Many thanks to Jeanne for a thoughtful, thorough and speedy beta!
Suboshi was almost always on top. Amiboshi didn’t mind. How could he? At the moment he had his legs wrapped around his brother’s waist as Suboshi pushed into him. He was making the most wanton noises in response to the slow half-pain-half-pleasure of being split open in this manner. Amiboshi knew his twin loved the soft moans and sighs warm against his ear and the feeling of Amiboshi’s nails on his back.
How many times had they done this? Suboshi couldn’t remember. It felt as natural as breathing to him. Even the first time…neither of them had been surprised. He felt his aniki push against him, an unspoken signal to begin, and started moving. In this, as in so many other things, they never needed words. Muscles flexed and shifted under moon-dappled skin as the twins rocked, the zebra stripes of light and shadow blurring as they moved faster, closer and closer to the edge.
Suboshi caressed his brother’s length firmly; one long stroke from base to crown and Amiboshi arched, crying out helplessly. The younger boy held still as his aniki shuddered his way through release, then began to move again. Short, hard movements and suddenly he was coming too. He collapsed onto Amiboshi and lay still, panting hard. Their warm breath mixed with the sultry, fragrant air of a summer night in Kutou and swirled out through the open window. They had been sleeping in the room for over a month. Both boys, perpetual nomads, were getting itchy feet. Suboshi said what they were both thinking.
"Why hasn't he called us yet?"
"Nakago-sama will tell us what to do when the time comes," Amiboshi replied, even though he was beginning to wonder as well.
"We've been twiddling our thumbs for weeks now. What is he waiting for?" Suboshi twitched irritably.
An exasperated sigh. "You know what. We need Seiryuu no Miko before we can do anything. Get off me, it's too hot."
"I don't trust these people. They look at us like we're some kind of freakshow," muttered Suboshi.
"You don't trust anybody. We have the signs, Suboshi. It's dangerous to ignore signs from the gods."
Amiboshi could feel Suboshi's frustration in his skin. It was difficult to tell it apart from his own complex broth of emotions. Their feelings often leaked through like that. It was giving him a headache but he could understand even though he didn't feel the same.
He was apprehensive of the future, unsure of their roles in Nakago's grand plan, just like Suboshi. But there was something else. At the bottom of his little brother's heart was the need to start moving again. Suboshi had always been like that.
Aniki, I'm bo-o-o-o-ored!
Wait, you'll see it soon.
Aw, I bet it isn't that great. Let's go on - I heard there's a miracle worker in the next village.
Sometimes Suboshi got frustrated with him. Why don't you ever want to try anything new? he would say. The truth was, Amiboshi really didn't care, as long as they were together. When their village burned down he had realized, cowering in the forest with Suboshi, that the only thing he had was the dirty, frightened little boy in his arms.
A gust of wind disturbed the air in the room. Suboshi shivered a little, the sweat drying on his skin, and Amiboshi reached down and pulled the cotton sheet over them. They lay touching at random points, Suboshi's leg flung over one of his brother's ankles and Amiboshi's hand stroking his little brother's hair. Suboshi nestled closer, his head on his twin's chest, the steady heartbeat under his ear lulling him to sleep.
Weeks passed in the palace of Kutou and the weather grew steadily hotter. Finally, the boys were summoned into the presence of the shogun Nakago. The next day a brown-haired boy was seen leaving the palace. Another youth remained.
Some tribes in Hokkan country believe that twins are the physical manifestation of a single soul split in half. What would you do if half of you was suddenly taken away?
Seiryuu no Miko was the most beautiful girl Suboshi had ever seen. In the moment they were given to take each other's measure he had time enough to marvel at her smooth, butter-yellow hair, her small elegant features and the soft white skin of her indecently exposed legs. Then she opened her mouth.
"This boy is a Seiryuu Seishi?"
Her comments became steadily more insulting till Nakago cut in:
"Suboshi, Lady Yui is in a foul mood."
Nakago explained the plan in his deep, calm voice: one of the twins was infiltrating the Konan camp by claiming to be the seventh Suzaku Shichiseishi, Chiriko. He would gain their trust, remaining in constant communication with Kutou through his link with his twin, and then sabotage the Konan ruler's attempt to call their god.
