Once again: NO, this is NOT Jaken x Rin, Jaken x Sess, or Anyone x Anyone…get your mind out of the gutter, people!
The stars are out, and my lady has finally retired, thankfully. I can hear her breathing in the campsite, slow and steady, almost too quiet for these old ears to pick up. My legs are aching again, and I wish I weren't standing watch tonight…I need to soak my feet if I expect to walk very far tomorrow. But my lady deserves her rest, so I suppose I can make do with the staff for a while – it makes an excellent cane.
She sleeps more than she used to, now that the little one has come to us—yet another concession to the small one's humanity. It relieves me though, to be honest about it; my lady never slept enough in the old days. She would run for weeks without end, although I protested every step of the way; sometimes she wouldn't rest until she collapsed, crawling wearily into a cave or some other ignoble place. Most of the time she wouldn't even bother to make a proper nest: she would pass out from sheer exhaustion before she could even settle down. And I watched over her then too, always worrying, and sometimes even praying, that she wouldn't wake up. Stubborn pup...it would have been easier on you.
But mortality has a way of being contagious, I suppose, and her worries about the little one bleed into her own life. Little things…the way she hesitates for a moment before leaping into battle…the way she treats even inconsequential wounds…how she looks for the safest place to sleep at night. I wonder sometimes if she's trying to help the child, in an awkward sort of way—she's never been much for family, but the least she can do is stay alive. So she feeds herself more often now too, although she never indulges. What I wouldn't give for another feast of her father's – now, my master knew how to throw a party.
I don't wish to think of him anymore tonight though, so I scrutinize the surroundings again. No sign of interlopers. No strange omens on the wind. Not even a single cloud to block the full moon's light. We are safe, and I'd be willing to bet that nothing will…
A sudden screech pierces the air, and I whirl around to face it, ignoring the pain in my lower quarters. Something approaches, and I must sound the alarm…oh. A large falcon peers down at me curiously, clinging to a tree branch, its golden eyes as disdainful as my mistress's. A dead vole swings gently from its beak, and I am depressed to realize this is just a regular animal – its eyes are too lifeless for it to be hell spawn.
"Sssss!" I scold. "Away with you!" It blinks, obviously not understanding, and I wave my staff at the stubborn thing. Where is my lady? Normally she would be awake at the first sign of danger…though admittedly, one puny bird is no emergency. Perhaps she was smart enough not to bother—my legs are screaming at me to bring the cane back, and I am beginning to wonder why I should care about one stupid animal. True, my lady commanded for me to keep prying eyes away from our campsite, but…
To hell with it. I thumb my nose at the bird and swivel smartly about, trying like hell to pretend that didn't just happen. My lower limbs are throbbing now, and I have to sit down somewhere. I should look for some ointment for my feet when we return to the castle, but until then I think I will have to ride on our pack beast. Hopefully, my lady will allow this poor old soul that forbidden luxury. After all, we obtained Ah-Un for her human pet.
I cannot help it, I think grumpily as I scramble down into our stakeout: the girl is just too troublesome not to dislike most of the time. She pesters me constantly, steals my hat, has no respect for her master…and despite all this, my lady keeps her. I could handle that, if she were treated the same, but the brat gets soft words where I get a boot. Or a stick. Or occasionally, a sword. My mistress is fair, but her punishments are harsh.
I am still grumbling when I come across them, and as usual I am unable to find anything suitable to say. My lady is curled up against a tree trunk, sleeping with the human child.
I have seen this more often lately, and I have the faint suspicion that their intimacy is tied directly to my absence. It is always the same, with little variation—as soon as I leave, the small one crawls into my lady's lap. And my lady, for reasons I cannot entirely fathom, allows the girl—a dirty, human girl—to bury her face into her shoulder. Disgusting. And fascinating, at the same time…I cannot take my eyes off them. The gentle way my lady's fingers are splayed across the child's back…the possessive way her body curls around the child like she's shielding her against the universe. The way the child's hands are fisted in my lady's clothing, as if she's trying to pull my mistress into herself. And the peaceful look on their faces…my lady has not looked this relaxed since before her father died.
I wrinkle my nose, annoyed with myself. I should be on guard like an obedient servant, not gawking at my mistress's fallacy. My lady is not even wearing her armor – she has taken it off, presumably to give the child a softer place to rest – and thus I should be doubly cautious. She is strong, but not completely immortal, so I fear for her safety. I always have. And yet…
I approach her slowly, trying not to startle her – she killed me once before when I presumed to shake her awake. That was the first time she used Tenseiga, I think, though I did not know it at the time—I remembered little save a splitting headache. (There was a reason for that, though I didn't know it at the time—she had decapitated me reflexively.) I didn't even learn I had died until many years later, when she explained the true nature of the sword…by killing me again. As I said, my lady's rule is firm, and I should have known not to press the issue.
My eyes fix on her, only her, as I crawl closer…I am not fit to approach on any other terms. She breathes in the moonbeams and turns them into her own light, it seems; her hair shines with a luminescence that can't possibly be reflection alone. Her cheeks shine too, stunningly pale despite the amount of time we spend in the sun, and her father's markings run the length of them—crimson red, the mark of his ownership. And blue, on her forehead – the sign of her mother's family. Dually owned, the both of us were, and now we serve little more than memory. Like night and day, we are these days …I have grown old and withered in my master's service, but she only becomes more beautiful, one day at a time. And yet it weighs on her more heavily, I think…at least I was only entrusted with her upbringing. She is in charge of raising an empire.
