Genichiro is stepping out of his office for coffee - because he will kill someone if he has to repeat something he has said a thousand times before, and killing unfortunately, is something the world has unfortunately collectively decided is a bad thing even when sometimes a quick clean swordstroke could solve so many things, and his assistant is away fixing the fires that are always burning somewhere no matter how efficiently he tries to run his company, and he needs the walk anyway - when his entirely life is overturned.
He sees him - his hair still pinned in a topknot, his beard still scruffy but in a way that can almost pass off as fashionable these days, one hand wrapped around the cup of coffee, bending down over his book. The distinctive splash of white on the side of his face is gone - but that is nothing, these days there is makeup and hair dye and tattoos that can do anything - as an immortal, one has to learn to blend in. He knows before he sees the prosthetic arm - now made out of some gleaming alloy, and yet the movements somewhat less graceful than the blood soaked bone he used to carry with his sword, but he supposes this is not a world for shinobi and their equipment. It has not been for a long time.
There is a roaring in his ears, a beast ripping his chest.
You took everything from me, he wants to scream.
Five hundred years of living has taught him the value of waiting, of not showing his hand, even if he still struggles with patience. He will not scream, or throw the man down the ground, or wrap his hands around that throat like he dreamed of doing for years. He sits himself down opposite Wolf instead.
"Shinobi of the Divine Heir."
The man before him is so calm, for a moment, Genichiro thinks he is mistaken. He has an apology ready, is about to stand up, but then the man's eyes flash gold. Genichiro lifts his chin and stares back.
Wolf sets his coffee down on the table without even a tremor, as impassive as all the battles they have fought. Meanwhile, Genichiro shakes and shakes across him.
"Genichiro dono," the former shinobi acknowledges, the title like an insult falling from his lips. "You haven't gotten more subtle, over all these years." Genichiro contemplates the wisdom of reaching out and strangling him.
"I knew you weren't dead," he says, thinking of the scene he'd woken up to. There had been a small grave, and no trace of the shinobi's corpse. His castle was still in ruins, and he had to slip away in the night, covered in gore and ash, like the failure he is. "What have you been doing all these years?"
Wolf shrugs. "Meditating, for a while. Then I realised that I had become a good sculptor. You might have seen some of my work in museums." Wolf's face is bland, impassive. Genichiro can't tell if he's joking.
"And you, you have been busy." Genichiro wants to shift in his seat as Wolf looks him up and down, feels like he is judging the perfect lines of his tailored suit, the shine of his leather shoes. Wolf's face doesn't change, but Genichiro knows that is a taunt. Wolf licks his lips, and Genichiro fights the urge to snarl. "Still a lord, even after all these years," Wolf says.
"And you? What do you do now that you aren't a filthy shinobi?" Genichiro bristles back.
"I dabble in all sorts of things." Wolf shrugs. "But I'm sure you have a meeting or something to get back to. How about we catch up properly over dinner?"
Wolf scrawls his number on a napkin before Genichiro can formulate an answer, and is swallowed up by the crowds, leaving Genichiro alone at the cafe table.
Wolf's handwriting is atrocious. Genichiro tucks the napkin in his pocket anyway, even after he's saved the number.
It's me, Genichiro sends two hours after, two hours of having the innocuous napkin scorch a hole in his pocket - Wolf, it seems, had used it to wipe coffee and cream off his lips, filthy, like the shinobi he is but he thinks but still doesn't throw the napkin away - and then feels foolish.
Wolf replies immediately with an address in Shimokitazawa. I'll see you, Lord Genichiro.
Genichiro doesn't break his phone, because that would be childish. But it is a close thing.
Wolf sidles along the table where Genichiro is waiting and says "I recommend the tempura."
"You're late," Genichiro says coldly.
"Apologies," Wolf says. "I had some difficulties closing shop."
Wolf fits in perfectly in the back alley bar they're in, with his scruffy beard, his top knot, his worn clothes. Wolf still looks thoroughly like himself as he did five hundred years ago in a faded orange sweater and black slacks while Genichiro feels like a snake in borrowed skin.
"What shop?" Genichiro asks, unable to help himself because even after five hundred years he is still weak.
