but we carry on our backs the burden
time always reveals
in the lonely light of morning
in the wound that would not heal
time always reveals
in the lonely light of morning
in the wound that would not heal
His memories from the time after he broke are just as fractured as his vessel at the time. It's just snatches of fear and disappointment and dull, heavy resignation. Slim, callused fingers moving across his broken blade, carelessly cutting themselves on the harsh edge of the break. Warm red blood on cold steel mirroring the path of a tear down a soft, living cheek.
"It can't be repaired, Souji. It's pointless."
"I'm going to ask anyway."
He tries to talk to his master in his dreams, to thank him, to blame him, to plead with him not to let him go. But when he tries to speak, the words he tries to shape turn into blood. Flooding out of his mouth in sticky, red-black strings, it's immediately followed by horrible coughing as it finds its way down into his lungs, filling them with searing heat, choking him. It drips down the front of his haori, staining it red, as he desperately clamps his hands over the gaping hole in his throat.
When he looks up again, hacking and gulping and retching, his master has covered his face with his hands like a child, his shoulders shaking, and his fear is already tearing the dream apart. He wakes up coughing, and Kashuu's spirit body disintegrates.
Broken and wretched as he is, he keeps trying every night, until his master is told that the damn thing is disturbing his sleep. Better to sell the parts and move on. Another sword is already being arranged.
And then comes the fire.
That is the memory. After that there is nothing. Nothing is huge, it fills up all the gaps between everything that is, it wraps the world in silence. Nothing feels like an eternity and a heartbeat all at once, because no time exists within it. Nothing is hundreds of years passing without memory, without thought, without soul. Nothing is all he is now, and he is nothing.
He is nothing is nothing is he is nothing is nothing is he is he nothing he is nothing and nothing is...
... nothing is suddenly full of sunlight, of sound, of existence. Soft fingers tear it apart like wet paper, letting the world back in. There is a hushed gasp, and a voice whispers, "I did it!"
Kashuu sits up slowly, and in doing so, he realizes that he has a body. A real one. Not a spirit projection held together by feeble threads of love and thought and memory, but a physical and solid thing. The force that has created him is nothing like anything he has ever felt before, and it fills him up, overwhelms him, and the shock of his own heart beating and his lungs drawing in his first breath of air draws unexpected laughter from his lips.
It falters for a moment as he looks down, sees the hints of blood red accentuating his new, unfamiliar clothes. His hand flies instinctively to his throat, but instead of torn flesh he finds fabric. It's dry and soft, but in the sunlight it captures the color of crushed hearts and dying embers, as he clutches it in white hands, tipped in the same shade. He can feel his breath catching in his throat, the taste of blood, and they're real now. This new, physical body is hurting. It tries desperately to draw another breath, but it chokes instead, and he clutches at his chest in panic.
Then the hands are back, soothing and gentle. They pry his hand away from his scarf, makes him stop pulling it. "You're going to choke yourself if you keep pulling that," intones the voice that gave him life, chiding but not harsh. The scarf is carefully tugged at and fussed with until it sits where it should. A hand grabs his, and he looks down to find the nail polish chipped and broken. Nail polish. Not blood. "Well, that won't do. I'll have to paint them again." An embarrassed pause. "That is, if you don't mind?"
He doesn't mind.
It's everything he would never have dared to expect, during those last, broken pieces of his previous life. He'd known the moment he felt the metal give and snap that there was no hope, and he had fought all the harder against his destiny because of that. But now, here, he is alive. He is not nothing. Something remained in the feeble, fractured metal; something was carried through the fire; something survived, because it was worth keeping.
Others follow him. He doesn't mind that either, at heart he's not a selfish sword, even if it is true that he takes pleasure in being the first. The miracle of seeing them come to life enchants him, and he will sit unusually quiet and still and wait for the process to be done, to be present in those first moments when a new comrade is drawn out of slumber, or out of lost memories... or out of nothing, just like him. He sees no reason to get emotional about it, or to scrutinize his own motives too hard, but he tries to make them feel welcome.
Even the ones who are familiar don't bother him for long; he won't allow them to. That's all part of his old life, and he's not the same Kashuu Kiyomitsu now. This time around, he'll be strong.
That's more or less what he tells the Saniwa, when he's anxiously called aside and told that the newest sword to come home with them is the one who came after him. Yamatonokami Yasusada, that's his name. Kashuu just smiles and tosses his head and says it's fine. Unlike other swords, he's not all caught up on the past, so what does it matter what he felt back then? He's strong. The Saniwa watches him for a long time without saying a word, and then nods slowly. "Very well. I guess you want to meet him then?"
