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Animal Attraction

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There were few bonding experiences as effective as a near-death encounter.  When push comes to shove, people show their true colors.  On that battlefield at Sekigahara, Kasen had seen the dawn’s colors reflected in Ookurikara’s blade and at last understood: We stand on the same side of a tumultuous war.  He too, is a comrade.  And he is strong. 

Something resembling respect took hold inside him after that deployment, enough to spur him out of his shyness (as O-Sayo put it) and offer to share a drink, however disagreeable the companion.  Just the one drink.

But one drink turned to two, then three, then five—as long as Ookurikara kept pouring, Kasen kept drinking.  It might have turned into a type of contest around the third pour—it was hard to remember when he’d started feeling competitive about it—something in Ookurikara’s eyes had hinted at a challenge.

He’d just started getting comfortable, warm and loose from the sake while sitting out on the veranda under the stars, when he felt Ookurikara place a sudden hand around the back of his neck and pull him close for a kiss.  A kiss that tasted of sake and summer. 

He wasn’t drunk enough for this.

With a hard shove, he pushed Ookurikara off him and fled, stumbling most inelegantly. 

 

The next morning, Kasen took care to avoid the common areas as much as possible and especially the training dojo at the risk of causing a scene should he run into a certain brute of a sword known to frequent those areas.  No doubt, he would want an explanation for the night before.

Or would he?  Kasen frowned into the soapy water as he scrubbed the laundry with a fraction of his usual enthusiasm.  Would such a brute even care about what had happened?  Maybe he’d acted on drunken impulse and as a result, had been too drunk to remember his own actions.  Chances now seemed high that he’d say nothing at all and behave as though nothing had happened.

Somehow, the thought of that irritated him even more.  He wrung out the sheets with extra force.

“Kasen-dono,” a soft voice jolted him out of his thoughts.

“Kousetsu-dono, Souza-dono!”

Kasen bowed his head respectfully.  The older Samonji brothers had his deep respect not least of which because they were O-Sayo’s brothers, but because they were also two of the most elegant swords within the citadel.  Beauty and grace seemed to come effortlessly to them, and Kasen felt he had much to learn from their example. 

“And O-Sayo?”

“Gone on a journey,” Kousetsu replied with the barest hint of a smile.  “A personal journey to get stronger and wiser.”

“He’ll be gone for a while, but he’s promised to write,” Souza added with more obvious pride and affection.  “He didn’t want everyone to fuss, so he left in the middle of the night.  But he asked us to tell you about his departure.” 

“Ah…”

Kasen felt a tightness in his chest and tasted an unpleasant bitterness in his mouth.  Probably the sake from last night.

“You seem troubled,” Kousetsu said softly.  “I know we are poor replacements for O-Sayo, but we would be happy to lend an ear if you needed.”

“I heard the last deployment to Sekigahara was quite disturbing,” Souza added, a long, thin finger resting on his chin. 

In reply, Kasen smoothed the tightness in his brows and made himself smile.  It was best to maintain a degree of poise no matter the inner turmoils of the heart.  He always wanted to put his best face forward, and in front of these two especially. 

“It’s nothing.  I would’ve liked to see O-Sayo off on his journey, that’s all.”

Yes.  That was all.  Anything else was simply the result of alcohol and overthinking.  Ookurikara’s actions likely meant nothing at all—like a dog acting on instinct alone.  And that was fine.  He knew asking outright would probably yield no satisfying answer, but again, it didn’t matter.  Not in the least. 

Anyway, it hadn’t even been that good a kiss.

Kasen’s expectations were based on poetic descriptions of kisses, of course, but really, his heart hadn’t given even the slightest flutter.  As a drinking companion—and only that, mind—Ookurikara was wholly adequate.  That would serve. 

So later that night, Kasen bit the bullet, approached Ookurikara after dinner, and silently held out a sake cup.  Not because he was lonely without O-Sayo or in want of company.  He just wanted a drink and it was uncouth to drink alone. 

No questions, no explanations.  There was nothing to discuss.  This was just another drink. 

He hated himself for blushing when Ookurikara took the cup from him, despite what appeared to be hesitation in those golden eyes. 

He struggled to hold back his questions, indeed it seemed they were both struggling with the need to verbalize something or other.  Instead, they brought alcohol up to their lips and swallowed it down, the searing liquid burning away whatever unspoken thought lingering on their tongues.  They hissed in unison at the sharp sting in their throats—this had to be a stronger brew than the previous night’s. 

Several cups later—he’d avoided keeping track this time—Kasen knew he was drunker than the night before.  For one thing, Ookurikara appeared considerably more appealing beside him, those golden eyes glimmering like stars in the low lamplight.  He was still an unrefined boor, vulgar in speech, and absolutely inconsiderate of those around him, but to Kasen’s annoyance, he wasn’t unattractive.  There was a rugged handsomeness to his features that a poet could potentially find beauty in if they looked hard enough. 

And with favorable thoughts such as these, he was more inclined to allow Ookurikara’s advances this time, which came a little more gently the second time around.  No forceful hand on the back of his neck to draw and keep him.  This time, the initial kiss was almost chaste, just a brush of lips.  It was only when Kasen failed to pull away that Ookurikara grew bolder and deepened the contact, sucking on Kasen’s bottom lip until he opened his mouth for him.

“Ah…”

A wanton gasp escaped him.  Ookurikara handled his tongue as ferally as he handled his sword.  Had he imagined that brief gentleness from moments before?

He put a hand on Ookurikara’s shoulder but did not push him away.  He pushed back with his tongue instead, feeling competitive again, combative almost.  Why was it so impossible to have a basic, civil exchange with this beast?  Why did he always lower himself and engage? 

Almost in answer to his unspoken questions—or maybe encouraged by the small moans Kasen had let escape—Ookurikara slipped a hand into Kasen’s robes.  Rough, calloused fingers pulled open the fabric and brushed against the soft skin underneath, and Kasen pulled out of the kiss with a loud gasp.

Now this was absolutely unbecoming!  Indelicate!  Gauche!

His body was inexcusably aflame—shameless!  But a corner of his mind thankfully still held sense, undeterred by the pleasure and very much afraid of the consequences of letting things continue. 

Again, he pushed Ookurikara off him and fled without a word.

 

All right, so maybe he could get away with rejecting Ookurikara once and carry on with no explanation or apology, but twice was pushing it.  He could see where some of his own actions could be misinterpreted as carrying a tint of hypocrisy.  He understood this now he was sober.  He also understood his current hangover to be his punishment.  Then he cursed the very idea that swords could even get hangovers.

I was forged in fire and hammered into form, what is sake to think it can incapacitate me like this?!

He could appreciate the beauty of the human form well enough, but having a human body came with considerable inconveniences.  Like metabolisms. 

“Beauty is pain and comes with sacrifice,” he mumbled to himself. 

Most inconvenient of all was the heart.  The same heart that allowed him to bask in the beauty of a blossom and the music of poetry was now the same heart tormenting him with confusion and guilt.  Even if Ookurikara was a surly country bumpkin with ice in his veins, he deserved some sort of explanation by now.

Really, much of this was his own fault for not setting clear boundaries.  Of course it had been too much to expect such an uncultured sword to just understand what he’d meant with his subtleties.  Those types needed these things to be spelled out.  He had to be more explicit… Mm.  Poor choice of words.

Once the worst of his headaches had subsided and his stomach no longer felt like an overactive hamster in his abdomen, he marched directly toward the training dojo.  There he found golden eyes belong to Tsurumaru and Taikogane Sadamune, but not the Date Masamune sword he’d been seeking.

“Kara-chan?” Sadamune said cheerily.  “He was deployed this morning with Micchan and a few others.”

“A mission?”

“A resource expedition,” replied Tsurumaru.  “But isn’t this a surprise, you coming here to look for Kara-bou like this!  Did you two become close friends while we weren’t looking?”

“As usual, your jokes aren’t the least bit amusing,” Kasen said scathingly.

“Ouch!” Tsurumaru feigned hurt but he couldn’t hold back his amused grin.

Kasen fixed a smile in place and curtly bowed his head, his voice as sweet as arsenic.  “I apologize for intruding.  I’ll catch him when they return in the evening then.”

 

Once Kasen was out of earshot, Tsurumaru said in a low voice, “Even if he throws in a smile like that, Kasen can be just as cold as Kara-bou, no?”

“They’re more alike than they’d ever admit!” Sada-chan laughed.

 

Waiting all day would make him antsy, but it was partly a blessing in disguise.  He could take the time to prepare exactly what he wanted to say in a way that would be easy to understand and this way, he could keep his calm and patience and remain in control of the exchange.  Being sober would help too.

He’d simply say that he could appreciate Ookurikara as a drinking companion, that he wouldn’t mind if he wanted to reminisce about their former masters, and even on occasion, he might not mind sparring with him either.  After all, they were comrades-in-arms serving the same master now, and they couldn’t very well go about their lives in the citadel bickering and snapping at each other endlessly.  And to spend time with those unlike one’s self (even someone who was such a polar opposite) had value as an educational experience. 

Yes, he could tolerate Ookurikara’s company, but he had no interest in becoming a fling of a bedmate.  Sure, their new human bodies had certain base needs, and he could understand a lesser man succumbing to those desires.  He wouldn’t even fault him for it, but Kasen held himself to higher standards. 

Yes.

He’d apologize for letting himself slip under the alcoholic influence, but once all was said and done, the rules laid out, then they could both go back to normal. 

 

Later that evening, upon hearing that the expedition team was home, Kasen caught Ookurikara alone returning to his room and approached him, his rehearsed speech in hand.  But the second Ookurikara caught sight of him, he turned notably in the opposite direction and marched determinedly away.

“Wait!”

Kasen jostled himself into a jog to catch up with him.  This spurred Ookurikara into a run.  When Kasen picked up his pace again, so did he.  Soon, they were sprinting around the citadel in a frenzied chase, and Kasen, mortified at the thought of how ridiculous they must look, kicked it into his highest gear to catch his quarry and put an end to this.

Finally, he caught hold of Ookurikara’s wrist and, red in the face, panted, “I said… wait!!”

Ookurikara wrenched his arm free, but he didn’t run.  He too was winded now, and he’d spent all day out gathering resources.  Instead, he turned a disdainful look at Kasen. 

“Why are you chasing me?”

“I chased you because you ran!” Kasen huffed, as if it were the obvious answer. 