"I run a bookstore and cafe," Wolf says. "In this neighbourhood. I usually shut about an hour from now, so it was a bit of work chasing the customers out."
"I didn't ask you to disrupt your schedule," Genichiro says, hating how stiff his voice sounds.
"Of course not," Wolf replies easily, waving the waiter down. "I wanted to see you."
The honesty of the admission shocks Genichiro. "Still harbouring a grudge for taking your arm, shinobi?" he asks.
Wolf looks at him, cocking his head, almost as though he's surprised. "I let go of that a long time ago," he says, and Genichiro doesn't know what to say about that.
Wolf orders food and drinks for them both, only looks to Genichiro if he wants to change his order, and Genichiro can only nod mutely. The tempura is good.
Wolf opens up easily about his life over the meal. He runs a bookstore, which has a small coffee shop attached, lives in the apartment above it, which he has mostly converted into a studio. They don't serve food, he says, wrinkling his nose ever so slightly. Can't let that get on the books.
"Your customers could still spill coffee," Genichiro points out.
Wolf bares his teeth in something that could be a smile, and something in Genichiro clenches. "They know better to."
In the centuries since they'd seen each other, Wolf it seems, has been a sculptor, a painter, a monk, a kendo instructor, writer, a jazz bar enthusiast, a jazz bar owner -
Genichiro feels terribly small in comparison. Genichiro wonders if Wolf had meant to make him feel that way.
"And you?" Wolf looks at him sideways, corners of his lips curling in a way that makes Genichiro's blood heat. "My lord?"
"Do not call me that," Genichiro snaps. "I was never your lord."
Wolf is silent for a long time, and Genichiro feels the blood pounding in his ears, a stiffness in his arms as every one of his muscles clench. Wonders if they will fight again this time, not with swords but just fists and the both of them will get up again and again to take the other down and Genichiro has not had a real battle in so long, he finds himself heating up just thinking of it.
"I apologise," Wolf finally says. "I did not mean to upset you."
The strange thing is, he sounds genuine. Genichiro does not know what to do with this piece of information and covers his hesitation by downing his sake.
Wolf reaches out a hand - his flesh one - and curls it around Genichiro's, the one he has clenched into his thighs without realising, wrinkling the fine suit. Wolf rubs a thumb onto Genichiro's hand until he lets go of the fine cloth.
"It seems," Wolf says quietly. "That I have displeased you."
"Perhaps we should continue our conversation somewhere more private," Wolf says still rubbing soothing circles on Genichiro's hand. "My apartment is nearby if you would like."
Genichiro still can't speak, still can't take his eyes off Wolf's hand - skin rough and calloused, so small on top of his own - and nods.
Wolf's apartment is cluttered, filled with half-sculpted things, and music sheets, and unfinished paintings, but somehow everything still looks like they're in their place. Wolf's apartment smells entirely like him - something like fresh wood, and ink and paper. Genichiro wonders how long it took for the smell of blood and char and gunpowder to finally lift from his skin - it wasn't until the latter half of the twentieth century that it did for him, and even then, he still attends the odd initiation rite, the occasional execution. His hands will always be stained with blood, even if they are meticulously manicured now.
The door shuts behind them and he tenses.
"Genichiro dono," Wolf breathes.
Genichiro turns and sees Wolf by the door, his pupils blown wide, his legs trembling ever so slightly. He blinks. This is not a man who is about to attack, but it could still be some other accursed shinobi tactic. Something to weaken him, make him let down his guard.
"I will confess," Wolf says. "I have been following your activities for years. Your ah, family has not exactly been subtle, in its expansion for power."
"And," Genichiro asks, something coiling tight in his stomach as he takes in Wolf looking something less than perfectly stoic. "Why have you only shown yourself now?"
Wolf's lips quirk up, and it is definitely a smile. "I didn't," he says. "You were the one who approached me first."
Wolf is trying to tell him something, Genichiro thinks, beneath all the coy words and half-smiles. He doesn't understand what.
Wolf takes a step towards him, and then another, halting, stilted, his usual grace somehow evaporated.
