This is an alternate ending of the X manga from volume 14. As such, there are spoilers for all manga included and previous (this includes Tokyo Babylon), as well as conceptual spoilers for the end of the TV series. In that sense, the path the story will take is somewhat of a hybrid.

There is yaoi (male/male) content. There is swearing. There is gore. Warnings will be placed on appropriate chapters.

X and Tokyo Babylon are copyright CLAMP. All quotes, lyrics, etc. used are copyright their respective owners.


Prologue – The Undecided Future

Life is real—life is earnest—
And the grave is not its goal:
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destin'd end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; "A Psalm of Life"


"Do you always come here when you dream?"

Fuuma started out of a trance and looked to his side as a smiling young woman sat down beside him—Christ she has green eyes—crossing her legs and leaning on the heel of her hand. He had not felt her approach; he always felt people approach, especially if they were specifically approaching him. He had been meditating on a grassy knoll overlooking the flooded, sunlit manifestation of Tokyo's ruins, light glaring off the concrete and glass skyscrapers carpeted with lush greenery.

"Not always."

He observed the woman for a moment, feeling as though he was staring at a doll, all plastic and no mind. He always had an innate, deeply-rooted knowledge of people he met, arriving through no logical progression but all at once and without herald, as though he had always had the information in his permanent memory. He blinked. She can't be a dreamseer. She can't be alive, for that matter; she has to be a spirit. But what is she doing all the way out here?

"You're dead, aren't you?"

The woman nodded. "Yup, I'm dead. I'm sorry if I startled you, but I like to wander around, and I've got enough magical power to go places like this. I don't know where it is, but it's pretty." She leaned back on her hands. "Sad, but pretty. Kind of like you. What's your name, by the way?"

Another flicker, flashing and gone, and Fuuma stared.

"…Kamui."

"Aaaaah, so you're the Kamui I heard about for so many years."

"You must come from a well-educated background. Few people have heard of me."

"You might say that. Oh, I'm Hokuto, by the way. Sumeragi Hokuto." Hokuto offered her hand and, when Fuuma took it, shook it heartily. "I'm so happy to meet you! I haven't talked to anybody new in ages. It's so boring here. Everybody in the afterlife acts like they're dead, which is no fun at all. They act like they're done with life. I say, I'm not done until I say I'm done living, you know? You don't need a pulse to do that! Oh, I'm sorry, I'm rambling. What are you doing here? What is this place?"

Fuuma did not notice until a full second had passed that his eyes were wide open, eyebrows arcing under his gelled bangs, though his mouth barely twitched. Hokuto cocked her head. A dangling, coral earring brushed her shoulder. "Huh? What's wrong?"

"…nothing." Fuuma smoothed his expression neutral and turned back to the sunlit ruins. "I just haven't been surprised by a person in ages, and it is disorienting."

"What, do you only know boring people, or what? People never fail to surprise me, no matter how much I think I know about them."

"No, no. I… I have a knowledge of people's minds, so to speak; people are open and clear to me. You are not."

"Well, that must be because I'm dead."

"I assume that's it."

"But you're Kamui; why don't your powers extend to the spirits of the dead?"

Fuuma leaned back on his hands and scoffed quietly through his nose. "The extent of my concern, you might say, concerns those still living."

"What on earth do you mean by that?"

When Fuuma merely smiled to himself in response, Hokuto snorted and settled back on her hands. Though she was at the fringe of his peripheral vision, Fuuma could tell that she was thinking, studying him carefully. You and everybody else, missie.I'd like to hear what you have to say about what you think I'm up to.

"Looks like you could use a good shaking, anyway," she finally said. "You're too self-possessed." Hokuto poked Fuuma on the nose; Fuuma blinked and turned to stare at her, but did not flinch. It was evident to no one but himself that he had been caught off-guard. "You didn't answer my questions, by the way."

"…I didn't." Fuuma's eyes flickered back to the sunlit ruins a split-second before he turned his head after them. "This is a hypothetical vision of the future earth, a symbolic representation of my ideal."

"You mean, like, you're a dreamseer?"

"No; I do not have the power to see into the future."

"Aaaah. It's pretty, but something's sad about it." Hokuto put her forefinger on her lip for a moment, thinking. "Hmmm… ah! I guess it's because there are no people."

"In this world, the earth has been purged of humanity."

Hokuto turned to stare at the ruins, a faint, perplexed look crossing her face. "This is what you think the aftermath of the great war will be? Something this pretty? I don't know…"

"We refuse to use biological or nuclear means, so the ecosystem will not be harmed." Fuuma ran his fingers through the springy grass beside his leg. "Spilt blood and flesh will replenish the soil humans have farmed to dust, and the earth will revitalize herself."

"Funny, it doesn't seem that's really what you're so concerned about." Hokuto leaned toward Fuuma and stared into his eyes when he looked up, hands on her bare knees. God, her eyes are green. "When I found you, you were looking at something that's not here. You weren't thinking about this new earth at all, were you?"

"…in a sense."

"What do you mean?"

They were nose-to-nose.

She can see the 'real' me, can't she; she doesn't see a reflection of her heart's wish. So, in life, what would she have seen in me? She called me 'sad'… which means—

"…the revolution I long for lies in humanity itself."

"Huhhh…" Hokuto cocked her head, not backing off a centimeter. "Well, goodness knows humans could use some help with things, but there's some stuff you just can't change about them, or they're no longer human."

"I can't elaborate further."

"You mean, you go around granting everybody else's wishes, but you can't do anything about your own?"

Barely a flicker of shock marred Fuuma's controlled stare. His mouth twitched involuntarily, slightly. Hokuto stared back, trying to maintain the tension for as long as she could, but broke just after the tension had reached its first peak and subsided. She smiled and tapped the side of her nose.

"It's very obvious," she said. She tapped Fuuma's cheek; Fuuma blinked. "You know, I used to know a dreamseer who was very sad because he could only watch the future, but he couldn't do anything about it; is that kind of what you're feeling with your wish? Like, it's up to somebody else, but you can't do anything about it?"

