Actions

Work Header

Ex tempore

Chapter Text

The Cidatel’s forest has been calling to Yasusada for weeks. Pretty much ever since he glimpsed it through one of their windows. It had been so exuberant, lush, and green, even through the transparent film of glass. He’s eaten salad by now and knows that leaves don’t have the most exciting taste. Still, the emerald-bright trees draw him in, like the promise of distant candy. Especially when they glimmer after the rain. Especially when he has to help with neatly ordered rows of fieldwork.

Yes, Yasusada likes getting dirt on his face and under his nails- especially when Kiyomitsu wails about it- and he likes watching things bud from the soil. He likes the fragile explosion of blossoms, and the tangible steadiness of fruit. But there’s a part of him that wonders why they have to yank the weeds out. He wonders why it would be so bad to let them crowd around for a while; some weeds are quite pretty, but even Kiyomitsu pulls at them with fierce glee. And that’s the questioning part of Yasusada that makes him wander into the forest alone on a day when he has nothing to do.

There’s so much to experience. Bark seems to croak in the wind, and birds warn each other away. There are roots that lurch out of the earth like limbs, twisting in ways that no limbs could manage. There’s ivy that will cluster on some trees but not on others. Raindrops glimmer like quartz, but they yield to the touch of his fingers.

The lack of order had captivated him, but somehow he never thought the forest would have interest in overpowering a sword. When he stumbles into an unexpected hole in the ground, he realizes his mistake. He twists his ankle in order to avoid a fall. At first the pain is as foreign and alluring as the woods.

Then the pain is just pain.

He has to hop over to a large rock, take a seat, and stretch his leg out in front of him. Already there’s a bruise that looks like the prettiest colors of a sunset. There are treatments for this, he knows. Okita had dealt with numerous injuries. However, whenever Yasusada tries to recall these things, he’s throttled by his newly human senses. The sweat that prickles on his back. The sharpness of stone against his thighs. There are thousands of colors in his line of vision and he wants to sink into them all. He wishes you could touch, and hear, and taste color in addition to seeing it. Words and plans drift through his mind, but he can’t seem to connect them to motion or action. It’s been a problem ever since his incarnation.

Of course nature would come for me. After all, neglected swords rust and break. It’s the clearest, cleanest thought he can manage, and it does Yasusada no good.

He tries to stand, but after one or two hobbling steps Yasusada is back where he started. There’s a trail and he wandered away from it a while ago. Told no one where he planned to go. He supposes he can just sit here and wait to break. It’s so unfortunate. He thinks Kiyomitsu had been a bit lonely before his arrival.

Yasusada hears a shuffling sound behind him, and then a thud. Feet falling to the ground? A person climbing out of a tree? He turns as much as he’s able. Yamabushi Kunihiro. It takes Yasusada a moment or two; the connections break like the threads of spider webs. One last, hard effort leads to something sturdier. Yes, this is Horikawa’s brother.

“Guess you saw it all, huh? I swear I know how to keep my balance.” He attempts a smile.

Yamabushi laughs, but it doesn’t seem mean. “The forest can be friend and foe all at once. There’s no shame in losing a spar with it from time to time.”

That feels wrong to Yasusada, and he has to speak aloud quite slowly in order to figure out why. “But I…didn’t want to fight it? I just wanted to enjoy it?” He realizes he’s felt pleasure since arriving at the Citadel, but he’s rarely set out to do things for his own amusement. He was created as a sword, and swords are meant to be used. In his prior life his shiny blade had, no doubt, reflected some beautiful things. He’d never been a part of them however.

If Yamabushi is annoyed to have been corrected he doesn’t show it. “Yes, until you stumbled I could tell you also enjoy this place. Wait here.”

It’s not like he can go anywhere. Yasusada would have said something like that to Kiyomitsu, but he keeps silent as he watches Yamabushi’s retreating back. He presses his wounded leg into the earth. There’s a sharp spike of pain, followed by intractable waves of agony. Yasusada has been injured in battle before, but adrenaline acted as balm. He tries to imagine these feelings into his lungs. He tries to recreate what it was like for Okita as he coughed his lungs into shreds.

There’s always so much to do at the Citadel. Yasusada has never thought in these terms before.

Yamabushi returns. Yasusada tries to soften his face- soften his whole posture- but he suspects he wasn’t fast enough. Yamabushi says nothing about it, but his eyes are so kind that the only option is to look away.

“There’s a stream a little while away,” Yamabushi says. And Yasusada can hear it. At first it’s as though Yamabushi has conjured it up with his words, the way Aruji conjures a human out of a sword. Then Yasusada realizes he’s heard it all this time at the edge of his consciousness.

“That’s interesting.”

“That’s practical.” Could a grin dye a voice and give it color? If so, Yamabushi has that skill. “Normally I’d put ice on your ankle but we have none here. This will work for the moment, though!”

Kneeling down, Yamabushi lifts Yasusada’s leg, and uses a stream-dampened piece of cloth as a compress. Even when that’s done he keeps his hands on Yasusada’s leg to elevate it.

“We’ll be like this for a bit,” Yamabushi says. “We can chat or contemplate in silence. Either thing is good!” And he sounds like he means it.

So Yasusada takes him at his word. Contemplate. It’s a good word. There’s still pain in his bones, but the coolness of the cloth seems to be winning the argument. He smiles and is not sure why.

“Wow, it’s working! That’s good. I need to stay strong.” He wipes perspiration from his forehead, and then hastily adds; “stay strong for Aruji, I mean.” It’s probably the right thing to say.

When Yamabushi isn’t laughing, there’s something indecipherable about him. Yasusada doesn’t think it’s just because he’s struggling with pinning words to meanings lately.

“It’s okay to just be strong for your own sake at first. The person you have the most influence on is yourself.”

“Aruji is fighting a war,” Yasusada says, and wonders if he’s trying to convince himself more than Yamabushi.

“True, and it’s easier to fight a war when you don’t have a twisted ankle.” It’s such a plain and simple sentiment that Yasusada doesn’t know what to do with it. Thankfully, Yamabushi shows him some mercy. “Has anyone told you Horikawa is happy you are here?”

Yasusada finds that easier to answer, and he does so with some relief. Still, as he leans on Yamabushi for the walk home, he knows he’ll be reflecting on this brief encounter for a long time.

Chapter Text

Humans have always been adept at killing one another.

Whenever Tsurumaru gets bored and looks into history this seems to be the one constant. Reverence for any specific types of weapon seems to ebb and flow; cases in point, by the 23rd century only cooks seem to have any sort of practical admiration for blades. Still, the aptitude for homicide remains, even if the instruments vary.

Humans bluster about murder, especially when it’s unsolved. Tsurumaru has concluded that it’s less about justice and more about an abhorrence of mystery. An unanswered question creates a vacuum, contorting the lives of everyone that orbits it.

Tsurumaru considers this again late one night when he reads that some scientists studied the decomposition of bodies. Just so that they can better place the time of death. It’s too bad these experts never consulted him. He could have told them, at length, what happens when a sword punctures a heart or lung. He could have told them about newly fresh corpses and how they looked in the reflection of his steel. He could have told them about the silent sanctity of the burial place, and the process of his master’s flesh becoming one with the earth.

Eventually Tsurumaru places the book to his side on the bed, and then he stares up at the ceiling. Humans are always dying, always hurtling to the grave. Right down to the cellular level. Sometimes Tsurumaru tries to sense this entropy in his own flesh, but everything about him is spry and limber, flexible and full of vitality. Sometimes he thinks his skin must taste of rust, but then that conviction fades. There’s no decay within him, and that’s his problem. It’s been his problem ever since he was torn from his master’s side.

It’s too late for anyone to be expecting visitors. So, of course, Tsurumaru grabs a container full of dessert and decides to wake someone up.

He doesn’t have anyone in mind, per se. If he could perch on the roof and truly, genuinely fly up into the night clouds… Well, that would be the best thing of all. (Sometimes he wonders why they hadn’t been manifest as birds. A sharp beak to the eye could do quite a bit of damage, potentially.) Since he’s locked into a human form, he walks until he outpaces his thoughts. Then he keeps walking until he winds up at a certain door.

The recently-arrived Mikazuki answers much too quickly for someone who had been sleeping. That’s almost disappointing. In fact, Tsurumaru has never managed to startle Mikazuki. That’s okay, though. A Tenka Goken is still a novelty, and Mikazuki is an event more than he is a person. Whenever he enters a room, it’s like lightning on a deep, dark night. Everyone’s eyes widen a bit, as though suddenly the world has become as pale as a blank sheet of paper. Tsurumaru likes watching everyone scramble and scatter a bit, especially the overly-comfortable swords who have been here a long time.

“I brought dessert,” Tsurumaru says and enters the room without being invited. (Without really being greeted, save for a slight smile. “Well, I brought a dessert.”

Mikazuki takes the container, opens the lid, and nearly raises an eyebrow. “It’s quite green.”

“Mitsu-bou has been experimenting with matcha rice krispies the past few days. He’s too good for this Citadel, probably.” Tsurumaru continues to encroach on Mikazuki’s space by taking a seat at his table.

“Rice krispies…” As Mikazuki joins Tsurumaru, he names the snack like it’s a word puzzle. Maybe it is for him.

“Oh, you know,” Tsurumaru waves a hand, even though Mikazuki probably doesn’t know. “Usually puffed rice and marshmallows. I suppose the idea is that the matcha can make it less overwhelmingly sweet.”

“How is it?”

“No idea. Haven’t tried it yet.”

“Well then.”

They both crunch down at the same time. There’s no elegant way to eat these things. Some of it sticks to Tsurumaru’s teeth. Bits of it flake off, landing on the floor before he can really think about green stains on his clothes. Even Mikazuki looks a little silly, and Tsurumaru decides this night is already worth it. Certainly it tastes interesting; the saccharine sweetness of marshmallows blending with the grassy bitterness of matcha. This is probably a perversion of the latter ingredient, but he likes that it’s all a bit sticky. Tsurumaru appreciates anything that doesn’t make life too easy for him.