Suboshi was secretly in awe of Nakago; it was the shogun's respectful treatment of the girl that convinced Suboshi to keep a tight rein on his temper. Aniki would have been proud of him. He demonstrated the way his bond with his brother worked, pulling up his sleeve to show them the characters that suddenly appeared on his arm, manifesting themselves as his brother wrote on his own arm many miles away.
Now he lay on his bed in his suddenly too-large room as shadows crawled up the walls, and wondered what his brother was doing. He wondered why Nakago had picked Amiboshi to go instead of him. Suboshi was by far the more adventurous of the two. His brother had accepted his orders with the calm that was his trademark. Suboshi would have been trembling with excitement in his place. Ah well…
A sly smile spread over his face and he closed his eyes, focussing his mind intently. There was more than one advantage to having a psychic link with your brother. He pulled his tunic up with one hand and stroked the soft skin between his navel and groin with the other.
Miles away, in Konan country, Amiboshi yelped and excused himself hastily from Suzaku no Miko's puzzled presence. He hurried back to his room, torn between laughter and exasperation at his younger brother. Idiot. You never could wait for anything.
Suboshi licked his lips and rubbed the aching flesh between his legs with the palm of his hand. It was almost too easy to imagine that it was Amiboshi doing this to him. They were identical almost to the calluses on their hands, the way their hair fell over their eyes. A phantom touch ghosted over his nipples and he smiled. Took you long enough, aniki.
He raised his hips and pushed his trousers down and off. With a sigh of relief he drew his legs up and spread them wide. He stroked and caressed himself with experienced fingers, not hard and fast, as he preferred, but in the languid manner that usually pleased his brother.
Amiboshi panted and gasped, running his hands feverishly over his chest, content to let Suboshi pleasure both of them. He tensed, his body as taut as a bowstring, and then relaxed, reveling in the boneless satiation that came with climax. He could sense Suboshi's contentment at the back of his mind.
He really should rouse himself to pick up brush and ink and give Suboshi something to tell Nakago. Amiboshi didn't want to. It was easy to justify it by telling himself that there wasn't anything new to report but-
When he and Suboshi had first come to the court of Kutou, he had been hard-pressed not to spoil his brother's joy at the opulence and splendor surrounding them. The sudden luxury had been a pleasant surprise but it could not compensate for the decay Amiboshi saw all about him. The sickly-sweet smell of perversion seemed to permeate the entire palace. Everywhere, expensively perfumed courtiers in silk performed little dances of treason and flattery lifelessly, as though jerked about by strings. Nakago shone in that setting - hard and cold like a sharp knife among rotting fruit. He seemed the only hope for Kutou and Amiboshi had been only too happy to admire him, obey him, believe him when he said the defeat of Konan was essential to their country's welfare.
And now he was at another court. It came with the usual self-serving nobles and fawning courtesans and yet… He liked Miaka and the Suzaku Shichiseishi, naïve and occasionally foolish though they were. He was trying his best to resist affection for the woolly-headed Suzaku no Miko, muddling along as well as she could, trying her best to do what was right. Hotohori was certainly a damn sight more regal than the emperor of Kutou was. A lot more well intentioned as well. It was a novelty, seeing a ruler whose subjects were not afraid to approach him to ask for justice. Just the day before, watching Hotohori hold open court with plaintiffs, he had caught himself wishing for such an atmosphere in his own country.
In short, he was coming to doubt everything Nakago had told him.
The day for the ceremony to summon Suzaku came closer and closer. Preparations reached a feverish pitch in Konan court. In Kutou a priestess and her general were pleased. They might not have been nearly so sanguine had they known of their spy's doubts.
Suboshi could feel his brother suppressing some strong emotion constantly. It worried him but he had faith in his brother. With justification it seemed- the trait of loyalty ran strongly in the twins. Despite his misgivings Amiboshi carried out his part flawlessly, sabotaging the ritual and crippling Miaka's guardians. Of course, neither he nor Nakago had counted on the real seventh Shichiseishi turning up.
With his assassination attempt foiled, Amiboshi had no choice but to run. If he had been able to get away cleanly, he might have been able to retreat and lick his wounds, let his resentment fester till it overpowered any other feelings he might have had for Suzaku's warriors. Instead, trapped between a swollen river and Tamahome and Tasuki, he had to hear Miaka out: "Stop it! You don't need to hurt anyone! Your tunes are lovely, aren't they? You can use them to cheer and comfort! You don't have to play the flute in cruelty!"
