Chapter 1: Hachisuka Kotetsu
Everything about Hachisuka is night and day.
The first time he’s seen him, Hachisuka is sitting on one of those cushions on the floor. He’s at a low table having tea and snacks with a few others, but it’s almost as if all the light in the room are focused on Hachisuka. Nagasone doesn’t know who he is at the time, but everything else blends in the background like white noise. The only detail that stands out is Hachisuka. He’s seated with a perfect posture, back straight but effortlessly, relaxed. He’s dazzling and it feels like he insults him by describing him with just that word. It doesn’t do him nearly as much justice as it should. His hair flows from the high ponytail down, the ends of them pooling in silk like puddles on the floor behind him. The soft colour of his long hair is a stark contrast to the intricate yukata he’s wearing. It frames his lithe but muscular body wonderfully. His long fingers wrapping around the tea cup looks almost feminine. Everything about the way he looks as he sits look… delicate. He meets his disarmingly blue-green eyes when he turns to look towards the open door where he has been looking through with—he can’t remember who it is that has been showing him around, honesty—whosoever he has been with.
Everything about Hachisuka before the point they’re introduced, at least, is beautiful.
He doesn’t think anyone could inject more venom in saying his name as much as Hachisuka does. His expressive, radiant face sours with enough disgust that he doesn’t know if it’s the way he says his name or his expression that hurts more. It’s almost unfair how he manages to stay breathtakingly gorgeous despite the way his face is distorted like that. It’s distorted with enough hatred that it makes Nagasone feel small, and he isn’t, by any means, a small man. He won’t repeat what Hachisuka has said to him their first meeting, recounting it is painful enough. To say the least, everyone in that room has looked surprised like they can’t believe that the words that left Hachisuka’s mouth did. He knows that it means he hasn’t been as—what is it? Angered? Repulsed? It’s probably a combination of both.
Everything about Hachisuka after they’ve been introduced is difficult.
He’s not his real brother. The fact that Nagasone arrives at the Citadel first probably doesn’t soften the blow that the only other Kotetsu here is a fake when Hachisuka prides himself to be genuine. Hachisuka wastes no time in making it known, not just to him, but to everyone who has been present that he wants absolutely nothing to do with a counterfeit like him.Though it hurts, he’s fine with that. How could it not hurt to be hated for being created and recognized as you are? Nagasone can’t say that he would’ve done the same thing if he were in his shoes but that’s because he’s known he’s not a Kotetsu. But his old master believed and treated him as if he is one, it feels like disrespect to deny that. He lets it go. The Citadel is big enough that they don’t have to be in the same place at the same time.
Perhaps he spoke too soon thinking that. Over the next few days, he’s convinced that the Sage of the Citadel really doesn’t like him or Hachisuka very much. Nagasone understands that they want everyone to get along, but with the number of swords in here and their long history, it’s impossible to avoid conflict. Friction is unavoidable, and the one between him and Hachisuka is palpable, but not unbearable. It isn’t as though they go at each other’s throats when they’re within a few meter radius of each other. Yet somehow, the Sage is determined to snuff that amber before a fire starts. Somebody should’ve told them that it’s too late for that as his existence in this very Citadel is already gasoline to Hachisuka’s ambers. No one does. No one tells the Sage, so Nagasone’s told to do every chore and expedition he’s assigned to with Hachisuka. Not only that, he’s also his sparring partner (Hachisuka seems invested, if not to try and kill him) every time he’s told to practice.
He thought that having to deal with Hachisuka’s attitude towards him is bad enough, it’s even worse when he’s in a bad mood. That seems to be the default mode ever since the Sage decided that the best way to make them get along with each other is forced companionship. It doesn’t work. It only starts to feel like he’s being punished for not trying enough to get Hachisuka to like him, but that’s equivalent to asking the sun to rise during the night. Nagasone has tried in the beginning to at least converse with him, but Hachisuka would have none of it.
Everything about Hachisuka after Urashima’s arrival is unfair.
Truth be told, it isn’t that Nagasone’s pining for Hachisuka’s attention or anything, Though, it really wouldn’t hurt if he at least stopped looking at him like he’s the worst thing that’s happened in this world.
