Winter Shinobi (Part 1)
Marvel Universe - Samurai AU
His foe is nearly his height, strongly built and lithe; on a level battlefield, they might have made a beautiful fight. This struggle in the dark is nothing so grand: nearly silent they clash, but for sharp gasps for breath, involuntary noises of pain. It is more like furtive lovemaking, striving mutually for death instead of pleasure.
Until his fingers catch a solid hold on the other's faceplate, and off it comes. There is little light, a faraway torch, a shuttered lantern, perhaps the distant and impervious stars. But he sees his enemy's face as clearly as if it were midday, and the familiar edge of it slices through his defenses more sharply than any sword.
The man's daggers do not waver, but there might be movement in his darkened eyes, across his naked face. "There are no words that will save your life," he says. They are the first words he has yet spoken; he is not even winded. "Do not think to distract me."
It is unmistakably Bakurou's voice.
Seiji advances a step, palms out, unarmed and undefended. "You," he starts to say, and has no words to follow. (You died in that fire, all those years ago. You came back to me. You have always been the better part of me.) The man does not know him; this much is painfully clear.
"Quiet!" he snaps, though Seiji is silent. "I'm here for your head, and I mean to take it."
Not for the first time, Seiji considers that he might not live to see the dawn. For the first time, though, he wonders if he really cares.
"Taichou!" Natsuko is between them, then, her hair a crimson glory unbound around her shoulders. Her kimono is immaculate, but he sees the silver shine of daggers in her hands. "Get out of here!"
"It's my head he wants, Natsuko." He doesn't take his eyes from the ninja's face-- Bakurou's face. He is still in range of those deadly blades, and he does not move away.
"You cannot take on the Hidora Clan." There is usually a wry smile in her words, if not on her lips. Not so right now. Her face is carved from coldest, stillest stone. "Seiji, please. You will not win this fight." When he still does not move, she whispers, "...I know him."
He spins to face her, and in the second that their eyes meet, the ninja is gone. Not even the curtains rustle to signify his departure; he is simply no longer there, and the room is somehow bright and bitter for his absence.
"You were Hidora Clan," he says. His hands are limp, now, at his sides; his shoulders are almost shaking as he remembers how to draw breath. How long was he fighting the ninja? How could he not have known that Natsuko had been one of them? How foolish had he been, for how long?
It was not a question, so she does not bother to answer. "You're hurt, Taichou." The tiniest twist of a smile is back in her voice. "Sit and let me dress your wounds. I did tell you that you could not win."
He looks down, there is blood staining along his robe, and he is startled to realize it is his own. Still, he is not one to be distracted. "You knew him," he persists. "But I knew him, too. He was a brother to me, in my youth; he was my closest friend."
This surprises her; he can tell by the way she goes quite still. "Before the fire," she says.
"I thought that fire killed him." Seiji feels it catching in the back of his throat, feels the memory sliding its knife edge through his unguarded heart. "I thought--"
Natsuko, suddenly at his side, is supporting his weight before he even knows he is leaning on her. "You're losing blood, Taii. If you do not sit, you will fall."
He sits, head lowered to his chest, his vision blurry (with pain, or with unwelcome memories, he cannot tell). "You were Hidora," he says again. "How do I know you will not stick a dagger in my ribs?"
She looks at him then, hands pausing in the act of removing his robe. Her eyes are unreadable. "You don't," she says, at last.
That makes him smile, and the fire-edged memories recede. He shrugs, so that his kimono falls the rest of the way from his shoulder. "Thank you," he says.
It was the fire, they say, that left his hair as colorless as straw. The death of his family, his blood brother, the burning of his home, too much for a young man to bear. It makes him striking, now, his pale head above the rest, like moonlight moves easily through shadows. It makes him different. Different, that is, until he met Natsuko, and her unapologetically red hair, redder than blood or finest poppies.
Together as they are, he thinks, they make an unusual pair, the straw-haired and the flame.
He is naked to his waist as she tends to him, sitting in the folds of his stripped-off kimono. The summer night is hot, cicadas thrumming in the trees, but she does not sweat; her fingers are cool. She cleans the wound gently, and the wet sponge sends tiny rivulets down his chest to soak into the obi at his waist. He shivers. His blood is drying, and she wraps the bandages with a surgeon's efficiency.
They do not speak. He has always respected her; he finds himself surprised that he trusts her.
The pain has not yet ebbed, and the memory of fire has only barely receded. But dawn will come. He thinks, is this what men have left, when the chance for contentment has passed?
He lets his eyes close.
~to be continued~