Author's Note: This fic continues to reference insanity, rape, violence, and character death. This is the end.
For the second time in far too short a period, Yukimura finds himself a prisoner of war. It's different than his time with Dokuganryuu Date Masamune, of course it is. Where before he had been left to die - to live - in his own filth, far removed from the sight of any other living creature, now he is with two guards at his side, with the air breezy and the sun shining through the small opening in the doorway.
The men joke and laugh with him, and they even offer to help him drink if he gets thirsty. But Yukimura refuses it quietly. There's no need for him to. They aren't really there either, are they? As he waits patiently for news, he is still looking around, still hoping that his ghostly guides will reappear, to continue to speak to him. But there is silence and he has a feeling that there will always be, always has been silence.
The silence is broken by gun fire. A line of arquebusiers firing and firing, and the sound sets him on edge, reminding him of that battle of Nagashino so long, long ago.
Yukimura jumps at the unexpected sound and both he and the guards are instantly on edge. Had the talks not worked? Are they at war again? The idea, the uncertainty excites him.
Kasuga-dono shows up as the gunfire continues. She is out of breath and looks tired, with alarming dark circles under her eyes. A ninja's work is exhausting and unglamorous sometimes. Yukimura remembers seeing Sasuke in a similar state sometimes, until the ninja would come and fall asleep in Yukimura's bedsheets as a form of "watching him".
She doesn't acknowledge Yukimura at first. "Kenshin-sama is fine," she assures the two men. "We'll change you out soon. But the battle continues, be on guard." After a lenghthy pause, she finally glances down at Yukimura, and he realises that Maeda Keiji has complained to her. "Try not to injure anyone else until tomorrow, please?"
Until tomorrow. Everything else she'd said was unimportant - did that mean that tomorrow they would finally allow him out on the battlefield where he belonged? Where he might even...
He wants to ask, but Kasuga is already gone. The guards are changed out shortly, as promised, and Yukimura spends a restless night listening to the sound of guns and frantic talking outside the tent. He's so caught up in his thoughts that he even accepts food from one of the men with him. Until tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow...
It is this mantra that stays with him throughout the night, even as he falls into a troubled sleep. He dreams of blood and fire and lightning and the pain shooting up his arm as though it had been broken just seconds ago. Monsters, serpents and dragons, beasts he's only heard about. The faces of those he'd lost are blurred and darkened, and look almost as though they are rotting away before his very eyes. The darkness that had once fallen over most of the land of the rising sun, that laughter, those eyes. They all twist and crack and break and shatter and from the ashes that they had once been, a fire burns brightly.
From that burning flame, a phoenix emerges, which is odd. Odd because Yukimura is the Tiger, after all.
The phoenix screams and screams and screams and each new scream adds another crack to the darkness, as though it was a rock that is being bashed mercilessly before it shatters under the presure. As he begins to wake up from the noise, he sees that face. The one he hasn't seen in any real clarity for months. The sharp teeth set in the cocky grin, the blue-gray eyes that always had carried the look of bloodthirsty, wild danger.
Those eyes, slitted like those of a cat's (a dragon's, isn't it?), are still burned in Yukimura's mind as he wakes up. The screams are still there, regular and loud and they make his ears ache even as he recognizes them for what they are. The shooting has started again.
"You're awake," a new guard says, and he passes Yukimura a wet towel. Yukimura realises he's been untied in his sleep as he wipes fresh water over his face; the cold helps to wake him. "We don't have a lot of time. Kenshin-sama wants to see you."
Though he still struggles to wake, Yukimura allows himself to be led - by just one guard, they know he would never run now - back into Kenshin's tent. There the lord is waiting, sitting poised and collected on a stool. He doesn't even flinch as each new crack of the arquebusiers tears through the air. "Young Tiger," he starts through a lull in the noise. "Our spears are not as great as your own jumonji-yari, but we hope this will suffice."
And the spear is not as great as his own, but as Yukimura is handed a heavy spear, he can easily imagine that the shaft is red and the prongs are three in number. Though he is also trained in sword fighting (as most of them are), the feeling of a real spear in his hand sets his soul aflame once again and even with the tent as small as it is, he swings the spear down to the ground to test the weight. It is a good solid weight, heavier than his old ones, but sufficient, in this case. Glancing up at Kenshin, the smile on Yukimura's face says more than he can convey through words.
