried to stop, to hold still, but every nerve was on fire and it was hard to remember why. "No. Stop. I don't want--" He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince.

Seishiro's hands didn't move, and he gave Subaru that amused half-smile. "Don't you?"

Subaru gripped the roots of the tree, keeping his hands busy, when all he really wanted was to wrap his fingers around his cock and--

No.

Every petal that fell from the tree onto Subaru's fevered skin felt like a branding iron. Subaru squeezed his eyes closed, shutting away the sight of Seishiro dispassionately watching him writhe, trying to think. He could break this spell if he could just think. But the heat only continued to build under the feather-light torture of those falling petals, melting away Subaru's ability to focus.

He didn't remember letting go of the roots, but his hand was around his cock before he knew it. It didn't help. No matter how he stroked himself, the need only increased. His own hand wasn't enough. He wanted--

No.

"Please." Subaru barely recognised his own voice, like it was being played back on an answering machine, tinny and distant. "Release the spell. I can't..."

"Would you like help with that, Subaru-kun?" Seishiro's voice was mild, kind, like it had been during that blissful year, and Subaru reached for him blindly.

"Please."

A strong arm wrapped around him, pulling him into Seishiro's lap. Subaru stopped touching himself to cling to Seishiro instead, burying his face against that broad chest. Seishiro's hand--still so much larger than his own--wrapped around his erection, and it was like lightning, like pure pleasure arcing from his cock to his brain. The maddening heat peaked and then dissipated in a burst of bliss as he came.

Sagging against Seishiro, Subaru started to black out. The last thing he heard before the world went dark was a low chuckle and, "Until next time, Subaru-kun."

Next time?

The walk sign started to flash, and Subaru wondered how long he'd been standing at the crosswalk, staring off into space. The scent of cherry blossoms was strong today, and it had been an unpleasant job--no wonder he was feeling a little off. His leg throbbed, almost as sore as when he'd first injured it, so Subaru leaned against a lamp post and waited for the next walk sign instead of hurrying across on the tail end of this one.

A petal drifted down from a nearby tree, catching in Subaru's hair, and he brushed it away with a shudder--cherry blossom season couldn't be over soon enough. Another week, and he could get some relief.

Until next time.

--

When Seishiro died, all his spells began to unravel. His marks--the proof that they would meet again--faded slowly, but they were fading and there was nothing Subaru could do to hang onto them.

The moment the last line disappeared from his skin, the locks on his memory fell. He nearly dropped to the ground where he stood when it all flooded back, but his feet carried him on with no conscious thought on his part. When he surfaced enough to process his surroundings, he was standing outside a house that still tasted faintly of the Sakurazukamori's power. Any wards on it were down, but there were lingering traces that almost brought Subaru to his knees in grief.

Doors slid open at his touch, and Subaru ventured deeper into the house. The house was old, traditional, so like the Sumeragi house in Kyoto in some ways, but the furniture was Western and generic, like something out of a showroom. No one lived here anymore, and it looked like no one ever had. But there was something in the air, the faintest memory of the man who had lived here once, and Subaru followed it to a bedroom.

Subaru curled up on the bed and wondered if he was imagining the scent of Seishiro on the sheets. Had Seishiro lived here recently, or long ago? It didn't matter. It was a place Seishiro had existed once, so Subaru drew the illusion of his presence around himself and let the memories take him.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

Seishiro's hands were strangely gentle as he tilted Subaru's chin up so that he could see the mirror positioned above them. Subaru could see his own flushed cheeks, the sheen of sweat on his skin. He looked... wanton, his cock hard between his legs, his lips parting on moans he couldn't hold back. Seishiro's eyes met his in the mirror's reflection and they were empty, even as his hands and lips and tongue made Subaru writhe with desire.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

The ropes had to be illusion--everything was, in this non-place--but they felt as real as anything Subaru had ever experienced. Every little movement made them tighten, ever so slightly rough against his skin, made the knots press against places he hadn't even known were sensitive. Seishiro just watched, didn't even touch him, and Subaru could have cried from frustration and shame that he was achingly hard anyway.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

The hands around his neck squeezed until Subaru could draw only a trickle of air into his lungs. Darkness crept inwards from his peripheral vision, reducing his world to the sight of Seishiro's eyes, cold and uninterested as he strangled Subaru. The pressure released for just a moment, allowing Subaru one full, heaving breath, and then Seishiro tightened his grip again. And again. And again. Until Subaru was left lying there, dizzy and numb, and those hands wrapped around his cock instead.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

Subaru was on his hands and knees, back arched to thrust his hips up against Seishiro's hand. Seishiro's fingers were inside him, rubbing and massaging, sending waves of pleasure through him. Even on his knees it was getting difficult to hold himself up, his legs wobbly and weak as another jolt of pleasure shook him. He couldn't catch his breath. Couldn't remember how many times Seishiro had made him scream. When Seishiro finally touched his cock he came in an instant.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

He couldn't see anything. He could smell the sakura, could hear the rustle of wind in nonexistent branches. Could feel the hands on him, touching him so lightly, so gently, never giving him quite enough. A brush of fingertips over his nipples, and then then nothing for seconds, or minutes, or hours. One warm palm flattened against his belly, so close to what he really wanted. Subaru opened his mouth, tried to beg for mercy, but he couldn't make a sound.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

Just once, the very last time, Seishiro had done more than torment Subaru with pleasure. Just once, Subaru had felt Seishiro inside him, had heard Seishiro whisper his name as they came. Just once, they'd made love.

Why are you doing this?

You always ask that.

Seishiro had never once answered that question. Had he always known? Did he only understand himself that last time? Or was it all a lie, a game, a final twist of the knife? There was no one left to ask, no way to tell the truth from the lies.

Reluctantly, Subaru disentangled himself from the mess he'd made of Seishiro's sheets. His knees didn't want to hold him when he first got up, and he wondered how long he'd been lying there, lost in the memories. The idea of eating anything made him slightly ill, and he didn't want to leave this house just yet, so Subaru ignored his body's warnings and made his way out to the garden.

He had to laugh at what greeted him there--a world all out of season, the sakura he could never escape. Subaru closed his eyes and breathed in the familiar scent, letting the petals fall against his face like a caress. If only he could have stayed there until his body gave way and let him rest.

If only he could be alone with the memories.

"I have nothing to do with you anymore. Not you, not the world, nor its fate." He turned to face the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth, wondering what wish could have brought him here, now, when Subaru had none left to grant.