Author's Notes: I have no idea where this idea came from, but it was very insistent on being written. It’s a Seishirou developmental piece, set after Tokyo Babylon and before X – if X comes into this at all. Something happens to the Sumeragi that makes the Sakurazukamori realise that he should never take anything or anyone – least of all his Subaru-kun – for granted.
‘Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.’
It was, thought Seishirou distantly as he beheld the scene in front of him, a most unexpected situation. Surreal, too.
Subaru, emerald eyes wild and burning, knelt over the unconscious body of a woman. Her hair had come loose from its business-like arrangement, and was spilling in wavy tangles on the floor. The coppery strands were given a crimson tinge by the blood trickling from a shallow wound behind her ear. Her head was tilted back over the Sumeragi’s knee, throat bare except for silver necklace on which a crucifix hung. Not that the crucifix was noticeable right now. The gleaming dagger that was held against the woman’s pulsing artery grabbed all the attention.
Subaru smiled maliciously and pressed the blade closer.
"Well, Sakurazukamori?" he challenged.
Seishirou, mismatched eyes narrowed behind his sunglasses, didn’t answer.
He was wondering what this feeling was.
His hands were bloodless, trembling; Subaru shook his head clear and gripped the dagger more tightly as he knelt before the mirror on the makeshift altar. He had a job to complete. Not that he was in any state to do it. If he were, he would have noticed that the eagle perched outside the window was not of this world. As things stood, the Sumeragi onmyouji wasn’t even aware of its presence.
Seishirou sighed in mock-despair as he watched through the eyes of his shikigami. Subaru was virtually asleep on his feet, not surprising since he hadn’t actually slept for about three days. Or maybe it was four. Yes, it was four days since Subaru had any real rest, or food for that matter. One would have thought the boy would know after all this time that it was downright stupid to work in such a state. But Subaru didn’t know better. Actually, perhaps it was more correct to say that he didn’t care.
Subaru-kun, chided Seishirou silently, this is not how a ‘pro’ should work.
Then again, a pro Sakurazukamori shouldn’t be so close to his enemy like this. Not that Seishirou really cared either. Once he had completed his own assignment a few days ago he found himself bored. Seishirou got bored easily. As a result, he found himself seeking out his prey for entertainment. After watching the Sumeragi trying to waste himself away for a few days, things had gotten remarkably more interesting when Subaru had gotten a job at the same place where Seishirou’s last had been.
The bloodstain was still there in the middle of the wooden floor. Seishirou gave an irritable sigh as his eye passed over it; Subaru, he noticed, was steadfastly avoiding it. For the sake of variety Seishirou had decided to kill the victim by stabbing his hand through the heart instead of using his sakura blossom storm that night, but had instantly regretted it when the blood ruined the suit he bought just the week previously. Oh well. He had money to burn. Still, he reminded himself, it would be prudent to use the less messy method to kill the next one. He already had the target; a woman, the secretary of one of the senior Cabinet ministers who was just as skilled in political manipulation as she was at paperwork and bed-games. Seishirou would have to call on her soon. Not yet, though. Subaru still held some curious interest.
He wondered what Subaru’s case was. Another exorcism, for sure, but here? Yes, there had been a violent death – the terrified desperation of the victim echoed in the room for those with the power to see, just the victim of course, the Sakurazukamori had no emotions – but the spirit in question had long been sealed away in the Sakura Barrow. So what ghost was left to deal with? It was tempting to send out a probe and find out, but that wasn’t the wisest of ideas right now, not with Subaru sitting in there. Yes, Seishirou could deal with the weakened Sumeragi easily should it come to a magical duel, but why waste such a beautiful and fascinating plaything over something so petty? A little more patience, and Seishirou would have his answer.
He watched as Subaru, finally having made his mental preparations (he had taken ridiculously long, another sign of his poor condition, not that Seishirou cared) closed his eyes, and, kneeling in front of the small altar and its mirror, began to chant. Being on the other side of the glass, even with the shikigami’s heightened senses Seishirou could barely make out the soft murmur that was his prey’s voice. It had lost the childish naïveté that had made it so endearing to many; now it was lower, more mature. Darker.
Very pleasant to listen to.
Luminous lines began to delineate between the four ceremonial daggers stabbed into the floor; they formed the corners of the kekkai Subaru spun around himself. The ofuda on the hilts glowed with a pale blue light. As they did so, Seishirou could sense something stirring in the room, invisible but unmistakably present, like a great shark cruising the dark ocean depths. Another sound began to interject itself into the undercurrent of Subaru’s voice, soft and broken –
– weeping –
– growing louder with the rise and fall of the Sumeragi’s words. The shadows cast by Subaru’s light seemed to twist at the edges of Seishirou’s vision, ghastly and deformed figures like demons across one’s soul. Subaru paid them no heed, all his attention on the spell he was weaving. The sound grew louder, more shrill and hysterical, until it overrode Subaru’s voice completely. One shadow, larger than the rest, flowed into existence against the wall; the figure of a young woman, hair in tangles and fingers outstretched over Subaru’s head as if to tear it from his body. There was a rope dangling from around her neck.
