Kousaka knows Kagetora's past far better than Takaya does. And knowledge is useless if not applied. (Rating for later chapters, takes place post-series, pre-OVA)
Readers familiar with the novel canon will note that the actions and attitudes of a certain character are not in keeping with significant character background spoiler. This is deliberate on my part. I simply do not have enough information to make use of that background, and so am restricting myself to historical extrapolation with regards to that character. Thank you for your understanding.
To That Which Destroyeth Kings:
Fire in the Ice
by Cerise Tennyo
e-mail: la_coeur_noir @ hotmail.com
"Are you married?"
As one, they turned to stare at the little girl.
She wore an excessively frilly pink 'visiting the important relatives' dress, with her hair tied up in tails that had already begun to work loose. The child, who would most likely grow up to be an investigative journalist with her gift for pointed questions and incredible timing, stared back at them. She planted tiny fists on her hips, surveying the men with a puzzled scowl.
Kousaka Danjou could count the number of times he'd been struck speechless and still have a number in the comfortable low digits. This particular comment...
increased that tally by one. He turned and eyed his alleged spouse. One day, he'd remind Ougi that shade of red looked particularly alluring with his hair and eyes--preferably in Naoe's hearing. In the meantime, he'd enjoy the view.
"Ah..." Ougi began.
Kousaka glanced back at the child, whose frown deepened. No few children had some psychic ability that time had not yet shut down. More than one Possessor had been 'outted' in earlier times by children screaming about monsters. Or... The girl could simply have sensed their Possessor-energies and offered the only solution her child-mind could produce.
Or perhaps the Universe had decided to give him a little present and a chance to play with it.
Kousaka gave his 'husband' an arch look. "It's rude to ignore a question, /darling/."
With a visible effort, Ougi worked his expression into something less menacing. Kousaka felt a mild burst of surprise. Previous dealings with the hot-headed young man had not shown Ougi to have the least inclination towards tact or delicacy. Then again, the situations he'd contrived to meet him under weren't meant to be conducive to either.
"Wha-- Why... do you ask that?" Ougi managed at last.
"'Cause you sound just like my Auntie when she talks to Uncle. I can hear them from the sandbox, too!"
This time Kousaka couldn't hold back a snort of laughter. If Ougi's face turned any redder, his head might explode. Kousaka reached out, took the other Possessor's arm in a gesture that could be read as affectionate. With the child watching with such interest, Ougi dared not shove him away.
"I told you to keep your voice down."
The little girl gave a satisfied nod. "/Just/ like Auntie."
Ougi made a sound like escaping steam. At that moment, a harried-looking woman dashed towards them.
"Kumiko-chan! Come here this instant!"
The woman never took her eyes off the men standing so close to her--daughter? Niece? The little girl shrugged and skipped off, waving at them as she went. The woman caught her up, giving the Possessors another worried look.
Mothers also had a sense for monsters that lived below human skin.
"We're attracting attention, dearest," Kousaka drawled. "I suggest we move to someplace... quieter."
He cast the young man a suggestive glance and was rewarded with a murderous glare. Ougi wrenched his arm free, one hand curling into a fist. He brushed at where Kousaka's hand had rested, as if the touch might somehow contaminate.
"Unless you're looking for help into hell," Kagetora's current host snarled, "I'm not going anywhere with you, freak!"
The flush in Ougi's face turned ugly, splotchy, Kousaka noted, like chemical burns. The energies around the Uesugi leader thickened, as if he expected a full-out attack. Interesting.
Since his return as Ougi Takaya, Kousaka had never seen this man with his guard down, never seen a truly exploitable opening. One would think a warlord of the Yami Sengoku plagued with amnesia might have moments of vulnerability, or at least, unsure of who was friend or foe. Kagetora just wasn't a good enough actor to feign memory loss on this level. His own abilities assured the soul in the body facing him indeed belonged to Uesugi Kagetora--who never once in four hundred years forgave a betrayal. Oda's power hadn't wrought this damage.
So what really lay below beneath the modern facade of Ougi Takaya? What was the shape of the lock sealing Kagetora's memories? For a moment, he wished Sanjyou-sama had not been exorcised--she could have told him what else her purifying flames revealed. Still, there were other ways...
"Hmph. No matter the age, you still have no manners." He put on his fourth-best wounded expression, knowing this man could see through them all. "And after I've spent all this time searching you out. Don't you want to know what happened to Ujinori-san?"
The name brought an instant reaction. Ougi snapped to attention, tense as a scout hearing the telltale rustle of leaves.
Ah... Memory-loss or no, family was still the key to Saburo Kagetora. No... not just family: /brothers/. Hatred and malice glittered in the bright eyes of the once most-famous beauty of Kanto. A hatred like that made for a potent weapon--a weapon that more often turned on those who thought to exploit it. Even to Kousaka, such a complex layering of rage and hate seemed best left alone--except when he had surer ways of moving it to his purpose.
"Something wrong with telling me here?" Ougi demanded.
"Oh, aside from directly mentioning details that would likely get you arrested, if not committed?" Kousaka drawled.
