AXQA, the writing team of Xandra and Aishuu present: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Disclaimer: CLAMP owns Tokyo Babylon/X:1999. We're merely playing in their sandbox for a bit.

~~~~~

It was deep winter outside the garden, but no one would have known it, observing Sumeragi Subaru walking beneath the pink flowering trees. As he moved, he inhaled the sweet scent of the sakura petals. They had dominated his life for so long that he wondered why he hadn't grown numb to their beauty, but he knew that no matter how long he lived he would always take the time to love them.

The eternal blooms fell around him, decorating his hair, which had finally turned white from time. For a while, he had wondered if his magic would preserve his youth, but as the years rolled by, it became clear that he was indeed slowly aging. His mismatched eyes looked out of a well-preserved face, studying the birds wise enough to take this place as a sanctuary from the bitter winter. He held out a hand, calling one of them to him. Sometimes it seemed that the birds were his only companions.

Subaru had outlived everyone, though he was the one who had always Wished for death. He had dreamed of dying in the arms of his special person, but when Seishirou died by his hand, that became impossible, and so his Wish had died. Instead he had learned to exist, a creature of the gray world, merely surviving to ease the transition past the Promised Day.

Nevertheless, he wasn't unhappy. He who had known both great joy and great sorrow was now tranquil.

Walking towards his favorite resting place beneath the trees, he noticed with a start that he wasn't alone. This was an absolute rarity. A youth stood some distance away, lost in appreciation of the grove of sakura blooming out of season.

"They're beautiful, aren't they?" Subaru remarked in a low soft voice.

The youth, who seemed to be around high school age, jumped in surprise. He took in Subaru's appearance, and his eyes widened. Nervously he replied, "Yes, sir, they're very beautiful. I don't understand how they can be flowering..."

Subaru smiled at him gently, reaching out to catch a few of the sakura blossoms that drifted into his hand. He knew that his family feared him--how could they not? He was the family legend, still clan head, yet also the thing they feared most: the Sakurazukamori. Within his very soul, he maintained the balance of magic. Yet, none understood, thinking him a shadow of the man who had once defended the world as a Ten no Ryuu, only to fall from grace.

"This place… is special. It's the very heart of magic in the world," Subaru said softly. "Here is where miracles occur, and where sorrows can be numbed." He looked over at the youth, wondering who he was. "You're a brave child, or a foolish one, to come here. Didn't your parents tell you to avoid this place?"

The young man wrinkled his nose. With the confidence and arrogance of youth he stated, "There's no such thing as magic. Everything can be explained."

Subaru raised an elegant brow. "Oh? Even the sakura here?" He waved a hand at the beautiful canopy.

The young man shrugged. "Probably some factor of temperature combined with soil alkalinity that makes the blooms produce out of season," he stated knowledgeably. He turned a bold eye at his clan patriach, who apparently was less of a bogeyman in reality than he had imagined. "I don't understand - why do they tell us to stay away from you and this place?" he asked curiously.

Subaru's eyes took on an amused glint. "I don't know. There is absolutely no rational reason," he replied ironically. "What is your name, young man?"

"Sumeragi Aiden," the boy said, pushing back dark bangs from his eyes. His eyes were a soft hazel, not the brilliant green that Sumeragi clan was once famed for. It was as though time had faded color in the Sumeragi's striking eyes along with their magic.

"I'm surprised that you have that name. It's not a traditional one of the family's," Subaru commented.

"My mother wanted something a bit different. She's not into carrying on the family history." From the boy's tone, it was clear he held the importance of family tradition on the same level as magic.

The melancholy that had been so much a part of Subaru's life threatened to overwhelm him as the boy's distaste for the family traditions sank into his heart. Few respected tradition these days.

Aiden tilted his head to examine his great-granduncle. The old man was dressed in a traditional white hakama robe, a style that was no longer worn in Japan. The outfit was carefully embroidered with black silk trim and the infamous Sumeragi stars. The only strange thing was that it was a double set, mirroring each other on his sleeves. Aiden snorted to himself thinking, What a relic.

As if he could hear Aiden's thoughts, a small smile crinkled the edges of Subaru's lips. Very little amused him these days. In every respect, he ought to have grown tired of life, but yet he still lingered. He remained, ever unchanging, in this equally unchanging garden on the Sumeragi compound, until all the members of the family who had known him died, and were replaced by their children's children.

