He’s not sure when he started the whole routine of not eating, but that didn’t bother him much. He doesn’t really think about it mostly. He thinks it was sometime when he was young and training to be a samurai. He saw the way thin figures were so graceful with their moves and decided he needed to be like that in order to be who he wanted to become. He started skipping meals and watching what he ate. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He was just bettering himself as he always did.
Little by little he started to dwindle the size of the meals. He wouldn’t get results unless he really got into it. So he would eat a rice ball a day without a thought, sometimes skipping that small meal when he didn’t feel like eating it.
He knew he was getting results when his ribs started showing. Little ridges on his sides that were proof of his progress. It made him uneasy but at the same time it fascinated him. He would sometimes run his fingers along them, feeling the bump bump bump of it all. While it was a testament to his strength and control, it also made him feel oddly fragile. He didn’t like being seen as weak, and he knew people would mistake it as a weakness. He wore his red coat at all times, feeling comforted by the long and thick fabric covering his form. No one would know about his strength except for him.
He must have taken it too far though, because one day while taking down some mercenaries Ayamaro directed him to, he felt a dizziness that caught him so off guard he almost dropped his swords. He was used to the spots that would sometimes fly in his vision, but this was an all encompassing wave of exhaustion that was unfamiliar to him. Luckily, he managed to pull himself together in the midst of the fight, but it left a bad taste in his mouth.
That night when he was given his assigned break, he devoured more food than he had probably had in a week, and afterwards he felt a gagging sickness that made him throw it all up outside, away from the eyes of anybody. Not that anyone particularly cared about the red coated samurai, and not like he wanted anyone to care.
It was then when he came to the realization that this habit was not entirely benefiting him, but it was so ingrained in him as he gradually made himself eat less and less over the years that he wasn’t sure if he could get rid of it. It sounded like a lot of work, and a lot of work just to eat. Eating wasn’t important to him, but his fighting skills were, so he tried to will himself to eat a little more everyday. Just enough so he wouldn’t have another slip up.
Sometimes he would eat a little too much and upset his stomach which would result in him dispelling his contents outside, but that was fine with him. He always felt exhausted after every time he did that, but he’d take that over that nauseating sickness. The back of his fingers would be irritated from the vomit he touched when he shoved them down his throat, and his chest would ache unpleasantly, but that was ok. Nothing a quick nap and a drink of water to cool the burning in the back of his throat couldn’t fix.
The only person who noticed his habit was the fellow bodyguard of Ayamaro, Hyogo. The man had taken an annoying interest in Kyuzo, following him when the blonde went to take his break, or talking to him even though Kyuzo would never bother to give him any answers. At first he would poke Kyuzo about always wearing his jacket and nothing else, which would just cause Kyuzo to roll his eyes when he was sure the other wasn’t looking. He had chalked up the observation as Hyogo being too interested in fashion, but he should have known that wasn’t it.
Hyogo would always ask Kyuzo to eat with him, which Kyuzo would always wordlessly refuse. It was even worse when Hyogo would bring food over to him. Kyuzo would never watch it. He didn’t trust Hyogo enough to eat anything he gave him, and all the food he brought made Kyuzo’s nose curl.
“You’re one of those people who don’t eat.”, Hyogo said one day which caused Kyuzo to actually glance over at him. This just caused the other to smile smugly. “Well that’s ok. I guess it keeps you beautiful.”
Kyuzo had looked away at those words. He never really cared about how he looked. Beautiful was never something he thought anyone would describe him with, and he frowned, wanting to take his swords out and slash the other man. He just stayed sitting and looking at nothing, and Hyogo walked away and never mentioned it again. Maybe his habit wasn’t as abnormal if Hyogo had said that. Not like Kyuzo cared.
He kept his hunger under wraps, and his figure under his coat. He has never felt better and worse.
“I’m in love.”, Those are the words that Kambei Shimada told him in the midst of battle, and words Kyuzo annoyingly clung to. Like a moth to a flame, Kyuzo was obsessed with the man. He killed Hyogo and betrayed his employers he didn’t give a damn about just to force himself to have no way back to his old life. He wanted no life without the other samurai in it.
