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Treasures in the Side-streets

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Tokyo in 1995 was in many ways depleted. 

Sakurazuka Seishirou absently let fall and stubbed out a spent cigarette with his heel. The nighttime city hummed listlessly beneath his rooftop with pedestrian and vehicle traffic going about their work or play, all with the same mundane concerns.  

Official assassination work abounded, of course, though admittedly, he had been avoiding personal projects and keeping a low profile. His next major diversion wouldn’t demand any attention for the next three or four years. It seemed a lot of empty time to fill. Seishirou found the itch for distraction more difficult to ignore these days. 

He usually found what he was looking for in the city’s quiet, secret back avenues. 

Tokyo’s surging avenues branched into smaller and smaller capillaries; the arterial pressure of the main roadways and stations pushed people into the smaller two-way lanes, and then further into one-way paths that hid a hodgepodge of new and old buildings, brick and plaster, tall and short, small shops with smaller sign boards intermixed with brick residences, plaster homes, and office buildings. You never knew what you might find. 

Seishirou decided to visit one of his favored hidden places. He walked from larger avenues to smaller streets, to mere pathways, barely enough width for one car at a time. The roadway was painted with warnings to slow down, but people were always caught up in their own troubles and pressures to slow much, even with all the warnings. 

Cities hold many secrets, and Tokyo was the biggest, busiest city in the world. How could he tire of it? 

One could never know all the jewel-like contents of a particular street in Tokyo. 

~~

Sumeragi Subaru was working. 

A shop called Jewellery Kou was on the eighth floor of one of the clustered back-street buildings in Nishiazabu 2-chome. They sold large polished pearls, silver, and fine accessories. When various paranormal phenomena made the floor unsafe for patrons and staff and city officials couldn’t identify the cause, an insurer requested help from the head onmyouji of the Sumeragi clan. 

As Japan’s preeminent spiritual medium, Subaru had been called frequently to clear up scenes of various collective and personal horrors. In this painful post-bubble economy he had been called for eight or more jobs each week.

The volume of work was taking its toll. These days he was worn thin before he even arrived at most jobs. He was working alone. No one gave much-needed perspective and reassurances... and he didn’t have the luxury of backup, not anymore. He coped by avoiding thinking about either of these people he lost.  

That was then. This was now. One foot in front of the other. People needed him to give his best. It was not only disrespectful but dangerous to try to phone in an exorcism, so he brought his full focus to each one, even when there wasn’t much of himself left to give. 

The scene in near Roppongi was like most he encountered - financial troubles, broken hearts, a murder, and a suicide. The spirit’s remaining enmity needed to be addressed, and the spirit needed to be safely exorcised. 

Her name was Hina. 

She was an office worker about his own age, just over twenty, who had moved to Tokyo for a brighter future which sadly hadn’t come to pass. When the exorcism was complete and she had bid him goodbye, Subaru found it easier to sit in the middle of the store instead of leave. He couldn’t identify exactly why but this job had affected him more than usual. Technically it was a success, and there was no residual spiritual backlash affecting him, but he hurt deep within his bones. 

Why was this such a difficult one? Was it because Hina’s loss echoed his own? Was it because Hina, whose optimism and dedication to a shining future reminded him of his sister’s? By the time he managed to get up to leave, the sky was black. Commuting crowds were difficult to deal with even on a typical day, and at the moment, the full fifteen minutes’ walk back to Omotesando station under the glare of neon lights was more than Subaru felt ready for. 

Had he eaten today? He was almost out of cigarettes. His head hurt fiercely. Maybe he would find a small spot to eat and wait for the rush to end. Back streets seemed quieter and more protective. 

On his right hand side glowed a large window with a red curtain and a hand-painted placard that read Safia Rhum Bar and Cafe. The welcoming smell of curry and fried food drew him in. A cheerful bell sounded above his head as he pulled the door open. 

The space was warm, and small even for a neighborhood snack bar. Trendy cafe it was not - any discomfort he might have felt at being there dissipated with the owner’s genuine and welcoming greeting.  

It was little more than a worn bar with three chairs and one table. There was a short coffee table flanked by a couch with embroidered cushions and one leather swivel armchair. The atmosphere of cluttered, patchwork decorations was soothing. Wooden counters and shelves were old, the space was packed with various trinkets. Countless bottles of various kinds of rum crowded behind the small bar; shelves and shelves of books presumably about the Caribbean region filled a wall. Books were even haphazardly stacked shoulder high at the far end of the bar and piled horizontally on top in the tiny library.  A thick stick of sugar cane in an oversized vase decorated the bar, a Cuban flag hung in the windowpane. Boxes, records, nicotine stained ceiling, and inexplicably, a framed picture of Che Guevera stood watch over the bar. The menu was stained and torn, and all of the menus were handwritten in magic marker. The overall effect was homey, casual, and comforting.