The contrast of Hachisuka’s treatment between Nagasone and everyone else seems even more glaringly obvious when Urashima comes home to the Citadel. Nagasone happens to be around when Urashima is introduced to the rest of the Citadel. He feels like he has to, being his older brother. Urashima comes home after a long battle at Sekigahara, and despite being tired and beaten up, the rest of the sortie party are cheerful for the new sword. Hachisuka steps forward and the relief on his face is evident as he kneels down to embrace Urashima. Their little brother reciprocates the enthusiasm, hugging him tightly and patting the back of his head. Urashima meets Nagasone’s eyes, and questioningly asks if he’s his Nagasone-niichan. Hachisuka’s shoulders tenses up from the question and he lets go of Urashima to stand back up, chin and nose up. Hachisuka doesn’t say anything, refuses to even acknowledge him the entire time they’re showing Urashima around.
“Did anything happen between you two?” Urashima asks a couple days later after that awkward first meeting. It hasn’t helped that since Urashima arrived, the three of them now share the same room. Kanesada and Horikawa hasn’t minded having him around. Nagasone likes them plenty enough when the three of them shared the room, but the Sage has something else in mind. The air when Nagasone and Hachisuka are in the same room is suffocating. Urashima has noticed, which is probably why he’s bringing this up now that they’re alone. The two of them are taking refuge under the roof of the well, they are assigned laundry but before they could even get things done, the sky breaks open.
Nagasone tells his little brother that nothing’s happened. It’s just the way Hachisuka treats him because he’s not a real Kotetsu, but has the gall to walk around with the name of Hachisuka’s and Urashima’s smith. It isn’t just the last name he’s taking, after all. He might not be a Kotetsu but his former master believed that he is. He has carried himself and has performed like he’s a Kotetsu. He wouldn’t do anything to bring shame to the name that his former master has given him. He continues with mentioning to him him that he wishes he could understand where Hachisuka is coming from but he wouldn’t so much as look at him without glaring, conversation isn’t exactly an option. Nagasone asks him not to try to get Hachisuka to talk to him, and Urashima pouts.
“But if I don’t try, then how is it going to work out?” Urashima argues, stubbornly. “We should stick together, we’re family.”
Urashima probably doesn’t mean it but his words sting a bit. He tells him the truth, that he doesn’t know. For now, it’s better to leave things alone and see where they go. He ruffles his messy bright hair, telling him that the rain doesn’t seen to be letting up anytime soon so they should make their way back to the Citadel for now. It’d be a lie if he said it isn’t partially a suggestion to change the topic.
Everything about Hachisuka hasn’t changed since they met.
Nagasone hasn’t expected it to change, and he still doesn’t.
The Sage has given up trying to make them go to everything together, but lately, they’ve seem to be sending him out a lot often with Hachisuka. Night battles are difficult, but in trying to chase away the Retrograde army completely in the Sanjo Bridge, they’ve encountered even stronger enemies. The sage calls them Kebishi, another magical army that doesn’t seem to be interested in distinguishing between which enemies are trying to do good, and which needs to be eliminated. It’s time’s own defence mechanism. They’ve been difficult to deal with even with the usual speedy party of tantous and wakizashis. The Sage has thrown him and Hachisuka into battle as they’re one of the faster uchigatanas aside from Hasebe.
They’ve been sent back to Sanjo bridge to try to quell the situation between the Retrograde Army and the Kebishi. They have one mission, and one alone: eliminate both armies. If the Kebishi won’t try to even cooperate with them, then there’s no point trying to avoid them when they’re messing things up. They’re the wrench thrown that nobody needed. Nagasone is tasked as the leader, and he sets out with Sayo Samnonji, Imanotsurugi, Hirano Toushirou, Honebami Toushirou, and—of course—Hachisuka.
When they get there, the bridge is a mess hours before the Revolutionary Army are set to cross. Killing everything has seemed like an easy task before he’s actually seen just how many of them there are here. This isn’t some simple clean up work. It feels like they’re being asked to end years worth of war. After scouting the area, he decides with everyone else that the best battle plan is to push from the back of the bridge, the side that the Retrograde army is holding, work their way up to the Kebishi. Picking them off from the back seems like a better plan than rushing the middle and going against both sides at the same time.
