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Rose and Lotus

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Ookanehira found the healing balm in his room. His bruises ached. His sparring with Oodenta and Mikazuki resulted in defeats. He had trained for weeks in preparation; when would he be lucky enough again to face them both on the same day? He wanted to show them how strong he was, even though he wasn’t a Tenka Goken. And yet, both Oodenta and Mikazuki had blocked Ookanehira's swings and struck him in vulnerable places.

At this point, he had to train even harder. What other solution was there?

There was a knock on his shoji. Who was there? Was it a Tenka Goken, ready to mock Ookanehira? Maybe Uguisumaru had come by to offer comfort.

Even though his body ached, he rose and stood with his best posture. He wasn’t going to be treated like a child.

“What the hell do you want?” Ookanehira slammed the shoji open.

Juzumaru tilted his head up at Ookanehira, unstartled. Ookanehira was still, in disbelief that Juzumaru was the visitor. Of all the swords out there, why did he have to be here?

“Excuse me, Ookanehira-dono,” Juzumaru took out a red rose origami from his pocket. “I wanted to give you this.”

“W-what?” Ookanehira stepped back. His knees started to ache from standing this long.

“I was making origami with Nikkari-dono and the tantou. I thought to give you this because its colour resembles your hair,” Juzumaru smiled at the work in his hand.

“…sure,” how else was he supposed to respond? He picked the piece up by its petals; he had no right to touch Juzumaru. The rose would have taken quite some time to fold and piece together. The green leaves that encased the flower made the red standout even stronger. Though, Ookanehira wondered why Juzumaru had been thinking about him. “Did you make this...just for me?”

“I made two,” Juzumaru said. “One for you, the second for Aizen-dono.”

So, Juzumaru had been just thinking about a hair colour, rather than a specific redhead. Ookanehira felt disappointment, for some reason.

“I heard that you had exerted yourself, Ookanehira-dono, but you look very well,” Juzumaru gave a slight bow and said his goodbye.

Once Juzumaru was out of sight, Ookanehira sat back down on his futon to ease his legs. His hands shook slightly as he held the origami. The rose was lovely with its curled petals and circular bloom. Juzumaru would always be the source of the most beautiful things.

*

When Ookanehira first manifested in the Ashina Citadel, he roamed the entire grounds to face each of those Tenka Goken. That morning was a bright day, with clear skies and good weather for a fight. He carried a wooden sword as he made his way about the seemingly empty garden. This body of his was new, but his will could compensate for his lack of combat, right?

"Namu-myoho-renge-kyo."

What was that sound? The phrase was repeated again and again. Ookanehira followed the voice, until he saw Juzumaru Tsunetsugu.

He dropped crumbs into the carp pond. In between his prayers, he whispered greetings to the fish that swam towards him. Ookanehira was frozen, struck by the other sword's care for those colourful carp. By Juzumaru's gorgeous long hair and lithe form, it was obvious that his beauty belonged to a Tenka Goken. Yet, Ookanehira felt no urge to battle.

Then, Juzumaru turned his head towards Ookanehira. The sun reflected off the water and the white in his hair.

"Excuse me," Juzumaru smiled. "Are you a new arrival? Would you like to feed our master's pets?"

Ookanehira dropped his weapon. He just couldn’t challenge Juzumaru to a duel right now; that would be rude. Ookanehira stood beside Juzumaru as they fed the fish. Seeing those animals swim and swarm about the water's surface was somewhat amusing.

"Are you fond on lotuses, sir?" Juzumaru said. Those flowers that grew by the adjacent pond were pink and lovely.

"T-they're nice," Ookanehira planned to use this body to fight and best his rivals, but this human sensation of tranquility was a nice additional ability.

Juzumaru, on a sortie with Ookanehira, once said he didn’t like violence, as it went against the Buddha and his former master's beliefs. Rather than mock Juzumaru, Ookanehira saw him in wonderment, as Juzumaru was willing to fight the Time Retrograde Army and defend history, even if fighting was against his morals. Ookanehira wasn’t sure if he had the same constitution.

*

Ookanehira stood infront of the crafts room. Did the tantou really just leave this place a mess? Regardless, this was where the origami paper was kept and Ookanehira wasn’t about to get caught carrying around art supplies. These activities were juvenile pastimes, but he had to respond to Juzumaru somehow. A feat of strength wasn’t what was warranted when it came to Juzumaru. Ookanehira needed to give something Juzumaru deserved. He was going to make one work of origami and never do it again.

Ookanehira shut the shoji closed. He brushed off the bits of scrap paper on the kotatsu's blanket and took a seat. The table was scattered with half completed paper cranes. Sheets of all colours, with butterfly, wisteria, or wave patterns, were at his disposal. Ookanehira held a plain purple sheet. Gold glitter rained off the page. What could he create for Juzumaru? More importantly, how was he actually supposed to make origami? Just like with fighting, one had to learn how to fold paper to shape something. He cursed aloud. He couldn’t believe a piece of paper was challenging him.

*

“Ookanehira-san, welcome back!” Imanotsurugi spotted the tachi hurrying past the crafts room.

Ookanehira stopped walking. The room only had Aizen and Imanotsurugi in there. Nikkari and Juzumaru must’ve been away on an expedition. Today, he could finally practice some more. Whenever Ookanehira saw Juzumaru in the room, his heart would start racing and he couldn’t look at any of them.

