Disclaimer: I do not own Jubei-chan, nor Jubei-chan 2. Or any of their characters, for that matter.
It was nothing, really. Just simple habit.
It had started because his daily rounds happened to finish at Jubei's house, it being all the way on the outskirts of town and all. She had chanced to see him passing by, and her being her, she had given him a sunny smile and invited him in for some tea and cookies.
One thing led to another, and before he knew it, he was there for tea every single day.
Not that that was his fault. After all, it wasn't as though he had had a hand in their house being the furthest from the post office… (Of course, he rushed madly through the rest of his rounds every day, but that was merely because he really, really liked cookies. Honest!)
She, too, had grown accustomed to him dropping by every day, and with her usual unflappable adaptability, she simply readied a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits in wait of him. When he'd expressed his apologies for constantly imposing on her, she'd given him her trademark smile and pointed out with her typical, infallible logic that it was easier to bake large batches of cookies, and that if he didn't help out with their eating, she'd either waste a ton of cookies, or lots of effort.
What she didn't tell him was that the other reason was it filled up, just a little, the empty hollow Koinosuke had left in her life after he had disappeared.
He knew, of course. He'd seen her finger, so very wistfully and tenderly, the red whistle that the bumbling samurai had given her… once too many times.
It twisted something inside him whenever he saw that look on her face. Frustration. Anger. A little disappointment. A very, very small twinge of happiness.
When he saw that look, he felt like strangling the idiot samurai. Many times over, and extremely slowly. Even considered at great length the ways in which he might cause the most suffering to him… which was moot, since the moron was already somewhere above the fluffy clouds, enjoying life (or perhaps death), with his master.
Then the next second, she would wipe that introspective, faraway gaze away and smile at him. And he would kick himself for getting worked up over nothing. What was it to him if she went all lovesick over that damn samurai?
Why was he so frustrated over the fact that he did care?
And why was it that he felt euphoric over the idea that possibly, just possibly, the tea-times they shared were an indication that she had chosen him to help her fill the void in her heart?
They had grown closer; he could not deny that. The first time he had sat at the same table with her - he smiled wryly at the memory – his nerves had been strung so tight that his grip virtually powderized every cookie he picked up. She had watched him with fascination, as he attempted futilely to pick one up without crushing it into fine crumbs. He stole a glance at her; her mouth quirked at the sides, as though she was trying to hold back laughter.
Flushing, he had bent all his concentration on the next cookie. Carefully, he drew it off the plate... only to have it drop back down as he leapt a foot into the air when she poked his sides from behind him. He twisted around to face her, with every intention of favouring her with a glare, until he saw her smiling remorselessly at him.
Strange how such a small thing could knock the irritation out of him so easily. He found himself grinning uncertainly back at her, knowing full well he looked a little goofy, yet unable to stop himself.
Then it had happened. She laughed, a merry warm sound, one which made his chest constrict not unpleasantly, squeezing the breath out of him; one that made him feel that for the sake of that laughter, he would willingly play the fool again for her.
Or maybe he already was one.
Jubei's father watched over their blossoming… friendship with a hawk eye. But he never intruded, always finding some reason to take himself out on an errand whenever he came. Not that that made him relax any. It's kind of hard to relax when your friend's father makes it a point to glare threateningly in your direction before leaving said friend and yourself alone in the house. Besides, there was still Ayunosuke to contend with.
The little ex-ninja definitely didn't approve of him coming anywhere close to her (god, that was one hell of a shock) beloved Jubei-sama. Jubei, upon finding out that the 300-year-old child was in reality a girl, insisted upon buying her feminine dresses and hair ties and all those things that females tend to wear upon their persons. Then, she quite literally tore down the doghouse Koinosuke had built for himself and ordered Ayunosuke to live in her house. After which she took every opportunity to instruct the kid in proper, girly behaviour.
Which also included how to eat tidily.
Which meant tea-times were spent not only with Jubei, but with Ayunosuke, as well.
Hence, every tea-time, the odd trio could be found in her house, eating biscuits. With Ayunosuke looking downright uncomfortable in her new finery, but still managing to eat her biscuits AND look unwaveringly at him.
And he still braved both her father's and little adopted sister's glares every day, just so he could sit at the same table to have tea with her.
Yup, the fool index was definitely rising.
Like today, when he'd come a little earlier and found Jubei stirring up the cookie dough. She'd given him a surprised look, and then gestured towards the kitchen table. Obediently, he sat, and whiled the time away by fidgeting restlessly, and trying to stare at anything but her. And of course, failing miserably. And then getting death-stared at by Ayunosuke.
When they had finished their tea, and he stood up to leave, she had asked him to stay for a little longer. He had felt ridiculously pleased by that; even if it was just to give her time to pack cookies for Utaemon.
And like now.
"Dammit, those are MINE! Give them back!"
"No, they're not. Didn't Jubei-sama say that they were meant for me?"
"Now, now, bocchama… Don't get hasty…"
"Oh, come on. You won't deprive your loyal keeper, will you? One cookie, a couple, a boxful… what's it matter?"
"Ah, fine. Take your cookies. Che."
Which didn't stop the bearskin-clad man from making off with a few of them, of course.
"Hmm. Jubei-sama is unexpectedly talented in the handling of domestic affairs, isn't she?" Utaemon grinned slyly. "She'll make someone a good wife someday."
He replied shortly, "It's too early for her to think of being in a relationship." He turned his back on the older man and continued eating.
"On the contrary, I'm surprised that she hasn't even found herself a boyfriend yet."
Utaemon sounded so serious that he turned back in curiosity.
