Tokyo Babylon † A Day in the Life, pt. 3
"Sumeragi Subaru - enter," said the servant, and Subaru bowed with a smile and did.
A full minute passed before his grandmother acknowledged his presence; this was not due to coldness or anything rude, but rather because she cared for propriety as much as Subaru cared for people. It was an interesting conunndrum: as a woman who'd been forced to survive on her own in a country and age that did not appreciate strong women, the former head of the Sumeragi clan had learned a long time ago to hold the job before the people as a simple matter of efficacy. Subaru, however, was sharply aware of other's pain, and so tended to value the people before the job. It was often a source of conflict.
The family servants found the entire cycle very amusing; because Subaru was gentle, it was easy to believe he was weak, and since he felt the pain of conflict very sharply within his own heart, he had a tendency to pick his battles carefully. So yes, he let the women of his life pick his clothing; he let them tell him what to do, what to think, what to say - but the fact remained that in the end, he did what he wanted - regardless of their opinion. Only a few people truly understood this quiet streak of rebellion well enough to expect his behavior, and it was a ceaseless amusement to the servants that his own grandmother did not.
"Welcome home, Subaru-san," Lady Sumeragi finally said with a nod, and Subaru straightened and smiled.
"Grandmother," he acknowledged, and coming the rest of the way into the room, slid to his knees for tea with a smooth and well-practiced grace.
"What did you wish to see me about, Subaru-san?" she asked, skipping trivialities as she began to prepare the tea with a small whisk.
"I wish to reschedule my appointments for the next week, grandmother," Subaru said respectfully, resting on his heels and glancing at her face for reaction.
She paused, then continued whisking. "Why?"
"Because something large has come up above and beyond my duties, grandmother; I will need proper time to deal with the issue."
Lady Sumeragi was silent for a moment more, finishing mixing the tea and pouring it in the proper bowls. After turning the one she held and handing it to him, she continued.
"Why are you wearing that?"
Subaru was so used to being dressed outrageously by his sister that for a moment, he had no idea what article of clothing his grandmother was talking about; then he realized she was looking at his neck.
"Oh - the scarf," he said, and plucked at it lightly. "I was injured yesterday; I didn't want to worry you." And honestly, he didn't want to have to explain it; it was enough of a pain having to wear gloves all the time, much less a scarf.
"Ah," Lady Sumeragi said, and turning her own bowl around a few times, lifted it to her lips to drink. Following her cue, Subaru did the same, keeping his eyes on her face from over the rim. She was impossible to read; not for the first time, Subaru felt some intimidation in dealing with this woman, in loving her, in being her kin. Ignoring it all, he waited for her to speak.
She opted not to discuss his scarf anymore. "Subaru-san, you know we are not our own."
This was a lecture he'd heard many times before, and to a certain extent, HAD taken to heart - perhaps more than she'd meant him to. "Yes, grandmother."
"Ours is not to decide what we do or when. We are the Sumeragi; the beloved of the emperor, the premier onmyouji of Japan - responsible for its protection."
"Yes, grandmother." Finished with his tea, Subaru put the bowl down carefully.
"Because of this, knowing this, I cannot see how you find it within yourself to ask me to do such a thing." And her tone, always hard, steeled itself even more with the sharp arrows of disappointment.
Subaru heard it - it was impossible to miss - but he also knew that he could not back down. "Yes, grandmother," he said respectfully, folding his gloved hands. "And I wouldn't ask such a thing unless it was really, really important. This is, grandmother; more important than anything I can think of, and so, I want to reschedule the appointments for this week."
Lady Sumeragi sighed; it was obvious that her lack of actual power here frustrated her - Subaru was the head of the clan, and could do what he wished. But still, he came to her - respecting her station, her opinion, her authority. Such a good boy; for a moment, her heart ached within her.
"...grandmother?" Subaru asked unsurely, seeing the pain flit across her face and not being quite able to identify it.
"Fine," she snapped suddenly, and stood - tea, apparently, was over. "I will have the calls rescheduled; however, Subaru-san, there is one you must still attend: a haunting at the governor's palace itself. This one, as you should know, is for this very evening."
Subaru simply nodded, either not noticing that her tone was accusing him of forgetting, or else simply choosing to ignore it. "Of course, grandmother," he said quietly, remaining on his knees to show respect. "I had no intention of missing that one."
Lady Sumeragi looked at her grandson again; he knelt there, so slender in his black, strangely cut clothes, his eyes so wide, in innocent, emerald beauty. For a moment her recurring dreams of the boy being drowned in sakura shook her again; then, being stronger than her dreams, she shook the feeling off and looked at him sternly.
