It was late in the evening. Most people were in bed, Kyonshi had had a long day, and this on top of everything else was just a bit too strange. He stared at them as if they both had two heads.

"Thank you for being so understanding, Kyonshi-san," Subaru said - grateful, apparently, for this extra chance to endanger himself.

"Oh, it's the least I can do," Kyonshi murmured in reply, absently tugging a lock of his auburn hair. "I, er... could offer you a night's stay, free of charge." It was a casual offer, simply the kind of thing responsible management would do; but the moment the words left his lips, his young guest seemed to panic.

"I... ah... I... I don't... um..." Subaru stammered wildly. "I have... no idea. Seishirou-san?" he finally said, turning to his older friend for guidance. Kyonshi withheld a sigh. THIS was the head of the Sumeragi clan? Well, at least the kid was smart enough to bring brains along with him in the form of a friend/lover/whateverthehell -

And Kyonshi froze, because what he saw in Sakurazuka's eyes was certain death.

Cold. Calculating, somehow tangibly disapproving of this offer to spend the night as well as any attention, perhaps, that Kyonshi had unintentionally wrested from himself. The steps needed and action required to kill him had already been calculated; for an instant - for just one, infinitesimal instant - the man Sakurazuka had been going to kill him.

"Eep," the onsen owner said very quietly; and suddenly, Sakurazuka was smiling as brighly as the light of day cresting a waterfall.

"I think we can manage that, Subaru-kun," Sakurazuka said, cheerful to all and sundry; Kyonshi stared at him.

He swallowed. "Uh... this way," he said, trying to keep his voice from cracking, and grabbed an uncounted number of towels from behind the counter. Scurrying, he zipped around the counter and down the hall on the right.

Naturally, the two weirdos followed.

All is NOT right here, Kyonshi thought to himself, but there really wasn't much opportunity to do anything about it. Pulling a voluminous set of keys from his pocket, he began trying them out one by one to get the door in front of him open.

It took a moment, and that was bad because it gave Kyonshi time to wonder: did the Sakurazuka know he'd seen? Secret-killer-types usually didn't LIKE to be seen. It would probably be bad if he knew Kyonshi knew; and, given the way things were going lately, Sakurazuka probably DID know.

Kami damnit.

"Ah - there we go!" Kyonshi exclaimed, and flung the door open wide.

"Oooooh," said Sumeragi, and scuttled in to take a look. The room was furnished in teak wood, western-style furniture and royal, deep reds and blues. It was, in fact, for very highranking visitors, when they came; Kyonshi figured Sumeragi was certainly high-ranking enough.

"Oh - oh, we can't just... take this, Kyonshi-san," Subaru said, turning to face him with wide, liquid eyes. "And certainly not free. I want to pay for it."

"No, no, I insist - "

"So do I," Sakurazuka interrupted smoothly. "If anyone pays for it, I will; but perhaps, Subaru-kun, Kyonshi-san will feel better if you let him give us this gift."

Subaru bit his lower lip. "You're right, Seishirou-san, of course. Thank you, Kyonshi-san." He bowed.

Yow. These two were weirder than he'd thought. "Of course, of course. Here's your key," he said, holding it out; naturally, Sakurazuka was the one to snatch it. "Enjoy!" And with that - desiring no more evil looks from Subaru's strange older friend - he bowed straight down the hall and out of sight before anyone could say another word about it.

"Eeeek," Kyonshi said once safely behind his desk again. He frowned at the wall. "Don't do anything stupid, okay?" He slapped it lightly. "Do you hear? If ANYTHING else goes wrong, I swear to you I will declare an epidemic of termites and quarantine you off for a month!"

The wall groaned slightly, perhaps in agreement, perhaps in annoyance. Kyonshi, at least, seemed sure of himself. He nodded. "And don't you forget it."

"Oh my goodness, Seishirou-san " Subaru said, still gazing with wonder at the room. "I can't believe this! I feel horribly guilty using this room for free," he said, thoughtful, sliding his gloved fingers over an elaborately carved end table. "We'll have to do something nice for Kyonshi-san before we leave." He smiled with rare humor. "I don't suppose anything in the area is in need of an exorcism."