“I think I enjoy this,” Mikazuki says, reaching for another. When he’s halfway through chewing, Tsurumaru decides to lobby a question at him.

“So, have you fucked anyone yet?” Tsurumaru assembles his most serene grin.

Mikazuki doesn’t splutter or cough. At best he chews very slowly. His swallow is likewise careful.

“I have received no invitations.” He says, with no acknowledgement that he could be the one doing the propositioning. Nor does he acknowledge the way Tsurumaru has seen him tease and appraise other swords. “I suppose it will happen eventually. I have gathered that there is little else of interest to do here.”

For a moment or two Tsurumaru is struck by their commonalities; two ancient swords, awake late into the night, eating a bizarre hybrid dessert. Two ancient swords, still shouldering the weight of a long memory. He leans forward and wants to taste all that astringent bitterness on Mikazuki’s lips. Instead, he just tastes the stickiness of sugar. He kisses harder and deeper, seeking what he really wants to taste, and never quite finding it. So he pulls away.

“There, now someone has kissed you, at least.”

Mikazuki laughs, and it can mean anything.

Chapter Text

If Mitsutada can count on one thing it’s that he and Sadamune will always be first in line to see new things in the supplies shop.

Aruji typically restocks the place around 3 a.m. every couple of days, and she never announces when she will do it. She makes a good gamble doing that task around that time, to be honest. It’s late enough that all the night owls are probably finally in bed. It’s early enough that all the early-risers are still asleep. And there’s almost never anyone around to make a fuss about not getting the right kind of candy or sake. The store is kept locked during this time of day (you were expected to have snacks in your own room if you got drunk enough to want to snack voraciously) but Mitsutada has been trusted with the key.

He and Sadamune have a sixth sense for when restocking happens, though. They’ve debated this while drunk before. Some weeks they decide they just have really good hearing. Some weeks they decide they believe in extrasensory perception (after all, they’re able to teleport in to the past; reading the very near future is not out of the question.) And some weeks Mitsutada privately suspects Aruji tells Sadamune when it will happen. After all, Sadamune is usually the one hauling him out of bed to go on this trip.

They wander to the store in their sleeping yukata. For some reason looking a little bedraggled is also part of this ritual, even though they’ve never really discussed this. Mitsutada keeps to the shadows all the way there, though, begrudging every creaky footstep. Sadamune is one of the only ones he allows to see him this way.

When they reach their destination, the initial sight is a visual overload. The lights above are always on, always brighter than the sun at noon. The freezers and refrigerators hum as they always do, regardless of whether someone is in the store or not. The aisles are overflowing with goods again, and Mitsutada is struck by anew by all the regimented planning that seem to go into packaging. Some products were always in bags or boxes with bright, primary colors and straightforward labeling. Others were sparse, plain, no-nonsense. Other products still were a sea of soothing pastel. Mitsutada wonders about the world beyond, and not for the first time. Were these styles regulated in meetings somewhere, or had these looks been decreed centuries ago?

All he knows for sure is that seeing the store this way is strangely calming. All these undisturbed aisles, filled to the brim with potential. All the raw ingredients needed for sustenance, creativity, and visual appeal. You didn’t have to pick just one, you didn’t have to sacrifice the others. They could all live in harmony.

“Hey, Micchan, have you ever though about how this store is really creepy this late at night?” Sadamune is staring at a packet of dried chick peas that promise to be covered in ghost pepper powder. That’s scary in and of itself.

Mitsutada gives the observation some thought. “It wouldn’t be a bad place for an enemy to hide, I suppose. The aisles would make for a challenge.”

“That’s not really what I meant.” Sadamune has moved on to observe other snacks, but he keeps stealing glances at Mitsutada. “It’s more like… this place looks exactly the same, whether it’s day or night. You can feel time passing everywhere else, but not here. And there’s usually people here but not right now. It’s strange. Someone should film a ghost movie here or something. That would be cool.”

Tsurumaru got a camera the other day… For a second or too Mitsutada’s mind entertains an admittedly amusing scenario of Tsurumaru and Sadamune filming their very own horror movie. Most likely they would use ketchup or jam for special effects. If that happens, they would all need to do a lot of laundry that week. Or Ookurikara could probably get the culprits in question to do laundry.

“You say no one is here but actually the two of us are here,” Mitsutada says, knowing it doesn’t really explain why the corners of his lips twitch. “So I can’t feel too upset.”

Sadamune gives him an appraising sort of look. Almost serious, but definitely not unhappy. It’s strange to see him without feathers in his hair. Mitsutada wonders how many swords have seen him this way.

Then Sadamune gets distracted by the dairy section. Specifically the almond milk.

“I’ve had this so many times and I know how they make it but… What if you could literally milk an almond?!”

And so it went.

After they finished perusing all the new stuff, Mitsutada breaks script. Instead of leaving he puts some money in the register and takes a bottle of sake off one of the shelves.

“Would you like to share?”

“Ooh, yes, and if we’re doing that…”

Sadamune shut off the lights, but they weren’t fully in darkness. The light bulbs in the freezers glowed a small amount, leaving everything awash in bruise-like blue and black. All the products that had pored over existed as silhouettes. All the effort put into their appearance annihilated by the flip of a switch. Somehow they seemed to have even more scope for creativity this way. It's likely they're the only two swords to experience the store this way.

Mitsutada and Sadamune then sit on the harshly plastic floor, passing the sake bottle between the two of them.

“One of those light bulbs is flickering. Do I get to make a wish?” Sadamune asks.

“Sure.”

“I wish to know whether all this counts as our own economy.”

Mitsutada laughs at the wrong moment. Sake nearly burns into his lungs, but Sadamune claps him on the back enough to stop it.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to tell people your wishes,” he says, his voice a strangely contented wheeze. Chalk this up under another thing he only wants Sadamune to witness.

“Okay but think about it. Why do we have to pay for all this stuff? There aren’t that many of us. It makes no sense.”

“I think it’s for the same reason she has us do chores.”

“Builds character?” Sadamune yanks the sake right from Mitsutada and takes a long gulp.

“No. I think she thinks we need things to do on our off time. I don’t think she’s wrong about that.”

They sit in silence, and Mitsutada is nearly lulled to sleep by the freezer’s droning. Sadamune’s head ended up on Mitsutada’s shoulder, but he doesn’t think it’s from tiredness or drink.

“Okay then. New idea.”

“Oh?”

“Everyone likes your pastries. Don’t just give them out for free. Make people buy them from you. Be a competitor and make Aruji step up her game. Some of these prices are ridiculous.”

“It was a mistake to let you in the library.”

“Probably, but no one can do anything about that now.”

Mitsutada is fairly sure he knows where all this is coming from. During one of his first weeks here, Sadamune had gone in search of interesting books. All the best books- A.K.A all the exciting, sexy, or adventurous books- had been checked out and had a long waiting list. So, out of some unfathomable pique, Sadamune had checked out every single thingin the economics section. As far as Mitsutada knows, Sadamune is still working through them. Genuinely interested at this point.

“You know what I wish? I wish Date Masamune could also send you off on a voyage all over the world. I bet you would enjoy that, Sada-chan.”

As he says that, the idea is simultaneously exciting and distressing. Exciting because he likes the idea of Sadamune sailing to the Phillipines, Mexico, and Rome. Experiencing all the different styles the world had to offer.

And it’s distressing because… Well. He’s gotten used to having Sadamune around.

“Hmm.” Sadamune puts the sake glass in Mitsutada’s hand. It’s cool from being on the floor. “That could be great. But only if you came along with me.”

Chapter Text

“Come for a walk with me?” Yamatonokami asks one evening, when they’re some of the last ones left eating lunch.

Maybe Kanesada is getting that invitation because he’d been thinking too hard and it show. Deep thoughts are definitely a common occurrence for him, he’s discovered. Sometimes he’s trying to construct clever poetry than can tie past to present, his mind nearly bursting with analogies and metonymic cleverness. Other times he notices that the tables in here couldn’t possibly fit through the doors in full, but he can’t tell how they were assembled within the room.

It all ends with his skull feeling a bit too fragile, and his brain feeling a bit too spacious. There’s a fuzzy sound that he thinks is the threat of a headache until he realizes what it really is.

“Uh, but it’s raining?” Without planning to do it, Kanesada reaches for his hair and combs through it even though he knows it's dry and looks nice. During his first expedition, it had poured on them. Kanesada’s hair had lost all its body and lay in thin bedraggled strips against his back, forehead, and shoulders. Conversely, Yamatonokami’s hair had puffed out around his head like a lackluster cloud. It would have looked cute in the Citadel, but was unnerving combined with torn, bloodied clothes and a wan smile.

“I want to go because it’s raining,” a currently clean and contented Yamatonokami says now. “I want to try out my new umbrella with someone and Kiyomitsu told me ‘no freakin’ way’.”

When Yamatonokami produces the thing with a proud flourish, Kanesada sort of understands why Kashuu objected. It’s one of those sheer, plastic looking umbrellas. Sheer, that is, save for the cacti design on it. When Kanesada looks closer he sees that each cacti is in different stages of flowering. This wasn’t a lazy printing of the same design all over. Someone had put effort into all this.

He smiles a little. It’s as unconsciously done as when his hands flew to his hair. Was this like his heart beating without his permission? Was it like how he blinks without having to order it? Or was this something else entirely?

Actually... He flickers his eyelids up and down and realizes he hasn’t been paying attention to the sensation of it. Easy to do when blinking didn’t feel like he’s been rubbing sandpaper against his pupils.

Yamatokami notices and waves his hand a few inches from Kanesada’s face. “Why are you blinking like that? You remind me of a cartoon princess.”