"Uesugi-dono! I, Yukimura, thank you for this." For this spear, for this chance, for the past few months...? He doesn't even know what he is thanking the older man for, and there is a particularly odd burning sensation in his chest and eyes.
Kenshin gives Yukimura a smile and stands, picking up his own sword from the stand next to him. "You look as strong as ever."
Yukimura flushes happily at the compliment for a moment, because with this spear in his hand, he feels better and more at home in his own body since the last battle he had participated in. But that moment quickly passes and his face once again becomes serious, eyebrows snapping together as he straightens and affixes Kenshin with his full attention. "I'm ready." And while he doesn't consider this man his lord, he is more than willing to accept his commands this last time. It is what Shingen would have wanted him to do.
That enigmatic, beautiful smile stays on Kenshin's face as he walks past Yukimura to the entrance of the tent. "I will rely on you, Young Tiger. Shingen would have done the same." This man understands Takeda Shingen more than any other person alive. With that final message, and with Yukimura at his back, Kenshin heads outside, into the battlefield.
Yukimura is near the back, with Maeda Keiji, who still seems to be sore over yesterday's events. Keiji is on horseback, Matsukaze standing unflinching even through the crack of gunfire piercing the air around them. Yukimura cannot ride with the spear in his hand, so he stands resolutely beside Keiji for now.
"We wait to make our move," Keiji points out as he looks down at the fidgeting, restless man. "Kenshin will give us the signal."
"Of course, Maeda-dono!" Yukimura says, feeling a little stung. He may not have been in battle for many months, but he knew that you should not act until your Commander told you to. Shingen had made sure he knew that, and even the simplest foot soldier was aware of that as well. It was the difference between victory and defeat and Yukimura had no intention of losing today.
"I'm keeping an eye on you," Maeda-dono is definitely holding a grudge over Yukimura's attack on his most sensitive place; it is obvious in the way he speaks. "So don't get any ideas."
Yukimura doesn't bother replying, only gives him a side-long glance and a soft noise, because Maeda-dono's priorities are annoying. This is not the time to watch Yukimura! This is the time for action, for revenge, for--
His thoughts are cut off as he hears an ominous boom, far louder than anything else they've heard so far. Cannons. His heart skips as he realises that this? This is war.
The cannonballs explode not too far from them, and in the ensuing chaos, Yukimura is separated from his 'guard'. Maeda Keiji is the highest ranking officer in this area, and he's trying to command the troops to scatter, to not group so much in one area, so as to limit the casualties. In the dust and smoke, they can no longer see Kenshin. In the screams and explosions, they can no longer hear him.
Yukimura is caught up in the stream of foot soldiers obeying Keiji's order to back up Kenshin. Gripping his spear so tightly that his knuckles turn white from the effort, he runs with them, pleased to find that he's more than strong enough to keep up with them. As they run, he hears Maeda Keiji screaming his name somewhere behind them, until he's caught off by an explosion that makes the ground tremble, and causes a few in their number to stagger and fall.
It is pure chaos.
The front line is a hell of weaponry. The guns cannot be fired with the Date soldiers out, so the arquebusiers bide their time, waiting for any Cavalryman stupid enough to charge for the Date main camp. They are a dark line behind a fortified fence, reaping death upon all those in their sights.
Yukimura heads into the very heart of the battle, a scream ripping from his throat that he cannot hear over the sounds around him. The long days they have spent training him how to move effectively are paying off. He doesn't stumble, doesn't hesitate, but he moves with lightning efficiency, stabbing and slicing through the enemy before him.
Through the men before him, because the air is misted with so much blood, smeared across his face and building into his mouth that Yukimura cannot differentiate between the two armies. The men fortunate enough to be wearing the Uesugi sashimono are spared, as Yukimura fights and tears through the enemy forces. He is in element, he is alive and every part of his body is aflame with desire and happiness and bloodlust because this is what he has wanted for so long, so long.
