In Our Garden of Snow and Roses
"Between the conception,
And the creation,
Between the emotion,
And the response,
Falls the Shadow."
- T. S. Eliot
(The Hollow Men)
The Palace of the Snow Queen
Where there is love there is life.
– Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Kaoru sighed as she watched her breath turn white before her. She could not help but shiver violently in the cold, feeling the warmth being sucked out of her body with each passing moment. With anticipation as the only thing keeping her spirits going, she tucked her hands under her arms and began to hurry onwards into the snow covered fields that seemed to stretch on into infinite.
She had not been able to feel her feet for hours now, or at least, it seemed like hours. Yet, as she trudged on, each step made her wince all the more in the cold snow and the unforgiving winds. "Kenshin," she whispered through dry, cracked lips as she forced herself to go on. Soon, she could almost feel him near her, standing next to her. She knew, just over that next hill, if she just endured this a little longer, she would meet him again.
She didn't notice the hot drops of tears that fell from her eyes in pain, nor the way they froze before leaving her cheeks. Tiny sparkling crystals shivered in the wind before being blown away. Yet, still she would not stop. Slowly, she did not know when, the wind stopped being so cold. Her vision was blurry, but she kept going on, clinging more and more tightly onto her hope of seeing him.
It had been so long, but she could almost hear his voice surround her, calling her name, laughing with her, soothing her fears, and settling her doubts. Kenshin was here. Kenshin was in the air, and all around her. Kenshin had been with her all this time, even though she may not have known it when she cried for him in the dark or when she was alone. Kenshin had promised long ago, and he had kept that promise, that he would never leave her.
Kaoru's gaze cleared as the last of the tears was blown away by the wind that no longer seemed cold. She felt enveloped in the memories of a cherished past, a person she loved so much and who had once loved her just as much in return. The snow no longer felt like ice that bit into her flesh, instead it felt like soft cotton, surrounding her feet and cushioning her steps.
Kaoru blinked in the cold. Her movements became more animated as her eyes caught sight of the rising towers of the palace that the Snow Queen presided over. She did not notice that grass and flowers sprouting from the footprints she left behind, nor did she notice that the cold and bitter wind could not touch her, much less harm her. Obliviously, she walked on, fascinated by the black-ice statues lining the sudden pathway paved in silver ice. She never looked behind to see them rising to bar her way, nor did she see them fail one by one, repelled by the very energy that protected her from the wind and snow.
The path before her seemed a glittering walkway, leading to some fabulous dream. The moonlight skies that rained down snow without a cloud in sight were fascinating to Kaoru. Her breath of white seemed to wrap around her, warming her through and through. Bounding forward, she soon reached the blue-white doors, thick and grand. The handles were intricately carved, and glowed like no marble she had ever seen. The icy handles melted before she could touch it and so did the very door itself. Surprised and guilty, but determined to see Kenshin as soon as possible, Kaoru went onwards. She stepped through the hole in the door and glanced around curiously, finding herself in a great hallway that stretched in all directions.
Behind her, vines began to grow upon the doors and reached into the freezing palace. For the first time ever, since the construction of the great palace, life flourished in the Snow Queen's hall. The wind sprite that was not too frightened or shy of Kaoru's presence came and whispered warmly that the halls were uncountable in the house of the Snow Queen. The wind spirits that haunted and guarded the lonely halls smiled for the first time in a long time when they saw that the little girl was kind and warm and so unlike their cold and indifferent mistress.
They told Kaoru tales of how the walls were pillars of snow and ice, held together by magick and illusions. They told her how the black ice coating the ground was smoother and stronger than marble; how the fractured and brilliant lights around them were from the very northern-lights that had guided Kaoru for much of her journey in the north; and how the pillars of ice were strong enough to withstand attacks from giants and polar bears -- things Kaoru had never before seen with her own eyes.
"Where is Kenshin?" She asked the wind after their whispers quieted and described how she remembered him from ages past, though she shuddered a bit at the memories of him within her dreams. The spirits consulted each other quietly as they guided her for hours through the swirling halls of unimaginable magick and beauty. Finally, they led her to a room where the surface of a frozen lake was what the ground was made of. Unlike the black-ice, this lake surface was splintered. The color itself was so white it was blue. There was no ceiling overhead. Instead, it opened to the dark night skies where stars coldly winked down at them, watching and judging silently, while endless snow fell down upon them, snow that did not pile when it landed, but disappeared upon the cool ice.