“I hid your stuff here,” Aizen retrieved a small box from a cupboard.

“Thanks,” Ookanehira sat down by the table and opened his container of shame. His origami were purple misshapen cranes, swans, and fox faces. For weeks, he had practiced this art and made only moderate progress. He had submitted himself to receiving instructions from tantou to figure out the right way to fold paper. Both of them went on tangents, talking about festivals or their old masters. How was he ever going to give something back to Juzumaru?

“I made a firefly for Hotarumaru. And Imanotsurugi made a crow.”

They both held their pieces up. The firefly's head and thorax was green, while the abdomen was gold. How were two pieces of paper combined together like that? The black crow was one of many that Imanotsurugi had been making. Previous crows had long or short necks, others with their beaks open or closed.

“You're both good at this,” Ookanehira sighed and folded a sheet in half. He had no idea what he was going to do today.

“Ookanehira-san,” Imanotsurugi shifted closer to the tachi. “Who’re you making this for?”

“W-what?” he reddened. Did they already figure it out?

“It’s easier to make something when you have an idea,” Aizen said. “With Kuniyuki, I’ll make a bed and blanket. It’s really fun!”

Imanotsurugi voiced his agreement, saying he made foxes for Kogitsunemaru and moons for Mikazuki. Ookanehira weighed their words as the tantou continued to speak with one another.

Every piece Ookanehira made was for Juzumaru, but he hadn’t thought about what could specifically be made for Juzumaru. What could he be associated with? They had plenty of moments together in the citadel, doing chores, but nothing stood out as special between them. Ookanehira recalled when they first met, when his aggression had been stifled. The sunlight had reflected off of Juzumaru’s hair and that carp pond. The lotuses were in full bloom that morning.

That’s it! Ookanehira raised his arms up and he smiled at the ceiling.

Imanotsurugi and Aizen both stopped talking. What happened to him?

*

Ookanehira stood infront of the lit Aoe bedrooms. Nikkari and Juzumaru were speaking with one another inside.

This gift is overdue, Ookanehira thought. His fingers and legs were shaking slightly as he held his origami piece. All he had to do was knock, give the origami, and leave. They would continue to be divided as a Tenka Goken and one who wasn't. It didn't matter if they were on amiable terms.

"Please wait as I get the laundry," Juzumaru slid open the shoji. His lips parted. "Oh, Ookanehira-dono?"

Ookanehira was frozen. His mouth twitched, trying to form words. His breath was caught in his throat. Why did his voice leave him now?

"What are you holding?" Juzumaru looked downward.

The purple lotus rested on Ookanehira's hands. Fourteen sheets of paper were used to construct the petals and stamen. The sepal, at the bottom, was white, rather than green. Ookanehira had picked hues that matched Juzumaru's appearance.

"I-I made this for you," Ookanehira raised the lotus up. "Because your crest has this flower."

Juzumaru put a hand on his chest. The lotus had many meanings in Buddhism. Though the flower, for Juzumaru, reminded him of the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important texts of his faith. He could look upon this lotus as he was studying his texts and be reminded of the most important principles to live by. Real lotuses wilted within a short time, as expected with ephemeral earthly things, but this origami would last a little longer.

"I accept this," Juzumaru pressed his palms against Ookanehira's hands. Even gloved, Juzumaru's touch exuded warmth. "It must’ve taken a very long time to construct this."

"Ugh...i-it," Ookanehira's whole being was shaking. Why couldn't he control himself?

"Thank you very much, Ookanehira-dono," Juzumaru took the lotus into his hands. His smile lingered as he stood there for another moment. He hoped they could be closer, despite Ookanehira's quarrels with the other Tenka Goken. "I will put this on my table."

Juzumaru closed the shoji. Finally, Ookanehira's shaking stilled. He stared at his empty palms.

*

"Ookanehira-san!" Imanotsurugi and Aizen saw the tachi walking by the crafts room's entrance.

Juzumaru and Nikkari were in the room too. Ookanehira kept his eyes down as he hurried along. His heart was starting to race.

"Ookanehira-dono, please join us."

Why did you say that? Ookanehira stopped in his tracks and faced them all. The tantou waved at him to sit with them. They were all too kind.

Ookanehira slowly made his way to the kotatsu. Nikkari pointed at the empty spot beside Juzumaru; it was the only place unoccupied. Ookanehira glared at the wakizashi. That Aoe blade knew exactly what he was doing.

The tachis sat beside each other. The side of Ookanehira's stiff arm brushed against the loose grey stands of Juzumaru's long hair. What could be done to keep his distance?

Juzumaru placed a red sheet on the table surface. Ookanehira's dedicated and diligent practicing of origami had been praised by the tantou. Juzumaru had been shown Ookanehira's works. They were all purple and uneven creatures. Ookanehira had been thinking about Juzumaru when he made his creations. If, in a small way, Ookanehira was at peace with a Tenka Goken, that could mean some progress had been made. Juzumaru hoped, if they spent a little more time together, there could be better bonds forged between Ookanehira and the other Tenka Goken.

"May I show you how to make a rose?"

"Sure.... Thanks," Ookanehira picked up the sheet. He could perform simple tasks under Juzumaru's instructions.