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Guardian of the Mountain

Chapter Text

Someone was watching him. Takasugi couldn't get rid of that feeling. It didn't happen for the first time. Though, it never lasted for long and was easily ignored. It was only making him curious. Who was following him?

"Takasugi!" he heard Katsura. It brought him back to what was happening around him. Nothing interesting, but did anything ever interested him?

He agreed to come to a festival for Katsura, but he didn’t want to bother with looking for him, so he wandered between the stalls. Katsura did find him anyway, so...

Again, he got that feeling that someone was staring at him. What was going on? It had never lasted for so long before...

Takasugi looked back. It only made Katsura called out for him again: “Takasugi! I was waiting for you for hours.”

“The festival is still going on, right?” Takasugi returned his attention to a friend. He did never catch who was following him anyways.

Katsura sighed. He surrendered. It was already an accomplishment that he managed to bring Takasugi to a festival. He hated them for unknown reason hated. Katsura had already learned not to ask too much and not to bother with Takasugi's strange behaviour. So instead, he focused on the festival and making the most of it.

They wandered together a bit. When they were getting closer to the main shrine, Katsura asked: “Have you bought a fortune yet?”

“No, I haven't. You ask me this each year. You know that I don't believe in these things...”

“Scared that you'll get an unlucky one?” Takasugi heard the most annoying voice in this world. He knew this tone better than he wished to.

He looked at the stall. Gintoki was sitting next to it as always smiling daringly.

Katsura knew those two together equal problems or at least a fight. He probably wanted to prevent it, but it was already too late. These two were always somehow finding each other and making troubles. It was always like this.

Takasugi got closer. He threw some coins into a basket and took one of the fortunes, seizing Gintoki with his gaze. Why did they have to turn everything into some dare?

Katsura sighed. “I'll take one too,” he said and after putting coins, he reached for one of the papers. He unwrapped it and read.

“So?” Gintoki asked.

“Good one," Katsura smiled. He looked at Takasugi. "How’s yours?”

He didn't seem pleased with whatever he had read.

“If it's a bad one...” Katsura tried to tell him.

“I know what to do.” He crumbled the paper in his hand and thrust it in his sleeve.

 


 

Takasugi came home late. He wished he would be unnoticed by anyone. The staff had left the main house and his sisters were fast asleep. Though, there was one light that was burning during most of the nights. In his mother's room. Takasugi only inherited this running in family insomnia. 

His footsteps were easily heard because of the old, cracky floor. He wasn't surprised that his mother went out to him.

She smiled when her eyes reached him. That always made him a bit uncomfortable, so he put his gaze down. She was the only person who ever smiled seeing him.

“Did you have fun with your friends?” she asked putting the haori on her shoulders. Every her move was filled with so much grace. That was one of the reasons why even while ageing she was still one of the most beautiful women in their village. Takasugi didn't care much for looks, but he was glad he took that after her. Otherwise, he would hate his own reflection.

“It was just a festival," he brushed it off. "We wandered around, bought fortunes, ate stuff. The usual.”

“Oh, you bought a fortune? How was it?”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

“If it was a bad one...”

“I know. It wasn't bad. The usual good one.”

He saw in her eyes that it didn't convince her. They could deceive the whole world, but not each other.

“Okay," she let him go with it. Probably because of the late hour. "Sleep well, sweetheart.”

“Yeah, whatever."

He went to his room. When he was alone, he took out the fortune out and read it again.

You won't listen, no matter what I tell you.

What the hell was it?

 


 

Next day Takasugi went back to the shrine. The stalls were still there, but everything was emptied. The festival had ended. Now the only thing left was to clean this mess. But it was none of his concerns. 

He didn't know exactly what to do now. It wasn't the best idea to come here.

He wandered a bit between the stalls. He didn't feel watched like last night. This time there was no one. Maybe this should be eerier than being watched in a crowd. There should be someone to at least clean after the festival.

Even though Takasugi prefered being alone, that was meaning he wouldn't get any answers. That was bothersome.

He reached the shrine. The main hole always impressed him. Their village was still pretty wealthy thanks to the many samurai families who lived there, but this building and others in the complex were surely a remanent of some lost prosperity. Of the country, their village and the priest family, which lineage was seemingly going to burn out. There was left only one descendant, who didn't appear to want to perceive his kin. Though, he had adopted or rather took from nowhere two white-haired boys.

Takasugi remembered how people were saying it would bring bad luck. Even though Gintoki was a calamity, the world hadn't ended and shrine seemed to prosper since then. So maybe that was only smalltown people's talk.

Either way, the shrine was his dead end. All that was left for him to do was to turn back and come home.

Out of the habit, he threw a coin to the wooden box and clapped his heads twice.

Let me find out who did it, so I can kick their ass.

Nothing happened. Figures.

“Maybe try at the upper shrine.”

Takasugi looked back. He hadn't noticed anyone earlier, but now there was a white-haired man in priest-like clothes standing there with a broom. That had to be Oboro. Takasugi had heard about him, but he hadn't seen him before. Though he seemed like a person that could be easily forgotten and overlooked.

The man dared to speak up again. “Gods are always willing to help, but some of them are busy and far away. It's good to try to pray to the local ones. They can help."

“I didn't come to pray... It wasn't my main intention.”

“Oh. I apologize.” Oboro lowered his head.

“I wanted to ask about something. Who writes the fortunes for festivals?”

“Was there anything wrong with your...?”

“Someone wanted to pull a prank. That's all.”

“Are you sure? Maybe it is a case to ask the gods for their help?”

Takasugi rolled his eyes. Right. “Just tell me who was in charge of writing them.”

“There's a lot of work with them, so everyone had their role in it.”

So Gintoki had taken part in it. Of course.

Speaking of which, he came to the hearing some noise in this always lifeless shrine.

“Oboro, what's wrong?” Gintoki asked.

“There were some problems with the fortunes…” Oboro spoke up. “Could it be…?” he started, but Gintoki interrupted him and faced Takasugi:

“Listen, chibi, maybe someone wanted to pull a prank on someone else, yeah, possible, but it wasn’t any of us. We have enough work with writing and then selling all this bullshit to get creative about it.”

“I believe it would only make you creative.”

Oboro secretly nodded.

“Like I care what you believe. The mystery will remain unsolved. Bare with it,” Gintoki said and returned to his duties. More because of the need for a dramatic exit than being responsible.

Whatever. It didn't matter anyway.

Oboro stayed with him and spoke up one more time: “If you have any doubts, ask the gods for their guidance.”

He wouldn't ask anyone for anything. He would deal with it by himself. At least as Gintoki said - this one mystery would remain unsolved.

Walking back to the town he noticed the path to the upper shrine. He knew it was concentrated for a local god but had he ever visited it? He couldn't exactly recall it, but he had some blurred feeling he knew how to get there. Maybe someone told him this. Probably Katsura, he was always talking without sense and about everything.

Was it worth a try?

Did he have anything better to do that day?

He went up the forest path to the higher place. There were only a small shrine and a cabin next to it. Maybe in the times of lost prosperity, someone in charge of looking after this shrine was staying there. Or maybe it was always only storage.

Takasugi got close to the shrine. It was probably the oldest part of this whole complex. Was it built before any other building or others were rebuilt so many times that over the years only this place stayed untouched? He could ask Katsura about it, he should know.

Takasugi had some more coins. He could repeat the same thing he had done back at the main shrine...

It was only a waste of time.

He got again that eerie feeling of being watching. He turned back. His eyes finally caught that person. There was a man in beige, casual clothing. Long blond hair. Gentle, a bit childish smile. Takasugi couldn’t guess by looking at him how old he was. It was a mix of child-like and mature. And something that made air heavy.

“I'm sorry if my little prank made you worry,” the man spoke.

“What...?”

“Your fortune from yesterday. I hadn't thought it would bother you so much.”

“I was just bored today... You have done it?”

The man nodded. There was something awfully familiar in him. Like Takasugi had seen him many times before. But he definitely did not...

“So what's your name?” Takasugi asked.

“Oh, I have too many names. Lately, they call me Guardian of the Mountain... But if I were human, I would go by Yoshida Shouyou.”

That man was messing with him. At this point, Takasugi was sure of it. Maybe everything that man said was a lie. He could have overheard him in the main shrine and followed him here. It seemed probable. But if it was true, he couldn’t have any good intentions.

Takasugi had to play himself out of this situation. “You thought about it a lot?”

“About the human name? Probably I spent too much time watching pine trees,” he chuckled. “But it does suit me, doesn't it?” The stranger walked towards him and smiled. “You don't believe me.”

“Why would I believe you in anything?”

“You're right.” He stopped. “It was pleasure finally meet you.”

God or not, there was surely something captivating in this man... Takasugi brushed off this thought. He should better leave.

 


 

The stranger seemed to leave him in peace. For weeks Takasugi hadn't felt watched. Maybe that was for the better... 

The mystery still wasn't solved. Everything only became stranger. It nearly made him wishing to meet that man again. To get some answers.

Whatever. It was too bothersome to try to find him, so Takasugi gave up.

Luckily, meanwhile the day got warmer and warmer, so he had more occasion to spend time outside his home and soon even warm enough to swim in the river. That was his favourite thing to do. Nearly no one knew about it. Well, his mother did, but apart from that probably only Katsura. His sisters never followed him here and he would prefer not to be forced to be responsible for their safety. This spot wasn't the safest. The river current varied and even Takasugi sometimes had to fight his way back to the shore.

But if one day he would lose against the river, he wouldn't mind it...

The water was still covert in sakura's petals even though the flowers withered a few days ago. Takasugi wished he could 'learn about himself by experiencing the beauty of nature', but before he even laid his eyes on anything he was told what to think about it. He was told what to be. And even if he tried to think on his own, every part of nature had an established form of celebration. The memories from these were forcing his mind to follow only one possible path of understanding the world. And sometimes even less, it only made him relieve the moments of shame and inferiority.

Like now, surrounded by pink petals, all he could think about was how each year's hanami, like any public occasion, was almost physically draining. This whole play-pretend his family was pulling off was always so tiring and annoying. Acting like they were important when all samurai families were looking down on them because of their small fortune. They were no one in this world. And no one would ever remember that they existed...

He lay on the water surface and floated. He let the water take all his thoughts down the stream. Until there was only calming silence in him. Why the rest of his life could be like this? So natural and calming?

Maybe he was as always asking for too much.

Takasugi came back to the shore. He brushed off a few petals that stayed on him and let his body dry in the sun. He felt he was watched. Out of all possible moment, this one?

Yet, he didn't feel uncomfortable or threatened. Maybe this spot was calming him to the point when nothing could disrupt it.

"Shouyou, I know you're here," he said without opening his eyes.

"I do bother you a lot, don't I?" he heard that actually even pleasant voice. "Aren't you afraid of going so far into the woods all by yourself?"

Yeah, he forgot sometimes that no one went there. It wasn't actually far from the village. It rather seemed like people were avoiding the forest surrounding the mountain. That made it a perfect spot for him. And it wasn't like there was some danger lurking in the woods.

"It's safe here. There are no wolves," he repeated what his mother used to say. There are no wolves, but there are a lot of different dangers in this world... He looked at Shouyou. He seemed disturbed by this worlds. "What? There are wolves here?"

"Not lately..." he started slowly. "Maybe I'm so old that I remember when this forest was still inhabited by wolves..."

"Right."

He was again on that being God bullshit. Takasugi didn't care if it was true or not. It didn't have any value for him. If the man wanted to play being whatever he wanted, he could.

"There is a festival again, right?" Takasugi started.

"I thought you were not interested in events like this."

"I have to go to watch over my sisters."

"I see."

"Will you...?" he stopped. Why did he try to ask that?

"I'll try not to bother you as much as the last time."

"Good."

 


 

At the evening Takasugi went to the festival. He was supposed to watch over his sisters, but they weren't little kids, so he let them get further from him. He wandered around without any cause. Events like these didn't interest him at all. He could try to find Katsura, he should be somewhere around, but he was probably hanging out with Gintoki. Takasugi had no strength to bear with that idiot this evening. 

Someone was watching him. Of course. He looked back and noticed a person with a black fox mask covering his face. The man moved the mask a bit and revealed his face. Shouyou. He smiled at him but didn’t do any move towards him.

Takasugi approached him. He had one more thing to ask this man. Maybe this time he would receive the truth.

“Why are you always watching me?”

“You seem interesting.” Shouyou smiled warmly.

How? nearly escaped his lips. What could be interesting in a wayward son of low-class samurai?

“Why are you wearing this mask today?”

“I’m getting more and more recognised.”

“By who?”

“People. Back in a day, there was a tradition that masked person was a personification of the god himself during the festival...”

"Oh, yeah, of course." Takasugi rolled his eyes.

“You don't believe in gods at all?” Shouyou asked softly. So softly it made Takasugi regret using such a mocking tone.

“Rather I don't care.”

“How cold of you.”

“Whatever gods exist or not, it doesn't change much. They don't care about people, so why should I care about them?”

“So you say gods don't care..."

"Why would they? No one would look on something so much weaker than themselves and end up caring."

"Huh..." Shouyou thought about it for a moment. "Maybe imagine it like a child with ants. Is a child more powerful and more ancient than an ant? Still, sometimes, this child will help an ant who got into a building to get out back to nature.”

“Or he will crush them. Hurt them in many different ways.”

“Isn't it how the relationship between people and gods work? Yet, in the end, the ants will eat us all.”

“Takasugi!” he heard Katsura. He turned to see him. When he looked back, there was no one beside him.

Chapter Text

Shouyou learnt to like humans. He liked watching all their little struggles. It never tired him listening about their worries and hearing their wishes... Yet, he still couldn't forget how vicious creature they could become. How much suffering they could cause. To each other. To him. To the world around them. Nothing like that had a place since the villagers started to worship him, though he was still wary of people. At least adults.

Shouyou didn’t know why, but it was easier for him to interact with children. He often sneaked to the local school, built right on the slope of his mountain, and posed as a teacher.

However, one day kids were turning into dangerous adults. Society forced on them norms and believes. Some preserved their uniqueness. Some tried to stand against it, but that attitude rarely lasted long.

How would it be with that one boy?

Shouyou knew the answer. It didn't stop him from watching him.

Maybe he should learn some self-discipline. Getting so close to the mortals was always bringing misfortune and misery... Every hundred years he was letting himself for it.

Maybe he would never learn.

The boy often wandered in the mountain's forest. He was feeling there safer than in the human crowd. There was no way how to explain to him how much misfortune he could bring on himself this way. Yet, if he was throwing his life as a human... No. Shouyou shouldn't think about it this way. Human life should be always protected and preserved. That was Shouyou's role as a Guardian of the Mountain.

Maybe eight hundred years weren't enough for him to learn his duties.

In this year, he was making even more mistakes. He reached out to this boy. Meet with him a few times. Talk to him. And it all had a result. The boy started to wander closer to his shrine, thinking about him a lot, hesitating, but in that hesitation asking to meet him again.

Like every hundred years, there would be any suffering in the end.

One day the boy came again to the shrine.

Why? Was it again boredom?

Shouyou watched him carefully from afar. The boy didn’t ask for anything. Even in the deepest parts of his heart. There was hesitation in him, many doubts and some resentment. Shouyou couldn’t pick up any strong feelings or thoughts. Only common for turning adult problems. What brought him up here then?

Shouyou showed up for him. It was the best option for interaction with this boy.

Takasugi turned to him when he felt him. “So, you’re here.”

“What else could be expected? You visited my shrine.” Shouyou smiled at him. "Do you come with some intention?" He looked passed him. Before the shrine was left a package with onigiris. “You even brought an offering.”

Boy's cheeks reddened a bit. “You can have them.”

“You don't have to run away so quickly," Shouyou chuckled. "You can stay here. We can talk a bit if you want.”

Takasugi sat on the stone near the shrine and looked at Shouyou. “You haven’t followed me in a while.”

“It seemed that it started to bother you, so I kept my distance... Maybe it’s better to ask why you came here? You were never eager to turn to the gods for help. Did something happened?”

“No, it's just..." There were so much hopelessness and resentment in his heart, it was surely hard to put it into words. "I was bored. That's all.” He tried to hide it under different words, he turned his gaze away. He didn't know Shouyou could still read all of it form his heart and soul.

“Hm, I understand,” Shouyou hummed. He knew that this kind of statement would bring him only a sharp look of this eyes, but he couldn't help teasing him. “You don't think I can help?”

“As an all-mighty Guardian of the Mountain? I don't think so."

"You still don't believe gods can help?"

"Your 'kid and the ant' analogy wasn't helpful," Takasugi scoffed.

“Then maybe try to look at it from a different perspective. You know..." he sat next to him. "People are pretty vicious creatures, don't you think? Even if gods are stronger than them, they learn how to keep them, how to kill them, how to make them suffer. It isn't up to anyone's liking to help or not to help. It's more of a survival tactic. We grant your wishes and protect you from calamities, you remember about us and protect us from yourselves.”

“So you're the hostage?”

“Rather a mad dog on a short leash... It could be worse. I get food and shelter. No one's hurting me. Luxury for someone like me. Lately fewer people bother me, so I have my peace...” He ate onigiri deep in thought. “The worse one I ever tasted...” he sighed. “Why did you come here today?”

“You're calling yourself a god, you don't know?”

“You're hard to see through. Sometimes humans’ motifs become so complex and complicated even them alone have a problem to untangle them.”

Takasugi looked away. “I just need a place to hide.”

“If you ever need one again, you’ll be always welcome here.”

“I'll get better with this... Or I will bring something else.”

“I'll be waiting for you.”

 


 

The mountain bloomed. It was the middle of the springtime, but Shouyou knew there was more meaning in it than the time of the year.

Next time, he met that boy was underneath the oldest wisteria. Takasugi was wandering around between the branches, quietly forming prayers that slowly reached the divine. Shouyou decided to come to meet him.

"You're going to scold me about stray off the village again?" he asked when he saw him. "Or do you want to protect me from wolves?"

"I would be honoured if I could." Shouyou smiled. He looked at the boy, but he still couldn't see through what he wanted to hide from. All he could do was to ask. "You wanted a place to hide. What is bothering you that much lately?”

“You should already know, don't you?”

“Or I may see through you and know what's the real reason, without knowing the one you think is the one? Or I may want to hear you put it in your own words?”

“Why would you want it?”

“All I do is listening to people. It seems to help you. So I can hear you out too.”

“Whatever.”

