It is but the demands of Fate that when two equally matched, young men meet under the distant stars, their destinies tie together into an inevitable chain of misfortunes, carrying with themselves nothing but the spirit of death and destruction. They may, deep inside, wish for a very different outcome. They may, deep inside, let the flower of affection bloom in their chest, subtly and secretly. No matter the means, no matter the time, death prevails.
What is a more beautiful way to profess one’s love if not suicide?
The stars always shine down the brightest on the unfortunate and the hopeless.
And by that design was supposed to meet the son of Shinmen Munisai, and a miserable, abandoned orphan, in the middle of a bustling town centre, their bodies hungry for a fight, but their souls thirsty for something much more profound.
Even when the body is satisfied with its current state of being, blinded and bounded by worldly pleasures and worries, the soul calls out for more, striving for perfection and peace. The body can be fooled, as well as it can be tortured and pressured into obedience. The soul? The soul will not be misled.
Musashi remembers being occupied with so much envy and confusion, all directed against and centred on the most important man in his life. He could say it was his father, but it would be a lie. The ties to his father were rooted in the most basic realms of human nature, on grudges and spite. What connected him to Kojirō was an amalgamation of love and hate and yearning. The urge to become better for someone else, the urge to stay close, the urge to remain hidden until he was ready and fully prepared to face him.
To say in short, destiny.
Their lives crossed so many times, but always for the shortest moments. His eyes behind his physical eyes recognized Kojirō with the same ancient wisdom Kojirō recognized him.
Two men, equally matched in their dreams, meet. Their bodies get scared of the intensity of their emotions. Tragedy and misfortune ensue.
If they could only communicate the things their soul felt at that moment – if only ever strong swordsmen could communicate the things they felt with their tongues instead of their blades! Man always tries to destroy that which scares him to no end. Man always lives in fear of his own emotions.
The first time they meet, it is just an exchange of names, as warriors in the ancient times would announce their names on the battlefield, for fame and renown, for fear and respect. He will always want to impress Kojirō as much as his body wants to topple him. He will always want to be near him as much as his body wants to destroy him.
The duality of his emotions has never been so present with any other. His father? He hated. Matahachi and Otsū? He loved.
Kojirō? He wanted to kill, to impress, to hurt, to protect.
They spent most of their lives away, but each time they met, their words turned all the more passionate, their need to be seen overpowered all other, all threatening to end up in flames. The sooner, the better. The later, the more tragic.
Grow stronger, be better, train harder, don’t fall before I could kill you, be mine already… I will be waiting.
Kojirō’s bittersweet incentives.
Perhaps the Kojirō in his head is a lot different from the Kojirō in reality. Perhaps Kojirō’s image of Musashi has nothing to do with who he is. They create their very own images in their heads, guessing, fantasizing, daydreaming.
Every time, Kojirō grows more impatient. Every time, Kojirō wants more. And Musashi, too.
All good love suicides are born out of the same mind, shared between two star-crossed lovers. Equally desperate and pining for the promise of eternity.
When young warriors fall into the depths of hell that is also commonly called love - unlike love born in the gay quarters -, they know from the first moment that their story will end in death. It goes without saying that on the path of the sword, every day is another battle between life and death and you never know who emerges victorious.
How they end up in that very moment, however, is just as mysterious as the story of any Jihei.
Destiny catches up with them on the battlefield, in Kyoto, in the pleasure quarters, then finally at Hōtengahara, before it would all end.
Kojirō came to his rescue twice that he remembers. Once he was laying on the ground half dead after beating the Yoshioka. The second time he is in Hōtengahara, facing an enemy whose name he can barely recall.
He remembers hearing it twice in his life. The same meaning, different words. “If you died on me right now, I would be troubled.”
And before. “Only I am allowed to kill you.”
The same way as he thought. You are not allowed to die. Not before me. Not before the starry sky finally leads me to you, in a final battle, in a final meeting. You are not allowed to die until it is only you and I, and nobody else in the whole world. Until it all belongs to us, and nobody else.
Those words he heard from Kojirō remain the most profound, more than an “I love you.” Promises of destruction fit him more and scare him less. For one who suffered so much from his own nature, from his own sword and his own destiny, earthly attachments were the last things he needed.
A back against his back and vague expressions are just as exciting as they are comforting. The Kojirō in his head grew to love him in between their meeting after destroying Seijūrō and reuniting in Yoshino Dayū’s quarters. Musashi himself fell the moment he thought he was not enough for him, Kojirō’s foot on his blade.
