A Game of Chess [Tokyo Babylon/x1999]

Now I will shut you in a box
With massive sides and a lid that locks.
Only by that I can be sure
That you are mine and mine secure,
And know where you are when I'm not by,
No longer needing to wonder and spy.
I may forget you at party or play
But do not fear I shall keep away
With any Miss Brown or any Miss Jones.
If my return finds a heap of bones --
Too dry to simmer, too dry to whine --
You will still be mine and only mine.
--Thom Gunn, 'La Prisonniere'


The difference between rape and murder is that murder is kind enough not to leave its victims alive.


Making someone fall in love isn't difficult. It is mostly a matter of gaining purchase. The first touch is the most important -- once the right to touch has been established, it cannot be refuted, nor can it be refused ever again. If a hand is laid upon a shoulder and not immediately spurned, even if the touched one does not know the nature of the act, it is an invitation to touch again. From this point, if the hand is laid upon the shoulder again, it can be pushed closer to the neck without incurring protest. A hand on the neck can move to the throat. Seduction is slow, and slips in degrees; falling in love is like bleeding to death.

The quickest way inside is the mouth, and the mouth is unique of all openings in its design: lips, teeth, tongue, all instruments of sensuality held in a place so warm and wet. Brush the lips, caress them, perhaps coax them to kiss, and eventually they will part. Once the lips have parted, the victim's fate is sealed. Once he has allowed any part of you into him, he cannot refuse it again.

One must keep in mind, however, that the sword cuts both ways, for once he has gained purchase into you, you will never regain it, and you cannot move into him unless you give him something of yourself in return. The trick is to retain the larger part of yourself. Without it, you are lost. The murder becomes the murdered.

All my victims, to some degree, have loved me. Death is a thing most precious, the most intimate of all sharing. Think of it, if you will, as a kind of virginity that can be lost only once. No matter whether you give it willingly or have it ripped from you, the moment of its taking is so fierce, so intense that you cannot help loving, at least in part, one who would share it with you. Think of Death as innocence -- one a trade for the other. Neither can be recanted.


I used to be afraid to think about you, or talk about you, or look at the stars for too long and get lost in all of the could-have-beens and should-have-beens and I-wishes. The wish I carried with me wasn't for you to kill me, not in so many words. I just wanted you to see me, I wanted you to look at me and know me and acknowledge me. Killing was the only way you made connection with anyone, and I wanted that connection so badly. I wanted to touch you. In any sense, in every sense. So I suppose your Kamui was correct, in a way. Maybe he just wouldn't understand.

You touched so many people that way. Complete strangers, people off the streets. Your victims were people who didn't care about you at all. When I saw someone else's blood on your hands, I burned with outraged jealousy. What would you think of that?

What would it have taken to make you cry the way she did? I'd spend nights with my forehead pressed against the back of your neck, shaking with the need to throw my arms around you and sob, and you never turned around. I thought you were asleep, but I know now that you don't need that much sleep. And when I did cry, it should have been enough to wake you. I could have woken the dead. Maybe I will. Maybe I'll never sleep again.

I want to cry. I spent so much effort on not crying before; since I was young, my emotions have always felt like they were too big for someone as small as I to contain. They were always on the brink of bursting. Now my heart feels like a small hard knot, like a cramped muscle. It hurts so much, but I can't cry. Is this what you meant when you said you had no feelings? I guess you never would have known better. If this is how you've felt all these years, then I owe you an apology, too. I've always wished that I could have made you love me, and today all I can think is that I wish I could have made you cry like I did everyone else.

Your blood is terrible, but so sweet. So sweet. I could rub it between my fingers forever and not even be aware of what I've lost. There's a comfort in that. I used to wonder if you had a heart at all, and know I know it intimately. Almost carnally. I had a dream like that once. There was a wound in my heart and it just kept bleeding and bleeding and bleeding, but I didn't die. It didn't even hurt. You touched the blood and rubbed it over my body, and then touched your own face, and it pleased you. So sweet.


His practice is not very busy, nor is he particularly well-known, but he seems to get by. Though he is the only vet in the clinic, he takes off mornings, afternoons, sometimes entire days, and yet he still seems to get by. When they ask, he tells them he simply hasn't been out of school long enough to be known around the town. She assures him that someday he will be so famous all of Japan will know about him. Her brother smiles bashfully.

Most of the animals that walk -- or are carried -- in the doors to his office walk out again far healthier than they were when they entered. For an relatively unpopular vet, he is very good; dogs with terribly broken legs and cats that had gotten into vicious fights go home with a little more gauze and tape on them than they are perhaps accustomed to, but are back to their old selves within days. When his clients laugh and tell him he works magic, he joins their laughter and assures them that there's no magic involved. He tells the truth. He is simply a very good vet.

Why he chose to become a vet, he could never say. It seemed something he was good at, something for which he had an affinity. It had meant hard work at school, but he had shaved time off the length of his studies by taking extra classes at night and during summers. He graduated young. But why he went to all the hard work remains mostly a mystery.

He considers the profession a gentle one, and he has never pondered why he associates that particular word with veterinary medicine, nor why gentleness should be so important to him. After all, his nature is not gentle, and he prizes nothing else with that quality.

Almost nothing else. He would never have made the connection, but while he had wandered home, suddenly and vibrantly aware of his new prey, the thought had entered his mind. When he chose not to dispute it, it grew and grew until it was a thought most natural. And when, nine years later, he once more becomes acquainted with his prey at close range, he is as gentle as can be.


His hands are soft; his lips are gentle and hesitant. Only twice during his childhood had I ever touched his hands -- once to brand him mine and again to confirm him as my pretty prey. Now he gives them freely. Somehow, the thrill is gone.


I used to wish you'd hit me. If my only choices were to burn or freeze in your presence, I'd chose whatever didn't involve your smirk, your turned back, your absence. I liked the feel of your teeth. I liked the weight of your body pushing me down in the dark. I liked the pain. Not for being pain, but for the heat of it, my sense of you. When you were displeased, you'd just freeze up and smile.

If you hit me, I'd have a reason to be angry again. I lost my anger on the roof of a building that I still don't know the name of; my fingers went slack and it just slipped away. You said you knew I was a virgin because I didn't know how to kiss. I think you knew better than that. My body has few curves, but you knew them already. Like making love to my own subconscious.

I'm just full of strange thoughts today.


Most people have no idea what it is to feel nothing. They equate nothing to apathy, which is entirely a different matter; the two are as different from one another as a vacuum is from the air we breathe. Apathy is not caring whether a glass cup or a boy's arm is broken into pieces; when one feels truly nothing he is incapable of distinguishing a difference between the weight of the actions.

Nothing is a word most people cannot comprehend. Like eternity, it is too large, too expansive. It stretches beyond what the mind can register -- and still holds nothing at all.


Pain is losing a child. Pain is losing a child, a daughter-in-law, a husband, and a grandchild. Pain is knowing that all of it is somehow your fault.

I leave messages on his machine. He rarely calls me back. Sometimes I'm grateful that he doesn't. I wouldn't know what to say.


At first he was only allowed to visit her two or three times a week, whenever one of the members of the household in which he lived decided that it was appropriate. He'd be packed up into the car, wearing his crispest school uniform, hands folded neatly, and tucked under his arm his perpetual companion, the satchel of books he loved. The particular contents changed regularly, but the basic makeup of the interior was quite predictable -- ten or so books, the number dependent mostly upon weight and size of that week's reading material, each with a scrap of paper marking a place in the pages, and at least one of the books in English. He didn't really understand the English, so he tried to read the books in Japanese first, if he could. The satchel seemed some days to weigh as much as he did.

It was by these books he learned to play board games -- Go, Othello, Chess, each by reading the rules until he had a feel for the game and its strategy. He found an old game of checkers in the house where he lived and drew characters on the discs, turning them into flat black-and-red chess pieces; alone in his room, undisturbed by those who would call him family, he played games against himself that lasted hours each. Move, and think, and move, and think, and perhaps consult a book, and move again. The rooks move in straight lines, the pawns jump to the diagonal, the pieces click click click as they come into contact with the board again.

