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It is hard for him to think.

He doesn't work so well with time; he starts a train of thought, and then blinks, and finds that hours have passed. His body is stiff from sitting immobile on the porch. He can stare at a field of grain endlessly without turning away, mesmerized by the long stalks bending and waving in unified ripples with the breeze. He will get lost watching little streams in the gardens as they burble along -- and then a hesitant hand will touch his shoulder, and he will jerk to alertness and realize that it is already time for supper.

Other times, he manages to hold onto the present enough to sense things around him -- but vaguely, as if from very far away, so that the only moment that matters is the moment he is in right now. He traps himself inside an endless series of nows, all disconnected, so that he has not been sitting still for hours because he only came into being a second ago, and will leave this world the same way.

The attendants and fellow spirits of the Minamoto Clan assume that his powers of concentration are beyond compare. He is lost in thought, but only because he is constructing plans, forming strategies to overcome their enemies. His powers of observation are so keen that he can detect troop movements from miles away.

Onikiri cannot tell them the truth, not without bringing shame down upon his master.

He does not know what is wrong with him. One afternoon, he is standing out in one of the practice yards when the rains come fluttering in, feather-light drops pattering down like muffled detonations of sound. Onikiri feels them fading in and out of his awareness, disconnected in their intent. The sensation is compressed into tiny slivers, so that he experiences the storm like a series of paper screens, each one separated apart with no connection between them. He is watching an orchestrated performance as they are lined up together, one by one, while water slowly creeps down his arms, soaking through his sleeves.

But he has not been given the order to move: he has not been given the order to think, to act, to breathe, to behave, and so he stands there docile, waiting as the rain seeps across his body and turns his body numb.

It must be because he was a sword. Swords aren't meant to make choices on their own. He must be reverting to the days when he wore the shape of a blade, and had only to wait until he was drawn and used. His human shape is cosmetic. Defective. These moments are proof of his heritage; nothing more.

He does not know what he should be, other than what his master tells him.

Onikiri is his name. He is slow to answer to it, so he repeats it often to himself, drilling it into his brain with the same efficiency as a practice routine. It is the name his master gave him. Its worth is beyond compare.

Oni-kiri. Demon cutter. He is what he does. It should not be difficult for him to remember himself: whenever he forgets his name, he need only remind himself of his nature.

It should not be this difficult to remember himself.

There are empty places in his mind, in his thoughts, that have weight in them but no ability for him to grasp at what is there. Like enemies in the fog, he can smell them, feel how the air eddies around their bulk, but they snuffle and move away from him before he can strike. Stillness engulfs him and wolfs down his soul. It wins every time, enveloping him like a blizzard that erases the words for objects around him -- table, door, sky, ground -- but where Onikiri still knows what each one is for. As if there is a different part of his spirit that has already ingested the knowledge and regulated it to mere instinct; as if Onikiri's consciousness is a vestigial function, unnecessary for his existence.

His identity is missing completely during these moments: there is only what his master tells him to do, and the purpose he must follow.

It is a good place to be in, an appropriate place for a weapon. It must be the state that ascetics seek to reach, the no-mind of perfect action. He is waiting for a command to set him into action, a sword loosened in its scabbard, but not yet revealed.

He is not afraid during those times, because there is no word for fear when it happens.

Still, it makes it harder to keep track of his responsibilities.

He wonders, a little, about his making. It would be good if he could ask another sword-spirit. They might have advice for how he could behave.

"You are the first," his master says, when he brings up his curiosity -- and Onikiri is pleased, a warmth in his belly though he does not fully understand. "You must set a good example for the others."

That closes the matter there, then; Onikiri has a standard expected of him, and he will not let his master down. He will have to fumble his way through discreetly.

Tsukumogami, perhaps -- he should ask one of them. Like him, they are spirits that have been born from objects. They would have worthwhile advice.

If he could find one. Yorimitsu does not keep them around. They are pests, he says. The ones who are not mere irritants are dangerous, having soaked in too much knowledge along with their years. Too many secrets. A century of absorbing the words and acts of everyone around them means that any tsukumogami is an indiscretion waiting to happen.