Then now, the rapid change of times. His own sword in one hand, Kojirō’s short sword in the other, shoulder to shoulder, sweaty brows, their forces united.
This is once in a lifetime. Kojirō came to help him because it was not yet time to die.
He came because his feelings mirrored Musashi’s. At this moment, he saw it too clearly, the revelation pained his chest.
They both know. They both understand.
It has built up until now, their rivalry, and much more. He would be furious if anyone else tried to hurt Kojirō. They left a transparent mark on one another.
They stand above the dead bodies, temples wet from perspiration, and chests heaving from the fight. He cleans Kojirō’s short sword and hands it back to him. The desire to fight him subsides. They have so little time, and when it happens, the world might end.
“I was chosen to serve the Hosokawa,” Kojirō tells him as if he needed to confess something. “It is all I ever wanted.”
Musashi only compares the two of them, silently, in his head. Two men, taking the same path, yet approaching it so differently that the same goal can hardly be recognized anymore.
“But is it really?” Kojirō adds, in a soft voice and the question long echoes in Musashi’s heart afterwards.
The moment is about to end again, Musashi thinks, knowing that their paths only cross ever so often and for ever so long. It is only the warmth and intimacy that grows with each instance, as they become more and more accustomed to each other, not unlike old friends, and yet so different.
This time, Kojirō does not leave. Leaving the scene behind, he confidently makes his way into Musashi’s hut. As he drops his overcoat on the floor, he turns to Iori, who watched the fighting unfold from a safe distance.
“Boy,” he calls. “It is time to leave.”
Iori’s eyes flit between Kojirō and Musashi, not knowing where to look or what to say.
Musashi says. “Walk down to the village and tell them that the bandits mean no threat anymore.”
Iori’s eyes grow even wider with concern. Musashi notices the worry and the attachment in his gaze: will his master die? Is this the last time he may see him?
“Spend the night there, too. You wouldn’t make it back while the sun is still up.”
“Go,” Kojirō growls, as the boy is still undecided.
It doesn’t take a moment after Iori is gone. Bodies pressed against one another, lips on lips, and Kojirō’s arms around his neck. He does not remember seeing this even in his dreams. Kojirō’s playful kisses, the way he tugs at his clothes, gets rid of his own, pulls him on the floor.
They barely make it to his bedding. Kojirō’s hair tickles his naked body as he ends up above him, his ponytail half undone.
I missed you, he wants to say, but instead, he savours their kiss, a hand around Kojirō’s neck. Sending Iori away for one night will not suffice. Iori should not come back home for three days and three nights straight.
He wants him, not only now at the moment, but always, and always is unattainable in their world.
There needs to be a world where people can find refuge from their own destinies, as well as their very own selves. Even if Musashi was to live without any regrets in this world, it would mean nothing in the cruel eyes of Fate.
He spent his days and nights praying to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, for the lives he has taken and those he ruined. Those he will keep ruining, including himself.
Even so, with the full awareness of the pain and the destruction, events in the future are predestined by mistakes in the past. Their deaths were chosen at the moment they met.
Kojirō's lips graze his skin, almost gentle and definitely explorative. At this moment, they can run away from who they have to present as outwardly to the world (warriors) and find solace in who they are inside (lovers).
During long nights, when no prayer or guilt could get to him anymore, Musashi would always dream of this opportunity. Now, he understands this is once in a lifetime, but he always believed it would end in nothing more than a hidden, night-time fantasy.
Kojirō prepared for this. He came prepared, and with everything figured out already.
He thinks he should have prepared too. So he would not face his fumbling yet needy touches now, his inexperience, his self-inflicted innocence with a flavour of shame. Then, he also thinks, if he prepared as well, through those passionate love affairs he kept dreaming about, today would not be genuine. Today would just be another affair. Another man. Another meeting.
Once in a lifetime. It has to be once in a lifetime.
Once in a lifetime of Kojirō's touches, once in a lifetime of his kisses, of his skin against skin, sweat and desire mixed together, despair and hatred, and love, and reverence.
You must fall in love first and then the real battle starts. Is it a battle fought with swords on a battlefield or is it a battle decided between the sheets?
Kojirō sucks on his lower lip, his teeth stinging the skin red. He is enveloped in Kojirō, and what is more, welcome, a sort of welcome he never felt before, and anticipates never to feel.