As he was swept away down the river, he heard Miaka call his name despairingly. The chaos of the monsoon induced floods pushed him under the surface of the water and he knew nothing more.
In Kutou, Suboshi screamed as half of his soul was suddenly excised.
Alchemists know only too well that phosphorus explodes when not kept in water. Many natural substances are dangerous without the calming influence of their complements. It is sometimes that way with people as well.
Suboshi jumped off his horse. This must be the place. He could hear the high voices of children, slightly muffled by the thick mud walls. He gripped his weapon more firmly and walked towards the open door.
Most of Tamahome's siblings were playing on the floor. One was chopping vegetables to throw in a steaming pot of water. Young faces looked up in surprise, laughter dying on their lips. In the corner, an elderly man started to rise from his bed with a politely puzzled expression on his face.
"Can I help you?"
A humorless smile stretched Suboshi's lips and exposed his sharp teeth. Something in his expression must have warned them - the oldest boy raised his knife defensively and moved in front of his brothers and sisters.
A noble gesture. Amiboshi would have been touched and ashamed. His aniki would have killed himself before doing this. His aniki was dead because he would have killed himself before doing this. Only Suboshi was left and he didn't intend to let his brother die unavenged. By killing small children and an invalid? The thought was easily pushed aside by the blue haze of revenge and anger that had dominated him since his twin's death. He raised his weapon and moved forward.
It took surprisingly little time. The eldest boy first, the one with Tamahome's grey eyes. He broke his wrist with one hand and snapped his neck with the other. The other children began to scream in high, mindless voices. Tamahome's father lunged at him. The old man was even easier to kill. Then he disposed of the other children, quickly and painlessly. He wasn't a complete monster.
In Sailo country, a young boy named Kaika finished his evening meal and wished his parents good night. It had been a good day. He and his father had managed to sell almost all their produce at the local market. They were planning to use their profits to plant even more varieties of herbs the next season. He opened the window in his room and the warm air brushing his face caused a tide of memory to wash the shores of his consciousness and then recede, frustratingly, before he could quite remember.
There was really no reason for him to feel this unease, this sinking feeling of guilt in his stomach. It almost seemed at times that he was feeling the emotions of two different people. Kaika was sure it had to do with his past. If he could only remember what he had been, what he had done before washing up on the shores of this village and being taken in by his foster parents.
The music sometimes helped. Kaika raised his flute to his lips and played softly, so as not to wake his "parents." Glimpses of another life flickered behind his eyelids and disappeared before he could make sense of them. Even more disturbing were some of the dreams he had. He saw himself making love to…himself. What kind of sickness was in him that he would imagine something like that? What kind of pervert had a dream lover who was a mirror image of himself?
He played until his fingers trembled with fatigue and he could no longer avoid falling asleep. Falling with a sense of relief into the arms of his phantom lover.
The saga of the two gods and their respective warriors continued without Amiboshi, ranging over many months across the entire continent, from Konan to Kutou to Hokkan. And finally to Sailo, where Miaka came across a boy with a familiar face.
The name sent a jolt through Kaika.
Suboshi? The word breached the walls of his forgetfulness and he was inundated with images and memories. I am Amiboshi, Seiryuu Shichiseishi. Suboshi…brother!
It was a struggle to remain impassive, to not betray the fact that he remembered, but he managed it. He had already once been forced into a battle he didn't want to fight. If pretending not to remember would give him more options this time, he had no compunctions about lying. Even though he so desperately wanted to beg Miaka for news of his brother. The emotions at the back of his mind worried him. What had happened to Suboshi after Amiboshi had disappeared? So much hate…
Amiboshi watched her as she lay in bed, recovering from…whatever had happened to her. He had a fairly good idea what that was but if she didn't want to talk about it then it was only fair that he honor that unspoken request. Besides…he had a nasty feeling that Nakago and the Seiryuu Seishi were involved. He didn't know if he could handle the knowledge that a man he had once admired so greatly had caused the changes he saw in Miaka. And he didn't want to give substance to the queasy fear that his brother had been involved somehow.