Perhaps it was time to try to make someone understand. To understand the need for balance in the world and to know the immense sacrifice that was made to accomplish that very end.

Subaru strode forward to a small stone table. "Would you like some tea?" he inquired politely, but in a tone which brooked no refusal.

Aiden eyed the tea things dubiously, wondering where the table had come from. He hadn't noticed it earlier, but then he had been distracted by the illicit thrill of defying clan rules to sneak into the most forbidden place. He would have preferred a more modern concoction, but found himself unable to refuse. Meeting Subaru was a bad stroke of fortune. When his parents found out, they would punish him severely --so he might as well take advantage of the chance to appease some of his curiosity. If Aiden had to describe himself in one word, it would be the word 'curious'. Besides the chance to brag to his cousins about meeting the family bogeyman was too good an opportunity to pass. Obediently he sat down and accepted the proffered cup.

Subaru smiled at his relative and began to speak as though they were old acquaintances. "Nowadays, there's not much value placed on tradition. Once, though, the Sumeragi were protectors of the emperor who symbolized tradition. When I was a young man, my very life was dictated by those laws."

Aiden watched his older relative over the rim of the delicate ivory teacup, wondering how senile the man was. No one in the family talked much of the clan head, which made him a oddity to the younger members. Still, some of the oldest members feared him greatly, which made everyone wary. No smoke without fire, after all. However, Aiden's natural skepticism rose and he couldn't resist debating the point. "Tradition is well and good, but we're going into a new century. How can those traditions help us now?"

Subaru eyed him calmly. "If we forget who we were, we will never find who we are," he said cryptically. His eyes grew distant and he stared at something only he could see. "If we forget the lessons of the past, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes… but I fear this time, there will be no one from the Sumeragi clan to fight for what we believed."

Aiden stared at Subaru. Fight? Dimly he remembered the whispers from the older clan members overheard during his childhood. Something about the clan head having been hurt badly in a terrible battle. It had all been during the great earthquakes that shook Japan at the end of the last century. With a start, Aiden realized that if this was the same Sumeragi Subaru of the stories, then he was more than a century old. The man before him didn't look like a wrinkled old bag at all. In fact, Aiden rather thought he looked distinguished.

"Why should anyone from the Sumeragi clan fight? I never knew that we were warriors," Aiden queried. He vaguely knew that the Sumeragi had been big in the spiritual community in the past, and even now, they had their place. But these days, nobody in his circle would admit to having any sort of religious affiliation for fear of being laughed at. He would never be caught admitting aloud that he wanted to know more about the clan's history because that would be asking for ridicule.

"Because it was destiny." Subaru's voice was soft, but his proclamation seemed to ring through the trees and the birds stilled for a moment. The leaden silence sat in the air for a long moment before the sounds of life slowly resumed.

"Destiny? There's no such thing," Aiden said, trying to shake off the feeling of importance Subaru had awakened in him. "We all make our own choices in life."

The older man shook his head. "We are merely players in the tapestry of life. While we may divert ourselves a bit, the future… is decided. We follow the path that is laid for us, and it is that journey that makes life worthwhile." He studied the boy, wishing that Aiden had a trace of the Sumeragi's gift about him, so that he could understand, but that was too much to ask for. It had been a century since a Sumeragi had been born with the ability to be an onmyouji--ever since his birth. He had been the beginning of the end, for his family.

Subaru had faced it, the knowledge that the magic was dying out in his clan. Now he was all that stood between the darkness and the light. Not that anyone else could see it. "You see, many, many years ago, there was a choice to be made, and there was a young boy, about your age actually, who was the one who had to make it," Subaru said sadly, trying to sort out the complicated story in his head.

"A choice?" Aiden prompted. It all sounded like a fairy tale, but it was a good story and he didn't mind listening further.

"Yes, a choice to save humanity or to end it all." Subaru's eyes grew vague as he remembered. "Kamui choose to save humanity and suffered every conceivable hurt there was to suffer. Yet I hope he made the right choice."

Aiden blinked slowly as he processed what his uncle had just said. "What do you mean, you hope he made the right choice? If he chose to save humanity, of course it was the right choice!" he protested.

Subaru met his nephew's gaze, and the boy's breath caught as he noticed, for the first time, the brilliant green of the left eye versus the sun-gold of the right. The green eye seemed to forgive him, but the other condemned him for his foolishness; the dichotomy was dizzying. "Are you sure?" Subaru pressed.

"Y-yes," Aiden stammered after a minute, still staring into his uncle's fascinating eyes.

