"I love you...Fuuko-sama." were his last words.
Fuuko clutched at the hand that had dropped lifelessly to his side. She enveloped it in her own and put it over her heart. She cried in agony, and despite the onlookers, she embraced his now lifeless body. That which had been so vibrant and alive a few hours ago now lay still and silent. The spirit withdrawn from it. Kagero, Recca and Yanagi stood helpless, watching Fuuko spill her heart out. They felt powerless to help her, as they distanced themselves, leaving Fuuko and giving her the space she obviously needed.
"Mother..." Recca spoke. Kagero simply shook her head.
"We did what we could, Recca." she put her hand on his shoulder. "It just happened to be his time to go."
"I wish I could have done better. I should've tried harder." Yanagi said quietly, her shoulders slumping, and her eyes forming tears as well. Kagero put her arm around the girl.
"Now...now...Yanagi. It's not your fault. It had been too late." assured Kagero. "The poison had well been spread throughout his body. There was nothing more anyone can do. What he needed was a miracle."
"How could you do this to me?" they heard Fuuko accuse. "How could you?" She squeezed his cold hand tightly, "How could you leave me?" She lowered her voice to a whisper, "Just when I had learned to care for you...you..you had to go away..." she sobbed. "And...you didn't even...say...goodbye..."
Fuuko raised her head. She turned to see Recca behind her, his hand on her shoulder. She looked around. It had turned dark, as she saw the stars outside Recca's window. Her head felt heavy, and her eyes were weary from crying. She wiped a last tear that fell on her cheek.
"You fell asleep..." Recca informed her. Fuuko looked at him as though he'd grown an extra head. She turned to Raiha who now lay on the bed in a guestroom at Recca's place. He was covered with a blanket up to his chest. Fuuko was slumped on a chair by his bedside, her head had laid next to his body, and her right hand settled on the area near his heart. She felt his gentle breath on her skin, causing her eyes to widen.
Fuuko stared at Raiha's figure for a long while, making sure he was truly breathing and that it wasn't merely her imagination playing with her. Was everything just a dream? Was Raiha alive, and had not gone to meet his Maker? Fuuko closed her eyes, and opened them again, as if to make sure that the vision that lay before her was real and not merely a figment of her tricky mind.
"You were talking in your sleep." Recca told her, "Somethng about leaving...but I couldn't understand very well. You must've been dreaming." He turned his back to leave, "You can go sleep in Mother's room if you like. We put up an extra bed for you there."
Fuuko shook her head. "No, I'll stay here."
"Suit yourself." said Recca, "There's dinner on the table. Just reheat it in the microwave if you want. And you can help yourself at the fridge. You know where to get me, in case you need help." with that, Recca made his exit.
Fuuko stood up from her semi-lying position. She stretched, relieving the ache in her bones. She noted she still had her uniform on, stained with both her and Raiha's blood. Kagero had left a toilette set near the bed, with soap, towels and a clean set of clothes. Fuuko took to the bathroom and showered. She saw no trace of the cut on her shoulder by the kodachi, and she assumed Yanagi had healed her earlier. Fuuko scrubbed her body clean of the blood and dirt. She changed into the set of blue pajamas left for her by Kagero.
When she reentered the room, her eyes fixed on Raiha's sleeping figure. She approached it and sat next to him on the bed. He was deeply sedated, as he showed no reaction to the movement of the bed. Fuuko pulled the blanket down slightly, exposing his naked upper body. A bandage had been wrapped on the spot where the dagger had been buried earlier. She fingered it lightly, passing her hand over it in a caress.
"And for a while there I thought you'd left me..." she spoke to him in a low voice. Fuuko set aside the tendrils of purple hair that fell accross his face. She ran her fingers through the silken strands of his hair lightly. And without a second thought, she planted a kiss on his cheek, so gently it hardly made a sound. She laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. "Don't leave me, Raiha. Don't..."
She raised her head upon hearing a gentle knock at the door. "Come in." she said. Kaoru and Yanagi came in. Fuuko met them with a relieved smile. Kaoru walked over to where his mentor had laid, and leaned over to whisper in his ear.
"Now, we're even, Raiha-sama." Kaoru grinned, as he spoke to the dozing figure. He then turned to Fuuko, "He's saved my hide from Mori Kouran a number of times. I'm glad I could pay him back now."
"Kaoru helped us find an antidote." Yanagi explained to the questioning look Fuuko shot at them.
"Master Kurei had taught me how to reverse the effects of that poison, We often ran into it when I was still in the Uruha." Kaoru added, "I'm glad I remembered how to mix up that thing. Hanging around plants and Mokouren sometimes had its advantages."