“I’ve been having allergies,” Kanesada explains. “Pretty much since I got here a few weeks ago. But I feel fine today?”

He’d learned the name for this a few days ago when he and Kasen had both kind of sighed at each other during chores for the better part of an hour. Fieldwork had ended with him sneezing so hard he’d half expected his mouth to fill with blood. He’d spent his whole human life thinking this was an endless cold, but a surprisingly empathetic Kasen had made Kanesada tea and explained what it really was. Since then, Kanesada has been mummifying himself in blankets during the night to keep the pollen from reaching him. He’s still been waking up with an itchy throat, itchy eyes, itchy everything.

But not today.

“You probably feel okay because it’s been raining,” Yamtonokami says. “All the more reason to go for a walk with me!”

So they do.

Kanesada immediately decides that sharing an umbrella is stupid. He has to crouch down a little because Yamatonokami insists on holding it. Both of their shoulders are getting wet. Yamatonokami probably has to walk on his toes a little. He’d expected to circle around on the porch area, but they end up ambling out into the fields. Probably splattering mud on their hems.

Still, it’s nice to set foot outside and not feel like the entire landscape is trying to strangle him. There’s an overwhelming scent of soil that’s almost unpleasant, but Kanesada doesn’t mind. They stand up on a flat boulder, and shriveled cherry blossoms float around them. A spontaneous moat. These flowers had been in full bloom when Kanesada had arrived and it should be painful to see them this way. It is, a little bit, but they’ll return next year.

“I’m glad we went for a walk, but I think it smells better right when it starts to rain,” Yamatonokami says.

That’s true. “I looked up why that is. I guess it comes from water on stone and oils in plants?” As soon as Kanesada says this he wishes he hadn’t. He sounds like to sound completely knowledgeable about things.

Yamatonokami doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s nice either way. I think it would be better as a perfume than the stuff Kiyomitsu wears but he didn’t agree.”

“I think only a few people could carry off that kind of scent.” Mutsunokami could, maybe, but Kanesada isn’t about to say that.

They stand there in calm silence for a while. Just two swords left at the edge of things. It’s not the first time for either of them.

“Allergies are less annoying when it’s raining,” Yamatonokami says after a while. “I think because it means the pollen gets all damp and can’t fly around.”

“I read about that!” After Kasen had named Kanesada’s problem. “The pollen flies around and you breathe it in and the human body goes ‘whoa, what is this foreign invader?’ And it goes overboard trying to kill it.”

Yamatonokami’s laughter isn’t muted at all by the sound of rainfall. “Sounds like me and Kiyomitsu when we’re killing enemies.” A side long look at Yamatonokami. “What? I know everyone thinks things like that about us.”

“If you know it then why do I have to say it?”

“Mmm, getting to speak is something we didn’t get to do as swords. If we have to be, we might as well take advantage.”

They also get to choose what they learn and when they learn it. Kanesada had absorbed all kinds of knowledge as a blade, and he had soaked it up the same way he soaked up blood. But now he can read or watch anything. Anything. The library had everything from the driest historical non-fiction to cheesy horror novels. He could select anything, and he could think anything he wanted about all of them.

Even without allergies, it’s a wonder he could sleep at night.

“You know I was looking at this website about symbolism, right?” In order to someday, maybe, write poetry. He’s not going to say that, but any sword of Okita’s would probably guess. “And cacti symbolize lust sometimes.”

That’s just supposed to be a fun fact, but as soon as the words are out of his mouth he immediately regrets it. He’s been human long enough to know that lust is not some neutral thing. It shouldn’t be invoked casually.

Or… maybe it could be? Yamatonokami cracks up again, but then traces his finger of Kanesada’s jaw. His fingers are cold, Kanesada’s skin must be even colder. And yet all of Kanesada’s nerves light up.

He leans his head down, Yasusada sways up to meet him, and they kiss.

Kanesada decides that umbrellas are okay for two people after all.

Chapter Text

Ishikirimaru’s relationship with Nikkari has been advancing. It’s a nearly imperceptible difference. It’s like how mountains could crumble over the course of geological epochs, only to become shards of sand on the beach. And so, very recently, their hands had touched for the first time. They didn’t even hold on to each other. They’d propped themselves up on a deck, and allowed the sides of their palms to meet. The fireflies had shuddered on and off around them until the sun vanished. Until it had been too dark to see save for the reflection of lamps in Nikkari’s irises. Ishikirimaru had been sure this only could sustain him for months, years, centuries.

Except Nikkari then kissed Ishikirimaru a few days later.

He does so in the middle of a conversation. Right outside Ishikirimaru’s room, right when their words normally follows on the heels of laughter. Nikkari stares as he presses their lips together, and Ishikirimaru only registers what’s happened when they pull apart. He brushes Nikkari’s bangs back so that he can look into both eyes. Gold and red. Two colors that preoccupied humans, captivating their imagination and excitement over symbolism. Today, Ishikirimaru thinks of opulence and loss. Today he thinks that Nikkari has initiated all their prior physical contact, but never in such a mercenary, anxious manner.

“I think you should come inside,” Ishikirimaru says, carefully smoothing the hair back into place.

Nikkari’s knowing smile happens a second too late.

Once they retreat into the room, Ishikirimaru shuts the door. Nikkari doesn’t help himself to a seat anywhere. He watches Ishikirimaru with the kind of acute focus most often seen in cats.

“If you are looking for a distraction I’m not your best choice,” Ishikirimaru says. He remains standing just like Nikkari. “I’ve heard it said that I’m not the most exciting of swords.”

“Whoever said that is wrong,” Nikkari says. His arms are sliding up into his sleeves. He seems to enjoy rubbing the hem of them between his fingers. “How did you know I needed a distraction?”

“I’ve spent time with you. I know you.” Ishikirimaru says this slowly, because it sounds inadequate. But it’s also the only real way to say it.

He must have struck a chord because Nikkari sinks down into a chair, as though he’s been a puppet all this time and something had just snapped his strings. Ishikirimaru kneels in front of him. They both realize at the same time that their gazes are nearly level. And they both laugh despite everything.

“Height differences are exciting, hmm?” Nikkari’s hand nearly brushes across Ishikirimaru’s shoulder, but then he places it underneath his own thigh. “You know where Aruji keeps sending my team? There’s a ghost there.”

Ishikirimaru searches for a reply. In Nikkari’s world, spirits of the dead seemed to cluster together. They were a bit like layers of sediment rock but, instead of recording the age of the earth, they were a testament to human misery.

“This must be a very memorable ghost.”

“She’s one of the winter ones,” Nikkari says like a true connoisseur. “All in white, missing her feet, gliding over the snow. You know. That whole thing. She leads people astray to freeze to death when she realizes no one is going to listen to her request.”

“What is it?”

‘Let me in,’” Nikkari echoes, before going on to explain. “Someone left her out in the snow to die centuries ago. Parents, husband, I don’t know who. I’ve asked around but no one knows her story. They’re all just afraid of her.”

“You want to help.” It’s not a question. “That’s very admirable.” With ghosts it’s terribly easy to see their perversion and malice, particularly when you were their target. But they were a part of nature, and Nikkari could see through to the heart of them. Ishikirimaru knows that this is a rare quality.

“If I could lead her back to her house I would, but it’s probably long gone.” Nikkari has given up on playing with his sleeves. Now his arms are wrapped around his torso. “It feels like she wanted to avoid freezing to death, but even before that she also wanted a real home of her own. With people who wouldn’t eventually kill her.”

This is normally when Ishikirimaru would offer to make an ofuda for expulsion of evil spirits. Nikkari has enjoyed watching him make them before. There’d been many afternoons in which Nikkari had lounged in a sunny spot on the floor, silently watching Ishikirimaru swirl ink across snow-colored paper.

Nikkari stares into Ishikirimaru’s eyes until Ishikirimaru turns his hands in acceptance. Nikkari jumps a little like he hadn’t expected that at all, but then he reaches forward. Their palms meet and their fingers intertwine. Holding hands, they skip over several epochs together.

“I banished her,” Nikkari says after a long, long moment. “Because that’s all I could do. And maybe nothingness is better than … that what she was going through. But I can’t know for sure.”

“You can’t,” Ishikirimaru says, “but sometimes there’s wisdom in admitting you are uncertain.”

Another long moment passes, and then Nikkari presses their foreheads together. He doesn’t kiss Ishikirimaru, doesn’t look for distraction. They just sit there, ruminating on this tiny sliver of a human tragedy, centuries after the fact.

“At least you’re the last one to hear her final words.”

Chapter Text

Kashuu is putting salt into their foot soak basins, and Yamanbagiri is privately disappointed by it. The stuff allegedly came from the ocean, and he had been hoping for a scent that seemed reminiscent of the beach. Not that he knows what that’s actually like. He’s just read enough books by now to understand that the breeze took on a certain quality at the sea. Sharp, almost pungent. Yamanbagiri has read some nice prose involving the smell of seaweed and sun-baked sand, and he can almost conjure it up. Almost but not quite.

There’s none of that to be found here. This salt gives off the scent of a pleasant, unthreatening scent of lavender. At one point Kashuu smooths Yamanbagiri’s face hood and his fingers carry a hint of something else, too. Eucalyptus? Definitely something green. Horikawa can probably identify it.

When Yamanbagiri sinks his feet into the warm water (almost too warm) he has to admit that it’s pleasant. There are smooth stones to rub against his soles, and there are small flowers that float along the surface and stick to his ankles. Kashuu had added some kind of oil to all this, too. Every time he grows bored of one sensation, something new commands his attention. This is all a little ridiculous, of course, but heat had a way of soothing muscles. That probably balanced out any frivolity.

“I like it,” Yamanbagiri says. He’s contemplated things for so long that the water has cooled more than a little.

