The Black Snow

By Icha

Rating: K+

Black Snow epilogue. Bruce takes Diana to a small village to meet his old friend and spends a day in a remote area of Japan. And there's the swords, the rain, and the wet kimono...Well…you know what they would do in addition to discussing the grandeur of katana making.

Disclaimer: Batman, Wonder Woman, Dr. Light II, and Katana belong to DC Comics. All Japanese characters with the exceptions of Dr. Light II, Katana, Yasu and Imako are from my imagination. Thanks to Athena Phoenix for the excellent beta reading and all the readers who have kept me writing this story. Your feedback has truly encouraged me to go on.

Tips: this chapter is bloody long. If you prefer not to read about Japanese swords (Nihonto), you can directly jump towards third a section to the end to more exotic moments. However, I suggest you read the front section later on. Nihonto is actually very interesting to learn.

Chapter 11. The Way of the Sword

The local inhabitants of the remote village at the slope of Mount Fuji were used to strangers. Now and then, they would find visitors, either Japanese or foreigners, coming to their village for some reason. Yet, it had been a while since they had met such a fine young couple, strolling leisurely along the lane to Old Makoto's place.

Little Sachiko blinked several times. The twelve-year-old girl remembered the story her mother told her about Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess of Ancient Yamato. It was said that Amaterasu had long raven hair, flowing gently in the wind. Her skin was the color of white lotus. Her eyes, bright as the fire of Phoenix, were sharp yet compassionate, always blessing everyone she encountered.

I must be dreaming. Amaterasu is not real. Sachiko rubbed her eyes. But…she was here. The lady that was approaching her now…she was too beautiful to be an ordinary woman.

And the gentleman walking next to her, leisurely yet protectively: Sachiko-chan had never seen a man as striking as he was. Clearly, he was not Japanese. But his body language and firm steps resembled those of the samurai she had seen in movies. The ivory kimono and indigo hakama he wore enhanced the very image of a skilled samurai. He brought a long black wooden box that seemed to contain something very important.

"Little girl, may we ask you something?" the lady's warm greeting startled Sachiko. The lady's azure eyes mesmerized her. Bright azure eyes. So, she wasn't Japanese either. Unless she wore those magical contact lenses. Sachiko had learned about colorful contact lenses that could change the color of one's eyes just like that. One of her friend's distant aunties who lived in Kobe even had some.

Yet, the lady's eyes seemed so real. She was very enchanting anyway; Sachiko couldn't imagine why the lady would use artificial color to cover her lovely eyes.

"Did you use the correct Japanese?" the gentleman spoke. Sachiko didn't understand him. He must be speaking in another language. "She didn't seem to decipher your message."

"But, I did!" the lady turned to her friend, talking in similar language. "I used the proper Japanese."

The gentleman chuckled. Sachiko loved to hear him chuckling. "Ah, perhaps that's the mistake. We might need to use improper Japanese. What did you say again to her just now?" Again, Sachiko did not understand his words, but it seemed that the lady was a bit annoyed.

The fine lady rolled her eyes and said, "Little girl, may we ask you something?" in Japanese. Sachiko understood her clearly, but the lady did not seem to address her. Instead, she was addressing the gentleman, a bit defiantly.

"Yes, I can!" out of the blue, Sachiko heard herself blurting. "You can ask me!"

Both of her visitors turned to her in surprise.

"You can?" the gentleman asked her, in Japanese this time.

"I told you, I spoke properly," the lady smirked and spoke again in the previous foreign language, addressing Sachiko. "Little girl, we would like to ask directions."

"You want to meet a friend?" Sachiko blushed at her own boldness. Yet, she did not know the proper way of addressing a lady as beautiful as Amaterasu Omikami, who dressed in such a fine ivory silk kimono and marshmallow pink haori.

"Hai," this time, the gentleman answered her. He then squatted on the grass, maintaining the same eye level with her. Sachiko blinked again, couldn't maintain eye contact with the deep blue eyes of the visitor. Merciful Buddha. Was Hikaru Genji, the Shining Prince, this handsome?