He reaches a break in the fighting, near the arquebusiers, and though the men take aim at him and fire, he is too fast for them. Perhaps the flames that he feels engulf his entire soul deflect the bullets. Perhaps they never reach him, but explode in the air around him, or hit those fighters around him, even their own men!
Yukimura reaches the fortified line of men and breaches it, breaks through them and leaves one man gasping for breath at the end of his spear. He sprints away before the others can fire, ignoring any potential threat they might be to him. They don't matter. They don't matter. The only thing that matters is that man in the back of his mind, in the forefront of his vision, the only thing that keeps him moving as bullets hit the ground around his feet, cut his face, deflect off the shaft of the spear he still holds so very tightly.
And he stops.
The bullets stop.
Dokuganryuu Date Masamune is standing before him, arms crossed. He is the same as ever, as the very day that Yukimura had met him (something Yukimura can't help but feel slightly disgruntled over, as he hoists that heavy spear in his remaining hand). Cool, collected, grinning with feral glee. His Right Eye is behind him, though he is not looking at Yukimura. He doesn't dare.
"Dokuganryu... Date Masamune," Yukimura breathes out. His heart is pounding in his chest. He feels more alive than he has in months.
"Sanada Yukimura. Long time no see." That strange language again, which Yukimura doesn't always understand. He is glad to see that his rival's spirit has not died. Masamune glances back over his shoulder, to the man behind him. "Kojuurou." The tone in his voice is as firm and demanding as ever. "Do not interfere."
No, no. Katakura Kojuurou must not interfere with their rivalry again. Though Yukimura is at a disadvantage, he refuses to let his physical... problem impede him from finishing this fight once and for all. Even if Dokuganryuu Date Masamune no longer sees him as a rival, the spirit inside of Yukimura is unchanged. It may be battered, it may be cracked and misshapen and deformed from the months of abuse and recovery he has endured, but it is unchanged at the very heart of what he is.
He is Sanada Genjirou Yukimura, the Crimson Demon of War, the hero who may appear once in a 100 years, and he is... Date Masamune's fated rival.
Though he suffers from the handicap, he is determined not to let that deter him. They stand facing each other, muscles tensed and coiled as they wait. The battle rages around behind Yukimura, but he has already forgotten about it. There is nothing left for him to be concerned about, but the man in blue standing just yards away from him. Nothing left in this mortal realm but this very real person standing before him.
Cannonfire hits one of the Uesugi supply tents, causing it to explode with such force that the ground seems to crumble under him. Yukimura's forced to move or lose his footing, and in that moment, the two men strike.
Masamune uses only one sword, and Yukimura tries not to be offended at the thought. Holding the spear under his arm and using his own torso as a balance, he fights with a renewed vigor. After all, exhaustion means nothing to a dead man, and Yukimura has been dead for so very long.
Away from the battlefield they run, weapons striking over and over again, and Yukimura's side aches and bruises and blisters as he uses it to help absorb the impact of Masamune's sword against the spear in his hand. He ignores the pain, lashes back out, sweeping and stabbing and he's savagely pleased to see that Masamune-dono sports new cuts and gashes across his face and arms that weren't there just moments ago.
His very spirit is alight. With passion and fury and even hope and joy. Anger and peace both threaten to overtake him each strike and parry, each slash of the sword or spear that connects with the other's body.
He has never felt more alive than in this moment.
Laughing, screaming, both of them fight to the death. To the death, for real this time. For each strike has every intention to hit its mark and to kill and to destroy, and it is only their skills and their convictions that keep those strikes from landing.
They continue to fight even as they reach a copse of trees. Though the leaves are blasted away as though in a fiery wind, the trees still provide enough cover for their battle, and muffle the noises of the war. The trees bent and break under the combined pressure of both men's attacks, their fighting spirit, their very souls that are bared for all to see, and it is only when Yukimura's spear catches on the exposed roots of an upturned tree that there is any actual turn in the fight. He would have been content to stay like this forever, between life and death, but his spear is just a second too late, as the root halts it's swing, and he feels a burning sensation in his side as Masamune's sword goes straight into him.
Is it over?