Something inside Fuuma gave way; his standoffish, defensive inclination evaporated in lieu of a sick, benevolent feeling. He smiled to himself and leaned on the heel of his hand, cocking his head to stare at Hokuto.

"…I've done all I can to make him realize it, even if it means ripping his life apart."

"Ohhhh… who is this mysterious man?" Hokuto pulled away and leaned back on her hands excitedly. "Is he a brother or a best friend? Or… a lover?"

Fuuma laughed quietly. "You know, Hokuto-san, most men would not respond well to being accused of homosexuality."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Hokuto clapped her hands together and bowed behind them, using them as both a shield and piece offering. "You see, I don't even think about it anymore. I grew up with a gay brother and I spent the last year of my life trying to hook him up with another guy, so it's like second nature to me. I didn't mean to offend you!"

"I took no offence whatsoever."

"Good! Wow, I keep forgetting that most men actually only prefer to be with women!" She laughed. "But what's the answer there, I mean, who is this guy that's holding the key to your wish?"

"…he is me."

"Oh, so it's like that."

"I'm serious. He is my Gemini, the other Kamui. The reciprocal."

"…there's another Kamui?"

"Yes."

"Huh…" Hokuto held her chin between her thumb and pointer finger, furrowing her eyebrows and looking to the side in thought. "That's odd; I had heard all my life there was only one Kamui."

"As I said, he is me."

"He is… AH!" She looked up. "I get it!" She clapped again and nodded. "You're his reflection, his shadow! You must be everything he's not so the world would balance itself out!"

"…you truly were raised a Sumeragi to think so quickly in that way."

"When you're raised onmyouji-style, everything is in blacks-and-whites, opposites-and-patterns, reflections and perfect circles of karma. Maybe that's why I didn't do so well with training to be an onmyouji; I think it's all bullshit."

She laughed and flopped onto her back, folding her hands behind her head. Fuuma felt a response stir within his chest, something indescribable but second cousin to melancholy and longing. For a moment, he desperately wanted this laughing, optimistic girl, pale olive skin and slender limbs, ebon hair and green eyes, orange Mandarin top against the grass and all the while laughing, laughing, cerebral butterflies range in and out of the corners of his eyes—

"…I guess I'm glad I didn't, you know, get that power, otherwise people'd have been on my back all the time," said Hokuto. "I wouldn't want to be trained to make patterns where there aren't patterns; you start twisting reality around to fit some perfect little model you have for it."

A butterfly flitted blindingly past, rainbow-film wings flashing the sun, and Fuuma saw—

"I see."

"It's like, I never liked physics because, well, I didn't like math, but also all the stuff the teacher taught us about only happened in a perfect world, but in the real world, things screw with the numbers, and random variables get in the way of the perfect reactions. You see…" Hokuto sat up again. You can't sit still for twenty seconds, can you, girl? "I don't believe there is such a thing as a perfect circle. My brother's been trained to think there's a perfect circle behind all the chaos he sees in his life."

"Does your brother really think that way deep down?"

"You know…" Hokuto thought for a moment. "…you'd think… for all you see of him sulking around all the time, that he's given up on the idea of good things happening to good people, but I don't think even Sei-chan could shake his circles, deep down."

"You don't think he's lost faith?"

"I never said he hadn't lost faith, because he sure as hell has, but… I don't know." Hokuto thought for a while, hands interlinked and stretched straight out into the air, and sighed, dropping her hands over her head. "You know, when it comes right down to it, even I don't know what my brother thinks about 'fate' anymore. You know, if individuals can do anything to control their own destinies. At least when he believed in karma, he was going a step in the right direction. Karma's something you do, something you influence."

Fuuma snorted quietly to himself. Hokuto snapped her head in his direction.

"…you know my brother," she said quietly. "You know something I don't."

"I am familiar with him. Sumeragi Subaru-san, yes?" Hokuto nodded eagerly. "Then I know quite a bit of your history and how you died. You're a big part of his wish."

A freeze. Fuuma looked at Hokuto. The girl's expression had frozen in numb anger, and she was gripping the grass, white-knuckled.

"…his wish is stupid," said Hokuto.

"You know his wish?"

"I guessed his wish, because I know him, and I know how much he values himself. He wants Sei-chan to kill him, doesn't he?"

"Yes."

"How stupid can you get?" Hokuto hissed.

Fuuma watched Hokuto stew for a moment, trying his hardest to know her intentions and thoughts, but to no avail. Various emotions and thoughts flickered in conflict across her eyes, but her face remained immobile in deadly-calm fury. The wheels were obviously turning upstairs, though along familiar, often-traveled paths; this was no new issue over which Hokuto agonized. She finally released the grass and hugged her knees, resting her forehead on her folded arms.

"I made a huge mistake," she said quietly.

"You had no way of knowing, Hokuto-san."

"But I did, I did! I knew he'd do this; he's obsessive… I made the biggest mistake of all when I—I don't know." Fuuma expected Hokuto to cry, but she only stared at the grass for a long time, collecting her thoughts. "…I was dumb when I was sixteen. I honestly thought that what I did was the right thing, but it wasn't. I had all these idealistic ideas that really were just… me running away from anybody giving me any kind of general advice, I guess, anything that said 'all people are like this', or 'this is the way you should live to ensure happiness; these are the rules'. You see, I really do believe that there's no such thing as 'everybody', and that everyone has their own path, so I thought… I guess I thought I was helping Subaru down his path. I guess I thought I was going to help Subaru find his true happiness. You see… my brother is very much an altruist, or as close as you can come and be human."

"Yes, he is."

"And Sei-chan was the first person he felt passionate enough about not to let go, and I was afraid if he lost him, he'd have even less self-worth than he had before, so… I cast this spell…" Hokuto played with the grass. "You know. When it comes right down to it, Subaru's not happy. I've been watching him… Beyond all of that stuff I believed about there being no wrong love and each person having his own definition of 'love', where none of them are wrong… he's not happy."