“It’s nice,” Kashuu says from underneath his wide-brimmed hat. They’re under an awning, so Yamanbagiri thinks that accessory is a little excessive. But his cape shields him from most of the sun’s excesses so maybe he’s missing some things.

Kashuu then sighs dramatically, and he flops down on to his back. His feet are still in the basin.

“Yes?”

“Just…. Just, like, don’t tell Yasusada I tested the salts with you and actually liked them.”

That’s puzzling. Yamanbagiri flexes his feet in the water, happily noticing that his sore muscles seem to have found a bit of relief. He’s enjoying himself, but this event seems much more quintessentially Kashuu. The softly pleasant scents. Beauty, relaxation, and practicality all woven together. Maybe Yasusada would tease Kashuu a little, but not so much that sworn secrecy is necessary.

Yamanbagiri will honor that request of course, but he’s a little curious. “Why?”

Kashuu sits up again in one fluid motion (his core muscles really were a marvel.) He exhales again, this time like he’s about to launch into an ancient epic. “So a few days ago Yasusada found out that some people do mud baths for nice skin, yeah?”

And on and on he goes. About how mud is an inherently unlovely thing. About how his roommate became obsessed with the idea of flopping around in it while naked. About how Yasusada thought they both should do it. About how Yasusada had learned that people put in bath salts so that they would smell nice. About how Kashuu had bought some of the aforementioned salts just to see if they were legitimate. But first he was going to put them in water before he even halfway considered rolling around in the mud just to get Yasusada to shut up.

“I can see mud being pretty good for your skin,” Yamanbagiri interjects when Kashuu runs out of his breath. It’s just water and soil after all. Water was fundamental to life, and the crops they ate grew from the soil. If you didn’t have any cuts, mud probably wouldn’t do you any real harm.

“Yeah but you know where it comes from, right?” Kashuu grabs onto Yamanbagiri’s shoulder. “Dead leaves. Worms. It’s gross. So of course Yasusada wants to do it.”

Yamanbagiri almost smiles a little. Because this isn’t a war he can really intervene in. Because he’s not sure it’s actually a war at all.

“I’ve never been to the sea,” he says, mostly to distract Kashuu. “Have Aruji sent you there.”

“Ah, hm. Once or twice? It was pretty nice. I think Yasusada has actually been to it more than me, though. Ugh, the water’s cold now. Probably time to stop.”

“Yes, probably.”

Kashuu pulls out, extends his legs, and stares down at his toes. “Well I’m definitely really clean. And I probably smell nice.”

Yamanbagiri leans over a small amount to verify this claim. Kashuu smells like lavender and a touch of that morning’s perfume. He smells like sunscreen and the salt of sweat. When he talks on and on like this, his monologues seem to crest and fall like waves. Maybe this is what it’s like to be by the sea.

He reaches out and grabs the brim of Kashuu’s hat. Thinks about pulling it down as a shield so they can kiss. Kashuu kind of flicks him on the cheek.

“Hmm come inside with me. Your feet are clean now too and it’s been ages since I’ve painted your nails. Also I want to show you something.”

Well then. An intriguing proposal. Also Yamanbagiri doesn’t have any chores, so he’s free to do what he wants. Right now he wants Kashuu’s company.

When compared to the porch, indoors is inexplicably dark and hushed. This makes no sense to Yamanbagiri because nothing much should have changed in the past hour. He blinks and blinks, and then he closes his eyes as he and Kashuu kiss. They kiss and kiss, until they laugh and lie down together in Yamanbagiri’s bed. And then they kiss some more. It’s silly and lazy and they’re not doing it with any aim in particular. Somehow Kashuu is still halfway wearing that hat of his.

After a long while of this, though, Kashuu sidles away and begins rummaging around his room. Eventually he produces something green and shiny. At first Yamanbagiri thinks it’s a gem.

“Sea glass,” Kashuu says, putting into Yamanbagiri’s palm. “It’s what I wanted to show you. Yasusada brought it back a few days ago, but this is actually pretty cool. This was regular glass, probably from a beer bottle or something? The ocean smoothed out all its edges.”

Yamanbagiri stares down at it.

The sea sounds so beautiful. The sea is his brother’s grave. The waves that shaped this glass are the same waters that are crushing in on his brother. Yamanbagiri is frightened of everything, and he wants to experience everything.

His heart starts to pound. Even though it’s been a while – almost a year!- he’s still not fully used to it constantly reminding him that human bodies are really just complex machines.

“There’s so much to life, isn’t there?” Yamanbagiri says at last.

Kashuu gives him a long look, and then kisses him again.

It ends up being surprisingly difficult to paint Yamanbagiri’s toenails at first. Mainly because his skin is slippery. Kashuu has to get a towel and rub the bathing oil off of Yamanbagiri’s feet.

“What color do you want this time?” Kashuu asks, his hands holding Yamanbagiri’s ankles with care.

“Don’t you usually decide that?” Yamanbagiri doesn’t really mind anything. Few people saw his toenails after all.

“Yeah, but you’ve got to have opinions right?”

Yamanbagiri had to admit that he did.

“Pick the colors that remind you of the ocean.”

Chapter Text

Kashuu isn’t sure why anyone prefers extreme heat to extreme cold. He’s confident declaring this after spending several years as a human. Truth be told, he’s disliked summer the instant he had had to step into his first humid, muggy day. He’s never been given cause to reverse this opinion. Sections of his hair will puff out, while other sections will become sleek with sweat. If Kashuu fails to take precautions, his skin stings, burns, and peels. His makeup runs if he forgets about waterproof makeup. Even if he gets that right it feels like a microscopic mask is stuck to his face. (He’s never as hyper aware of his own cosmetics in other seasons.) Whenever he goes outside, he has to decide between hats that don’t offer enough coverage, or hats that strike him as hideously unfashionable. He likes sunglasses well enough, that’s about it.

At least whenever the promise of spring yields to the lethargy of summer, Kashuu thinks he knows what to expect. And most years he’s perfectly correct in this assumption.

But this year their air conditioning has failed them.

Time has become a leaden, slow-moving thing. Nights pass in a feverish haze, and he perspires whether he’s in his room or out in the field. Outside and inside are indistinguishable. One just has more dirt than the other. Kashuu has forgotten comfort altogether.

“You look like one of those angry cats that people like to put captions on!” Yasusada declares when Kashuu steps into their room. He’s shirtless, lying on his bed beside the fan, his mouth bright red from some kind of candy. Not quite Yasusada’s color, but a charming enough sight.

“Aruji isn’t able to repair the cooling system for a few more days,” Kashuu wails. He flops down beside Yasusada. Face down. Then he immediately rolls on his back, because he once heard that heat gets trapped in the head.

“That’s not so long,” Yasusada says, before sucking on another candy. Kashuu can hear it click against his teeth.

“That’s forever” Kashuu replies, looking at Yasusada’s lips again. Really, the color is exactly the same as what they put in feeders to attract hummingbirds. Once one had buzzed around his head and he had shrieked until he realized it was not a bee. (Strangely reminiscent of what it’s like to live with Yasusada, really.)

“Hmm, take off your clothes.”

“Aw, Yasusada I’m flattered, but I’m really not in the mood, yeah? It’s too gross out to fool around.” Or he would just look even grosser.

Yasusada laughs. “I don’t mean like that. The fan feels nice when you’re barely wearing anything That’s all.”

Well. It’s worth a try.

Kashuu stands up and starts to remove his clothing. He has to peel it off- almost quite literally- and he tries not to meet Yasusada’s eyes. Clothes come off for changing, bathing, or sex. That tends to be it. He can’t remember a time where he stood around half-naked without a clearly defined time for putting them back on again.

He forgets this when Yasusada scoots over and lets Kashuu lie directly in front of the fan. Kashuu has hated its constant noise, and the sight of it whirling and whirling around in perpetuity. Now it cools his sweat, cools his skin. Now the sound of it bathes his mind and calms his thoughts. The less he thinks, the more comfortable it is to inhabit this body. His body.

Kashuu might even have dozed a little. He knows he’s only half alert when he speaks again.

“What are you even eating?”

“Some watermelon candy that claims to be super sour.”

Kashuu can picture the dramatic face Yasusada is probably making.

“Is it? Super sour?”

“It is!”

“Oh yeah? Show me,” Kashuu says, knowing what he’s inviting.

And indeed, a moment Yasusada leans over and presses a prim, closed-mouth kiss to Kashuu’s lips. Quickly by his tongue pushing a candy into Kashuu’s mouth.

It is, indeed, super sour. And it tastes much more like cherries than watermelon.

Kashuu lightly thwacks at Yasusada’s chest. He tangles their legs up tight until the candy’s coating dissolves. Below, it’s sugary, sweet, and disappointingly inoffensive.

“That’s a terrible snack,” Kashuu says once he’s swallowed it.

“Yeah, it’s weird. But I like it. Can I paint your toenails?”

“What?” Seriously, seriously. Sometimes trying to catch Yasusada’s train of thought is like trying to outpace a hummingbird.

“Can I paint your toenails? You’ve never let me do it before and I’m bored.”

No way. Nope. Never. You’d mess it up. I don’t have an infinite supply of polish you know. What if you file off the entire nail on my big toe? What if it gets infect or never grows back and Aruji never lets me fight again?

The words are there but they melt on his tongue along with the remains of the candy.

“Fine.” He hands Yasusada a color at random, stretches his feet out in front of him.

“Okay-”

“Wait! That one is light green. That’s not a great color for me.”

He goes back and forth on several hues before Yasusada sighs. “Kiyomitsu… Do you still want to do this? It’s just a whim. We don’t have to.”

No? Yes? No? Maybe? “Of course I do. Are you implying I’m a coward or what?”

“No. But maybe you should lie back and cover your face.”

“Eh?”

