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.
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 bedroom 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, 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?
The next few days were spent getting Suboshi 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 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.