|The Buffalo Hide
Author: swasdiva PM
During a time of war, wagon trains, Indians and outlaws, something precious is vanishing in the American Old West. Sesshoumaru and Kagome are lost souls from two different worlds fighting to save it, and discover in each other the true meaning of home.Rated: Fiction M - English - Western/Romance - Kagome H. & Sesshomaru - Chapters: 3 - Words: 30,657 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 26 - Follows: 21 - Updated: 11-23-08 - Published: 05-21-08 - id: 4269597
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Overly long first chapter author's note, ahoy:
I've always wanted to write an AU Inuyasha fic centered around the Wild West, so here's my take on it. This will be a crossover with a romance novel (yes... a romance novel) I own, well, purchased named "Grey Eagle's Bride" by Jessica Wulf. Corny title, surprisingly good book, for the genre. Sesshoumaru's father and the Beaudine brothers are central characters to this novel, but I can guarantee you won't need to have read the book to understand what's going on.
I've tried to be respectful to the ethnic and emotional backgrounds of each character, but I must admit this all stems from a sheltered Kentucky girl's imagination, so if you have any cultural insight I'd love to hear it and incorporate it into the fic.
I've also tried to make this as historically accurate as possible (I'm an online research junkie), but alas, some things just have to be fudged for fiction's sake. But enough of my babble, on with the show!
And just an FYI: "Sess" doesn't show up until chapter 2. Please hang in until then!
Reviews are Prozac.
--Inuyasha thumbs through "Grey Eagle's Bride"-- "Hehe, you don't own this either, biotch!"
--swasdiva promptly thwacks him across the skull-- "You do realize you're reading a romance novel, right? Just wait till I get to my AU version of your character..." --cackles madly--
The Buffalo Hide
Chapter 1 - The Lucky One
The clucking women of Ft. Laramie, Wyoming had decided at first glance that Kagome Henderson's mother was lucky. She was married to a man who was not only an integral member of their thriving settlement, but didn't let a little thing like propriety prevent him from being tender with his wife in public. It was scandalously obvious the man was still smitten after 16 years, and despite the saccharine coos and squeals of feminine delight at his affections, their fawning hadn't any grace to tiptoe over their conspicuous jealousy. After all, wasn't she lucky to be a simple-minded Oriental so loved by a white man, especially one of Josiah Henderson's caliber? Wasn't she lucky to be coddled and cared for, no matter how inferior she was?
Oh, she was lucky indeed, but as Kagome eavesdropped on the tongue-wagging from her place across the Post Trader's Store, she was bitterly sure those shallow serpents would never understand why.
The few daguerreotype photographs her mother had brought with her across the sea were among the rarest in existence, both in the documented locale and that she had them in her possession at all. Kept hidden for reasons undisclosed, she arranged them like a secret shrine in the cedar chest Kagome's father made as a wedding gift. They were Kagome's only glimpse of her mother's homeland, the mysterious isle of half her heritage. Nothing in the smoky tones was as primitive as the town gossips assumed it should've been. The architecture, while sadly lacking the vibrant color her mother described, was winsome and bittersweet, weeping in the curve of its eaves and the smoothness of its pillars and screens with the quiet resolve of a lonely woman or a soldier returning home from war. The rigors of that land were more refined than anything Kagome had seen throughout the bourgeoning settlements of the American midwest. She never fathomed how people could be so ignorant about a culture so ancient and beautiful.
Several scrolls slept peacefully beside those precious, leather-cased photographs, brushed in loving strokes with characters Kagome had grown up speaking and writing with her mother and little brother, Souta. Her father chimed in when he could, but he'd long ago accepted with a sigh that he would never completely wrap his head around the complexity of his wife's native tongue. Still, when she told their children stories in the breezy mornings of great demons and magic jewels, he'd lounge behind them on their porch rocker with his wide-brimmed hat draped over his cornflower blue eyes and his scruffy chin dimpled in a smile.
"Chirping", he'd called it, and in the beginning Kagome questioned with a great gust of indignation why her mother never took offense to that idea.
"Papa!" She'd shouted, so incensed she was shaking. "How can you say that to us?"
The rocker stopped abruptly, groaning out a wild sound like a buffalo lost from its herd. Her Papa stared at her, slack-jawed. His smile shriveled amidst his cornhusk stubble, as if a drought sucked the mirth from his face. "What do you mean, Sunshine?"
"How can you be so mean?" She stomped her foot and cried rain, wanting his warmth to reach out for her instead of drying up in disgust. "How can you say we squawk like birds?"
"Huh?" His brows flew at odd angles. "I didn't say anything like that. Where did you hear that?"
As Kagome's face grew redder than the tomatoes in their garden, he glanced to his wife whose back was straight as she focused on the mending in her lap. Her only accusation whispered in the dance of her needle through his trousers. It was a sad and lonely sound, the quiet submission of a woman shunned, who knew that even though her family loved her the rest of their world never would.
"The women in town!" Kagome reminded him. "They say Mama squawks like a bird!"
A glut of clouds passed shadows over her father's face, dropping heavy buckets over his shoulders as he slouched in the rocker, and Kagome waited breathlessly while his gaze lingered on her mother. He swallowed thickly and turned back to her with a cistern emptying in his eyes.
"There are many different types of birds, Sunshine. What kind fly around town?"
"Pigeons and crows." She answered dutifully, quite confident in her knowledge.
"What sound do they make?"
"They squawk." she spat. "Like the women said."
"And what flies around here?" He glanced around and nodded up at a tree far in the back of their property. "What nests in that tree right over there?"
"Eagles." She realized. "And wrens. I saw a meadowlark yesterday."
