© 2002 Copyrighted by Gold (E-mail: goldenstarlight@hotmail.com)

Disclaimer: Characters here are borrowed from CLAMP's X/1999 and Tokyo Babylon.

This is about the subtle underpinnings of love that lie beneath each Tokyo Babylon or X character. Every Seal and Angel merits a mention here. The song used here is Bette Midler's The Rose, but this fic does not take its title from the song. Instead, this fic is Dedicated: To The One I Love, on behalf of the tragic characters in X and Tokyo Babylon.

Dedicated: To The One I Love

Some say love it is a river

That breaks the tender reed

A small piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

Sumeragi Subaru bent silently to pick it up. He froze. It was a very small photograph. Subaru saw two faces—his and Hokuto's…but where was Seishirou? They had taken the photograph together, hadn't they?...But where Seishirou should have been was a jagged edge, precisely cut, just so, with a pair of scissors, in a neat zigzag. Subaru stared down at the photograph, his face blank. Slowly, he turned over the photograph. Behind it was a single line, written in Seishirou's unmistakable hand, the writing done with so much force that Subaru's fingers felt the indentations:

'My Subaru-kun and Hokuto-chan."  

At the end of the line was a sizeable ink blot, as if the pen used had rested there for a long time, because the writer had wanted to write something else, but had not done so in the end. Evidently the writer had written those characters after cutting off the part of the photograph.

Seishirou-san…

He stared at the writing, his face shedding its listless expression. What had Seishirou-san felt when he was writing this? What did he mean, by keeping this photograph? Then—Seishirou-san had truly cared…Subaru's fingers grew white with strain. But why, why had he cut himself out of the photograph, not with a straight, decisive cut, but with a jagged cut? What did that jagged cut mean? Did it mean anything?

Too many questions. Even in death, as in life, Seishirou-san left unanswered questions as his legacy.

Outside, the wind swung lightly through the garden, and sakura petals drifted prettily on the breeze. Subaru choked back a sob as he bent his head, and traced the characters with a shaking finger.

Seishirou-san!

No amount of calling his name would ease the emptiness inside him. With Hokuto and Seishirou gone…

He had come, to Seishirou's home. After all this time, and after so much heartbreak, there was still so much left about Seishirou that Subaru did not understand. Most of all, Seishirou's last words…had they been a lie, as all of Seishirou's words to him—or were they the truth?

Subaru remembered with painful clarity the kindly veterinarian with the quick, ready smile and warm charm. Seishirou the vet had been a loveable man.

At sixteen, Subaru had found for himself, or so he thought, someone worth a lifetime of devotion. There was something in Seishirou that roused the depths in the boy's heart, calling to them. A thoughtful look, a quiet word, a quick smile, a practised, knowing movement of those strong, dependable hands—and Sumeragi Subaru had fallen, the hardest fall he would ever take. In Seishirou, Subaru had sensed a hidden well of strength, an unflinching sense of duty—and above all, the overwhelming charisma that was Sakurazuka Seishirou.

One is never exactly sure when that special someone crosses your path. All the young Subaru knew then was that he had found it in the man who lost his eye protecting him from near death, and it was the loss of that eye that drove home how close Subaru had come to losing him. No matter what Seishirou had done, it was never enough to erase the memory of the pain and shock that had nearly crippled Subaru when he watched Seishirou take the blow for him.

He remembered also that day under the Sakura Tree, and how the kindly face of the vet had changed suddenly and subtly, and the face of the Sakurazukamori had slid over. The warmth was gone, and suddenly the world had spun and tilted on its axes, as the one who had been a friend and whom he had loved, altered completely beyond recognition, into the deadly enemy of his family, scion of a line that was sworn to oppose his to the end of time, and son to the previous Sakurazukamori, who had murdered his father. 

And Seishirou would be the one, also, to kill Hokuto, his onee-chan, bound to him by the deepest and closest blood ties that a brother and sister can have—the tie of twins. Seishirou had shown him just how little he had meant to him, by killing Hokuto.

Seishirou-san…

But it was the last and final memory that cut the deepest.

There, on that bridge, Seishirou-san had calmly aimed a death blow for Subaru's heart. In that moment, Subaru had felt a quiet joy—joy because all he wanted was for Seishirou to kill him.