"Little girl, we would like to find a friend. His name is Makoto. He is a swordsmith. Do you know him?"

His Japanese was simple, yet not unkind. Sachiko had the feeling that he could use more complex words, yet he opted not to. Good for him. She might not understand him in return.

"Makoto?" The foreign 'Hikaru Genji' nodded slightly. "I know Makoto! You want to see him?"

The gentleman chuckled. "He is my old friend. I want to pay him a visit."

Sachiko grinned excitedly. Makoto's place was right at the end of the lane.

"Come! I'll show you his place. It's not far! Come!"

She darted towards the end of the lane. As the ultimate kid sprinter of the village, she half expected the foreigners to encounter difficulties in following her. To her dismay, both of them tailed her very closely. Heh. Even the lady in the kimono!

Sachiko kept running, passing by a lotus pond, towards a small hut hidden beneath a thicket of pine trees. Yet, suddenly she screeched to a stop.

"Makoto-san!" she yelled at a figure crouching next to some shrubs, a small bamboo casket on his side.

"Sachiko-chan?" the figure, a man with a grayish beard, tilted his head. "Nani ka?"

"I bring you some friends!" Sachiko jogged towards the man, who shielded his eyes from the afternoon sun of Fujiyama and squinted to see his visitors. Suddenly, his wrinkled eyes widened in surprise.

"Bruce-san!"

"Konnichiwa, Makoto-san!" Bruce Wayne smiled widely and greeted him. "How's life been treating you?"

xxx

Makoto studied his friend intently. It had been more than ten years since he had seen Bruce Wayne last. It wasn't that they had lost contact afterwards. Occasionally, Bruce (or a gentleman named 'Alfred Pennyworth') contacted him, exchanging news and asking him to make specific Japanese weapons to be shipped later to the United States (with a very generous price offered by the customer). To his memory, the Bruce Wayne he had seen years ago had been a restless young man, eager to make things right, to fight the demons in his city of birth, to the point of dismissing his personal needs.

Now, Makoto still detected the same passion for justice within Bruce. Yet, somehow, his agitation and anxiety had reduced to a non-lethal level. Makoto suspected that the lady Bruce brought with him today played a significant role in making him more relaxed. He found himself form an instant fondness for the azure-eyed lady.

The lady, as Bruce had introduced them earlier, was called 'Diana'. Now, she was talking with the excited Sachiko about something Makoto could not follow. Must be a girl thing. Then, Makoto saw her took off a sky blue silk ribbon from her chignon and give it to Sachiko. Yeah. Definitely a girl thing.

"Arigato gozaimasu, Diana-san!" thrilled to have a new ribbon, Sachiko bowed deeply.

"Be careful when you're climbing the tree," Diana giggled. "You might lose the ribbon."

"Oh, but I won't! I won't be climbing trees anymore!" Sachiko had indeed just gone down a tree when she had met Bruce and Diana just now. "I will be very careful!"

"Yeah, right!" Makoto barked at the little girl. "Now, go! My friends and I have things to talk about. Not a thing for a little girl to hear!"

Sachiko stuck out her lower lip. "Whatever! I have got a new ribbon!"

She then bowed deeply to Bruce and (again) Diana, and darted out of sight.

Bruce shook his head. "What an active girl."

"You should see her when she's crying!" Makoto rolled his eyes. "You won't think you face the same girl."

"Your neighbor?" Diana's gaze still followed the little girl.

Makoto nodded. "Hai. Her mother died when she was five, leaving her with two little brothers and a father. Now she was the unofficial caretaker of her small family. Still, she had just the right spirit to move on."

"I see…" was Bruce's comment.

The bearded man turned to study his old friend again. "Bruce-san…she also receives the benefit of the generous funds you continuously supply me with. She's a bright student."