Subaru took a seat at the single table and started the drink presented to him by the owner without a word - it was something strong, ice cold, and sweet, somehow exactly what he’d wanted - before his food arrived. The feeling of potent alcohol in his stomach was soothing. It began to diffuse his feelings. Of course, it didn’t take the weight of them away; they still sat on his sternum like a block. 

Out of habit, Subaru refocused the feelings into one word -- revenge.

Over time the aching feeling had softened, but the raw shock and pain had found its way back again today. What cracked them open again was Hina. Her pain had really been so similar to his own. 

“Good luck with your revenge. If you can, take it. For both of us.” 

“I plan to.”

When his food came, Subaru thoroughly enjoyed the curry rice in between sips of his drink. Lost in thought and comforted by the taste of home cooking he barely registered that one of the other patrons had come quite close to him. 

Oblivious as ever, he hadn’t even noticed someone approaching.

“Magical things happen in these small places in Tokyo.“ 

That unmistakable voice. 

As suddenly as a release of carbonation, Subaru’s skin bubbled up with goosebumps and tingles from his scalp to his forearms and burned a bit in his five-pointed scars. His breathing sped. He didn’t look directly, but he couldn’t mistake it. 

Revenge.  

He absolutely would kill Seishirou-san when he met him… just, not here. Not in public, and not when he was so tired. 

Subaru’s options were thin. Run? Not halfway through a meal and he hadn’t paid. Fight? The small bar afforded no distance; the man was already so close. 

The man’s voice sounded as polished as black lacquer, “Subaru-kun?” 

Subaru’s goosebumps tingled up a second time, so he forced a slow breath to steady himself. His heart beat hard and fast against his tight chest, and he felt his cheeks flush. He felt anger. Definitely anger. “ Why are you here?” 

“You came to me.” The man smirked.  “Aren’t you supposed to be hunting me?”

“You don’t take me seriously.”

“On the contrary,” he laughed quietly and placed a black-gloved hand on the back of the chair, with a drink in his other hand. Subaru was suddenly aware that his own hands were exposed. “May I join you?”

Feeling heat saturating his cheeks, he looked upwards. After four years, Seishirou looked remarkably similar, and wholly different to how Subaru remembered him. This wasn’t the cheerful veterinarian he once knew - this person was blank, cold, a killer. He was dressed smartly so as not to attract attention; the accessories were both subtle and heart-stoppingly expensive. Luxury sunglasses covered his expressions now. Subaru wondered briefly if they were prescription. Seishirou apparently had no intention of pretending to be a normal person and absolutely no compunctions burning through cash despite the harsh, slumping economy. 

There were so many reasons not to allow his company. 

Subaru might have shrugged, but he didn’t feel he had the energy. “Whatever you want.”

“You are very kind.” Seishirou took a seat. “What are you having?”

“I’m not sure, the owner suggested it. It’s good.” Subaru felt his heart rate accelerate again with Seishirou directly next to him.

“Well then, cheers.” They both finished their drinks. 

“Are you feeling better?”

“I don’t know. Does better mean drunk? I’m definitely feeling more of that.” He looked to the side, considered his company, and shot him a sharp look. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”

“I’m not forcing anything,” Seishirou’s angelic smile shone. “But you can’t blame a man for hoping.” 

Subaru knew that smile, and he knew the saccharine act was just for show. His chest constricted tightly. The sweet, helpful person he had known had always been and would always be a fabrication, but he couldn’t help being affected by a glimmer of that, even now. But the social call needed to end. Subaru’s eyes darted around the small bar. He leaned in, a bit closer than he meant to. 

“No, Seishirou-san. This isn't right. I have to get you alone, away from these people.” 

“So bold, Subaru-kun!”


“That’s not what…” Subaru sighed. “There are uninvolved people here. It’s not…”  I have to get you away from the bar so I can properly confront and kill you. He re-composed himself with a long sigh. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Seishirou-san, it’s not you. Not really.” 

“Hmm.” An edge in his voice must have gotten through, because Seishirou’s charming, childlike smile faded. “Visiting a bar isn’t much like you either. Did anything particularly distressing happen today?” 

Other than you suddenly showing up?

He had long diverted his grief to a singular plan - it was second nature - but Seishirou sitting next to him now, with his warmth and charm, all smiles and conversation, disrupted that habit. Subaru was tired. The drinks, too, made it harder to channel his emotions into anything concrete. The room hummed. His mind seethed with questions and accusations, but the setting was wrong, the timing was wrong, all wrong, so he let the opportunity pass. 

“I…”

“You need another,” Seishirou decided and called over the attentive owner. “My bottle,” he said to her as he flashed two fingers. Seishirou smiled warmly, “I’m glad I can share this with you.” 