His rehearsed lines were gone, dissipated into the smoke they’d left in their wake as they dashed about.

“You’re the one who keeps running away.  But I guess as long as everything goes at your pace, it’s fine.”

If Kasen didn’t know better, he would’ve thought he heard hurt in Ookurikara’s voice.

“Excuse me, but you’re the one that started taking liberties!  Coming onto me with no warning or explanation—”

“What’s there to explain?”

“Well—that…” Kasen sputtered and hated himself for it.  “Why for instance!”

“…”

“This is a very poor time in which to have nothing to say!”

“I just want to!” Ookurikara growled, the blush on his cheeks hard to see on his darker skin in the dim light of late evening.  “If you don’t like it, just stay away from me.”

Kasen felt his already-thin patience snap.  The simplicity of Ookurikara’s answer incensed him.  So detached, heartless.  If only it were so easy for everyone to cut and run!  He’d been feeling guilty all day—a complete waste of his time and sympathies apparently.  But he would have satisfaction, and whether Ookurikara wanted to hear it or not, Kasen would have his say. 

“So you give no more thought to it than a rutting dog?  Ready to pounce on anything nearby when the mood strikes—don’t walk away from me when I’m talking!”

“You talk too much—”

In fact, Kasen was done talking.  Some situations boiled down to simple action, because that was the only course that made sense.  As unrefined as it was, he gave himself over to his instincts, grabbed Ookurikara by the collar, and kissed him, hungry and fierce.  It was almost like punching him.  On the mouth.  With his mouth.

Then he pulled his lips away and glared at the stunned golden orbs staring back at him, and he dared them to feel something. 

After several blinks, Ookurikara frowned and said, “Is this where you run away again?”

“Shut up.”

With a blush he couldn’t stifle, he grabbed Ookurikara’s wrist roughly and dragged him back in the direction of the citadel, fully intent on seeing things through to the end.

Well.  To a point.

As the lights of the citadel came into view and they heard the chattering voices of the many swords within, Kasen stopped in his tracks and let go of the tattooed wrist he held in his hand.  He’d see things through, but he didn’t want to be seen doing it.

Turning on his heel, he fixed another stern glare onto his face and said, “Wash up, you’re filthy, and meet me in my room.  I’m going first, don’t follow immediately after me.  Wait a few minutes, then head inside.”

Then he stomped off as gracefully as he could, missing the smirk that came to Ookurikara’s lips.

 

“Your room, huh…” he said quietly to himself.  “That means no escape for you this time.”

He hated being told what to do, so he waited only a minute, then headed straight for Kasen’s room—no point in washing up if they were just going to get dirty again. 

 

Kasen nearly jumped a foot in the air when the screen doors of his room were suddenly opened much sooner than instructed, and Ookurikara stepped inside without waiting for so much as a ‘please come in.’ 

“Excuse me!” he huffed.

Ookurikara simply propped his sword onto the closest wall and shrugged off his jacket, letting it fall to the floor along with his gloves.

“I thought I told you to go wash up first,” Kasen bristled.  Always this damned country sword caught him off-guard and on the back foot.  “Can’t you follow even simple instructions?”

With a shrug, Ookurikara drew wordlessly closer and set his mouth on Kasen’s neck, grazing his canines across the soft skin.  He smelled of wood and grass, earthy, from having just returned. 

Kasen bit back a moan and pushed lightly against Ookurikara’s shoulders to keep from being crushed by his weight.  When he felt his teeth bite down into his flesh, he hissed and shoved him off  completely. 

“Don’t mark me.”

“Tch,” Annoyance flashed in Ookurikara’s eyes.  “So fussy…”

“Fussy?!  I am not—”

He was silenced by a rough kiss, greedy lips accompanied by equally ravenous hands pushing him down onto the tatami floor, his wrists pinned down on either side of his head.  But Kasen knew how to give as hard as he got and he bit down on Ookurikara’s lip to break their lip lock. 

The Date Masamune sword grunted in pain, but he didn’t seem at all displeased by the nip.  Kasen pushed back against the weight on his wrists and his eyes flickered to the closet.

“On the floor?”

Since Ookurikara had failed to follow his earlier instructions, it meant Kasen had had no time at all to prepare the room; he hadn’t yet pulled out the futon or even prepared himself for—

“It’s fine,” came the terse reply and again, Ookurikara’s mouth found Kasen’s neck.  Perhaps to avoid being bitten again.

The hold on his wrists disappeared suddenly as the hands moved to pull open Kasen’s kimono—this time they would not be denied.  But still Kasen squirmed and struggled, partly because he still wanted to retrieve the futon and partly because he didn’t want to give in that easily.  His body reacted despite his stubbornness, wanting to lean into Ookurikara’s touches and succumb meekly to base pleasures.  There was a kind of poetry to losing oneself in the throes of passion, but it was aggravating how much control he tended to lose when in the dragon’s presence.

“The… futon… hngh!”

Those insatiable lips and teeth had found their way to a nipple while strong hands made short work of untying his hakama.  Soon, Kasen was writhing in loose swathes of fabric and every movement he made served only to further separate his clothes from his body.  And it seemed that as more and more of his flesh was laid bare, the more aggressive Ookurikara became.  He was biting him again, the shoulder this time, and Kasen used his knee this time to force a little distance between their bodies. 

“I said don’t bite me,” Kasen growled, and the low rumble made the golden eyes above him glimmer, as though excited by the challenge presented. 

“You said not to mark you.  I haven’t.”

“Must you be such an animal?”

Ookurikara merely shrugged then brought his teeth down to nip an exposed nipple and a shudder rippled through Kasen’s body.  His protests meant very little in light of his body’s responses. 

“I don’t think you actually mind,” Ookurikara murmured into the pale skin. 

“N-nonsense,” Kasen lied through gritted teeth. 

Ookurikara was everything Kasen should rightly loathe.  Far from elegant in both speech and mannerisms—no manners to speak of at all, really.  No sense of style or aesthetic—he tried to push Ookurikara aside with his knee and felt calloused fingers dig into the insides of his thighs, shoving his legs open.  He tried to struggle, but he’d been decidedly overpowered this time.  They were the same height, nearly the same age, but Ookurikara was stronger.  Infuriatingly stronger. 

Such strength inspired him, whether he cared to admit it or not.  Inspired and inflamed him, igniting a hidden passion he could no longer ignore.

He relaxed a little finally, and Ookurikara smirked down at him.

Arrogant bastard.

But the smugness lingered only briefly before a quiet hunger replaced it, and then Ookurikara was moving down, further down, and before Kasen could protest, he was taking him into his mouth.  All Kasen could do was give a strangled cry.

“Hngh!  N-no…”

He was being devoured utterly, and the wet heat around his cock seemed to burn him.  His entire body felt hot, his skin tingled, his toes curled uncontrollably—his body acted on its own now.  This human body of flesh and sinew knew somehow, knew what his steel never could—this pleasure, this lust… he arched his back off the floor and tangled his fingers into Ookurikara’s hair, pulling harshly.  He knew Ookurikara could handle it.  Hell, he probably enjoyed it. 

But when he felt a finger slide down to press against his entrance, dry as a bone, his eyes shot open and he used all his strength to wrench himself free. 

“Don’t be a brute!” he hissed, and quickly pulled out a bottle from his dresser.  He tossed it at Ookurikara who caught it deftly in one hand. 

“What is this?” he asked.

Kasen realized in slow horror what could’ve become of their night. 

“D-don’t be ridiculous!  It’s… well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Silence.

“It’s… how do you not… it—” he bit his lip.  “It’s lubricant.”

“Lubricant?” Ookurikara repeated.

“For—I can’t believe this—you were going to… to me… without lubricant?!”

“Tch!”  Anger born of embarrassment colored his voice now, and like a child throwing a tantrum, he threw the bottle back at Kasen.  “Explain it or don’t, but don’t mock me!”

“It—” Kasen felt himself grow beet red at the thought of having to give this particular lecture—such a crude topic…  “Haven’t you read any of the more… scandalous literature that’s kept in the citadel library?”

“I don’t bother with reading, I’ve only seen the books with pictures,” Ookurikara crossed his arms.  “It seems simple enough.  I put my cock in you like a sword into a sheath, what on earth—”

“Stop!  Just stop.” 

Kasen took the bottle and squeezed out a portion into his hand.  Well, he’d originally planned to do this to himself anyway while Ookurikara (theoretically) bathed.  He’d simply have to revert back to Plan A… just with an audience. 

“I’ll show you,” he whispered, looking anywhere except at the other person in the room.  Sitting up on his knees as he spread them open, he reached behind himself and pressed a slippery finger slowly inside, moaning as he felt himself stretch.

“What—” Ookurikara started but fell instantly silent when Kasen sucked in a quick breath. 

“You can’t just… these bodies need—mph!  Preparation…  I need to be stretched… and properly lubricated.  Otherwise your… sword would not fit, and I’d be in desperate need of a trip to the infirmary.”

And Yagen would have a field day.

Ookurikara crept closer, his eyes roaming over Kasen as he worked himself.  His finger was working a steady rhythm in and out between his legs as his thighs quivered with the effort to keep himself up on his knees.  His nipples were swollen and still perked up from before, and his cock leaked against his stomach.  As he pressed a second finger inside, those long eyelashes fluttered and his pretty, pink lips fell open with mewling little pants.  The Nosada blade painted quite an erotic picture before him.  Very improper, but also,

“Exquisite…” Ookurikara whispered. 

Kasen moaned (too loud) and glared in reply.  “Now you find it in you to be poetic?”

But his fingers moved only faster and his body grew only hotter now that he could see how those golden eyes were staring at him. 

“At least… make yourself useful—ah!  And strip.”  If he had to look at him, he could at least make himself worth looking at. 

For once, Ookurikara was agreeable, and without a word of his usual objections, he stood and pulled off his shirt, his pants and hip armor following soon after.  The necklace stayed.  He kicked the pile messily to one side, then stood at his full height in front of Kasen, both of them laid bare.  Nothing to hide behind now except their usual banter.

“Ah…”

Another lovely moan escaped Kasen’s lips as his fingers worked, and Ookurikara closed the distance between them in two, swift strides.  He grabbed Kasen’s chin with his tattooed hand and forced him to face upward so he could look into his eyes.

Kasen shook his head free—still feeling a degree of determination not to just let Ookurikara have his way with him. 

