December 31st, New Year’s Eve
Kamui struggled to hide a yawn as he stepped off the train, hitching his overstuffed duffle further up his shoulder. Even the dim lights illuminating Edogawa Station were too bright, a stark contrast to the lanterns and candles he’d grown used to during the past several weeks. Kamui held his fingers discretely under his nose, hoping to block some of the scents out. Tokyo didn’t have an overwhelming stench, but the air was different. He could smell the incense lingering on his own clothes, and it didn’t mesh well with the smell of the city.
Kamui moved through the station quietly, surprised to find it near-empty. Aside from the employees, the only people he could see were the ones who had stepped off the train with him: a couple walking hand-in-hand, and a boy with a pair of headphones covering his ears, the wire trailing under the flap of his backpack. No hustle, no crowds. Edogawa Station was peaceful, in a way. Kamui hadn’t expected that, even with the holiday.
Before leaving the station, Kamui glanced up at the large clock hanging above the exit. He had a little less than fifteen minutes until midnight. If the streets weren’t too crowded, he would have plenty of time to reach the shrine. A small part of him felt guilty, though. Karen and Yuzuriha had both invited him to spend the New Year at their respective celebrations, but he’d rejected them both. It was likely that Karen thought he’d be staying with Lady Sumeragi through the New Year, and Kamui hadn’t corrected her. He’d have to call her, of course, so his return wasn’t completely unexpected, but that could wait.
First, Kobayashi Shrine.
Bells rang out into the night, signaling the beginning of another year. Kamui had chosen Kobayashi Shrine for the lack of festivities, but the bells of the shrine still joined in the tolling. From his perch on the roof, Kamui wondered about who it could be. Kobayashi Shrine was set to be destroyed in the following weeks, to make way for some kind of office building.
Kamui wouldn’t be happy to see it go. True to its name, behind the shrine there was a small, man-made forest. Kamui often found himself walking down the stone paths, relaxing in the peaceful atmosphere. Now, well . . . nothing good lasted forever, it seemed.
He shook his head, pressing his back against the tiles of the roof. He focused on the bells, ringing in a new year. 2003. 2003. He’d never expected to make it this far. So many hadn’t—Arashi, Sorata, Saiki.
His mind protested. Not true. It wasn’t as if Subaru was dead; it was just that nobody had seen him in years. After Subaru had taken up the position of Sakurazukamori, he’d hovered on the sidelines of the final battle, not helping or harming either side. In the end, when the fighting finally ended, he’d vanished.
When Kamui was able to finally look for him, Subaru’s trail had vanished as well. Then, Kamui had thought he was the only one looking for Subaru, the only one who still believed he hadn’t changed. Now, Kamui knew better. The Lady Sumeragi was searching as well. She reasoned that Subaru was the last successor of the family line, but Kamui knew it was more than that. Subaru was her grandchild, and she didn’t want to lose what little family she had left.
Not that Kamui would tell Lady Sumeragi he suspected that. He had been to see her several times—to wander through the halls of Subaru’s childhood home, and at the Lady’s own request—and while Kamui was sure she was kindhearted, she was still intimidating. Even so, without Lady Sumeragi, Kamui wasn’t sure where he’d be. When Kamui felt like he had nothing left to offer, she had given him purpose. He’d never have thought to try onmyoudou on his own. Lady Sumeragi had guided him. Kamui’s skill would never match up to Subaru’s, but . . .
There was nothing else Kamui was good at.
He had refused to return to school. Keiichi had tried several times to convince Kamui to come back to school, eventually falling out of contact as the workload increased and Kamui continued to avoid replying. Things were better that way. These days Kamui was careful to keep the supernaturally disinclined out of his life. Instead, Imonoyama gave him the occasional odd job. Kamui was happy to help, though he knew he could never really repay the hospitality and support that Imonoyama had shown him.
Becoming an onmyouji—or an imitation of one, anyway—was the closest Kamui could get to doing something meaningful: bringing peace to spirits so they could pass on, or protecting humans from darker entities.
It was not an easy job. Kamui had noticed his own lack of power in the months following the battle. Fuuma’s power had grown with Kamui’s, and so it seemed the reverse was true. But Kamui had been left with enough, and something extra. He wouldn’t go as far as to say he could see the dead, but he could sense spirits and hostiles well enough to perform the most basic of rituals. Kamui couldn’t quite see himself evolving past the basics. Lady Sumeragi had done what she could to help, but you couldn’t teach someone to run if they’d never learned to walk, and she’d made it clear that the Sumeragi family no longer had any business being in Tokyo. If Kamui was there, he would be without a mentor.
Even so, Kamui could never imagine a life somewhere else. Despite all the death and destruction he’d seen, Tokyo was his home.
Kamui inhaled slowly, suppressing a shiver as the wind picked up. He pressed a hand to the serpentine sculpture snaking around the roof of the shrine to keep his balance, pulling his phone from his pocket. He dialed the number he now knew by heart, bringing the phone up to his ear.
He didn’t have to wait long for the call to connect. Several background noises Kamui couldn’t place filtered through the speaker, but Karen’s was the loudest. “Kamui?”
“Hey,” he replied, shifting closer to the roof as the wind picked up again.
“. . .ere ar . . . ou?”
Kamui moved around the roof slowly, keeping one hand on the stone. It was difficult to hear her with both the wind and the bells still tolling in the background, from his and her side, but he understood the gist of it. “I’m in Edogawa.”
“E . . . awa?” Karen asked. “W . . . re you . . . there?”
Sulking? She probably wouldn’t approve of the sarcasm. In fact, she would probably come to Edogawa herself, just to drag him toward civilization.
He decided to toe the line of honesty. “I’m visiting a shrine. I don’t think I’ll make it to your party, though.”
“Kamui . . .” There was a brief pause on Karen’s end before the noise in the background softened, as if she’d separated from the crowd. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” He dropped the hand that had been tracing across the scales of the stone serpent.
“I haven’t seen you since you came back from Kyoto.” Karen continued.
“I did just get back,” he said. “Really, Karen, I’m alright. I’ll be home later.”
“If you’re sure.” She sighed. “I worry about you, you know.”
“I know.” He would worry about himself too, if he were in her shoes.
She sighed again, resigned. “Say prayer for me while you’re there? I doubt I’ll make it to a temple tonight.”
“I always do.” Kamui moved, sliding down the curve of the roof, grabbing another part of the structure to steady himself before he went over the edge. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“It is tomorrow,” Karen said, tone warming. “Isn’t that something?”
“Yeah.” He leaned against the stone. “I guess so.”
Karen’s reply was lost to him as the final bell tolled, loud enough to drown out her words. Kamui winced as cheering came through Karen’s line, nearly as loud as the echoes of the bell. He disconnected the call, slipping the phone back into his pocket.
Carefully, Kamui knelt on the roof, gripping the edge. He flipped himself over the ledge, hanging still for a moment before dropping swiftly to his feet. A jolt shocked its way up through his ankles on the impact, protesting the rough treatment. Kamui ignored it.
Another strong gust of wind swept through the courtyard, sending sparse brown leaves deeper into the temple grounds. Kamui turned to watch them go, folding his arms in attempt to keep himself warm. He should have brought a jacket. His duffle, sitting untouched by the steps leading up to the building, was stuffed with lightweight clothing. He still considered himself lucky that Lady Sumeragi didn’t force him to wear the traditional onmyouji robes. That, she said, was a rite reserved only for the true masters of the art, though he suspected she may have just said that to spare him the task.
Kamui closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He could smell smoke in the air, and the faint smell of food drifting up from the city-wide festivals. He could smell hints of apricot and orchid from the trees around the temple, and . . .
“Cherry blossoms?” He murmured to himself, opening his eyes.
Among the leaves skirting across the ground, small pink petals were blowing along with them. It wasn’t out of place to see cherry blossoms at a temple, even so far out of season. Still . . . something pulled at his mind. It was hard to pinpoint, but . . . the whole scene felt overwhelmingly wrong. On any other night, Kamui would call it coincidence, but on this night . . .
Go home, the voice in the back of his mind told him. Go home, and forget.
Abruptly, a thought came to mind, as if yanked out of his subconscious. It wasn’t unheard of during the New Year celebrations for many impressive figures to pray at sparsely populated shrines—celebrities, icons, and especially politicians—in order to avoid the crowds of people that could recognize them. Kamui had spent enough time on the roofs of said temples to see men and women in suits get out of sleek cars and vanish into the temple grounds for an hour or two at a time. Politicians were targets, for enemies and for . . .
Seishirou Sakurazuka had killed politicians when he was the Sakurazukamori, Lady Sumeragi had said. She’d told him a lot about the man during the first few times Kamui had visited her—looking for answers, looking for anything that might hint to where Subaru had disappeared to—but it was that fact that stood out in his mind now.
Subaru was the Sakurazukamori now.
Go home now, the voice urged. Run.
Instead, he turned toward the trees behind the shrine. Winter had been kind to Tokyo this year in that there hadn’t been much snow, but that made seeing through the trees difficult at this time of night without a white backdrop. All he could do was follow the cracked stone path further into the grounds.
The scent of apricot and orchid was gone now, fully replaced by the strong scent of cherry blossoms. It was almost too much to take. He could all but taste them as he took an open-mouthed breath.
His self-preservation, or what little he had of it, was beginning to kick in, urging him to turn back around. He ignored it, pressing forward with single-minded focus. The path through the grounds led him into unfamiliar territory, twisting and curving past unkempt bushes and half-finished plots where flowers would have been planted when the seasons changed. Now, with the shrine set to be torn down, the soil was uneven and strewn across the path.
Kamui wasn’t sure how long he wandered the path, but he was certain he should have reached the perimeter of the grounds eventually. Instead, a strange pressure gradually made itself known, centering at the base of his neck. He continued on, despite the queasy feeling in his stomach. It took everything in him not to stop and take a break. If he did, he didn’t think he could convince himself to keep going.
At the next turn, something seemed to ripple around him, like walking through an electric charge. Immediately, Kamui felt the sickness fade. He’d reached the eye of the storm. Ahead was a small clearing, the perimeter surrounded by trees linked together by shimenawa. In the center of the clearing, far from the others, loomed a cherry blossom tree.
Kamui could barely remember how to breathe. The tree was fresh, blooming in full, and clearly out of place; off in a way that he felt he should remember, but he hadn’t gotten there yet. Wrong.
Perhaps, though, that particular feeling was coming from the man leaning against the trunk of the cherry tree.
It had been years since he’d seen Subaru, and the man hadn’t changed—or, rather, if he had it wasn’t for the better. He was dressed in black, gloves covering his fingers as he cradled a cigarette between them, mismatched eyes rooting Kamui to the spot.
“Kamui,” Subaru returned somewhat shortly, “I wondered if you’d come.”
Kamui didn’t want to dwell on the words—had he been lured there?—but he couldn’t find any of his own to voice. Everything he’d ever planned to say to Subaru had dried up in his throat.
“It would have been better if you hadn’t,” Subaru added, his voice as disinterested as his expression.
Finally, Kamui found his voice. Unfortunately, it came out in an unceremonious rush. “For who?” Kamui blurted, taking a step forward. He stopped when Subaru’s eyes dropped to watch his feet.
“For you,” Subaru replied, eyes flicking back up. “You should have gone home from the station.”
“What--. Were you watching me?” The shock of seeing Subaru again, after so long, was quickly fading into anger—where had he been? Why had he gone, without even saying a word? Why was he here now?
“I was told Lady Sumeragi had taken a boy under her wing, with no blood relation. It’s unlike her to defy tradition.”
It had been more than a year since Lady Sumeragi had first reached out to him. Had Subaru been watching him for that long? Why hadn’t he made himself known? Kamui frowned. “So you spied on me to see if it was true?”
Subaru didn’t reply.
“You could have just asked. You could have—. You could have come back and asked. I would have told you.”
For just a moment, surprise flashed in Subaru’s eyes. It faded quickly.
“Why are you in Tokyo?” Kamui continued. “Did you come here to—” He trailed off. He couldn’t voice the accusation. Subaru wasn’t like his predecessor. Not where it counted. He wasn’t capable of murder . . . right?
Subaru spoke, scattering Kamui’s thoughts. “Tell me, then.” He said. “Is it true?”
“Is it true that Lady Sumeragi is allowing you to become an onmyouji?”
Kamui wondered when Subaru stopped referring to her as his grandmother, or if he ever had. While Subaru’s abilities were fair game to discuss with Lady Sumeragi, the man himself was not. There wasn’t much about Subaru that Kamui knew that hadn’t come from Subaru himself.
Kamui shook himself. His hesitation to answer had been noticed. “Yes.”
“Ah,” Subaru inclined his head a fraction. “You should stop.”
“It’s a dangerous job for those who aren’t cut out for it.”
Kamui stared for a moment, letting Subaru’s words sink in. “What?” The comment all but knocked the air out of him. Subaru had never been anything but supportive of Kamui in the past. To hear something so callous put so apathetically . . .
Subaru’s implication was clear. He wasn’t speaking in general terms.
“You should stop while you still can.” Subaru repeated.
Kamui’s voice felt small, and stuck in his throat. “Are you threatening me?”
“No,” Subaru’s eyebrows furrowed, casting his expression in distress. It wasn’t an emotion Kamui liked to see, but it was better than disinterest. At the very least, it meant Subaru wasn’t entirely stoic. “No, Kamui, of course not. I wouldn’t.”
“How should I know what you wouldn’t do?” Kamui bit out. The anger he’d felt before was swelling, pushing past the hurt. “You haven’t been here. You left. You aren’t allowed to just show up and tell me what to do.”
“It’s for—.” Subaru took a sharp breath, as if dealing with Kamui left him winded. “An onmyouji that abuses their power-”
“I’m not abusing anything!”
“It doesn’t have to be intentional. It can be as simple as attempting to exorcise a spirit beyond your capabilities, or taking a breath during the wrong part of an incantation. I’ve seen it happen—”
“That makes you the expert then? So, what? You came to stop me?” Kamui curled his fingers into fists. “You can’t.”
“No! You don’t get it. What else am I supposed to do?” Kamui demanded. “I can’t do anything, Subaru. There’s nothing for me to save, no battles I can fight, and I’m not good for anything else. So what am I supposed to do?”
Subaru was quiet for a moment. “You could have a normal life.”
“You don’t believe that,” Kamui said.
“You could try.”
“Do you think I didn’t?” Kamui swallowed. “When I woke up, I tried to be normal. It didn’t work. There’s nothing in Tokyo that doesn’t remind me of everything . . . of everyone.”
“You could leave Tokyo.”
“I wanted to,” Kamui said, honest despite everything. “I thought, before . . .” Before Subaru had gone off to fight Seishirou, Kamui had been stupid enough—no, hopeful enough—that there would be a future that Subaru could be happy in. He’d thought . . . he’d wanted to be a part of it, if he could. “There’s nowhere else for me.”
Subaru frowned. Kamui couldn’t tell if it was from disappointment, or pity. “That sounds like a desolate future.”
“Maybe.” Kamui mirrored Subaru’s frown. “Maybe it’s destiny.”
“You shouldn’t joke about destiny, Kamui.”
Subaru blinked, eyebrows lifting not entirely in surprise. “Hm.”
Kamui narrowed his own. “What?”
“You’ve changed. Not much but,” Subaru mused, “enough to notice.”
“It’s been three years,” Kamui relaxed his hands. He couldn’t keep the bitterness from his words.
“Yes, I suppose it has.”
“That’s your fault.”
Subaru was silent for a moment. “Yes, I suppose it is.”
Kamui took a slow breath. “I want you to dispel this illusion.”
Again, Subaru looked surprised. Kamui would count the emotion as a victory in any other situation, if it didn’t serve to remind him just how much time had passed since they’d been face to face.
“I know it’s an illusion,” Kamui added. “I know about the powers a Sakurazukamori has.” What Subaru didn’t need to know was how long it took for Kamui to put the pieces together.
“You know.” Subaru repeated. “You mean, Lady Sumeragi told you.”
“You did.” He had, once. Kamui wondered if Subaru even remembered. It had been during Subaru’s stay at the hospital, after his final battle with Seishirou, with more drugs pumping through his system than even Kamui had been given during his own various stays. He’d been in and out of consciousness so often that he may have just been muttering in his sleep. “She just made it easier to understand.”
“That doesn’t sound like her at all.” Subaru mused.
“Subaru,” Kamui took a breath. “Dispel it. Please.”
Subaru turned his head to look at the tree. For a moment the air was still, but sure enough the tree began to fade like petals in the wind, until the clearing was nothing but tree stumps.
Kamui released the breath he’d been holding. “Thank you.”
Subaru tipped his head, enough to give the illusion of a nod.
“I’m going home—”
“It’s home to me.” Kamui said. “I’m going home, and I’m not going to stop trying to help spirits just because you want me to.”
“That isn’t why—”
“If you want me to be careful about it,” Kamui interrupted, “there are other ways to tell me that.”
I’m giving you a chance. Please take it.