"Genichiro," Wolf says again, with urgency.
"Wolf," Genichiro says, because it seems the right thing to say, and Wolf makes a noise that goes straight to Genichiro's cock.
Wolf flings his arms around Genichiro's neck, warm flesh and cold metal sliding against his skin and Genichiro moves to throw him off - accursed shinobi tactics - but Wolf makes that noise again and presses his lips against Genichiro.
Wolf tastes like sake and salt. Wolf smells like coffee and paper and underneath it all, still smells like sakura.
"Genichiro," Wolf breathes in his ear.
And all of it, the tightness in his stomach since he first caught sight of the former shinobi, the strange tension that was between them at dinner, the way his name - his real name, the one he has not heard in since his disgrace falls from Wolf's lips like a litany - it all comes cresting forth like a tsunami travelling for miles and miles in the sea, crashing through land.
If this is the game Wolf wants to play, well, Genichiro intends to win.
He grabs hold of Wolf's ass and lifts, and Wolf whimpers, actually whimpers, as he scrambles to wrap his legs around Genichiro's waist. Genichiro slams Wolf up against the wall and Wolf is rocking against him, moaning Genichiro's name over and over like a prayer. Genichiro is growling as he has his hands under Wolf's stupid soft sweater can't stop touching warm skin.
"Please," Wolf says, looking at Genichiro, eyes wide and wanting, and Genichiro licks a strip up Wolf's neck, pleased to know he is winning. Wolf keens. "Bedroom."
Wolf's bedroom smells entirely like sakura. Genichiro takes in great whiffs of the scent as they stumble in. He throws Wolf down on the bed and crawls above him, yanking Wolf's jeans off his hips, ripping the seams of it, and Wolf is
Genichiro is all hard, ready to sink into Wolf with teeth and cock and he hasn't even taken his own clothes off yet.
"Wait," Wolf whispers, and Genichiro, instead of growling and forcing Wolf down, listens.
Wolf takes the lube and stretches himself wide as he straddles Genichiro. Genichiro doesn't know what winning looks like anymore.
When they are done, Wolf rolls over. "You can stay, if you liked," he says casually as he yawns.
Genichiro learns the next morning that Wolf's hair and skin are no longer stained white, wonders how he has stayed alive all these years.
The next time they meet, Genichiro is the one who suggests the restaurant.
Wolf raises an eyebrow when he is told to wear a suit, but he shows up at the omakase in one. It is a ragged-looking suit, one that is likely over twenty years old with soft-looking elbow patches and unfashionably large lapels. He has his scruff showing around his chin, and Genichiro wonders how the man always looks so comfortable in his skin, even when he is thoroughly out of place.
It must be a shinobi trick.
Wolf raises an eyebrow at Genichiro, then licks his lips in what must be a casual thoughtless gesture, but still one Genichiro notices. He hates that he notices it.
"If you're done dawdling," he snaps. The edge of Wolf's mouth curls.
The omakase is as different from the bar they'd met at as night from day. Tatami mats and paper screens and silent kimonoed women who hurry to take their shoes away, no smoky smells of cooking, no loud laughter and thudding of beer glasses on tables. They are ushered into a private tea room. Wolf sits beautifully in seiza, obedience carved into his spine as he looks around. Genichiro is pleased that for once, he looks very slightly unsettled, unused to being waited on, even after all these years.
They are served artistically arranged plates of wild boar, mountain vegetables, pale pink slices of fish, roast persimmons - every dish a work of art.
Genichiro is mildly relieved that Wolf does not take a phone out to photograph everything. While he recognises things have changed, he isn't sure how he would feel if the former shinobi truly had embraced all the parts of modern technology.
Wolf eyes the curling slices of fish and picks a slice up with his chopsticks. "Is this carp?" he asks dubiously.
"Yes," Genichiro asks. "I didn't realise you were picky about your food."
Wolf mutters something that sounds like Goddamned carp but pops it in his mouth, chews with more savagery than Genichiro thinks is strictly necessary.
Wolf eats quietly, without fanfare or fuss. Genichiro is distracted throughout, trying to watch changes in his expressions so he can see if he can discern Wolf's favourites. The man gives nothing away and they eat in silence, Genichiro too stubborn to break it.
