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Claws digging deep

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  Pressing his forehead to the door, he breathed in. And in, until his head swam. He’d said what he’d needed. Whether the deluded creature they’d sent to the Citadel listened, well. That was not up to him. He unzipped his jacket and threw it on the lone chair in the room. They would all wait and see. He paused by the almost empty shelf, almost reaching to touch one of the sparse books and then pulled his hand away. He would not give it the pleasure of proving it right. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t.

  He’d done what needed to be done, nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t his problem they all were too much of cowards to do it. It wasn’t his problem that the Treasure sword who’d gone silent in the last months had been sharpening his blade feverishly when he thought nobody was looking. Definitely not his problem that the little Tantou who stared a lot had been holding his brothers’ hands constantly for weeks. Or that it had looked like they were holding him so he wouldn’t run off and do something.

  They had all been cowards, to the very last one, because they’d all gone quiet and hid around the Citadel like cockroaches. Even the one eyed Osafune sword had been pressing his lover in corners and holding him tightly by the wrist when he thought nobody was seeing, as if the Uchigatana would go off if he didn’t. So many swords, so many weapons, and yet they had waited. Waited.

  He threw his gloves on his bed. Nothing. It did nothing to relieve the…thunder in his head.

  They had waited and endured and sat silent, all of them, because of what ? Of loyalty ? To whom ? To what ? To an idea what made them dead meat the moment the war was over ? To a mistress who played with them like toys ? To old masters who had been rotting in the ground for centuries? 

  Glass under his palm and he felt the shards dig in his flesh, but couldn’t really pay enough attention to it. Not when…

   He squeezed tighter. Wet over his fingers, dripping down his pants and smearing crimson on the table. Tighter. The pain forced his to focus on his hand. Tighter. Maybe the glass would lodge itself so deeply he would be rendered useless. It would be the focus of their new master again. The little rat who acted all shy and scared would see it for the masterpiece it was rumoured to be, and would try to lay his filthy hands on it, and then he would have the excuse he needed. Because he would not allow a creature so low to sully something even remotely resembling him with its touch. The new sage would touch it and then he would have to cut off the man’s hand at the elbow.

  Because only he was allowed to touch it, because there was no other reason for anyone else to lay a finger on it other than him, other than him showing it all the things it would never be. Him showing it it would never be him, no matter what it did.

  And if the sage tried to make it think, even for a second, that it was good enough by itself, he would make the bastard pay. Thrice.

  Glass exploded on the wall across, red staining the pure white like a blemish. He reached for another. The moment his head quieted, he would go and tell them to stop being such cowards, they were all warriors, how could they stand…

  How could it stand there, daring to wear his name and something that resembled his face enough to be familiar when he saw it, and endure it all like a martyr ? He dragged a hand through his hair. How could it keep its head down and not say a word, how could it allow her, allow them all, to insult his name and his face, how dared it just hide the marks and keep going as usual, as if it wasn’t ruining itself and him with its actions and its silence and its…

  He realised he was pulling on his own hair when a hand gently pulled on his wrist, forcing his fingers to open and let go.

 - That’s it. Come. – It. Dared. To order him. To drag him when all it did was suffer and be quiet and wear shame like his face and name were dirt it couldn’t wash off…His left hand moved before he could think about it. He was right handed and it showed, the backhand barely making a sound. Its face still snapped to the side from it, and his knuckles pulsed with pain. Damn it. Damn them all, but especially it. – Done ?

  And then it kept dragging him through the rooms nobody wanted to share with him. Even when they all piled in tiny quarters with no breathing space, they still refused to be alone in the same room with him. Like he was carrying a disease and not done what they should have long time ago. Like he had spat in their faces and not simply solved a problem. But that was it with cowards, wasn’t it ? They didn’t…

  He hissed in pain. It gave him a side look, blue eyes close enough to his face that he could count its blond lashes. It wasn’t wearing its hood, obviously having decided there was no need to pretend now that their sage was not present.

  It shook its head and then picked a couple more glass shards from his palm.

 - Are you trying to take yourself out of commission ? You won’t be able to show our new master how much better you are like that, you know ? – It kept its tone soft and he felt the rage rise again. It spoke like he was a child who’d scraped his knee and not something light years ahead and above it. It was condescending and was probably trying to hide its pity, and he wanted to slap it again, only this time he would make it count. He would make it hurt.

 - Don’t you dare, Kunihiro. – No side look this time, though it paused for a moment. And then it kept going, turning the tap on and then before he knew it, it was rinsing his bloody hand in the cold water. – Whatever you’re trying to achieve, it won’t work.

  It just hummed and then patted his crisscrossed hand with a paper towel, opening his cabinet to dig through it.

 - Where’s your antibiotic cream ? – After he didn’t answer for a few seconds, it turned to look at him, question in its bright eyes.  – Yamanbagiri ? Your kit, where is it ?

  At least it knew who the name really belonged to and didn’t hesitate to use it. Good. But he kept waiting for the realization to catch up with it. And kept waiting. Why did it have to be so dense ? He wasn’t so who was it copying this time ?

 - You tell me, Kunihiro.

  It stared, unblinking, for far too long before dropping a small sigh that was nothing more than a louder exhale.

 - Come on. – He almost snapped back for the order, but it shook its head. – Just some cream so it wouldn’t get infected. That’s all.

  He knew it was right, the bastard. But that didn’t mean he had to agree.

 - Let go. Now, before I show you I don’t need my dominant hand to mess you up. How about you take your coddling and dump it on one of those whining crybabies outside ? They might appreciate the pity party. You can go and be sad together.

  It didn’t look at him. It didn’t even release his hand, just tugged again, pulling him to his door.

 - Listen, you little… - It pushed the door open and then turned sharply, dragging him in one of the hidden hallways, the panel behind him shutting all light and sound, shrouding them in darkness.

  In the dark, all he could do was follow and swear at it, cursing it and Kunihiro and the bitch whose bones sullied the forest and the humans who came to sniff after her, and the Konnosuke and its words, and the new Saniwa…

  And then they were in the infirmary. It let go of his hand and went to rummage through one of the hundreds of drawers littering the place. He chose to wait simply because he’d never been in the infirmary before. When he got injured, the sage would let him heal on his own. Apparently, he’d been a disappointment when she’d seen his strength after he’d already joined the Citadel. The irony was not lost on him and it made him want to ruin it even more, because how dare its existence lead to someone being disappointed in him ? But he’d had fun when he’d seen her. Because she’s been afraid of him from the very start. And with a good reason. He felt the grin on his lips. She’d really had a good reason.

   He was so deep in thought, trying to make sense of all the wardrobes and drawers he was seeing that he didn’t notice it getting closer to him. It didn’t speak, just rubbed the sharp smelling cream all over his palm and then wrapped it in white bandages, pulling on them a few times to check how tight they were. He just sat there, waiting for it to raise its eyes so he could ask it what, the hell, did it think it was doing.

  But it didn’t. It wrapped his hand, tied it with a neat hidden knot and then rubbed at his exposed fingers. Pressing its lips to his knuckles, it gave him an almost nonexistent smile while he gaped in disbelief.

 - Everyone’s outside and the baths should be empty. Come on, I’ll wash your hair.

 - How…

 - Shush. There’s nobody to see. Only me and – It shrugged. – I already know. – Its eyes dropped down to, he knew, the small of his back. – All of it.

 - You think that because you’re a copy of me, you can act like you own this face and this name and…

 - Yes. Because I do. And so do you. You need to keep the hand dry anyway and I know you won’t ask anyone else for help. So, bath it is.