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The Weight of Cloth

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Shinobu tried very, very hard not to think. The gravel digging into her knees, the skin of her hands rubbed raw, the red against white slowly, slowly, washing out. If she focused on sensation alone then she wouldn’t have to remember why she was doing this. She wouldn’t have to remember why there was blood on her sister’s haori, and why she was the one cleaning it out. But if she focused on sensation alone then she could feel the tight lines of dried tears on her face and the hammering of her heart. She bit down on her lip. An overwhelming feeling of sadness was climbing up her throat and threatening to choke her. She wanted to scream until she lost her voice.

Trapped in her task, Shinobu almost didn’t hear the soft footsteps approaching, and jumped a little when she heard Himejima’s voice. “Are you going to wear it?” His voice was careful; he knew exactly how much pain she was in. He had been present at far too much of her tragedy, and he had experienced loss as well. Shinobu scrubbed a little harder at the cloth. She didn't want to face him. “If I don't, then Kanao might. I can't- I can't let her do that to herself.” She heard Himejima sigh. He took a seat next to her. “Then I suppose I can't tell you not to do this to yourself, either.”

Shinobu kept her eyes on the cloth. She wanted to tell him off, to let him know that she was never going to stop fighting; she was going to thrash around and rip and tear until the day she slaughtered the demon that deserved a fate worse than death. Himejima didn't need to hear all of that, though, so she swallowed the feeling in her throat and simply responded, “No, you can't.”

Then she felt Himejima carefully place a comforting hand on her shoulder and she finally faced him. Shinobu had long envied his stature and strength, but at that moment he seemed so small compared to the white-hot rage building inside of her. She watched the tears dripping down his face and pattering lightly onto the ground. Himejima’s anger had mellowed into a deep sadness that his body carried at all times; she felt like she was living in reverse. She looked down at her hands again. Her small hands, wrinkling from the soapy water. “I can't let this body hold me back any longer. I’m going to use every thought, every feeling to make myself stronger.” She gripped the cloth tighter, bubbles frothing between her fingers. “And then I am going to rip that demon’s head from his neck.”

Shinobu could feel her heartbeat in her fingertips as her pulse quickened, fed by the anger that was building into a deep grudge. Himejima’s hand squeezed her shoulder. “Your body doesn't have to be your strength, you know. It's just one of the tools at your disposal.” Shinobu gritted her teeth.

“I know that,” she seethed, “but what good am I if I have trouble raising a sword? What good will I do if I can't even reach the demon’s neck?” She could feel herself getting worked up but she couldn't stop.

“Why do I have to feel so much anger when my body can barely contain it?!”

Himejima suddenly pulled her into a hug. She hadn't even realized she was shaking. His warm hand smoothed down her hair and she felt tears pricking at her eyes. She choked back a sob and spoke softly, almost to herself. “Why did Kanae have to die for me to realize how weak I really am?”

She felt Himejima’s tears staining her shoulder. She wrapped her arms around him as best she could, trying not to curse her body once more for not even allowing her to hug her friend properly. She wanted to be strong--no, she had to be strong--for Kanao, for the promise she made to Kanae, for the memory of her parents. She repeated that over and over, telling herself that it was true until Himejima spoke again.

“To have faced such tragedy and yet still march on is strength in itself, isn't it? The fact alone that you continue to fight shows the determination in your heart. Not any person can stand under such weight, and yet you are running at full speed, time and time again.” Himejima’s voice was muffled against her shoulder and his arms tightened slightly. “You aren't weak, Shinobu. You never have been.”

His sincerity stung like a fresh wound. He was right, in a way, and yet as Shinobu clung to her friend she could feel her heart hardening. No, not hardening--it was being forged anew, made like a blade to withstand many blows. A blade she could wield easily.

Her chest felt tight.

And she let herself cry.