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Title: The Dancer
Fandom: Onmyouji
Pairing: Seimei/Hiromasa
Rating: PG
Summary: During the evening dances at the Kamo Festival, Seimei and Hiromasa witness something strange.
Notes: For the [ profile] smallfandomfest prompt ‘festival’. Takes place a couple of months after Stealing a Smile.

The Dancer

Voices hang in the cold air. The high notes of a flute soar and dive. The strings of a koto are plucked, vibrate, shimmering music into the evening. The celebrations at the shrine shrink into the distance. Even though Seimei has done nothing more than cross the high-arched bridge over the Kamo River, the reality of the temple precinct stuffed full of priests and maidens and courtiers dwindles and fades. He enters Tadasu no Mori, the Forest of Truth, the Forest of Correction, and for a grateful moment sloughs off worldly distractions.

He pushes into the trees of this ancient woodland, tangling himself in the undergrowth. Twilight drips through the sky, brushstrokes fading to grey. Conscious of his heartbeat, aware of the spirits clustering around him—some curious, some hopeful, some angry—Seimei stands near the river and permits nature to spin around him.

A flutter of silk catches his attention. Seimei takes a step forward, feet silent over the forest floor of mulch and fallen leaves, nodding flowers and spiked grass. He has a clear view of the bridge, and the wan moon shines upon a lone dancer.

The dancer wears myriad shades of blue, from midnight-dark to the palest tint. He swoops and sways, using his sleeves to their full advantage, now folding them, now letting them unfurl. He spins and steps with easy grace, confident in the knowledge that he is the very best dancer present at the shrine tonight.

Seimei watches, the breath catching in his throat and his chest tight with some emotion he cannot name. He doesn’t find it strange that the dancer is performing to silent music. Nor does he find it strange that the dancer goes through his ritual steps not on the red-painted arch of the bridge, but in the silvered patch of moonlight beneath it. The dancer drifts across the thin trickle of the Kamo River without getting his feet wet, without turning his ankle on the moss-strewn stones.

In all the years Seimei has witnessed the dances at the Kamo Festival, he has never seen a performance as assured and exquisite as this. The dancer is a master of his art, never faltering, never pausing for a rest, just dancing, dancing...

A rustle, a snapping of twigs, and the skittering of small stones over hard earth warn Seimei that he is no longer alone here. He turns, eyes sharp in the gloom, and sees a familiar figure hesitating at the edge of the wood. Seimei touches his fingers to his lips, sends up a murmured spell, and a tiny light the size of a firefly flares above him.

“Seimei! There you are.” Hiromasa comes down the path, steadying his court cap with its day-faded hollyhock tucked into the lacquered band. He ducks his head to avoid the low-slung branches, but seems oblivious to the sharp spines of the bushes that tear at his silks. His smile is wide and open and innocent as he approaches. “Middle Captain Yukiyoshi and Kodayu were asking where you’d gone. I told them you’d most likely be lurking somewhere away from the festivities, but this was the last place I thought of looking...”

Seimei makes a soft sound of acknowledgement.

“I heard all about your disgraceful behaviour in the carriage.” Hiromasa continues talking as he draws nearer, a new note in his voice as he leaves the safety of the path and struggles through the undergrowth. “It’s really not very nice to poke fun at people, Seimei. I know you do it all the time, especially to me, and honestly, I don’t mind—I quite like it, if the truth be known, but you knew that already—but some people, higher-ranking people... well, they don’t like it. Especially when you laugh at their poetry and make snide comments about the length of their sleeves.”

Seimei realises his friend is nervous. “Consultant Morosada’s sleeves were ridiculous.” He sends up another burst of light and watches Hiromasa relax in the glow. “Any sensible man would have commented on them.”

“Perhaps; but I believe it was the way you phrased your comments that caused offence.” Hiromasa comes to a wavering halt in front of Seimei, mouth twitching with amusement. “Although I wish I’d seen Consultant Morosada trying to drag you out of Yukiyoshi’s carriage. I heard you made it quite impossible.”

“I merely made myself as heavy as a temple bell.” Seimei gives an affected sigh. “No doubt the court will be rife with rumours about my weight.”

Hiromasa chuckles. He’s close enough that when Seimei breathes in his scent, a variation on the Plum Blossom incense, the fragrance overlays the smell of the forest. Seimei hums a little, low in his throat, and moves even closer. Their silks touch, whisper-light. As he lifts his head, Seimei recalls the dancer. He hesitates, gazing past Hiromasa.