Kashuu almost slides the door out of its grooves in his hurry to get it shut behind him, and it creaks ominously behind him as his knees give way and he has to catch himself on it as he sinks to the floor. He digs his nails into his hands until red beads appear on his skin, and then smears the blood across his face as he winds his fingers in his hair to stop them trembling.
It's like some kind of sick joke.
He doesn't want to remember.
He remembers manifesting in the dream of his new master. Human ages are hard to tell, but this one is surely only just out of boyhood. He's a skinny thing, certainly, with eyes that look too big for his face, all knees and elbows but still, somehow, possessed of some strange and barely human grace.
"Huh, so you've found yourself a child of the river bank, human. And what are you going to do with me? I'm not some kind of practice sword, you know - I'm hard to wield to the perfection I deserve."
It shouldn't be possible for eyes that big to grow wider still, and for a moment, Kashuu half regrets his confrontational tone, his nonchalantly worded challenge. Surely it's too much for this fawn of a human boy, this lithe creature of potential, this living conflict of fragility and strength? He bites his lips, trying to find words that are kinder, less flippant. But he's truly a creature born on the very edges of life, out of harshness and strife, and he doesn't know how to soften for this master of his.
And then the boy suddenly laughs, eyes lighting up like starlight on water, and thin arms wrap around his waist in a quick, spontaneous hug. "You're my Kashuu Kiyomitsu," he says, his voice soft and earnest and possessed of a strange calm even now. "I was waiting for you."
It had not been the same voice, but it spoke the same way. Not the same eyes, not the bright edges and soft echoes of starlight - but maybe like the pale reflection of the moon, smooth and bright like an unbroken blade. The smile was a mirror, every word a memory painfully unfolding, and every gesture those of an expertly handled puppet. Smooth and beautiful, yes, but slightly after the beat somehow. His haori wasn't stained with blood, his scarf was white and pristine, and he'd stood there like an accusation, like a memory; just like the taste of blood, like drowning. For the first time since he was given life, Kashuu had felt a dull, throbbing pain in his throat.
It didn't get better.
Every other word out of that soft, childish mouth seems to be Okita-kun, like some sort of mantra, the moon eyes looking slightly to the left of everyone's face as if he's really seeing someone else. Kashuu Kiyomitsu was born anew, he cast away his past, and he forced himself not to look back. But the past caught up with him, and now it has invaded his new home, his future, everything that is his.
He hates it. He hates him. He hates Yamatonokami Yasusada.
Maybe the worst part of having to keep his distance, avoid the hated sword whenever he can, is that Yasusada doesn't seem to notice. Some of the other swords comment upon it, and Horikawa Kunihiro frowns in disapproval whenever he's close by. The Saniwa is unhappy, he knows, even though not a single word of admonition has been uttered. It's affecting everyone around him, turning him into some kind of poison that seeps into the atmosphere and makes it heavy and tense, and Yasusada still doesn't notice.
He just smiles that gentle smile and keeps talking about that weak, sad human who died hundreds of years ago. He would've left behind nothing if it wasn't for this wretched sword, clinging to his memory as if it still means something, and the thought twists like a snake inside him. It comes crawling up his throat at times, makes it hard to breathe, and clearing it gets harder and harder each time. It's like the evil thing has wrapped itself around his spine, and is slowly crushing it in its grip. Or maybe his spine and the snake are the same thing now? With every passing day, he is starting to believe that it has to be. It's part of him now, and it's all Yasusada's fault.
The door to his room doesn't make a single sound as Kashuu slides it open. With every step he takes across the floor, every jolting beat of his heart, every strained breath, he can feel fine cracks running across his skin, spreading from that burning ache which is pulling tighter around his throat like a noose. Blood is already flecking his lips, seeping into his lungs, and he bites down hard on his scarf to keep from coughing. Is this what sickness feels like? In that case, he needs to get rid of the source as soon as possible, right? Maybe then, everything will go back to the way it was.
He raises his hand, squeezes the hilt of a vessel which is already starting to crack, watches the snake crawl under his skin and turn his nails into claws, all beauty stolen by the filthy thief sleeping in front of him.
