Four Times Kojuurou Rode a Horse with Masamune in His Arms, and One Time Their Positions Were Reversed

One. The first time Bontenmaru had really ridden a horse, for more than a short trot around the yard, had been his doing. He'd caught hell for it, but he didn't regret it for a moment. Kagetsuna had been grooming it in the stables when the young boy had wandered out to the stables, curious about the horses and having somehow slipped his caretakers. He'd always been very good at that, and there was a part of Kagetsuna that wondered at that skill. He couldn't help but smile at the child, and offered to take him riding. The small grey eyes had gone wide—he'd still had both at the time—and he'd nodded silently. Other than a few small sounds of delight, he hadn't spoken the entire time, until after the ride, just before his caretakers had angrily taken him away, and others had set to scolding Kagetsuna for his inappropriate behavior with his lord. Before that, with his steely gaze averted, he'd said, "Thank you."

Two. Bontenmaru's first ride after losing his right eye. He'd stormed out of the stables, shouting in a child's stubborn manner about how the horse wouldn't listen to him, and it was all the stupid beast's fault. It had taken Kagetsuna sitting behind him, hands atop his on the reins to teach him that the horse knew well enough where they were going and that Bontenmaru didn't have to lead it every step of the way. With a patient smile, Kagetsuna had said, "Like a good soldier, give them a direction, and they'll find their way in the specifics. Like a good leader, allow them a little freedom, and they may surprise you in ways you never expected." He'd felt the small hands beneath his clench on the reins as he nodded in a stubborn manner.

Three. The first time they'd ridden into battle together. Bontenmaru was now Date Masamune. Kagetsuna was now Katakura Kojuurou. They were men now, in armor and with their swords at their sides. Even so, Kojuurou couldn't help but wonder at how small Masamune looked on his horse, how disproportionate the size of his swords seemed compared to the rest of him. At twenty-four, Kojuurou had grown into his armor, his hands no longer seemed too small for his swords, and he could practically take a man down with his bare hands in a fight. But Masamune was so small… At some point during the battle, he'd lost his horse in the fray, and Kojuurou had scooped him up from being slaughtered there. It had only lasted a short time before they had once again been separated in the battle, and he'd come upon Masamune surrounded by enemy soldiers. He'd called out to them, called that he was the Date Masamune they sought, and had drawn them away for his lord to escape. That was the moment Katakura Kojuurou swore himself to never let battle separate him from his lord again.

Four. Date Masamune had disappeared out to the stables, a place that few besides Kojuurou knew to look for him. When he'd found him, Masamune had been grooming his horse with shaking hands, emotion he'd had to suppress. The brush in his hand shook with each stroke. Kojuurou stood quietly, unsure what to say to his lord. After all, what do you say to a man who has just lost his father to something that in the end was because he was unwanted? He reached out, an unfamiliar motion to him, but when he clasped Date's shoulder, it jerked under his touch. A gruff order to let go. Kojuurou did so, then quietly suggested a ride. Perhaps it would calm his lord's nerves. Masamune laughed, and turned towards Kojuurou, shocking his retainer with the look of his face. There was something lost in his face, eye red from his tears, which still stained his cheek. Kojuurou could never pretend to know what he felt, to have lost the only man related to him by blood to support him fully in his struggle to maintain power. When Kojuurou took the brush from his hands, he didn't fight it, and watched as the man saddled his horse, and climbed up into the saddle, holding out a hand to Date. He gave a weak laugh, and climbed up, settling into the place he'd often occupied as a child, settling back into Kojuurou's chest. Date was much bigger now, but he still fit in Kojuurou's arms. The retainer smiled secretly to himself for a minute, then closed his hands over Date's on the reins, stilling the shaking without speaking of it, and they rode wordlessly over the countryside, losing their troubles in the whoosh of the wind in their ears, and the pounding of hooves into dirt below them.

Five. "Katakura Kojuurou, you better not give up on me," growled the voice, gruffer now than usual. It was a strange thing to notice, but everything seemed to have gone fuzzy around the edges, and the pain had become a dull numb throbbing in his side. Kojuurou fought to keep a hold on consciousness, to keep from falling back onto Masamune-sama, or forward, where he'd pitch off the horse, but it was so hard when everything was going numb. He could barely feel his legs, other than the damp coldness down his left thigh. He glanced down, blinking slowly at the stain that was so dark it was almost black in the cream-colored pants. When had that happened? His chin dipped, and he wasn't sure if it was his own stubborn subconscious or the jerking of Date's arms around him that brought him back to consciousness, hazy as it was.

"Masamune-sama," he muttered, feeling the syllables stick in his mouth before they made it out.

"Don't you fucking close your eyes, Kojuurou. Hold on, listen to my voice."

"Yes," Kojuurou said, partly out of reflex, since that order was harder to obey than it was to simply agree to. The pounding of the horse's hooves was just jarring enough to bring him back from the edge of consciousness a few times, others the sharp shouts, ragged from Masamune's throat. He kept speaking as if Kojuurou was going anywhere, but that was ridiculous, because Kojuurou had sworn an oath to never leave Date's back unguarded. Everything was all wrong, he realized a moment later, glancing down at the blue-clad arms wrapped around his waist. He wasn't supposed to be there. It was supposed to be the other way around. The jerk of the horse stopping nearly sent him toppling off, were it not for the grip of Date's hand, slick with blood and leaving marks on his coat. When a rough grip began pulling him off, out of Masamune's arms, the last thing he remembered before unconsciousness swallowed him up was losing the weak grip he had on Masamune's hand.

He hadn't expected to wake, much less to wake with most of the pain gone save for a steady sharp ache in his side, and even less expected the slender hands clasping one of his between them, pressing his knuckles to a forehead covered in mussed hair from being crammed under a helmet. He smiled, and peered for a moment at Date Masamune, who slept by his side, a stubborn scowl on his face, even as he rested, his grip still tight. Kojuurou knew he'd never forgive himself for falling so, for making his lord worry, but gingerly with his other hand, he held a hand against his side. He could still feel the reassuring lingering sensation of Date's frantic grip on him—just a bruise, you fool—and closed his eyes again. As much as he had supported Masamune-sama all these years, it had taken him until now to realize that it was reciprocal… He smiled to himself as he dozed off again, squeezing Date's hand back just as tight. Nothing would tear them apart. He knew it now as certainly as he knew his own heart still beat in his chest.