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Your Life, My Hands

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To the willow tree!
On a windless afternoon
You are all I see

***

The quiet enveloped them. No crows were crying. Even Matahachi's raspy, wailing voice faded into the background, calling out for a friend long lost.

Everything turned still.

This was the man. Kojirō thought. This is the man. This is a man whose hands he'd put his own life into, whose life he would entwine his own with, whose path he'd be glad to cross. Flawed as he was, he was still his man.

He knew that much during their first meeting, although then he wished it did not have to be true. Man always has such different plans for his own future that he spits Fate in the face when it comes for him.

But now that he finally saw what he had to see… It could not have been in any other way.

Love, is like a well-executed death poem. Short, witty, reclaiming you for the rest of eternity.

Musashi couldn't leave like this. His majestic figure only beginning to gain the form he was always meant to have, he cannot be gone from this world before his talents met Kojirō's in a final clash. That was the last dance he had been waiting for. And when that is gone and done with, he will be satisfied.

He slid an arm under his and stole him away from Matahachi.

Yoshino Dayū's house was nothing too special, but it had a room for Musashi, a cushion, and warm tea.

"I will take good care of him," she promised.

"That is unnecessary. I'm here."

She left the room.

He knelt next to him and asked for hot water and some cloths. First, he slipped Musashi out of one of his sleeves, then the other, checking for injuries and thoroughly washing him. Clean of filth. Clean of his sins.

The quiet came back.

"Stupid boy," he muttered under his breath but "fascinating boy" was what he meant, and Musashi called out in agreement. 

"I am a stupid boy. My father would call me that."

"Your father knew a thing or two."

If Musashi's father had been his, the same body and soul, Kojirō would get on his knees and give thanks to the Lord every night and every morning for that blessing in the form of a parent. Strong, stern, expectant... The lessons to be learned. The love and respect to be earned! That would be a father he could revere. Love, is like a good death poem.

"My father knew less than you."

"Yes, and no."

People could know a great deal about the sword and yet not understand a single thing about the starry sky. People could polish one skill over the other and live a stagnant, one-sided life.

"To be unmatched in dreams and reality, one needs to cross into the world of dreams first. In reality, I might have bested him, but we haven't crossed the bridge of dreams."

He would fight Musashi beyond dreams and beyond what's real and with the fervour of the boys they used to be nothing but young and full of ambition. That was decided in the second they met before they would even exchange names.

"The world of dreams..." Musashi breathed, with a pained grunt. His hand touched a sore spot, and perhaps so did his words.

"You dream of it, but you aren't strong enough to cross. Your mind is still in the realm of the physical... your strength: nothing more but deceit. And it is you, being deceived."

"I am aiming for that other world."

Kojirō's hands stopped, and he rolled Musashi over to his side. The injuries were light, at first sight, but he had many of them, the persistent abuse of countless Yoshioka supporters. Even the greatest warrior is taken down by an army of weaklings and cowards if he stands all alone.

Musashi had no way to bring people on his side because he only polished his way with the blade. If he were smart - and he was not - he would have spent some time on his tongue. Kojirō, on the other hand, spoke like an angel who held his place firm in linked verse, too. A poetic entrance could steal the heart of so many, masking the brutish way of a warrior.

He himself might have been an unaffiliated samurai, roaming the provinces alone, but his heart belonged to an era long lost, which was full of poetry and grace. His heart belonged to the time his Drying Pole, intricate and dyed with aristocratic poise, a different order in the world. And even so, he lived in the present and had his eyes fixated on the future.

Those who had no clear goals set in the eyes of their minds remained stagnant for the rest of their lives, chasing success farther and farther away from themselves.

"Only I can lead you to that world," he told Musashi. "Nobody else will show you the way. You can get closer and closer, but without me, you'll never pass through."

He was obediently quiet under him, unbothered by the intimate touches of an enemy. After cleaning his wounds, Kojirō helped him under the bedding.

"And only I..." Musashi muttered. "Only I can lead you there?"

"What are you saying."

"Why else would you guard me here, if there was a quicker way for you to leave."

