Father died in the winter.
“He should dye that ridiculous hair, at the very least -”
Genji smooths down the front of his suit jacket and tries not to touch his hair, his fingers twitching as he sucks in a quiet breath. Father’s death came suddenly, but he takes comfort in the fact that he went in his sleep. As the eldest son, Hanzo was in charge of taking care of the funeral arrangements, but Genji was the one who found him and covered the shrine. The two of them kept vigil throughout the night. Despite all of his shortcomings, he knew to do at least that much.
Along with the entire clan, they watch the coffin slide into the cremation chamber. The rest of the clan will leave once it is in and return after the cremation is done, but the two of them will stay.
“The leader’s eldest will do,” Genji hears a clan elder whisper to another in passing, “but that other son of his -”
Through sheer force of will, Genji keeps his glare directed at the ground, clenching his hands into fists at his side. He feels a hand on his shoulder. “Ignore them,” Hanzo says beside him, his gaze forward and resolute. Genji nods and tries to do just that, watching the flames grow and engulf the coffin.
Later, kneeling in front of the family altar, Genji looks at the framed photo of his mother, now joined by a photo of his father. He and Hanzo didn’t talk about what lies in their future now that Father is gone, but Genji knows it’s on their minds. Their paths were set from the moment they were born; together, he and Hanzo were to lead the clan. Hanzo always embraced it, but Genji had grown to hate it and rebelled constantly, only agreeing to participate in his training. The elders have always been critical of his behavior and lifestyle, but Father never paid them any mind and loved him regardless. Genji tries not to wonder if that was the reason his father was dead.
The person who allowed him freedom is gone. The path he was given was never one he wanted, but it is the only one he sees before him.
Genji is always running away from home. The guards have long given up trying to keep him within the castle grounds, though the elders don’t know that. If the elders were smart and really wanted to keep him from sneaking out all the time, they’d stop training him altogether.
It’s not quite spring yet, the tail end of winter still lingering. The streets of Hanamura are quiet, as they usually are. It’s one of the things he hates about this place, one of the reasons he’s always running off to be somewhere else, but he’s not in the mood to go into the city tonight. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his gi - he snuck at in the middle of the extra training the elders were trying to get him to do as punishment for showing up late and hungover - and keeps his head down as he walks around the town. Everyone here knows the clan that resides in the castle that towers over the town, knows who he is - the green hair is a dead giveaway - and no one’s reckless enough to try to start something with him. Sometimes he’s tired of seeing the way people avoid his gaze, like he’s something terrifying.
The elders have been pressuring him even more as of late. Even Hanzo is pushing him to train longer, suggesting that he take on more responsibilities ever since Father -
He shakes his head. Now isn’t the time to think about that.
Though he’s half-lost in his thoughts, something manages to catch his eye. Or rather, someone.
Under a hazy, flickering streetlight, there is a woman.
She casts a striking figure; the light draws a hazy halo around her. Her hair is a pale yellow, almost white, brushing against her shoulders. She looks to be a foreigner, mostly likely a tourist, judging by the way she’s looking around like she isn’t quite sure where she is.
Genji frowns. Shimada territory extends far beyond the castle walls, controlled by branches of the clan. At this time of night, low-level thugs wander about, looking easy targets to elevate their status within the clan. Tourists tend to be easy targets, especially ones that are alone.
He may be one of the young lords of a criminal clan, but he’s not that kind of person.
Smoothing back his hair, he walks toward the woman, giving her a wave when she notices him approach. “Hey,” he says once he’s close enough, though he makes sure to maintain distance so he doesn’t scare her. “Are you alright?”
Up close, the woman is very beautiful. A part of him wishes they had met under different circumstances. Genji realizes his behavior might seem suspicious, but he takes some comfort in the fact that she doesn’t seem to be wary of him, her blue eyes blinking at him before she smiles. “Ah yes, I’m fine,” she replies. It sounds like she has an accent, though he can’t be sure of where it’s from. “I just seem to have ah -,” she looks around again, as if hoping to have found her way in the last five seconds, “forgotten how to get back to my hotel. And my phone is out of battery.”
“I know this area quite well. Do you have the name of it?”
To his surprise, the woman doesn’t hesitate to tell him the name of her hotel.
“If you walk down this street and make a right at...uh…,” he trails off. Around Hanamura, there are still street signs that have yet to be updated with rōmaji. “How are you at reading Japanese?”
The woman looks apologetic. “Not as good as I would like to be.”
Genji scratches his cheek, thinking. “I can escort you to your hotel,” he offers. Upon seeing the look on the woman’s face, he quickly adds, a little flustered, “I-It’s just - this area can be dangerous at night and I would not want you to run into any trouble and -”
The woman stops him with a laugh. “That’s very kind of you, Mister…?”
