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"I will never retreat. I won't take a cowards path. Are you listening to me, Sakon?"

His retainer ignored him, bringing a horse up alongside them. The camp was abandoned. The last of his loyal men were on the field. The rest had turned or deserted.

"Dying in battle is a warrior's privilege. Not a lord's."

"I serve the Toyotomi. I am no less expendable than-"

"You are the only one between Ieyasu and rule. If you live, you can regroup still."

"We can still-"

"This battle is over."

"But you-"

"I'll carve you an escape." There was only silence as they both felt the weight of the meaning of those words. A painfully forced version of his cocky grin curled Sakon's mouth. "Just keep lining them up, and I'll keep knocking them down."

"Sakon, I'm counting on you." Mitsunari's response was far too subdued, even for his own ears.

"My lord." A large hand curved around around his jaw, bringing his gaze up. Sakon's face was dizzyingly close. "Give me my last rites."

He understood instantly, his eyes sliding close as Sakon's mouth descended on his. The kiss was both fiery and desperate. Years of unreleased tension and emotion, combined with the harsh reality facing them, made it impossible for it to be otherwise.

When they finally broke apart, his body all but sagged into his retainer's larger frame. "Oh, you idiot. Why now?"

"My last rites."

"I would have granted you my favor long ago. But you never asked for it."

"I'd never have dared."

"Fool."

Sakon lifted him onto the horse. "Live, my lord. Live."

 


The villagers had been more loyal than his troops. Perhaps that made sense, upon reflection. His duties kept him more closely tied to them than the warriors under his command. But the Tokugawa soldiers began to sound suspicious. Then abusive.

"If the many work for the good of the individual, and the individual for the good of the many..." Kanetsugu's words whispered through his head.

The villagers had followed that ideal by hiding him. Perhaps it was time he returned the favor.

 


The Kenshin surrendered, he heard the guards say. Yukimura turned ronin. The Tachibana and Shimazu had managed to retreat. They were in negotiations. No word from the Toyotomi. He was abandoned. Even the Tokugawa seemed surprised by that. It made sense, though. To preserve the clan, it was better to denounce him. He supposed he should have been more upset than he was. All he felt was numb.

"Did you hear about Sakon Shima?" The guards whispered.

"Multiple wounds, but he kept fighting."

"He was like a man possessed, they say. A veritable demon."

"Do you suppose he wasn't human? They never found the body..."

"Shimazu's troops are known as devils too."

"Do you suppose Ishida isn't human then...?"

"They called him The Fox, do you suppose...?"

If all of Tokugawa's men were such idiots, how had he lost again? Oh, right. Betrayal. He'd been unpopular among his men. Sakon had lectured him about that before.

Sakon.

Sakon was dead.

Sakon. Dead.

Those words more than anything were what took away his will to keep fighting. He'd never have made it so far without Sakon anyhow. It seemed both heart and mind were in agreement over the loss of his most loyal retainer and strategist. Without him, there was no way to keep moving forward.

The look on the soldiers faces when he'd spit into his final meal was the most satisfying moment of his captivity. He needed no kindness from Ieyasu.

Six hours from dawn. Wide awake because what was the point of sleeping through your final hours? Prepared to die. Waiting to die.

And then...

Lights from the sky. Fighting outside the castle. Da Ji in front of his cell bars.

"Why look here - a fellow fox!" Laughing as though it was the best joke ever. So annoying. "Now, don't you worry. I wouldn't leave a brethren to be slaughtered."

 


Da Ji clearly felt he should be grateful. He would have been executed without their intervention. "I'm beginning to think you'd rather have been killed. Isn't alive better?"

"A life without purpose isn't any better than death."

The fox demoness had stared at him, unable to understand his logic. Alive was clearly better to her - regardless. But he felt like a reanimated corpse. His life had been over, what was he to do now that he was still living? No lord, no friends, no strategist. Bound in service to the creature that had dragged them there and enslaved them all. What did a resurrected dead man do with his life?

Undermining Orochi seemed a good start. Going about it with Da Ji over his shoulder was another thing entirely. Cao Pi was an unexpected opportunity. He didn't truly intend to become attached to the forces of Wei. It happened little by little. Somewhere along the line, by the time Orochi was defeated, he'd ended up one of them. A strange new world indeed.