"Do those squawk?"
"No." She whispered, learning something new about her farm and her father, following him down the road of wonder. "They sing or whoop like a soldier does."
"So," he conceded, "When I say chirping, I mean the song we hear every morning, not the twittering of a few stupid hens who can't keep their opinions to themselves."
"Josiah," her mother lightly admonished. There was something subtle in her eyes that Kagome wouldn't recognize until she herself felt it many years later, that look of how it felt to have the man you love stand up for you. "That's not polite."
"When have I worried about that?" He smiled. "I just want our little Sunshine to know I don't call it chirping because it's noisy." He reached over and sweetly ruffled Kagome's wavy black hair. "Your words are music to my ears."
After that spring morning almost 8 years ago, Kagome chirped for her father every opportunity she had. She gobbled up every lesson her mother taught, becoming fluent in their private language and distinguishing the animals she followed and people she knew with names befitting their countenance, names they would most blessedly never understand. She mumbled a choice few under her breath as the group of girls who'd made it plain she would never be their equal giggled shrilly by the Post Trader's latest shipment of muslin patterns. There was a special bolt of blue-lavender, peony-dotted cloth Kagome had been eyeing and Martha Bithlow currently had her perfectly manicured claws all over it.
"Won't this look lovely on me?" she squawked, pulling the soft cloth from its bolt so boisterously it nearly ripped. Basking in the approving twitters from her mindless flock, she draped the material across her body, completely oblivious that its cool tones washed out her wheat blonde hair and windswept skin. "It's perfect for the barn dance next month."
"Of course!" Another girl gushed, not bothering with her own dance dress aspirations as everyone in the store knew Martha didn't care to share the stage. "Maybe Howard will ask you to dance!"
"What do you mean 'maybe'?" Martha hissed and sneered as her eyes slunk with the precision of a rifle scope across the store. "Who else would he ask? Ka-Go-Me?"
On cue, the attention of every store patron shifted to her, even that of the old widows bickering over preserves near the register. The mothers of those girls who said the same hateful things about her mother did nothing but smirk. Not even the Post Trader came to her defense, despite the sympathetic look he offered as he packed the many purchases of the wealthy Mrs. Bithlow.
Kagome could've said several things in retaliation, but the most satisfying and regrettably honest of those verbal slaps would never be believed by anyone present. It didn't help that her ammunition only flirted with her when they both knew no one would notice. She'd nicknamed Howard Crittenden "Hojo" because of a famous family in the ancient Sengoku Jidai era of Japan. The Hojo family was wealthy and important but weak, and ultimately fell to a rival clan who actually fought for what they wanted. Her Hojo was much like that. He wanted her, he'd made that remarkably clear under the dark new moon during the last barn dance, when his sweet words got a little too fresh, but he would never fight to win her. His family expected a handsome boy like him to end up with an acceptably polite and beautifully white trollop like Martha Bithlow. They would never approve of him marrying a half-breed of inferior pedigree like herself.
Which was fine with Kagome. She didn't really like Hojo that much anyway.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I forgot that little monkeys don't dance unless they're offered a banana!" Martha snickered behind her hand. She certainly had the talent to make a dainty gesture positively wicked, with the matching skill to make the most benign words cut to the bone.
But Kagome was a survivor. She'd built up enough scar tissue to be impervious to her insults. In fact, she kept a few of her own up her sleeve for just such a moment.
"Well, I'm sure you'd accept Howard's 'banana' any day, wouldn't you Martha?"
Dumbfounded, the hue of Martha's puckered face rose to match the cloth in her hands, her cheeks splotched with indignation. As Kagome sashayed over to the group of girls, the other store patrons watched breathlessly, stuck to the scene like a cow on train tracks. "Although, he may get confused and ask me to dance first, since we'll be wearing the same dress."
"What are you getting at?" Martha squinted her beady eyes.
Kagome purposefully invaded her space, barging through her nest of adoring followers to stroke the blue peony cloth. "I just bought a bolt of this two days ago, and my mother and I are almost done with the final touches. Now we'll match and Howard can swoon over us both!" She giggled shrilly and beamed the most obnoxious smile she could muster, the one she normally reserved for tormenting her baby brother.
Martha squealed and dropped the cloth like a rattlesnake, kicking it as it unraveled on the floor. "How vile! I wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything like you!" She snatched the next available bolt of material with a livid growl, a dusty rose that Kagome hated to admit would look good on her, and stomped up to the register.
As her fan club crowded around her, she whined to her mother for the best embellishments and accessories money could buy. With a flourish Mrs. Bithlow's shopping parcels were stuffed to the seams, ready to burst. Kagome watched, alone and forgotten in her flower-covered corner, as Martha's bags absorbed the faux pearl buttons and silk ribbons meant for her dream dress. She fingered the small, homemade buckskin money pouch she'd tied to her waist, weighing the meager rations she'd siphoned off of chores and odd jobs she did for the old widow who lived on the farm adjacent to hers. Her savings couldn't compare to the fortune the Bithlows could drop on a whim, but it had been enough to complete her dress, until now.
The Post Trader's bell jingled as the Bithlow parade exited and turned the corner, leaving Kagome stranded in a canyon of silence. The two old women who had lingered by the counter for the show hurriedly bought their preserves and left without any acknowledgment of her presence. Kagome was used to such treatment and took the snub in stride. She knew why they did it. A half-breed like her simply wasn't worth the effort.
With a quiet sigh, Kagome collected the blue cloth, wound it up with care and walked up the the counter without bothering to browse through the remaining ribbons and buttons. She felt frail and tired, and there was nothing else in store she could afford, so what was the point of looking? What was the point of trying when even the small things were ripped from her hands?