“I know you're lost and you are not sure which path in your life to choose. But it is not up to me to solve it for you. It would be only forcing you to one of the options and you would only feel miserable.”

“Do you always have like three version of the answer and you're just telling all of them at once? Decide on one, it will sound more believable then.”

“I'll try,” Shouyou smiled.

God or not God, Takasugi started to like him. He was harsh towards everyone, opened out slowly, never show affection. The beginnings were always rough, but after them was coming a pleasant middle and... And a sad goodbye. There was always a goodbye at the end of this road. Why was it so hard to keep someone forever after. No one could ever ask for much... Only one person for forever after. Nothing more. Was it truly so much that it would cause the balance of the universe would break down? Would there be such a big price? Who knew...

“My father wants to arrange my marriage,” Takasugi spilt it out.

“Maybe you'll find happiness in it.”

“I don't think so. It would only bind me to one place.”

“Maybe you’ll fall in love.”

“I won't.”

“Why?”

“I don't find women interesting in this sense.”

“So who is interesting in this sense?”

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. All Shouyou needed is that the boy thought about it for a moment.

He was only interested in men.

Shouyou could look into something connected to that thought. How tiresome was for him being in the presence of women. How much attention he gave to men knowing at the same time he couldn’t raise his hand to reach for them.

And there was one thing that was unvoluntary catching this boy's attention...

No.

Shouyou backed off. He didn't mean to deprive that boy's privacy.

And...

It was too early for Shouyou to see that. But... Everything lately was happening out of order.

“No one will find you here if you don't wish for it,” Shouyou said.

“Good to know.”

"You can ask for anything you need to. Whether it would be something big or small."

“What would be the price of it?”

Shouyou smiled. Such a smart boy.

“There won't be any. I'm Guardian of this Mountain. I'm simply taking care of anyone who happens to come here in good faith.”

“You like doing that?”

“It isn't bad. And... Someone important asked me to do it.”

“That person bind you to do this place or were you...”

“I was just a spirit back then. That person made me God.”

“Is it good for you?”

“It's better than it was before. Yes. Even if I have to do certain things, I prefer this life.”

Takasugi hummed but didn't ask more. He’d already showed up more interest than he prefered to.

It didn't matter for Shouyou. Even if it delayed some questions, what time meant for him. Just blinking twice and they would be back in this talk. He didn't mind telling this boy about everything.

 


 

Takasugi kept coming to the mountain a lot. He got familiar with Shouyou. They began to swim in a pleasant middle.

"What was my real fortune?" Takasugi asked once. He found old fortunes left many years ago at the upper shrine. They were still in good shape, cause Shouyou tried to perceive everything around this place.

“You can take one of these and we'll see,” he prompted the boy.

“But if I happen to have a literal god by my side, why do I bother with it? You can just tell me.”

“Ceremonials are important.”

“I never care about them.”

"And I thought you didn't care about fortunes..."

"I can be curious."

“Take one. I'll tell you if it's true or not.”

Takasugi surrendered and picked one of the fortunes. He read it out loud. "You will grow to be one of the greatest men, but your life won't be long enough to prove it... Isn't it like the worse possible?"

Shouyou kept silent. He only watched as the meaning of these words was slowly coming to the boy.

"They were writing more scary sounding fortunes before?" he asked. Only one more question that was keeping him from understanding, that let him push it away and laugh it off.

Shouyou wanted to protect him from that truth, but he was not going to lie to him. "Some words might have changed but the form of the fortunes shouldn't be that different from the ones you know."

"Okay..." He pushed the fortune paper to the rest of it. "Will I suffer?" he asked after a moment of silence. His hand reached for another fortune. Rationally, bad luck could be written down on all, but there wasn't a case human logic could understand. No matter which one would he pick back, there was only one future for him. And no matter how else would try to find this one fortune, they would never find it.

Shouyou stopped his hand. "Your path is not yet decided...”

"Why are you lying?" Takasugi looked him in the eyes.

"That used to be your future, but now it's gotten a bit blurry. It would be easier to judge if I was only an observer. It always harder to understand things that are close to us... Also when the divine and mortal get in touch, everything's starts to get complicated."

"You got bored one day and decided to complicate the life of someone with the most tragic fortune?"

"You're making me want to complicate it even more," Shouyou smiled. He tried to see through this boy again and as always fail. He wanted... He needed to know if he was going to be okay even after hearing so ominous fortune. "Would you be okay?"

"Yeah. Why wouldn't I?"

"After hearing that..."

"I can't do anything about that, so why would I care. It only says that I'll die. Everyone dies someday."

"You will die young..."

"Maybe this week, maybe this year, maybe in a few years. We'll see... And maybe the first part of the fortune won't even turn true."

Shouyou blinked a few times. He couldn't catch what the boy referred to. Oh...

"You're already one of the greatest men."

"Oh, that one you can see clearly?"

"Everyone can see it."

"I think that there's only you who sees it like that."

"Maybe you didn't meet right people yet. Humans often blind themselves with prejudgment..." It wasn't that. He did meet good people on his path already. Shouyou had seen that. But no matter who would do anything, that was not getting to Takasugi's heart. "You don’t see yourself that way. You don’t think you’re a man of virtue."

“I know myself best.”

“Or maybe you blinded yourself with someone else’s opinion?”

“Whatever,” he moved nervously.

“I made you mad?”

“No...” he stopped caught off guard. “You’re never making me mad," his voice became a bit softer on these words. He soon corrected his tone, but Shouyou noticed that. "At least not for a longer time. After a moment I’m over it.” He looked away.

“Hm... Does it mean I can tease you more?” Shouyou smiled at him.

“You can."

Chapter Text

The rainy season came, trapping whole Takasugi's family inside their mansion. Unexpectedly it didn't turn out the worst for him this year. He always got in a lot of conflicts and arguments, though he could see now that it was another thing he took after his mother, with maybe some addition of the stubbornness and pride from father side.

The real storm in their household happened when the rains outside quietened.

"Everything's blooming so nicely lately, it has to be a good sign," Takasugi's mother hummed while arranging the freshly cut flowers. "And the colours are more lively than before. Maybe nature came back from griefing..."

She stopped when she heard disapproval in her mother-in-law sigh. "What?" She didn't care if that sounded a bit harshly.

"You are not from this family, so you may not know many things," the old woman replied.

"Oh, then please, teach me, mother," she smiled but she would prefer to choke than to repeat these words.

"It isn't a good sign," old woman only muttered. "What is given, has to be taken one day..."

"So? We can't let ourselves for little happiness, cause soon the pain will come back? That's what you want me to teach my children? I think the hell and all its demons are waiting for you and you should leave them hanging for these long, old hag."

"You will never learn."

"Oh, I learn one thing - there won't be any other life when I would marry your son."

For the first time, Takasugi saw her enraged by something. Mostly she was like in a constant dreaming state. Just scrolling the corridors. Now he could see that it was all because she was pacified at every step like a wild animal brought out of their habitat only to be shown off to the people.

She calmed down when her mother-in-law left. She noticed then all her children saw and heard the whole scene.

"Don't worry," she smiled a bit. She wanted to soften what had happened, but she didn't know how. "Mommy has her issues, but she loves all of you. You're my whole happiness." She sat next to them.

All would sound nice if they weren't in fact raised by the household service. It wasn't uncommon, but... But how could someone be your whole happiness if you nearly didn't spend time with them?

Maybe she heard that hypocrisy in her voice too, so she moved to a pleasant, simpler subject. Her hand returned to the flowers. Fully bloomed violet hydrangeas.

"Pretty, aren't they? I started to grow sick of the blue once. Thankfully something is happening this year..." she chuckled.

"What is happening?" one of his sisters asked. Takasugi rolled his eyes, they weren't kids anymore, they were too old of mother's crazy fairy tales.

"Hm, what that could be..." She took her on her lap. That was a rather unusual act of intimacy. "Maybe local god is no longer sad, hm? Maybe we would even see pink flowers... There was a legend..." she hummed like she wanted to remind herself the tale. "The emperor fell in love with a girl. He couldn't be with her, so they both suffered. After years when he couldn't forget about her, he came up with the solution. They could finally be together, but it would not erase all the pain they'd been through. So when he came to her and her family, he had a bouquet of the blue hydrangeas and only asked for forgiveness. The girl accepted his apology and the petals of the flowers turned pink as the love in their hearts bloomed again and healed them..."



It didn't take long since the next storm came in their household. This time engaging the only two male representatives.

Takasugi had argued with his father. Again. He stormed out from the home. Again. He ran as far as his legs could take him. Again. He stopped only when he was too exhausted to run ever again. Only then he felt the rain on his cheek.

Whatever. That was too little to drown him as he would wish to.

He headed to the mountain. Where else could he go? He wanted to be alone, but not exactly alone. He wanted to hide so deep in the woods that no one could find him, but he wanted to be found by someone. He wanted to stay silent but talk for hours without making much sense. He wanted to harbour everything inside, but let it all out. And for all these contradicting feelings, he knew one place.

Rain turned to storm. The forest path became slippery. But he knew it well. He went up and down it so many times this spring. So he only ran faster, when only his leg let him to.

“Look out!” he heard. He didn’t get a moment to react before someone grabbed him and pulled him away from the edge. He couldn’t feel any warmth even if he was pushed into someone’s chest. Maybe they were both frozen by the rain. Maybe.

Takasugi raised his head to see how to catch him, but his heart already knew or it just knew who he wished to see there.

Shouyou.

He was smiling warmly to him. And he was still keeping him in his arms.

“I’ll take you somewhere warm, okay?” he said.

Takasugi nodded. Then in a blink of an eye, they were in another place. “You really are something.”

Shouyou chuckled. “Let’s go.” He moved back from him. Unfortunately.

Takasugi looked around. He knew where they were. He recognised the lower shrine. Why...? Oh... They headed to the priest family house. Shouyou brought him to other people.

It was okay. Being alone at the mountain during the storm wasn’t smart. That was a better way. He repeated to himself. All logical and rational. The only thing that was ruining this order was Shouyou presence. Takasugi thought he would disappear, but he went in the priest’s house.

“Oboro, Gintoki, can you help me?” he asked casually the young men.

The white-haired serious man nodded and was ready to hear any command. Gintoki was here too, lazily sitting and digging in his nose. He had to always show how much he wasn't caring about everything, no matter what was the truth. Although, this time he sighed and said: “I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you,” Shouyou smiled to him. “Oboro, can you make a tea then?”

He nodded and went out of the room.

“Why are you standing like that?” Gintoki threw. Takasugi didn’t notice when he came to him. “You’re going or you want to freeze here in these clothes?”

Takasugi went after him, but his eyes stayed as long as they could on Shouyou.

“You know him?” He asked when he got out of God’s charm.

“Yeah, we know him. You know we kinda live in this shrine. Now, get change.” Gintoki pushed him some towels and dry clothes.

When Takasugi came back in warm, dry clothes, Shouyou was just sitting here sobbing his tea.

“Where’s Nobume?” god asked.

“She's definitely somewhere,” Gintoki sighed.

“She's still a wild creature, hm?” he drank his tea deep in thought.

“He will come back soon,” Oboro said.

“Oh, right,” Shouyou smiled. “I should leave. It was lovely to see both of you.” He looked at Takasugi. “It's better if you stay here.”

And he disappeared. Just like that.

The room filled with silence. Takasugi ran his gaze around the room. Whatever to distract his mind. His eyes focused on Gintoki's sword. It always felt eerie that some loafer with no family would have something that should be belonging to a samurai.

What if the sword used to be Shouyou's... Then...

“Shouyou took you in, not the priest, right?”

Oboro nodded. “He saved us.”

Takasugi would like to hear the whole story, but both of the white heads were not the best storytellers. Gintoki never looked at anything that past him, Oboro hardly ever talked. Takasugi could only sigh and drink his tea.

The main priest came back. Why would Shouyou hide from him? There were so many things going on around Takasugi had no idea where to start asking. Anyway, the priest proposed to walk him home. Takasugi thanked him but rejected his offer. He went out alone.

However, outside he didn't feel alone. He looked around. It was already after dark and the sky was shielded by heavy clouds making it hard to see anything. His eyes needed a moment to adjust.

The rain had stopped recently, cause the air was still filled with the smell of the humidity. And also the fragrance of flowers. Same as the one that bloomed by his home lately. Hydrangeas.

They were deep purple.

Whatever. He pushed the strange tale away and focused on the moment.

“Are you here, Shouyou?”

“You should head home. It’s late.” he heard. When he followed the sound he finally caught where Shouyou was. He was there with some little girl Takasugi had never seen before. Was she the one they mentioned before?

“Take me with you.”

“You still need a place to hide?”

"Yeah."

"Well..." He turned to the girl. “Nobume, if anything happens, try to calm them down, he’ll be safe with me.”

She nodded and looked at Takasugi. She had that watchful eyes that usually made people scared. Like she was seeing everyone as a potential enemy.

It used to be like this with Gintoki when they were kids. It lightened with age as he accustomed to the people. Maybe it was the same case with her.

Soon Takasugi's thoughts got interrupted. Shouyou took gently his hand. His skin seemed a bit cold, but it wasn't unpleasant. He moved them to another place. This time Takasugi couldn’t recognise it. It seemed to be some old, abandoned home. “Where...?”

“It’s the house next to my shrine. I'm sorry if it's cold...”

“It's okay,” he said suppressing the impulse to rub his shoulders together.

“Don't act out," Shouyou said tenderly. "I can help you if you say what’s wrong.” Shouyou moved closer to him. “Close your eyes for a moment.”

“No.”

“Stubborn.” Shouyou leaned and kissed his forehead. Suddenly his body felt a bit warmer. “It's a temporary solution. Next time tell me sooner if you need anything.”

Takasugi needed someone to remind him how to breathe.

Okay, he got this, everything was as it always was. A bit unfortunately.

Shouyou sat down gracefully. He didn't expect or force Takasugi into anything. He was simply here for him.

That made him unable to calm down for a completely different reason than during the rest of the evening.

He needed to come back to his senses. He looked around the room. It didn't look much ruined no matter how long ago the last person lived here, it was just the air of the place that no one looked in for years, decades... It was rather strictly furnished, usefulness over the decor, but it was something he was used to. There was some old mattress, so he could easily spend here a night. He could hide here. His wish was granted.

Maybe that was all that was happening. Only a local god granting wishes. Nothing more. How shameless of Takasugi was to think there could be something...

But.

This moment seemed so painfully nostalgic.

Shouyou gently hummed a melody. Takasugi knew it. At least he thought he did. It was like he never heard it before, but if he got an instrument he would be able to play it.

“Shouyou... Can we talk?”

“Of course.”

“Why do I find you so familiar. I don’t recall meeting you before this spring, but... somethings feel familiar. Like the trail to the shrine..." like that melody, like the sound of your voice, like hearing you laugh...

"Everything is linked in some way. Like what you people called it the red string of fate. There really is something like this. Humans don't usually feel it, but creatures like me are fully aware of them."

Takasugi smiled. "I can even tell when you're lying." A situation like this, filled with lies and disorientation, should make him annoyed. But somehow the only thing he could feel was overfilling joy. "It isn't the first life when we meet, right? How... how many times before it happened?"

Shouyou was silent for a moment. “This is the eighth time..." he spoke finally.

"You were my beloved, right?" Takasugi hummed. Somehow it felt like it. Like his fingers knew not only that melody but also the sensation of running along Shouyou's body and his lips craved to meet again Shouyou's.

"... Each time we met again and we fell in love... I wanted to make you fall in love with me again, but you're too smart to be fooled."

“Do you think I haven't fallen for you already?”

He didn't. But in his defence, Takasugi neither voiced this thought before himself. It was just one of these moments of clarity.

Shouyou smiled. Takasugi moved closer to him. Like if he wanted to mark his words. He dared to touch Shouyou. To traced over his beautiful features. And God let him. Takasugi could do anything that was on his mind since spring, though now one thing started to bother him. “So it's all some fate and this kind of things...”

“I’m not sure. It rather seems to be against our fates," Shouyou spoke. He tried to keep his voice under control. Show no emotion. But Takasugi could feel pain in it. What else could be expected if Shouyou saw him die seven times already? Takasugi was sure they were together until deaths torn them apart. He would never let someone so important to slip through his fingers. "But who knows," Shouyou sighed. "Since it's become my fate as well, I can no longer see it clearly. Maybe meeting and saying goodbyes are our fate... But then..."

"What?”

“This time everything happens in the wrong order. We should have met for the first time this night... I would have saved you from the storm and given you shelter here...”

“What changed it?”

“God’s intervention.” Shoutout smiled.

“Your fortune? You lured me to you.”

“I teased you not knowing the outcome. I can foresee a human's future, not my own.”

Takasugi let him continue.

“It started even earlier. I've already met you too soon. You were such an adorable child. You cling to everything that showed in your surroundings and you catch it,” Shouyou said with a smile. Soon his expression clouded. “You can’t imagine much fear seeing that could have brought in me. I felt like I destroyed everything for no one knows how many lifetimes. But you lived on, grew up healthy. I tried to stay away not to bring any harm to you, but sometimes I caught a glimpse or two. Who would judge me that once I got overconfident and a bit bored?”

“Why haven't you come sooner.”

“I was afraid. I was afraid of losing you again. No matter how much I wanted to protect you, human life is too fragile.”

“You’re a god. Can’t you make me immortal or something? Bring me back if I die?”

“For everything, there is a price. And it’s better not to play with fate.”

“You said you didn’t know your fate and mine, because it got tangled with yours. So how can you be sure what is and what isn’t your, our fate actually?”

“But I know the prices that would have to be paid.”

“What is it?” Takasugi couldn't back off. He wanted, he wanted to stay close to Shouyou, to be like this forever.

Shouyou looked at him sadly. “As always - life. In one way or other. I wouldn't rip your life from you. I would never do that.”

“What if I don't want my life?”

Shouyou cradled his face in his hands. “Please, don't. It isn't a decision to be made so recklessly. Long life has more downsides than you people tend to think. There's a lot of bad in this world and it just keeps accumulating in you. Sometimes I don't know how am I still holding on. Maybe because I'm afraid my outburst would bring on me even more malice.”

“So let me purify you.” His arms wrapped around Shouyou.

“Do you think you have this kind of ability?” He smirked. He could never help teasing him.

“It won't hurt to try.”

“It might.”

“You know me. I'm stubborn. I'll try anyway.” Takasugi brushed hair out of Shouyou's face.

“So? What are you planning to do?”

“Kissing you.”

“I think you may try that.”