Then they bring out a new bottle of sake - chilled this time. Wolf takes a small sip, and then starts.
"This," he says, and then take a bigger swallow, tongue chasing the drops that cling to his lips."Is this Dragonspring sake?"
"I'm surprised that you'd have tasted it before," Genichiro says, the needling more out of habit than anything. Wolf is looking at him with wide eyes and jaw slightly agape. Wolf is the only one, he thinks, who would understand this achievement.
"How?" Wolf demands. "The Dragonspring - it had dried up."
"It took me a long long time to perfect the process." Genichiro takes a swallow of his own drink, growing very warm. "The groundwater in Ashina continues to remain pure. It still remembers the Dragonspring. Modern science distils the rest of the impurities."
Wolf is frowning now, and Genichiro worries. Has he said the wrong thing?
"You learnt to brew sake?" Wolf finally asks, voice light, but a thundercloud still behind his eyes.
Genichuro wonders why it is there, but follows the change in topic. "Centuries back. I stayed with a family-run brewery for a while. After."
"You are certainly full of surprises, Genichiro," Wolf murmurs, but he takes another drink. There is a drop of sake at the edge of his lip, glistening in the light.
Genichiro gestures at him to come closer and Wolf does. He licks off the rest.
Genichiro lives in a penthouse in Shinjuku. He has other properties, of course, but he spends the most time in this one.
In this life, he is not yet married, which means he can take Wolf back and fuck him against the ceiling-high windows with the brilliance of the Tokyo lights around them, leaving Wolf's imprint smeared on the glass until the housekeeper cleans it.
It's after their fifth time - flushed skin and his name being panted out over and over, hands threading through his hair as they fall asleep together - that he starts to think that perhaps this isn't a shinobi trick, that Wolf doesn't have any ulterior motives beyond sex, and for some reason, Genichiro's company.
Genichiro isn't sure which is worse, especially when he begins to learn how Wolf takes coffee in the mornings and tea in the afternoons, how he prefers shochu to sake, how he sometimes spends the entire night awake carving or painting away at something, and subsists entirely on caffeine the next day. Wolf somehow knows when to send a food delivery to his office whenever he is tired and overworked, sometimes knows when he needs to sneak into the building himself to drag Genichiro from the mountain of paperwork he is doing. He is never caught by any of his staff.
Somehow, these are all more intimate facts than knowing that Wolf likes having his hair pulled, that there is a spot on his neck that never fails to melt when Genichiro puts his mouth there enjoys, that he enjoys wearing his scarf - it can't be the same scarf as back then, can it? - loose whenever Genichiro has left a necklace of teeth on his neck.
Genichiro knows this is something, but does not dare give it a name, in case it all bursts one day like a soap bubble touched by a curious child, leaving nothing but the memory of something ephemeral in his hands.
The thing is, it's not as though Genichiro hasn't had his share of lovers in the past five hundred or so years. He's had men and women both throwing themselves at his feet for the chance to serve him, who have always asked for money and power in exchange. He's been married more times than he can count, most of them to gentle, well-bred women for political alliances as he builds his empire, who are invariably disappointed when they do not have children, who eventually adopt and raise babies at Genichiro's suggestion. He's had affairs as to be expected from someone of his station over the years - backdoor deals that take place in sleazy underground clubs and brothels. He's seen all types and had all types.
So it doesn't make sense that he feels tender when Wolf grips his back in the middle of the night, when Wolf reaches out for him when he sleeps. When Wolf tightens whenever Genichiro breathes his name.
It doesn't make sense that Genichiro misses Wolf when he is not there, breathes in the sakura on the other side of the bed on the rare occasion he now sleeps alone. He has lived centuries without him.
It also doesn't make sense that Wolf, who knows who he is, asks for nothing but his company and his cock.
Genichiro can give that, at least.
"Did you ever learn what happened to Emma?" Genichiro asks, lightly, as though the question had only just occurred to him while he's buried deep in Wolf, his hand smoothing over his back.