"…no, he's not."

Hokuto was silent for a long time. Finally, she sighed and said, "I've learned a lot in the years since I died. And I think… I'm afraid I've made a mistake. I used to have all the faith in the world that this would work out, but— Hey, you can love somebody passionately enough to light the sky, and still know they're not going to make you happy, right?"

"Yes."

Hokuto curled up more tightly and buried her nose between her knees. Fuuma rested back on his hands, watching her.

"You know…" he said quietly, "I wasn't lying when I said I didn't always dream about this place. I dream a lot about humans… and, ah… the way they destroy themselves because they believe they're bound to a fate. The way they waste their lives and just wish to die."

"It's stupid! If there's such a thing as fate, why bother getting out of bed in the morning?" She stared at her up-curved abdomen. "Destiny is every moment a choice—a chain from one choice to the next to the next—and it's a blank ticket to the future. You can always change paths. You can always go off the path you're making, no matter how far along it you are. Why do people have to be so fucking blind?"

"…how long have you been waiting to say that one?"

Hokuto stuck her tongue out at Fuuma over her legs. Fuuma smiled at her before looking off into the distance again.

"You realize… I have never spoken with the deceased, but I know that their spirits remain set as they were at the moment of their death. But you've matured. You've grown. You've learned. Why?"

"Oh, because the rest of them are so dumb!" Hokuto looked up over her knees. "They think they're dead, so they refuse to change and still learn! Being dead's no reason not to think young!"

"You realize that, as a ghost, you possess more lust for life than the vast majority of humanity I have encountered?" Fuuma paused for a moment. "If only you were my Gemini… you're the kind of person who would bring my revolution." Another pause. "May I ask you a question?"

"Yes."

"Do you think the future has yet to be decided?"

"Always." She gave him a look. "You're not going to give me the usual dreamseer 'Destiny is foreordained' bullshit, are you?"

"No."

Fuuma turned from Hokuto and stared over the flood for a long time, thinking. Hokuto remained still, nose buried in the fold of her forearms.

"May I ask you a question?" said Fuuma.

"Yes?" Hokuto mumbled into her legs.

"My only power in this revolution is granting wishes, and I want to know what yours is."

"My 'wish'?"

"Yes. Because something tells me any deepest wish in your heart, Sumeragi Hokuto-san, will lead me further toward my revolution." Fuuma took a quiet breath, aware that he probably looked quite cold and distant; the muscle-set of his face reminded him of Kamui's corresponding horrified, determined reaction. "Further toward my own wish."

"And since granting wishes is your only power, you need my help?"

A sad, sardonic smile flickered around Fuuma's mouth. "I would much appreciate it."

"…the thing is…" Hokuto paused for a moment. "…the last time I made my deepest wish come true… I don't know if I did the right thing."

Her voice had caught; Fuuma stared at her. She remained perfectly still and rigid, hugging her knees tightly.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm not crying. I've already cried every tear in my body. I'm surprised I didn't become a mermaid in the Sea of Tears, with all the other women who have committed sins of selfishness."

"I don't think your situation is the kind of thing that gets you chucked into the Sea of Tears."

"Really? How do you know?"

"My mother ended up in there for her sin."

"That's terrible! I'm so sorry!"

"If you tell me your wish, I'll forgive you."

Hokuto laughed a little and shook her head. "I'm scared of making decisions to influence the lives of the living, any more than I already have. I really think that only they have the right to decide the course of their lives, for better or worse; nobody should interfere. That is the most basic human right."

"How would your wish interfere?"

"Nice try."

"If I tell you mine, will you tell me yours?"

"Trust me, I'm not being silent because I'm shy; you probably already guessed I'm not shy enough."

"Nonsense. You're fine." Fuuma thought for a moment. "I think you want to show to your brother the same thing I want to show to the world."

"Really? What is that?"

"That you always have a choice. That your ticket to the future is always blank."

Hokuto was silent for a long time.

"And how do you show this?" she said into her legs.

"If you make things ridiculous enough in one direction, people start to see the benefits of the opposite direction. It's… gotten out of hand. It's extreme. It's wrong. But it's high time it was done. And humanity will be better for it when they wake up."

Another long silence.

"It's a… it's a horrible wish," she finally said. "It's a horrible, horrible wish, and… I don't know." Hokuto picked at the grass. "…I don't know what my heart of hearts is telling me about what's right. I honestly don't. I mean, if you take away the one thing that gives somebody all the joy in his life, but has also caused all the pain, you're taking away his entire world. And it's not my place to do it. But, at the same time, I know my brother, and... well, I know he'll never take the initiative to do this on his own unless he's forced. But I want him to have that chance… just for a little while. To see what will happen."

"…you want me to knock off the Sakurazukamori?"

Hokuto shook her head and sighed. "…I want him to have a chance to be happy, too. Everybody has the right to love. I don't care if he's a serial killer. Even after what he did to my brother, I still love Sei-chan. It's awful and selfish, but I do. So much. I desperately want to fix him, wake him up, make him a whole human being again, and have him be with Subaru. I'm pissed at him and if I see him again I'll beat him absolutely shitless, I swear to God, the blind bastard, but I still love him. And, besides, if you killed Sei-chan, Subaru would just get worse… he's got to heal right. Straight. I mean, not like—" Hokuto laughed. "—that, but, it's got to happen subtly. If there's somebody else out there for Subaru… who can make him happy, and if they can love each other just as much, then I want him to have that chance. And if, in the end, it doesn't work out and he ends up with Sei-chan, then I guess that's just the way it is."

"…you want me to separate them."

"No. I mean… yes. Yes." Hokuto swallowed and nodded firmly. "Yes."

"…you do realize that if either of their deepest wishes change so that they oppose yours, I will comply with them as well."