Even though I want to see you, an invisible wave is pushing us
And we separate even more
Chapter 2: Anniversary
It had all seemed so abrupt. Subaru had appeared just as unexpectedly as he’d vanished. And, Kamui may have offered him an opportunity to stick around, but nothing about their conversation made Kamui believe he’d take it.
January 1st, New Year’s Day
Kamui had been awake for nearly an hour, but he couldn’t bring himself to get out of bed. His trip home from Edogawa was hazy, but he’d fallen asleep as soon as he’d hit the mattress. He hadn’t really had the chance to process everything that had occurred that night.
Now, his mind was racing.
Subaru was back in Tokyo. He’d credited the rumors of Kamui’s training to his return, but Kamui didn’t know if he could believe that. If Subaru had really wanted to convince Kamui to stop, he wouldn’t have waited so long. It had been almost a year since Kamui’s first visit to Kyoto, and if Subaru really had been keeping tabs on him, that’s something he would know. Kamui’s presence there hadn’t exactly been a secret.
Kamui sighed, pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead. He didn’t know what to think. Had Subaru been keeping tabs on him? Or was Kamui making assumptions? Subaru had known about his departure from the station, but his visits to Lady Sumeragi were the only other thing Subaru seemed to care to mention.
Did he know Kamui was no longer in school? Did he know that, following the battle, Kamui had spent several months bedridden in the hospital? Did he know Kamui still had flashes of phantom pain from injuries long-healed?
Did he care?
Kamui rolled onto his side. It felt too strange, thinking that Subaru didn’t care . . . and yet it was almost cathartic. If Subaru didn’t care, Kamui could stop glorifying Subaru in his memory. Subaru was imperfect, after all. He . . .
Kamui’s brow furrowed in guilt. No. He couldn’t convince himself that Subaru didn’t care. He wanted Subaru to care. He’d been waiting for Subaru to come back for years. He’d gotten what he wanted, hadn’t he? Subaru had come back to Tokyo.
Kamui just couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe Subaru’s return wasn’t a good thing. He was the Sakurazukamori now, which meant . . .
Kamui sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He couldn’t stew in his thoughts anymore. They were taking him to dangerous places. He needed to clear his mind.
Besides, Karen was downstairs, and he owed her a real conversation.
Kamui found Karen standing in the kitchen, waiting for the last drop of coffee to drip into the pot. She was rubbing the back of her neck, and she smelled like something sweet and floral.
“Morning,” Kamui greeted, sinking onto one of the barstools.
Despite the exhaustion in her eyes, Karen offered him a warm smile. “How was your night?”
Kamui looked away, squinting at the bright sunlight shining through the window. “It was alright.”
There was a moment of guilt, for not telling Karen what had happened at the shrine, but Kamui had decided to keep Subaru’s return to himself. It had all been so abrupt, and even though Kamui had offered him an opportunity to stick around, nothing about their conversation made Kamui believe he’d take it.
Kamui didn’t know why he trying so desperately to hold on to Subaru. Had he forgotten that Subaru abandoned him? That, for whatever reason, Subaru had decided there was nothing in Tokyo worth staying for? That . . . that hurt. Kamui had never expected Subaru to return his feelings—he’d never even confessed—but it hurt to think that Subaru didn’t think their friendship was worth saving.
And here he was again, like he hadn’t learned anything at all in the last three years.
He was so stupid.
“Kamui?” Karen was frowning. In the time he’d been berating himself, she’d poured herself a full mug of coffee. “Are you sure?”
“I’m fine.” He flashed a brief smile, noticing she’d set a mug down in front of him.
Karen hummed, using the tone that meant she didn’t quite believe him, but would respect his answer. “And Lady Sumeragi? How was she?”
“It was all fine,” he said, sipping at the coffee.
“Do you still enjoy it?”
Kamui was quiet for a moment. “It’s—”
“Don’t say ‘fine.’”
“. . .something to do.” Kamui finished slowly. “I mean, it’s not like I finished school. And I can’t just live off your charity.”
“I think you’ve done more than enough to live off my charity,” Karen said. “And it isn’t charity. I’m happy to have you here, Kamui. I think . . . it would be too quiet here without you.”
Kamui swallowed, sensing the hint of something deeper in her words. He changed the subject. “How was Kigai?”
“He’s like he always is. I think out of all of us, he’s the least changed.”
“. . . you mean survivors?”
“Yes.” She took a drink. “Yuuto is Yuuto. He sends his regards.”
“I don’t understand how you put up with him. He’s so . . . jovial.”
Karen laughed. “He’s actually quite morbid, if you stick around long enough. He’s not the worst person in the world to spend time with.” Her eyes were soft.
“You sound like you’re in love with him,” Kamui muttered, swirling the liquid in his cup.
“Would it be such a bad thing if I were?” Karen asked.
“I don’t know.” Kamui shifted. “I guess not. If you are. Are you?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Karen fell silent for a moment, then took another drink.
“Well.” Kamui stared awkwardly at his mug. “If he hurts you . . .”
Karen chuckled, reaching down to ruffle his hair. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I think he knows better than to try anything. I’m a tough girl, you know?”
“Yeah,” Kamui couldn’t resist returning her smile. “I know.”
Karen drummed her fingers on the counter, smile faltering. “Seiichirou called.”
Kamui straightened. “When?”
“His train got in this morning. He’s meeting some of his old colleagues for lunch, but after that . . . Did you still want to come?”
“Yes. Why wouldn’t I?”
“You were at Edogawa yesterday. I thought you were paying your respects there.”
“. . . I was, but.” Kamui stared back down at the cup. “There are never enough respects to pay.”
Karen was silent for a moment. “Yes.” She said, voice soft. “That’s true.”
Each year, the survivors of the final battle met in a little udon shop off the beaten path in Shibuya. Kigai had been the one to find it, which Kamui didn’t find all that surprising, but it was open and the food was good. He could ignore the increasingly shady characters the shop attracted in favor of those points.
Seiichirou sat in the back corner, the first to arrive, waving at them the moment they walked in.
Kamui tugged the scarf away from his nose as he followed Karen through the isle. She bent to give Seiichirou’s cheek a kiss, sliding into the seat next to him. Kamui sat across from the duo, picking at his gloves.
“Kamui,” Seiichirou smiled at him. He looked older, gray threatening to creep into the hair at his temples. “How are you?”
It was always the first question Seiichirou asked, and Kamui never really knew how to answer.
“I’m alright.” He defaulted. “Where’s—”
He nearly yelped as arms circled around his neck, pulling him back with such force that two of the chair’s legs came off the ground.
“Yuzuriha.” Karen chuckled. “We may have survived the apocalypse, but your hugs are another story.”
“Sorry!” She let him go, waving mitten-clad hands. “I’m really happy to see you is all.”
“It hasn’t been that long.” Kamui stared.
“Too long, with no Kamui.” Yuzuriha pouted, taking the seat next to him. She’d gone home for the holidays, back to the Mitsumine shrine, protesting all the while. As much as she tried to deny it, she’d taken to city life like a moth to flame.
Or . . . a less morbid image.
“Where’s Yuuto?” Yuzuriha turned her questions to Karen. “And Kusanagi?”
“They’ll meet up with us later.”
Kamui didn’t hear Karen’s answer, taking the chance to survey their small group. Four Seals. Well, three and The Kamui. It was like the punch line to a bad joke.
After the Promised Day, Seiichirou had moved away from Tokyo with his family. He still contacted them from time to time, but it had been a year since Kamui had seen him in person. For Yuzuriha, it was the opposite. She had chosen to stay in Tokyo, moving into the dorms on Clamp Campus to finish out high school. She was in her final year now, studying for college entrance exams, and Kamui saw her as often as she declared that she needed a break from classwork.
“I’m always so surprised this place is still open.” Seiichirou was telling Karen.
“Why?” Yuzuriha asked. “If you ask me, more places are open than there used to be.”
“Must be that adverted apocalypse bliss,” Karen said dryly.
Kamui snorted, playing with the tassels on his scarf. He tended not to talk much during these gatherings, at least unless directly addressed. He preferred to listen. It was nice, just being around them.
“Kamui, you spent some time at the Sumeragi estate, right?”
Kamui looked up, facing Seiichirou’s pleasant curiosity. “Yeah, I did.” He replied.
“How was that?” Yuzuriha asked, jumping on the opportunity to pull him into conversation. “I’ve met the Lady before. She’s intense.”
“She is.” Kamui agreed. “It was fine.”
Seiichirou nodded. “It’s good that you’re honing your skills, since it gives your power an outlet, but you should be cautious.”
It was Subaru’s warning again, in a gentler tone.
“I don’t think Lady Sumeragi would teach you anything dangerous, but--”
“It’s all dangerous.” Kamui interrupted. “That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”
Seiichirou blinked, eyes widening.
“Lady Sumeragi says that.” Kamui added hurriedly. “I know it’s not in my blood, but there aren’t any onmyouji in Tokyo anymore.”
“Surely Lady Sumeragi allows some to come here,” Seiichirou said. “It’s too dangerous for such a large city to be without one.”
“In her opinion, it’s too dangerous to have one here.” He squeezed the tassels between his fingers. “She lost both of her grandchildren here.”
Instantly, the mood dropped, making way for silence. Kamui could hear the murmur of conversation from other tables, and the sound of chopsticks tapping against glass bowls.
Finally, Yuzuriha spoke up. “We don’t know that Subaru is dead. Not for sure.”
“I didn’t say dead.” Kamui stared at the table, knuckles turning white. “I said lost.”
By the time they reached the bus stop, the mood had risen, and Kigai and Shiyuu were waiting on the bench. Karen walked ahead, greeting Kigai with a wave.
“Kusanagi!” Yuzuriha ran forward, hovering over her former crush like a mother hen.
Next to Kamui, Seiichirou chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Now I feel like a third wheel.”
Kamui shifted, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets. “How’s your family?” He asked out of politeness.
“They’re doing well. They don’t understand why I come here, but they try.”
Kamui didn’t say that he didn’t understand why Seiichirou came back either. He wasn’t tied to the city the same way Kamui was. If Seiichirou was able to have a life away from the memories of that year, he should never want to come back to Tokyo. Not even for this.
“How about you, Kamui?”
“I know you say that, but how are you really?” Seiichirou asked. “Have you thought about going to school again?”
Kamui didn’t know what kind of expression he was making, but Seiichirou laughed. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to father you.”
Kamui relaxed only slightly. He hadn’t expected a question like that from someone he rarely saw, former Seal or not. “It’s alright.”
Seiichirou still looked guilty.
Kamui offered a brief, toothless smile. “It’s alright,” he repeated. “I . . . to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it. I just don’t think it’s right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well. . .” Kamui frowned at his thoughts. “I went to school during . . . everything. But even then it felt wrong. And now it just feels like I should be doing something else. Something to make up for everything.”
“Something like onmyoudou?”
“Yeah.” Kamui nodded. “It’s a start. Lady Sumeragi said the spiritual realm of Tokyo grew a lot during 1999. There were a lot of people that died during the earthquakes, but there were ripple effects too. And that was partly our fault. And I want to make that right.”
“. . . our fault?”
“Mine, and Fuuma’s.”
Seiichirou let out a loud, slow breath. “I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t worry me that you’re thinking of yourself and Monou as one person—”
“I didn’t mean it like that—”
“Regardless, his actions weren’t your actions.” Seiichirou said firmly. “I understand your want to help, but I hope you realize that what happened in 1999 wasn’t your fault. You didn’t ask for any of it to happen.”
“That doesn’t make me less responsible--!”
“Kamui!” Yuzuriha called suddenly, unintentionally interrupting before the tension could grow. “Seiichirou! The bus is coming!”
Keeping up the Monou Shrine was another favor that Kamui would never be able to repay Imonoyama for. From the moment he’d left the shine, what seemed like an eternity ago, Imonoyama had arranged for it to be taken care of, and though Kamui didn’t visit as often as he thought he should, he didn’t find any flaw with Imonoyama’s care.
The shrine stood where it always had, untouched by the brutal battles of 1999. Kamui was still unsure if that had been intentional on Fuuma’s part—perhaps some small part of him had been fighting back, not wanting to destroy the last testament to better days—or if it had been coincidence.
The Promised Day’s battle had been brutal. Some of the fallen had been buried at their home shrine, while others were in cemeteries. People like Saiki, who had died before the battle, were in family graves, and people like Fuuma . . . there was nothing left to bury—he was just . . . gone.
There wasn’t a place they could go to pay their respects to everyone, so they’d created one.
In the garden, a gray block for each of the fallen stood in a line near the far end of the perimeter, flanked by shocks of bright flowers. Each block had a name carved into it.
One for Saiki, who had died protecting Hinoto.
One for Satsuki, who had fallen to her own machine, crushed despite Yuzuriha’s best attempts to save her.
One for Nataku. One for Hinoto. One for Tokiko.
One for Sorata, who had died protecting Arashi from Fuuma. Who Kamui had been too late, and too weak, to save.
One for Arashi, who Fuuma had turned to once Sorata had fallen. Who Kamui had still been too late, and too weak, to save.
One for Fuuma. Fuuma. Kamui wondered if Fuuma was truly dead, or if he was, as he had once warned, going to live as a part of Kamui’s memories forever. Kamui wondered which he’d prefer. Until the end, Fuuma had never—
He hadn’t been able to bring Fuuma back. Fuuma had died with a smile, but it wasn’t his smile, and he’d chided Kamui for crying over him, but it wasn’t his voice speaking the words. It was the other Fuuma—the dark one—until the end.
Sometimes, Kamui imagined how things would have turned out if he’d chosen differently. If he’d decided there was nothing worth protecting, so Fuuma could have been the Kamui for the Dragons of Heaven. Would he have changed the way Fuuma did? Would it have even mattered?
Would it have been better that way, for Fuuma?
Would it have been better for Kotori?
Karen stepped forward, touching each of the candles atop the blocks, wordlessly lighting them. Kamui shook off his thoughts, taking a deep breath as Karen traveled down the row. He swallowed past the lump in his throat.
Karen stood before the final block, hesitating over the candle. Subaru Sumeragi, the name read. She glanced over her shoulder, meeting Kamui’s eyes.
He looked away.
Karen lit the candle.
The rest of the day passed quickly. After the visit to the Shrine, Kigai and Shiyuu left the group to their own devices. With many places still closed for the holiday, they wound up in a tea shop for the rest of Seiichirou’s stay, catching up on each other’s lives.
Yuzuriha’s trip home had come with the offer to take over the shrine after graduation, but she didn’t want to take it. She wanted to stay in Tokyo, she said, and go to University. Seiichirou was, apparently, expecting another child. His news was greeted with the appropriate coos from Yuzuriha and Karen, and an awkward congratulations from Kamui.
When evening came, the group parted ways, leaving Kamui with nothing much to do. Karen and Yuzuriha wanted to have a private dinner, and Seiichirou had to go back to his hotel to check out before his train left. Kamui wasn’t ready to return to his room, back to his pessimism. He wandered around the streets for a while, finally deciding to chance the closest station. He was cutting it close to the time Seiichirou had told them all he was leaving, but it was only a small risk.
He arrived as Seiichirou’s train was slowly pulling in to the station. Seiichirou stood alone on the platform, checking his watch. Kamui hunched his shoulders and pulled up his scarf.
Seiichirou glanced up, then did a double-take. “Kamui? What are you doing here?”
“I just. Thought someone should see you off.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Seiichirou stared.
Kamui shrugged, unwilling to admit it had mostly been on a whim.
“Well,” Seiichirou smiled. “Thank you, anyway.”
“To be honest, I thought I had upset you earlier.” Seiichirou said. “I wanted to apologize, but by the time I remembered it was time to leave.”
On second thought, this might not have been such a good idea.
“I don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to tell you how to live your life, Kamui. You’ve more than earned the right to decide for yourself, and that isn’t even something you should need to earn.” Seiichirou sighed. “I didn’t want to leave things the way we left them.”
“I’m not angry,” Kamui said slowly.
“Well. That’s good.” Seiichirou paused. “Then, may I ask you something?”
“. . .alright.”
“Have you heard anything from Subaru?” Seiichirou glanced at the train, where the attendant was waiting by the open doors. “Or, about Subaru I suppose. Yuzuriha is right to say we don’t know if he’s dead, and . . . I’d like to think we’d know if he was or not.”
“So, have you? Kamui?”
Kamui. I wondered if you’d come.
It would have been better if you hadn’t.
Kamui bit his tongue, staring at the air just beyond Seiichirou’s shoulder. He swallowed, shaking his head. “No,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything.”
The sudden summer rain,
passed by my tears in a quiet stream
A scene so like one from my memories
Despite not being a student, Kamui spent a lot of time on Clamp Academy’s expansive campus. Some of the time, Kamui was there to visit Yuzuriha, borrowing one of her guest meals or wandering through the massive library to help her find books for this or that paper that she wanted to start early.
More often, Kamui showed up because he had nothing else to do.
Imonoyama had given Kamui unrestricted access to all the facilities the campus had to offer, including the secret library beneath his office that housed a seemingly endless amount of books about the occult. Once he’d officially started studying onmyoudou, Kamui had made a point to take a book with him each time he was on campus to study on his own.