At first, Onikiri nods along with understanding. Then he frowns to himself, much later, in private. He is technically a tsukumogami as well, after all -- simply one that does not have the same antiquity yet. But in a hundred years, he will share that liability. He will know too much.

Perhaps that is what Yorimitsu hopes: that Onikiri will learn well, and carry on that legacy even after time has robbed the world of his master's presence. Yes. That is a good destiny, one that Onikiri must strive to be worthy of. He will pursue his master's ambitions for him until every other clan is dust, and all the yōkai are less than bones. He will bear his master's dreams into eternity.

He sees the other shikigami that his master keeps, silent and wary. They are all bound creatures, in more ways than one. There is a cat spirit whose claws have been severed, who pads about carefully on her shortened fingers. There is a kyonshī whose mouth is sewn shut with thick thread which might have been originally white, but which has gone long brown with ichor, seeping from the stretched holes of the puncture wounds.

It talked too much, Yorimitsu says, and smirks.

"Why not a binding spell instead?" Onikiri asks, before he can stop himself. He is kneeling beside his master, back straight; it is an inconvenient position if they are surprised by attackers, but he has practiced the quick draws well enough.

Yorimitsu is indulgent to him; Onikiri is lucky he rates so highly. "It does not deserve the effort." Yorimitsu drops his hand, strokes Onikiri's hair. "This lesson is sufficient."

The kyonshī is dismissed, and other spirits scuttle away, directed towards their tasks. Onikiri remains.

"Should I learn to fight beside them, my lord?" he asks, considering the assortment of potential allies he has seen so far. It is an interesting thought, and not one he is opposed to. It would broaden his tactics to work with different spirits, and he does not wish to become predictable in combat.

"You should learn to fight to kill them," Yorimitsu corrects. "In case," he adds, "they ever go wild."

Confusion spurs Onikiri's frown. Even though they surely resent being disciplined, he can't imagine the kyonshī having the strength to break free of their master’s control. None of the spirits could. "Is that common?"

"At times." Yorimitsu does not elaborate further, curling his fingers through Onikiri's hair. He is relaxed today, satiated by news of incoming resources to the Minamoto's reserves. "But you would never do that, would you, Onikiri?"

"That would go against my reason for existing, my lord," Onikiri replies instantly. His confidence in this feels automatic, and unhesitating. Death is the natural result for disobedience, after all. Better for Onikiri to be annihilated first.

He is special. His master does not revert him to his sword-form, or even a puppet, as he does so readily with other shikigami. He keeps Onikiri around all the time in a human shape, allowing him to behave as any other retainer. Onikiri has his own quarters, kept apart from the rooms of other spirits, directly beside the chambers of his master. He is available at any hour for Yorimitsu's call. Onikiri is favored.

Yorimitsu does not have him interact frequently with other members of the clan, either. Onikiri is relieved, though he does not want to admit it; he does not want to have his moments of weakness cast any shame upon his master.

His master is his creator, after all. Years ago, Minamoto no Yorimitsu wished for a sword, and had the smiths forge the shape of one fit perfectly for his hands. Then he wielded that sword long enough that it was infused with his intent, carried it on his hip until it was filled with his power. Without Yorimitsu's original request, that blade would never have come into existence.

Onikiri owes Yorimitsu everything: his body, his life, his soul.

It is soon after he has been revealed to his lord's clan that the directive comes: his master wishes Onikiri to attend a dinner feast at his side.

It will be no simple meal. Members of the Minamoto Clan will be arriving from all across the country to celebrate new plans to assault Mount Oo, and power must be demonstrated on every level. For Yorimitsu, this includes showing off Onikiri's presence. Onikiri doesn't really understand why this would be the best method of doing so; that Yorimitsu is a powerful enough onmyōji that even his sword can take on life before it reaches a hundred years of age, perhaps. Even so, it doesn't make much sense. Yorimitsu is already able to demonstrate greater feats than that, and no one will know how good of a weapon Onikiri is until they see him fight.