Seishirou chuckled. "Mm, I can think of something, Subaru-kun," he answered, flinging himself onto the four-poster bed with a sigh. "His conscience." And he smiled.

Subaru glared at him sternly. "That isn't funny, Seishirou-san. We don't know what caused it."

"Now, see, Subaru-ku," Seishirou said, sitting up and wondering how long it would take Subaru to realize that they'd be sharing a bed. "That's exactly why you cannot say it was NOT his fault. You don't know what it was. And neither do I," he muttered, the latter comment more for himself than for his companion.

Subaru sighed. "Yes, but... he means no harm. I can tell, Seishirou-san."

"Subaru-kun, you assume no one means harm unless they're coming at you with a weapon," Seishirou said casually, lying on his side; and then for some reason, decided to push the issue. "Subaru-kun," he asked companionably. "Which side do you want?"


Seishirou ran his fingertips down the sheet in front of him like an invitation. "Side."

Subaru made a very tiny noise that sounded like a hiccough. " I... uh..."

"Maybe I'll just stay right here - would it bother you to sleep on the north side of the bed, Subaru-kun?"

"N-n-no, Seishirou-san, it-it-it wouldn't," Subaru said, eyes growing wider and wider as he took in the gravity of the situation. Bravely, he offered, "I can sleep on the floor."

"Nonsense, Subaru-kun; a western-style bed is just what the doctor ordered. Now come up here and let me know if this is the side you want, because if it is, then I am going to curl up on my OWN side and take a nap. Fair enough?"

Subaru bit his lower lip, then nodded. "All right, Seishirou-san. I'm coming now." Forcing himself not to hesitate, Subaru walked right over, clambered onto the rather high four-poster bed, and lay on his back, regarding the ceiling gravely. He was silent for a long moment, concentration on his face. His lips were moving - as though he were casting a spell. Finally, quietly, he spoke.

"Seishirou-san, are you happy with your side?"

There was no answer. Seishirou had fallen asleep.

Subaru sighed in relief. He watched the older man for a few moments, his expression softening as he regarded his friend; some guilt was there, but mostly concern, warmth - a tenderness that he would have trouble admitting to verbally.

"I'm sorry," he whispered gently, slipping out of the bed. "I hope you aren't angry with me once you wake up. I had to go looking on my own. Sleep well, Seishirou-san." Still looking moderately guilty, Subaru tiptoed to the door and left, closing it behind him.

The moment the door was closed, Seishirou opened his eyes. "A sleep spell, Subaru-kun?" he murmured to himself, sitting up slowly. "A fairly strong one, too; what has you so worried, I wonder?" And with that, he slid out of the bed and followed.

Subaru tiptoed down the hall, glad for the late hour, and hoped no one else would be around. This wasn't like Tokyo; it seemed that anyone who was here had come not to party, but to rest, and it soon became clear that Subaru was the only guest still walking about. The proprieter was probably still up, but that was okay; Subaru had a few questions for him, should they meet.

No one bothered him as he entered the room he and Seishirou had used to change earlier. No one bothered him as he closed it, moved to its center, and began to chant softly; no one woke or even noticed -

But something noticed; and of that something, Subaru grew more aware by the moment. Red, eerie power began to rise from the floor as he chanted, bathing his skin in ichor and turning his clothes to blood. Such power stored here! What an amazing thing - but that was nothing compared to what he found next.

There was a Mind. A real, non-human, powerful mind - one that did not feel very old to Subaru, somehow, as though he were approaching a child-god. Curious, he addressed it.

A moment later, he was gone.

Seishirou was not a happy camper, pun not intended. He'd followed Subaru at a short distance, keeping him in feel if not in sight, and everything had been just fine until the boy had turned that corner. Seishirou had heard a door shut; clearly, Subaru had gone into a room. But when Seishirou began his own trek down that all, the feel of Subaru simply... disappeared.

This was odd - not to mention impossible. Eyes narrowing slightly, he hurried around the corner himself and began passing doors, hands out to either side as he tried to feel the marks he'd put in Subaru's skin. There was nothing; when a second pass was also ineffective, he sent out his shikigami to help look and began opening doors.

Seishirou's profession at least gave him the ability to be less than intrusive, and no one woke as he probed their rooms. A quick sleep-spell through the door didn't hurt, either, but it was fairly obvious to him that everyone was already in for the night. He came across no wakeful people; he also came across no Subaru.