Clamp Academy’s high school division hadn’t changed much since 1999. It had expanded a little, and some buildings had been remodeled, but Kamui’s favorite spot was where it had always been. The Gazebo was usually deserted, thanks its unruly surroundings. The overgrown foliage doubled as a nice curtain for Kamui to hide behind, and he’d only come across a couple deciding to make use of the isolation twice.
Imonoyama and Yuzuriha were the only two that knew how much he valued the spot, though he doubted either of them really knew why.
“Kamui? Are you back there?”
Kamui turned the page of the book—though volume might have been a better word for it, considering how heavy it was—and looked up.
“I’m coming in, okay!” Yuzuriha called, not giving him the chance to reject her company. Not that he would, though sometimes Yuzuriha acted like she thought he might. Kamui didn’t pretend to understand the way Yuzuriha’s mind worked, though.
Kamui turned his attention back to the book, greeting her with a quiet “hey” as she sat across from him, slinging her bag on the table.
“Look at you,” Yuzuriha grinned. “What are you studying for?”
“Nothing.” Kamui lifted the book, showing the cover long enough for Yuzuriha to read the title.
“Shikigami, huh?” Yuzuriha wove her fingers together, resting her chin on them. “Lady Sumeragi gives you homework?”
“No. I just--. Is it that hard to believe I have an interest in it?” Kamui grumbled, picking at the corner of the page.
“No,” Yuzuriha laughed. “I’m teasing. If you’re going to do it, you might as well like it.”
“Mm.” That was another thing: it was never clear which side of the line Yuzuriha fell on when it came to onmyoudou. She seemed to agree with the points Seiichirou brought up on New Year’s Day—that it was dangerous, and maybe Kamui was pushing it too far too fast—but she’d been the one that said he should meet Lady Sumeragi two years before, when it felt like he had nothing left to offer anyone.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shikigami. Lady Sumeragi has one, but she doesn’t use it much.”
“Onmyouji only use them on jobs. If Lady Sumeragi isn’t taking jobs anymore, she probably doesn’t have much reason to use one.”
“Yeah . . .”
“Only powerful onmyouji are able to use them. They’re extensions of your soul.”
“Really? The book makes them sound more like minions,” Kamui frowned.
“Yeah, but books about this kind of stuff are always outdated.” Yuzuriha waved her hand dismissively. “You know, you should find a mentor. You’d learn more that way.”
Kamui pressed his teeth together, glancing away. “It’s a good idea. I don’t think it would work though.”
“I’m full of them!” She chirped, then paused. “Why not?”
“There aren’t any in Tokyo.”
“I thought it was only Sumeragis that weren’t supposed to come here. Don’t the other families still send onmyouji here?”
“Sumeragis, and their allies. I guess all major families are allied with them. Every onmyouji has to register with them, anyway.”
“Huh. Well, it makes sense, given their proficiency, but that’s too bad.” Yuzuriha smiled. “I could always lend some help, if you need it! I may not be the same as an onmyouji, but if it’s Shikigami you’re interested in, I’m your girl!”
“You are?” Kamui blinked.
“Yeah.” For a moment, her expression wavered, turning somber. Her next smile looked a little strained. “Technically, Inuki was an Inugami. It’s not an exact class of Shikigami, but they would be similar enough.”
Kamui swallowed, holding Yuzuriha’s gaze despite the regret that was already pinching his conscious. Of all the questions he could have asked. . .
“There isn’t a lot of good to be said about the Inugami in folklore, though. They weren’t good spirits.”
“Inuki was,” Kamui was quick to say.
“Yeah. It’s the way he was born. It’s a . . . long story, but there are different processes to create a Shikigami. How they turn out can depend on the way you do it.” Yuzuriha shrugged, rubbing the back of her neck. “Lady Sumeragi’s Shikigami was probably born the same way Inuki was.”
“The Sakurazukamori had a hawk.” Kamui said, mostly to himself, tracing a circle a page of the book. “Subaru told me once.”
“He probably made his.”
So there was born and made. Kamui filed that information away. “At any rate, I don’t think I’m strong enough to summon anything like that.”
“You’ve got strength of heart.” Yuzuriha smiled, resting her hand over her chest. “That’s what matters. Maybe you’ll wake up one day and a Shikigami will be sitting on your headboard.”
Kamui laughed, a sharp exhale through his nose. “In a few years, maybe.”
“Well, we’ve got those years. For once, the world isn’t going anywhere.”
“We hope not.”
“. . . what do you--?”
“I’m sorry,” Kamui added, backtracking just slightly. “I didn’t mean to bring that up.”
It took Yuzuriha a moment to catch up. “Inuki? Or Subaru?”
“. . .well, both. I guess.” Kamui said awkwardly. “I didn’t think talking about Subaru bothered you, though.”
“It bothers you.” Yuzuriha said. “And I don’t like when you’re uncomfortable.”
“You’ve been bringing Subaru up a lot lately, though.” Yuzuriha counted off on her fingers, “at New Years, and before I left for Mitsumine you mentioned him, and Karen said you brought him up a few days ago too.”
Kamui looked away, a little unhappy to hear that Karen and Yuzuriha talked about him when he wasn’t around. It wasn’t a surprise, but still . . . that made it sound like they were trying to be his keepers or something.
“It’s just . . . the time.”
“Yeah,” Kamui lied.
“Well—” Yuzuriha was interrupted by her ring tone, a quick series of cutesy-sounding beeps coming from her bag. She retrieved it, looking at the screen. “It’s Karen.”
Kamui hummed, returning his attention to his book. It was the best excuse he’d be able to use to change the subject.
Yuzuriha flipped open the phone, answering in a sing-song voice, one that immediately dropped off after whatever Karen opened with.
“Yeah, I’m with him.”
Kamui glanced up, furrowing his eyebrows under Yuzuriha’s suddenly serious stare. She was quiet for a moment, listening until Karen was finished speaking.
“Okay.” Yuzuriha held out her phone, waiting for Kamui to take it.
He did, hesitantly, bringing it up to his ear. “Yes?”
“Lady Sumeragi called,” Karen said in lieu of a greeting. “She has a job for you.”
Kamui pulled at the hem of his sleeve, taking a breath as the cab came to a stop. He dug around his pocket for payment, handing it over and getting out.
Across the street stood a shambled house: the yard was overgrown, the roof slanted in at an angle that didn’t look natural, and the paint was chipped off the door in flecks. It was a survivor, unlike the better part of the neighborhood, but just barely. This was one of the few neighborhoods that hadn’t been rebuilt after the earthquakes. Sancha was its own little ghost town, right on the edge of Tokyo.
Most of the jobs Lady Sumeragi sent to him were like these—connected to 1999, connected to the destruction caused by both sides. Usually the jobs consisted of low-level spirits who just needed a simple incantation to be dispelled. Despite what the popular opinion seemed to be, Lady Sumeragi knew better than to send him to jobs he wasn’t ready for.
These were the jobs he wanted, and she knew that.
Kamui shifted the bag on his shoulder, keeping his hand on the closed flap. He ran through the mental checklist of materials he’d packed, stumbling over the Ofuda. When was the last time he’d had them blessed? Lady Sumeragi had said that, rather than go to a shrine every time he needed one, it was better to keep dozens on hand that were blessed all at once, but they only remained useful for a few weeks.
It was too late to worry about that now. He was here, and he didn’t think he’d be leaving any time soon.
There was something strange in the air.
Kamui didn’t have the same kind of abilities Sumeragi onmyouji possessed, and the Final Battle had left him less powerful than he’d been, but he wasn’t useless. He could tell something was off about the house, but it was more than just a restless spirit.
What else was at work, here?
He supposed he’d find out soon enough.
Kamui entered the house cautiously, thinking back to the processes Lady Sumeragi had run him through on his last visit, making sure he’d be ready to face the spirits of Tokyo. First, there was protection.
He drew four Ofuda from his bag, smoothing them down on each of the four corners of walls of the empty living room. It was as good a place to start as any, whether or not Kamui finished the job there.
Alright. Next was . . . the manifestation.
It was the first thing Lady Sumeragi had taught him, and the easiest to grasp. It was everything that came after that Kamui tended to worry about.
Kamui sat in the center of the room, tucking his legs beneath him and setting his bag before his knees. He clasped his hands together, as if he were going to pray, and began the chant. “Om sanmaji handomei kiriku, Om sanmaji handomei kiriku, Om sanmaji handomei kiriku.”
Nothing happened. There was no shift in the air, or significant drop in temperature to signify the arrival of a spirit. Kamui cracked open an eye, surveying the room. Nothing had changed.
He closed his eyes, repeating the chant again.
Again, nothing changed.
He dropped his hands, stretching his legs out before him with a sigh. “Please?”
This wasn’t the first time Kamui had trouble manifesting a spirit. More often than not, it took a little encouragement from what powers as a former Dragon of Heaven he had left to bring one out, and then they were usually angry about his method of disturbance.
It was probably the lack of true onmyouji blood that made the job harder for Kamui, but it wasn’t impossible.
“I don’t want to hurt your home.” Kamui told the empty room. “There’s been enough hurt. But if you don’t come out, I’ll have to.”
“Don’t you want to move on?”
. . . apparently not.
Kamui sighed, resuming his original position. It was more than just personal preference that caused him to shy away from using his own powers during an exorcism. Those were the jobs that always left him weak after completion, and while it wasn’t like Kamui constantly felt the need to watch his back, he didn’t feeling so vulnerable. It was too . . . it brought back too many memories.
Lady Sumeragi always said he needed to pinpoint the source first, but some of the books in Imonoyama’s library disagreed. He was supposedly able to start an exorcism without the spirit in front of him, so long as he kept up a barrier for protection. He’d done that, so maybe . . .
“If you are going to learn, you must do everything I tell you, exactly how I tell you.”
Those had been Lady Sumeragi’s words, back when Kamui had first expressed interest in becoming an onmyouji. Unbidden, another warning drifted through his mind.
“An onmyouji that abuses their power—”
Kamui pulled his bag closer to his knees. He didn’t want to be a bad onmyouji. There were consequences, of course, but . . . well, Kamui didn’t care much about that. If something bad were to happen to him because he misused their power, then . . .
Their? His power. Kamui winced, feeling a sharp pain at the base of his skull. He pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head to clear the sudden ringing in his ears. Lady Sumeragi and Subaru were probably right. The traditional way was better to—
“—op, Edogawa Station.”
Kamui jolted awake as if he’d been having a nightmare, the world flooding his senses as it came into sharp focus. He looked around hurriedly, finding himself inside a train car, the scenery outside the windows slowing down as the train neared the next stop.
He inhaled, mind reeling, as if he hadn’t gotten any oxygen for a while. Edogawa Station? He’d just been in Sancha. That was across the city! When had—?
Kamui stood when the train came to a stop, eager to get off the car and onto flat ground so he could sort out his situation there. Was it some sort of illusion? Supposedly there were spirits that could cause that, and other onmyouji. Both Sakurazukamori had been, and were, capable of it. Was Kamui under attack?
No, it felt different than that.
There was an odd sort of stirring in his stomach, like someone was reaching in and twisting. His bag was nowhere to be found, and the only things in his pocket were a one-day train pass and some spare change.
The best thing to do was to get someplace safe. If he was in Edogawa, it would be another thirty minute ride home, and a longer walk. The shrine he’d visited the night he’d come back to Tokyo was closer, and the grounds could still be considered blessed.
He’d go there, then. He could sort out the details later.
The shrine was deserted, as expected. The grounds were dark with no more lamps to light the area. As soon as Kamui crossed the perimeter, his strength left him. His knees felt weak, arms heavy, as if he’d overused his powers.
Kamui lowered himself slowly, sitting on the steps of the shrine. He’d never lost time before. Not like this. Occasionally he’d get a migraine and sleep off the day, but he’d never woken up somewhere different from where he’d fallen asleep with no memory of how he’d gotten there.
He hadn’t fallen asleep on the job. He’d decided to . . . perform the exorcism, right? Even though there hadn’t been a manifested spirit. Was the lost time some kind of repercussion? Sakanagi?
Kamui pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead, leaning over his knees. He didn’t feel sick, exactly. Just . . . wrong. Something had gone wrong. But what? Had he finished the job? What was he supposed to report? That he was considering breaking Lady Sumeragi’s only rule and then he’d blacked out? She’d stop offering him jobs in a heartbeat.
How much time had passed between then and now? Kamui reached for his phone, stopping short. His phone had been in his bag. The bag that was now missing.
He wanted to curl in on himself. Of all the things that could go wrong . . . and everything had. Why couldn’t he just do something right? Why did he mess up every time he tried to help someone? Was he even capable of that?
Kamui slumped back in the bench, staring up at the darkened sky. Why was he so—?
“Get away from me!”
Kamui sat up, staring back into the line of trees behind the shrine where the yell had come from. It was faint, but definitely on the grounds. Kamui wasn’t much good in a physical fight, but he couldn’t just sit there and listen to someone yelling like that, not when they sounded so distressed.
In moments, Kamui was following the trail through the trees, skipping over places that twigs had fallen, and would probably stay until the shrine was bulldozed. It was a much shorter trip, with no illusion to get lost in. There were few trees left at their full height, most cut down in preparation of the demolition. Kamui made as little noise as possible, coming to a stop just short of the clearing he’d first met Subaru in.
He came to a halt immediately.
If something unexpected occurred more than once in a short period of time, was it fate?
A man was sprawled in the center of the path, dressed in a suit and trembling, both hands held before him like a shield. Subaru stood before him, dressed in black, looking like some kind of grim reaper. He had looked up when Kamui had stepped into the vicinity, but he didn’t seem surprised.
If anything, he was disinterested. Kamui’s appearance didn’t matter. It wasn’t enough to warrant any kind of reaction.
Kamui was moving before he realized it, drawing two fingers up in a sharp motion to raise a barrier between Subaru and his target. It wouldn’t hold long, especially if Subaru decided to test it, but it was something.
The man on the ground craned his neck to look back at Kamui, face pale and stricken.
“Go.” Kamui told him, and the man wasted no time in doing so, leaving him alone with Subaru.
Subaru didn’t take his eyes off his target until he was completely out of sight, slowly turning his gaze to Kamui. He opened his mouth, but Kamui beat him to it.
“What are you doing?” He demanded, voice wavering. He pushed past it. “Were you going to kill him?”
Subaru stared at him for a moment, eyes narrowing in something other than anger. “What is it?”
“What is what? You were going to—” He gestured around the area, wordless.
“That’s not what I meant.” Subaru took a step forward, easily breeching the barrier Kamui had evoked. “I meant—”
Kamui didn’t hear what Subaru had meant. It happened as soon as Subaru crossed the threshold, snapping the line of his shield. His ears began to ring again, black dots sparking at the edges of his vision.
He had enough time to take a pained breath before his vision went dark, and he hit the ground.
I need true emotions,
I need more affection than you know
Chapter 4: Negotiation
Kamui woke slowly, the world reconnecting in bits and pieces around him. There was a dull ringing in his ears, like he’d tried to sleep off a bad headache. He felt heavy, and a little sick, but he opened his eyes anyway.
Rather than the night sky above him, he was staring at a wooden ceiling. He turned his head to the left: a closed door, the style of which told him he was probably in some shrine or temple, or an old-fashioned house. He turned his head to the right: another set of doors, probably leading outside judging by the amount of light shining against the cloth.
Near his head, there were two water bottles and a plastic bag that looked like it came from a convenience store. Kamui sat up, noting the bedding spread beneath him. It smelled a bit stale, as stale as fabric could smell, but it seemed otherwise clean.
He took one of the bottles, drinking deep. He hadn’t blacked out again, had he? At least, it didn’t feel like the same kind of blacking out. He didn’t feel like he’d lost time. He could remember getting off the train, and reaching the shrine. He’d heard someone scream, run into Subaru again, then . . .
No, Kamui, I meant—
What had Subaru meant?
. . . what justification could he use for trying to kill a man?
He probably did, Kamui thought. Once he’d gone down, there wouldn’t have been anything to stop Subaru from stepping over him and going after his target. Kamui wanted to think Subaru wouldn’t do that, but—
No. He wasn’t going to think about that.
Anyway, he’d probably passed out from exhaustion. He’d finished a job, but to raise a barrier against the Sakurazukamori? Kamui doubted he could have held it for long, even if he hadn’t passed out.
Kamui finished off the bottle with a sigh, peeking at the contents of the bag. There were a few wrapped granola bars, a pork bun that had to have gone cold, and a small cup of yogurt. Kamui blinked. What kind of meal was that supposed to be?
Kamui stood, kicking the blankets out of the way. He was given pause at the fact that his shoes and socks were missing, but not for long. Clearly, someone had found him and brought him to this room. If he was still on the temple grounds, maybe it was a priest . . .
Except, the temple was set to be torn down soon.
Kamui picked the other water bottle off the floor, heading toward the door on his left.
His heart nearly shot out of his chest when the door behind him opened. He spun on his heel, ready to use the bottle as a projectile if need be.
Kamui dropped his arm, hoping the move was inconspicuous. Relief coursed through him faster than he expected. It was Subaru. Subaru hadn’t just walked over his body and taken off into the night, he’d stayed and . . .
