Washed Dry

Fuji decides to try his hand against Echizen. It provokes a lot of thought. Drama and Romance, I-3

Pairing(s): Fuji/Yumiko

Tezuka had been in a demanding mood, lately, Shuusuke observed. The results were fairly entertaining, at least for those strong enough to actually keep up with the suddenly increased pace of the garrison’s training. He had to wonder, though, who they were going to be taking the field against after the rains were over; it had to be someone with a powerful force, to drive this sort of effort.

Tezuka didn’t answer questions like that, of course, not directly. He would only confirm them, silently, if Shuusuke guessed right. So, for now, Shuusuke simply wiped dripping sweat away briskly and looked around for someone still on his feet to practice with.

His eyes lit on Echizen, leaning on a fence catching his breath quietly. Echizen’s head had a sardonic tilt as he watched the histrionics of some of the other young samurai, declaring that they were about to die of exhaustion. Shuusuke chuckled to himself; he had to agree, no one who could still complain that loudly was anywhere near death. He collected a pair of wood swords and tapped Echizen on the shoulder with one. “Care for a match?”

Shuusuke saw Tezuka’s head come up from the corner of his eye and threw a small, quick smile over his shoulder. It wasn’t fair, his glance said, for Tezuka to have all the fun.

The sword left his hand, and when he looked back around Echizen was grinning.

Shuusuke felt a touch of excitement flicker along his nerves as they moved out into the open, feet scuffing up tiny puffs of dust to mark where they set themselves. Echizen was good. Not good enough to make Shuusuke lose, but perhaps…

The thought suspended itself as Echizen drove in and every movement sharpened its edges in Shuusuke’s eyes. He turned one blow and slid inside another but Echizen was already gone, turning too, and Shuusuke barely recognized the abruptly tightening angle of his side stroke in time to stop it. Echizen’s grin was a notch wider as they drew apart. Shuusuke’s own smile sharpened for an instant. Well, if Echizen was so confident he could break through…

Shuusuke gave him a clean opening and was hard put not to laugh when Echizen took it instantly. A smooth shift back drew Echizen in and sent him on past, all the driving power of his thrust no longer directed at Shuusuke. Echizen whipped back around, eyes narrowed, and Shuusuke smiled at him. Echizen’s glare lit with answering ferocity and Shuusuke had to take a slow breath for focus and control as Echizen’s passion tugged at him. This was what a good fight should be like.

Another opening, and another, and another. Echizen came after every one with fire in his eyes, and Shuusuke was aware of the watchers starting to murmur. They probably thought it was just Echizen’s stubbornness, he reflected. But he could feel it—the tiny changes every time their swords met, the constant pressure of Echizen seeking the weakness in Shuusuke’s defense. Thrill sang through him, kept him offering those openings just to see the beauty of Echizen’s straight, driving lines, just to feel that rare danger.

And finally there was one more tiny shift that didn’t seem to call for any alteration in Shuusuke’s stance… but Echizen’s sword flashed over his own and kissed his ribs. They broke apart, both panting for breath, and satisfaction barely touched Echizen’s face before that ferocious, driving focus consumed it again.

“You don’t have to give me chances any more, Fuji-dono,” he prodded, and Shuusuke chuckled.

“Well, then.” They came together again, hard and fast.

It wouldn’t happen yet, no matter how much Tezuka had set Echizen on his mettle, but the possibility of losing breathed through every contact of their swords and danced chill down Shuusuke’s nerves. So much so that he didn’t recognize the real chill air stirring around them until sudden, drenching rain swept down. Shouts and clatters rose around the practice ground as men grabbed up weapons and made for cover.

Shuusuke and Echizen stood, unmoving in the sheeting gray wet, eyes fixed on each other.

A single flash of lightning showed another figure, as unmoving as either of them, standing by the fence with folded arms. Shuusuke smiled as thunder shivered through the rush of rain; Tezuka would not stop them.

Their feet slid in the wet dirt as they closed, this time, but the angles of motion were as tight and brilliant as ever in Shuusuke’s sight. It was exhilarating. It was beautiful. It was…

…interrupted by a dripping messenger skidding to a halt at Tezuka’s side. “Taishou! Sumire-gozen is asking for Echizen.”

Shuusuke thought he might just have caught a flash of calculation in Tezuka’s eyes before he nodded. “Echizen! Go dry off and attend on Sumire-gozen.”

Echizen lowered his sword and gave Tezuka such a look of betrayal that Shuusuke could barely stifle his laugh. Echizen glared at him for a long, fulminating moment before stumping off through the rain muttering. Tezuka’s glance after him narrowed with a moment of satisfaction. Shuusuke shook his head; always the leader, Tezuka was.

His thoughts felt slick. Fast and flashing. Shuusuke watched Tezuka dismissing the messenger and the lingering samurai and waited for the world to slow, the distance to recede and bring him back to everyday.