They told him as he went to bed that night that we would see her the next day; he barely slept, imagining his own chess board, picturing the moves that each of the men could and would make. He even knew which books he would remove from his satchel to make room for his prize.

He set it out in front of her, on the floor; she knelt patiently, casting only the most infrequent glance to the dark-suited men who watched their interactions. Placing each piece in turn, he explained the rules to her -- how to move, how to jump, how to win. She smiled as she watched him, nodding and absorbing the information, her red lips parted perfectly in her porcelain face. She nodded like a china doll, his mother; she was not his mother -- about that much they had been clear, at least -- but as he had never had another to fill the role, when she had asked him to think of her as such, he had readily agreed. He made sure she understood the rules, then gestured that she should make the first move.

She beat him in twenty moves.

Eyes wide, he watched as she reached over with her perfect, tiny hands and turned upside-down the piece that had served as his king. He protested, startled. She had said she had never played before; had she lied to him? Certainly his strategy had been nothing short of perfect.

Perfect, she had agreed. Perfectly by the rules. He had played by the book, and so he had anticipated his opponent would employ the same strategy. She had moved by instinct, moved illogically. He had no way to adapt to something that disrupted his structure so badly.

"Seishirou," she smiled, drawing his head into her lap and stroking his fine, dark hair, "my beautiful Seishirou, would you like to have the first move this time?"

Her free hand began to set up the chessmen again.


Humans tend to look at the world in terms of whatever is on eye level and below; looking up isn't nearly as instinctive, particularly when the object of interest is directly in front of the viewer. Particularly when the viewer is barely four feet tall. It never occurred to Subaru to raise his head, not until his hands reached out to grab a petal and received the added surprise of red bead of liquid.

His first thought was to wonder why the rain had suddenly decided to be red, for if it had it would stain his shikifuku, his first shikifuku all his own, and his grandmother would be so mad, since he shouldn't even have ventured out here in the first place, and who knew if the red rain would come out of this fabric? He had disobeyed her, he had run off, he had failed to stop the bad things he felt in the tree in front of him, and now the red rain would tattle on him. He had been so proud when he had gotten his very own shikifuku, and now she would never let him wear it ever again. Ever.

But if the rain really had turned red, it might be kind of neat to watch. He wondered if it looked the same when it fell. But he probably couldn't see it, as he was under this tree....

A drop hit his cheek, leaving a smear he could feel, and somehow he knew it wasn't any kind of rain. And so he looked up, his eyes travelling up the length of the rugged bark, past knots and branches, until they saw a pair of feet that had very little to do with being part of the tree. So his eyes followed them, up a pair of legs, then a body, all wearing a neatly pressed uniform, up further, passing over whatever it was the body had in its right arm, up and up to a pair of eyes the colour of the amber stones in one of his grandmother's necklaces.

The rain-that-wasn't-rain fell again, a few more drops splattering his exposed skin. He knew he should look and see what it was that man was carrying. But all he could think was that he had never seen eyes that colour before.


When you're so close to a life that you can see and feel its essence, death is something like a match burning out. Nothing more complicated, nothing more catastrophic. Just what happens when the fire can find nothing else to burn, no air to breathe, and therefore starves itself. It cannot survive.

I used to think of you as a man who wandered slowly through a vast open room lit only by millions of tiny flames, reaching out his hand to pinch them out one at a time. The room doesn't really get any darker for it.

That's no excuse, mind you.


In a tiny cafe tucked away deep in the heart of London, a tall Japanese man sits cross-legged, sipping a cup of tea and reading the newspaper. A pastry of indeterminate origin once occupied the plate, but has been reduced mostly to flaky crumbs. Thin white smoke rises from the glowing end of the cigarette parched on the ashtray. He has not smoked for long and does not quite know how he feels about the habit, and yet he knows it suits him.

When the waiter approaches him to ask if he needs anything else, he orders another cup of tea in near-perfect English, complete with gentle British clip. Only from his looks, perhaps, and the occasional odd turn of phrase would anyone suspect he had not lived in Great Britain his entire life.

In the bag at his feet are two books and two books only, both texts of veterinary medicine for his final year of studies. Though he has few close friends, he has many acquaintances, and his charismatic personality is well-recognised around the campus. Come the following spring, the transfer student known as Seishiro Sakurazuka will graduate well in his class, gain his licence to practice veterinary medicine, and disappear to Japan.

Inside his head, the Tree is screaming.


He has aged in so many ways -- has grown into his body, or it has simply grown out to fill the grownup heart hidden inside the child he was -- and yet his face is still so much the same. My fingers reach into my pocket for my cigarettes; around him, the routine of smoking feels somehow very appropriate. His boots crunch softly across debris as he steps towards me. I can hear the soft flicker of a lighter, the cheap kind you can buy at any store, the ones that you can throw away when they run out.

I place the tip of my cigarette into the flame, inhaling just enough to make sure the tobacco catches along with the paper, keeping much of the smoke in my mouth instead of sending it to my lungs. Smoking's a nasty habit, you know.

When I look up to thank him for this kindness, he stares back at me with a child's face. I have not seen him, not face-to-face, in nearly nine years, and yet I know intimately that look. Hidden beneath the adult's haircut and adult's features is the same sad expression of the little boy who asked me once if the bodies beneath the sakura hurt as their blood becomes the food of the great tree above them.

And, you know, before that boy had asked, I had never wondered.


The first time I saw him, I didn't instantly register how beautiful he was. The first time I saw him, I was picking myself up off the floor and trying to salvage what little of my dignity I had left -- which wasn't much. It's terribly impolite to run into random strangers in a crowded subway, and even worse to run into them and then fall down.

He helped me to my feet, and I bowed so low my hat would have come off had I not kept a hand on it, and I straightened up to apologise further. Words spontaneously failed me as I got a good look at him. My breath caught in my throat. I remember wanting a chair to appear so I could sit down before I fell down again. Or, you know, wanting the ground to open up and swallow me so I wouldn't have to deal with any of it. Either would have been fine by me.

But no chair appeared, and the ground in the city of earthquakes stayed right where it was, and he extended his hand to me. "Are you all right?" His voice was so kind and concerned, and still so deep and strong. I could feel the colour creep into my cheeks.

I had been aware for quite some time of my attraction to men. It was no big deal, being mostly a theoretical condition. Coming face-to-face with someone who, if you had asked me to sit down and write out my description of the perfect man, would have fit that profile perfectly -- that was a bit unnerving. My palms went damp; my mouth went dry. I tried to reallocate the moisture and found that it did me no good. And then I shifted my weight carelessly to my bad ankle and fell down again.

When he first told Hokuto that he had fallen in love with me, I thought I was going to die.


When you're dying, all you can think of are the things you should have done that you'll never be able to do again. Little things, foolish things, like smelling a camellia or drinking a glass of red wine or touching the softness of his bare hip as he sleeps. You think of the strangest things. Like the fact that you can't understand why he's looking at you so strangely, his eyes laced with shock. It doesn't make sense. This should be exactly what he wanted; after all, you've worked so hard to bring you both to this. It should be what you both wanted.

And then it hits you, between imagining the flowers and the stain on a tablecloth, that you never succeeded. You never made him hate you at all.


He was mine first, you know. You may have come in and swept him off his feet, but he was mine first, and part of him will always belong to me. He's closer than blood -- he's half my heart, and I'm half his. No matter what you do, he's such a part of me that you could never take him away from me. Or vice versa.

So love him all you want, or pretend to love him enough that maybe someday you actually will. Just know that, deep down, part of him will always belong to me.

You can't have it.


He does not drop the straight razor when she bursts through the door, moving as quickly as she can though she is confined of late to her wheelchair. It hangs poised above his bare wrist, shining in the dull light of the bathroom; were it held at his face, she might let herself imagine that he was simply shaving, nothing crueller than that, just shaving. But the thin line running the length of his forearm, perpendicular to his wrist, tells a different story.

"Subaru-san!" she cries softly, brushing back her hair, which has come undone and hangs loose and white around her shoulders. Her servants do not know she is here; the house is still asleep. Yet her grandson has awakened her. His distress has cut through her sleep just as the knife cuts through his skin.