“Did you take my shoes?”
Subaru stared at him for a moment, then inclined his head. “Habit.”
. . . right. Subaru had more or less grown up in a shrine, hadn’t he?
“Before you came here last night,” Subaru leaned against the doorway, blocking a fair amount of the sun, “where were you?”
Kamui opened his mouth, then paused. Subaru hadn’t been overwhelmingly supportive of Kamui’s recent endeavors.
Moreover, was it alright to tell Subaru that kind of thing, now that he was the Sakurazukamori? Kamui didn’t want to think of him as an enemy, probably wouldn’t be able to if he tried, but—
“You were coming from a job, right?”
Kamui’s thoughts halted, caught. “Well—”
“Kasumi doesn’t live in Edogawa. How did you end up here?”
If Subaru knew that, that meant he probably knew exactly where Karen’s place was. Kamui wasn’t sure what to think of that. “Why are you asking?”
Subaru was quiet for a moment, probably contemplating whether or not to give his reasons. “You fainted yesterday.”
“I didn’t faint!” Kamui flushed.
“It would be natural for you to feel winded after I crossed the barrier you put up,” Subaru continued, “but the surge shouldn’t have been enough to cause you to black out. I assumed that was because you’d been coming back from a job, but . . .”
“If you’re taking jobs from Lady Sumeragi, she wouldn’t give you one that would leave you so defenseless. Onmyouji have to be particularly vigilant in the hours following the end of a job. If you’d been attacked by a spirit in that state, you could have very well been possessed.”
Possessed? A shiver crawled up Kamui’s spine. The thought of something crawling around in his body, able to use his powers . . . even if he didn’t have a lot left, in the wrong hands it was plenty to wreak havoc.
“Onmyouji can be possessed?”
“Anything human can be possessed, as well as objects that have been exposed to humanity for a prolonged time.”
“You mean heirlooms, toys . . . things like that?”
Kamui nodded. He wanted to smile at Subaru, as thanks for the information, but he didn’t think Subaru would smile back. Still, it reminded him of the tutoring sessions they’d once had. Back then, it was natural to grin at Subaru when he understood what Subaru was trying to teach him, and Subaru would return it.
“You think I’m possessed?”
“No. I think something may have interfered with your job, or you’ve been expending power on things without thinking about it. There aren’t many other reasons why you would be so drained.”
Kamui frowned. “The job was fine.”
Subaru shifted against the door, crossing one foot behind the other. “Tell me about it.”
Kamui stared, his brow slowly furrowing. “Why?”
“Because I don’t think it was fine, so I’d like to hear what it entailed.”
Kamui glanced away, unsure of what to do. He still didn’t know the reason he’d blacked out between the job and the train station, but he didn’t think he’d missed anything during the job. On the other hand, Subaru grew up with his abilities? His insight was probably better, even if it seemed a little patronizing.
Well, Kamui wasn’t sure if that was what Subaru was intending to convey. Maybe he was reading into Subaru’s intentions too much.
He moved, sitting on the bedding with his legs crossed. “It was in Sancha. There were reports of disturbances in one of the old houses. It’s been going on a while, but the activity spiked recently. Lady Sumeragi sent me to help the spirit move on, and exorcise it if it had . . .”
“Turned sour,” Subaru supplied. “Her words for it, anyway.”
Kamui nodded. He didn’t particularly like those words for it, considering the circumstances that brought about the destruction in the first place. Spirits that were spirits because of 1999 had every right to be volatile, especially if he was the one coming for them.
“I went,” Kamui shrugged. “I followed procedure.”
“Walk me through it anyway.”
Kamui scratched at his ankle. “I put Ofuda on the walls, and tried the manifestation.”
“It didn’t work. It doesn’t . . . I mean, it’s not unusual for it not to work. Spirits tend to shy away from me. I think. So I was wondering if there was another way to manifest it when . . .”
“When?” Subaru prompted.
Kamui stared at his heels. “It never appeared.” He wasn’t lying, exactly. It hadn’t appeared before he’d lost time. “So, I left. I got on the train, but I wasn’t paying attention, so I ended up in Edogawa. I like this shrine, and it’s going to be torn down soon, so I figured I might as well come see it.” He took a breath, “but I realized I’d left my bag at the house, so I was going to leave, and that’s when I heard . . .”
“No, the house in Sancha.”
Subaru paused. “You left your bag in Sancha, presumably full of supplies for the job—”
“—in Sancha, which is across the city, and closer to Kasumi’s house than Edogawa, and you want me to think that nothing is wrong?”
“That’s how the job went,” Kamui said. For a lie, it didn’t sound too bad.
“Something else is wrong, then.”
“Is it that hard to believe that I could forget a bag? It’s just a bag, I can pick it up later.”
“Why are you being defensive, then?”
“Why are you acting like this is an interrogation?” Kamui frowned.
Subaru blinked, looking surprised. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“Well,” Kamui said, feeling awkward. He didn’t feel like he was jumping to conclusions . . . was Subaru just that out of touch with interacting with people? “That’s what happened.”
Subaru hummed, making a loose fist and touching it to his chin. “You’ll be stopping by Sancha before Kasumi’s, then?”
“Yeah.” He’d have to, if he wanted his phone back. He’d been out of contact overnight, hadn’t he? Karen wasn’t going to be happy. He could imagine the number of missed calls already.
“I’ll come,” Subaru said. “Whatever the reason you lost consciousness, I’d like to take a look at the room you were working in.”
“I—.” Kamui wanted to feel insulted, but the promise of Subaru sticking around because he wanted to . . . that was too good to pass up. Besides, Kamui would have the chance to wrangle some answers out of him, if he worded his questions carefully enough. “I don’t have a train pass. It was only good for a day. I don’t have money, either.”
Subaru glanced at the ceiling, dropping his hand. “We’ll take a cab.”
“Wouldn’t the bus be less expensive?”
“Yes,” Subaru slipped his hands in the pockets of his coat, “but I don’t like the bus.”
“There are too many people,” Kamui guessed.
“That would be better, though, right? There’s less of a chance of being overheard if there’s a lot of noise around.”
Subaru stared at him for a moment, his expression slowly closing down. Kamui hadn’t even realized it had been open.
“You . . . weren’t planning to talk,” he surmised. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
Kamui stood up, turning toward the unblocked door. “It’s fine.”
“Clearly,” Subaru paused. “I can’t give you what you want, Kamui, and I can’t apologize for what I’m not.”
He kept his gaze on the door in front of him. What he wanted . . . how would Subaru know that, if Kamui didn’t even know what he wanted himself? “I’m going.”
“It’s fine.” He opened the door, stepping through. “I just want to go.”
Subaru sighed, almost too soft for Kamui to hear. “Alright. Let’s go.”
From the outside, the house in Sancha looked no different than Kamui remembered it. Inside the room where he’d been working was a different story. The Ofuda he’d put on the walls were still in place, but they were singed on the sides, and there were dark scorch marks above each of them, covering the walls in dark streaks.
Subaru traced the edge of one of the spots, pulling his hand away with stained fingertips. “You’re sure no spirit manifested itself when you recited the spell?”
“I’m sure,” Kamui paused, glancing up from his bag. That, at least, was where it had been lying the night before, in the center of the room. So far, nothing seemed to be damaged.
“There isn’t a spirit here,” Subaru said.
“So . . . someone exorcised it?” Had he done it after all?
“Presumably,” Subaru replied, “but I don’t get that feeling.”
Kamui looked back down, “what feeling?”
“There’s usually a feeling of purity left behind after an exorcism, since it’s a type of cleansing ritual. This feels . . .” He trailed off. “You should be able to feel it too.”
He could. That was the problem. It wasn’t the atmosphere of the room, but something felt . . . heavy, sinking. Beyond that, Kamui could feel traces of his own power, and he wasn’t sure how Subaru couldn’t. Had he been gone long enough to forget what it felt like?
“Whatever spirit was here was most likely burned away in the surge.”
Kamui glanced up in time to catch Subaru gesturing to the scorch marks. “Does that mean,” Kamui began slowly, “it didn’t find peace?”
“. . . it’s hard to say,” Subaru replied. “I would have to know more about whatever caused the surge to answer that. Based on this, I would say it’s unlikely.”
Kamui’s stomach dropped. “Oh.”
Subaru turned away from the wall. “Did you go into any other areas of the house?”
An unwelcome silence settled between them. “Is it that bad?” Kamui asked, to break it.
After a beat, Subaru answered. “It looks like everything was set up well. Unless you recited the spell incorrectly, the spirit should have appeared.”
“I didn’t say it wrong.”
“Then I can’t say what happened here. It’s possible that someone else came along once you left, but the only power I can sense is yours, from when you conjured the barrier. It’s lingering around the Ofuda.”
“I guess . . . I’m not very good at this yet.”
Subaru glanced at him, “Are you going to stop?”
Kamui inhaled sharply. “No.”
“What do you mean, why not?”
“I mean, what are the reasons you’re doing this?”
“I told you,” Kamui said, frustration building again.
“You told me there was nothing else for you to do,” Subaru said. “Is that really the only reason you have?”
“Is that not enough of one?”
“No. It isn’t.”
Kamui paused. He wasn’t expecting that as an answer. “I—”
“Onmyoudou shouldn’t be used if your purposes are self-serving.”
Kamui looked down, biting his tongue. How was he supposed to respond to that? Is that what Subaru thought of him? “That . . . sounds like something Lady Sumeragi would say.”
“It’s something she’s said. It’s something I agree with, even though I haven’t turned out to be the kind of onmyouji she’d approve of.”
“That’s not true,” Kamui trailed off. “Before . . .”
“That was before,” Subaru said. “I don’t think that reason is your only one, Kamui. I want to know the others.”
“I don’t want to tell you the others,” Kamui wrapped his arms around his stomach, uncomfortable. “I don’t want to tell anyone the others.”
“But you do have them?”
Subaru sighed, “Alright.”
“Do you not believe me?”
“No, I do.” Subaru pulled away from the wall. “You’ve got your train pass?”
“Ah, yeah. It was still here.”
“There’s nothing more we can do here, aside from speculate.”
“We’re just going to go?” Kamui blinked. “Where?”
“Ah!” Kamui interrupted, flipping his phone open. He hadn’t even checked the screen once he’d made sure it was still there.
[27 Missed Calls]
“—most likely worried by now,” Subaru finished. “You need to go.”
“. . . yeah.”
“I’ll walk with you to the station.”
Considering the cab ride had been completely silent, the offer surprised Kamui. “You will?”
“There’s something I’m still thinking about.”
Kamui stared at him, slowly closing his phone. “You’re difficult to understand, Subaru.”
“It’s to discourage you from trying.”
“Is that a joke?”
Kamui frowned. “I had you figured out once. I’ll do it again.”
“You have a train to catch,” Subaru said, walking past Kamui toward the front door. “Focus on that.”
“. . . that was a joke,” Kamui muttered, hiking the strap of the bag onto his shoulder.
Edogawa Station was less crowded than usual, so finding a place on the platform to stand wasn’t too difficult. Subaru hadn’t disappeared yet, either, and Kamui suspected the vast free space around him had something to do with the natural aura Subaru gave off now.
Kamui clucked his tongue softly, pressing send on the last of many apologetic messages to Karen’s phone. Unless she’d taken the day off, she would be back at work, so calling her wasn’t possible. SkyMail would have to do.
Of course, Karen could reply discretely with SkyMail, and she did so immediately.
>where are you now?
>do you need me to get you?
I’m with a friend<
I’m sorry <
<(_ _)> <
>what is that supposed to be?
It’s a bow<
Kamui bit his lip to avoid chuckling. It seemed Karen wasn’t too angry. He was probably still in for a lecture when she got off work, though.
Kamui started. “Yes?”
“Did Lady Sumeragi teach you about Shikigami?”
“What about dispelling curses?”
“Ah, a little. We didn’t really cover it, but I’m going back in the summer—”
“Spells used outside of exorcisms?”
“Did you learn anything about divination?”
“. . . no.” Kamui felt like edging away. Was Subaru going to tell him he wasn’t cut out for the job again?
“Those are all major principals that an onmyouji living in Tokyo should know.”
“Isn’t taking it slow safer?”
“Safer, yes, but if you can only meet with her once every few months, there’s almost no point. It would be years before you grasped the basics.”
“I know the basics.”
“The things I listed are considered basics.”
“. . . oh.”
“You need a teacher here, if you intend to continue.”
“Lady Sumeragi won’t let anyone to come to Tokyo,” Kamui shifted, “and it feels wrong to leave the city for too long.”
Overhead, the announcement for the next train began to play, reciting the warnings that Kamui knew by heart.
“You could be my teacher,” Kamui added quickly, before he could talk himself out of it saying it.
Subaru thinned his lips, glancing down the track. “I could.”
“Really.” Kamui insisted, mind jumping a little too far ahead of his mouth. “You’d be the best teacher I could have.”
Subaru blinked, tone caught somewhere between amused and surprised. “And why is that?”
“You’ve already learned it all, and you’re the best at it. You know about the powers I had, so you might be able to figure out how to make them both work together. You’ve taught me before. You—”
Kamui fell silent when Subaru shifted. “This isn’t like tutoring, Kamui. Onmyoudou can be dangerous.”
“I trust you.”
Subaru stared at him, expression unreadable.
“I trust you,” Kamui repeated, “even after everything. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. I trust you more than anyone, so—”
“You shouldn’t trust me more than anyone.”
Kamui exhaled sharply, frowning.
Subaru sighed, pocketing his hands. He took a step back as the train finally came into view, coming to a slow stop. Another announcement was made as the doors opened and passengers began to file out.
“Will you think about it?” Kamui asked. “Please?”
“I’ll teach you, Kamui.”
“Really?” Kamui clutched the strap of his bag, absentmindedly backing up toward the train doors.
“Yes. That’s . . . I will.”
“Kamui, you’re going to get hurt.”
Kamui glanced behind him, noting his sudden proximity to the doors. He stepped on the train quickly, turning back to look at Subaru. “I—”
Before Kamui had the chance to finish, the doors began to slide shut. He was nearly shoved out of the train as someone behind him, a passenger who hadn’t been paying attention, yelped and hurried through the doors, bumping into Kamui’s shoulder.
He regained his footing as the train began to move, but Subaru was already gone. Kamui sighed, slumping in one of the open seats. He put his bag in his lap, staring at it. “. . . he said yes,” Kamui told himself.
Watching as the train departed, a young man rubbed his shoulder, staring down at the plastic ID card in his hand: a Clamp Campus visitor’s pass, issued with an accompanying photo.
He tucked the ID in his back pocket, turning toward the stairs. He pulled his headphones over his ears, starting up the song he’d paused. “Kamui, huh.”
(Is this what you're searching for?)
(Are you scared to know the truth?)
Fake displays of strength and avarice have become meaningless,
I’ve been in love with you since that day
Chapter 5: Observation
ah, it's been so long. work and classes are so overwhelming right now, it's unbelievable!!
i'm starting to wonder if I really need to be capitalizing Ofuda every time i use it....
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kamui didn’t expect to hear from Subaru immediately. It didn’t surprise him when a day passed with no contact.
Then, a second day passed, followed by a third.
It hadn’t taken long for Kamui to realize he would have to rely on Subaru to initiate communication. If Subaru had a cell phone, Kamui didn’t have the number, and he was fairly sure Subaru didn’t have his. Subaru had dropped hints about knowing where he lived, which meant all Kamui could do was wait.
He just hadn’t expected to wait a full week. Kamui had assumed, given Subaru’s general disapproval of his attempts at onmyoudou, that their meeting would be a pressing issue. Apparently Subaru didn’t share that assumption.
Kamui sighed, dropping his head to rest on his folded arms. An unfinished smoothie sat in front of him—Karen’s idea of getting a “healthy” start to the new year.
“Is it that bad?” Karen teased. She sat on the other side of the counter, finished with her own drink. A stack of papers sat in front of her, though Kamui wasn’t sure what they were for. He knew Karen wasn’t working the same job she had been when they’d first met, but he wasn’t sure what it was she did now.
Finally, Kamui replied. “No.”
Karen hid a snort behind a cough. “That sounds believable.”
Kamui smiled within his arms. “I like cherry.”
“Cherry?” She asked. Under her breath, he thought he could hear her mutter, “it’s not supposed to be cherry.”
Kamui looked up from his arms. “Can I ask you something?”
“Kamui, you can always ask me anything.”
Kamui exhaled, pulling his drink closer so he could drum his fingers along the sides. “Hypothetically . . . if someone promises to make plans with you, but then doesn’t make those plans, and there’s been plenty of time for them to keep that promise . . . does that mean they forgot? Or . . . did they just make the promise to make you drop the subject?”
“Yuzuriha is probably busy. It’s only her first week back from break.”
“I said hypothetically.”
Karen stared, wordless.
Kamui sighed. “It’s not Yuzuriha.”
“Oh? Who are we talking about, then?” Karen leaned closer. “Did you meet someone?”
“I--. Sort of?” Kamui wasn’t sure how to answer. He wasn’t ready to tell anyone Subaru was back in town, but he didn’t want to lie to Karen either. How close could he skirt the line before his half-truths became obvious?
