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Title: Two Against the World (Parts 1-9)
Rating: Overall NC-17
Pairing: Kojuurou/Masamune
Warnings: Uh ...ghei. Lots of it. Also porn. With vague attempts at plot here and there and trying to fill in the huge history gap SB leaves us with. Mostly, I just wrote porn, though. I'm not going to lie =_=;; Oh yes, and glorious rape of Date Masamune's wiki page.
Notes: Special thanks to evocates for looking over this for me \o/



[ 1 :: these ruptured lungs won't make a sound ]

The sun had barely peeked over the horizon when Kojuurou received the summon to visit his master in his domain. Private meetings between them were rare nowadays with Terumune occupied with his land's affairs and barely even having enough time to oversee training. It was even rare that they'd find time to speak to one another outside of formal affairs, but nonetheless Kojuurou felt honored to remain in both the man's presence and his household when he could.

He had harbored every desire since youth to become one of his most loyal and strongest retainers and had been bristling with pride the day the man had finally agreed to take him on as his page. Now just having reached adulthood and taken the name the men of his family all bore, he found himself distinctly pleased with his own progress.

It did, however, bring into question what this meeting would be about. There was no reason for a promotion nor a reprimand, which meant it was a probably a special request at his lord's behest. The last time he had fulfilled an order had been to take part in a caravan as his Lord had travelled passed the borders into Echigo to re-negotiate their treating. That in itself had been a difficult affair, the lot of them all anxious and prepared for an ambush, but the ruler of Echigo had proven himself to be an earnest man who wouldn't sink to such tactics to obtain more land for himself. His honorability was definitely admirable, and a part of Kojuurou hoped he could accompany their lord on a similar task this time.

As soon as he arrived at the household, clad in the same basic attire the rest of his retainers wore, another one of Terumune's attendants met him.

"Our Lord has been waiting for you, Katakura-sama," the man told him, bowing his head before leading him towards the main meeting room of the Date household.

Terumune was already seated when Kojuurou stepped inside and bowed in greeting.

"I have come as requested, my Lord."

The man had a stern expression on his face and sat with his back straight, looking every bit displeased. For a moment, Kojuurou feared that he had arrived late but knew that was an impossibility. What else could he have done to incite his lord's anger? Had his attire not been to his lord's preference?

He almost glanced at his outfit self-consciously but stopped himself from committing the rude gesture while Terumune addressed him directly.

"Raise your head and look at me."

"Yes, my Lord," Kojuurou responded, raising his head abruptly.

Terumune's expression had not changed, the man regarding him seriously and not like the paternal figure he had once shown himself to be. Something had changed since their last meeting, making Kojuurou continuously fret about how he had displeased his lord. He'd done everything the man had told him and had made every effort to perform his duties in an exemplary fashion.

"Let me assuage you right away that this is not a reprimand," Terumune began, and Kojuurou was almost tempted to breathe out a sigh of relief. Again, he stopped himself, maintaining his composure. "In fact, it is a request. Perhaps the biggest one I will ever ask of you. Bear in mind that I considered no one else but you for this."

Kojuurou's heart was hammering in his chest the more Terumune spoke. He couldn't tell if it was excitement or anxiety at the unknown. Would he be asked to join his lord in battle again? The prospect of fighting at his side was something he continuously aimed for, wanting to do nothing more than fight in his lord's name.

"Unfortunately, by fulfilling this request, it means that from this day forward, you will no longer be under my command."

The moment he heard those words, he felt his heart sink painfully, eating its way down his chest and into his stomach. How could this be? He'd done all that he could to satisfy his lord and had helped secure a number of victories for Oushuu. Why now -all of the sudden?! Was he being sent away? He didn't want another lord!

He clamped teeth around his tongue to keep from protesting but almost showing impatience to hear what else the man had to tell him.

Terumune's face finally changed into something reflecting deep sorrow as his eyes moved from Kojuurou's gaze to sweep the floor before him. "You will, instead, be devoting all your concentrated efforts into raising my oldest son," he continued, "I worry that he may not live long with his current condition, but nonetheless, I want you to instruct him as I have instructed you these past few years."

