Drip. Drip. Rain falling on sakura petals…

"Stop."

Nothing but a low mewl at first.

"Stop!"

The breathing quickens – becoming rapid and frantic.

"STOP IT!"

A long, high-pitched wail.

Rip my heart out and step on it.

If only I could duck under the sky, go to that horizon where earth meets blue.

(I can't find you here anymore.)

Illusory Tandem

Japan
Outskirts of Tokyo
1999

A young man steps out of the drizzling rain into a large, one-story mansion. There is no need to turn on the lights, as midnight hunts have accustomed his pupils to darkness. He walks to the counter; drags a hand across smooth marble. Lightning floods the room for a brief second, illuminating the haunting features of a frozen, discarded beauty. His hair has become rather long and unkempt since the death of his soul. Not many would recognize him or find him remotely comparable to the individual he had once been; rather, they might mistake him for another entity altogether. The view of his right side profile showcases an eerie link to his former love. At times, his resemblance to the previous Sakurazukamori is uncanny.

He wipes a glove-clad hand across the cold surface of the counter, leaving a dark red smudge in its wake. He stares coldly at it for the briefest of moments, before turning to walk down the dark hallway. He walks past a room and pauses, eyes narrowing as he sees the bars of a chamber that resembles a prison cell. He would like to lock himself in for eternity, he thinks.

He continues to walk toward the back of the house, where the door opens up to the magnificent garden. He passes mirrors; all are smashed, of course. Some of the damage is his doing; some isn't. He hates himself all the same. He cannot gaze at his reflection without seeing the dying faces of the two he loved the most.

Lighting illuminates the sky…the delayed voice of thunder follows. He slides the door open quietly, and his touch seems nonexistent — the deft touch that only assassins are capable of. The violent wind swirls his black hair and kisses his pale skin with an unfriendly frostiness. The chill air whispers its faint presence in the darkness. Subaru stares at the garden, his breath curling in long tendrils as it escapes his mouth. Winter has arrived.

But all the plants are still thriving. Blooming like phantoms, he sighs internally. We're alike. Out of time.

A strong gust of wind rips through the vicinity, snatching petals and leaves from various bushes and trees. The leaves and petals slice through the air, whipping against the face of the young man hovering at the door entrance. He doesn't move — just watches silently as the remaining leaves die with the wind, the pieces slowly coming to rest around his feet. He idly considers sweeping the floor, since some of the leaves have settled inside the house. The house must be kept nice. After all, it had belonged to him when he was alive.

CLUNK.

Something heavy hits hardwood floor, and he jumps. He turns away from the ghostly, beautiful garden and peers into the darkness shrouding the inner sanctions of the mansion. What is this disturbance? From the direction of the living quarters comes a muted, nearly imperceptible melody. As he stealthily takes a step into the house, forgotten leaves crunch noisily underneath his feet. He twitches, his face a white almost-wince, at the sound. He walks as if in a trance, measured steps leading him back to the barred, prison-like room.

The music is growing louder as he nears, but it is also growing slower and slower — its notes sounding now in an off-key minor. With wild fingers, he unbolts the door and slides it open. He has never entered this room before today; its unapproachable presence has always kept him at bay. Dimly, he notes that the music has stopped. He flips the light-switch up only to find that it no longer works. It has probably long since lost its light. Groping his way through the darkness, he finds an old-fashioned lantern and lights it. The paper of the lantern is dyed a muted pinkish red, giving the room an eerie red-glow. The pink and red stains are uneven, and he wonders if perhaps the reason for this is tied to other meddling bloodstained hands, much like his own.

The room is in disarray. In the corner, there is a small futon with messy covers, making it seem as if a sleeper has recently slept here. There's a kimono splayed across the floor. Kneeling, he pulls the unsoiled white fabric into his arms. Dipping his face to rub against the silky fabric, a powerful scent assaults his senses. The redolence is a whirl of nostalgia, and painful memories spiral one by one through his grey mind. He buries himself closer, nuzzling the fabric with his lips. The very picture of a broken man.

On closer inspection, it's a summer male-style kimono. He spreads the clothing out in front of him before desperately clawing at his own black garments. After what seems like hours, he finally breaks free and discards the black. Eagerly, he wraps the white fabric around his small frame, heedless of the fact that the robe is several sizes too large for him. He wants to be surrounded with the lingering smell of the one he loved and loves even now. As he shrugs his arm into a sleeve, something falls out of the pocket into his lap.

A music box.

It's small and oval shaped — ornate and dainty. It seems to him like a trinket imported from a far-off country such as India; something unbelievably expensive. With trembling fingers, he winds it. Childlike, his eyes widen as a sweet melody echoes around the room. An empty sigh escapes his lips as he remembers times gone by. The music is the same he heard from the rear-entrance. He sets the box gently on the floor in front of him, and gazes at the shine of the gold trim as the pink light hits it. Strange. Who wound it in order for it to begin playing? Glancing around curiously, he spies a small box resembling a child's hope chest. He crawls slowly towards it, feeling a small form of apprehension as he grows near.

Lifting the lid, he first sees a piece of violet, embroidered fabric lying across the top. Lifting it, he fingers the raised threads, tracing the sign of an inverted pentagram. Lovely, he breathes. So very lovely. Weaving his hands deeper into the box, he extracts a small treasure — a piece of jewelry. The metal is pure gold, wrought in the shape of a flowering camellia. Lightly, he fingers the fine inscription on the back.

"Setsuka," he whispers quietly, reading the words to himself. "Who are you?"

