AN: Well, Anime North 2003 apparently refuses to tell authors whether or not their submissions have been accepted, -_- I never did hear from them. How obnoxious. So I've decided to post the response fic to "Consummation" today. Happy reading, ^_^
The Verge of Cessation
She is afraid of me.
I was such a fool. An arrogant, unthinking fool, blinded by passion and too much kindness for my own good.
Perhaps it was the sun that made me say it. The crimson sunset in front of me, a burning fire of something beautiful and warm and so far away from me...
I wanted to feel that fire, that warmth. I wanted to hold it close to me, to push away all the darkness I had faced throughout my life, and have something to carry with me, in my heart and my memories, for the rest of my days.
Some small, objecting part of me whispered that it was impossible, and that she must reject me immediately for us both to survive. A hitokiri has no place, no reason to ask her this.
But still... there was a part of me that hoped she would say yes, that she would finally accept me for who I was, forgive my cruelty and my anger, my cold actions and empty words. I hoped that she and I could learn to really be with one another, and finally find some happiness, despite the state of the world we lived in.
She said yes.
She said yes, but although we have become husband and wife, nothing between us has changed.
I had sensed her hesitation, even as the words fell from my lips. She gazed back at me, silent and unsure, a slight blush cast across her cheeks. At that very moment, I knew that I had been far too rash.
Maybe I am a child to her.
Maybe she really does see me as nothing more than a manslayer.
Maybe she doesn't love me at all.
She doesn't love me.
Her response was so soft-spoken, so quiet, that I wasn't sure whether to believe it was real, or my own, vocalized desperation. Yes, I was desperate; I needed her, needed her with me, to hold me back as she had promised.
But most of all... I needed her love.
She doesn't love me.
And yet we are married now, living together, alone, in a small cottage on the mountain. We have a home; we are each other's family. Working together, we have created a place where we both could stay for as long as our hiding was required.
What is the definition of a marriage? A husband and a wife? Two people, joined, yet separated?
She is afraid of me.
I saw her eyes, the first night we spent in the cabin. We had been living together for months, sleeping in the same room, yet the distance between us was expected, then. We had not been wed; I had simply brought home a stray who did not want to leave, and I didn't have the heart to cast her away. But that first night - our wedding night - I met her eyes in the candlelight, and I saw fear captured there, like a fluttering moth trapped within a paper lantern.
Not the kind of fear in my eyes. I was afraid of what she wanted, what she was thinking. I was afraid that I had forced her - even if I had asked - into something she wished against with all her heart. I was afraid I had done something wrong.
She was afraid of what I would do, not what I had already done.
And so, on our wedding night, on the night most marriages were fulfilled to their traditional obligations, I sat against the wall, arm curled around my sword, and slept as I had done since the night we met.
I was not sure of her response, if she had any at all; my eyes were closed the instant my back hit the wall. I did not wish to see the relief in her expression, the lingering fear in her own eyes. Those eyes... that I adored. I held back the dark, shuddering sigh of my own insecurities - I don't wish to show her how hurt she has made me - but I could not restrain my soft whisper, so quiet that she couldn't have heard it.
"Together, only in love. Only in love..."
Only in love. I will not be with her if she feels that it would be out of obligation, of fear for what I can do to her if she refuses me.
Somehow... those fears hurt me, more than anything else. I can endure the thought - the knowledge - that she does not love me. But knowing that she views me as no more than a common, lecherous tavern brute is more than I can bear.
The room fell into darkness as she blew out the candle, as if she had not heard my words. Or perhaps she did not care. My fists tightened around the hilt of my katana, struggling to draw even the slightest flicker warmth or comfort from its familiar blade.
I must have, in some form, for I was able to sleep that night.
"You can't even sleep without a sword at your side..."
So I have remained, for the long months we have lived together. Through the planting of our small farm, though the chilling rain storms that ravaged the land we worked so hard to coax our crops from, through the harvest that brought more life to our home than I ever imagined. Each night, after we have eaten and sat in comforting silence until neither of us could bear the other's strange company, I return to my chosen place and sleep, uninterrupted, until the morning sun and her soft voice calls me back to the waking world.
She has never touched me when she called. Never.
Where is my sheath? Where is the shield for my growing madness that she promised me, so long ago it seems almost a dream?
I am going mad. Living here, with her, without her, forces a different sort of madness within my heart. The madness of love... for, what hitokiri in his right mind could possibly think to offer a woman?
"Affairs of the heart have nothing to do with it."
Everything. This entire idea is madness.
What is this woman doing to me...?
I never know what it is she thinks of me. She answers the curious questions of the villagers so easily, so flawlessly, that they believe her immediately and carry on with their business.
"He is my husband."
Am I? Am I really? What is a husband, in her eyes?
Is a woman supposed to fear her husband? Even when she must know that she fills him with such a strong, eternal happiness...
She must know.
Perhaps she cannot imagine being with me, like she must have visualized being with her fiance. Perhaps she feels as if she is betraying his memory.
She had a fiance. I can't imagine that.
I listened carefully to her words, as she told me her story for the first time. Her life... like mine, it has been very painful since the war began. I can't imagine how she could bear to hold such knowledge to herself for so long. All I could do was listen, without replying or commenting on how she had hidden her life from me.
But I am a stranger, aren't I?
You don't share such things with strangers, whom you fear.
Why do I love her?
She is dark, and she is cold, and her eyes are empty when I look at her sometimes. I cannot meet that gaze... those eyes show me nothing, in response to what I feel.
I love her.
Doesn't she know that?
Is that why she is afraid?
Then why did she say yes? What is marriage, to this woman?
But... she has known love already. She has loved a man who died in Kyoto, fighting against the ones I support and kill for. How can I expect anything more from her than what she has already done?
She could not love a man like me, after what she has seen, what I have done.
Her hand is reaching for me.
I am startled by her sudden movement, my eyes wide in surprise and - however wary I should be to admit it - fear, and I turn to look at her, as she briefly drifts her fingers across my scar, then falls to her knees beside me, curling her arms around my body. Her hands are clenched into fists, desperate and grieving. Her tears are warm against my skin, the moisture seeming through my clothes.
Tomoe... why are you crying...?
I cannot bear to ask her, and merely pull her close to me, praying to shield her from whatever is hurting her.
Would you touch a stranger like this, Tomoe? Would you cry with him, daring to remove your pale, emotionless mask and reveal such a weakness?
Could I be your husband, then? Would you let me be the one to comfort you from the shadows of this life that you fear?
Isn't she afraid of me...?
Hesitantly, I lower my gaze to meet hers, frozen by what I see.
There is no fear in her eyes, only sorrow, only the tear that trickles down her cheek.
She doesn't fear me.
My... my wife...
I do not know what tomorrow will bring us... but, for tonight, I will remain close and comforted in the warmth of her embrace.
Written from Kenshin's POV.
This is a blend of the Rurouni Kenshin OVA and the manga storyline, taking aspects and quotes of both. This way it is understandable for those who have read/watched one or the other, hopefully.
A few people on FF.net asked me to write a companion piece for "Consummation", and I was all too happy to oblige. I hope it echoed what Kenshin may have thought about having seperate futons during his marriage, ^_^
Many thanks to everyone who read "Consummation". Your support and comments were really appreciated!