Kojuurou's stomach continued to churn violently at those words, only vaguely recalling his lord's first born son. He'd met him a few times before, watching him from a distance as the boy never allowed others to get close to him. He was a frail, little thing, far too thin and pale for his age. Illness had rendered his body nearly useless, taking with it his right eye and leaving such a vivid deformity in its place.

That wasn't the man that was meant to rule Oushuu. That wasn't the man who would succeed the Lord that Kojuurou had already pledged his loyalty to.

"Kojuurou," Terumune said slowly, staring him in the eyes again, his face softening as he gazed down at him with renewed paternal affection, "No other page has served me as well as you have. I hope you understand the great honor I am bestowing you. I believe that you will make that boy into the strongest ruler this land has ever seen."

And there it was, the words that finally broke his resolve. Kojuurou squeezed his eyes shut and bowed, his head touching the ground as he felt overwhelmed with an emotion he couldn't describe. It was anger, sadness, pride, happiness, gratitude and so much more all at once. If this is what his lord wanted of him then he was in no place to object. He would fulfill his wishes to the best of his abilities.

"My Lord, I, Kojuurou, will be honored to do as you have asked of me."

There was a hint of a smile on Terumune's face as he nodded. "Then from this day forward, I am no longer your lord. Your new lord is Bontenmaru, the first born son of the Date household. Serve him as you have served me. Treat him with the same respect. And most of all, always remain by his side."

"Yes, my Lord."

Kojuurou meant his accession with everything his heart and soul had to offer. Even if it wasn't an ideal situation for him, he could not turn down the man that had bestowed him the honor and prestige of taking part in the Date household. Whatever he asked, Kojuurou would give him without question.

"Very well. You are dismissed. Your new lord awaits you in his room."

"Please accept my humble gratitude once again, my Lord."

[ 2 :: feast your eyes, i'm the only one ]

His feet felt heavier than normal as he walked towards Bontenmaru's room, trying to hide the reluctance from his body's stance. Other attendants and retainers looked on him with pity and remorse for having inherited the cumbersome job. It was well known that the boy was a cause for shame in the household, always hidden behind closed doors and dark rooms so no one could look upon his deformities.

Another of the house's attendants opened the screen door to Bontenmaru's room as he arrived. Her eyes refused to meet his, but there was pity written in her expression. Who that pity was directed at had yet to be determined, but Kojuurou didn't dwell on it, stepping inside and letting his eyes circle the unlit room.

For a brief moment, Kojuurou suspected he was alone and the boy had gone elsewhere, but then there was a shift -the faintest rasps of clothing against wood. Kojuurou's eyes followed the noise to the corner of the room where a lump resided under a plain white sheet.

Remembering his manners, Kojuurou quickly descended to his knees and bowed cordially to the lump. "Bontenmaru-sama, please forgive the intrusion, but your father has assigned me to be in your service. From this day forward, I, Katakura Kojuurou, will serve you."

Silence continued to reign over the room, and the lump remained unresponsive until Kojuurou finally raised his head in time to catch one uncovered eye peeking at him curiously from the top of the sheet. Kojuurou attempted a placating smile, his hand reaching out to pull the sheet away, but the moment he moved to do so, the sheet went back up, covering the boy's head again.

"Bontenmaru-sama, if you would please- ...I don't mean any harm."

The boy didn't move again, and his overly timid behavior was already rapidly grating on his nerves. How was he to train and instruct him if he couldn't even get the boy to look at him?

"Bontemaru-sama," he repeated, trying to keep his voice even. Force wouldn't do in this situation as he didn't want to alienate himself further from the boy.

The eye peaked out again, wide as it regarded him carefully, then slowly the sheet started to be lowered, revealing the rest of his face. His hair had been grown out to cover the deformed eye, which he now kept hidden under tightly wound bandages. The rest of his hair was swept in a small ponytail to the back with only a few strands curling around his round and pudgy cheeks. His skin was ghostly white, almost translucent in the dark, and his hands were slender, almost feminine as they remained curled around the sheet.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" Kojuurou found himself asking, thinking the sunlight would do the boy some good.