Hōtengahara does not exist at least to the outside world, and so what happens between them will only ever serve as a bittersweet memory, never to be mentioned in any accounts, never to be brought up to confuse those who follow their cursed rivalry.
Kojirō remains in his arms for the rest of the night, their bodies slowly cooling down once they settle down and their chest stops heaving so. Calmness washes over him, and it is a sort of peace he realizes he will never know in his life once more. Kojirō presses a nose against his.
“Would it be different?” Musashi asks.
“If we were not destined to do great things?”
He was never destined to do great things but improved on himself until the possibility opened. More of spite flows in his veins than his father’s blood. No, he did not get it all from his father. It is his own craft. It is his own art. It is his own faults, and his own virtues.
“Would it be different if we met under other circumstances? If we lived closer to each other?”
Kojirō smiles onto his skin, into his hair. “If I was not an orphan?”
“And I did not hate my father.”
If he did not hate his father, they would not need to fight. Life is too transient to dwell on the possibilities that were never given to us, and yet, in such a vulnerable moment, with Kojirō in his arms, he cannot help but wonder of a life he may have led, if he were born a different man.
“Would we be childhood friends?” Kojirō asks, his voice barely a whisper. “Or would we be childhood enemies, fighting and playing at war?”
He imagines them, playing together on the vast fields of the village, laughing and playing. Fighting until they fall on the ground, and limbs tangle with each other, a match of strength becoming breathless, innocent snuggling.
Then he imagines the two of them later, on the battlefield as he announced himself at Sekigahara alongside Matahachi.
It could be theirs. That other world.
Or it could end up like now, two boys too strong for their own good, in a very small village. Always in a contest, trying to prove that they are better.
Hatred and rivalry, even more vicious than they know now. The smaller one’s world is, the greater damage he can do to his own. One of them could die even before they turn fifteen.
Then, he shakes his head. “On a whole, it does not matter.”
The air freezes in the hut and goose-bumps rise on his skin, as well as on Kojirō’s.
“Because we would be together,” Kojirō finishes the thought.
Together is the last thing they can be. The very last thing they can be.
And, for young warriors who have trained their bodies and minds to get ready for the inevitable and to familiarize themselves with the impermanent, this truly should be nothing less but a reminder of why they are here. Love, hatred, envy, and despair, they all serve one purpose, and it is to polish their own selves from the inside out.
Dreams and fantasies are a distraction.
But are ties made on earth a reflection of connections spanning between their lives past and their lives to come? Or are they also nothing more but the empty desire of their bodies, to find something profound in its meaningless attraction to flesh.
Are profound and profane only separated by nothing more than faith?
“If we spent more time than this together, one of us would need to die.”
Fingers interlaced with fingers, he brings Kojirō’s hand to his lips and kisses it. He rolls on top of Musashi in response, straddling him.
“One more time,” he asks.
The late morning, and also Iori, finds him with Kojirō in his arms, his nose pressed deep into the back of his neck. He can only smell the sandalwood and incense faintly in his hair, divine and sacred.
Iori yawps, at first perhaps because he believes that the both of them are lifeless, sprawled out on the floor. Kojirō stirs in his arms, and for the first time in his life, he thinks, “stay.” His arm brings Kojirō closer on an instinct. Their bodies are barely covered by the bedding.
“Boy,” Kojirō grunts. “Do you know no shame? Go. Leave us for a minute.”
He dresses in the next moment and gathers his messy locks back into a ponytail. Musashi never knew that the morning before was supposed to be so full of pathos. Reluctantly, he also picks his clothes up from the floor.
“Kojirō,” he says.
“The fourth month of next year, I will be waiting for you at Funashima in Nagato province. You can show me who will fall first: you, or the cherry blossoms.”
And by the rules and demands of Fate, both of them know that one of them will have to fall. Both of them know that no matter which one wins, the world will never be the same. Who is more damned: the one who leaves before, or the one who is forced to be trapped in this life, left alone?
Kojirō’s scent rarely leaves his nose, inhabiting it like a ghost. The ghost of his own creation, born of affection, killed by destiny. If he could choose this lonely path, he would choose it over and over again. Having found where he belongs is much more precious than not knowing his place in his whole life. Even if solitude prevails, still.
For men’s lives might touch for only the briefest moments, but those moments building up and piling up on each other light up the road ahead. The stars that shine down on that lonely road are the ones that lead them towards each other, until once, for one final time, they finally find their way to each other.