He is a chance to display his master's skills as an onmyōji, regardless, though it should be through combat exercises, battle prowess and duels -- not sitting quietly beside him at a feast, like a tamed dog. That does not glory Yorimitsu at all, to have a weapon appear so meek and harmless. Onikiri cannot see the gain.

But Yorimitsu is wiser than he is, and Yorimitsu has given the order, so Onikiri will obey.

Thankfully, he is not expected to get himself ready on his own. His master sends an assistant to his chambers on the morning of the feast; the preparations are already been going on for days and the cooks have sworn fresh blood-feuds at one another in the kitchens. It is a crane spirit that knocks politely at Onikiri's door, dressed neatly in a plain, dark kimono and no ornamentation. Her feathers are strange, cut brutally short and shaped in the mockery of hair trimmed with all its edges even, forming a smooth arc around her head. She is missing two fingers on each of her hands.

She bows deeply before entering Onikiri's quarters. "I have been asked to make you presentable," she explains quietly, careful not to meet his gaze directly, averting her eyes even as he invites her inside. "Please allow me to impose."

But she does not hesitate to engage in her work, directing Onikiri to stand up straight and extend his arms. She walks about him with studious precision, evaluating his form as the canvas for her own skills. "He dresses you well already, but the master will want something even more ornate than this," she sighs at last, resigned. “We will use kimono from the women’s reserves. There are colors in fashion this season which will go well on you. You will show them off perfectly.”

Onikiri nods, and holds himself still to be painted and groomed. His nails are trimmed; his hair straightened out and bound low against his back. Golden ornaments are pinned and tucked against his scalp, dangling strands of tiny metal flowers that glitter and catch the light. Layers upon layers of embroidered robes are brought in and held up against his skin. For the final touches, the crane spirit opens a tray of powders and paints, holding her brushes deftly with her remaining fingers, as effortlessly practiced as if even she has not noticed their lack.

"You are just like a doll," she marvels, turning his head back and forth while she lines color around his eyes. He tries hard not to blink.

"Obedient?" Onikiri asks, like a child eagerly hoping for the answer to be yes.

"Empty,” she clarifies.

She finishes briskly after that, adding red to his lips and giving her work an approving nod. "Remember, you must always obey as quickly as you can whenever he gives you an order," she volunteers suddenly, swift and fierce and toneless, as if she has said the words so many times that they have lost all significance. "Always agree. If the master changes his mind or contradicts himself, you must not question. You must -- "

She breaks off there, pressing her mouth hard and flat, her brushes hesitating against the tray. "Forgive me. You, of all people, have no need of these instructions," she continues in an undertone, more to herself than to him.

He feels suddenly very young and very lacking. There is a standard, clearly, that has gone before; there will be other spirits he will be measured against in his willingness and ability to perform, other weapons and tools.

"Will I do well?" he questions, unable to hide his concerned frown.

She meets his gaze at last, pity in her eyes. "I am sorry," she says, and nothing more.

The dinner is boisterous, but not a threat. The only dangers are the conversations. Yorimitsu is given a place of honor in the seating positions, and the other members of the Minamoto Clan approach him hesitantly to offer promises of loyalty and troops, always casting an eye towards Onikiri as they do. Sometimes they fall silent completely, simply staring at him, as if expecting that Onikiri will turn back into a sword on the spot.

He watches them back, openly curious, seeking to memorize each face. These people are his master's kin. He will protect them as well, to the best of his abilities. He will guard them against any kind of threat. They can feel safe around him.

Family is important. One's clan is everything.

Something about that thought makes his brow furrow, but he's not sure why.

He is distracted in pouring sake for his master, poised and waiting for each command. Yorimitsu enjoys being served; it mellows him out, so that he radiates satisfaction and confidence with each careful dip of Onikiri's head.

After the food and dance and music have begun to wind down, and the attendees have started to drift away, Yorimitsu excuses himself as well. Onikiri trails behind, his feet silently whispering on the wooden boards, hidden beneath the intricate layering of his robes. It will be good to get them off, and into his usual clothes; he would not be able to fight a mouse in these bindings, let alone a potential assassin.

