The Courtship of Lady Tokio
Disclaimer: all character rights belong to Watsuki Nobuhiro, Shueisha etc. This is a fictionalized account based in part on historical facts.
Epilogue: The First Morning
Tokio felt the tug of daylight pulling her out of her dreams. Struggling to hold onto sleep, she tried to hide her face from the sun, burying it against the warmth beside her. She froze as she felt an arm draw her closer, and in an instant, Tokio snapped awake. She bolted upright, and looked down wide-eyed at the startled face of her new husband.
"Good morning to you too," he drawled with languid amusement.
"…. Good morning," she murmured, and blushed as she remembered that she was naked. As she tried to pull the sheets around her, he pulled her back into his arms.
"But it is already late, and I must start breakfast!" She protested weakly.
"It's more like lunch now," he smirked at her. "You didn't get much sleep last night." She could not meet his eyes, blushing furiously at the memory.
"How long have you been awake?" She inquired apologetically, trying to brush those thoughts aside.
He did not answer and instead tightened his embrace around her. In truth, he had been awake for almost an hour, and he had been thoroughly content just to hold her and watch her sleep. She took a deep breath, luxuriating in the feel of his body against hers, basking in the smell of his bare skin.
"Ten years…." She murmured. "Over ten years I have waited for this…."
"Was it worth it?" He breathed softly into the shell of her ear.
"Hmmm, I'll decide later," she teased.
"Insolent woman," he was about to growl, but the words were taken out of his mouth as she kissed him.
"How strange life can be," she said with a wistful smile as she broke away. "How can it be that we have lost so much, and yet right now, I feel I have everything."
"Really? Because I still kind of want more…." His words trailed off as he nipped her neck gently, eliciting a yelp of laughter.
"Hajime-sama! Or, am I to call you Gorou-sama now?" She pushed him away slightly so that she could better look at him.
"Whichever you prefer." He was grinning at her in what could only be described as a wolfish manner.
"How about Hajigorou-sama?" She looked at him innocently.
"Oi!" He snorted at her ridiculous suggestion.
They lay together for another while, for a perfect moment in an imperfect world. As they looked at each other, they knew that they both were thinking back on all the circumstances that had led to this point. They had endured much hardship and sorrow and loss, some of it their own making and some of it out of their control. The world had changed around them, and the people they had loved were no more. And yet, they had survived, and they could not regret for an instant the lives they had led until now. To regret would be to deny who they were today, and how they were together, and there would be no room for regret in their future. Their souls had been forged together at the height of unrest and in the heat of battle, and their lives were never to be separated again.
"I love you." Tokio whispered, feeling as though his amber eyes pierced through the core of her.
"I know." He was so sure of himself, and of her too.
Tokio gave an exasperated sigh at his response. Just then, a cicada landed on the window frame and began its ear-splitting screech. Tokio winced at the jarring noise as her husband got up to smack it from its perch. As he did, the noon gong sounded from the local temple.
"I guess the world is telling us to get up." Tokio shook her head ruefully, and reached for her yukata. "And I'm sure you must be hungry."
"How about taking a bath first together?" She looked at him, and saw that it was not just bathing that he had in mind.
"Food first," she said firmly. "And then a bath." Her confident playfulness jolted him, and his lips curved upwards in appreciation.
As she collected the discarded items of clothing from the night before, he lit up a cigarette. She passed him an ashtray, and watched him, still fascinated by the sight of him smoking. She noticed that her morning glory kanzashi was on the ground, from when her husband had unbound her hair. She picked it up and went to her chest of drawers. He watched as she pulled out a carefully wrapped bundle, and opened it up. She placed the kanzashi with the others of its set, the collection now finally complete.
"You kept them." It was not quite a statement, not quite a question. There was a glimmer of satisfaction in his eyes.