He holds out his hand. “Shimada. Genji Shimada.”
She takes his hand and shakes it. “Mister Shimada. I would appreciate that very much.”
“And you are…?”
The woman smiles at him. “Angela Ziegler.”
Genji feels his heart skip a little before he realizes that he’s still holding her hand. He lets go, bowing his head. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Ziegler.”
He doesn’t know what to say.
He’s not used to being quiet - he’ll admit that’s not very befitting of a ninja -, especially not around someone beautiful, but this isn’t a time for flirting. To be honest, he’s not great at casual conversation either, having had little opportunity to practice; being the son from a criminal family doesn’t make it easy to make friends. He keeps glancing at Angela, who seems content to walk in silence. She catches him a few times and looks at him a little expectantly, like she thinks he’s going to say something, but he just turns away. He mentally chides himself for being like this. Why is this so hard?
“What do you do, Mister Shimada?”
Relieved to have the silence broken, Genji nearly jumps to reply, but then stops himself. It’s a simple question with a complicated answer. What could he say? As the heir to a criminal empire, he doesn’t have a job, doesn’t need one. He passes the time by training before he sneaks away from home, sneaks off to the arcade to play games by himself, sneaks off to bars and clubs and picks someone up, anyone who’s willing, and stays with them for the night before leaving in the morning, and does it again and again. He runs from a legacy he can’t escape, a legacy he doesn’t want. He’s always running.
“I am ah…,” he starts, trailing off before trying to cover it up with a sheepish laugh. “I help with the family business.” Before Angela can ask him to elaborate, he asks her, “What do you do?”
If Angela notices his evasiveness, she’s kind enough to let it go. “I am a doctor. I had come here to attend a conference, actually.”
“A doctor? I should be addressing you as ‘Doctor Ziegler’ then.” Angela smiles, bashful. “And you are from…”
“Ah, Switzerland! The place with the chocolates!” Genji exclaims, a little too excitedly, flushing with embarrassment when Angela laughs.
“Yes, our chocolates are the best,” she confirms, her eyes twinkling. “I am guessing you have a sweet tooth.”
Once when he was young, Father came home from a trip with Swiss chocolates. Genji ate all of them and ended up with a stomach ache. In high school, he and Hanzo received a lot of chocolate every year for Valentine’s Day. Hanzo never thought it was right to eat the chocolate he got when he didn’t return the feelings of the person who gave it to him. Genji had no such qualms.
“A little,” he admits with a mumble before Angela giggles. It’s strange, being teased by someone who’s not his brother. There aren’t many people who don’t know who he is, who his family is, what kind of person he is. There’s always something they want from him, but Angela doesn’t make him feel that way.
“You know, I had wanted to get a chance to look around the city before I left,” she mentions with a sigh, casting him what seems to be a sort of hopeful glance.
Genji blinks at her, quickly turning away. This sort of scenario is new to him. “I can show you around if you’d like,” he says, feeling oddly shy.
When he chances a look at her, Angela is smiling, her eyes brightening. “I would like that.”
Hanamura doesn’t have much in terms of history, but Genji does what he can. It’s too late for the usual tourist spots so they walk around the shopping district, where young couples hold hands and window shop. He takes her to the arcade and they play a few games; he thinks about letting her win a few, but she talks surprisingly good trash talk and comes dangerously close to beating him even without a handicap more than a few times. They call a truce and stop at Rikimaru’s for a late meal, warming up with hot tea and steaming bowls of ramen and chatting about food. He walks with her past the gates of the castle, careful to keep out of the sight of the guards, and eventually they end up walking down a path lined with cherry blossom trees.
Angela’s shoes click against the cobblestone path. Genji sneaks a glance at her. The trees throw shadows all around them, yet the moonlight falls on her face, illuminating her eyes. He clears his throat. “If you came to Hanamura a little later, you would have seen the cherry blossoms,” Genji tells her. “They are very beautiful in the spring. My family used to come here for hanami.”
“You don’t anymore?”
“No,” he answers after a beat. “Not since my mother passed.”
When he looks at Angela, she looks sad. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It was a long time ago.” He doesn’t know why he brought it up in the first place; he doesn’t think about those days very often.
Angela gazes up at the bare branches. “I wish I could see them.”
Genji looks up at the branches too, thoughtful. “Perhaps one day,” he says.
“Maybe you can show me.” She turns around, as they have reached the end of the path, and then adds over her shoulder, “If that’s alright with you.”
Genji blinks, then flushes when she quirks a grin. “S-Sure.”
They walk around for a little while longer until they eventually find themselves standing at the entrance of Angela’s hotel. Neither of them makes a move. Genji glances at Angela. She looks like she’s thinking about something. He wonders what she’s thinking about.
