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Title: The Aspen Grove, Prologue
Rating:  G
Fandom:  Ensemble Stars
Character(s):  Morisawa Chiaki, Tenshouin Eichi
Summary:  And as they stand amidst the Aspen Trees, weary and tired, they try to connect once more.  A prince and his knight, lost in the snow of the grove, and their tentative relationship.
Warning(s):  none this chapter

It echoes.


A hollow, empty sound of crunching snow as Chiaki unceremoniously shoves his sword into the ground.  He’s too tired to care about proper upkeep, letting his body lean on the worn hilt so that he can at least ease some of the pain in his bones.  Ahead of him, Eichi keeps walking, his figure frighteningly small in the tall bodies of the aspen trees that rise up all around them.


Like this, it is as if they are children again.  Chiaki chasing after a young prince discontent with the palace life, discontent with the hand given to him in the forced game of cards he had been too young to play but playing all the same.


Like this, Chiaki can imagine that the robes on Eichi’s back are not the silver and gold adorned ones of royalty, but of the playful blues and whites of a young prince stealing out for a ride in the woods with mischief painted on his face.


“I’m surprised you still stand, after a battle such as that,” Eichi says once he has reached the middle of the grove.  He’s looking up, up, up at the cloud covered sky, at the flecks of white drifting to the ground.


Chiaki wheezes a laugh, a noise that chokes off into a pathetic rasp at the sharp pain that digs into his sides, “I thought you said one of my charming qualities is my stubbornness and refusal to die.”  Chiaki sags further against his sword, breath becoming more ragged.  He can’t quite see how Eichi reacts, but he can guess that it’s how he usually moves.  A soft head tilt, a quirk of his lips that suggested annoyance more than amusement, followed by a soft click of his tongue--Chiaki can imagine it all.


“It is, as there many things that I have ignored.”


Chiaki can hear the crunching of snow as Eichi approaches him.  Eichi-- in the tight fabrics that hugged at his body, the fur lined robes draped elegantly over his body and the ends dragging along the ground like the ebb and flow of the tide--approaches him, and when Chiaki looks up he feels the warm press of a gloved hand to his cheek.  Gently--






--does Eichi move his thumb.  He traces the arch of Chiaki’s cheek, lets his thumb tickle the corner of Chiaki’s eye.  


Chiaki--in his thick leathers and crisscrossing belts, his armor scratched and dented, the etchings of the royal insignia almost unrecognizable--leans into the touch.  It is almost subservient.  No, if it were anyone else it would be subservient.  With Eichi, it is something more.  A complicit sign of trust, or of regrets that have long since been simmering deep inside his being.


“Do you remember the promise we made?” Eichi whispers, voice only heard due to the quiet that filled the aspen grove.


“Of course,” Chiaki answers, “how could I not?”  


That promise had been childish, naive.  A fool’s dream, spun from a mind yet to be unclouded by war and the cruel hand of politics.  By your side--forever! Chiaki had promised when Eichi had asked.  What a long time ago that had been.


Eichi’s fingers trace over a long scar that mars Chiaki’s eyebrow, trailing down to a burn hidden below the jaw line.


“I regret having you make it.”


His hand slides along a nic, slowly healing, until his fingertips press against Chiaki’s lips where a fresh bruise still blossoms at the corner.


“It is too late for regrets, now,” and Chiaki kisses the pads of Eichi’s fingers.  


One by one by one.


Eichi’s hand slides away from Chiaki’s face, and the smile on his face is...tired.  Tired and worn, as if he is ready for the earth to take him.  Chiaki thinks that if they were to both close their eyes and never wake up, that it will be okay.  To sleep peacefully amongst the aspen trees, the tall trees their tombstones, why…




“Would you kill me?” Eichi’s question startles Chiaki.  His eyes snap up to Eichi’s, seeing the unease that paints them a darker blue than normal.  Eichi continues, “If the opportunity ever arose, if I asked--”


“Never,” Chiaki answers, earnest and kind (always earnest and kind, never changing).  “I would never, no matter how many times came before me--”


“Because that is in your nature.”


Eichi’s words settle in him like the chill of the snow around them.  He is right.  He is brutally, horribly, wonderfully right--it is not in Chiaki’s nature.  No matter how far a man has fallen, no matter how cruel, grotesque they have become he could never cut them down, not if he had a choice.


Eichi even more so.


“There are many thing I have said,” Eichi continues, “and many thing I have done, but know that…that…”


Chiaki pushes up on his sword, reaches out with a weak hand until he’s stumbling forward.  Eichi catches him.


Pitiful, pitiful, pitiful but also--


“You, too, are human,” Chiaki breathes, looking up into Eichi’s eyes, their breaths mingling in the chill air.  “And you make mistakes. let us forget and just be us once more?”


With no more blood shed between them.  No more conflict, no more senseless fighting.  Let them forget the rules of politics, of the smell of the battle field and the stifling mantle of leadership.


Eichi laughs, knocking his forehead gently against Chiaki’s.  It is a broken, pained laugh--nothing like the one Chiaki had given.


“Just us once more.”


The aspen grove remains silent.


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