by Talya Firedancer

"She's dead."

A hand tangles down, limp wrist flopping below the edge of a diamond-patterned sleeve. Boneless, death throes past, blood seeps with a steady drip-drip from the ruin of a throat once supple, white as the moon that casts light through the paper-thin screen of shoji. The scene is painted in shades of silver and gray, the stark white of Muraki's trench coat and suit providing a snowy anchor for the eyes, drawing the gaze to center stage.

"She's dead." Oriya repeats the calm phrase with more emphasis, causing the cat-gleam of a pale eye to flash upon him.

"You think I don't know that?" Muraki bites off his words, each one precise. His fingers loosen. In a rasp of silk and the slither of dark hair over the embroidered slash of heavy kimono, the woman's body slumps to the floor. Her blood pools, a muted silver more gray than Muraki's eyes by moonlight.

"This is the eighth, Muraki," Oriya tells him, looking down at the body of the fallen woman, rich fabric of the ornately-patterned kimono split to reveal the white flesh of her legs.

The doctor's lips curve. "Can I help it if your women think I'm an angel come to save them?"

Oriya watches him, eyes dwelling on the way white cashmere drapes in his hands, pulled from the upstanding sweep of his trench coat collar. Darkness seeps into the driven white of the cashmere strands, blood spreading through the fabric like acid. "Why do you come here?" He speaks with some amusement. Does he come, knowing, to dispense death?

Tapered fingers reach up, adjusting glasses until his eyes gleam again. "Maybe I'm tired of getting take-out."

Oriya is not offended. "If it weren't for the fact of my friendship, you would not be welcome here." He sets himself against the wall, arms loosely folded into his kimono sleeves. He lives in a different world, now, from that which they both started in.

"I would not come, if you were not my friend." Muraki kneels beside the body, sifts a handful of ink-black hair in his gloved fingers, grasps a tuft and shears it away. He pockets the sample after encasing it in a plastic sheath not unlike one used at a police crime scene.

Oriya watches in silence. Muraki, having killed, is like a beast provoked. Will he turn on him, now, his blood heated past rage to the point where his body quickens?

Oriya waits. It is not his part, not this time, to do anything but react.

He knows who he is. An observer, watching a painstakingly choreographed drama play out before him. There are sides of the man he can appreciate, but never know. He knows his place: he watches, seeing as much as Muraki will allow, participating to whatever extent Muraki will permit.

He knows why the women let Muraki take them, even as they beg for their lives, for their freedom, promises spilling freely from painted lips even as they grow slack. He has felt the same allure, that of the moth drawing ever-closer to the incineration of bright light. They only see the mask slip when it is too late.

The pale Apollo is darkness itself, a shining white angel of darkness, moving through the world without morals.

A part of Oriya cannot help but admire it, the contrast, as he himself moves through a world of careful orchestration, his boundaries set in stone before his birth. The Ko Kaku Rou, kendo shaping his steps from birth, his role in Kyoto, they were all pieces of the structure assembled that give the shape to his life as it is.

With Muraki he observes, but has no effect. He sits within his drawn boundaries, admiring the way Muraki moves. At the same time, he thinks, Muraki has boundaries more rigidly defined than anyone, of such complexity they would resemble the coral convolutions of the brain, skull cracked open to take a peep inside.

How many times will Muraki strangle the pale, beautiful woman with dark hair? How many times can the body be strung up, long hair swinging, richly-embroidered drape of a sleeve dangling from the body in its kimono cocoon?

How many times must flesh pay for the denigration of a lingering spirit?

Oriya does not know. He doubts Muraki knows himself enough to answer.


The new moon cut a slice through the sky, enough light to lay bare the night for what its contents might spill free. In another place, in another time, Oriya's lips shaped soundless words before he thought to shake his head.

"You killed her." Oriya's low voice had gone husky, like a tool caked with rust.

Muraki laid a finger over his lips, eyes silvered over, inscrutable. "Does it matter?"