Three fingers now.  Soon he’d…  He looked between Ookurikara’s legs and considered what he saw there.  It was as hard and as erect as it could be, honest about its desire despite the impassive face Ookurikara wore.  It was a good size to fill him…

Against his better judgment and caught by a sudden impulse, Kasen took Ookurikara’s length into his mouth, pleased to hear how the brute groaned and hissed, seized by sensation.  How much control could he wrestle away from him this way? 

“Hngh!  K-Kasen…” 

He paused abruptly.  He’d never heard Ookurikara say his name.

A soft touch caressed his face and Kasen let his eyes trail upward.  The golden eyes that looked down at him seemed almost affectionate.  A tattooed hand moved to gently pull loose the ribbon in his hair, and Kasen’s locks fell down in disarray across his face.  He moaned against the cock in his mouth, ignoring the tightness in his chest. 

Such tenderness was short-lived.  The same hand that had been so careful with the ribbon now gripped his hair tight and pulled roughly as Ookurikara thrust his hips forward into Kasen’s mouth, choking him.

“!!!”

He pulled his fingers immediately out and used both hands to push back against Ookurikara’s hips, coughing and gasping for air as his mouth was freed. 

“You… beast!” he spat.  Not even a warning!

“You seemed to enjoy having me in your mouth,” came Ookurikara’s reply, though his tone was not unkind.

Kasen shook his head.  This was why he never acted on impulse.  He had only himself to blame for this.

“…it felt good,” Ookurikara added.

“Tactless,” Kasen said, scowling.  “Crude and indelicate.  Absolutely vulgar.”

This made Ookurikara lose his patience again.  In a swift motion, he stood behind Kasen and spread his ass with one hand.  “Are you ready here yet?”

“Don’t just—ahh!!”

An experimental finger had suddenly been shoved inside, robbing Kasen of his words.  And just as quickly as it had been pushed in, it was pulled out again. 

“So the lubricant does help,” Ookurikara observed as he rubbed his slippery fingers together.  Feeling it against his skin like this, he understood the benefit of it now.

“Hopeless…” Kasen mumbled to himself.

“So are you ready or what?”

“You—hmph!”  He was not about to beg for such things!

Instead he threw the lubricant at Ookurikara (with considerable force).  “Use it on yourself before you… enter.”

Then he wordlessly got down on his hands and knees, his back to him.

In this position, he couldn’t help but feel mildly humiliated even if Ookurikara had done nothing himself to try and demean him.  It was odd.  His usual behavior could undoubtedly be categorized as mean and insensitive, but his behavior throughout this rendezvous had seemed mostly… clueless.  He was simply an unrefined virgin with no understanding of simple gentleness, proving himself the wild animal Kasen thought him to be.  This aroused Kasen against all logic—his agitation could not be separated from his lust, and he wanted all of Ookurikara’s brute strength pounding into him. 

He would never breathe a word of such lecherous thoughts aloud.  Such things were best left unspoken for they added nothing of beauty to the world.

“Ah… ah!  Ahh!”

What he voiced instead were the cries he couldn’t stifle as he felt Ookurikara enter him, spreading him open.  A fullness like this was a sensation he’d never experienced, and his body trembled all over, his breath coming in ragged, shallow gasps.  It was all so terribly inelegant, but it set him aflame nevertheless. 

The cool metal of Ookurikara’s pendant brushed against the skin of his back moments before he felt hot lips upon him, kissing him between his shoulder blades.  A stray hand trailed its way up his side to pinch and pull at his nipples, and Kasen groaned, letting his head fall forward as he took in slow, ragged breaths. 

He’d fully expected for Ookurikara to begin thrusting the second he entered him, but instead a strange stillness had taken hold.  He was being kissed and caressed tenderly, almost lovingly, and Kasen’s brows furrowed in disapproval.  He shifted his hips slightly to signal that it was ok to move and heard Ookurikara groan behind him.  No, not groan.  Whine.  He was feeling it, perhaps more than either of them expected, and suddenly Kasen realized that Ookurikara’s body was shaking against his own. 

Well this wouldn’t do.

“Don’t tell me you’re finished already,” he teased, as condescendingly as he could despite their relative positions.

“Shut up,” Ookurikara mumbled into his back, though there wasn’t a hint of animosity in his voice.

This was not what Kasen wanted.  He hadn’t taken the dragon to bed only to have him behave like a lovestruck pup. 

“I should’ve expected you’d be a disappointment.”

That was enough to get a growl in response—good—then Ookurikara gripped Kasen’s hips with both hands, hard enough to bruise, and began a steady pace of thrusting in and out.  The first several had Kasen biting down on his lip to keep from making too much noise—sudden heat and friction after being so motionless had him reeling, even if it was a little clumsy at first.  It wasn’t long until they were both reduced to little more than sweat and hot flesh, panting and moaning with abandon, their thoughts turned simple and fixated only on release.  It was carnal, the furthest thing from the elegance and beauty Kasen so highly prized.

He was reaching a keening pitch now, whimpering as Ookurikara went only faster.  He had just reached between his legs in order to finish himself when Ookurikara suddenly pulled out of him, leaving his hole empty and aching.

“What—”

And then those brutish hands were turning him over onto his back and lifting his legs up into a position Kasen was not prepared for.

“Wait!  Not—ah!”

Ookurikara buried himself inside in one smooth thrust, hitting a spot within that had Kasen seeing stars. 

“Ngh!  N-no…”

He pushed against Ookurikara’s chest to try and remove his weight, but his mouth was on his neck again, sucking and biting, undoubtedly marking him now.  His struggling hands were pinned down to the floor as Ookurikara began thrusting recklessly again, this time with an annoyingly high success rate for hitting that sweet spot inside that left Kasen breathless and utterly unable to resist. 

He felt he might go mad from the pleasure, that he’d tip over the edge and become so completely unlike himself that he could never return to being a creation of grace—he’d lost control yet again.  Ookurikara had taken it in that brusque way he took anything he wanted.

He tried to form words, but he was silenced with a merciless kiss that swallowed his protests.  He tore his face away—the kisses were too tender, too full of something he wasn’t ready to allow. 

“Tch!”

Frustrated by Kasen’s defiance, Ookurikara began thrusting with abandon, moaning nearly as loudly as Kasen, seized by a fever he’d never felt, not even on the battlefield.

A thought—not inside—occurred too late to be voiced.  Kasen gave a voiceless cry as his entire body was racked by the waves of his orgasm, and the hot liquid he felt spilling into him seemed only to heighten the throes of it.

He’d said no marks, and yet…

But Ookurikara too was an absolute mess above him, eyes half-lidded from exhaustion and his hair clinging to his sweat-soaked skin.  He looked filthy—no.  They were both filthy now, and Kasen turned away when he realized how long they’d both been looking at the other.

“Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?”

“You like being stared at,” Ookurikara said.  “Like a work of art.”

Naked, covered in his own fluids and filled with those of another, yet now he had the decency to blush.  Disgraceful. 

“Not like this, I’m not,” Kasen groaned as Ookurikara slowly pulled out of him.

As mortified as he was to feel someone else’s semen leaking out of him, he felt the greater shock when Ookurikara kissed his cheek before laying atop him.

He shoved him off immediately.

“No.  It’s too hot; we’re sticky and disgusting.”

Rolling his eyes, Ookurikara reached for his shirt to run it over himself as a makeshift towel before tossing it in with Kasen’s laundry.

“Don’t put your dirty clothes into my laundry,” Kasen mumbled as sleep threatened to overtake him.

“What does it matter when all the citadel laundry gets put out and done together anyway?”

Kasen grunted his displeasure all the same despite the logic.

“You’ll go chasing after Yamanbagiri to wash his cloak but not my shirt?”

“…”

“It’s got your cum on it.”

“Ngh!”

Kasen fumbled for whatever was nearest—his hakama—and flung it in Ookurikara’s direction.  “So crude… Is it your goal to make every bedmate regret laying with you?”

This seemed to give Ookurikara considerable pause, and he turned toward Kasen slowly.

“Every?” he repeated.

Kasen slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position, grimacing at the slight twinge in his lower back and the sticky wetness between his legs.  It was difficult to discern the actual question behind that word when all he wanted to do was soak into a hot bath.  But before he could decipher it, Ookurikara filled the silence.

“I haven’t done this with anyone else.”

Ah.  Yes that.  Well, several things throughout the evening had given that away.

“Yes, well… for future reference, it’s best not to—”

“Do you expect me to do this with others?”

Kasen blinked.  “If… if you—well I couldn’t really stop you—"

“Are you going to do this with others?”

“It’s not really your business whether I do or don’t, now is it?” Kasen snapped.

Ookurikara opened his mouth to argue but couldn’t seem to find the words he wanted, so he frowned, almost pouting.  Kasen felt a small pang of guilt and found himself frowning along with him, which was ridiculous. 

“Who else have you done this with?”  Ookurikara pressed.

“I am not going to deign to answer—"

“What if I want to do this again with you?”

Kasen found himself speechless.  No, he thought.  That would be simply impossible.  This was meant to be a one-time affair, meant to sate his curiosities so that he could move on with his life and not constantly have Ookurikara on his mind.  A chemical attraction between opposites, that was all.  And they were indeed opposites in so many ways, in every way—Kasen couldn’t fathom doing this ever again, much less turning it into anything regular.  To what, make them lovers?  Him?  With this backwater Tohoku sword?  Ridiculous.

But he could say none of these things.

What he said instead was, “…don’t you dare tell anyone.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Emotions were difficult.  Partly because they had all been originally little more than folded bits of steel, and partly because even after developing a soul, Ookurikara’s very personality ended up as one that struggled with feelings.  Many of the other sword warriors had developed souls that allowed them to process emotions better, including the other three Date swords, his longest companions.  Maybe they had bigger hearts, he couldn’t be sure.   

What he understood was that he was currently quite frustrated.  Buried to the hilt inside a panting, moaning Kasen, he wasn’t sexually frustrated, that was for certain.  But in all other ways, Kasen refused him at every turn, wanting little more from him than his cock.  Kasen refused his touches, his clumsy attempts at flattery, and his kisses especially.  He’d allow Ookurikara’s lips on most areas of his body, but not the face—never the lips.  No matter how many times he’d held him (and they were getting up to a fair number now), Kasen insisted on maintaining a careful distance.  He didn’t want affection, only physical pleasures, only release. 