“No. Here.” Kamui stirred the smoothie. “They’re . . . really hard to read. And I think they’re being genuine about . . . wanting to spend time together, but . . . I want them to be. So, I can’t tell if I’m projecting, or . . .”
“Kamui . . .” Karen set down her pen. “Are—”
Abruptly, the phone in the living room began to ring. Kamui almost sighed in relief. He didn’t think this talk was going very well. As Karen got up, she gave him a look that said the conversation wasn’t as over as he’d like it to be. He tried to give her an innocent smile as she disappeared around the corner, shoulders drooping as soon as she was gone.
Kamui began to fiddle with his straw again, tuning Karen out as she answered the phone. It was Kigai or work, no doubt. Nobody else ever called the home phone. Kamui slid down from the barstool, taking his glass to the sink. He dumped what was left of the smoothie down the drain, rinsing out the cup.
He nearly jumped when Karen swung around the corner, seemingly in a hurry. She steadied herself on the wall, her expression a mixture of disbelief and excitement. “Kamui! It’s for you!”
Kamui blinked, unoffended by her disbelief. He couldn’t believe it either. “Me?”
“Who is it?”
Karen clucked her tongue, shaking her head at herself. “I didn’t ask.”
Kamui nodded, heading for the living room. Karen had set the phone down on the little table the receiver sat on. Kamui picked it up, holding on to the cord with his free hand. He could see Karen peering around the corner from his peripherals. “Hello?”
For a moment, Kamui thought the person may have hung up. There was a prolonged silence, then. “Kamui.”
Kamui turned away from Karen, heart beating a little faster in his chest. Subaru. He clutched the cord in his fingers. “Yes?” Too eager. “Er, yeah?”
Kamui’s eyebrows furrowed. “What about it?”
There was a rustling on Subaru’s end. “We should meet there.”
“Today?” Kamui asked, not bothering to hide the eagerness this time.
“What? That’s so late.”
“You follow curfew?” Subaru sounded amused, or was it surprised?
“No.” Kamui didn’t huff. “It’s . . .” He lowered his voice. “Where?”
Kamui inhaled slowly. Inokashira was one of Tokyo’s barriers. The Angels hadn’t been able to destroy it because . . . “Okay.”
Subaru was quiet for a moment. “Is there someplace you’d rather meet?”
“No, Inokashira is fine . . .” Kamui trailed off, running his thumb through the loops of the cord. “Actually . . . instead of the shrine, would Nanai be okay?”
There was more rustling. “The bridge?”
Subaru paused. “That should be fine.”
Kamui let out the breath he’d been tentatively holding. “I’ll see you there, then.”
Subaru hummed. With a click, the line went dead. Kamui slowly set the phone down on the receiver, feeling a little winded. His mind was sluggish, not quite done processing their conversation.
“Well?” Karen asked. “Who was it?”
Kamui spun around, rushing past her and up the stairs to his bedroom. Over his shoulder, he called a jumbled mix of “I’ll tell you later,” and “I have to get ready!”
Slamming the door, Kamui fell back against it with a loud sigh. Breifly, he wondered why Karen hadn’t recognized Subaru’s voice. It was for the best, but still . . . And why had Subaru called the house instead of Kamui directly? How had he even gotten their number?
He could puzzle it out later. Midnight was a long way off, but Kamui wanted to be ready. It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on some of the books Lady Sumeragi had lent him either. Whatever Subaru had planned for tonight, Kamui wanted to be prepared.
Or, at the very least, he didn’t want to look like the amateur Subaru thought he was.
Kamui pushed off the door, heading to the small stack of books piled up on his small nightstand. He lifted the book from the top of the pile, settling back on his bed to read.
Inokashira Park was quiet, given that most of the attractions closed early in the evening. There were a few people out roaming the paths, but their numbers were dwindling quickly. Kamui arrived at the foot of the bridge around midnight, hoisting his bag higher on his shoulder. He hadn’t been sure what to bring, so he’d brought everything.
Subaru was standing in the middle of the bridge, unsurprisingly smoking and unsurprisingly dressed in black. Kamui took a breath, steeling himself. He’d decided before coming that Subaru was going to exchange numbers with him, if only to avoid Karen eventually recognizing his voice. It was just . . . a little daunting to ask aloud.
“I’m taking you on a job.”
Subaru ground out his cigarette on the railing of the bridge, ignoring Kamui’s disapproving look. He tossed the stick into the water, holding out his hand. It took a moment, and Subaru’s come-here motion, for Kamui to hand over his bag.
Subaru set the bag on the railing, opening it to pick around the inside. “Before I can teach you anything, I need to know what you know how to do, and how well you know how to do it. The easiest way to figure that out is to put you on a job.”
“Oh. We’re not staying here, then?”
“We’ll be going to Shibuya. Are these Ofuda blessed?”
“How long ago were they blessed?”
“A . . . while,” Kamui replied. “I usually take them to the shrine in Edogawa, but since they’ve known about the demolition for a while, there aren’t any priests there anymore.”
Subaru glanced at him. “A priest?”
“To bless them.”
“There’s no need for that.” Subaru zipped the bag up, shouldering it. “You can do it yourself, so long as you’re on blessed ground.”
“I’ve never taken Ofuda to a priest.” Subaru started down the bridge. Kamui made sure to keep in stride with him, feeling a little out of place with no bag to keep his hands busy. “I’ve always taken care of my own supplies. Lady Sumeragi demanded it.”
“Oh . . .” Lady Sumeragi had told him it was imperative to have a priest bless them.
“Benzaiten is the closest shrine.” Subaru added.
Kamui could feel Subaru watching him out of the corner of his eye, waiting to evaluate his reaction. “How do you bless them?”
“. . . it’s less of a blessing, more of a shield. You already know how to invoke a barrier. All you need to do is concentrate the barrier on the Ofuda.”
“That’s all? Why do you have to be at a shrine to do that?”
“You don’t, necessarily. It’s just added protection, until you’re more experienced.”
“Oh. So, I guess you just bless them in your living room or something.” Kamui settled for sliding his hands into his pockets.
“I rarely use Ofuda anymore.”
“Why not? Even Lady Sumeragi uses them.”
“Those aren’t the kind of jobs I take.”
“Oh.” Kamui looked away as Subaru’s implication dawned on him. “Right. You take jobs that hurt people.”
“I didn’t mean. That came out wrong,” Kamui paused, “You do, though.”
“Yes, I do. It’s what the Sakurazukamori does.” Subaru looked down at him. “If that’s going to be a problem for you—”
“It is a problem for me.” Kamui shot back. “But it’s not like I can do anything about it.”
Subaru opened his mouth to reply, but seemed to decide against it. Kamui took the following stretch of silence to mean, for now, that Subaru had cut off their conversation again. Kamui looked ahead, eyes following the path toward the shrine, but he couldn’t shake the sullen frown that pulled at his mouth.
Blessing the Ofuda ate up little of their time, and soon they were off. Living in Tokyo meant Kamui spent a fair amount of time being dragged from store to store in Shibuya by Yuzuriha, but there was a stark difference between the crowded streets of the day and the eerie silence of the night. Subaru led them through winding alleys, past closed stores and groups of teenagers dressed in Decora-style clothing, all eyeing Kamui with enough disapproval to make him pick at the hem of his plain shirt.
Their trek eventually led to an abandoned store-front, complete with boarded windows and broken glass littering the sidewalk around what could have once been the entrance. Kamui swallowed. There was an uneasy feeling in the back of his mind. “What kind of spirit is this?”
“The store collapsed in 1999. Officially, the damage was due to a residual shock from an earthquake.” Subaru glanced at him. “You prefer these jobs, right?”
“Yes.” Kamui replied slowly. “But. I mean, it doesn’t feel weird to you?”
“No.” Subaru replied. “Does it feel strange to you?”
“A little.” Kamui shifted. “I don’t know.”
“There haven’t been any reports of violent activity. This place is under the radar, so to speak. It’s left alone because there’s no assumed threat.”
“How did you learn about it, then?”
“I was in the area.” Subaru replied shortly. “First step?”
“What? Oh. Protection.”
Subaru nodded, indicating for Kamui to head inside first.
“. . . we’re not going to get arrested, are we?”
Kamui did, reluctantly. He was careful to step over the glass, though he couldn’t avoid it all. There was enough of a space between the boards on the door and the ground that he could duck under, straightening once he was inside the store. Nothing was left but an empty room, the floor littered with more dust and glass. Enough of the planks across the windows had rotted through or been pushed out that light could still stream inside, spilling down the walls and across the floor.
Kamui shifted as Subaru followed him in, brushing the dust from the tails of his jacket. “You can start. I’ll stop you if I need to.”
“Okay.” Kamui set his bag on the floor, feeling far more nervous than usual. It was one thing to perform practice exercises before Lady Sumeragi. It was another entirely to perform a real ritual in front of her grandson. What if he messed up? What if this was his only chance to keep Subaru from disappearing again?
Kamui took a few deep breaths. It didn’t really help, but he couldn’t stall anymore. He pulled out the newly-blessed Ofuda from the bag, searching for the corners of the room. He was acutely aware of Subaru moving around the room himself, moving aside glass and debris with his feet.
Kamui swallowed, standing and heading to each corner of the room, smoothing the Ofuda down like he had at the house in Sancha. Don’t end up like Sancha. Don’t end up like Sancha.
Kamui returned to the center of the room, shifting around the debris there until he’d cleared enough away for a seat. He folded his legs beneath him, glancing at Subaru’s back before pressing his palms together, muttering under his breath.
Kamui looked up. “What?”
Subaru clarified. “Speak louder.”
Kamui shifted, embarrassed. “Um.” He cleared his throat, hoping that would hide his mistake. “Om sanmaji handomei kiraiku—”
“Kiriku.” Subaru corrected softly.
Kamui flushed. That was a mistake he’d never made before. This was going to end terribly, wasn’t it? “Om sanmaji handomei kiriku, Om sanmaji handomei kiriku, Om sanmaji handomei kiriku.”
Kamui lowered his hands while Subaru looked around the room. Like in Sancha, nothing had happened. He sighed.
“What are you focusing on when you chant?”
“Pronouncing it right.” Kamui muttered to himself.
Apparently, Subaru heard him. “You have to give meaning to the words. If you don’t envision the outcome while you’re chanting, all you’re doing is reciting lines. That isn’t going to help you.”
“Also.” Subaru disappeared behind Kamui for a moment. Suddenly, a weight dropped around Kamui’s shoulders. He looked down to see rosary beads hanging low on his chest. “Protection includes protecting yourself.”
Kamui brought his hand to the lowest-hanging bead, rolling it between his fingers. “Lady Sumeragi—”
“I doubt she sends you on jobs that haven’t been proven benevolent. That doesn’t mean she should have skipped it. You remember what I said about possession?”
“Good. Try again, but focus. If you can’t imagine the spirit manifesting itself, try to imagine the feeling. You’re pulling at something.”
Kamui nodded, pressing his hands together again. He folded over some of his fingers, leaving only his index and middle fingers pointing upwards. It was a stance he’d never seen in-person, but Lady Sumeragi had once said that changing position could help concentration.
Kamui began to chant again. He closed his eyes, trying to envision what Subaru described. Again, there was no change in the air. Kamui furrowed his brow, repeating the chant. Before him, there was only an endlessly frustrating abyss.
Kamui shook off the sudden irritation, pushing deeper. He tried to picture navigating through the abyss, but it closed around him, filling up the space until there was only the darkness and himself. There was a small pop in both his ears, and suddenly the abyss was rippling, moving like a slick shadow in the shape of a person. He imagined reaching out in the dark, grasping at shadow. He felt his fingers—or rather, his mind—closing around something, digging in, pulling, and—
He was startled out of his thoughts by Subaru yanking him up by his forearm and shoving him to the side. Kamui stumbled, spinning around angrily. He stopped short when he saw Subaru make a sharp motion at the air, and each of the Ofuda crackled in result. Something pushed itself out of the wall across from Subaru. Kamui couldn’t quite see it, but he could sense it was there. It lashed out, catching Subaru on the shoulder as it passed.
Subaru reacted quickly, drawing up a barrier around himself and Kamui.
“It was provoked.” Subaru replied. “Kamui, what did you imagine?”
“What you told me to!”
“What feeling, exactly, did you imagine?”
“You didn’t say gently!”
Subaru made a noise caught between a groan and a sigh, tugging off both of his gloves and tossing them to the side. Kamui blinked, mouth falling open. Before, Subaru had always said he’d been marked as the Sakurazukamori’s prey, but Kamui had never been able to see the magical brand. He’d assumed, after Seishirou’s death, the marks had vanished.
Whether or not they had disappeared before, they were there now. The backs of Subaru’s hands were each marred by a red pentagram. Kamui could see them both, vividly, which either meant that his senses were improving, or Subaru had . . .
Subaru noticed his staring. He snapped, “Later.”
Kamui looked away sharply.
“You should never provoke a spirit, Kamui. They’re not of this world. You can’t even see them, can you?”
“No.” Kamui muttered.
“How can you protect yourself if you can’t see what’s attacking you?” Subaru continued. “It should be second-nature to you to want to resolve any conflicts peacefully.”
“You imagined a violent manifestation, Kamui! There’s nothing peaceful about that.”
Kamui bit his tongue, shame burning his cheeks. Beneath the shame, though, was anger. It wasn’t an anger Kamui recognized. It burned so bright, so quickly, that before he knew what he was doing, he’d shouldered his way past Subaru and stepped across the barrier.
Kamui held out his hands, splaying his fingers wide. He could feel something passing through them, like smoke, and he snagged it from the air. Kamui’s ears began to ring, growing louder the longer he held on to the spirit. He held tight, slowly pulling his hands apart. He could feel the spirit stretching between his hands, its essence pulling at the seams.
Subaru’s voice broke through his concentration, raised and worried. Kamui looked over his shoulder, but he didn’t drop his hands.
“You’ll tear it apart.” Subaru said. “Stop.”
Like a string had been cut, the anger fled from Kamui’s body. His hands dropped to his sides. His ears were still ringing, but there was no backlash from the spirit when Kamui let it go. He felt breathless. A warm, sick feeling rushed into Kamui’s mouth. His arms stung with white-static tingles, the numb pain rushing into his head and making it spin.
Kamui couldn’t bring himself to look at Subaru—to see the disappointment, or worse, the fear that might be there. Before Subaru could speak again, Kamui turned and ran, ducking under the boarded entrance and breaking out into the Shibuya night.
Kamui didn’t stop running until he’d secured a seat on the train, but he still didn’t feel like himself. His head was buzzing with the same numbness in his arms, dotting his vision in waves. He couldn’t tell if he was feeling the slow backlash of holding on to a spirit, or if he was going to be sick. Kamui bent over his knees, closing his eyes to the harsh lights of the train cart.
He could barely hear the announcements over the speaker system, and he didn’t notice they were moving until the vibrations from the tracks traveled up through the floor. Kamui exhaled, shaking.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Kamui hardly registered the stranger’s concern. He heard himself answer, but he couldn’t make out what he was saying.
“Where are you getting off?” the stranger continued. “Do you need to call someone?”
His senses rushed back in a nauseating rush of clarity. “The hospital,” he heard himself gasp. “Imonoyama Hospital.”
“It’s the next stop,” the stranger—a boy, now that Kamui could focus properly—pointed to the electronic marquee above the doors. “Are you sure you don’t need help?”
Kamui felt himself shake his head. He was vaguely aware that he continued to answer the boy’s questions as the train brought them closer to the hospital, but his voice was escaping his ears again. He was aware of the train coming to a stop, and the boy spluttering when he suddenly stood, but he couldn’t remember the trip from the station to the inside of the hospital.
After another rush of nausea, Kamui found himself standing in a dimly-lit hallway, one hand braced against the door to a patient’s room. Kamui blinked the spots from his eyes, trying to focus on the inscription.
Eventually, the lettering swam into focus, forming a very solid name: Kuzuki Kakyou.
I would have been happy just to have watched
The orange sunset next to you.
Chapter 6: Subterfuge
wow, already? Finals are *definitely* not next week and I definitely don't need to be studying for anything.
I'm a little nervous! I'm introducing an OC in the next chapter, which I don't ever do in my multi-chaps. Or, at least, not to this degree.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kamui swallowed, hand falling from the nameplate to the door handle. He took a steadying breath, twisting his hand and pushing open the door. Inside, the room was darker than the hall, lit only by the screens of medical monitors and the moonlight shining through the window across from the door. Dozens of medical tubes traveled from the machines to the man on the bed, taped to the backs of his hands and places his hospital gown and blanket obscured from Kamui’s view.
Kakyou looked exactly as Kamui remembered him: frail. His hair spread over the pillows that propped his body up, eyes closed in a mimicry of peaceful slumber. Kamui doubted it was a simple rest—the monitors wouldn’t be needed if that were the case. Not to mention Kakyou was supposed to be dead. Or so they had assumed. Fuuma had alluded to as much during the final battle, and Kamui had believed him. At that point, there was no reason to question Fuuma’s ability to kill those close to him.