As the knife cuts through his skin. The line is not nearly as thin as she first saw it to be, and there is blood on the razor. Her grandson's blood. The line along his arm -- starting close to his elbow -- had ceased to become a line, now, and is more a river; a tiny tributary runs off his elbow and onto the ceramic tile. Here a puddle; here a lake. It is the source that concerns her.

Her hands tremble as they clutch the wheels of her chair. Her heart pumps quickly; she is not accustomed to moving like this, and she is an old woman. "Subaru-san," she breathes again, reaching for him, unsure of what she will say.

With her hand extended and each breath a burden on her lungs, she realises that her greatest fear is not that she will say the wrong thing, but that she will have nothing to say. He is angry, and he has every right to be, and he is angry at her, and this is right because the fault is hers. But if all she can do for him is acknowledge her fault in the creation of the tragedy, if she can offer no comfort or consolation, then she should let him continue, and when he is finished she should add her own rivers to his. It seems only proper.

If she has nothing to say.

She clears her throat. "Subaru-san," she tries one more time, and she can see from his dull green eyes he is listening to her, "I'm sorry."

The razor, edged with the same blood that now falls to the floor in horrifying drops, quavers a little. His shoulders move slightly with the effort of each breath; his lean frame is hunched over slightly, obviously in pain. She can feel the edges of tears begin to fall down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry," she whispers. "I'm sorry for not telling you, but you must understand, I loved you then as I love you now, and all I ever wanted was to keep you both safe." Her voice catches, and she leans farther forward, as though she could hope to reach him. "You two were all my light and all my happiness; I'd had so much taken from me, but I still had both of you, and all I wanted was to keep you safe...." She stops, unable to speak any more; instead she sobs, letting her hand fall to her lap, bowing her head. If he dies here, she will fall similarly. He is all she has left.

A clattering sound startles her, cutting through the noise of her own tears, and she jerks her head up to see the razor alone on the floor. For a moment, Subaru hangs there in suspended animation, a portrait of himself that could hardly be considered real, and then the moment breaks and he lumbers towards her, falling into her lap.

She clutches at him, clings as tightly as she can to his hair and skin, and they cry together for the first time since Hokuto's death, grandmother and grandson sobbing in unison. His blood spills onto her nightshift; her tears fall onto his back. He will need stitches, but he will not die, not today. Whether she is more relieved for him or for herself, she could not say.


Some nights he dreams that everything would turn out all right, that no one's intentions had been cruel, that they would end up a pair of happy vets growing old together, that Hokuto would come and bother them no less than three times a week. He dreams that he would give Hokuto away at her wedding while the old Sumeragi clanhead stood -- stood -- by, smiling. He dreams they live out their mutual destiny in a completely different way -- together, deeply in love, seeing things and doing things and growing old together, two strange and wonderful magician-men together, so hopelessly in love.

These nights he wakes up with his pillow damp.


Your cigarettes burn my lungs. I feel sick. I may throw up. Again. I haven't eaten in what feels like days; if this keeps up, I'll have nothing to throw up but myself. But I suppose I could make do without what little of that is left, too, if I tried.

My room is dark now; it smells of you more strongly than it ever did before you left me. Before you left me. This makes me burst into sick tears again, not because she's gone and not because she's not coming back and not because you're the one who killed her, but because you left me. You left me. Words keep running through my mind over and over and over again.

If you come back, I'll throw myself into your arms and beg you ... I don't know. To kill me, I suppose. Or to tie me down and lock me up and keep me, to do whatever you want so long as I never have to say again you left me.

My lungs feel thick and heavy; if I breathe I know I'll sound like a balloon with a puncture. So I try not to breathe. My lungs feel like they have a little of you inside me.


He is certain this is a dream, in the way you can only be certain when it actually is. It takes him a moment to orient himself -- this must be the back of Seishirou's van, because over there are a few cages, and here is the seat with the ripped upholstery he keeps meaning to replace. The reason things look so strange is because he's never seen this part of the van while on his back before.

Only vaguely is he aware of the fact that his shirt has been pushed up and his pants have been pulled away. He is a little more conscious of the fact that Seishirou seems to be actively engaged in having sex. As with all good dreams, it takes him a few moments to realise that he is the one with whom Seishirou is fornicating -- after all, it is his legs Seishirou is between. He blinks in confusion and tries to sit up, but he finds the situation does not lend itself to seated positions.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Hokuto sitting in the front seat, looking quite bored, filing her nails and reading a fashion magazine. Every now and then, she turns and talks to them. No, not to him -- to Seishirou. This time she glances over and rolls her eyes, sighing most dramatically. "Higher, Sei-chan." Giving instructions. Pointers. Tips on how to fuck her baby brother.

Terribly confused, he lies back and stares at the ceiling of the van. The paint has begun to crack in patterns, branching out from some unknown source. As Seishirou continues, paint chips begin to fall down on him, soft as flower petals.


He had always asked the hard questions, she observed silently. He had always caught her unable to explain. And this time, curled on her lap as he was, was no exception. She folded his tiny hand in hers and took a deep breath. "We don't know, Subaru-san," she said honestly. "We can't know. But I'd like to believe that she's somewhere wonderful, and that she's with your father and grandfather, and that she's very happy."

"Heaven?" he asked, looking up at her with wide green eyes. The hand that wrapped around her fingers bore no glove.

"That's a good word for it." His mother had been such a loving, giving person. She had no way of explaining to Subaru how much his mother had loved everyone, and how she had loved the twins in her womb enough to give her life gladly to bring them into the world. His mother, the old woman believed, would gladly die again if necessary for her beloved children.

He pondered this, kicking his tiny feet. "Can she see me?"

She smiled and brushed his hair back. "We don't know," she told him. If she had lied -- if she had even hedged the truth a little -- he would have known. "But if she can, I'm certain she's proud of what a handsome young man you're becoming. And what a fine onmyouji!"

Laughing, he wrapped his tiny arms around her chest. "Someday I'll be as good as you are, obaa-chan!"

Her voice joined his childish giggle, and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him close. Before she could catch it, a tear snuck from the corner of her eye and fell down her cheek.


It was a laughable funeral. There was no corpse.

Standing by her gravesite, he imagined this must be how the many families who have lost loved ones at sea must grieve. Certainly there would be other situations in which one would lose a body, but to him the sea seemed the most adequate comparison. He didn't know why.

He wore black from head to foot, black coat and black hat combined. He did not wear gloves. He could see his grandmother's eyes on him, fretting from where she sat bundled into her wheelchair; he could feel her eyes focused on the bare backs of his hands.

He couldn't bring himself to care.


Nothing. He felt nothing.

Some rational part of his mind told him this had gone on far beyond what was necessary. He had broken the boy's heart. He had broken the boy's arm. He could have cupped Subaru's face in his hands and told him to walk into the arms of the Tree, he knew, and Subaru would have done so with neither complaint nor comment.

The rational part of his mind did not reach his foot in time to prevent it from coming down hard on broken bone. By then, it was too late to stop what would come after.

Subaru barely cried out; his mouth must have moved to make the sounds, but his body just must not have been cooperating. At least, Seishirou assumed this. He did not look at Subaru's face, which was turned from him anyway. He kept talking, kept explaining, not really paying much attention to the words he was producing. Somehow he knew he wasn't the only one not fully listening.

Sick, pathetic thing. His foot planted itself in Subaru's chest and pushed away. The boy's body moved like a bag of bones, like a sack of garbage moves when it is slung away. He barely weighed a thing. Had he not been eating? Hadn't Hokuto-chan been feeding him?

No. Whatever it was, it wasn't his concern. He didn't have to pretend to worry anymore. He didn't have to pretend to care. Moving quickly and silently, he strode over to Subaru's crumpled body and lifted him sharply with his foot, pushing him onto his back and punctuating the gesture with a sharp jab from his heel. Subaru offered no resistance.

Kick. Kick. Again and again. He had seen abused dogs brought to his clinic, dogs who had been kicked so many times they would never heal. Those dogs whimpered whenever he touched them, whenever he reached for them as though he were going to touch them. Subaru couldn't stand the noise; when the dogs started whimpering, he often had to leave the room before he himself started crying. He hadn't wanted to cry in front of Seishirou.