"His other choice was to save the Earth, and let her heal herself of the damage humans have done to her. Tell me, Aiden, how would you have decided?"

Aiden sputtered at him. He did think mankind was making a mess of things in massively damaging the environment. So many things were lost now that would be gone forever. He had to face it; science did not have all the answers. But not to save humanity… Finally his eyes fell away from Subaru's face, unable to face the lessons Subaru was trying to teach. "I... I don't know."

Subaru nodded. "I don't know if it was the right choice either," he answered. "I've been on both sides and I still don't know."

"Both sides? How could you have wanted the end of all humanity?" Aiden asked in shock. Perhaps… this was why the family kept him hidden away. Subaru is terrifying….

Subaru lifted his mismatched eyes to stare intently into Aiden's hazel ones. "Do you know that I am the Sakurazukamori as well as the Sumeragi?"

Aiden couldn't resist uttering a small gasp at the sound of that word, though he had no clue what it truly meant. Guardian of the sakura mound… but there was more, Aiden knew instinctively. Around them, the trees stirred at the word, and his uncle seemed to… expand, for a lack of a better word. He was drowning in his uncle's eyes, and there seemed to be no bottom to them. The heady scent of sakura blossoms threatened to suffocate him, and Aiden had to fight to breathe. "Who… what…"

Subaru wasn't paying attention to him. "Here, at least, the trees remember." He smiled at them and breathed deeply, unintentionally mocking his nephew. "I'm not surprised no one told you what the Sakurazukamori is… it's the clan's greatest secret." He waved a hand, and Aiden was relieved when the pressure of the trees retreated, and Subaru became less overwhelming.

"Secret?" Aiden asked curiously, wondering what Subaru was about to say.

"In everything, there is a balance. For light to exist, there must be shadow… and I am that shadow as well as light. Within me lies the darkness and light of magic," Subaru said. "The Sumeragi are the light. The Sakurazukamori is the darkness. Both are necessary and both serve the world in their own way."

Aiden was caught up by the flow of Subaru's words. "So you're saying you are both the light and darkness? That's a contradiction!"

"Yes, it is. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with it and find a balance. I wouldn't have been able to do it without the help of two Wishes," Subaru said wryly.

Aiden was now totally enraptured by the fantastic tale. "Wishes?" he asked eagerly.

Subaru's expression turned wistful. "One from Kamui to protect this earth and all of humanity on it. The other from..." There Subaru halted, the memory of what happened stabbing his heart afresh. He recovered quickly and continued, "The other from Seishirou-san, to live."

"Who are these people? Why would their wishes have any effect on you?"

"Kamui was the one who was given the will of God. He chose to save humanity. Seishirou is the man I killed, when I became the Sakurazukamori." Subaru smiled at his nephew's disgusted and confused expression. "The Sakurazukamori is an assassin who wields dark onmyoujitsu… and Seishirou-san was the man I loved." Subaru smiled softly at the memory. "Maybe he loved me as well. I still don't know. Can one believe another's dying words? I think… he did feel strongly for me, which I why I became the one to take his place."

"You… killed the man you loved?" Aiden whispered.

"Not intentionally. It was my sister's doing, more than mine, but it was my hand that killed him. Perhaps it was all three of us who killed him… Hokuto, Seishirou and I… but the end results were the same. Seishirou died, and I was the one whose hands were stained with his blood."

"You're rambling," Aiden said, greatly daring.

Subaru's eyes narrowed and Aiden was afraid. For a heart-stopping moment, Aiden wondered if the man had gone completely insane. There was a nasty glint in his right amber eye that gave Aiden the goosebumps. Then the moment passed and Subaru appeared a harmless old man again.

The fire in Subaru's eyes dimmed. His mouth quirked in an amused smile. "Perhaps I am," he agreed. "I hope you will indulge an old man his memories."

Something about the way he smiled made it impossible for Aiden to refuse.

"I had a twin, Hokuto, and together we created the balance which was essential to my art. Not the same balance I would know later, but the basic male to female balance. I was yang and she was yin… but it wasn't to stay this way, for another sought to become my opposite. When I was nine, I saw him kill a girl.

"Normally he would have killed me, but he sensed power within me. Maybe it was our destiny that did it, but instead of following through, he marked me as his prey… and so I became. I had a year to earn his love when we next met, he said, making a wager with me. He sealed the bet by erasing my memory and marking my hands with inverted stars."