And that should’ve been fine.  Ookurikara didn’t know his own heart well enough to be able to promise anything more.  Yet what little more he wanted to give was stubbornly rejected.  And this frustrated him.   

He could hear Kasen’s cries take on a keening pitch—he was close now.  He reached out to cradle Kasen’s face gently in one hand, and the Nosada blade brusquely turned his head away. 

“Tch,” Ookurikara scowled. 

Then he dug his fingers into the undersides of Kasen’s thighs and pulled his hips up without warning, adjusting their angle so that he could pound in and out relentlessly, thrusting hard enough to bruise.  Kasen clamped both hands over his mouth to keep from screaming too loudly, and a corner of Ookurikara’s mind began to fancy the idea of the entire citadel hearing them.  Then everyone would know about their secret rendezvous, and they’d know the oh-so-elegant Kasen Kanesada sounds like when he loses his precious control.  And they’d also all know that he, Ookurikara, was the one responsible.   

“Hngh!!” he grunted low and loud as he came with a few more solid thrusts, and realized only then that Kasen had already come, possibly minutes before, and he’d been too busy with other thoughts to notice.   

Kasen’s grey eyes were clouded over, consumed in the heat of his extended orgasm, tears pricking at the edges of his long lashes.  Ookurikara reached out to wipe away a stray line of tears, and Kasen—even as dazed as he was—weakly slapped his hand away.  Rebuffed again.   

Annoying, Ookurikara thought.  It was annoying and it was... something else he couldn’t quite name yet.  So with a sigh, he pulled out none too gently and laid himself down on the futon beside Kasen.  Could he get away with a short nap maybe?  He was only on gardening duty... 

But a long finger began poking insistently into his shoulder, and he cracked one eye open to see Kasen frowning down at him.  He’d really perfected the art of the disapproving glare.   

“Don’t you dare fall asleep, we both have places to be.”  

Feeling suddenly defiant, Ookurikara rolled over so that he was lying on top of Kasen, arms wrapped around his waist in a suffocating hug, and buried his face into the crook of Kasen’s neck and shoulder. 

“Wh-what do you think you’re doing?!” Kasen shrieked and squirmed—as elegant beings do when confronted with the unexpected, obviously—and pushed at Ookurikara’s shoulders. 

“Get... get off me!  This!  This is...!” 

“—inelegant,” Ookurikara mumbled into Kasen’s neck, the smallest of smirks playing on his lips.  For such a loquacious being, his vocabulary became remarkably limited when upset.  Limited and predictable. 

“Oh you—get... We are not... get off!!” 

A knee went crashing into Ookurikara’s ribs and he immediately rolled off and away with a colorful swear falling from his lips.  Kasen hadn’t exactly held back, and if his sword had been anywhere within reach... 

“Now get dressed and get out!” Kasen huffed without an ounce of sympathy.  He really was the sword of the hardhearted Hosokawa Tadaoki... really, who was the brute? 

With a groan, Ookurikara gathered his clothes and pulled them on, feeling now a touch... wounded?  Kicked?  Well, he had been kicked, so that made sense.  It was mostly frustration still, just a slightly different variation now.  Whatever it was, he wouldn’t be able to make sense of it here in this room.  Not with Kasen glaring daggers.   

With a last grunt, he slipped out of Kasen’s room, quietly closing the shoji behind him, only to run straight into Izuminokami as soon as he turned the corner.   

“Oh—sorry!  ...Ookurikara?  What are you doing in this part of the citadel?” 

It was a fair question, given that the Date swords’ rooms were near the other side of the compound.  And he was nowhere near the gardens for his assigned chores either.  He scrambled for an excuse, eventually answering with, “...nothing.”  

“...” 

“...” 

Izuminokami failed utterly at hiding his confusion, but Ookurikara’s lips were firmly sealed, offering no further explanation.   

“Ok... uh, is Kasen in his room by any chance?” 

“Yeah, he’s...” again, Ookurikara’s tongue went still as his mind worked frantically to try and catch up with the situation.   

If he sent Izuminokami into Kasen’s room right at this moment, Kasen might be caught still in the nude possibly, or changing... or otherwise indisposed. 

“He’s sleeping,” he said quickly. 

“Sleeping?” Izuminokami raised an eyebrow.  “In the middle of the day?” 

“He’s sick,” Ookurikara added impatiently.  He wasn’t good with improvisation. 

“Sick?!” Now both eyebrows shot up.  “Sick with what?  I didn’t even think our bodies could get sick!  Does the master know about it?  Has he been looked at?” 

He stepped forward to move past, but Ookurikara stepped sideways to block his way.  “He just needs a little extra rest.  Don’t disturb him.” 

“But...” Izuminokami took several bewildered steps backward.  That tone of voice had sounded oddly... protective.  “Did you—” 

“I have to go,” Ookurikara cut in suddenly, now shoving quickly past to try and make his exit.  Izuminokami asked too many questions for his liking, and the only reason that any of his terrible lies held sway was because the younger Kanesada was naïve and gullible.   

“Oh—sorry to keep you...” 

Something in that voice gave Ookurikara pause, despite himself.  He was learning sympathy perhaps... And he supposed it was only natural for Izuminokami to be worried about his... cousin?  Uncle?  They were family, after all.  Which then made Izuminokami and himself a sort of... With an awkward cough, he turned and gave Izuminokami a firm nod of his head.  “He’ll be fine.”   

But what Ookurikara had considered a reassuring gesture only further baffled Izuminokami, who walked away from Kasen’s room after that in something of a daze.  Maybe they could get sick after all, and maybe Ookurikara was a little out of it today too.  He decided he’d ask Kunihiro—after all, his partner had manifested much earlier, and maybe he knew a little more.  He usually did. 

 


 

“Kunihiro, do you know if we can get... sick?” Izuminokami asked worriedly as they gathered supplies from the shed.   

They had stable duty today, and after the events of the morning, he was starting to think he’d need to take extra care when washing his hands after.   

“Sick?” Horikawa raised an eyebrow.  “As in... fatigued?  Or do you mean corrupted?”  These were philosophical discussions Horikawa expected from other swords at other times, not from Kane-san during citadel chores.   

“No, I mean like...” Izuminokami frowned.  “More like Okita Souji, or... You know how our master gets sometimes?  With the runny nose and the coughing?  I mean like that.” 

“Oh!” Horikawa’s shoulders immediately relaxed.  “Well I suppose it’s not impossible, although I’ve never seen it.”   

“Never?” Izuminokami repeated. 

Horikawa lightly shook his head as they continued onward.  “No.  None of us go that long between deployments, and we always get fixed right after with whatever magic the master has.  It heals our wounds and cures our fatigue, so it probably also prevents us from getting ill in the same way humans do.  Why do you ask?”   

“Well it’s just that—Kasen!”  

A little ways ahead, they found the ever familiar sight of Kasen hanging the laundry out to dry, his mood seemingly quite cheery.  He turned to them with a smile and a graceful wave.   

“Oh, it’s you two!” 

“Are you feeling better already?” Izuminokami came close—too close for Kasen’s liking—squinting his eyes and staring into Kasen’s face to try and discern his health.  He did seem fine... 

With a patient smile, Kasen pushed lightly against Izuminokami’s shoulder to put some distance between them.  “Better?  What do you mean?” 

“Well Ookurikara said this morning—just outside your room—” 

The color drained from Kasen’s face, his usually serene expression quickly morphing into one filled with a unique terror.  Izuminokami failed to notice, but Horikawa couldn’t not notice.   

“This morning I went by your room, but he told me I shouldn’t disturb you because you were feeling ill, and I just thought—ow!!” 

Horikawa forced a laugh as he pushed his weight into Izuminokami’s side (only a little sorry for the kick against his ankles), determined to steer him away from the conversation.  He gave Kasen a knowing look, but said nothing.   

“Sorry, you’ll have to excuse us, we really do need to get going...” 

“Well don’t let me keep you!” Kasen hurriedly added. 

But Izuminokami dug in his heels for one more long look.  “You are ok, right?  You shouldn’t push yourself too hard if—” 

“I appreciate your concern, Izuminokami!” Kasen said overly loudly as he turned back to the laundry, which was now very much a high priority activity.  “But I’m fine, as you can plainly see.  Anyway, you shouldn’t concern yourself with whatever nonsense might escape the mouth of some backwater Tohoku sword.” 

“But—” 

“Let’s go, Kane-san!” And then Horikawa smiled that one particular smile that sent chills down Izuminokami’s spine and he knew it was time to stop arguing. 

They left Kasen to his work (he was scrubbing those sheets rather furiously now) and went on their way, and once they were out of earshot, Izuminokami whispered, “Are you sure he’s ok?” 

“Trust me, Kane-san,” Horikawa winked.  “He’s absolutely fine.” 

 


 

That evening at dinner, Kasen gave Ookurikara a look from across the room, a look that said: I’m going to murder you slowly and painfully...  And so Ookurikara excused himself from his table rather early to step outside.  Even with his limited social skills, he could guess by now that Kasen probably wanted to talk to him.  Or he wanted especially rough sex.  It was a toss-up, really.  Angry and horny so often went together for Kasen.   

It took several minutes before Kasen joined him outside (for two reasons: first, to keep up the appearance that they almost never interacted, and second, because Kasen liked to keep him waiting) and another half a second for him to start whisper-screaming.   

“I can’t believe you!  Of all the idiotic, bull-headed...” 

Ookurikara folded his arms and Kasen, now suddenly psychic, added, “Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me!” 

Reverse psychology was a struggle, but Ookurikara somehow managed to keep his eyes facing forward.   

“You’re upset,” he said. 

A vein twitched in Kasen’s forehead.  “Of course I’m upset!!  You really are an imbecile, you do know that?!” 

 

 

“Do you hear that?” Izuminokami suddenly stopped Horikawa in the hall.  “It sounds like Kasen.” 

Horikawa’s lips pulled into a thin line.  “It’s none of our business, Kane-san.  We should just head to dinner—” 

But Izuminokami was already heading toward the faint voices, and Horikawa had little choice but to follow swiftly on his heels.  It felt oddly like he was trying to prevent a child from learning that the adults in his life had sex, but maybe it was better for him to know.  Anyway, couples never stayed a secret for long in the citadel, and they knew of a few others in their own regular company of swords. 

It was just that none of them were related to Kane-san.   

