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I used to think he was the one to unite the land, and now I know he is... but not the way it should be done.

I used to think a little bloodshed was necessary, but not this much.

And what have I done to stop him? Nothing. I serve him without a word of protest. I cut down whoever stands against him. And whilst I remain in his army, I am part of the reason no one can challenge him.

I don't know how much longer I can bow in quiet submission to a monster. Every day, he tests me to see how much I will bend before I break, and every day I fight to keep my rage in check. I will not let him see how close I am to being forced down this dark path.

What if I did just let myself snap...?

Then, what?

I gave a chuckle at the thought. I may have been a high-ranking general in his army, but I didn't have nearly the following I would need to overthrow Lord Nobunaga. Did he inspire this level of hatred in the breast of any other of his soldiers or enemies? Surely, I was not completely alone?

And it is my doubt that keeps me silent. If anyone else shared my thoughts, I would have heard about it. A whisper, a rumour... something.

Surely, I was not wrong?

If I was hesitating, it meant I had not been bent quite enough. And whilst I remained unbroken, there was still a chance I could stop myself from thinking these treacherous thoughts.

There are soldiers drinking and laughing nearby, but beyond that, I can hear those moans on the still night air...

It is not loyalty that tethers me here, it is him - Ranmaru, a boy I have loved from the moment I met him. And right now, he lies beneath my lord, crying his name. It is not passion I hear in his voice; it pain and fear.

If I were a weaker man, I would drink until I was deaf to the sound of my sweet boy being abused like that. And if I were a stronger man, I would never have let it happen in the first place.

How foolish of me to think I was strong enough now! I let my lord do as he pleases, because I am a coward. It is not simply a matter of a few recent slights; he takes what he wants, and I have never stood up to him. No one has.

...What would I do to him, if given the chance?

I will have to do something. I can't live like this forever. And I cannot leave without Ranmaru by my side.

The tea I prepared has grown cold, and the camp has fallen into silence. How long have I sat in contemplation, thinking of nothing I would dare admit out loud? It is not the first time I have lost hours to my thoughts.

I need to clear my head. Just thinking about my lord is making my fingers cramp from curling them into such tight fists. He torments me even when he isn't here!

The night is cool and calm; it is a shame to waste it indoors. There is a stream nearby, which no one would be visiting at this hour. I will take a swim before bed, and hope that my dreams aren't plagued with regret and treachery, just as they have been every night before.

I had stripped down to nothing before I noticed I was not alone. How distracted could I be this night? Mistakes like this could cost me more than mere embarrassment in the heat of battle.

I was reaching for my clothes, thinking I could sneak away with my dignity intact, when I realised who I was in the company of. He was waist-deep in the stream, facing away from me, scrubbing madly at his arms, at his chest, like he wanted to tear his skin from his body.

It hurt to watch. What has he been forced to do to make him scream... to make him feel so unclean?

"Lord Mitsuhide!" The way he cried it as he quickly turned around, it seemed we were both preoccupied tonight.

His shoulder-length hair is messy and knotted, and his eyes are puffy and bloodshot. But he is still beautiful. He is still everything that I want, and dare not have.

"What brings you out so late?"
I know why, and it is a ridiculous thing to ask, but I pretend I'm innocent to the anger his answer will rouse in me. I hope that he lies to me, so that I can imagine we are back in a time when we could freely talk to each other without the guilt of our emotions making the interaction feel wrong.

I can feel his stare, and he is not looking at my eyes. I felt a twitch in my loins, and I dearly wished for it to be internal, but I can see how he keeps correcting his focus. It has grabbed his attention, and it is shameful, but I want him to look. I want him to imagine what we would be like together.

And perhaps one day, he might act on his curiosity.

"I have been with Lord Nobunaga."

I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want confirmation he cried because of what that man had done to him. I was in the water with him, reaching for his cheek, that I might comfort him and show him that not every touch is one of cruelty.

He shied away from me as though I were going to strike him. I don't know which upset me more - that this was his natural reaction to affection, or that despite our friendship, he thought I would harm him.

He is so broken; his cracks are barely holding him together. And if I can't save him, do I have any right to call myself his friend? I need to get him away from what he has been forced to become... and what he has been forced to do under the guise of loyalty.

"Did he hurt you?"

Why did I ask these questions, knowing the answer all too well? Perhaps I was looking for a reason to be angry; to justify why my heart felt like it was on fire.

"It always hurts, Lord Mitsuhide." He admits it so easily, like it is expected of him - of any of us, if it takes our lord's fancy. "But surely you understand that I have to do this."

I did understand, and it only made me feel worse.

If he were my lover, he would not be standing before me like he was terrified of us being seen together. It would have been so easy to just run away with him. Instead, we were both trapped. He, as my lord's sex toy... and I, forced to accept it.

Until one of us breaks.

"Ranmaru... you deserve to be loved." I wanted him. I wanted to take away every bad memory he had of Nobunaga, and replace them with memories of me. "Please, let me show you what it is meant to feel like."

I didn't care who saw us; let them report me for my insubordination.

I drew him into a naked embrace. His skin was soft, but his body was stiff. His hands were on my chest, paused to push me away. I would never do anything to him against his will. Despite his actions to the contrary, I know he wants this. It's in the way he gasps as I pull him in tighter; the way I feel his body instinctively rub against mine.

He wants this as much as I do. If only our situation was different...

"I can't." His voice is trembling as our lips meet for a gentle, forbidden kiss. "Please don't make me scream for you to stop, Lord Mitsuhide... I will, if I have to."

I would kiss him forever, if I were allowed to, but I knew I asked too much of him. If I pushed him further, it would make me no better than Nobunaga.

"What have I done to make you fear me?"

His frown softens at my question, but he does not answer it. I have been too bold tonight; I have frightened him. I never wanted to do that. I never wanted to be like him.

"...Not tonight." It is like a desperate sigh. I do not want him to beg for my mercy. "Please, Lord Mitsuhide, I am so tired... don't do this to me tonight."

"I shouldn't have pushed you. I'm sorry." I steal one last touch from him, running my fingers across his cheek, his jaw, and finally, to his chin. "Sleep well, Ranmaru."

I feel his breath grow deeper, but that is the only hint he gives. He is better at fighting it than I am, but I suppose he has been trained to lie about his feelings. How many times has he told our lord that he loves him?

I look back at him as I leave, and I feel the familiar embrace of that dark hatred. The more I loved Ranmaru, the more I hated Nobunaga.