Aiden watched as Subaru calmly poured more tea. The older man was smiling wistfully, as though speaking of something he dearly treasured. "When I was sixteen, we met again. The bet was played out, and suffice it to say, I lost. When I learned he had betrayed me, I went within myself, unwilling to face the world."

"Within? Like a coma?" Aiden asked. He had heard of the condition, though he didn't think it was something that could be done voluntarily. It was another of the clan's legends, but talking to Subaru made it seem feasible.

Subaru shook his head. "No, it's a state where I put myself in my heart and refused to come out. Nothing anyone could do would wake me. So, Hokuto decided to do something terribly, terribly foolish. She sacrificed herself so I might awaken."

"Sacrificed?" Aiden was trying to remember what the whispers had said about his aunt. He remembered people saying she had vanished mysteriously, but it was all gossip and innuendo. Some of the relatives even said Subaru had killed her.

"She went to the Sakurazukamori in my place and when she died, I was shocked from my heart. But it was too late." Surprisingly Subaru didn't appear too saddened. He continued, "You can only ever have one opposite at a time, you know, so my sister was fated to die."

"There's no such thing as fate!" Aiden said in denial.

"I wish that was true, but time and again, I've been proven wrong; that the future is foreordained."

"You keep saying that… but…" Aiden rose to his feet, starting to back away, but Subaru shook his head.

"It's rude to leave before you're dismissed." Subaru's soft voice cracked with command.

Aiden sank back down, wondering how insane his relative was. His parents had always told him to stay away from the clan head, and now he was regretting not to have heeded their warning.

"Where was I?" Subaru asked a bit more gently. He didn't want to frighten the boy out of his wits.

"You… were too late to save your sister," Aiden whispered.

"I was, and I spent the next nine years hunting Seishirou-san. I needed him to fulfill my Wish. Wishes, you know, are important things. We all have petty wishes, like wanting a new outfit, or hoping to pass an exam, but a true Wish, the innermost desire of our hearts… now that's something different. And only Seishirou could grant me mine."

"What was it?" Aiden asked in fascination.

Subaru frowned with disapproval. "You are quite rude. I suppose along with our heritage, the Sumeragi have also abandoned their manners. Asking what someone's Wish is like asking their most precious secret. But since it was long ago, I'll tell you." He leaned forward, and smiled wistfully. "More than anything, I Wished that Seishirou would kill me."

Aiden was now fully convinced he was in the presence of a madman. "Why would you want something like that?" he exclaimed.

"Most people didn't understand that, too. But you see, I didn't have anything left to live for. Hokuto was dead and the one most special to me was gone from my life. He had told me I didn't matter to him. I was as good as an object. So I thought that if I could let Seishirou kill me, then no matter what, even if for just a little while, he would have to notice me," Subaru said. He wasn't sure if Aiden would understand. Kamui had, but then Kamui had been special.

Aiden thought it over, carefully digesting it. On the first impression, that was the most harebrained logic he had ever come across for wanting to die. But then, looking into those ageless sorrow-filled eyes, he suddenly understood how important that Wish had been to Subaru.

"It sounds…kind of logical, in a twisted sort of way," Aiden admitted aloud after a while.

"I was a twisted sort of person. The clan still thinks I am. I guess they're right, in a way. But that's because they don't understand," Subaru said.

"Will you help me to understand?" Aiden felt truly sorry for this sad old man. There was something so utterly forsaken about him.

Subaru sighed, and rose to his feet. "Walk with me a bit?"

Aiden was unable to deny the request. Subaru was clan head; despite all the mistrust the members of the family held for him, his desires were to be obeyed. "Where to?"

"There's a pond that you can see your reflection in. I want you to tell me what you see," Subaru asked softly. "Let me show you the way."

Aiden followed his elder through the peaceful garden in silence, the only sound from the soft swish of Subaru's robes. He kept his eye on the Subaru's back, marveling at how he managed to walk so gracefully. It rather reminded Aiden of a large feline, all quiet contained energy, just before it pounced on a prey.

Soon they came upon a pond. "Look in," Subaru said softly.

Aiden peered into the still water. The surface was smooth, a perfect mirror. For a moment, it was as if he was staring into a mirror -- all he could see was himself looking back. "I don't see anything," he began to say, his natural inclination towards skepticism rising again.

Subaru didn't reply. Instead, he placed his hands in a prayer position and began calling on his magic. "Om..."