Kamui stepped inside the room, closing the door behind him. He sat in the chair at Kakyou’s bedside, pulling up his legs. The few interactions Kamui had with Kakyou had been surreal, but Kamui remembered thinking that Kakyou didn’t seem like a bad person. In fact, as time seemed to have proven, most of the Dragons of Earth hovered somewhere in the territory of “morally gray.” Though few survived, Kamui had come to assume the entire group was more or less the same, living their lives until Destiny pulled them in to the fight.
Kamui rested his head on his knees, staring at the fabric of his pants. He faintly recalled that Kakyou was supposed to be able to manipulate people through his dreams. Was that why he’d been feeling so strange lately? A reaction to a power working over him that wasn’t his own? But if that were the case, and Kakyou had been in Tokyo this whole time, why wait until now? Why bother in the first place? Kakyou hadn’t done him any personal wrongs, and Kamui doubted Kakyou held a grudge against him for being the victor in the final battle.
Kamui sighed, shifting in the chair until he was curled up and as comfortable as the frame allowed. His night had gone terribly, and now he was here. He couldn’t seem to catch a break recently, could he? Subaru was doubtlessly going to decide he was helpless. That, like he’d predicated, Kamui wasn’t cut out to be an onmyouji.
He stared out the window for a while, studying the telephone poles across the street. A lone bird was perched on one of the wires, but it was too far away to see clearly. It was staring at the hospital, or maybe it was looking away. Kamui closed his eyes, listening to the steady beep of the heart monitor. If the waves of nausea hadn’t been so strong, Kamui could almost forget how he’d felt before coming to the hospital. His body had calmed, leaving his limbs sore, but not pained. His mind was clear. He felt tired, but that was to be expected after a job.
Whatever it was that had been ailing Kamui seemed to have vanished in Kakyou’s presence. Had this most recent bout of sickness been driving him here? Was there some part of him reaching out to the seer? Or was Kakyou searching for him in some desperate attempt to let someone know he was still alive?
How long had he been here? Why had Imonoyama kept it from Kamui all this time? Did Kigai know? They’d been on the same side, after all. Did Karen know Imonoyama was hiding Kakyou away?
Kamui didn’t want to think about that. If Karen knew, she hadn’t told him, and if she hadn’t told him . . . They had agreed not to keep secrets from each other, not ever. Kamui had enough misinformation and disinformation to last a lifetime. He hadn’t known about his role in 1999, and he was the supposed harbinger. Sorata, Arashi, and all the other Dragons of Heaven had known for years.
Kamui furrowed his brow, trying to clear his mind. The bird was at the windowsill now, tapping its beak against the glass. Kamui ignored it, focusing on the steady beat of Kakyou’s heart monitor. A beep, and two seconds passed. A beep, then another. A beep, and two seconds passed.
Kamui woke to an endless expanse of blue and white—a pale morning sky littered with drifting clouds. His stomach lurched for a moment, body hit with a sweeping sense of vertigo before he realized that Kakyou was awake. Kamui sat back in the chair, staring. Kakyou was in the same position as he was in the hospital, but his eyes were open.
“Kamui,” Kakyou said without looking at him. “Of the Dragons of Heaven.”
Kamui stiffened, “Not anymore.”
“Always,” Kakyou replied, “In a way.” He turned his head, looking Kamui in the eyes. “I didn’t call you here. Why did you come?”
“I didn’t mean to.” Kamui remained still under Kakyou’s gaze. “We . . . I thought you were dead.”
“I should be,” Kakyou said, voice rasping. “That was my wish.”
Kamui unfolded his legs slowly, letting them hang amongst the clouds. Knowing he was in Kakyou’s dream didn’t quell the unease he felt about being suspended in the sky. “I thought Fuuma . . . granted that wish.”
“You killed him before he could,” Kakyou said.
Kamui swallowed, something cold and heavy sinking in his stomach.
“Are you here to grant my wish?”
“No,” Kamui said, horrified at the request.
Kakyou sighed, looking away. “How cruel.”
“I . . .” Kamui laced his fingers together in his lap. “I don’t know why I’m here.”
“You seek answers,” Kakyou said tiredly. “Like the rest.”
“The rest?” Kamui pressed the tips of his thumbs together. “Others come here?”
“Yes . . . government officials . . . now that Hinoto is not around to give them guidance.” Kakyou lifted a hand and several tubes followed the movement. “Those that are spiritually aware . . . Imonoyama Nokoru.”
“Imonoyama comes here?” Kamui leaned forward. “For how long?”
“To ask about you,” Kakyou turned his head away.
Kamui pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Imonoyama aside, Kakyou’s behavior was concerning. Kamui remembered the few times he’d talked with Kakyou in vivid detail—Kakyou was cold and sad, but never robotic. Kamui had even felt, once, that Kakyou’s mind was changing about destiny being predetermined.
This Kakyou was different. Trapped with nothing in his dreams but people who wanted things from him. What kind of life was that?
“Why wouldn’t Imonoyama tell us you were alive?” Kamui asked.
Kakyou lifted a shoulder, pointing toward the machines suspended in the air beside his hospital bed. “He owns this hospital. This “care” is something he pays for.”
“I know that.” The Imonoyama family owned nearly all the hospitals in Tokyo, and that was only one of their many investments. Kamui tapped his thumbs together, neck flushing with the beginnings of anger. Imonoyama was hiding something from him? After everything? It wasn’t a little white lie, either. It was Kakyou. “What does he ask about me?”
“Your mental state, your destiny, in which direction your moral compass currently points . . .”
Kamui brought his feet back up to rest on the edge of the chair. His body felt like it was weighed down by stones. “He doesn’t trust me.”
“He is worried about what state putting so much trust in you has affected you. He doesn’t want you to break.” Kakyou paused. “Neither does the Sakruazukamori.”
Kamui dropped his head to his knees. “Subaru comes here too?”
“No. But your destinies have been intertwined for some time. When the Sakurazukamori joined us, I could sense it then.”
“That was years ago.” People changed.
“He’s looking for you now,” Kakyou said. “I can feel his power.”
“I doubt it’s out of concern.” Kamui thought back through the night’s events. “I’m sure he’s angry with me. I couldn’t even do a simple job right.”
“That is not surprising.”
“What?” Kamui looked up sharply.
“You’ve changed. Your power is not as it was. The Kamui of the Dragons of Heaven has power suited for peace, but I don’t sense that from you.” Kakyou stared at him. “When I try to discern your future, all I can see is darkness. It causes Imonoyama concern.”
Kamui swallowed. “Do you know why?”
Kakyou stared at him. “I believe so.”
“Does everybody know?” Kamui frowned.
“I don’t know,” Kakyou sighed. “They would have to come here. I don’t believe Imonoyama would allow that.”
“Does Imonoyama know what’s wrong with me?”
“He knows my theory.”
“Which is what?”
Kakyou looked at Kamui from the corner of his eye. “Imonoyama doesn’t want you to know. He thinks your life will be easier if you remain unaware. Do you still want to know?”
Kamui looked down at his knees. “I was in a coma, after the final battle. When I woke up, it had been three months. I was so . . . angry. The world just moved on, like nothing happened. There were memorials, sure, but reconstruction was already complete in some parts of the city. Karen and Kigai were becoming friends. Sorata and Arashi . . . their funerals were over. And I wasn’t there.”
He pressed the heel of his hand to the side of his head, running his fingers back through his hair. “I didn’t know what to do. It was like, now that the world was done with me, I might as well not be in it. It was hard. I felt . . . it was more than just feeling broken. I felt like I’d been torn apart, but the pain was inside. Fuuma wasn’t . . . Fuuma in the end. But he was still my twin star, and losing him hurt.
Eventually, Yuzuriha suggested I meet with Lady Sumeragi. Imonoyama arranged the whole thing. I know they keep in contact. They keep a close watch on me. I try to tell myself it’s because they care, but . . . it’s something else too. But they don’t understand. What it was like to go through all that, and survive. I thought Subaru might, because of Hokuto . . .” Kamui swallowed. “So, I guess you might too.”
Kakyou inclined his head. His expression hadn’t changed, but something in his eyes flashed at Hokuto’s name.
“Imonoyama and Lady Sumeragi saw me at my worst. Most broken, I guess. When Kotori was killed, it was horrible. But Subaru saved me. With Fuuma, it was like I had died, but I was still there. They watched me go through that. So. I understood why they stayed in contact. Why they wanted to keep an eye on me. And I didn’t say anything about it. I didn’t tell them I knew.”
Kamui unfurled his legs. He sat up straight, squaring his shoulders. “But this is different. If something is wrong with me, I don’t want to run away from it.”
For a long time, Kakyou didn’t speak. He studied Kamui with what seemed like impassivity, but felt much heavier. “Very well. I—”
Kamui was shaken from Kakyou’s dream by a warm hand on his shoulder. He looked up at the intruder, surprised to find Imonoyama looking down at him with a grim set to his mouth. He felt disjointed, being pulled out of Kakyou’s dream against both of their wills.
“Kamui,” Imonoyama said. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Kamui stared up at him, rapidly coming out of his haze.
“Kakyou is . . .” Imonoyama trailed off.
Kamui wet his lips, shifting. His bones groaned at the movement, different than how he’d fallen asleep. “How long have you been keeping him here?”
Imonoyama thinned his lips. “After the battle, we found him under the Tochou. Apparently the Dragons of Earth were holed up there. He’s been comatose since we found him. Because he can still communicate through dreams, we keep him here. To keep people with bad intentions from using him.”
Kamui fought to keep his breathing steady. Kakyou had made it fairly clear what kind of people came to see him. People who wanted things. The kind of people Subaru, as the Sakurazukamori, was sent to kill. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You were bedridden for months,” Imonoyama said. “When you were finally able to leave the hospital, I didn’t think you were in a state to—”
“You’ve had chances since then!” Kamui stood, pushing past Imonoyama to get to the door. He needed to get out of the room. Clear his head. He wanted to believe Imonoyama was telling the truth—that he had good intentions—but Kakyou had been so . . . so empty.
“Kamui,” Imonoyama followed him out of the room. “Kakyou was a Dragon of Earth. I didn’t think you would want to see him.”
“I see Kigai all the time. I saw Kusanagi on New Year’s. Why is that different?”
“Kakyou is a seer. I thought, given Hinoto . . . he couldn’t be trusted.”
“So you’re keeping him prisoner?”
“Kakyou can only wake up once the world ends. That didn’t happen, but we don’t know if that means he’ll never awaken,” Imonoyama said. “Where else could he stay for an indefinite amount of time?”
Kamui shook his head, stepping on to the elevator as a nurse walked out. Imonoyama followed.
“Kamui, how did you find him?” Imonoyama asked. “Did he reach out to you?”
Kamui didn’t answer, pressing against the back of the elevator as it descended to the ground floor. He stared at the numbers above the door, watching the meter move from the fourth floor to the first. The elevator hovered in suspension for a moment before it rocked and the doors opened, the fluorescent lights from the hall spilling inside and hurting Kamui’s eyes.
Imonoyama followed Kamui off the elevator, but he was stopped every few feet by a nurse or patient that recognized him. Kamui navigated through the crowded hall quickly, twisting around and through crowds until he was on the sidewalk outside the entrance.
Houses lined the street across from the hospital, a waist-high stone wall separating the sidewalk from the yards. On top of the stone sat a bird, but Kamui couldn’t tell if it was the same one from before. He was close enough now to tell this one was some kind of falcon, and the way the shadows fell from the streetlights made it seem almost like the bird had two heads.
Kamui shook his own. That was impossible. Trick of the light.
His confusion cost him. Imonoyama caught up to him half way down the street. “Kamui . . . whatever Kakyou told you . . . you can’t trust him.”
“But I should trust you, right?” Kamui turned.
“Of course,” Imonoyama said, and the hurt in his voice made Kamui flinch.
“Kakyou said you go to him to talk about me. That you think something is wrong with me.”
“That’s not true,” Imonoyama said, but Kamui could hear desperation in his tone. He wanted Kamui to believe him, probably because he wanted the subject dropped. That didn’t bode well for Kamui’s suspicion. “You really haven’t considered Kakyou might be lying? Trying to manipulate you?”
“He isn’t.” That, Kamui was confident about. After Hinoto, Kamui had taught himself to be on guard in the dream world. “I don’t know about you.”
“I’m going home.”
“At least let me drive you. It’s late.”
“I’d rather walk,” Kamui said.
“Kamui,” Imonoyama sighed.
“If you’re not going to tell me the truth, I don’t want to talk.”
“You’re making this bigger than it is . . .”
“It’s my life!” Kamui said. “If something is happening to me, I have a right to know!”
“It’s not that simple.”
Imonoyama stared at him, then sighed. “I’m sorry, Kamui. There’s nothing to say.”
Kamui took a deep breath, staring down at the ground. “Kakyou said you know what’s happening to me. I don’t understand why you would want to keep that a secret.”
“It’s for your own protection.”
“I’m not protected if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be protected from.”
“Kamui, calm down.”
“I’ve been calm!” Kamui yelled. Up the street, some of the workers on break were looking their way. “You’ve been lying to me for years about this!”
“I wasn’t lying to you,” Imonoyama said. His voice was quiet, but his tone was sharp. “Before tonight, you never expressed any interest or curiosity about Kakyou.”
“Lying by omission isn’t any better,” Kamui snapped. “I thought he was dead. You let me believe that.”
Imonoyama reached out, grasping Kamui by the forearm. “Kamui, listen. I’m not doing any of this to hurt you. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—”
“Be angry if you want, but it’s for your own good—”
Kamui took a step back. He heard a rapid beat, like curtains snapping in the air, and a shrill cry. Imonoyama sprang away from him with a yell as the bird from across the street dropped down on them from above. It spread its wings wide, flapping them toward Imonoyama and crying out again.
Kamui took another step back. This close, there was no mistaking it. The falcon had two heads. It didn’t attack Imonoyama directly, but it continued to circle around him and make like it was going to peck at his face or claw up his sleeve.
It was an opportunity Kamui wasn’t going to waste. If Imonoyama wasn’t truly in danger, Kamui wasn’t going to stick around to hear more of his excuses. He turned on his heel, sprinting down the street as the yells of the hospital workers drew closer.
Kamui was down the block before he realized the falcon was following him, shadowing him from the air. He grit his teeth, willed himself not to be too concerned about it, and didn’t stop running.
You taught me happiness with sadness
Whenever I want to shine
You will always give me a darker day
Chapter 7: Interlude: Treaty
I told myself I would post the new chapters during finals week since most of my finals were given a week early. Unfortunately, this week has still been pretty busy. But I might have good news soon, so that's something! I try very hard to stick to Utada Hikaru songs when I'm writing new chapters, but I like the idea of using different artists for the interlude, and so I shall. By definition, I suppose this isn't an interlude, but I don't have a better word for a teeny tiny connecting chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Breakfast with Karen was tense. Kamui stared down at his plate, mind racing. As soon as he’d woken up he’d called the hospital. According to the nurse, Kakyou had checked out of the hospital shortly after Kamui had left. His records left no indication of where he went, but Kamui knew Imonoyama had something to do with it. In a fit of anger he’d tossed his phone across the room. It hadn’t shattered against the wall, but it wasn’t turning on either. He hadn’t told Karen yet, hoping Imonoyama hadn’t thought to start calling the landline.
Kamui didn’t know who to trust. Subaru? Kakyou had said Subaru didn’t know he was alive, but what if that wasn’t true? If Subaru could drop off the grid for three years, he could probably find ways around a Seer. Kakyou might not have even known.
And . . . what about Karen? She’d taken Kamui in, given him a home in Tokyo when he’d had nothing left. Was it all an act? Kamui didn’t doubt her kindness was genuine, but what about her intentions behind that? Was she reporting everything to Imonoyama? Lady Sumeragi hadn’t been open about her intentions, but she hadn’t hid them either. Kamui had always known where he stood with her. What was Karen hiding?
He hated this. He hated feeling like there was no one he could trust. He hated his own suspicion even more. He pushed some of the rice around his bowl, sighing.
“Okay,” Karen said. “What is it?”
Kamui looked up, weary, “What is what?”
Karen pointed her chopsticks at him. “Whatever it is you’re sighing about. What is it?”
Kamui frowned, looking back down to his bowl. “Nothing.”
He heard Karen set her bowl on the table. She reached out, fingers stretching toward his arm. Kamui pulled away before she could settle her hand on his. He didn’t look up.
“Kamui,” Karen said. She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t want to push you in to talking about anything, but know that I won’t judge you, or pity you, or think your concerns are trivial.”
Kamui bit at the tip of his tongue. Karen was trying to be comforting but that only made him feel worse.
“I don’t have to be the person you open up to,” Karen said. “I just want you to have someone to talk to.”
Kamui looked up, meeting her eyes. He wanted to tell her everything. He wanted to tell her about Subaru, and the blackouts, and Imonoyama’s horrible secret, but he couldn’t. And even so, he needed to know. He wouldn’t be able to trust her until he did. Maybe Kigai could give him some answers. He and Karen were close. And as a former Angel, Kigai and Imonoyama probably wouldn’t be working together.