"Zatsu will see to it that you know of all your new appointments," she said by way of meeting close; and then, she opened her arms. "Come here, Subaru-san."
Subaru smiled, finally released from ceremony, and leaped from the floor to hug her. It was brief; a momentary sharing of love, and never enough for him, but it would have to do. They both knew that Lady Sumeragi only granted that much affection because he valued it so.
"Be careful, Subaru-san," she said more quietly, resting one hand on his shoulder and not quite touching the scarf. "My heart fears for you."
Subaru knew; he'd been told of her dreams. And just as before, he had absolutely nothing to tell her.
Finally, she nodded; head slightly bowed, she turned and swept from the room, kimono as glorious as the dawn, and slid the paper door shut behind her. Subaru stood where he was for a moment, lingering in the afterwarmth of her hug. She was so precious to him; all of them were, which was why he was doing this. He could not shake the feeling, no matter what he did, that the attack on him had only been the tip of the iceberg.
Only the beginning; with much worse to come.
Sighing once and mentally prepping himself to go back to work, Subaru turned and left his ancestral family home.
Visits to the provincial governor were always a little interesting. Asashi Riroi Buraun Banshou was a young leader, unfortunate enough to have been born in an age when patriotism was diminished and his own inherited position was less than powerful. In a last, vain attempt to prove that Japan was keeping up with modern times, his father had stuck the name of a rhythm and blues artist he particularly liked into Asashi's name; and since he had died not two months after the boy's birth, he had never really explained his decision to the press. Now of age and the current governor, Asashi Riroi Buraun Banshou was ridiculed for his name behind his back, and he seemed to make up for it with more and more flamboyant behavior.
He was homosexual; everyone knew this, and while common, published materials seemed to indicate this was common in Japan, the opposite was true. Political activists claimed that his behavior would cost him an heir, which meant his position would be up for grabs - and while this was potentially true, in effect, it was almost a joke.
No one wanted the position of governor. Ever since the political restructuring of World War II, the title had held little real power; it did, however, give Asashi - Riroi behind his back - license to behave like an idiot.
One of his favorite ways to do this concerned the young head of the Sumeragi clan.
Riroi wanted Subaru; Subaru knew it, and for him to have realized such a fact in his perpetually innocent state gave testament to how overboard Riroi was. It was true that the age of consent in Japan was thirteen, and so Subaru was legally available; however, it was also true that he had no real interest in anyone that he knew of (none conscious, anyway) and honestly, the idea of a serious relationship scared him almost silly.
Not to mention that it was the governor; one did not think of such things as sex in connection with him.
Subaru's grandmother probably knew; but Subaru was clearly strong enough to stand on his own, and while Riroi was an almost theatrical fop, he certainly had no interest in sordid things like rape. Between this and the careful, special relationship the office of governor had with the Sumeragi clan, it was deemed advisable for Subaru to simply continue working with Riroi and pretend he knew nothing.
There were times, however, that Subaru wished he really COULD know nothing; his blushing was something he couldn't control, and Riroi clearly found it endearing. At least this current meeting was taking place at night; the dim light provided by the elevated torches in Riroi's private garden fortunately did not threaten revelation.
"Helloooo, Subaru-san," greeted Riroi, and Subaru bowed as was only proper.
"Kokushi," Subaru said, remaining bent at the waist until the governor should acknowledge him. Which the governor wasn't; after a minute or so had passed, Subaru glanced up again to find Riroi's gaze solidly on him.
Riroi seemed to be busy imagining the possibilities Subaru's position presented; blushing - and doubly glad for the dim light provided by the torch-lamps in the garden - Subaru willed himself to stay quiet until Riroi got to the point.
After a while, he finally did. "Come here, Subaru-san - sit by me," Riroi said, patting the chair beside him with long, lacquered, tapered fingernails that would make Jackie Joyner Kersee jealous. Nodding his acquiescence, Subaru walked to the table and sat in the chair across from Riroi, rather than beside him. He schooled his expression to remain still - since none of this was out of the ordinary, after all.
Riroi sighed. "You're SO stubborn sometimes," he said, fanning himself, and smiled. "Tea?"
"What is the nature of the disturbance, Kokushi?"
"Oh, that," said the governor clearly disappointed. His fingers fluttered over the teacups like butterflies. "There's a ghost or some such nonsense upstairs, in the third floor - you know, I NEVER go up there. It's such a mess - moreso now, even," he added, and chortled merrily at his own joke.
Subaru remained all business. "And have you had any clues as to the nature of this disturbance?"
Riroi looked slightly put out; making a distasteful face as though discussing such vulgarities was far beneath him, he started to answer when a crash from the main palace made them both jump.