She sat the muslin bolt next to the register and fumbled for her coins without a glance to the Post Trader, Mr. Ward. A small rustling, or perhaps the lack of clanging keys on the register caught her attention and she looked up. Shimmering innocuously on top of her cloth was a small wooden spool of white ribbed, periwinkle ribbon. Two embossed paper cards each held two rows of small, oval, mother-of-pearl buttons. Both blended with her fabric like a stream through a meadow of wildflowers, with smooth, sun-bleached rocks lining its banks.
They were exactly what she'd wanted, and more beautiful than she could've ever hoped for.
Kagome looked at Mr. Ward with tears in her eyes. He smiled kindly and tallied up her total.
"I thought," Kagome cleared her throat, "that Martha bought all these."
"Your father was in here the other day." Mr. Ward said, his voice rustic and jovial like she'd always known it to be. He eyed her speculatively with one vaulted, bushy grey brow, and she realized he was quite aware of her little prank. "He told me which items you'd been mooning over, said you'd be in soon to pick 'em out, so I set some things aside. But somehow you bought that material two days ago although I haven't seen you in here all week."
She stiffened, feeling duly admonished. "I'm sorry. I know it was wrong to lie about buying the cloth."
He laughed and shook his head. "No harm done. Martha got what she wanted. New pretties and all the attention."
Kagome rolled her eyes. "Isn't that always the case?"
"Don't worry, girl," he shrugged. "You'll get your share at the dance. I'm sure of that."
There was sincerity in his words born of his longtime friendship with her father, and although they didn't surprise her, she was touched nonetheless. If it wasn't for the respect her father naturally garnered from everyone he met, Kagome knew her life would be a lot worse. At it was, most people, Martha obviously excluded, showed their distaste for her and her mother subtly, ignoring them like the old women with their preserves had, but there were a few like Mr. Ward who made an honest effort to be amicable and caring. Her mother had a few true friends, and so did she.
Kagome scooped her packages in her arms and nodded her thanks, solidly aware that people like Mr. Ward would never really know how much difference they made in her world, and how much courage they gave her to be herself.
The bell chimed behind her as she scanned the town square for her father's small wagon. She found it parked by the stately, white-washed building symbolic of Ft. Laramie, the officers' quarters otherwise known as Old Bedlam, which was odd because his main errand was to the blacksmith for some new tools and horseshoes. He and other local civilians had worked with the current military staff before on scouting missions, so perhaps he was just making a social call. Shrugging, she made her way across the parade grounds, juggling her packages as she bypassed running children and soldiers changing guard. She adjusted them so much that by the time she reached the wagon one was dangling precariously from her left armpit. She couldn't let it go without losing the whole bundle in a scattered heap.
"Drat," she cursed under her breath, "my clumsiness will be the end of me someday."
"Allow me to postpone a catastrophe."
A white-gloved hand wrapped around her side, catching the loose package and drawing her close to a firm body all in one effortless movement. Kagome blinked down at the dark blue embroidered cuff, its finely woven, monogrammed material starched to perfection, and trampled the sickening shiver curdling in her gut.
"Good afternoon, Captain Flannery." She said politely, cringing behind her purchases, "I appreciate your help."
"My pleasure, Ms. Henderson," his voice dipped into a tone she knew seduced many women and girls, but Kagome had always found it rather unpleasant, "though I'm not sure how many times I'll have to remind you to call me Nathan."
"I'm sure I'll remember one of these days." She chuckled uncomfortably. Really, where was her father when she needed him? Or Hojo even? Hell, she'd take Martha if it meant to divert this man's attention away from her.
Without another word he picked the packages from her arms one by one, arranging them in neat, orderly piles in the back of her father's tiny wagon. One by one he breeched Kagome's defenses and left her open for his sly maneuvers. Many times she swore she could hear a slight 'or else' lingering after his gentlemanly flirtations. She really had no idea why nearly every girl in Ft. Laramie swooned at the sight of him.
Alright, so she wasn't that blind. Standing proud at over 6 feet tall, Capt. Nathan Flannery was born to wear the striking, fitted lines and masculine enhancements of the United States military uniform. The bold blue cut accentuated broad shoulders, a strong jaw and wavy, shoulder length black hair than any woman would die to have or touch. The hardened beauty of his features was almost ridiculously perfect, if she thought on it long enough, but in her honest opinion his imperious attitude trumped his good looks. The man knew he was gorgeous and admired, and used that power to his every advantage, no matter who suffered in his place. It was a despicable trait that Kagome simply could not overlook.
She'd tried to come up with a name for him, but nothing ever seemed to fit. Some where too forgiving while others seemed inordinately judgmental. It almost disturbed her more that everyone else found a name in her book, whether she liked them or not, but he slipped out of her classification like a spider down its web.
Kagome breathed a sigh of relief when her father swung open the front door of the officers' quarters, bounding down the steps to help Capt. Flannery secure the last of her packages. The young man looked less than pleased with the invasion, but he kept his thoughts to himself.
"Capt. Flannery," her father donned his hat and tipped it in the captain's direction, "Thank you for keeping my daughter company while I finished up inside."
"Glad I could be of service, Mr. Henderson." He bowed curtly. "If you'll excuse me, I have some of my own work to finish." With one last heated look in her direction, he turned up the stairs and shut the door soundly behind him.
"Ugh," Kagome groaned, "can we go now?"
Josiah Henderson cast a dubious glance at his daughter's lack of manners. "Are we not too keen on the captain's attentions?"
Kagome climbed into the wagon with an exaggerated huff. "More like sick to death of them. He's just so...so..."
