Word Count: approx. 2,900
Author's Notes: Originally written and posted for the x2009 challenge. Many, many thanks to aishuu for serving as beta and sounding board for this.
Summary: When Subaru becomes the Sakurazukamori, Lady Sumeragi knows what she must do.
Ten years ago, her grandchildren left for Tokyo.
Subaru was to begin his work as clan head and lay the groundwork for what he must do in 1999. It seemed only proper--and prudent--that Hokuto should accompany him. The farewells were formal, and took place within the main house in Kyoto. Subaru responded as he should, with natural if stammering formality. As for Hokuto, she went through the motions smoothly enough, but the narrowed eyes and wry smile said she had hoped for more than formality but wasn't surprised to find it was all she got.
Lady Sumeragi was far better at hiding her own disappointment. She bid the children on their way, telling them not to dawdle and miss their train, and when she heard Hokuto's laughter through the open window, and the spirited ranting about not being seen off at the train station (there were hugs, and tears, in Hokuto's hypothetical account), all she could do was shake her head and wonder how she had failed to make the girl understand.
Ten years had gone by since they left, almost to the day, when Lady Sumeragi woke without waking.
She woke into a dream filled with daylight and warmth and the distant sound of crashing water. More than that, she woke into the horrible knowledge that she had lost another grandchild to the Sakurazukamori.
Although there was no one else present to see or hear, she clapped her hands together and bowed deeply in respect to the dead. Three times she had allowed her grandson to fall into the hands of the Sakurazukamori. This time, there would be no taking him back, no warding his hands in silk and leather, no snatching him away from the predator at the last moment.
Subaru was no longer a Sumeragi. The final day was only a matter of weeks away. And she had things she must do.
The sound of the ocean carried from over the crest of a long, low dune, rising and falling like the breath of someone deep in sleep--not her own breath, she noted, but someone else's. She looked around, as much with her spirit as with her eyes, and located the other dreamer in the dreamscape. Whoever it was stood on the opposite side of the dune, at the other end of a rocky, sandy path. It would be rather rough and tedious going, she thought grimly, but it couldn't be helped.
It wasn't until she reached down to wheel herself forward that she understood she was standing.
Her attempt at moving her weight forward onto one foot was shamefully unsteady, but she didn't even allow herself to grimace. One would think that dream-muscles would remember what it was like to move, even after all these years. Apparently, they needed a little convincing before they would obey.
So it was that Lady Sumeragi stood in the dreamscape, swaying just a little and testing her balance until she could trust her legs to carry her over the rough terrain.
It occurred to her, as she waited, that she had not even once dreamed of walking, or standing, or anything else since the day she kept the Sakurazukamori from claiming her grandson.
What did not occur to her was to question why she was doing so now. There was no point in questioning--she knew.
She did wonder why she would find herself walking in someone else's dream of a seashore, of all things, or why it would be a sunny day, with wind singing through the dune grass and towers of clouds passing glacially across a too-blue sky.
A flock of seagulls swirled through the air as if on cue. It was all a little too perfect, she thought, strangely static despite the illusion of life and warmth and noise. So, she set out to find the person who dreamed this place.
The first few steps were tentative. The next few, less so. By the time she made her way down the far side of the dune and drew within speaking distance of the dream's owner, no one would have suspected she had spent the last ten years confined to a chair.
She still was, of course. Or rather, bed. It was the middle of the night, and her body was lying trapped on its futon in Kyoto while her dream-self walked along a sunny beach and into the battle that was raging in Tokyo. It was not the first time she had done this, of course. Nearly ten years ago, she had left her body in Kyoto while she viciously fought the Sakurazukamori in Tokyo.
Now, she approached a different man, cloaked in a different illusion. As for illusions, she had none left to her now.
A modest distance from the young man, she stopped. He looked over at her at last, even though she knew full well he'd been aware of her from the instant she entered his dream.
She waited. The wind tugged at her kimono and pulled locks of hair from the twist at the nape of her neck, but she stood firm on the dream sand.
He seemed unsure of what to do, but then, it was hard to read his eyes with the way the salt breeze kept blowing his hair into tangles across them. There was little she could discern about him other than pale hair that needed to be combed, and a trench coat he kept pulled close around him like a security blanket.
"Should I know you?" he asked. In other circumstances, the words might have sound dismissive. Here, though, they were both questioning and plaintive. "I feel that I should know you."