He couldn't ache for his old life when it had been over, but knowing that the people from that other life existed in some form was both painful and comforting. He both wanted to meet them and didn't want to. When would they be from? Had Yukimura and Kanetsugu been taken from a time before their oath? Would they greet him joyfully, or not even know him? What about Lord Hideyoshi, from what battle had he come from? Had Kiyomasa and Masanori come from before the house had split, or after?

Perhaps most painful of all was the question of when Sakon would be from. His service under Shingen? TsuiTsui? Perhaps a ronin? Even if it was a time when he was his ever loyal retainer, it was doubtful it was from the final moments of Sekigahara. His last memory of Sakon was of a fiery kiss and a gently spoken wish for him to live. What would he say to a Sakon who didn't share that memory?

Cao Ren and he discussed poetry and literature til dawn. Xu Huang became the practice field opponent he knew he couldn't beat but kept trying anyhow. Xu Zhu was always shoving some type of food into his hands, saying he was too skinny. It didn't make him miss his old friends less, but slowly it felt like he was coming alive again. Less and less a member of the undead.

It was at a celebration held reluctantly in honor of the tentative truth between them all that his old life came crashing in. Cao Ren had offered before they'd even arrived to find a quiet place to discuss the annuls he'd loaned him, and he'd accepted immediately. He'd never been the type to carouse and run wild, and was grateful for the means to escape.

The night of the celebration itself, however, he'd lost sight of the older warrior in the crowd. He'd been looking for him when a voice from his past called his name.

"Mitsunari!"

"Kanetsugu...?"

 


He'd thought about what it would be like to run into people from his old life. His mind had come up with dozens of such scenarios and multiple possibilities of how they and he would react. Keiji used to say he liked to worry about stuff. It was more he couldn't stop even if he tried. It was almost painful, how happy Kanetsugu was to see him. He immediately felt guilty upon witnessing his friend's joy. He'd planned on avoiding this very meeting if he could. How horrible was he?

"Mitsunari, it is you. I'd heard you were with Wei. I thought of sending a letter but I wasn't certain how it would be received."

"Kanetsugu, you know me?" Not, perhaps, what he'd intended to open with. He immediately cursed his troublesome mouth.

"Of course I know you." A perplexed look crossed Kanetsugu's face. "How could I not?"

"We weren't all taken from the same time, so... well, it crossed my mind many times that you might be from before..."

"Our oath?"

"Odawara." As if they weren't the same thing.

"I never even considered such a notion. But you do know me?"

"I do."

"Kanetsugu!" The second voice, equally familiar, seemed fitting to come next. Was this fate?

"Yukimura! This way! Come see who's here!"

"Kanetsugu, did you - Lord Mitsunari!" Yukimura stared at him in shock.

"Yukimura..." He shifted uncomfortably under the surprised gaze.

"You're... here." Yukimura seemed to snap out of his shock.

"Isn't it glorious that we have the opportunity to meet like this?" Kanetsugu asked. "There's a west veranda that has a wonderful view. We should go there and catch up."

"Ishida. I'm sorry to have kept you..." Cao Ren suddenly appeared out of the crowd. He trailed off when he saw him with Kanetsugu and Yukimura.

"Cao Ren. I was just looking for you, only by chance I met... This is Kanetsugu Naoe of the Japanese alliance and Sanada Yukimura of Shu."

"Old friends?" Cao Ren's smile was gentle.

"Yes, from... the original world."

"It's a pleasure to meet friends of our young adviser."

"This is Cao Ren of Wei." Mitsunari completed the introductions.

"My regards." Kanetsugu nodded.

"It's good to meet you." Yukimura's face was slightly troubled. "Are you a friend of Lord Mitsunari's?"

"It's my pleasure to call him such." Cao Ren nodded. He turned to Mitsunari. "I understand if you wish to spend time with old friends. It's a rarity to meet like this. We can discuss the annuls anytime."

"Annuls?" Kanetsugu asked, curious.