Before it quite had, he heard Tezuka’s footsteps behind him.

“Why did you toy with him like that?” his friend asked, quietly. “Echizen is not a light opponent. Why didn’t you fight to win?”

Shuusuke lifted a hand and let the drops of rain patter against open his palm. “It’s thrilling to see something so close to perfection; to draw it out fully. That’s all I wanted.” He cast a rueful smile over his shoulder, suspecting Tezuka wouldn’t like that. Still, considering what he was positive had happened between Tezuka and Echizen recently… “Would you have done it differently?” he challenged lightly.

The faintly troubled question in Tezuka’s face washed away. “Victory is our duty,” he stated inflexibly. “And it should be our only calling.” A shadow of weariness touched his eyes. “This is why you’re not an officer, Fuji.”

Shuusuke bent his head. “I know.” He sighed softly. He still thought he was right about why Tezuka was so taken with Echizen, that he was drawn by the same fascination that engaged Shuusuke. But… perhaps there was also more, for Tezuka.

The warmth of Tezuka’s hand on his shoulder was shocking, and he realized he’d cooled down too much, standing in the rain. So he didn’t protest when Tezuka beckoned him to come along and they passed through a handful of courts and walks to arrive at Tezuka’s house. Ayame met them at the entry to welcome her husband home and covered a soft laugh to see how drenched they were. When they emerged from the inner rooms, dry and decently clothed again, she looked up from heating sake with a smile. “Will you eat with us, Shuusuke-dono? It’s been too long since you visited.”

“I wouldn’t want to impose,” Shuusuke murmured, an answering smile curving his lips at how Tezuka’s hand lingered on Ayame’s as he took a cup from her, and the way their eyes warmed as they met.

“It isn’t an imposition at all,” Ayame declaimed more firmly than mere manners required, turning back to her guest. “Your company would be a favor.”

So Shuusuke let himself stay and be enfolded in the serenity of Tezuka’s household. The irony of that serenity always appealed to him. He knew perfectly well Ayame controlled the house with an iron hand to match her husband’s, for all her gentle charm. The contrast had entertained him for as long as he’d known them. The genuine warmth between husband and wife plucked at him, though, the moreso for how subtle it was; they fit each other so well, and it was in an effort to turn his mind aside from those thoughts that he asked, “Was it like that for you, when you fought Echizen?”

Tezuka’s brow quirked. “So you did know about it, then.”

“Mm.” Shuusuke took another sip. “It was fairly obvious. To me, at least.”

Tezuka looked out at the rain that was still falling. “Echizen needs true challenges.”

“You seem to have given him one,” Shuusuke observed. Echizen had certainly been more focused today than had been usual in the past.

“I gave him a beginning.” Tezuka’s eyes were distant. “We will see. Even someone who finds his way doesn’t always go down it.”

When Shuusuke left, this time covered by a straw raincoat at Ayame’s insistence, he headed straight down into the town. Only occasional lamps lit a bit of darkness with silvery flickers of rain, but he took a path his feet knew without any direction from his eyes. He smiled gently at the girl who met him at the door.

“Will Yumiko see me?”

He waited in the room she showed him to, gazing silently past the slats of the window. It was sooner than he expected when the door whispered open and closed.


He looked up and smiled ruefully. Yumiko was dressed for the evening, kimono falling around her like a story told in silk, hair as light as his own folded sleekly up and held by bright combs. “Did I call you away from someone?”

She dropped down beside him in a rustle of fabric, tossing her sleeves back to hold out her hands to him. “It was a large party. Chiharu will look after them, and they won’t miss me.”

Shuusuke caught her fingers in his. “I don’t believe it,” he teased. “No one could possibly not miss you.”

She tipped her head and gave him a long, clear-eyed look. “Shuusuke. What happened today?”

His smile relaxed into a laugh. “I can’t hide anything from you, can I?”

“Not a thing.” She tipped her head thoughtfully for a moment and then drew his hands to her and placed them on the elaborate knot of her obi, smile turning playful. “It’s only fair.”

Sometimes Yumiko knew him better than he knew himself. Shuusuke let his troublesome thoughts fall away for a while, and it was much later, with the softness of her hair lying over his bare shoulder, that he answered the question she had asked.

“I think Tezuka wants me to be an officer,” he said quietly, watching the shadows move over the ceiling. “And I would work toward that if—” Her fingers covered his lips.

“Only an officer is likely to receive enough land to afford my contract,” she agreed. “And such a highly placed samurai should not have a courtesan who doesn’t know who her father might be for a wife.”

Shuusuke sighed. He hadn’t really thought her answer would change, but… “I will take you out of this place, Yumiko,” he said, low and serious.

She leaned up on one arm, looking down at him as gold lamplight slid over her skin and the depth of her eyes, only a shade darker than his but so much more beautiful. “Someday,” she said, at last. “Yes. You will.”

Shuusuke smiled, small and true, and drew her back down against him and closed his eyes.