Wolf lets out a strangled noise, as though to ask, Really? Now? Genichiro takes pity on him and doesn't press the question, only holds on to Wolf's hips and moves increasingly faster.
Later, when they're both spent and Wolf's voice is hoarse from shouting, he rasps "She survived."
Genichiro had been breathing hard before that, but then feels everything in his body come shuddering to stop.
"I helped her move to Edo," Wolf continues, gold eyes gleaming in the dark. Staring at a corner in a room, and not him, and he supposes he should be grateful for small mercies. He doesn't know what expression he is wearing on his face but does not think he wants Wolf to see it. "Doctors were needed there."
Genichiro sucks in a breath, the sound as loud as glass shattering in the darkness. "And after?"
"I left Japan after she was settled," he says. "And could not return for a long time."
Another mystery about Wolf's years. He has never spoken about why he left, and to where. If the move was driven by guilt or a desire to see the world as a free man, without his master.
But Wolf has his reasons for leaving and Genichiro has been here all along, and he never tried too hard to look for Emma. Was afraid, of the expression she might give him - Pity? Disapproval? Anger? - if she had left.
He is nothing but a coward and a coward never changes its skin.
He turns and fucks into Wolf again knows Wolf sees into his very bones, and yet, when Wolf closes his eyes in ecstasy, whenever Wolf gasps his name as he finishes, he almost believes that Wolf will stay.
"Do you ever wonder what love is like?" Wolf asks idly and Genichiro inhales his wine.
They are having dinner at Wolf's apartment - a simple meal that Wolf had cooked, but Genichiro had brought the wine as a gift. Wolf had roasted a chicken, and it feels much like a date, and they have been fucking for months, so Genichiro supposes then, it is.
"Why are you asking?" Genichiro asks once he's stopped choking.
Wolf shrugs. "We have lived so long. Surely we would know."
"You loved your lord," Genichiro points out. He'd seen the way Wolf had looked to Kuro. It wasn't just duty and obligation that drove him, the way his bannermen had looked to him. The former shinobi never had any kind of family or stake in Ashina either. It had been love, the same way Genichiro had loved his land.
"I did," Wolf says and for some reason, Genichiro's chest tightens at the way Wolf expression lightens by a fraction. "I do. But that is not the kind of love I meant." Wolf gives him a long piercing look and Genichiro does not know what to say.
"These movies," Genichiro finally settles on, snorting. "The kind with sakura falling and tearful confessions. Is that what you mean?"
"If you think that that is all there is to it, then yes, I suppose."
Genichiro snorts again.
"I am unsure if I have ever felt that," he says. "With my wives or anyone else."
"Of course," Wolf says, his teeth like the slice of a blade. "A lord only has his duties, and cannot think of anything else."
Genichiro does not fidget, but it is a close thing. "Well," he says, loading his voice with as much acid as he can. "And you? In your many many dalliances?"
"I have not had as many dalliances as you might have thought," Wolf says, voice dry. "Not everyone can be as blessed as you."
Genichiro wonders if Wolf has had his heart broken before. He wonders who would be so foolish, to let Wolf go.
Wolf is like a dog, always waiting for approval, always watching until he learns every one of Genichiro's likes and dislikes. Such loyalty is a rare thing, in this time and all his lives before. He has had men turn on him, for vulgar things like money or women, but also because of things he understands too well- like fear. He wonders if this is why Wolf stays with him - he just wants a lord to be loyal to.
He vows to never break this trust.
But of course, such peace could not last.
"Wolf," Genichiro says. "What is death like?"
Wolf is silent for a long moment, and Genichiro would think that he was asleep if not for his eyes gleaming gold in the dark.
"It is not something meant for us," Wolf says, his voice like a falling leaf. "We have been too wicked to deserve such peace."
Wolf turns over, and Genichiro does not know how to cross the gap between them in the bed. When he wakes, the silk sheets are cool. He buries his nose in them - at least they still smell of sakura.
"I have to travel to Seoul next month," Genichiro says, looking up from his phone, glancing over at Wolf carving a statue from his corner. He does not know why Wolf carves keeps carving them, over and over some nights. These, he never sells, only lets them pile high. "Have you ever been?"
