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Tsukasa doesn't care much for war.

He ought to, and he used to. More than anything, he used to dream of the anticipation of stepping onto a battlefield, used to dream of the glory of victory, used to dream of shared smiles between comrades upon each and every one of them making it out alive. As heir to the Suou family, fighting under a suitable leader was not only what he was intended to do, but also all he wanted.

In a way, he was bred for this distasteful war.

And, ah, what a distasteful thing war is. There is no excited anticipation in suiting up for battle, only a nauseating fear for your own safety. There is no glory of victory, only an unsettling guilt in knowing that the lives of others fell under your own hands. There are no shared smiles between comrades after battle, only a suffocating stony silence as each of them reflect on their own sins.

But nothing is worse than the sounds.

The familiar ring of swords clanging against one another doesn't seem nearly as noble as it had when Tsukasa had practiced fencing as a boy. No, it couldn't be, not when that same chime is accompanied by the screams and grunts of hundreds, thousands of grimy and desperate soldiers. Sometimes there is the sickening crunch of bones, the thunk of an arrow hitting its tremendously human mark, and then --

-- and then, the soft gasp of Tsukasa’s name.

It's so slight that he thinks he imagined it, but it's enough for him to pause nonetheless. Freezing over in these circumstances, arrow just barely notched against his bowstring and enemies still raging battle around him, is a sure-fire way to get killed and Tsukasa knows it. If any of his comrades were by his side in this moment, they wouldn't hesitate to tell him off or, in Izumi’s case, maybe kill Tsukasa himself.

But they're nowhere near him, long separated by the chaos of battle. And yet, he heard his name.

Upon quickly surveying the area for the culprit -- assuming there is one in the first place and that the battle hasn't quite literally driven him mad -- Tsukasa’s eyes meet widened green ones, and his heart stops.

Being driven mad would have been simpler than this.

In some ways, the youth looks different from how Tsukasa remembers him, but in other ways the culprit -- Tori, heir to the Himemiya family -- is very much the same. Even in times of war, his skin is free of blemishes, though the blood smeared across his cheek is far more scarring than any pimple could be. His robes are white, a clear declaration of both his allegiance to the Emperor and his nobility, blue and gold lace adorning the edges. The lace is torn in some places, likely snared by one of the trees littering the battlegrounds or perhaps by one of Tsukasa’s own allies.

That thought is a disturbing one. To think that one of his comrades would raise their hand against a boy he has spent time with in the past, to think that he might have to do the same...

Yes, Tsukasa really doesn't care much for war.

“Tori-kun,” he finally breathes. He's not sure how he manages it, with his throat dried over like this, but the words make it past his lips all the same. “You look...”

“Never mind how I look!” Tori interrupts, voice carrying a lot clearer as he takes a decisive step forward. Despite himself, Tsukasa takes a far smaller step back. “I don't have time for your stupid thinly veiled insults -- what do you think you're doing?”

Tsukasa blinks, gaze quickly flicking around him. The battle is still ongoing, but for whatever reason the enemies are making no moves to interrupt he and Tori’s conversation. Perhaps, he thinks wryly, Tori managed to issue an order of sorts without him realizing. The other boy always had a way of getting what he wanted, after all.

(As did Tsukasa, but he was never quite self-aware in that way.)

“I am fighting alongside my comrades,” Tsukasa answers simply, keeping his arrow notched against his bow even as he lowers it. “We are working to find our Leader.”

“But,” Tori huffs, his own hands clenching his tome so he could easily flip it open if necessary. “You're fighting against the Emperor. Weren't you the one so desperate to garner his attention at that social gathering last winter...?”

That leads him to pause. What Tori says is true; it was only months ago that Tsukasa wished to follow the Emperor himself, training through all sorts of obscure conditions in hopes of being suitable to do so. The social gathering Tori mentions was a selection method of sorts, the Emperor’s way of cherry-picking who would be most suited for his elite force, and, well...

He had been overlooked at that time, even if he and Tori were neck-in-neck in each competition, but that matters not. Those were different times, and he knows in his heart who he is destined to follow now.

All he has to do is find him.

He doesn't mention that, however, as he doubts Tori has any interest in his inner musings. “So were you,” Tsukasa replies instead. “But I wasn't desirable enough for the Emperor’s army, so...”

“You settled for second best,” Tori scoffs, fingers gripping the edges of his tome just a bit tighter. “And now you're bound to die.”

Tsukasa freezes over. Those are ugly words, without a doubt, but especially rolling off of Tori’s tongue. He was always spoiled, sure, always certain of himself to the point of it being aggravating, but this is something very different.

For Tori to say those things, for Tori to say words of war... It is uncharacteristic, Tsukasa decides. No matter how arrogant he has always been, Tori does not suit these hellish times. Tori, who has yet to lose all his baby fat and likely still squirms away whenever his butler tries to serve him vegetables, is far too childish for this godless battlefield.

And in some ways, Tsukasa thinks that perhaps he is the same.

They stand there, eerily silent even as the battle continues to sound around them. His bow is still in position, Tsukasa thinks. He could be the first to move, and even though he doubts he could hit Tori anywhere fatal, perhaps he would be wounded enough to retreat, and --

His planning stops there. He doesn't have the heart to harm Tori now, not after being reminded of the time they spent competing in the winter. They were never on pleasant terms, perhaps friendly rivals at best, but Tori is far from someone he wants to kill.

But the choice is made for him.

The glint of metal catches the corner of his eye, just shy of Tori’s head, and despite himself Tsukasa nearly screams the boy’s name as a means to warn him. He doesn't need to though, not when Tori seems to have better reflexes than Tsukasa ever expected from him and twirls out of the blade’s range easily. His back is facing Tsukasa now, but Tsukasa doesn't have to see his front to know that he has flipped his tome open and is preparing a counterattack.

Tsukasa knows better to just watch, but a small and childish curiosity leads him to do so anyways, eyes wide as magic begins to form in Tori’s general vicinity. He's still standing there, gaping like an idiot when Tori’s attacker quickly moves forward, tightly gripping Tsukasa’s wrist and dragging them both away from where he and Tori had just been talking.

“What are you doing, you shitty brat?” Izumi spits over his shoulder, still quickening his pace with every stride. Tsukasa suddenly feels incredibly clumsy in comparison, stumbling with every step, but in the furthermost parts of his mind he thinks that's fairly justified. After all, what just happened... “Does this look like the time to be reminiscing?”

Tsukasa flushes. “I wasn't --”

“Don't bother,” Izumi says loftily, dragging them further from the battle and deeper into the forest. “The others have already retreated. It's shitty to admit, but we’re vastly outnumbered.”

There's nothing for Tsukasa to say to that, but Izumi’s right. He knew it, of course, knew from the start that there was very little their small group could do against the Emperor’s elite at this time, but Izumi’s right -- it really is shitty to admit.

So instead of admitting or denying anything, he looks back, desperately trying to make out the battlefield they left behind even past the undergrowth. Barely, just barely he thinks he makes out the bright pink of Tori’s hair, and finds himself wondering why Tori didn't just strike first himself. Even with his bow in position, Tsukasa’s guard may as well have been lowered entirely, and he doesn't need any of his comrades to tell him how easy it would have been for him to die then and there.

Ah... But perhaps he isn't the only one who doesn't care much for war.