But his master halts suddenly when they reach his quarters, turning to face Onikiri. "You are more beautiful than a bride on her wedding night," he murmurs. He reaches out to slide one of the hairpins free, letting it fall to the floor with a clatter. "You played your part very well tonight, Onikiri. Shall we see if you can continue?"

His master gives him very little time for preparation. He yanks apart Onikiri's kimono roughly, layer by layer, unwrapping him with jerks of his hands. He pushes him down onto the futon, even though Onikiri is already bending willingly, sinking onto the blankets. The rest of Onikiri's hair ornaments tumble loose in a flurry of metallic cries, spilling like casualties across the tatami mats.

Onikiri has not been trained in this. It is the first time his lord has touched him in this way, and Onikiri struggles to keep his breathing steady and to relax as much as he is able, already seeking to memorize the proper steps. He has no knowledge of what to do -- but his master takes the lead, so that Onikiri is all too busy suddenly with concentrating on going loose, pliable, on not tensing up even as his master grips him hard enough to bruise. He opens his mouth as Yorimitsu bites it, his legs as Yorimitsu slides a knee between them.

The folds of the kimono tangle up in thick wads against Yorimitsu's thigh. His master growls. Frustrated momentarily, he pins Onikiri's wrists, leaning down hard enough with his weight that Onikiri can start to feel his fingertips tingling, the marks that will rise in a matter of hours, even though Onikiri would never dream of struggling.

Then the kimono have been ripped open far enough that there is nothing left to block Yorimitsu from access, and Onikiri can feel the night air on his bare skin.

It is a tight fit. It's difficult, even with the clove oil that Yorimitsu slicks over himself, not doing more than rubbing his fingers briefly over Onikiri's entrance. Onikiri's body isn’t prepared, so Yorimitsu pulls back at the first friction of resistance -- only to thrust harder back in, over and over, forcing his way forward, tearing whatever does not yield quickly enough.

He is ravenous in his eagerness, and Onikiri feels the sharp, hot warning flare of something splitting, stretched too wide too quickly. He presses the tip of his tongue hard against the roof of his mouth in order to swallow down any sound. He concentrates on focusing all the tension in his body there, channeling it into that single point as he tries to force the rest of his body to relax, to accept what his master is pushing inside him, the full length of it unimaginably thick.

He can't afford to tense up. His muscles are already too tight, and try to oppose Yorimitsu no matter how much Onikiri tells them otherwise. His master's cock is an unrelenting, painful heat, and he reminds himself he should be welcoming the burn of it, to rejoice in each impact because it means that his master is seizing something he desires. Nothing else matters more than that.

Only once his master is fully inside him, Onikiri's thighs splayed wide and helpless, does Yorimitsu pause, panting for breath.

"Make noise for me," he demands. "Let me hear my conquest."

So Onikiri does. He does not question his master's wording; only obedience is required. The first groan out of Onikiri's mouth is strained, but it snaps the dwindling barrier of his self-control, and he suddenly has no difficulty in voicing each helpless gasp and moan and whimper that is driven out of him with each thrust of his master's cock. Every part of his body is made supple underneath his master's power. Yorimitsu wrenches up one of Onikiri's thighs and leans into it for better leverage, pressing his full weight down, until his hips are resting against Onikiri's legs, and still it feels as if he wants to go deeper in, all the way through Onikiri's body until he reaches the core of him as a spirit, and destroys whatever he finds there.

Onikiri can barely breathe; breathing feels like it would make things worse. But he's grateful for Yorimitsu's confidence, Yorimitsu's dominance -- he's so grateful, he could beg for this forever, the feeling of Yorimitsu knowing exactly what to do, exactly how to move in order to take what he wants. Here, there is no reason for Onikiri to wonder about the gaps in himself. They are being filled up by Yorimitsu instead, Yorimitsu forcing himself into every crack in Onikiri's body and mind and rewriting the standards of what how he should serve. He does not have to be afraid; he does not have to worry about what it means to not be afraid. There is only Yorimitsu, bending him into the proper shape that his master envisions, in a world where Onikiri has no need to question.