She was his elder and he should obey the social proprieties, but this was his dream and she was not one to repay rudeness with rudeness. Lady Sumeragi offered a formal bow of proper degree.
"I am Sumeragi Hoshi. I am the twelfth, no, perhaps it is best to say I am also fourteenth head of the Sumeragi clan."
There was a sharp hitch in his breath as she spoke her name, but it fell into a sigh and into disappointed silence as she pronounced the second syllable.
"Kuzuki Kakyou," was all he said. He turned back to the sea, ducking his chin to his chest as he spoke, and the wind all but carried his name away.
Perhaps he expected her to be carried away as well, but she was far more solid than that.
"You are a Dragon of Earth."
"Yes." No shame, no pride, no hesitation. It was a simple fact, and apparently of little import to him.
"And a dreamseer." She knew that both sides had dreamseers of their own. She also knew she had little reason to trust any of them, no matter what side they claimed to be on.
"Yes." The word fell from his mouth like a stone. Kakyou continued to stare out to the horizon, as if homesick for some distant land that could no longer be reached, not even in dreams. "Have you come to take your son's--no, your grandson's place among the Seals?"
She was too surprised to answer at once, and she hesitated for a while after that, not sure which part of his question she should address first.
"It was always foreordained that the head of the Sumeragi clan would fight on the side of the Dragons of Heaven." She concentrated for a moment. The dream was not hers, but she had the skill to make it more amenable to her tastes. Sand smoothed and striated, forming a small, tidy array of tatami mats just above the waves' reach. Kakyou watched with little interest as she flowed easily into seiza. "It became apparent to me as I woke into this dream that he can no longer be said to hold that position."
Something had happened. Subaru had done something that had broken his ties to the clan. She was not entirely sure how this had happened, but she understood why.
"Sakurazukamori." Kakyou's gaze cut to the side, almost viciously. It was the first action she had seen from him that wasn't tinged with lethargy or despair.
She closed her eyes, and if she had been any less disciplined, her hands would have clenched atop her thighs.
"Yes. And as such, foreordained to fight on the side of the Dragons of Earth. My grandson was marked years ago," she said. At first, she believed Subaru had been marked merely as prey. Only now did she know how wrong she had been. She opened her eyes and extended a hand towards the far end of the mat. "Please. Join me."
Kakyou was passive enough that manipulating the dream took very little effort on her part. A tea set appeared in front of her. It wasn't the full chadogu that would have signaled they were about to start a formal tea ceremony. Instead, there was simply a small iron kettle, already heated, and two cups. A sweet, subtle scent filled the air--one she recognized all too well. It went with the sprays of sakura blossoms painted on the two tea bowls.
"Enough of that," she snapped.
Kakyou looked at her, puzzled, but his eyes widened in understanding as the faint cherry scent changed abruptly to the grassy smell of green tea.
Her brows drew together in consternation, and the pattern on the two bowls changed to something else. An animal, this time. It didn't matter to her what it was, so long as it was something not so... freighted with meaning.
Those little details dealt with, Lady Sumeragi poured the tea. It was Kakyou's dream, but he was so socially inept she felt compelled to take on the role of host.
"Please, sit with me. We cannot dispense with civility even though the times are what they are."
Kakyou's weariness had begun to shift more towards suspicion. She could feel the weight of all his unasked questions as he sat down opposite her. He seemed unsure of how to place his legs, and wound up with them loosely crossed in front of him.
Lady Sumeragi placed a filled cup for him to take. He looked at it for a while before picking it up. "To answer your question more accurately, I am not taking my grandson's place among the Dragons of Heaven." She did not mention him by name. As far as she and her family were concerned, Sumeragi Subaru was dead. "The time draws near, and I will do what I can to aid their cause, but I am not one of them. But as of now, I have gone to war on their side."
If only she had had the strength of a Dragon, she thought before refusing to think any further along those lines. Her hands remained steady as she poured herself a cup of tea. Kakyou should have offered to pour for her, but he was studying the bear that had replaced the cherry blossoms on his cup. He appeared lost in thought, but Lady Sumeragi had no doubt he'd heard every word she'd said.
"He does not wish to fight," Kakyou said. "He no longer cares about the Earth's fate."
How very unlike Subaru--Hokuto would be so disappointed in him, she thought before she could censor herself.