"But of course. They are practically the only things I have left from before the war." Though she might have been able to sell them to stave off poverty, such treasures were priceless precisely because of what they symbolized. He knew this too; it was for this reason why he had never let go of the last one.
She put her hair ornaments away – they were not for everyday wear – and she began to comb her hair. The long, ebony strands cast a veil on her exposed nape, and he found himself entranced, unable to look away.
She finished just as he put out the stub of his cigarette, the last puff of smoke escaping into the air. She dressed, telling him that she would have food ready soon, and made to exit the room.
"Tokio," he called out, and she turned around. "I love you."
His wife looked him at him steadily, and her smile took his breath away – the smile that had earned her the title the "Flower of Aizu".
"I know, Hajime-sama."
It was the beginning of the rest of their long and happy lives together.
* Ahem: in response to a (hilarious) point made by Eeni, I never intended for Saitou to be naked in this scene. In fact, I pictured him wearing loose pants (like 'samue' bottoms - or what Sano wears) because he did have about an hour before Tokio woke up to put them on. Looking back over the passage, I realized that I didn't include that detail, and I'm not sure that I could squeeze it in without it sounding forced. So, em, I leave it up to readers' discretion as to his state of undress. Sincere apologies to anyone who was distressed (or distracted) by the thought!
* Listening to One Ok Rock's "The Beginning" – the soundtrack to the RK live action movie. I think the lyrics really fit Saitou and Tokio too. Link to video and lyrics on profile page.
(Hajigorou would be a terribly embarrassing name, courtesy of my friend Mai. It just sounds ridiculous to a Japanese person. I also came across a Japanese thread on 2ch (forum board) where a man claimed that his grandfather named him "Sobao", which means "Soba Man". That was hilarious enough in itself, but what really sent me over the edge was a fellow Saitou fan wondering whether the grandfather was in fact Saitou Hajime.)
To think, this all came about because of one line in volume 9: "Don't worry, Tokio is a capable woman." Eight years ago tomorrow, I posted the first installment of this story (it boggled my mind when I checked the date) – and my love for Saitou and Tokio remains undiminished. At last, it's finished! Eight years!
Some major thanks are in order:
Again, I would like to dedicate this fic to Hakubaikou – RK fandom hasn't been the same without her. I wonder what she would make of the ending, after all this time, and I fervently hope that she would like it.
A million thanks to older_woman, for all her editing assistance. It was a long slog, and she did me this huge favor even when she was extremely busy. I am really looking forward to catching up on her works now that I have time to read.
My undying gratitude to Conspirator, who first recommended it to HB, thus giving me my "break" as it were. I just can't thank you enough, it still means so much to me! Any RK fan unfamiliar with her work is missing out.
Eeni has made a dream come true with her doujinshi. I am biased, but I think it's brilliant! I hope others are enjoying it as much as I am. Thank you so so much!
To all the people who have written to me over the years and encouraged me to continue, I might have given up without your support. Special thanks to Anreg and Yours Sincerely who put up with me ranting about all sorts of Saitou things over the last couple of months. I am so grateful to all the readers out there who took time to leave a review, or to send me a message, or put it on their Favorites list. A huge round of applause to you all, and if you write, I will reply – I am very much looking forward to hearing from people! If I may be so selfish, may I please have a pat on the back? It was truly a labor of love, and it was not easy. I never thought that it would take me so long, and I beg the pardon of all the readers who've put up with the long hiatuses over the years. For anyone who's read this far and is satisfied with the ending, please let me know. I'm actually very nervous about posting this, and I will be paranoid that people didn't like it. Tell me what you liked, what you didn't like, what made you laugh, what made you not laugh, whether there was something you liked in particular, or something you didn't like at all. Ask me questions, if there was anything you didn't understand. And let's get more Saitou x Tokio fanworks out there!