A confused expression must have given Subaru’s discomfort and inexperience away when it arrived; his nose wrinkled when the volatile scents cut through the air. Seishirou chuckled, “Don’t worry. Fine alcohol can be a treat, if you know how to appreciate it, and this is a particularly good one. Shall I show you?”

With a bit of resignation, and feeling all escape routes firmly seal around him, Subaru picked up the oddly small glass. 

“This is my favorite. It’s called The Peat Smoke Expression by Mount Gay. It’s from Barbados, where rum was invented, and it’s handmade, so some might say this is the most traditional kind of rum that can exist… but at the same time, it isn’t a typical rum by any means. Surely it’s a sign of the makers’ skill that they can be rooted in tradition and also follow their hearts to innovate, don’t you think?”    

“Hm, I suppose.” Seishirou wasn’t showing hostility, but he wasn’t overly cheery, either. What do you want, Seishirou-san?

“Fine alcohol must be appreciated with all of your senses. First is sight,” Seishirou instructed. “Notice its crystal clear, coppery shade.” It was a dark honey that brought to mind Seishirou’s eye color.  “Swirl the glass and see the rivulets on the side - they’re called legs. Professionals can tell a lot from the legs… and these happen to be long and languid. Next is smell. What do you notice?” 

Gingerly putting the glass to his nose, he hit a wall of confusing volatile scents. “It smells… like wood? Smoke? Dark? Sweet?” It was disorienting. There was almost too much to take in, but it wasn’t completely unpleasant.

“Well done. See if you can distinguish fruit, sweet caramel, warm chocolate, bourbon, and even vanilla. When you sip, these will be warmed in your mouth and easier to find. None of those are ingredients, of course, it’s only fermented and distilled sugar cane, but when it was aged in a smoked barrel it absorbed several thousand kinds of complex, aromatic, organic molecules that are also present in those. A spectacular illusion created by age and time.”

Subaru was enjoying the sound of Seishirou’s voice. He wasn’t listening so much to the meaning of the words. Subaru’s mind swam. The first drink was beginning to affect him more, loosening his defenses and strengthening his wants: for conversation, for sensory stimulation, for touch… his fingertips and lips felt softly magnetic. 

“Finally is touch and taste, of course.”

“Cheers.” They raised their glasses together.

The impact was less of a taste than an assault of sensations, as if he had plunged into a too-hot bath. He barely managed not to cough as his senses were steadily overrun; velvety, fresh, heavy, salty, bitter, and sweet textures and smells were carried on a steady burn of alcohol. 

“What do you notice?”

“Um,” Subaru swallowed, finding his bearings. “Ripe bananas?”

Seishirou chuckled. “Well done to pick that out. Of course, your senses have always been very fine.” 

Subaru felt the heat spread from his center outward. The room wasn’t spinning yet, but he was more than sufficiently loose. He hadn’t had much experience drinking before, and come to think of it, it was probably not ideal to have multiple drinks. “Phew,” Subaru sat back in his seat. He felt cushioned all around. “That’s not bad.”

The owner stopped by their table with a small plate of chocolate mousse cake. “Dessert on the house for the cutest couple we’ve ever had,” she smiled.

“Thank you,” Subaru nodded. Even though he meant to reject the comment of their being a cute couple, he drew the line at being impolite.

They both nibbled on the cake. Seishirou resumed control over the conversation as if nothing had changed between them. Somehow, Subaru’s drink never emptied, though he hardly noticed either his companion or the owner refilling it.

Subaru was feeling pleasantly swaddled and warm. Conversation wasn’t easy, but Subaru had genuinely missed having someone to talk with. Exhaustion from the job lowered his boundaries, a full stomach cheered him substantially, and Seishirou was a familiar, if still unsettling presence. 

“So, what happened today that has my Subaru-kun so out of sorts?” 

“I... had a difficult job,” he began. Consulting the older onmyouji as a mentor on his jobs was once second nature. Once he began, it felt familiar. “It wasn’t technically difficult, but… I give my full attention, as a professional, you know, and some cases are harder than others.” Subaru chose his words carefully, suddenly aware of how Hina’s story was parallel to their own. 

He began as if telling a story from long ago. “There was a woman who lost her baby and her lover at the same time.”

“She was a young woman, about twenty, her name was Hina-san. She had found out she was pregnant, and Koichi-san, her lover, had given her a pair of pearl earrings. She brought them to the store written on the bag to be cleaned, but the shopkeeper couldn’t return them to her without a receipt from where they were purchased because they had been stolen. Hina-san left empty handed. She was ashamed.”

“She confronted him. Hina-san asked Koichi-san for the shop receipt. He was caught. He told her then that he never loved her, and he said had been using her to funnel money from her work. He’d already been using her access card to her office building. He had been embezzling money for several weeks, so it would be only a matter of time before her work and family began to notice.”

“Koichi-san told her, flatly, then, that he had never loved her, and that she was just a convenient stepping stone.”