Diana arched her eyebrow, looking at Bruce. The man in question suddenly blushed, and turned away. She smiled. She was well versed with Bruce's philanthropic habit of disseminating education funds everywhere he could. She was not entirely taken by surprise to learn that this little Japanese village might be one of the receiving ends of the Wayne charity.

"Well, good to know that hope prevails," she heard him muttered.

Makoto smiled as well, wrinkling his already wrinkled eyes. Absentmindedly, he looked at the sky.

"Ah, we should go inside. It might rain soon."

"That would be nice," Diana followed suit. "We need the rain."

"Yes…indeed. It has been very humid, hasn't it?" Makoto walked next to her and switched to English. Surprisingly, his English was excellent. "And Diana-san…I have to say that your Japanese is very good."

To Bruce, the conversation between Makoto and Diana slowly faded away. He found himself walking alone a few steps behind. He did not mind, though. There were many times he was glad to walk alone, and this one was one of the times.

Bruce had known Makoto for more than fifteen years now. In fact, Makoto had been one of the first modern samurai he had encountered during his initial years in Japan. Back then, the young Bruce Wayne had come across many talented samurai, and learned a great many martial arts in the process. But only several of them had taken time to give the restless young man the true meaning of Bushido.

Makoto had been one of them. In addition to being a skilled samurai, Makoto had been an accomplished swordsmith. From him, Bruce had learned of several aspects of Bushido and The Way of the Sword. Forgiveness, included. Appropriate, because the swordsmith's name was literally translated as 'truth' or 'sincerity'.

Initially, Bruce had been reluctant to believe any of Makoto's advice. The Japanese samurai had been a swordsmith anyway, what right could he have to speak of forgiveness?

"Ah, but that is your mistake, Bruce-san," the swordsmith had argued. "You think that the greatest victory of a warrior is when he defeats his enemies. Yet, the true victory of any warrior would be when he could defeat his enemies without even drawing his sword."

The young Bruce had opened his mouth for counter argument to no avail.

"The greatest victory of a warrior –" Makoto had resumed. " – is when he could befriend his enemies without leaving his virtues behind."

Bruce had been stunned. "Then…why do you make swords?"

The swordsmith had smiled. "To remind myself that in order to achieve peace, my mind should be focused and sharp. And that I have to be flexible, able to adapt to any situation. Why do you think then, katana is made slightly curved? And that one edge is sharp, the other one is dull?"

Despite his initial reluctance even just to listen to Makoto's words, the message had been imprinted into the mind of the young Wayne. Years later, his acquaintance with the simple swordsmith had helped him form his own code of conduct as the Batman. That is, he would choose to save everyone's life, even his enemies', as long as he could. And so far, he had not crossed the line.

xxx

"Bruce-san!"

Jolted from his thoughts, Bruce tilted his head to see that Makoto had escorted Diana into his workshop. Quickly, Bruce entered Makoto's small compound, without losing the opportunity of observing the surroundings.

Makoto's compound was a simple assemblage of a wooden house and a warehouse functioning as a small weapon factory, with a small water fountain and thickets of bamboo on the compound's small yard. Inside his sandalwood-scented warehouse, the swordsmith had seated figurines of Hachiman (Shinto God of War and divine protector of Japan) and Kuan Kong (Ancient Chinese God of War) next to Buddha and Kannon (Japanese Goddess of Mercy). Both Diana and Bruce found the contrasting deities very interesting.

From Bruce, Diana had learned that Makoto had not been an ordinary swordsmith. He screened out many sword-making orders into a limited numbers of orders per year, for a very limited circle of friends. He held the philosophy of many traditional swordsmiths, that sword making was a sacred ritual, and should be treated as such. As it was an art and a sacred ritual, it took him almost six months to make just a perfect katana tailored suit for his customer's need.

"So, you were the expert behind Bruce's great swords?" Entering the swordsmith's workshop, Diana resumed her conversation with Makoto.

Placing the rattan casket on a small table, the old swordsmith smiled. "Hardly an expert, Diana-san. I just happened to love the art of sword making." The swordsmith glanced at the long wooden box Bruce carried. He smiled. "I take it that you need it sharpened, Bruce-san?"