The wind told her that the lake was called the Mirror of Understanding, and that the Snow Queen would reside upon the throne at the center of the lake. They told her how the sky overhead was not really sky, but an illusion that lasted all year round. Then, one wind sprite told Kaoru that the boy was in a trance. It told her of the mirror he had made from a knife and ice, and how the Snow Queen promised him a present should he add the final spell to the mirror's completion. They spoke and Kaoru listened with half-an-ear, eyes wide with curiosity at how the surface reflected her fractured image, fascinated by the glow the Mirror of Understanding emitted upon the room.
As she stepped onto the surface, Kaoru felt more than knew what came to be. The person looking back at her was not her, but another. She saw the women that had stood here before her, and the memories of their despair weighed heavily upon them. Each was a woman who had lost their most important person. Each was a being who could not retrieve that person back. Their grief and their hopelessness washed over Kaoru a-hundred folds. These were the past Snow Queens, all of whom handed her despair down to the next generation like a crowning coronation - an eternal symbol of a woman abandoned, and who in turn, abandoned all else. The act turned her into a being with a heart of ice, whose only hope to follow her beloved was to bring another woman to take her place.
At least, that was what they believed in. In reality, each one of their precious someone turned into a guardian of the palace, a statuesque black being, seemingly made of ice and who felt no bite from the snow and cold. They were the beings that Kaoru had passed on her way to the Snow Queen's palace. Their identities were, however, forgotten by the women who took the Snow Queen's place. A woman who constantly traveled throughout the world, looking for a man who was loved and treasured whole-heartedly by a girl or woman, so much that she would likely break if he was taken away from her.
For a moment, the room was cold to Kaoru again. For a moment, she felt like giving in to a feeling she had once followed with familiarity, the feeling of undeniable sorrow and loss. But then she remembered Kenshin smiling at her, Kenshin reaching his hand out to her, Kenshin touching her injured knee with a clumsy kiss that didn't make the wound go away but gave her the courage to smile through her tears...
These feelings she had for him. No matter where he was or who he became, she would not and could not forget them. Kaoru felt the warmth of her breath worm around her again. She felt like her father had wrapped an extra thick blanket around her small body, on a cold day, one that made her feel snug to her toes.
Kaoru opened her eyes and looked in awe all around her until her eyes landed on a red-haired young man carving with the short sword from his onto an ebony crystal in the distant center of the Mirror. He was a dark contrast to the glowing blue-white ice he sat upon. The surface glowed beneath the endless night sky as he set upon the steps that surrounded the Snow Queen's throne, as grand and white as the ice it rested upon. Ivory, Kaoru thought when she neared. The transparent bone from some monstrous beast they called elephants in a book they read, clumsy and brutal looking and yet, somehow seemingly far kinder to kin then Man was known to be.
Kaoru paused at the steps, her eyes filled with hope. "Kenshin?" she called out to him, softly at first. Uncertain and trying to hold back her excitement, Kaoru momentarily forgot the despair of the Snow Queen that she had witnessed, images that still moved beneath her feet like shattered, glittering ghosts trapped within an unending play. He did not respond, but she was sure now, sure of the feeling that spread throughout her so painfully that she thought she would burst from such happiness. "Kenshin!" she wasn't sure what happened except that her voice had rose, the sound tickling the icicles around the lake to ringing music. Somehow she found her arms circled around his lean waist and still form.
But Kenshin did not respond to her cries anymore than he did to her whisper. Instead he continued to puzzle over what Kaoru realized was also ice. His lips were now blue instead of the pale pink she remembered them being, and both his eyes became a color of gold so bright it would have burned like the sun if it were not so cold and empty. His skin was unrecognizable, a color she would never have thought he would bare. Seeing him so completely different from the boy she grew up loving, Kaoru felt the tears fall from her eyes onto his red-hair that was no longer the bright red of a spring cardinal's feather. It was dull and lifeless, as the wolf had warned her that he would be. "Are you really Kenshin?" Kaoru asked fearfully. "The one I have always loved, and will always love?" Kaoru closed her eyes at the sound of her own words, suddenly feeling foolish for asking such questions. Suddenly, she remembered too many discouraging things. She paused for only a moment though before determinedly whipping away her tears. Afterwards, she clutched Kenshin close to her once more, her warm cheek touching the cold clothes that covered his back. But when she could hardly hear a heartbeat, the tears rose once more, unbidden, no matter how hard Kaoru fought against them.