 

 

“You could at least tell me what I did first,” Ookurikara shot back, quickly losing what little patience he had.  “As far as I know, you’re yelling at me because I didn’t separate my colors and whites.” 

“Don’t be daft, you know what you did!” 

“I really don’t!” A growl slipped into Ookurikara’s voice as he began to match Kasen’s increasing volume. 

 

 

“I think I just heard Kara-chan...” Taikogane’s head whipped in the direction of the sound, senses suddenly on high alert as if scouting for enemies.  “I think he’s yelling at someone...” 

“Oh no,” Shokudaikiri sighed beside him.  “We should probably go find him and break it up then.” 

“Maybe Kara-bou is just making some new friends?” Tsurumaru grinned.  “He’s been spending less and less time with us lately, I’ve noticed.”   

“If that were true, Tsuru-san, that would indeed be quite the surprise,” Shokudaikiri said with a wry smile.  “But somehow I doubt it.”   

 

 

“For someone so terse and anti-social, you’re horrible at keeping your mouth shut!  Izuminokami might not have realized it, but Horikawa is now more than aware of what's between us—” 

“I don’t see why it matters.  We’re not forbidden from having lovers around here.” 

 

 

From around the corner... 

“Did he just say ‘lovers?’  As in...” 

“Kane-san, shh!!” 

 

 

And from around another corner... 

“You guys heard that too, right?  My ears aren’t messed up?” 

“Oh my goodness...” 

“Now this is definitely what I call a surprise!”  

 

 

“You and I are not lovers, I’ve made that very clear—” 

“So then what are we, given how many times I’ve fucked you by now?” Ookurikara asked in hushed, low tones, drawing close and bringing his face inches away from Kasen’s.  His frustrations from the morning were bubbling up again, and he could make no better sense of them now than he could hours ago.  But he understood that under the aggravation, he was... tired.  Tired of Kasen’s constant denial. 

Kasen stood his ground and glared.  “Must you always be so... vulgar?!” 

“You seem to like that.”   

A tattooed hand reached out and seized Kasen’s wrist, not that he’d been in any danger of running away.  Of course he wouldn’t.  He loved the challenge.   

 

 

“Kunihiro, I think we should go.  We shouldn’t be eavesdropping on this.” 

But Horikawa’s feet remained rooted to the spot, eyes wide and ears perked.  He absentmindedly waved Kane-san's hand away.  “Shhh...” 

 

 

 
“Well if anyone was going to be a match for our Kara-bou...” 

“Are we... still gonna break this up?  Micchan?” 

Shokudaikiri very slowly held up a finger to his lips, his one golden eye nearly glazed over with shock.  “No, I... I’m pretty sure we should stay out of this.”   

“But certainly we should still keep watch!” Tsurumaru could scare contain his glee.   

 

 

Kasen narrowed his eyes.  “Insufferable... I’m only going to say this once.  Stay away from Izuminokami.” 

Ookurikara’s grip loosened a little as he gave this statement pause, turning it over in his mind and trying to understand its implications.  It was sometimes difficult to know exactly what Kasen was saying, he spoke in so many layers.   

“Are you being protective of him or... is this jealousy?”  

“Jealous?!  Why on earth would I be jealous of—” 

He leaned in closer now, his other hand reaching up to cradle Kasen’s cheek, a tender gesture he knew the Kanesada sword would hate.  “I have no intention of sleeping with him.” 

“Your ability to misunderstand everything really is—” 

“It’s you.  Only you.” 

Kasen’s cheek flared a bright red and he jerked backward, but Ookurikara’s grip on his wrist held him tight.   

“I keep telling you, we’re not—” 

Something snapped in Ookurikara then and he let go of Kasen suddenly.  Tempering his usual instinct to simply lash out, he wondered what might happen if he pulled away.  The constant struggle was proving wearisome now.   

“Then go,” he said, without a hint of malice.  “Walk away from me right now, and I’ll never bother you again.” 

“I...” Kasen bit his lip. 

He knew he should take this opportunity and leave.  Whatever was between himself and Ookurikara had dragged on for too long already.  He’d only meant for it to happen one time.  Every time was supposed to be the last time.  But he... he couldn’t leave now.  Against all logic, against all of his better instincts, he found himself inexorably drawn to this crude, vulgar, coarse, indecent, savage, inelegant sword and he...  

Ookurikara waited.  And waited.  And still Kasen remained, his expression positively tortured.  Something was changing inside of him, and maybe it wouldn’t be enough to make Kasen consider being more open about the attraction between them, but it was a step in the direction he wanted.  Ookurikara’s frustrations shifted and slid away, leaving him feeling now quite... satisfied 

With a smirk, he turned to leave. 

“Wait, where are you going?” Kasen called after him. 

But Ookurikara simply shrugged and moved on, pausing only a moment to allow Kasen to follow.  Which he did.   

Chapter Text

It was a perfect afternoon, Kasen thought to himself.  A beautiful spring day set to a temperature that could only be described as  perfect , accentuated with soft, cool breezes that cooled without chilling and helped to add a perfectly gentle rustling of leaves in the trees.  Kasen sat with O- Sayo  sipping perfectly brewed tea on the roof on a perfect afternoon and smiled at the clear blue sky so hard it made his face hurt. 

“Isn’t it just a perfect day—” he began, with a tone most people could only muster on early Monday mornings. 

“Please stop,” came Sayo's immediate reply.  “You’re brooding and trying, very badly, to hide it.” 

Kasen sputtered around his tea.  “Br-br-brooding?!  Me??  Why on earth would I on such a perfect—” 

“You’ve called it ‘a perfect day’ five times in the last three minutes we’ve been up here.”  

“Oh... have I now?”  Funny how he couldn’t quite recall saying it all those times.  “Well, it is such a perf... um.  A rather nice day.”   

“Whenever you get stuck on an adjective like that, it means you’re brooding,” Sayo sighed.  If he had to hear the word ‘perfect’ one more time, he’d go volunteer himself for immediate stable-cleaning duty.  People rarely had such cheery things to say while shoveling horse manure.  “Did you have a fight with Ookurikara-san?”  

Kasen shifted in his seat and took a sudden, pointed interest in a bird preening its wings in a nearby tree.  “I don’t know what you could possibly mean.” 

“Everyone already knows about you two so you’re not fooling anyone.” 

That at last removed the forced-smile off Kasen’s face, which now sank into a genuine, sullen pout.  He hunched over his tea.   

“...everyone?” 

“Yes.” 

“Even—” 

“Yes, even Izuminokami-san.”    

Kasen desperately wanted to ask how, though he could probably maybe guess, and at the same time, he didn’t really want to know.  “Well if everyone already knows, then there’s really nothing to discuss.” 

Something told Sayo that that statement wasn’t really directed at him, so he kept careful watch on Kasen without a response, knowing that the persistent silence would encourage him to elaborate.  Kasen could be stubborn at the best of times, but he very rarely left Sayo without an explanation for his actions.  After all, in some ways they were more family than Kasen was with Izuminokami.   

“It was only ever supposed to be a one-time-thing, but now it’s turned into something resembling an arrangement or worse... I really should’ve stopped it before it got this far, it’s my fault, I know it, but... I’ve made it quite clear, repeatedly I might add, that we are not,  absolutely not , whatever he thinks we are or hopes we are—who would’ve ever thought a brute like him would even consider such  sentimental things?!  Had I known, I’m sure I never would’ve... Well.  Maybe not never.  But perhaps not with such... Anyway, now he’s being ever so pushy about...” he lowered his voice to a fraction above a whisper.  “...advertising to everyone precisely the thing that we are not, which would give everyone the wrong idea about our relationship, that is, the relationship we do not have, but now you tell me that everyone already has the wrong idea, so now I suppose I’ll have to prepare myself for some damage control.”   

Sometimes it was hard for Sayo to decide which was worse between a brooding-and-therefore-quiet-with-limited-vocabulary Kasen and an overly-talkative-but-honest-with-his-feelings Kasen.   

“Why are you so afraid to admit that you like him?” 

“I’m not afraid,” Kasen huffed. 

“Liar.” 

“And I don’t like him!” The jump in octave really spoke to his candor.   

“I thought poets were supposed to be more honest with their feelings.” 

That made Kasen bristle with shame—it was just like O-Sayo to hit him where it hurt most.  And it was true, his writing had been suffering of late.  Even his conversation, given how stuck he was on the word perfect earlier... Probably from too much time spent with other, less cultured company.   

“If I can admit how I feel about you, I don’t understand how you can’t.” 

“I can’t, because I don’t,” Kasen corrected with a glare.  “I don’t much care what you think you feel, but whatever it is, would it kill you to keep it to yourself?  I don’t see why you feel the need to subject everyone else in the citadel to it.  It’s so—” 

Kasen fell immediately silent as a small group of tantou skipped past them, chattering happily away.  Once they were out of earshot, he resumed.  “It’s indecent.” 

But Ookurikara had long overcome his irritation for Kasen’s criticisms—he only half meant them anyway—and instead of replying, simply took his hand and gingerly laced their fingers together.   

“!!!”  Kasen went a fierce shade of red. 

“This is indecent?”  

Hearing voices around the corner, Kasen wrenched his hand free and fled.   

“O-Sayo, you’re absolutely right,” a newfound determination took hold of Kasen.  “My head’s been a mess, and that’s precisely why my writing, my poet’s spirit, has suffered.  I see now that I need to re-discipline myself and commit fully to my art!” 

Sayo had learned much on his kiwame journey that had matured him and stabilized him emotionally.  Now that he was more settled about himself, he could better see and understand those around him, and it had led to some unfortunate realizations about those closest to him.  Kasen could be rather inconsistent with his feelings, and at times it could be quite pathetic to watch.   

But Sayo had also learned how to be more nuanced with his words, and he realized how much his longtime friend needed right now to hear them.   

“Kasen.” 

“Yes, O-Sayo?” 

“You’re an idiot.” 

 


 

 

Truth be told, Kasen took great offense at being called an idiot when the truest idiot of all this trouble was Ookurikara, and the trouble was that Kasen valued his privacy too much to be able to prove it.  If that brusque, backwater Tohoku sword would just stop insisting that they ‘do as they please regardless of everyone else’s opinions and flaunt their... status... they’d be fine.  But no, he wanted to hold hands, kiss him in public areas, cuddle after sex, and stay long hours in his room just to laze around and do nothing except be an eyesore.  And Kasen simply would not indulge Ookurikara’s frivolities because the two of them weren’t... well, they just weren’t! 

