Disclaimer: Haru wo Daite Ita and all characters therein belong to Nitta Youka. I’m only having a bit of fun. Also, I feel I must apologize to Lois McMaster Bujold for inadvertently stealing the title of one of her books.
Note: This takes place during the “Winter Cicada” story in volume 5—not while they’re making the movie. Just wanted to clarify that.
Shards of Honor
Kusaka stepped out of the house, snow crunching beneath his feet, and made his way through the garden. He was in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves, coat and cravat and whatever else it was that the Westerners wore left behind. The winter air chilled him, but he repressed his shiver, drawing upon his samurai reserve.
At least the wind wasn’t blowing today.
Down the path to the garden house, he carried tray and haori, half looking forward to his destination and half dreading it.
Akizuki-san . . . why won’t you let me . . .
But he shoved the thought aside as he reached the garden house, and toed off his Western shoes. The floor was very cold through the thin material of his socks, and he hurried down the corridor to the main room.
The room was nearly bare, except for the bedding unrolled in the center of the floor. Akizuki sat upon the futon, the coverlet draped over his lower body, staring blank-eyed down at the pattern. He did not look around at the soft sound of footsteps, nor when Kusaka announced that he’d brought something to eat.
He looks . . . lost. The thought, long ignored, trembled to the front of his mind, leaves rustling on a breeze. Like he doesn’t want to be here . . .
The shiver that Kusaka had denied himself only moments ago forced its way out. He shoved those thoughts ruthlessly away. No! I will help you, Akizuki-san, so you will stay with me . . .
He set the tray down and draped the haori over Akizuki’s shoulders. “I know you must be cold,” he said quietly, then bent so his breath wafted gently over Akizuki’s neck. “But I can’t light the fire . . . I can’t expose you to danger . . .”
Not even a quiver in response.
Kusaka ran a hand down Akizuki’s arm, smoothing the haori, imagining the flesh hidden by cloth. The pale body that he’d so admired, that had borne no marks those years ago was now marred—one leg was missing from just above the knee, and other battle scars covered his too-thin body.
Kusaka could not bear to think of them, could not bear to think of how many times Akizuki had tried to leave him . . .
He could not bear to think of his beloved Akizuki like this: pale, haggard, without hope.
He’s tried to kill himself so many times . . .
And as if his very thought had been communicated to Akizuki, he heard that soft cultured voice beg for death once more. “Kill me . . .”
Anger flooded him instantly. How dare he . . . He grabbed Akizuki’s shoulders, hands made rough with something like desperation, and dragged him around on the bedding to face him. And Akizuki just let him, boneless and unresisting. “You’re starting it again!” he shouted. With a violence that surprised him, he pushed Akizuki down and pinned him with his body.
Then he stopped and raised himself up, looking down at Akizuki’s expressionless face, at him.
The stump of his missing leg was just visible where his kimono had been pulled askew, wrapped in pristine bandages to hide the mangled flesh from view. The obi had loosened, as well, exposing his chest.
His fear and anger transformed into need in an instant. Kusaka reached out, fingers trembling as if it were the first time, to touch the flesh of Akizuki’s thigh above the bandage, amazed and appalled at himself in turns.
Amazed, as always, that he’d found Akizuki, amazed that they’d felt the same way, unbelievably grateful that he’d saved him after that last disastrous battle between the shogunate forces and the Choshu Han . . . and sickened by the desires that drove him, even now, urging him to take Akizuki again, to make him see . . .
Akizuki’s skin was chill beneath his fingers, and even as he damned himself, he couldn’t stop from running his hand further up, beneath the kimono, to just touch him.
“I won’t let you die,” he vowed, burying his face in Akizuki’s neck. “I raised you from the dead once . . .”
The faintest of whimpers escaped Akizuki’s throat as he touched him, barely audible even in the clear cold air. Raising himself up slightly, Kusaka watched in disbelief as a tear escaped from Akizuki’s eye, and trickled down past his ear into his black hair.
“Why . . .” he breathed. “Why are you crying . . .”
The anger was back in an instant, stronger than before, and he ripped open the dark kimono, laying Akizuki bare before him, using his mouth, his kisses as he had never wanted to use his katana.
I will make him see, he thought, furious, as his vicious kisses made Akizuki moan with unwanted desire. I will make him see . . .
But even at the moment of highest passion, as he thrust into Akuzuki with more heat than care . . . Akizuki wouldn’t touch him, wouldn’t even brace against him.
And it hurt. But not as much as the naked look of pain on Akizuki’s face.