“I’m fine,” Kamui said. “I’m just tired.”
Karen, clearly unconvinced, sat back. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” Kamui said. Each lie made him feel worse. “I’m fine.”
If Kigai was surprised to see Kamui standing in front of his desk, he didn’t show it. He didn’t miss a beat before saying, “I wasn’t aware you were engaged.”
Kamui blinked, “What?”
Kigai gestured around, from the white-washed walls to the group of older women watching Kamui suspiciously. One of them had reluctantly pointed Kamui in the direction of Kigai’s desk, muttering something about the irresponsibility of today’s youth.
“My job?” Kigai said. “I sign marriage licenses.”
Kamui flushed, though the joke was terrible. “I didn’t know where else to find you.”
“I’m surprised you knew to find me here, actually,” Kigai said.
“I need to talk to you,” Kamui said. “About Karen.”
Kigai lifted an eyebrow. “No offense, but if this is the ‘hurt her and I’ll hurt you’ talk, I don’t think I’ll be able to take you seriously.”
“What?” Kamui spluttered.
“You’re half my height,” Kigai mused. “Besides, Karen would certainly hurt me before you got the chance, if I ever did anything to wrong her.”
“That’s . . .” Kamui shook his head. “That’s not what I meant at all.”
“Ah. Well, in that case.” Kigai crossed his legs, indicating to the chair before his desk.
Kamui sat, threading his fingers together in his lap.
“What are you here to talk about, then?” Kigai asked. “I wasn’t under the impression we were, ah, buddies.”
Kamui frowned. Either Kigai was being purposefully irritating or he didn’t have a clue how to speak to people that weren’t his age. “You and Karen are close.”
Kigai cleared his throat, staring at a point over Kamui’s shoulder. “Yes.”
“Do you know . . .” Kamui looked down. “Do you know anything about Imonoyama?”
“Him?” Kigai said. There was a hint of distaste in his voice. “He’s certainly got his fingers in a lot of honey pots, doesn’t he?”
“He mingles in a lot of business that isn’t his own,” Kigai said. “I can’t say I’m a fan. Though, I thought you were, so I wonder why you’re coming to me with this? Can’t trust Karen to keep your feelings a secret?”
Though Kigai was making light of the situation, Kamui couldn’t stop his expression from darkening.
“Oh, I see.” Kigai shifted in his seat. “Well, I can’t say much. He’s not exactly a common conversation topic between us. Though I don’t blame you for being suspicious of him. He’s something of a politician. There are sure to be some skeletons there.”
“Though I think you probably know someone who could tell you a little more about him than myself.”
“Let’s see,” Kigai drummed his fingers on his desk, feigning thoughtfulness. “Who do we know that has a close relationship with politicians?”
“Really?” Kigai looked disappointed. “The Sakurazukamori, Kamui.”
“I—. Nobody has seen Subaru in years—”
Kigai waved his hand. “We spoke last week. In person. I know he’s back, and I know that he’s been contacting you.”
Kamui swallowed, “Why haven’t you told anyone?”
“I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of dying,” Kigai said lightly. Kamui couldn’t tell if it was a joke. “If anyone can tell you about Imonoyama, it will be Sumeragi. Imonoyama is the kind of person he targets, after all.”
“Imonoyama isn’t corrupt. Not like that. He’s just . . . hiding something.”
“You sound like you’ve tried very hard to convince yourself,” Kigai said. “Tell me, why is it that you can rationalize spending your time with an assassin, but you can’t allow yourself to believe a powerful businessman might not have your best interests at heart?”
“In my opinion,” Kigai said, “if you want to throw Imonoyama off your trail, you’re going to need a good story.”
“What do you mean?”
“Whatever it is you think Imonoyama is hiding, I can only assume it pertains to you. If you want him to stop looking out for every little thing that could go wrong, redirect his attention.”
“You mean,” Kamui said, “come up with some story to tell him that he could focus on?”
“Yes,” Kigai said, showing off perfectly-straight teeth. “I mean lie.”
And I know you're out there,
in the shadows
The ladies Kigai worked with were getting used to him. Kamui had gone back to talk to Kigai several times, mostly to ask about Subaru. According to Kigai, Subaru was out of town for a job. He hadn’t known when he would be back, just told Kigai that it was for a client he couldn’t refuse. Kamui didn’t want to think about what that meant. Who was strong enough to pull the strings of the Sakurazukamori?
So, Kamui spent his days curled up in the extra chair in Kigai’s office, trudging through another book on Onmyoudou. Most of the books from Imonoyama’s library had been translated into Japanese. Kigai had procured the copy Kamui was reading now, though he wasn’t divulging his source. It was old, published when most of the written language was still Chinese. His first visit to Kyoto had consisted mainly of language lessons, so he wasn’t completely helpless. He did feel like a child struggling to read a book out of his league, though.
This was how Subaru found him, squeezed into an uncomfortable chair, squinting at a fragile page. Kamui had seen him walk in. There was a bell over the office door that chimed obnoxiously when anyone entered or walked by, but Kamui still looked up every time. He’d almost dropped the book when Subaru ducked in, greeting the ladies with a polite smile.
“Do you two talk a lot?” Kamui had asked Kigai before Subaru had made his way back toward them.
Kigai had only smiled, slipping out of the cubical before Kamui could ask anything else. He hadn’t stopped to talk to Subaru, disappearing down a side hall before he was spotted.
“Kamui?” Subaru didn’t breach the threshold of Kigai’s space, leaning against the side of the cubical wall. “What are you doing here?”
Kamui didn’t look up from his page. He told himself it was because he didn’t want to lose his place, but he knew part of it was pettiness. Subaru hadn’t even tried to contact him. “Nobody will look for me here.”
“Are you in hiding?” Subaru sounded amused, but Kamui wasn’t looking up to see.
“Things have happened.” Now, Kamui looked up. “You weren’t here.”
“I had a contract.”
“You could have called.”
Kamui thought about his broken phone. He’d gotten a new one after a few days, but his number was the same. “You could have kept trying.”
Subaru was quiet. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Kamui looked back down. He rubbed the corner of a page between his fingers. He wasn’t reading it anymore. He’d remembered less of the language than he’d thought.
“What things have happened?”
“What kind of job were you on?”
“Do you really want to know?”
Kamui frowned at the page. What had Kigai said about him? That he justified spending time with Subaru, but suspected Imonoyama? It was true. Kamui was willing to pretend Subaru wasn’t out doing the kinds of things a Sakurazukamori did. His conversation with Kakyou was fresh enough that Kamui knew he had tendencies to keep himself in the dark to avoid a harsher truth. He’d adopted the behavior after the final battle with Fuuma, but it wasn’t something he was proud of. He hadn’t been like that before.
Subaru spoke softly, “Kamui.”
Kamui looked up.
“You don’t want to know.”
“I do. I need to know.”
Subaru studied him, then looked around the office space. He took a seat in Kigai’s chair, crossing his legs. “A politician was visiting his childhood home. I was asked to ensure he didn’t return to Tokyo.”
“Has Lady Sumeragi ever spoken to you about the board? The ones who pass down the cases to the onmyouji.”
“Yeah,” Kamui said. “It’s filled up mostly by your family, now.”
“It’s a similar concept. There are people who make up the permanent board, so to speak. Ones that will always have contracts to assign. The others are people willing to part with most of their money for the board to look into their case.”
“But what makes you listen to them? Lady Sumeragi said you were the most gifted onmyouji born in this century. That you’d have been the most powerful. That hasn’t changed, right?”
“I’m the only Sakurazukamori. I don’t know if that means I’m the most gifted person in the group.” Subaru uncrossed his legs, stretching them out and crossing his ankles. “They employ a wide range of people with . . . darker gifts. I’m unique amongst them because of my abilities and training, but that’s all.”
“So they’d come after you if you said no? That’s why you listen?”
“No. If I chose to stop taking contracts with them, they would be more worried that my next target would be one of them. They wouldn’t try to come after me. It would be too much like an invitation.”
“Why do you do it, then?”
“I may not be beholden to their power, but I am to my own. There are certain things I have to do to survive. Taking contracts is simply the easiest way to accomplish those things.”
Kamui looked down, rubbing faintly at his temple.
“You did ask,” Subaru said.
“I know. I’m just thinking.”
Subaru was quiet for a while. “You said some things happened here. What things?”
“I . . . don’t really know where to start.” Kamui closed the book, leaning forward to set it on Kigai’s desk. “Imonoyama has been keeping Kakyou locked away. I met with him a few weeks ago, the night we went to Shibuya. I thought . . . that Fuuma had killed him, or . . .”
“What?” Kamui’s head shot up.
Subaru held up a hand. “I learned of his survival the same time you did.”
“No,” Kamui argued. “You weren’t at the hospital. You had to have known before.”
“I wasn’t at the hospital in person, no. But I have other ways of being somewhere. I heard part of your conversation with Imonoyama on the road.”
Kamui frowned. Slowly, he asked, “The falcon?”
“That’s your Shikigami, then?”
“When you ran from the site, I was concerned. I sent it to find you.”
Kamui slumped back in his chair. “Kakyou . . . I don’t know if he reached out to me, or if something else happened. But he had a theory about what was happening to me. Imonoyama had him moved before I could ask.”
Subaru spoke quietly, though not without a hint of disapproval, “Imonoyama is not as trustworthy as you would like him to be.”
“I’m not saying he’s a bad person,” Subaru clarified, “but he has his own intentions.”
“Do you know what those are?” Kamui asked.
“I don’t,” Subaru said. “Imonoyama is harder to access than most.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to reach him, so it’s hard to study his intentions.”
“What if I asked you to? Could I give him to you as a target?”
“Not to kill him,” Kamui added hastily. “I just want to--. Nevermind. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to know what Imonoyama’s intentions are, but I need to find Kakyou again. He’s the best chance I have at figuring out . . . all this.” Kamui waved his hand sharply.
Subaru looked him over. “You said Kakyou had a theory about what’s happening to you. What do you mean?”
Kamui looked away. He had forgotten he’d lied to Subaru about what had really happened in Sancha. Subaru been there for Shibuya, though.
“I’ve . . .” Kamui rubbed at his temple again. It was starting to ache, a slowd build-up to a migraine. “I’ve been blacking out. Not a lot, but when I use too much power. Or. I don’t know, I feel like something is wrong. Like in Shibuya. But before I can figure out what it is, I’m waking up somewhere else.”
“You didn’t pass out in Shibuya.”
“But it didn’t feel right. I don’t remember what I did when I left. I just woke up on the train, and then I was standing outside Kakyou’s door.”
Subaru was pensive. “When did this start?”
“I don’t know. Sancha is the first time I can remember, but there wasn’t any reason for it.” Kamui pulled his feet up to the edge of the chair. “It’s happened twice. I notice myself getting angry about something. Angrier than I should be. Then--.” He shrugged. “Until I talked to Kakyou, I thought I might be getting sick, or that I had a smaller power reserve than I thought I did.”
“Kakyou thinks differently?”
“He implied that there was a reason. That Imonoyama might know what it is, and is keeping it from me.”
“And that’s why you don’t want Imonoyama to know you’re looking for Kakyou again. He won’t tell you, and if he anticipates you coming, he’ll just have Kakyou moved. You’ll have to start over.”
“Right. So I have a plan.” Kamui eyed him.
Subaru inclined his head.
“Kigai thinks I should redirect his attention,” Kamui said.
“A lie,” Subaru guessed.
Kamui said. “Yeah. But I’m not a good liar. I never have been. It will be easier to tell the truth. But it has to be something that will split his focus. If I tell him about the blackouts, I’ll just end up in the hospital myself. So I thought I could tell him about you.”
“I thought I could tell Imonoyama, or let it slip anyway, that I’ve been meeting with you. That you’ve been back for a while, and you’ve been teaching me.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
“It’s not a great idea,” Kamui said. “I don’t think it’s all bad.”
Subaru sighed. “Imonoyama is the spearhead of a large community that tracks supernatural threats. He considers the Sakurazukamori one of those threats. There are certain procedures in place if I’m seen in Tokyo.”
“They were created decades ago, but Imonoyama hasn’t dropped them. You remember the Dragons of Earth couldn’t cross the lines of the school campus? It’s similar to that.”
“But Kakyou was kept at Imonoyama Hospital.”
“The hospital is outside the perimeter of the safe zone.”
Kamui shook his head. “You weren’t our enemy. There shouldn’t be procedures.”
“In the end, I wasn’t your ally,” Subaru said. “It doesn’t matter that I used to be on amiable terms with him. If Imonoyama knows I’m in the city, he’ll want to do something about it. If it comes to that . . .” Subaru folded his arms across the desk. “If it comes to that, I’ll have no choice but to treat him as a target. I have work to do here, and I won’t be removed.”
Kamui unfurled himself, crossing his arms unhappily.
“It’s why I didn’t want to approach you,” Subaru said.
“Fine,” Kamui said. “I’ll think of something else.”
Subaru watched him quietly, tapping a thumb against his palm. “There are things I can do to avoid detection, at least for a little while. I’ll need time to set up safeguards,” he said. “I’ll let you know when I’m done. You can tell them after.”
Kamui looked up, “Really? Are you sure?”
“Can I help?”
“Not that all this plotting isn’t touching,” Kigai called, leaning in the space Subaru had been moments before, “but I’d like my office back.”
Kamui had expected Subaru to lead them back to wherever he was staying in the city. He thought Subaru lived either close to Kigai’s office, or somewhere in Edogawa. He wasn’t expecting Subaru to usher Kamui into the back of a cab and close the door without getting in. Subaru tapped on the window when Kamui frowned at him, indicating for him to roll it down.
“It will take some time to set everything up.”
“I could help you.”
“I’ll call when I’m done,” Subaru assured him. “If they’re keeping an eye on you as diligently as you say, there will be ways to backtrack your movements.”
“You can’t risk them finding you until your wards are up.”
Kamui slumped back in the seat, feeling childish. “Fine.”
“I understand,” Kamui said. “I won’t say anything until you call.”
“That book you were reading in Kigai’s office. It was about Shikigami?”
Kamui nodded, glancing at the driver. Subaru didn’t seem concerned they were being overheard. Maybe they’d be mistaken as history students, or something.
“Come to Kigai’s tomorrow morning. I’ll look through it.”
“I’ll see you then.” Subaru stepped back from the curb.
“Yeah,” Kamui studied him from the safety of the cab. He knew what he looked like when he was looking at Subaru. The barrier between them made him feel less like he was baring his soul for Subaru to see. “See you tomorrow.”
Kamui called for the cab to stop earlier than expected. He’d been keeping a close eye on the meter, after realizing Subaru hadn’t given him any cab fare, and cut his losses early. He stepped out at Ebisu, trying to think of the best line to take back to Karen’s. After the incident in Sancha, Kamui had bought himself a train pass that would be good through the month. He knew most of the train schedules by heart at this point, and knew he had some time to kill before the closest departed.
Kamui sat himself down on the edge of the fountain, fingers laced together. Ebisu was busy, as usual. Businesses had been the focus of the relief effort after 1999—rebuild the buildings and you rebuild the economy, or so said the news. It was the neighborhoods that suffered; many were still filled with more rubble than homes.
Kamui watched the people milling around. A mother and daughter peered in the window of a clothing shop. A group of students, all vaguely familiar, sat at a table outside a café. A man in a suit swept quickly from one side of the plaza to the other, phone pressed to his ear. It was all so normal. If Kamui hadn’t seen the destruction first-hand, it would almost seem like Ebisu was never destroyed.
Kamui turned. One of the students from the table had come over and was standing before him, hands tucked in his pockets.
“How are you doing?”
Kamui opened his mouth, but wasn’t sure what to say.
“You didn’t look so good the other night. On the train?”
“Oh.” Kamui still couldn’t remember the trip between Shibuya and the hospital, but he could vaguely recall someone asking about his well-being. “I. Yeah, thanks.”
“Good. I was a little worried you wouldn’t make it to the hospital, but you just stood up and took off!”
“Yeah,” Kamui laughed nervously. “I was a little out of it.”
“No kidding. I wasn’t sure if you were just asleep, or sick.” He paused. “I’m Hayato, by the way.” He thrust out his hand, and Kamui shook it tentatively. “I’ve seen you around campus, but I don’t think we’ve been in class together. You’re Nekoi’s friend, right?”
“Ah, yeah.” Kamui paused. “I’m Kamui. You know Yuzuriha?”
“Yeah. I help her out from time to time.”
“You’re not in high school.”
Hayato laughed, “No. Nekoi wants to study the field I’m in. I gave her a tour once, so now she comes to me with all her questions.”
Kamui didn’t know what field that was. He had never actually asked Yuzuriha what she wanted to study. School had never interested him, so it had never crossed his mind. He felt a little guilty for that.
“Do you want to come eat with us?” Hayato asked. “We’re studying, but you’re welcome to join.”
“Ah, I’m waiting for someone,” Kamui shifted. “But. Thank you.”
“All right.” Hayato didn’t sound convinced. He gestured to their table, walking backwards toward it. “Well, if you change your mind. I’m glad you’re doing better.”
“Thanks . . .” But Hayato was already out of earshot, sitting back down with his friends.