And as insightful as O-Sayo could be sometimes, Kasen was absolutely not afraid.   

Fear implied ignorance.  But he knew exactly what Ookurikara was: an uncultured, inelegant brute.  Perhaps at times he displayed a hint of extra emotional depth... Kasen had never forgotten the look on his face when he had been confronted with Date Masamune at Sekigahara.  Certainly, he had strength.  And courage of a sort.  Kasen knew all of these things.   

Fear also implied the presence of a threat.  And as strong as Ookurikara was, Kasen did not think of him as a threat.  He was an annoyance, an aggrievance, a strange sort of addiction even...  At most, he was a threat to Kasen’s reputation, but little beyond.   

As if summoned by Kasen’s rambling thoughts, Ookurikara then appeared around the corner of the hallway beside Shokudaikiri, both of them sweaty and covered in soil and smelling oddly of sunflowers.  Kasen’s lips pulled into a thin line—honestly, what on earth was there to fear? 

“Ah, Kasen-kun!” Shokudaikiri waved, as friendly as ever and in stark contrast to his fellow Date sword.  “We have some lovely vegetables that’ve just ripened if you wanted to discuss tonight’s dinner—ah...”  

His golden eye flickered briefly between Kasen and Ookurikara and he added with a nervous laugh, “But you don’t have to meet me in the kitchen right away!  Whenever you’re ready; I need to wash up first anyhow.”  

He then abruptly took Ookurikara’s basket as well and shuffled off in that hurried way that tried (and failed) to look like a casual exit, and Kasen felt a vein twitch in his temple.   

Everyone already knows about you two...  

This wasn’t how he wanted to be known.   

He turned on his heel to follow immediately after the tachi, but a sudden hand on his wrist stopped him.   

Kasen wrenched it back with a glare and huffed, “Don’t touch me, you’re filthy!”  

Something that looked suspiciously like hurt flashed across Ookurikara’s eyes—if Kasen had blinked, he might have missed it.  He wished he’d missed it.  Exasperation quickly took its place however, and the Date sword clicked his tongue with a scowl.   

“Why do you always have to be like that?” 

Kasen turned up his nose.  “You’ll have to excuse me for not wanting your soiled hands anywhere near me shortly before I go to cook everyone’s dinner.”  He thought a moment then added, “And I don’t appreciate you laying hands on me so casually.”   

Ookurikara took a step forward.  “Then how should I place my hands on you?” 

There was the usual challenge in his tone, the impertinence Kasen was used to by now, but underneath was also something... warm and almost playful that made Kasen weak in the knees and which he could not allow.  They were getting too close to crossing a boundary beyond which Kasen didn’t know what to expect.  Every lingering touch, every playful jab, every half-smile, every familiar gesture brought them closer and closer to it in a way that laying together never could.   

“Never,” his voice cracked.  He cleared his throat and tried again.  “Never again.”   

“What do you mean ‘never?’” Ookurikara was smirking; he didn’t sense Kasen’s fear. 

“It means exactly what it means, you simple-minded dolt.  Yes, I... I rather think I’ve indulged your whims long enough, and we—this,” he gestured at the air between them.  “...is over.” 

“Kasen—” There was fear now in Ookurikara too.   

That almost made him stop, it did, it really did.  Kasen couldn’t really recall if Ookurikara had ever said his name, and certainly not with such pitiful longing.  But Kasen had resolved that he would not be moved, he’d make himself a mountain and stand firm against the wind, the rains, against raging storms, and against the dragon’s fiery wrath, he would not budge.   

He left without another word, and Ookurikara made no attempt to stop him.  It seemed the dragon had no fire after all, and Kasen tried not to think how that was such a shame. 

 


 

 

Over the next week, Kasen poured hours into reading new literature, meditation, gardening, assisting Hasebe with the accounts, reorganizing the library, extra meal planning with Shokudaikiri, calligraphy, tea with Mikazuki or Uguisumaru... He’d take notes from the new modern literature the tantou suggested he read called manga, which was a fascinating combination of illustration and text that proved quite addicting when the stories were written well.  He took the flowers he picked from gardening with O- Sayo  to practice ikebana in his room and then leaving the lovely flower arrangements for the saniwa in their office.  His calligraphy was in much need of practice—some of the ink in his bottles had nearly dried out from neglect, but he recovered most of them well enough.  He let the tantou observe whenever they wanted, so long as Gokotai kept his tigers in check.  And lest all work and no play make Kasen dull, he took the time to enjoy long, leisurely afternoon tea sessions with some of the more cultured minds of the citadel.   

Oh, he’d neglected so much in his time spent with Ookurikara!  No, he corrected, time wasted.  His mind was rejuvenated, it had been so starved for art and stimulation (the kind that didn’t frustrate or anger him), but of course, he’d been denying his essential nature as a sword of the arts!  Hindsight was so clear. 

Yet every day when he set his mind to composition, it drew a blank.  The words would not come, the poetry was still lost.  Crumpled paper littered his room and the mess distracted him further, but perhaps no distraction was greater than Ookurikara coming by his room nearly every night, sometimes knocking, sometimes not.  Kasen would either explicitly deny him entry or quietly wait for him to leave, his heart growing cold as the footsteps grew distant.  The Date sword was being shockingly persistent without being pushy, but honestly there were plenty of others around if all he wanted for himself was another warm body.  

And then one night, he stopped coming.  No more hopeful knocks at his door, no more questioning glances across the room at meal times, no more trying to ensure that they were paired together for chores around the citadel, peace at last.   

But still the words would not come. 

 

As if sensing his agitation, Kasen was soon granted deployment orders by the saniwa.   

It was brilliant.  He didn’t care when or where they were going—and anyway, nothing could be as traumatizing as Sekigahara had been with its infinite loops—he was itching to make use of his steel and spill some blood.   

The only problem was their team.  O-Sayo as their captain was a sound decision, the master wanted to test his newfound kiwame strength.  Souza always performed well when deployed with his brothers, Tsurumaru was an airhead but absolutely magnificent when he got serious in battle—he too, had shown his strength at Sekigahara in a way that had deeply impressed Kasen.  Horikawa had far less field experience than his brothers so it was good to add him to a more experienced team.  That just left himself and... 

“Oh no, not you.” 

As terse as ever, Ookurikara merely shrugged and shoved past him.  “I’ll stay out of your way if you stay out of mine.” 

“Kasen...” O-Sayo asked about a dozen questions with that tone of voice.  Are you two still fighting?  I thought you would’ve made up by now.  Did you upset him?  This isn’t going to be a problem is it?  

Kasen, for his part, considered himself a much better team player and flashed one of his more charming smiles not just to Sayo but to the entire squad.  “Absolutely nothing to worry about.  I’m here to follow your lead, O-Sayo!”  

The little tantou looked unconvinced, in fact they all did, exchanging concerned glances with one another that only irritated Kasen because they were all so full of... pity.   They wouldn’t even be looking at him like that if Ookurikara weren’t around.   

Clearing his throat loudly, Kasen attempted to change the subject and divert some attention away from himself.  He sidled up next to their least experienced team member. 

“Don’t look so nervous, Horikawa!  I may not be your specific ‘Kane-san,’ but I’m Nosada’s finest, and I’m sure we’ll work great together.” 

“Oh I—I didn’t mean to...” Horikawa flushed.  It seemed everyone knew how nervous he was to go on his first deployment with Izuminokami.  “Yes, let’s!  I’ll be counting on you, if that’s all right...” 

They gathered around the time traveler and O-Sayo inputted their destination.  “We’re going to Aonogahara, Amidagamine.” 

A rather new destination, but Sengoku era all the same.  The team landed in the forests at the base of the mountain, and O-Sayo took Horikawa immediately to scout out the area. 

Seemingly restless, Ookurikara removed himself from the group as well to look around on his own, but stated he wouldn’t wander far.  Kasen very nearly made a snide remark about how nobody would even miss him if he did, but then remembered that they weren’t talking and thought better of it. 

In the quiet, Souza slipped quietly beside him, his thin, pink brows knotted with concern. 

“Are the two of you still fighting?” 

Tsurumaru swooped in as Kasen choked on his spit, eager to add himself to the gossip.  “Honestly, it’s the longest row you two have ever had!  I’ve never seen Kara-bou so upset before.” 

“Is he so upset?  He doesn’t really act like it... no more antisocial than usual, anyway,” Souza mused, pressing a thoughtful finger to his chin. 

“He’s a subtle lad...” Tsurumaru said seriously.   

Kasen scoffed.  Of all the adjectives in his repertoire for Ookurikara (and there were many), ‘subtle’ was not one of them.   

“We’re in the middle of a mission—” 

“Which is precisely the worst time to be having a lover’s quarrel!” Tsurumaru insisted, Souza nodding in agreement beside him.  “I don’t know what happened between you two, but—” 

“Nothing!  Happened!!” Kasen huffed.  Having inelegantly shrieked the first bit, he now lowered his voice to a volume of rational calm.  “Nothing happened, because there’s nothing between us.  Not now, not ever.”   

Souza and Tsurumaru shared a knowing glance, the same one full of pity that Kasen loathed, and he was about to storm off himself for a modicum of peace had O-Sayo and Horikawa not returned at that moment. 

“There are enemies, but they’re good at staying hidden here,” Horikawa reported. 

“Some of them feel stronger than the usual, I think... like me.  In a sense,” Sayo added quietly.  He hadn’t meant it to sound like a boast, but kiwame among the enemy would be especially troublesome with their current group.  “I don’t think they’ll show themselves until we actually infiltrate the compound—where's Ookurikara-san?”  

He turned his blue eyes to Kasen, only the slightest of accusations by looking to him first for an explanation, but Tsurumaru stepped in. 

“A bit of scouting on his own, you know how he gets restless waiting.  I can go look for him.” 

“We’ll all go,” Sayo decided.  He was uneasy about separating the group on this new battlefield.   

Kasen clicked his tongue in annoyance.  The stupid brute of a sword had no sense of teamwork or proper camaraderie, yet everyone was turning critical eyes  his  way for the lack of unity within the squad.  Now  Ookurikara  had wondered off and they had to waste time looking for him, but Kasen still felt that  he  had been the one to fail somehow.  What did everyone expect him to do?  Keep the dragon on a leash?  As if anyone could. 