"Why should it matter to me?" he said at last, but it did matter. A flush of excitement spread through him.

"Hm." Muraki, his friend Muraki, cocked his head. By the light of day he looked unreal; by this pale wash of moonlight he was ethereal, some creature of legend come to wreak justice. "So? I see you're not repulsed, at least."

Muraki reached out with a gloved hand and his fingers slid into Oriya's hair, taking hold of one long lock. His expression was clinical, though his eyes were dilated in a look Oriya had come to recognize from other times, other circumstances, when he was more than likely to end up on back or belly with uniform pants roughly pulled to his thighs.

Standing thus, his hair sifting through Muraki's fingers, Oriya felt he had arrived at a cusp in his life. He had returned to the Ko Kaku Rou just this morning, only to find himself spiraling down into the blackness of this night. Accepting this, giving in to the blend of violence and lust that Muraki's eyes promised, was acceding to all he'd sought to resist. There was a course that had been laid out for him since before his birth. He had been allowed the illusion of escape, going away to a private school, but now this...

"Your father," Muraki breathed, leaning in as if scenting his hair, "has been generous enough to allow me to dispose of that which he no longer has a use for."

Oriya's hands balled into fists. "I don't need you to tell me that," he snapped, angered. This disposal, the blood spreading on the floor beyond Muraki, the cold glint of the dead woman's eyes, and the lust that sprang up between them all had the stamp of his father's approval. Give in, the sensation pulsed through his blood, this is a part of the life you're living.

To become complicit in Muraki's crimes bound him to this place, his heritage, more securely than ever.

Yet he could not take the step to separate the closeness of their bodies.

The tang of blood was on Muraki's tongue when he leaned in to kiss him, and Oriya closed his eyes as a hand fisted in his hair, gathering him in deeper.

Not far from the moonlight-silvered place the body had pooled there was a room. To this Muraki dragged him, willing, one hand threaded in the long fall of Oriya's hair as if he might never let go, or use it as a silken tether to continue drawing him along in his pace.

Muraki hardly waited for the veneer of privacy a closed shoji door provided. His mouth was biting, sucking even as he made a long arm to slide the door shut behind them; his hands pried at the front of Oriya's uniform, popping buttons and exposing the cream-tan line of his chest and belly, physique honed from years of kendo. Despite the power in Oriya's limbs, his ability to discern all of Muraki's animal movement and intent, he was the one rendered helpless in this man's arms.

He hated it, this dependence, the way he quivered as bone-white fingers skimmed low over his belly, but it was the one thing that galvanized Oriya to strive for his own footing.

There was blood as well as lust; the spread of the woman's black hair tilted before Oriya's crazed eyes as Muraki bit, then licked at his crimsoned lips. The door was shut, but he could still see the drape of her disarrayed kimono, the cold peace of death violated by her bloody repose. Oriya was panting as Muraki tugged off a glove with his teeth then ran his naked hand down Oriya's face, his neck, gripped his hair in one fist and exposed his throat.

A woman was dead. Oriya had watched Muraki kill her, whispered his name and stood transfixed as one moon-silver eye canted over a shoulder to stare at him, pitiless as an ancient god.

Lips claimed his neck, and the white shirt of his uniform was dragged off his shoulders, left to pinion his arms as though Oriya would strain and tense the cords of his muscles to throw him off. Muraki was meticulous in his passion, rendering his lovers defenseless as a victim. The mouth that pressed against his back was cold; a lover's mouth should be warm but Muraki was cool, always his lips so cool.

Outside, sprawled on the house walkway between the garden and the wall, the body of a woman lay unacknowledged. Within, Oriya gave in to the fact of that death and his lack of shock and leaned forward, wealth of dark hair spilling over his shoulders as his pants were stripped down and a slick touch entered him and he accepted Muraki into his body once more.

They coupled, rough like animals that rutted by night, battering at one another in the darkness and curling close for more even as the sting of blood had not yet faded. In the end Muraki pulled out, handling Oriya as he wanted, maneuvering him face-up and towering over him, pale hair gathering light like a halo. His mouth curved as he looked down at Oriya, but it was a merciless smile.