It was reckless and entirely stupid, he knew very well. He was joining a small army of samurai to fight against the Nobuseri and the capital itself. But he didn’t feel daunted by any of it. Kambei was so sure of his plans and their victory that Kyuzo couldn’t help but want to see it through.
It annoyed him how much he felt for Kambei. He had never felt these feelings before. He has never had anyone care about him before, and it hit him like a truck when Kambei confessed to having feelings for him. Kyuzo wasn’t one with words, but he had managed to confess back in a low voice that made him feel small and weak, but Kambei’s smile wiped any doubts away.
Kyuzo had feelings for the other samurai. He wasn’t quite sure if it was love since he’s never felt it, but it burned in his insides and had him actually responding to Kambei when the other talked to him.
SInce he wasn’t used to the customs of romance and relationships, he was constantly off guard by everything the other had to offer. Kambei would hold his hand and give him gentle kisses that made Kyuzo’s heart beat fast. He would whisper soft words to Kyuzo that made the samurai actually blush. Words like pretty, and cute, and beautiful. It was surprising to Kyuzo, and if he had half a mind he would cut down the samurai for daring to attribute such gentle things to the deadly samurai.
Instead, Kyuzo would find himself blushing and looking away from the other when Kambei said such things, which would just cause the other to say them more and leave kisses on Kyuzo’s face. How Kambei could see Kyuzo easily kill numerous bandits and Nobuseri, and still call him such things after battles was a mystery to Kyuzo, but he wouldn’t deny it made him feel warm inside.
Sometimes he wondered if he called him those things because of how he is. His protruding bones and thin, thin limbs. But Kambei barely sees him out of his coat. And when he is out of his coat he has his turtle neck on underneath. His secret was under layers, and he wondered if Kambei would find him more beautiful at the sight or if he would be sickened by the bump bump bump of the ribs. It’s not like he cared. He didn’t care about if anyone found him beautiful or not. But he would still jump back whenever he thought Kambei was close to slipping his hand up his shirt or lifting the fabric, even accidentally.
He’s not sure why Kambei’s opinion of him affected him so much. Kyuzo had proven himself better in their fight afterall, but he still had this notion that if he did the wrong thing or made the wrong move, Kambei would find someone better than Kyuzo. Someone who was better with feelings or talking, someone more beautiful. But as much as he liked Kambei, he couldn’t help but feel uneasy by certain times of the day. Specifically meal times.
The farmers had taken to making rice balls and other dishes for the samurai. Usually the seven would take to eating together if there was no sign of any threats. Kyuzo would join, just because Kambei would go over no matter how much Kyuzo tried to find a hiding spot away from the rest. Kambei would question why he was sitting on a tall branch of a tree, or once sitting inside one of the sheds the farmers kept their tools. Kyuzo would shrug, not wanting to explain why. He didn’t know if he could.
Kambei would not push for an answer why Kyuzo would disappear right before meal times, and he would tell the other to join him during meals. Kyuzo could just refuse, and sometimes he chose to with a mumbled excuse about eating earlier and wanting to take watch, but mostly he ended up finding himself with the other samurai all eating.
Kyuzo would try to sit a little apart from them, the food they had given him sitting numbly and heavily in his hand. They gave them such large portions, reasoning that they’re all samurai and need to eat a lot. But Kyuzo couldn’t eat this much. So he would eat as he felt was right and just leave the rest. With everyone laughing or talking about plans, he didn’t think much of it. Nobody should care about how much he eats, it’s not important, but for some reason some eyes always settle on him.
He thinks the first person to notice was Katsushiro. After his admission in the forest about how he admires Kyuzo, he has taken to annoyingly staring at Kyuzo with an awed expression on his face. Kyuzo would usually brush it off and not acknowledge it, but it seemed to only make the young samurai find him cooler which caused more staring.
“Sensei-”, He had heard the young samurai say to Kambei one night. Kyuzo was on his way over to his boyfriend but stopped and quietly hid when he heard the Katsushiro’s voice. “Is Kyuzo-dono on a special diet?”
