TITLE : If at first you don't succeed...
PG-13
DISCLAIMER : Seishirou and Subaru do not belong to me, they belong to each other. And to Clamp.
SUMMARY : Once, there were a boy, who lived very happily with the man he loved in a small house in Tokyo. Tokyo Babylon, A/U.
NOTES : Huge thanks to TamChronin for betaing.

Once, there was a boy, who lived very happily with the man he loved in a small house in Tokyo. It was only a small home, but, because the boy knew the man would always protect him and take care of him, it was warm, and cozy, and safe.

Outside, there were fearful things.

Sometimes, the boy got very scared. He would lay still in panic in the dark as dreary thoughts and blood-tainted flashes gnawed at his soul restlessly. Like a pressure on his back, something he should remember but couldn't, a stony weight loading him with unintelligible demands. But then, every time, the man would come to him, and hold him tightly, whispering sweet magical words into his ears, and tracing soothing mystical lines across his skin until the dreadful feeling faded away and the boy could fall asleep, between the man's warm arms.

Because of the fearful things outside, there were rules to follow. Important rules he should never forget. He should never, ever go outside, and be careful that the doors and the windows be closed, especially when the man was away. And he must never remove the paper-strips that were on every threshold. And he had to never, ever remove the gloves he always wore. Those were the main rules, the most vital ones, but there were many others, a hundred sacred rituals and prohibitions that served to protect their safety and happiness, because it was so very precious. Sometimes he had troubles remembering them all. There were many things the boy forgot, sometimes, and he could see that made the man very disappointed, so the boy tried very, very hard but it wasn't enough. The man was of course very gentle and kind. He would always smile in that wonderful way that made the boy feel like he was in Heaven, and would tell him patiently "It's all right, Subaru-kun, let me just repeat it to you". But even then, the boy could see the man was frustrated at his inability to remember the rules, or the lessons.

They were lessons of spells and magic and rituals the man was teaching him. Lore about the five elements, and ghosts, and curses and illusion making. They were interesting, and the boy liked spending that time studying with the man. Some lessons he was very good at, but others, he couldn't manage to master them, not matter how many times he tried. It made him very sad, failing the man so, but his teacher was very patient and understanding and told him that one day he would manage it, and he would become his successor and be a great onmyouji. And that reassured the boy, though it also chilled him a little bit, because he became afraid the man would leave him. But of course, that couldn't be? The man would always stay with him and they would be happy forever. As long as they followed the rules.

There were times when the man had to go out of the house, and left the boy all alone. He had imperative tasks to attend to, because the man was a very important person and there was someone called Sakura that needed him to live. And because the boy knew how precious and dear the man was, he tried not to be selfish and not care that the man had to leave him for someone else. He shouldn't want to keep him only for him, should he? So he always smiled when he waved him goodbye. Still, it felt hard, being alone in the small house. There were always more scarlet wisps going through his thoughts and black butterflies nagging at his mind when he was alone.

Sometimes, he felt like something was missing. Like there was a gaping emptiness inside him. He didn't know what it was, that was the most frustrating thing about it. Like a word that was on the tip of your tongue that you couldn't quite remember. At times it felt like they should have been three in the small house, but when he said so to the man, he could see that he wasn't happy about it, so he never spoke of that again.

On the evening, when the lessons were over, they would sit by a hearth fire. The boy would sit comfortably on the man's lap, as he felt his hand running through his hair and his smooth voice telling him stories. He loved those times they spent together, even the times when the man would whisper teasing words that made him flush with embarrassment. Even then, it felt good and right, like nothing could hurt him, ever.

When he held him like that, close to him, the man would sometimes tell him that he was beautiful while watching him with a covetous look that was so intense it made the boy shudder. Those words made the boy blush too... but it also made him wonder.

He didn't feel beautiful. He felt clumsy, and awkward. He knew the man was handsome and was everything he was not, so he wondered what he would look like. There were no mirrors in the house of course, it was one of the forbidden things. But when the windows were closed, and it was deep night outside, and the man was away to carry out his duty, he could sneak slowly closer to it and attempt to snatch a look at his reflection.

Everyday a little bit closer, until one day he was close enough to see his own face, black hair framing delicate features and wide eyes. And suddenly they moved and looked right through him. He was scared and would have fled but then he heard it call:

"Subaru..."

And he went still.

"Subaru, is that you?" His reflection spoke with only a small voice. It sounded weary and sad, but hopeful too. It ringed with a painful echo into his mind.