For a long time, he had thought that he had been training so long to kill the man who had killed his sister. But his Wish had changed over time. No matter how hard he tried, he had never been able to lift a finger to kill Seishirou-san. No matter how much he reminded himself that this was the man who had cold-bloodedly ended his beloved sister's life, he always found himself standing in front of the Sakurazukamori, frozen. He saw not just the Sakurazukamori, but also the man who had lost his eye to defend him from a maddened woman. Every time he caught sight of the blinded eye of the Sakurazukamori, his heart ached. Seishirou-san had lost that eye because of him. Subaru never forgot that Seishirou had once had both eyes like everyone else, and even if Seishirou hadn't lost that eye with the intention of protecting him, the eye had still been lost because of him.

It had been a guilt so deep that he had wished that it had been his eye that was lost, not Seishirou-san's—and the Dark Kamui had coolly fulfilled that wish.

It hadn't taken Subaru long to realise the truth. He still loved Seishirou. Never mind that Seishirou's mother had likely killed Subaru's father; never mind that Seishirou-san had taken Hokuto's life without a second thought; never mind that they were Sumeragi and Sakurazukamori, or Ten no Ryu and Chi no Ryu. That man was Seishirou-san, and he had become the centre of Sumeragi Subaru's world. Losing Seishirou would never be an option for Subaru, who had had to learn that lesson twice. First, when Seishirou had lost the eye for him; second, when they had met after all those years, and it was kill or be killed—and Subaru found suddenly that he could not bear to kill the Sakurazukamori…

Seishirou-san…

Seishirou-san had not cared enough to kill him before, but perhaps this time, this time…this time, Seishirou-san might care enough…

But it was Subaru's hand that had plunged through Seishirou's heart instead.

And the mask of the Sakurazukamori had fallen off, and the other one Subaru carried in his heart—the face of the calm, patient vet, with kind, understanding eyes—had eased itself over Seishirou's face.

Seishirou had thought Subaru wanted to kill him.

Seishirou had loved him—and had tried to say it. Subaru could see it in his eyes and face. Or had that been Subaru's imagination?

Seishirou had told him…that he loved him and that he was free …Seishirou's final words, spoken gently, through lips that could not stop trembling from the pain…

Subaru-kun…I…love…you…you're free now…. 

Seishirou had thought Subaru would be free without him.

Free…Subaru's tears fell faster. How could he be free, when his love for Seishirou was the bond that held him, and that even death could not cut?

Some say love it is a razor

That leaves the soul to bleed

Fuuma…

The night was cold, so cold.

In the streets of Tokyo, the devastation was reflected in the red lights of the police cars and ambulance sirens playing their blood-coloured lights across the heaps of rubble and broken shells of buildings.

Fuuma…

It was an old cry that never lost its helplessness, nor its hope.

Shirou Kamui lifted his face and looked out into the night, wondering where he was. The deathly white shaft of moonlight that fell across his face glinted off the dried-up tear tracks that ran in straight furrows down dust-marked cheeks. There were dried traces of blood across his cheek, at the corner of his brow, and bordering his lips. A few bruises were beginning to darken on the white skin of his arm. Violet eyes set in a pale, pointed face were haunted, eternally seeking for something they had lost. People mistook that look as one of loneliness—and perhaps it did reflect the loneliness inside him—but nobody thought to ask why, when he was surrounded by people who cared for him, perhaps more than he really cared for them. No one really understood, not even Subaru, who came close, but was still so far out of reach. In Kamui's heart had awoken a deep affection, a hero-worship for the onmyouji, but Kamui had not forgotten the first friend of his heart.

Fuuma…

The fringe of hair swept over his eyes as he lowered his head, and it hid violet eyes wounded by old memories, and by guilt. Kotori…Fuuma…he had lost both, but one of them might still be found, except—except—Kamui's mouth trembled—

Fuuma…why do you hurt me so? Don't you remember…

This was where it bled.

Don't you remember?

For Fuuma, whose mother had died to birth the sword; for Fuuma, whose father had died to protect the sword, and who had known that his son would be the Opposite Star; for Fuuma, whose sister Kotori had been sacrificed immediately after Kamui's choice was made; for Fuuma, his dearest friend except Kotori and Subaru, and who had promised to protect him; for Fuuma, who was now the Dark Kamui—

No. He could not be the Dark Kamui. The Fuuma he had known—could not have changed. Not like this. Never. His Fuuma was still somewhere out there, hidden inside the Dark Kamui. Some day, some way, he would find him, and bring him back.