Wolf's chisel pauses. "A very long time ago. It was called by a different name then."
Genichiro had not known this and then realises that while Wolf has been forthcoming with his various occupations, he has said next to nothing about where he has been. He had always assumed he'd lived in Japan all these years.
"Will you tell me about it?"
Wolf is silent for a very long time.
"Perhaps one day," he says, face full of shadows and secrets and Genichiro lets out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. He wonders how he is so twisted that he is relieved that Wolf too carries his own pains, is not the serene perfect figure he always carries himself as.
"Would you like to come with me?" Genichiro asks, and waits.
Wolf is as still as the block of wood he is carving. "I will have to check my passport," he says, and there is a hint of a grin there. "But yes, yes I would."
Seoul is the first time he sees the furrow back in Wolf's brows. Away from Japan, Wolf becomes increasingly silent, and when he rides Genichiro in their hotel suite, there is a desperation in his movements that Genichiro does not know how to name.
He thinks of the shinobi he'd first met in the silver grass field - a starved out Wolf then, wracked with failure, and then failing once again.
Because of Genichiro.
He couldn't do anything then, not when Wolf's failure meant his victory, but he supposes he can do that now.
Wolf explores the city on his own when Genichiro is at his meetings, only has curt answers when Genichiro asks about his day.
Something has happened here, and Genichiro doesn't know what. Doesn't know how to make it any better when Wolf won't speak to him, reaches for him only to rock his hips wordlessly against Genichiro, and only says "Harder" and "More" and "Please". Genichiro does not know what to do.
He begins spending lavish gifts on Wolf - dinners and suits and rare books he hears Wolf mention and has his staff track down. Wolf accepts all of them the way he'd met Genichiro at that second date - with silence, some bemusement. The line between his brows does not lighten.
Then one day Genichiro buys out the shop that Wolf owns and rejects the rental cheques that come in.
"What are you doing?" Wolf asks, appearing in his office one evening as though by magic, waving his returned cheque to his face. "Did you really buy my entire building out?"
"I thought- "
"I never asked you to interfere," Wolf snaps, angrier than Genichuro has ever seen him. "What is this? So you can control me as your landlord?"
"No!" Genichiro shouts back, standing from his desk and slamming his hands down.
"All these gifts - " Wolf pauses, runs his tongue through his teeth and Genichiro aches to hold him, but doesn't know how to reach across his desk to hold him. He never has. "You know I do not need them. Were they to make me feel indebted to you?"
Genichiro does not have the words to tell Wolf how much Wolf means to him. He never has. He had hoped, after the last few months, that he means something.
Before, he had thought Wolf as distractingly, irritatingly perfect. As serene as the Buddha statues he carves.
How wrong he was. Wolf has his scars too, even if he does not wear then on his sleeve the way Genichiro does and now he is a frightened dog baring his teeth.
Then Wolf says "I cannot give you want you want." Each word slow, and Genichiro has the sense that they are standing now, teetering, against two opposite cliffs, an abyss yawning wide beneath their feet. Genichiro has never known how to bridge the gap between them.
"And what," Genichiro asks, walking off the edge. "Is that?"
He thinks Wolf will say something inane. Like love, or loyalty, all the things he has come to associate with Wolf, things that he will happily take and let himself be caught with. Instead, Wolf surprises him - the way he always does.
"You seek forgiveness for failing Ashina." Wolf's eyes are bright, piercing through him. "That is not something I can give."
Genichiro falls. Genichiro's throat is dry, every inhalation of air scraping their way to his lungs so he is left raw and bleeding from the inside. He says the only thing he can think of.
Wolf leaves, quietly and soundlessly. Genichiro almost wishes he would slam the door on his way out, instead of slipping out like a ghost, a reminder of something that he cannot hold.
Hours after, once he can finally bring himself to get up from his seat, he finally returns to his apartment only to find everything Wolf had left there is gone.
In turn, his suits, the toothbrush he'd left at Wolf's apartment is all there, piled under a couch.
He'd never given Wolf the key.
Genichiro spends the next few weeks in a daze. It gets to the point that his business partners tell him that he needs to take a break, that everything will run smoothly without him, and then he is left alone in his apartment in Shinjuku, staring at the Tokyo lights at night without Wolf.