The young scion of the Sumeragi Clan listened as his relative fell into chanting. The rhythmic sound of the older man's voice was soothing, yet somehow the intensity of what was being said implied a deep meaning behind the syllables. The air around them chilled by about ten degrees, and Aiden shivered as Subaru's eyes drifted towards the water. Without meaning to, his own eyes followed.

The water before them started to cloud, and Aiden raised his hand to his mouth to keep an exclamation from escaping. The clear pool turned foggy, then within the opacity, colors started to swirl as Subaru's chanting fell away.

"Take another look," Subaru commanded in a compelling voice.

Aiden looked. It was dark at first, then, as if his mind was being taken over, he was whisked away to a strange place. For a moment, he reeled about in disorientation. Light caught his eye and he was gripped by the unfolding scene before him. On a bridge stood two people. Aiden marveled at how they were able to maintain their balance on the tips of metal struts, twisted in evidence of some titanic battle. Suddenly the two jumped up towards each other, and Aiden couldn't prevent himself from crying out when he saw one of them readying his hand to strike. A huge flash made him wince back.

The focus of the scene narrowed. A pale tearful face turned up towards him and Aiden gasped when he recognized it. It was a youthful Subaru, but with an expression of immeasurable horror. One part of Aiden was able to academically note another difference -- this young Subaru was half blind, from the evidence of one milky eye.

Aiden leaned forward unconsciously, trying to see more clearly. Horrified, he realized just what he was looking at. The young Subaru had his hand thrust through the other man. Blood was everywhere. Some quiet words were exchanged and the other fell back, obviously dead.

A touch on his shoulder broke the spell. "Don't fall in," Subaru warned. "I think you've seen enough." The mismatched eyes regarded him as if waiting for a judgment.

"What… what…" Aiden stuttered.

"Still don't believe in magic?" Subaru asked, a smile teasing his lips. He looked ruefully back at the pond, as though he longed to call back the illusion he had conjured.

Aiden gawked at Subaru. His older relative stood beside him, the wind that he had called up earlier with his spell toying with his robes. "You're for real…" he whispered in awe, trying not to scream and run away in terror. How many of the stories about Subaru were true? The old man wasn't crazy after all - his family was, for ignoring him.

"I'm the last of the onmyouji," Subaru whispered. "When Seishirou died, the art started to fade from the land. I've lived on, to protect Japan, but my time is past."

Aiden heard the incredible loneliness in Subaru's words. "Why did you kill him?" he asked.

"I didn't mean to. That was all Seishirou and Hokuto's doing. I was so wrapped up in my Wish, I forgot to take Seishirou's into account."

"Wish? What did he Wish? What did he say to you right at the end?" Aiden blushed at his own boldness.

"His Wish... He Wished to die at the hands of the one loved the most and for me to be healed of my hurts." Subaru waved a casual hand towards his amber eye, now staring at Aiden intently.

Aiden blinked. How could he judge this man? He could barely grasp the pain and suffering that Subaru must have gone through, it was a wonder the man was even sane. Well, perhaps he wasn't really all there, given the rumors that had dogged him. A wave of compassion broke within Aiden. "I'm so sorry," he said, reaching out tentatively to touch his many times removed uncle.

Subaru stepped away, refusing the comfort. "It was a long time ago," he said.

"But it plagues you, doesn't it?" The words spilled out.

The onmyouji folded his hands in front of him, and said nothing for the space of five breaths. Then he replied, "Even intense sorrow must come to an end."

"But you haven't found it," Aiden argued. "If you had, you wouldn't be out here in the gardens, day after day. For almost a century after all this has happened, you still think about it."

Subaru's eyes lowered, contemplating that statement. "It's duty which holds me here. I have an obligation to everyone that I need to fulfill. But it appears that my time to rest is close." Subaru looked back up, seeming to shake the gloom away. He smiled, and to Aiden, it was the brilliant smile of a sun rising with the dawn, as if in eager anticipation of a new beginning.

The Sumeragi turned away suddenly, his attention caught by the sight of one of his attendants almost running towards them. The woman bowed deeply to him as she came up, quivering a little. Subaru sighed. No matter how much he tried, he had never been able to put the people who served him at their ease. They all expected him to slaughter them the moment he was displeased with them. It was as if the myth that surrounded him left no space for the man anymore.