"Hai." Bruce bowed and put his sword box on the main work table. Upon his gesture, Makoto slowly slid open the box, revealing a pair of bat-patterned katana and wakizashi.

"I am pleased that you take care of them well," the old swordsmith took the black katana and hefted it. "It is still in good condition. You didn't forget to apply clove oil on their blades. Good…good. It seems that…" he drew the sword from its scabbard and noticed several markings. " – you have just used it?"

Bruce nodded. "Yes. And the wakizashi as well." Last night, actually. Very interesting fights.

"I assume you would not linger for a long time in this place. You have to leave it with me to finish it."

"That is understandable. Shall I leave you a check now? Or would you still prefer the regular procedure?"

Makoto put down the katana respectfully and waved his hand leisurely. "You won't need to do that now. The regular procedure will do." Meaning that Bruce would transfer the (usually generous) payment to Makoto's account, in which the swordsmith rarely withdrew from anyway. The swordsmith disliked handling cash. He almost had everything he needed for his hermit life in the village.

"Excellent," Bruce agreed. "Because I need to ask your favor to make yet another pair of swords."

The swordsmith arched his thick gray eyebrow. "Is that so? You still need another pair?" He then glanced at Diana, who had been silently yet fascinatingly following their conversation. "Or…would the swords be made for the lady?"

Diana lifted her delicate eyebrow. She had not said a word of her being a warrior. Yet, Makoto had guessed correctly that the sword order was for her. Mentally, she checked if her silver vambraces were too obvious to see from behind her sleeves.

She heard the old man laugh quietly. "It is not hard to guess, Diana-san. Your gait, though graceful, is clearly a warrior's. Steady and sure, yet serene at the same time. I assume you do quite a bit of meditation?"

"Yes," she confirmed. Suddenly, the Japanese swordsmith reminded her of dear Io, her smith sister back in Paradise Island. Io would love to have a chat with him.

"Pardon me asking, Sir," she resumed. "Is it true that katana making is a long process? Not that I am impatient or so. It's just curiosity."

"And a very natural one, I should say." Makoto hefted Bruce's wakizashi and smiled in satisfaction. "You see, we Japanese consider swords as our souls. Each katana, for instance, was made with careful considerations, suited for the characteristic and ability of the intended samurai. Ancient samurais were even easily provoked if someone touched their swords without their consent. It was truly a sacred extension of the soul itself that made Japanese swords, katana especially, such a private entity for warriors."

"Hence, your asking approval from Bruce to examine his weapons," Diana concluded. "Even though you were his swordsmith."

"Exactly," Makoto seemed to be pleased with her comprehension. He made several slashing and stabbing movements with Bruce's wakizashi. "Katana sharpening and polishing are complicated processes, as the swordsmith should take extra care not to taint the pattern of the blade. Among many other things."

"That is why he asked me to leave my swords with him," addressing Diana, Bruce joined the conversation. "He needs to sharpen and polish my soul, and it will take a considerable time."

Inexplicably, she almost cast a seducing leer to hear his confession. Yet, in a split second she was able to change her mood and nodded formally instead.

"As for the order for your swords –" Makoto returned the wakizashi to its box reverently. "I assume you want a pair of katana and wakizashi?"

"Hai." Despite her already sophisticated collection of armaments, the thought of having a pair of Japanese weapons thrilled her.

"What complexion would you prefer?"

She did not grasp his meaning. "Er…complexion?"

"The complexion of my swords is black," Bruce helped her. "They were made with higher composite of martensite instead of pearlite; more carbon to make them harder. Somehow, Makoto-san had managed to produce black complexion. It suited…my mission."

Now, she understood. She assumed that Makoto did not know Bruce's true nocturnal activities. Instead, the swordsmith might assume that Bruce was actively involved in legal vigilante processes to safeguard his city. Makoto's choice of dark complexion of the swords somehow suited Batman's mission.