The smell of sakura disappears from his sheets within the first week.
He goes to Wolf's apartment, if only to grab Wolf and shake his shoulders until his teeth fall out.
He is unsurprised to find the coffeehouse boarded up, the apartment stripped clean. The hundreds of statues and artworks and books are all gone.
Genichiro hires private investigators. They all come back to him with nothing. It is as though Wolf has disappeared into mist.
If he wanted, he would never be found, he thinks.
Genichiro tries to remember what life was before Wolf. He is not very good at it.
He forgets his coffee. He forgets to sleep, to eat sometime. Wolf was the one who reminded him of such human habits, even if they both did not quite need them anymore.
He wonders about his divinity, and if it can be taken away. Wonders if this then, is his punishment for failing Ashina. To have something and to have it leave.
And then, a month after Wolf's disappearance, there is a knock on Genichiro's door.
His hair longer than before, his beard just as scruffy.
"You left," Genichiro accuses.
"You told me to," Wolf says.
Genichiro chokes on a sob. "I looked for you."
Wolf seems surprised, just a little. "Is that so."
"Wolf." He hates the placid mask Wolf has on, knows now that a maelstrom of emotions must be running behind it, even if Wolf will never show it. "Do not leave me again." He sounds broken, pathetic, but he has had far too long to think about this, to wonder about his life without Wolf's shadow at his side. "I could not bear it if you did."
Wolf's mouth opens, but he does not make a sound, only stares up at Genichiro.
Genichiro stands before him with reddened eyes, more naked than he has ever been.
"Come with me," Wolf says.
Wolf drives for hours, until they are far out of the city - north of Tokyo, not west, where they both came from. He does not say anything the entire time, not about Genichiro, or where they are going, or why. Then they are driving up mountains, and finally Wolf stops when the road ends, and then tells Genichiro that they will be walking the rest of the way. The sun has long set then, and while the moon is bright here, in the mountains so much like Ashina's, Genichiro is still unable to see in the dark. Where, Genichiro asks, And for how long, but he is still afraid to ask.
He stumbles after Wolf, is always afraid that the man will have left him behind but Wolf always stops and waits for him patiently. He loses track of time, only knows that Wolf is here, before him, smelling of sweat and sakura and Genichiro is so filled with joy and fear his tongue cannot move.
Finally, Wolf stops before an old building here, one nestled up against the mountainside so well that it almost looks a part of the landscape.
"Yours?" Genichiro asks when Wolf unlocks the door gestures at him to go inside.
Wolf nods. "I have never brought anyone here."
Genichiro wants to know if this means something. He is afraid to ask.
The hut inside is sparse, perfect for a mountain hermit. Genichiro starts when he sees wall that is hung with swords, each of them with worn sheaths and handles but lovingly polished and cared for. Wolf reaches for one and draws Kusabimaru from its sheath.
"Take another sword."
"Wolf," Genichiro says. Wolf still will not look at him, only jerks his chin against the swords hanging by the wall. Genichiro walks over and picks one, the weight and length of it familiar in his hands.
"Until first blood?" Genichiro asks, running a hand along the blade of his sword. It has been so long.
Wolf's eyes flash. "Until first death," he says, and Genichiro wonders how he ever thought him tame. "Unless you are too afraid? My lord?"
Do not call me that, he wants to snap, but knows Wolf is only saying this to needle him to make him so angry that he cannot think.
He holds his tongue. He is not a patient man, but he can at least do this.
Wolf jerks the door open, and they walk out under the moon.
Wolf moves first, his eyes shining in the dark, bringing his blade down. Genichiro has his sword up to block, the old motion still carved his bones.
"I suppose you're not just an old businessman," Wolf says as he darts away from Genichiro's next blow.
"Always so rude, shinobi," Genichiro says, and then leaps, his sword slashing in sweeping arcs and Wolf blocks, blocks, and misses, and Genichiro slices through his chest.
Genichiro does not have his bow. Wolf does not have his shurikens, his firecrackers, his multitude of tools. It is just them and their blades dancing under the moon.