"I loaned a copy of my Autumn and Spring Annuls. Our clever adviser has become quite adept at reading our language. But these being more archaic are a harder read. Some of our men of the old world don't even bother with it. I told him he can discuss them with me anytime he needs a better interpretation. We've spent many delightful evenings so already."

"I see..." Kanetsugu sounded subdued. "I know from personal experience how delightful it is to converse long on such matters with Mitsunari."

Mitsunari instantly felt guilty. He hadn't been aiming to replace his dearest friends. But it almost sounded like it when put to words.

"Kanetsugu, you said? That's right, Ishida mentioned you before." Cao Ren suddenly spoke again.

"Mentioned?" Kanetsugu looked at the older warrior in surprise.

"One evening I brought some wine. And after a few glasses he mentioned being glad I wasn't as fierce a drinker as this old friend of his. Kanetsugu Naoe. How he'd tried to keep pace the first few times they drunk together, and he'd ended up quite useless the entire next day." Cao Ren chuckled, and a sheepish smile floated on Kanetsugu's lips. "But, he said, those were still the happiest of evenings."

"Mitsunari..." Kanetsugu was clearly deeply touched. "To me, as well, are such memories most dear."

"Naoe, I-" Mitsunari began, but a loud voice interrupted him.

"Mitsunari!" Xu Zhu barreled up to the group, followed by Dian Wei and Xu Huang. "Look at this. They have so many steam buns." Several of the mentioned items were shoved into his hands. "And I figured you wouldn't have eaten yet."

Dian Wei's laugh boomed out. "He's still trying to fatten you up." He smacked Mitsunari's shoulder, and though he stumbled a little, he managed to remain standing.

"In my defense, I tried to stop them." In counter to his words, Xu Huang wore an amused smile.

Mitsunari's expression was quickly becoming pinched. "I've told you before, you fool, I don't need brought food. I eat when I need to."

"But you forget meals all the time! It's not healthy!" Xu Zhu protested.

Yukimura burst out laughing, and Mitsunari turned to him startled. "My apologies, but..." Yukimura got out between laughs. "It's so like you. Lady Nene and Master Sakon both would lecture you about not eating..."

Kanetsugu chuckled. "Different world. Same Mitsunari."

"You as well!" Mitsunari glowered, though his cheeks were starting to turn red with embarrassment.

"Come on, Zhu. Leave the Fox alone before he bites." Dian Wei teased. "Eat at least one or Xu Zhu will cry again." He smacked Mitsunari's shoulder a second time.

"Stop beating him up, Wei." Xu Huang frowned at the large warrior. "Sometimes I think you forget your own strength."

"For an adviser, this little guy's tough. He can take it." He gave Mitsunari's arm one last punch.

"We get more bruises from you then our battles." Cao Ren shook his head as Mitsunari rubbed his arm and glowered at the towering man.

Dian Wei only laughed off the comment as he and Xu Zhu wandered back into the gathering.

"You seem quite popular with your men." Yukimura's smile was gentle, but there was something in his eyes he didn't quite understand. Almost like relief. "It's good."

"I wouldn't say I was popular." Mitsunari protested.

Cao Ren chuckled, and Mitsunari frowned at him. "Our lord's son and his lady, who admit to liking near no one, like you. I'd agree with your friend's assessment. You are quite popular in our camp."

"Are these old friends of yours?" Xu Huang asked.

"From the old world." Cao Ren provided.

"Sanada Yukimura of Shu. Kanetsugu Naoe of the Japanese Alliance. Xu Huang of Wei." Mitsunari made the introductions. He was beginning to feel less awkward about the meeting, and more a feeling of warmth as the three greeted each other. There was one last meeting he feared, though. And he was beginning to worry their group would attract attention.

"Sanada. Ah. Our new adviser mentioned you." Xu Huang spoke up.

"Oh?" Sanada was surprised, but clearly happy by the news.

"I find it hard to find sparring partners, but Ishida is always up for the challenge. One of the few in the camp who never turns me down."

"Dian Wei never turns you down." Cao Ren put in. "Neither does Xiahou Yuan."

Xu Huang waved off his input. "One day Ishida mentioned how he always seemed to stubbornly accept challenges from unbeatable sparring partners. How one of his dearest friends in his old life was also one of the best warriors he'd ever known. Sanada Yukimura."