"What do you want?"

Oriya burned, mingled humiliation and desire spreading a flush across his face. He wanted what he always did. "Do it," he ordered, grasping the illusion of power.

Muraki merely nodded, and thrust. The hand that tangled in his hair as he moved over him, braced, was cold when it touched his skin. Muraki was here, and yet far from here, some distant point Oriya could never reach.

When they were finished, Muraki disentangled himself, lying apart. Oriya struggled free of his shirt and the thought that he had lost something precious.

"I can leave," Oriya panted, "I can leave, I can still be free..."

Muraki's fingers trailed through his hair. "You would be no use to me," he said, detached, tone almost amused. "At least here, you know the certainty of your place."

Oriya heaved himself over, tangle of black hair spreading over naked, sweating flesh. "You," he growled, words of deceit and bitterness rising on his lips.

"Can't you see that?" Muraki's silver eyes were a scalpel delving to the depths of him. A finger trailed down Oriya's body from throat to navel, painting a line of moisture over his skin. "You've already given in. Accepted the violence, and what follows. That's the function of this place. That is your function, as its master."

That forced him to think again, rising above the reflex that stirred in some place beyond instinct, something more cerebral. He was bound to this place by what it served out, sex and violence. And Muraki was the linchpin that had removed his weighted resistance.

"Muraki," he rasped, and his anger was leeched away.

"It must be reassuring," Muraki said, sinking to the bedroll, platinum hair fanned out. "To know where you belong." An expression, mild and thoughtful, worked over his face.

Edging away, keeping the space distinct between their bodies, Oriya passed a hand over his eyes and dwelled on the blank, white canvas of the ceiling. "I never wanted this."

"Ah, but it's your destiny."

They were eighteen, and the world would last forever.

In the end, some things were inevitable as a stream coursing through its banks. If it was the one thing Muraki had taught him, it was enough.


Too much time has passed and Oriya finds himself on this night, his eyes turned up to the steady swathe of light the moon cuts through the sky. There are many things he can depend on and Muraki, he knows, was never one of them.

He sets the long stem of a pipe to his lip and recalls other nights, always nights, when Muraki would come, would move within these walls, would bring him to life all over again. Even if he came with the lingering specter of death.

There was a night this most recent killing spree had begun. There was a night it had all begun, when Oriya had sunk into Muraki's pace, had accepted the things he could not change.

Tonight, he knows there will be no more.

The servant-girl stands waiting for an answer, and Oriya looks up after a moment, throwing back a wing of dark hair.

"Throw the fish to the cats," Oriya tells her, fixing his eyes on the darkness gathering thick, overlaying the traditional garden. "That person...won't be coming around anymore."

She bobs her head like a toy doll and retreats.

Whether Oriya had anything to do with it or not, he will never know.

He was only an observer at the edge of Muraki's play, a reeling performance that spun out of control.

In the end, all he could do was send the boy to try for what Muraki had taken.

Oriya had recognized the look in the boy's eyes, the desperate look. The dark angel had taken something from him, a precious person, the most important perhaps. Devotion, complicity, put his hands to the sword to defend what little of Muraki's plans had been disclosed to him.

Emotion akin to jealousy stayed his hand, in the end. That boy felt the same as him, the desperation, the determination to protect. But while that boy's most important person could still be saved, perhaps, Oriya knew one thing to be true.

He would never see his friend again.

"No," Oriya murmurs to himself, "that person won't be coming here anymore." He lifts a hand to the sky, splaying his fingers to frame the blossoms that cling to the trees.

A thick red bloom falls to the ground, its weight of petals sifting, giving forth a sodden thump. The head of a corpse falls just so. There is a night far gone where the sound of that thump still echoes in his head, a night when blood fills his mouth and his body aches and he knows he can never surpass the intensity, the freedom of that night.

Never again.