This—this—was where…it bled…

Some say love it is a hunger

An endless aching need

"Karen?"

"Hmm?"

Aoki Seiichirou's head popped around the half open door. "Oh, I'm sorry. I—I can't make it this evening. Not—not today. My daughter is down with the 'flu…" His voice trailed off apologetically.

She just gave him one of her famously winning smiles. "Go on, then. I know your wife must be very tired having to take care of your daughter all day. Why don't you go on home and give her a rest? And I know your child must miss you a lot."

He looked relieved but also guilty. "I—thank you. I'm really sorry—"

She waved a hand at him in a shooing gesture, laughter in her pretty face. "Nonsense. I'm your friend; I understand. Besides, I'm a woman too, and I can empathise with your wife. Go; don't make your family wait!"

The door closed behind him and she turned her attention back to the looking glass. She paused in the act of applying the second coat of lip colour and her eyes met those of her reflection's. Slowly, her hand fell to the dresser, and rested there. It curled tightly and the coloured tube nearly broke in her grasp as her head dropped, her chin nearly touching her chest.  

She envied him.

He had a home to go back to, a wife and child who adored him, a world where he was its centre, and where he could bask in the glow of love. This was why she hung around him so much. A man so deeply loved cannot help but give love in return, and that love drew Kasumi Karen like a moth to a flame. It was love that circled and enveloped him, a depth and warmth, and sincerity of love that she had never had all her life…and could never hope to have.

As she threw back her head to face the glass again, she ached. The eyes of her reflection were wide and unseeing, their vision beyond that of the immediate, material plane. I don't want just to love, to see someone else love…I want to be loved. Is that so much to ask for? A hollow, aching, empty space, as if she was trying to reach for something, and could never find it. Who would grieve for her when she died? Who would grieve for her, in the one way she wanted—completely? Who could?

Aoki Seiichirou had promised to grieve, but did he promise because she wanted it, or did he promise because he meant it? Would he wake up a week after her death and forget about it? She wanted to know if someone could grieve forever for her.

She thought of the child Nataku had been, and bowed her head. The one person who might have grieved for her, unconditionally and completely, lovingly, was dead and had died protecting her.

The one thing she craved, and was denied…

I say love it is a flower

And you, its only seed 

Arisugawa Sorata paused, one hand reaching out to hold away the branches that were in his way. His eyes were riveted on something just beyond him, and they narrowed as his face grew strangely still, and his lips parted just a little as he caught his breath.

Arashi…

The girl with the perfectly straight, perfectly dark hair that hung down both sides of her face like silk curtains was lying on a stone bench in a pretty attitude, her eyes wide deep pools that were surprisingly calm and relaxed. Her gaze was fixed on the sky and she looked very young and dreamy. Underneath the demeanour that sometimes made her appear to be at least forty-four years old, the priestess was but still a young girl.

Beyond his reach.

The smile that touched Sorata's lips was characteristically cheerful, but his eyes were more mournful than a puppy's. Love. Arashi didn't believe in it—didn't believe he could love her. Not because she thought that she was unworthy of love—but because it was him. Because it was Sorata, whom she could never see as more than a fellow Seal/Dragon of Heaven—and he knew she regarded him very dubiously even so. He was too cheerful, too high-spirited…but how else could one live in a community of glum-faced colleagues? Someone had to be a ray of sunshine around.

Love. Some said love was a river that broke the tender reed. Some said it was a razor, and the soul bled from it. Some saw it as a hunger, an endless aching need. Perhaps. He had seen that love did that to people. But love is different for everyone.

For him, love was Kishuu Arashi.

It was the fierce priestess whose dedication and devotion were unquestionable. It was the stern-faced, deadly serious girl who looked at him with eyes that said she did not think much of him. It was the fellow Seal whom he had sworn to lay his life down for, if necessary. It was the woman whom he would die for—if fate had decreed that he was to die for a woman, let him choose that woman at least, and let her be Arashi. From the first moment he had seen her, he had surrendered all of him—head, heart and soul, and laid everything at her feet. Whether she chose to accept him or not, ultimately, was a choice he acknowledged to be hers and hers alone. So long as she continued to let him lay them at her feet…

Love was a flower, a—a water lily. That was the best way Sorata could explain it. Beautiful, delicate, high-bred and hardy, the flower was sprung from the humblest of soils—a muddy soil bed. And it was all he could offer the beautiful, untouchable priestess.