He was immediately greeted with the rapid shake of the boy's head and a look akin to terror.

"He's not to go out. Ever," a feminine voice snapped from the door.

It was laden with venom, a dagger hidden beneath the woman's tongue, and Kojuurou tensed up before glancing over his shoulder, his breath dying in his throat as he beheld the lady of the house.

She was devastatingly beautiful with skin as white as the moon's surface and eyes as blue as a pond on a clear morning. The resemblance between her and the first born was uncanny, leaving no mistake who his mother was. Unfortunately, she took no pride in sharing genes with something she obviously considered an abomination. Her severe expression spoke of hate and disgust towards the boy, who had done nothing to earn it.

"I don't know why he delegated such a responsibility to you. It's a waste. That boy will die before winter comes."

Bontenmaru flinched at the words and found himself hiding back under the sheet, his form visibly trembling, either in fear or sadness -- or both. Kojuurou remained tight-lipped, eyeing the woman silently and in no position to argue against her.

She seemed to take some sort of satisfaction with frightening the child and cast a cold smile in his direction before stepping out of the room. Once she was out of ear shot, Kojuurou let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding in. The boy was still shaking, and the barest of hiccups could be heard from under the sheet.

He wished he had some words of comfort to tell him, but as she said, things did not look good for him. If he didn't become stronger then the succession was certain to fall to his younger brother. Kojuurou couldn't fail Lord Terumune like that. If his former lord told him that Bontenmaru would grow up and be a strong leader -the best that Oushuu will ever see- then Kojuurou would do everything in his power to make it happen.

"Bontenmaru-sama," he whispered, keeping his voice low so nobody but the boy would hear, "there's a path I know that cuts around the rice fields. No one would see us if we went at night."

That seemed to get a better response, the boy's head popping up as if he was a gopher in a hole. His visible eye was wide, trained on him in disbelief.

"The fresh air would do you good."

Bontenmaru seemed to consider his words before nodding slowly, the sadness lifting from his face a bit. Kojuurou couldn't help smiling down at him, thinking this was progress.

[ 3 :: would i fall under that spell again? ]

Winter came too quickly and with it a sullen somberness that rang throughout the household. Bontenmaru still lived, and his face had started to obtain a bit of a healthy glow from the daily walks he'd taken with Kojuurou. He was still too timid to ever say more than a few words in a small voice that made it difficult to understand.

Some days, Kojuurou wondered how much the boy could comprehend about the world around him. His eye seemed to absorb everything with a crisp clarity, yet when asked about his thoughts on any subject matter, he had nothing to contribute. His expression would go vacant, and his lips would never move.

One night while they toured the gardens of the Date estate together, Kojuurou felt small hands suddenly tugging at his sleeve. He looked down to find Bontenmaru crouching over a set of flowers, the last that remained alive under winter's spell. His fingers eagerly cradled them, mercilessly plucking them from the ground. They were vivid red as if the leaves had been kissed by the blood of fallen warriors.

Something about them made Kojuurou uneasy, especially when resting between the fingers of the boy he'd sworn his life to. Bontenmaru held onto them the whole way back, saying nothing about what he intended to do with them. Kojuurou needlessly indulged him, still unable to fight off the uneasy feeling.

Only that very next morning he felt some sort of retaliation for his actions. The door to his room had been opened against his consent, and in walked Yoshime with the flowers crushed between a handkerchief. She dropped the remains on his lap with revulsion written on her features.

"Take him out again and consider your position here terminated, as well as your life," she threatened.

It was the only thing she said to him before marching away in a flurry of expensive silks and beautiful, ornate patterns that overstimulated the visual senses, especially at this time in the morning. Fearing for his position, Kojuurou told Bontenmaru that they could no longer go out, something which caused the boy much disappointment.

Kojuurou couldn't bear to see his downcast face as he stared at his lap, his tiny fingers scrunching the fabric of his yukata between them. "Did ...she like the flowers?"

Kojuurou still had the crushed remains in his pocket, and he fought the urge to go search for them. "Yes," he answered stiffly, inwardly wincing at the obvious lie.