“So you don’t have to overthink this.” Yasusada’s hand is on Kashuu’s chest and- quite gently- he pushes him down. “Seriously, don’t worry. I know you’re going to get rid of it with polish remover right away.”

Kashuu grumbles without really making any words, and then pulls one of the sheets over his face.

It’s… odd. The whole thing is odd. As he lies there, it occurs to him that feet really are utilitarian at best, ugly at worst. He knows the soles of his feet are calloused from battles and extravagant shoes alike. He’d never let anyone stare at them. But there Yasusada is, holding onto Kashuu’s ankle, absently running his fingers over the top of Kashuu’s foot.

He twitches the first time Yasusada touches a brush to one of Kashuu’s toenails. Everything in him stiffens, and he clenches onto the sheet. Kashuu almost shudders when he can feel Yasusada painting over the margins a bit.

“Easy, Kitten. If you keep squirming I’m going to mess up.”

“I know you already have.”

Yasusada has already messed up. It’s over, it’s done. Kashuu can stop worrying about the inevitability. Somehow, this means he relaxes into certainty. And sensations were the only certain thing in life, sometimes. The sheet on his face is cool. The fan air teasing his bare chest is cool. And, naturally, the polish is cool. He’s always known this, of course. However they’re in a wasteland without an air conditioner, and coolness is a rare and precious thing. He laughs, which probably makes him move even more than squirming. Yasusada doesn’t complain about this.

When it’s all done, Yasusada pulls the sheet away and Kashuu blinks hard. First at the sun slicing in through the window, and then at Yasusada’s grinning face.

He lifts his legs and scrutinizes Yasusada’s work. Purple. He used purple. How did this happen? Why did Kashuu even suggest the possibility of it? He hates purple nail polish. It makes all of his toes look bruised.

And yet…

Yasusada had painted on the cuticles, but less than Kashuu had been anticipating. It’s an amateur effort but not at all a disaster.

Kashuu rests his feet on a paper towel. He and Yasusada finish off all of the terrible candy while they wait for his nails to dry.

Chapter Text

-1-

When Aruji starts putting Yasuada on fieldwork, Yasusada immediately decides that dandelions are perfectly lovely. Just as bright as sunflowers, but somehow more agreeable. Kiyomitsu always disagrees, though.

“No, we can’t keep them near the crops.” Kiyomitsu’s gloves are stained yellow from plucking them out. “They’re weeds, you know.”

Yasusada doesn’t know. “Weeds?”

“Yeah, like, they’ll start moving in among the other plants and kill them off.”

“How?”

“Just get back to work,” Kiyomitsu huffs in his ’I don’t know the answer, and I hope Aruji didn’t hear me be ignorant’ voice.

Yasusada picks some dandelions out by the root, noting how delicate their stems are. At first he can’t imagine them damaging anything, but then he remembers he’s never really gone into the field or gardens at night. Maybe- under cover of darkness!- the dandelions twist around other plants and strangle them to death. Somehow this makes him fonder of them.

A few days later he finds a patch of dandelions far away enough from their fields that they aren’t yet causing trouble anywhere. When they go to seed a few days after that, he snatches them all in one hand.

“Kiyomitsu?”

“Huh?”

When Kiyomitsu turns around, Yasusada blows a bunch of dandelion into his face. Then he runs away laughing. All the while, Kiyomitsu shrieks that the seeds are in his clothes, now, and that means he’s going to end up dispersing them everywhere.

-2-

After returning from his kiwame journey, Yasusada adopts a patch of flowers that no one in the Citadel has planted or tended. He doesn’t know what they’re called. He just knows that they’re the kind of red that Kiyomitsu favors, and that they have petals as thick as the width of a coin. They’ve probably been growing, seeding the ground, and dying for thousands of years. He wonders what it would look like if someone wrote down a family tree for a plant.

When an unexpected heat wave wipes his flowers out, he asks Kiyomitsu about it.

“They probably needed more water.”

“I knew that.”

“Then why did you ask, Yasusada?” Kiyomitsu’s voice isn’t unkind.

“I just hadn’t really thought, before, how every living thing needs water.”

Water is more than the first seed of rust. Yasusada sits with that thought all night, even when he dreams.

-3-

He finds some more wild, untended flowers. This time they’re pale purple, so delicate that some of the petals are translucent. When he has free time, he makes sure to water them every time he’s thirsty.

They soon brown, wither, and shrivel up.

“Of course you did,” he murmurs to their corpses. “You’re alive, but you’re not human.” He should have remembered this. Everyone- everything- drowns in their own way.

-4-

An early frost kills the remaining flowers.

Early that morning, Yasusada walks among their garden. Reds, blues, oranges, purples, and so much green; all trapped beneath flecks of ice. When he touches the frozen petals, he half-expects the brittleness of diamonds. Instead, the frost melts on his fingers. It drips onto his plain white robes.

-5-

Things can still grow in the winter. Yasusada only has to look at bamboo or breathe in the scent of pines to remember this. He takes out books from the library on gardening, and shudders a little when he remembers that paper is made of wood pulp. He crams his head full of gardening facts, becoming an intellectual expert on all kinds of flowers; even ones that have no hope of growing in Japan’s climate.

Yasusada learns that dandelions are weeds because they grow far and they grow fast. They gobble up resources from comelier flowers and tastier plants. He can’t make himself hate them.

On the darkest day of the year he purchases a packet of primrose seeds from their store. He finds an empty room at the far side of the Citadel. Unless Aruji manifests a sword a day, this room is unlikely to be used until the summer.

He plants seeds in a mixture of soil, sand, and moss. This time he perfectly manages the alchemy of water and time. The flowers drink in weak winter light, and they grow. And they grow.

-6-

When spring arrives, Yasusada goes scouting. Not for information about enemies, but in order to find a spot of his own where things could grow.

Perfection is so often tucked away. Never out of reach, but always hard to locate. After several days spent in this pursuit, Yasusada steps into a clearing full of moss, and beautifully spindly tree branches. There’s a clear blue pond that might support lotus plants someday. It’s too soon for flowers, but he suspects they already grow here with ease.

Yasusada will be able to find his way back, but part of him wants to leave a trail of rice to mark the way (like in that odd tale he read a few weeks back.) He abandons that idea when he remembers food will attract ants. Insects might be a natural part of the environment but an excess of anything is a bad idea. he knows that now.

-7-

He doesn’t plant anything. Not immediately. Every few days he returns with a notebook, making notes on what’s growing. Which flowers thrive, and which do not. When azaleas rupture in bruise-like shades of red and purple he loves them with a fierceness he normally brings to the battlefield.

“You’re azaleas. Did you know that?” A few of them drift down into his palms, and he takes that as an answer.

He makes note of a location where he can plant his primroses. When they grow, they complement the rich greens of the moss and the gray-brown tree trunks. They look as if they’ve always been there.

Yasusada thinks about where these flowers came from. Their seeds were so tiny, and yet they contained codes for entire lives, worlds, universes.

-8-

Sometimes people trimmed azalea bushes so that they resembled waves. Yasusada brandishes some shears, noting that they look like two unsophisticated swords stuck together. He decides against shaping his flowers.

He’ll let his garden grow how it wants to, then. Yasusada doubts he’ll ever be skilled at something like bonsai.

Still, he can’t completely forego the shears. Sometimes branches become sick. Like any other plague they threaten to make the whole garden sick. Thus Yasusada pares disease away, as if he has found a new vocation as a sacred sword. In truth, he just understands the importance of releasing the things that can poison your heart.

-9-

Dandelions eventually find their way near his garden. Though they make him smile, he finds he doesn’t want to surrender his flowers to them, either.

He doesn’t pluck them out and toss them away, though. Yasusada gathers them up and brings them home.

“What are you making?” Kiyomitsu asks the following afternoon.

“Dandelion tea.”

Chapter Text

When Mitsutada learns about biryani, it’s one of those dishes that leave him almost lightheaded from the challenge of it all. It requires fastidious planning, a medley of spices, timing, hours of marinating, and hours of cooking. It requires layering everything just so with all the care of an architect or a chemist.

His excitement doesn’t show in his face, obviously, nor does he talk about it with anyone. As a rule, any time he feels delight it undergoes a kind of sublimation. And so Mitsutada takes hours to select the iteration of biryani that he’ll try first. He scrawls an embarrassing amount of reminders in the margins, getting ink stains all over his hands, leaving faint fingerprints on the paper. He never asks Aruji for much, but he does request the right kind of cooking vessel. He finds ways to manipulate all the other swords so that he gets the kitchen to himself for the right amount of time.

And Mitsutada fails at biryani the first time. Mitsutada fails four more times after that. Oh, it’s all perfectly edible. The fourth and fifth attempts are downright delicious, actually. But there’s something about the dish that’s just out of reach. Something as intangible as the scents of ginger and cardamom, caraway and garlic. Something that will only take shape after practice, patience, and persistence. Fortunate, Mitsutada has the traits in abundance. And so he chops vegetables, he marinates the meat, he takes notes on when, how, and why to layer the onions, meat, and rice. How long each step takes, how warm the stove should be, what he should remember about the cloth covering.

He deems his sixth attempt suitable for others, and he brings a plate of it to Ookurikara.

“You brought me lunch?”

“I’m curious to see what you think.” Mitsutada hopes his voice isn’t overloud or overeager.

Then he has to wait. He has to wait as Ookurikara eats a few mouthfuls of biryani. A dish packed with spices and a type of rice that were not remotely common in the places where they were forged. A dish that took weeks of learning, days of practice, and hours of preparing. A dish often considered the zenith of Hyderabadi cooking, and an ingenious fusion between Mughlai and Persian cuisine.

“It’s good,” Ookurikara.

And that’s all Mitsutada gets for the longest time.

But Ookurikara eats it fast, and something behind his eyes lights up. Just a little. Like when Ookurikara heard music for the first time and Mitsutada could tell he enjoyed it.