“You seem distracted,” Hiromasa says, the rebuke gentle.

Seimei smiles. “Look,” he says, his voice hushed, awed. “Look at the dancer.”

Hiromasa turns, peering through the evening gloom. He looks high and low. “What dancer?”

“Ah,” Seimei murmurs, realisation slow tonight, “of course, you can’t see him.” He steps to one side of Hiromasa and passes his hand over his friend’s eyes, a chant spilling from his lips.

“Oh?” Hiromasa blinks, focuses, then starts back with a yelp. “A—a... Seimei! Is that... a ghost dancer?”

Seimei shakes out his sleeves. “That is Secretary Captain Fujiwara no Sanekata.”

“Sanekata?” Hiromasa repeats, his expression one of startled bewilderment. “Chamberlain Sadatoki’s son?”

Seimei inclines his head.

“But...” Hiromasa lowers himself into a half crouch and takes a closer look at the dancer swaying in the path of moonlight. “But that’s impossible,” he continues, voice dropping to a whisper. “Sanekata can’t be a ghost. He’s alive, for a start. And another thing—he’s only ten years old! How can you know he’ll grow up to be Secretary Captain? How can you—we—see the ghost of a person who hasn’t died yet? How is it possible we’re seeing...”

His words tail off into a moment of silence, and then Hiromasa turns back, his expression somewhere between anxious and disturbed. “Seimei, can you foretell a person’s death?”

“Sometimes.” Seimei says, looking past Hiromasa at the ghostly dancer. “If it’s their destiny to hold onto pride in material things, like Sanekata will do, or if their fate is powerful enough to affect the natural world.”

“Powerful.” Hiromasa keeps his gaze averted from the ghost. He sounds nervous. “Like... His Majesty?”

Seimei snorts. “Be serious, Hiromasa.”

“I am! His Majesty is important—”

“Not that important. And before you ask, the endless succession of Fujiwara as Regents and Grand Counsellors and senior ministers—none of them have a fate powerful enough for me to foretell it, either.”

Hiromasa relaxes; laughs. “And what of me?”

Seimei has always known this question would come one day, but it still unbalances him to hear it asked out loud and so innocently. He knows with absolute clarity the hour and means of Hiromasa’s death, but he will never divulge it. Never.

The thought and his reaction pass in less time than a heartbeat. Seimei is an excellent liar. He conceals the truth not to spare Hiromasa, but to spare himself the agony he knows the future will bring. And so, keeping his face perfectly blank, keeping his tone perfectly neutral, he says, “No. I don’t know.”

Hiromasa looks at him, the cheerful smile sobering and sliding away. “I’m sorry. That was unfair.”

Seimei is silent. Hiromasa moves closer, curls his fingers around Seimei’s hand, and holds tight.

Beneath the bridge, under the moonlight, Sanekata’s ghost dances on.

End note: Fujiwara no Sanekata died in January 999 (998 in the lunar calendar) following an injury sustained from a fall from his horse. Sanekata’s career was derailed by a rival in 995, when he was demoted and sent to the unpopular province of Mutsu. A poet of some distinction, he wrote his famous sparrow poem whilst in exile. According to Sei Shonagon, Sanekata’s ghost haunted the bridge at the Kamo Shrine (The Pillow Book 135 ‘Things that are truly splendid’).

Date: 2011-01-19 09:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So beautiful, and may I say, haunting. I love how they seem to understand each other. And oh, how you made me feel for Seimei and how he will someday lose his dearest friend. Wonderfully done! I do enjoy your Onmyoji stories so much!

Date: 2011-01-20 07:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you very much :)

Date: 2011-02-26 05:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You write the best Onmyoji fanfiction I've ever read. So beautiful, something about the way you write it makes it very similar to the tone of the films...if that makes sense, lol.

Date: 2011-02-26 07:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you very much :) I love the Heian period and I adore the films (just finished watching the TV show, which is completely different!) so I'm glad my fic makes you think of the tone of the films. Thank you!

Date: 2011-11-23 06:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How did I miss this one?

I like this one too! (And I can tell if I've read all of your work if I can go back and see my name in the comments. >_>)

Date: 2011-11-23 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! This one sneaked under the radar for a lot of people somehow HAHA

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