"I love you," she whispered. The sound glided over the empty hallways as the flowers raised their heads towards her and Kenshin's still forms beneath the heavens. The wind stilled and all things seemed to hold their breath.
Her hot tears soaked through clothes and skin, until it reached and burned a path into the very depth of Kenshin. The grasses and vines grew around them, flowers bloomed. The room did not shake as Kaoru closed her eyes, her heart filled with conviction. "I love you," she said with certainty even though the words were soft with feeling. Then, she reached out of her heart to him, as she had done so many times when they had been children, and looked for him as she had always done so in her dreams.
His world was dark. There was no light. It was cold, colder than when Kaoru was outside in the snow and the wolf left her by the red-berried bush. It was a cold that went all the way passed one's bones and into a person's soul.
"Kenshin?" little Kaoru called out as she searched for him in the dark, navigating on nothing but memory. Long ago, they had played this game of searching for each other in this place that only they knew. As children they had built it from imagination and a common love filled with curiosity.
Now, she looks for him here, in this world she had not been able to share with him since their separation and his distance. Slowly she found a familiar path leading to a river-side of their childhood memories. The water was frozen and did not run, the fishes were dead within the ice, or sleeping, she could not tell. And Kenshin, he sat looking out into the distance, searching through the darkness, past the red-lined horizon.
Kaoru looked down, realizing she was glowing in this dark world, her hands pale and white like snow. As soon as the thought came so did the white fluff, surrounding them both with more than an empty, ebony night. "Kenshin," she said again. Her footsteps led her to his side, and she felt like she was coming home. "Do you remember me, Kenshin?"
He was looking far into the distance, into the darkness. "Everything's so ugly here. Is that the truth of it all?"
She paused and looked into the darkness too. For the first time in a long time, she saw through his eyes. He was distracted in this loneliness, this coldness that she was allowed to see. Her breath caught in her thought, watching the butchered memories of the past run before her eyes. Shaking her head, she wanted to scream. "Untrue! Untrue! It was so beautiful, why did you remember it like this?" But when she opened her eyes again, the images were gone.
"Was this, how you saw the world?" she asked timidly when the silence stretched too long to bear.
"Yes," he answered simply by the iced river, by the barren grounds covered with snow. She looked down at him, ready to argue that he was wrong, that it was not how she remembered the past. Yet, she didn't, silenced by what she saw there. The past few years came and colored the river red as blood beneath the ice. Amber flowers with withered and decaying petals decorated the bloody river's edge, instead of the violets she remembered. The world was dark here, filled with the smell of death.
She knew she should hate him a little for what he did, for tainting their most precious memories so. A part of her wasn't sure if she could ever forgive him. Kaoru could not look away though, for this was the truth she had been seeking all along. This was Kenshin now. He was the one she had been searching for all this time. Yet, when she looked down to him, she did not see the monster that she knew she should, as he had seen himself to be.
He was as she remembered him. Older, colder, and lonelier, but still Kenshin. She had traveled far to find him, met people and seen things she would never have imagined possible. She had become stronger than what she had once been, but she remembered too. All the things he had forgotten, all the things that made him who he had once been.
She remembered him, and he was not the monster he made himself to be. Then the words of the wind sprite came and she remembered the illusion of the ceiling and the ebony surface Kenshin was trying to carve onto. She remembered that even his memories were distorted here...
"Kenshin," she reached out to him in the coldness, light to his darkness, warmth to his cold. "I remember things differently." And she showed him in the darkness the light of the sun that he had forgotten. She showed him the smiles and the jokes they shared in place of the sneers he looked back upon. She showed him how he made her smile by the fountain with his childish words and her childish beliefs. She showed him how once he had helped others in need, healing those he could instead of spilling blood or causing grief. She showed him through the memories why she loved him, because she realized he had forgotten how to love himself and how people lived in the everyday world of wonder, even if they had forgotten it in the mundane things people did everyday.
Kaoru was Kaoru and Kenshin was Kenshin. So long as she remembered a part of his humanity, she would believe in it whole-heartedly. People were not monsters, they did things that could be monstrous, but they were only monsters if the hope was gone. Abandoned, how could they be more than what their actions dictated? How could they shed the skin of their ugliness and become something different?