It's the heart afraid of breaking

That never learns to dance

Kishuu Arashi was used to hiding everything. Possessor of powers beyond imagination, beyond any of the other Seals' expectations, she was the Hidden Priestess, direct descendant of a long line of legendary women who wielded their powers in secret and only in times of great need. Perhaps she would be the last…

A face floated into mind. Perhaps not, after all.

Arisugawa Sorata…a strange, rather good-looking young man with a happy, disarming boyishness about him, masking the true depth of his soul which revealed itself only in quick, sharp glimpses at critical junctures. Even so, just when Arashi thought he was being serious and true, he would revert back to form with a suddenness that frequently made her question whether her glimpse of his depth was sometimes her imagination.

Except, of course, that the Hidden Priestess does not imagine.

But how could she give her heart to someone who looked as if he might be merely playing with her and cracked jokes about their being a couple nearly every other minute? If he is not serious, how can she yield? How can she know if she should yield? How could she tell? She had never been wooed before…if this could be called wooing.

She remembered her gentle young mother, who had eked out a bare existence, and whose tender, stoic exterior belied a heart that had been badly broken by a young man years before. Okaa-san had died of a broken heart.

The priestesses of Ise Shrine had told her she would meet someone in future who would love her, but…Arashi clenched her fists and shut her eyes, setting her lips grimly. She wasn't an ordinary girl—she had never been. She was Kishuu Arashi, Ten no Ryu, the Hidden Priestess, born to decide the future of humanity and earth. She could not afford at this moment to cave in and be like her mother.

She could not.

She would not…

.

It's the dream afraid of waking

That never takes the chance

The Dark Kamui had promised that he would fulfil his wish.

Kuzuki Kakyou stared quietly into the panels of his dreams, his face forever frozen in an expression of the most despairing sort of suffering. Slowly he reached out a pale, thin hand to touch the bright, piquant little face of a pretty young girl with soot-black hair and mischievous green eyes. She was laughing up at him. Slowly, Kakyou let his hand fall, and his head slowly dropped to his chest, his long fair hair spilling over to hide his face.

Hokuto…

The dream shifted subtly, and showed a blooming sakura tree, its leaves and pink cherry blossoms drifting downwards, over two people—a dark-suited man, whose face could not be seen clearly, and the blood-spattered, white-clad body in his arms…the body of a pretty young girl with soot-black hair, her mischief-filled eyes fast shut forever.

And the tears fell fast from the yumemi's eyes, and stained his robes. He had not been able to do anything to protect her. There had been something special about her, a girl without a yumemi's powers, who had yet found her way into his heart, through a dream, and blessed him with the sound of her laughter, bathing his bitter existence with the sunshine of her smiles, and giving him a glimpse into something beyond the darkness and despair that clouded his visions.

But she was gone, and there were few who remembered her—just him and her brother, the boy who had been Sumeragi Subaru, who was now one of the Chi no Ryu, and the new Sakurazukamori.

Hokuto…  

In the panels of Kuzuki Kakyou's dreamland, Sumeragi Hokuto laughed and twirled, forever…

It's the one who can't be taken

Who cannot seem to give

And miles away, his face turned in the direction of Shirou Kamui, the boy called Monou Fuuma stood silently, in an attitude of unusually non-threatening serenity. His face was surprisingly pale and clear in the moonlight, and the eyes that were usually cold and narrowed in his famously chilling gaze out on the world, were no longer hidden by dark-tinted glasses. In those eyes was a softness that Shirou Kamui would have recognised as reminiscent of the old Monou Fuuma, and he looked strangely weary. His figure was a faint, fine dark outline that disappeared into the shadows and melted into the dark pool of the night. 