But it made Bontenmaru smile, something Kojuurou had never seen before.

"I'm glad," the boy said softly then fell back into his characteristic silence, leaving Kojuurou in guilt

[ 4 :: i need something more to keep on breathing for ]

The seasons continued to pass unhindered, winter changing quickly into spring and summer. The heat rolled in, unbearable and stifling, leaving Kojuurou clad almost permanently in his summer yukata. During these days, he tried to prompt Bontenmaru into practicing outside with his bokken, but the boy refused, fearing upsetting his mother by showing his eye in public.

Even with bandages wound around, he felt self-conscious and terrified to leave his room. The woman didn't make matters easier on him by scoffing at him any opportunity she had. Her attentions were also constantly cast upon Terumune's second born. In contrast to Bontenmaru, the boy was a ball of energy, already displaying cleverness and tenacity at his age.

Rumors started to spread that the clan would fall in his hands instead of Bontenmaru's, but Terumune had neither confirmed nor rejected the idea. It strengthened his resolve to make Bontenmaru someone worthy of the household's request.

However, try as he might, the boy was stubborn when it came to any of his lessons and still refused to say more than just a few words at a time. It was beginning to grate on Kojuurou's patience, who worried more about the boy's fate than the boy himself did.

One afternoon in particular when the boy refused to come out of his room, Kojuurou finally snapped at him, throwing the bokken down in front of his feet, the clatter making Bontenmaru stumble backwards and stare at him with one wide eye.

"...Ko...juurou...?"

"Do you want to succeed your father's position or not? I'm asking you this now because I refuse to waste any more time!"

It was anger that made him say those words. He hadn't quite shed all the hot-headedness from his youth. After all, he was just barely a man, only narrowly touching on twenty years.

Silence covered the room for several agonizing minutes in which Kojuurou contemplated apologizing, if only to erase that shattered look on the young lord's face. He opened his mouth to do just that, but Bontenmaru beat him to it.

"Yes," he replied, softly at first then louder. "Yes!"

He shook in his spot, and tears welled up in his uncovered eye, threatening to spill down his cheek. "More than anything," he added brokenly.

Kojuurou immediately fell to his knees and bowed in front of him. "My apologies for doubting you, my Lord. I only want to see you prosper. Please don't allow your mother's words to stifle your will."

Bontenmaru nodded slowly and sniffed loudly before rubbing stubbornly at his eye, trying to erase the tears. It was the first time Kojuurou could taste the will of fire that ran beneath such a fragile exterior.

[ 5 :: i never knew the taste of blood till now ]

The boy's progress was still too slow to bring anyone comfort. His sickly body couldn't keep up with the training routine Kojuurou had devised for him. It was disappointing to say, the least, and the boy was already so easily defeated by his own lack of self-confidence. Fear was always painted on his young face, clouding him from seeing his own potential.

He could be so much better than he was.

He should be so much better than he was.

The only thing that stopped him in his tracks was that diseased eye. Kojuurou had seen it uncovered to know it was grotesque while it was open. The boy could no longer see out of it, leaving it to be an ornament of all he would ever fail to be.

Kojuurou grew to hate that eye just as much as Bontenmaru's mother did.

But he still held fondness for the boy it was attached to and couldn't bear to let the boy continue like this.

It was for his sake he continuously told himself as his hands carefully cleaned the knife. It was sharp and made for precision cutting, which would hopefully make the job easier than not. The thought alone still inspired a great degree of revulsion, but he had already convinced himself that there was no other choice in the matter.

He had to make the boy into a ruler.

"Will it hurt a lot?" Bontenmaru asked him that night, perhaps too quickly conceding to Kojuurou's suggestion that it be removed.

He had suspected Bontenmaru would protest and run away at the sight of the blade, but instead, the boy had surprised him with unprecedented understanding for his own situation. He, most of all, probably wanted it to be taken out.

"Yes," Kojuurou admitted, refusing to sugarcoat the obvious. The boy would be in great pain, and it would take him a long time to recover. Since he'd already lost vision in that eye, wearing bandages for an extended period should be no problem. Once the eye was fully healed, they could resume their training.

