Kurusu frowned. Ayame started. But it was Kibito who looked away from the bundle of armor, searching her face. “Kajika. What’s wrong?”
Besides everything? The tears threatened to rise up and choke her. She wouldn’t let them. Ikoma deserved better than that. Takumi deserved better. “I- Hozumi mentioned the iron cage. I didn’t think about it before, not Ikoma, he’s….”
“So that hit,” Kibito muttered. “I guess it had to, sooner or later.”
“Kibito?” Ayame moved around the table, reaching out to grasp Kajika’s hand.
“Kurusu aims true.” Kibito gave his fellow bushi a wry smile. “And you don’t miss. You shot Ikoma off the train in Aragane, and he survived it. There’s only one way that could happen.”
“You knew.” Kaijka felt lightheaded, as if something were squeezing her own heart. “You knew all along, and you still….”
“I had reasons not to trust him,” Kurusu said bluntly. “He proved them wrong.”
“Wait.” Ayame was still holding Kajika’s hand, eyes wide. “Then that means, when I threatened him-?”
“You would have only broken your knife.” Amusement flickered in indigo eyes, chased out the next moment by duty. “But you proved your point, Lady Ayame. He took your blade rather than harm a human. That was the true test.”
“But he killed Sahari.” Kajika pulled loose from Ayame’s grasp, fighting words past the lump in her throat. “He killed a human being. Steamsmiths don’t kill! He’ll think it’s because his heart changed, because of the Kabane….”
And what if he’s right?
“We killed several humans to stop the Nue,” Kurusu said levelly. “Most Hunters were loyal to Biba to the death, even as Kongokaku turned to hell around them.” He glanced at Ayame, then back to her. “Ikoma swore he lives to destroy the Kabane. To prevent another Kongokaku – we had to kill Biba.”
“But killing people.” Kajika shivered again. “Takumi… he held us together, ever since Ikoma got to Aragane. Without him – I don’t know how we can stay strong enough to live in another station. I don’t know how Ikoma did it the first time! If we’d just lost Aragane, he’d be okay; but Takumi, and being Kabaneri….”
Kibito leaned forward. “The first time?”
A/N: Yep. Canon, Aragane was the second station Ikoma lived in that fell to the Kabane. The first, he was about 12 or so. I can see why the guy’s a bit crazy.