Takasugi leaned to him. He kissed him gently. How many of kisses like that Shouyou knew? Did they kiss before? Probably. Being close like that felt nostalgic.

“Have we kissed before?” Takasugi voiced these thoughts.

Shouyou smiled and move closer. “We did.”

“So can I kiss you again?”

“Yes.”

Takasugi moved even closer. He kissed him and kissed him. He never wanted to end it. It was so good. He rested his hands on Shouyou’s robes, but soon it became not enough. He wanted so much more. He nuzzled into him.

“What are you doing?” Shouyou asked teasingly.

“Looking for warmth.”

“You're still cold?”

“Maybe a bit.”

Shouyou moved back maybe to cast a spell, but Takasugi took his face and led him to his lips again. It still worked. Soon, he felt a lot warmer.

“All your spells contains kissing?”

“Only if I’m casting them on you.”

Takasugi chuckled. He rested his head on Shouyou’s shoulder. That was a lot for one night. Even if he felt that there might be something like that, still...

“You were so surprised I wasn't believing in gods cause in every one of my past lifetimes I was a believer?”

“No. Each time you hadn't believe in anything until you met me, sometimes even for longer," Shouyou chuckled. "I love to tease you about it.”

“And you asked me each time about it? Wasn’t it boring to listen to the same thing over and over.”

“I like to listen to you. Sometimes you used different words. Sometimes you used other arguments. It always gave me a look into the person you were. And I liked picking up all the small differences between your incarnation. Maybe I was falling for you every time too?”

“This time too?”

“This time too,” he said caressing his cheek. How someone’s voice can become so honey-like. “You were never a believer at the beginning. Although later on, you were becoming such a devoted man, I wonder why?”

Takasugi laughed.

He never felt so good whole his life. It didn’t seem real. But each time he reached to Shouyou, he felt him under his fingers.

“You were the first one to believe in me,” Shouyou murmured.

“What?” Takasugi looked him in the eyes.

“I'm just some lone spirit. I was a bit of a vicious creature. Somehow you could look past through it... Your struggles made me regain my faith in humanity...”

“So I made you God?”

“You pushed the world towards believing in me. You told me to watch over this village until you come back. And so I waited.”

“Huh...”

“People aren't the most welcoming beings until they see they can gain something... I wonder what you gained by staying by my side...”

“I've gained what's the most valuable in the world.”

“Huh? What was it?”

“You. Because all that matters is you.”

“You could always talk your way out of everything.”

“I’m serious.”

“I know.” Shouyou moved closer to him. He didn't do anything. Takasugi leaned to kiss him.



Takasugi came back to his family home in the morning. He knew that started a lot of the talks about how irresponsible he was and how much shame he was bringing for the family. He didn't listen. He had more pleasant thoughts to drown in.

Since that one night, hydrangeas turned pink.



The rainy season kept him unfortunately mostly at home, but having something to look forward to was a pleasant change from his regular life. Sometimes he ran out home even if the weather wasn't best. Sometimes waiting was becoming too much.

But would anyone wonder? He was running to his beloved...

Of course, everyone would wonder. No one knew to who he was running to and if they found out, then Takasugi would become a truly shameful man in their eyes. Calling a God his. That wasn't happening in the strangest fairy tales.

Yet, it happened to him.

And like this rains passed quickly leading them to another festival. Takasugi wasn't as reluctant towards it as he used to.

Tanabata. The meeting of the divine lovers...

“Everything’s okay with you lately?” Zura asked.

“Yeah. Why not?”

“You seem distant.”

His mind was occupied a bit lately.

“It’s better to see less of him,” Gintoki interrupted them. He joked around and kept Katsura busy, but when their friend left them for a moment, he said to Takasugi. “Whatever you’re doing. Be careful. No one wants to tell stories of how you get spirited away.”

“I thought you would be on Shouyou’s side.”

“I’ll always be. Just no one can ever be sure.”

“Don’t sweet talk me. I know what...” he stopped halfway. He noticed him in the crowd. He wore the fox mask again.

“You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

Takasugi didn't pay any more attention to him. He walked to Shouyou.

The rain didn't fall down that day. The divine lovers had met.

Chapter Text

Someone grabbed Takasugi's hand stopping him from going. He looked back.

“Where are you going?” Oboro asked.

Wasn't it obvious?

“Up.”

Oboro let go of his hand, but he seemed worried. That stopped Takasugi from pursuing the only goal in his life for a moment.

Oboro reached to his sleeve and took out some small item. It was a talisman. Looked beautifully crafted. For a clear mind. Takasugi couldn't recall what it might be for, he probably never saw any like this. Although, the talismans from this shrine looked to be made by the same person. Probably the person he was looking at right now.

“Please, take it.” Oboro gave him it.

Takasugi received it. Why would he oppose it? When he took it in his hand, he understood what it meant. And what Gintoki meant many times before.

Being so close to a divine being was clouding his mind. He didn't even notice how dizzy and unfocused he was becoming. But this little clearness of mind didn't change his wants. He needed to see Shouyou. Even if it all would end badly for him. Let be it.

He thanked Oboro, but he still continued his path to the upper shrine. Shouyou was waiting there for him.

They are so afraid you'll going to take me away. They don't know that's what I would want the most.

 


 

The mountain really bloomed this year. He never paid my attention to nature, but now when he was lying on the flowery lea with happiness filling his heart, he was becoming aware of all of it.

There was a peony blooming close to him. He picked the flower and played with its petals.

Shouyou found him here.

"It took you a while," Takasugi teased.

"I thought you would come to my shrine..."

"I won't always go so easy on you."

Shouyou chuckled. "Of course. My bad." Shouyou took the flower from his hand and put it in Takasugi's hair.

"Do I look pretty now?" he asked.

Shouyou traced over his cheek. "I can never turn my eyes from you."

Takasugi burst into laughing. "I can tell. You're always staring a lot."

Shouyou pulled him closer to kiss him. But he stopped. he focused on something lying next to Takasugi. He reached for it.

That was that talisman Oboro gave him.

"Want me to throw it away?" Takasugi asked. It would a bit of shame, but he didn't want anything that could stand between him and his loved one.

"No. Keep it." Shouyou closed Takasugi's hand on it. "You may need it. You should leave soon. It's getting late."

"So what? The wolves are going to find me?"

"I hope they won't." Shouyou leaned to him and kissed his forehead. Then he disappeared.

Takasugi hated how they made the sunset only about farewell. He wanted to enjoy them with his loved one.

 


 

Shouyou was putting distance between them. It was hard to see during the days when Takasugi was still learning the taste of his lips and getting drunk on their closeness. But since that evening with the talisman... Maybe he should have thrown it away.

No. That wasn't a cause. All that could happen was that it reminded Shouyou to stay in line. To not blur the lines between mortal and immortal. Takasugi wanted him to completely cross these lines.

If that was going to bring on them some calamity, then bring it on. He only wanted to be with Shouyou, no matter what would be happening around them.

So Takasugi came forward.

"What are you so afraid of?" he asked.

"Everything," Shouyou answered simply and looked at him. "The more anyone has to lose, the more he fears. That makes me overflow in my fears."

"And if I'm going to be there with you. This time forever?"

"No one can promise something like that."

"I can." He took Shouyou face in his hands. "I want to be with you. And I want everything that it means."

"You don't have to..."

"You know how it feels as my skin remember your touch, but I can't? I just want to make my own memories about you. Not to live on some phantom impression of my past lives."

That only made Shouyou feel guilty. No. Takasugi couldn't let him back off now.

"One night," he suggested. "Once in a while for a one night, you'll let go of all that fears and love me with all your might. That's my wish. My prayer. Will you grant it?"

"Hm... You're already becoming a devoted man."

"What else could happen if you're showing me so many miracles?"

"Okay," Shouyou said softly. "This one night, I'll grant your wish."

He moved them to that house. Takasugi fell into his arms. Emotions were always rising and falling. He knew soon Shouyou would soon bring in him different sensations.

For this one night, they fought off each other's fears.

Shouyou was mesmerizing. In daylight, as Takasugi mostly got to see him. But having him here close, grounded at the moment, condensed... And with the faint idea what would come next, it was making him aware that he was accompanied by a divine being.

“Were you ever human?” Takasugi asked looking at his body, slowly pushing his robes off. Letting himself to touch him.

“Maybe, maybe not, I don’t remember it.”

“It isn’t important.” Takasugi moved closer kiss off all the worries from his forehead. He rested his forehead on his. He couldn’t stop looking at him. “You’re here and you’re beautiful. I can’t focus on anything else at this moment.”

“It isn’t bad,” Shouyou moved close and kissed him.

“Have we done things like this before?”

“We did,” Shouyou chuckled.

“I had a God in my bed a few times. I’m not that bad.”

“You have a God right now in your bed.”

“That’s something definitely better to focus on.”

“I hope so,” Shouyou kissed along his neck. Takasugi submitted and let him love every piece of him.

“Oh, Shouyou, Shouyou,” Takasugi moaned and clenched his hand on Shouyou’s hair.

He felt shameless and good about it. He was opened up and vulnerable towards a being so strong that he would stand a chance. Yet, he was spreading on the mattress and teasing him to get closer. To take a better taste of him. And Shouyou was going under his control. He could be a mad dog on the leash, but Takasugi was the one holding it. And that feeling was addicting. He felt drunk on having so much power. He should be more careful. He could easily get hurt or killed. Even eaten up by this supernatural creature.

Yet, he didn't feel like something like that could happen. He felt even more shameless. He felt like he was worshipped. A god worshipped him.

Takasugi was truly a poor excuse of a man.

Was he like this in his previous lives too? Or maybe his soul knew Shouyou and their relationship simply moved to the moment when they had last left.

He didn’t mind it though. It was the best night of his life.

However, Shouyou was doing his best onwards to surpass it. Most of the times he succeeded in it.

 


 

Afterwards, they started to spend more nights together. At first every time Takasugi returned home there was a fuss over it, but soon they got used to. And they should. He was only a shame for their family, what else did they expect?

Once when he returned home, there was awfully quiet there. Maybe everyone had left. There was beautiful weather outside.

His mother probably stayed indoors. She rarely left even her room. He learnt how to sneak in by her doors without her notice to avoid questions. Also lately she was becoming more absent-mind.

Passing by, he saw her in the crack of the door. She was arranging flowers. Same beautiful, red peonies he saw at the Mountain. That caught his attention enough to make him stop by.

But there was something wrong.

She took the vase... And throw it down. The flowers fell on the floor, but she had no intention of picking them up.

Takasugi went to his room.

He needed to get out of this house. For good.

 


 

"Katsura," Takasugi caught his friend during the day. "I may need your help."

Well, that was the most suspicious sounding sentence that ever came out of his mind. Thankfully Katsura needed in exchange only some blurry idea what was happening. Okay, that was a price he could pay.

Katsura helped Takasugi get everything he needed. Buying stuff through him the easiest way to avoid catching the attention of anyone. He was living alone, so he might need some everyday items. Also, no one there cared to count down his expenses.

The plan was only one fault. Sooner or later, Gintoki would notice that.

"Don't your pretty hands get hurt by it?" he mocked as he saw some tools.

"Shut up."

"Takasugi, if you want help..." Katsura started.

"I'll manage it."

He would do it on his own. He could make it.

 


 

Shouyou didn't interrupt him in his plan. He didn't even mention it. Maybe he gave him a silent approval. He'd better did that.

They spent time as they used to. Shouyou had still a lot of wonders to show to Takasugi. And since he started staying on the Mountain more often, there was even more thing they could experience together.

After dark, Shouyou led Takasugi on some lea.

“Do you trust me enough to close your eyes for a moment?”

“I do,” Takasugi answered. He saw a glimpse of Shouyou's smiled before he closed his eyes. He waited for a moment. He didn't feel anything happening.

“You can open them now.”

Takasugi obeyed.

There were fireflies around them. Thousands of hovering lights around them. And even Takasugi was having all miracles of the world his eyes would still follow after this one smile.

Everything was like the most beautiful dream. But even now he had some moments of painful clarity.

"Shouyou..." he murmured. “I died even if I was no longer human, right?”

“How...?”

“I know myself. I wouldn't let you stop at ‘let's enjoy what we are given’. But it seems that nothing can be done... Even if didn't know about my past life, it would come to my mind that one day all this would come to an end.”

“So?” Shouyou asked only.

“Maybe we should ‘enjoy what we are given’. That's also pretty good.”

Shouyou loved him so badly.

 


 

“Shouyou?” Gintoki had to call him a few times to get his attention, even if he was sitting right next to him. “Do you know what you're doing? People start talking about that guy.” 

Shouyou knew. It happened each time sooner or later. People started to take notice. Started to talk. Started to be afraid. That was turning their playing with fate into something even more dangerous.

Soon the priest came back. Shouyou only moved back to stay out of sight. That let him overheard a few things.

“Boys, do any of you know what is going on at the Mountain? It's lively lately.”

“No,” Oboro answered.

“Maybe he got bored sitting in one place for hundreds of years,” added Gintoki.

“Let's pray he won't become more bored.”

The priest moved to their home altar and lighted an incense as each evening. This time he had only said one thing outside of his routine. “Be reasonable,” he looked again at the mountain. It didn’t seem threatening in any way, but what if they were ignoring signs of the incoming storm? “And maybe don't curse me for my insolence.”

 


 

"So, you're going to live in the forest. Did you go completely mad?" he heard Gintoki's voice. He didn't need his opinion on his own life.

Takasugi looked back. It was worse than he expected. Both Gintoki and Katsura came here. Like he ever needed them.

"Takasugi," Katsura spoke. "What's going on lately?"

He sat down and looked down. "I just need to get away from my home."

"Okay. We'll help you." He didn't need to know anything more.

 


 

Takasugi was always a stubborn man. Nothing could stop him from doing what he wanted. That was why Shouyou loved to watch him. This time Takasugi decided to renovate that abandoned house by the shrine. It took a lot of work. He did most of it on his own, by near the end his friends found him and offered their help. 

That was always unusual for them in this lifetime. They both weren't on their own this time.

Takasugi noticed him after some time. “What are you... Are you folding the cranes?”

Shouyou smiled. Indeed, he started folding then some time ago. It was still far from a thousand, but he had eternity for it. “Even gods need something to kill the time.”

Takasugi rolled his eyes. “Well, when you were killing time, I've done pretty good work. A bit of effort and it’s looking good.” He looked at his work proud of himself. Now this ruined house became a place suitable to stay in. “Shouyou... Who built this house? I thought it was belonging to the priests’ family, it would make sense for them to keep a whole house here.”

“There was once a man who wanted to get closer to gods,” Shouyou said focused on folding a crane.

“Was that me?”

Shouyou chuckled. “Indeed, it was you.”

“How did I do this?”

Shouyou smiled like he recalled some good memory. He put the crane down with the others. Takasugi said next to him to hear him. “It was a hard task and you did hurt yourself many times,” he took his hands. He traced over certain spots on them. Over the wounds only he remembered where they were. Like he wanted to heal them even if they happened so many years ago. “You were too stubborn to stop you. I could never speak any sense to you.”

“Good. At least now we have a place to be," Takasugi smirked. He looked over the house. How much time passed since his previous life. Or... It could be even older since they had met eight times. How many of his lifetimes this house had seen. "How did it survive so long?”

“With some god’s help.”

“Everything has to always be your merit?”

“No, of course not. But I did watch over it for you. I shielded it from storms, reinforced the ground underneath it after each rain, ran the winds in different sides.”

“Thank you.”

“At least I could do that.”

 


 

A woman came to the upper shrine. Shouyou knew who she was. And that was why he listened carefully to her prayers. She was quiet for most of the time, battling herself in her thoughts. In the end, she asked only for one thing:

“Please. Don't take my son away.”

 


 

That day when Takasugi came to the upper shrine, there was no one to answer him.

Chapter Text

"What are you doing here?" Gintoki asked.

"Just wandering," Takasugi brushed it off.

Wandering, my ass. There was something off, but of course, this asshole couldn't say that right away. He didn't come here and... as it seemed feed Nobume? There was no possibility that could happen without any calamity running to them.

“What happened to him?” Takasugi spoke finally.

“To who?” Gintoki was never amused by this rattle squeaks.

“Shouyou. He disappeared.”

“Maybe he just got sick of you.”

“Shut up,” Takasugi snarled, but it seemed like he had the same idea in the back of his head. He looked at Oboro. Maybe he could only trust him.

“I don’t know anything," Oboro spoke. "If you’re unable to find him anymore, that rather means...”

“That he doesn’t want to see me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I said so,” Gintoki threw in.

Oboro hit him distinctively with an elbow. Gintoki rolled his eyes and massaged the hit place. When and how Oboro joined Takasugi's protection squad? It wasn't fair. That little rascal was getting away with everything.

"Are you alright?" Oboro even asked with concern in his voice. When someone would ask Gintoki that? He was the only one really hurt at this moment.

"I'm just lost. But I'll find myself."

"Oh, great," Gintoki rolled his eyes. Again, cause no one had noticed before. "You know, we have stuff to do, places to be.”

"I won't bother you then," he said putting so much poison in these words.

Takasugi left the shrine grounds alone. Gintoki and Oboro watched him. They both knew he would cause problems.

 


 

“What’s with Takasugi’s family?” Gintoki asked when was with Katsura. He sometimes came to him to help around. It had been like that since forever. That was how the three of them started really hang out together. Katsura needed help with keeping the mansion in the good state. Takasugi often needed a place to stay when he ran from home and just didn't feel like going there. Gintoki needed help with studying, the school wasn't his thing at all, but maybe it was more about how everyone in this village was looking at him, like he was a threat. Each of them needed something they didn't know exactly how to ask for help with. They just needed each other.

“When he said he wanted to get away from his home," Gintoki continued, "you immediately let him for everything.”

“Oh, that. Maybe I got used to resolving it this way. When we were kids, there wasn't anything more I could do for him."

"I only know he argues with his father a lot."

"Yeah. His father is... strict," Katsura as always carefully chose his words. "His mother... You probably heard...”

"Nothing. Wouldn't be surprised if she was gone."

“She's alive."

"Just sayin', I know nothing about her."

"Takasugi never speaks about her. There is rather like a lot of gossips about her. She was... Probably she still is, but my grandma told me that she was the most beautiful woman in this village. The biggest treasure. But... After marriage, she stopped leaving their mansion, she never takes visitors. It is said she started losing her mind... I don't know is that true. I never saw her. Takasugi never tells me anything about her. But it’s like everyone knows here, what’s going on.”