Miaka's round face had thinned slightly and her cheekbones seemed more pronounced. She was quieter. But the biggest change was not physical. She was not bitter; she could never be that but… She's tragic, somehow. As though someone has forcefully pushed her face into the ugliness of the world. Please, let it not be the Seiryuu Seishi who did this to her.
Inside his head thoughts whirled and spun and chased themselves as he kept his silence.
On the second day, Miaka said she felt better and went out into the herb garden at the back of the house. Amiboshi decided to join her some time later. She didn't hear him walking to the tree under which she was sitting. He could see her profile as she stared vaguely over the gate. The wind blew strands of brown hair across her face and she pushed them back absently.
If he hadn't been watching her so closely, he would have missed it. In the space of a moment, her back tensed and her shoulders hunched as if she were preparing to face an attacker. In the next minute, she recognized his voice and calmed, turning with the patented genki-Miaka smile.
"Are you ok?"
"Yes…how could I not be with your mother stuffing me with such good food?"
"Let's go in then."
They walked back to the house.
It was the flinch that decided Amiboshi. Miaka had reacted instinctively like a scared animal that's been hurt before. If she's here alone and the Suzaku Seishi aren't beating the door down yet, it must mean she doesn't want to go back. Or can't. In any case, I don't want to let her go. She'll only get hurt again and I couldn't bear that. And maybe without the Suzaku no Miko, there won't be a war after all.
So he made his offer to her. "Drink this and you will forget," he said. "Stay here with me." I care about you. She stared at the bowl in his hands and he could see she was tempted.
"Forget? About Nuriko and everyone and Yui and…forget about the man that still loves me after all that's happened... forget about Tamahome!"
There was a light in her face again. She refused, shaking her head, moving back and away from him. He broke down; he was so tired of pretending to her.
"Why?" he asked her. "Why?"
She listened to his half-incoherent questions and her eyes widened.
"You've remembered! But why did you pretend that you'd forgotten everything?"
He flushed slightly as he explained.
"I tried to kill myself that time."
He told her more than he had ever told anyone about himself. About the civil war that had killed his parents and left him and his brother to fend for themselves. That Nakago had said that Konan intended to summon Suzaku to conquer the world. How he didn't want any more wars and so had to fight against Miaka and her warriors. How at the river's edge he had realized his mistake:
"When I was cornered at the river... I thought that if I died, it would be impossible to summon Seiryuu. If that happened, no big wars would be fought. No one would get caught in the battles. No child would feel the same loneliness my brother and I experienced."
He demanded fiercely, "Don't you think all battles are pointless, Miaka? Don't you think so?!"
She hesitated and he pressed his advantage.
"If so, stay here! That way, there'll be no battles...and nobody will gain the power that lies in Seiryuu and Suzaku."
Amiboshi was panting slightly by then; his chest seemed squeezed in a vice that would only loosen if she agreed.
Miaka wouldn't listen. Battered and beaten down as she was, she had no intention of giving up.
"I don't want to live as a coward who ran away from her responsibilities just because a task seemed improbable, or impossible."
The pain in his chest throbbed fiercely as he looked at her. She was focussed on his face, her brown eyes steady and her mouth firm. Miaka, I'm such a coward. I have been hiding from my own duty. Suboshi, forgive me. I promised to take care of you and instead I forgot you.
Suboshi watched Yui from the shelter of leafy branches. She was sitting at the edge of the river and idly tossing pebbles into the water, unaware that he was watching her from a tree. They were only a few metres away from the rest of the Seiryuu warriors but the thick forest behind them made the spot seem completely isolated from the camp.
Yui was brooding again. Probably thinking up creative ways to hurt Suzaku no Miko. An activity of which he approved entirely. Though he did wish she'd think of other things once in a while - like him.
Pull the other one, Suboshi. She's hardly even aware you exist. And yet he loved her now, with the same blind devotion he had shown only to Amiboshi. The way she sat, shoulders hunched, head bent and her nape exposed…It made him want to jump down and comfort her, stroke her back and assure her that he would never betray her.
He knew exactly when he had begun feeling this way. After his brother's death she had been the only person to comfort him. The trait of loyalty ran strongly in the twins. Suddenly his head snapped up. He could feel…Aniki? It can't be!