"Yes!" She shrieked, then whirled on her father with a disbelieving stare. "Did you just call a captain promiscuous?"
"Well," Josiah cleared his throat slightly, "I'm sure you're aware of his reputation, and you're 15 now, old enough to know what that reputation means. I'm rather glad you don't follow behind him like all the other ladies in town."
"Ladies." Kagome snorted. "Right."
Josiah sighed gruffly. "That's what we call them in public, Sunshine. Best to be nice when you have to."
Kagome shrugged off her father's half-hearted reprimand and watched the prairie lope by with unfocused eyes. It never ceased to amaze her how several prized young men in the Ft. Laramie community found it necessary to woo her in secret. Did they expect her to wilt at their affections because she was starved for love? Did they honestly think because she was publicly maligned and had little chance of marrying well that she'd capitulate to their advances? She may be veritably alone, but she'd been raised to respect herself, and she had a family that loved her. That was more than many had. It was more than enough for her.
At least, she tried to tell herself that. As their wagon creaked and rocked along the windy dirt path leading northwest out of Ft. Laramie proper and into the farming territory, through sparse woodland groves with honey and apple skin leaves and the shallow creeks that wandered away from the North Platte River, Kagome felt the isolation sink in. Granted, she was still young to be concerned with marriage, but without any prospects she'd become a burden on her family. She knew all her parents wanted for her was to be protected and loved, but her only options were used and abused. It was hard to carry on with the knowledge that she'd let them down, that she'd fail them simply because of who she was and who she could never be.
She'd never truly be accepted, and despite her stubborn optimism, it hurt. The sky above was clear and sunny, but Kagome was sure her future was bleak.
"I smell dinner cooking," her father said softly, drawing the reins in to slow the horses. It wasn't until he hopped off to gather her packages that Kagome realized the entire trip home had gone by without her saying a word.
The front door swung open, braying like a mule when Souta galloped down the porch steps to greet them.
"Papa!" he shouted, hopping around excitedly. "Whadja bring me?"
Kagome took the distraction to redirect her melancholy. Such feelings always made her itchy and irritated anyway, and there was no better remedy to soothe a wound so deep and invisible as picking on her angelic little brother. "Sweet Lord, Souta, you are the single most spoiled kid I know."
"Shut yer pan, would ya?" he barked and rummaged through the wagon, pouting when his exploits turned up empty. "Kuso! Ain't nothin' here!"
"I could'a told you that, kisama!"
"Kusu o taberu na! It's your crap that took up all the space!"
Hands fisted, Kagome growled. "Urusai, Kono Bakayaro!"
"Urusai yourself, you baka...busu...inoshishi!"
Josiah shouted as they ran into the house, "Hey! HEY! Watch your mouths! I know what that means." He followed them inside, muttering under his breath. "Been called it enough times to figure it out."
Dinner was a quite time of somber introspection, at least for one occupant at the table. The remaining three were left to deal with the residual tension emanating from the oblivious girl scooting her mother's famous chicken dumplings and stewed vegetables around her plate with uncharacteristic disinterest. Josiah and Haruka exchanged worried glances while Souta contemplated the best way to get his sister out of whatever pity pit she'd dug for herself. Either carrots flicked in the hair or soggy dumpling dough knocked in her lap. Let it never be said that Souta did not care about his big sister's wellbeing.
He kicked his feet impatiently under the table when everyone but Kagome finished and his father made no move to disband them. He tried to ask politely to be excused but Josiah shot him a warning look, for what reason he had no clue. Finally, with a soft sigh, Haruka stood to tidy up.
"Kagome," she said, "Would you please help me with dishes?"
"I can help, too!" Souta shouted, fidgeting with curiosity to find out what had crawled up his sister's bloomers.
"Souta," Josiah said sternly, "I'll need you out in the stables. We've got some tools to put away."
"Aww," he whined, "but I wanna - "
"Souta." Josiah shot him the trademark "don't argue with me" glare.
Defeated, the boy kicked an imaginary rock and mumbled a dejected "Yessir" before scooting out of his seat to follow his father outside. Once they were alone, Haruka piled the plates and utensils at the head of the table and then sat back down, patting Souta's vacant seat beside her.
"Let's talk for a minute before getting to work, ne?"
"Daijoubu, Mama. We can clean up first." Kagome replied, standing and reaching for the dishes, but a hand that somehow remained soft despite years of hard work covered hers, stilling her escapist tendencies and making her face her problems with a silent support that always put things into a better perspective.
"I am not quite in the mood for strenuous work yet, so would you mind just sharing a quiet moment with your mother?"
Kagome nodded and sat down next to her, needing the reprieve. Unable to find any useful words, she busied her hands with refilling the oil lamp that decorated the center of the table. Its light leapt up to feast on the fresh oil, swimming like a school of hungry tadpoles and illuminating the wreath of dried irises her mother saved from every spring season. The fresh blooms were perennial gifts from Mrs. Butler, a kind, plump woman living with her large family over the hill behind their property. The woman had attached herself to Haruka when the Hendersons first pitched their cabin in the months before Kagome was born, and they'd been each other's closest friend ever since. The thought of her and her daughter, Amy, Kagome's own dear friend, awoke Kagome to the foolishness of her self-pity. She resolved to be more considerate of her mother's concern.
"Did you find everything you need for your dress?"
"Yeah." She nodded and absently picked at a splinter on the table.
Her mother tried to coax her a second time, leaning slightly closer and tipping her head beseechingly. "Did you have a good day shopping?"
Haruka's heart fluttered with worry when she noticed the oil lamp flicker through the sheen in her daughter's eyes. Kagome's face scrunched up in battle formations, desperately trying to block the threat of tears.