Still, when the time comes, he is late. He knows this is the last time they see each other in life, and those fatal meetings, when predicted, come with an even stronger sense of solitude. Before, he was alone with someone waiting for him somewhere in this vast world.
Now is the time they both waited for. He is late to make it last longer. To enjoy the very last moments of the world containing the both of them.
“Musashi… You made me wait!”
They are alone. Together.
Kojirō throws his sheath away, the same way as he ripped his clothes off in Hōtengahara, hungry and eager. Ready and willing.
“Kojirō! Why are you throwing your sheath away?”
He can feel his own face flush with an embarrassment he never knew before. It is because the answer is in his head even before Kojirō could speak. The waves of the ocean turn vermillion coloured.
“Because I will not need it anymore,” Kojirō says.
The whole world is watching them. He has awareness of Matahachi’s eyes, somewhere outside the island, following all of his movements, although he could probably barely see any of him. The Hosokawa. Friends and enemies who met him along the way, shaped and formed him: all important, but none of them as important as Kojirō himself.
Anyone can die in this world and leave him the way he is now. Kojirō can die and leave a vast emptiness.
“Would it be different if we met under other circumstances?”
“It does not matter,” Kojirō answers. “This is the path we need to take now.”
Blade meets wooden sword. “You do not mean it yet.”
Wooden swords can kill. Wooden swords killed in his hands before. Still, Kojirō knows as well that he is running away by taking this approach. He is trying to leave space for survival.
It is the demands of Fate that no survivors would be left alive. Blade meets wooden sword again. Kojirō pursues him, without holding back at all.
“In this life, this is as much time as we had,” he says, trying to catch his breath. “In this life, we cannot be together without ceasing to be ourselves anymore.”
“In a next one… we may find a different path.”
He takes his short sword in the other hand.
It is not important to be strong. It is much more important to be kind. Perhaps on those who choose no swords and only refine the kindness of their soul, a whole different set of stars look down. A whole different path is set alight.
But that is not the path he had the courage to discover in this life. He only realizes it now. Kindness must take the most of courage. Kindness, and love.
“I had a glimpse of the world without you now, and I do not want to wake up to a life like that. You were my biggest challenge in life. A world without you is a world without me, too.”
Blades kiss, then they depart from each other again. The fighting spirit is elevated by despair, but his hidden, underlying feelings tell him to give up altogether.
The demands of Fate must be paid.
“I was waiting for this for so long, Musashi. Do not falter now.”
“I want to kill you, but I don’t want you to know the other world before I do.”
Finally, it forms words on his tongue. The ambiguity of his own desires. Their eyes lock, a cool breeze behind his back. Kojirō contemplates something, age-old, yet new.
“Perhaps…” Kojirō says. Clash. Clash. His heart is beating somewhere in his neck, if not in his ears. “Perhaps, if we both died right now, and forgot about winning for a moment we would not need to be apart, and we could be reborn on a lotus pedestal together.”
He thinks of his mother and Otsū, and Matahachi, and all he loved but he could never open his heart to.
Otsū would weep for him. Matahachi too. Matahachi had an odd affinity to weeping, always.
“It would be selfish of me.”
“Let it be.”
The sun shines down on them, blinding, hot, demanding. It would be selfish of him, but is not life full of man’s selfishness? Did he not run his course already?
“It would be unforgivable.”
A love suicide.
“Come with me,” Kojirō invites.
For the next moments, they stare at each other, although their fates were already decided. Decided the moment they first met.
“Today, we are rivals, tomorrow, come another life, we may be lovers.”
Kojirō raises his sword for one last time. “Come to me,” he beckons.
Silence. Silence. The sound of the waves coming from a distant corner of the world.
They run towards each other. He leaves himself open, the same way as Kojirō. A love suicide is the most beautiful when you receive each other with open arms, ready, without any regrets. The blade pierces him through, and they fall on the ground, united, yet apart.
He pulls closer to Kojirō, with the last strength he has. A remarkable swordsman. Quick, and efficient.
It is a pleasure to die by his hands. It is a pleasure to die beside him.
He throws his arm around Kojirō, bringing him close to himself as he used to in Hōtengahara, nose pressed to the small of his neck. Even now, he smells of sandalwood and incense. Divine.
Kojirō’s hand finds his. A squeeze.
He whispers, although he is almost gone already.
“I will be waiting.”