He is perfect here, where emptiness has no meaning because Yorimitsu has replaced it with himself.

His master settles back on his heels, keeping Onikiri's hips in place with his hands. He slides completely out of Onikiri, and Onikiri can't help but make a fresh jerk and gasp at the unexpected absence of pressure. After working so hard to accept his master inside him, the sudden loss of the cock splitting him wide feels like a failure.

Yorimitsu reaches down a hand to pull at himself lazily, finally adding more oil. “How does it feel, Onikiri? To be owned by me?"

Onikiri stares up at the ceiling, feeling his breath fraying in his throat. "It feels wonderful, master," he says, and does not lie.

Yorimitsu grins. He reseats himself completely inside with one long push, and Onikiri moans, hoping for it to never stop.

He remains present for the whole duration. He is proud of that.

His master takes him again twice more before morning. Onikiri's kimono is stained and crumpled, the fine silks of it torn. The last time, Yorimitsu finally touches Onikiri's cock, holding him down with both wrists in one hand, stroking him just to the point of release before stopping, over and over, until the pleasure becomes indistinguishable from pain. He goes on for what felt like hours like this, as if to make up for ignoring him before. When he finally grips Onikiri hard for the last time, allowing for release, Onikiri feels the shout building up in his lungs: a raw, helpless buckle of self-control. Battlefield instinct tells him to try and turn his head into his arm to muffle his scream, but Yorimitsu kneels hard on his leg, all that weight grinding hard against Onikiri's bone, until he arches his back in an instinctive attempt to thrash. By then his shout is already tearing free and ragged from his throat. He's aware that he's coming, his hips jerking frantically against Yorimitsu's hand -- but it's a distant sensation outside of his control and on the barest fringes of his memory, an afterthought that doesn't even bother to record its details in his mind.

Fluids have spattered across his own cheek. He lifts a hand gingerly to wipe himself off, and can't help but wince at the warning explosions of pain that ricochet up the full length of his body. He's half-curled in the blankets, tucked on his side. If his master commanded him to stand, he would fall right back down again.

Yorimitsu is watching him recover from the other end of the futon. "It'll be easier the next time," he comments, taking a long drink from the wine to rinse his mouth. "If not, I'll have you every day until your body adjusts."

Onikiri shivers at the thought; he does not know if it's from lust or something else entirely. It must be the former, he decides. A good sword would want it.

"Please do it, master," he whispers. "Please fuck me every night."

He knows he has done well when Yorimitsu stretches out an arm and catches his chin, rubbing his thumb affectionately over Onikiri's mouth. "How could I deny a request from such an obedient tool?"

He sets the jug aside and shoves Onikiri over, forcing Onikiri's face against the mattress, stroking himself with fast, fierce motions to get himself hard again. Even with his stamina, it takes a while for him to come again so soon; the oil runs empty, and finally he pulls out completely again to finish himself off with his own hand, painting Onikiri's chest and face with streaks of white, his other hand gripping Onikiri's hip as if he wants to dig the bone out and snap it in half.

But he is right: it is easier this time, the way paved with oil and sweat and seed. It is easier, even as Yorimitsu drags his fingers in long sweeps through the mess, and orders Onikiri to lick them clean.

Afterwards, Onikiri gingerly gathers the clothes that are scattered across the bed and floor, attempting to remember the original order they were layered in. Many of them show rips at the seams, or other damage; the delicate silks have been mangled. "I will have to apologize for the kimono," he says, regretfully. "And after that spirit was so kind."

His master pauses in tying back his own hair. "She was not supposed to speak to you."

"It was harmless," Onikiri replies, unsettled without knowing entirely why. "She was harmless."

"Was she," Yorimitsu says.

He does not see the crane spirit again. When he asks, Yorimitsu only offers, she was no longer useful to me.

It takes a while before Onikiri pinpoints what exactly is going on. When he does, he's not surprised that he hasn't figured it out before. Maybe he has. Maybe he already understood what was happening to him months ago, and has simply forgotten since then.