In the silence of their well-worn pain, the crickets chirped outside, playing sympathetic songs on their little shamisen legs. Haruka could feel the weight of guilt settle heavily inside her, and if there was ever a time she regretted following Josiah out of Japan it was because of the hardships she'd bequeathed to her children. It wasn't fair that so many supposedly cultured people dismissed their worth, regardless of how many times they proved it otherwise. They didn't deserve to be ostracized for a heritage they didn't choose. Her babies were beautifully blameless.
Such regret was transient, though, and frankly made Haruka furious with herself. Her children were the perfect culmination of the love she shared with her husband, no matter than no one apart from their small family and few friends were wise enough to notice, and they were her blessings from the Kami for being brave and following her heart. Despite the hardship of times like these, Haruka couldn't conceive of the griefs they would've endured if she had given birth in Japan, provided her family allowed her to keep her children at all.
She shook her head clear of the troubling thought and made a decision.
It was time Kagome realized just how precious life could be.
"Kagome," Haruka ventured, soothing her girl with an arm around her shoulder, "It seems to me that your day was not as easy as you hoped it would be."
Kagome shrugged noncommittally.
"I'm sorry to that you have to endure treatment from stingy, black-hearted people, but I can't apologize for bringing you into this world and raising you in America. I know life would have been just as hard had you been my daughter in Japan."
Kagome looked at her questionably, "You think so?"
A ghost passed over her mother's face, and she didn't have to reply for Kagome to be sure of her conviction. She turned to stare through the lamplight and into the past, and Kagome sunk into her mother's tightening embrace.
"Did I ever tell you how I met your father?"
"A little bit, a few times." Kagome murmured and laid her head in the crook of her mother's neck, imbibing the sweet scent of flour and honey.
"But not enough." Haruka ran her hand wistfully over the dried iris petals. "Not with the details you should know. You're old enough now, I think." She settled deeper in her chair and adjusted her blue knit shawl to cover both their shoulders, getting comfortable for what Kagome was sure would be a long, treasured story. She spun her words with the lilt of a bedtime folktale, slipping in an out of english and japanese, belying their painful reality.
"My father was 60 when my mother and brother died from a small cholera epidemic, and by that point he was too sick and despondent to find another wife to take care of him. As the only remaining child, the responsibility fell to me. I had come down with a mild version of the illness and recovered quickly, just in time to bury my mother and brother and organize the home duties from the mess they'd become in my mother's absence. I was never allowed to touch the finances and family records, though. It wasn't that your grandfather was harsh with me, it was just tradition for such important documents to be handled by the eldest capable male of the house.
"With my father indisposed, my cousin Hisoka assumed those rights. He made sure to have every problem fixed, every loan and service paid for, every loose end arranged to his liking. I was there, bathing my father when Hisoka promised that upon my father's death, all his assets, including me, would be properly taken care of, but my father's main flaws were his lack of critical thought and his failure to follow through. He took Hisoka at his word, and because I was so overwhelmed with work that had previously been split up between four people, I fell into the same trap and let the subject slide.
"Hisoka's main flaw was his arrogance, but I can't say I regret he had it. He believed too much in his own infallibility and made mistakes because of that. It so happened that one night after a bit too much Sake he made an...inappropriate advance toward me, but I wasn't in the mind to submit to him," livid fire leapt in her eyes, "In his anger he made it clear how he meant to make sure I was 'taken care of'. It seemed there were debts my father didn't have the money to settle. Selling me to a house in the pleasure district would barely be enough to pay the bill."
Kagome's head pounded with the glimpses she'd caught of the run down brothel on the outskirts of the fort. Despite that the army would never financially support a whorehouse within its tax-sponsored walls, soldiers of all ranks were its most frequent customers. There were a few times she and her father had been late leaving the village on their errands and she'd heard screams and breaking glass muffled by drunken songs and the out-of-tune piano, the displaced aggression of hunting dogs trapped in a cage. Their hypocrisy left a sour taste in her mouth, and the thought of her mother being trapped in such degradation made her want to retch.
"But he could do it, I knew. Hisoka may have been stupid sometimes, but he never made idle threats. He was just waiting for my father to die.
"It was the next afternoon, when I wandered the streets of Yokohama intent to buy supplies but dreading to return to a home that had become a prison, that the Black Ships of the United States fleet forced its way into the port of Edo Bay.
"The townspeople were reeling with curiosity, gathering in clusters and clogging the narrow streets to catch a glimpse of the sea monsters with their fire-breathing snouts. We must've looked as small and indistinct as rice grains to the men on those ships.
"They would've frightened me had my mind been clear, but I only paid them a passing thought. As I slipped in between the streets with no real goal in mind, the ships had docked and the U.S. leaders had made contact. Some local officials were allowed aboard the ships to begin formal relations, and a handful of American soldiers took the opportunity to meander through the streets closeby. I could hear the tumult as most were surrounded by excited crowds picking at the men like they were mythical demons, and I suppose to many that's what they would've looked like.
"It's certainly what I thought when I first saw your father.
"We had turned a corner at the same time and collided, my sight on the ground and his spinning every which way, trying to ingest an alien world. It hurt, and I was so upset I made my distress very clear, yelling without realizing who I spoke to. I called him several insulting things and a small part of me wondered why I hadn't been backhanded. Regretting my temper, I finally looked up, and he rendered me speechless.
"I had never seen a man like him. Eyes like the ocean below my vanishing home. Hair the color of the sand at low tide that I used to squish between my toes. I called him 'kitsune-sama', because the fairytales always said they appeared as beautiful humans, but then he smiled, his teeth white and full, and he became so handsome I thought he was a kami. He apologized in gibberish, his voice deep and lyrical like a nonsensical song that soothed me just by its melody."