“No wonder he wants to get out of this crazy town, huh,” Gintoki said. That seemed like a clear judgement of that situation. It wasn't. One thought kept nagging in his head that was contradicting it completely. "But... Shouldn't people be like... Wanting to be with their families and not running away from them?"

"I don't know," Katsura answered truthfully. "Maybe having a family isn't as nice as we think..."

“Zura... Have you heard the gossips?” To that moment Gintoki thought he would never tell Katsura about it. But he should know it.

"Which one?"

"I heard only about one. And it turned out true."

"The he's going to be spirited-away by local god one?"

"Yeah... We'll see how it turns out," Gintoki sighed and looked back at his friend. "Zura, what's the other one then?"

"That he's losing his mind like his mother."

"I hope that is not..."

Katsura avoided his gaze. "I haven't seen him in a while."

"I did... He didn't seem well.”

"I understand. I'll try to meet him as soon as I can."

 


 

Guests rarely came to the Takasugi's household.

 

Footsteps

 

They brightened up when they saw his guest.

"Zura, do you want to play with us? Mom doesn't want to, even if we picked so many pretty flowers," the younger one said while the older show them armful of gardenias.

"Isn't she always up to doing something with flowers?" Takasugi asked.

"She doesn't want now," the younger whined.

"Mother isn't feeling well," the older said. Rather repeated what someone told them when they asked about it.

"Takasugi, do you even go out from this room lately?" Katsura asked.

It wasn't his business at all what Takasugi was or wasn't doing with his life.

"Not in the last two weeks," the older sister threw in passing focused on flowers. She ignored the furious gaze of her brother.

"So I think we should go with your sisters."

Takasugi rolled his eyes, but it was better to endure that than face more challenging activities or explaining what was happening with him lately.

They moved to the dayroom. Katsura got dragged into girls' plays. He was always becoming their prey. They loved his long, ebony hair and putting flowers in it. He could never get all of it out by himself.

Takasugi had no interested in that. He sat in the corner of the room and, to do anything with his hands, he took a piece of paper and started folding it. He knew it was meaningless. Only a gesture, way to kill time. It wasn't a real spell. But at least it was taking his hands and mind somewhere else.

He overheard his sisters talking with Katsura: "There are so many beautiful flowers this year! Mom says it's because the Guardian of the Mountain fell in love."

"Oh, he's in love, good for him," Takasugi's was filled with so much poison. He couldn't help that.

He went back to his room. Lately, everything in his life felt like it was filled with thorns. No matter where he went, no matter what he had done, he ended up feeling how his heart was bleeding. And there was no cure for that curse. He could only get used to it.

He threw the paper crane to the side. There was many of them there and judging by where Katsura's gaze went, he noticed it. Whatever. Who cared what he would think about it?

"Zura. Let's get drunk. Tonight. As always at your place. You can ask Gintoki too."

"Takasugi. What is going on?"

Where to start this whole strange tale?

Nowhere. No one should know how easy it was for him to fall for someone's words and how hard, near impossible it was for him to get up now.

 


 

The scent of the flowers grew stronger in the evening. Like it couldn't let Takasugi forget about them. Whatever. He would drink himself into forgetting about them.

"We're too old for things like this," Katsura murmured. He always had to be a buzzkill.

"Oh, look at that responsible adult over there," Gintoki laughed. "When we get to see your bride, huh? Time to start a family, old man."

"I'm not an old man, I'm Katsura."

"Stop mentioning marriage," Takasugi grimaced and reached for sake. That was what he needed the most from this evening.

"Right, your parents are trying to set you up. How's that going?"

"I'm running as far as I can."

"You? Maybe every girl they brought in ran out when she saw you."

"Shut up."

"Why running? There is definitely at least one decent girl your daddy can find for you."

"Cause I don't want it."

"Can you ever stop being such a spoiled brat?"

Maybe that was the case. Takasugi asked for too much and he couldn't stand he would never obtain it. Maybe it was that...

The more people usually drank the more sociable they were becoming. At least the louder. That was definitely like that with Katsura and Gintoki. On the other hand, the more Takasugi drank, the more he was closing in himself. He rarely spoke. His thoughts muted and were harder to catch. At least this state made it easier for him to calm down and it lulled him to sleep...

Takasugi woke up first. His mind was still working slowly. They'd drunk too much. It wasn't unusual for them though.

He got up and quietly went out. His friend would think he came home to avoid any troubles. Like he ever acted like that, but it was an easy-to-believe-in lie. And why would they care where he had gone? Why would anyone care?

Takasugi went once again to the shrine. He knew he wouldn't achieve anything like that. But he had to... Gintoki was right this time, he was too spoiled. He should let it go one day.

When he got to the shrine, he wasn't alone.

It wasn't Shouyou.

Of course, he wouldn't show up. Maybe he wasn't going to show ever again. Maybe Takasugi had lost him forever and would never even learn why.

Takasugi thought about sneaking out before he would be noticed, but the man by the shrine turned back then. It was that priest who had taken under his care Oboro and Gintoki, and lately Nobume.

“My, my," he smiled seeing Takasugi. "I would never think a young man would come to visit this shrine.”

“I walk around often.”

“Is that so, huh? It isn’t a bad place to visit. But be careful. The weather can be changeable. In heavy rains, the paths are getting slippery.”

“I know.”

“Oh, right...”

“What would happen if I destroy the shrine. Would God come out?” Hangover made Takasugi speak his mind without any filter. Even so, what would that change? Everyone always looked down on him in this village. He stopped caring about other's opinion a long time ago.

The priest stood silently. He needed a moment to somehow understand these words. He seemed to take it as a joke in the end. “I don't think so. He would rather curse you. Or maybe one day something bad would happen and you would make a match with this event.”

“Have you met him?”

“Gods are concepts and vessels for our hopes, it’s...”

“I met him.”

“Oh, in that case. No, I haven't seen him. I only see empty cups for tea in my house and believe it's him. Gintoki hates tea and Oboro would never leave a cup after himself. And I have no idea what Nobume drinks.”

“Why were you lying?”

“People don't believe like they used to. They will pray and leave an offering, but if you say you saw a god, they’ll think you're insane. I don't want to lose this quickly my reputation,” he smiled helplessly. “I’m not gifted. Gods could stay right in front of me and I wouldn't notice. My boys are far more sensitive to it... Maybe this change of blood was the best that could happen to my family.”

“Were there any human sacrifices?”

“No. Never,” he said it right away. Without thinking what was on Takasugi's mind.

 

 


 

“My son is good health. Same for the rest of our family. Thank you for protecting our village and our home. We're giving into your care,” the woman prayed.

At first, Shouyou wanted to cut himself off hearing it. She was Shinsuke’s mother. It would be better not to know anything. Shouyou felt like one more time this boy would be mentioned, he would run for him and even hell and all feral spirits would not stop him. He was ready to go against gods and fate for him. But he persisted this urge. His decision might have consequences. For the boy, his family, his surroundings. Shouyou would rather try to avoid it.

After all usual prayer's words, the woman stayed battling her thoughts once again.

“I'm worried to the point I don't know what to do. My son...” Shouyou clenched his hands, he had to resist. “My son is in good health, but he is not well. He doesn’t go outside anymore. Lately...” She wouldn't come here if she didn't make her mind. “I've wondered if it’s my fault. If it’s because of what I ask for previously... If that’s true, then...”

She was squeezing something in her hands. She took a deeper breath and she continued. “Please, take this small gift as a sign of my gratitude. And... Please, take care of my son.”

 


 

The priest saw a woman coming down the mountain trail. He knew her. Not because of his duties, which he was rather failing, but because they both grew up in this village. She was their most precious treasure. A flower that would never wither, blooming aggressively against the odds.

He hadn't seen her for years. She rarely went out. And when she did, it was only to gather some flowers while avoiding everyone's gazes. People talked she went mad and that was clear signs of it. But was it possible for her state to worsen to this point within weeks since her wedding? In his eyes, it seemed like someone stole that beautiful flower and kept it away from anyone's eyes. Or maybe he was the one who was mistaken. Maybe he couldn't bear her leaving. Maybe his eyes focused so much on the flower's beauty, he hadn't seen the signs of rotting its illness.

He prayed for her wellbeing that day. And for her son. He was that boy which he talked to a few days ago. They were too similar to each other to make a mistake.

And it seemed that yet again this village could lose its most beautiful flower.

Or maybe...

Could it be avoided? That boy didn't come back there since their talk. It was for the best. Lines between natural and supernatural shouldn't be crossed. It might bring him only suffering. But it didn't seem like this story could end at this moment. It was only a short pause between acts.

Priest lied to that boy. Even if there was no tradition of human sacrifices, at least there was no evidence that it was a recurring event, it did happen. A few times.

Each time it was a young man, just stepping into his adulthood. From a wealthy family.

So there was nothing to do.

All depended on gods’ will.

“You've made a mess, you know?” priest sighed walking back from the shrine.

He stopped after a few steps. Someone was standing on the trail staring at him. Long fair hair and gentle features made him seemed androgynous even if he were high and seemed to be well-built. His face childlike, but his eyes looked like they had seen hundreds of the worlds. There was something so eerie about the air around him.

Should he bow or kneel?

“You never wanted to show up to me, old friend. Has something changed?”

God was holding something in his hands.

Chapter Text

Shouyou came at night when everyone was sleeping. To that one mansion built on silent tears and storms of anger. He slipped into the room. He knew exactly which one to choose.

He needed only to pass its doorstep, to feel all at once how much suffering these walls got to witness. And how much of it was his own fault.

How much pain have I brought into your life? He thought looking around.

Shouyou came closer to the sleeping boy. Hesitantly. He didn't want to disturb his life more. He wanted this boy to have everything he wanted. But Shouyou might have already taken away his life making him want only one thing - him.

Maybe that could pass. People were forgetful.

But how many tears were still needed to erase these summer days they spent together?

Shouyou's gaze kept running around the objects in the room like it could tell him some better solution.

Tossed in the corner of the room there were origami cranes. Exactly enough to fill the number made by Shouyou.

Fate was cruel.

He shouldn't have seen it. Now, he couldn't stop himself.

Shouyou leaned down and kissed the boy's forehead taking away all his tiredness. Soon he started to wake up.

Takasugi wiped his eyes and when got more used to the darkness, his eyes opened wider. He moved at first towards Shouyou, but he stopped himself. “What the hell?” He put his head back into the pillow. Under the spell, he was no longer tired. He just didn't want to get up yet and face whatever was happening and what would happen later that night. He looked at Shouyou again. “What happened? You've missed me?” he asked with voice slowly filling up with irony.

“I'm sorry that I’ve hurt you.”

“Why have you done it?” his voice was cold. All the tears he shed in silence washed emotion from it.

“I was starting bringing disturbance in your life.”

“So, what now? You came to shred my life into pieces?”

“If you let me.” There was no mean for looking for better words. What Shouyou wanted to do was just taking this boy’s life away.

“What?” his voice cleared. Shouyou managed to catch him off guard again.

“I came to take you with me if you're willing to go.”

“Are you lying?” Only one whispered question.

“No. I won't leave you again. I want to take you as my companion. If you're willing to…” he could read from that boy's heart he was ready to throw away everything in his life for him. That made Shouyou even more weighed by guilt for his own actions. He should have let it go on for so long. Yet, he always succumbed to this weak, lonely part of himself. “Shinsuke, I don't want to take with me by force and unaware of the consequences. If you go with me, you won't be able to return here anymore. So I only want to ask how you want your life to look in some years?”

“How else? With you,” Takasugi said with his eyes focused on him and nothing else in the world.

Shouyou smiled lightly. He gave him his hand. Takasugi took it. Shouyou pulled him closer. Red lampions lighted up around them as they walked together to the mountain. And there was no longer anything to stand between them.

 


 

“So I'm going to live there forever with you?” Takasugi asked sipping never-ending kisses of Shouyoy's lips.

“As long as you want to stay there with me.”

“If I ever leave the mountain, I'll die?”

They stopped.

“You'll grow weaker and then... yes, you'll die if you stay away.”

“What made you change your mind?”

“Your mother came...”

“She prayed for you to take me away, cause she could bear with me?” Takasugi chuckled.

Shouyou cradled his face in his hands. “Cause she couldn’t bear your suffering.”

Takasugi put his gaze down. “I made everyone around worry, huh.”

“We both did... You still can change your mind. There is something that had to be done before...”

“I'll be yours?” Little smirk showed up on his lips.

“We have to bear a little bit more. You'll see tomorrow.”

“I won’t change my mind, Shouyou.” He finally raised his head high. That was more like him.

“I know.” Shouyou kissed his forehead. That was the boy he knew and for whom he kept falling in love again and again. “Your mother offered me this.” He took the small item out of his sleeve and put it in Takasugi's hands. It was a fan. He knew it well.

“You know...” Takasugi's hand brushed over the fan. “That was supposed to be a wedding gift... Do you want to take me and be my husband?” He moved to him.

Shouyou’s arms embraced him and everything seemed to be on its right places finally. “I do,” these words just slipped in between their calm breaths.

“I do,” Takasugi repeated after. Slowly. Pacing the words. Letting them melt on his tongue and fill his whole being.

And like it somehow always was in small moments of delight, people became aware of upcoming misery.

“Am I human sacrifice?” Takasugi asked.

“You are,” Shouyou said slowly. He didn't know what these words would bring.

Takasugi only hummed nuzzling back into Shouyou's body. In all treasures of the world, God asked for him. So it wasn't bad. Not when Shouyou’s eyes were focused on him. When he was loving him. Cherishing him. Worshipping him. It wasn't bad at all.

 


 

At the morning Shouyou left for a moment his beloved. He kissed his forehead muttering promises of soon come back.

Rarely anyone came up to the upper shrine, but this day he was waiting for someone.

Oboro and Gintoki came. He didn't expect it, but maybe that was for the better.

“You know, Shouyou,” Gintoki started, “my friend kind of get missing and I might get an idea where is he.”

“Your friend?” They all heard Takasugi.

“Some dumbass, no one cares about him either way...” Gintoki corrected himself, but no one paid attention to him.

Shouyou looked back. “Did I wake you up?” he asked quietly.

“It's okay. Better than finding you gone,” Takasugi said back walking to him.

“And I puked in my mouth a bit,” Gintoki spoke again. “Can the lovebirds focus on something for a second?” Everyone gathered looked at him. “Great. Shouyou, what... Both of you, what are you doing?”

“Disturb everyone’s peace for sure,” Takasugi said. “But I want to be here.”

“To leave everyone that cares about you behind? Cut the crap and daddy issues. You had a good life, friends...”

“You and Zura can come up here.”

“He’s insane,” Gintoki sighed and looked at Oboro looking for any support.

His companion spoke finally to Takasugi. "There is a lot to prepare before it. It is better if you don't stay here for this night."

Gintoki sighed.

 


 

In the end, they agreed Takasugi would spend a night out of the mountain. Thankfully, Katsura lived alone and hid Takasugi from the village. He only had thousands of question. But it wasn’t bad. If it wasn't going to stand between Takasugi and Shouyou, it wasn’t anything bad.

Only hours were separating him from his happiness, he could bear few inconveniences.

Shouyou broke his promise to stay back and came in the middle of the night.

“Can you sneak out to the bride before the wedding?” Takasugi chuckled keeping his voice down. “I thought you liked repeating stuff. And...” he stopped Shouyou from kissing him. “Isn’t it you who always wants to do everything according to rituals?”

“I know.” He rested his head on Takasugi’s shoulder. "I missed you."

"You know, it's only some ceremonial, we don't have to keep it."

"We'd better do," Shouyou sighed. It was only about a few more hours. They could bear it. He moved back. "Do you know what is going to happen tomorrow?"

"Starting from tomorrow you won't be able to get rid of me," Takasugi smirked. "Oboro showed me some writing how it was last time. So I know something." He looked closely at Shouyou. "It was probably missing a lot of information?"

Shouyou didn't speak.

"It's alright." Takasugi rested his forehead on Shouyou's. "I'll trust you."

"I'm going to rip your life from you, how can you..." he muttered.

"Just be gentle, dear husband," Takasugi hummed. He ran his hands through Shouyou's hair. “I'm glad you came.”

"Everything for you." He caressed his cheek and moved back. "Until tomorrow. Sleep well.”

 


 

In the morning Takasugi sneaked out and overheard what was happening. Shouyou was here once again. He talked with Oboro and Gintoki.

“All protection and good luck spells I could think of. I hope it’ll be enough.”

“It's going to be a few hours tops,” Gintoki whined.

“It will be time when I can't be with you. That's all it means for me.”

“We'll take care of him,” Oboro said.

“I know. I'll be forever thankful.”

“Today you're giving away blessing as never,” Gintoki scoffed.

“Shouyou,” Oboro gave him wrapped in pure white silk his short sword. Shouyou took it with the great solemnity. Takasugi had never seen him so serious before. It couldn't be only a blade, there had to be something more...

He had to focus on what was happening right now. He would have time to ask Shouyou about everything after.

He watched as his loved one disappeared from the room. Only a few more hours were separating them from being forever.

“Takasugi,” Oboro spoke to him. So he was noticed, of course. He came out to them.

“About what will happen..." Oboro started. Takasugi knew what he was going to say, he told him that many times.

“I know. I’m a human sacrifice. It may not be pleasant, but I'm going to do that.”

“Shouldn’t we get him out of it?" Gintoki said.

“It was his decision,” Oboro brushed it off.

“He’s out of his mind.”

Oboro didn't pay it any mind. He spoke again to Takasugi. “I took watching over everything on myself. I’ll be with you most of the time. I purified myself, it should be enough.”

“He even made me take a bath,” Gintoki added.

“Like I would ever intend to touch you,” Takasugi snarled.

Oboro stayed unaffected by their banter. Living with Gintoki definitely was a great lesson in patience and composure. He spoke again: "Your friend also wanted to help," he pointed at Katsura.

“Great.” Takasugi let breath in and out. He was still going to do it. He would die anyway one day. But for sure he would never die a coward. “Let's start it.”

They went to the shrine. Nearly morning hours let them walk without being noticed by anyone, still, they chose the less attended roads.

When their reached shrine grounds they went to one of its building which Takasugi never been before.

This whole day would be filled with unfamiliar and unknown.

It was alright.

“You have to change your clothes,” Oboro said and gave him the new ones. There were only white undergarments, but since the preparation seemed to take a lot more time, he would probably get to wear something more.

When he changed they went out and left the shrine grounds. Takasugi had read what Oboro gave him, so in his mind, he was counting down each step.