“So he betrayed her, distanced her from her family, and he broke her. They got into a fight, he shoved her, and she lost the baby. She had been looking forward to having a happy family of her own. Hina-san was alone, heartbroken, and left nowhere to go.  She found it impossible to move on. No family, no coworkers, no future. Her spirit clung to the entrance of the store as the last place she had felt happy in life.”

Subaru stared into the middle distance, recalling their conversation from that afternoon. 

 

“No one can understand this pain!” 

“That’s right. Your pain is yours alone. It is real, and cannot be minimized… but… sadly…” He looked at her with weary eyes. “You were betrayed. You were… you are... missing part of yourself. The commonality of your pain,” Subaru continued, “does not reduce it. I know, deeply, nothing can make you whole, Hina-san.”

“Have you lost everything too?” She gave him a long, appraising look when he nodded. 

“My older sister. She was killed by someone special to me.” He closed his eyes. “I can’t ever make it better.”

“Why are you still living?”

He thought about telling her he had solace in his work, but that would have been a lie. “Revenge.” Subaru’s eyes hardened and his hand covered his heart. “I need to avenge her.”

“I see.“ The spirit sat down next to Subaru and lifted a knee to her cheek. “My biggest regret in all of this is that I wasn’t strong enough to have killed him first. For my daughter.” 

She reached over and touched Subaru’s chin with the tip of a finger. She smiled a little. 

“Good luck with your revenge. If you can, take it? For both of us.” 

“I plan to.”


Seishirou broke him out of his thoughts. “So, what did Hina-san do?”

“Suicide.” Subaru took another sip and felt warm in his throat, then from his navel to his crown; it was going down easily, missing its initial strong burn.

“Suicide was the end result, but what did she actually do when was betrayed?” Seishirou ran a finger along the side of his glass. “Some would blame their former lover for betrayal and lash out. Some would blame themselves and turn their hurt inward. What did she choose to do?” 

“She blamed herself for being deceived. Hina-san turned inward, but she regretted… She said she was incomplete without her revenge.”

“Regrets are strong things, aren’t they. Would it have changed the end result if she had lashed out?”

 “I don’t know. She lost the will to live and ended up falling from the balcony of a jewelry store. Whether she had killed him first or not, I don’t think she would have felt any less sad, in the end. But she wanted him dead.” This was so much like their conversations before that, tragic though it was, Subaru found the discussion comforting. “She didn’t seem capable of murder, but...” He stared squarely at the glass in his fingertips. 

Seishirou prompted, “But he deserves to die?”

“Well.” Subaru was conscious of the multiple levels of hypothetical conversation they were having. “I…”  What could he say, with Koichi standing in for Seishirou and Hina standing in for himself? The room buzzed around him. 

Could he say definitively that real life Koichi didn’t deserve to die, while he himself was right now planning to kill Seishirou? He wanted to be the one to kill Seishirou. What right did he have? Subaru wasn’t good at mental chess. 

“No one should be killed,” Subaru said firmly, knowing this fact deep in his core. “But she wanted him dead, and she wanted to be the one to do it.”  

“That’s understandable. People have the capacity to kill others, given any number of circumstances.” He felt Seishirou’s predatory stare nearly go through him. Of course. The Sakurazukamori, as an assassin in a long line of assassins throughout history, would say that killing a person was justified. He’d seen Seishirou kill. Several times. For much less. For no apparent reason at all. Of course he would think nothing of it. 

Subaru put his chin on his hands. “But... it’s too terrible. Especially when that person had been special to them… It’s just too terrible.” Feeling like he was being forced to walk on a broken leg, he drank a little more. “It’s much easier to kill if you feel hate, or easier yet, nothing at all.” Subaru thought for a moment. “But if you had someone who was special…” 

Could you kill them? 

No, you couldn’t have, could you. That was what that bet was all about, wasn’t it? Even though I lost. 

Even you have limits. 

Seishirou was watching him closely. 

Subaru continued, “But people do terrible things when driven to it, don’t they. People will kill someone, even if they love that person, if they feel hopeless enough.” He thought of that little girl killed by her own mother. He thought of that terrified and half-dead infant he shielded. Subaru exhaled a long breath. 

“It’s terrible. And I understand now. People are capable of terrible things when they’re lonely.” He thought of his own planned revenge. He thought of his sister, blood soaking into white robes, taken forever by an evil tree. 

I’m lonely, too. 

I am capable of terrible things.

In his inebriated and exhausted state, Subaru had just tried to square a very big circle with the same person who was the subject of his trouble. He wasn’t feeling up to it. “This is a bad idea, isn’t it?” He felt the breath through his lips as he rubbed at the nape of his neck. 

Subaru felt Seishirou’s firm hand on the back of his shoulder. “I’m very glad you came here tonight.”