Out here, at least, Hachisuka can set aside his issue with him enough to perform as he normally does despite having Nagasone as a leader. How Hachisuka normally fights is every bit as wonderful as he prides himself to be. As if everyone would question his authenticity, he always fights like he’s trying to live up to his name. Nagasone has no problem with that, he’s a reliable vanguard as long as Nagasone stays in the rear.
It gets messier. Nagasone has known that his bad feeling about the situation isn’t wrong. There’s simply too many bodies in that bridge and to fight them off with just the six of them and their troops. The littler ones don’t have enough energy to fight for too long, and by the time they’ve thinned the Retrograde Army, they have to deal with the stronger Kebishi. They won’t make it. He realizes that the mission is to exterminate all of their opponents, but his priority as well as the Sage’s has been the well being of everyone. Most of them are already severely hurt.
It’s his call. He calls for a withdraw, and Honebami takes care of ushering the others back from the direction they came from, already cleared of the enemies. Hachisuka is too far ahead. He can see where he’s still holding off the Kebishi from pushing forward to them, and Nagasone calls the remaining of his troops, charging forward. He can tell that Hachisuka is already hurt. He’s trying to hold off the enemy so they could back off to a safe distance, maybe. Nagasone won’t have any of that. If they’re retreating they’re all going. No one gets left behind, and certainly not Hachisuka. Urashima would be so sad.
Nagasone thinks he might’ve yelled his name when he saw Hachisuka take a blow from a yari. It sends him careening backwards, his back hitting the side of the bridge. He grinds his teeth, trying to focus on thinning the enemies between the two of them. He fights down the panic rising from the back of his throat, as he watches the same yari walking towards Hachisuka. He’s planning on finishing him off. Much to his surprise, Hachisuka stands up, grabbing the rest of his shredded armour, tossing it to the side and out of the way. Nagasone should really be paying attention to the enemy in front of him, but he’s watching this unfold from his peripheral. Hachisuka holds his sword in a different stance and he rushes the yari. He easily out speeds him, and delivers the killing blow. Nagasone kicks at the uchigatana he’s against, finally breaking free to get to Hachisuka. He can see that he’s still able to fight, but barely holding himself together. His hits are strong, but his body looks like it’s really hurt. Hachisuka falls from a particularly strong hit from an oodachi, but before another attack is deliverered, Nagasone’s sword is there to get in between. He pushes the enemy off, backing him off enough to make space.
“I can still—“ Hachisuka starts, but Nagasone sets his hand atop his head. He meets his eyes with a smile, and maybe there’s something about that because Hachisuka blinks at him confusedly. He takes his signature white and black over coat to drape it on Hachisuka’s shoulders. Once he’s certain that Hachisuka isn’t going to stand back up to fight, Nagasone stands with his sword at hand. It’s his turn.
There’s no room in the repairs for him, so he skips it for now so he could speak with the Sage. He isn’t as hurt as the others anyway, when a space is cleared, then he’ll take the spot. For now, Nagasone recounts what’s happened, he apologizes for retreating before they could complete their mission. But he’s barely gotten out of there with Hachisuka, even with them Awakening. They couldn’t have done it, not without sacrifices. The Sage tells him that he’s done more than enough. He’s gotten everyone home in more or less one piece. The Sage apologizes for asking too much of them, and they promise that it won’t happen again. That’s really all he asks, not to send anyone into a situation where they’re set up for failure. Not when it’s their lives on the line. With all that resolved, he makes his way back to their room: the room he shares with Urashima and Hachisuka.