He lifted Subaru's foot with the toe of his expensive shoe, regarding his prey's face. Subaru was crying now, crying like he did when the animals were in pain. But now he was the one in pain. Tears rolled down the boy's cheeks, falling silently but falling ceaselessly, as though they'd never dry.

No, he thought to himself as he planted his foot once more in Subaru's chest, knocking him far away, those tears would dry. They'd stop. And if they didn't, it wasn't his concern. Not anymore. Not ever again.


I spent four years during my youth in Oxford, England; it did little for my education by any stretch of the imagination, and yet it did give me a certain fondness for herbal tea and poetry, of all things. Not the flimsy haiku, the word painting that exists in the wasteland between pretentious and preposterous, but sturdy English poetry -- Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and their ilk. My once-meagre school- and self-taught English became good so that I could understand their words and begin to grasp at the meaning behind them.

Once, when they were younger, he and Hokuto wandered into a room where I sat, reading. Often I would do this, spend time at their house amusing myself while I waited for Hokuto-chan to prepare both of them for whatever excursion it was we had planned for the day. The process was invariably most lengthy. She bounced in and landed on my lap; as if for contrast, he hung in the doorway. "What're you reading, Sei-chan?" she squeaked.

"Poetry," I answered, smiling. At first, the constant smiling had been difficult; after a while, all difficult things become easy.

She laughed, and the bells in her hair jingled crystal in symphony. "Poetry? That's so romantic!" She bent back one cover of my book to see for herself. As he eyes scanned the difficult English, her brows furrowed in sullen cuteness. "I can't read that," she whined.

Always the petulant beauty, always alive, brimming over with life. She carried with her her brother's vitality; when she died, she took it with her. "Then maybe you should study your English more." I poked her in the nose.

She went cross-eyed to look at my finger, then snatched the book from my hands before I could protest and held it out to Subaru. "You read it, Subaru!" she commanded from her place in the armchair I occupied.

He began to wave his gloved hands in protest; the soft rises of his delicate cheeks flushed rose pink, a colour he wore there often. "No, no," he protested. "I should study more, too."

Hokuto laughed her hideous overdramatic laugh to cover his embarrassment. What a good sister. "Well, then, won't you read it to us, Sei-chan?"

"But you won't understand it," I reminded her with a wink.

"Doesn't matter," she smiled. Jingle jingle. Like broken glass. "Read it anyway."

I stole a glance at Subaru-kun for his opinion on the matter and found him staring at me. He did not even know he was doing it. You cannot bandage and stitch a wound you do not know exists. Falling in love is like bleeding to death. Inclining his head toward me, he encouraged my reading; the faint flush in his cheeks crept in deeper, and yet he did not look away.

Theatrically, I chose a page largely at random and cleared my throat. She smiled and threw her arms around my neck, watching the words as I read them aloud. "'Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer--'"

"What's a gyre? It's not pronounced like it looks."

"Uh-uh. If you want me to read, I read. No questions until the poem's over."

"Well, fine."


rape (n) - The crime of forcing another person to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse; the act of seizing and carrying off by force; abusive or improper treatment.

(tr.v.) raped, rap·ing, rapes - To force (another person) to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse; to seize and carry off by force; to abuse; to hurt; to violate.


Sometimes, when it was all over and he'd rolled away, I'd turn next to him and bury my face in his hair just to smell him. I'd press my nose to the back of his neck, and sometimes I'd kiss the skin there, make it damp, because damp skin smells stronger. Like the earth after a rainstorm.

More often than not, just smelling him, no matter tired I was, made me hard again. Smoke and sweat and expensive cologne, earth and sex. And I would rub, or I'd just close my eyes and breathe, and more often than not he ignored me. And I'd sigh sadly, and that would be the end.

Tonight he rolled over without warning and looked me in the eye. I gasped a little, startled, and he smiled the smile he wore so well, the smile he had worn ever since I had grown up. Sometimes I wondered if that were the same smile he had always had, and I had just been too enamoured to notice. I never knew whether to smile back or not.

He pressed his body next to mine; he was as hard as I, and I moaned, rubbing as close as I could to him. For so long I had dreamed of this, I could think of nothing but this, that every breath I spent like this with him was unreal. My mouth was open; I leaned in to kiss him and felt the way he smelled on my tongue.

"You shouldn't want me," he grinned against my lips. "I killed your sister."

"I know." I swallowed hard.

"And still you want me like this." His hand reached down and began to stroke my cock. "You want me so much you can't think of anything else."

Gasping, I nodded. "Seishirou-san, please," I whispered.

"Please?" His fingers stilled briefly.

"Please," I repeated. "Please, I don't care what happens, I don't care what you do to me, just please, touch me."

His smile was his answer, and he stroked anew, harder. My eyes fell shut and I laid my head back, waiting for the shortly inevitable, all the while thinking I love you as loudly as I could to compensate for my inability to say it.


He smelled like blood. I don't know how Subaru missed it. I hated it. I loved him, but I hated the way he smelled. Like a cut that just won't heal. Like having your period when you're sick. Like a slaughterhouse.

"But," he said, stacking the cookie sheets for me, "is it all right?"

"Hm?" Of course I knew what he was talking about, but it never hurt to play dumb. I knew. He knew I knew. I knew he knew I knew. He knew I knew he knew I knew. And we both knew enough not to know at the appropriate times.

Despite the baking cookies, I could smell him from across the room. "I mean, for me to sink my poisoned fangs," he made some ridiculous gesture teeth-like with his hands, "into your precious, innocent little brother? Are you going to stand by and let me seduce him?" He crossed his arms defiantly, challenging me jokingly, but there was no joke about it.

I shrugged. "If Subaru's all right with it, then sure!" Always the dutiful sister. Always the little romantic. My expression darkened, however. "But...."

"But?" His smile was far too cocky. I wanted it gone.

"If you make Subaru cry..." I told him, flitting around the kitchen as though I were completely preoccupied with my baking, twirling in my new skirt and moving so quickly that he didn't see the knife until it was at his throat. No matter how much he may pretend, no matter how quickly he may have recovered, I know he never saw it coming. I could have cut his throat. "I will kill you."

When Subaru was around, or at least in earshot, the death threats were made in jest. If you hurt him, I'll kill you! Said in the same way that the coyote promises to kill that dumb bird in those stupid cartoons they show on television. Always followed by protests from him about how he would never do anything to wound his beloved. Never in a million years. And we all know never is a long time.

Where was your never then, Sei-chan? I should have asked. But I didn't need to.

I supposed I'd never forgive myself. After all, it'd be too easy to say, how did I know he'd become the love of Subaru's life? But the truth is I did know. I knew it as certain as I knew the day I met him that one day he'd stink of my blood.


The Tree does not need to be fed often, which is good, since he feeds it less often perhaps even that it would desire. But tonight he has found one worthy, and tonight it has feasted.

"It will love you," she had promised him one night as she had curled in bed next to his growing adolescent body, "and that will be enough. Its love is powerful."

It hates him, the rogue Sakurazukamori, the petulant child unsatisfied unless everything is exactly as he wants it. It hates him, but it loves him, just as it loved his mother, and her father, and all the line back as far as the lineage can be traced and farther.

"You will belong to it," she had smiled, kissing his chest and neck, "and it will answer to you. It will love you because you will control its existence as surely as it will control yours."

The body at his feet dissolves into blossoms, fading into the sky. Always a most miraculous transition, he had found. He shuts his eyes and lets each one caress his skin.

"However," she had added, pressing her lips to his, "it will never love you like I do."

The last of the petals disappears into the starless night.


"When I was younger... before... I used to think of you like this. Sometimes."

"Like this?"


"Then you've thought about me like this for quite some time."

"I used to think about what you'd look like ... and wonder if you'd like me looking.... Or doing anything else.... I mostly thought about kissing you. It seemed ... innocent enough, something you wouldn't object to, if you knew what I was thinking.... But there was more. There was more when I couldn't stop thinking, sometimes."

"What more was there, Subaru-kun?"

"I'd think about kissing your mouth first, because that's... that's what you're supposed to kiss, after all. But then... I'd think about kissing your throat, and your chest. I wondered if you'd like that, and I thought... I thought you would."

