It is on the battlefield that the adrenaline charges of terror and fervour collide to make him stand before his troops and sound out the trumpet call with only his voice, clear and ringing with a strength one would not suppose to look at him. It is in the touch of another that the adrenaline charges of terror and fervour collide to make him falter before his principles and silence his voice, torn by a weakness no one would ever have suspected.
His resolve cannot stop him from falling because his resolve is a façade. It is half-hearted, and when measured against his longing falls short of expectation. It crumbles at the edges, changes state, solid and impenetrable in one moment and melting like snow in the next. Sometimes his heart unfolds like a rose; at other times, it turns to cold stone in the flower’s image, heavy but brittle.
He could pretend it was not his fault. In a strange and unfathomable way, he knows that this is his fate, that this is the natural conclusion of his family’s old story. The story that is crowned by the death of the Reizen founder and the bereaved fury of the wolf-god that loved Taki’s ancestor so greatly that its howl of grief rent the island from the land, separating the heart of the country from the outside world amidst a sea of grief. The story that was left unresolved after the wolf-god, eyes golden like the sun, wandered far to the west, to places even stranger than the sacred sites of old, and founded its line there. “Of the city of the wolves”—it could be no coincidence. This was how the story had to end.
But his family’s other tradition was no less weighty: a chaste and pure bloodline, one protected by the gods so that each would be the salvation and the sacrifice of their people. A holy office passed down to him that he had defiled. Even as the two myths stood in opposition, he could not pretend that he had no guilt. He was not guilty because a legend compelled him; he had acted on his personal desires. He was culpable because he was more human than anyone here could believe, and they were fools not to see it. But he was their sin-eater and he was their saviour and it was he who had wished to stand by them. Again, it was a human love in his heart for his people that moved him—not a pristine or sacred charge—but what mattered was that it was there.
What matters is that he is here. He brought Klaus back with him, hiding behind illusions and false intentions because he could not turn away from him. He drew him out to the land of his ancestors, and in turn they drew out the worst in each other, six months of descent into madness because he could not bring himself to speak and neither was strong enough to turn from the other. But they did forgive each other, in the way his people could not forgive him nor he forgive himself. They are alive, if barely. Recalling that dark morning by the riverside—how swiftly his heart raced when he saw the flare, how it seemed to stop totally as he stumbled towards Klaus’ unmoving form—he channels those moments of panic and despair into the training exercise, wishing rather to grasp Klaus’ living, breathing body in his hands to feel how painfully alive they both are and never fear for separation again. His fear forms a peerless rage as he fights.
Once there was a dream of far fields, harvests and a simple life. He thinks on that dream more often than he can say, but still he would not choose it. He knows many roads: the ones laid out before him by his ancestors, comrades, friends; the ones his enemies wait to waylay him on; the roads that cross the vast continent, stretching from his homeland to the far West where repurposed monasteries and flickering town lights lie; roads of wishes and roads of suspicions; but he has already chosen the road he will walk down and shall not be deterred. He has made the pilgrimage of his ancestors and he has honoured their sacred vows, but will heed their calls no longer. He strayed off those roads and will never turn back. But he also sees these roads intersecting, over and over, and the further he marches, the more aware of their fine weaving he becomes, spiralling downwards like treading the petals of a rose.
Even when he walks his own path his enemies besiege him and he feels anger, intensely, relentlessly. It stings his pride to be so trapped, and it threatens his people. Staring down Katsuragi’s smug gaze, he answers him in full knowledge of the position he was born to, underscoring the authority that makes him better than this man who leads the pack of jackals waiting to tear their country to pieces. He restrains himself only until he reaches his rooms where he slams his fist against the top of the chair, thrumming with pent-up frustration. He is not what he pretends. He tries to collect himself and focus on Klaus’ injuries, but suddenly he feels Klaus’ hand atop his own, trapping him in their private world. Before he can ask he is caught within his arms, an experience he has learned to both crave and fear. It is too easy to be lost in this.
“Just a little while longer,” the other man begs and Taki can offer no words in return. In the depth of the embrace he feels Klaus’ own fears stripping away his momentary anger as he longs to soothe them, even knowing he cannot. He reads all the feelings wracking Klaus—desire, torment, guilt, martyrdom—all so like his own. He is also relieved, for as he is pressed tightly in Klaus’ embrace, feeling the other man’s arms tremble with anxiety, he knows how deeply he is needed. He knows because it is how deeply he needs. As Klaus draws away, Taki reaches for his injured arm, holding firmly as he fights back the tears in his eyes.
He does not meet Klaus’ gaze as Klaus calls him a fool. “I can’t be held responsible if you’re going to be like that,” Klaus mutters, a defeated hope in his words. Taki slowly traces Klaus’ arm, slips his fingers beneath the bandages, slides his hand down to meet Klaus’ own, clasps it tightly and draws it almost to his lips. Too daunted to close that short distance and kiss it, he instead holds it against his heart and looks away, unable to speak. He is enfolded in those arms once more, for a single moment of peace.
I have always been like this, he thinks, and so I always will be.