He figures that he should just sleep it off and head to the repairs next day. What he hasn’t seen coming is that when he turns to their room, Hachisuka is sitting at the edge the outdoor walkway outside their room. He has a tray beside him, of tea and small snacks. He can see where he has bandages, where he’s been patched up. He can’t possibly be fully healed. They meet each other’s eyes, and by some miracle, Hachisuka just holds his eyes. There’s no disdain. There’s no disgust. For a while, they just look at each other. Nagasone doesn’t look away from Hachisuka. This is strange. He doesn’t know what’s happening, but he has an idea. Maybe he feels like he owes him? He really shouldn’t. He wouldn’t want Hachisuka to hate him even more by forcing himself to this. It doesn’t work like that. It won’t work. Should he say something? Nagasone can’t read his expression, maybe it’s because he’s only used to reading the common one he’s used to seeing from him.
But for the first time in a long time, he’s noticing how beautiful Hachisuka is. He doesn’t think he’s changed in appearance or anything, but for once, he feels like there isn’t anything between them obstructing him from seeing him. He’s as every bit gorgeous as Nagasone remembers him to be the first time he’s seen him… back in the time where he didn’t feel like every look he’s gotten from him is meant to remind him that Hachisuka hates him.
It’s at that moment that Nagasone realizes, something about Hachisuka is changing. Or at the very least, something between them is changing. At the same time he realizes, he wants to be there to see it happen.
He’s the first on to break the long silence between them, raising a brow, teasingly, (while holding his breath), “Do you mind if I keep you company?”
Chapter 2: Nagasone Kotetsu
"Everything about Nagasone is troublesome."
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Everything about Nagasone is troublesome.
Hachisuka has decided that he hates him from the moment they first met.
It’s not that Hachisuka won’t accept it, it’s just that he can’t. He’s mentally and emotionally incapable of acknowledging that the only other sword in the Citadel who shares the same name as him, isn’t even a Kotetsu. He’s probably had to repeat himself—how many swords are there in this Citadel?—a multitude of times that Nagasone isn’t related to him. When will they learn to stop calling him his brother? He’s just borrowing that name, and of all names he could borrow, he takes his own smith’s name. No one can possibly tell him that swords can’t pick their names, ever since the Genji brothers have arrived, they’ve chosen to be called Higekiri and Hizamaru. Why can’t Nagasone at least have the decency to want to be called just Nagasone and not Kotetsu? His audacity is equally as frustrating as his easy-go-lucky attitude. It feels like nothing Hachisuka does ever affects him. His glares, words, and negligence all bounce off like Nagasone has sprayed himself with teflon. He knows that he can’t possibly be that dense, but how else should he describe the lack of any sort of response aside from several attempts at conversation?
Hachisuka isn’t one to pick fights. That’s not his intention at all, but Nagasone could at least pretend to attempt to give him his space. That’s all he wants. He wants to be as far away from him as possible. He doesn’t particularly enjoy being in a bad mood, it’s mentally taxing. But it feels like he always sees Nagasone on his peripheral vision and not only because of his sheer size and the ridiculous amount of space he takes. (How is that possible? He’s an uchigata like himself.) Hachisuka thinks that what makes it even worse is that the Sage seems determined to push him to the edge. He’s done more chores, expeditions, and sorties with Nagasone than any of the other swords. Has he mentioned that there are plenty of other swords in this Citadel? He’s arrived here fairly early, too. So that’s saying something that he isn’t exaggerating when he says that he’s been out here with Nagasone more times than he has with anyone else. He can’t tell you the logic behind that even if he tries. Their expeditions are fine since there are other people with them most of the time, but sometimes their chores aren’t finished properly. That’s not Hachisuka’s problem. He isn’t about to work with someone he can’t even stand being in the same room with.
Everything about Nagasone is irritating.
Perhaps what the most infuriating thing, is that Nagasone Kotetsu is an admirable person.
Hachisuka has gotten to know him since he’s been stuck with him for so long.
Nagasone always speaks fondly of his former master, Kondo Isami. Though his fealty for the Sage doesn’t waver, he very evidently have a great deal of respect and admiration to the aforementioned. He’s also well liked in the Citadel, not just amongst his peers that has belonged to the Shinsengumi, but with just about everyone. He’s amicable and approachable. How could he not be with that permanent lazy smile ever present on his stubbled face? Nagasone does chores without complaining. (Even if Hachisuka maintains his stand that swords shouldn’t have to clean, tend to horses, farm, or do laundry. The Sage has enough power to manifest warriors from swords, but somehow can’t get attendants?) He’s never said anything to Hachisuka, despite the fact that he’s not attempted to hide the fact that he despises him. That lack of reciprocal response to his hatred is astounding given that almost always that they’re interacting, Hachisuka will be shooting.