Now they had to purify him. They went for it to the waterfall. The water was ice cold when it first touched Takasugi's feet.

Oboro went in with him. He guided him. Kept him from slipping on the rocky riverbed.

“Close your eyes and sink in it.”

The first part of the command was easy. The second not so much. But it only meant he needed to stay in the waterfall so long he lost the track of time and feeling of his own body. Maybe that was it was all about. Dying of hypothermia. But these monks were here a lot and somehow survive, so maybe...

With every breath, his mind was silencing. All that was in his head was the noise of the water.

And then he was pulled out. He opened eyes immediately.

Oboro gave him a moment to come back. Takasugi nodded when he could trust his own body to keep standing. Oboro didn't let go of him then. From that moment Takasugi wasn't supposed to go anywhere by himself. He was only like a doll in others' hands.

He could endure it.

They went back to one of the shrine buildings. Room was filled with a variety of smells from burned incenses. It made Takasugi dizzy.

After the door was closed, Oboro without warning, pulled the only robe Takasugi was wearing.

Katsura brought them other ones. White robes. Like it was really his wedding. Maybe that was a mistake his parents were always making trying to arrange his marriage. They hadn't thought he would be the bride.

Yet, he would prefer to dress himself, no matter how many layers he had to go through.

"Can't I do it alone?" Takasugi groaned.

"Oi, we have to make you pretty," Gintoki as always had something to say, though he sat aside watching as Oboro and Katsura took care of everything. "Otherwise, who would even want you?"

Oboro ignored them.

Takasugi could endure that too.

To distract himself from it, he brought out all the thoughts he was pushing away that day. No one said he had to be silent whole this time. He could ask some question.

"Why did you take it on yourself? Why bother?" Takasugi asked Oboro.

"For Shouyou."

That actually was sufficient for Takasugi. Luckily, Katsura kept it up.

"You and Gintoki were saved by him, right?"

Oboro nodded. "Shouyou keeps protecting this village. He shields it from all the war and people's cruelty. But when you strayed further from it..."

"It gets ugly," Gintoki added.

"He reaches sometimes further. He can't be there always, help everyone, but he tries."

Such a good, merciful God, huh. Takasugi wondered in silence how it actually worked. Why was Shouyou doing it? But no one in this room knew the answer to that.

"Even after saving us and giving us this new life, he kept watching over us," Oboro said yet again. Takasugi watched him carefully. And for the first time, he saw Oboro smiling. "He came down to the school to cheer me up."

"Or to tease me," Gintoki lamented.

When Katsura and Oboro finished dressing him, they put him down to sit. Takasugi closed his eyes and let that happen. Soon after he felt like two pair of hands started brushing his hair. There wasn't that much work for two people to do that.

"Shame, we didn't meet sooner," he heard Katsura

"We could have been friends."

He meant Oboro. He had a bit right in it. Takasugi was kind of feeling that way about it too. But it wasn't that easy that just meeting sooner would change it. Oboro silence was making him sure of it.

"We wouldn't be," he cut his friend enthusiasm. "He isolated himself from everyone around. He drowned himself in shrine duties. He committed his life to Shouyou. I can tell. I'm about to do the same."

Oboro put his eyes down. "He saved me. I owe him my life."

Takasugi looked at him. "You owe him living your life to its fullness," he said it putting weigh on each word.

"Getting ready to be a god and order people around?" Gintoki grinned. "Oh, god, you're going to become even more insufferable."

"I wonder who will have to deal that."

Soon Takasugi's eyes focused on something possibly worse than Gintoki's nagging. Katsura left them for a moment. When he came back, he brought something with himself. He showed it to Takasugi first. It was a hairpin with a garland of forget-me-not hung to it.

Takasugi's throat clenched. It was the only moment of hesitation.

"Your sisters came to me..." Katsura started, but he didn't have to explain. Takasugi recognised it right away. Moreover, the hairpin belonged to his mother. They all knew somehow.

"Okay," he stopped Katsura. It was okay. He wasn't stepping back from anything.

All the people that were in his life didn't try to pull him back from Shouyou. They tried to help him achieve his happiness. Sometimes he misunderstood it, but now he was seeing it clearly. Life was really spoiling him.

Katsura fastened the hairpin in Takasugi's hair. He wondered a bit who he had to look. There was no mirror to see his reflection in. But if he looked ridiculous, Gintoki wouldn't say a chance not to mock him.

Then he was given a mask. He couldn't see anything through it. He closed his eyes and like under that waterfall, he sank in. He quieted his mind. Everything was alright. It would soon end.

Someone, probably Oboro, took his hand and led him. Takasugi walked with grace. They went out. He felt the breeze on his skin. They walked further. He felt Shouyou’s presence. He wanted to leave everything behind and run towards him.

No. He wanted whole that ritual. He would get it. It went too far to drop it.

He felt as Oboro’s hand slipped away. It was the only moment he was left alone.

Takasugi stopped. He wasn't supposed to walk this path alone.

Soon he felt Shouyou's presence closer. He took his hand. Lightly as if he was asking Takasugi would he go with him.

He would go with him to the end of this world.

Again he was led somewhere. The air filled with varied scents again, but this time it smelt rather like fresh flowers rather than burned incenses. He had no idea where they could be. But it was alright. He had Shouyou by his side.

Shouyou removed the mask. His fingers were so gentle. And Takasugi’s eyes were able only to see him and nothing else in this world. This time really nothing else existed. He didn’t know where they were or if they were alone. He didn’t need to. All of it was unimportant.

Takasugi kneeled. He didn't know if that was how ritual should go. He felt like he was supposed to do it. Shouyou presence was so heavy it pressed him down.

Shouyou kneeled down too. On the ground between the grass, there was a trace with three cups prepared for them. Shouyou kept their play-pretend wedding. They took three sips from each of them.

One for families that let them came to this world.

One for the gods that let them met.

One for themselves to stay against all the odds.

Shouyou caressed his cheek. Was that also a part of the ritual?

“You'll be alright,” Shouyou whispered. Right before stabbing him.

Takasugi was alright. Strangely, that was what he felt. He thought he was still able to breathe, but what escaped his lungs was only his last breath as a human.

It was alright.

Shouyou took the sword out. It was that short blade. That was what he needed it for...

Shouyou cut his forearm. He put it high, so the blood dripped to Takasugi's mouth. That made him breathe again.

Shouyou covert his fingers in his own blood and began to write symbols on Takasugi's skin opening the robes of his kimono. One by one he marked him. Each touch was so warm and relaxing. Takasugi didn’t feel like a sacrifice. So much care and attention were only found in worship.

It made him dizzy, it set him on fire, there were so many different sensations. And he just sank into them.

When Shouyou finished, he started to mark his skin with his kisses. He was even more attentive with that. Takasugi didn’t stay unresponsive to it.

They fell down and kissed between the flowers. Finally, they were whole.

"I love you," Shouyou murmured.

"So keep loving me."

"There is nothing that could stop me from it."

"I hope." Takasugi nuzzled into his arms. Shouyou no longer felt cold. He was so warm. Maybe it was because they bathed in the sun and no rains nor nights came after them this time. Or maybe it was because Takasugi's body lost its warmth.

It was worth it.

"We should go somewhere else?"

"Somewhere more private?" Takasugi hummed. "You don't want the birds to see us?"

"We can't let it, they awful gossipers," Shouyou said getting up.

Takasugi burst out laughing.

That was happiness.

Shouyou put on Takasugi's shoulders colourful kimono. He lent Takasugi a hand to stand up and then he fixed the inner layers and tied obi properly. He still kept their play. Now Takasugi was truly his. Sank in his world and his colours.

There was no better feeling than that.

They went to the house by the upper shrine. It was their home from now. It was their heaven.

Takasugi sat down.

Shouyou took the robes off him, layer by layer. Takasugi felt like a flower. Opening his petals as he was coming to the full bloom.

"So?" Takasugi asked with a smirk. "How's the offering?"

"The best I've ever got," Shouyou said as his lips returned to worshipping Takasugi's skin.

"Hope it will bring happiness to the offerer."

"I'll make sure of it." His kisses ran along the neck.

"Please do." Takasugi pulled him closer. To his lips that got thirsty for him. His hands kept brushing his skin. He could imagine now how he was becoming a devoted worshiper in his previous lives.

Shouyou took his face in his hands and kissed him deeply. His eyes were so hungry.

"Is there going to stay anything out of me?" Takasugi pulled him closer. He leaned into these hungry kisses. "You're going to take everything?" he cooed. "Please do. Please take everything and make it yours."

Shouyou put him down.

Okay. This one time, Takasugi would lie back and let him do everything. Starting tomorrow, it would never be so easy.

This time felt different. Having him in. Shouyou's warmth overflew him and vibrated in him. Like their bare beings resonated with each other.

Takasugi reached his arms and clung to him. He wanted to be as close as it was possible. So no one could ever tear them away.

And he didn't let Shouyou moved back from him until the whole night passed and the new dawn came.

Laying down tired out by the wedding night, Takasugi let his mind wander again.

“What was with that blade?" he asked. Shouyou tried it better than only something that would be used in the ceremony.

“It had been yours.”

“How long ago?”

“Eight hundred years ago.”

“It survived for so long... Another God's interventions?” he chuckled.

“Sleep. You’re surely tired.” Shouyou kissed his forehead and pulled him into his arms.

Takasugi murmured in agreement. He wasn’t exactly tired. He would probably never be tired ever again, or would he? It didn’t matter. What he was feeling now was like a buzz in his head. It didn’t seem like tiredness or headache at first. But then it grew louder. It was neither. It was thoughts. There were so many thoughts in his head. It was his past lives. He remembered everything since the day he was saved for the first time at the mountain.

In his dreams everything organized.

Chapter Text

Takasugi saw a battle. No. That was a bloodbath. He was one of the few last ones standing. Around him, wherever his gaze reached, was only death.

It was a dream. Or rather a memory. He looked through the eyes of some of his past selves. He could not move. It was only a memory. He could only sit back and watch. The soft humming in the back of his head was the voices of his past selves. He had no problem in filtering their thoughts and separating them from his owns.

His eyes caught on some figure walking his way. It didn't seem to be anyone from his army. Takasugi raised his blade. His body was weakened, barely standing. He would probably not have the strength to fight this one more battle.

He focused on the person. He couldn’t even say if it was a woman or a man. When the distance between them was big, the person looked slender, feminine, long hair covering their face and reaching so far that was uncommon for a man to wear. Only when they came closer, that impression changed. The person was high, higher than him and rather strong-built. Now it seemed more uncommon for them to be a woman.

That man was unarmed.

Takasugi lowered his sword. It seemed so surreal. More like it was some his hallucination. He lost a lot of blood, so it wouldn't be surprising.

“What are you doing here?” Takasugi asked sheathed his sword.

“Live,” the man spoke in a deep, dark voice.

“We caused you problems, then.”

The man cocked his head to the side. Like he had a problem with understanding his words.

“Are you hurt?” Takasugi asked. Mostly out of courtesy.

The confusion grew.

The world became so quiet around them. The battle had to come to an end. Takasugi didn’t even know if his side won or was defeated. At this point, he didn’t care.

“The battle ended, but better not wander around. Hurt soldiers can overreact,” he said and walked away. He needed to come back to his army.

When he stepped on the rail to the lower ground… He lost balance.

The man caught him. Fast bastard. If he had any weapon hid on him, that would be dangerous...

Takasugi’s mind hazed. He lost consciousness soon after.

 


 

Takasugi woke up in his tent. His body ached, his head hurt, but his wounds were treated. How long passed? Probably not much. Few hours his past selves told him.

What happened with that stranger?

He raised from the mattress. He had to find out what happened to that man. He went out. There was some fuss going there.

“My lord. There is no need for your concern...” one soldier started seeing him.

“Everything here is my concern.”

The crowd let him get close.

“It's a ghost...” he heard in a murmured of the crowd.

There was no such thing as ghosts. Or at least so he had thought before seeing him. The man he saw before was sitting on the ground like he was bound, but the only thing Takasugi could see on him was a piece of paper with some red writing on it.

“What happened?”

“We found him wandering over the battlefield, my lord. He attacked us. That,’ soldier gesticulated at the talisman. “That was the only way to stop him.”

“Did anyone get killed during it?”

“No, my lord. But it was close.”

It didn’t look good. He should have ordered his people to kill that being. That would be understandable. But he chose to do what was the less expected.

“Take him to my tent.”

Only that one command. He avoided direct contact with so-called ghost until they were left alone in the tent. That man saved him, and even if the army would not understand it, he deserved respect.

When they were left alone, Takasugi looked over him to see if there were any other bounds restraining him. He could not see any.

“What's your name?” Takasugi asked before freeing him.

“A demon. That's what you people call me. Devil. Sometimes you call me void. Utsuro. It doesn’t matter for me. I have long forgotten my name.”

Takasugi's gaze stayed on him. In his eyes, he looked like a regular man. Covert in dirt and dried out blood, messy hair that shield the face to be seen by anyone else. But how did all the man on the battlefields looked like? Especially if they were only civilians caught in the middle of the war fire? Although, Takasugi could imagine what might stir fear in his soldiers. His gaze followed the lines of firm muscles and he had a chance to see first-handed how fast could be his movements. That man could be one of the deadliest foes they'd come across.

"You need a new name then," Takasugi said. "Yoshida Shouyou. You can use that.”

“Why would you give me a human name?” The man raised his head, but his eyes still couldn't be seen.

“It’s easier to care about something that has a name.”

“It’s harder to use something that has a name.”

That silenced him for a moment.

It would be a lie if Takasugi said he didn't look that way at him. He was a commander for too long. He couldn't look at anything without rating how useful would it be in his war.

He thought about it, but he had no intention of doing that. His army consisted of men who wish to die for him. He didn't force anyone to join.

“You can walk away free if you want. I was going to unchain you.” Takasugi moved closer to him.

“You want to hear me beg for my freedom?”

“No.” He took down that strange paper. Would it be enough to free him?

It was enough.

When only the man felt his bounds were gone, he pushed Takasugi to the ground. Ripped off his sword. Cast its sheath away. Took sword in two hands. Pushed it down...

He stopped. Before crushing Takasugi's neck. Why? His breathed quivered.

“It’s harder to kill something that gave you a name,” Takasugi said in a cold, steady voice. It wasn’t the first time someone threatened to kill him.

“I haven’t taken it.”

“Maybe you wanted.”

The man moved back. “No, no, no,” he mumbled.

“It's okay,” Takasugi tried to make his voice sound soft. Why was he? That man tried to kill him. And had a pretty big chance in accomplishing that. But somehow the distress Takasugi was seeing raising in him overcome everything else. “You can stay here and take whatever you want. No one here will hurt you ever again. You can also leave. No one will stop you."

Takasugi stopped the urge to come closer. It wouldn't be reassuring. He chose to go out of the tent leaving him alone. That was probably all he could do.

 


 

The next day the man was still in his tent. Sitting a bit curled up in exactly the same place as when he saw him the last time. That was probably the first thing that seemed a bit inhuman. Yet, Takasugi still didn't see him as a threat. Rather than behaviour was a sign of how deep distress that man was feeling. Afraid to even move when he was given freedom.

Maybe Takasugi should stay back for a longer time. Give this man more space. But curiosity won over manners.

“I gave you back your freedom, why are you still here?” he asked softly.

“You broke the chain, yes. But no one is ever free.”

“Hm... You’re right. No one is ever free,” he murmured and drank from the bottle he brought with himself. Alcohol was probably the only thing that was keeping the whole army alive in this hell.

“Why are you drinking something that is poisonous to you?” the man asked.

“Alcohol?" Another one odd behaviour, yet still it wasn't threatening. It rather amused him and brought out to the surface his curiosity of this man. "It’s a human thing. We’re always running towards death. We’ll do everything to bring it earlier.”

“There is nothing good after death.”

“So is here. It’s always cold. It’s always lonely. It’s always hurting, but you don’t even remember where exactly. Shouyou, we’re all already ghost here,” he smirked.

“You will keep using that name?”

“I began to like it."

Takasugi put the emptied bottle down and reached for a piece of cloth. He wiped his neck. One of the biggest inconvenience of the war was that his body was constantly aching from feeling dirty. It wasn't only the blood on his hands.

Maybe that was how he was missing long swims in the river he was so used to in his childhood.

He took the clean cloth and wetted it.

His skin was always hyperaware of any drop of sweat, any grain of sand. But no matter how much he was trying to cleanse himself, it didn't ease his body.

He stopped himself. There was no meaning in what he was going to do. He needed to focus on something else.

His eyes met Shouyou.

His mind came up with a different idea. Maybe that could give him a bit of ease...

“Can I clean you a bit? It's just a wet cloth." Takasugi moved closer. "You can push me away if it’s going to be bad for you.”

Shouyou didn't say anything.

Takasugi dared to touch him. He reached to his hair to brush them away from his face. He didn't know what to expect. Would be even human-like? Would it be disfigured or purely nightmarish? He was opened to anything at this point. Counting the unusual number of eyes, mouths and teeth.

The face was human-like. All that dirt covert fair, soft skin. Beautiful features. Only the eyes... They were dulled like in caged animal that stopped struggling. But apart from that...

Takasugi glanced over the rest of his body. He had noticed at first how well-built the man was, but now... His gaze lingered on him for too long.

Takasugi moved back. The war was taking too long. What his body was longing for wasn't only swims in the river. But he would keep his dignity.

“You're beautiful, you know that?” he said only.

“No. No one else would say that.”

“So count everyone else as stupid.”

Shouyou smiled slightly for a moment. He visibly relaxed. His position changed a bit from before. That was good. That was all that Takasugi was aiming at.

Shouyou even dared to ask: “Why do you want to keep me?”

“I don't. I just wanted to take you away from them. I know how my soldiers are tired out at this point and... their judgment might not be best.”

“And your judgment?”

“Clouded, but still going... I hadn't wanted them to hurt you.”

“Why?”

“Just cause... You can leave whenever you wish to." He wanted him to stay. Just a feeling like that started growing deep in his guts, but he could push it down. He had no authority to stop him from leaving.

Alcohol and tiredness started clouding his mind. He needed to rest.

"Shouyou... Can I stay for a night here? It used to be my tent.”

“I don't sleep anyway.”

“That's surely convenient... Do you feel tiredness?”

“Rarely. I rarely feel anything. All the feelings dulled and changed its causes.”

“Huh, there are so many unusual things in this world, who would have known...”

