The Samurai Wives
Note: Aaahhh! The epilogue! This came upon me so fast, that I was completely stunned by the results of the story. So settle in for the epilogue, which is being written to a mix of Japanese themes, including Wufei's theme (which is playing as I type this). My kitty is helping me again, because he's starving for attention. But I digress, there's much to be done with this! Please enjoy, and leave me reviews telling me what you think, and thank you all for your unending support through this entire story! Without all of you pushing me on with reviews, IMs, and hard kicks in the rear I don't know what I'd have ever done. I certainly wouldn't have finished the story! Thanks again to all of you, and I hope to see you all in my future stories.
As for the little contest thing at the end of the last chapter, the line I wrote specifically to sum up the story was actually found by several people! Congratulations to all who guessed! Some were wrong (but I'll reward you for trying anyway). The line was 'I am a man, Kaoru; and you are a woman. There is no shame in either.' For their brilliance (and I apologize to those of you, knowing who you are, who had to waste your time picking my pathetic story apart to find that one line), I am in the midst of drawing them a piece of fanart (I need to get over my perfectionism, ink it, scan it, then e-mail it out. This may take a bit of time, winners, so please forgive me if I'm not as prompt as I'd prefer), which they will find in their e-mail inboxes within the next week to two weeks, or so. This picture (my first released piece of fanart) will be specifically for these people who found it, but may appear on my website... if I ever get around to actually building it.
Disclaimer: Don't sue me. I don't own RuroKen, or the song 'Come On', by Ben Jelen, otherwise I wouldn't be an over-stressed high school senior with a love for Moonpies. And I'd finally find that elusive Orange flavor again...
'And finally the silence. Looking out, looking back across the sky. Trying to find a reason, knowing that I just left it all behind. Still, I smell a lingering softness. Where did she go? How did she go? ...I wanna know that she'll be coming here to me. Come on, without you I'll never feel the love inside of me. Come on, you know that we belong.'
-Ben Jelen 'Come On'
A long breath filled her lungs slowly, the eyes sweeping along the horizon line, where a thousand mysteries waited for her adventurous feet. Dark cloth dipped low over her eyes, shading them from the hot sun and prying individuals. She exhaled very slowly, taking in the life of the world around her before sliding the unfamiliar feeling of the ring from her finger and letting it fall into the pale dust.
"Dust unto dust." She murmured, taking a lone step forward. She paused a moment before craning her head back for just an instant, gazing wistfully back at the city she had learned to call home. In all her efforts to avoid coming there, she thought, she had still built memories in the hated place- both good and bad. There was much to learn, she decided. Most of those things could not be learned in the confines of a tight-fitting kimono and tall sandals, or the burning hot rooms shielded pathetically by the paper shoji.
Kaoru was following a dream she'd fantasized about for years- two, to be precise- and had no intention of letting silly arranged marriages or her father stand in the way of what she wanted. She was not like the women at the temple, the wife of a samurai. It was as Kenshin had said, just before he left. He was a man, and she was a woman. There was no shame in either, truth be told. She had thought men were evil, and he had always longed to be given his humanity back to him, in exchange for his monstrosities. In her own way, Kaoru had realized, she had been afraid of her own humanity; terrified of becoming like the only other women she had ever met. Stripped of identity, hope, and life, Kaoru had seen the samurai wives flock to the safety of the Tokeiji, and she did not want to be like them. In the end, he somehow granted her the grace to avoid becoming like them; and in exchange, she had given him the humanity he had been seeking, even while killing night after night.
Kaoru's dream had always been to be free. But of what? She had wondered in her many empty hours left to think in her father's house. In time, she had come to realize that she had always wanted freedom from the seemingly terrifying truth that she was a woman, and possibly eternally bound to the fate of the wives. That day, however, Kaoru knew that she still wanted freedom- but of a different sort than before. That day, Kaoru made her decision to be free from constraint, and left the house. After packing her most humble kimono (she dared not bring one of fine silk, for what use would she have for it?), an old pair of sandals, and a long strip of silk that had long frayed around the edges and had long faded from its original color. Now the road lay long and open to her; the sky large and blue, with the brilliant disc of yellow-white sun burning down on her.
"I'm coming, Kenshin; down the same road you took." She smiled up to the sun. "I hope you waited for me." The first step taken was weary and difficult, but the next only required a direct thought of the movement. The third took nothing, but filled her with a strong sense of accomplishment, even as she slowly chose a pace to conserve her energy.
In two years, she knew, Kenshin could have been anywhere in Japan; but she knew better than to assume that she would wander aimlessly until she could hope to bump into him. Two years was a long time to think about where someone would go, and the occasional letter she received through Chiyo gave her enough information to keep a rough sketch of where Kenshin had traveled. Pulling her traveling hat down over her eyes, she smiled to herself. It was truly only a matter of time before she caught up the redheaded ex-assassin. He had sent a final letter just the week before, she knew by the date in the corner. He had sent several letters- almost half a year's worth- from the same village that lay not far from the city.
When she had thought hard about that, she had realized that she actually had a very good idea of where she could find him.
It took her a solid day's travel, with little more than a few stops to rest herself, to reach the hills and deep forests. Breathing slowly, she walked a path that she hadn't realized that had been embedded in her mind. Her breath felt ragged, even though she knew that she wouldn't lose her energy until she found Kenshin again. Her nerves felt as frayed as the cloth that she had tied tightly around her hand. How long, she pondered, would it take for her father to finally give up on the search for her? Would he know whom to ask as to where she would be?
Kaoru shook the thoughts away, pressing further up the mountain. The trees were denser here, and she knew that she was getting closer. Finally, she broke through the thick trees and stared into a fire-scorched clearing.