"Uh…I would say…not black?" she smiled apologetically.

"Silver complexion might suit her," Bruce deduced. "Silver of the moon, to shed a bit light to the darkness of the night." Very appropriate. He tilted his head at her and received her bright beam upon his exact consideration.

The subtle exchange did not escape Makoto's sharp eyes. He smiled knowingly. "And the mon for the tsuka and tsuba? Would you…use the bat family crest?" Nihonto, or Japanese swords, are customarily adorned with a specific mon or family crest on the tsuka (hilt) and tsuba (sword guard).

Smiling, Bruce shook his head. "I would say she prefers eagle."

Diana arched her eyebrow again. "You've thought it all over, haven't you?"

"Tactical move," he cast his irresistible leer and produced a piece of paper from his hakama. He gave the swordsmith the paper. "I drew some sketches of an eagle mon. But I am sure that Makoto-san has better designs in his mind."

The old swordsmith studied the sketch intently. After a moment of hesitation, Diana peeped as well. Those were indeed elaborate choices of eagle mon, drawn in Japanese strokes.

"Beautiful, Bruce-san," after a while, Makoto placed the note on the table. "I also have some in mind. I think we can combine our ideas to suit the lady's need."

Diana bowed. "Domo arigato, Makoto-san." She resumed. "I believe that there is more in katana than meets the eye."

The old swordsmith smiled briefly. "Once, during the early shogun days, a great warrior named Yagyu Muneyori presented a single stem of chrysanthemum to several samurai. Only a ronin named Miyamoto Musashi realized the magnitude of Yagyu's swordsmanship just by observing the flower."

She blinked, unable to catch the message.

"Musashi's keen observation had made him realize that the stem of such a delicate flower like chrysanthemum can only be cleanly cut in such precision and angle with a sharp weapon, administered by a very skillful swordsman. He was very interested then to challenge the old Yagyu." Makoto studied Bruce and Diana alternately. "Yagyu Muneyori had wielded his knife and used it to cut the flower off with ultimate accuracy."

"What an amazing warrior, Muneyori-san was," Diana said admirably.

Makoto nodded in agreement. "He said that swordsmanship was not an art of killing people. Instead, it was the art of exploring one's own personality and re-discovering one's inner self. That ultimately, the sword and the samurai would melt into one nothingness. Swordsmanship…is the Life itself."

Once again, with Bruce's permission, Makoto took out the black bat katana and withdrew it from its saya (scabbard). The intermittent afternoon sun peeking through the workshop's lattice windows reflected ethereal light upon the dark blade's hamon, the distinctive artistic pattern and the signature of the swordsmith adjusted for the warrior's need.

"Katana is mainly a cutting weapon," explained the old swordsmith. "It is not designed to stab; you would use wakizashi or tanto, the dagger, for that." Diana nodded. She had seen the Batman, the Dark Samurai, in his splendor action with both his katana and wakizashi. Makoto resumed, "Katana existed to fill the need of a sharp cutting weapon that was resilient enough to survive battles."

Makoto swung the katana several times. "It is the perfect embodiment of natural balance. Yin and yang, borrowing the Chinese terminology. The soft and the hard. The feminine and the masculine."

She tilted her head in heightened interest. "How so?"

Without waver his gaze upon the sword, Makoto resumed his explanation. "Katana is only sharp in one edge. The other edge is dull. It is also curvilinear, instead of straight double-edge swords of the European style."

Bruce smirked, remembering one of the most important rhetoric questions Makoto had asked him during their first meeting, years ago. He remained still, folding his hands, watching his lover discussing the sword with his teacher.

And Diana replied, "I have been wondering why myself."

"Flexibility," the old swordsman swung the katana again. "Japanese swords were originated from Korea and China. Originally, the swords were straight and double-edged, the way most swords are. Then, around the 8th century, as the art of mounting horses and the annoying habit of war escalated, ancient samurai need to adjust the weapon to be as light as possible, yet still maintain its agility in cavalry combat. Also, now and then, a samurai would find a situation where his own sword was shoved against his neck. The said person would bade farewell to this world had he used a double edged sword. The single sharp edge of katana had protected many lives."