Subaru looked up to the side, questioning, and met Seishirou’s eyes. At some point he had taken off the sunglasses. Seishirou was smiling only slightly. “Did you know that you are truly fascinating, Subaru-kun?” The mismatch between his eyes from that fateful day made Subaru want to touch. “I’m enjoying myself immensely. If you’re relaxing a bit, that’s all that matters. Don’t worry, and drink as much as you like.” Seishirou’s voice dropped to nearly a whisper as he leaned closer, “I’ll take good care of you.” 

Subaru flushed vivid crimson. It didn’t seem like Seishirou was teasing, but before Subaru could think up a response, he finally checked the time and realized that the last train was in fifteen minutes. If he left now, and hurried, he could still make it. 

“There’s no need to rush, Subaru-kun. This place stays open until the first train.”

“No, I should... go.”

“Then I’ll pay your cab fare.”

“It’s fine- I-”

“No, I insist.” Seishirou got up and put his hand gently on Subaru’s upper arm to encourage him to stay seated, and after he returned, Subaru realized the bill was taken care of. “You look like you could use some fresh air.” 

~~

 

When they got to fresh air, what he really wanted was a smoke. Subaru patted his coat pockets but came up empty. He cursed his luck. He had been trying to cut back, so he had delayed buying a new pack.

“Seishirou-san,” he huffed, “do you have a cigarette?” 

He could feel the heavy weight of a pointed stare, even through the sunglasses at night. “I have Mild Sevens.”

“Yes, I know. Can I have one?”

“Why?”

He was on the verge of exasperation. “Because it’s bad for my health.” Like you. “But I want one right now anyway.” 

Seishirou obligingly held one out between the joints of his fingers and Subaru took it directly with his mouth. “Exactly when did you start smoking?” he asked, but Subaru didn’t answer, trying instead to steady himself. He lit the end for Subaru, then pulled one out for himself, and they stood together for a moment in silence in front of the bar. 

Subaru finally answered, “It focuses me.” He let the moment hang. 

Smoking together felt intimate. How little of Seishirou did he really know, anyway? Seishirou was observing but not attacking, and he wasn’t concealing himself. Perhaps this was the real, genuine version of him. Could he get answers? 

“Who are you really, Seishirou-san?” he didn’t really mean to say that aloud, but there it was, between them.

“I wonder. I’m not like other people, you know.”

“Of course. I know that,” he tried not to sound maudlin. “You’re the Sakurazukamori. You used me as an object of your experiments,” Subaru surprised himself with his bluntness. 

Seishirou didn’t appear ruffled by the accusations, and he didn’t dispute it. “And then I killed Hokuto-chan. You still hate me for that.”

Subaru felt ashamed for the closeness with Seishirou and for wanting to pretend, even for a moment, that they could go back. 

“Same question, Subaru-kun," he continued. "Who are you? You’re smoking, and from what I gather, you’re intent on killing me. That’s not usual for you.”

“I’ve changed, and not for the better.”

“No.” Light wind shifted the smoke between them. “You’re as kind as always.”

Cigarettes extinguished, they started to walk. The cool air felt refreshing as midnight energy blanketed the city. At first Subaru meant to walk to a major street to find a taxi, but they continued to follow the small streets instead. Subaru wasn’t sure which one of them was leading. 

They took a turn and walked along one of the narrow paths of Aoyama Cemetery. The famous sakura trees that overhang the walkway were just budding; in a few short weeks, the walk would be heavy and dripping with blossoms, but for now, bare branches folded over the graves like skeletal fingers.

Gravel crunched underfoot as they walked along a path. Seishirou’s hand was on Subaru’s back, and his subtle scent contrasted with the crisp air - rich and warm, with a touch of familiar cigarette smoke and a subtle metallic tang. Subaru’s stomach fluttered. Despite everything, this was exactly the person he knew. Just underneath the smell of tobacco the smell of metal had always been there. Now he could identify it clearly as blood. Subaru wondered if he'd noticed the scent before and dismissed it, or if he was just naive. 

Words tumbled out of his mouth before he could think. “How’s your vision? Can you see well enough?”

“Enough.” 

“Back then you’d said-” Subaru abruptly stopped walking as a thought struck him, feeling his weight shift from his toes to his heels. He turned, accusingly, “You said it wasn’t my fault that you- you got in front of the knife, because you preferred me healthy and that was all. You felt nothing because it was like slipping on a banana peel. But that was during your bet, wasn’t it.” He had stepped much closer to Seishirou than he intended.  Subaru also realized he was speaking more loudly than he should too, but then overcompensated and nearly whispered,  “You weren’t telling the truth then about what you felt then, Sheishi- Seishirou-san.”

“Oh? So tell me, what is the truth?” Seishirou humored him. 

Subaru stopped and looked closely at Seishirou’s covered eyes. He reached up and lowered the sunglasses with a finger at the temple nearest the injured one. “You…” His lips felt sensitized. Seishirou must have felt similarly, because Subaru felt his hand then guided to Seishirou’s own lips. 