Fuuko smiled gratefully at Kaoru, "Thanks. He'd never have made it without you." she also turned to Yanagi. "You too, Yanagi. You saved his life. I'm so grateful"
"Think nothing of it." said Yanagi, "To be honest, I had a difficult time with him. The wound was deep. It missed his heart by less than an inch. Any closer and he would have died for sure."
Fuuko said nothing. She felt a bubble of happiness burst inside her. He's going to be alright, she thought, smiling inwardly. He's going to live. "You're incredible, Yanagi, Kaoru. Raiha will be extremely grateful for all your help."
As if sensing she needed to be alone, Kaoru and Yanagi bid their goodnights and left her. Fuuko on the other hand, turned her attention to Raiha. She touched his cheek faintly, relieved that it now felt warmer and more vibrant that it had been earlier. He had been corpse-cold a mere few hours ago. Now she was certain he was going to make it through the night.
"I love you..." his words echoed in her thoughts. The words she had thought would be the last thing that would come from his lips. Fuuko wonderd if they were true. He loved her? All this time he had been watching over her, wanting to protect her, wanting to be near her...was because he had felt a strong affection for her. Wasn't it?
Do you still have doubts? her alter ego asked. Before, when she noticed he kept a constant eye on her, particularly during the Urabutousatsoujin, she was convinced he was doing it out of duty. His duty to Kurei to make sure the Hokage Team is faring well. Either that or he was obsessed with her fuujin and the day their madougu were set to meet. She never thought he would be looking at her from the view of a man who had feelings of affection for her. Until the day he kissed her by the beach....
Fuuko realized that fateful day that there was something more than a desire to obtain the fuujin in his intentions. When their lips met, she felt something else coming from him. For even if she had never been kissed before, she had felt a different kind of warmth, a different kind of tenderness emanating from him. She had tried dismissing it as nothing more but a spur-of-the-moment surge of lust. That he merely got caught up in the moment, as romance movies would often put it. But deep inside, there was this nagging feeling telling her there was more than meets the eye here. She tried suppressing it, denying it, telling herself that there was nothing there...when she knew that there was indeed something. And worse...she knew she felt the same...
Am I...in love? she asked herself. I can't be...It's impossible...
She took one more longing look at the man before her, observing the gentle rise and fall of his chest breathing the life-giving air. Right then and there, she felt a surge of joy enveloping her heart, knowing he was going to be alright, and that he was going to live another day. That she would be able again to hear his calm, clear voice and look into those dark green depths of his eyes. And maybe...feel those soft, tender lips again giving her an electric thrill down to her toes.
"Hell...I am in love.." she concluded, almost begrudgingly, but deep inside, her heart was singing with joy.
It was a couple of days before Raiha got back to his feet. During his days of recovery, Fuuko took care of him. She brought him food several times a day, helped him to the bathroom and stayed with him until he slept. Modesty kept her from staying in the same room with him at night, so she slept in the next room, keeping her doors open so she could hear him if he called.
"I could get used to this..." he joked her one morning.
"Excuse me, I don't see myself being nanny for you on a long-term basis." she retorted. "Besides, I charge high for my services. You'll be broke before the week is over."
And they would go on exchanging teasers for the rest of the day. Not once had Fuuko mentioned the three words he had told her.
When the time came for him to leave, she saw him to the gates of Recca's house. She wasn't able to contain the sadness on her face. At that point, the sun had begun to set and the wind began to hum, blowing petals of cherry blossoms flying in their direction.
"I owe you my life, Fuuko-sama." he told her in a serious note. "Thank you."
"Hey, it's nothing." she admitted, "I didn't really do much. It was Kaoru and Yanagi who did most of the work. Besides," she added, "You saved my life a number of times, so I guess this makes us even."
He shook his head, "I owe you more than you take credit for, Fuuko-sama. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have gotten the strength to go on living."
"You're giving me way too much credit," Fuuko laughed, waving her hand at him.
"It's true." he stared directly into her eyes, "It was my burning love for you that kept me alive during that time. Ordinarily I would've given up my life, and fight no more. But I had wanted to survive so badly, because I wanted to be able to tell you..." he paused and took her hands in his, "Face to face...how much I love you, Fuuko-sama."
"Raiha..." she felt the words choke in her throat. She had heard him say it before, but it felt like something new. It was as though a fireworks display exploded somewhere inside her.
"It's true." he admitted. "I've loved you the minute I laid eyes on you that day at Kurei's mansion. I couldn't accept it before, and I tried suppressing it, killing it, refusing to acknowledge its existence. You were, after all, Hokage, and it didn't feel logical. It was against the principles of the Uruha Jyusshinshuu. And yet...it felt...right somehow..." He put her hand over his heart, "Oh can't you see, Fuuko-sama? My heart has been aching for you ever since, and I can't contain it anymore. That was why I kissed you...against all better judgment. I risked it...even if I knew you loved someone else..."