He slipped down silently from the tree and began to run.
"Don't touch my brother!"
Suboshi threw his ryuuseisui at Tomo, all allegiance to Kutou forgotten as he fought to protect his aniki. He ran past Tomo's corpse to cradle Amiboshi's broken body.
"Why didn't you come back to us?"
Amiboshi trembled in his brother's arms.
"I'm sorry. It doesn't mean I forgot about you." I couldn't - even my dreams wouldn't let me.
The sun rose as they spoke, bathing the cliffs in the pale, clear light of a winter's day. Neither of the twins noticed. Suboshi listened in confusion as his brother begged him to stay, not to fight for Seiryuu. Aniki, what are you saying?
"If you want to live with me...drink it, Suboshi."
Suboshi stared at the potion that would bring him forgetfulness. To live with his brother in peace - wasn't that what he had always wanted? But what about Yui? What about Kutou? What had they done to his brother that had turned Amiboshi into this passive creature? He made his decision. Filling his mouth with the liquid, he bent down and kissed his brother, forcing him to drink the broth instead.
Amiboshi's surprised eyes looked into his own as his vision began to blur with tears.
"I'm sorry, aniki. I love Yui." And I want you to be safe. You're not meant for this but as for me…I've become a killer.
His heart twisted at the shocked pain in his brother's face. Amiboshi slumped in his arms as the medicine took effect. Forgive me, aniki.
In the weeks that followed, rife with bloodshed and disappointments, Suboshi's only consolation was that his brother was safe away from the war.
As he died in Suzaku no Miko's world, killed by Tamahome's ingenuity and the spirits of his dead siblings, Suboshi felt a surprised sort of regret. Yui. Amiboshi. Maybe I'll meet you in my next life.
In Makan village, Kaika paused in his playing and wept. It's as though I had the shock of having half of me ripped away. No, it's the opposite. It's more like the half of me that was lost has come back. Why?
He couldn't remember.
When you die in one world, it doesn't necessarily mean you die in all others. Suboshi woke in a small clearing. He stared, disoriented, at the golden-green light of the afternoon sun filtering through the forest canopy. Where am I? I…I didn't die?
He rose slowly and realized that his wounds had disappeared. So had his weapon. A thought struck him and he scrabbled frantically at his clothes. The mark of Seiryuu remained but it had turned dull brown. He tried to summon his power but the mark remained static.
First things first. He began walking through the forest. There must be a village nearby.
There was. He found it after three hours of wandering through the forest, coming upon a celebration of the war's end. He was in Konan country.
Some time later, Suboshi sat in a tavern and stared into his drink. He felt more off-balance now than when he had first woken up. Nakago was dead, the war was over and he was no longer a Seiryuu Shichiseishi. Seiryuu no Miko had disappeared - she must have stayed in her own world. Or she was dead. Either way, she wasn't coming back.
Suboshi looked at his hands. What do I do with myself? Amiboshi, I wish you were here. I said goodbye to you, didn't I? But if the war is over, does that mean we get a new beginning too?
"Kaika, there's someone here to see you."
The boy turned, apprehensive as he heard the note of strain in his mother's voice, and found himself face to face with his double.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Suboshi. Your name is Amiboshi. Now do you remember?"
Suboshi watched as his brother's face went through a dozen emotions. Then Amiboshi's eyes filled with tears and he held out his arms.
Amiboshi's "parents" were only too happy to let him stay when they realized Suboshi had not come to take their new son away.
"Of course you must stay with us. It's wonderful that you two have found each other after all this time," the mother said, bustling around the table and ladling soup into their empty bowls.
"We'll have to start calling you by your proper names." That was the father.
Suboshi wondered dispassionately what they would do if they found out what kind of relationship he really had with his brother. Or if they realized they were harboring not one but two of the vicious and immoral warriors of Seiryuu. There was no need to tell them. They were kind people and they had taken care of his aniki; he owed them a debt of gratitude for that.
The meal ended and the twins stood and walked down the corridor to Amiboshi's room. It was far from the other sleeping room and the walls were thick so they wouldn't need to be quiet. His brother closed and locked the door.