“What is the feeling I had that day?” he mouthed against his fingertips before he closed his mouth around them.

“You fe- aah!” Immediately a small but sharp pain struck Subaru. Seishirou had bitten through the pad of his middle finger and a tongue, smooth and warm, soothed the injury. “Ouch,” Subaru felt his pulse throb throughout his whole system, echoed acutely in that fingertip.

Seishirou’s eyes were locked onto his own. Maybe it was just the cold air, but he could detect a flush across Seishirou’s cheekbones. 

“Does it hurt, Subaru-kun?”

In truth, it didn’t register strongly. His reaction was more out of surprise. He was well used to physical pain; it was actually the tenderness and intimacy after the pain that he didn’t expect. 

Subaru searched Seishirou’s face for answers. Why on earth would he have bitten his finger?

Then he blinked, understanding. “This is the feeling... the one you had. Pain, but a kind you don’t regret?” Subaru shook his head. “You didn’t intend to do anything, you just couldn’t help it, so you can’t possibly hold it against me, and you actually wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though it hurts.” Subaru listened back to his own words, trying to make them make sense. “Am I close?”

Seishirou turned away from him suddenly to face the path again in complete silence, which was as close to an affirmation as Subaru was likely to get.

“You were just… You’re so complicated, Sheshi-” Subaru steadied himself. “Seishirou-san. And really not a very good communicator.” 

Seishirou’s laugh rang loud. 

Subaru was offended. “What?” 

“You’re-” Seishirou forced through his laughter, “a very philosophical drunk. Unexpectedly.” Breathing slowed again as he continued, “But no, I didn’t lie to you. I was serious then, and serious after the conclusion of the bet as well. One thing you can trust, Subaru-kun, is that I will never-”

“-you will never change your actions out of consideration for my feelings.” 

“Certainly.”

~~

 

After exiting the park at the North gate, they ended up in the lobby at the Aoyama Grand Hotel. Did he lead them here, Subaru wondered? It certainly matched his desire for a private place to confront Seishirou-san. He needed a private place; this was private. Apparently he didn’t want that taxi after all because Subaru found himself asking for a room, getting checked in, and stepped them both into the elevator. 

The elevator doors closed and he pushed the button for their double-digit floor. Seishirou leaned in close enough for his whisper to be felt on Subaru’s ear. 

“Subaru-kun, do you think I’m sexy?”

As if a negative answer wasn’t all but impossible. As if it weren’t a foregone conclusion. Subaru pulled him in close by his coat. 

On the precipice of revenge, he had Seishirou alone at last. This wasn’t the revenge he’d planned on. Still, this person was the one who obliterated everything he held close, separated him from his family, destroyed his innocence. Why not indulge his senses? 

Subaru bit down, hard, on Seishirou’s lip. “ I will be the one to kill you.” His lips brushed feather-light over Seishirou’s mouth as he spoke. 

“I expect nothing less.” 

For a first kiss, it was clumsy, but charged. Subaru breathed in the singular and unmistakable smell of Seishirou. His tongue brushed along Seishirou’s bottom lip. He took what he wanted. It felt good. 

Subaru was nearly as tall as Seishirou. No more looming; they were almost evenly matched. He pushed one leg in between Seishirou’s thighs and their hips interlocked like puzzle pieces. The heat of his erection pressed into the sensitive flesh inside the iliac ridge. “Can you feel this?” Subaru wondered. If the Sakurazukamori couldn’t feel anything for anyone, even Subaru, could he experience passion, even lust, anyway? Subaru was determined to find out. He suddenly wanted to drink in everything that was Seishirou. Subaru’s hands reached inside the generously sized jacket, around to the small of his back, and up his shirt. 

The moment was cut off too quickly as Seishirou broke contact. “Can you really do it, Subaru-kun? Can you kill me?”

Subaru froze. He was being tested. The elevator made a gently melodic ping as they reached their floor.

Anger jolted him again. Subaru knew he was destined to kill this man. He wanted, he needed, he was going to destroy Seishirou. As much as he tried to numb his feelings to make the job easier, hate and love in equal intensity pounded in his temples.

Somehow they found their room. When they reached the doorway, Seishirou lifted the back of one of Subaru’s hands to his lips. This area of skin was almost electrically sensitive and Subaru instinctively wanted to pull back. It was private and tinged with years of shame, but this particular bit of skin had always belonged to Seishirou, more than any other part of him. The thrill of transgression quickened Subaru’s pulse and made him shudder. 

Subaru kept his footing and slid the keycard over the door’s lock with his other hand.

“It’s not a matter of ability -- it is my single purpose for living. The fact that I will kill you is inevitable. Your life is mine. As much as my life was ever yours.” Subaru’s eyes flashed with intent and determination, honeyed by alcohol. 