"Do you like kissing me, Subaru-kun?"

"Yes. Very much."

"Do you like it as much as you thought you would?"

"More," I confessed. "It's real."


Rules of play, according to the World Chess Federation (FIDE):

The game of chess is played between two opponents who move their pieces alternately on a square board called a 'chessboard'. The player with the white pieces commences the game. A player is said to 'have the move', when his opponent's move has been made. The objective of each player is to place the opponent's king 'under attack' in such a way that the opponent has no legal move which would avoid the 'capture' of the king on the following move. The player who achieves this goal is said to have 'checkmated' the opponent's king and to have won the game. The opponent whose king has been checkmated has lost.

It is not permitted to move a piece to a square occupied by a piece of the same colour. If a piece moves to a square occupied by an opponent's piece the latter is captured and removed from the chessboard as part of the same move. A piece is said to attack an opponent's piece if the piece could make a capture on that square

The king is said to be 'in check', if it is attacked by one or more of the opponent's pieces, even if such pieces cannot themselves move. Declaring a check is not obligatory. No piece can be moved that will expose its own king to check or leave its own king in check.

The game is won by the player who has checkmated his opponent's king. This immediately ends the game, provided that the move producing the checkmate position was a legal move. The game can also be won by the player whose opponent declares he resigns. This immediately ends the game.


In the darkness of a well-furnished apartment, one that probably cost far more than the space allocated to it is really worth, illuminated only by the light of a computer screen, a young man's hand rests across his stomach. Both the stomach and the hand are bare.

On the screen, a video file plays, one that has played many times before, one of the many saved to his hard drives. His computer has a lot of space; he can afford it. Inside the tiny box, two men, both completely naked, writhe and moan as one fucks the other into the bedsheets. One says things in a language that the young man cannot understand, though he's not certain he would want to if he could. The rhythmic pounding continues, but his eyes have ceased to follow the movement with any interest; eventually, he reaches over with his free hand and turns off the sound.

His other hand remains still as though it had been cut off from the rest of his body and left there to decay. It is still attached, however, through his arm to his body by way of his shoulder, down the length of his torso and abdomen to the cock that rests, softening, in the light grip of the hand's fingers. Though these hands were once gloved for protection from those whose eyes see more than the eyes of normal men, anyone who looked now could see the trail of cloudy, sticky liquid slowly drying on the skin.

Inside, the young man screams.


The body's circulatory system is built to do just that -- circulate, and circulate the approximately five litres of blood in the adult human body. Blood alone makes up about eight percent of body weight. He feels so much lighter to me, now that the rich liquid cannot complete the circuit. It stops, pooling out around my hand, onto my jacket, onto my face, always so warm. And then it realises it has left its body, and it cools, unable to live on without him.

A crazy thought runs through my head: I could give him my blood, and it could keep him alive. And I would, every drop in my body until I was drier than a bone, until my skin turned ashen, the way his is turning now, until I began to tremble from the cold. I can feel him begin to shiver slightly in my arms. In all the time I've known him, he's never admitted to feeling chill.

Yes, though, I could give him my blood, the doctors could come, doctors like he used to be, and they could hook us together, and even though it wouldn't save him, it would keep him alive a little longer, if only minutes, just a little while longer, and he couldn't leave me because--

Falling in love is like bleeding to death -- slow, painful, dreadful. And, once begun, inevitable.


His window overlooks the city, which is beautiful at night -- a garden of well-arranged lights in all colours, marking the places where people are. The white lights are people coming, the red lights are people going, the thick orange lights are people doing both on foot. The each light is a person, in a sense; some lights are two or three people. But where the people are, the lights are. The lights keep the boogeymen away.

He had never been a child to be afraid of the monsters under his bed or in his closet, for early on he had learned that one day he would become one of those monsters that other people fear. Back then, it seemed ridiculous to be afraid of himself. Back then.

Sometimes he sits there, alone, with a cup of English tea, and watches the nighttime city roll by. The lights begin to lessen after midnight most nights, but they never threaten to extinguish completely. Humanity never allows itself that much of a rest; always, always there is something moving, something breathing. Always there is a light.

All these points of light conspire to turn his room into a cage, courtesy of the tall floor-to-ceiling blinds that he rarely pulls away. Instead, he turns them so he can see between them. The shadows they cast look like bars.

On clear nights, sometimes, he can see the dim outline of a bridge.


Maybe people who do bad things are just lonely. Perfect rationale, for a child who knows nothing of the way of the world. For a child, maybe, who doesn't know about evil, about her own capacity for evil, or for anyone else's. She'll never learn.

Only a child could look at someone who has hurt her -- killed her -- and say, no, it's all right, my killer didn't really mean it. My killer was just lonely, and that's why I'm dead. Only a child could believe that much in how good and pure people are, because people aren't. They're terrible things, things that act out of their own selfishness and don't think about anyone else. She doesn't know that there are two kinds of people -- the kind that hurt and the kind that get hurt. She was unlucky enough to be in the second group and she doesn't even know it.

She doesn't know what she's talking about. She doesn't even know what death is, not really. She never got a chance to live. You live long enough, you become afraid of death because life is--

Lonely. Sure. Lots of people are lonely. Lots of people don't kill little girls. It doesn't make any sense.


"What are you reading?"

I didn't even look up. "Poetry."

"Read it to me?"

"I thought you were going to sleep."

He stretched out beneath the covers, so thin, so very thin. Bones, he made me think of the first time I saw him as an adult, bones supporting a work of exquisite beauty. Unnaturally green eyes, hair the colour of mica, skin of soft alabaster; the Greek gods could not have created such a masterpiece. So thin, so beautiful. I wonder if Pygmalion felt like this, felt responsible for creating such a preternaturally splendid work and then feeling it warm beneath his lips when he bent to kiss it. "I'm not sleepy."

"All right," I conceded, moving so he could curl up next to me and place his head against my shoulder. "But you're not going to understand it."

"Read it anyway," he entreated, eyes wide. "I like hearing your voice."

No one could ever know how difficult it is to refuse those eyes, that face, because I wager no one had ever attempted to refuse them before. "'He knelt beside her pillow, in the dead watch of the night / And he heard her gentle breathing, but her face was still and white / And on her poor, wan cheek a tear told how the heart can weep / And he said, "My love was weary -- God bless her! she's asleep."'"

He watched my lips as I read, my perfect beauty beside me. He could not possibly have understood my words, and yet I know he did. Which made me suddenly wonder why I had chosen to read that at all.


He shouts at you as he leaves. Or he would be shouting, were he anyone else. Instead, the tone of his anger is carried in the sobs that garble his words. But you can hear him clearly enough.

"I love you," he gasps, clenching his fists in his coat. The sleeves of the coat hide the bruises on his wrists, just as the high collar of his mock turtleneck hides the bruises on his neck. Those bruises aren't going to fade for days. You put them there. Are you proud of yourself?

Of course you're not. It was only necessary. You would never hurt him more than is necessary.

Necessary for what?

"I love you," he repeats, drawing his sleeve across his eyes. His eye, his good eye. "Do you hear me? I love you. I've loved you for nine fucking years and it's gotten me nothing but this. Why can't you believe me?" He shakes, leaning against the door frame; one clenched fist hits the wall to punctuate the word believe. "You're the only thing I have left. You're all I have. Seishirou-san, you're my entire world. And I've never ... I'd never--" Tired, out of words, he slumps again, looking to you for some sort of response more than the blank look you've been giving him.

"Are you done?" is all you can find to say.

His face falls even further than you ever thought possible. "I am now," he whispers, turning and practically running out the door. It slams behind him and he is gone.


My communication with my grandmother has been reduced to a lengthy game of telephone tag, for the most part. I call when I know she will not be home and leave my messages; she calls back and speaks to my answering machines. I have e-mail -- I have a computer -- but she does not, and even if she did, I don't believe she would take well to having her grandson's voice disappear from his already one-sided, terse messages.

She doesn't bother with the normal decorum of answering machines when she calls me, for she probably knows I'm never further away from the phone than I am from the cigarette I'm smoking while I listen to her. My answering machine has no time limit. She could talk the length of the tape if she wanted to.