Haruka sighed nostalgically. "I was done for. I was his."
"He realized belatedly that I couldn't understand him, and his lightly freckled, ruddy skin flushed an even darker hue as he chuckled awkwardly and rubbed his hand through his wavy hair. When he stopped and cleared his throat I finally realized I was staring. I couldn't help it. I started giggling, too, and he joined in, much more at ease.
"I bowed my thanks with a simple "gomenasai", intending to leave but my feet wouldn't let me. He stared at me softly a moment and then repeated, very delicately, what I said. I nodded and said "arigato". He repeated that, too. Neither of us seemed to want to move.
"He broke the moment with a helpless look around the street, motioning sheepishly that he was lost. How could I do anything but take pity on such a puppy face? I bowed with a small smile and turned around, glancing over my shoulder to signal him to follow me. I certainly didn't want to go home, and I assumed he'd want to avoid the attention. With the commotion down at port I guessed the Iseyama shrine would be nearly empty. It was such a beautiful, important place for my people, I thought, what better way to welcome him?
"It took us awhile to get there walking, but we spent the time in companionable silence. I'd sneak glances at him and he'd catch me, making me blush horribly when he chuckled. Occasionally he'd point at signs or objects with a questioning raise to his brow, and I'd pronounce the name carefully so he could mimic me. It was a fun game and it charmed me that he coaxed my attentions so gently.
"When we arrived at the shrine my guess was correct; it was ours to share. He was amazed there was so much space to walk, how well-tended the gardens were, and how many buildings made up the compound. I ended the tour under a sakura grove. Although it was well into summer, I imagined the trees in full bloom and compared that vision to my time with him, blessed, beautiful and brief. I wondered how he'd look with pink petals coating his hair and uniform. It made me laugh out loud, and he joined me without question.
"The sound of his voice broke a dam inside me, and without a thought fond memories of my family came rushing out. I was babbling so much, but I just couldn't stop! His presence felt so familiar and safe I could believe he'd been there during such memories, that we could reminisce together.
"He listened patiently as I gestured funny moments and sighed about quiet times. Never once did I bring up my family's recent misfortune. I didn't want to cry in front of him and ruin everything.
"I was so engrossed in my prattle that I didn't notice the clouds gathering overhead. The sudden rain startled us both and I squealed loudly. He grabbed my hand and lead me under an awning of a small shrine. It was a narrow cover and he swept me in his arms with his back facing the storm, shielding me from the wind.
"I had never really had the opportunity to mourn my mother and brother, nor the prospect of my father's imminent death. My mind had been blank for so long that when his arms came around me I felt as if he'd channeled lightning down my spine, sparking a fire inside me and burning down my defenses. My grief exploded in great sobs, and I could feel him tense for several minutes before he pulled me close and tucked my head securely under his chin. He didn't shy away and I cried until the rain stopped, as if nature itself sympathized with my grief.
"When I gathered my wits and saw the clouds part, I gasped at my stupidity, afraid he'd leave. Instead, he titled my chin up with his fingers and held my gaze, imploring me to believe whatever he was about to say. It was a short statement, but he whispered it so tenderly that it broke my heart and infused me with joy I was sure I'd never feel again. My grief seemed to flow out of me then, and his care replaced it with a strength I never thought I'd possess. I knew then I could stand stand up to Hisoka. I'd be there for my father. I'd make it. I'd be alright.
"A whistle blew shrilly and I cried, throwing my hands over my ears. It vibrated through the trees and even the shojis rattled. I didn't know my eyes had shut until I felt his hand caress my cheek. Blinking, I glanced up. He looked so forlorn that my heart instantly translated the meaning of that harsh sound.
"He was leaving me.
"He whispered something else unintelligible, at least in words. The sentiment was clear, and grasping his hand that hadn't left my face, I nodded my understanding. His image blurred in my vision, and then his thumb sailed across my skin, wiping tears away. He pointed to his heart and paused.
"'Josiah,' he said. He flattened his hand and stressed again. 'Josiah.'
"As if I'd been deaf and healed in a second, I knew what he meant, what treasure he was giving me. My hand closed over my own heart, because I knew that's where he'd stay. 'Haruka,' I whispered.
"He repeated my name softly. We giggled in a private joke and stared at each other through many lifetimes, one of his hands on my face and the other threaded with mine.
"The beast's whistle howled again and he snapped to attention, bowing once, repeating "gomenasai" and "arigato" without knowing what they meant, and dashed out from under the shrine's awning. As I watched him disappear down the path and through the gate, a paper fell from his pocket. I ran and picked it up, already endeared to the strange lettering. A crowd so large I couldn't count them gathered to watch the formal proceedings end and the Black Ships depart. I bypassed the crowd and climbed a wooded ridge that was a secret hideaway in my childhood to watch the ships leave harbor, and I saw the name of the ships creep by, etched with the same letters as the name on the paper. I glanced between them and found a match sail closer to me than all the other ships. The Saratoga. I did not know how it sounded then, how beautifully the letters moved in my mouth, but I recognized the image and held on to it like a prayer charm. I folded the paper delicately and slipped it deep within my kimono, right next to my skin to keep it close to me. I knew your father was on that ship. I vowed that I'd wait for him to return, no matter that I wasn't even sure he would.