That mission against the Retrograde Army and the Kebishi in Sanjo Bridge? That has reminded Hachisuka that Nagasone is also a very strong fighter. He’s kind of turned a blind eye on it for a long time, even when they’re sparring. But Hachisuka has sat there with Nagasone’s coat draped over him—warm… and it smells like him…—watching as he practically tear through the Kebishi closest to them. He’s fought enough to give them room for retreat. He’s not just a great fighter, but his executive decision to end the fight to prevent casualties shows great leadership skills. It’s to be expected since he cares so much about the people who are with him.
Why does Nagasone even care about someone him?
Hachisuka wants to say that he doesn’t, that he’s only doing this because this is what the Sage would’ve wanted, but that’s a blatant lie. Nagasone isn’t a spiteful person. Not even close.
Why does he have to call himself a Kotetsu?
That thought eats Hachisuka up as he watched him. His hand balls against the coat that’s given to him. The same thoughts churned in his head over and over again, on their way back to the Citadel. Even as he’s told to stay in Repairs, he can’t sit still. He really doesn’t know. If Nagasone were called something else… would he have gotten along better with him? He at least wouldn’t hate him, right? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Nagasone as a person. Hachisuka knows that. Perhaps he had denied it for this long, but there’s only so far he could run away from the truth before it catches up to him. It does.
It is as though he could still feel the hand he set on top of his head. Hachisuka can’t erase that stupid smile he’s given him. He’s felt cold since they took away his coat…
He gets up. He leaves Repairs even if he’s the most heavily damaged of everyone in there. Hachisuka gets dressed and he heads to the kitchen to get tea. He gets two cups—why?—before he heads back towards their room. Urashima is in some overnight expedition and he won’t be back until the morning. Hopefully, he’s better by then so that his little brother doesn’t have to be worried too much. Hachisuka isn’t particularly hungry, but he got dango anyway. (Why?) He isn’t surprised to see Nagasone when he turns the corner. This is his room now, too, after all. They also didn’t have enough space in Repairs for him and Honebami. He reckons Nagasone would come this way, if he isn’t already inside.
The question isn’t at all what he’s expecting from him. He has thought that Nagasone might ask what he’s doing here, or even something along the lines that he isn’t really interested in having a conversation with him. Just because he saved his life doesn’t mean that things has to change. Hachisuka is waiting for one of those things, or a combination of any or all of them.
He nods as a response, turning to face the moonlit garden in front of him instead.
That has been the first time he’s looked at Nagasone. He means like really see him and not the big cloud of hatred that mists over his eyes every other time he has been in Hachisuka’s sights. From the light of the moon casts on Nagasone, somehow his expression seems even more playful. His hair kind of reminds him of Urashima’s, He’s always known that he’s taken up a copious amount of space, but his body really is impressive. He shows more of his skin when he’s in his battle outfit than he does wearing his casual clothes, but it’s not like his clothes could hide him. As if Hachisuka has needed any more proof that Nagasone is as hardworking as he is, he has to notice his body now, too? The amount of work that goes into simply maintaining his shape has got to be ridiculous. That coat has felt more like a blanket, now that he thought about it more.
He doesn’t dwell on it, though something else lingers in the air: the sinking realization that this is the first time they’re sitting so close to each other. There’s only the tray of tea and snacks between the two of them, and Hachisuka isn’t exploding. Nagasone hasn’t said anything either aside from what he asked, and now they’ve sat here for however long. The silence isn’t suffocating or anything, Hachisuka is simply aware of the oddness of it all.
“Nagasone,” Hachisuka calls, almost afraid he’s broken some sort of a spell. Though when he turns to look at him, Nagasone is already turned towards him. His golden eyes looks almost intimidating. He isn’t sure if that’s because of the way it looks from the light of the moon or something else. He’s quiet for another heartbeat before he adds, “Thank you for saving my life… and getting us all back home.”