"I'm very sorry, Subaru-san. We didn't know young Aiden was here. I hope you've not been too disturbed," the woman said quickly. A stern glance at Aiden let him know that he was in BIG trouble.

"It's quite all right. Aiden has entertained me well today," Subaru said kindly. He turned to Aiden. "But I think you'd best be off. Leave an old man to his thoughts."

Aiden grinned with humor. In his mind now, Subaru was the furthest thing from an old man that he had ever met. "It was very interesting talking to you," Aiden said politely. He was about to add something about coming out to speak again, but a sudden premonition told him that that would be impossible. When he left, he would not see Subaru again.

"I enjoyed it," Subaru affirmed again, smiling gently. He stepped towards Aiden, and rested a hand untouched by the ills of age against the younger man's smooth cheek. "We learn from the mistakes of the past… if only the tale is told."

"What should I learn from you?" Aiden replied, uncaring of the woman who watched them in confused fascination.

"Never to take anything for granted," Subaru leaned forward and brushed dry lips across his descendant's forehead. Aiden felt something race through him, a power that he didn't understand. Then the older man turned and vanished into the sakura trees he so loved.

Subaru watched the two leave his garden, smiling a little at the sound of Aiden protesting his scolding. It was true what he had said to Aiden. He did feel old. His life was like a thread, being wound out in a never-ending skein, and just like a thread, it was growing thinner and thinner. Year on year brought a dullness to his mind, and all that tied him to this reality was duty.

A rustling in the wind caught his attention to a strange change in the swirl of magical forces. Startled, he looked about and almost had a heart attack then and there when he saw who it was standing a mere ten feet away from him.

"Fuuma?" Subaru gasped, confusion surging through him.

The teenager leaned against a sakura tree. "Hello, Subaru," he said casually. The Kamui of the Dragons of Earth walked closer, and Subaru's mismatched eyes noted that he was still wearing the antiquated double-breasted jacket that had been so stylish back in 1999…

…a hundred years ago. Had it really been a century?

"You're looking good," Fuuma said, moving with the lazy sensuality that was as much a part of him as breathing.

"Liar," Subaru accused, then wondered if he was losing his mind, to be talking to Fuuma. "You're dead! I saw you and Kamui kill each other!"

"So I am," Fuuma replied calmly, as if sauntering back from death was something perfectly normal.

Subaru blinked and took a moment to gather his dignity. A hundred year old dead spirit wasn't something totally out of his experience, but there had to be a reason why Fuuma was here now. "This is odd. Are you haunting me?" Subaru asked curiously.

Fuuma laughed lazily. His eyes, slightly obscured behind a pair of small glasses, winked at Subaru. "Everything about us has always been odd. You ought to be used to it by now. I'm here for you, actually." He removed his glasses to study the old man.

"Here…" Subaru stared at the teen, then started laughing, a little hysterically. It swelled from deep inside him, working its way up until it exploded from him in great waves. It was the first sincere laugh he could remember enjoying since Hokuto had died.

"I don't think it's that funny," Fuuma grumbled, toying with the shades he held in his hands.

Subaru just laughed even harder, until tears started to come out of his eyes. "I'm… I'm sorry, Fuuma. It's just of those I was expecting… Kamui… Hokuto… Seishirou… it was not you."

"I was your Kamui, too," Fuuma pointed out, silencing Subaru's amusement momentarily. "Besides, who better to be an Angel of Death? Who better to grant your Final Wish?"

Subaru sobered. Wishes were such strange things. His had changed through the years, from wanting to protect Seishirou-san, to losing his eye, to dying by the hands of his beloved. All that remained now was his Final Wish, the same Wish all mortals came to at the end of their lives: to die. "I see," Subaru nodded. He was ready but something in him, perhaps the last remnants of a sense of duty prompted him to ask, "Will this world be all right?"

Fuuma's smile held a measure of assurance. The sadness that had been in his eyes in the last days before the Final Battle was now missing. "You've always had such a strong sense of duty, Subaru. There's no need to worry on such things anymore. The magic is going out of this world, and there is no further need for you to hold the balance. It's time to give the world and the people in it, the chance to forge their own path."

"I'm sad about it though..." Subaru admitted reluctantly.

"It's all right to be sad. But to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Your time has passed."

"A time to be born and a time to die," Subaru continued the quote. He gathered himself and stood up straight, reaching a hand out to Fuuma. "I'm ready."

"You can't take just that path, though…" another voice said, and Subaru spun around, and was surprised that he WAS surprised by the other figure that appeared.