She is less guarded when she sleeps with the human, so I can run my fingers through that beautiful hair, if I move v-e-r-y slowly. I have yet to determine whether she has lost the ability to sense my presence or whether she simply knows I mean no harm. I'd like to think she doesn't mind my touch, but that is laughable: I am ugly, and I surely smell foul to her. Then again, if she truly hated my presence I would be dead – this is not the first time I have touched her, and she must be able to smell it. I regret marring such beauty, but…
The ends of her mane slide through my fingers like silky rain, slippery strands that refuse to rest on my coarse fingers. So soft…I have always loved her hair the most, and her eyes: the two parts that endure from form to form. I have watched her fine-tune her human form over the years, broadening her shoulders and narrowing her hips, but she has never been able to change that beautiful silver hair. Not even my master's was this well-kept; I highly suspect she cleans it more often. Kappa do not have hair, due to our watery disposition, and for once I find that a pity. I would kill to have the hair she has, although I have no good place for it. Perhaps I could grow it on the backs of my arms, so I could play with it easier.
So many memories are laced in this hair. I release it respectfully, letting the ends swing back to their proper position, and I recall the first time I saw it. My master was there, with a twinkle in his eye…her mother also, not yet twisted with malice…and my dear young mistress was playing with butterflies, stalking them through the flowers. I would like to say she had a gentler temperament then, but that would dishonor her spirit: she was really hunting, and she melted the insects she managed to catch. But that was not out of hatred, just childhood innocence…I don't think she really understood what happened when they disappeared. Fiery, my lady was, and full of energy. And then…
I remember when she was but a pup, violently shivering after her first real injury—nearly killed in the ambush. I remember her, wild-eyed and worrying, standing over her first kill. Her fangs were dripping, dripping, with the blood of her brother's murderer, and still her mother would not see her…until she died in her brother's stead, just to appease the needs of a mad woman. She started an actor and pantomimed so well she no longer needs to pretend; she uses his name instinctively now. Even I have a hard time remembering her real name, the one I loved so dearly.
Ayame. My little iris.
"Ayame…" I whisper as softly as I can; I dread to think of my fate if she should actually hear. One slender ear twitches, but she does not move; she remains quietly, mercifully, at rest. In the daylight, she would slaughter me for such an insult…but at night, she is a puppy again.
Both of them are, really. I consider as the little one shifts sleepily. They must snuggle together for companionship, not warmth – my lady has never bothered noticing the cold, especially not at this time of year. Perhaps we shall spend more time indoors once the ground freezes over, but for now we travel regardless of the weather. My lady too proud to let such minor things as snow storms bother her, though often I wish she would – she has youth on her side, but an old retainer like me has little defense against the cold. One winter, she wouldn't stop until she noticed the icicles hanging off my beak.
And yet…so many concessions are made for the small one. We stop constantly during the day, just to let the human rest her silly legs, and she never even thanks us for it—ungrateful brat. And I have to feed her when she is hungry, because my lady wishes it... It's all very tiresome. She eats more often than any creature I have ever met, and yet she never seems satisfied; a few hours later she's complaining again. By my estimates, she should be several feet tall by now (and perhaps several feet wide), but she remains the same. If I didn't know better, I'd think she were some kind of demon herself. I scowl at her angelic face. I do not understand these humans.
Nor do I understand my lady's order to keep her alive.
Her slender brow furrows a little and she quivers as if affected by some ill wind. The human presses closer, sensing her mistress's distress---responding to my lady's needs even in sleep. My eyes narrow to slits, and I cannot help but be jealous. Not even I can serve my mistress that completely, though I have had years of practice…and this human whelp bests me in her sleep! My lady sighs and squeezes the girl tighter, unconsciously moving her arm farther across the little one's back. They are practically embracing now, sickening as it sounds, but still my lady trembles…I do not know why I expected otherwise. I don't know what to do for her, and I feel the beginning of the usual despair at the---
The little girl shifts again, sleepily moving a petite arm up to drape across my lady's shoulders, pulling herself flush against my mistress's chest. My lady quiets, content to let the child hold her. I realize suddenly that I've had it all wrong. She is not protecting the human from nightmares…the small one is comforting her.
I cannot stand it. Back then, she would sleep only fitfully, and rarely would she ever permit herself to burrow in my arms. How can this trollop replace me so easily? It isn't fair, I want to shout, it isn't fair she can do what I've always wanted. I have spent my life catering to her every whim, but I have never been able to comfort her. Her mother died, and I could only watch her sobbing. Her father died, and I did nothing. I bow my head in shame.
I have failed my master.
And then I think again, watching the child smile up at my lady--watching the way my mistress holds her so peacefully. Maybe this is not any fault of mine…maybe this weakness is her salvation.
To hell with decorum. I risk my life and snuggle into the fur ruff she wears, leaning carefully against her leg. She stirs only briefly, mumbling something incoherent, but she does not wake. I'd like to think she even shifted to make room for me—I now have a space to lie in, wedged between her hip and a cold, unyielding tree roots. I remain there, barely daring to breathe, for minutes…maybe hours… just listening to them sleep. The elegant hiss of my lady's breath, the noisy gurgle of a snot nosed human…I lean into her a little more, comforted by the sound of her heartbeat. I should not be here, I should be following my orders, but it is so warm here…never mind that my lady's hip is very bony against my poor old side.
The sun rises, and it dazzles me like it never has before. She has slept through the night, completely off-guard, not waking once…We are all changing, the three of us, and I still can't decide what any of this means.
The little one stretches, and my lady nuzzles her sleepily, stilling her protests. I squawk and affect innocence as I move away from the scene, but secretly I am smiling. I could get used to this strange sort of family.
This human makes my lady weak…and I love the child for it.
What did you think? Too waffy? I was a bit worried about that. At any rate, if you made it this far – REVIEW! ^_^