It isn't that Onikiri loses track of time; his attention isn't wandering. His memory simply refuses to connect. He picks up a cup and forgets that he did, how he did, why he did, so that he tries to remember and fails, unable to move on from there. His thoughts loop back. His mind resets. He can't attach two points of time together into a single, solid line, so that his thoughts start and restart over again like a student trying to master the very first form.

Like a leaf spun about in a river, endlessly seeking an escape, but trapped in place.

In the gaps of himself, other impressions bubble up. Memories nest inside the muscles of his body, sharing space with the same ingrained instincts as swordwork. There are other things that Onikiri knows -- that his body knows, deeper than the wasteland of his conscious mind, even when it makes no sense. He can identify at least fifteen different types of sake by the smell; he knows what each one tastes like before he even drinks, knows it with a bone-deep certainty and satisfaction. He can flay a roasted chestnut in seconds with his fingers and a knife. He can bounce a pair of dice against the opposite wall, and still have them squarely land on the gambling mat in front of him, revealing their numbers for the winners to tally.

He knows what it is like to wrestle in the mountains in midsummer, the heat of the sun baking his flesh. To have grass crinkle under his back as he is rolled across it, laughing; the sounds of challenges where bloodshed is an accident, not a goal. To have swarms of young children surrounding him, laughing and running wildly as they shriek in delight, daring one another to leap into the river.

The feeling of kinship. Family.

He can see a picture in his mind of his hands -- his hands -- folding a piece of paper into the shape of a frog, each intricate crease and twist coming as easily as breathing. Smaller fingers snatch the prize once it's complete, scampering away with it gleefully. He hears his own voice chuckling. He sees his hands folding another piece of origami, then another, to make an army's worth for them to fight with.

But Onikiri has no relatives. He was not forged alongside a wakizashi, not that he is aware of. All these memories must be from periods in Yorimitsu's youth, when Onikiri must have been carried around beside him, sleeping dormant until he was called to life.

Whenever he tries to think about Yorimitsu now, his mind is filled with fragments of recent encounters interspersed between his duties as a retainer, memories of Yorimitsu's hands on him, of Yorimitsu's hips shoved against his own. Even these are hard to focus on. His attention shies away from them, like a darting sparrow that will not roost, no matter how long it is sung to.

But these other, softer memories are different. They drift languidly like smoke, thick until he tries to seize them and finds their impressions sliding away through his hands. They dwell in the seconds between when he sleeps, and when he finishes waking up. The faces in these memories are like mirrors of burnished bronze, hazes of light that blot out all their features. He cannot remember specific voices. Only feelings that seep through him like a warm river: of laughter, of companionship, of love.

In his mind, he folds the paper. The first crease is as clean as a sword cut. Memory fails, rewinds: the paper is flat again, smooth in his fingers once more. He restarts.

In his mind, he folds the paper. He folds the paper. He folds the paper.

He asks his master eventually, because if anyone would have insight, it would be Yorimitsu, and because Onikiri has no one better to look towards for guidance. In weighing the risks of appearing inadequate before his master, and allowing that inadequacy to have him come to harm, Onikiri must choose the former and eat his own pride.

Yorimitsu, strangely, takes his concern seriously from the start. They are alone -- but even so, Yorimitsu stands up and slides the porch screen doors closed, blocking out the breeze.

"Come here and sit down," he orders. "Leave your swords over there, by the door. Let me look at you for a moment."

Onikiri's thoughts go away again for a while after that. He does not know why, or for how long. When he blinks, coming back to himself, he is standing in a grove of ginkgo trees, entirely alone. It is already late evening. The sun is stretching its last, weak rays through the leaves. The world around him is silent and abandoned of human life.

He does not know what day it is. He does not know the exact hour, or what else he might be missing. He does not know how he came to be in the forest, what route he used for travel. If he is absent from another duty. Why he is not at his master's side.

He has no idea why he's standing there.

His knees and jaw are sore.

He kills demons by the handful for his master, to make up for his other weakness. He cuts down droves like grass. Their bodies are left in the dirt to rot. Their homes are set on fire. Sometimes, they are not careful to make sure everyone inside is dead first.