Kamui watched them for a moment, trying to place the others. They all looked the same age, alternating between staring seriously at their books and goofing around. If Kamui had led a normal life, would that be him? Yuzuriha invited him out with her friends all the time, but he’d never agreed. It was more than the thought that he wouldn’t have anything in common with another person his age. He didn’t know if that was something he wanted, sitting around, goofing off over coffee and schoolwork.
Kamui thought about Subaru, and that he’d get to see him tomorrow. He thought, given the chance, he’d rather spend time with a dangerous assassin than a group of college students. What did that say about him? He wasn’t cut out to lead a normal life? He never would be?
He thought about Subaru’s face, the way it looked when he was talking to Kamui through the cab’s lowered window. His eyes had been hard and serious, but everything else about him was soft. The angles of his face. The slope of his nose. The miniscule smile that pulled at the corner of his mouth when he was trying not to laugh at Kamui, trying to pretend he had lost touch with his emotions. Kamui knew that was a lie. There was a reason for it, but it was a lie.
No, Kamui wouldn’t give that up to be sitting at Hayato’s table, or going out with Yuzuriha’s friends. He would choose Subaru, always, no matter what Subaru did or how he thought of himself. If Subaru and Imonoyama came to confrontation, Kamui would choose Subaru. Maybe that made him ungrateful. Maybe that meant he was a bad person. Even so, it was a comforting thought. Subaru might not feel the same, might not put Kamui above anything, but it was something. Something Kamui could hold on to. Something he wouldn’t give up.
that if I put my headphones on
and blend in with the crowd
then I'll disappear
Chapter 9: Academia
i'll be writing this story until i'm 82 years old i swear. artistic liberties have been taken with subaru's family history. onmyoudou spells from localization of tokyo babylon volumes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Recite it again. But slow down a little. You risk too much by rushing through it.”
“I just don’t understand why we’re doing this first. I can’t summon a shikigami. Shouldn’t I be learning how to do that before I learn how to get it to listen to me?”
“That’s not something that can be taught. You may wake up tomorrow with a shikigami. It may take months. Either way, you’ll know how to make use of it when it appears.”
Kamui nodded to show he was listening. He tapped out an unheard rhythm on the pages of the book in his lap. “Does your shikigami always look like that falcon, or does it change?”
“Recite the spell correctly and I’ll tell you.”
Kamui smiled into his palm at Subaru’s wry tone. “Okay. Rin Hei Tou Sha. Kaijin. Retsu—”
Subaru held up a hand. “Take a breath between Kai and Jin. If you make them one word you’ll be reciting a different spell.”
“Are they really spells though?” Kamui fiddled with the corner of the page. “I mean, it’s not like you’re a wizard.”
“How very Western of you.” Subaru was looking down at his crossed legs, but the corner of his mouth was quirked. “Omnyoudou predates most Western ideas of magic. In fact, it used to be widespread. Even a few shogun employed onmyouji in Edo.”
“That’s when your ancestors rose to power. Well, metaphorically speaking. Lady Sumeragi told me.”
“Not metaphorically. Before that we were just wandering priests. There are quite a few records of possession within the family from that era, due to how unprepared some of them were,” Subaru said. “Once they established themselves in Edo, they were able to access a lot more information. Now, recite the spell.”
Kamui sank back. “Rin Hei Tou Sha. Kai Jin. Retsu. Zai. Zen. Ha.”
“And how much of that did you read off the page?”
“Only the last few characters.” Kamui sat forward again. “I’ve got the first part memorized.”
“That’s not bad for an afternoon.”
“Will you tell me more about your ancestors?”
“You said Lady Sumeragi did.”
“She told me the basic history. I didn’t know about the possessions.”
“It’s not an embarrassment she likes to talk about.” Subaru curled his fingers beneath his chin. “Why the interest? I don’t remember history being your favorite topic.”
“Most of it isn’t, but … well it’s kind of nice that you know so much about your past. I don’t know anything about my mother’s family history.”
Subaru studied him for a moment. Whatever conclusions he drew, he kept them to himself. “The first Sumeragi that held an appointed title of onmyouji was named Subaru as well. He secured a position at court for the Sumeragi family, though they didn’t adopt that name until later. They remained in power long after his death. He was considered important, and so every child in the family born with substantial power has been named for him.”
Kamui squinted. “How many Subaru Sumeragis have there been?”
“There aren’t any right now aside from me, but there have been a lot through the years.”
Kamui made a thoughtful noise. “You’re still the only you, though. Even if you were named after them.”
That nearly brought a smile to Subaru’s face. Kamui was getting better at noticing that particular expression, the way the corners of Subaru’s lips quirked before he forced them into a sterner line. “It always felt more like a title to me than a name.”
“Don’t you like your name?”
“I don’t dislike it. I just can’t say I’ve ever felt attached to it.”
“I’ve always liked your name,” Kamui said, only feeling that he’d slightly overstepped the line in the sand. He would have felt worse about it last week, and even worse the week before. He only felt mildly impolite this week. Subaru had been answering more of his personal questions lately, which meant Kamui was steadily working his way through Subaru’s walls again.
Subaru lifted an eyebrow, though not very high. “Really? It’s a bit average, compared to your own.”
Kamui replied immediately, “I don’t like my name.”
“He who represents God’s will. But it’s just a title,” Kamui said. He was aware of the irony of his words, given Subaru’s own only moments before. It was different, though he didn’t want to say that and make Subaru think he was belittling him. “I was named for my role in the battle that was promised. They called Fuuma the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth.”
“So it was a title. My mother knew that. So I don’t really have a name.”
Subaru studied him for a moment. “What would you have wanted to be called?”
Kamui weathered the corner of the page. “Tooru, I think.”
Subaru gently canted his head.
“It was her name. My mother’s.” Kamui closed the book. “I like your name, though. It’s for the constellation, right?”
“I saw them once, when I still lived in Okinawa. Those stars.” Kamui’s mouth curved into a shy smile. “They’re very beautiful.”
Subaru wasn’t smiling anymore. “The stars all look the same from down here.”
“Not to everyone.”
Subaru’s stern frown made Kamui wonder if he knew what Kamui was hinting toward. Still, Kamui doubted it. He’d kept the realization of how deep his feelings still ran to himself. Subaru hadn’t reciprocated them then. Kamui had never said anything, but there had been a stark line drawn between Subaru’s kindness and Subaru’s intimacy. Kamui hadn’t been allowed them both, and so he’d settled happily for the first. He didn’t think that had changed much in the years Subaru had been gone. For now his heart was safe in its secrecy.
“Should I do it again?” Kamui asked, waving the book in his lap.
“No, I think that’s enough for today.”
“If you’re sure.”
Subaru nodded, reaching out for the book. Kamui handed it over. Kigai hadn’t wanted Kamui to take the book with him, but he didn’t seem to mind if Subaru did. Honor among angels, maybe? That was a bit of a mean thought, though. Even if Subaru had betrayed them, Kamui didn’t think of him as one of the former Dragons of Earth the same way he did with Kigai and Kusanagi.
However, Kigai didn’t trust Subaru enough to let them continue to meet in his office. Kamui had suggested a little bakery in Ebisu, but that had turned out to be too loud to get any real work done. Subaru had suggested a library, and so they’d been meeting at Hibarigaoka since. It wasn’t so bad, until the junior high around the corner let out and all the children started pouring in, waiting for their parents to get off work to pick them up.
“We’re going to have to postpone our next lesson,” Subaru said. “I have some things I need to handle tomorrow.”
“Can I help?”
“That would defeat the purpose.”
Kamui frowned, eyebrows furrowing together.
“I’ve been meaning to handle the rest of my safeguards. It would defeat the purpose if you were helping.”
“Oh. Wait, does that mean you’re almost done?”
“Yes,” Subaru said.
“Should I tell someone?” Kamui shook his head. “I mean, Karen or Imonoyama?”
“Not yet.” Subaru sat back, crossing his legs. “This will likely be the only chance I have to set these up. If they’re not fully functional and one of them comes looking for me, I’ll have a harder time disappearing. Once they know I’m here they’ll be on high alert.”
“I still don’t know if Karen is working with him,” Kamui pointed out.
“I suppose you’ll find out soon.”
Subaru exhaled softly. “I’m sorry. That was a cruel thing to say.”
“It wasn’t cruel,” Kamui said. It was upsetting, though. “I just don’t like thinking about it.”
Kamui folded his hands under the table. “I should probably head back. Will you let me know when you’re done?”
Subaru nodded, “Of course.”
Kamui nodded, standing up. He winced at the harsh screech of the chair legs as it pushed out from under him. “I’ll. I’ll see you later, then.”
Subaru offered an apologetic smile. “I’ll let you know.”
“So,” Yuzuriha tried for nonchalant, but Kamui could hear the worry beneath her tone, “Karen says you’ve been going out a lot.”
They weren’t even five minutes into their conversation and Kamui was almost regretting it. He’d agreed to meet Yuzuriha for lunch because he hadn’t seen her in a while, and he’d been expecting a little prodding truth be told, but Subaru hadn’t texted him the all-clear yet, and it had been two days since their last library visit. Kamui wasn’t a good liar to begin with, but Yuzuriha was especially good at catching him in them.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time in Ebisu.” There. That wasn’t entirely a lie. He’d been there a few times.
“Oh,” Yuzuriha nodded slowly. “Oh! Is that how you ran into Hayato?”
Kamui had to think it over. “Your tutor?”
“He’s not my tutor,” Yuzuriha said. “He does work as a student tutor, though.”
“He said you were interested in the same field?”
“Kind of. I think he does something with physiology? I’m leaning more towards zoology, but I don’t have to decide right away. I’m not sure I’ll even get in,” Yuzuriha laughed.
“Of course you will,” Kamui said. “Imonoyama runs the school. There’s no way he’d bar you.” Maybe. Imonoyama was a man of many faces, apparently.
“I don’t want to get in because he lets me, I want to get in because I earned it.”
“You’ll get in either way,” Kamui said. “I mean. You’re smart. And driven. You’ll get in.”
“Aw,” Yuzuriha smiled. It dropped with an abruptness that worried Kamui. “But you’re changing the subject. What’s in Ebisu?” She was talking herself back into excitement. “Did you meet someone? Are you making friends?”
“Yuzuriha,” Kamui groaned.
“Are you?” she asked.
“I . . .” Kamui looked at the hanging leaves behind her. He could . . . skirt around his self-discovery without mentioning Subaru, right? If this business with Imonoyama wasn’t happening, Kamui would want to tell her. “Maybe.”
“Maybe!” Yuzuriha nearly shrieked. “Kamui! That’s great!”
Kamui took it all back. “I said maybe.”
“Who is it? Do I know her? Is she our age? Is it a she?” Yuzuriha gasped. “Is it a he? Is it Keiichi? Is Keiichi back in town?”
Kamui groaned, burying his face in his arms. “This is why I don’t tell you things.”
Yuzuriha laughed. She patted his exposed hand, sitting back. “I really am happy for you, Kamui.”
“I just want to know about them. If they’re important to you, they’re important to me.”
Kamui glanced up, meeting Yuzuriha’s smile with his own. “Thanks.”
“It’s not Keiichi.”
“Then who?” Yuzuriha draped herself across the table dramatically.
“It’s . . . someone.” Kamui eyed her. “If I talk about it, I can’t tell you who it is. Can you handle that?”
Yuzuriha groaned good-naturedly. “I guess.”
“No,” Yuzuriha laughed. “I really do want to listen.”
“I don’t feel like talking about it.”
“I’m kidding.” It felt good to joke around. It really had been too long since they’d spent time together. “I do want to talk about it. I haven’t told anyone else.”
“Why not?” Yuzuriha asked. “You know Karen would love to hear about it. Especially if you’re happy.”
Kamui bit his tongue. He didn’t know how to answer that. He was happy when he was with Subaru, but none of the other problems had changed. Kakyou was still missing, Imonoyama was still hiding things. He hadn’t had another blackout since telling Subaru about them but he didn’t feel like the problem had gone away either.
“Nevermind,” Yuzuriha waved her hand. “Talk, talk, talk.”
“I don’t really know where to start,” Kamui said.
“Do you like him?”
“Yeah. I really like him.” Kamui stared at the table.
“Okay,” Yuzuriha said. “How long have you known each other? Have you always known?”
Kamui avoided the first question. “I think I always knew. Sort of. I wouldn’t say it was at first sight or anything, but there have always been . . . feelings. I guess I just didn’t think about it until recently.”
Yuzuriha hummed. “What made you start thinking about it?”
“Well . . .”
Subaru’s face on the other side of the glass of the car window. Kamui was sure there was a better moment to pick, but that had been the first time he recalled actively wanting to lean closer and—. It had just felt so serene: early evening, the streetlights shining off the glass and resting on the curve of Subaru’s cheeks.
Kamui was saved the embarrassment of trying to describe the moment when his phone vibrated against his thigh.
>Everything is set up. You can tell them. Though I would caution against you starting with Kasumi. Kigai could deliver the message, or perhaps Nekoi.
“Is that him?” Yuzuriha whispered excitedly.
i’m with yuzuriha<
if you’re sure it’s okay to start<
then i can just tell her now<
>That’s fine. Are you sure you know what you’re going to say in response? Implicate Kigai if you must.
is that a joke?<
i don’t care if that wasn’t a joke, i’m going to assume it was<
it was funny<
>You’re stalling. If you want to wait we can talk about responses later.
i think i know what i’m going to say<
“It’s him,” Yuzuriha decided.
Yuzuriha didn’t seem to have a reply for that. Kamui looked up, surprised to see her so . . . betrayed? Kamui wasn’t sure that was the right word for the look, but it had been a long time since he’d seen Yuzuriha look so shocked and hurt at the same time. “What?”
“He just texted you?”
“And you’re not surprised that, after three years, he texts out of the blue?” Yuzuriha asked. “Or that he has your number? Not at all?”
so this is going well<
“Well,” he said, “it’s not really out of the blue?”
“Kamui, if I have to pry answers from you . . .” Yuzuriha said. “You didn’t mention anything when Seiichirou was in town, but we talked about Subaru. You said you hadn’t heard from him.”
Kamui had told Seiichirou that at the train station. How had Yuzuriha heard? He wondered if he should just start assuming all the former Seals shared information about him whenever they could, like some gossipy game of telephone.
“I’ve been in contact with Subaru for a few months. He got back to Tokyo around the same time I came back from Kyoto.” Kamui traced circles on the table’s surface. “It was my last visit. I’m not going back.”
“Why? I thought you liked onmyoudou.”
“It doesn’t make sense to. Subaru is here, and I’m learning from him, so there’s no reason for me to go back to Kyoto.”
“Subaru has been teaching you?”
“He said Lady Sumeragi wasn’t teaching me enough to stay safe.”
“What? Kamui, Lady Sumeragi wouldn’t put you in danger.”
“That’s not what he meant.” Kamui pointedly looked away. They had already talked about how to approach this subject. “He’s a good teacher.”
“Kamui, why didn’t you tell anybody? Subaru is … our friend.” Kamui wondered what she had been planning to say before she changed her mind. “But. He’s the Sakurazukamori, too. Doesn’t that worry you?”
“No,” Kamui lied. “And Subaru thought you might not understand. He asked me not to tell anyone.”
“He asked you to keep it a secret? For two months?”
“You don’t think that’s a little … worrying?”
“Not really.” Kamui said.
“Kamui,” Yuzuriha started slowly, “you said you’re spending a lot of time at Ebisu.”
“The boy you like … the one you’re spending so much time with. Is that Subaru? You like Subaru?”
Kamui paused. He hadn’t thought the two would be put together, his feelings and his meetings with Subaru. Talking about the first hadn’t been part of the original plan, it had just ... happened. But this could be good, right? It would definitely worry Imonoyama, Kamui running around to meet the Sakurazukamori because of a crush.
Oh god. That was probably something he didn’t want Imonoyama knowing.
“I have to go,” Kamui blurted instead. “I. Plans. I have plans.”
“With Subaru?” Yuzuriha didn’t look happy. She looked more worried than before.
“I’ll talk to you later.” Kamui stood, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “Don’t tell Karen. About Subaru. It’ll just be weird.”
He fled the Gazebo before she could finish.
“How did it go?”
“As well as I thought it would,” Kamui said. “Maybe a little worse.”
“Define worse.” Subaru’s voice was muffled through the phone, but Kamui could still pick up on his amusement.
“It doesn’t really need to be defined,” Kamui said. “It won’t come up. I don’t think. Anyway, I guess the important thing is that Yuzuriha wasn’t happy. She’ll tell Karen.”
“You should be prepared for that interaction when you get home.”
“Yeah. I’m taking the longest line home.”
“Smart,” Subaru said. “I’ll meet you at Kigai’s tomorrow. I don’t want to risk any prying eyes into your messages.”
“So we’ll meet at your place from here on?”
“You’ll be able to practice spells, at least.”
“When you’re ready.” Subaru was quiet for a moment, some muffled shuffling noises in the background of the call. “I have to go. We’ll talk more later.”
“Until tomorrow, then.”
I want to spend my time with you.