Kaoru remembered herself, after she had lost hope. She would not lose it again, not without a fight. "No matter what happens, no matter who takes you or where you go, I'll find you Kenshin. Even if you become a monster, I'll remember your humanity. Please remember. Remember that I shall never abandon you. Never." Kaoru promised him in the dark when the memories danced around them like a story without end, turning the polluted river blue and changing the yellow grasses green. "I just want you to know, because I kept you close to me even when you were far away, that I believe in you, Kenshin. I believe in you.
"Come back with me, Kenshin. You are not a monster, you are just a boy that I will always love." In the darkness she reached out to him. In the darkness, she kissed him and whispered his name so that he would remember who he really was, beyond the mirror's reflection.
"Kenshin," she called out to him. Even though the human heart may not be able to reflect understanding, it could accept. It was meant to accept that most precious person for all that they were and will ever become.
Slowly, feeling returned in Kenshin as his heart of ice melted beneath Kaoru's tears and her memories; all of her love for him wrapped into each tear she cried for him and the out-stretched hand that had always been there, waiting for him to grasp onto. Then he heard her voice, singing a song he had never heard, one that encouraged him to wake from his dreamless sleep of a never-ending winter by a river of blood, he slowly came to. It felt as if he was breaking through the surface of that icy water, breaking the thin ice that had trapped them in the cold for so long.
Kaoru closed her eyes and sang a song that Enishi taught her one starless night, when she too had forgotten that she was not alone in the world. It conveyed all of the love and loss Enishi had felt when his sister said goodbye to him, one that Kaoru understood since Kenshin's disappearance from her life.
"...In our rose garden, I shall always believe in us.
matter the places you've gone and the person
physical space that separates our bodies
will never separate our hearts..."
As Kaoru sang, Kenshin remembered, and from those memories he cried until the piece of glass in his eye fell with his tears. "Kaoru?" he murmured reverently. He turned in her arms, his own encircling her shaking form.
Kaoru's eyes opened and widened as her voice stilled and the music that surrounded them turned to an echoing hum before fading to silence. "Kenshin?" she pulled back to look at him. Her hands trembled as she held his face. "Kenshin!" she cried out happily as she wrapped her arms around him.
"Thank you," he told her through chattering teeth, his wide, easy grin that she had missed was once more gracing his face.
"Whatever for?" she asked confused as she held onto him more tightly. Her voice conveyed the happiness he could not see on her face as she buried it into his chest.
"Thank you for believing in me, Kaoru." He held her through the emotions that she could not express through words. Her body trembled so in his, not from the cold, but from the joy of finding him again and the pain of their past separation. The Kenshin she believed in always and loved forever, she had finally found him again.
"I love you," she lifted her head and confessed more shyly this time next to his hot ear.
"I love you too," he grinned softly into her hair. "So much, it hurts." Laughing, they looked at each other, remembering the features they've missed, amazed at how the other had grown and changed. The night was so beautiful now despite the cold that neither felt as they shared each other's warmth.
When this was done, Kaoru turned and kissed Kenshin's cheeks and Kenshin was no longer cold. She kissed his eyes and they sparkled with a brightness that equaled her own. She held his hands and then him, until his body was limber once more, and his skin was no longer discolored and unnaturally dark. Finally, Kaoru remembered her dream by a riverside, and the words that would set Kenshin free from the Snow Queen's grasps. Together, they wrote eternity with the heat from their fingers, etching it onto the ice that could reflect no understanding but that of despair, marring the broken surface as no cool blade could. The invisible chains that had wrapped itself around Kenshin and Kaoru both, disappeared then, and the mirror that he was supposed to create out of loss and hopelessness reflected the truth of a person's heart instead.
They held hands and left the hall of the Snow Queen and wherever they went, the snow would melt as grass grew beneath their feet – in the very footprints they left behind. The sun still hid from this side of the world, but neither felt a need for it to rise to alleviate the dark feelings that once followed them in their wake. For them, the Snow Queen's clutch upon them was gone, and the rivers of light overhead was enough to guide them through the dark.
They stopped at the red-berry bush. There, the wolf that carried Kaoru stood with his mate, ready to take the two of them back to Tae's snow field. When asked, the wolf only rumbled gruffly as his mate laughingly explained that he believed that Kaoru would return. Touched by such a revelation, Kaoru ruffled the fur of the wolf, despite his growls of warning, once he could not escape her attention.