"A little after seven months passed my father finally succumbed to his suffering, dying in the middle of a blizzard. My family planned as best we could in the weather, but few people could come, so services were extended until the ground thawed and he could be buried. I handled most of the funeral preparations, but my heart was frozen in denial that he was gone. I feared the snow melting, because I knew I'd sink into the ground along with it, along with my father. I couldn't watch the icicles drip because I knew my eyes would follow suit, and I would crumble. Hisoka had no discretion for my sorrow, and no patience, as he pulled me into a dark hallway one night after all the relatives had left, far away from the lanterns we'd rationed for the storm and kept in the main hall to honor my father. He hit me a few times but not enough to bruise his 'wares' and told me that once 'the old dog' was cold in the ground my family's home was as good as his. He'd already made arrangements with a particular brothel and someone would be coming for me as soon as he sent word. He knew I wouldn't run away because of my duty to my father, but he never paid attention to the traits inside me that my father had loved the most, nor the courage I guarded from my time with Josiah. I was not a simpering flower, and after Hisoka's final strike I made up my mind to escape. I promised my father I'd stay to see him honored properly, but then I begged his help to find a way out of my miserable fate.
"Less than a week after my father's funeral my prayers were answered. The Black Ships returned to Yokohama. On the whisper of intuition I ran opposite the crowds for our shrine, hoping that the normal patrons would be gone in favor of the rare distraction. The Kami were with me that day, because the ships had emptied their crews by the time I got there, and your father was waiting underneath the Toori gate.
"Time slowed to a crawl as he turned to me, and the snow receded without my fear of it, the sun shining in his smile as if he'd charmed Amaterasu from her cave himself. I stopped a fair distance away, trying to catch my breath and dry my sudden tears. They came over me so quickly I could barely see which way to run! But I did, straight into his arms.
"He hugged me close, laughing against my hair and then handed me a note. Curious, I read it aloud, not thinking of our language barrier although he just stood by and listened. It was short and the characters were rudimentary, but it had obviously been written by a native speaker. I was in awe of the effort he must've gone through to procure it." Haruka drifted into an absent silence, contemplating her memories.
"Mama!" Kagome shook her mother's arm, enthralled, "What did it say?"
Her mother blushed lightly and smiled. "It said, 'I'll be here long enough to watch the cherry trees blossom. I hope you'll accompany me.'"
Kagome gushed and snuggled in her mother's embrace. "Who knew papa could be so romantic?"
"Such a silly question, Kagome-chan." Haruka tweaked her daughter's nose. "Your father is always romantic."
With an impatient but adorable whine, Kagome urged her mother to continue.
"It was about mid-February when he'd arrived, and just past the Sakura festivals in early April when he was scheduled to leave. In that time he visited me every chance he had, giving me a makeshift schedule, again in perfect japanese, on our second day together. I still wondered how he'd written the letters, but I didn't know how to ask him. Also, I didn't want to waste our time with such fruitless questions. As his days waned and his departure crept closer, my heart nearly burst with trepidation. I'd stalled as much as I could to keep the brothel from coming for me, and my options were dwindling. A few of our times together were near the port where he could show me the workings of his ships from a secluded spot, and the more he showed me the more I formed a reckless, ludicrous idea. It was desperate plan, but my only chance at freedom.
"He showed me how the bulkier Japanese gifts were loaded onboard at dusk in large crates. A final shipment was due to load the evening before departure. Hisoka had scheduled the brothel to get me at the end of that week, so I knew my life hinged on one risk. I could cower in fear of being caught and killed, as it was illegal to leave Japan in those days, or I could die a slow death at the hands of countless men, losing any honor I had. Your father's face flashed in my mind and just like that the choice was clear.
"It took me all day and night and many close calls, but I did it. I snuck on board the Saratoga and hid in storage.
"I barely restrained my squeak when the ship jerked as the anchor was pulled up. I would've held my breath forever if I could. Every move I made sounded like the rumble of Mt. Fuji in my ears, and I was sure someone would find me before the ships set sail, handing me over to the Japanese authorities and my death. I didn't want to die, not before seeing your father one last time. I prayed fervently for that one wish.
"Luckily, it was your father that found me. My stomach growled on the third day at sea. The fleet was skimming the Japanese coast on its way to survey other ports and because the soldiers ate what delicacies the Japanese offered there was rarely anyone down in storage. I had no way to smuggle food from open sacks because they weren't touched, and I hardly dared to leave my spot and search for some, but as their gifts depleted a soldier was sent below deck to check the rations. I watched a nameless shadow stretch ominously along the floor, and in my fear I tripped over a stray bucket and knocked a few things over. The shadow stopped and a stern voice called out.
"Terrified, I knew I could do nothing but reveal myself. I wasn't aware the ship was going to dock again, so I figured once at sea they couldn't just throw me overboard. It was a gamble, but it gave me courage. I stumbled out with a humble bow, keeping my eyes on the floor and seeking mercy with my gestures.
"When warm arms enveloped me, I realized I didn't need to. I was already safe.
"In a flurry your father questioned me, scolded me, and I could tell he was aghast, wondering if I was insane to take such a risk. Before I could reassure him he beckoned me to a dark corner and knelt down. He wanted me to hide again. I did as told and he bounded out of the room. I waited for what seemed like eternity until he returned followed by another set of feet. I tiptoed out and the other man, dressed sharply in the regalia of his rank, gasped in indignation. It was the commander of the Saratoga himself, Commander Walker. I was lucky Josiah had ingratiated himself with all the commanding officers, because when he found me on board he took it upon himself to face Commander Walker directly and ask for my protection. It was completely coincidence that he found me that day. He'd switched rounds with another officer.
