The Sweetest Downfall.
Sometimes, Ashura is sure that their story started many, many years ago, centuries ago, under a different sun, with different lives. He's sure they must have had a happy ending.
They did not.
The curse of the Ashura king is this: there is a demon deep inside them, a demon that feasts on suffering and blood and pain, pain from the people you swear to protect, suffering that comes from within yourself.
He once asked his father for something to stop the demon, when he was naught but a child, had curled at his feet and clung to his robes because surely there had to be a way and his father had given him one of his rare, gentle smiles, caressed his face and he said: 'die young'.
No king of the Ashura dies of old age. Ashura is fourteen when his fire lights up his father's body upon the pyre. Shurato rests by his hip, and Ashura tries not to think of the shining blade tainted with his father's blood, and instead he tries to recall the memory of peace his father's face had had when he found him dead.
And so at first he fights for his people: Ashura thinks of the wish he will ask to the castle in the moon, to be rid of such a heavy curse before it is too late. He can feel the demon inside of him, whispering during the battles as he drives Shurato through them and he thinks, 'one day'.
And so the Ashura clan fights night after night, for their king and for their land, and a week becomes a month becomes a year becomes a decade. His council tells him to marry, or to at least make one of the girls in the harem his favorite, to have a child with her but no future heir appears; his priestess call it a sign o good fortune, a sign that their king will live to be old that no golden eyed, dark haired child is born. Ashura prays for that to be true and only that wish fills his heart.
And though he realizes that crossing swords with Yasha-Ou becomes something he cherishes, he admits naught of that: Ashura is loyal to his people and he fights so that he can be free of the beast inside of him, the demon that makes him wish for blood and suffering, the dark side of him that would like to see his people burn away.
Fighting against Yasha-Ou was something he needed to do, the only way to get free of this beast, and nothing could be more important than that.
Except for the dreams the beast awakens in him --
-- throw away their blades and instead press close to Yasha-Ou without the need to withdraw and feel his hands take away Ashura's armor, crushing the silk of his clothes between powerful hands and tearing them apart and away so that his golds and reds fall around him like a sunset.
And he takes Yasha-Ou's armor, his clothes, feels the shape of old scars upon his body, moans at the touch of seasoned hands upon his waist. Their hair tangles together, wraps around them, becomes the night and becomes the world and Ashura thinks that this is what he wants, what he would have, what he desires the most, that nothing else matters, not even himself.
He always wakes up before he can taste Yasha-Ou's kiss.
Life went onward, year after year after year three days a month every month, and no-one knew where the Yasha clan came from, no-one knew nothing of them but for their fierceness in battle, but for their dark eyes, but for their skill.
And there was always Yasha-Ou leading his men, always Yasha-Ou to meet against night after night. And they would fight, both swords and eyes, and not say a thing. They fought close enough to touch, close enough that it was almost a dance.
Nothing else mattered right then, not the beast inside of him, not his people dying, not the way he cared not to win this battle anymore. And the demon almost seemed to laugh as it moved inside of him, twisting and spreading like poison and yet he doesn't care, not when the fight is like this, not when his blood is alight and when he is almost, almost happy because if this is what he can get from Yasha-Ou?
He will make it last.
He counts – it's been ten years from the first time he and Yasha-Ou crossed swords and late that afternoon three crows cross through the fire of the dying sun, carrions of death promising bad luck. His priestess bow deep and anoint him with ashes and oil, burn incense so that these signs of bad luck dispel.
Ashura-Ou baths with oils and perfumes and he thinks, just for a moment, 'if I should die by his hand' and the craving is bittersweet upon his smile.
He wakes up, puts on his armor. Shurato sings with the promise of blood and fire, the demon in his mind purrs at the promise of battle. Kumara tells him, 'this will be the night, my liege,' and he can only offer him a smile.
It's almost a welcome as he finds Yasha-Ou, and for a moment he thinks he reads the same longing in the other king's dark eyes. And then his Yamato is meeting Shurato, and then there is nothing else in his life that he wants as much but this, to stay side by side with this man that matches his strength and abilities, whom matches the darkness of his soul with the strength of his.
Ashura calls for his flames, golden and bright, twists them with his sword. Yamato cuts through them and Yasha-Ou's eyes stay locked with his, and there is almost a smile there so he pushes again.
It happens in less than ten seconds.
One; Yasha-Ou shivers, leans forward, his expression wan.
Two; the fire keeps on and Yamato cuts through it.
Three; and then it doesn't.
Four, five; he screams and wills the fire to stop.
Six, seven; a golden tongue of bright flames cuts through Yasha-Ou's defense.
Eight, nine; blood run down over Yasha-Ou's face and he presses his hand to the ruin of his right eye, his face pale, too pale.
“Kill me,” Yasha-Ou says and it's the first time they have spoken like this. His voice is rough, tired, there. It's not begging, it's not a childish show of pride, it's not bragging. Ashura knows not what it is, but it cuts through him, freezing inside of him.
In the distance, the battle continues. For the first time since he wields it, Shurato feels strange in his hand.