"I worry for you," she says in parting, her voice sounding metallic. "Are you taking care of yourself? Are you eating well? Please, call and let me know."

I'm not taking care of myself. I haven't eaten much of substance in days. But I'll call again -- tonight, perhaps, or tomorrow when she's out -- and I'll tell her that everything's fine. And she'll know it's a lie, but she'll accept it. It's the only comfort we have.


Every time you cried my heart nearly broke. Every tear you shed was another chip in my armour, another excuse to grow my shell thicker and thicker until even I couldn't see beneath. It was easier when I could pretend I cared.

The dog gnawed on your gloved thumb; blind, sick, it didn't know what it was doing. It whimpered every time it exhaled, its shaggy golden chest falling wearily. It was old; it had lived too long and the only thing stopping it from dying was that it didn't know how. These things were far too obvious. And yet you cried and clutched it when I told you it would have to be put down.

"I'm sorry, Subaru-kun," I said, placing my hand on your shoulder. "It's really the kindest thing to do."

You sniffed and buried your face in its fur; it whined a little and wheezed. "What if she doesn't want to die?" you asked, desperate now. "What if -- what if she's just...."

"Subaru-kun," I said softly, and you looked up at me, perfect green eyes stained red with crying. "Look at her, Subaru-kun. Look at her. She's in a lot of pain and there's no way it's ever going to stop. It can't be made better. It just has to be ended."

With this, you sobbed anew, as though it were your heart breaking, and you clutched her close once more. I stroked your hair. "She doesn't know how to ask for what she wants," I continued. "All she knows is she can't see and she can't breathe, and it hurts just to live."

"But--" you protested. "But to ... to kill her is--"

"The only merciful act I have left."

You said nothing following this, nothing at all, but as I stroked your hair your sobs subsided, and eventually you lifted your head and nodded once. I smiled and ran my knuckles beneath your eyes, drying the tears that always threatened to break into me and show you more than I ever intended. "Would you like to hold her?" You nodded.

The dog barely flinched as the first needle pierced its skin; it whimpered once more, then shut its eyes, its breathing regular and painless. You watched me with your eyes wide as I solemnly injected the solution that would stop its heart. And you held it as it died.

Later that evening, as I drove you home, you said nothing until we were at your door. I stopped the car, turned, and looked at you; you were staring forward, though I doubt you saw anything beyond the scratches and dirt on the windshield, if even that.

"We're home, Subaru-kun," I entreated softly. "Hokuto-chan will be expecting you for meals."

Your gaze did not move. "Seishirou-san?"

"Yes, Subaru-kun?"

"Does it -- does it hurt?"

"The animal?" I shook my head and reached for you. "Perhaps for an instant, but then--"

"Not the dog," you responded, leaning away unconsciously, moving your body just beyond my arm's unobtrusive reach. "You."

I stared at you for a moment before dropping my hand and unfastening my seatbelt. "It does," I nodded, looking away. "But in the end it hurts less than leaving a poor creature in pain. It's a hard lesson, Subaru-kun, but an important one. But it's still a hard lesson, and one you don't learn all in one day. Now, shall we go eat?"

You nodded and gave me a brave smile. This time, when I reached to touch you, you let me.


Most nights, were one to become an uninvited guest and somehow enter a particularly well-furnished apartment in a high-rent district of Tokyo, one would see two men curled together in a large poster bed made of thick cherrywood. The taller would be stretched on his right side, turned away both from the door and from his companion. The other would be on his side as well, his right side, tucked as closely to the first man as he can possibly place himself. The height difference occasionally makes this a little awkward, and one would imagine that the smaller man could not possibly be comfortable, but he sleeps, and he sleeps soundly.

Similarly, most nights, one could, upon much examination, discern that the taller man is not asleep. Sometimes his eyes are open, sometimes they are shut; there seems to be little difference and no preference between the two states. If he keeps his eyes open, he stares at the wall, saying nothing and making no motion to move.

Some nights, however, the customarily wakeful one has turned to face the other man, to drape his long arm protectively over his lover's waist. These are also the nights both men sleep.


The eye is a magnificent organ. So delicate, so intricate that medical science has found a way to augment its vision prior to failure, but cannot replace what is not there.

Losing half my vision was not a torment. The world was reduced to a monocular perspective, and I did have the occasional incident with misjudging depth perception -- many glasses died for my sins -- but I still had my other eye.

Alone in the hospital, I'd stare at the ceiling, trying to judge the distance. Ten feet? Fifteen? What I saw was the height of the ceiling. Then I'd extend my hand and stare at it, learning the distance of my arm, and how it related to the height of the ceiling. Distance and relation, everything became again, distance and relation.

Sometimes at night I'd stare out the window and wonder how distant was the place I was born. But I couldn't see that far.


"I've had whores before," Seishirou hissed softly, drawing as close as a predator, taking each of the Sumeragi's marked hands in his larger ones, holding him tight, "but never any so ashamed of their profession."

This was not how it should have been. Subaru's good eye flew open. "Wh-what?"

"Whore," the assassin repeated matter-of-factly. "I take it you're familiar with the term."

He tried to tug his hands away, but only succeeded in bruising his wrists against the vise-like grip that held them. "I don't -- Seishirou-san?" A note of panic crept into his voice.

A bit of unfair leverage moved them both closer to the bed; the mattress stopped their progress, and Subaru ended up leaning back, against the bed, against his will. His lover's -- he must have been mad to think of him as such right now -- terrifyingly calm grin hovered above him. "Seishirou-san, what -- Seishirou-san!" He tried to push back against the bed, to gain some sort of advantage, but he had not even space in which to think.

"Yes, Subaru-kun?" The tone of voice that spoke those words sounded eerily that of the veterinarian from so many years ago. "What is it?"

He knew. Subaru was nearly paralyzed by the thought for a moment. Somehow he knew how close the Dragon of Heaven had grown to his Kamui, what had happened -- nothing happened! -- between the two of them. Somehow, he had seen. "What are you doing?" he asked in a voice that, correspondingly, sounded all too like that of a frightened sixteen-year-old.

That smile, that smug smile, always the same damnable smile. "I simply thought that if you wished to become a whore, you should learn to expect how others will treat you." Sakurazukamori lowered his head to kiss the smooth, white skin hiding beneath Sumeragi's jawline, nipping slightly with his teeth. "Oh, there's nothing to be ashamed of; world's oldest profession, and all that. But it's important not to make uninformed decisions. Especially when you're lying beside those you've sworn to protect."

Oh, he knew. "I... no, I'm not... I'm not a whore, Seishirou-san, please..."

"If you're going to argue that you didn't receive payment, I'll tell you the definition is much older and less specific than that," Seishirou whispered softly, gently. He began to trail a hand down Subaru's left arm, evoking a violent shudder mixed with terror and -- though horribly inappropriate -- arousal. But fear was winning.

"You're wrong," he whispered helplessly. "Seishirou-san, I love you."

"No." The look on his lover's face was completely impassive. "I don't think you do." In a moment so fast Subaru's mind barely had time to register it, they were both back fully onto the bed, so fast it hurt. One hand hovered at Subaru's delicate throat. "But it doesn't matter."


You looked at me like you were thinking about hitting me; I could see it written on your face, even though there was really nothing to see. After long enough with you, I'd learned when you were hiding something important. But I could never tell what it was you were hiding. I cringed; I was afraid.

Not that you'd hit me, or that you'd hurt me. I didn't care. I just didn't want you to tell me to leave. I lived in constant fear of that. I didn't know what I'd do. Cry? Shout? Beg? Hang my head and walk out? I didn't know.

When you're born a twin, like I was, being alone is a really scary thing. There was always the two of us, and then we three were always together. And then I was alone, horribly, terribly alone. And then I found you again.

And now I was certain you were going to send me away, and it was all my fault. My stupid wish had brought this upon me. I hadn't fought -- I was too weak to fight successfully, but I still could have battled against him, I could have screamed and protested and sworn that this was not at all what I wanted. But look at him and believing he was you, I couldn't lie. I've never lied to you.

Don't you understand? I wanted this because I belong to you.