"I am honored by Lord Mitsunari's praise." Yukimura glanced down. "The bond of friendship we shared was of vital importance to me as well."

"Yukimura..." Mitsunari whispered, then glanced down as well - embarrassed by the honest words.

"Why don't we all retire to the west veranda?" Kanetsugu suggested. "We can exchange stories and enjoy the view."

"I'll grab some wine." Xu Huang offered.

"Don't forget some food. Though Ishida already has his hands full." Cao Ren spoke up.

"Foolish Xu Zhu and his ideas." Mitsunari huffed. When the others four laughed, he found himself smiling, and glad that chance had not allowed him to escape this meeting.

 


It was several cups of liquor and a variety of shared tales later in the evening that reality crushed his thoughts of ending the night with nothing but pleasant memories and the renewal of his dearest friendships.

"Is this a private party, or can anyone join?"

The joking tone, so casual yet brimming with a confidence that had always managed to both delight and annoy him at once. He didn't need to look to see who had approached. Didn't need Yukimura's delighted cry of, "Master Sakon!" to know he was being forced into the confrontation he most wanted to avoid.

"Sakon, it is good to see you." Kanetsugu spoke up. "I'm sure there's no objections to your joining us. Though I don't think we're who you're here to see."

"Naoe." Yukimura hissed.

"I am always happy to see familiar faces. Though one familiar face isn't giving me the chance to see it."

Though the tone remained jovial, he could hear the question in it. He wondered if the others could detect it, or if even the time apart had not dulled their ability to understand one another so very well. Too well. Resolutely, he looked up into his old retainer's face, careful to keep both voice and expression even. "I would think you'd be quite tired of my face, Sakon. Even with these months apart."

"One would have to be mad to tire of your face." His eyes sparkled with the jest, but he could see him noting every detail of his appearance. Every nuance and change. He wondered how his appearance had changed. How he looked now compared to...

It was easy to scowl, especially with the painful memories this meeting was dredging up. "Your jokes have not improved during your time in Wu."

"Wei is good for you, however. You look healthy."

"I... ridiculous man." Scowling, he drank deeply from his sake cup. He didn't want to think about what those words meant. Didn't want to contemplate when this Sakon was from. They had completely usurped the conversation, and he turned to the others, hoping to spare himself further thoughts of the past.

"Cao Ren and Xu Huang of Wei. This is Shima Sakon... of Wu." There was slight emphasis on the words and Sakon raised his eyebrows at that, but made no comment.

"I've heard you spoken of." Xu Huang confessed.

"Good things, I hope." Sakon joked, instantly seeming at ease. He was good with people; always had been. He'd sometimes envied that trait. More often, he'd simply considered it useful that he was strong where he himself had failings.

"Though the lords of Wu are not best known for tact, their praise is never disearnest." Cao Ren added in. "Skilled in both battle and strategy were their words. High praise indeed."

"Sakon studied under one of our own best known strategist." Kanetsugu spoke up.

"Though it his loyalty he is best known for in our time." Yukimura's words were slightly subdued.

They tore at Mitsunari even though he knew his friend had not intended them as a barb for him. He refilled his glass and drained it, instantly attracting Sakon's attention.

"You may want to slow down a bit, my lord. I think you're outpacing Kanetsugu." Sakon's smile was teasing, but his gaze was tinged with concern. It was so painfully familiar, the carefully chosen words. A lecture disguised as a jest. But this was not his time, and the man before him both was his Sakon, yet was not his Sakon. Their strange new world could be undeniably cruel.

"I am no longer your lord. Spare me your concern and your lecture." Mitsunari turned his gaze back to his now empty cup.

"Not my lord?" Sakon tilted his head, a smile curling the side of his mouth. "When was I fired?"

"A poor joke." He was tempted to refill the glass, even though he knew Sakon was right and he was drinking too much. The rest of the group had become silent again - watching the exchange.

"Only half in jest, my lord."

"Calling me your lord, with your new lord's men but a few feet away." He gestured to the door that led inside. "Poor taste, Sakon."

"What new lord would that be?" Sakon's gaze and voice were gentle. "I offered to accompany Wu's lords for a time, not to serve them. Sakon Shima has but one lord, and all who know him know it."