"…if their wishes are strong enough to counteract mine, I guess they're meant to be together. But… huh, no, that makes no sense, because it's not like that would make things better, unless—" Hokuto thought for a moment. Fuuma blinked. I'm not following you here, miss. No wonder humans get so frustrated when they try to communicate. Words are so clumsy and distorting. "…maybe you'll do what needs to be done for Sei-chan. Maybe you'll make him realize…"

"And if Subaru ends up with somebody else, what of Seishirou then?"

"I don't know. You know…" Hokuto looked up at Fuuma. "You, the real you I'm seeing right now, seems like the kind of person he'd be attracted to." Fuuma scoffed loudly. Hokuto whacked him on the arm. "I'm serious! I think deep down, despite all the terrible things you've done, your heart is in the right place. I think you're as white as snow deep down. Maybe you'd be good for him."

"I think you're as white as snow deep down."

"Kamui-san? Are you all right?"

Super. I think I just had a heart attack.

"And if Subaru gets his heart broken again?"

"At least he was living again." Hokuto thought for a moment. "And, then, at least, maybe he'll see that he can love again. Maybe it will help him move on."

"And it may just make him more cynical."

Hokuto shrugged. "I think any chance for my brother to be happy is worth it. He can't get much worse than he is right now, anyway."

Don't speak so soon.

"Besides," said Hokuto, "he may change for the better if he's with people who give him a new sense of self-worth. I hope that happens. He… he's got so much to offer, so many incredible qualities that he's blind to. Anybody would be crazy to pass him up."

He's a cripplingly-depressed chain-smoking self-pitying martyr; who wouldn't pass him up?

"Do you think he is as 'white as snow' deep down, Hokuto-san?"

Hokuto shook her head. "No. Pure as he is, Subaru is still a human. He knows it and he hates himself for it. He has all the compassion in the world for everybody else's faults but his own. You, though—" Hokuto poked the back of Fuuma's hand for emphasis. "—you're like a god. The only thing I mourn for you is that I think you've lost your selfish humanity. Even Kamui-san has his own life to live."

Fuuma watched Hokuto for a long time.

And you're wrong about me there, young lady. My wish goes against everything objectively 'good' for this earth I am supposed to protect. I killed my sister to help my wish. I've killed and maimed those close to Kamui. But what was I expecting; you to be a prophet?

"…and I think our wishes will move toward the same goal quite nicely, in the end," he said quietly.

"…you're going to grant it?" Hokuto whispered.

"It is forbidden for me to make a pact with the dead, as the conflict at hand right now is reserved to the living, but as far as I am concerned, you, miss, are not dead in any of the ways that matter." Ask the dreamseers and Kanoe, though, and I think they'd have a stroke. "Your boyfriend, Kakyou, met a woman who also believes that the fate of the world has yet to be decided."

"Well, she sounds like a sensible woman."

"She was." Fuuma smiled sadly to himself, staring into the distance. "And more and more I start to see just how sensible she actually was."

"Well, that's because men mature so slowly." Hokuto wagged her finger. "It would do you good just to trust women until you're about thirty. And even then, defer to them on all matters of importance."

Fuuma laughed quietly. "I just have to wonder if our fates will be similar, if I interfere too much where I have no right. She died because she touched the fate of the world. When it comes right down to it, I'm as powerless as the dreamseers."

"What do you mean?"

"I can only catalyze. The people around Kamui, though they have been designated 'warriors', exist only to sway him. It will be Kamui who decides the fate of the world."

Fuuma stood and Hokuto shadowed his movement, looking up at him as he took her hand and ghosted his lips across its back. He saw Hokuto cover her mouth out of the corner of his eye and looked up, smiling, as Hokuto stared back at him with her fingertips on her lips. A latent flicker of motion as she brushed her lip with her forefinger, bending it at the lowest joint, before she lowered her hand to stroke his spiky, gelled hair.

"If only the world was full of people like you," said Fuuma. "I would have no reason to exist."


Chapter 1 – The World Turned Upside-Down

Monou Fuuma scrubbed his face and flushed it with cold water from the running sink, turning the squeaking faucet off and staring down into the draining water. Water dripped off his nose and bangs, falling into the cloudy, soapy basin, breaking the translucent oil-film on the surface. He looked up into the mirror and gazed at his bleary-eyed reflection: a young man with the Mandarin collar of his leather coat open to reveal the dark bruises on his neck. What he had could not be called a 'headache' so much as a brain over-clocked and numb to the point that it slogged and felt physically heavy. His eyes refused to focus properly, blurring objects he stared at for too long. He would blink and forget what he was staring at and what he had been thinking about a second ago.

He vaguely knew he was in the basement of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, having been able to navigate himself through the concrete-and-glass, wrecked labyrinth of Nishi-Shinjuku at dusk to find one of the few buildings still standing, and that the ill-lit corridors and chambers contained therein were the lair for himself and his comrades. But, only a fraction of his brain focused on the people he passed. He wandered to the restroom adjacent to his chambers.

There was cold water in the restroom. Running water.

That was all he could focus on. It did not wake him from his stupor, but it cleared his thoughts. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing his thoughts to clear from the top of his brain to the base, slogging down and clearing the coils thickly, freeing the circuits for more information, more thought. Every time he succeeded he would open his eyes and his brain would fire from base to crown again, re-slogging itself.

Fuuma opened the mirror-cabinet and searched the shelves for painkillers, stopping to stare blankly and forget what he was looking for, grabbed a bottle of anti-acids, stared at it, put it back, closed his eyes and willed his loaded mind to clear, and finally grabbed a bottle of generic painkillers. He took six with a swallow of water cupped in his hands.

