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"I just want to rest," Fushi says, eyelids drooping.

"It's alright. I'll protect you," Kahaku says.

Kahaku reeks of battlefield and rubble and sweat, Fushi doesn't grimace as he comes closer. They're sure they smell much of the same now if not worse.

Kahaku's mouth is slick with blood, breath hot and blistering when their lips meet. It stings, sinks into the dry cracks of Fushi's lips.

Fushi whimpers, clenches their hands, doesn't move, stiffens there against the tight hold of Kahaku's palm. 

The world of roots and branches above and below them have gone frighteningly numb in their mind's eye. The pangs of pain lighting each one up like blips on a radar. Fushi chokes on a breath, their whole head is swimming, their nerves both alight at once and painfully quiet.

Kahaku is already breathing hard, his left hand seemingly vice like against Fushi's jaw, pads of his fingers pressing into their cheek.

"Rest Fushi," Kahaku pants, shifting his head to mouth sloppy and wet along Fushi's jaw opposite his hand. "You told me you weren't interested in a lover," he traces the darkened skin beneath Fushi's eyes tentatively with the pads of his fingers.

"I'm not." Fushi murmurs, still against him.

Kahaku grunts and the sound is rugged splinters into Fushi's ear drum. "Let me show you what it is to take a lover."

Fushi makes a noise at the back of their throat, dust from the battlefield filling their lungs and spotting their vision, the smell of gunpowder sharp in their nostrils and the copper sharp scent of blood wetting their veins that crawl across the broken cobblestone.

Kahaku pulls Fushi from the chair, braces the exhaustion from the knees that cannot hold their weight and the hands that scrabble at his shoulders with his own.

"I'll hold you Fushi, hold onto me." Kahaku says, reverently, something soothing and silky that buzzes through Fushi's sinuses because of how much it sounds like a Bennett prayer, devotion and fear of a higher being.

"Dare I get too close?" Kahaku says pressing Fushi to the wall, the vines behind Fushi's back seemingly rotting and falling away to their touch. His breath is hot against Fushi's chin. Lips wet and lingering. "It would be a blessing if you swallowed me whole."

Kahaku licks the trickle of blood from Fushi's nose, "Trust me Fushi," he nudges his own nose against Fushi's cheek, his left hand coming down to take hold at Fushi's waist.

"I trust--" Fushi murmurs, drifting off, their head lulling forward and then back, baring their throat, everything inside it searing down from their head to their gut, filling with steady dread and lethargy enough to burst them right open, spread along the roots of them like a rot.

Fushi feels like their extremities have been limited, burning hot at every end like hot iron, numb and stinging. Fushi tries to blink away the exhaustion, the fire burning through them nothing special compared to the heat in Kahaku's palm, in Kahaku's mouth, in Kahaku's body.

"Allow me to take care of you Fushi," Kahaku says more of a rumble in his chest than a sound. As if he too had another being inside him.

Except he does and Fushi had selectively tampered down the ping of this knocker, hidden it away to fight the disgust in their other selves, to prove to them and themself that Kahaku was worth trusting.

Kahaku's hands feel the body beneath him as if it were his own, squeezes his eyes shut as if reasoning with himself, with the being beneath his armor.

"Haven't you ever wondered?" Kahaku breathes back against Fushi's mouth. Their lips lingering together.

"I've certainly wondered." Fushi says, "But I'm not--"

"Not what?"

"Interested in getting close to someone like that only to lose them," Fushi feels each footstep along their body right outside, meters away, blocks away, all of it muffled like pebbles splashing into the river's rushing current.

"You won't lose me," Kahaku says in spite of it all. "It won't hurt, you'll always have me--or my daughter--or my son--"

"That's not the same," Fushi grits, jaw tight, their hand tightening at Kahaku's front. They shake their head, "You don't know what it's like--"

"I don't," Kahaku concedes easy, so easy, Fushi chokes on their inhale. "But when I pass, allow me to live on in you--" he pleads, breath and spittle on the side of Fushi's face, the rise of their cheek. His palm where Fushi's heart beats like an ornament. 

"That's not the same," Fushi voice is barely there, felt like a breeze along their whole body, a rodent rustling the thickest of vines to no avail, something small and unnoticeable. Fushi feels death stronger than they feel their own breath in that moment. The sharp descent of a sword or the creaking of a trebuchet, ammunition hitting its target all of it felt like drops of rain on their expanse of body, tinny and angry on the roof of them.

"If this is all I get of you Fushi, I'd pass on a happy man. You don't have to miss me if this makes it easier. Perhaps it would be best to forget about me after this encounter." Kahaku's hands are smearing blood into the silver of Fushi's hair, matting it and caking it in an ombre of red to white, plastering it to Fushi's temple as if it were soaked with water.