“You don’t have to thank me for that.” Nagasone replies almost immediately, that easy smile making its way back to his features. Hachisuka honestly doesn’t know how in the world he does that. How could he smile so easily even around someone like him? “Though, you don’t have to think you owe me either. I did what I had to.” He pauses and Hachisuka wonders if Nagasone has considered winking during that pause because he has an odd twitch on his face before he continues on, “I might not be a Kotetsu, but I wasn’t going to bring shame to the name my former master has given me.”
Ah. He’s testing the waters. Nagasone casting a line and seeing if there is going to be a bite. Hachisuka is kind of thankful that they both know the eventual direction this conversation is going to take. Though now that he’s taken them there, Hachisuka isn’t so sure what step to take now. Would he be able to tell him everything that he’s thought about? How in the world would he ever be able to admit those things about being admirable? He has to think of something.
Hachisuka hears his own voice speaking the words before he could even help himself. “Why do you have to call yourself a Kotetsu even though you know that you’re not?”
Both of them look rather surprised at the question, and Hachisuka is the one that’s said it. Nagasone’s expression softens, on his part. Something crosses his features that Hachisuka can’t quite put his finger on. “Does it really bother you that I do? I mean,” he chuckles, deep, fond. “Obviously, it does. I don’t really know what to tell you, in all honesty. My master—the previous one—believed in his heart that I was a Kotetsu until the very end. I have performed both in my past life and this one to the best of my abilities. I’m sorry that you feel like I’m insulting you and Urashima for carrying my name, but I will never apologize for knowing I’ve done everything that I could to uphold it.”
In the entirety of the time he’s speaking, Hachisuka is listening. He doesn’t block him out, or feel like his voice is making his blood boil. He wants to listen to him, to what he has to say. He has this feeling that if he does, then maybe he’ll understand him a little more. He’s right to think that. He would never admit it to himself, but he has even more respect for him that he already has. Nagasone is truly is something else. Just as Hachisuka thinks that he can’t get anymore unbelievable, Nagasone adds,
“And if after everything you still don’t think that I live up to it, then I’ll just have to prove you wrong. I want you to see me for who I am not with the prejudice of my name.” It’s Hachisuka’s turn to chuckle, hiding the lower part of his face with his sleeve—which he instantly regrets because he flinches from the pain when he moves. He’s almost forgotten that he’s hurt. He turns his gaze back to the garden in front of them. He hasn’t been even able to say what he wants to say. He wants to tell him that he just have to keep trying to prove it, and in return, he’ll try to actually see him. He won’t try to overlook him anymore. It’s not really fair to either of them. Besides, Hachisuka already knows it, he’s just been in denial. It’s also not fair to Urashima who has been caught in the middle of this feud. He has enough to worry about in his hands with that overactive pet turtle of his. Nagasone is already speaking once more before Hachisuka has the chance to, “I’ve always thought that a smile suits you better, by the way. Don’t get me wrong, your glare could make a grown man cry, but like that, you could probably melt them instead.”
Hachisuka feels his cheeks warm up, he—what? That came out of left field. Did he just flirt with him? No. That’s… what? It’s just a compliment, right? Not even. It’s a mere observation. That’s it. Maybe he’s hearing things. He is still under heavy medication. Yes. That’s really the only logical explanation as to why he thinks he heard Nagasone way what he said.
“I should… get back to Repairs.” That’s all Hachisuka manages to say, lamely. He’s trying to run away from the situation, but he’s also just aware that he should get some rest. They both should. It’s been a long day, and even longer mentally. This is all very heavy talk, and frankly, he’s still thrown off about how it ended. Nagasone offers to walk him, which he couldn’t really refuse because he’s already walking ahead of him.
He's watching his back as they walk back to Repairs. Hachisuka idly thinks to himself that maybe… this isn’t so bad at all.
[ 2/2 ]
Can I just say how proud I am of myself that I wrote something that's not explicit? I give myself a pat in the back for the fluff.
*copes for lack of Kotetsu's in anime through writing*