That's not so good for you. You should eat something. —

Fuuma closed the mirror-cabinet and stared at his reflection blankly, sliding the tips of his long fingers down the metal frame and off the diagonal crease where pieces met at the corner. He was a lean-faced young man, seventeen years old and only half-Japanese, lanky, uncommonly tall and broad in the shoulders and chest, and with the physical strength to match. Though youth was always evident, at the moment he looked profoundly lost, confused and longing for somebody older to walk into the room and ask him what was wrong so he could sit against the wall and talk for hours. None of the Dragons of Earth had ever seen doubt cross Kamui's features, or anything so close as confusion at a sudden physical change around him—this doubt was obviously deeply-rooted and primordial, invading sectors tantamount to Kamui's autonomous persona. This was no Kamui—this was a lost man, and Fuuma knew somehow that was inherently wrong. Though Fuuma's mind's eye could not see the idea so much as instinctively sense it, know its presence, as one sees clearly a scene just beyond one's closed eyelids, he knew that it was just one missing piece in a world coming unraveled. The powers that be were looking up from their sleep, bowed heads in white cowls sniffing the air, and waiting in the heavy, static air.

Waiting for a storm.

"…what am I doing here?"

This is the Dragons of Earth's base. You are their leader, Kamui.—

"…my name is Fuuma."

It's easier for people to remember your true colors if they call you 'Kamui'. If you don't insist, arbitrary as it is, they will forget.—

Fuuma stared at his reflection, half-thinking of the lady with dark hair and the rack who had given him a quizzical look upon entering, he knew, because he had forgotten to do something that involved causing an earthquake. She had pursued him and grabbed his arm when he did not respond; he had shaken her off, feeling her weight release and stumbling—overbalancing—then dragged himself into the restroom. He had forgotten to remove his heavy leather boots at the entrance; they kept his ankles stiff when he stumbled, supporting him at times, tripping him at others.

I'll never forget who I am.—

Fuuma walked blindly through the short corridor to the adjoining bathroom, leaning heavily on the wood-paneled wall until the wall ended and he stumbled into the open foyer. He scrabbled with the taps and started the water running, then sat down heavily on the edge of the bathtub, lifting one ankle onto the opposite knee. He fumbled with his shoelaces with stiff fingers and stopped halfway through unlacing one boot to stare, eyes un-focusing again.

His brain was full of lead from crown to pan, and it would not stop beating itself.

Fuuma finally managed to remove his boots and threw them against the wall, fumbling to pull off his socks and throwing them and his leather overcoat over his shoes. He numbly noticed that the water had long since filled the deep basin to its brim; the water was soaking over the tub's edge and lapping at the seat of his jeans as steam curled around him. He twisted at the waist to turn the taps off and stopped, mesmerized by the reflection in the water.

I'll never forget who I am.—

Fuuma stared at the reflection, his hand poised over the tap, water still gushing into the pool. The reflection, though distant and fully self-possessed, was faintly melancholy beneath the straight face, a refraction of the identity Fuuma was trying to retain. Fuuma turned further around, pulling his closest knee up onto the tub rim to rest that ankle on his opposite knee. He could step onto the water—step over the reflection, and around each step water would spread in ripples, flat as the surface of glass through the steam—

Fuuma crashed through the water and gasped, rushing to the surface to take deep, desperate breaths.

Well, what the hell were you expecting to happen, you idiot? URGH—I hate wet jeans I hate wet jeans—

Fuuma waded to the edge of the tub and leaned toward the floor, gasping in the cooler, dryer air. After a moment he sighed and slid back into the hot water, wading backwards to the opposite end of the tub and resting against the wall. He slicked his hair back with his fingers and submerged himself to his chin, closing his eyes.

God, I'm exhausted.

God's not going to pay much attention to you, Kamui.—

Well, he paid enough attention to me when he chose me for this. He did not remember why or what God had chosen him for, though. Just that it was somehow God's fault he was in a bathtub under the Metropolitan Building—in his jeans, no less, and they were clinging everywhere—talking to himself and suffering amnesia.

Now you just sound like a spoiled child.—

Fuuma slid beneath the water.

I don't even remember what I'm doing here.

Don't worry. I promise everything is going to work out as planned. No matter what happens.—

In the peripherally of his mind's eye, he saw his mirror image sitting in the water, hovering above him and just out of the line of detailed vision. The mirror image sat with his back perfectly straight, detached, the glare from the room's headlights darkening him even in Fuuma's mental world. It was as though Fuuma could see through his eyelids, but as soon as he opened his eyes, he knew the apparition would disappear.

Never forget that, Fuuma. You are always in control, no matter what. The future is still decided. No matter how things seem to change, it will always be the same in the end. And nothing will stop it.—

am I waking up?

No. I am going to sleep.—

Why?

The future is taking an alternate path to its destination. Somebody wished this.—

Who? Wait; what's going on? Wait—

Never forget, Fuuma. They'll try to turn you against us; they'll try to poison your mind against us. They'll make you ashamed of us. They don't know. Don't listen to them. They will believe what they want to believe about us, twist our true face to be nothing but a mask, because it is an easier 'reality' for them to handle. They will say that we are an illusion, that we have no substance.—

I don't understand a word you're saying.

The Sumeragi is wrong about us.—

Wait, where are you going?

The world is about to be turned upside down.—

The reflection was distant and sad, melancholy and world-weary, a man with all the pathos in the world.

And, for the first and last time until the apocalypse, Fuuma saw his own face reflected back at him.


Fuuma gasped and awoke in a panic, breaking the surface and throwing himself over the edge of the tub to vomit water out of his lungs. He gripped the slick sides of the tub and gasped brokenly, retching, fighting for air and coughing the last vestiges of water out. He collapsed cheek-first onto the cold tub-edge, shaking and turning his face toward the cooler air away from the tub.

I hope you're appeased for now, Fuuma. You can't keep this nonsense up if you want to survive when I'm gone. You will drive yourself mad.

Fuuma knew that the man in sunglasses opposite the direction his head was turned had been sitting on the edge of the tub for a while. The latter was smoking, waiting patiently for Fuuma to stop shaking and catch his breath.

"…you could hang your coat in the linen closet if you're hot," said Fuuma, "since this is a sauna."

Seishirou took a drag of his cigarette and smiled to himself. "It's not like you care, so why are you pretending?"