When he was done, when he had groaned his climax into Akizuki’s neck, the winter afternoon had shaded into evening. The tiny hitches of breathing that Akizuki could not contain echoed accusingly in his ears. Slowly, Kusaka laid the other samurai back onto the futon, withdrawing from his body as gently as he could.
The marks of his passion painted Akizuki’s pale body in livid bruises, and he shriveled inside. How can I treat him so? He bent and placed his lips carefully over each bite mark, paying homage, begging forgiveness.
Akizuki said nothing; when his breathing calmed, he lay still, unmoving, his head turned to look toward the fence.
Kusaka straightened his clothing, pulled awry in his haste to take Akizuki. Once he was decent again, he reached out to brush a finger against Akizuki’s cheek, still flushed from their activity . . . or maybe from the sting of winter air, for his skin was quite cool to the touch.
“Akizuki-san . . .”
But Akizuki closed his eyes, as if he could not bear the sound of his voice, and the words dried up in his throat, choking him. Everything he wanted to say crumbled, dust in the face of that rejection.
My anger, my caring . . . nothing moves him. And I’m so tired . . . Too numb to think of anything to do or say, Kusaka climbed wearily to his feet, and started back down the corridor to the door.
“Kusaka . . .” Akizuki’s voice was thin and did not carry well, but it stopped him short, one hand on the door, and he looked back over his shoulder, yearning.
Akizuki was still laying on the futon, just pulling the kimono over himself again, but now he was looking at Kusaka, and his dark eyes were filled with remorse. “I’m . . . sorry, Kusaka . . .”
And somewhere deep inside, a knot loosened and Kusaka gave him a smile in return. “I’m sorry, too, Akizuki-san,” he replied softly.
Akizuki didn’t smile back at him, but the weight on him seemed to lighten, and his eyes lost their haunted look for a moment. It warmed him.
That warmth stayed with him as he stepped out into the cold, dark garden and made his way back to the main house.
It never occurred to him that their apologies were for different offences.
Standing in the doorway into the main room of the garden house, Kusaka could only stare. Akizuki knelt at the writing desk, brush in hand. His head was bent, as if considering what he had just written, or . . . But then he straightened, and glanced over his shoulder, and his eyes had a spark in them, they were alive. It was something Kusaka had not seen in many months, and despite the frigid air, he felt his face heat.
It reminded him . . .
“You’re very late, Kusaka.” Akizuki looked away and carefully laid down his brush. “I know you’re busy at the ministry every day, but I can’t always be so forgiving . . .”
“Akizuki-san!” Feeling weak in the knees quite suddenly, Kusaka knelt and set down the tray he’d brought, as Akizuki pivoted awkwardly away from the writing desk. But Kusaka didn’t even notice the graceless movement, as caught up as he was in the change that had come over his lover since the previous evening.
It’s as if . . . as if he’s finally decided to accept living, he thought, reaching out. The very idea—that Akizuki had decided life was worth living—filled him with elation. It was hard to imagine this man begging him for death. “What happened today? How do you feel?”
Akizuki’s pale cheeks pinkened slightly, and his lips quirked in a tiny smile. “Ah . . . today I am particularly cold. Couldn’t you . . . warm me up?”
Stunned by the words, by how Akizuki could infuse such a simple phrase with such intent, Kusaka did nothing for an instant. How long had it been since Akizuki had asked to be touched? Had it been so long that he could not remember? But that thought could not hold its ground in the face of the not-coquettish request. It was the contrast between the deep voice, the innocent look and the way the words were uttered, he decided, and started to grin. He could not contain himself any longer, and wrapped his arms around him, holding him tightly. “Akizuki-san, you’re smiling at last!”
Your smiles were so rare and fleeting that they were things to treasure even before the battle . . . and this one is infinitely precious . . . Fingers trembling, he cupped Akizuki’s face.
Black lashes made fluttering crescents against white cheeks as Akizuki lifted his mouth to meet Kusaka’s almost eagerly.
The meal Kusaka had brought grew cold.
Aizawa’s words, harsh and taunting, still rung in Kusaka’s ears as he ran back to the garden house. He knew that he was abandoning everything that he’d worked so hard for the past four years, that he was turning his back on the future that he and Aizawa and the Han had created through blood and war.
But there is no future for me if they take you away, Akizuki-san!
It was almost too late to run away, now that the soldiers were upon them, but he had to try. He had to get Akizuki to safety.
He burst back into the garden house, and was struck at once by the emptiness. From the main house, he could still hear the shouts of the soldiers, as they searched for the shogunate warrior it was rumored was sheltered here, the sounds muffled not at all by the wind and falling snow.
Fear caused his heart to pound in his ears, and it drowned in the absolute quiet.