“This is your hotel,” Genji says, just to break the silence.
“So it is,” Angela says.
This scenario is a little more familiar to him. It usually ends with him going into the hotel with someone, but this time, it doesn’t feel right. He never sees the person again after that. “I hope you had an enjoyable time.”
Angela turns to face him. “I did. Thank you very much for your help and for showing me around,” she says. She rummages through her purse - for a moment, Genji’s worried she’s going to give him money or something - but she pulls out a business card and presents it to him, bowing. “If you ever come to Zurich, please feel free to find me. I’ll show you where to find all the best chocolate,” she adds with a wink.
Genji fumbles to bow and take the card with both hands. He looks it over. It’s a simple business card, plain save for the gold-lined wings bracketing her name. Angela Ziegler MD, PhD. “I-I look forward to it.”
She smiles warmly. “I’ll see you later then, Mister Shimada.”
“See you later, Doctor Ziegler,” he returns faintly as he stands in the entrance and watches her go. He lingers until the bellhop starts giving him looks before he sheepishly scratches the back of his neck and turns to start to make his way home.
He’s grateful that the streets are empty at this time at night, though it’s unlikely anyone could see how red his face is or how fast his heart is beating. He wants to see her again. He’s always running with his unsettled heart, but for just a little while, he felt like he didn’t have to anymore.
Genji can barely take a meal without someone nagging in his ear about the clan’s business, about his obligation to carry on the work. He doesn’t understand their persistence; there’s no need to involve him in the family’s criminal dealings when they have Hanzo. Genji has made it clear his distaste for what they do time and time again. They can’t be so foolish as to think he would suddenly change his mind and decide to help them.
“This dirty business you hate is what puts food in your mouth,” the elders told him. “It’s the reason you can even have your frivolous pursuits.”
Genji slices through a training dummy, sighing in frustration as the top half slides and then falls to the floor. Training helps sometimes to blow off steam, but there are only so many training dummies they have on the training grounds. He sighs again, feeling defeated. He knows the elders are right. He’s not an idiot, despite what they think. He knows that this life has given him much, that he can’t run from who he is.
The footsteps behind him are nearly inaudible, but he can recognize his brother’s footfalls anywhere. Genji doesn’t turn to meet what is undoubtedly his brother’s disapproving gaze. They all know that Hanzo was meant to become the true head of the family. He’s a natural leader, dedicated to his studies, trained with every weapon he could get his hands on. Hanzo was willing to take on the burden Genji didn’t want.
“Genji,” Hanzo says behind him, weariness evident in his voice.
“Why do they insist on involving me? They know I will not take part in any of this.”
While Hanzo was never exactly approving of his lifestyle, he never tried to order him around. At least, not until recently. These days, he sounds more like an elder than his brother. “Things are different now,” Hanzo says evenly. “Father is gone.”
Genji clenches his hand at his side. “I know.”
Hanzo is quiet for a long while. The wind howls outside. “Then you know that Father would have wanted -”
Rage flares from the pit of his stomach as Genji spins around to face his brother. “You do not know what Father wanted for me,” he grows lowly.
Hanzo’s eyes harden, anger simmering under an expressionless face. “You and I,” he continues in that infuriatingly calm voice of his, “we were born for this -”
“It is not a path I chose!”
“You spoiled brat,” Hanzo snarls, the facade gone in an instant. “Father let you do as you pleased, but he is gone now! He left us with this, his legacy, and it is our duty as his sons to preserve what he gave us!”
Genji scoffs. “You think you are carrying out Father’s wishes?” He shouts. “ You are a pawn of the elders! you think yourself a leader but you are a fool! You do not see the strings they pull -”
The sharp clang of steel hitting steel rings in his ear. Had Genji not drawn his wakizashi in time, he would have lost his head to the blade inches away from his neck.
“I did not want it to come to this, brother,” Hanzo says, his eyes cold, steely with resolve as he pushes his katana harder against Genji’s wakizashi. Genji knows there is no convincing Hanzo once he has set his mind on something. He can feel the edge pressing harder and harder against the back of his neck, the bite of the cut; he shoves Hanzo’s blade away.
A thousand thoughts run through Genji’s head, a thousand emotions, but there is no time to try to think about how it all came to this. Inside of him is a boy who admired his big brother, who grew up protected by him, but he forces himself to forget. Genji forces himself to focus on the blade in front of him, the blade that has drawn his blood, as Hanzo wordlessly takes his stance.
He sheaths his wakizashi and draws his katana. “Neither did I,” he says quietly, hoping Hanzo doesn’t hear the way his voice shakes.
Blood trickles down Genji’s face, dripping from his chin. Sucking in breaths of air, he tries to blink the sweat out of his eyes.