No matter how simple it sounded in his head, though, it was nothing compared to the reality of holding up the blade to Bontenmaru's face and watching the boy tremble in his spot. A rag was placed in his mouth to bite down on so he wouldn't alert the household with his screams, and his fingers twisted the fabric of his own yukata, trying to fight the reflex to push the knife away.

"Please endure, Bontenmaru-sama. I will try to be quick."

Bontenmaru swallowed loudly and nodded, his knuckles going white the tighter he gripped his own yukata. The tip of the knife sunk into his skin with a sickening sound that nearly cost Kojuurou the contents of his stomach. Bontenmaru screamed around the gag in his mouth, a sound of pure agony that made Kojuurou want to stop and hold the crying boy to his chest.

He didn't.

He continued to carve the eyeball right out of the socket and ignored the boy's pain until he finished with the job.

Afterwards, Bontenmaru remained in tears, trembling and wetting himself, his skin stark pale as the blood leaked out in incessant rivulets from his now empty eye socket. It was horrifying, and Kojuurou couldn't bear to look even as he carried the boy to the baths and cleaned him off. He didn't leave his side the rest of the night, curling up by his futon and watching him, the guilt still eating away at him for having caused his lord so much pain.

'It was for his own benefit,' he continued to tell himself, but the words lost their meaning every time he heard another sob come from the lump on the futon.

When he finally began to drift into an uneasy sleep, he felt cold fingers suddenly touch the palm of his hand and heard a tiny whispered thank you, which he had to convince himself wasn't just an illusion.

[ 6 :: if you fall, would you tell anybody? ]

Another tutor walked out of the study room, looking deeply perturbed, the man's face white as he shook his head. Kojuurou sighed in resignation, almost afraid to ask what had happened. While Bontenmaru's studies were progressing well in all areas, there were subtle ...problems here and there with his attitude.

"He said he wasn't interested and threw the book at my head," the tutor groused, his forehead bearing the telltale proof that the story wasn't fake.

While he had already come quite a ways from the timid boy he had been months ago, his progress wasn't exactly headed in the direction Kojuurou had hoped it would.

"I shall speak with him at once. Please accept my deepest apologies."

The tutor sniffed loudly at him, refusing to be placated. "His behavior better improve the next time I return."

Kojuurou nodded and bowed again before entering the study room. Bontenmaru was still seated in his spot, head resting on his palm as he stared out at the window.

"Bontenmaru-sama," he began, "I hope you understand what lengths we had to go through to obtain the best scholars for you. It would do you well to listen to th-"

"They're boring," Bontenmaru cut him off, showing no qualms about interrupting them. "What do I need to learn about poetry for? I'm not going to write any stupid poems."

Kojuurou sighed loudly, well aware the boy wouldn't be so easily convinced. "Your father wants you to become well-versed in all facets of society, including the arts."

The boy didn't respond to him, ignoring his explanation entirely in favor of staring outside. It was still early spring, the sakura trees having just bloomed, painting the grass in pale pink.

"I want to go for a walk again. Just like we used to," Bontenmaru suddenly said, changing the topic abruptly.

Kojuurou hadn't taken him out since he'd received that threat from the lady of the house. Of course, circumstances were different then. She hadn't wanted to have the shame of the Date clan publicly exposed. Now with the eye removed, Kojuurou didn't see any harm in indulging him just for a bit, especially on such a beautiful day.

"For a while. Then you must continue your studies."

The young lord smiled at him and sprang up from his seat, catching Kojuurou by the hand and squeezing. Kojuurou couldn't help but smile in return as he lead him outside. A slight breeze rustled the trees around them, loosening a few petals, which landed on their hair.

Bontenmaru laughed, a sound that had been foreign up until recently, and shook them out of his own hair before grabbing a hand full and playfully blowing them at Kojuurou's face. The older man swatted at the petals before returning the favor, laughing a bit when some got in Bontenmaru's clothes and the boy wriggled around on his feet, trying to get them out.

