The sword, the cross, and the scent of the tide. He will remember that day for the rest of his life.
It was Kojirō, and only Kojirō who could take him to that place, beyond anything he knew in the world he called his home, reality. Beyond even his dreams. An ephemeral land full of incense smoke, the comfort of darkness, and endless possibilities.
When he sought out that land of dreams, he did not simply wish for something undiscovered. He wanted to find it again, he wanted to go back.
It happened at the moment he looked Kojirō in the eye.
In one second, he still felt the scent of the tide deep in his nose, and the rush of their duel firing his heart with the power of a thousand suns: knowing it was life or death. Then, in the next, black eyes met his and sucked into them, he found himself in a lotus-scented dream, enveloped in the sensual darkness.
The beach was gone.
The beach was gone, and so was the tide, and so were their swords, and the sun… No light.
Kojirō did not smile, but he did not frown. He wore purple, as he always remembered him.
He had never looked more serene. They were pressured to act tense whenever their paths crossed, knowing that sooner or later they would need to get over with it. Become their own self-fulfilled prophecy. But was it now? They always thought. Musashi did. Was it now? Was he ready? Could he conquer Kojirō the way he wanted to conquer him from the very beginning?
“Did we die?” His voice barely filled the vast space around them.
Did they die, and end up on the same lotus pedestal? Is what he would have really wanted to ask. Did he forget every precious moment of their duel? All that they had been living for in the past years, distracting themselves with the need to improve, but only ever thinking about each other.
It would make sense, to end up on the same lotus pedestal, he thought. More sense than anything.
“We are alive. In the real world.”
But this was not the real world, this was a dream.
Was it Kojirō’s scent that entered his nose, enticing him, so strong and whimsical? Inviting? Was it the fragrance of the ephemeral world of dreams that a pair of black eyes led him into?
And, if so, still: which one was more transient, the world he knew and grew to call real? Or this exotic, private playground they stumbled into, by mistake or by design.
None of them wore their swords. Not a soul was around.
“Was it too early?” Kojirō asked, in a dreamy voice. “Did we rush forward? After this day is done, we will not see each other for the longest time.”
“You hate me, and you hate everything I do, too. Surely, my absence will only please you.”
His own bitterness bit his tongue. His heart was full of contempt when they met each other for the first time, the mixture of young desire ad foolish narcissism. From the moment he met Kojirō he wanted to bring him down, to topple him, to show him all he had.
Which is not to say he held a heart full of contempt towards him. No. It was a link more intricate than hatred. And he wanted to know that Kojirō felt the same. He wanted to hear.
There was probably nothing in the world he wanted more.
But hearing how Kojirō talked of him before, he had to assume that Kojirō felt nothing but a strong dislike towards him. He had to assume that his desire (to overcome) was one-sided. Stronger. Then, he already lost, in a battle of affections.
“This world is free of deceit. We do not have to pretend.” They weren’t facing one another but stood shoulder by shoulder. Musashi had to turn his head to see him. “You do not have to pretend. Do you know who you are, once everything earthly is stripped off of you?”
He interlaced his fingers with Kojirō's, hand covering another.
You are mine, he thought, with frightening confidence.
Only I may kill you. Nobody else.
The intensity with which he felt the bloodlust he thought he had already long forgotten would have scared him any other time. Here, dreams hazed his mind. Here, everything was natural. He did not condemn himself for having an unruly mind.
When he slept, right was the same as wrong. No. Right and wrong didn't exist and simply blurred into one concept: want.
Kojirō looked at him from heavy, slanted eyes. His grip tightened on his hand.
"Do you?" Kojirō asked again.
He pulled on his wrist, dragging his arm so it would be curled around his waist, nose to nose. Kojirō emerged on tiptoes.
"I wish to kill you…" he whispered, into his mouth. "But I don't want to be over. I wish to kill you again and again. To be above you and conquer."
He bit. Quick, like a snake, just as hungry and venomous. Musashi wondered if he drew blood, but he did not bring his fingers to his lips to check.
Kojirō met an animal, the first time they saw each other.
Did he ever know who he was, or had he kept hiding his true self from both himself and the world around him? In the past, he did not try to hide his nature. Since then, he learned to live among people, away from people. By now, it would be only Kojirō who could tempt the beast.
“Show me who you are.”
Another bite. Kojirō’s tongue sliding across his lips, beckoning the demon he hid inside.