Fuuma lifted himself out of the tub, peeling off his soaked shirt and wringing it out as he sat down to the other man's left. It was a courtesy; Seishirou thought it rude when people sat to his right so he had to turn his head to see them, though given his heightened senses he had no need insofar as self-defense was concerned. Seishirou dug through his trenchcoat pocket and nudged a cigarette out of a crushed Mild Sevens box with his thumb, offering it; Fuuma took it and accepted Seishirou's offer for a light, shielding the lighter flame with his hand. He inhaled deeply and allowed the nicotine to loosen his lungs.

"On that note, would it kill you not to wear your sunglasses in a basement?"

"Maybe not. People seem to survive the oddest things down here." From Fuuma's place to Seishirou's side he could see the older man look sidelong at him from behind his glasses. "You were underwater for almost five minutes. That's a guarantee of legal death in my profession."

"Legal death profits you in your profession."

"Which one?"

"Good point."

Seishirou snorted quietly as Fuuma looked for a place to lay his shirt out to dry, realizing that he had flooded the bathroom floor about a meter radial from the tub's base, and that Seishirou had probably magically dried himself a spot to sit. Fuuma flicked the shirt open and laid it across his thigh.

"Did you find the place all right?"

"Believe it or not, I've worked in Shinjuku long enough to know how to find the Metropolitan Buildings." Seishirou smiled to himself. "The lady, what's-her-name, Kanoe-san, almost had a cerebral hemorrhage when she saw me; she certainly does think she's entitled to boss you around just because you're nominally on her side, doesn't she?"

"Did she give you trouble?"

"Nah, not really. She just wants me to show up to more club meetings and pay my dues." Seishirou leaned back on his hands, cigarette between two fingers, and smiled at Fuuma. "Why are you being so formal, anyway? It's not as if we're not on very familiar terms."

"Why are you pretending you don't loathe my very existence, since I have taken away access from the one thing in the world that is special to you?"

Seishirou's expression remained perfectly calm, though Fuuma sensed a tremor.

"…I thought we had discussed this."

"We did, and I won—" Fuuma held up his hand as Seishirou opened his mouth to say something. "—which is why I won't argue with you again."

"…believe what you want."

Seishirou took a long drag of his cigarette, exhaled, and removed his sunglasses with his cigarette pinched at the juncture of his fingers. He folded the glasses and placed them in his coat pocket, looking at Fuuma. Fuuma stared back, allowing his cigarette to dangle from his fingers, the heel of his palm pressed onto the tub's rim. Point-blank Seishirou's gaze almost made him look as though he had been knocked in the head too hard as a kid; his blank right eye made it look as though he focused off-center to the left. The steadiness and awareness in his living eye kept most people—those not jerking slightly in morbid shock—just short of cracking up, as though the laugh broke against the throat and the muscles seized at the brink of release.

Fuuma, not being Most People, snorted quietly anyway.

"I assume it's working, though," said Seishirou.

"Given the half-baked nature of your brilliant plan, I'd say it's working shockingly well."

"You're not going to start with me again about why I'm doing this, are you?"

"Are you worried that I will?"

"No. I'm just wondering if it's physically possible for you to sit in the same room as somebody without having to prove just how clever and insightful you are."

"And I assume you're so much more secure and… further along your 'transcendental journey of awareness' than I am."

"I'd say so."

"Besides, supposedly it's much easier to sit alone with somebody in complete silence after you've slept with him. Maybe I'll shut up."

"Hmm."

They did sit in silence for a while. Fuuma finished his cigarette and snubbed it out on the wet tub-edge.

"And to what do I owe the honor of your visit?"

Seishirou smiled. "Can't friends visit one another without a reason? Call it an act of whimsy. I was in the area and I was wondering how you were doing. And maybe I wanted to see if I got any employee benefits I wasn't aware of."

"I think your attendance record cancels your 'benefits'."

Seishirou shrugged. "I have other obligations." He leaned forward slightly and snubbed his own cigarette out on the side of the tub, staring levelly at Fuuma. "…how are you feeling?"

"You don't care how I feel. You want to know about my mental state."

"Emotions tie into that."

"You know what I mean. And, as of this moment, my mental state is perfectly clear. Earlier, it was not."

Seishirou arched his eyebrows. "Oh?"

"I hate to say that your plan just might be working."

"Really?"

"Don't play dumb. You're not dumb…Seishirou-san." Neither man's gaze wavered, though Fuuma sensed a twinge lance through Seishirou's chest that he also knew Seishirou could not identify. "Enough stimuli come into conjunction at one brilliant moment—four coinciding wishes, latent and half-realized, especially in your case—along with my own innermost desires, and it may just be enough to halt even the gears of destiny. Even that force that cannot be denied. If human will wielded by humans of power in this war coincides to this degree, toward a common goal, then perhaps—just maybe—it throws a wrench in the gears. And if the gears can be torn asunder before they break the wrench—the wrench may just contribute to their destruction."

Seishirou arched his eyebrows sardonically. "…may it, now."

"The wrench buys time."

Seishirou thought for a moment. "You know, for all you talk about fate, do you really believe in it, Monou-kun?"

Fuuma was silent, though he arched his eyebrows slightly.

"It's a shame, really, that you have not made that boy realize your dream, for all you've done to him to make him realize it."

"And you think you know what that is."

"It's obvious, really."

"Really." Fuuma tapped his fingers on the side of the tub. "For all you think you know about humans, you have no idea how to navigate your own intentions and desires, do you? And maybe you're not always right about others anyway."

Seishirou snorted. "And so you want to try to turn this on me and use some weak pseudo-insight like that. Very creative one, too."

"In the first place, next time you want to pull something like this, don't hide behind an excuse like 'It is in the code that nobody can touch a Sakurazukamori's prey' when it's evident to everybody and their dogs that you don't give a fuck about decorum. You're prideful, but you would never go this far for any other person. Only with this boy. Seishirou-san, have you stopped and realized that you are trying to stop fate in its tracks for the sake of this one person?"

Seishirou was quiet. Fuuma shrugged.

"You won't hear my words until you realize them, and then, you'll realize them because you'll know."