It was strange that he didn't feel the slightest bit awkward at being with his twin after so long and knowing what they were going to do. He wondered if he should feel shy or embarrassed. The thought struck him as so patently ridiculous that he laughed. Amiboshi arched an eyebrow at him and he shook his head, grinning. "It's nothing."
They stripped silently and stood facing each other by unspoken agreement, assessing the changes in the moonlight. Both had grown, Suboshi more than Amiboshi; he topped his brother by an inch or so. Amiboshi could tell that his brother liked that and his mouth quirked. He sobered as he took in the scars on his brother's body, thin white lines and bumps on the smooth golden skin. He traced a longish scar on Suboshi's chest. "You got these on the battlefield?"
"Yes. Don't worry, the other guy looks worse."
Suboshi's smile died as his brother looked up into his eyes. He remembered his brother's words to him at their last meeting. He could tell that Amiboshi remembered too, his blue eyes darkening. He didn't want to talk about that yet. No arguments yet, no explanations now, when I haven't seen you for so long. He moved suddenly, pulling his brother into his arms and taking his mouth hard, with blind desperation and hunger.
Amiboshi stiffened, then yielded, understanding what his twin wanted. He cupped Suboshi's head in his hands as they kissed, his fingers stroking through his little brother's hair. It's all right Suboshi, I'm not going anywhere and this time you won't leave me either.
Suboshi's palms wandered over his twin's back, mapping the familiar planes with loving hands. His body remembered this so acutely it seemed they had only done this yesterday. He wondered how he had gone so long without this, a little scared at his own hunger for the touch of his brother's hands.
Amiboshi steered them both to the bed and they fell onto it blindly. Facing each other they resumed their exploration, mirroring each other's movements. They reached out with their minds till they each felt two pairs of hands on them. Suboshi stroked his brother's cheekbone, tracing the lines of his face with a gentle finger. He moved down and broke the symmetry, nibbling greedily at the juncture of his brother's collarbones, lapping up the sweat that had pooled in the hollow of his throat.
The older twin lay passively, knowing how much it meant for Suboshi to be able to claim him again. Mine, his rough caresses said, mine always. He sighed as his brother moved to his nipples, biting them till they were red and erect, sensitized even to the cool night air. He felt Suboshi's hands part his thighs and pause. Amiboshi looked down in time to see his brother take him into his mouth tenderly, as carefully as if he were mouthing spun sugar. Suboshi's lashes dropped over his eyes as he sucked his twin's length. In the dim light, he looked almost childlike.
What he was doing was anything but. Amiboshi felt the long-forgotten pleasure envelop him again, a warm red tide beginning to wash through his entire body. Just as the waves were about to crash, his twin withdrew. He laid his head on Amiboshi's tense thigh and pushed the opposite knee up. The fingers of one hand reached down to stroke gently at Amiboshi's anus. Amiboshi relaxed his body as he felt one slender intruder push its way past the ring of muscle. It burned a little but the pain was an old familiar friend.
A second finger followed the first and together they found the hidden part of his body, making him cry out softly in pleasure. Amiboshi opened his mind fully so that his twin could feel it as well. He could feel his lover's hunger suddenly peak and was not surprised when Suboshi moved in a blur, rising above him and pushing into him deeply. He twined his legs about his brother's slender back and kissed him as Suboshi began to move in hard rocking motions that went straight to Amiboshi's cock.
As good as he remembered, this intense communion with his other self that attempted to merge both their bodies, make them into one being, never separated, ever again. Sweat and tears dripped from Suboshi's face onto his, joining the moisture from his own eyes. He could not look away from his twin's face. All the things they never had to say, written so clearly on their features now. I need you. I love you. I am you.
Harder now, deep strokes that cleaved him sharply, till he could almost feel it in his throat. Pulses of sensation ran through his limbs to his toes and fingertips and back till they met and exploded and Amiboshi saw stars. Dimly, he heard his brother yell.
When they recovered, Suboshi propped his head on his brother's chest and ran his hand down Amiboshi's sweat-slick torso.
"I thought about leaving you alone so you wouldn't have to remember. But I couldn't. I was selfish. I need you too badly."
"I'm glad you came. I only wish you had never left."
Suboshi's hand came up to cover his mouth. They lay silently for a while. Then he began to talk softly, telling his aniki what had happened since the day that he first became Kaika.