 


 

When Takasugi woke up, there was no one more in his tent.

Shouyou was gone.

Takasugi left his tent immediately. Like somewhere in his heart he was hoping to be able to catch him. He told Shouyou he was free to go. It was better for him to get away from here... So why, why Takasugi wanted to grab him and take him back?

One of his soldiers saw his distress.

“He’s gone,” Takasugi muttered.

“Who, my lord?”

“Sho... The ghost,” he corrected himself.

“Then it’s better for us.”

Yeah, everyone else should be counted as stupid.

And Takasugi should count himself as the most stupid person in this world.

 


 

Some battles you win, some you lose, each time everyone got hurt and killed. He told his men to get away. They would never win it. It was only swallowing more and more lives. He stayed on the battlefield. At first to let his troops get away, later, because he had no way of coming back to his army. He had to find the other way. He ran off to that mountain. He fell into some bushes. In a moment like that, everyone tends to wish some weird things.

He wished to see Shouyou again.

That was weirder than anything so far.

Why that was the thought that clung to him the most when the life was running out his body? Who might know that? But did anyone expected last thoughts to be rational?

 


 

 

He woke up on the flowery lea. It was so peaceful that it could be the afterlife. But then he saw this paradise was only a small piece of land that survived the war. A small spot of green in the sea of grey dead earth. It seemed that all the beings that survived gathered there.

But why was he there?

He noticed Shouyou. He had changed. His skin was clean. His hair was brushed to the sides, no longer covering his beautiful face. But his eyes stayed tired and dull.

“Have you... Have you saved me?" Takasugi spoke. "Or did I died?”

“You’re still human.”

“Unfortunately,” he tried to raise up. That was a bad decision. He didn't have enough strength to push his body to change position. Suffocating pain in the chest was common to many injuries, but the pain that ran along his spine and then spread through his whole body making him nauseous didn't seem to be anything he could ignore. Takasugi hadn't thought his condition was this bad.

“You live here?” he asked to put his mind away from it.

“No. I thought you might regenerate here easier, but...” Shouyou looked sadly at Takasugi's wounds. “Your spirit regained its strength, but your body... It didn't seem to heal.”

“Can you tear me to pieces, so I’ll die sooner?”

“I could do that...” he said slowly.

“But...?”

“Your people...”

“They have counted me as dead already. I know how it works. No one will look for me.” He coughed heavily. His body curled up. Everything seemed to bring pain.

“You don’t have anywhere to go?”

“You broke my chains, yes, but no one is truly free, huh?” Takasugi slightly smirked.

“People are different.”

“I told you. I’m already a ghost." He pushed himself to return to the previous position. It seemed less painful. "I can try to go if you don’t want me to stay here forever with you.”

“Your soul doesn’t have to stay.”

“There is no rest for someone like me.”

“Because you’ve killed?”

“There is a hell for something. I rather feel like there is nowhere to go ever again. That’s it. The end.” He closed his eyes. He felt a touch on his chest. It felt somehow weird. Like it elevating him, even if his body stayed on the ground. “What are you doing?”

“You can’t stay here.”

“Just throw me away, you don’t have to do whatever you’re doing.”

“You have to go. You have a war to win.”

“There is no win in a situation like this. Everyone is dead and everything is burned to the grounds.”

“Souls return and live again. Earth rebirths. That’s why you people are fighting. There is always a future.”

“Sounds pretty...”

Shouyou took his hand back.

“It won’t heal you. But it should be enough to let me carry you back to your camp.”

Takasugi let Shouyou carry him. Only when he started to recognise the area near the camp, he stopped him. “Let me walk. General should be on his own legs.”

Shouyou suppressed his opposition. He helped him stood on his own feet. Walking was harder, so Takasugi leaned on him. That was bad for his wounds. But at least they were close enough. Takasugi soon saw his soldiers.

“I got some infernal back up,” he chuckled before losing consciousness.

 


 

This time when Takasugi woke up, Shouyou was by his side. Again something changed. His robes were clean, maybe someone just gave him clean ones. Whatever it was, Shouyou looked better now. So that Takasugi couldn't keep his gaze away from him, but it wasn't bad.

“You stayed.”

“Couldn't leave you.” His eyes raised to meet Takasugi's. That changed shifting the air around him. They were no longer dull. It seemed like he found a spark to keep living.

Takasugi swallowed hard. If he was going to face a gaze like this more frequently, god help him to keep his hands to himself.

“How do you feel?” Shouyou asked.

“Bad. Did anyone say anything if I’m going to get better or...”

“Not to me.”

“They will probably repeat it to me when they see I've woken up... Did my people made any troubles to you?”

“No. They've avoided me.”

“Could have been worse," Takasugi sighed.

 


 

Takasugi got better soon. Yet, he did never return to full health. His body felt heavy and foreign. But it was enough to fool everyone around.

Shouyou stayed. He helped them on the battlefield, which made the army warm up a bit towards him. They were nearly invincible with him on their side.

But the most important, Shouyou stayed.

And also, he stayed in Takasugi’s tent.

Slowly they warmed up towards each other. Shouyou knew when to lend Takasugi his shoulder to lean on from time to time when his body started to act out. Maybe he could feel when something was wrong, cause he always found him then and was there for him. Just like that.

And Takasugi let his hands wander more. When they were alone. Slowly, wary of Shouyou’s reaction. He never opposed it nor flickered away. In contrast to his reaction to other people, when as little as someone standing fairly close to him made him distressed. It looked like all the trauma he had to be through disappeared when he was with Takasugi. That could be only his impression. The only fact he held dearly in his heart was as Shouyou was always relaxing when they were left alone. That was the most pleasant.

 


 

Takasugi watched Shouyou. His gaze rarely focused on anything else that much. It seemed like that was his whole world. And these little moments when they could be alone were his greatest happiness. But there were times when he couldn't sink in it, always pulled back by the thoughts connected to the war.

Like when after weeks they got to see flowers again.

"Chrysanthemums. The noblest flowers," Shouyou said softly playing with petals of one of them.

"Great. They are ready for our graves," Takasugi snarled.

Shouyou turned all his attention to him noticing his bad mood. Takasugi drank it off with sake. He thought that when he saw flowers again, that would mean they were winning. Day won over the night. War was ending. Or some other bullshit. But now... that was only a mark of their recent failure.

Shouyou was a great help, but during the last battle, Takasugi's state worsened drastically. Everyone focused on that. They needed to save their commander and take him away from danger. That made them lose. All because Takasugi was a dead weight that was pulling everything down.

"We rarely see flowers..." Shouyou said returning his attention to flowers.

"The war front moved to the places untouched by battles. They will soon change and looked as grim as the only places we belong to..." Takasugi reached the bottle again, but he ran out of alcohol. That was bad. He didn't want to stumble through the whole camp to find something more. He needed to face all hunger of his body himself.

"Or maybe..." Shouyou started. "The war will end and soon the flower will bloom everywhere. Future is not that easy to predict." He looked at Takasugi. "At least for you, human," he teased him.

"And you can, huh?" Takasugi took the challenge.

"I know a bit more about the world."

"Then maybe you can dispel some of my doubts." Takasugi moved closer. "You know, people love knowing what will come. We're that impatient that we're asking Gods for fortunes. Gods either don’t care or don’t exist... ha, what am I saying? I have supernatural being right in front of myself...” he chuckled. “So maybe they just don’t care. Either way, people write fortunes for themselves. On festivals and events like that, we draw one of them and think it is true. The content of them is the same everywhere. There is a really good one, kind of good one, kind of bad one and a really bad one. Though I... I drew an unusual one. A bad one, definitely a bad one. But it’s always on my mind, cause no one writes fortunes like that. No one...”

“What did it say?”

You will grow to be one of the greatest men, but your life won't be long enough to prove it... Is it true?”

“I can’t tell how or when you’ll die, but...”

“It will be rather sooner than later, huh?”

“You have death on your back. You’re only pushing the appointment away for a few days each time, but...”

“One day I’ll run out of luck,” he sighed. “Everyone will die. I don’t care about fame. So, whatever." It was lies and he could tell Shouyou was seeing through them. That one fortune was always hanging over Takasugi's life. But could he do anything about it?

He needed to shift his focus on anything else. "At least I get to meet you.” He moved even closer to Shouyou. His body was aching too much for attention, for touch, for any sensation other than this overcoming dull pain and dirt.

“There is a lot of feral ghosts on the battlefields...” Shouyou started not knowing where this conversation started going.

“No, you’re one in million,” Takasugi kissed him. He never before let himself for that much. Shouyou didn’t push him away. Maybe he didn’t actually feel anything. That thought made him wonder so much that he asked: “How is it?”

“It’s nice.”

“Do you want me to do that again?”

“Yes.”

Takasugi moved closer and kissed him. His lips lingered for longer on Shouyou’s lips.

“Do you know what that means?” he asked resting his forehead on Shouyou’s. “That I love you. That I care so deeply for you.”

“I...”

“Sh...” He put a finger on his lips. “Let me kiss you one more time, then you’ll tell me what you want.”

 


 

The war was breaking everything that went into its reach. Same happened with them. Especially with Shouyou. Maybe because Takasugi leaned on him in every weakness making him take a part of it on himself.

Shouyou started to lose control over himself during fights. He was becoming more violent. Even outside the battlefields. Takasugi didn't stop him, he only took that on himself. His body was already devasted by the war.

Takasugi noticed it happening on its first signs. He had seen many great men fall. He kept standing only because he was holding on their corpses.

He didn't want to stay over Shouyou's body. He knew he would never be able to move on from it. That would only hold him back forever.

Takasugi had done all to find any solution for it. There was a priest, who seemed to know something about it.

“What can I do for him?” Takasugi asked.

“You're a man of virtue. Your life has a big value.”

“What are you trying to say?”

 


 

 

The worst happened. Shouyou went berserk and couldn't calm down no matter how much time had passed. He should be killed.

Takasugi bound him himself. He wouldn't let anyone raise their hand on Shouyou. He couldn't do that either.

“Let's see if it works," Takasugi said mostly to himself. There was no one in this room cable of understanding his words.

Takasugi came closer to Shouyou. The only thing he could do was putting his life on the line to save Shouyou. And he chose it without much hesitation. His life didn't have much value. He wasn't going to be known, to be remembered, to achieve any greatness. But that was good. For the very first time in his life, he was actually glad for this fortune. It made it easier for him to let go of his life.

He drew down the sigils with his own blood. He heard as the beast, Shouyou was becoming, roared scenting it.

Wait for me a bit longer.

Now he had to draw them on himself. That was the end of the easy part. Now he had to draw them on Shouyou.

“I’ll come close to you, okay?" He moved a few more steps. Right into the beast reach. "It’s me, Shouyou. It’s me.”

It didn’t help. The beast caught him in his claws. He knew it would end like this. He focused on drawing sigils. He had to save Shouyou. No matter the cost.

Only then he noticed the black marks that were covering Shouyou's skin. How bad was their situation? Could anything help at this point?

He prayed so fiercely for this ritual to help. He never asked higher powers for anything ever. Only for him.

Maybe because it was the only moment when Takasugi felt completely helpless.

He felt as the beast's claw dug deeper into his body. “Are you going to tear me to shreds?” He chuckled heavily breathing. “You can you know. Maybe you should.” He finished and breathed out. Final breath? No. But it was close.

He took up his sword to end his life ending the ritual, but the life was already draining out of him. That was good. He had no force left to use his sword.

He opened his eye one more time and watched as black marks began to disappear and Shouyou was coming back to his senses. His panic was stronger than that beast’s anger.

“Sh...” Takasugi caressed his hair. “Watch over this damn people. One day maybe I'll come back. You said it once right. That souls return and live again. Then... I'll come back... I'll come back for you... just... just wait... just wait... I’ll come back...”

Chapter Text

Fade to black and the shot changed. Was it next life? It had to. The world seemed to shake off after the war. The earth rebirthed, the souls returned as Shouyou previously said. But there was still some war going on not that far away. Takasugi could notice many injured, poor and sick.

He couldn't recognise where he was and where he was going. If that was the village he grew in, it changed completely. He couldn't recognise where his past self was going. He focused on pinpointing any characteristic spots, but they made him even more confused.

At one point he passed by the grave. Single grave near the road. In memory of the fallen soldiers was only engraved on it.

They were his soldiers, his guts told him.

Did this grave survive to his times? He didn't recognise this place. But he didn't pay much attention to his surroundings and he spent little time around the village, mostly running away from anyone's gaze. Maybe Katsura would know...

Takasugi noticed Shouyou looking at him from afar. It wasn't surprising that after what happened, Shouyou didn't dare to get close to him again. But it’s hard to get away completely.

Did it count as their first meeting in this life? Probably not. Shouyou didn't notice that he was seen. His past self didn't put much care in that moment either.

It wasn't his life, Takasugi needed to step back and sink in.




Takasugi ran out of his home during the rainy night. He needed to disappear. The water would cover his tracks. He ran up to the mountain where the forest was the denser and people believed there were some unhuman forces ruling over it. Whatever. That was a good enough place to hide.

He underestimated the weather. There were no trails formed under people's feet. Heavy rain made it almost impossible to walk. He was catching on to the trees, but soon his feet stumbled and his body weight pulled him down. He rolled down the hill, not able to catch on anything.

He was going to go out in the most pathetic way in the most pathetic moment of his life? Well, at least that suited him.

He didn't roll down any further. The realisation came after a moment, but someone caught him. How? There was no one... And no one ever entered this forest. Maybe he only got tangled in some branches when he was falling.

He could easily rule that one out since he soon felt as he was pulled up. The one who had caught him was a man. He was higher than Takasugi, but that wasn't an uncommon trait. He didn't focus to get a glimpse of his face.

“Be careful,” the stranger said and disappeared in thin air.

Okay.

Okay.

So there were ghosts here.




Takasugi stayed on the mountain. One ghost wasn't enough to scare him off. After weeks since he settled there, he met that ghost again.

“You finally show up,” Takasugi said. This time he got to see the man's features closely. He seemed strangely nostalgic.

“What are you doing here? People don't go there,” his voice was so soft and sad.

“And that’s why I’m here. I’m hiding. Otherwise, I’ll have to go to the war.”

The ghost put his gaze low. “You can hide here.”

Okay. That was probably a good sign. Something to start with.

"I wondered..." Takasugi started. Maybe he was missing talking to others, but he probably got used to living in seclusion. "Are there wolves in this forest?”

"They won't hurt you,” the ghost said after a moment of silence and disappear.

”Good to know,” he sighed.




The ghost kept showing up in one place especially. Each day Takasugi saw him there. One day, he dared to go there.

The ghost was here that day too. He only stood watching one spot. There was one single tiger lily growing there. Takasugi didn't see them on the mountain. Down in his village, there was plenty of them during the late summer days, he thought they were not growing up here… There was something odd about this place.

”Is there someone buried here?” Takasugi asked.

The ghost didn't answer for long. Takasugi even accepted he would never hear it.

”It keeps growing every year,” the ghost said like he didn't exactly hear his question. “No matter what I do. I wanted to tear it up with its roots, but... I don't want to destroy his grave.”

”It will keep growing back until anyone remembers there is a grave.”

His hand traced over the eath in this place tenderly. Takasugi felt like this flower would bloom every year until the end of times. Someone who was so deeply cared for would never be forgotten.

”You stayed for him.”


 

It took a lot of time to befriend Shouyou again. Or rather to fall in love. It’s a bit weird watching your own life and noticing all these small signs. He probably didn’t notice then all these gestures or words. It all just happened.

 


 

When Takasugi reached old age, he dared to come down the mountain. Shouyou wanted to stop him, but, oh well, would he ever listen? That one his trait was going worse with age.

There were still a few villagers that recognised him. He told him how he was taken care of by a ghost. People started to come up the Mountain more often. They brought offerings for the ghost to take care of them and bring well in their lives.

Takasugi wasn't sure if Shouyou had that much power, but he let people believe in what they wanted to believe.

 




Takasugi died of old age. One day he felt his life slipping away from him. It looked like that. It was peaceful. Huh, he didn’t expect to see any peaceful death. Shame Shouyou was there by his side. Nearly gone mad. Trying to give him his energy to live.

It didn’t work.




Scenery changed. He was surrounded by kids. He was a kid himself probably. He saw Shouyou. He saw his smile. And then the figure dissolved in the air. Why did he approach him already? What was he afraid of again?

They met again in the rain when he was an adult. Shouyou saved him again. This time from an avalanche. Takasugi was in shock, so Shouyou didn't leave him alone. He took him to the flowery lea. There was no rain there. Only on that small part of the terrain.

After Takasugi calmed down, Shouyou wasn’t able to leave him ever again. He asked him to stay. His voice was filled with honey-like sweetness and tenderness. How could anyone refuse him?

Takasugi stayed, leaving everything in his life behind.

He had heard before about the Guardian of the Mountain that was keeping his village safe from wars and disasters. He didn't believe much in it, now he was correcting his mistake. Now he prayed all night with the name of God on his lips.

 




Happiness didn’t last long. After a few years, probably, Takasugi got killed. People stopped being afraid of the Mountain's forest. Someone got there and attacked Takasugi. Out of surprise, he failed to protect himself. How could he be so reckless to let it happen?

When Shouyou found him it was too late. Even as life was running out of his body he was able to feel the tempest raising around. Shouyou truly was becoming more powerful over the years.

But using it this way wouldn’t be good.

“No... Wait for me...” he only managed to mutter to him.




This waiting wasn't easy. Takasugi could tell by the first look at Shouyou when he met him again. He seemed so sad and tired.

Takasugi somehow wandered to the flowery lea in the middle of the forest. He didn't know how he got here. He didn't mean to walk far from the village. It seemed like the forest led him here changing its trails, so he lost his orientation.

There was some man there. It seemed like he waited for him. The man told him his name. He seemed so nostalgic, his voice so sweet and his expression so gentle, that it lulled Takasugi's attention.

"What is that place?” Takasugi asked.

“There are just places like this. They have high spiritual energy. You can say they are sacred. By nature, ghosts, gods... No one can tell what was the cause and was the effect.”

”Are you God?”

”No,” he smiled so warmly. “I'm only a ghost that stayed bound to this place.”

”Why did you stay?”

Shouyou didn't answer. Only looked at him with a gaze filled with pain and sorrow.

"Maybe…” Shouyou spoke. “Stay here. You don't need to come back."

Takasugi stayed. He didn't even think about it much. Did he even give it a thought?

People from the village noticed he gone missing. They came up the Mountain and tried to bring him back. And that was how Takasugi died that time.