They spent the rest of the day outdoors, longer than Kojuurou would have liked, but he didn't regret it when he saw how spirited Bontenmaru seemed, the boy unable to sleep at all that night from the prior excitement.

The next morning, Kojuurou received a summoning from the Terumune, something which made his stomach churn in dread. He could never tell what these meetings would entail or if the man would express severe displeasure in how Kojuurou was raising his first born.

His heart pounded in his chest as he stepped inside, falling into a swift bow as he greeted the head of the Date clan.

"You wished to see me, my Lord?"

Terumune's expression was severe as always, age showing itself in the wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. He looked to be under deep stress, no doubt from the growing tension between Oushuu and its neighboring territories.

"You always come in here looking as if you'll be reprimanded," Terumune chided, his voice holding an edge of lightheartedness in spite of the hardened look on his face.

"My deepest apologies, My Lord. I do not mean to expect the worse, but I do prepare for it to some degree."

"If anything, I am pleased with what you've done for my son. He's changed... he's changed a lot since he came into your care. I've never heard the sound of his laughter until yesterday."

Kojuurou could feel his shoulders start to relax and some of the tension ease from his body. He was glad to have done well, Terumune's opinion still having a great deal of effect on him.

"Unfortunately, Yoshihime is still convinced that our second born should be named the heir."

This was what Kojuurou feared -that that dreaded woman would be able to sway things to her own side and have Kojiro appointed as the heir. He showed no reaction on his face even though his thoughts were in turmoil, disliking where this conversation was headed.

"I have not agreed, yet. There is still time for Bontenmaru to grow and learn. I want to see him become more than what he is right now."

Kojuurou wanted the same. He knew he had to push the boy harder, knew that Oushuu's future currently rested in his hands.

"He will," Kojuurou promised, raising his head to look the man in the eye. "I, Kojuurou, will help him."

[ 7 :: split me wide open and look inside ]

The passage of time was never so noticeable until one traced the path all the way to the beginning. Kojuurou sometimes wondered how the young boy who once shielded himself from the world with a meager blanket could have turned into such a demon in a small amount of time. The young lord was already approaching twelve years of age and still showed a severe lack of discipline.

What was even worse was the fact that he managed to drive away more of his tutors, claiming the subjects uninteresting. For reasons unknown, he seemed only taken with his foreign tutor, always eager to hear the man speak. Sometimes he'd repeat whatever the man was saying without knowing the meaning, finding something amusing in mangling his own mother tongue with such strange inanities.

Kojuurou allowed it as the boy was finally showing promise in other areas -namely wherever fighting was concerned. He would always show up to his lessons early and eager to learn and would spend hours afterwards swinging his bokken non-stop until his arms burned and ached with the effort.

His body had also begun to fill out, taking on a more healthy shape, his skin attracting a bit of color, as well. Kojuurou hoped it was enough to please the lord of the house, for now, but he still had to combat the ill attentions cast upon Bontenmaru from his mother.

The woman had avoided him entirely and refused to acknowledge his existence even during the few instances when their paths would cross. This would leave Bontenmaru abruptly reticent afterwards and unwilling to comply with anyone.

He would always return to his normal self by morning, bringing a grin with him to practice as he carried his bokken confidently across his shoulders.

On the eve of his twelfth birthday, Terumune himself had come to see his son, presenting him with his very first blade. Bontenmaru nearly wept there, his eye wet with some unnamed emotion as he accepted the sword.

"Your glory begins here, my son," Terumune told him and patted the boy's head lightly, a proud smile on his face.

That evening Kojuurou observed quietly as Bontenmaru gave a few test swings with the sword. It was still too heavy for him to properly use without the momentum sending him stumbling forward awkwardly or making him drop the sword, but the boy was stubbornly willing to try until he could swing it in perfect harmony.

Kojuurou found himself rising to paste himself to the younger boy's back, his hands moving over his wrists to guide him. Together they maneuvered the sword, turning it from a child's play thing to a deadly weapon. Bontenmaru looked pleased afterwards and kept the sword with him in his room, only a few feet from where he slept.