Through the haze over his eyes, Yukimura affixes his rival with a grin. Masamune's features are contorted with both pain and happiness. A look that Yukimura doesn't think he has ever seen in the man's eye before.
Letting his spear clatter to the ground beneath them, Yukimura stumbles a few steps to lean against a tree. He doesn't bother trying to staunch his wound, though the flow of warm, fresh blood almost tickles his side. "Thank you, Date Masamune."
He catches the look on Masamune's face before his vision goes blissfully black. It is look of confusion. Of hatred and fear and regret and loss. As he fades away, Yukimura finds himself dwelling on it.
And many hours later, Yukimura opens his eyes with that very same look on his own face.
This... cannot be right, he thinks as his eyes dart around his surroundings. He doesn't dare move yet, not when he's so unsure of where he is. The pain in his side is an indicator that he's still alive, but that can't be so! It cannot be so...
Overhead, there is no longer the brilliant blue sky obscured by ash but instead the dark canvas of a tent. The thing under his back is soft, unlike the tree he'd fallen against, and if he didn't know better, he would assume that he was on a cot. Glancing to the side, allowing himself to turn his head the slightest bit, he sees the torches at the entrance to the tent casting light into all but the darkest corners, and between them, the defeated form of his rival, Date Masamune.
Anger fills Yukimura, replacing confusion. He sits up as well as he can, twisting in the bed and throwing off the sheets covering his torso. He's been patched up roughly, and the bandages around his body are far from professional. He had been so close, so why...!
"You're awake, Sanada Yukimura." Masamune says, not bothering to look at him.
"Why have you done this, Date Masamune?!" Yukimura demands to know. Though he wants to stand, he must admit defeat. The world is spinning too harshly for him to move that much just yet.
Masamune finally turns to look at him, though Yukimura cannot see his face with the light behind him. His features are dark and only his eye is visible. Yukiura meets it evenly with his own cold rage. "You got a death wish?" Masamune demands to know, angry and bitter. "That's not a fight, not the kind of fight I want."
"That is not something for you alone to decide!" Yukimura cries as he stands, hand snaking out to support him against a nearby crate. Frustration has built up inside of him again. So close, so close! Would their rivalry never end? Both men would never rest in peace, whether dead or alive, without the verdict. "I, Yukimura, wish to--"
"Wish to what?" Date Masamune cuts him off, and he strides forward. Yukimura doesn't allow himself to be intimidated and stands there stonily, staring into that once familiar face. That face that stirred his spirit like nearly no other. "Die like that? Is that what your life is worth?"
Yukimura sputters and stumbles over his words as he tries to reply past his anger, and Masamune plows on. "You're not even worth sharpening my blade against, anymore. If I went all out on you, it'd be no challenge. So why--" He doesn't finish his sentence as Yukimura, tired of being talked over, tired of being seen as just a spoil of war, pulls back his fist and punches him square in the face.
Masamune staggers, and though he might have automatically picked up his sword for a deadly counterattack, the tent is too small for any proper weapon use. He punches back in return, and as Yukimura's knees hit the back of the bed and he flails, Masamune grabs him by the back of the head, pulls on his hair, and punches him square in the face.
Yukimura feels his nose break.
Masamune doesn't stop hitting him, even as Yukimura's ungloved hand leave red marks and cuts against his arm and face in desperation. The taller man's furious and almost bestial, and Yukimura could swear that his eyes are glowing in the firelight.
His face aches from the blows, spots erupt throughout his vision and blood fills his mouth. Spitting it out, Yukimura manages to twist and use his superior flexibility to deliver a kick to Masamune's hip.
He lets go.
Yukimmura attempts to tackle him, to push past him, but the world is swaying and he stumbles and falls heavily onto the ground, and before he can pick himself back up, his arm is stepped on. Hissing with pain, Yukimura kicks out again at his foe, using the weight against his arm to hold him to get sufficient height. Though it connects with his target, his leg is caught and he feels it being twisted, twisted until he wants to scream again, and he's forced to roll onto his stomach before his leg snaps from the pressure.
No. No. Nothing good had ever come of Yukimura being forced onto his stomach. Screams of rage spill out from a bloody lip as he claws with his free hand behind him, but he has only one arm, and Dokuganryuu Date Masamune has two.
