Tokyo Babylon † A Day in the Life, pt. 4

Subaru was floating in the dark.

Nothing was around him, and in that nothing was womb-like comfort and silence. Warmth, serenity, and perfection couched him in safety and peace, and the knowledge that people loved him and that everything was all right cradled him in its bosom; Subaru never wanted to leave.

Some distant part of his mind knew that he was unconscious and unable to wake up; it was probably a coma or something very like it, but the problem was, he couldn't bring himself to care. Unconnected images moved without meaning through his thoughts; the woman's ghost; the goveror's palace; even his grandmother's face, Seishirou's hands, Hokuto's eyes - all these things became nothing but a vaguely familiar and strangely comforting slideshow for Subaru's subconscious, to which he attached no significance.

And suddenly, there was a jolt. Light, startling and almost painful, shot through the optic nerves Subaru's mind had conjured; crying out, he covered his face, and suddenly had a strange and disturbing vision.

He was not warm and safe, as he'd felt; he was in a white, stark box, one that seemed to be moving, and there were people crowding all around him and an IV of some sort swinging above his head and things poking at his arms and something covering his face and Seishirou -

...Seishirou was there. Seishirou, looking down at him, not as close as the others but still there, his eyes in shadow and his smile gone. There was something about his face that frightened Subaru, actually, and in his condition, he couldn't relate whatever it was that was frightening him with what he knew of Seishirou. And then just as suddenly as it had come, his vision was gone again, and he was back in the forgetful black of sleep.

When Subaru awoke, it was early afternoon. The sun slanting in through the prettily-curtained hospital windows only just warmed the color of the walls to his right, by accident or good planning not hitting his bed with danger of waking him. He blinked for a moment, feeling comfortable but strangely confined, then tried to sit up.

His gasp was sharp; his pain was sharper. Clutching his left shoulder and clenching his jaw in agony, Subaru lay back on the pillows more quickly than he'd intended and writhed, wondering if there were an actual blade stuck in his shoulder or if it only felt that way. The pain was all-encompassing, but it had at least one benefit; it cleared his mind, and after one fuzzy, burning moment, he remembered everything.

He recalled the ghost.

He recalled the building.

He recalled the small, life-saving kekkai he'd been able to cast at the last possible moment, and the sweating-hurting-numbing concentration it had taken to keep the thing up - such intensity, in fact, that it had made his vision swim. He remembered the building collapsing around him, being unable to do anything but try to keep that power from crushing him completely, and then he remembered...

...he remembered...

...something that wouldn't quite come clear. Something - someone - black, white, cloth, touch, warm - lips?

Lips? On his hands? Oh, now that made no sense; why in the world would some character in black and white be kissing his hands?

Having no place to put that thought, Subaru abandoned it for the moment in favor of reaching - carefully - for the nurse-call; the pain was only growing, and he was beginning to be afraid he'd re-torn something. And not a moment too soon; he managed to grasp and depress the call button only once, and then the combination of pain and trauma from his ordeal overcame him completely. Subaru collapsed, gently curved over the metal bars on the side of his bed.

"Subaruuuuuu," Hokuto wailed, prostrated over his legs and clutching his extra pillow to her face. "I was so SCARED!"

Her sentiment seemed to be the general reaction to the chaos that had erupted following the ghost's attack. In the three days Subaru had been hospitalized, there had been a sudden resurgence in the belief of the occult in Japan unparalled to anything in modern times. Onmyoujitsu of course was popular, but on the whole most people opted for more esoteric breeds: Kaballah, Hinduism, random Native American practices; for the Sumeragi, it was promising to be more than a headache because his family was required to keep tabs on all such would-be magic users.

And why, exactly, had this happened? Simple: the ghost had apparently decided to bring the mansion down around Subaru's head by twisting it into something similar to an Escher painting, then imploding it slowly as if it had been built around a black hole. This had not been a quick process, and the news media had had plenty of time to record it: the entire palace, wings already reduced to kindling wood, twisting and contorting like images in a carnaval mirror. Everyone had been sure that anyone left in there was no longer alive; Hokuto had seen this, and been terrified that Subaru was dead. And Subaru nearly was, when he was brought out of there - somehow, miraculously, by Seishirou. The veterinarian had simply come walking around the side, toward the ambulences, carrying an unconscious and much-battered Subaru in his arms.

"He'd managed to crawl to safety," Seishirou explained to the medical personnel, slightly panicky, SO concerned over his Subaru-kun but more than willing to let them handle Subaru's care. It truly was a miracle; but the thing that was odd was that the house stopped its odd calisthenics just minutes after Seishirou had brought Subaru out.

Of course, the theory immediately went forth that Subaru had stopped it.

Wounded and weary, he'd somehow defeated the demon and crawled to safety, and for the next several days, his face and general biographical facts were spread across various television stations and newspapers; he never QUITE made the front page, but he was close. It probably gave those folks who'd requested his autograph quite a thrill - only, he wasn't awake to see it.

It was three days before Subaru truly woke up. He'd regained a sort of faux consciousness once or twice, but never said anything useful and didn't remember it afterwards; hence, they weren't counted. When those three days had passed and the torn ligaments in Subaru's arm had healed enough to put him in a sling instead of a brace, he finally swam back to the world of the living.

"What happened?" he'd croaked groggily at the nurse fixing his draperies, and of course his sister had immediately been called.

"I thought you were dead," she finished in a pathetic little voice, glancing up at him through lashes made even thicker with tears.

"I'm sorry," Subaru said, even though this scare really wasn't his fault at all, and she seemed to be satisfied.