Kojirō's muscles tightened in his face, then the next moment, he relaxed them. There was the faintest smile on his lips: love, is like the perfect death poem.

"Close your eyes, Musashi," he said.

It did not take long for him to submerge into a healing slumber, with the lines on his face smoothing out completely. Kojirō took the last clean cloth, and knowing that Musashi's sleep would not be disturbed, dabbed the dirt off of his face.

He did not wake for hours. Yoshino Dayū would come and check on them the next morning, to see almost no difference between the now and how she left them behind. Musashi was cleaner but Kojirō did not even leave his side, refusing even to retreat one pace.

She sent some food in with her serving girl and an abundant amount of hot tea. Kojirō thanked her, and let her stay for a moment, watching over Musashi.

"Amusing men. The both of you," Yoshino Dayū thought. "In a world that sees so much violence and death, you think you can relay your love by promises of murder."

"War is a form of art," Kojirō said, thinking about his Drying Pole.

"Peace is a form of art. Anyone can make war. The effort to make peace in such a turmoil, however." She motioned towards the sleeping Musashi with her head. "His sleep is peaceful."

It was definitely a form of stinging jealousy that washed through him when he saw the tender look in Dayū's eyes. She had no idea of the real Musashi. She only ever saw an irrelevant piece of him, a mask. He showed that to whoever that tried to pry.

"He should not look so peaceful after what he has done. If you knew the horrors he caused, you wouldn't be so smitten with him."

Although the massacre attracted him the same way it repulsed him, he understood that the people of the lay world - and even warriors - would be frightened by the untamed power Musashi carried. As disgusted as he was by his lack of learned discipline, as attracted he was to the potential he carried within.

Yoshino Dayū smiled.

"You keep his peace for him. His life is in your hands: he's been at your mercy ever since you found him unconscious on a battlefield. You could have finished him there, but you took him to me, to safety instead."

"That momentary peace will give birth to more fighting in the future. If I did not save him, he may have never proved himself to me in a duel."

Yoshino Dayū stood up, after wiping some droplets of sweat from Musashi's brows.

"Men will go great lengths to deny all forms of love from themselves, afraid to bask in what their true feelings are." Musashi stirred under her touch. "Women, too. May we see a world one day where our true thoughts did not have to be obscured by a spider thread of lies."

Kojirō pressed his lips together and watched her retreat. Love, is like the perfect death poem. Understood by only a handful but capturing everyone around. A bridge between our world and the next.

Musashi turned towards him. "What's the time?"

"You have all the time in the world. Thirsty?"

"Weak."

Kojirō poured him some tea and helped him sit.

"Any other man would only be having conversations in hell after that scene. Feeling a little weak will pass."

Musashi took the cup and attempted to drink. The tea cooled down enough not to burn his tongue anymore. Kojirō wanted to say a lot of things, but he was too aware of their surroundings, as well as the prying ears of a handful of serving girls from the other room.

"But, in order to do that, you must eat."

"Later," Musashi said in a mellow voice. "He was so afraid..."

Still naked under the sheets covering him, he turned to his side again and closed his eyes.

"You will feel worse," Kojirō warned him but to no avail. Musashi was already sound asleep again.

Soon his temperature would rise, as expected, and from a peaceful night's sleep, his dreams would be swayed towards feverish nightmares. At first, Musashi suffered quietly, tossing and turning every once in a while. Later, he'd grab into Kojirō's clothes with his eyes closed, pulling him closer.

He called him names that did not belong to Kojirō but to that in another realm already. Genjirō... Genjirō. Musashi wept. Or so, he was close to tears of regret.

"Forgive me," he asked. "You do not know, you cannot know- but there was no other way."

Kojirō tried to untangle his fingers from his clothes but they would keep clinging to him. Sure, he killed that child, and sure it was tainted with a special brand of sin, sin some say one cannot wash himself clean of.

"Accept the cruelty of man and wear it with pride," he said, without mercy. "Or refrain from the path of the warrior."