"You'd be happy with this?" Fushi says, tone of disbelief but Kahaku is nodding eagerly at them, eyes wide.

"Yes, very much so," he says, "my life is yours, if I can please you, protect you, take care of you then my life wasn't a waste." he goes quiet, lips brushing back to Fushi's. "--so let me," he glances between Fushi's eyes and then their lips, before shutting them and pressing their mouths back together.

Fushi's eyes fall shut, but they don't see black or spots of color, they see sparks of fire and the beating of hearts bursting in chests, and the clambering of knockers skittering across broken stone, jumping and hurdling like ripened fruit tumbling down an uneven slope. Further out Fushi can feel the heat of the sun and the nests of knockers swarming in bulbs and tangled together like tadpoles suspended in murky egg white.

All of them crawling along Fushi's skin, quivering and scratching and curling, nipping at branches and peeling back layers to reveal the raw throbbing nerves beneath.

Fushi hisses, Kahaku's canine sharp at their lip, he worries it with his tongue, soothes the cut as Fushi neutralizes knockers with the half of their mind they've got left, their eye lids fluttering open and shut between frames of battlefield and the coil of Kahaku at their front.

It feels like the molten honey of iron across the skin of their body, beneath the fabrication of clothes, every part of them begins to fester an ache that Fushi cannot ignore.

Kahaku groans and Fushi doesn't expect the throb between their thighs, doesn't wholly understand what it entails either. Doesn't know if they want it to continue.

The sensations of pleasure, Kahaku's thigh wedged between theirs, are like waves crashing and breaking upon a distant shore, the fall of rain soaking the earth after a drought, the taste of salt on their tongue after a fast, all of it weaving together with the jagged pin pricks of debris and skin rupturing, pulling apart, fire erupting and consuming, the last breaths of the dying.

Fushi breaks from the kiss, choking in air, breaching the surface from a barrage of stimulus, throat tight as if for a moment they felt absolutely nothing, lodged in the liquid heat of iron once more. Floundering and flailing for purchase and a grasp of anything.

Kahaku licks into their mouth, breathes air into them, takes in the grit and rot from their lungs into his, feels the earth thrumming between them, the whoosh of air, the roar of fire, the lush green of vines curling around Kahaku, around them both, tugging Fushi back to consciousness, back to something more awake.

Fushi whines, mouth open slack, tongue lolling and rolling to curl around Kahaku's, spit slick and dribbling down their chin.

Kahaku licks them clean, licks the salt from their skin, the dust of soil from their temple, the blood that isn't his from the copper smear across Fushi's pale skin. Seeking to keep them unmarred, untouched by the apathy intertwined with war.

Fushi pants into Kahaku's mouth, eyes dazed when they flicker open, deep crushed jewel purple. Their eyes meet and Kahaku's gaze is blown open and black, the shine of satisfaction glazing them over.

"Should I be a woman Kahaku?" Fushi breathes fog, thick mist. The skin at their hands begins to twist and swirl into something softer, less bony, "You'd said--"

"No--" Kahaku says immediately, Fushi halts the change, his hand going back to that of the nameless boy. "No," he says softer, "I love every form of Fushi. I want to love the one you live in the most. My devotion would be flimsy otherwise."

Kahaku smashes their mouths back together and Fushi lets themself be taken along, get caught up in the movement of Kahaku's hands on their chest, tangle around him the way they would to one of the rebuilt buildings around brick and mortar.

Fushi wonders what about their female form does Kuhaku like? Is it the smooth curves from ribs to hips to thighs? Is it the warm wet between them? Is it the soft breasts, the slope of the nape? Would that comfort Kahaku better than this form can?

This form with its harder angles and bony hipbones, and flat chest? This form with its broader back and lanky arms? This form with sinewy thighs and an untouched cock. Does that scare Kahaku?

Fushi shivers in all their skins. They mold to Kahaku beneath his hands, unyielding yet like clay, half of them shut their eyes from the clamor of the carnal.

They are the iron melting under Kahaku's mouth, breaking apart and pulling back together in the space of a moment. Over and over until Fushi is breathless and their vines shrink in as if parched.

What did the ache between their thighs mean? Is it a physical extension of the flash fire roaring in their nervous system, another volley of stimulus meant to incapacitate them from yet another side?

Fushi ruts their hips up and back and Kahaku squeezes his eyes shut.

"Fushi--" he moans, and it rattles through them. Part of them is shaking, pushing back at Kahaku as if he were a natural born enemy. That this, of all things, is somehow more fundamentally out of the ordinary than Fushi's entire existence. 