“Is there any more?” Ookurikara asks when his plate is clean.

*

It ends up being just as difficult using Sadamune to gauge the success of Mitsutada’s cooking.

At first Mitsutada doesn’t expect this. Or, for that matter, care about the possibility of this. When Sadamaune first showed up, all that really mattered was the fact of his presence. His very existence. So he invites Sadamune into his kitchen without a second thought, and they end up making chocolate covered pretzels from scratch. Just because they could. Even though Mitsutada had no plans to do this today, or any time in the near future.

Not that Sadamune is without questions. If he were any other way he wouldn’t be as fun.

“So,” Sadamune says, taking a little too much joy thwacking the dough as he kneads it, “when we bake these we’re putting salt on them?”

“Yes.”

“Why? Aren’t sweet and salty opposite flavors?”

“Yes, but…” Mitsutada tries to be conscientious. Sadamune had had his first bite of food just a few days ago. Some things were impossible to describe. “There’s actually salt in basically all desserts. And sugar in all kinds of savory foods. It balances everything out, I suppose.”

“I think I get it,” Sadamune says, after pondering that idea for a while.

Soon after that Sadamune takes an inordinate amount of time shaping each pretzel just so. Mitsutada stares- trying not to look as stunned as he feels- as Sadamune makes everything look factory produced and perfect. He put that much care into each pretzel.

It’s a blessing and a curse, Mitsutada comes to discover. Sadamune is reliable as a cooking partner, but almost useless as a food critic. Mitsutada brings him all kinds of things at first, hungry for an opinion. Katsu curry, jambalaya, filet mignon. It doesn’t matter what it is. Sadamune will stare, and then offer pointed critiques on how the food is presented. Where it is on the plate, whether the sauces were poured on in a visually pleasing way, whether the colors of the garnishes complement the main dish.

“Why do you always comment on how it looks?” Mitsutada asks one day. “That’s important, but it still has to taste good.”

“But what you make always tastes good.” Sadamune blinks at him, seemingly genuinely puzzled.

The compliment soaks into Mitsutada in a pleasant way, even if it’s manifestly wrong. He’s one all sorts of things wrong when cooking for Sadamune alone. He’s burned the bread on grilled cheese a little too much. He’s put too many green onions in gazpacho. He didn’t bake some tofu long enough. He does all these things, knowing that they’re wrong, knowing that they’re right for this particular sword. This particular person.

And so this is why- whenever Sadamune gets down to actually eating anything- he always sighs with unfeigned happiness.

“How do you always know what I like, Micchan?”

This makes it worth it, even if cooking for Sadamune will never help Mitsutada improve his overall skills.

*

Tsurumaru ends up being Mitsutada’s best food critic. He hadn’t expected this at all. Maybe he should have, though. Sometimes Tsurumaru caused surprises. Sometimes surprises naturally swirled around Tsurumaru like a tornado.

It all begins on one of those blistering summer days that turns everyone into a lazy mess. Tsurumaru has never handled them very well, though he has an uncanny fondness for the kind of sunscreen that sprays everywhere. Maybe because people tripped and slipped around if any of it got on the floor. But if his skin burned he complained about it just as much as anyone.

That’s why Tsurumaru is hiding inside. Brandishing his fan like a weapon, glaring at the window, sweat pooling on his temples even though it’s reasonably cool inside.

“I want a sudden thunderstorm. One with hail. I want a concussion to break up the monotony.”

“Oh? Weren’t you complaining about that week of rain a while ago?”

“Uh, yeah? What’s your point? The same weather for days on end is boring. Also I’m sweaty and tired and I hate everything.”

Mitsutada can relate, actually. Whenever he steps outside, hair sticks to the perspiration at the back of his neck and he loathes it.

“Hold on, I’ll make you something refreshing.”

“Will it make me forget how annoying all this is? Are you a miracle worker now?”

Mitsutada ignores the jibes as he makes his way to the kitchen. The recipe he has in mind isn’t particularly difficult, and he soon returns to Tsurumaru.

At first Tsurumaru picks at the fruit salad with a bored expression. Then he stares down into the bowl. “Is this watermelon, mint, and… cheese?”

“Feta, yes.”

This makes Tsurumaru smirk a bit, and he actually sounds happy. “Interesting.”

“As good as a thunderstorm?”

“Almost.” Tsurumaru takes another bite. “Maybe a little too much mint,” he says, his voice not unkind.

“Oh?”

“Show me how you made it.”

Mitsutada leads Tsurumaru to the kitchen and does just that. Later, they’ll do this with other recipes too. Recipes from the era Tsurumaru was forged. Recipes from all the places Date Masamune probably would have liked to visit: the Philippines, Italy, Mexico.

Tsurumaru likes to watch him cook and bake it all. Mitsutada decides this makes sense. Of course Tsurumaru would enjoy watching all the chaos that occurs before perfection. The vegetables diced on cutting boards. All the disparate items lying around in a slow cooker before hours of heat turn them into stew. The way the hard peel of an onion could be as stubborn as some of the swords they knew.

One day he laughs when a mishap leads to Mitsutada getting covered in flour.

“Are you trying to look like me?”

No.” Then Mitsutada laughs. “But I like having you around.”

“Yeah, same.”

Chapter Text

“Sayo?”

He almost jumps when Yamanbagiri says his name.

There are times Sayo feels shapeless, colorless, weightless. He’s like the thoughts that come into his head when he tries to imitate Kousetsu by meditating. He swats away half-hearted, persistent musing about snacks, aches, chores. All the things that have nothing to do with breathing or spilling blood. But even as he shoos them away, he experiences kinship with their lack of substance.

And so he’s always a bit surprised to be singled out and named. Even though Kousetsu has talked about doing just that. Naming your thoughts. Giving them respect and acknowledgement, bearing witness to the thousands of small ideas that flit around in one’s mind in the course of a day, an hour, a minute. Sayo has tried this kind of thing only once, expecting to greet his bloodlust again and again. Instead he’d been disturbed by the myriad mundane things that came to mind, and he’d stopped the exercise after less than a minute.

“Are you having trouble sleeping?” Yamanbagiri tries again. That’s a reasonable enough question. They’ve both ended up in the dining hall around midnight. Yamanbagiri has the lights on their lowest possible setting. Rather than making things look cozy, though, it just highlights how this is a place you’re supposed to go in daylight hours only.

Scan your body. That’s another thing Kousetsu has mentioned. Sayo finds that his shoulders have drawn in close to his ears, like they want to protect his neck. He’s risen up on his feet. It would help him against a taller opponent- AKA most of the world- because it would make it easier for him to claw out someone’s eyes. He breathes and tries to relax these things. Tries to relax all the joints and muscles that have locked into place.

“Sleep is always hard,” Sayo says, finally. Really, what a stupid thing to say, even if it’s the truth. Sleep should be easy. It’s the height of inaction. It’s complacency. It’s letting the world do its will against you.

Okay.

Maybe it’s not so easy.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Yamanbagiri says. And Sayo thinks he might understand on some level.

He sits down across from Yamanbagiri, putting the cross-stitch kit on the table. Yamanbagiri doesn’t seem to see it, nor does he comment on it. If anything he seems to be embarrassed to have been caught eating peanut butter on celery sticks. Yamanbagiri, in general, seems to be embarrassed every time he has basic needs. One time the two of them had been put on fieldwork duty together and Yamanbagiri had been flustered about needing to use bug spray.

“It’s just! That I’m leaving! Tomorrow?” Yamanbagiri almost pants as he tries to explain having a midnight snack. “For kiwame. And I read about how peanut butter has a lot of health benefit. I had no idea. And, you know… There won’t be peanut butter there. And I’ll be there for a year. I’ve been worried about getting the right amount of nutrients.” Towards the end of his explanation he’s back to sounding almost normal. “What did you bring with you? Sewing?”

“Yeah.”

Yamanbagiri squints while Sayo gets to work on it. Probably because cross-stitch is a little different from the kind of sewing Horikawa does. It’s purely decorative, for one.

The hobby could be traced back to Souza. He’d bought the kit on a whim and almost immediately became bored of it. Then his interest had been revived when he’d discovered patterns that had flowers and butterflies framing various obscene phrases in English. Fuck off. Or everything sucks. Or please die :). The two of them had gotten a kind of kick out of figuring out the meaning of the words, and trading the hooped cloth back and forth after each of them had completed a row. Sometimes they could whittle down entire days doing this.

Souza’s interest lies in weaving motifs of beauty around blunt statements of pain. Sayo’s interest is more tactile, in the end. The two could be stitching out designs of plain squares or triangles and he would have been equally enraptured. He just enjoys the feeling of a needle punching through the fabric, looping around like a garrote. He likes doing this again and again. Sometimes he comes out here at night to work on it alone. Turns out doing it in Yamanbagiri’s silent company is also nice.

There’s a notepad by Yamanbagiri. He returns to it after he eats the last of his snacks. Skimming writing upside down is tricky, but Sayo manages. Yamanbagiri has been writing instructions for the Retainer that takes his place while he’s gone. Sayo likes the idea of Yamanbagiri’s influence being felt from afar, even if he will only be absent for a few days.

There are a lot of questions you get when you decide to go on kiwame. Where will you go? Why did you decide to go? Aren’t you excited to go?

Yamanbagiri has been around pretty much since the beginning of the Citadel. Most of his fellow old guard have already gone. His decision to finally take the leap… Well. That had caused quite a stir. He’s probably getting those questions twice as much. Yamanbagiri doesn’t need to be asked any more.

But maybe Yamanbagiri needs to ask some of his own.

“Sayo, did you find it worthwhile to go on kiwame?”

A tricky question.

Worth is different for every sword here. There’s a distinct lack of sentimentality underneath all of Yamanbagiri’s nerves and skittishness. Take the bug spray incident. After he’d stopped blustering, Yamanbagiri had talked about how it was good to avoid things like mosquitoes and ticks. He’s often like that, and Sayo is strangely fascinated by Yamanbagiri’s sheer pragmatism.