Musashi opened his eyes, and they stared at each other for long moments. He finally seemed to realize where he was and who he was speaking to.

"We must also learn how to be kind to those.... who deserve nothing less than kindness. I... I must learn that.”

“Then go home,” Kojirō told him. “Go back to your sister, and work on a field for the rest of your life. Kindness has nothing to do with the way of the sword. Didn’t your father teach you that?”

“He told me that…”

His brows were sweating again, but he bit the pain into his lower lip. Only his voice sounded lower than usual. “He told me that, but he did not have to be right. It took me so long to see that you must be kind… even if you can be otherwise…”

Kojirō laughed. “It’s not important to be kind. It’s only important to be strong.”

“I am cold,” Musashi suddenly said and reached out for his sleeve again, pulling him down. He continued. “Once, this will end, and when I passed the bridge of dreams and meet you there, perhaps at half-point, ready to see which one of us may cross… once that is done, and I may… I want to live among people.”

Once more, Kojirō tried to free himself from Musashi’s wayward fingers, but with each attempt, they’d cling to him more and more desperately. All of his strength was centred on one single thing, Kojirō’s overcoat. Hoping that it would fool him, Kojirō slipped out of it.

“And what for?”

“My father was strong, but he could not live with anyone. Can you?”

“Your father was not strong enough, then.” Musashi was still clutching his overcoat and still, he moved forward. “When people are strong enough, they do not have to be kind. Their remarkable strength will make others love and revere them all the same. When a man is strong enough, he knows how to make others love him, or he is strong enough not to care.”

Musashi continued, feverish, and deaf to whatever words Kojirō just uttered. “I would like to have a home.”

“That just makes you ordinary,” Kojirō thought, wistful for a home.

“I have always been ordinary. My father told me so. You are peerless. Did that ever make you happy?”

Mimicking Yoshino Dayū, he wiped the sweat from Musashi’s face. Behind the suffering, there was the peace she talked about, but the peace did not come from within. It came from all those around him, guarding his recovery.

Musashi did not understand his father’s gift, nor did he understand his love. The power of a father’s words could make the swordsman of the century out of an ordinary boy… It could awaken one to a path that was never supposed to belong to him. Should have Kojirō ever known such a father, he could be on the top of the world now. Like this, he still has so far to go. He still needs to wait, for Musashi.

Musashi caught his hand. “He was just a young boy.”

“Then, why did you not let him live?”

“They thought they could ensure their victory… But if I let him live, they would keep coming back. This way, it all ended.”

“You had to choose between being kind and dead or being alive. You chose against what you preach.”

But he found all of that attractive. Even though Musashi was fighting against revealing his true, animalistic nature, it kept cropping its head up, whenever he lost control of himself on the battlefield. Kojirō was absolved of his sins whenever he pleased, but he saw no true sin, in being true to one’s self. His own moral code might have been repelling to any other but made perfect sense to himself.

And within that, flawed as he was, he still found his man. Hurry up, Musashi, he thought. The other side was waiting.

“It made me realize that I forgot how to be kind.”

But Musashi never knew that. Releasing Kojirō’s hand, he rested his hand in the man’s lap, his eyes already closing shut.

“Kojirō, when this is all over. Would you not also like to live among people?” he asked, dozing off.

“You and I, Musashi,” he whispered. “Our kind… We do not need other people.”

Love… is like the perfect death poem.

It belongs to you, but you must always leave before you get to reap the rewards.

He never came to his senses again, while Kojirō was there. That night, the fever would shake him and torture him, perhaps even make him scream: but it never gave him a sober moment.

By the morning, he calmed down. Yoshino Dayū said he would live, although there was nobody that needed reassurance.

He left his overcoat behind, tangled under Musashi, still clutched strongly in his hand. Let it be his, Kojirō thought. He had many others.

On his way out, he handed a letter to Yoshino Dayū, which he did not bother to seal.

“Give this to Musashi, when he wakes up.”

Before he would slide the door closed behind himself, he could see her eyes, running along his three lines, over and over again.

Our bridge in sight
Gone like the morning glory
I will be waiting