"Fool! Words like these are what caused your death." Paste tense. A mistake he hadn't meant to make. He saw the realization in Sakon's eyes, and had to turn away.

"When are you from, my lord?"

Mitsunari couldn't prevent the wry chuckle that escaped his lips. "From a later time than you."

"It would appear so." He was silent a moment. "Is it a good death?"

"Is there such a thing as a good death?" Grabbing one of the sake bottles, he stood up - pacing to the edge of the veranda.

"Well, as long as I didn't trip and fall off the castle battlements or something equally as embarrassing..."

Mitsunari refilled his glass and drank the contents down. "You died on the battlefield, defending the life of your lord."

"Not bad, then. A warrior's death."

Mitsunari's chuckle held no humor. "A warrior's death."

"And, my lord - what becomes of him?"

"Sakon." Kanetsugu frowned at him.

"It's a simple question. 'When are you from' has replaced 'Where are you from' in this strange new world."

"But it can be difficult to discuss your future with who you know as a fallen comrade." Cao Ren spoke up.

"And there are things you may not wish to discuss with others as well." Yukimura spoke solemnly. "I confess, I, too, knew of your death, Sakon."

Mitsunari turned slightly to look at Yukimura. "When are you from?"

Yukimura's smile was melancholy. "From a later time than you."

"Wouldn't take much, at that." He murmured, turning away again.

"Not a good death then. A failure." Sakon spoke up.

"...You!" Mitsunari whirled on him angrily. "Speak no such lies in my presence! A demon, they claimed. Injured but fighting on. Enemy soldiers too cowed to even look upon the face of. Transformed into a demon, they whispered, to defend to death the life of his lord."

"And my lord?"

"Escapes! With such a defender, who could not?"

"But after?"

Mitsunari paced away to the edge of the veranda again. "...the villagers are loyal, but Tokugawa's soldiers are suspicious. With an old friend's words in his ear, he surrenders his life... for the good of the many."

"All for one and one for all and heaven..." Kanetsugu could not finish the proverb.

"No quarter is given, and none is asked. He spits into his final meal - a show of his continued defiance. No mercy is needed from Ieyasu. He awaits the dawn on the morning of his execution. Willing to die. Waiting to die. And then..."

"Orochi." Sakon provided.

"...Orochi." He confirmed.

When he heard Sakon approach, he glanced back - frowning. His suspicion turned to surprise when he got down on his knees and bowed to him. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For being the lord I swore to serve to the end."

"You...you..." His ever loyal, ever dependable retainer. Not the man who kissed him with fiery passion. His servant who would never dare ask for his favor, even if he was more than willing to grant it. A new world, and still just lord and servant.

"My lord?"

"I am not your lord! I am a creature of the undead! My life was over. I was done with my duty - done with my work. My life had run its course. I had accepted it. Didn't you hear me? I was willing to die. I was waiting to die. To live was a cruel jest! I was a reanimated corpse, cut adrift from everything that had given my life meaning. No duty. No purpose. I am no longer who I was. Stop bowing. Stop thanking me. I am not your lord!" He lashed out, kicking Sakon in the shoulder. Too drunk to act reasonably. Not drunk enough to be ignorant of the fact.

Sakon, not expecting the blow, had fallen to one side. For once he actually looked surprised. He'd ironically always wanted to catch him off guard, but not in such a manner. Whirling away, he stormed off, seeking solitude. Seeking peace of mind. Seeking something, but no idea what.

In the silence that followed his departure, Xu Huang filled a glass and offered it to Sakon. After a moment, he sat up and took it - draining it in a single gulp.

"I thought at first his reticence was simply part of his character. But as time wore on, he seemed to grow less withdrawn." Cao Ren spoke up.

"Isn't it better to have survived?" Kanetsugu gazed up at the night sky, his expression troubled. "Is not even the most impossible of battle's goal survival?"

"On the battlefield, though, there's a certain state of mind." Yukimura's own eyes were decidedly on the liquid in his cup as he gave his piece. "So though there is a preparation to die, there is also the thought that you might live. If you fight hard enough. Realizing you've survived an impossible battle is different, I suspect, than preparing to be executed."