"Later, we docked in the southern city of Shimoda where the American generals met with local leaders and townspeople to exchange oddities and get to know one another. A well-known Japanese man tried to board one of the Black Ships but he was refused and imprisoned by the Japanese government. The incident was such a spectacle that it rattled your father's officer and he sent for their interpreter, Sampachi, who happened to be a Japanese castaway employed by the American government. I knew then who had helped your father write his letters, and I immediately trusted him. Together they confronted your father and me with a strategy to keep my situation from public knowledge. When they set sail for Taiwan the Commander made special arrangements to have us swiftly returned to America in order to avoid a possible war, leaving the rest of the fleet behind. We spent 5 months at sea getting to know each other through Sampachi's kind help, and between him and your father I learned enough english to speak on my own. It opened the gate to a new world for us, because I could finally put into words the love I'd known before I even heard his name. Near the end of our journey I asked him what he said to me that day under the shrine awning, after I rambled and sobbed on a man who was a stranger to my language. He whispered shyly, 'I said your voice sounded like a song, and I wished I could've understood it.'
"'But you did,' I told him, 'because I'm here with you. Because you gave me a new life.' "
Haruka paused for a long moment, the keepsake memories enshrined on her face. Although she hardly looked old, the petals of her years peeled away, blooming with a vision of her youth and her strength. Kagome could plainly see what her father had fallen in love with, and what she yearned for within herself.
"Your father put himself in great danger for me. He kept me the greatest secret in my country's history, and with the help of his commander explained my presence as a Japanese castaway. My life would've been over if not for him, and I love him more today than even that moment I knew he'd saved me. I will not pretend our life is not difficult, Kagome, and lonely many days, but it is much worse to suffer hell alone than with just one person you love. I can endure any ridicule with him by my side. I truly am the luckiest woman in the world."
She settled such a powerful, unshakeable look upon her daughter, her face aglow with something so much more beautiful than the soft lamplight, that Kagome swore she felt the sublime rapture of her life's entirety pass in the blink of an eye.
"My dearest daughter," Haruka squeezed Kagome's hand, "I know in my heart someday you will be, too."
Her own heart flooding like a summer river, Kagome could only nod and surrender herself to her mother's boundless faith. More than any other moment of her life, she pitied those women in Ft. Laramie who snidely called Haruka Henderson lucky, because they'd never had to walk the hard road of hope and could not appreciate its happiness.
Kagome later regretted that she might never have her mother's luck either, especially in the terrifying moment when, surrounded by a Lakota war party, she thought her own life was lost.
Hisoka: (proper name) reserved, reticent
Haruka: (proper name) fragrant spring - or - far off, distant
While we're at it, Josiah: (proper name) God will save - or - fire of the Lord
Thank you for the extensive list of phrases Kagome and Souta really shouldn't know.
Kusu o taberu na!: Eat Fucking Shit
Urusai, Kono Bakayaro: Shut up you noisy idiot!
Busu: extremely ugly girl
Inoshishi: wild pig
Kisama: "Lord of the donkeys" (love this one)
I dedicate this mini-encyclopedia to Hajnalmadar, who gave me my first review. It was encouraging, detailed and lovely. Thank you!
Daguerreotype was the only form of photography used during the naval mission to Japan. There were daguerreotypes of Japanese women in Shimoda taken during this expedition, as well as some of the surrounding environment. I allude to Josiah procuring a few for Haruka in secret.
Old Bedlam is a real building in Ft. Laramie, one of the oldest and most recognizable and also where the bachelor officers kept their quarters.
Mr. Ward was the real Ft. Laramie Post Trader from 1857-1871.
Commodore Perry & The Black Ships He may sound like the lead singer of a punk band in the London underground, but Commodore Perry was the leader of the American naval fleet that first opened relations between Japan and, well, America in 1853-54. He barged his way into Edo Bay on July 8, 1853, where he met local officials and demanded the Japanese government open commercial ports to American interests. They didn't land specifically in Yokohama at his point, actually a town a bit further south, but they did return to Yokohama 8 months later on February 13, 1854 to complete the treaty and formalize relations. Before that time Japan was strictly closed to outside influences, only allowing some Dutch and Chinese trade in smaller ports. Their policy was not to allow foreigners in and not to allow Japanese citizens out. If a Japanese person was discovered leaving they were imprisoned and executed, for real. Needless to say Haruka was taking a very big risk.
The Iseyama shrine in Yokohama was originally closer to Edo Bay during Haruka's time, but a few years later was moved further inland.
The Convention of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854, solidifying relations with the United States and Japan, and opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate for international trade. Conveniently enough, the Sakura Blossom festivals are also traditionally held around that time of the year.
Commander Walker was the real commander of the real Saratoga.
The Saratoga was a real sloop-of-war (small, quick naval vessel) used as part of the Black Ships fleet. It separated from the fleet after leaving Japan in 1854 so Commander Henry A. Adams, Commodore Perry's second in command and Commander Walker's superior, could expedite the signed treaty of Kanagawa to officials in Washington D.C. The remaining fleet returned to Taiwan. I'm making use of this event to legitimize his plan to return Josiah and Haruka to America without causing an international incident. Also, is it just me, or does it kick copious amounts of ass that a real life ship combines the names Sara and Toga? I love you, Serendipity.
Yoshida Shoin was a real person, actually from a distinguished family, who tried to board one of the Black Ships after they left Edo Bay and docked further south in Shimoda, one of the Japanese ports opened for international trade. He was imprisoned.
Sampachi was a real Japanese castaway who lived in California and was hired by the U.S. government to interpret during the 1853-54 mission. He was invited to stay in Japan but declined because he was afraid of what would happen if he did. He actually returned via a different ship, the U.S steam-frigate Mississippi, but hey, I put him where I need him.