“It’s possible Kara-bou's already cutting down the enemy in great swathes,” Tsurumaru joked.   

“I should hope not, that’s rather reckless,” Souza replied.  “I would rather he learn to follow at least what the Captain decides to do even if he doesn’t want to be chummy with us...” 

“He’s strong,” Sayo said quietly, meeting his brother’s eyes.  “But this battlefield is new, and I would also prefer that he didn’t...” He turned his eyes to Kasen. 

“Selfishly insist on being a one-man-show?” Kasen supplemented.  “Well if he gets himself broken as a result, he’ll deserve it.” 

“Kasen-san, don’t say such things!” Horikawa chided.  “We’re all teammates and shouldn’t wish any ill will against each other.”   

“...”  

Oddly, Kasen disliked being chastened by Horikawa even less than being chastened by O-Sayo.  It was almost like disappointing Izuminokami by extension, and even if they weren’t particularly close (and perhaps precisely because they weren’t very close), he wanted his younger relative to think well of him.  And to look up to him.  And so by extension, he wanted Horikawa to think well of him too.   

“I didn’t mean—” 

“Kara-bou!”  Tsurumaru called out first to their rediscovered comrade.  “You weren’t supposed to wander far.” 

“I didn’t.”  Well, ‘far’ was relative. 

“We’re practically right up to the front gates here,” Souza noted, which meant they were too close.   

Kasen was about to add the amount of time he’d made them waste when O-Sayo suddenly cried out. 

“The enemy!” 

There was a flash of green by his ear and Kasen dodged just in time to avoid a flying skeletal worm with a dagger in its mouth.   

Such speed! he thought as they all drew their swords, O-Sayo's blazing blue like a beacon to lead them. 

The creature whirled in the air and the glow around its body began to pulse with a sickening emerald light.  In the distance, several roars and snarls sounded. 

“It’s summoning reinforcements!” Horikawa cried, charging forward to slash at it. 

Tsurumaru quickly followed with a swing of his own blade.  He had more reach and power, but the little enemy was much faster—he couldn’t land a proper blow.  “Not the type of surprise I’d like!” 

They sprang up on the walls, more shadowy figures that hissed and snarled and flew at them, eyes blazing, their spirits driven by some, still-unknown purpose.   

A blazing red naginata came crashing down over Kasen’s head that he could just barely block.  “Ngh!” The weight of the blow had nearly winded him.  He shoved the blade sideways over his shoulder and tried to add some distance, leaping back just far enough to miss the next swing. 

Out of his peripheral vision, he could see Horikawa struggling, already nursing a wound on his arm.  The wakizashi could only just parry the tachi’s blows, but there was no opening in which to counter-attack.  The clashing of steel echoed all around him, and a moment of anger seized Kasen.  He’d been so careless! 

“I’ll have your heads!!” he roared and charged, parrying another of the naginata’s attacks as he ran past it to Horikawa’s side, slashing the  tachi’s  arm as it swung.  It roared and fell back, leaving an opening. 

“Horikawa!” 

“Right!” 

Kasen lunged low and Horikawa sprang up to attack from the sky.  The creature had to choose; it couldn’t stop them both and in those split seconds of hesitation, the two cut it down in a fierce double attack.   

“We did it, Kane—ah, Kasen-san!” 

Kasen very nearly laughed.  ‘Kane-san’ wouldn’t have been necessarily wrong.   

“Look out!” 

They leapt just as a small crater carved into the ground they’d just been standing on—a massive oodachi  had now joined the fray.  Those were perhaps the least fun to deal with, and the trouble with this one was that it was fast.  The beast swung almost immediately into its next attack, a wide swing that aimed at Horikawa, and Kasen flung himself sideways to try and block the blow. 

“Hgck!!”  

The power of the swing sent them both flying, with Kasen’s entire body stunned from the impact.  He and Horikawa landed together in a crumpled heap twenty feet away, and the damn thing was already charging. 

“Shit!” 

Kasen shoved the wakizashi as hard as he could behind him and braced himself when a dark red blur appeared and hurled his sword between the oodachi and himself.   

Ookurikara !  Kasen saved his breath to stagger to his feet and land a shallow slash across the enemy.  Not deep enough, not enough to kill, but good enough to buy them a second or two to catch their footing.  

Ookurikara glared at the blood he saw trickling down Kasen’s lip.  “Reckless...” 

“You’re one to talk,” Kasen huffed.  “I can see that wound on your arm.”   

A roar from the oodachi jolted them back to the battle at hand; they could nitpick each other later.  With a briefly shared glance, they charged it from opposing sides, Ookurikara swinging right and Kasen swinging left.  The great big beast brought up its blade in time to match Ookurikara’s and Kasen flew toward the opening in its side. 

“Got you—ackk!!” 

A giant, clawed hand wrapped around Kasen’s neck—it had switched to a one-hand hold!—and slammed him into the ground. 

“Kasen!!!” 

Kasen shut his eyes against the pain—he might have felt his skull crack, the wind had been knocked from his body, the great, ghastly hand was still choking him, pulling and threatening to smash his head a second time.   

“You... insolent...” he gritted his teeth and tasted dirt and blood.   

Somewhere in the ringing in his ears, he heard Ookurikara roar, felt a splash of wetness against his cheek, and the monster’s grip around his neck disappeared.  He cracked one eye open to look—the oodachi was staggering backward, smoke and shadow pouring out of a gaping hole in its chest.   

In the next instant, rough hands were pulling him rudely off the ground and jostling him so suddenly, Kasen grimaced from the pain.  His vision swam, and he bit down on his tongue. 

“You... brute...” he gasped. 

He felt Ookurikara’s strong arms envelop him and hold him so tight he could scarcely breathe—what an absolutely poor medic he was.   

The others...  he thought feebly as the clanging of swords returned to his hearing.  This wouldn’t do.  He had to get up.  He’d disgrace his status as  Nosada’s  masterpiece unless he got up and finished the fight on his feet.  He gripped  Ookurikara  tight.  Help me up.  Up!  

“O-Sayo!!” Souza cried.  “We have to retreat!”  

Kasen forced his eyes open and struggled in Ookurikara’s embrace.  “Let... go!” 

“You’re in no condition!” Ookurikara growled and held him tighter.  “We should retreat!”  He raised his voice to match Souza’s seeking the others. 

Sayo had defeated maybe half of the enemies on his own, but he could see his team was hurt, some very badly so.  He gave the nod as he cut down an enemy uchigatana in front of him, and shouted, “Head south!”  

Souza flung down his shredded and blood-stained haoriTsurumaru ran to help Horikawa to his feet, and Ookurikara threw Kasen’s arm around his shoulders to help him up and hobble off together. 

“Let’s go, let’s go!” 

Limping at best, Kasen and Ookurikara made up the rear and staggered as fast as they could.  Not all the enemy gave chase, but there were enough to be a nuisance.  Kasen’s head was pounding, but he forced his legs to move as fast as he could, clinging tight to Ookurikara’s shoulder. 

Shameful, he thought to himself, and it was a deeper agony than any of his injuries.  To be defeated, to be rescued, to not be able to stand on equal footing with...  

Ahead of them in a small clearing, O-Sayo was opening the portal.  Behind them, a disgusting spider-wakizashi skittered at a frightening pace.  A fast, hideous thing.  It was gaining fast, but if they could just... 

“Behind you!” Sayo cried. 

At the last stretch, the creature had jumped to close the distance, and neither Kasen nor Ookurikara were in any position to defend against the next blow.  Just as Kasen was going to turn them sideways, he felt Ookurikara hurl him away and out of danger, just as a glowing green blade stabbed clean through his chest. 

Kasen’s saw it clearly, and he found he could not scream.  His turquoise eyes met Ookurikara’s golden ones, and they looked at him so tenderly in the moment before blood burst from the dragon’s mouth and he collapsed to the floor.   

In a flash, Sayo had made it back to them and cut down the enemy in one fierce swing, filled with all his strength in flaming azure fury. 

Kasen had just enough strength to clamber back to where Ookurikara lay, turning him over and cradling him in his lap. 

“N-no no no,” he mumbled, voice quivering.  “You idiot, you absolute fool!” 

That earned Kasen a sad, golden-eyed smile.  It was the worst timing he could possibly think of, and also short-lived as Ookurikara coughed up another spurt of blood.  It was disgusting, it looked so painful—Ookurikara reached aimlessly for him and Kasen took his hand immediately. 

“I can’t... I... can’t breathe...” 

“Don’t talk, shut up,” Kasen whimpered.  Then in a panic, he added, “Don’t you dare die on me!”  

“F-fighting alone... and...” 

“Kasen, we have to go!” Sayo knelt down beside them, slipped a protective charm into Ookurikara’s jacket, then hauled him up—the little  tantou   was now stronger than anyone.   

But Kasen didn’t want to let go of Ookurikara and struggled against Souza who had also turned back to help them.  No, don’t take him from me!  he thought desperately as Souza pulled him toward the portal.  Let me hold him!  Please!  

It hurt more than anything that he couldn’t give voice to these thoughts. 

“Coward!!” he sobbed as Souza gently pulled him into the light. 

 


 

 

It had been a rude shock to the entire citadel to see how their unit had returned.  Bruised and bloodied, they all needed repairs save for Sayo.  Ookurikara had very nearly broken completely and still had yet to regain consciousness, even days after their return.   

“Maybe because he hadn’t been holding the omamori with that last blow,”  Yagen speculated to the saniwa.  “Sayo gave it to him before he disappeared completely, enough to keep him alive until they got back, but... there’s nothing more I can do for him now that all of his physical wounds have healed.”   

It was a waiting game now, and although all the others would recover with no lasting damage, the mood was heavy. 

For Sayo, it felt a tremendous failure for his first mission as captain.  All his newfound strength, but what did it matter if he couldn’t protect his team?  He’d sat by Souza’s bed unmoving until his brother was cleared with a clean bill of health, and then he sat by Kasen, who took the longest time to recover aside from Ookurikara.  Tsurumaru and Horikawa had needed only minor repairs thankfully, but still Izuminokami had been a wailing, restless addition to the infirmary the entire time Horikawa was getting patched up.  Shokudaikiri and Sada-chan came and went, popping in to see Ookurikara and Tsurumaru in turn and assisting Yagen if they could.  Although the younger Kanesada didn’t insist quite so vehemently about staying by Kasen’s bedside as he had for his partner, he returned the next day with a vase of fresh flowers, and a paper and brush.  Just in case Kasen woke in the mood for poetry. 