Next, he pulls a small box from the chest. This one smells wonderfully of exotic, fragranced wood. He smoothes his fingers over the grain and lifts the lid. To his surprise, it contains the remains of some old photographs. The first one looks half-burned. Pictured is a small, disheveled girl leaning against an older man, who wears an enigmatic smile. He cannot see the eyes or the hair of the man — they are part of what has been burned. His brow furrows and he shifts to the next picture. The little girl is in this picture as well, but now she is dressed lavishly in expensive fabrics, her hair done up with ornate pins. Her lips are blood red and her skin is pale. She is smiling, doe-eyes shining up at the man, who has his arm around her slight shoulders. In this picture, his entire face has been cut out, leaving only his well-dressed body from the broad shoulders down. Unnerved, Subaru shifts to the next picture. This one was taken in front of a traditional home. The girl is older here, but not by much. She has grown exceptionally beautiful, a flower in bloom. The man next to her holds an umbrella over the both of them. He wears a tan coat over a maroon dress shirt and black slacks. Finally, Subaru can see his face. His smile is quirky — darkly suggestive.

It is a familiar smile.

He stumbles over his breath for a second as he stares at the sharp angles of the man's face. The feathery-wild hair, just slightly shadowed by the umbrella's shade, seems to tug at his insides. He blinks. But the eyes are deep, unnerving black — unlike the honeyed brown tone he was once been accustomed to. Besides, the man in this picture is more ruggedly handsome than he is elegant.

On impulse, he delicately flips the photograph over. His lips part in fascinated surprise when he finds a scribbled note in the bottom corner. Part of it is impossible to make out, blurred by some sort of water — perhaps rain or tears.

'…and me in Kanazawa, where we first met. April, 1964. –Setsuka-chan'

The next picture he views is stranger than the rest. This photograph has bloodied fingerprints, saturation of colour tapering off around the edges. He places his fingers, which are reddish brown with dried blood, over the prints. This picture depicts the same girl; perhaps her name was Setsuka. Her eyes are brilliant honey-gold and she wears an impish smile. In her arms is a tiny figure swathed in violet fabric. The baby has a little tuft of hair peeking out from beneath the blankets. His eyes are closed in peace, and his lips are rosy, half-open in sleepy breathing.

Desperately, Subaru flips the photograph over.

'Seishirou.'

That is all it says. A little gasp escapes Subaru's lips. Seishiro. Images of the older man flash behind his eyes and a thousand sentences run backward in a smooth, loving voice. Overcome with emotion, he doubles over, frantically gripping the hope chest frantically for support. His teeth clamp down on his lower lip, until skin is torn and blood trickles down his chin. Weak and trembling, he manages to straighten up again. His hands quake incurably as he brings the paper closer to his face.

"Seishirou…san…"

He presses his lips gently against the paper, and for the first time in what feels like years, he smiles. It is a gentle, genuine smile — like bright sunlight breaking through black storm clouds.

"Adorable," he murmurs, staring at the photograph and tracing the infant's features with red fingertips. "Beautiful…"

The smile disappears as quickly as it has surfaced. His eyes are vessels carrying sadness. Tears threaten to spill from them, and darkness clouds his vision. He drops the photograph, and all the memories pool together in an overwhelming tidal wave. He would be crying if he had any tears left to shed.

"I…"

I…

Gulping back a cry, he throws a hand into the chest and clenches it around the first thing he comes into contact with. He withdraws a small neatly folded note. The paper, dated 1966, is already yellowing from age. He unfolds it and avidly scans the shakily-written characters.

'I killed him today.'

The rest is blurred, but the letter-writer has the same penmanship as "Setsuka-chan" in the notes he glimpsed a short while ago. He dimly makes out a few more words through the smudged ink. There are splotches of red-turned-brown blood dotting the paper.

'…I am the sakura…camellia…he loved me…I…become him now…'

I have become him now.

Subaru blows out a frustrated and despairing breath. Passionately, he crumples the paper and throws it across the room. Glowering, he turns his focus down to the discarded photograph at his feet — the one with baby Seishirou in Setsuka's arms. His heart tightens. It tightens so violently it feels like taut cords on the verge of snapping. The indistinct words of the note echo within his mind, bringing back the horrible reality of a fight on a bridge in a city called Tokyo.

"I killed him…" Subaru croaks, shuddering

I killed him.

To his surprise, fresh tears slowly begin to leak from his eyes. The liquid seems foreign to his face. Hot and unbearable. It's been so long since he has cried. The filtered red light of the room makes it seem as though he's crying blood. Fitting for the Sakurazukamori. Blood.

Not bothering to wipe the hot tears from his cheeks, he leans over the edge of the chest to find that there is one more object to retrieve. Lifting the ornament, he finds that it is a solid gold necklace, similar in design to the camellia-shaped one that once belonged to Setsuka. He doesn't have to look at the inscription on the back of the intricately crafted cross to know the characters that are engraved there. He knows the name as soon as he brushes his fingers over the memorized lines.

"Seishirou."

Automatically, he unclasps the hook and loops the ornament around his own neck. It falls against the cherry-design kimono with a graceful slap.

"I wish…"

I wish…

He counts the time as the song of the music box at last begins to slow to an off-tune melody.

I wish…

The music stops.

I wish I could save you.

A chill wind sweeps through a one-story mansion on the outskirts of Tokyo. The whirring of a clock chimes a haunting note as midnight arrives. Somewhere, an ancient tree cries out in panic.

Sakurazuka Subaru is gone.

END PROLOGUE.

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Disclaimer: CLAMP owns.

Beta Reader(s): Fin Mefiant, Silvermuse89