Meanwhile, Sayo hasn’t failed to notice how revenge is enshrined in so many myths and legends. It pulls on the human psyche, just as tantalizing as money and love.

During kiwame he’d certainly absorbed his fill of the human experience. He’d learned that the story of his earliest masters was, really, a very common one. So many died of poverty and famine. So many women were killed for no reason at all. None of this had calmed his newly human soul, but he’d been able to refine his spirit against this knowledge. He’d followed thread of clarity out of that snarl of misery.

“Sorry,” Yamanbagiri says. “I try not to ask people that because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m judging them as a Retainer. “You’ve been a great help to the Citadel before and after.”

“It’s definitely different for everyone,” Sayo says. “I’ve been interested in how it will change you.” That curiosity- about how Yamanbagiri will come back different- is something that needles him during meditation. Instead of shoving the thought away, he decides to sit with it now. Just for a second. There’s more weight and heft to it than he thought, this curiosity.

Yamanbagiri is fiddling with the edge of his cloak. “Can I ask you something else?”

“Um. Yes. If you want.”

“Does that really say ‘cheer up, loser?’” Yamanbagiri gestures at Sayo’s cross stitch work.

The sensation of nearly laughing always takes Sayo aback. It’s like when he drinks something carbonated too quickly. “It does. I just finished, actually. Do you want to take it with you?” He’d have to explain it to Souza, but he doubts Souza would mind.

“… Sure. It’s something I really should remember.”

Chapter Text

Everyone is going to think I’m doing this because I was sent to Hakodate yesterday.

Kanesada realizes this the moment he has a bunch of hair caught between the shears of his scissors. That’s almost enough to make him turn back. Instead he squeezes his fingers with a bit more force than intended. He has to do this once, twice, and again, and it’s more of a severing than anything else. All of his suddenly superfluous strands glide down to the floor, fanning out around him in a messy semi-circle.

This isn’t about Hakodate. No way. You only had to look at the facts to realize this. Kanesada has seen the fall of the Ezo Republic before. He’s helped engineer Hijikata’s death, even. (Sometimes Kanesada is convinced he’s more of a sentient Rube Goldberg machine than a tsukumogami .) If he had had any adverse reactions to the place he would have realized it by now. This time Aruji had sent him there well before Hijikata had arrived. Kanesada isn’t that sensitive.

Okay. Maybe there had been some disturbing aspects to Hakodate. Their enemy had tried to set fire to Goryōkaku in its construction stage. Though they had been thwarted, Kanesada can’t say he enjoyed seeing the fort in that unfinished state. It had evoked the same pit in his stomach that he got whenever his fellow swords got wounds that went down to the bone. It was like knowing a place was haunted well before the ghosts moved in.

At least the mission had taken place on a chilly spring day. The Citadel, meanwhile, is mired somewhere in the endless depths of summer. The humidity is out to drown him. The hair that rests against the back of his neck has been permanently soaked with perspiration. He’s already annoyed that everyone will assume a fit of angst when discomfort is a perfectly decent explanation.

Kanesada forgets his premature annoyance, though, when he tilts his head from side-to-side. It’s a little too light. Like he’s a balloon that might float up to the ceiling and hover there until he runs out of air. Except he’s still having trouble breathing even if the air conditioning is pretty aggressive indoors. And there’s still sweat gathering on his neck. Kanesada rubs at his face, reminding himself that Hijikata must have had a moment like this, too. Even if Kanesada finds that he can’t quite recall what Hijikata felt when he had his own haircut.

“Kanesan?”

Horikawa is quiet but his words always reach Kanesada. It’s a talent.

“Come in,” Kanesada says before realizing what Horikawa will immediately notice. What Kanesada will have to explain.

And, indeed, Horikawa doesn’t bother to hide it when his eyes widen a little. Nor does he hide it when he looks down at the floor, taking his time, as if he’s trying to count up each individual strand of hair.

But Kanesada doesn’t mind. There’s no laughter, no scolding, no mocking. Just quiet appraisal.

“Ah, I see,” Horikawa says after he’s clearly readjusted some sort of mental rubric.

“I haven’t been really upset or anything.”

“I know.”

“It’s just been really hot.”

“I know.”

“I thought I would look cool, too.”

“Ah, well-” That’s when Horikawa’s lip twitches a little. It’s more of a relief at this point.

Horikawa finds a hand mirror and holds it up to Kanesada’s face. His hair is, indeed, short now. His hair is also unevenly cut, with parts of it stick out at odd angles.

Shit.

“It’s fixable.” Horikawa holds out his hand, even though he could just pick the scissors up off the floor.

Kanesada doesn’t even have to think about it. He gives them over.

There’s something to be said about letting someone hold blades close to your neck. Even if that blade is just in the form of scissors. Horikawa is fixing Kanesada’s hair. There’s no need to look to verify this. Whatever Horikawa is doing… It’s evening out Kanesada’s inner balance. This wouldn’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.

“I do this for my brothers, just so you know. That’s how I know how layering works.”

“Oh.” Kanesada decides this makes sense. “You should’ve just told me you had a knack for this, too. I would’ve believed you.”

“Nah.” It’s easy to picture Horikawa’s exact smile. “I gave Yamanbagiri a pretty bad bowl cut once. So I’d like to take pride in my improvements.”

“…Fair.” Kanesada is trying to picture that scenario and finds that he can’t.

“How was Hakodate?” Horikawa asks, almost apologetic.

“The weather was nice, actually. And I’m not saying that to change the subject.” Alright, maybe he is a little. “I’ve noticed the weather is often pretty good whenever the Revisionists try to attack. Do you think that’s because people are more likely to be out and about and doing important things when weather conditions are favorable?”

“Interesting idea.”

“So you don’t agree with me.”

“I think your idea is very anecdotal. But it’s worth considering.”

“It just… would be nice to figure out where Revisionists might go to next instead of always reacting to them. This whole idea of burning down Hakodate... We never expected that.” Already, Kanesada realizes he’s been prone to mess around with his own hair when he gets worked up. Now he’ll have to find other things to do with his hands. Or he’ll have to keep them still.

When Horikawa finishes he doesn’t exactly announce it. He just rests his hand on the top of Kanesada’s head. Kanesada finds himself want to lean back until he can rest more firmly against Horikawa.

“You know it will all grow back the next time you’re sent in for repairs, right?”

What?” All at once Kanesada’s mind is reeling. He replays the past few months and everything he’s witnessed in the Citadel. And he realizes it’s true. “I can’t believe it,” he complains. Even though he does.

“Well, either that or it’ll take about a year to grow back naturally. Try to aim for that.”

“Hmm? So you like my hair short?”

“I like it when you avoid injuries, Kanesan.”

Chapter Text

Yasusada probably likes doing fieldwork with Kanesada the most. His perspective on this might be different if was Horikawa, of course. Kanesada often whines at his partner. He tries to cut corners, too, even though he never gets away with it. It’s something Yasuada and Kiyomitsu like to witness and gossip about late at night. They even take bets on how long Kanesada can get away with slacking off around Horikawa.

Around anyone else, though, Kanesada gets all fired up from the competition. It doesn’t seem to mean that the rivalry only exists in his head. He’ll work as fast as he can, trying to beat whoever who’s been assigned to work with him. This means that they always finish whenever Yasusada is close to getting bored.

Kiwame is supposed to lend maturity to everyone who goes on the undertaking. Kanesada does, indeed, seem to have changed even though Yasusada couldn’t tell you the specific. He only knows what isn’t indifferent, and he’s inexplicably grateful for those.

Today they’re raking up autumn leaves into neat little piles. Eventually they’ll put them into buckets and pour them into the compost. It’s not the time for that, yet. It is time for Yasusada to leap into that heap of red, orange, and gold.

This isn’t his first time doing this, but he still somehow expects it to feel like he’s diving into a cloud stained with the colors of sunsets. And yet, as always, the ground is hard when it breaks his fall. There’s probably a pebble or two embedded in his spine, now.

Oh well! I wouldn’t be the first sword to get decorated with rocks.

Never mind that those rocks tended to be things like diamonds or ruby or other sparkling things.

Soon these leaves will be fun to hop on. Soon they’ll be much drier and they’ll crunch against the soles of his shoes and Kiyomitsu will complain; ‘Do you have to jump on every leaf that you see?’. Right now they’re relatively smooth against his cheek and wrists. And Kanesada is looking down at him, dubiously.

“Really?” he says. His eyes dart around, like he’s expecting someone to see them and call them uncool.

“Yeah. There’s only a few days in the year we can do this.” He reaches over and yanks at what he can reach of Kanesada’s clothing until Kanesada sighs and joins him down in the pile.

For a while they don’t talk. Yasusada stares up at the cloudy sky and wonders why autumn always smells a bit smoky, even when nothing is on fire.

“I think some of these are damp,” Kanesada says at last. “From dew or something?”

There’s something in Kanesada’s tone that seems to be prompting an apology, but Yasusada ignores it. “Oh. Could be!”

There’s a soft tearing sound. Kanesada is picking up a few leaves and ripping them apart. “I actually have to tell you something.”

Why did people do this? Request a need to talk when you’ll have to hear what they’ll say anyway? It could mean everything from ‘hey, I ate the last of your leftovers’ to ‘hey, Kiyomitsu very nearly broke on that one mission but he’s in recovery.’

“Just tell me,” Yasusada says, probably in an unkind way.

“I ran into you while I was on kiwame,” Kanesada says. The poor leaf in his hands has been torn down to its spidery veins. “You came and found me in Hakodate. And told me I told you in the future to come to Hakodate.”