In the last moment, he pulled away, and only his eyes laughed. Musashi’s head did not even try to convince him of needing to know any better – and he followed his appetite, having starved out his body for too long in his self-inflicted solitude.
A dream is only a dream. A dream is more than reality could ever be.
He leapt forward and kissed Kojirō until his lips felt sore. His fingers tangled into the long, black strands of hair, and pulled down until he knew it would hurt. Kojirō only laughed into their kiss. Was he mocking him?
Did he enjoy?
Musashi didn’t care.
He held back for so long, there was no way that anything could take priority before his own satisfaction. In his mind, he only wanted to take: and give more to Kojirō than what he bargained for. Even now, he only wanted to show him all he got, just like at the time of their first meeting.
Two hands were not enough. He wanted to rip his clothes off the same time as suffocating him. Forcing him down on the ground under him the same time as pulling at his hair…
The ground below them felt like sand, even though it looked nothing like it.
Pushing, pulling, shoving. Their teeth knocked against each other, and this time he certainly could feel the taste of fresh blood in his mouth.
Dissatisfied with his place under him, Kojirō struggled against him with fervent passion in the beginning. Where arms didn't satisfy, he would bite and pinch. Being trained with the most excruciating of pains, Musashi showed no weakness. He did not even flinch.
Then, Kojirō, not known well as one who liked to lose, changed his approach. He fell tender under him, flexible and his movements became languid. Musashi's instincts told him to be on guard, but when lips met his, and hands invited him under purple, breezy robes, his desire silenced all the warnings.
Kojirō's nose pressed against his jaw, a deep breath.
"You make me wait. I said show me who you are. This isn't you yet."
The scent of the lotus-filled the place with a translucent, sacred mist. And yet, no matter the holy atmosphere, his mind was focused on something else. Perhaps he always chased enlightenment in the wrong manner…
Musashi spent long nights repressing his ugliest side and losing to his own nature in sultry, instinct-driven dreams. He spent even longer nights envisioning Kojirō under him in compromising positions, defeated, beaten, used.
People are more scared of the light in themselves than the darkness. So, Musashi forced his own fears of purity on himself so aggressively, it now felt unnatural, if not entirely impossible to get in touch with his physical, needy self.
The balance between darkness and light did not exist within him, because he was afraid of losing the little light he accumulated over the past years, with only a single misstep.
Too much of darkness made Sasaki Kojirō, but too much of light …
“Or will I have to show you who you really are myself?” Kojirō breathed, almost soundlessly into his ear.
Hungry, he led Kojirō’s hand the way he ached for it. His eagerness was genuine, and not a single bit hidden. Inexperience and shame would normally hinder him, but his head was clouded with want. The first time he had been touched like this by someone, other than himself. The first time he had been touched by someone who had done so shamelessly and without reserve.
Still, asking for anything with words was hard. He would rather take it by himself.
Kojirō’s lips found his again as his fingers fiddled around, opening Musashi’s trousers. This way, they did not have to talk.
Was there too much to relay? Or too little?
Just a while before, Kojirō wondered if it was too soon for them – but by now they both forgot about reality. In the real world, they would have never had the opportunity to spend enough time together without ending up at each other's throats. They never stood a chance. Curiosity made him undress Kojirō, and so did the lack of resistance his efforts were met with. In fact, he was encouraging Musashi with deep sighs into his ear, and naked skin rubbing against skin.
The pull at his stomach got even more unbearable with every single sigh, even though Kojirō did not stop touching him for a moment. Suddenly, simple touches weren’t enough. He wanted more. He wanted to eat Kojirō alive, to devour him, to consume. He wanted everything.
Everything was so little, and yet so much at the same time. So much to get into without as much as a rehearsal. His head was spinning even without thinking about it.
Musashi knelt up, to have a better look at Kojirō’s naked body under him, wanting to take all there was to it for the first and the last time.
Pleasure, after all, was like being drunk. It got the better of people and poked at their vulnerabilities. In the real world, he would have known this and came prepared. In the real world, he would have most likely said no.
“I want to see you,” he told Kojirō, as he followed him, bodies pressed together.
A moment, his hands were roaming Kojirō’s chest and thighs, and the next, he found himself face first hitting the powder-like, dark ground below them. The bitter sense of being cheated washed over him, before the long-repressed anger awakened from deep within right after. No. It was not Kojirō’s role to take him, he thought, almost desperately. He fought back, only aiming to end up on top.