"When I thought you were dead I went crazy. There was no one there anymore. No one at the back of my head. Yui was the only one who tried to help. I wish you had seen her, aniki. She was so pretty. She seemed hard and cold, sort of like Nakago, but once in a while she'd crack and you'd realize that inside she was so soft…
Amiboshi began running his fingers gently through his twin's hair.
"I know whose fault it was. Nakago-sama told me everything. How those Suzaku Seishi ran after you, and you had no choice but to jump and almost drown. Three to one, the cowards! Especially Tamahome, that treacherous son of a bitch."
Amiboshi was startled by the venom in Suboshi's voice.
"I fixed him good though. Nakago-sama told me what to do. The idiot left his family unprotected in the middle of nowhere, can you believe it? Sick old man and four kids - it was almost too easy."
"Suboshi, what are you saying?" The older twin could feel terror rising from his stomach.
"An eye for an eye. He tried to kill my whole family so I killed his. He hurt Yui and protected her enemies. It was only fair."
Amiboshi had to fight not to leap from the bed and run. His heart hammered painfully and he held all his limbs rigid, for fear of what he might do. Waves of horror and shame crashed over him as he lay silently.
Suboshi kept talking, caught up in his account of the measures he had taken to avenge his brother. He talked till his throat was sore, secure in the knowledge that his twin would listen no matter what he told him.
Amiboshi's hand rested motionless in his hair and Suboshi was reminded of their nights in Kutou. They had lain exactly like this then. Suboshi told his brother everything, even about his death in the other world at Tamahome's hands.
"Weirdest thing in the world. The fucker didn't even have his Seishi powers and he was on the run. He tried the oldest trick in the book, running back towards me so that my ryuuseisui would hit me instead. I saw it coming from a mile away but when I tried to move, something held me still. Hurt like hell when I died. I'm going to get that asshole someday, make him sorry he ever met me."
Finally, he had no more to say. His confession over, he dropped into deep sleep, with an arm and a leg draped over his brother's body.
Amiboshi heard his twin's breathing even out into the regular sounds of sleep. He stared up at the ceiling, tear tracks glistening on his cheeks. Suboshi, what have you done? What have you become?
Suboshi spent the next few days getting used to the routine of their new home. He had to admit he found it dull after the excitement of the past year, but oddly reassuring. He couldn't see them doing this forever but for now it was good. Security and comfort. Lodging and food. Most important was the knowledge that the peace would not be disturbed for a long time to come.
Though, as he told Amiboshi, the same would be true if Kutou had won the war and they would have been a lot better off as well.
"We'd have been cheered up and down the streets of the imperial city."
Amiboshi frowned and Suboshi took the hint to shut up. But apart from small hiccups like that, his relationship with his brother was the same as always. He was sure they still shared the same wordless understanding they had had since childhood. And in time, he was sure his aniki would lose the irritating habit of watching him so closely. Every so often he would look up to find meditative blue eyes on him. He supposed it was because his brother was still slightly amazed that they were together again. He felt the same way. Together again. Always. He smiled at the thought. Maybe they'd go to Sailo capital sometime next year. Or Hokkan. He'd heard of some really interesting places in Hokkan.
Amiboshi looked into his twin's sleeping face. Suboshi looked so innocent. Amiboshi mentally superimposed the memory of a ten-year old Suboshi onto his brother's face. They were not so different.
And yet…When his twin opened his eyes, something changed. There was a look there that was new to Amiboshi. Or at least it was new to him when seen in his brother's face. He had seen it in the eyes of hired killers.
He had spent the past few days hoping so desperately. Probing delicately at his brother with bland questions, searching for any hint of remorse.
Ever since their mother and father had died, Amiboshi had felt more like a parent than a brother at times. He had had to rein his brother in and squelch his wilder escapades once in a while. Suboshi was impulsive and reckless. Quick to anger and slow to regret. But not cruel. He had not been cruel.
Amiboshi was sure Suboshi had not killed Tamahome's family in cold blood. He had been desperate and angry, manipulated by Nakago. Amiboshi knew he would have felt the same way had he been in Suboshi's place. But to kill four children and feel no regret…
He could live here with his brother for a long time. Or they could travel all over the world as adventurers. They could forget all about what they had been before - except that they couldn't.