Regarding questions about follow-up works, I am still undecided (although I'm extremely flattered by readers' enthusiasm). However, I do know that it would be called "Meiji Keikan Romantan": a play on RK's own subtitle "Meiji Kenkaku Romantan" ('Keikan' means 'police officer' and 'romantan' means 'romance' in the old sense – a tale dealing with a chivalrous hero *cough* as well as love). It would deal with events in the manga timeline, be less fraught with angst now that our happy couple is married, and hopefully have more humor. Here's the outline of a skit that I thought of years ago:
[Saitou is telling Tokio about his assignment to scout out the Kamiya dojo, and about to tell her about his fight with Sano.]
"Oh dear, this Sagara Sanosuke – you did something very rude to him, didn't you?" Tokio frowned at her husband, expressing her distaste.
"Rude? I was doing my job." Saitou frowned back; it was most unlike Tokio to question his work, and he had not even begun to tell her the details.
"Well, I think it's in very bad taste." She arched an eyebrow at him and shook her head.
"You do, do you?" Saitou took out a cigarette and lit it; Tokio knew him well enough that she might have guessed that he had left the young man unconscious and heavily wounded (albeit with the knowledge that the residents of the dojo would be returning shortly). "I guess that's one way of looking at things."
"I mean, it seems like he had no sense of fashion to begin with, but did you really have to make things worse?" Tokio sniffed in disdain.
"Fashion? What exactly are you referring to, woman?" Saitou exhaled slowly, fixing his wife with a questioning glare.
"Well, you said that he had the character for "Aku" emblazoned on his jacket, and I presumed that you couldn't resist adding "Soku Zan" to it. That's just terribly tacky!" She declared authoritatively.
Saitou choked on his cigarette, and started to cough and laugh at the same time. As levelheaded as Tokio usually was, she certainly had some strange notions from time to time. Despite her protests that she did not understand what was so funny, the twinkle in her eye gave away the fact that she was having some fun at his expense.
[Inspired by Yahiko's comment in volume 1 that the "Aku" on Sano's jacket stood for "aku shumi", meaning 'bad taste'. And I'm sure I'm not the only person who thought that it would be very tempting for Saitou to do this! Also, I've read comments that what really aggravated Saitou about Sano was this very jacket, always taunting him.]
I've explained before, but the fact that Saitou is unashamed to bring up his wife, even praising her to his rival Kenshin, had Japanese fans convinced that he must be a loving husband. Back in the day, it was very rare for a man to praise his wife in public and "capable" has a much stronger connotation of being a superior person in Japanese than in English. Also, when trying to figure out why Saitou could be so unrelentingly committed to his principles whereas Kenshin did a full 180-degree turn, it was a reasonable assumption that it was because Saitou never doubted the righteousness of his actions. Kenshin tragically killed Tomoe, and luckily for Saitou, Tokio never stopped loving him (at least in my fantasy). And I love the trope, "behind a good man is an even better woman". I am also of the view that Saitou is not always an anti-social, malicious jerk; wolves are pack animals and they are very protective of their own, but they are highly aggressive and territorial when it comes to defending their turf (sounds like Saitou alright). They are also monogamous and mate for life. So, although I really do enjoy writing Saitou with snark, it was toned down a lot for these last two chapters. Again, if I go on to write more, I would like to rectify that through his interactions with Kenshin and company.
I did make my best efforts to weave in the history and to present an acceptable version of events leading up to their wedding. I regret to say that reading over the entire work, I find so many glaring gaps where the action and interaction of the characters could be much improved, and I am sorry that I could not always do these characters justice. If I do go on to write "Meiji Keikan Romantan", then I might be able to embellish on the past in the form of flashbacks – that way, I could always write a little more Okita and Shinsengumi. (They were so much fun to write, and I miss them.)
However, for now, I am just going to enjoy reading other people's works; I swore off reading until I'd finished this for fear that I'd end up stealing ideas, no matter that it would be unintentional. Anybody with recommendations, please send them my way. Thank you all so very much for all your kind support! It's been an absolute blast!