Tae waited for their arrival as well and equipped them with new clothes. She warmed them both to their toes with hot food and a comforting bed before seeing them off. When morning came they began their journey back to the Oniwaban Forest on the wolves' backs. While they rode through the darkness, Kaoru told Kenshin about the garden on her roof, and her and his father that would surely have thought them both gone forever, now. Kaoru worried but Kenshin only smiled to her reassuringly. "Don't worry, Kaoru," his gentle voice soothing her. "They may be unhappy with us now, but I know they will be glad to see us. I know, after everything, I will be most glad to see both of them again."
They bid the wolves farewell at the edge of the forest once they arrived. It was a tearful goodbye for Kaoru, and the reluctant wolf stood stiffly still in her embrace, despite his protests. The two of them didn't have to travel far after that parting to be greeted by a smiling Misao, who stopped by them in the white car that Megumi and Sanosuke had bestowed upon Kaoru.
Misao had, apparently, found her Aoshi. The man turned out to be an intensely reserved man - the very opposite of everything that made Misao who she was - who sat by Misao in the passenger side of the little car Megumi and Sanosuke had bestowed upon Kaoru. The little ninja girl had returned to let her Grandfather know that she was alright after she had found the man she was looking for.
"Ah, so you're Kaoru's Kenshin!" Misao scrutinized the affable, older boy with a critical eye. "I should like to get to know you," Misao finally declared after a long, uncomfortable silence. "I would wish to know the man who earned such devotion to force dear Kaoru to go from one side of the world to the other to find you again. I shall judge to see if you deserve everything she has done, just for you. If not, you'll have the Oniwaban to answer to."
Kaoru rolled her eyes, a blush coloring her cheeks at this and pulled at her friend's hair a bit too roughly for play. "Same for you, Misao. I'd like to get to know your Lord Aoshi to see if he deserved such a title, or if it's just you." At this Misao reflected Kaoru's earlier blush as Aoshi shot their driver an amused glance that spoke in place of his silence.
"Get in," Misao forged on with a pretended air of flippancy. "I'll give you a ride back home after visiting Grandpa!"
Kaoru and Kenshin looked at each other before thanking Misao and accepting the younger woman's offer. "By the way, Miss Misao," Kenshin asked tentatively. "Aren't you a bit too young to drive a car?" he observed as Kaoru and him piled into the back seats.
Misao turned back with a grin and a thumb up. "Don't worry guys! Aoshi's ten times worse behind the wheel!" It was the only warning they got before Misao sped like a demon from hell, back into the woods that Kaoru had just recently left on her own. Looking back, Kaoru cast one last glance to the places she had been and smiled as she silently bid her journey of finding Kenshin, goodbye. She turned forward once more and leaned her head against Kenshin's shoulder. Everything was alright now, this she knew as she closed her eyes.
Kenshin leaned his head against hers too. The two of them, adults in still growing bodies, were reunited finally. "I'm home," he whispered to her softly as the car rumbled down the road towards new adventures and new destinations.
"Welcome home, Kenshin." she mumbled in reply, face aglow with joy as she drifted to sleep in his arms. Their hands and fingers were intertwined despite their exhaustion.
Outside the car, the sun blazed overhead through the bared branches of the trees as winter began to melt and spring began to bloom.
"...In our rose garden, I shall always believe in us.
matter the places you've gone and the person
physical space that separates our bodies
will never separate our hearts..."
.Happily Ever After.
Author's End Notes
Not much to say this time. Only...
This story took longer than I thought. Started in the summer! That's like... four/five months! "Things That Change" only took like 2-3 weeks! But after many road-blocks, writers-blocks, boredom-blocks, lack-of-idea-blocks... well, it's complete. Hope you liked it :)
That was a long journey for Kaoru and Kenshin, ne?
Based heavily on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, I hoped you had fun reading it! (Note: When Kenshin and Kaoru stopped by Tae's, Kaoru's actual time spent at the Snow Queen's palace, and when they traveled on the wolf's back - returning into the land of humans once more - the time was left deliberately vague as to how long they stayed "on the road". Hence, when Kaoru first arrived at Tae's, winter was beginning, and when they reached the Oniwaban forest again, winter just ended.)
Have a "Happily Ever After"! Hope not too many teeth rotted along the way to the end of this story - a bit more sugary than I'm used to writing. ;)
Until next time fellow readers and writers!