"What was that?" Subaru asked.
"Oh dear, there it goes again," Asashi Riroi Buraun Banshou said, as if it were not his own property being damaged, and Subaru looked at him with wide eyes.
"Again?" he asked.
"Yes, yes," Riroi said. "It's been wrecking the third floor, I told you - good thing nobody lives up there, is it not? Oh, hoo hoo hoo hmm hmm."
Subaru sighed; a poltergeist call? Oi, this could take all night.
"With your permission, Kokushi," Subaru began, and Riroi perked up.
"Yes?" the governor asked.
"I would like to go and address this problem right away. If it is an angry spirit, it could take a while to remove - and I don't want to do more damage to your property than it already has," he explained, and Riroi drooped again.
"Oh," he said, and sighed. "Well - if you must. But I suppose AFTERWARDS you'll stay for some tea?" he amended, a gleam in his eyes that Subaru found decidedly unhealthy, torchlight or no torchlight.
"If I have the time, Kokushi," Subaru said, and Riroi frowned.
"Time? Not enough time for your governor?" he demanded, pretty fists clenching on the table. Subaru did not answer, but merely looked at him, his will and strength of duty in his eyes. After a moment, Riroi looked away.
"Very well, I suppose you must do what you must do," he bemoaned, drawing his long legs back so he could stand. "This way, Subaru-san." Gliding in his silvery brocade robes, Asashi folded his hands inside his sleeves and headed back into the palace. Subaru silently followed him.
The halls were wood paneled, lined with glorious paintings, tapestries, and ancient armor from even before the time of the Samurai; they were also absolutely deserted. They met no one in the hallway; no servants, no visitors, no family. It was almost as if the entire palace had been emptied, and Subaru began to wonder how much more there was to this "ghost" than the governor had mentioned. A moment later, he found out.
Brow knit, Subaru paused and looked past the governor to the third floor, where he could hear huge, chaotic crashes. "Is that it?" he asked, knowing it was an obvious question but a little worried as to just what this entailed; it sounded as though the creature were throwing entire bedroom sets around.
"Yes, that's it," said the governor, sounding bored. "Come along, would you?" And he continued up the stairway.
Subaru had already taken out three of his ofuda, fanning them between his fingers like cards in a magic trick. "Perhaps you'd better stay back, Kokushi," he said. "I don't want to risk you getting hurt."
Looking delighted at Subaru's concern, Riroi started to reply, but then came a particularly large crash followed by something more dangerous. One of the doors above the third floor balcony slammed open, and a large, battered bureau came flying toward them as if propelled from a catapult.
"GET DOWN!" Subaru shouted, and pounced on his governor literally just in time to avoid catastrophe. The bureau flew right over their heads, narrowly missing them as it smashed into the stairs below and tumbled to the main floor, leaving a trail of kindling behind.
"I think you should go stay with your security, sir," Subaru said gravely, relieved to hear the approaching guards shouting as they came; Riroi had to get out of here.
"Mmmm.... if you're... perfectly SURE, Subaru-san," purred Riroi, who was apparently more intersted in the weight of the Sumeragi on top of him than his own life. Clearly in his own little world, he moved suggestively underneath Subaru.
Subaru choked; he squeaked. He leapt off his governor with all the speed of a mad adder, and immediately called to the security guards.
"Ah... he's up here!" Subaru shouted, his voice cracking, and then ran past Riroi as quickly as he could, willing himself not to look at the sprawled man in silk on the stairs. Onmyoujitsu required concentration, and this was most certainly not conducive to any such thing; hoping Riroi wouldn't take his sudden flight personally, Subaru focused his mind and and ran to face the enemy.
The third floor no longer looked as though it belonged in the palace of royalty. Every item that had hung on the walls had been ripped off and torn, pieces broken and scattered. Furniture of every conceivable kind had been dragged from the bedrooms, smashed, turning the hallway into an obstacle course.
Subaru sneaked down the hall; the spiritual energy of this place was absolutely overwhelming, and he couldn't successfully sense the location of the being or beings responsible for the mess. Leery of being hit with more furniture, Subaru moved carefully.After passing a few more doors, he became aware of a strange, strange sound. It was only because he'd dealt so often with the dead that he knew it for what it was: the wailing of an angry, heart-broken soul. The sound suddenly increased in volume, and a nightstand, minus its drawers, suddenly came flying through the door directly in front of him and hit the floor, smashing itself gradually to pieces even as it ricocheted past and over the balcony.
Well. At least now he knew where it was. Holding his ofuda up before him like a gun at the ready, Subaru slid to the doorway and carefully peeked around.