You don't know what you've got until it's gone.


When Seishirou stepped out of the Metropolitan Buildings the wreckage of the towering high-rises was ethereal in the pale-purple and pink stages of dusk. What was left standing of Nishi-Shinjuku's white-and-gray concrete buildings were illuminating with red lights along their edges and geometric designs at the peaks, and a scattering of green-yellow in windows and in roof up-lights. Somehow the Shinjuku Park Tower had survived the earthquake; it stood alone, towering above ruins and wreckage roped by blinking caution signs and emergency vehicles still working on sifting through the wreckage for bodies. Most drivers had turned on their headlights, and traffic lights glared with a profoundness most heightened at twilight and dawn. Traffic was hell in Tokyo lately, especially in areas lying in ruin; despite Nishi-Shinjuku being declared a disaster area, the government's workings could not stop, and so people still commuted every morning to the wreck, past the mass-gravesites of friends and colleagues.

It was from the building Seishirou was exiting that press releases were being given pleading people to start to move out of the city as quickly as possible, to avoid further death and to stagger an impending, sudden flood of millions of homeless into the surrounding areas. Lately Narita Airport had been an absolute zoo, with outgoing flights packed with Tokyo's citizens desperate to get to neighboring cities or even nations before the choicest international doors slammed on Japanese refugees, and incoming flights less-packed with local aid and foreign aid volunteers from various first-world countries—the latter with their accompanying news-media eager to put on a show for primetime of the "Apocalypse in Tokyo". From the tops of skyscrapers Seishirou could see lines of red taillights jamming the highways out of the city, bumper-to-bumper traffic to no end in sight across the mammoth metropolis, and sparse pairs of pale-gold headlights rushing into the city at top freeway speed.

It was difficult to appreciate how absolutely mammoth and sprawling Tokyo was until one had an aerial view of the city. Seishirou conjured a memory of the last time he had stood atop the Metropolitan Buildings at sunset. It was a long time ago, before 'Kamui' had started destroying the wards, before there were swaths of broken wreckage like graveyards of fallen, white stone, blinking with emergency lights and intermittently with a helicopter's spotlight illuminating yawning chasms of shadow and twisted steel supports. As Tokyo was a staggering spread of packed buildings to the edge of the horizon, so were the swaths of wreckage staggering. One could see the vestiges of hundreds of thousands of ruined lives from one high vantage point, apartments collapsed in on themselves with hard-drives and photographs and rice-cookers and all the luxuries of modern life that have become addiction, necessity, the storage for our most basic needs and precious memories. One could walk into countless apartments and find a different story in the wreckage of each, scraps of photographs of seemingly random and stock people in school uniforms, in portraits, standing in front of monuments, at karaoke bars and on buses—mundane, and to others boring, but to those that left them, the entire world. One could find clothing and plastic hairclips and broken candle-glasses and receipts and the plethora of broken electronics, things people would wince to think of as being smashed by a beam or concrete. And, often, one could find corpses who had been robbed of life while doing their homework, sitting down to eat or in the shower, talking on the internet or chatting on the phone or watching television.

The deaths were still sudden and macabre even in light of the clear and present danger, most occurring without dramatics or the victims' families and friends at hand for a good-bye. The last conversations one had with a victim were often along the lies of "Yeah, I'll talk to you later; maybe I'll have some time later to go out, but not tonight; I'm going to go home and crash—yeah, sorry, later—"

And, then, they were gone. Drawn government officials would inform yet another family, thinking themselves completely cold to the families' heartbreaking reactions, but merely unaware of the fact that they felt as though they had been stabbed in the gut again and again until the stress finally accumulated and broke, all at once, over the un-aware officials. Word-of-mouth would get to peers, co-workers, and buddies—best friends and lovers first—and a numbness would settle. People would eventually grow colder to losing auxiliary friends and peers, only allowing themselves quiet mourning that evening at home, because life had to go on, and the victims' families and close friends would mourn more than enough for them—the good guy from work, the one you sometimes drink with and hope works out his love life and finds himself that right girl; the girl in the office next-door who likes plastic pink hair-clips and can hold her alcohol better than men twice her size and tells the best stories when you guys are bored together. They're all gone, picked off, with no clear pattern to distinguish who will be next amid the plethora of personalities. And there will always be a toast to them, a drink for them when it is time to go back to the bar, and fond and quick comments of what she would have said, he would have done, and a quick laugh. Kampai. Here's to them.

And, always, a quiet fear that it would be themselves next, or a loved one; the more random the pattern, the more the seemingly idiosyncratic-to-the-point-of-immortality died, the greater the fear.

And, when the victim was somebody close to one's heart—

It was one of the jerkier things Fuuma had done to Seishirou since they had started sleeping together. While they had stopped by the Ebisu ruins so Fuuma could talk about some girl with a stuffed frog and Seishirou could pretend to listen, walking with such confidence that government officials assumed they were cops, and visa versa, they had walked past a rescue effort to tug a corpse from beneath the concave roof of a concrete pavilion. Seishirou had seen a white-clad, broad-shouldered figure at first— head hanging like a marionette's where the fallen wreck pinned it at the waist—ignored it, and jerked back, staring and blinking, assuring himself that the corpse was not Subaru-kun—not Subaru-kun—but its cropped black hair and form, slender neck cocooned in a turtleneck and broad shoulders tapering to a slim waist, were unmistakable. The panic only lasted a split-second, not even long enough to register in his mind, before he stared back at Fuuma and forgot what he had just felt. Fuuma was smiling to himself, quiet and Sphinx-like. Nearby an American cable news station was giving its Fair and Balanced News Report on the event, highlighting the American workers and their contributions to the rescue effort.

When Seishirou glanced back at the wreck, the body was that of a middle-aged man in a mauve-brown suit, and neither he nor Fuuma mentioned the illusion. But for a good few hours afterward Fuuma's 'I-have-you-figured-out' attitude spiked, just beneath the surface, and it would have been insufferable if Fuuma had actually been right at all. Fuuma was convinced that deep down, Seishirou loved Subaru; Fuuma was a naïve child when it came right down to it, 'Kamui' or not. Seishirou was disappointed; he had been expecting sharper insight from the man rumored to have the ability to see into each person's innermost heart.