He stepped into the room, pulled Seishirou in behind him, let the door click shut, then leaned close to his ear, pressing him against the flat of the interior side. 

“So, for now…” Subaru whispered two short but unmistakable words. 

~~

 

The bluntness of the proposition caught Seishirou off guard. 

He had been fascinated all evening, and his hunter’s sense of danger was registering off the charts. He loved it. He had even felt murderous intent from Subaru. He knew he had been skillful to have gotten Subaru drunk and to carefully avoid giving him any opening to attack; this version of Subaru was surprisingly sharp. Given any opportunity, Subaru wouldn’t hold back. 

The alcohol seemed to be liberating Subaru, and he thoroughly enjoyed watching this new side of his adorable toy. The change in demeanor was more than just inebriation; the heart of glass was still there, but it was refracting all the more brilliantly for having been broken, glistening after being drenched in rum. 

Seishirou was thrilled that he couldn’t predict Subaru’s responses. 

He had thought he had Subaru fully understood - he had been always so predictable, transparent and pure with his heart on his sleeve and deep empathy for every living being around him. But not so anymore. 

This new, dangerous version of Subaru was exhilarating. Seishirou’s senses were heightened; the thrill of the hunt was on. His pulse rushed. 

“Touch me,” Seishirou commanded. He took Subaru’s thin hand and pressed it to the strained front of his trousers. Subaru would have been flustered before, but he didn’t even flinch.

Subaru answered by unbuttoning, unzipping, and quickly tugging down the wool slacks, along with the waistband below, pausing only briefly to admire Seishirou’s exposed shaft before taking it into his mouth and inhaling deeply. He hummed from the back of his throat, sending a hot flush across Seishirou’s face and causing a hitch in his breathing. 

Seishirou gripped hard enough to crush the door frame. “S-” he hissed. 

But Subaru wasn’t going to relent. He bobbed, cradling Seishirou’s erection firmly in his mouth while tenderly drifting his fingertips around and around the sensitive testacles below. He earned each and every breathy groan from Seishirou with a firm, quick suck. 

“Subaru… kun…” he managed, the world nearly going black around him. It was too quick. He was coming undone. “I’m…” he tried to breathe, chin tilting high. “You’re... ” 

Subaru pulled back and inhaled deeply. With a wry smile and brilliant eyes he said, “You feel nice.” Seishirou agreed, he did feel nice. Clothing was too restrictive against his own flushed and sensitized skin, and he wanted more of Subaru’s skin too. 

They toed off their shoes. “To the bed,” Subaru pressed him away from the room entrance with open palms. 

Seishirou complied, readily. “You are drunk.”

“Just whose fault is that?” Subaru spilled Seishirou backwards onto the comforter, nearly laughing. 

He shifted Subaru’s weight to below him easily, rolling them over. Now it was Seishirou’s turn to appreciate Subaru and his heady musk of arousal. He wasted no time getting Subaru’s trousers out of the way and claiming Subaru’s sensual center with his tongue and lips. 

He felt his mouth water from the back at the salty, warm flavor filling his mouth enough to glide along the length a few times, then he quickly and unceremoniously pressed his nose and chin deep while swallowing against the hot shaft. Subaru held tight against Seishirou, who swallowed again, then smoothed the flat of his tongue along the deliciously heavy and spicy, velvet-soft flesh. Deep-throating made it hard to breathe, but Seishirou didn’t waver. The moment was delicious. 

Seishirou lifted himself up long enough to remove the last of his too-restrictive clothing, including his gloves, then turned to the task of Subaru’s layers. 

When all was taken care of, Seishirou held the back of Subaru’s hand to his cheek, feeling the zing of magic between them, binding them. It was even more intimate than the blow job. 

He let Subaru take the lead. Or rather, Subaru didn’t give him much of a choice. 

 

~~

They lay lazily in bed together, limbs loose. Spent and satisfied and in a haze of glorious joy, Seishirou gently floated his fingertips through the younger man’s soft hair. 

"What do you think Koichi-san is doing these days?" Subaru mused.

This again? “Compassionate, sweet Subaru-kun." Seishirou slightly smiled and thought for a moment, not wanting to talk much about his contracts during pillow talk. “I wouldn’t worry about him. He’ll get his due. Soon.”  

Fingertips were being stroked ever so gently along Seishirou’s torso and neck and arms and sides. This would be the perfect opportunity, Seishirou thought, for Subaru to strike to kill, but Seishirou didn’t feel any hostility from Subaru. Subaru’s skin seemed to be saturated with opiates and wherever they touched, Seishirou both felt calm and wanting more. 

Subaru’s ethereal, porcelain beauty struck him again. “You’re adorable,” he murmured. “You really haven’t changed a bit.”

Before long, Subaru fell asleep like a kitten, his head cradled on Seishirou’s forearm. 