It made Shouyou cautious. He did never again meet him before the fated rainy night. They tried finding each other again and again. To keep him, Shouyou started demanding sacrifice from the village. One in a hundred years. A man from the village he would pick himself. But in the end, there was always a goodbye waiting for them.




Shouyou found a way how to keep him for longer by his side, at least he thought so. He asked if Takasugi would leave behind his humanity. He agreed, of course.

There was the whole ritual to it. The priest from the local shrine took care of purifying Takasugi's body and bringing him onto a mountain trail. From there Shouyou took care of everything and never ever let go of his beloved.

Everything seemed to go well, but...

Since the first night at the mountain, Takasugi heard howling of the wolves. He lived his whole life close to this mountain and it had never happened before. Now, it repeated each night.

Second bad omen was the black markings on Shouyou's skin. Since Takasugi had forsaken his humanity, he remembered his previous lives. He knew these markings meant there was something wrong with Shouyou. And he knew the price that would have to be paid to avenge it. He pushed that thought away. At least for a few more days. Few more weeks. Few more years.

The wolves started to wander around the mountain. They couldn't have been here before they wouldn't be left unnoticed. Definitely not this huge. All with the white fur.

Oh. Maybe that was Gods’ fury. He and Shouyou tried to change destiny, create a new God, blur the lines between humans, ghost and gods. And that was their punishment.

Shouyou didn't seem to see these wolves. He would do something about it then. But it was only meant for Takasugi’s eyes.




One day, wolves attacked them. Then Shouyou saw them, though he didn't seem surprised. Rather like it was something that he scented it was weighing in the air and he waited for that calamity to come, cause there was no way of stopping it.

He didn't let the wolves reach Takasugi. But no matter how much of them he slaughtered, they were still coming.

“You’re here for me, right?” Takasugi asked watching how the eyes of the beasts were focused on him.

Shouyou glanced at him frightened. He wanted to stop him. But it was too late.

“Then come and get me,” Takasugi said.

Wolves jumped to him and ripped his body apart. With the last glimpses of that life, he saw how they were disappearing. So they were really after him.




Shouyou woke him up.

“What’s wrong?” Takasugi mumbled. Still hazed by the dreams he had seen.

“You were far away from me.”

“I was just dreaming.” He wiped his eyes and looked closely at Shouyou.

“No. You were away.”

He really seemed worried. Takasugi had no point in worrying him more, so he explained: “I saw my memories.”

“Which ones?”

“All of them.”

Chapter Text

From now on, they could just live for each other. Nothing else mattered. It was their paradise. They rarely let the other out of their arms. And maybe they spent most of the time on the mattress, but what else newlyweds could do. It was a honeymoon after all.

There was no black marking on Shouyou in this lifetime. Takasugi was sure of it, he examined thoroughly every inch of it. Another thing made him worried. The way Shouyou acted, at first that was the most pleasant part, this attention and care he was giving, but when Takasugi understood the reason standing behind it... It didn't turn everything bitter and sad, no, only Takasugi began to worry a bit.

But there was nothing that could ever stop him. He was going to fight for their happiness. They would be forever together this time. He was going to make sure of it.

 


 

They were breaking their routine of kisses and embraces only if someone came up the Mountain. They got close invisible to the human eye and listen to prayers, hear people stories, try to help. When the person came with the intention of seeing Takasugi, Shouyou was leaving them alone. So far only Katsura was wishing for it.

"You have something to ask Gods?" Takasugi asked materialising before his friend.

"I just wanted to talk with an old friend." He threw him the offering - onigiris - and sat on the nearby stones.

"Then I guess, your wish is granted." Takasugi sat by him and gently opened the package. "You know, I don't have to eat now."

"It's out of habit," Katsura brushed it off.

Takasugi could feel how he was alone in his mansion, and in that overbearing loneliness he was going to the kitchen to make himself a meal and looking at it he got stuck in memories of a friend for who he often made onigiris, cause they were the easiest to sneak out and offer as nothing big, but enough to silence the hunger caused by his very own stubbornness.

Takasugi swallowed. He wasn't used to being something different than a human. All these feelings and noises... He only needed more practice.

"Is everything alright?" Katsura asked him. He didn't mean the moment that happened right a second ago, he probably didn't notice it. Only humanly ask how was life going.

"Everything like a dream. Too good to be true... Maybe that's why I'm awaiting some disaster."

"What do you mean?"

“Do you think we could bring Gods’ wrath on us?”

“Why?”

“Shouyou wasn’t a god since the beginning. Only a ghost, but people started to worship him... Then everything that had happened to me... The last time when it happened it was ripped to shreds by white wolves. Yeah, last time, one hundred years ago," he added feeling how Katsura was getting more confused by his words. "Reincarnation seems to be a thing. But seeing your past lives is a shitty experience.”

When he first saw it at the wedding night in a dream, it wasn't a that bad experience. He had a possibility of distancing himself from it and watching it from aside. But when it came back to him at various moments, later on, it grabbed his throat tight, it made him see the most painful part again and again. Slowly his reaction to these scenes dulled. What could these images do to him and what could he do about it?

He could never let it happen again.

"Priests are taking records from the beginning of writings," Katsura spoke. "Maybe we could learn something more at least about the past.”

“Do you think they had written something we don’t know?”

“It wouldn’t hurt to try.”

 


 

“So... You want us to nerd in some old crap. No way. Too boring,” Gintoki opposed everything right away. Of course, Katsura just ran to Gintoki as in any other situation. At least he wasn't the only one they turned to.

“How far in you want us to look?” Oboro asked instead.

“Preferably - 800 years back, but there is probably no records from that time. This shrine hadn't existed yet. Try to find what happened exactly one hundred years ago. I can try to give you a more concrete date...”

"What happened then?" Gintoki asked.

“You met him then,” Oboro said.

“Yes. And I stopped being human. I don't know how I came back to it again...”

“And again throw it away,” Gintoki added.

“... but this time I have to stay.”

“You're always such a spoiled brat. You have to have this, you have to have that. Forget it.”

“I'm not doing this for myself. I'll come back. Dying is painful, but then it's like closing and opening eyes again. My memories are wiped clean, but it doesn't matter, I'll soon make new ones.”

“So?”

“Can't you see? It's the last time he can take it. There won't be the next chance. And when I come back, I'll only hear about a beast that probably got killed.”

They were quiet.

"Takasugi," Katsura spoke first. "Whatever you want to do, don't do it alone. We'll try to help. We’ll do whatever we can. I'll help them.”

“Thanks,” Takasugi breathed out. He needed to catch some air. The memories from his past life caught him again. It was still overwhelming. He went out to cool down. To focus his eyes on something different than an image of Shouyou's face in despair as he lost him again and again.

He wasn't left alone for long. Soon Gintoki came to him. But maybe his sense of time was unregulated.

“You escaped them?” Takasugi looked at him.

“Researching is not my thing.”

“Nothing is your thing,” Takasugi smirked. Soon a different thing caught his attention. The sword Gintoki used. Takasugi recalled it. It was his. He could still recall how it weighted in his hands.

This one past sensation made him vulnerable for other, not belonging to him, memory. He saw a child was left in battlefields. Why was it there? Where was anyone who could take care of it? Nowhere. The child was taking care of itself. As an animal offspring, it barely got out of its mother's body and started the life on its own. And so that life wasn't a human life, it reminded more of the animal once. Filled fear and fight to fulfil even the lowest needs of its body. But the child was found, was loved, was reteach to be human.

"What?" Gintoki's voice pulled him out of it.

Takasugi brushed off what he had just seen. Gintoki hated to dwell on the past. “You know... It used to be my sword.”

“No, it..." That sparked yet again memories, a more focused scene from the one he had just seen, this sword, Shouyou's warm smile. "Oh, you from some other life or some other bullshit.”

“Something like that. You can keep it.”

“How generous of you.”

“Shut up.”

“Then let me escort you since I took your sword.”

“Whatever.”

He did enjoy hanging out with him though. Despite all their brawls.

When they walked a bit in silence Takasugi's thoughts strayed again to what he had seen. Why had Shouyou strayed from the Mountain to save him? There was still some part of the story, Takasugi couldn't understand...

“You’re Takasugi Shinsuke, right?” they heard behind them.

Takasugi didn't want to deal with anyone from the village. He tried to disappear. He couldn’t. He tried again and failed. He turned back to the people who called him. They weren’t from the village.

They seemed odd. He couldn’t figure out why, but they were giving him this feeling. He wasn’t still used to his new senses.

There were two of them. Both looked like usual travellers. One was a head shorter than the other, both were rather lean. That was all he could figure out on his own. Also, usual travellers wouldn’t know his name.

There was something dangerous in this situation. He had to flee.

“Come back with us to the village,” the higher man said.

“No.”

Gintoki's muscles tensed ready to put his sword into use. They didn't notice it. Only Takasugi, who fought endless battles with him, could see it.

“He can no longer return,” the shorter said.

“Huh?” his partner seemed to be the most surprised by it from all people here.

“He’s no longer human. He's a part of the mountain now... How did it happen?”

“I wanted it," Takasugi said. He would never let anyone think lowly about Shouyou. He hadn't done anything wrong. "My wish was granted.”

“He trapped you here.”

“And I trapped him, not the worse kind of deal.”

“And the priest over there let it happen?”

“You would like to piss off the God?" Gintoki mocked. "If yes, then try in some other village. We have enough problems.”

The men didn’t reply to that. The shorter one looked at Takasugi and said: “I’m sorry, we didn’t make sooner.”

Takasugi felt like something was burning in his chest. He looked down. There was a paper doll lying on his chest. He wanted to tear it off, but he couldn't even move his arms. His knees went weak and fell on them.

Gintoki moved forward. The blade was by the taller's neck, but it wouldn't take much for him to move to the other one.

The smaller priest stopped reciting.

There was a knife dug in the tree behind him. It missed his neck by an inch.

Takasugi could finally breathe. He noticed it then what took away the attention of the priests. There was a storm coming on. The winds from all direction were gathering like right around them.

"You'd better leave," he heard a female voice. He forced his stiff body to turn a bit. Nobume, she was always somewhere around.

A minute past in silence like everyone gathered here was listening to what the wind was about to bring.

"And it's too late," she said ominously.

He was coming.

He also had the other name: Utsuro. A void. He was capable of destroying everything on his path.

“Don't you dare to lay your filthy hands on him,” he growled making the whole mountain tremble. “Gintoki.”

“Y'all screw,” he smirked and throw him the sword. Shouyou only swang it once. It brought wind so strong it pushed both of the exorcists to the trees. The pressure was crashing them.

He heard rushed footsteps. Someone ran to them, but before the priest noticed it, by the neck of the smaller one glittered edge of the blade.

“Why won’t you let it be solved by people who live here?” Oboro asked.

“And let you continue human sacrifices?” he said calmly. Like he didn’t notice the blade pressed to his neck.

“There won’t be any more human sacrifices here,” Takasugi said strongly.

“How can you be sure about it?”

“I’ll keep God busy.”

“And when he gets bored with you?”

“Then you can come after his head. But I’m afraid even next 800 years won’t be enough to make it happen. Now go.” And like it was on his command they were freed.

“Shinsuke,” Shouyou ran to him when the odd men left and cradled him in his arms. He looked around to see if any damage was made.

"I'm alright, Shouyou."

That could be a close call, but it was alright now, it was alright.

They heard Gintoki's sight. They both chuckled. They were back in heaven... There was something wrong.

“What is it?” Takasugi asked.

Shouyou's hand was turning black.

“It's nothing.”

It wasn't nothing.

 


 

The mountain bloomed through the last few weeks. Now Shouyou was seeing how it slowly starting to rot. He tried to tell himself it was all his imagination. But as he once stood to view the beautiful flowers, before his own eyes full-bloomed lotus flower withered.

No, please, no.

"Shouyou, what are trying to hide?" he heard Takasugi's voice. From the start of this paranoia, he tried to put distance between them. The boy came closer to him, nothing could keep him away. "I remember what had happened before when something like this occurred."

"So then you should understand why I want to keep you away from it." He pulled the sleeves so they covered his hands.

"Do you think doing that would change anything?" Takasugi moved towards him. "You know me. You know what kind of man I am. You should know better."

"Let me help."

The white lone wolf was walking around them in the forest. There were more of them in the dark. But only Takasugi’s eyes could see them.

Not now, he prayed and prayed, but was there a god strong enough to help them.

 


 

When Shouyou met Takasugi, for the very first time, eight hundred years ago, this radiating soul was surrounded by the worst nightmares. It wasn't unexpected he was drawn to him. All being longs for light. Even feral ghosts. Maybe them even more.

But why did Shouyou save him?

He didn't know. But that little moment changed their fates for so long. It changed everything to the fabric of their beings.

Shouyou noticed it when he left him. He was no longer a feral ghost. It was like something purified him, returned him his humanity and sanity. How? To purify a feral ghost, a wet cloth couldn't be enough. But the touch of this radiating soul, the honest intention, good thoughts... That boy was truly bringing miracles.

 


 

When he saw him again, he saw as that light of his soul was fading. And the last words his lips were muttering was the name he gave Shouyou.

Why? Why are you praying to me?

Shouyou couldn't stand and watch as he was fading. He knew one place that could help him regain at least part of his strength. There was a lea on the mountain. It was a sacred place. Place where Shouyou should never step in.

He took Takasugi in his arms and brought him there.

The white wolf stopped him. Growled at him. Don't dare to taint this ground.

“Please,” escaped Shouyou's lips. He knew he wasn't worthy to be there, that he would only bring harm to this place... But it wasn't about him.

The wolf looked at the boy.

I save the human child. But you won't keep him alive forever. Humans are fragile beings.

Shouyou tried not to think about it.

But life kept ripping him away from him, no matter what he tried to do.

He saw as slowly he was becoming tainted again. Until his selfishness reached its peak - he wanted this boy for himself. He wanted to steal him from fragile humanity and make him his forever.

Then the wolf showed up again. Reminding him there was a price. It took his boy leaving Shouyou purified.

He would prefer to die a thousand times.

 


 

When Shouyou woke up from this feverish thoughts, he was alone. Takasugi was disappearing more and more often.

Shouyou couldn't do anything about it.

And about the taint that was running deeper and deeper into his body like a poison.

Before he was capable before of killing armies without any harm to himself, now he scratched two people and...

He sighed.

The greater his power was, the higher the responsibility it was. He should have known better than to fall into his old habits.

Chapter Text

“... Every hundred years he asks for human sacrifice,” Oboro started saying what they had found out.

Takasugi interrupted him.

“People declined the first time, the boy meant for sacrifice died. The second time they do it, but they found the sacrificed man dead, probably they thought that was what the god wanted to do, they didn't notice his grieving. The third time, they didn't hear afterwards about the sacrificial man. They didn't know he also died, the god buried him, that was why no one found him again. Fourth, a hundred years ago, everything seemed to work fine. They gave in the man, one priest served the god longer with this than any other. Together, they found a way how to keep sacrificial human alive, how to take away his humanity. He died anyway... Did you find anything more than that?”

"Then why are you asking if you're so all-knowing," Gintoki snarled. Like he put any effort in what Oboro and Katsura had found.

"I want to know more. To know if I'm missing anything."

“Each human sacrifice, it was all you,” Oboro spoke after a moment.

“It was me.”

That seemed to crush their spirits. Whatever. Takasugi was going to fight, even if he was going to do it alone.

Nobume came to them. Only Oboro put his attention on her. So only he noticed what she was caring.

“What is...?” he took it from her. Folded crane. “Where did you get it?”

“Mountain shrine.”

“Yeah, we made it," Takasugi explained. "Me and Shouyou. Long story.”

“How many of them?” Katsura asked.

“Dunno. A lot.”

“Then maybe...”

“And where do you want to offer them? God can't help with anything here.”

“Ancestors. If everything goes wrong, you can always count on your kin.”

Takasugi smiled bitterly. “Oh, I'm sorry, but I'm not from so honourable family as yours. I'm only lowly, bringing shame everyone kid who ended up running away from home and forsaking his heritage.”

That was a bit harsh. Whatever if that made Katsura shut up for a moment.

But... maybe his idea wasn't entirely bad.

“Is there like a mass grave for the fallen soldiers?" Takasugi wondered. "About 800 years old.”

“What is even going in your heads, geez...” Gintoki sighed and moved back from the conversation. He was never the brightest.

“I think there might be something like that, but I'm not sure if I remember correctly..." Katsura tried to recall himself.

“Where?”

“It's... Wait. Weren't you supposed to stay on the mountain, otherwise you...”

“Die? I’ll probably only get weaker like Shouyou.”

“For him, it might be feeling a bit weaker, for you...” Oboro looked worried.

“I have to do this,” Takasugi cut him off.

“I can try to make you same amulet to survive longer.”

“It might be a better idea than rushing who knows where," Katsura spoke before Takasugi. He looked at his friend. "I know you're worried, but let us arrange everything for tomorrow.”

 


 

“You're afraid to taint me?” Takasugi asked as he found Shouyou.

There was no answer. Their dream became bittersweet. They were still together, but Shouyou started to avoid him.

It didn't matter. Soon Takasugi would make everything better. Nothing could stop him.

He came closer and leaned to Shouyou.

“I’ll survive it. I did a few time,” he cooed.

“Your existence now is fragile.”

Bullshit. He wouldn't get tainted or hurt by sole being close to him.

He knew that it was about Shouyou being afraid. He was afraid of himself. Of what he could do in this state. They both remembered all his sins. He hurt, killed, kidnapped, imprisoned Takasugi. What worst he could do than he had already done before?

Takasugi wouldn't mind if something bad happened...

No. That wasn't how their story would go. He needed to try to make it better.

 


 

They fell asleep cradled in each other's arms. That started being unusual. Unfortunately, Takasugi had to leave him.

“Where are you going?” Shouyou felt him slipping from his arms.

“You stopped trusting me?”

Shouyou lowered his gaze.

Takasugi didn’t want to hurt him. He had a plan he needed to put in work. He went to the lea and draw the array. He carved it in the ground and filled it with his blood. He still could bleed if he wanted to.

The wolves were watching him.

“Who are you?” he asked them.

There was no answer. They didn’t seem hostile. They only kept watching him. Maybe the time didn’t come yet to end his life. But it would. Soon.

“I'll save him. And this time, both of us has to survive through this.”

They didn’t react. Only watched him.

Probably nothing could be done.

He would still try.

There was one thing though he needed to take care of if everything went wrong.