"You're not allowed to do it again," she said, still clinging, and Subaru looked properly chastened.

"Now now, Hokuto-chan," Seishirou chided lightly, leaning forward and looking at them as though he thought they were cute enough to eat. "I think our Subaru-kun did an amazing job, considering what he was up against - really! It's simply amazing what he can do when he puts his mind to it." And he smiled, to which Hokuto smiled weakly in return; but Subaru, for his part, had nothing to say at all.

Perhaps he'd taken care of the ghost, and perhaps not; but the fact was, he didn't recall doing a blessed thing. The spirit might still be out there.

Hokuto nuzzled a little, still frightened enough three days after the event that Subaru could feel a fine, delicate tremor dancing under her skin. "I thought I lost you," she confessed to the pillow case, fingering the edge of the hospital blanket thoughtfully.

"Yeah," Subaru confessed quietly, sighing as he spoke, and glanced at Seishirou just... to see what he was doing.

Seishirou's attitude had not changed; smiling, he watched them both, somehow combining the air of concerned lover and concerned older brother into one. Subaru blushed and looked away.

Hokuto had finally found something else to talk about. "Who designs these things, anyway? Prisoners? They're TERRIBLE!" she squealed, plucking at the sleeve of his faded hospital gown, and Subaru blushed even more.

"I... I... I...." he managed, and Seishirou chimed in.

"Yes, Subaru-kun looks so terribly vulnerable in it - especially since they left on your black gloves! That's not protocol at all - I wonder why they did that?"

Somehow, Subaru managed to blush even more deeply, but did not offer an explanation; it was enough to know he'd have to try to apologize to whomever had dealt with dressing him - the gloves were enchanted to give quite a shock to anyone other than himself who might try to remove them.

Flopping back onto his knees with the pillow clutched to her chest, Hokuto sighed. "And the food is awful," she confided, swinging her heels above her back with the lazy, pendulous grace of a vacationing swimmer.

Subaru looked at them, both giving up their time and day to be there, both seemingly cheerful and without complaint even though sitting in a hospital was surely no great joy; and for just a moment, he remembered the feeling he'd had when he was unconscious.

The feeling of being loved.

Suddenly it was all right. Subaru smiled, light in his eyes and joy in his soul, and without reserve, he resigned the mystery evil that had been plaguing him to the back burner just for now - just for a little while. At this moment, he had far more important things to be doing.

Later that evening, Subaru was finally released from the hospital; however, in spite of his doctor's suggestion, he had not gone home. Instead, telling no one, he had gone back to the governor's palace.

Riroi was all right - that much Subaru knew, having called around to check, but it was impossible to get hold of him; apparently, Riroi's security had decided this was some sort of wild attempt on the governor's life, and had spirited him away somewhere. Subaru couldn't say this made him unhappy; the prospect of being on a case for the government without any potential groping was really a cheerful thought.

Moving slowly, Subaru made his way through the wreckage of the building, being careful because he wasn't sure if the floor could entirely be trusted. Cautious, he sent his shikigami in before him, using its extra perception to try to judge whether or not it was safe. Several times he had to change direction, and once he even had to go back almost to the beginning and start over again; but eventually it paid off. He reached the stairs that led to the remains of the room in which he'd fought the spirit - but even before he did, he knew what he would find. The evidence was all around him.

The rogue spirit had been shredded.

Not simply bound away, not banished to some other plane or weakened so that she would be come harmless; torn literally into ectoplasmic pieces, and unable, therefore, to ever be reincarnated, saved, sent to another world, or in fact, to do anything ever again. The soul of Yamata Miko had been utterly destroyed; the remains of her essence were splattered all over the building. He didn't even remember doing it.

Subaru was horrified; nauseated. The evidence of the carnage was everywhere, and seeing what he'd done to her finally sickened him so much that he stumbled to the side of the building and vomited. It didn't MATTER that she'd been a threat - NO one had the right to do something this terrible to another person, alive or dead; and Subaru felt so ill at discovering this ability within himself that for a long time he simply stayed where he was, too disgusted to cry, too mortified to go home. Just considering that even working such a spell required the use of strong and terrible dark magic was enough to make him reconsider seriously what he was doing with his life; he felt like a murderer.

It was dark by the time he made it home. He knew Hokuto would be furious with him for neither calling her nor coming back right away, but he also knew he wouldn't be able to lie to her; it wasn't even a question. And in a way, he hoped that Seishirou would not be there, either; he usually was in the evening, but Subaru felt so ashamed of himself right now that he couldn't handle facing Seishirou's affection. Seishirou's... adoration, or... friendship, or WHATEVER it was. He couldn't deal with it; not without sobbing, not tonight.

Sneaking in as quietly as possible, Subaru literally tiptoed to his bedroom without incident and shut the door. Hokuto, apparently, was not in - perhaps she'd gone to visit him at the hospital, or perhaps she'd simply gone out on a date, but whatever the reason, she wasn't here; and he was grateful. Slipping into his bed with no more of a change than taking off his hat, he hugged his pillow and ached, ached so much for this dead woman he'd barely known and whom he'd apparently robbed of existence. It took hours; but finally, he fell asleep.

Perhaps his long-term fears had been right; perhaps he was not the best person to fill the role of Sumeragi. But whether he was Sumeragi material or not, the question of his career would have to be put off for now because he had something else to do. Subaru had an appointment:

Whatever had driven Yamato Miko mad was not going to hurt anybody else ever again.

And outside of Tokyo, perched in the dark and seeing into men's hearts, a demon laughed and set the next step of its plan into motion.

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