[ 8 :: yet my hands are shaking; i feel my body reeling ]

It was rare for Bontenmaru to be late or absent from his morning training, that thought making Kojuurou frown with worry as he hurried to the boy's room to rouse him. Had he slept in? Was he ill?

There was no one in his room when he arrived, and his futon was absent of any sheets, making matters even more disconcerting. Kojuurou hurried to begin searching all over the estate, fretting even more when none of the servants claimed to have seen him, either.

His search lead him to the bathing areas where the boy was crouched naked over a bucket, furiously drowning his sheets in the water. He seemed frantic and disheveled, something unnamed in his expression.

"Bontenmaru-sama?" he questioned, approaching the younger boy.

Bontenmaru looked like he was about to leap out of his skin at that moment, his face turning bright red as he quickly plucked the sheet from the water.

"Are you all right?" Kojuurou pressed, looking for any visible wounds or illness, but the boy was absent of any signs of either.

"It's nothing," Bontenmaru murmured, wringing the sheets out.

"That's not your task. Why didn't you leave them out for the servants to take care of? Did you spill something?"

"No! I just felt like doing it this morning," Bontenmaru said quickly. Defensively. His shoulders were tense, and he angrily threw down the sheets next to the bucket. "They can finish it if they'd like."

The strange behavior didn't ease Kojuurou's worry at all. He tried to think of something to account for it, not sure whether to continue to pry. "Very well. You were late to practice this morning."

"It won't happen again," Bontenmaru muttered, but his mood was still sour even when they finally got around to practice.

Instead of performing as well as he normally did, Bontenmaru was tripping over his feet and missing easy openings. It was after he fell down for about the third or fourth time that Kojuurou sent him away to rest, thinking the boy was merely hiding the fact that he was sick.

A similar incident occurred a week later with a red-faced Bontenmaru scrubbing stubbornly at his night yukata. Kojuurou observed him with increased worry, unsure what to make of it.

"Bontenmaru-sama, with all due respect, if there is a problem that would interfere with your instruction," he paused, trying to find a better way to express his desire to help the boy with whatever he needed, "...have I not always assisted you all these years in whatever you desired?"

The boy went tense again, squeezing the wet yukata between his fingers and looking as if he would happily like to sink into the ground at that moment.

"...is it supposed to do that?" he asked in a low voice.

Kojuurou frowned in deeper confusion, trying to figure out what the boy was talking about. "Is what supposed to do what?"

"It," Bontenmaru intoned, his eye glancing downward for a moment.

Then it hit him like the blunt edge of a sword whipping him across the face, and Kojuurou's eyes widened for a moment as if for the first time noticing that his young lord was getting along in age. Where he once barely reached just over his waist, now his head was almost to Kojuurou's shoulder, and the once pudgy cheeks that surrounded the young lord's face were now being sharpened into fine cheek bones like his mother possessed.

It still felt like just yesterday Kojuurou had the boy riding on his back after a trek through the Date family's gardens. Now Bontenmaru was standing before him red-faced and treading a very delicate subject.

"Bontenmaru-sama," he began, finding it difficult to look the boy in the eye, especially when he seemed so lost and confused. Kojuurou could remember being that age when his body was changing too quickly for his mind to process and when he couldn't explain why suddenly touching his own skin had felt so good. "We shouldn't speak of these matters outside. There are women nearby."

"But-," Bontenmaru said quickly, his fingers twisting harder at the fabric in his hands, "I don't like cleaning ...in the mornings."

Again, Kojuurou could sympathize, having done the same at his age. He only wished he had better words to explain what his body would come to crave, something that had proven to be a downfall for many men. His mind wandered back to Yoshihime and her stunning beauty. He wondered if Bontenmaru would grow up to take a wife of that sort of esteem but found it hard to imagine that the boy could be tamed by a woman. Even he himself found it difficult to tame him.

"Why don't we discuss these matters indoors?"

Bontenmaru looked like he was going to protest, but he stopped short and silently slipped on his wet yukata instead, looking sour about the whole ordeal.