The ghost sat right beyond the door. Old, young, it was impossible to tell; hair and skin equally colorless, the being sat clothed in what looked like antiquated soldier's uniform, bulky with stuffed armor. The ghost was rocking back and forth slowly, sitting with his/her legs slightly curled in front, and every once in a while wailing for no apparent reason. As Subaru watched, the spirit raised one hand, lifted the one remaining hung portrait in the room with supernatural power, and flung it out the door with a slightly higher pitch to the constant wailing.
Subaru pulled back as the gilded frame went flying past, chipping more paint from the doorway; then he stepped forward.
"Excuse me," he said, and the ghost looked up as if simultaneously caught and guilty.
"Who are you?" it screeched, its voice as androgynous as its appearance.
Subaru stood very still. "Sumeragi Subaru - who are you?"
The ghost looked at him for a long moment; startlement passed over her face, then blankness, and when it spoke, its sounded absurdly calm. "I am Yamata Miko. I do not belong in this world."
It had the sound of something rehearsed, an official statement to be made upon questioning; Subaru didn't buy it. "Are you?" he asked, and the ghost's outline seemed to waver.
"IIIII already SAID WHAT I SAID!" she - Subaru was almost sure it was a she - screamed, and without warning, flung her arms as if tossing something huge at Subaru - and from behind her, the entire cherrywood tea-table rose from the ground and flew over her head.
Subaru dodged it, ducking back behind the doorway as it somehow avoided catching on the doorframe and flew past him; then he stepped back into view.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I can tell you're in great pain - but if you don't stop doing that, I'm going to have to make you leave. These aren't your things you're destroying."
And the ghost - Yamata, if that was her name - began to laugh. She threw back her head and as she did, the entire building around them seemed to... warp.
The floor, the walls, everything buckled slightly - as if a giant's hands were on the outside trying to twist the mansion in two, and Subaru, slightly dizzy, clung to the doorframe.
"Stop that! STOP THAT!" he called over the horrible sounds that were now coming from the building, and only hoped that she could hear him. "STOP that right now! Please! DON'T MAKE ME HURT YOU!"
And just as suddenly as she'd started, she stopped. The palace took a moment longer to settle, weeping dust from the ceiling as it resumed a more natural shape. Subaru was breathing hard, and trembling just a little; and as for the ghost - she smiled.
"You do not like my playing, Sumeragi Subaru?" she asked calmly, and Subaru took a step closer.
"That isn't what you were going to say," he said in almost forgiving tones, and her smile faded. Silent, they eyed one another.
"What right do you have to say you won't hurt me, Sumeragi Subaru?" she finally demanded, speaking in a low, dangerous voice that Subaru would have sworn was male under any other circumstance. "You don't want to avoid that - you WANT to hurt me. Everyone does."
"Why would I want to hurt you?" Subaru asked, neither accusing nor condescending, and took another step forward.
The ghost looked puzzled. "Everyone does," she repeated, sounding more female, and tilted her head.
"Everyone? That's kind of inclusive," Subaru said, and took the final step to bring him into the room. Sitting in front of her, he gently rested his hands on his legs, showing no ofuda, no weapon, no agressiveness of any kind. "I don't think everyone does - I don't. Why would everyone? Surely it can't be that bad, Yamata-san."
The ghost looked at him oddly, pulling back just a little. "Who are you?" she asked again, and Subaru smiled.
"I'm sorry - but I'm a friend of the person whose home you're wrecking," he admitted, ducking his head and coloring slightly. "That's why I'm asking you to stop what you're doing - but that doesn't mean I want to hurt you," he explained.
The ghost had begun to look upset. "But... but why not?" she asked.
"Why would I?" Subaru asked, and Yamata, her form beginning to waver, put her hands over her face and wailed.
Subaru's expression flew past compassion and into empathy; hands up as if in supplication, he tried desperately to communicate with her. "No - no please, don't cry. Tell me what's wrong - it could be something I can fix..."
In response she threw her head back and wailed again, once more effecting the strange bending of three dimensions, causing the walls to creak and the ceilings to shed dust. Subaru wobbled and fell to his side.
"Why did it have to be you?" she accused, sobbing, and leveled one finger at him. "Why someone like YOU?"
Subaru could barely hear her over the screaming of the wood and crashing around him. "Wh... what? Me? What...?"
She choked, and suddenly rose into the air, hair streaming around her and her entire being suddenly feral red instead of glowing white. "WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE YOU... SUMERAGI!"
And suddenly, Subaru understood; he had only enough time to raise one slim ofuda before she brought the room crashing down around him.
(to part four | notes | back to TB fanfiction)