He doesn’t know how long they’ve been fighting.
He can tell Hanzo is tired too. He’s always hated it when Genji made him run circles during their spars. Genji may have the advantage of agility, managing to escape out to the terrace, but Hanzo is still the stronger fighter. He can only avoid Hanzo’s attacks for so long before he’s completely worn down. The gashes Hanzo have managed to land aren’t helping the matter either. His right arm is useless now.
Hanzo waits, as if giving him a chance to surrender, but Genji will not let go of his sword. Genji sees Hanzo move - he is ready to strike once more. Despite the fatigue, he sees Hanzo running toward him, second by second, like he’s watching a video in slow motion. Hanzo raises his arm and swings his sword down on him with a heavy strike, but instead of dodging, Genji parries, hitting Hanzo’s blade away hard, forcing his arm to brace against the vibration of the impact. Hanzo stumbles back for the first time in the fight and Genji sees it, the desperation in Hanzo’s eyes, the stance he takes. The dragon is coming and Genji knows there’s a moment when he can strike, a moment when Hanzo is vulnerable. He raises his katana, knowing that even if he misses this moment, he can turn the dragon away -
But he hesitates, his katana hanging in the air, motionless.
That one moment is all it takes.
It’s a feared technique for good reason. He’s only heard stories of the damage the dragonstrike could do, stories of the great battles fought by his ancestors. It is said that the dragon consumes all in its path and it feels true enough; the ethereal blue dragon throws him back against the wooden barrier, the wood splintering from the force of the impact, before it rips through his body and Genji screams; he feels like his body is being torn to shreds, his vision going bright white from the pain, and then - nothing, like the pain had become so much that his body became numb to it.
Before the splintered wood snaps under the strain of his weight, before he starts to fall, he hears a blade clatter against the wooden floors, hears his brother’s footsteps running away from him. He drops his own blade before the barrier finally gives and he falls over the precipice.
He can see cherry blossoms. He can see his sparrow headband, split in two.
Through the haze of pain, his mind is still conscious, somehow, his will still intact, but his broken body refuses to move. It’s as if he is outside of his body, aware but powerless. He feels cold.
He is going to die.
It hurts. His clan has betrayed him. He has turned his brother into a killer. Mother, Father, he thinks, as his blood pools around him, slowly, infinitely. He chokes and coughs, flecks of blood staining the cherry blossom petals blanketing the ground.
I wish I could see them.
“What do you have there, Genji?”
Genji, age 8, looked up from where he was crouching in the castle courtyard. It was Father, looking down at him questioningly. “It’s a bird,” Genji answered, showing him the bird cradled in his cupped hands. “I think it’s just a baby. It’s not flying away.”
“A sparrow.” Father hummed thoughtfully and looked up. In the middle of the courtyard was a gingko tree, older than the castle, towering over the walls. “It must have fallen out of its nest. Perhaps it wanted to venture out into the world before it was ready.”
Genji looked down at the peeping bird. “What should we do?”
Father turned back to look at him. “Nature says that it should be left where it fell. Such is the way of life.”
Left where it fell? But then it wouldn’t get any food. A stray cat might get to it. Genji looked down at the small fragile bird, stricken and devastated, the scenarios in his head too terrible to imagine.
“Or maybe you can put it back in its nest,” Father suggested, perhaps noticing Genji’s distress.
Wiping at his face, Genji looked at the tree. He was good at climbing things. Sometimes climbing was a part of his training, though sometimes his climbing would get him into trouble. He tugged off the sash tied around his waist and tied it over his shoulder to make a makeshift sling. Carefully tucking the sparrow in, he approached the tree and started to climb.
He had no idea where the nest was, but it couldn’t be too high up; the baby sparrow wouldn’t have survived if it was. He looked around at every branch before moving on to the next and it was not long before he heard chirps. Looking toward the sound, he saw a sparrow hopping frantically around the edges of an empty nest.
Climbing onto the branch, Genji balanced himself and approached slowly. The mother sparrow hopped further away from him as he did, but did not fly away. Once he was close enough, he scooped the baby sparrow out of his pouch; it began to chirp upon seeing its mother. Placing the sparrow gently in the nest, Genji allowed himself a smile as the mother sparrow immediately went to feed it before he made his way back down.
Father was still standing there by the time he landed on the ground. “So what did you gain from helping that sparrow?” He asked.
Genji patted down his clothes before looking at Father, a little confused. Father’s expression was stern. “I just wanted to help it.”
Father was silent for a few moments before he nodded, smiling and patting Genji on the head. “Aren’t you supposed to be training with your brother?”
“It looks like that bird was not the only one who left the nest,” Father laughed. “Run along, little sparrow.”