But when Kasen woke a day later, it was far from peaceful, and poetry was the furthest thing from his mind.  He crawled out of his futon, panicked and screaming for Ookurikara, and Sayo needed to help Yagen in restraining him and forcing him back to bedrest.  It took some effort to calm him, and only when he agreed to stay put did Sayo at last give Kasen the news concerning Ookurikara’s condition.  Kasen listened and was as stone, his expression unmoving.  But Sayo could see his knuckles grow white clutching his sheets, and he knew that he had failed Kasen most of all.   

On the second day after their return, Sayo failed to find Kasen in his infirmary room.  When he checked in on Ookurikara, he found Kasen’s chrysanthemum haori draped over him as a second blanket, the vase of fresh flowers transferred between their rooms.  The Date sword seemed to be sleeping peacefully by all appearances... Sayo mumbled another apology before leaving to look for Kasen.   

He wasn’t in his room, he wasn’t in the garden, nor the fields, nor the stables, nor the kitchens.  Sayo checked all the common areas, the library, he checked in with the saniwa,  and at last found Kasen alone in the dojo, silently swinging his sword, sweat beading his brow.   

“Kasen,” Sayo called.  He was unconvinced that Yagen had cleared his friend for strenuous activity. 

“O-Sayo!” 

“Why are you here?” Sayo approached slowly, debating his next question.  “Wouldn’t you rather be with—?” 

“This is the only place I would rather be,” Kasen replied firmly.  “I need to get stronger, O-Sayo.  I’ve been weak, I never realized just how weak until...” his voice cracked without permission and Kasen frowned.  “Will you spar with me?” 

“Are you sure that you’re fit to—” 

“O-Sayo.  Please.”  Kasen took a deep breath.  “You’re the only one I can ask.” 

“...all right.” 

Kasen has pride, so much pride, Sayo thought to himself as they bowed and took their stances.  Even if his friend’s feelings for Hosokawa Tadaoki were rather complicated, he took some pride in having been that man’s sword.  He wanted to be just as strong even if he disliked the brutality, and his fighting style was reflective of this.  His swings came hard like a hammer-stroke even if his form was more fluid in an effort to remain elegant.  Kasen didn’t fly like Tsurumaru, didn’t flow as water like Mikazuki, nor was he a roaring flame like himself.  His posture was low to the ground, solid and firm, like a rock immovable, and Sayo had never used to be able to topple him. 

Used to.  That was before his journey. 

But no matter how many times Kasen fell, he got back up with a vengeance, his eyes burning fiercely, and he begged Sayo to continue.  Sayo felt he was obligated to continue for as long as either of them could stand.  Out of respect, he refused to hold back—he could feel Kasen’s frustrations as if they were his own, and he knew this was the best way to alleviate that emotional pain.  He would do for Kasen as Yamanbagiri had done for him. 

When at last he knocked Kasen down so hard he could no longer stand, Sayo caught sight of a gold glimmer around Kasen’s neck.  When the fabric gaped open, he could see that it was Ookurikara’s necklace.   

He said nothing about it, merely offered his hand to help his friend sit up, then took a seat beside him on the wooden floor.   

“Feeling better?”  

Kasen took a deep inhale then let out a long, heavy sigh.  “In some ways.  Thank you, O-Sayo.” 

“I’m sorry,” Sayo blurted, exhaustion addling his filters.  “I should’ve realized... sooner.  That we needed to retreat.” 

“O-Sayo, no,” Kasen laid a trembling hand on his shoulder.  “You can’t blame yourself for any of this.  It was a new battlefield, none of us could have known... we all needed to be stronger.  Like you.” 

Sayo kept his eyes downward, Kasen’s words did nothing for the guilt that overwhelmed him.   

“O-Sayo, Ookurikara is alive because of you.” 

Sayo’s head shot up at that, their eyes meeting.  His friend fidgeted nervously and sighed.   

“And I’m... I’m more grateful than I want to say.  And because we are close, I know you will not make me say it.”  Kasen blushed and looked away. 

The  tantou   nodded and placed his smaller hand above Kasen’s on his shoulder.  “He’ll wake up soon, I’m sure.”  

“Yes...” Kasen looked back at Sayo.  “Will you spar with me again tomorrow?” 

Sayo nodded firmly in reply. 

 

Every day after, Kasen spent all day training in the dojo.  Sayo joined him whenever possible barring other duties.  On one day, Izuminokami and Horikawa found him and kept him company.  Horikawa was effusive with his gratitude, convinced he would’ve broken had Kasen not been looking out for him and protected him, and Izuminokami was almost equally grateful on behalf of his little partner and therefore agreed to a sparring session.  Kasen was pleased to experience Izuminokami’s blade against his own and see firsthand the other Kanesada’s strength.  In this, at least, he had nothing to worry about. 

On another day, Tsurumaru surprised him with a visit.  He’d never sparred with the crane before.  It was an educational experience in many ways.  He hadn’t realized how the battle had humiliated Tsurumaru as well—there was much frustration under all of his projected joviality.  For all his smiles, he was quite fierce with his blade.  Neither of them ever wanted to lose like that again.   

Shokudaikiri was kind enough to bring him sustenance even if he was unwilling to fight with him, and little Taikogane brought him daily updates on Ookurikara’s condition, whether he asked or no.  Kasen, in fact, never asked... but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to know. 

And then after about a week, Kasen was interrupted from his training by a breathless Taikogane, who screamed at him that Ookurikara had finally woken up. 

Half the citadel ran to the infirmary at the news.  Kasen, by contrast, went straight to the saniwa.   

 


 

 

Yagen stood menacingly by the door, glaring at the crowd of gathered swords just outside Ookurikara’s room. 

“I can’t let all of you in at once, so you’re going to have to take turns.  But be quick about it!  Don’t tire him!” 

Ookurikara might have argued that he was feeling just fine, but wasn’t really given the chance.  Everyone from the squad had shown up except for Kasen, obviously the other Date swords came to see him, Yamanbagiri and Kashuu came together, and finally Sayo by himself. 

Sayo started by bowing nervously and apologizing for his failure as captain and Ookurikara could do nothing except stammer awkwardly—he'd never had anyone apologize to him before and it wasn’t as though Sayo had really done anything wrong.   

“It—um.  It’s fine.”   

Mostly, Ookurikara just had no idea what to say to any of the visitors who’d taken the time to come see him.  He was shocked he was still alive, he had been so sure that he had felt his soul shatter, his steel break... and beyond that he had no idea so many people would worry over him.  He, who’d done next-to-nothing to ingratiate himself to anyone... He had been most shocked at Kasen’s  haori... left on his bed in the most explicit gesture the Nosada sword had ever offered.  But he was still nowhere to be seen, and Ookurikara couldn’t help but feel disappointed. 

“Where’s Kasen?” he asked quietly, trusting Sayo would know.   

Sayo struggled, it was clear he didn’t want to be the one to have to say it.  “He’s... gone.  On his kiwame journey.” 

Ookurikara smirked.  Well... all right.  He could understand that. 

“But he waited!” Sayo hurriedly added.  “He waited until you woke up!  And then he... then he thought it was finally all right for him to go.”  

“I see.”  Ookurikara traced the embroidery of the haori relieved to hear that Kasen was safe and focused on getting stronger for himself.  As soon as he was able, he’d ask the  saniwa   for permission to do the same.  He put a hand to his chest.  He too, needed more power, more— 

“Where’s my necklace?” 

“!!” Sayo’s ponytail bounced, almost turning upward.  Trying not to sound too excited, he said, “Kasen has it with him.  As a... token.”  

Ookurikara blinked slowly several times as this information processed.  His brain managed it all right, but his heart wasn’t quite so adept at considering the depth of meaning in that decision, and it took even longer for an unfamiliar smile to settle on his face.   

“Does he?” 

Sayo blushed furiously—he'd never seen Ookurikara smile so genuinely.  He was sure no one ever had, not the Date swords, not their master, not even Kasen. 

 


 

 

On the day of Kasen’s return, Ookurikara joined a throng of others in the courtyard by the front gate to welcome the Kanesada home.  He kept to the back, arms crossed, and hoped for nothing.   

When Kasen came flowing through the gate like a moving work of art, Ookurikara’s breath caught in his throat.  He’d always thought of Kasen as beautiful, even if he hadn’t always fully appreciated what that meant.  He could see how Kasen’s new haori interior resembled butterfly wings—a deception, he was nowhere near as delicate as a butterfly.  He seemed taller too, maybe it was just how he was carrying himself, or maybe it was the new shoulder armor.   

Suddenly their eyes met across the courtyard, and Ookurikara felt his heart pounding furiously against his ribs.  Was it nervousness?  He couldn’t recall the last time he’d ever felt such a thing.  The last time he’d been so stunned by the sight of someone, he was facing down Date Masamune.  He didn’t know what to do, so he gave a little nod that meant... well, anything really. 

And then Kasen was making a beeline straight for him, pushing past all the other swords that had gathered to greet him, and before Ookurikara could even brace himself, Kasen was kissing him.  Deeply.  In front of everyone.  A roaring filled Ookurikara’s ears and it was only partly coming from the crowd.   

When they parted, the Date sword could scarcely breathe—he'd forgotten how, or something. 

“I do like you,” Kasen said firmly, looking him straight in the eyes.  “I care about you more than I ever meant to, but well, there you have it.  I’m yours, you stupid brute, and at this point, I won’t take no for an answer.” 

“I...” 

Kasen pressed their foreheads together then, now speaking considerably more quietly.  “I need to report to the master, but then afterward, I want you to come to my room.  I won’t run away.” 

Obediently, Ookurikara nodded.  So much for leaving as soon as Kasen came back, but what did one extra day matter?  Especially when it meant spending the night before with the one you loved?   

He blinked and considered what he’d just admitted to himself, and grabbed Kasen’s wrist just as he turned to go. 

“What is it?” 

“I...”  

But saying it aloud was so much harder, and Ookurikara bit his lip.  “I... um.  I’ll see you later then.” 

Maybe he’d be able to say it then.  Or maybe after he came back from his own journey.  In a way, he was sure Kasen already knew.  And now, so did everyone else.