"Ka--" Fushi tries, they can feel themselves going back beneath the current, underwater where the air is pushed from their lungs, and Kahaku is pushing his right hand past the waistband of Fushi's pants and Fushi doesn't disillusion him, allows Kahaku to touch something actually there.

Kahaku grins, something crazed and desirous at once and Fushi feels the thick air between them crack like a pane of glass. As if the act of being skin to skin has suffused Kahaku suddenly among the other fauna and flora blooming and decaying in Fushi's body.

Fushi's body convulses as if short circuiting, roots and branches blinking in and out of consciousness where they cannot feel the agony jagged at the edges of their vision. Kahaku sinks his teeth into Fushi's lip and their noises merge into one another, the living breathing hum of a forest swaying together as one.

Fushi barely recognizes the noises they're making, Kahaku gasping into their mouth, circle of fingers tight and ever shifting. 

His voice is a rasp of itself when he says, "Touch me too Fushi," he's breathing hard, ragged and desperate and his left hand tugs Fushi's towards him, Fushi's palm at last making contact with the bulge beneath Kahaku's trousers. 

Kahaku groans and Fushi doesn't expect to get caught up in the sound of it the way they would the ocean rocking back and forth.

"Come back to me Fushi," he says, their teeth knocking, his left hand holding Fushi still to them and Fushi once again breaches the surface. 

The instinct of the beings within them gone quiet. 

"I'm here," Fushi says, soft, yet they can still hear themselves over the muffle of the battlefield still raging in their extremities. 

Fushi tugs at the cock in their hand. All they understand is that it felt good when Kahaku had done it. Kahaku shivers in their hold. His hips swaying to and fro, chasing the stroke of Fushi's movements. 

"I don't care," he breathes, "about the part of you that rejects me. This Fushi-- this Fushi here," he punctuates it with a press of his thumb to Fushi's cock tip and Fushi's vision whites. Fushi's vines curl and writhe and want. "--is the one I love. I love all of Fushi." Kahaku presses his forehead to Fushi's throat. Breathes hard and rough against him. "Make an exception for me." He pleads, "love me as you do those that live within you." 

Fushi's skin burns, every inch of them flushed and in contact with Kahaku. "You'd want that?" They say, tentatively, eyes squeezed shut. "No matter how much it would hurt me to let go of you? No matter how much I wish I could stop it?" Their voice cracks but Fushi continues, "the pain that comes with watching-- a lover--," they force out, "die? It would be unbearable," they say. 

"Then forget about me my light," Kahaku says, "don't feel grief, keep me here," Kahaku shifts, kisses their chest above the heart once more. "Forget about my ancestors, I am not them. I am not Hayase," 

"I couldn't do that," Fushi says, palm spread at Kahaku's hip, they shake their head, "I remember everyone. I'll remember her for the rest of my life," They don't sound proud but they sound steady. "But I'll remember you too," they murmur, "I want to." 

"If I can live on in you. Then you haven't lost me. I'll live forever," Kahaku presses their mouths back together, they don't talk for awhile, the acrid smell of blood begins to waft up from downstairs in the heat, always brings Fushi back to the task at hand. To the reason they're exhausted beyond belief. 

But Kahaku is pulling them back beneath the rush of the current, and breathing air into them and keeping them breathing and alive in this one life before the blink of his next death. 

Kahaku kisses gentle along Fushi's throat, a brief reprieve from the hunger between their mouths. His hand still stroking, wrist twisting, fingers deft, making Fushi come alive under his hands. 

Fushi can feel something in their gut pulling taut like stones weighing down a rope. They don't know where it leads but it's rising and rising, climbing and climbing until Fushi is gasping Kahaku's name when they careen over it and a forest blooms a kilometer away in the dunes outside the city like a flower unfurling in the hot sun. 

Fushi fights to continue their own pace but their hand squeezes and falters and staggers before falling away. 

It seems to be enough because Kahaku doubles over against them, fights to breathe as his hips rock and the bulge in his pants leaves a wet spot on the front, a bead of white gathering through the mesh of it before it trickles there, lingers with the red of the half dried blood along the seam. 

"Fushi," Kahaku says, both hands coming up to cup Fushi's face. The forest is already wilting, allocating back to what needs the energy the most, already dying. His left feels like its digging into their cheek. 

Kahaku rests their foreheads together, murmurs Fushi's name over and over and the forest dies like a mirage losing distance to the observer. 

Fushi doesn't repress the rush of warmth through their body, they feel the heavy weight of exhaustion setting back in, Kahaku's tucking them away with his right hand, settles it at Fushi's shoulder. 

They stand still long enough for Fushi to feel like another immortal stands oppostite them. 

Kahaku notices too late the moment the tendrils of his left burst through Fushi's cheek.