Notes: Originally written for Yuletide 2007.
There are 206 bones in the human body, and Souma knows how to break them all. Saving life and taking it are two sides of the same coin and ever since Taishakuten ordered the destruction of her clan, she has become as proficient in the latter as the former.
So why can't she lift her hand against the woman who stands in the doorway, watching her the same way a person would a rabid animal?
"Why did you save me?" she asks, not for the first time.
Kendappa glides into the room, a whisper of long hair against white silk. She is so graceful in movement and form, it almost hurts. "You were injured." Dimples crease her cheek. "Did you want me to leave you to die?"
Souma remembers her parents' screams, and the way their heads rolled from their shoulders. She swallows back the bile that rises in her throat. "Maybe you should have."
The smile drops from Kendappa's face. She smoothes Souma's hair back from her face. "You shouldn't be so quick to seek death," she says.
Souma closes her eyes. "Why not?
She feels the press of lips against her cheek, soft and light. "I am the last of my clan too."
The members of her clan have always been quick healers, and Souma is no different. It takes her two days to make a full recovery.
By the morning of the third, she is restless and uneasy. As she wanders the halls of Kendappa's floating palace, the maids watch her with frightened eyes and speak to one another in hushed voices that fall silent when she walks past. It doesn't take much effort to deduce the subject of their conversations.
On the fourth day, Souma watches as the maids carefully arrange Kendappa's hair and clothes. "You are the Gakushi no Kimi, the Lady of Instruments."
"Yes." Kendappa meets her gaze in the mirror. "I thought you knew."
It would be a lie to say she didn't, so Souma says nothing at all.
"I should be gone only two days, not more than three. I'd spend only a night at the palace if I could, but the emperor might take insult."
The maid applying kohl to the outline of Kendappa's eyes giggles. "And Prince Tenoh would be so sad!"
"Prince Tenoh?" Souma echoes. "The emperor's son?"
Kendappa says nothing, but the maids burst out laughing. "Oh yes!" they say, their voices blending as one. "The prince loves our Lady Kendappa. Isn't it wonderful?"
It should be, but it isn't.
The night Kendappa returns from the palace, she is pale and feverish. It is late, and the maids are already asleep. Souma helps the other woman to her room and leaves her reclining on her bed. The kitchens are stocked full with herbs, but they are hardly fresh. Souma brews the tea strong to compensate for their age.
Kendappa drinks the offered remedy with no complaint, though she makes a face at the bitter taste.
Souma watches her anxiously. "What happened?"
Kendappa only shakes her head. "You know our emperor's cruelty." She rolls onto her side, her back a wall to any further attempts at conversation.
It isn't until much later that Souma realizes she could have poisoned Kendappa and none would have known.
She also realizes Kendappa knew this and accepted the medicine anyway.
"Why are you helping me?"
Kendappa stops her playing and presses her fingers against the strings, silencing her harp. "Haven't we discussed this already?"
"You are the Gakushi no Kimi. You have no reason to help me." What Souma says is true. Kendappa has one of the most honored places in the imperial court. "What if Taishakuten discovers I'm here?"
Kendappa exhales, a soft sound. She stands, and leans her harp gently against the wall. "He won't find out."
Souma flinches at her approach. "The maids-"
"-are loyal to me. They'll tell no one."
"Me?" Kendappa stares at her, obviously insulted. "Do you really believe I brought you back here and took care of you just so I could hand you over to the emperor? So much trouble! Better for me to have left you where I found you."
Flustered, Souma continues, "But the prince-"
"The prince?" Kendappa is genuinely baffled. "Tenoh? What about him?"
She has no reply.
Kendappa studies her face, then smiles. She bends down and kisses Souma on the mouth. "You have nothing to worry about."
At first, Kendappa says nothing when Souma practices with her Sougeppa.
Then one day she asks, "Why does a clan of healers bear such weapons?"
Souma is surprised. It is true the crescent blades are old and well-used, though she takes care of them well. They are a warrior's weapons, an assassin's weapons. Then Souma remembers Kendappa is the daughter of the Eastern General, or was before he died. She knows her weapons too.
Souma catches one blade, then retrieves its partner. "Our blood is precious."
Many a man has tried to claim a taste of Souma blood. Taishakuten knew this. It is why she is the last one left.
"Why do you serve Taishakuten, if he is the man who killed your father?"
"Because he is strong, and I like strong people."
Souma doesn't like the discontent roiling in her belly. It is uncomfortable and makes her inexplicably unhappy, especially when Kendappa looks at her so knowingly like that.
"Are you jealous?" Kendappa asks.
"Hmm." For a moment, Souma thinks she hears disappointment in Kendappa's voice but surely that is impossible. The harpist has the affections of the prince and the admiration of an entire court. One mere healer's feelings shouldn't make a difference.
"How did your mother die?"
Kendappa makes a face. "Of a broken heart."
"Because of your father?"
"If only!" Kendappa studies her hands. "She fell in love with a man who never returned her feelings. It was pathetic, watching her reduce herself to nothing because a man didn't love her back."
Souma is horrified by her words. "This is your mother!"
"So? She let unfulfilled love destroy her. Of all the most ridiculous reasons to die. I just told you I like strong people. Weak people disgust me, and my mother was weak. How can I admire a woman like her?"
Souma grasps Kendappa's hands, subdues their agitated wringing. She doubts the woman even realized what she was doing.
Kendappa falls silent, her face calm and composed. "I like you, Souma," she whispers. "You're strong."
Before she leaves, Souma stops to say goodbye.
Kendappa refuses to look at her. She plays her harp, as if the sound will drown out Souma's voice. But when Souma reaches her side and stills her hands, she sees how bright Kendappa's eyes are. Any words she planned to say die on her lips and instead she says goodbye with a kiss.
There are 206 bones in the human body, and Souma knows how to mend them all. But no matter how hard she or Kendappa tries, she finds she cannot heal her own broken heart.