In the memory of the boy called Monou Fuuma was the picture of a young boy with untidy dark hair and enormous, dark-lashed violet eyes that at once held all the pain and joy in the world. They were eyes he had sworn to protect once…and eyes he swore to kill now. They were eyes he tried not to remember, because they were eyes belonging to a time when he had been happy…before Kamui had made his choice. Then he had only been Monou Fuuma. Now—now he was both. At the start he had not been…not completely. For the form of Monou Fuuma was the form that sealed the truth of the Twin Star and it was a form that had struggled with the concept of the Dark Kamui. But now, it was different, and he couldn't remember being happy any longer. Having two entities within meant a constant state of alertness, because it required balancing. It had taken time, but he was beginning to learn that Monou Fuuma was a part of the Dark Kamui, and would not go away, even though it was far easier to be the latter without the former.

One had to find ways of being happy, to want to live.

But 'happy' was not for the Dark Kamui, because whichever way he turned, he was hemmed in by his destiny. Kamui…whom he had promised to kill.

I will kill you, in the only way I know how to, because in killing you that way, perhaps I will awaken the true Wish of your heart…

The handsome face hardened as the jaw clenched and tightened. Funny how his heart seemed to hurt. Slowly, Monou Fuuma reached into an inner pocket and slid on his customary pair of dark-tinted glasses. Unlike the late Sakurazukamori, the Dark Kamui's glasses were merely dark-tinted, rather than the heavy-duty sunglasses that blocked the wearer's eyes from sight.

When you realise your true Wish…that only I can see…then can you defeat me…

Ironic really, that one day, he might follow in the Sakurazukamori's footsteps and do as the latter had done on Rainbow Bridge.  

Behind those dark glasses, the Dark Kamui's eyes dropped, almost wistfully, and the stern, mocking set of his handsome face softened. But tonight, I remember, and if only for this moment…I call you Kamui.

And the silvery white shaft of moonlight gently brushed across Monou Fuuma's face…

And the soul afraid of dying

That never learns to live

She craned her neck upwards, her blind gaze miserably fixed on the barriers between herself…and herself. The Hinoto-who-had-been bitterly rued her weakness. In her visions of the future, she had seen herself killed by Kamui—the one who had chosen, now, to become Kamui of the Ten no Ryu. So she had set her hand to trying to prevent it, because she did not want to die. The fact that she had never lived as other people had only served to strengthen her passion to stay alive. And the strength of her wish had turned first into desperation, and then morphed, unwanted, into an overweening desire to do anything to prevent the Kamui from killing her—even if it meant killing the Kamui himself.

And from that had been born the other Hinoto, the one with a ruthless streak, who stopped at nothing, and who was even now planning the deaths of the Ten no Ryu whom she purported to serve. 

The Hinoto-who-had-been was caught in despair. What could she do? Locked in a prison of her own making, unable to break out or to warn anyone—even her two guardians, Souhi and Hien, had been unable to detect the new Hinoto—the Hinoto-who-had-been was effectually powerless. She had tried to call her sister, Kanoe, who had gone to serve the Chi no Ryu as a mark of protest.

Years ago, when Hinoto had agreed to bind herself into the service of Japan and consented to live the rest of her days out in an undisclosed part of the National Diet Building, Kanoe had been beyond furious. The two had grown up together, Kanoe the younger of the two and the one who was physically perfect, unlike Hinoto. Thus had Kanoe taken on the role of taking care of the gentler, older Hinoto, who repaid that care by carefully nurturing her mentally, so that Kanoe herself could enter into dreams and speak with her sister, and share the same visions. True, Kanoe would never be able to have those visions, but she could always enter her sister's world to share those dreams. Kanoe was always there when Hinoto was all but paralysed with fear at the nightmares her visions told of, and each derived comfort and strength from the other.

That is, until the day Hinoto bound herself.

The Hinoto-who-had-been smiled sadly. Her younger sister had been furious at Hinoto's decision, which would keep the sisters apart. And even when Hinoto had explained exactly why she had bound herself—because of a Final Day in preparation of which Hinoto must play a very special role, Kanoe had refused to listen.

It would be the last time the two sisters would meet in the real world.

But all those years sitting, silent and alone and helpless, even with two devoted guardians for company…Hinoto had forgotten what it was like to live. All she knew was that when her visions showed her death at the Kamui's hands—she did not want to die. And now, that desperation had translated into a ruthlessness that would cost the lives of the unsuspecting Ten no Ryu. If not for the suicide of one Chi no Ryu, and the inexplicable death of another Chi no Ryu at the hands of his own Kamui, the new Hinoto would have succeeded.   