"Who are you?" He said.

"Subaru, please, it's me... open it. I've been looking for you for so long!"

He should have been careful, really, he had been warned against such things, but there were tears in this voice and it compelled him to open the window.

No sooner was the frame opened, that the figure went through the window to hug him tightly, telling him how glad she was she had found him again.

He felt a little bit overwhelmed by it, but it wasn't unpleasant, and it didn't seem like the person wanted him any harm.

"Who are you, are you my reflection?" he asked, shyly.

"No, silly! I'm your sister."

"My sister?" It felt strangely good. Like something fitting in a place that had been empty and dusty for too long. I have a family, he thought with joy.

"Yes, your twin sister", she explained with animation, "that's why we look alike."

"Hokuto-chan..." he said slowly. A sunray piercing into deep mist. And he smiled. "I'm so happy we found each others again! I can't wait for Seishirou-san to meet you."

He saw her expression freeze, sorrow filling her eyes.

"Oh, Subaru... don't you remember?"

The boy shook his head, as much to try to free his mind of the iron pressure beating on his skull as to express his denial.

"That man... he betrayed you. He treated you so badly."

No. The man had always been nothing if not kind and gentle with him. He knew that.

"He met you and for a year, he was always caring with you, and saying he loved you, and I could see him becoming important for you... and I let him do it, because I thought you needed someone special in your life. Then at the end of the year..." her voice broke.

"At the end of the year, he revealed himself to be an assassin who had marked you as his prey a long time ago, and who chose to play an elaborate game with you just for cruelty."

No. No. It couldn't be.

But he couldn't stop listening to the girl, his sister, and he knew she wasn't lying.

"He would have killed you then, after having broken your heart in the worst possible way, but grandmother succeeded in rescuing you from his illusory trap."

She was watching him again, now, taking his gloved hands between hers.

"You were alive, Subaru, but you were barely here anymore. You were too shattered. You tried to smile at us, to hide how much you were hurt... but I could see... Oh, I should never have left you alone for one second..."

"What happened?" He dreaded the answer but he had to know.

"Remove your gloves." She said softly.

He was past the rules already. He let the smooth texture slip against his skin, revealing the white skin of his backhand. She hold his arm softly, and turned them over.

At the jointure of his palm and the wrist, there was a red knot of scars.

"I tried to kill myself?"

"No, Subaru... you didn't try."

He looked up to meet her tearful gaze.

"You succeeded."

He felt something like vertigo howling within him. Another piece fitting in.

"I'm dead."

"Even so, he wouldn't let go of you. He wouldn't let his prey go free. He bound you to him, and we knew your soul wasn't at rest. I looked for you, Subaru, I'm so sorry I made such a wreck of protecting you. But now I'm here and I won't let him hurt you, ever!" she said willfully, her eyes shining with fierce intensity.

The boy who was dead took this in, a swirl of panicked thoughts turning in his mind, opening all the closed doors of his soul, blowing memories like so much sand whirlwinds.

That's when he heard the door open and the threatening presence of the Sakurazukamori fill the room.

"Step away from her and come toward me, Subaru-kun. Don't worry, I'm going to take care of that." The man said reassuringly to him, cold menace directed at the girl.

The boy halted, standing still between the two persons claiming his soul.

"I won't let you keep him entrapped with you forever. I told you I would kill you if you ever hurt my brother."

"No." The boy said, weakly.

The man smiled quietly. "I will keep him with me as long as it is needed. And there's nothing you can do about it."

A breeze of scattered blossoms blew from the window across the room.

"No..." he repeated, not above a whimper.

"Subaru, I can free you from his binding!"

"I doubt that. He's mine." Said the man.

"No!" The boy said a third time, more forcefully.

"I'm sorry, Seishirou-san", he went on, "I can't stay here, I don't belong here anymore."

"You belong to me."

"But I died!"

"No, you don't understand", the man said, very calm, very reasonably. "You cannot die. It's not the way it goes. You're supposed to kill me."

The ghost shook his head softly, eyes filled with ephemeral tears.

"I can't. Forgive me."

The man's confident smirk started to waver, a mere shudder tainting his expression with panic.

Leaning against him, the boy brushed his lips against that ghost of a smile.

"I really did love you, Seishirou-san."

And though the man reached a hand to grasp him, he started to fade.

"Good bye."

And all that remained in the small little house in Tokyo was a young girl sobbing quietly and a man with a befuddled look on his face.

And he was alone ever after.

owari