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giving up the ghost

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It would be easier not to wake up.

He has long since passed the point of anger. Injustice is simply part of him now, a thorn stuck in with the skin grown back over. He can't see it, but he can feel it with his fingers, feel it itching within when he lies awake in the dark, alone on his back, arms limp and outstretched and filled with buried thorns.

Kamotarō thinks about it sometimes. Not with any intent, he doesn't really want to kill himself. Not only is he just a coward, but he loves to learn. Of all his gifts he loves his own curiosity the most, and a hundred lifetimes wouldn't be enough to satisfy it. So cutting short the only one he's got—it's painful to think of what he wouldn't have learned. Russian. Recurring motifs in classical T’ang poetry. Medieval European longsword techniques. His only true greed is intellectual, and it keeps him alive.

But if he just didn't wake up. If his agency were taken away and it was no longer his choice to continue to abstain—ah, that would be fitting. One more gift, one last thing he wanted to love plucked away before he had the chance.

His gifts early in life sent him to a safer world, a world of calligraphy and kendō kata, of bruises and fractures, of war, of peace from hateful mothers and silent fathers. And yet his gifts are what now invalidate his suffering. He knows that there are people who have had far more than straight A’s and friends and positions as chief or vice-chief taken away from them. And still those people persevere, because they have survived the state of having nothing. They have been shown that they have intrinsic worth. Of all the things he was taught, Kamotarō was never taught this.

Not early enough for it to be meaningful, anyway. That's what he is told now, and he hears it, and it can wriggle into his head and he can understand it logically. But he never feels it in his chest. It's never become part of his viscera, his skin that crawls with thorns because they just poke back through and shred any worth he finds. Those who did not rise from the dirt do not know that it is possible to survive there. What a world, this world above that values the loud mouthed over the qualified, baseless confidence over quiet competence. The feeling of being capable—prime—yet still being passed over. I have worth, damn it, I just want to give back—why don't they want it from me?

He doesn't want to kill himself, but he considers what it would be like to die. As he drifted into consciousness one morning, he was aware of a very dangerous fleeting second in which even his curiosity wasn't strong enough to quash the thought: if I just hadn't woken up. He's not at peace with it all the time, and not even every day. But sometimes he is.

And they're becoming more frequent, those half-conscious moments after near-sleepless nights. If I didn't have to do this anymore, I might even be happy. If things had gone a little differently, if he hadn't swallowed the honeyed poison of promised power—or maybe he knew it was a lie and told himself it wasn't, as justification for passive self-destruction. . . . If.

Then he might not be standing here, in the center of this circle of men who wished they had known him in time. He had assumed they were just more thorns—but the truth of it is, even though it's too late, now the reason they are digging in is to pluck them all out.

It doesn't mean much, but it means a little. And in the reality of his death, creeping up his skin and hanging heavy on his one arm like clinging vines full of thorns—Kamotarō is thankful. This is how I am ended.

He's so happy that it's over.