Notes: This was originally written for Marourin for the pot_ffnet exhange on LJ. As such, it's very much AU (saumuai!), and I had fun with it, since I don't write much of either of those characters.
The sword was bright, the glint of lamplight off metal almost mocking Tezuka as it winked at him. Laying on the cloth before him, it looked so innocuous, almost fragile, clean, pure. But Tezuka could see the hidden flaws. He could still see the blood that had dulled the shine, could see the imperfections in the blade that had been caused by the impact of edge against bone, even though the blade had been honed and sharpened time and time again.
Tezuka could still see the face of the first man he had killed. He wondered, sometimes, if the man had had a wife, children. He was aware, every time steel sliced through flesh, that he was ending the life of someone's father, husband, brother, son. And Tezuka knew he could never wash away the stain of that lifeblood he spilled, could never ease the burden of those lives on his soul. It was his weight to bear, a ponderous one, but he would bear it many times over in order to preserve the dignity, the innocence of the person more important to him.
For Atobe, Tezuka would gladly lay down his life, his loyalty, his soul. It was no more than he owed his lord, the oath of a samurai to a daimyo, but for Tezuka, it was something much more than simple loyal servitude.
For when Tezuka gazed at Atobe, he saw more than the man who ruled his lands. He saw the man who ruled his heart, as well.
And Atobe would never see it, Tezuka made sure of that. When Atobe gazed upon him, Tezuka made sure that Atobe only saw his loyalty, his firmness, his conviction to follow his lord's orders, even to his death. Because, Tezuka knew, Atobe would not know what to do with his love. Atobe knew nothing of that kind of passion.
Sometimes, Tezuka thought he knew Atobe better than Atobe knew himself. He'd observed Atobe so many times, having been a member of Atobe's personal guard since before he had inherited the lands and title from his father. He knew Atobe's fine mind for politics, his ability to see through any plot, his appreciation for the finer things in life….
And his empty heart.
Atobe, Tezuka saw, did not have in him the capacity for love, not the kind of love that Tezuka possessed. Perhaps it was because he had been jaded by intrigue, perhaps it was because Atobe had never seen love for himself and therefore could not comprehend, but no matter the reason, Tezuka knew, deep inside of him, that if he were to offer his heart to Atobe, it wouldn't even be understood. And the thought of that hurt Tezuka more than even the thought of rejection.
So he remained silent, serving Atobe with all of his skill and all of his being, knowing that he would do everything in his power to keep the other man safe.
And he knew that if it came to a choice between him and Atobe…it would be no choice at all.
Atobe always knew that, one day, his youth would get the best of him. It was almost unnatural for as someone as young as him to hold as much power as he did. He even held the ear of the Emperor, a position he knew that he was much envied for.
He remembered clearly the assassins that had taken his father's life, the blood that had spilled over his hands, and Atobe had sworn that the same fate would not cross him. He also knew, however, that he could not ensure that alone, and for that reason, he was glad to have Tezuka always at his side.
Tezuka…the solemn man was a mystery to Atobe, one he was not accustomed to. His insight was famed through the countryside, and for there to be one person that Atobe could not read…well, it rankled him, yes. Many times, Atobe thought that he should call Tezuka out, demand to see what was under his impassive expression.
But he never did, because Atobe knew that Tezuka was also the most loyal man in his household, and that in itself was a gift more priceless than any other. So Atobe let Tezuka keep his secrets for the time being. The man could not be faulted for his services, and as long as they did not interfere with his duties, Atobe saw no issue with allowing Tezuka a secret or two of his own.
Still, though, his eyes often strayed to Tezuka, in the boring council meetings that he could not avoid. Politics were simple; it was Tezuka that was complex, and Atobe delighted every time a piece of the Tezuka-puzzle happened to fall into place. There was one piece, though, that Atobe could not reason out, and it was driving even one such as him to distraction.
So perhaps his inattention was forgivable as he walked the halls of his manor, Tezuka his faithful shadow a step behind him. Perhaps it was because of the security of that human shadow that he did not see the danger that lurked in the actual shadows around him.
But Tezuka did. He always did.
Atobe did not have time to do more than blink as Tezuka rather unceremoniously pushed Atobe to the ground, his only thoughts on keeping his lord safe from harm. Though he could use a katana, Atobe's eyes could barely process the fight in front of him, so swift and skilled was the short battle.
He recived the impression of blood, lots of blood, and then, the stranger dropped, and Tezuka was kneeling beside Atobe, assessing his lord with a critical eye. "Are you injured, Atobe-dono?"
Atobe gathered his dignity around himself. "No…you have served most admirably, Tezuka."
For a moment, Atobe could clearly read the relief in Tezuka's eyes before his expression closed again. "I am, glad, Atobe-dono." He moved, standing so he could assist Atobe to his feet…and it was then that Atobe saw what he had missed before.
The blood…it was not just that of the stranger's…..
"Tezuka!" Ignoring the possible damage to his own kimono, Atobe pulled Tezuka against himself when Tezuka swayed, guiding them both back to the floor again. "You are hurt…."
"It is nothing." Though pain creased Tezuka's brow, his voice was as impassive as ever.
"It is not nothing!" Atobe shouted for assistance, a healer, his hands pressing hand against the still-bleeding wound. "You saved my life…."
"It is my duty, and my pleasure, Atobe-dono. To serve you, to preserve your life."
"Even at the cost of your own?" Atobe could not explain the pounding of his heart. Others had died for him before, and he had felt nothing more than a small sense of regret…so why was Tezuka different? Why was the thought of Tezuka dying hurting so badly?
"You are my lord…and more." Tezuka reached out a hand, slowly, and laid it over Atobe's. "Do not look so sad, my lord. It does not suit one such as yourself. I…I prefer to see your smile."
"Why?" For all that death had touched Atobe's life before, no other death had touched him this much, and he needed to know why…he needed to know why it was slicing him almost the katana would have…should have, if Tezuka hadn't…. "Why does my smile matter to you? I command you, Tezuka, tell me!"
Tezuka took a ragged breath, his eyes meeting Atobe's. He could not disobey a direct order, even if he wanted to, something that they both knew. "Because I live to serve you. Because I love you, Atobe-dono. So smile for me my lord, please." His eyes closed, slowly, growing limp in Atobe's arms.
And the pieces came together, the pieces of Tezuka, the pieces of himself. And all Atobe could do was kneel in the blood that soaked the tatami and watch….
"Tezuka!" He could still feel breath in Tezuka's body, even though it was so weak, could hear footsteps coming closer, could feel help at hand. "Tezuka…I command you…do not die! I need you alive…I need you…."
Tezuka could never disobey a direct order from Atobe….