"I am afraid that makes very little difference." Her voice was calm enough, but she paused for a moment before picking up her tea. "I will do what I must. I will do my duty as clan head."
"Why? What good will it do?" Kakyou had yet to actually drink any of his tea. Instead, he traced the fine cobalt outlines of the bear with one finger. "It won't change anything that is to pass. It won't bring them back. Not your grandson, not Hokuto..."
The way Kakyou said Hokuto's name told Lady Sumeragi everything she needed to know. How like Hokuto to wander into someone else's dream and someone else's heart. No... something was not right about that, but she couldn't figure out what.
"I know that." It would not bring back her grandchildren. It would not bring back her daughter. It would not bring back her father, her grandmother, her brother, her husband. None of the friends she'd lost over the years.
She would not dishonor their memories or her family by refusing this battle. She would not dishonor her grandson's memory by refusing to pick up the mantle he had dropped or by allowing him to carry the one he'd taken in its place.
"I miss her." His voice broke, but only just. "This was her dream, you know. She brought me here, when I was trapped inside."
Of course. This place, full of golden sunshine and dancing whitecaps and whirling gulls, was nothing someone like Kakyou would have pulled from his own mind. But its liveliness was nothing like Hokuto, either.
A gull cried out, and Lady Sumeragi remembered that day ten years ago, the last time she had seen both her grandchildren alive and whole and happy. Hokuto had complained about being sent off to the station as if their leaving home were no big deal. The gull's cry should have reminded her of Hokuto's boisterous, harrying laughter, but instead it seemed empty, and the flock of them wheeled in the same pattern they'd flown only a few minutes before. In another few minutes, they would fly it again.
Fifty-six years prior to that day, she had bid farewell to her eldest brother as he left to go to a very different kind of war. He had been her all and everything, her hero, her best friend, and she would have clung to his leg until they had to pry her off at the shipyards, but she understood what Hokuto had not. She watched him leave, and she remained strong and shamed neither him nor herself.
"I miss both of them. I have for a very long time," she said simply. It was the simple truth, and she would not deny it. Her heart had ached so much and so often over the past ten years she thought she would surely die from it. When her brother had left, she had cried in the privacy of her room every night for nearly two weeks afterwards. During the day, she went to school, and did her chores, and studied the onmyudou she would need to serve her family.
"You have lost so much. So much" So far, during this entire conversation, he had barely looked her in the eye. Now he did, and she saw confusion, awe, and maybe a little resentment. "You are nearly as trapped in your body as I am, but..."
He shook his head, unwilling to complete the thought.
"But I continue on. I have done and will do what I must. I am not so selfish as to wallow in my pain in a place like this, or to tell myself it was 'devotion,'" she said sharply, waving a hand to indicate this stuffed and mounted and so very lifeless fragment of a dream. "Not while there is work to be done. The Sumeragi and the Sakurazukamori are ever at odds. This has not changed, and I will not neglect my duty. Do you understand?"
The gulls whirled again, repeating the same cry she had heard a dozen times since entering this dream.
She rose out of seiza, knees protesting even though it was only a dream. He watched her, and she noticed that color had risen to his cheeks. Whether it was in anger or in shame should could not tell. "Farewell, Kuzuki-san. I expect we shall meet again."
Even though it was a dream, and she knew how to wake from it at any time, she still made a point of walking up and over the dune before her legs and hips shuddered with pain and her eyes flew open in a dark room in Kyoto.
She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes, and though she tried to calm her breathing, a ragged sob cut through the room. That was all it took, and for the next half hour she wept quietly.
"Oh, Subaru... Subaru..."
Her darling, innocent grandson. Her brilliant, impulsive granddaughter. Both undone by their own hearts. If only... if only she had taught them better. If only Hokuto could have seen and known the reason behind every ritual, behind every formality, behind ever reminder that she must honor the family name. If only Subaru could have been learned how selfish the heart can be in the guise of selflessness.
For an hour or two, she could allow herself to be selfish.
Then, she would rise, and inform the rest of the family of what had happened. She would do her duty. She would serve, as she had been raised to serve.
She would maintain the honor of the Sumeragi clan and restor the honor of her grandchildren. And perhaps, someday, somehow, both Subaru and Hokuto would understand just how much they had been loved.
"I could not love thee, Dear, so much
Loved I not Honour more."