His keeper continued, "She's cute, intelligent, kind, good at cooking, and she has an… ah… ample chest. What's to fault?"
He turned back to his biscuits, scowling. "Just because she's slightly cute doesn't mean that she has men falling at her feet." He bit the cookie harder than was necessary.
He chose not to reply. Thankfully, his retainer held his peace as well, although he could feel Utaemon's contemplative gaze on his back.
Finishing the last piece, he stood up. "I'm going out for a spin."
"As you wish, bocchama."
It wasn't as though he could tell Utaemon that the main reason why she didn't have a boyfriend yet – or at least he THOUGHT it was the main reason – was that she still… loved Koinosuke. He wasn't really a romantic, but he supposed that such a lingering attachment to someone long dead could only be termed as love.
He hit a small bump in the road and cursed savagely.
Why did that revelation bother him so much?
Why did it bother him at all?
Then he rounded a bend and came to a skidding halt. A figure shrouded in the night mist was standing on the cliff next to the road; the very same cliff off which Jubei and himself had fallen off a few years back, after fighting Freasha. It was hard to tell, what with the darkness and the light fog and all, but somehow, he felt certain…
The figure brought her hand up to her mouth and held it there for a few long seconds. Then she waited.
When nothing happened, she half-lifted her hand, then let it fall back to her side. And he suddenly knew with utmost conviction what she was doing.
Normally, confronted with such a situation, he would have slipped discreetly away, and never mentioned it to anyone. Today, however, had not been normal.
A kind of anger and despair combined erupted from deep inside him, and he jolted off his bike. Striding over to her with a few long steps, he placed his hands on her shoulders and riveted her around to face him.
It was dramatic, yes. He could almost believe that it had been destined to be, non-romantic that he was. Be it as it was, the moon chose to break out from behind the clouds at that precise moment, illuminating the darkness and setting the mist aglow. And the tiny tears at the corners of her wide eyes sparkled in the moonlight.
At the sight of those tears, all the hot words that he had been intending to blast her with faded, and his mouth worked soundlessly for a few seconds. Then he shut it with a snap.
She simply looked confusedly at him.
"On the grass, Jubei."
She complied, mystified.
"Give me the whistle."
"Just give it to me."
He looked, frustrated, at her. "Do you really want to be bound all your life to a spirit? He won't come back. No matter how hard you blow, no matter how long you wait, he won't come back! Don't you understand?"
He stepped back. "Sorry."
A whispered, "…I know."
Then, stronger, "I know."
She looked up at him, and he saw in the faint moonlight that her face was set in that determined expression that he knew so well.
"But I… this is the only thing I have left of him. Of a man who was in my life for so short a time, but left so deep a mark on me." Her fingers tightened around the bamboo whistle. Then she smiled at it, so sadly, like the glow of a dimming lantern.
"Pathetic, aren't I?"
He couldn't think of an answer to that, so he simply remained silent, not daring to look directly at her.
A soft sob.
He risked looking at her from the corner of his good eye.
She was holding the whistle to her forehead, her hands obscuring her eyes, even as tears fell from them.
He almost reached out for her then, but caught himself in time. He ached with the wish to hold her and make her world right again. For her. And with that stunning emotion came another astonishing realization; that he, Yagyuu Kitafuro, was in love too. With Jubei.
With the girl crying for another man, in front of him.
He closed his good eye in pain.
Was love supposed to be like this? Soul-shattering with its understanding?
The sobs had died down to an occasional hiccup. He looked down at her again, and hesitated, before sitting down next to her.
He didn't say anything. Couldn't say anything. Simply… sat close to her.
She didn't say anything either. Still clasping the whistle to her face, she curled up into a small ball, her legs drawn up to her chest.
Strange how the mere presence of another can be a balm for a wounded heart.
When morning dawned, it found two figures leaning against each other on a grassy cliff holding hands, fast asleep.
"Are you sure about this?"
She nodded, not bothering to look up. She dug a small, deep hole in the ground, next to Yagyuu Jubei's grave. Reverently, carefully, she placed the wooden box containing the red bamboo whistle in it, before filling in the hole with the dirt and packing it down lightly.
"Koinosuke-san… doesn't have a grave."
"He wandered the earth for three hundred years, and now when he can finally rest, he doesn't even have a grave."
He passed her the roughly carven tombstone.
She knelt again, and planted the tombstone securely in the ground. She remained kneeling this time, her hand resting lightly on the freshly turned soil.
"And right now, I'm the one who's binding him the most. Because I refused to admit that he would never return…"
She bounced to her feet and turned. She smiled, a little shakily. "That's why it'll be fine."
Kitafuro lifted his hand, then patted her head clumsily. "Yeah." Then he grinned back, slightly embarrassed.
And they left the graveyard together.
Authoress's notes: Well now. This fic basically just wrote itself. OO; And what a darn good feeling it was too. XD
Wrote this while listening to Nagi Peace of Mind (set on replay many, many, many times… heck, I love that song), so the whole thing turned out sort of angsty. Were the characters terribly OOC?
And I'm pretty sure I have grammar mistakes/awkward phrasing in there too. I didn't really proof read it, as I normally do… looks guilty Spell check is god's boon to lazy fanfic writers!
I love the Jiyu/Kitafuro pairing, and I'm not entirely sure why I haven't seen any fanfics about it. :o So this is my own little contribution to the Jubei-chan fanfiction community! And is it possible to add extra br tags to the story? I'm having trouble formatting it so that it'll look just right. The VAs look sort of cramped, don't they?
Oh, and do hit the review button on your way out? Pretty please?