I have always professed to feel nothing for anyone, and for the vast majority of the time I mean it. However, could I have allowed myself the luxury of hating someone, that someone would have been he.

When first I saw the space where your eye should have been -- when first I peeled back the bandage to behold the red, tender wound -- I know I showed no expression at all, even when I should have been smiling. A smile would have taken more concentration than I was willing to give it. I needed my attention to keep from anger.

Anger is an easy emotion to surface -- just below the skin of human consciousness, and very natural. If someone takes what is yours, you become angry. If someone lies to you, you become angry. If someone damages the one thing in the world that means anything to you anymore ... as I said, very natural.

You bowed your head and looked away; I knew you were ashamed not only that it had happened, but that you had wished it to happen. The fear was written all over your face: you were damaged goods now; I might not want you. Fear is another very natural reaction.

Never before had I so desperately wanted to name you to your face the most beautiful thing in all the world.


Every time he knocked, he had to deal with the fear that Seishirou might not be home, that his entire trip across the city might have been foolish and that he might have to go back with his metaphorical tail between his legs. And every time he knocked, if he waited long enough, almost to the time he knew he shouldn't wait any longer, the door would open.

And open it did, this time, revealing the curious face of a man who did not have to look to know Subaru was on the other side of the door. For a moment, Subaru's lower lip quavered, and then he broke into a bright smile. And the door shut.

The sound of the latch closing again hit him almost like a physical blow; he took a few steps back until his back hit the opposite wall of the hallway. What did this mean? He had never been shut out like this before. Never before had Seishirou made it quite clear that he had seen Subaru on the other side of the door and then deliberately turned him away. What was he supposed to do? Beat on the door and cry? Sit there patiently and knock again? Go home?

He didn't have to wonder long. The door opened again, and this time Seishirou exited, locking the door behind him with a key on a plain keyring. He wore his overcoat, and a pair of dark glasses covered the inconsistency in his eyes.

"Sei-seishirou-san?" Subaru stuttered, eyeing the older man curiously.

Turning the key, Seishirou looked over his shoulder. "Yes?"

Subaru blinked again. "I ... are we ... why are you ... do you--"

"Are you hungry?" The smile painted across Seishirou's lips was far from a natural expression, but it was not unkind. Quite the contrary, Sakurazukamori looked almost benevolent, his hands resting gently in the pockets of his dark suit.

"Am I ... hungry?" Subaru swallowed hard. "I ... suppose...."

Seishirou gestured in the direction of the doorway. "Then shall we go eat?"

Like a date? Subaru's mind thought before he could stop it, and he brought one of his hands to his lips to make sure that his mouth didn't follow suit. But he couldn't stop the giggle that escaped. Walking now as though someone had replaced the ground beneath his feet with air, he followed along gladly behind Seishirou down the hallway towards the elevator.


How could I not have loved you from the start? You were everything I could possibly have wanted -- charming, handsome, smart, successful, witty, and interested in me. At first I didn't know what to say when you fawned all over me -- I though it was strange, I though you were playing some kind of joke on me. But you seemed so sincere ... and I was afraid that if I had called your bluff, you would have stopped. I didn't want you to stop.

I never knew if you understood how much I loved you. I gave you my heart, and I am not cruel enough to take it back. You needed me to love you, I told myself, but I needed to love you just as much. When Hokuto died, she took her half of my heart with her. Everything I had left belonged to you.


What was I to do with this boy in my arms? This boy who had wandered onto my kill as though he had never sensed anything wrong, this boy whom I was now obligated by the traditions of my position to kill? Do you know, as far as unexpected events go, what a pain you were?

Particularly when you opened your eyes and looked at me, and jumped from my arms all tiny robes and apologies. I recovered, of course, but for a moment, something inside my heart twitched with awakening. And that was all it took.

So yes, the first emotion I ever felt was love. But the second, coming like a hungry wolf on its heels, was fear.


All I want is for him to say my name, to acknowledge my existence, to do anything save roll over and fall asleep when all I want is for him to hold me. Just my name. Just once. This never happens. I don't know why I wait for it.

I roll out of the bed, wincing as my feet touch the floor and my weight shifts back to vertical from horizontal. My body hurts. He hadn't been gentle with me. I hadn't wanted him to be. As quietly as I can, I steal away into the bathroom and shut the door behind me, waiting until it's completely closed to turn on the light.

The face that greets me from the other side of the mirror is almost completely unfamiliar. Once upon a time I could look in the mirror and see her with me, see the sister with my face. If Hokuto had come to me looking like I do now, I would have broken down crying over her and asked who had done such a thing to her. Nobody has done this to me. I have done it to myself.

I turn both faucets beneath my hands, waiting for the water to warm. I try not to look at myself too much. Looking just reminds me. Instead I reach up and unwrap the bandages, layer by layer, undoing the careful job some poor orderly had to do for me. It hurts, but not unbearably. I have other pain to concentrate on.

The bandages go into the sink; I have to wash them so I can put them on again. I don't have anything else. I wet a washcloth and bring it to my face. This makes my head swim a little, and I stagger backward in an attempt not to fall down. But the pain and resulting nausea both pass, and I dab again, this time a little harder. But not hard enough to make me cry. If I cry, I have to start over again.

A sick inspiration overtakes me, and I put the washcloth down to rest with the bandages in the sink. Taking both hands, I lean as close to the mirror as I can and part the swollen flesh around my right eye. I bite my lower lip. My good eye waters almost so much that I can't see, but I blink away the tears and force myself to look. I have to know.

There it is. Inside my own head, an eye just like his. Blank. Empty. I cannot see out of it, but I can see it, now. Red lines cross it, blood vessels I've been told will heal eventually, and when they do, the iris will be white. Just like his. Another wave of nausea overtakes me, this having nothing to do with physical sensation, and I nearly throw up. What am I doing? If I can't have him, I'll become him? Is that my plan?

Standing here, staring at my mutilated, ugly reflection, I can suppose nothing different.


Sometimes he hoped the Tree had feasted well on Hokuto. It hadn't eaten since.

He wasn't doing so well, either. His family had money, and whether or not they cared for him that money was at his disposal. And his family liked him even less than they had liked Setsuka. At least she had deigned to stay locked up like the madwoman she had been. At least she had chosen a successor. At least she had fed the monstrosity that was the family's source of all power.

He was, by his own account, the worst Sakurazukamori that had ever been.

So he had holed up in the house that had been his and his mother's, the house where he had become Sakurazukamori, and he had arranged for servants to arrive at appropriate intervals, and he had waited, and he had Worked. And he had not killed in eleven months.

His time away from Japan had taught him how to manage the headaches the Tree provided him -- meditation, relaxation, and all the interesting diversions he could find. His current abode afforded him none of the third and little of the second, so he meditated. And still he waited.

Rogue assassin onmyouji hardly have a uniform, and yet he knew his ties and dark suits had become something of an identifying mark to him. How little, he mused, would Subaru recognise him now, folded not in Armani but in layers of kimono made from heavy, hand-embroidered black silk. The outfit served no ritual purpose, had nothing at all in common with Subaru's shikifuku, and yet he felt it helped him concentrate.

The empty room was lit only by the handful of candles that surrounded Seishirou's kneeling figure; a tiny brass lamp let a cloud of incense trail into the heavy air. He had scarce left the house -- or this position, even --in these months. He had needed time to think.

No, Subaru would have had great difficulty recognising this man -- far past lean to gaunt, dark hollows under his eyes, black hair reaching to just past his shoulders, the remnants of a beard half-shaven several days ago. Even the way he moved had changed; his customary grace had been replaced unbeknownst to him with a strange broken gait, the movements of a clumsy marionette. He had needed time to think. About what, he could not have said.

And so it was here, thinking, that he came to the necessary conclusion. No trumpets heralded the great moment of enlightenment, for there was no great moment-- it was a slow, deep understanding, and when it was complete, he knew what was expected of him and what it was he had to do.

Standing, he let the kimono fall from his body until he stood naked in the candlelight. Outside, a storm blew the branches of the trees against the glass panes; they scratched as though they were trying to get at the man inside. He cast a mismatched glance in their direction, then smiled and walked to the only table in the room. On it sat an unopened pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He hadn't smoked in months, and the first cigarette was dry, dry and stale. And yet he smoked it to the filter, snubbed it out on the floor, walked to the doors, and threw them open wide.