"What?" her eyes stared widely at him. "Who would I be in love with?"
"Domon Ishijima." he replied, "Aren't you?"
"Good grief." she laughed so hard, tears came into her eyes. When she looked at Raiha again, he was staring bewildered at her, "Domon and I are just close friends. Nothing more, nothing less." she corrected. "I know we look closer than we really are..but...love? I mean...I love him as a friend. Just as you would love your friends Kurei and Neon."
"Oh." was all he could say. A deafening stillness followed. Raiha and Fuuko stood there, their eyes locked in a stare no force could seem to break. It was a long time before one of them withdrew, and Raiha took a step back, releasing his hold on Fuuko's hand.
"I would have to take leave of you now, Fuuko-sama." he said, taking a bow, " This ninja owes you his life. You have my deepest, warmest, sincerest gratitude. Again I thank you. If you need me, I'll be there. Just call my name." And with that, he turned his back. He had taken several steps when he heard Fuuko call him.
"God, you are so dense!" she yelled at him, causing Raiha to look back at her. An irritated expression covered her face and her arms were crossed on her chest. "Aren't you even going to ask how I feel about the whole damn thing?"
Raiha paused and turned around. "Honestly, I am dying of curiosity." he confessed, "How do you feel, Fuuko-sama?"
"I love you too, you damn idiot. And you have to be dumb, deaf and blind not to see it!" she replied loudly. "I wouldn't be crying my eyes dry and mothering you like a hen if I didn't feel that way." she continued in a milder tone. "You men are so...baakaaaa!" she exclaimed in desperation. She turned her back and walked away. She then heard his footsteps fast approaching her. She felt his hands on her shoulders, turning her about to face him.
"Aaah, Fuuko-sama." was all he said. He trapped her in his embrace and throwing caution to the wind, kissed her slightly open mouth. He kissed her lovingly, longingly, filled her with an emotion that literally exploded in him. Fuuko closed her eyes and basked in the tenderness of his kiss. Inside her head she was seeing fireworks, setting off in a multitude of colors, as if reflecting what she was feeling right now. When Raiha finally let her go, she was left almost breathless.
"Fuuko-sama, you can't imagine how happy I am...I can't believe it.." he said, catching his breath. "When? How? I mean...you really do?"
She nodded, laughing lightly, "How can you doubt it for a seoond? If I didn't, you wouldn't be able to lay a hand on me. In fact, I'd probably have you clobbered on the pavement by now if you so much as attempted to do what you just did."
"You can clobber me any day." he laughed too, planting a light kiss on her cheek. "I'm so happy."
"So am I." she affirmed. A concerned look now crossed her face, "Was that the reason Mori Kouran wanted me dead?"
Raiha nodded in confirmation, "Yes. He wanted to do to me what he did to Master Kurei and Mistress Kuranei. He wanted to teach me a lesson, and he thinks he can do it by having you executed. Not that I would've allowed it." he paused to cast a tender look at her, "I'd give my life fighting for you. Mori Kouran would have to walk over my dead body to get to you."
"That you almost did." she scolded, "Raiha you shouldn't be protecting me like that. You're putting your life in danger."
"Just as Recca would offer his life to his hime, so would I to you, my wind Goddess." he promised, "I'd do anything to save you from any harm."
"Look, I appreciate your most generous offer." Fuuko reasoned, "But I don't want to be in perpetual fear of you having your neck slashed because of me. I wouldn't like that. Besides," she paused to smile at him, "I'm a strong, independent girl. As I've told you a hundred times before, I can and I will take care of myself. Instead, why don't we just...work together, you know? Unless of course it's against your Uruha principles..."
He shook his head, "Mori Kouran has released me from the Uruha Jyusshinshuu, as well as the others. Now he wants both of us dead..."
"Really now? Then I guess we shouldn't give him that satisfaction, should we?"
"Never." Raiha promised.
He again took her in his arms and kissed her. Fuuko felt that incredible electric charge again. Somehow she could never get enough of this, of him...she could go doing this forever...
"But what about the fuujin?" Fuuko asked at last when he withdrew from her, "And the raijin?"
"What about them?" he questioned back innocently.
"Oh, about the fate that awaits when the God of Wind and The God of Thunder collide head on...and create a storm? That's what you always told me then." she shrugged.
"Oh, that." he realized, "Fate can always take a twist, right? I think it's bending just about now..."
"I love you, Raiha..." Fuuko said at last, nestling her head on his shoulder, "God I can't believe I said that. I'm becoming horribly mushy."
"I love you too, Fuuko-sama, for all eternity..." he whispered in her ear.
The sun had set, casting a purple-orange shadow on two figures locked in aneternal embrace. The moon began to rise and the first stars began to twinkle. It was vision of tomorrow to come, of promises made to be kept and of a destiny to be fulfilled.