He shook Suboshi by the shoulder.
"Wake up, Suboshi."
His brother stirred sleepily.
"What is it?"
"There's a full moon outside. Let's go out by the river."
Suboshi grumbled softly but finally roused himself. He put on his clothes sleepily as Amiboshi slipped a flask into his bag. They left the house quietly and walked through the moist long grass to the banks of the river. Even though the monsoon season had passed, the river was fully thirty feet wide and rushing swiftly.
They settled down below a tree, sitting shoulder to shoulder. Amiboshi looked up at the night sky. It was unusually clear and the stars shone brightly.
"Ne, aniki, tell me a story."
"Sure. Have something to drink."
Suboshi sipped at his cup as his brother began the story.
"Long ago there was a young boy who loved to hunt. He used to spend each night in the forest with his bow and arrows, looking for prey. Every morning he went back home with a bulging bag of game for his mother's table. There was nothing he couldn't catch and kill. In time the boy grew bored. He got so bored that he began to chase animals only to let them go when he caught them. He got so bored that finally he refused to chase anything at all.
"One night, out of habit, he went to the forest and waited, without much hope, for some worthwhile prey. Suddenly, he saw a silver light coming from behind a tree. He walked closer, very softly and he saw a beautiful white stag in the middle of a clearing. It was no ordinary animal obviously, but so enchanted was he by its beauty that he forgot to be quiet. The stag heard him and turned its head. The boy held his breath, expecting it to run fearfully at any moment. But the stag only preened and arched its magnificent neck as if to say: look at me, you can never catch me. Can't I though? thought the boy. He grabbed his bow and arrows and was soon in hot pursuit of his prey.
"He chased it through the forest for many days, till his shoes wore out and his clothes were ripped to shreds and the sun burnt him black. He chased it without stopping, for many nights, without eating or drinking. He chased it so that he never noticed when they both ran up to the moon and kept running."
"What happened then?"
"He kept chasing it. Look at the moon - do you see that shadow? People say that it's the boy still trying to catch his stag."
"That's a happy story."
Amiboshi looked at his brother curiously. "Why's that?"
"The boy wanted to hunt and the stag wanted to be hunted. They're both doing what they love, forever." Suboshi yawned and leaned his head against his twin's shoulder. Amiboshi put his arm around his brother and held him close.
Suboshi's sleep-slurred voice asked: "What was in that drink you gave me? It was pretty good."
"Just herbs. They'll make you feel good."
"I feel good already." Suboshi smiled sleepily and then closed his eyes.
Amiboshi picked his twin up and put him on his lap, holding him tightly. Suboshi's slow, even breaths puffed against the side of his neck and his heartbeat was steady under Amiboshi's arm.
It was true that there were good herbs in that drink. Made you feel happy, at peace with the world. And if you took it in sufficient quantities, you never had to wake up. Amiboshi realized that he was crying.
I'm sorry, Suboshi. It took me this long to realize there couldn't be a happy ending for us. You were never meant to be this way.
Already Suboshi's heartbeat was slowing; the warm exhalations of air coming slower and slower. He held his twin's body for a long time. When that vital link at the back of his mind went dead, he knew it was over.
He stood and began to dig a grave for his brother. It was a nice spot, quiet and surrounded by flowering bushes. The ground was soft so it didn't take him very long. He lowered Suboshi's body into the grave and arranged his limbs properly. His twin looked beautiful, his features peaceful and happy. He had to force himself to begin filling up the grave. It was done finally and he put a large stone over it to mark the spot.
Amiboshi walked back to the tree they had sat under. He picked up the flask and shook it. There was still enough that he could join his brother, never have to be without him again. Like the boy and his stag. But that would be too easy. He remembered talking to Miaka. It seemed so long ago now:
"Why? Why? Don't you want to be free of pain?"
And her answer:
"I'm...I'm...not allowed to forget! The people who care about me! People who are important to me, who helped me... To forget about all those people! I won't allow myself to forget!"
No, he wouldn't allow himself to forget either. That was his penance. One can only be a coward for so long. The pain had already begun.
Amiboshi slung his bag over his shoulder and walked away. Behind him, the sun was rising.