"Is that the sole reason for the single edge?" Diana further inquired.

Makoto smiled. "The ancient Japanese lacked of iron ore to make large quantity of swords. They had to manipulate their iron resources to its maximum capacity. They experienced and improvised. That's when yin yang eventually entered. To achieve maximum strength, katana should be made from hagane, hard steel. Yet, it has its flaw: its very own rigidity would make the sword brittle. To preserve the sword, flexibility is required. Hence, the use of shigane, soft steel, for resilience." He paused to let the message sink. "Hagane for the sharp edge, shigane for the dull core. Both have their own tactical functions as well as spiritual reminder."

A flash of awareness dawned on Diana's eyes. "Firm actions based on compassion."

Makoto showed her Bruce's katana. "Hamon, or the artistic pattern you see here, is the result of the union of hard and soft types of steel. The epitome of katana as a balance of yin and yang; embodied in a hard yet flexible sword." Respectfully, he traced a certain wavy region on the blade. "Habuchi is the transition region between hard and soft."

"The gray areas," Diana commented.

The old swordsmith smiled, adding more wrinkles on his eyes. "Which sometimes is needed in life." Reverently, he sheathed Bruce's katana into its scabbard and returned it to the box.

"Depends on the magnitude of the situation," she argued. "I would still say not all gray compromises are useful."

"As in?" this time, Bruce was the one to ask.

Diana pursed her lips. "I just think that there are several situations where you need to take firm actions to solve the problem. Though, it would never be my priority."

"What is the example?" Slowly closing the box lid, Makoto asked in heightened interest.

"Many of ancient Japanese samurai chose to eradicate their enemies, did they not?" Diana inquired. Makoto nodded to confirm. "Though I disagree with random killing, there are some circumstances where killing might be the most appropriate solution to end the problem. And I said 'appropriate', not 'best'."

"As in killing Suijiro," Bruce snorted. He and Diana had been in a heated discussion of whether or not Suijiro's life was worth preserving. Diana had stated that she would not kill Suijiro, unless it had been an unavoidable act of self defense. Bruce had been standing on his opinion that Masahiro's choice had been appropriate.

"You're talking about the downfall of the Godfather of Iwamura clan?" Makoto inquired. He had heard of the event in Ginza Park from the radio. It had been quite stunning news.

"Yes. We were…in the vicinity last night," Diana tried to explain. "I admire old Masahiro's choice of not killing Suijiro and left his son's fate to the court. Yet, if I was in the situation, and my circumstances would only allow me lethal self defense, I would choose to terminate Suijiro."

"Understandable," Makoto's comment surprised Bruce.

"I thought you do not kill?" he inquired of his teacher.

"I do not," the swordsmith folded his hands and faced his old student. "Yet, as Diana-san stated, there would be – and surely you would realize this by now – many situations where self defense required killing."

"That I understand," Bruce replied. "But I will not make that a priority. I would still try to find a way out."

"I would too, Bruce," Diana intercepted. "Don't get me wrong. I don't fancy killing. But if there is a situation that required me to do that, I'm ready to take such course of action. And I would do that with no hatred in my heart towards the person. I simply just do what should be done."

"Speaking like a true warrior," Makoto smiled. "And you, Bruce-san, is firmly standing on your non-lethal vigilante point of view."

Bruce sighed. He had known Diana's (or rather, Wonder Woman's) standing position on this matter a long time before they had been intimate. A part of him wondered why he had hoped that she would change her opinion. Perhaps, because I want her to be like me. Yet, in a split second, another thought came to him. Do I really want her to be like me?

"An interesting discourse," the old swordsmith resumed, seemingly unaffected by the heated arguments of the two lovers in front of him. Instead, he rather enjoyed himself in the situation. "With all due respect, I might not need to remind you two that agreement to disagree is also a part of mutual communication and understanding?"

