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where there used to be a street

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The night Tahomaru remembered his past life, he crawled into his brother’s bed and cried his eyes out into Hyakkimaru’s shoulder, clutching at where his right arm should be. Hyakkimaru had taken his prosthetics off before going to bed. Tahomaru had tripped on his discarded, prosthetic leg in the half-darkness of their shared room when he made his from his study desk (where an old epic about a wandering warrior laid in torn and disordered pages; an epic he himself had written long, long ago) and to Hyakkimaru’s bed. He’d caught himself before he could fall and straightened. Then he saw Hyakkimaru, who’d sat up in his bed at all the commotion and froze.

Hyakkimaru’s blind eyes looked through him, his face pinched with the tiniest hint of concern. He said “are you alright?” in the tone of voice people used when they’d already asked the question several times beforehand. Tahomaru tried to take a steadying breath, to collect himself, but then he only made a small, awful noise in the back of his throat. Instantly, his brother was sitting up fully in his bed. Before he could attempt to stand up, Tahomaru put a shaky hand on his shoulder and sat next to him. An old thought came to him, one which claimed he was the lesser son – weaker and whinier and less wanted by his mother than the mangled stump she’d birthed barely a year before him. The thought fled when a warm, calloused hand covered his own – though it left behind such shame and grief that Tahomaru could only lean over and reach out to Hyakkimaru wordlessly. Hyakkimaru didn’t ask questions, and his silence was as much a comfort as his mere presence when the memories of another lifetime slowly surfaced in Tahomaru’s mind, each sharper than the last.

He remembered the day he, Mutsu and Hyogo had fought the crab monster with the help of an entire village. He remembered how Hyakkimaru had saved Hyogo. He remembered how Hyakkimaru had told him his name afterwards.

He remembered the night that had followed all of this, full of blood and brimstone and his misled attempt to defend his father after his brother had wounded him. He remembered the blank eyes staring at him from beneath a smooth, peaceful brow and how, up close, Hyakkimaru shared a striking resemblance to their mother. He remembers how his father had stabbed Hyakkimaru in the back, repeatedly, without mercy or honor. He remembers the arrow that had pierced his father’s forehead, mid-laugh and right in the center of his crisscrossed scars. His father’s laugh haunted him even now in all of its insanity and hopelessness. It hadn’t been a laugh of the victorious. Tahomaru didn’t know what kind of laugh it had been. There was no answer to that question, and if there was it wouldn’t change the fact that Daigo Kagemitsu had cursed and killed his eldest child.

In the end, Daigo had killed Hyakkimaru, just as he had intended all those years ago. Hyakkimaru had died in his mother’s arms, a fate she’d once begged for only minutes after his birth. Tahomaru remembered how light his brother’s body had been in his arms – half his limbs hollowed like bird-bone, the other emancipated. He remembered the urchin his brother had apparently adopted as she had cried “aniki, aniki!” for the entirety of the ride back to the castle. He had heard her from where she sits upon his mother’s horse, wrapped in the embrace of her silks. Tahomaru’s heart had broken just a bit more with each and every hopeless, desperate cry.

He remembered most of the things that had followed afterwards, and most of his life that he had lived further down the road. The important bits, at least. It was a long life, compared to the one his brother had lived. He couldn’t bring himself to think about it right now.

He took a deep gulp of air, choking down all his newfound knowledge, and leant away from the comfort of the warm body next to him. Hyakkimaru sighed. His brother extended his hand and ruffled his hair, and said, “It’s alright. I remember too.” And that just made Tahomaru bawl his eyes out all over again. Hyakkimaru bundles him up in his arms again, in a way neither of them truly got to experience up until this point, and they fell asleep.

 

This is how their mother found them in the morning when she came to wake for breakfast. Tahomaru helped his brother put his prosthetics on, thinking lamely how he wished that his brother had all of the things he’d been robbed of in the past and not only the one’s he’d managed to regain, that he’d fought for tooth and claw. He pushed the thought away and they made their way down to the kitchen. Tahomaru had always liked eating with his family like this – all of them seated at the same table, sitting close by one another. Today it felt like a particular treasure. If Tahomaru was too withdrawn or too quiet during the meal, neither Hyakkimaru nor their mother call him out on it, for which he was grateful. He wanted to avoid further outburst or embarrassment. His brother’s hand, as if sensing his lingering discomfort from last night, pated his knee under the table. It was a small but appreciated comfort, and it reassured Tahomaru in a way words never could. With a sigh, Tahomaru collected himself and told his mother, quietly, that he would rather not spend this weekend at his dad’s place – that he’d rather stay here with her and Hyakkimaru – his mother merely nods, her eyes bright with understanding.

She kisses both their foreheads and goes to the hall to make the call.