Seishirou remembered now. The man he had killed had had a girlfriend. Seishirou hadn’t paid much attention to her, except to take note of when she left the apartment. He had read in the papers that she was the one to find the body. The report also stated that she had not taken the death of her lover well . . . how pathetic people were. She was even worse than his Subaru-kun. At least Subaru had hauled himself out of his mental shell after Hokuto’s murder; this girl had taken it so far as to kill herself.
The ghostly crying was reaching deafening proportions now. Seishirou deftly cast a spell to protect himself – if the shikigami were to be injured whilst he was projecting himself through it, there would be no small amount of damage done to his real self. This was an uncommonly strong spirit, the sheer force of the raw emotion it held giving it strength beyond the norm. Grief, love, despair, hatred . . . it would be most interesting to see how Subaru was going to deal with it.
Subaru wasn’t dealing with it. The ofuda closest to Seishirou burst into pale flame and disappeared. There were three more tiny conflagrations in quick succession, almost invisible against the howling wind that was screaming around the Sumeragi. Clumsily, Subaru tried to catch the remains of the kekkai and hold it in place through nothing but his own strength of will –
– of which he had virtually none left –
– as he fell forward, one hand still gripping the dagger and the words of the spell rolling off his tongue more and more desperately. The wind drowned him out.
Thirteenth and most powerful head of the Sumeragi, thought Seishirou dispassionately, still watching through the window, it’s almost embarrassing to watch you.
It was difficult to make out the crumpled form of the Sumeragi inside the room now. Seishirou shook his head. So much power the boy had, and he would fail through his own stupidity. Stupidity for working such a dangerous case with weakened body and mind, stupidity for being too soft, stupidity for caring so much . . .
And you wonder why you lost our Bet, Subaru-kun.
The kekkai gave one last, feeble flicker –
And the ghost screamed in triumph.
Seishirou decided that things had gone far enough. After all, Subaru still carried the Sakurazukamori’s marks on his hands. Subaru’s death belonged to Seishirou alone. Before Seishirou could do anything, however, the wind stopped. A single crash as the mirror fell to the ground –
– then the room fell into a deathly silence.
The Sakurazukamori frowned. Warily, the shikigami took a step closer to the window, trying to see inside. What had happened? Damn the night and its darkness. The only light available was that from a loud billboard on the neighbouring building, illuminating the bloodstain on the floor and little else. Subaru was sprawled over it beside the fallen dagger – for a moment Seishirou thought the blood was his. Then he realised that the Sumeragi was still breathing.
He watched carefully as Subaru sat up. The onmyouji moved slowly, disjointedly. His head hung over his chest as if his neck had been snapped, then lifted. He seemed to stare blankly at the far wall. There was a pale light there, reflected off the surface of the broken mirror.
Suddenly, the Sumeragi turned around. His green eyes fixed on the eagle outside the window.
Considering what Seishirou knew of his prey, he wasn’t expecting a direct attack. As it was, the Sakurazukamori had barely enough warning as the dagger flashed in the shadows and shattered the glass to pull his consciousness back to his body before the bespelled blade sliced through his shikigami. The spirit-eagle gave one inchoate scream that was quickly cut off –
– and with a sudden jolt, Seishirou opened his eyes.
For a moment, a minute or two or maybe a night, he sat still in the sofa-chair, watching the lights of Tokyo go by beyond the wide window. Neon yellow, bright red, garish greens and pinks clashed together with the sounds of evening traffic, as if trying to drive away the shadows lurking at everyone’s feet. Seishirou’s Shinjuku apartment, however, was coloured in nothing but black and cold blue. He had no lights on.
Seishirou closed his eyes again and took in a deep breath, lingering in the fading thrill of danger so narrowly escaped.
Well, well, well. The Sakurazukamori chuckled a little. You’re certainly full of surprises, Subaru-kun.
It had been a long time since Subaru had been able to surprise him. Seishirou had certainly never imagined that the sweet, simple boy he had charmed with pretensions of love would ever fling a knife at his face.
The Game had become most interesting.
Quietly, Seishirou rose from the recesses of the chair then picked up his trench-coat and a packet of cigarettes. He was smiling, the predator’s smile in anticipation of a good hunt as he left the apartment.
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