As it was…the Hinoto-who-had-been slumped in despair. If her own sister could not hear her, what hope had she? Ironic that she now prayed daily for Kamui to discover the deception. He would surely kill her, yes, and make that vision of hers—the vision she had so feared—a reality…

When the night has been too lonely

It was a dreadfully cold night and the room was dark and quiet, lit only by the glow of a monitor. Yatouji Satsuki sat silently, apparently gazing at the monitor. In reality, her attention was elsewhere and there was nothing important on the monitor.

"If the person you like goes away, won't you be lonely? After all, so long as the person you like is by your side, you will feel happy. –Satsuki-san, isn't there someone in your heart who makes you feel like that? –Ahahaha, sorry, I'm being a busybody…"

Satsuki slowly raised one hand. It poised in front of her and she stared at it, remembering how it had looked like resting in Yuuto-san's capable, friendly palm. He had said things she had never thought about. Only earlier that week, she had remarked to Beast that she was unlike Nekoi Yuzuriha of the Chi no Ryu—she did not feel that there was any meaning in living—life had not brought her anything to be happy or thankful about.

Yatouji Satsuki was not stupid. Young as she was, she had known even as a child that her capabilities exceeded others in areas people hadn't even dreamt of. She had endured a rough childhood and an even rougher adolescence, because she had not fitted in. People who communicate better with computers than with humans tend to be seen as oddities and freaks, and few are those who actually treat them as members of the same species, i.e. homo sapiens. Small wonder then, that she did not care for humans. If it was her job to hurt a few, so be it.

Kigai Yuuto treated her differently…he treated everyone differently.

Kanoe saw them as Dragons of Earth; their Kamui didn't bother much about their presence or absence; Kuzuki Kakyou was never present physically nor had he made any contact with Satsuki, though she knew of his existence; the dark, aloof Sakurazukamori was dead for reasons Satsuki herself didn't understand; Shiyuu Kusanagi-san was all but vanished from the world, it seemed; and Nataku, well, he had died protecting a Ten no Ryu.

But Yuuto-san was different. He cared. Funnily enough, he cared for all his fellow Chi no Ryu. Satsuki knew that he made an effort to talk to each of them every now and then; she suspected that he even knew where Shiyuu Kusanagi-san was. Yuuto-san…he even talked to her and took her out for tea now and then. And he meant it too. To him, she was not just a Dragon or a colleague, or a working partner—she was a person.

And he made her feel special, maybe because the way she felt around him was different from the way she felt around other people. She felt…happy when he was around. It was easier to get along with people when Yuuto-san was there, smiling, and it felt good to know that somebody was listening to her, really listening to what she had to say. Around him, she smiled because he smiled, and because he made her smile. When he wasn't with her, things were different…life lost its colour and sparkle, and she missed him.

Was this what Yuuto-san meant? About having someone you liked?

Because she certainly liked him. And when he wasn't there, it felt…queer. As if there was an empty space that needed to be filled, and filled only by him. Sometimes, she felt a little ache inside her heart, and then she felt a gush of warmth when he returned and smiled at her. He had a lovely smile that reached up to his eyes, and crinkled the corners, and seemed to shed light.

Satsuki let her hand fall to the keyboard. She shivered slightly. This was what Yuuto-san meant, about having someone you liked…

And the road has been too long

Sometimes she slept there, on the high-backed chair that resembled a throne. Sometimes she retired to her bed instead.

She was called Kanoe and she was blood-related to Hinoto, dreamseer for the Ten no Ryu. Unlike her older sister, who had a young, doll-like face and was small in stature, Kanoe was exactly the opposite. Tall, with flowing dark hair that cascaded over her bust and down her back, blending in with her daring black silk gown, Kanoe was extraordinarily beautiful. Despite the fact that the gown she wore was low-cut, cupping her generous bosom, and the floor-length skirt had slits right up to her hips, apparently made for crude male fantasies, Kanoe was surprisingly elegant and dignified, and the way she sat on the throne was equal to any royal personage.

This night, she was very tired. She had been thinking all week of something.