[ 9 :: you say forever can't touch you ]

The first time the boy saw war, he was only fourteen years of age. He rode bravely amongst Terumune's other soldiers, his back straight and his chest held high, fear absent from his face. It was the first time Kojuurou could see the leader he would become.

The armor still looked to bulky on his slim figure, but he endured it without complaint, only expressing excitement at the prospect of getting to fight. Terumune looked upon the boy as well, brimming with pride and allowed him to take the helm for the very first time.

"I will bring you a victory, father," the boy promised, and Kojuurou had no doubt the boy would keep true to his words.

He stayed by his side the entire time, his eyes never straying from the boy's back, preventing anyone from touching it. Meanwhile, Masamune tore through enemy after enemy, killing without restraint and never once stopping to reconsider his actions. He showed a different face that way, stripping away the fleshy outer parts that rooted him to the world of men and finally revealing his fangs.

The enemies feared his approach, backing away from the boy-beast as he took out their forces. He was truly a marvel to behold, unstoppable in his own battle path.

But he was not without his own vulnerabilities, and Kojuurou still remembered the way his heart had frozen in his chest as he watched the arrow that threatened to lodge itself into the boy's heart. In those precious few seconds, instinct pushed from where he stood, his feet burning as he launched himself in front of the boy and knocked the arrow away with his sword.

He could barely recall what happened afterwards, his mind a hazy blankness as he looked down at Bontenmaru's wide-eyed face. The boy had nearly been kissed in the heart by death, something that left them both in a state of shock.

"Please be more careful, my Lord!" Kojuurou admonished.

And to his surprise, Bontenmaru's face broke into a grin, "But you'll be there to protect me, won't you?"

"Of course," he replied and meant it, etching the promise into his own heart. As long as Bontenmaru remained living, he would forever be his shield.

After the battle had ended, he watched the boy walk towards the nearest source of water, his body covered in the blood of other men. He had become uncharacteristically reticent as he hunched over and cleaned himself, letting the blood wash away into the river. Kojuurou had expected him to be pleased with his own performance, having successfully held off the opposing forces, but the boy looked more contemplative than anything.

"Kojuurou," he said softly, dipping his helmet into the water's edge, "...those men. They called me a monster."

He recalled the way it was spat out, so much vehemence dripping from the one word. Bontenmaru had certainly proven himself to be a terror, something Kojuurou himself hadn't expected to see. He didn't know if the sight of the boy being so cruel and merciless without precedence was something that would bring him worry. He certainly didn't want him to grow up to be anything like the demon king from the west.

"Do you feel remorse for the lives you took today?"

Bontenmaru considered the question, his shoulders drawing closer together as he scraped the blood from helmet with his blunt fingernails. "Father once said it is the greatest honor for a man to die in battle. I think I did them well today by giving them a good fight before their death."

The words had been unexpected, the boy's thought process usually a complete mystery to himself. Kojuurou who knew him the best still felt as if he knew only what the boy displayed on the outside, the emotions and reactions he chose to show. He'd never once spoken out loud about his deeper thoughts nor had he ever confided anything so deep and meaningful as this.

Kojuurou felt honored to be the one his young lord sought counsel with and only wished it could continue. He could tell there was more there, below the surface, left unspoken because of how introverted Bontenmaru had chosen to live until now. With every new word that left his mouth, a brave young man was starting to show his face, leaving Kojuurou doubtless as to whether or not he could bring them glory.

"Your father would be proud to hear you say that."

Bontenmaru's head suddenly snapped towards him, his uncovered eye trained on his own. "And you?"

His eyes widened marginally at the sudden question, uncertain why Bontenmaru was also after his approval. "I, as well, my Lord."

That answer seemed to please the young boy whose grin returned in full force. "Then this monster will be the one to take over the world."

It was the first time he'd heard the boy's true ambition, a certain fire showing itself to him, ignited by a passion that Kojuurou only recognized when the boy had a sword in hand. He was different than his father, in that respect. Terumune had always been a cold fury that dominated from a distance, but Bontenmaru ... he was a flame that burned through everything and left nothing in its wake. He was fury and power.

He was a boy that could very well take over the world.

Onto part 2!

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