"No," he hears Date-dono mutter from above him. The man's weight is heavy and hot, and utterly nauseating. "I won't." He's trying to be... assuring? Or threatening. Yukimura doesn't know and he doesn't want to find out, and even though his arm is pressed against his back painfully, he manages to look over his shoulder to glance into the other man's face. There's a type of savage glee as he realises that Masamune is not without his marks. Blood streams from a cut on his cheek, a bruise forms above his good eye, and his ear is bloody as well.
Masamune catches him looking and Yukimura lets out a cry of pain as he's slammed into the ground. Over and over and the breath is knocked out of him and he thinks he can hear his broken mind rattling inside of his possibly broken skull.
Yukimura goes quiet only because he can't breathe and as he frantically tries to catch his breath, chest heaving despite the heavy weight against it, he feels himself being turned over again. He doesn't fight that invasive pushing, rolling over onto his back because it can only help him, lungs expanding desperately to fill with air.
But no sooner has he painfully drawn in a lungful of air, that he feels warm, wet hands wrap around his throat. Yukimura's eyes can barely focus on the twisted, hate-filled face of his rival, whose eye is narrowed and darkened, his lips pulled back to reveal sharp, snarling teeth.
So it has come to this.
It has come to this.
Yukimura is finally dying at the hands of his rival, after a bloody and magnificent battle, even if the end result had almost not been very favourable. It is impossible to breathe, to think, to do anything but focus on that face so close to his own. He wants to laugh and thank the other man for this wonderful battle, but all Yukimura can do is lift his hands to touch the back of one of the hands so tightly wrapped around his neck. And he smiles again.
He grins, he smiles, he meets the eyes of his rival as if to say "thank you", because this end to this rivalry is the best what he could have hoped for.
And his vision goes dark, growing fuzzy at the edges, and the only thing that he can see now is that face, that eyepatch, that eye, the teeth that are still as sharp and vicious as ever, even hough those lips are suddenly... suddenly...
His lungs expand instinctively as the fingers leave his neck, sucking in cold air so hard that's almost painful. He coughs and doubles over and anger fills him almost as readily as the air fills his lungs.
Glancing through his bangs as he breathes, he sees Date Masamune looking away, moving off of him. No. Yukimura had left been touching his bruised neck and that hand now lashes out, catching Masamune in his blind spot.
Success. The blow lands, and Masamune is taken by surprise. He lands on the dirt floor of the tent, and before he can get up, Yukimura has seized the collar of his jacket and has used it as a handhold to knock his head against a wooden crate. The sound is sickening as Masamune's head connects hard with the edge. Ignoring the splatter of blood, the gurgle in Masamune's throat as he passes out, Yukimura lets his rival crumble in his hand.
Yukimura is past thinking, past reason or any feeling beyond rage. This was not the way that battles were fought, that wars were waged. You must never show sympathy, compassion... pity to your enemy before you. To your rival, it is nothing short of insulting. How would Masamune feel if Yukimura treated him in such a way? All that anger and rage, that abuse that Yukimura had suffered for months at his hands; did it all mean nothing now? Nothing because Date Masamune couldn't end their rivalry in such a way? It was insulting to Yukimura's very soul.
Yukimura is past all coherent thought, and he turns his unconscious rival over onto his back. He notes that the man is breathing still, though unresponsive to Yukimura's rough handling of him. Good. Good. Only one of them need die tonight, and Yukimura has had his place reserved for some time now.
It's difficult with one arm, but Yukimura loosens and tears the clothing from Masamune's form. He's not wearing his armour for once (had he not thought Yukimura was a threat? That makes him angry again), which aids in the process, and Masamune is soon left nearly nude in front of him, with only strips of fabric around his arms and legs. It is not a surprising or awe-inspiring sight; they have seen each other nude before, even well before Yukimura's captivity, long long ago when they had been true and just rivals. It is a thought he pushes out of his mind as he runs bloodied fingers across Masamune's chest, which is moving shallowly as the unconscious man breathes. The blood leaves a trail against some of the many scars in his skin, and Yukimura draws six circles out of habit.
