you are (not) a hero
(Major spoilers for book 3)
The bokken slashed through the air, a rhythmic series of downwards cuts and strokes. The boy panted hard but the set was almost finished. At the thirtieth swing, he returned the practice weapon to his side as he was taught, his sword arm relaxed but ready to move in a flash should trouble attack him unexpectedly.
Loud clapping rang through the air, coming from behind him. Startled, the boy nearly jumped a meter into the air and dropped his bokken. He whirled around quickly to face his foe, but then immediately dropped into a clumsy bow in front of his sensei, Kenji.
Kenji grinned at Ige. “Nice job, Ige. The swings are looking better. Your moves are—pun intended—a lot sharper.”
Ige quickly straightened himself, only to bow again a few more times. “A-arigatou, s-sen-sensei! I did like you said! I kept a sturdy stance and grip on my sword to improve the force of my swing!”
“Haha, that you did, that you did. Looking great!” Kenji clapped his trainee on the back. The boy nearly stumbled under the praise but managed to stay on his feet.
“Do you think… that I’ll be ready for the tournament?” Ige said in a smaller voice.
Kenji’s grin turned serious. He looked down at this boy, this young life, this innocent who was thrust in a battle he did not choose. How many bodies would lie in the dust for Ige to see? How many screams of torture and agony would Ige have to hear? Kenji felt the old anger begin to bubble up inside of him. All this for the whims of power-hungry samurai who swore to “protect” their people by offering them up as a sacrifice in a sick and twisted tournament? Fuck them.
“Ige-kun.” The boy stared back at him, wide eyes full of innocence and trust. And Kenji swore to keep that innocence in his eyes just a little while longer, before it had to be exposed to the taint and poison of war. Even though he knew he was the lowest of the low, a dirty ronin, he swore to be worthy of the faith Ige and the other Tanimura students placed in him.
“We’ll be ready. And together in the tournament. No matter the practice, no matter how strong our foes, as long as we work as a team and believe in each other, we’ll be stronger than anything else and prevail.” Kenji returned to his grin and offered a fist bump to Ige.
“Y-yes sir! I’ll be strong enough to protect everyone!” Ige cheered and smiled brightly.
“And that means,” Ige’s smile stretched further, more than was humanely possible, wide enough to show all of his bared teeth, “I’ll be strong enough to kill you, sensei.”
Kenji stared down in shock, only to notice that Ige’s bokken—no, Sadao’s katana , was now plunged into his stomach. As soon as he noticed the blade, immense pain started spiraling from his gut.
Kenji felt at a loss for air, could only choke and gasp inaudibly as Ige stepped in closer. The boy shoved in the sword further and twisted it, causing Kenji to gape silently in torment. Kenji looked back into Ige’s eyes, which had grown dark enough to rival even the purest obsidian.
“After all, you were strong enough to let me die, weren’t you?”
Kenji snapped awake with a hoarse yell. It was the only sound that echoed in the small, dilapidated hut he was in. Fragile light spilled down from the holes in the straw roof, illuminating spots in the dirty floor covered in ash, debris, dried blood spots, and Kami knew what else. Kenji leaned back against the walls of the hut and he shuddered in the chill of winter air, trying to draw a tattered, bloodstained blue haori around him further. He gave up on trying to conserve warmth and put his face in his hands, trembling and gasping lightly as he tried to calm his pounding heart. As the remnants of his nightmare ran through his mind, he began to claw at his temple and bit his lip as hard as he could, enough to feel the blood welling around his teeth and trickle down his chin.
“I’m sorry,” he moaned in a low voice. I’m sorry, Ige-kun . And he began to recite the other names that habit slowly poured into his mind. Hinata. Kaze. Suzuki. Haru. Sanosuke. Yoshi. Fuuga. So many others, so many of his men and brothers-in-arms. It seemed that Ige would be another face on his list of sins, the list of people that depended on him and died for it. All because he was too slow, too stupid, too WEAK—
“Bad dreams again?” Akane’s quiet voice from off to the side interrupted his torrential stream of thought.
Kenji breathed out slowly in relief. Made himself relax bit by bit before turning to reply to her with a tired smile.
But there was no one there. No Akane to talk to, no jade green eyes to meet his and stare in silent understanding over the aftermath of nightmares. No Masashi and Masami to tease together, no Toshio to argue with, no Hatch to drink with, no Momoko look after him worriedly. No Daisuke, Borgia, Nishi, or Kohaku to banter and train with, and certainly no presence of another human being to take comfort in. Because he chose to leave them all when he ran out of the tournament grounds: after Ige had died and he killed General Shantao and revealed who he truly was .
He ran to save them. Had to, really. To keep them away from a wreck and failure of a swordsman.
The sun still shone, the wind still breezed by gently. The distant animals rustled in the snow-covered underbrush outside. The world kept going and didn’t stop for tragedy, unaware of the one man that did. And Kenji released scream after scream of rage, again and again into the empty air of the empty hut until his throat was hoarse, until the blood pounding in his ears stopped, until he was too exhausted to continue. Until his mind was silent again.
AO3 link: https://archiveofourown.org/works/21542854
6 notes · View notes