They fight. They die. They come back again.
It is a draw, Wolf bleeding out in Genichiro's arms just as he slides his sword down Genichiro's back. There is a brief moment of stillness - not death, the Rejuvenating Waters never let him do something as gentle as die - he clings always to life, a hand on a cliffside while his body knits itself together. Wolf lets out a gasp in his arms, and it takes a moment before he blinks his way back to consciousness and he is suddenly crying making terrible wracked noises. Wolf chokes and sobs and Genichiro wonders at how he had gotten it wrong for so long.
"I will not leave you again," Wolf finally says. "Not unless you wish me to." Genichiro knows that Wolf does not break his promises, and finally feels as though his heart is settled, all the fear settling in his limbs slowly evaporating.
"Why did you go in the first place?"
"I was angry at you," Wolf says. "But more than anything I am angry at myself."
"Why is that?" Genichiro asks, no longer afraid to ask questions.
Wolf does not answer. Genichiro begins to think Wolf is not reticent because he wants to leave Genichiro in the dark, but because he does not know how to say things.
"Do you hate me for killing your lord?" Genichiro finally asks, because he now knows that no matter the answer, Wolf will not leave him again. He is a shade better than a coward, perhaps.
"I have never believed your death was his fault," Wolf says. Then, haltingly, slowly, while they are both still covered in gore and sweat and in the dark he tells Genichiro about severance, about purification, about bringing the dragon heritage home.
"If I had chosen to end myself, Lord Kuro would have gone on to live a happier life," he mutters. "He would have lived."
"And instead you journeyed West and returned the Divine Dragon to its birthplace," Genichiro says. "You stopped the Dragonspring and cleansed Ashina of the impurities that haunted it."
"That did not matter," Wolf says. "I am a shonobi and my duty is to my lord."
"Wolf." Genichiro reaches out and cups a hand against Wolf's cheek, feels the familiar prick of his stubble. "You did what had to be done."
Wolf is silent for a long time. "I did not realise I was this weak."
"This is not weakness," Genichiro says, and believes it.
"I wish I could be as strong as you, Genichiro," Wolf says and Genichiro remembers the Divine Heir speaking those words to him, a long long time ago.
"How odd," Genichiro says. "I have always thought that I was full of weakness."
"How strange," Wolf says. "I have often thought the same."
Genichiro bends down to kiss Wolf, cupping his hands against Wolf's cheeks, tastes the blood still on Wolf's mouth. Wolf makes a noise and kisses back, tongue hot and seeking. Genichiro is only too happy to give.
"Maybe we did die," Genichiro says that same night, as he curls around Wolf. "And this is all purgatory. Cursed to wander the earth until the end of time.'
Wolf quirks one beautiful eyebrow - just the tiniest angle, but Genichiro has seen him enough to know the slightest changes in his expressions.
"And we just so happened to find each other? Would that make it heaven or hell?"
Genichiro opens his mouth to respond, but Wolf is quicker, and then he can only gasp and moan as Wolf proves that they cannot be in hell.
They are strolling the streets together in the springtime, not quite hand in hand because neither of them will be openly affectionate, but their shoulders and hands brush against the other once in a while and it is all so painfully cliche Genichiro thinks he could hurl.
He doesn't though. And he notices how Wolf doesn't look at him each time he brushes against his hand, how his lips are lifted slightly in the way that means he is grinning.
"Wait," Wolf says suddenly and Genchiro stops in his tracks.
Wolf reaches up and plucks something from Genichiro's head. "This was in your hair," he says, lifting up a sakura petal.
"Ah," Genichiro says.
They don't kiss, but Genichiro finds the petal tucked away inside of Wolf's wallet a few days later when he had grabbed it by accident when running out of the house.
It's tucked next to a charcoal sketch of him - not with his hair slicked back with wax and in a suit, the way he looks now, but the way it had hung lank after he took it from his helmet, his torso bare and blackened with lightning. It is, he thinks, a good likeness.
This may still end. One day, one of them may still tire of the other, or decide that they want space. One day, the magic sustaining them may fade.
But, he thinks. For now, this is enough.