"To be denied death when prepared for it... when you feel your life has run its course... that would be a difficult situation." Xu Huang refilled everyone's glasses.

Sakon drained the cup, and grabbed the bottle - standing up.

"Sakon-" Kanetsugu began.

"If he orders me away, I'll leave. But I need to speak with him more." Sakon told him.

Kanetsugu slowly nodded. "Very well."

"Though he upheld under her taunts well, he was one of Da Ji's favorite victims." Cao Ren spoke up. "I'd tread softly."

"Ever with my lord." Sakon murmured, then followed Mitsunari's path away.

 


He found him far from the manor, near a winding stream that eventually ran past it. He had apparently drunken more of the sake, and was leaning against a tree, watching the water swirl by with a full glass in one hand and the bottle in the other. It should have been a cup of tea and his ever present fan. That would be normal. But what was normal in the crazy world Orochi had created?

"Most would assume I had no desire to see them after such a confrontation." He didn't even look at him as he spoke, but kept his eyes determinedly on the stream.

"We're both stubborn men. It's why we work so well together."

"It may well have been more to our credit to not be so stubborn."

"You don't mean that."

"What good did it do either of us in the end? You died for what, Sakon? What did any of my men die for?"

"For what they believed in."

"Useless."

"You don't mean that either."

Mitsunari finally whirled to face him, eyes flashing with anger and - if you knew where to look - with pain. "Don't you dare tell me what I do and don't believe! What do you think you know?"

"You." He challenged moving closer. "I know you."

Mitsunari's laugh was cold. "No, you don't."

"You spit into your final meal. You stayed true to your beliefs."

"That Mitsunari is dead. He was executed by the Tokugawa." He turned away, draining his cup.

"If that was true, you'd never have plotted to overthrow Orochi."

"Because the old Mitsunari would have plotted to overthrow a lord he promised to serve?"

"If that lord had forced him into service instead of being a man he was honored to attend? In an instant."

Mitsunari shook his head, but did not turn back. "What makes you think I plotted anything? Perhaps I fell in with Cao Pi by chance."

"Perhaps you did, but you were plotting already."

"So sure of yourself. Always one step ahead of the rest of us. Tell me, Sakon, how long in advance did you know our forces would fail? How long were you aware that the Tokugawa would win?" When Sakon didn't reply right away, Mitsunari took in a sharp breath. "So long as all that, then."

"Two years before the final battle, I'd guess."

"Then why did you stay? You had plenty of other offers."

"What reason was there to leave?"

"Most would find living a good incentive."

"I outlived two lords already. Outliving a third was no incentive."

"You're an idiot!"

"I was happy with you."

"That makes you an even bigger idiot." Mitsunari went to pour himself another cup, and Sakon moved swiftly to place his hand over the top.

"I think you've had enough, my lord."

"Don't touch me!" Mitsunari yanked away too fast. Sakon winced when he lost his footing, falling into the stream. He made no sound, but the startled look on his face made it clear that the icy water had helped cure some of his drunkenness.

"Are you alright, my-"

"Don't finish that sentence." Mitsunari stood up, abandoning the broken cup and bottle in the stream. His footing was surer, but he began to shiver from the combination of the cold water and the cool air.

"Do you have a change of clothes?"

"For a one night celebration?"

"I'll take that as a no." Sakon began to untie his own kimono.

"...What are you doing?" Mitsunari's tone was extremely tense.

"Giving you my kimono."

"You'll freeze."

"I'll be fine until I get a fire lit to dry yours." Pulling it off, he hung it on a branch, pausing when he saw Mitsunari staring at him. It was a good feeling, in truth, but a dangerous one. There was carefully kept lines between them. Had been from early on in their relationship. "My lord, you should-"

"I told you. I'm not your lord." Mitsunari's words were more empty than harsh. "If that's your plan, go light a fire before you cause yourself illness."

"Of course."

 


The kimono wasn't completely soaked. Some parts were, but a fair amount was only spotted with water. His own kimono was too large for Mitsunari's smaller frame. He'd tied it up as best he could, but it was obvious it wasn't meant for him. There was mixed feelings involved with seeing him dressed in his clothes. Good feelings, and unneeded temptations. Long suppressed desires, and the ever present urge to protect. From the world; from himself. "Are you warm enough?"