"Kamui…" Subaru said in shock, feeling himself grow pale. He was glad he was a rather hale old man. Anyone else would have keeled over from the multiple shocks by now.

The boy who had been the world's savior raced forward, throwing himself at the older man. "Subaru…"

Subaru wrapped arms around the boy, relieved that as he did so, his age fell away and he was twenty-five physically again. He didn't question it, simply accepting the blessing for what it was.

They clung to each other for a moment that seemed to last forever and a day, and then broke apart, staring. "You're here… when he…" Subaru's eyes traveled from Kamui to Fuuma.

"You're both of ours, Subaru," Kamui answered, drinking in the sight of his special friend, the one whom he had loved and who had left him. "It's not enough for Fuuma to be here. You're in the balance in death, as you were in life. So I'm needed." Kamui grinned happily at him.

It made sense. Subaru was both an Angel and a Seal. He was bound to this life by the complicated threads of Fate. In particular, it was Kamui's Final Wish for the Earth and Humanity to co-exist in peace that was entrusted to Subaru. Subaru had taken that duty seriously, holding the balance even until a time when no one understood. "Do you release me from your Wish now, Kamui?" Subaru asked longingly.

Formally, Kamui stepped back and bowed. "I do. You've done far more than I ever wanted of you. I'm so sorry to have placed this burden on you."

At Kamui's words, a current of magic surged as the unbinding began. Something lifted from within Subaru; something he hadn't known had been there all these years. Subaru sighed with relief. He had been carrying this burden most of his life, even if he wasn't aware of it. Now, he felt strangely bereft. He reached out his hands towards both of his Kamui, but something else held him back. "What else binds me here?" Subaru asked puzzled.

The two Kamui exchanged glances. "It's another Wish," Fuuma said softly. "Kamui has released you from his, but there's another one, perhaps even more powerful, that still ties you to life."

Subaru shut his eyes, knowing. "Seishirou…"

"Can you deny him?" Fuuma asked, walking towards Subaru. "Is your Wish more powerful than his?"

"He wanted me to live…" Subaru said. "But even he would not Wish for me to live forever…"

"Only he can release you, then," Kamui said softly. "It's time for you to perform your last, and greatest spell…" He held out his hand to take a sakura petal drifting in the air and Subaru knew what he had to do. "Magic is going out of the world, Subaru. The tree which you guard is the last place where magic rests with any strength."

Subaru gave both of the Kamui one of the sweetest smiles they'd ever seen. "I know. And thank you for seeing me this far… but this last step, I'll take alone." He turned his back on the ones he had once been companion to, raised his white-clothed arms, and began to chant.

An abrupt moment later, Subaru was enveloped in a mabaroshi. He paid no attention as he continued to summon his magic, directing it at the Sakura before him. The howling sound that filled his ears was only within Subaru's mind as his magic reached out, taking hold. The sound faded away and all that was left was silence. Subaru leaned forward, wrapping his arms around the trunk of the solitary tree in the summoned landscape. "You're tired too," Subaru said to the tree. "It's time for you to let go as well."

The Sakura rustled a little in a non-existent wind, showering clouds of sakura petals gently down on him. If one were a little fanciful, a person could imagine a sort of weary resignation in the way the tree stood.

"I'm sorry I never quite understood you, even though I was guardian to you all these years," Subaru said. The tree rustled again, almost like a shrug. Suddenly, Subaru looked up and realized he wasn't alone. He took a step back, unable to take his eyes off the new presence in the illusion. "Seishirou-san," he said in welcome.

"Subaru-kun," Seishirou said. He advanced slowly, stopping just before Subaru to smooth the hair from his forehead. "Do you know what you have to do?"

Subaru leaned forward, almost unconsciously, into his predecessor's touch. He couldn't stop staring at Seishirou. This Seishirou was whole. Both eyes gleamed at him in that same amused way that remained so dear in his memory, that even the passage of time had not dimmed. Subaru refrained from embracing Seishirou, forcing himself to speak calmly, as though it had only been a day since they had last spoken. "I need to have you let go of me… I need you to let me die," Subaru whispered longingly.

"But first, we must lay the tree to rest, and with it, our era of magic," Seishirou said. He came over to the one who hadn't seen him in a century, and held up his hands. Around him, the dark magic swirled, and Subaru shut his eyes. He had almost forgotten how ruthlessly powerful Seishirou was.

