Exalted: Duty and Honor
“Do something about your son, Yasuhiro.”
Kirigasa Setsuko stands in the entranceway to his study and her armored form blocks the sunlight. Yasuhiro frowns and finishes another fold of his origami crane. He knows without asking that Kurenai has gotten into another fight and that it has ended poorly now that there was no longer someone around to break it up and soothe his son’s temper.
“May I remind you, my peony blossom,” he says evenly, “That is was your grandfather who was the Fire-Aspect.”
Setsuko’s tetsubo makes a harsh sound of impact on the floor. “And may I remind you, Yasuhiro, that I have not forgotten the days of your youth or Teresu Hisoka.” Again she pounds her weapon against the ground, nearly splintering it. “This is your fault. Deal with your son!”
Yasuhiro sighs, and sets aside his work, lamenting loss of a peaceful, quiet afternoon.
The silence is more unbearable than any shouting or harsh words his father might have subjected him to. That, at least, would have been more interesting, more like a battle.
Instead Kurenai knelt, facing his father’s seated back while the elder man practiced calligraphy as if his son were not even there. He had not said a word since Kurenai had entered nearly an hour ago, and it was torture.
It is when Yasuhiro dips his ink-blackened brush into water and begins the slow process of cleaning it that he finally chooses to speak.
“It is said that sometimes the youngest child enjoys sweeter fruits while parents fix distracted eyes on their firstborn,” he says.
Kurenai scowls. He knows his father is indirectly calling him a brat. His hands curl in the bamboo mat beneath him and he fights the urge to set it ablaze.
His father turns to regard him calmly. He meets his father’s gaze defiantly but doesn’t respond, continuing to seethe internally.
Yasihuro spends several more moment in silence studying his youngest child. Kurenai had always been reckless, but never before so openly rebellious. His gaze lingers a moment on his son’s robes.
“You are still wearing the colors of mourning,” he observes.
“Will there ever be a reason not to?!” Kurenai screams, unable to bear it. The tranquility of the room is smothering him. It reminds him of the quiet solitude, the unbearable weight of a grave.
Yasuhiro reaches for the discarded origami paper from earlier and to bolster his patience he reminds himself of a summer from a long, long time ago, when he folded a thousand paper cranes beside someone’s sickbed.
“It gets easier with time,” he says. He knows it’s the wrong thing to say because he remembers what it felt like being told it once before, and his son does not have even half the temperance he possesses.
The result is as he expected, and Kurenai snaps.
“You don’t understand!” Kurenai shouts, and his body temperature rises and heats the air of the room. He launches into a tirade of half-formed, hysterical thoughts that are partly self-hatred and partly grief. So caught in his own anguish and screaming that he doesn’t realize everything that he reveals to his father’s carefully observing eyes and ears.
When Kurenai sits panting and spent after his tantrum ends, Yasuhiro rises and looks down at his son with a guarded expression.
“Your mother has put in a division transfer for you,” he says. “If you continue to shame the family with your behavior then she’ll have you married sooner than you wanted with the hope that you will give her grandchildren that are less disappointing.”
Kurenai doesn’t look his father’s direction, and considers himself dismissed when Yasuhiro lectures him no further. He rises to his feet and storms across the bamboo mats to the door.
Yasuhiro’s voice reaches him right before he exits.
“You’ll want to focus and grow stronger, Kurenai. One day you may have to make the decision to either leave with him or kill him. I know you will make the most honorable choice.”
Kurenai turns to stare at him, wide-eyed. He doesn’t know how his father realized that Kirigasa Yuhi is not truly dead.
“And what choice would be the honorable one, father?”
Yasuhiro smiles and returns to folding paper cranes.
“Look, Hikari, there’s K-chan. He’s just like mother said.”
“K-chan! K-chan! Oh! He’s running away now, Hotaru.”
“We can’t allow that, can we, Hikari?”
“No. Let’s catch him, sister.”
As both sisters take one of his arms and restrain him in a hug, Kurenai equates the feeling to being squished between two giant boulders of death. They kiss his cheeks and giggle his despised nickname into his ears.
“K-chan, are you still sulking?”
“K-chan, such sad colors don’t suit you.”
“K-chan, do you want to see the warstriders? We could perhaps even-”
“Shut up! Get off of me!” he screams, and flails violently in their grasp. They each tighten their grip like a serpent about to devour its prey.
“You’ve been so naughty, K-chan.”
“Amilar Reiji deserved a punch in the mouth but you really should have restrained yourself.”
“How will you ever get a wife with such a terrible temper?”
“Come train with us again, K-chan.”
“We miss Yuhi, too.”
When they say his friend’s name, he realizes their true intention is to attempt to console him. His anima flares and they spring hastily away from the flames that envelop him.
“I don’t need your pity!” he screams – he feels like he’s always screaming these days. He turns and runs down the street toward the training grounds, and though they cry out after him, they don’t give chase again.
The training grounds are always less busy this time of day, when darkness is about to fall. Yet Kurenai finds the person he had been looking for, silhouetted against the sunset.
“Mother,” he calls out angrily. “Father and my sisters have been harassing me, and I know it is your doing. Is there something you want to say to me?!”
Setsuko turns, smiling, and hefts her tetsubo up from the ground.
“Let’s speak the language we both know best, my son,” she says, and charges him from across the field.
Though her dutiful daughters are her pride and joy, Kurenai is the child of her heart and the only one to share the same intense love of physical combat. He leaps immediately to meet her, and the land where they collide scorches and then breaks apart from the force of their opposing elements.
Kurenai’s attacks are swift and devastating but Setsuko’s legendary endurance never falters under his onslaught. She does not share her son’s speed but her more measured blows carry a heavier force that sends him stumbling back, leaving her safely out of the reach of his burning anima. One of her strikes in particular knocks him directly down to his knees, and when he looks up to the the roaring image of the Elemental Dragon Pasiap swirling above her in white and yellow he knows he has been defeated.
“Reckless, as always,” she says, coming to stand before him. “Putting too much into the initial attacks, and holding nothing in reserve.”
“It’s better to burn,” he says, echoing words that haunt him still. “It’s better to give everything you have, better than growing old and weaker and left with nothing but the knowledge of what’s been lost and-”
“You can cry if you need to, Kurenai,” she interrupts sharply.
He stares at her, for once stricken into silence.
She reaches down and gently places a hand on his head, because for all that she is a warrior and commander, she is also still a mother and this was her child in pain.
“Get it out,” she says gruffly. “And be done with it.”
“I don’t cry,” he says.
“No,” she replies patiently, and strokes his hair, “Never for yourself. Like your father, it’s always only been for someone else.”