Several days ago, she fancied that she had heard a cry. It sounded like her sister's voice…

Kanoe smiled sadly to her self and pressed one hand to her heart. Her sister would never call for her. They were on opposite sides now—Hinoto guiding the Ten no Ryu, and Kanoe helping the Chi no Ryu. If Kanoe had had her way, and if things had been different, the sisters would have been together, living quietly in a small village. Growing up, Kanoe had seen her older half-sister (for though they were sisters, they had had different fathers) suffering quietly with her disabilities, and bearing the daily burden of being exploited and feared for her uncanny powers. Hinoto also looked different from the average Japanese female, and this only added to the gossip and fear. Kanoe was always angry at this, because her older sister was the gentlest person she knew. Hinoto would never have hurt a fly and it was absolutely outrageous that people should see her as some kind of sprite or demon. So Kanoe took it upon herself to protect her older sister. The family b****, some people called her, but at least nobody dared to abuse Hinoto or behave other than respectfully in Kanoe's presence.

And then Hinoto did something that Kanoe, to the day of her death, would never understand. She agreed to go into the service of Japan. It would part the two sisters for as long as Hinoto was needed—and that was forever—and condemn Hinoto to a life that wasn't a life at all—stuck in some undisclosed location, unable to breath fresh air or feel sunlight and rain on her skin...everything Kanoe had done to bring all these to her sister had been wasted.

Kanoe closed her eyes, dark lashes dusting the delicate skin directly beneath her eyes. Hinoto had said some things before she had left, one of them being that the two sisters from that moment on, were lost to each other forever. One day, Hinoto told Kanoe, they would stand on opposite sides, head to head, as enemies, and not sisters. And that moment had been the moment that Hinoto made her choice to leave and cut off all contact.

It wearied Kanoe to be forever fighting opposite her sister, but she had had little to live for since Hinoto left, and when the day came when Kanoe woke to knowledge that it was time to begin gathering the Chi no Ryu, she was almost glad.

At least she could see her sister again…somehow…because for the first time in years, their purposes were bound together, again…

And you think that love is only

For the lucky and the strong

Half of Tokyo lies in ruins. Civil defence workers, policemen, soldiers and Red Cross volunteers dot the landscape of Tokyo. Rescue teams crawl over the broken rubble with sniffer dogs to find survivors. The earthquake mentality is now a common one in Tokyo. Residents are fleeing; many still stay put in the city they were born and bred in. The government of Japan still remains and debates measures in the National Diet Building.

A big, sturdy young man is one of the members of Japan's self-defence force, which has turned out in full force to assist in the rescues. His hair is dark and plastered to his forehead with sweat, but he is calm, a rock in the mass of milling people. He wears a gauze mask over his nose and mouth, and his hands are covered in rough gloves as he lifts broken pieces of brick and mortar, with the help of his team-mates.

Suddenly he pauses. Someone else comes over, thinking that perhaps Shiyu-san is winded. Shiyu Kusanagi says nothing, but steps away, and the someone takes his place, and marvels at Shiyu-san's nearly superhuman strength, it must be, to bear such a weight.

Shiyu Kusanagi is one of those born to be a Dragon—in his case, Chi no Ryu, Dragon of Earth. Alone amongst the Chi no Ryu, he has the ability to feel for both animals and plants…this is why they love him. And through them he has felt the rising of a kekkai…

The message is passed from tree to tree, root to root, animal to animal, and a small bird alights on Kusanagi's shoulder and tells him—the kekkai had been raised at Rainbow Bridge, and a Seal and an Angel are there, battling. The Seal is Sumeragi Subaru and the Angel, Sakurazuka Seishirou.

Kusanagi closes his eyes sadly. He knows that this time, as with other times, it will only end in tragedy, and the more so because this particular Seal and this Angel are in love with each other, with a depth and sacrifice beyond mere mortal comprehension. When you can hear plants and animals, you have access to the biggest gossip network in the world. But Kusanagi has sworn not to do anything unless absolutely necessary. It helps that his Kamui doesn't force him to do anything either.

Kusanagi waits for the breaking of the kekkai, because when it breaks, it means that the battle's over. As he waits, he runs his mind over the Seals and Angels…one in particular, a young teenager, a pretty girl bubbling over with life. A very special girl as well, in more ways than one—she is an inugami-mistress, and also one of those born to be on the side opposite his—a Ten no Ryu, a Dragon of Heaven. He wonders where she is now. And just as he wonders, he feels it. Another kekkai has been raised. Two Seals and an Angel. The Angel is Yatouji Satsuki; the two Seals are Kishuu Arashi and…Nekoi Yuzuriha.