Ougi made a sound of disgust. Turning on his heel, he stalked towards a sickly patch of trees and shrubbery that passed as woodlands in this park. Hands in his pockets, Kousaka sauntered after, enjoying the view. Oyakata-sama still viewed their contract as binding, but that didn't mean Kousaka couldn't enjoy pleasant scenery when he found it. All the scene lacked was the striped tail, whisking in Kagetora-dono's wake as he stalked along like the great cat he'd been named for.
Which was probably for the best, Kousaka reflected. The urge to tweak it always proved irresistible.
Just a few short years ago, he'd believed this man and his power lost beyond recovery--and with him, Naoe Nobutsuna. Naoe might have been given the task of guarding Kagetora's body, but it was Kagetora who sustained Naoe's soul. Oh, Naoe might exist in the world, might take a body and perform the duties required of an Uesugi exorcist. Yet without Kagetora, the fire in the man faded to dull coals. He would not fight so hard, nor push himself past his self-perceived limits.
Which made him damned useless, from Kousaka's point of view.
So he'd gone to his auxiliary plan. He'd ushered Sanjyo-no-kata from the shadows and into a body he'd chosen. With her aid, freeing their lord from the ensorcelled mound that imprisoned him became a mere child's exercise.
True to expectation, the effects of an adult Possession of an unexpectedly powerful latent psychic in a world she barely recognized distracted Sanjyo-sama from certain key questions. She never once asked why he had waited so long to free Shingen-sama, or came seeking her aid.
Then again, Sanjyo-sama, for all her strength, had never looked away from the path that led to her husband's glory long enough to notice what color the sky was, never mind the finer details. Sanjyo-sama had become overconfident after taking over Takeda Yuiko--not that she would ever have been a match for Kagetora -dono, even if she had succeeded in subjugating Yuiko. He was surprised she'd lasted as long as she had.
She's better off, Kousaka thought with as much philosophical compassion as he could muster on no notice. She'd done her part, and done it well, then 'died' in her lord's service. What woman of the samurai could ask for more?
And even without his memory, Kagetora-dono called down the power of Bishamon-ten and almost succeeded in exorcising Shingen-kou... from that body! Far, far more than Kousaka had hoped for.
And it had never occurred to either Naoe or the other functioning Uesugi that Shingen-kou had had help in his escape. How had they survived this war? Ah. Yes. Silly question. Kagetora.
Yami-Sengoku had all but ground to a halt with the absence of both Oda and Kagetora. While some no doubt considered this a good sign, to Kousaka, this warned of the most dangerous time of all. Such an enormous gap in the power-structure had to be filled--and all that was available were the leavings of petty, small-minded warlords who hadn't grasped that four hundred years had actually passed since their deaths. Worse things than the vengeful dead of the Warring States lurked in the darkness between worlds, things that waited with inhuman patience for their opportunity. Things that could have used idiots like Houjou Ujimasa and the Tsutsuga Mirror to devastating effect.
One man could fight the future only so far alone.
"All right." Ougi put his back against a tree trunk, folded his arms over his chest. The noise of the park had faded to almost nothing. "This is about as quiet a place as I'm going to go with you without a gun to my head."
Kousaka stopped. "This will serve," he murmured, looking around. This place lacked the humming vitality of the waterfall, but the trees wove a cloak of silence, a calm patience found more often among mountains and high rocky places.
Those feral eyes narrowed, windows of the soul shuttered and barred tight against him. It hadn't always been that way. He could remember other times-- but those were long ago, and they had both been different men. He had days he devoted to his regrets, and the next one wasn't for another eight years.
"Whatever your dear brother has been doing over the centuries, honing his warrior's craft has not rated high on his list," Kousaka said, removing his sunglasses.
In part, it was respect--he was still who and what he was, and Saburo Kagetora was still the top general of the Uesugi, a warlord in his own right, if he'd ever bother to claim his legacy. It also gave him time to See.
The scruffy street-scrapper faded, gaining a sharper edge, the hair lengthening into a glossy fall too few remembered. Sharp, sharp features, a stark contrast to the other brothers of the Houjou, whose faces had always reminded him somewhat of goats. Sharp, delicately balanced, a face women envied and few men ever ignored. And the eyes...
Rare as European amber, bright as the slanting beam of late autumn sunlight. The power in him writhed, barely contained by the young body. He Saw it in roiling waves of flame that shifted in hue from the hottest blue to palest gold. A man like this could rule the living and the dead. A man like this...
And now, he walked the earth, still blessed by Bishamon-ten, but free of the deadening layers that Time had half-buried him in. If Oda ever learns he actually did Kagetora-dono a favor, he'd choke. Might be worth the annoyance of dealing with that jumped-up valet of his, just to see...
"What's so damn funny?" Ougi demanded. Kousaka blinked, and his vision blurred, then refocused on the drab mundane world.
"Just a memory, of past times. Of you."
"So glad you remember me. I've only been standing here for ten minutes! Now what about Ujinori?" Ougi retorted.
The name/title (according to the /furigana/, anyway that both Kousaka and Sanjyo (and various other Takeda members) use when addressing or speaking of Shingen. (I'm not entirely certain how it breaks down, it could be 'O-yakata-sama,' or as I've written it here.
Historically, Houjou Ujinori was the one who died with Kagetora's young son when Kagekatsu rejected Kagetora's offer of truce. In the Mirage storyline, that role is taken by "an old family servant." Kagetora's antipathy for his Houjou brothers is well-established by the time of the anime series.