Mitsunari's chuckle held no humor "You're the one half undressed, I would think I should ask you that."

"True, but I didn't take a dip in a cold stream at night."

"Not my best moment, to be sure."

"In all honesty, no."

"And you're always honest, I'm sure."

"...my lor-"

"Sakon, stop. Just stop."

"Don't I even have the right to ask you why-"

"Because I am not your Mitsunari. And you are not my Sakon. My Sakon is dead."

"Hideyoshi is dead. Your current lord was dead centuries before our birth."

"It isn't the same thing."

"Why?"

"Because... there are things you don't know."

"What things? What could possibly be so important?" He could feel a rare surge of frustration. It made no sense how Mitsunari seemed willing to accept everyone but him.

"When are you from?"

"Mere days from the final confrontation with Ieyasu at Sekigahara."

"And that is why things cannot be the same. You are not my Sakon."

"I am Shima Sakon. If Sekigahara is my grave, what could possibly have happened in so short a time? What could we possibly have shared in a matter of days compared to the years of service..." He trailed off, an idea nagging at him. What could they have shared? Perhaps too much. Or perhaps too little. "Did we... Did I...?"

"Final rites. You... HE dubbed it."

"We..."

"Kissed. Nothing more. No time for anything more. Don't forget, we were losing a battle at the time."

Was it possible to be jealous of oneself? He couldn't count the number of times he'd thought of kissing the man before him. The times he'd thought of stepping over that line, and daring to touch him. He felt his hands curl, and couldn't say if it was in frustration or to prevent them for reaching out. "I see."

"Do you? Do you really see?" Mitsunari stood up, storming around the fire to stand in front of him. "How carefully did we preserve the lines and boundaries between us? How many times did we come close to breaking them, but stop? The very lines you still are preserving right here and now. My Sakon, the one who died for me, wiped those lines away. Do you understand that?"

Slowly Mitsunari reached out a hand, dragging a finger along the side of his face and the curve of his jaw. Fire trailed after the simple caress, and Sakon took in a shaky breath. "My lord-" The finger pressed against his lips, silencing them.

"You see? You are still my ever loyal retainer, but I am not the lord who kept those strict boundaries. I have no such boundaries now. Things cannot be the same. Not for me. And I cannot pretend to-"

Sakon gripped his wrist, and turned his hand, pressing his lips against his palm. Mitsunari's words died in his throat, and he turned the hand again, pressing his lips to his fingers. He could feel a quiver go up the arm he held captive.

"Be you Ishida Mitsunari from a day in my future, or ten years, you are still the lord I swore to serve... and the man I have long desired."

He raised his eyes to his then, and Mitsunari shuddered at the emotion and desire in them. "Sakon-"

"In this strange new world, if I dared to ask for your favor... would you grant it?"

The next moment, Mitsunari's lips were brushing against his. The softest of touches before pulling only slightly away. Their faces a breath apart as he whispered his answer. "This world, or any other."

Releasing his wrist, he reached out to grip his shoulders as he captured the mouth so tantalizingly close to his. Mitsunari matched the hunger in his kiss, kneeling down to press closer. Wrapping one arm around his waist, Sakon sunk them both to the ground, losing himself in the passion they'd so long deprived themselves of.

 


The moon was getting low on the horizon as they lay beside their dying campfire. Mitsunari's head rested below his chin, and he couldn't resist sifting through the strands of his hair. Mitsunari's own hand was moving up and down his arm in a slow, drowsy motion. "If this crazy world is a dream... I no longer want to wake up." He pressed his lips to his head.

"It's not a dream." Mitsunari nuzzled into his chest. "This world is crazy, but it's no dream."

"Not so long ago, I might have thought that was a bad thing."

"...At first, I felt that way too."

"And now? How do you feel?"

Mitsunari thought about his answer for a moment, then pushed himself up to gaze down at him. "Alive."

"Alive." Sakon repeated, and a smile curved his mouth. "Alive is good."

Mitsunari felt the corner of his lips twitch, and he leaned down to kiss him. "Yes, alive is good."

 

 

Fini