Kojirō’s roundabout, deceitful nature was still a mystery to him and so, he did not understand how he seemingly changed face over a moment. (They said he took his victory by whatever means he could.) It confused him, it annoyed him, it threatened with making him go completely mad. His chest ached. The only way he could fight back was with raw physical power.
Now it all boiled down to fighting again. To the desire to hurt. Once he struggled to face Kojirō, he grabbed a handful of his hair at the back of his head to subdue him and force him under himself again.
This time, knowing that he caused pain gave him even more pleasure. For one moment, he mirrored Kojirō’s own destructive, twisted ideals and pleasures, empty, and aching for more.
He didn’t want to hold back anymore.
Kojirō was right: there was no need to pretend. Was he right? Or did Musashi only cruelly want to show him the flip side of his own morals, of his own claims, of his own beliefs?
He wanted to kill him as much as he wanted to take him over and over again. He wanted to kill him as much as he never wanted to let him go.
All these opposing emotions mixed in him and merged into a chaotic bliss and he hated himself for yielding to the side of him that enjoyed blood, and gore, and sought nothing but the ugly pleasures of the body.
Kojirō’s eyes were hazy with tears as he moved against him, unable to control his anger, with a hand clasped around his throat. He could have fought back if he wanted, as he did so before, but he only bit whenever Musashi leaned close enough steal a kiss.
The first time, they fought, but their struggle transformed into a game by the second, then almost tender.
It was darkness that vibrated around them, and yet they could see everything. There was no moon on the sky, and not a single star. The ground transformed under them into whatever they needed it to be. At times warm and inviting, at others cold and hard, scratching the surface of his skin.
Kojirō’s hair tickled his chest as he grazed the skin on his chest with his lips, then on his stomach as he slowly inched lower and lower. A playful glance, a flicker of his black eyes. He perhaps meant to tease him until Musashi begged, but he hardly had the words to recall how to. Instead of asking, he pushed Kojirō’s head down, firmly enough for him to understand. Kojirō laughed.
“See, it does not take long until you reveal your true colours.”
“Go on,” he growled.
The tenderness was gone once again, and only a sense of vulnerability remained, being compromised, and subjected to the whims of an enemy.
Was he completely at Kojirō’s mercy, allowing him to nest between his thighs? Did he hate it more than he liked it?
Kojirō teased with his tongue, with his fingers playing on his skin, until he finally took him into his mouth, his head bobbing up and down, following an unknown rhythm.
Being completely alone in this closed-off world of dreams, he could be as loud as he pleased. The uncontrollable moans breaking free from his throat repelled him as much as hearing Kojirō’s soft sounds excited him. A lethal dilemma.
Being overly aware of himself and all the actions he took, conscious or not, did no good. He only wanted to be able to take full control over Kojirō, without having to deal with his own actions and reactions. Having Kojirō submit to him put him in a vulnerable position he did not expect to find himself in.
None of them could fully win. In fact, they were equal in being overcome by their deepest desires.
Even by yielding to his ugliest side, by using and practically torturing Kojirō, even going beyond his darkest, most hidden fantasies, there was no real sense of control. The possibilities were endless, and none of them gave him enough.
He would bite Kojirō until he drew blood, and have countless dark marks all over his neck, and the prints of Musashi’s fingers burning red on his skin. To no avail.
Kojirō did the same, although it was never expected of him to be gentle. Even in the real world, he could hardly deny his own, cruel nature. He never considered that humans were expected to act any other way.
Perhaps he even knew but was not plagued the fact that he was different from everyone else the way Musashi was, trying to make sense of his existence, and improving on himself in order to reach an ideal self. Perhaps his ideal self was this Kojirō that he already arrived at.
Even in the haze of a dream, he began to feel ashamed now and hated himself for it even more. Pleasure ceased to be pleasure, if he refused to allow himself even the smallest drops of it without pangs of guilt haunting him.
Kojirō meant to tease him by stopping before he would be finished, but it did not work the way he planned it: he did not want him to go on, at all. He did not want to allow himself to indulge anymore.
Kojirō’s cheeky grin disappeared from his face within seconds, as he looked him in the eye. His dimple was gone, too.
“Why can’t you be free?” he asked, sharply.
Kojirō gave him a stubborn look, his lips curling down into a grimace, not unlike a pout. The air around them cooled down, but there were no sounds. Goosebumps raised on Musashi’s arms.