Yorimitsu only laughs when Onikiri asks if he is worried about grudge-curses, and does not answer.

When Onikiri tries to think about his victories, it’s not any of the warriors that his mind resets to. It’s the memory of cleaning out a nest of half-grown yōkai, barely fighters. They fought with claws and rusting spears and dulled sickles, farming tools they had snatched up from beside their doors when he and Yorimitsu swept in. There is a peculiar desperation to how often his mind clings to this one, even though Onikiri cannot remember their faces either, somehow -- which should trouble him. Maybe. He does not know where to begin being troubled about this. He does not know how he should start experiencing most things.

Oni-kiri, he thinks, reminds himself. He exists to kill these creatures.

The only face he can remember is Yorimitsu's-- but it, too, was stretched like a demon in its glee. That is the last flicker in that parade of memory: the sight of Yorimitsu laughing boisterously, hand still dripping with blood, smearing Onikiri's face with it. Not pride for Onikiri's skills, but spite for the fallen.

It is a righteous contempt. It is Yorimitsu: therefore, it is just. Demons must not be allowed to exist alongside humans. Yorimitsu knows the best path forward.

Now that Onikiri has been trained properly in all his duties, Yorimitsu becomes that much more satisfied whenever he can take him by surprise in the halls. He ambushes Onikiri and has him there, sometimes, without even bothering to use a room. Onikiri gets splinters in his arms from leaning against railings and walls, slivers in the meat of his hands. His calluses -- which should have protected him -- are in all the wrong places from where he expects. He does not brace properly.

But Onikiri is glad for his master's aggression. For this manner of service, all that Yorimitsu needs is his flesh, and not his defective thoughts; Yorimitsu demands to be given pleasure, and that is a clear objective for Onikiri to pursue and achieve. It gives him a chance to make something out of the broken spiral of his mind, something real, as if he can push everything that doesn't fit away and let Yorimitsu guide him into perfection.

"Think of it as keeping you maintained properly," Yorimitsu suggests one afternoon after he presents Onikiri with a fresh vial of clove oil, with the instructions to keep it on him at all times. "We can't afford to let your edge get dull."

Onikiri accepts, bowing his head to show his gratitude. "Is this required of all your weapons, my lord?"

"Only the best ones," is Yorimitsu's answer, and his eyes are hungry.

So it is not a surprise when his master leans over, fitting his thumb in Onikiri's mouth, hooking the corner of it like a fish. Onikiri shifts obediently, twisting until he has it centered on his tongue, sucking in slow, hard pulses.

He knows he is doing well when Yorimitsu makes a deep, short grunt of pleasure and replaces the thumb with two fingers, sliding them in firmly against Onikiri's tongue. His other hand dips down through his clothes to start stroking himself, firm and rhythmic.

Onikiri lets himself relax; the danger is temporarily averted. Instead, he focuses on wetting Yorimitsu's fingers as much as he can, so that both will be soaked and dripping.

He knows, if he does not satisfy his master now like this, where those fingers will go next.

Yorimitsu makes another hum, shifting his position so that he can better reach himself, his hand moving faster now. His fingers press down hard against Onikiri's jaw; Onikiri cranes his neck to keep from gagging. The pull on his lips reminds him of another afternoon, unexpectedly: of a mouth with sharp teeth that could rip flesh from bone. But that mouth was so careful when it touched his, fangs gentle as they pulled on Onikiri's lower lip, playfully tugging --

And then there is only Yorimitsu, his knuckles shoved deep against Onikiri's tongue, and Onikiri's breath is frozen and fearful. He is here in the Minamoto estates. He is here with his master. His body is reacting all wrong.

Yorimitsu notices.

"What are you thinking about?" he asks, in that lethal, soft tone, sliding his hand out so he can hear the answer clearly.

"Nothing, master," Onikiri claims, struggling to correct his behavior. He attempts to smile, aware of the spit coating his chin. "It was nothing. I don't know what I was remembering."