Alcohol had brought Subaru’s inner desires to the fore; Seishirou’s assumption was confirmed. Subaru needed his revenge. He was out for blood, and even any affection he felt for Seishirou wouldn’t necessarily stop him. 

The pure white flower that had been Subaru had since they parted become a gloriously saturated pink. 

But clearly, he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, be able to act on it. Despite all his talk earlier, this delicate and precious person had the will, but sadly, not the mettle to kill him, after all. Subaru simply couldn’t force himself to do it.

Seishirou smiled knowing that no one else could know the secret, hidden corners of Subaru’s mind. 

Such a pity. 

With a singular purpose to live frustrated, what would Subaru do? Commonplace sadness, loss, or grief, which seemed to be affecting him for the better, but could he truly break? 

Will Subaru suffer?

 

“The people under the tree… do they suffer?”

Segments snapped into place like a public art perspective piece, where the various bits of paint don’t make sense until one stands in a particular spot and views them together. The full picture was strikingly clear. The world tilt-shifted. An unfamiliar and terrible feeling crashed over him that he, Seishirou, somewhere along the line, had gravely miscalculated. He cared whether Subaru would suffer if he had a singular purpose keeping him alive that wouldn’t be fulfilled. 

He cared.

“...Shit,” he said quietly, slowly to himself. 

The tight feeling in his chest when he was near Subaru wasn’t just appreciation or excitement. His protectiveness wasn’t born from possession. He didn’t possess Subaru, anyway. Subaru, this broken and harsh version of him, was no more prey than equal. 

He very gently extricated his arm from under Subaru’s head, went into the bathroom, and closed the door. He splashed cold water on his face and didn’t bother to use a towel and instead let it drip into the sink he held tightly with both hands. 

After several slow breaths, he stared at the closed door, a bland vanilla color, important only because behind it slept the vulnerable, beautiful, naked, infinitely fascinating Subaru. 

 

“There’s nobody who can’t love someone, Sei-chan.”

He turned back to see the reflection of a fatally mistaken man. There was a quiet, sharp snap, and a hairline crack ran diagonally through the pane of glass. 

Was this why he made the bet rather than killing the boy who watched him at his work? It was, wasn’t it. Was this why he challenged himself to that year? He had already lost in the moment he saw the boy under the tree, he just didn’t know it. 

He had been as ignorant as his targets. As soon as he heard the target’s name, they moved and talked but they were already dead. As soon as he had met Subaru, his heart was sliced through with an edge so fine that he hadn’t recognized it. 

Except, he had recognized.

Everything he had done since that fateful moment had been, must have been the way it was because he knew. He had been convincing himself that he didn’t know, that Subaru was anyone else, a glass item he could shatter at will, like any other. That protecting him from harm and losing this eye was simply something he did for no particular reason, not because Subaru was special. 

The obvious conclusion couldn’t be avoided now. His heart hammered wildly in his chest. 

Frist of all, he needed to get away.

~~

 

Subaru was depleted, in so many ways. He awoke, much too early and with a headache, to an empty and unfamiliar room.

Pulling on a set of hotel pajamas, he padded barefoot across the floor and peeked out of the closed curtains. The morning’s synchronized chaos was well underway in the city below the window. So many people bustled with so many concerns. He didn’t think he had any appointments early in the day, but it wouldn’t be long before he would need to encounter the people of the city’s pain again. Work was plentiful, he was needed. So many people shared the same kinds of distress. 

He found his clothes on the floor. 

No trace of Seishirou remained. 

He didn’t know what he expected, really. Seishirou had left, discarded him, without a word. 

Nothing was enough to make an impression on the Sakurazukamori, of course. Even sleeping with him. 

The previous night had shown Subaru an ugly truth of the hidden corners of his mind: he had been so certain in his intent to kill Seishirou, and he didn’t act on it. He still loved Seishirou, even if he wasn’t and couldn’t be loved back. The feelings coexisted, conflicting. Seishirou wouldn’t change, and Subaru, even when given the perfect chance to take his revenge for all the terrible things he had done to his sister, to himself -- he didn’t follow through. 

Opportunity had stared him in the face, and he had been weak. 

I can’t avenge anything.

What could he do? His mind spun with varying emotions. Could he still pursue? Could he find Seishirou? And then, to do what? One thing was certain: Seishirou wouldn’t do or say anything out of consideration for Subaru’s feelings. If he didn’t want to be found, Subaru wouldn’t find him. 

Several deep breaths helped pull him back to a few clear facts. Revenge killing could never be right. He also couldn’t kill Seishirou the person, but was it possible that he could still kill Seishirou within the avenues of his heart? He just had to wipe every trace of Seishirou from within himself. Surely he could do that.

Subaru went into the bathroom to shower. 

On the countertop below a subtly fractured mirror he found a bottle of tea, still faintly cold, and a new pack of Mild Sevens.