“I can't,” he whispers to the other king, wonders if his voice was heard through the noise that surrounds them.
Something final shows upon Yasha-Ou's face and he knows that he was heard and Ashura-Ou gets closer, wills his legs to move.
Yasha-Ou reaches for him and Ashura-Ou does the same, but the battle draws to an end before they can touch, and yet his fingerstips smart as if burnt.
Twenty eight days he must wait to see him again.
But Yasha-Ou comes before the twenty eight days are through and he finds him in his garden, by the side of the roses where the nightingales like to sing.
There is no sword there and Ashura doesn't want it as he gets close, doubts, mourns.
The air is warm and Yasha-Ou's hand feel warm despite it all as the touch his face, as the move down his hair. Ashura feels his throat tighten up and he knows no words to call upon this pain that feels like velvet, that tastes like ashes.
“Yasha-Ou,” he calls, and that is enough of his voice.
His voice trembles and he bites his lip, he wants to apologize but he does not know how to do so, where to begin, how to phrase it. So instead Ashura moves forward and close, and Yasha-Ou's arms wrap around his waist, his mouth meets his in the middle, and there are apologies there, too.
And the tenuous grip he has on the demon breaks because he wants this, he only wants this, he will defy any gods that exist to make this happen.
“Stay,” he commands the shadow, this ghost with his hands and his face. “Stay, stay.”
The ghost doesn't say yes and doesn't say no but he is there the next night when they fight, and that, that will be enough until he can get his wish.
The war carries on. Nighta fter night, three times a month. The ghost of Yasha-Ou meets him every time and yet they never get close, they never fight. There is no scar left upon its face.
The demon keeps on stealing his sanity and Ashura doesn't care, can't care, he wants, he wants, he wants.
Ashura doesn't know how it happens, but one day he dies. He remembers blood and he remembers possibly Shurato, possibly something else. He remembers that it hurt.
Yasha-ou is not there after he dies, or he's there but he cannot reach him. There is a river running between them, dark blood running through it and it burns when Ashura tries to get close, burns at his legs and even when he ignores that, he can never cross it. He can't speak, he can't say a thing, and he can do nothing but watch Yasha for an eternity, the same way that Yasha is watching him.
Bitterness grows and grows and there is no rest, not rest at all, and Ashura curses everything, curses the war and he curses Yasha, and he curses the moon, especially during those nights when the moon shines perfect and beautiful upon the sky.
But here is where the history changes.
-- and when he thinks 'I could go on, this could go on and I can fool myself into believing this, I can, I can', Ashura moves away, shifts, turns like a dark butterfly and he feels the way his heart breaks, the way the demon inside wants to break free.
“You aren't him,” he tells the ghost, and the ghostly gaze is sad as he look at him.
Ashura doesn't cry then, the shards that are cutting inside his lungs making it impossible but he kneels by the Yasha-ou's side, touches his face where the scar should be and isn't and he smiles.
“Stay with me,” he asks Yasha's spirit, his voice soft. “Until I am ready to go with you.”
The ghost smiles, touches the curve of his cheek, the line of his neck, presses a hand that feels scarred and heavy against his chest and leans towards him.
Ashura closes his eyes when he feels the kiss between his eyes, gentle and comforting, and he keeps them closed until he feels that the ghost disappears.
Then he gathers his clothes and whatever remains of himself and stands up, walks away.
The witch's words are kind, yet deathly, like the sting of a scorpion upon his smile.
“Your heart's desire, I cannot give,” she tells him, eyes the color of the moon, of the clothes he wears. “You have nothing to cover the price for that.”
And yet Ashura-Ou smiles because that he knew, and hearing it puts another chain upon the darkest parts of him, the one that tells him that he can get his wish if he tries, the one that tells him that nothing matters, nothing, if only that wish can come true.
So he makes himself speak.
“My desire is my own to achieve,” he tells the witch, and her smile is wise as a thousand sunrises, whimsical and soft. “But I do have a wish.”
The witch smiles through the water at his words.
The demon inside of him claims for blood, for revenge, for the battle that should have gone on to carry on. He and the ghost never cross swords, and he still wants.
But the children's eyes – jade and amber – calm him, sooth him in ways he never knew could be.
There are wishes that can be bought, and desires that one must achieve themselves and he wants to believe in a better fate.
Yasha-Ou's clothes smell of hay and snow, of mountains instead of deserts. They're still warm.
Ashura holds them close and tries to imagine what his embrace would feel like.
In the end, Yasha-ou is there, waiting for him when he dies. Ashura remembers nothing of the pain, nothing of the fire, nothing of the crumbling rocks and nothing of the moment where he dies.
Welcome back, Yasha tells him. Welcome, welcome. And Yasha's eyes are sweet and there, and his mouth tastes of lifetimes ago, of sunshine and summer and forest and Ashura breathes a sigh, wraps his arms tight around Yasha's waist, his face against his neck and he's there, broad hands caressing his back, his hair, the long line of his neck.
Ashura whispers: I'm finally back.