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Fog and Night

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That had been the fourth or fifth time running that Kiyomitsu failed to scout the enemy's formation and they were in high-risk terrain. Due to the time lost by restricted travel that day, and the excitement of discovering a newly accessible epoch, Saniwa did not right away try to address the issue. Rather he put Ookurikara in charge and carried on. Ookurikara was doing well for a change, and Saniwa seemed to forget that something had been off with Kiyomitsu; and Kiyomitsu never advertised his problems either, so they returned to the citadel for the evening with other things on the mind.

On return, Saniwa had repairs of the squad's tantou to worry about, and more troops needing to be replaced. Two other squads were still out on resource missions, and Ookurikara, once off the battlefield, was doing little to help despite still being on attendant duty.

It was easy for Kiyomitsu to go unnoticed, to slip away to the smaller indoor bath that was reserved for Saniwa's use, and by extension, Yagen and Kiyomitsu. The bathing privilege had provoked some whining from Yasusada and Kanesada, but Kiyomitsu had earnestly guarded it against even such old comrades. This arrangement suited him well, as his intention to never casually reveal his current body in nakedness was no joke. The vulnerability of a human form was still unfamiliar and deeply unsettling. So far he had managed to avoid snapping in battle, being pushed to awakening, apart from that first time when only Saniwa had been there to see him so wretched and bare.

He held a bath-cloth to his torso, which reached down to the tops of his thighs, even as he was alone in the bath room. Kiyomitsu touched his pinned-up hair, finding no lose strands. He was becoming light-headed, but did not want to leave yet. He moved to sit on the wooden bath ledge, legs submerged blow the knees.

He was without scratch, his troops fully recovered, too. What did he have to be dissatisfied with? Where did this sense of inadequacy come from? Kiyomitsu glanced at his nails and instantly wanted to re-do the manicure. Why did he have to give Saniwa more reasons to lose interest by failing even the most basic scouting? He'd be doing nothing but resource missions if this continued. It could still be worse: abandoned, or used to feed more useful troops. He'd eaten plenty himself. For what? This?

Kiyomitsu could hear ruckus from the barracks, near dinner time. He had no appetite, and simply crawling into his futon seemed best. But then he'd be drawing even more attention to himself, to how he was failing in his position as head-sword. He dragged himself out, fixed his hair, and dressed in a soft favourite kimono.

At dinner, he took his usual place at Saniwa's right. Saniwa neither ignored him, nor paid him particular attention. Kiyomitsu managed to eat a little, very slowly. His side dish of crumbed prawn, which he'd been saving, disappeared (confirmed by a sneaky grin from Yasusada). There was a brief flash of anger, quite disproportionate, but then Kiyomitsu felt tired, saw no point in quarreling.

Yagen kept trying to catch his gaze, concerned as usual, but he was so hesitant it was no problem to ignore him. How had this become his life? As if feeling some unusual remorse, Yasusada passed a half croquette to Kiyomitsu's meal tray. Kiyomitsu contemplated its spilling potato filling and shriveled strands of some vegetables, and then ate it without feeling.

Once the eating was done, there was another confusion of activity, and Kiyomitsu slipped away again. He had a private room of some eight mats--small compared to Saniwa's main room, but comfortable, and with access onto the veranda; and a view of the garden and sky when he wanted. He didn't bother with the lamps. He lit the mosquito-coil and opened the veranda door. He was just going to lie down for a bit on a pillow by the open door because the breeze was warm but pleasant.

Kiyomitsu didn't think he'd fallen asleep, but then he could smell Saniwa's tobacco, and feel his presence beside him. His long fingers passed through the loose hair at Kiyomitsu's nape, then brushed along skin so gently Kiyomitsu shivered.

"Come to bed, you'll catch a cold here and it'll be another long day tomorrow."

Kiyomitsu hated to sleep alone, and appreciated that Saniwa didn't point out his weaknesses when he easily could. He let himself be petted, drifting in warm drowsiness. He would go, just as soon he could bear to move from this.