"I've been the balancer so often that I've forgotten that magic could be purely dark…"

"It's time to come full circle, Subaru. We met under this tree, so long ago. It's time for you to be the Sumeragi again, and once again be my opposite. It's time to discard your balance, and embrace the light you were born to represent."

Subaru rocked back a little. "The light. It... it has been so long," he said. He hadn't been solely the Sumeragi for almost a hundred years, not since the day he had accepted Seishirou's eye from Fuuma. Could he even remember how to let the light flow unchecked within him again?

Squaring his shoulders back with a new determination, Subaru placed his hands in classic prayer position and thought back to his childhood, to a time of innocence and life, when the light had been overwhelmingly central to him. It really wasn't a difference in the chants. It was more a difference in the attitude to the casting of the spell. That he kept firmly in mind, as he began to release his power.

Seishirou quickly joined him and the two forces came together, yin and yang. Subaru nodded, and relaxed. This was right. Seishirou had come up beside him, and now his hands enfolded around Subaru's. Seishirou's hands were warm, too warm for a dead man's. Their magic entwined, and the Sakura started to respond. "Go, friend. You've earned your rest," Subaru said.

Then like the sun, the energy exploded upwards, and the Sakura tree was no more. There was no sign of the spirits it held, or any trace of the magic it had anchored to the world as the mabaroshi around them shattered.

Subaru fell forward, spent. He was back in his aged body. His ancient lungs struggled for air after the enormous working, and he knew he was dying, at last. He didn't feel the arms wrap around him, preventing him from hurting himself. He was beyond pain, beyond anything but extreme weariness from a spell that cost too much in a world now empty of magic. His eyes fluttered shut, and he smiled. "It's finished," he whispered. He was so tired…

Seishirou cradled the body of the old man who had been his prey, rival, opposite, lover and heir. "Rest, Subaru." His hand brushed a strand of white hair back from mismatched eyes. "I release you."

The smile that lingered on Subaru's face was sweeter than anything Seishirou had ever seen. His eyes fluttered closed. Around them, the garden was already starting to fade, as though it realized its master was gone. Seishirou straightened Subaru's clothes and placed the body at the base of one of the rapidly shedding sakura trees, smiling at the portrait he made. Drifts of snowflakes fluttered down to cover everything in a blanket of white. "You're beautiful, my Subaru-kun," he said softly. Then he stepped away and vanished to join his lover in that eternal place.

At long last, Sumeragi Subaru was at peace.

~~~~~

Notes:

AXQA: As always, we'd be nowhere without Krystal, the unofficial third member of AXQA, who yells at us for our typos, kicks Aishuu for her semi-colon and ellipses adoration, and chases Xandra for her odd turns of phrase!

Xandra: Oh god, I've finally did it -- written a Subaru deathfic despite being rather determined not to do so. *cries* By the way, Subaru is not really Aiden's great-grand uncle in the english sense of the word. Aiden's really the child of his cousin many times removed. In my family, everyone calls each other uncle and aunt, even granduncles and such related as cousins. It comes of so many Asian families being clans comprising of hundreds of people. E.g if you can believe it, I'm actually a grandaunt several times over. Aiden means legend of love if written with kanji, but it's based on a western name, because Aiden's mom is a bit of a rebel. But it's kind of appropriate that Subaru's love story is told to a descendant with such a name. In case you've not figured it out, the year is 2099. One point I'd like to make is that I don't see the Sakura tree as being particularly demonic or evil, it's just as essential part in the balance of things. But then I take the road that you can't have happiness if you don't know the taste of sorrow.

Aishuu: Hai, obaasan! This fic had a very long and strange road to fruition. Xandra and I were tossing about ideas of we wanted to do while we were in the middle of part four or so of Paradigm Shift, and I said I wanted to write a Subaru Deathfic where he died of old age… well, this didn't turn out quite like that, because Subaru always is melodramatic. We originally we thinking of titling it something Shakespearean, but nothing worked… so I went to the bible. Yes, Subaru's not Christian….

Xandra: But he does seem to bear a large number of crosses, not just on his clothes.

Aishuu: True….and the sentiment in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 was perfect. Basically, you take the lines that this refers to… it's the famous quote about "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven …" It pretty much expresses the perfect balance which Subaru has achieved as both the Sakurazukamori and Sumeragi, and the bearer of Kamui's wish. It so perfectly fits Subaru after Seishirou dies that you can't choose just one part.

Here's Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, King James Version:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.