Kusanagi's breath catches in his throat. Yuzuriha! But before he can move, the earth shakes…again.

"A tremor!" someone cries out.

But it is not a tremor.

Kusanagi's jaw hardens. He hears grief through the trees, through the roots, through the haunting, piping calls of the birds. He hears an Ancient Sakura sigh quietly, a last salute to the Guardian who served it so faithfully and well. Sakurazuka Seishirou has fallen. Sayonara, Kusanagi tells the Angel's soul, and he says a soft little prayer under his breath for the gods to have mercy on this man, who has suffered silently—for Kusanagi, who does not love his fellow Angel, is aware that Sakurazuka Seishirou has suffered.

Thunder sounds in the distance and lightning seems to split the sky. The first Dragon has fallen in this weary battle. Another tremor shakes the earth. The roots send the news—Rainbow Bridge collapses, as the kekkai has fallen apart, and the Seal is broken with the death of his Angel.   

Kusanagi's eyes remain closed. He is concentrating on the other kekkai, the one raised by Kishuu Arashi. He cannot leave his work now, but he can pray. He can hope. He is too far away to save either Seal from Satsuki.

He feels the earth rock under his feet and catches his breath as the plants shout warning to him—Yuzuriha is in danger. He holds his breath. Inuki goes to Yuzuriha's defence. Kusanagi's shoulders slump in relief. But then another danger—Arashi is in danger—the roots tell Kusanagi that something else has appeared on the scene—and the Seals are safe.

"Shiyu-san!"

He is needed.

He returns to his work, but the events are burned into his mind.

A Seal broke today when he lost the one he loved beyond anything else in this world. And Kusanagi himself nearly lost the girl who might grow up to be the woman he would have shared his life with, under different circumstances.

Love is not only for the lucky and the strong.

But that's not true and Kusanagi knows it.

Because the Dragons of Heaven and Earth are not lucky—therefore they are destined never to be with the one they love.

Just remember in the winter

Far beneath the bitter snows

Lies the seed that with the sun's love

In the spring becomes the rose.  

Somewhere, a young man in a white trenchcoat runs straight into the arms of a taller, older man with a quiet smile and kind amber eyes.

A girl joins them, the identical image of the young man in the white coat, and she's laughing and crying at the same time, as another young man, very thin and with long fair hair stands just behind her, a gentle smile on his face.

Not far off, a boy with untidy dark hair and enormous violet eyes flings his arms around an older teenage boy, and holds him so tightly that the other can barely breathe. But the latter has no complain to make; he hugs the smaller boy equally tightly. They will probably asphyxiate in a moment.

A young girl, with waves of very light red-brown hair that looks red-gold in some lights watches the two, a happy smile on her angelic face.

Some distance away, a young couple is walking arm in arm, the taller one a cheerful-looking young man who looks like he can't believe his luck, and the other a serious-faced girl with long black hair swinging to her waist.

And a lovely redhead talks to an androgynous human being sitting at her feet, the latter looking up at her with childlike eyes that have lost the lonely, wistful, searching look that once touched the redhead to the depths of her being.

There are two women strolling quietly together. One, the smaller one, has a doll-like face and pale silvery-white hair done up in an intricate bow and cascading past her shoulders. She keeps holding her hands up, as if she can never get tired of looking at them. Now and then she reaches up to the face of the tall, beautiful woman next to her, and runs her fingers across the other's face in delight. Then she says something about the joy of being able to walk and to see, and to speak, and the taller girl's beautiful, dark eyes fill with tears.

A little way off, a pretty girl takes off her glasses and glares up at the tall man walking by her side, before she smiles, her stern young face softening beautifully. He takes her hand, and they stroll off together to have some tea, perhaps.

Round the corner, a big, sturdy young man smiles at the young girl chattering non-stop by his side, and he laughs when the dog with her leaps from her arms into his, and licks his face enthusiastically.

 If you get to where they are, you may see them like that, walking in sunlight and storms together, bound by the love they had to deny in life…

…somewhere out there…