Tezuka tries to break through to Echizen. Drama, I-3

“Echizen. Come with me.”

Ryouma blinked at that casual summons, but waved to Kachiro and followed along behind the General calmly enough. Everyone said he’d done well against Kaga and he was reasonably sure he wasn’t in trouble. Whatever reason Tezuka-dono had to come fetch him just as Ryouma’s work shift ended, it probably wouldn’t be any worse than boring.

He thought twice about not being in trouble when they came out into the practice grounds. Tezuka-dono’s ideas about keeping order ran heavily to extra training. With weights. For hours. Not that it was any difficulty to him, but it did take up a lot of time, and it was near sunset already. Ryouma glanced around and saw no one else working in the soft, slanting light. They were probably all eating. Was he going to miss dinner completely because of whatever this was?

Then the General turned to face him across the practice ground and loosened his sword, and a spark of excitement brushed aside those thoughts. Ryouma could feel his pulse speeding up as the General drew and nodded for him to do likewise. Tezuka-dono had ignored all his previous hints, but now it looked like he was finally going to get a match against the warrior who was supposed to be strongest, out of all Uesugi’s forces.

“Come,” Tezuka-dono told him without any preamble, light sliding down his edge as he beckoned.

Ryouma smirked, and cheerfully did as he was told.

He expected his first slash to be caught. He did not expect it to be turned easily aside, as if he’d attacked at completely the wrong angle. He backed up again, fast, eyes wide, knowing he’d been open.

Tezuka-dono’s expression was no longer even. Still and steady, it burned. “Come.”

Ryouma’s eyes narrowed, and he did.

Blow after blow, no matter how he came in, every one was caught, turned, the force muffled and spent for nothing. Ryouma’s focus narrowed, and narrowed again, searching for the key, the pattern in Tezuka-dono’s movements that he could match. He could almost see it; he could catch parts, but something was escaping him no matter how far he reached for it.

In the end it was his own pattern that broke first. One step lunging just too far beyond his balance, and Tezuka-dono’s foot brushed his aside, and Ryouma stumbled to his knees. Training and determination brought his sword in, ready to cut upwards, and…

Ryouma knelt where he was, staring up at the General. He could feel the deadly thin line of Tezuka-dono’s sword against his throat. It didn’t move when the General spoke.

“Why do you fight, Echizen?”

“To win… against my father,” Ryouma managed.

“Your father isn’t here.”

No, he wasn’t, though there’d been a few times in this fight when Ryouma would have sworn he was. Except that Tezuka-dono was nothing the same. Except that Ryouma had… lost… he never lost, except to… but Tezuka-dono wasn’t… Ryouma’s thoughts tangled, and he couldn’t answer.

The edge of the sword flicked away. Instead, the General’s unmoving gaze pinned Ryouma where he was. “You are part of Uesugi. Find your place in support of this clan.”

His place? Support? What did that have to do with his father? Ryouma got slowly to his feet as the General stepped back. He felt rather unsteady on them; he hadn’t lost to anyone but his father in years. Now there was… another bar. There was a challenge, serious and steady and sharp as his sword, in Tezuka-dono’s eyes. Ryouma pulled in what felt like his first breath in hours. Days.

Maybe even years.

“Yes, Taishou.”