Bruce grunted to realize the truth in Makoto's words. Diana nodded slowly. Then she smiled and muttered, more to herself. "We should have this conversation again, Bruce. But later. Not now."

"So it seems," Bruce growled.

Makoto chuckled. "With all her differences, she is indeed a pearl of wisdom, Bruce-san. Are you aware of her importance in your life?"

Diana arched her eyebrow. Yet, despite their very infrequent meetings, apparently Bruce was used to blatant exchanges with Makoto. To her surprise, the man in question tilted his head to her and smirked. "Yes, Makoto-san. I am keenly aware of her presence."

Makoto expelled a chortle. "Good. Very good! I shall make her beautiful swords to pair yours. In the meantime –" he strode towards a small wooden chest and opened it. He took out a set of weapons, each carefully wrapped in silk clothes, and placed them on the table.

"More than a month ago, I suddenly had an inspiration to make these. Now I think it would suit you, Diana-san." He unwrap the long weapon to reveal an exotic black bokken, wooden sword, inside. "Taken from sustainable African ebony plantation. Pretty good endurance, I should say."

Diana gasped to see the elegant jet black weapon. She could even detect excitement in Bruce's eyes.

"You have a bokken already, Bruce-san," Makoto smiled teasingly. "This is for her. Also this." He unwrap the other weapon to expose a gorgeous silver-complexioned tanto, small Japanese dagger.

"Black and white. Yin and yang. For her," he bowed and gave both weapons to Diana. " – to guard you, Bruce-san." Bruce smirked again.

"They're for me?" she bowed back and felt the excitement of a girl receiving two beautiful dolls at once. "Oh my…How much, if I may know?"

He chuckled. "For free. It's a gift."

"But Sir –"

"Diana-san," he interrupted gently. "I'm sure that your lover here would transfer me a generous amount of money anyway for polishing his swords and making you new ones. Giving you these weapons would surely compensate it?"

Realizing that he was speaking of raw facts, she conceded and smiled. She planned to transfer some money to Bruce later for these weapons. The three of them spent another half an hour surveying and give comments (or rather, praise) on Makoto's collection of ethereal scabbards.

Thunders already raged by the time Bruce and Diana bade the swordsmith farewell.

"Where do you stay? Do you carry umbrellas?" Despite his single life, Makoto always found himself attracted and compelled to bless certain couples. Including this one, the yin and yang couple. "It will rain soon, you'll get wet."

"In Zen Lotus Garden," Bruce answered. It was a lush compound of private bungalows, in a touristy village, one and a half hours slow drive from Makoto's rustic village.

"Ah. Then, I assume you bring car?"

"Sort of. We parked it on the outskirt of the village." Bruce didn't explain that the Batwing was theirs means of transportation.

If he was confused with Bruce's cryptic answer, Makoto did not show it. Instead, he smiled again and waved peacefully as the couple strolled back down the lane. The swordsmith looked at the cloudy sky. Just as well. It was time to cook the shiitake and various mushrooms he had collected just now. Sachiko and her friends would come for dinner to his house, and shiitake was a delicacy for them. Despite the possible rain, he still hoped that the children would come to accompany him.

xxx

The wind and rain was in full force by the time Diana and Bruce reached the door of their private bungalow. They had run through the green pathways of the small resort, greeted by some resort caretakers who had expressed their concerns over the soaking condition of their guests.

Diana opened the door and entered the peaceful ambience of their chalet. The fragrant scent of jin-koh, agarwood, filled the air. She took off her sandals and socks and stepped gingerly over the bamboo tatami mat. Behind her, Bruce followed suit, water dripping from his wet hakama.

She seriously considered taking off her wet clothes and having a hot shower when she cast a glance at a small table where a set of tea cups and tea pot was served. "Would you like some tea?"

Shaking his wet head, he smiled, his eyes twinkled in amusement to see the wet figure of an Amazon Princess in a complete traditional Japanese clothing.