Just to be sure - because this had to be wrong - he went through all the doors and rooms again; there was no Sumeragi.

Seishirou did not consider himself a particularly patient man, but by the same token, he wasn't impatient; he simply took life as it came, usually with little or no emotional impact, and handled whatever it was he had to handle before moving on. This was, he reflected as he gripped Kyonshi's throat and slammed the man into the wall, one of the few times in his life when he could feel a certain sense of annoyance; genuine irritation, not quite anger, but certainly unpleasant enough to require... steps.

"Subaru-kun is missing," he said casually to the choking man in his hand.

Kyonshi tried to say something and gurgled; but he did not look quite frightened enough yet, so Seishirou decided it was time for a little walk.

There was a flurry of motion - power like Kyonshi had never known, grace, deadly elegance, and suddenly they were both outside and on the roof. Seishirou was holding him out over the drop like a bag of garbage; if Kyonshi hadn't been so annoyed at the whole situation, he would have been very impressed.

He gurgled again.

"Yes, yes, I know, you're going to tell me everything," said Sakurazuka calmly. "How much you tell me and how quickly will determine a lot of things about your immediate future, so if you would be good enough to begin explaining... now?" And he dropped Kyonshi onto the roof with no consideration at all.

There were a few moments in which Kyonshi could make no sound besides gagging. Vampire he was, but a squashed trachea wasn't to be laughed at in any situation; he certainly wasn't laughing.

It might have been nicer if Sakurazuka were laughing, but that obviously wasn't going to happen. There wasn't so much as a maniacal cackle; the man was being utterly cold, as though whatever was happening interested him in a purely professional sense.

...Sumeragi missing? Kyonshi hoped the boy would be all right; he'd seemed so nice.

"I'm waiting," said Sakurazuka casually, unblinking in the dark.

"I..." Kyonshi finally managed, rubbing his sore throat and trying not to pout. "I don't know... what you mean." Ugh; he sounded like a career smoker -

"Wrong answer," Sakurazuka said calmly, and planted his foot squarely on Kyonshi's chest.

"Gack!" Kyonshi managed, hearing and feeling at least one rib break. Flattened roughly against the roof and now with even less air than he'd had in the first place, he squawked, "I mean it! I don't know what you mean! Who's missing? What are you talking about? ...oooow...."

Sakurazuka sighed. There was a scent of petals about him, of Sakura, and Kyonshi wondered distractedly if it were his aftershave. Such a HEAVY foot.... "Subaru-kun left my room a about an hour ago, and has completely disappeared. He is not in any room in this onsen; he is not down any of the halls, or walking around outside, or even lying unconscious in one of the pools of springwater. He is simply gone; and I think you understand why at this point I am beginning to grow anxious."

Kyonshi scowled at him. This was getting absurd, and ruining his sweater. Ashikase had never KILLED anyone, so that certainly wasn't it. Feh; maybe this guy had been mean enough to drive the boy away. "Perhaps he was just trying to get away from YOU," he suggested dryly, trying not to breathe too deeply for the sake of his cracked rib. "You shouldn't have let him go wandering off if he had a tendency for disappearances. I honestly don't have a clue where he is!"

Sakurazuka sighed. "What a pity," he said; and then did something very surprising.

Kyonshi could not gasp; he could not really choke, either, or lift his hand to wipe at the blood suddenly sliding from his mouth. Somehow, Sakurazuka's arm was THROUGH his chest, and it hurt so badly that for a moment Kyonshi thought that he really did not like the man at all, at all.

And then, he passed out.

Taking him for dead, Seishirou dropped the body onto the roof where it landed with a thud, and wondered why he'd done that. Killing because of emotional issues was something he had never done, and did not recognize it now; the man had simply failed to provide information about Subaru, and that... meant... he had to die. Or suffer, but die was a second best option.

A pity, indeed; messy deaths, especially unnecessary, were never wise. He would have to hide the body later, make sure it was not traced to him, check for any witnesses -

AFTER he found Subaru.

Taking off his jacket and wrapping it inside out to conceal the blood, Seishirou hopped back down to the ground and resumed his search for the young Sumeragi.

[ part four - in progress ]