Kyuzo frowned at hearing his own name followed by the stupid question. Something inside him coiled up though. He wasn’t sure why having Kambei notice his eating habit was so daunting. It shouldn’t matter. It wasn’t like it was a bad thing.
“Diet? Not that I’m aware of..Why are you asking?”, He hears Kambei’s voice ask.
“I noticed he doesn’t eat a lot..Kyuzo-dono is such a great samurai. I want to know if he does it to better himself.”, Katsushiro says and Kyuzo feels oddly sick at the admiration.
“No- If anything eating less wouldn’t do no good. You need energy to be a samurai. What do you mean he doesn’t eat a lot?”, He hears Kambei say and Kyuzo swiftly walks away.
The next dinner, Kambei is looking at him. Kyuzo hates it. He doesn’t like eyes on him when he eats, especially with the look Kambei is giving him. He wants a show. He probably will chide him for his eating habit. Say how it’s just putting him at risk for those dizzy spells in the midst of battle. He looks back at Kambei and eats everything on his plate, his stomach lurching and something in his brain telling him he should stop. If Kambei notices him gagging slightly as he finishes the food he doesn’t say anything.
When Kambei finally looks away Kyuzo thinks that will be the end of it. The silly ramblings Katsushiro told him will be gone from his mind.
Kyuzo is in a blind rage later on when he’s finally alone. He knows he caused this. This acidic feeling deep in his gut. He’s sure he doesn’t even need to gag on his fingers this time to make it all go up and out of him. And for what reason was he left this way? He shouldn’t have to prove anything. His habits were his and they were fine. If Kambei or any other samurai wanted to judge him for it then they could keep it to themselves.
In the middle of the night Kyuzo takes his jacket off and throws it aside, feeling a flurry of something regretful deep inside that he doesn’t acknowledge most of the time, but it goes away when he quickly throws up. His skin feels scalding even with the cool night breeze going through him. He has a shaking hand on the tree to support him as he retches. When he finally stops he’s convinced there’s still too much in there and he almost shoves his fingers back in to get it all out, because he needs to get it out, but he feels a hand on his shoulder that makes him jump and turn around.
“Kyuzo, it’s just me.”, Kambei says and Kyuzo stands still, not really knowing what to say.
“I felt ill.”, he says. It wasn’t a lie. He really did, but the sad look on Kambei’s face makes Kyuzo think he saw the whole thing.
“I see..Let’s go back. I can make you some tea.”, He says and Kyuzo just nods. Anything to leave this situation behind. He thinks he’ll collapse suddenly if he bends down to grab his coat, and thankfully Kambei picks it up and hands it to him without a word. Kyuzo puts his coat on and hides the oversized shirt that is laid underneath. His heart is beating and he isn’t sure if it’s from the fact he was caught making himself sick or from the fact he just made himself sick. Either way he feels tired. He doesn’t want to talk or try and explain any of this.
Kambei puts a gentle hand on his shoulder and helps him back to the village. They end up in the house they stay at, cups of tea in hand and tentative questions Kambei tries hanging heavy in the air. Kyuzo doesn’t understand any of it. The concern or how to answer any of these questions he’s never asked himself before. Maybe he knows the answers but he doesn’t want to spill them out. If he starts talking about it he’s not sure if he’ll stop and he hates talking. He hates this feeling that this habit was dreadful, and ugly, and weak.
“I don’t understand why you would do this..But I want to, Kyuzo.”, Kambei says and Kyuzo swallows.
“Ah.”, He says. He’s not sure if he even wants to get rid of it. He’s convinced he likes it all; the comforting ache in his stomach, the brittle nails, the acid in the back of his throat, the dizzy spells and spots in his vision. Would Kambei make him stop? It doesn’t seem like he will.
“Kyuzo..You understand this is not good for you don’t you?”, Kambei asks. He’s holding Kyuzo’s hand and Kyuzo swallows and tries not to show the sudden ping of fear he’s feeling. He’s not sure if he does.