That’s so odd that Yasusada forgets his annoyance. “Oh, I guess that means I go on kiwame, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I hadn’t been planning on it,” Yasusada says. No, never. Some things just weren’t for him, and kiwame was on the top of his list. He needs to go to the past in teams. He needs accountability buddies. He needs to be prevented from returning with antibiotics for Okita.

“That’s why I’m telling you,” Kanesada says. “I think you’ll have to go now. Just to make sure to preserve history.”

Yasusada spreads out his arms and legs out, like he’s making snow angels. Like he’s trying to reach for the furthest corners of the world and escape this conversation. When his limbs fall back into place, his head spins a little. This conversation will- by necessity- have to cycle again and again and again. How were they protecting history when they’d set an infinite loop into motion?

He finds himself smiling at the transgression of it all.

“I suppose so. Although it doesn’t much matter when I go, right? I could go tomorrow or I could go in a million years and the effect would still be the same.”

“I think humanity will be extinct in a million years. Or there’s a 90% chance of that or something?”

Then what’s the point of anything?

“Agh, you nerd.” Yasusada doesn’t make any promises. Instead he stuffs some leaves into Kanesada’s hair.

*

Just after he sees Okita die, though, Yasusada realizes he would have sought out Kanesada anyway.

Yasusada settles in for the long haul. He gets his own place. He works odd jobs and definitely doesn’t eat enough (sometimes, when he remembers to feel, he ends up missing things like the kabobs and caramel ice cream and harissa. Hungarian spices and Peruvian chicken. Not all these things at once, of course… unless he wants to gross out Kiyomitsu.)

And, for a year he keeps his silence as the people in his orbit wonder and worry about the outcome of the war. In winter- when his fingers and toes are half frozen and his emotions seem to be stuck below ice- he makes a discovery that should have startled him; most of the regular folks that surround him don’t care about the war. They just don’t want it to touch them. For them, the rot of war is as disastrous as tuberculosis.

A lot of things thaw in the summer, but Yasusada doesn’t. On the day he knows Hijikata has been mortally wounded, he makes his way north. The further he travels, the more people he sees fleeing in the opposite direction.

*

“Oh, it’s you!” Kanesada stares at Yasusada over the threshold. He touches the side of Yasusada’s face like he might evaporate.

“You told me to find you here.”

He follows Kanesada inside. Then there’s darkness; Yasusada face is smashed up against Kanesada’s chest as he’s pulled into an embrace.

*

Very little changes about Yasusada’s routine. He still works, sleeps, and doesn’t eat enough. Kanesada is still competitive about the chores they do together.

The big difference is that there’s someone to cling to at night. They rarely talk. They don’t need to talk.

When the leaves start falling, Kanesada and Yasusada take to sitting outside and looking up at the moon. It fills up in increments, until one evening they’re staring up at a shiny disk. He sees all the craters and knows they’ll have names eventually. He knows that in 80 years someone will be walking on that surface.

Autumns still smell like smoke to him, but tonight that worries Yasusada a little. So much in Hakodate is made out of tinder.

“I have to tell you something,” Kanesada says.

Yasusada snorts, but this time he keeps his voice gentle when he replies. “Then just tell me.”

“I want to return.”

“Oh?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Did something happen?” A stupid question and Yasusada knows it. Too much has happened in such a short amount of time.

“I guess… The season has changed.”

It’s no longer the season in which Hijikata died, Yasusada mentally supplies.

“Okay,” he says. “I think I’ll stay a little while longer, though.”

“How long?” Kanesada picks up a leaf from the ground. It’s yellow and perfectly formed. Instead of ripping it up, he hands it to Yasusada.

“I’m not sure. Days? Weeks? I like the quiet here.” Even if it’s the quiet of a battlefield centuries after the battle has ended.

“I understand,” Kanesada says, and Yasusada believes him.

“I’m gonna miss you, you know.”

“Well, we can still watch the moon together until the morning.”

Chapter Text

“Kara-bou?”

“Hmm.” There are grunts that sound like acknowledgement. There are grunts that sound like nothing at all. Ookurikara opts for the latter, right now.

“Come do Halloween with me.”

As Tsurumaru says this, a gust of wind rattles against the window. Ookurikara wonders how cold it would have to get for the glass to shatter. He’s been keeping an eye on it, particularly during that week when they’d been pinned in place by a polar vortex. So far, though, everything has held firm.

“No.”

“Are you going to say something like ‘it’s a made up holiday? ‘Cause all holidays are made up, you know.” Tsurumaru sounds especially nasal. Probably because he’s lying on his futon, his head hanging over the edge. Staring up at Ookurikara while all his blood rushes to his head. He resembles a a very pale bat, actually.

“That’s not why.” That’s not even the kind of objection he’d ever make. ‘That’s a made up holiday, let’s invent a cool new one instead!’ Something like that would be much more Sadamune’s style.

“Then why?”

“It’s February.” Holidays aren’t an area of interest for Ookurikara (not that he has much in the way of hobbies.) He’s pretty sure Halloween happens at some point in the fall, though.

“So? It’s Halloween somewhere in the space-time continuum. It’s the end of October where Mitsu-bou and Sada-chan are, actually! Meanwhile everything here is boring.”

I’m boring.” Ookurikara prides himself on honesty.

“Oh, of course you are,” Tsurumaru- who prides himself on no such thing- says. He slides down onto the floor, stands up, and tugs on Ookurikara’s shirt. “Come on. You don’t have to do anything. I’m just going to watch creepy movies and eat candy. You can just stare into space next to me on the couch.”

Lacking a compelling reason to say yes was not the same as having a reason to say no. That’s one of the unfortunate truths about life in the Citadel.

“Fine.”

*

Ookurikara finds himself steered into a room decked out in Halloween decorations. Banners, and garlands, plastic pumpkins and fake spider webs. Actually… Maybe that last thing is real. The decorations had been in storage for a while. Maybe he should check the room for black widows. Ookurikara isn’t sure if Yagen has anti-venom medications.

Tsurumaru lets go of Ookurikara. He picks up a decorative skull from the floor, makes a contemplative sound, and then places it on a bookshelf instead. As he does this, it’s hard to forget that Tsurumaru had once been buried in the earth. In a cozy grave, next to a very real set of bones.

He turns around, and meets Ookurikara’s eyes. Tsurumaru goes still, and Ookurikara isn’t about to give anything back. Not a nod, a sigh, or a laugh.

“Well, have some candy.”

“… Hmm.”

“Go ahead.” Tsurumaru gestures vaguely. There are bins of them all over the room.

Which means Tsurumaru raided the kitchens at some point.

Which means Mitsutada being away was a bonus rather than a hindrance.

Which means that maybe- possibly- Tsurumaru wanted to be alone with Ookurikara all along.

Sometimes thoughts flowed into one another with a little too much ease. This is especially true when Ookurikara is drunk. Even though he’s sober right now he finds that he needs to sit down on the couch. To ‘stare into space,’ as Tsurumaru put it. Until everything makes sense again.

Or he could just stare at a movie. The first one they watch is about birds attacking people. Ookurikara slowly works on some mint candy and thinks about how it tastes the same as toothpaste.

“What did you think?” Tsurumaru asks, once the credits roll. At some point is arm ended up on the back of the couch. His fingers are probably millimeters from Ookurikara’s shoulder.

“… I enjoyed your autobiography.”

Tsurumaru laughs and laughs… which is a problem because he was in the middle of eating candy. So his laughter turns into coughing and Ookurikara has to pat him on the back.

After Tsurumaru recovers, he flicks his fingers against Ookurikara’s forehead. Then he resumes his former position, outstretched arm and all. “You might actually be the funniest out of all of us.”

“I doubt it.”

The next movie is less than inspired. There are ghosts. There are ghosts jumping at the camera. There’s music blaring in order to remind the audience that ghosts are scary. After a quarter of an hour, Ookurikara settles into the rhythm of it. He finds that he can predict every moment in the film, especially the moments meant to be startling. It’s a little like sinking into a song with a pleasantly loud beat. Tsurumaru hands him candy throughout, which only helps matters. Peanut butter-chocolate is a pretty great flavor combination.

Tsurumaru is making annoyed sounds, though. Ookurikara won’t ask about them, though. Either he’ll be told, or he won’t. Very little will change in the grand scheme of things.

“I think this is the worst kind of horror.”

Oh, right. Ookurikara is supposed to be feeling horrified right now. “Why?”

“It’s just… things jumping out. Random surprises. It’s all pretty cheap.” Tsurumaru’s arm has definitely drifted down to Ookurikara’s shoulders now.

Ookurikara quickly zeroes in on why that sounds funny. “I think most of your surprises involve you jumping out at people.”

“I… Hmph. Yes. But I’m not the one being paid to be entertaining.” He says this up against Ookurikara’s ear. “I’m doing it to be entertained.”

The next movie is supposed to look like it was shot entirely on an old cell phone. It seems to be documenting some kind of alien invasion, but there seem to be a lot of extraneous conversations between the characters. (Not that Ookurikara has ever been great at knowing the normal amounts of conversation.)

Tsurumaru ends up sucking on a candy that looks like a ring with a bright red jewel on it. Presumably it’s something cherry flavored judging by the scent that fills the room, and the stain that adorns Tsurumaru’s lips.

And Tsurumaru smirks when he notices Ookurikara staring. “I know! Isn’t it interesting how this color looks tacky on me right now? And yet I look really cool when I’m covered in blood. But both are basically the same color!”

“You don’t look cool covered in blood.”

“Oh, is that so?”

Tsurumaru presses his lips against Ookurikara’s then. Thereby confirming that his candy had definitely been cherry flavored. They kiss their way throughout the boring movie. Hands wandering, sprawling out on the couch. When the room falls into silence- the film long since having finished- Tsurumaru starts poking Ookurikara in the side.

“Hmm?”

“I’m so scared by all the movies we watched, Kara-bou. I think you should comfort me tonight.”