“With anyone. If you have an awareness of yourself, and of that all the deeds you commit, good or bad, come with consequences, you are free to act as you please, without any shame. You are free when you understand that all of this is your nature.”
Kojirō’s lean index finger found its way down his chest, caressing him.
“You do not give yourself to me because you are scared of the humiliation that you expect to come with that. Instead, you deny. You only hide because you do not know how to be seen. You abstain only because you do not know how to devour and enjoy. If you have an awareness of your person, of who you are under the countless coats you put on to hide, nothing you ever do can be used against you, no matter how vulnerable you may seem from the outside.”
He understood then, the ease with which Kojirō changed face, and submitted to pleasures that frightened Musashi to the core.
With every moment, his thoughts transformed, changing himself with them. Certainty replaced doubt, and in the next moment, everything was unclear again.
He caught Kojirō’s finger and brought his hand closer to his face. A kiss on his palm.
“Then, I love you,” he said the first thing that came to his mind, without being able to stop his tongue.
It was a world of dreams, after all. In the world of dreams, unspeakable words could be spoken, just as how unmeetable desires could be met, and how the foulness of humankind was accepted.
For one last time, he brought Kojirō on his lap, peppering slow kisses on his jaw, then moving down to his neck. His nails dug into his back in pleasure.
Musashi selfishly hoped that this dream would last an eternity, if not two.
“And,” he added, repeating what Kojirō told him before. “I wish to kill you, too, over and over and over again.”
Kojirō’s giggle sounded melodic, as he leaned forward to bite into his lower lip.
“Kill me, then,” he teased. “Try.”
They did not talk about how on their side of reality, death was the only thing that remained permanent.
While people may be carried forward by the waves of transmigration and be born into the world again, if death took them from someone else, it would leave a void in their lives until their time was done, too. Irreplaceable and permanent.
And so, the only thing you could do was to pray and be reborn on the same lotus pedestal, hoping that you could pick up the lost threads on the other side, towards enlightenment.
“Kill me, then,” Kojirō repeated himself. “But first, love me.”
At that moment, tenderness, violence, love, and hate melted together. All on his tongue.
Kojirō straddled him and allowed himself to be taken: but on his own terms this time. Musashi, despite himself, let him be in control.
His hand pressed between Kojirō’s shoulder blades, keeping him in place, and close enough to himself. He watched his black hair fall into his face, damp from sweat, and yet, he never saw him look so stunning before.
There definitely was something grand and beautiful about Kojirō on that day.
His lips felt like a soft cushion against his own, and he almost believed that he was meat to kiss them in his whole life, to taste him on his tongue, to feel him against his skin. The last time was perfect because neither did he want to hurt or please. He did not even want to please his own false images of himself.
When they lay there, breathless, and all slept, he drew Kojirō closer to himself by the waist, into a tight embrace.
“You belong to me,” he finished an age-old thought, as he pressed a kiss on his shoulder, then bit down in it, until he tasted blood and knew that his mark would permanently remain on him. “Say that you’re mine.”
Why did he never feel the need to make anyone his, and only his? Why did he run away from those words when they came from Otsū’s mouth but felt like begging to hear it from Kojirō? Why did he need to have confirmation?
“People cannot belong to you, without you also belonging to them,” Kojirō warned.
“Call me yours, then.”
He saw Kojirō’s face from the profile, something he’d remember for far longer than he wanted to, an image not unlike art burning deep into the eyes of his mind. A smile, a pair of sweet dimples, and irregular teeth revealing themselves.
“I will call you mine when we meet again here, where the lotus blooms.”
The sword, the cross, and the scent of the tide. He saw Sasaki Kojirō sprawled out under him on the ground, almost lifeless, but with the same smile on his lips.
For a moment he wondered where they were, still influenced by their fragrant dreams. Then, he remembered.
The beach came back. The swords, the cross, the salty scent of the tide. Even the sun.
It would only take a few seconds for him to know what happened: he dealt the fatal blow. Sasaki Kojirō was defeated. He became unmatched in this realm, and maybe even in the next.
His knees gave in. It should have felt more like a victory, but instead, there was nothing. Only emptiness. Only the loss. In their world, nothing was permanent, but death, death, death.
Kojirō’s chest still moved, although barely. So, he lay next to him for no more than a moment, fingers meeting fingers as they used to, far away, in an incense smoke-filled dream.
“I will meet you there," he whispered. "Greet me again, and call me yours, under the same lotus we beheld.”