And then, because he can't think past the throbbing in his face and the pain bursting from his side that threatens to cover his world in darkness, Yukimura acts purely on instinct. There is nothing to do but return to Masamune every wound, every indignancy, every insult that has been so ruthlessly forced onto Yukimura in the past several months. He wants Masamune to feel all of his pain, his suffering, his shame and regret, and though this is not the way that honourable men fight, it is the way that Dokuganryuu Date Masamune has been fighting with him for months.
Blood is not a lubricant, and Yukimura derives no pleasure from this act, whether physical or mental. The pain he feels throughout his body (and throughout his soul) threatens to overtake his consciousness, and he can't hear anything through the rush of blood and his frantic breath. The blood is spilling faster with each movement, staining them both a respectable crimson shade. It is anger and instinct that moves him in such a way, that causes him to pull on Masamune's wet hair as he defiles the warrior's body in exactly the same way Yukimura had been defiled before.
But through the darkness prickling at the corners of his vision with each motion, Yukimura catches the glint of firelight on a metal surface. Odd, because he hadn't seen any weapons in the tent before, and he turns his head to look.
In the struggle, they had knocked over a bag of supplies and one single, lone sen has rolled out to lie in the dust floor.
And Yukimura remembers everything. That this man is his rival and not his enemy, and they had both lost their rivalry when Yukimura had been made a cripple. That Masamune-dono had been searching for him for so long, for some form of closure and it was only because Yukimura would always be unable to give him what he really wanted that he couldn't kill the man in a fair fight. And yet he couldn't let him die, because they had sworn to each other that they would be the one to strike that most honourable of blows against each other, whomever were to die first. It is sad, Yukimura thinks, that his rival may be just as broken by this horrible truth as he is.
Yukimura pulls away from the other man, noting with shame that Masamune still doesn't react even now that the invasion is over. He runs his bloodied fingers over the man's face, tracing the iconic eyepatch. "I, Yukimura, ask for your forgiveness, Masamune-dono." He says into the empty air, and though he finds it difficult to move with his side making his leg numb, he pulls himself over to where the sen glinted in the fire light.
Holding it in his teeth, he pulls out the other five sen from that special pocket in his kimono and he stares at the metal with a happy smile stretching across his battered face.
Six sen. Yukimura has the toll for the river fee now.
Glancing guiltily back at Dokuganryuu Date Masamune's form, he feels a bit of shame. Yukimura had died a long time ago. Both his arm and his soul had broken under the pressure, and it wasn't fair nor right that his rival had been left to chase Yukimura's wayward ghost. But it would be over now, wouldn't it? Yukimura had his toll for the river and so he could finally pass and Masamune-dono would be free to move on as well.
Pulling himself up to sit against a crate of supplies, Yukimura knows his body - his earthly, deformed, weak body - is failing fast. With one motion that he knows will be his last, Yukimura kicks over one of the torch stands, watches the fire flip over into the canvas of the tent and admires the way that the flame runs up the side of the fabric.
It spreads and eats and climbs and all within range soon catch fire. The papers, the boxes, the bed and... Yukimura himself feels sudden scorching heat spreading across his limbs and he's warm, too warm, and it's like being engulfed in his fighting spirit. He likes it.
Masamune-dono lies prone on the dirt floor and Yukimura watches through flame as Katakura Kojuurou rushes in with a wet cloth around himself, followed by two other men who attempt to hold back the flaming canvas of the tent's entrance. The lord of Oushuu is quickly saved and pulled from the burning tent, and though Yukimura thinks that he sees Katakura Kojuurou glance back at his burning form as they exit the tent, he isn't sure, because the world finally, finally goes completely black and Yukimura is unaware of anything.
He is unaware of anything but the burning toll in his hand, the metal melting into the skin that is left, and of the sound of flame as the tent collapses around him. He is unaware of anything, but that sudden presence around him, of arms wrapping around his shoulders and a voice he's heard so often until so recently. And he smiles, and it hurts and he is nearly gone, and and then, he is not even aware of that.
Sanada Yukimura, Crimson Demon of War, hands his toll, the half-melted six coins, over to the river ferry and steps into the water.