That had, at least, been what she'd been expecting to find.
In its wake, however, was a new house. It was built with the careful craftsmanship of a skilled man, but even she could see the small mistakes that its maker had left in it as an amateur. She stepped toward the house, heart pounding furiously. There was fertile ground here now, as though someone with careful care had brought her garden back to life. Small sprouts had burst from the soil, and grew hopefully toward the deep, cerulean sky. Kaoru set her sack onto the ground, with her hat and cloak, pushing back her sleeves. She kneeled in the earth, running her fingers through its silky existence. The sound of an axe splitting wood stopped before she had truly acknowledged it, causing her to jump in the absence of the familiar sound.
She stood slowly, unable to hear the thud of the axe hitting the ground, but only the sound of her own name. She smiled as best she could, containing herself only barely as she turned very slowly to stare into the eyes of her dream come to reality.
"Why... I mean... What are you..." Was all he managed, disbelief etched in his eyes, mouth and forehead. "What are you doing?" He stumbled out.
"We were having a little talk, the Earth and I." She told him slowly. "She was telling me how well you were taking care of her... and I had to tell her that I hoped that you would..." She stumbled over the rehearsed words, but swallowed the lump in her throat. "I hoped that you would do the same for me."
She could read his movements; restrained and struggling between an old, conscious feeling to stay rational, and a new impulse to do the unpredictable.
"You came." He gestured blankly to the house. "You came here. I don't understand."
She shook her head, stretching out a single hand for his. "You don't have to." He took it carefully, his red hair falling into his eyes from the careless way he'd tied it up. He brushed the wayward hair away impatiently. "It's part of being human... of being you."
The wind touched her cheek, caressing it like a lover's touch. She fell into its grasp, tilting her head up to the dimming sky that had taken on the illusion that it had spontaneously burst into flame.
"I know that... now, at least." Inhaling the wind slowly, he stared down into her with a thousand things running through his head. He did not, however, have to speak them. She already knew them all. "I think that I am jealous of wind." His fingers were curiously entwining themselves between hers.
"Oh?" She replied, her voice going higher just slightly. His voice had acquired the ability to leave her feeling warm and contented.
He led her toward the house slowly, his mouth turned up just slightly. His tone held the light feeling of humor, which she had once considered impossible for him. "I don't want to be jealous of anything. You know, because I'm selfish..."
"No, you're not."
He opened the door as they slid off their shoes and stepped inside. "I once wondered what I would do, once it was all over. I wondered if I'd made a difference, and I wondered where I could possibly go once it was all said and done." He stopped her in the small entranceway; staring at her with kind eyes she had never truly seen him with.
He wasn't finished, however. "I wondered if I just wanted to live... simply. When I left Kyoto two years ago, I left behind my swords as well. I took with me a legend and a cursed name, and wandered Japan for a year and a half, looking for a place to settle down. For a place where death is not a sport, or even a necessity for anything." His eyes wandered over the house. "I found myself back here, finally. It took a little bit of time, but eventually I got people to help me build the house again. But even when the house was built, and everything seemed to be going better... the house still felt empty."
He breathed in very slowly. "Two years is a very long time, Kaoru, when you count the days away, wondering when such a day will come where you will no longer have to count the days. Ever since I came here again, I had a hope that you would come too and fill the void in this house."
"It's beautiful..." She paused, glancing around the whole house. "Can... I stay?"
"I told you, I'm selfish." He had softened far beyond what she remembered. His feather-light touch danced awkwardly over her skin. She did not mind the change in the slightest. "I would not let you leave now. Chaos has subsided into the best order human society could offer humanity, and there is no longer, I suppose, a need for discretion, secrecy, and disappointment. No, Kaoru, I do not think I could bear to let you leave."
Kaoru smiled at the house and how much it represented their first.
Their house. Their house, she thought gladly.
"I do not think I could manage to make the first step." The wind blew in through the open shoji, brushing over the two, who were no longer standing formally apart. Kaoru closed her eyes, stood on her toes and pressed a chaste kiss on his cheek.
Kenshin smiled just slightly, almost awkwardly, to her. "You're home."
She stared out to the rising stars and the burning sun, knowing that she did not regret her decision to leave her father, the emperor, behind. She did not mind any longer that she was dirty, tired, and ragged. "No, Kenshin." She corrected him, pushing his unruly hair from his face. "No, we're home."
(And I mean it this time!)
Note: Aww... that's what I get for listening to the most beautifully romantic love song while writing this... I can barely understand it, but I know that it's a love song... it just has that feeling... Of course, I was watching Fushigi Yugi once, while that song was playing, and it was the part with the twins... oh... yeah... good times. Getting on to the official 'thank you's! Thanks to MSW-sama who, unknowingly, dragged me out of a rut in the road to writing this by inspiring me, and helping me through what was, Heaven knows, the worst experience of my life, and severely limited my ability to write. Thanks to Koishii Sweet, who would poke, prod, and frustrate me into updating, but always with a smile and a pick-me-up. Thousands of eternal thanks to each of the people who read this from the start, you all know who you are, but those who I remember off the top of my head are: kik-ting, Allie, victoria, Koishii Sweet, MSW-sama, kaoru-chan21. Without you all, I don't know what I'd have done with myself, except go freakin' insane. You guys, without any doubt, absolutely KICK ARSE. Like a badass, MSW-sama. To EVERYONE who read this story: THANK YOU!!!! Those who yelled at me about my stupidity (danielgudman) when it came to such and such in the notes, and those who suggested ways to make it better, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to point out my dumb mistakes. For each and every one of you who've stuck around to read this far in an author's note: I love you dearly, and hope to see you all next time, in the next story! Thank you, and good night, folks!