Outside, the wind screamed its outrage; it blew the branches, long overgrown, across his bare chest, drawing blood. He smiled and let his head fall back, not even flinching when the tree drew a red line across his throat. The storm drenched him quickly; he let his head fall back, letting his hair drip water down his bare back. The rain mixed with the blood from the scrapes on his body, stinging and washing them both away.

He would get dressed and kill tonight. And the next night, and the next, until it once more came naturally to him. There was no more need to wonder. It had been decided for him.


"I want...." His voice catches in his throat, and he buries his face in Seishirou's neck, nuzzling the rich material of the older man's skin. His hands roam the broad expanse of back beneath his fingers; now that they have been allowed the gift of touch, they want nothing more than to touch, to memorise the feel of every inch of him.

Smiling his customary grin, though perhaps now with more than a hint of lust curving at its edges, the older onmyouji whispers, "What do you want, Subaru-kun?" His own hands rub at Subaru's sides, bunching up the fabric of his tight black shirt and smoothing it again.

"I want to feel you," Subaru murmurs lowly, and though he blushes slightly he is not ashamed in the least. He draws his body closer to the taller man's; he is shaking slightly, unsure of how much longer he can stand here. "Please, Seishirou-san, I want to feel you." His breathing comes heavy and warm from his lips.

Seishirou presses his thigh against Subaru's clothed erection, tightening his hands across his skin. "I'm right here, Subaru-kun."

Subaru gasps, shaking his head. "No, I want to feel you. Hard. Hot. In me. I want you to touch me, to put your hands on me. I want you in me and moving. I want you deep inside. It's good. You're so... so... so large," he whispers, his voice heavy with lust. "When you're inside of me you're all I can feel."

"And is that what you want?" Harshly, Seishirou pulls their bodies together; he reaches down and lifts Subaru's chin with his hand, stroking at the soft, pale skin there.

"That's all I want." Two clear green eyes shine back at him. "I couldn't want anything else."


Words shouldn't make a difference. They never made a difference to you, after all; why did you choose words with which to console me, when you knew all too well how little they mean? When I told you that I loved you, you said that I did not, so I didn't use those words again. I never will. You of all people had no right.

I couldn't even find you when you were alive. Don't think I didn't try. I couldn't find you when you were only a few inches from me, breathing my breath. Breathing my name. Smiling all the while like the joke was on me. But, you know, I don't think it was. Whatever you found so amusing your entire life, it wasn't me. Maybe it was yourself. Trapped in an eternal hell of what I'm feeling now. I'm not smiling, but it wouldn't be so difficult to do, and I suppose if I were careless I could curve my lips and forget that I had done so and just leave them that way. Forever. People would look at me and wonder, and I would never know.

You didn't smile like that when I was sixteen, so I think you must have smiled when you broke my heart and just never stopped. And now perhaps I will simply be blank forever. It's almost comforting.

Did you smile when you killed your mother? Did she? Did you ever think about her afterwards, did you ever miss her? Did you love her? Did she love you? I guess against that, destroying me is nothing. By the end, I didn't care if I was nothing, I just wanted to be snuffed out. You wouldn't even do that.

Did you see? When your hand went through my heart, I smiled at you, I smiled a smile you hadn't seen in years. Perfect trust, perfect joy. I could have cried, I was so happy, it hurt so much. Do you understand? I was about to thank you, I was finally going to say goodbye. And everything was ripped away.

So now ... in a way, I guess my wish was granted, if only for a moment. Some people will never even get that much. I suppose this is the definition of bittersweet. Your words to me ring in my ears and I can't shut them out; it all makes sense without them, but it makes so much more sense with them. I almost wish you hadn't told me. I almost wish I didn't know. It doesn't make the last ten years of my life any more worthwhile. Or yours, for that matter.

But for what it's worth--


When first I learned about the nature of Sakurazukamori, I remember laughing. Why would one so powerful choose a successor when he could simply keep that power to himself? Who would give it up; who would choose to die? Who would ever want to die? And so, there, kissing my mother's dead lips, my mother who had loved me and had died because of it, I vowed I would not.

When your heart called out to mine and mine answered, I was afraid. I was coldly, terribly afraid. When one's plan for living forever is never to fall in love -- an impossible thing, by one's reckoning -- and one suddenly finds the impossible becoming a certainty ... things change. One acts in a manner perhaps irrational in an attempt to stave this away, to convince one's self that this isn't love, this is at best confusion.

And so the bet. You never understood the bet. So much else of what I said was false -- why could you not believe my declaration that you had lost the bet to be a lie as well? The most obvious falsehood I ever uttered you swallowed whole and built your life around for nearly a decade. And I nearly believed it myself. But what would I have done had you called my bluff? Beaten you more, most likely, trying to convince you not nearly so much as trying to convince myself. Broken more bones, bruised more skin. Killed you? Possibly.

Except I could not have killed you, even had I wanted to; I know this now. Destiny is a cruel mistress, and she will bend the rules of the game until she gets what she wants. No, it's not fair. The equation must, in the end, equal one. Against that, the cards are stacked.

So much I could never explain to you.

Not now, though. I'm afraid I have to bring this conversation to a premature close. My lungs, I'm afraid, have not the strength necessary left to draw air.

You see, choosing to live forever is a decision you have to live with for a very long time. And I'm too tired of it to carry on. And I'm so sorry.


I can smell him. I close my eyes and all I know in all the world is the scent that covers my hands and my coat. I don't think I'll ever get that smell out from underneath my fingernails. I'll never stop feeling his heart around my fist, and I'll never stop hearing that catch in his breath. As long as I can still smell him, maybe he won't really be gone.


That can and will be my only defence -- that this was destined to happen. Destiny does not work like the surface of a lake, where one disturbance changes everything; think of it, if you will, more as a math problem wherein all the numbers and symbols are set cold at the beginning. No matter how or where you may begin, all condense to a single irrefutable answer. That answer is you. You are put into the next equation, to get someone else's answer, but you cannot change your own solution, nor can you choose it. Nor can you escape it.

Don't ask me for my reasons. I did what was necessary. What would you have had me do? I thought I could live forever. I thought I could make you a killer. I failed. Or maybe I succeeded; it's so hard to say. Your first victim fell rather successfully. Or is falling. There is always, I suppose, room for miracles. But miracles aren't supposed to be cruel.

Whether there is a Great Judge or I am brought before a crocodile to see if it will eat my recently broken heart, this is all I can say: I tried and I failed, and I have hurt beyond all reparations the only thing I could ever have learned to love in a desperate attempt to save him further hurt.

I looked into your mismatched eyes, tragically like mine; you still didn't understand. You never understood, and I could never help. I could only break you again, and again, and again, until all that was left of you was shards beneath my feet. And yet, if I called them mine, would you let me claim them? And if I asked you to forgive me, would we even know how to begin?


High above the city, in a fairly luxurious apartment for only one man, a book sits atop a neatly made bed, its pages held open by a thin filigreed gold bookmark. When he enters that evening, his coat and hands still stained with his lover's dark blood, he will see the book and will pick it up, and will painstakingly make his way through the verses in English on the page. And what he sees will be this:

Be near me when my light is low,
    When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
    And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
    Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
    And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.
Be near me when my faith is dry,
    And men the flies of latter spring,
    That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.
Be near me when I fade away,
    To point the term of human strife,
    And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.

And then he will have to stop, exhausted by the effort of translation and the overwhelming weight of grief, and he will shut his eyes and fall asleep, horribly, terribly alone.


There is a certain peace to be found in this, but not a peace to make me smile. Not now, and not ever again. I have not the energy; my only true expression is this, this visage of quiet peace, as this peace is all I have left and is all I shall be given. The peace that passes all understanding, I suppose, even though I understand it now. Slowly, it comes, creeping in until it cannot be refused any longer. The rest, my beloved, is silence.

Falling in love is like bleeding to death. Now I can finally admit I have done both.

home * fiction * original * nonfiction * links * livejournal