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Nukume Dori 19.2 (19.1)

* * *
It was a small house. It was an even smaller memorial.

Subaru stood on the path looking into Matsumoto's home, face pale after a sleepless night of despair and want. He held a bouquet of lilies in his black-gloved hands. Up the path the door was open, flanked by a mismatched pair of flower stands washed out beneath the grey afternoon sky, as were the curtains allowing a glimpse of the black-clad mourners inside. Already Subaru had spotted Matsumoto's grandchildren, a little girl and boy both wide-eyed and too young to comprehend what was taking place, as well as the tired bespectacled man Subaru presumed to be their father trying to receive the condolences of visitors on his own. Matsumoto's daughter Sachiyo was not seen. From the little Subaru had overheard apparently the shock of her father's death on top of her recent illness had sent the woman into hysterics and she was in no condition to leave her room let alone face her father's body. Subaru didn't have to imagine Sachiyo's grief: he remembered it.

"Father forgive me! Forgive me!"

Sachiyo would carry the guilt of her unfilial behaviour for the rest of her life. Subaru wondered what person had broken the news to her yesterday and whether they had brought the bananas he knew Matsumoto had been rushing to give her. In another lifetime that person had been Subaru, which was why he was here now outside this house with a bouquet of white flowers to pay his respects and mourn.

He watched the shadows inside the house where Matsumoto had existed belittled and taken for granted. He imagined the faces of a family barely beginning to understand the enormity of regret too late to make amends, an enormity Subaru knew all too well. Then he turned his back and very deliberately walked over to the park.

The park bench was wet and patterned with dead leaves. There were a handful of birds perched about it chirping regardless of the threatening clouds above. Subaru hadn't brought an umbrella or any food he could give them. Silently he placed his flowers on the bench and thought of Matsumoto as he had known him, both in that past life and this one, with sparrows on his hands and smiles on his face. Who had listened to Subaru without judgment and offered the wisdom of his years in life and love. Who had died fulfilling his vow to his beloved wife with whom he was now reunited. As he had wanted.

It was better to remember Matsumoto like this.

The birds took flight. Subaru realised there were beads of water gathering in his hair. Placing his hands together Subaru murmured a prayer for Matsumoto's kindly soul then left.

The rain was light, almost mist-like. Subaru felt no urge to hurry through it, lost as he was trying to make sense of what he held. Grief was with him as was despair and anger, but with tears and a night's passing could now begin to be viewed with some detachment. He was still upset with Seishirou, yes, however there were many people dead by Seishirou's hand and Matsumoto wasn't one of them. Even if he were, Seishirou's heritage and identity as the Sakurazukamori was something Subaru had long known and accepted. It didn't mean Subaru wasn't going to be angry when faced with Seishirou's work but he could and would move on--

Or not. Or at least, not entirely. More than simply wanting to do what he thought was right, Subaru had sought to save Matsumoto to prove the Bet's end was not set. He had been so determined on that he had neglected the immediate, the here and now and what he had. Who he had. Neglected ... and offended.

Raindrops caught on Subaru's eyelashes as he walked through the trees. He blinked, trying to clear his vision only for more to slip down his face like tears because yes, he had deliberately chosen Matsumoto over Seishirou, and Seishirou didn't care that Subaru had done it to save a man's life or even to prove the future was mutable, all that mattered was Subaru's choice to put Seishirou second. Not only that, Subaru had done so presuming he could later make amends with an apology, just like when he had been late to the restaurant. Whenever he said he was sorry he was sure Seishirou would accept--

Someone was standing at the edge of the park.

Subaru stopped short. Seishirou held an umbrella and was dressed in the familiar suit and coat black against the grey rain, but without the usual sunglasses. The veterinarian's van was parked beside him. There was no smile on his face and his amber eyes were guarded. Waiting.

There was something tight in Subaru's chest. He stared, at first unable to accept that Seishirou was there, until he realised while this was not expected, he was not surprised. For once Subaru questioned it. In his mind, he saw Matsumoto hand-feeding an eagle in a zoo's cage.

The rain grew heavier. Breath caught, Subaru stepped forward.

Life's too short to be spent angry, Matsumoto's voice whispered as Subaru walked, seeing only Seishirou - how true was that for them who had so little time to begin with? Subaru felt that time, like this closing distance, all too keenly. One year was had been granted under the Bet, one year in which Seishirou would be with him no matter how much Subaru frustrated or offended. Seishirou himself may help, hold, even hurt, but he was there for Subaru; he did not leave. Could not leave, not without breaking his word which Subaru knew Seishirou was far too proud to do. Just as the Bet bound Subaru to Seishirou so it bound Seishirou to him strong enough to take for granted. And Subaru had done that.

Without the Bet to hold him, would Seishirou be standing before Subaru like this?

The dampness in his eyes was warm as he drew close. Seishirou did not move, but rather simply watched guardedly as Subaru hesitantly stopped just beyond the umbrella. The tightness in Subaru's chest was releasing, falling away leaving Subaru holding only what was most important, like a clear stone washed clean. Its gravity pulled between them.

Deliberately, Seishirou stepped forward bringing the umbrella over them both. Subaru closed his eyes and sighed.

I understand now, why you asked me not to talk about the Bet. A hand reached around him draping something heavy about his shoulders and wet clothes, and he turned his face to meet it pressing lips into the palm. He heard Seishirou's breath catch and the rain drumming on the umbrella above them. I understand why you want it to be a silent subject until it ends.

I understand you better now. And I'm sorry I took so long.

The hand he was kissing was warm and strong. Subaru's own gloved hands were tangled in the coat he'd been given. "Take me—" The whisper caught in his throat. He swallowed and tried again. "Take me home."

Breath against his neck. "… All right."


* * *

Joyeux Noël et bonne anneé á tous! I admit I'm not writing as much of this as I'd hoped to do over the holiday period because well, I'm in New York :) from Christmas and New Year until the first weekend of January. Any New Yorkers reading? :D
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