He stepped out the mountain.

 


 

There was only a rock left out of the grave. Takasugi even used to hang around often as a kid and never felt anything weird. Now when he was standing there and watching it, he could barely resist all the energy that was accumulated here. Seemed like the ghosts were still here. Good. He needed them.

Oboro and Katsura helped him bringing here all the cranes. They offered all thousand of them. To grant one wish.

I was the most shameful leader you could have and yet I'm here asking you for more. Keep me under your watch today, he prayed.

The rest didn't know about his plan. That was better they would make him wait even longer.

“Where are you going?” Katsura asked noticing there was going something more on his mind than he was telling them

“To greet my ancestors,” Takasugi smirked and vanished.

 


 

He went to the cemetery indeed. He wanted to burn the incense at his family grave.

The cemetery wasn't empty. There was a man. Takasugi could make himself invisible and sneak past him. He didn't do that. He wanted this man to see a ghost.

Takasugi put the incense and asked his ancestor to watch over him. That was probably even more shameful than the plea he had made before.

After he looked at the man. He got his attention.

“You missed me, father? You had to. Since you've nearly destroyed my life.”

Who else could hire these exorcists? Good, the priest family was on Shouyou side and manage to silence that incident.

The man looked sharply at him. Of course, how else this man could look at him?

“What life?”

“My own. One that will never be written by you. And since you believed that there are some supernatural beings in this world, keep your eyes open. Revenge is best served cold.”

He left him like that. He didn't have any actual plan of revenge. But he knew these few words were probably enough. He didn't want to dwell on it too much. He had a better, more important life now.

The longer he was away from the mountain the worst he felt. But he could handle it. Only a few steps.

“Shouyou...” he muttered when he felt his power nearly disappearing.

Shouyou caught him and pulled him deep into the mountain. It bearly helped. Takasugi still felt weakened.

“Am I dying?”

“No. No. You're alright. You're alright.” Shouyou held him close.

“Take me back to that lea.”

“Of course I will.”

When Takasugi opened his eyes again, they were back on that lea. He smiled. He caressed Shouyou’s cheek. He didn’t expect it to happen like that, but if they were already in the right place.

Takasugi took out the other amulet Oboro gave him. He put it on Shouyou's chest. It made him powerless. He fell on his knees.

Takasugi had both of the blades by himself, this one-time Gintoki turned out useful and helped him get them. He needed them for his plan. No matter if he was going to survive it or not.

Takasugi stabbed Shouyou with the short sword. Then he cut his own arm with the longer one and with blood dripping down cause his body had no strength to heal itself he finished the array on Shouyou.

“What are you doing?” when Shouyou asked first it was like all his words: soft and kind. The second time he was more worried. Third, he was becoming angry. Forth was a roar that echoed on the whole mountain.

“Let me purify you,” Takasugi asked when he finished.

“No. No. Please. Stay away.”

Takasugi pierced himself with the long sword.

The wolves came.

Good. That was part of the plan.

Lend me your power to save him. As you saved us so many times before, he asked them.

The biggest wolf looking into his eyes. Lowered its head and bared the teeth.

We won’t bring any more harm here, Takasugi kept asking them.

It didn’t help.

There had to be the price. No, no, please no.

He sighed.

You can take...

But before he formed that thought the air chilled, the wind gained strength. It wasn’t Shouyou. He was bound in the array.

Ghosts.

Thousands of fallen soldiers.

They were his soldiers. They came to serve their general for the one last time.

The wolves sniffed the air filled with the ghostly presence. That calmed them down. The biggest one came closer. The others started to disappear. The ghosts were disappearing too.

What?

No.

The good general should go down with his people. He was a pitiful man even across lifetimes.

But if that could save Shouyou, if that...

Please, I don’t want him to look at the world with such tired, sad eyes, he begged for the last time when the wolf stopped close to him. Please.

Dear child, he heard in his head. I grant your wish to save this man. But don’t taint this ground with your foolishness ever again. Keep him pure... and keep him safe.

“I’ll take care of him.”

The wolf stepped into the array and looked into Shouyou’s face.

Keep him safe this time, the wolf growled and dissolve into the ground. The array disappeared with the blackish marks of Shouyou’s body.

They were safe.

They made it.

Takasugi ran to Shouyou and pushed the paper amulet down. They melt into each other's arms. They were so afraid of losing each other.

“We ended up with both of them again,” Shouyou chuckled looking at swords that slipped from their bodies and fell on the ground.

“Why were you always trying to get rid of them?”

“I gave them in better hands.”

“Gintoki as better hands?”

Shouyou laughed.

Takasugi nuzzled in his embraced even more. He could feel as the terrors and fears from last day were drifting off Shouyou's heart. Hearing him laugh was more than enough.

“You never wanted them back," Shouyou said. "And I never made good use of them. Like this time.” He looked at his hands again. They were pure again. How weird state it was for a feral ghost he used to be...

“Yeah, you’re right, we should get rid of them.”

 


 

“It worked.” Katsura’s eyes were sparkling with joy.

“I would come back and kill you all if it didn’t,” Takasugi snarled.

“Always so gloomy," Gintoki mocked. "You got your hubby back. Be cheerful for a sec.”

For once he was right. They were sitting on the lea surrounded by the flowers and friends. Takasugi tucked in Shouyou's arms. It was so peaceful and nice.

He felt someone's memory slipping out. Who was it? Someone felt relaxed to the point he opened more than ever.

It was okay. Takasugi closed his eyes and let his mind wander. He saw pain, fear and suffering. A kid holding even his breath not to be found was praying fiercely. What god would answer so lowly-birth human's request?

Shouyou did.

That was how it started.

The realisation pulled Takasugi out of the memory.

"You were the first person Shouyou saved," he said looking at Oboro. "You're the one that changed everything, at least started."

"No, I... I'm nothing..."

"That was all we needed. To find if this time is any different from the others. And it is. In no other life, Shouyou and I met you, Gintoki, Nobume nor Katsura. Each time, we were alone. Maybe that's why we failed. We can't see the solution to it by ourselves, but if there is someone more..."

Oboro looked at him with eyes wide opened. He... He teared up.

“Keep being our strength and protection,” Shouyou said giving back his short sword. Oboro nodded trying to keep calm, but emotions were holding his throat tight. Then Shouyou turned to Gintoki and gave him back the long sword. “In return, we'll give you the same.”

Okay, Gintoki did have some merit in what happened. But not only him.

“Zura,” Takasugi turned to his friend. “There are only two swords, but,” he took the fan from his sleeve. “You deserve some recognition. You found how could I save Shouyou. Without me dying. Keep us safe for a bit longer.”

Since they started giving away presents for everyone, there was one more person deserving recognition. Nobume.

Takasugi had no longer any possession, but when he reached to his sleeves he found one more thing. The hairpin. The flowers from his wedding withered, but there were many other flowers blooming around them and in their hearts.

He pinned it up her hair. He crocked his head. “I’ll bring you some food next time.”

She brightened up like a sun hearing it.

 


 

The autumn and the winter passed calmly. There was no longer anything that could destroy their dream.

When camellias started to bloom, they had an unusual guest. A woman came up the mountain trail. When she reached the shrine, Takasugi came out to her. He had no idea how she would react to him.

Her face softened. “My baby, my sweetest baby,” she coed cradling his face in her hands. “I missed you, dear, I missed you so much.” She pulled him a bit back to take a good look of him. She was overjoyed. “Are you in good health?”

“Yes. I... You knew. You knew about... Everything.”

She breathed out heavily. “I could tell you fell in love, my dear, I was so happy to see that. And... Your grandmother would laugh me off, but I could read from flowers how much he loved you. But..." her voice cracked. She caressed his cheek. "I'm sorry, I've doubted in you. Someone was taking my baby boy away. I felt like I couldn’t let that happen... How selfish I was? Will you forgive me making you suffer?”

“I... I didn’t know about that... What made you change your mind?”

“I wanted to see you happy again. I could make it only... Only by letting you go.”

“So there is no longer that have to be forgiven. You wanted the best for me, mother. And you haven't lost me. You can always come here to meet me. There are no wolves here.”

She seemed a bit puzzled at first, but then she understood. “Right. There are no wolves we would not defeat,” she cradled his face once again and kissed his forehead. Her eyes raised for a moment from him. She frowned a bit, she had to see Shouyou. But when her gaze returned to her son, her eyes turned back to being soft. “Don't let anyone cage you. Don't repeat my mistakes.”

“I know.”

“You were always my smart baby. I love you.”

“I love you too, mom.”

She cried when she was leaving. He knew about it. But she didn't feel any anger or resentment. Their feelings stayed pure.

Shouyou came up to him. "Do you regret what you've chosen?"

"No. And do you? You will wish that wolf eat me. I’m a pain in the ass,” Takasugi smirked as Shouyou arms slipped around him.

“You’re the brightest light of my life,” he whispered softly.

“I know," he took his face in his hands and kissed him. "I’ll keep guiding you.”

 


 

“My, my, you've brought us many troubles,” the priest said after placing his offering. He soon noticed that someone was watching him. He looked back and saw a young boy. “Are you here from your own will?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to stay here?”

“Yes.”

“Hm... If it ever changes or if anything else happens, you will always have us to help you. There always be someone in this shrine to watch over you. Both of you,” he stressed.

Chapter Text

In the village growing in the shadow of the sacred mountain, came to life the most beautiful flower in the world. Some could have thought she was just one of the villagers, woman of exceptional beauty, of course, but was there anything more to it? But if you put that sceptic in the room with her, after a few minutes they would start seeing her as the god's incarnation. Few more minutes and they would learn that she had more to offer than her look, elegance and grace. There was stubbornness as in mountain flowers blooming again and again against all the odds. There was a strength as in wildflowers that you can never get rid. And there was sweetness and tenderness that caught everyone's attention.

She was their most precious flower.

The priest of the local shrine had the honour to watch her bloom. They'd both born in this village. She was born in one of the noble, but not the richest family, that was enough to put her under the glass cover. She could be seen and loved, but never obtained. He, on the other side, was only a mere servant for the people. So how could he even let his eyes stray on her?

Yet, at their first meeting, she spoke to him: "Don't lower your head. Don't ever lower your head."

She was eight at the time, as always fierce and self-assured. He was fourteen, last in the family, so all the duties fell on his shoulders and everyone only seemed to look down on him and judge him. Their lives went in such different paths since the very beginning.

 


 

She kept her head high. Even when her life was trying to put her down and restraint. When they got to spoke again, she was sixteen and even if her world seemed to fall apart, she didn't change even a bit.

"I'm getting married," she said when she met the priest as she was wandering around the shrine.

"I heard."

"You will be...?"

"Yes," he lowered his head.

"You need to do something with that habit of yours."

"I do," he laughed but kept his head low.

He felt her hand on his cheek. She raised his head so their eyes could meet.

"Keep it like this. Don't let anyone take it from you." She looked at him for a moment. "Would you... Would you make me a favour?"

He was ready to do anything for her.

Her arms raised around him. Then he realised he got caught in the deadliest trap.

"I don't want to give my future husband all the satisfaction," she whispered sweetly.

She was one of these flowers which scent intensive during evenings, achieving the peak of her beauty after dark. He got a chance if witnessing it first hand.

They were both clueless youth with a vague idea of adults’ plays. They went to a place when they couldn’t be caught by anyone. She pulled her clothing down baring her skin and moved to take his. It was the only moment when he saw her a bit unsure, nearly shyly. That caught his attention. But as she learnt what to do with his body and as she became more confident, he stepped right into heaven. The moments when she was looking into his eyes and when she manhandled him... That was probably the feeling of ascending.

He never had forgotten that one night. Her skin was fair and soft like flowers petals. Her lips were warm and sweet. Her hair tangled and got everywhere, but he loved feeling them under his fingertips.

He loved every detail of that moment.

He loved her.

 


 

After the wedding ceremony, he hadn't seen her for two years. Two years, three months and two days. Then one day, he met her by the shrine. She was crying.

"I'm pregnant... I don't want to bring a child to such a cold world."

"The world won't be ever cold for them. They will have you," he tried to comfort her. Not as a priest that serves all the villagers in their hardships. But as a dear friend. As someone, she could rely on one day, maybe, if she needed to.

She nodded but his words didn't seem to get to her. So he tried again. "Keep your head high," he said softly.

She smiled and looked at him. "Don't let anyone take that away from me."

She probably didn't even recognise him.

"I'll be praying for you," he said when she was leaving. But what could bring his prayers? How much could they help her?

 


 

As he foresaw, she filled her son's life with love. Like all the positive feelings she could offer to the world she put in front of him. He was her greatest proud.

Her son took after her beauty and deviance. He kept his head high. He walked where he wanted, he said what he wanted and nothing could stop him from achieving what he wanted.

He didn't stray from others as much as his mother letting the whole village to see him being in the full bloom.

And he was noticed, he was loved, he was taken away...

 


 

"Can I talk to your lady?" the priest came as soon as he could to Takasugi's mansion when he learnt about Shouyou's request. Once again God asked this village for sacrifice and nothing could stop it.

It was a late hour, he didn't expect being hear, but he wouldn't be able to sleep if he didn't come. The man who opened the door for him, one of the servant, seemed to oppose his plea out of pure habit. But then they heard a woman's voice from inside:

"Let him in. My husband left, we can keep that in secret, just between us."

"Of course, my lady." The servant excused himself.

"My son disappeared," she said nearly carelessly when they were left alone.

"I came in that case..." The priest raised his eyes to meet her.

 


 

After her son disappeared, her marriage started to fall apart. This one earthquake seemed to be enough to destroy the walls of her prison. She was still avoidant, but she started coming to the main shrine every now and then when her husband left.

"Have you been in the upper shrine?" the priest dared to ask her after weeks. "To meet your son."

"No. I'm not sure if he wants to meet me," she smiled helplessly. "I've made a mess at one point, he might hate me for it.

"He doesn't hate you. I'm sure of it," he said. Though, he himself didn't dare to go up there since that one summer day.

They talked many times about it. After weeks he saw that she finally dare to meet her son. At least once in his whole career, he helped someone.

 


 

"What were you doing when I was gone?" her husband asked her.

"Picking flowers, stepping on tips of my toes so no one could notice me," she mocked.

"You're lying," he said dully. There was nothing new in this statement. It just surfaced from time to time.

"I wonder what is happening? Your wife lost her mind? Or maybe this time you're losing yours? Hm, which one is it now, dear husband?" She came closer. "Cause whatever is now happening, it is all in your head."

He hit her.

She only smiled and raised her head once again. "Oh, dear husband, how merciful of you, giving me such a light punishment for shaming you."

So he hit again. And again. Until her face wasn't so pretty. But he couldn't wipe off her smile and force her to keep head down.

"There will be a life," she started when he stopped, "when I don't get bought like a piece of meat. In that life, I won't be your wife. You will have to watch how all the people you hate can look at me. There will be a life when you don't imprison me."

"You can dream of it if it makes your life easier."

"You think why I am still breathing in this cage?"

 


 

Next day she went as usual up to the Mountain. To pray since it was the only way now she could talk to her beloved son.

He showed up before her. She could never lie to him, but now it became even harder to hide from him anything. He noticed the redness from last night she tried to mask.

"What happened?"

"You know, baby."

He sat in silence. She could tell how blood was boiling in him. He was only thinking about how to use it.

His husband showed up. Did Takasugi ask him to come here? Or had he also felt his anger and come to calm him?

"If he doesn't like being watched..." Takasugi started. "We'll make him," he growled. He looked back at his beloved and asked: "Will you help me, my dear husband?"

She heard how her son was saying these words without irony. She didn't know these words could be said like this. With so much love.

And she saw how much affection was in God's gaze. So this beautiful feeling was even reciprocated.

Her son was truly in good hands.

 


 

She knew only that something was about to happen this evening. Her son told her only He will never raise his hand against you. She could put all her trust in him.

"Where have you been?" her husband asked her. Of course. As always. But she had some odd feeling in her guts that made her go attention elsewhere. It was so cold here, what...

Ghosts. She noticed them first. What was happening?

Then she recalled her son's threat. So that was his plan. Her smart baby boy.

"Look, dear husband." She took her husband's face in her hands. "Everyone is watching you." And when she could see the blood ran out of his face and his eyes opened in fear, she purred. "We've both gone mad."

And in this ghostly crowd, he saw his own son.

"And how is it, father? Having all your beloved ancestors to look at you? Watch you? Remember, there is always someone watching. Someone weighing your action. And one day it won't be your hand which decides what is shameful and what is not. In your place, I would start praying for it to merciful. But who would give you mercy after all this?"

He left. Accompanied by his lover. When they disappeared the ghosts started to dissolve in the air.

The rest of the night passed calmly.

 


 

"He didn't dare to touch me ever again," she told her son the next day. "And when I went out, he didn't stop me."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I'll stay here. I'll be like a friendly ghost between trees and streams," she giggled. "Are you worried your mother is too close to you?"

He smiled letting her hug him close.

 


 

And so she kept haunting the mountain. And even more the shrine and its habitats. The priest didn't have anything against it.

"You're sitting here all alone?" she asked letting herself in. "Where are your kids?"

"They sneaked out to Katsura's mansion."

"So they are drinking tonight as well," she chuckled showing a bottle of sake she brought.

"Your son didn't keep any secrets from you?"

"He may try, but he will never succeed." She sat next to him. "That's how it is when two people are too similar to each other. It's hard to keep anything away."

"Hm... You are truly similar. You're both know how to make all the people around you fall for you."

"My son seduced god, so we might be pretty good at it."

"And he somehow managed to win over all my kids. I could never do anything to keep them in one place, but when he's around... They're looking at him like a..."

"He's kind of like that now, am I right?"

"Soon people's beliefs will shift into worshipping not a lone god, but a pair of them, it is truly only a matter of time."

She hummed deep in thought. Then she moved to pour sake. Only then the priest realised the number of cups was wrong.

"Wait..."

"Three sips of the three cups, wasn't it like that, my dear priest?" She smirked and look him in the eye. "Do you want to take me as your wife?"

"We've done everything in a wrong order," he chuckled.

"People are always making some mistakes." She took one of the cups. "We can repeat it in the right one."

"I..." He fought the urge of lowering his head. He didn't want to ever have to take his eyes away from her. "I would love that."

 


 

She was their most beautiful flower. She never withered. Grey hair and wrinkles were only new signs of her beauty.

When she died, the priest showered her with flowers. He buried her on the spider lilies field. Where her dearest son lay.