Yamatonokami Yasusada makes a distressed, vulnerable noise in his sleep, tossing and turning. Suddenly, so fast that he doesn't have time to back away, five soft fingers reach out and curl around Kashuu's ankle, squeezing it gently. He looks down, feeling the warmth of the strangely childish little gesture spreading through a body that had almost forgotten what it's like not to be cold. He remembers now. He remembers.
"I'm sorry we don't see each other as often," his master says, gently combing his fingers through Kashuu's hair. "I haven't been sleeping well. I keep waking up all sweaty and cold at the same time."
"Is that normal for humans?" Kashuu frowns, worried, and catches those wandering hands in his own. Trying to hold on to the moment, to the dream they're both inhabiting.
His master shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe. It's probably just a spring cold or something." He seems eager to let the subject drop, and Kashuu doesn't know how to hold onto something as fluid as words, so instead he tightens his grip until his master laughs and says he can't feel his fingers anymore. Then he lets his hands drop into his lap, feeling foolish and useless. But his master's hand pursues him, wrapping gently around his wrist and giving it a squeeze.
"You're a sword, so you must know that you'll probably outlive me, right?" It's not the words he wants to hear, and he tries to turn his face away, but his master is leaning against his chest now, maybe listening after some sign of human life which isn't there. No heart to beat, no lungs to breathe. Nothing that can truly die. "I'm a warrior. Even the best warrior can be overcome in battle, isn't that so? So maybe I'll die fighting, like a true warrior should."
"I don't see why you have to," Kashuu replies, trying not to sound like a petulant child - trying not to sound too desperate, too. "What's so good about dying in battle, anyway? You'll still be dead. So what difference does it make?"
His master sighs, shifting a bit, maybe to indicate something like a shrug. "Even if I live to a ripe old age, though, you'll probably outlive me. Does that scare you?" Kashuu replies only with silence, But he's never been the master of silence, and as it grows it breaks free of his grasp and answers for him. He can feel his master nodding against his chest. "It's okay to be scared. But you know, because of you... I won't die, see? No one really dies as long as they're remembered. I will leave traces in the world for you to remember me by, and every time you do, you bring me to life again." He looks up, smiles. "Isn't that wonderful?"
In the flickering light that fills the room - where did that come from? - Yasusada's eyes are suddenly wide open. He stares up at Kashuu, his mouth forming a stillborn word, before tightening into an expression Kashuu is far too familiar with. It's not a berserker's warped sneer, but something much sharper, much more determined, as if the pure spirit of battle has been distilled into something solid and alive. Vessel in hand, he's suddenly on his feet, backing into a battle stance which mirrors Kashuu's own.
But he doesn't strike, not yet. For the first time ever, he's hesitating, and there is something like sorrow in his gaze as his eyes flicker and, just for a moment, look like stars. Which is strange, because the inexplicable light in the room is red, deep red, like the death of all things. Even stars.
Moving slowly, afraid to shatter, Kashuu tilts his head to look down at his own body. Across it burns the sickly fire of corpse lights, and splintered bone is tearing through his skin and clothes as the snake twists and struggles within, furious at being denied its pivotal moment of freedom. His hands are unrecognizable now, skeletal and twisted, and at the sight of them some kind of spell suddenly breaks. He recoils instinctively, his body at last finding the true source of its disease and rejecting it.
His vessel fights to stay in his hand for a moment, shudders and screams, and then burns in the air like some skyfallen thing before hitting the ground and shattering like ice. The noise cuts a hole in the world and fills it with silence.
Kashuu Kiyomitsu smiles, pointing at his neck. "Cut it away. Please."
Yamatonokami Yasusada nods, and charges.
He remembers... nothing.
This time he awakens to silence. He's can feel the Saniwa's tears on his face as his eyes open, the echo of the Saniwa's lips burning on his own. Slowly tilting his head, his neck feeling stiff and sore, he finds a room full of silent swords. Watching, waiting. There is a shuddering moment of uncertainty, and then the very air itself seems to sing and hum and whisper as they all breathe out. There is some awkward laughter, hastily smothered, and a lot of wide smiles, shoulders squeezed, swords leaning on swords as the tension goes out of them.
A slim, callused hand squeezes his wrist, and he looks down to find his own; a mirror of that one, save the vibrant red nails. Beautiful and alive. Yasusada seems to pick up on his shock and smiles at him, as gentle and oblique as ever, but just for now he seems to look right at Kashuu.
"Kashuu Kiyomitsu... I was waiting for you."