"...coffee?"

Another decline. This time, he gazed into her eyes with such depth of intensity, it made her literally tremble upon receiving that look.

She licked her suddenly dried lips.

"...or...me?"

No smile at all. Instead, he looked at her with the hunger of a predator upon locating his target.

"You." His voice was harsh.

She parted her now wet cherry lips. He took her in his embrace and kissed her, feeling her heat from within, mixed with the dampness of their physical conditions. She sighed in ecstasy. Both of his hands slowly lowered her haori, revealing her plastered ivory kimono. He tossed her wet haori away. He had to admit that the mixture of the scent of rain and her body on the kimono was overwhelming.

He touched a small part of her silk nagajuban, her underkimono, and felt her warrior body shudder upon his touch. He took out his hands to see her frustrated gaze. Smiling again, he brought his hands to her back, to undo her obi-jime cord that securely held her obi sash. There were hundreds of stylized bows to tie an obi-jime, and he was grateful that Diana's knot was a fairly simple one. It made his job of untying the obi-jime much easier.

After undoing the cord, he slowly pulled away the obi sash. He also took extra time to get rid of obi-ita (obi stay), obi makura pad, which supported the sash and maintained the kimono to be in straight line, and datejime (undersash). Heh. She does need my help! Yet, he resumed undressing her in no haste at all. In such times like this, he enjoyed watching her suffering.

Next was to remove the kimono itself. Slowly, with one hand supporting her back, he slid the kimono away. It was a beautiful ivory silk kimono, with embroidered colorful koi fishes at the lower hem. Prior to departing to Makoto's village, he had taken her to Eiga this morning to buy the whole set of kimono and haori for her. He had watched the shop assistants (who no doubt had heard of Suijiro's capture) helping her with various kimonos. She had chosen the ivory one, plus an extra black silk kimono with embroidered silver moon and a golden dragon at the hem. Upon learning that their guests would head to Fujiyama, one of the shop assistants had handed her a sakura-patterned pink haori for her outer jacket to protect her from the chilly air. Needless to say, once he had seen her in the full set of kimono, he had not been able to avert his gaze upon her.

Very gorgeous, indeed. But now, their duties are over.

He dropped the kimono on the floor and scrutinized her. Now, her quivering body was draped in a full-length silk nagajuban and two more layers of underclothing. Those will be out of duty soon. Diana's body was shaking, her eyes were pleading, hardly able to maintain the effects of his torturing touches. Despite the rain outside, she felt her body under intolerable heat.

He cast his voracious smile again. "Princess…" She looked at him hopelessly. "Do you know an ancient story of a dragon and the communion with his primeval cave?"

"No," she shuddered under his intense gaze. Hera! I hate him when he does that to me.

Another leer. "Would you like to know about it?"

"Can you tell me?" she whispered.

He did not answer. Instead, he grabbed her shoulders and lowered her gently to the tatami floor. Then he murmured huskily, "I will not tell you, Princess. I will show you."

Outside, the wind blew harder, accompanying the crying sky. The wind was so hard; it put out candle lights inside the bungalow. Soon, the shadows of two lovers in their primordial and spiritual communion fade away into the darkness.

-FIN-

Author's note:

Finally, the end! Well, not really. I have the more detailed version of Bruce and Diana's date tonight, but I can't show it here because I have to abide by the current rating. Should any of you want to read the more detailed version, just email me, and I will send you the whole story (with the increased rating).

Sorry for taking so bloody long to finish the story; I have many things in between happening. Now, I can go and finish the next story-arc, Return of My Sister.

Knowledge about the complicated kimono clothing is mostly derived from Takashi Matsuoka's 'Cloud of Sparrows' (2002). A very excellent book any Zen and Samurai addicted should read, I should say. Information about nihonto is also extracted from Matsuoka's book and other sources. Most notably was the 'Revised Proceedings of the Seminar on Japanese Swords' edited by Nicholas Taylor of the University of Cambridge' (2005).