Akizuki was gone.
On the empty bed where they had so recently lain together, he saw a letter, addressed to him. He snatched it up and tore away the outer piece of paper, letting it flutter to the futon. Despite his pressing need to hurry, to flee, he read it, hoping it would give him some clue as to where Akizuki had gone.
Black characters marched boldly over the page in Akizuki’s neat scribe’s script, each kanji made with care.
Kusaka’s fingers tightened until the paper threatened to tear, and all that he felt—the rage at Aizawa, the fear for Akizuki, the despair at what the Han had wrought—drained away, leaving him hollow and numb in the icy air.
The letter was Akizuki’s farewell.
“No, Akizuki-san . . .” Kusaka’s voice sounded strange even to his own ears, thick with tears. He closed his eyes and bent his head, the paper clutched in one trembling fist. You can’t, Akizuki-san, he thought, turning for the door again, you can’t leave me! I won’t let you!
Casting about outside the door, he saw a strange impression in the fresh snow, a scuffled indent, as wide as a body . . . Immediately, he followed it, for it was the beginning of a trail leading deeper into the garden.
He can’t have gone far, Kusaka thought, desperation pumping through him with every beat of his racing heart. Crawling in the snow . . . he can’t have gone far!
He slipped often in his haste, careening against the trees, catching his coat on branches. But he ran on, the trail of Akizuki’s passage clear before him despite the snow doing its best to obscure it.
There! A small clearing opened before him, a figure on the far edge, sprawled awkwardly, crowned with raven-dark hair . . .
An ominous splotch on the fresh snow, glistening wetly in the dim light . . .
“Akizuki-san!” Kusaka flung himself to his knees beside Akizuki’s still form, and rolled him onto his back, disturbing the snow that was starting to cover him. If not for his hair, it would have been nearly impossible to see him in the snow, for he wore only a thin white under-kimono.
If not for his hair . . . and the blood . . .
Blood stained his kimono, had flowed onto the snow where he had lain, and it shone brilliantly red in the dim light. He still had his hands curled loosely around the hilt of the wakizashi that protruded from his abdomen.
When Kusaka touched his face, it was not even warm; the winter air had already leached away any sign that he’d ever been alive.
“Akizuki-san . . .” Tears flowed hot and bitter down Kusaka’s cheeks, too fast to freeze. It was too much to bear, and he screamed his anguish into the night, fingers wound tightly into the wet fabric of Akizuki’s kimono.
Through the blur, he noticed once more the tiny pouch that Akizuki wore around his neck, the only thing of color on him now. Carefully, he touched it, felt that was both firm and powdery beneath his fingers. Curiosity piqued in spite of his grief, he opened it and poured the contents into his hand.
At first, he thought it was flour, but then the remnant of the carapace fell out, flaking to dust as it did, and the hard segments that had been the legs and feet.
It’s a cicada’s shell . . .
In an instant, he was back on the bank of the river, loving Akizuki for the first time, watching as he discovered the cicada shell clinging to the tree. He remembered Akizuki’s smile, bright as the sunrise, how it had filled his heart to bursting.
“If only we didn’t live in this time . . . If we could fall asleep just like this cicada . . .”
If I don’t do this, you’ll destroy yourself.
And at last, Kusaka felt he understood. Akizuki’s honor had led him to this—not because he thought he deserved death for the defeat that he and the shogunate army had suffered, nor because he longed to escape from Kusaka. It was because he wanted to shield Kusaka from the taint of treason, wanted him to live free of the burden he felt himself to be. To save Kusaka’s own honor.
And perhaps . . . to find him again in that other time.
But Akizuki didn’t know that Kusaka had left his honor behind before that day on the battlefield when he killed his own man to save the enemy he loved, had left it in shards by the bank of the river that long ago day.
The wind lifted the powdered shell from his hand and carried it away.
Kusaka smiled through his tears, and pulled the wakizashi from Akizuki’s body. Its weight was strange in his hand for a moment, then he found its balance. It belonged to Aizawa, he realized, but that didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered, except the serene expression Akizuki wore, as if at the very end, there had been no pain.
He bent to brush his lips across Akizuki’s cold cheek once more, making a promise.
Then he drove the blade home.
The snow had partially covered the bodies when General Aizawa discovered them. Kusaka was hunched over Akizuki, his face resting against the other’s throat, and their blood had mingled, had run in a river and frozen in the snow.
Aizawa allowed himself a moment of sorrow for the death of the man who had been his friend, his partner in the fight to open the country to the West. Then he turned and walked back the way he had come, and let the snow finish what it had begun.
February 20, 2005
© randi (K. Shepard), 2005