Really. Fuuma was wrong and had no idea what he was talking about.

This was what Seishirou had kept telling himself from the start, in his conscious mind. But the slightest doubt—no more than a flicker, a faint beat—that had caught him when Fuuma had delivered his declaration had taken root, and was lapping at the edges of Seishirou's consciousness, so lightly that he was not aware of its presence. He thought it was evidence of faulty logic, the intuitive knowledge of a missing piece in a puzzle. But that made no sense; he was thirty-four years old and sure that he had himself well-understood to a boring degree. He was not subject to the emotional peaks and swells of the rest of humanity, and though it was a boring existence, it was a solid identity.

Or so he could tell himself in the daytime. But at night, even for the past nine years, the faintest flickers of doubt, a ghostlike breath of dark at the fringe of his mind, had invaded his thoughts, and had made him uneasy because he felt the slightest unease, a foreign sensation—because for a second he had felt slightly confused, as though he were walking along the lip of some dangerous chasm. About to overbalance and fall, fall, but with a sense that it was all false, and that he could catch himself on the floor before he fell too deep. Uncertainty in the external world did not affect Seishirou; it passed him over like smoke, and he did not understand how people could be unnerved by it. Uncertainty in himself terrified him in ways no other person who knew him would think possible, in ways that he skillfully hid from every other soul, even from his conscious mind. The uncertainty and chaos were always just beneath the perfectly calm, analytical architecture of his mind, cool and stable and merciless as concrete—but those nights when even the slightest shadow flickered, he sat up in his living room staring out the open window at the city, smoking and dully wondering why he had the sense that something integral to his identity had shifted just out of line—a fraction, a hair, but the space between that shift and the perfect seam held all the answers he did not have.

What are you doing, Seishirou? Look at yourself. You're going too far.

Seishirou realized that he was at his apartment door and automatically fishing for his keys in his coat pocket; he opened the door and turned on the lights before kneeling to untie his shoes. The washing machine was silent; his sheets were ready for the dryer. He stepped onto the floor and tossed his keys onto the kitchen counter atop spreads of scrolls, removing his coat and suit jacket and draping them over the back of a chair. By Tokyo standards, his apartment was sprawling, and though stylishly and comfortably furnished it was not at all extravagant or showy.

At the moment his usually-neat table was stacked half a foot high with papers, books, ancient scrolls, and a closed laptop in the small cleared space in front of a chair. Spreads and open books were weighted down on the kitchen counter revealing the chakras, points of energy along the human anatomy, and the more arcane and technical aspects of tantra. Some of the diagrams were very detailed; all but one were of a male-and-female couple, and the female had some of the original notes pointing to her body crossed out or edited to correspond to a male body. Notes in Seishirou's messy, calligraphic hand were scrawled in the margins detailing necessary changes due to physical aspects and the more abstract circumstances. One diagram had an arrow pointing to the couple and a note written in a different, more angular hand: THIS JUST DOESNT DO ANYTHING FOR ME. Loose-leaf printed papers, packets, and a couple of scrolls were spread around the computer chair. The papers detailing hit-and-miss methods of interpersonal power manipulation were at the bottoms of the stacks, though a few were marked up and left out as auxiliary reference. Relative to the papers spread on the counter, the heaps of reference material on the table far outweighed. Seishirou had done his research, and he had scrimped and scoured the most exclusive and arcane—damn near impossible to understand—documents, many of which were accessible to the Sakurazukamori alone, to piece aspects together into one cohesive method. It was a long shot, but it was the closest shot he was ever going to get at such a ludicrous plan. Now was not a time to stand back from that cluttered table and place things in perspective, to realize the staggering enormity of what he was attempting and its horrifying consequences should his impact be too great and yet misfired. He was screwing with a system considered both delicate and impenetrable, transient and subject to micro-undulations and butterflies' wings and, at the same time, decided beyond any shadow of a doubt.

It had not started this obsessively; Seishirou had not run to his family's archives and gathered every book he could carry for multiple trips on the first day. It had started as a casual idea that had compounded upon itself, striving to reach perfection in every aspect, unnoticed until Seishirou realized one morning that he had lost a coffee mug because it was hidden among the sheer weight of paper.

Seishirou walked into the laundry room, unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves, and gathered the damp, black-and-cream linens out of the washer with one hand while opening the dryer with the other. He smiled to himself, half-focusing on the wet fabric; having a washer-and-dryer was truly a luxury. It would be a pain in the ass to have to run his sheets to the laundromat as often as they needed to be washed lately.

Why are you doing all of this in the first place? Bring it back to the center—back to the center—

He dropped the heavy linens in the dryer and slammed the lid.

the center is the reason, the reason is the answer. It is possible—no, we've already discussed this. To be honest with myself doubt indicates something I may have missed nine years ago—no, you've already evaluated.—Or are you afraid? No—no, I'm not afraid. That child is mistaken. Mistaken—I know myself too well for this.—

"…have you stopped and realized that you are trying to stop fate in its tracks for the sake of this one person?"

Seishirou's hand halted over the 'on' button. He already forgot what he had just done, which knobs and dials he had turned to set the dryer. He stared at his hand with flagging focus.

the center?

He had long since intellectually made the link—it was logical and obvious—but now—

It began as a dim realization, like the slightest catch in the depths of water with Seishirou staring straight ahead, expression perfectly still—creeping up, catching his heart in a barely-audible murmur, holding it as time suspends. A beat, a flutter in the root of his mind. And then, a numb void. His perception of time fuzzed out; he may have stood there for a full five minutes, or so, without noticing their passage.

He knew. He didn't know what he knew, but he knew. And it was the start.

I am doing all of this for Subaru-kun.

And, for the first time, Seishirou consciously knew the meaning of fear from the heart.