Title: No Reason to Hide
Author: Jordanna Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Ikoma and Kajika.
Setting: Sometime after episode four.
Summary: They know his need, but he still can’t truly face them with it.
Disclaimer: They belong to Kabaneri Committee and other relevant parties. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt “Drinking Alone” at Fan Flashworks. (For a dose of sap, pair it with the song “Hide” by Creed, from which the title is taken.)
No Reason to Hide
From the prow deck of the Kotetsujo, the passing countryside looked perfectly serene and peaceful. Vibrant green woodlands, fields full of flowers, calm lakes reflecting a clear blue sky.
Such a beautiful world outside station walls… yet so full of free-roaming death, it could almost be as untouchable as the surface of the Moon.
It’s not fair.
…Well. A lot of things weren’t fair these days. Ikoma grimaced, shifting a little where he sat propped against the sun-warmed steel of the train’s armor plating, and his hand strayed to the object at his side: a bamboo tube marked with a warning band of red.
Near-impossible as it was to find privacy inside the Kotetsujo, the outer deck was often the only place where Ikoma could consume his rations of blood in solitude—and he needed that. He couldn’t bear to have human eyes watch him then, to make a spectacle of the fact that his nourishment came from their veins. Even if the blood was willingly provided by people who actually cared about him, it was a constant and ghastly reminder that he was halfway a monster. His friends could insist that what he’d become was not his fault, or that his fighting to protect them was a worthy repayment for what they sacrificed, but they hadn’t felt what a Kabaneri’s hunger was like. When the taste of someone else’s very life was all one craved, there was no escaping guilt.
His painful regret for its source aside, the need for blood was just boring. It was already becoming strangely hard to remember the flavors of normal food, but he still knew they were diverse and pleasurable in ways blood alone could not be. His human mind missed the varied diet his Kabane body now rejected.
At least he could sip a little bit of sugar-water when he sat with others during their mealtimes. Mumei was hopelessly uninformative about a lot of things, but she had told him about that. It was mere fluid that his system could tolerate, and the trace of sugar still even tasted faintly sweet to him, if somewhat odd. More importantly, nursing a cup of something other than blood was a distraction from the fact that he couldn’t share his friends’ food. He didn’t want them to start feeling bad that he was left out.
Ikoma sighed, fingers lightly curling and uncurling around the blood tube. He wished he could have asked Mumei to join him then; the company of his fellow Kabaneri would have kept him from dwelling on his plight. However, when last he saw her, she had been taken up with amusing Kajika’s gaggle of foundlings. He would never want to interrupt her bonding with the children—something she had so much more difficulty doing with adults. If the kids softened her up enough, maybe it would help her interact more normally with everyone else.
Oh well. Best to just get his meal over with anyway, and get back to doing something productive with himself. He still needed to smelt the heart-cage metal he’d managed to harvest after their last skirmish with a pack of Kabane on the tracks. Suzuki would probably want to help him with that. They should try to tackle the job before the humans’ dinner rations were handed out, then.
Closing his grasp around the tube, Ikoma rose and stepped up to the prow railing. His fingers absently fumbled with the stopper.
Metal creaked, and he turned with a start.
“There you are!” Kajika said brightly, flouncing out onto the deck—for once absent the orphaned baby she so often carried on her back. “Mumei was wondering where you… were…”
Her eyes lighted on the red-banded length of bamboo in his hand, and then darted away as her face pinkened. “Ohh. Sorry… I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“It’s okay.” Ikoma shifted his stance uncomfortably. “…I’ll be there in a second. Go on inside.”
Taking it for granted that Kajika would do as he told her, Ikoma turned away to face the railing. He gazed at the mesmerizing flicker of tree-shadows that fell over the tracks in the afternoon light, and waited to hear the girl’s retreating footsteps.
Instead, after a moment’s hesitation, her running steps clattered towards him across the deck. Her slight weight collided with his back, and suddenly her arms were around his ribs, squeezing him tightly in a hug from behind.
He felt a thump somewhere deep within his heart cage, and forgot to breathe for a moment.
“Don’t do this to yourself, Ikoma! You look so lonely…” Kajika’s voice broke on a quiver. She drew a breath before continuing firmly, “You don’t have to hide. Come and eat with the rest of us.”
Red-brown eyes widened. Ikoma swallowed hard, and very gently placed his own hand on top of the small slim ones that were clasped over his stomach.
“I’m sorry. I can’t, Kajika. Not when my food is…”
A huff of breath tickled the back of his neck. Kajika pulled away to grasp his right arm, just underneath the steel bands that ringed it, and sharply turned him to face her.
Possessing a strength that dwarfed hers, he could have refused to budge; but the powerful Kabaneri was defeated by the determination in that wisp of a girl. So he gave in to her, and looked her helplessly in the eye. There was still sympathetic pain there, but also the pushy, exasperated fierceness she unleashed on anyone who she thought was being an idiot.
Kajika really would make a wonderful teacher.
…And someday she was going to. Because the chance to fulfill her dream was one more item on Ikoma’s long list of things in this world he had to fix.
“You think any of us care about that?” She jabbed a finger toward the blood tube he held awkwardly half-hidden against his hip. “We know what you need, silly. After all, we’re the ones who give it for you. And we don’t want you to be upset about it. We worry that sometimes you don’t have enough because you’re worried about us. If only you’d eat with us, then we could see that you’re really taking care of yourself, and… we’d be glad.”
Ikoma’s breath caught, and he stared at Kajika, slowly absorbing the full meaning of her words.
His friends worried that he wasn’t drinking enough of their own lifeblood. Not because he was a guardian of the Kotetsujo, a walking weapon whose strength should be maintained—but simply because they were his friends.
Then maybe, after all…
Maybe they really could see all that he was and forgive him, even in the times when he couldn’t forgive himself.
“…Thanks, Kajika.” With a somber smile, he rested one hand lightly on her shoulder. “I’m not ready for that today. I’m still learning to live with myself. But… soon, I’ll try. I promise.”
Kajika’s eyes looked misty, but she wrinkled her pert little nose and glared at him sternly. “You’d better! ’Cause if you don’t, I’ll just have to come drag you to dinner myself.”
She could do it, too. Not by force, naturally; but if anyone on the train could persistence a Kabaneri to death, it would be Kajika.
“Okay. You’ve got a deal.” Ikoma ducked his head, letting his hand slip down from her shoulder. “Now go on. Really. I’ll be right behind you.”
Flashing him one more smile, Kajika turned and scurried off. He watched her disappear through the hatch, and smiled thinly himself before dropping his gaze to the blood tube in his hand.
In a very genuine, physical sense, each day of his life was a gift from those who cared for him. They deserved to share any parts of it they might wish to. Even the parts he didn’t want them to see… but he had a feeling that in the light of such compassion, the shadows he’d hidden would not look nearly so dark as he feared.
Quickly Ikoma drank down his precious meal, and went on to join his friends.
© 2018 Jordanna Morgan