His master arches an eyebrow, and then narrows his eyes, studying Onikiri like an object on his table -- which is reassuring, in a way, as if he sees the sword inside Onikiri's lie of a body. Then he stands and steps away in one long, unfolding motion. "That's enough for now," he declares. "I have work to attend to."

"Master," Onikiri protests desperately, watching Yorimitsu retreat out of reach. It feels like his life is sliding away, equally revoked. He doesn't exist without Yorimitsu. He can't exist without Yorimitsu. "Let me do better. Let me fix my mistake."

"Prove it," his master challenges, but his eyes glitter with interest.

Onikiri does not hesitate. He crawls forward, sliding his hands up along the thick muscle of Yorimitsu's calves, gripping Yorimitsu's thighs, tilting his head back as he kneels before his master. His fingers, shaking, tug open the robe. He finds the hollow of Yorimitsu's hip, nuzzling into it and breathing deep, letting his mouth press pleadingly across his master's skin, his tongue tracing a path towards Yorimitsu's groin, until he reaches his master's cock -- still heavy and thick -- and takes it gratefully between his lips.

It is easier. As Yorimitsu said: it gets easier each time.

He is thankful for Yorimitsu's forthrightness. When Yorimitsu takes what he wants -- when he does not make Onikiri guess for it, play games around reading his master's mind -- then all Onikiri has to do is withstand what is being done to him, and prove the strength of his steel through the endurance of his flesh. Yorimitsu obliterates everything in his path, including Onikiri's uncertainty; there is no room for anything except for Yorimitsu, and the way he is tempering Onikiri into a better weapon every day.

Whenever Yorimitsu is around, there is a reason for Onikiri's thoughts to not add up. For the way his mind doesn't work correctly yet; for the gaps that give incorrect answers about what he should and shouldn't know. For his memory to skip and refuse to record, for the world to be tangled up in a nonsense jumble of pain and ecstasy and wanting -- so that Onikiri can pick himself out of the rubble afterwards, fitting himself back together with a clear justification for the bruises on his hips, on his wrists, on his throat.

He adores Yorimitsu as more than simply his master: Yorimitsu is the sole solution to everything defective about Onikiri's nature, everything that makes him wrong, the fault running through him that will cause his blade to snap at a critical moment. He was forged improperly. There is an unforgivable flaw inside him that will cause him to break at a crucial moment, and fail his master forever. Onikiri can feel it waiting; he can feel the impurities in his own metal.

But if he can follow the path that Yorimitsu is teaching him, maybe he can still recover. Yorimitsu can remake him. Yorimitsu’s heat, his force, his dominance -- they're a blacksmith's hammer against the anvil, beating the knots out of Onikiri, as relentless as the way Yorimitsu pins Onikiri to the mattress and unpeels the layers of his clothes with as much patience as ripping off a bandage from a still-leaking wound.

It will all snap into place one day. Yorimitsu will give him a new, solid place for his memories to begin from, letting the rest wash away like so much dross. Everything will connect together. Yorimitsu will become his anchor stone.

Onikiri is not perfect yet, but under Yorimitsu's grip, he will become so.

Yorimitsu determines the line between death and life. Yorimitsu cuts away everything everything wordless that refuses to explain itself in Onikiri's thoughts. Yorimitsu's presence means Onikiri's weight being pressed hard against the table, sprawling hard, his fingers scrabbling over paperwork; he means the back of Onikiri's hakama pulled down, spilling around his legs, his loincloth yanked aside while a voice whispers in his ear: did you make yourself ready for me yet?

And he does. In the mornings, in the evenings, in moments mid-afternoon: Onikiri does. He has learned to crave Yorimitsu's touch. He lusts after Yorimitsu's orders. He wants them all the time, this freedom from having to worry, having to think. He loves how Yorimitsu directs him on the battlefield; he loves how Yorimitsu wrenches his head back by the hair, pressing him into the floor.

He loves how Yorimitsu rejects everything in the world into categories of useful and useless, and Onikiri pants aloud with each thrust, pushing back hard to meet his master's hips -- hungry for it, hungry for the one memory that will fix his broken self at last.