Disclaimer: Don't own, and won't own unless the sell they franchise for five bucks and a stick of gum. In the mean time, I'm just borrowing for my own amusement.
Spoilers: The whole series.
Pairings: slight Katsushiro/Kirara and Kirara/Kambei.
Summary: After five years of absence, a samurai returns to the village he once protected. Slight Katsushiro/Kirara.
Notes: After watching that last episode, my imagination started going crazy with reunion scenarios. This one particularly begged to come out, so I wrote it. It deals mostly with Kirara and the feelings of guilt I think she has (after that goodbye scene…you know she feels responsible).
She drew the cloak closer around her. The wind was unforgiving tonight, slapping her cheeks and nose until they turned red in protest. Go back inside, rest, her body told her, shaking against the cold, wander when winter has left.
But she could not obey. She had been roused from her sleep unexpectedly, stomach lurching with a familiar sensation she now felt only in dreams. Lying awake, she had tried to quell the sudden anxiousness that rose within her. It was just her imagination, her subconscious playing a trick on her using a distant echo of the past and the seven men who created her future.
But she had not been dreaming that night, and the feeling had only grown stronger as the minutes passed. She could not ignore her instincts.
So instead, she ignored the cold, ignored her bare feet, and ran through the path of dirt and old snow that led to where her intuition told her to go. The white banner waved violently into her sight as she progressed further up the hill. It had been a while since the flag had been so lively.
It made her heart beat faster, her legs run faster. Had one of them truly returned?
The three surviving samurai had parted ways with Kanna village at the beginning of the rice harvest five years ago. One had bid her a bittersweet good bye. She'd cried as the gentle boy still smiled at her with such fondness, despite the fact that he'd been drenched in blood for partly her sake. Perhaps for only her sake. She'd sworn to protect him, but hadn't been able to keep that promise. Emotions of hate, love, anger, sorrow, and guilt churned within her stomach with each word he spoke. She accepted that torment willingly, though, as her punishment for all the ways in which she'd wronged him.
The last two had disappeared without a good bye at all. And much to her surprise, there had been no conflicting emotions when she'd heard of the departure. She'd come to terms with her feelings, and his, as best she could. There was still a deep fondness in her heart whenever she thought of Shichiroji and Shimada Kambei, more so for one than the other, but she didn't dwell on it. It was better that she kept those feelings latent within herself.
She slowed as the ground began to level, weaving through the trees that preceded the grave markers. The wooded area thinned into the clearing and she stopped abruptly, breath hitching in her throat.
She was right. One of them had returned. And the one it was…she pressed her hands to her stomach, wondering what those feelings than had laid dormant all these years would do now.
He was there, kneeling, bowing in front of the planted swords, the smell of battle rolling off him in torrents. The dirty white of his robes rippled, and his long hair whipped around him freely. He ignored the disturbances, concentrating on his prayer, one hand pressed to the ground, the other resting lightly on the black and silver hilt of his blade.
The memory rushed forward: the exchange, from one samurai to another, in this very spot five years prior. That sword was this one.
It became clearer to her as he stood and the moonlight caught his form. He had definitely grown is stature, enough so to almost fool her. But the set of his shoulders was not as broad, and his frame was leaner. The hair was loose, yes, but shades darker. She was not looking at the master. She was looking at the apprentice.
He turned his face slightly as she spoke, but there was no surprise in his eyes. He had already sensed her presence, she realized.
"Kirara-dono. I did not think anyone would be out here at this time."
"Katsushirou-sama…" she started again, a little louder. Words after that failed her; she wasn't sure what to say as her stomach began to churn.
He turned to face her fully, setting his lips into a relaxed, but unsmiling line. "You should not be out here like this, you may fall ill."
Her eyebrows drew together in confusion. Was that the most appropriate greeting after years of absence? "I…I sensed that someone had come."
"Is that so?" His expression remained impassive, but his voice was thick. "You truly are a water priestess," he said as he took a few steps forward. "I'm sorry to have troubled you. Please return to your home."
As he walked towards her, she clutched her cloak closer to her chest, shivering involuntarily with each step he took. She wanted to move, too, though whether towards him or away from him, she wasn't sure. It didn't matter, since her feet seemed rooted in place as he walked closer, closer…
…then past her. She brought her head up quickly when his footsteps continued, giving no indication that he was planning to stop. Spinning hard on her heels, she faced his back. Her shawl bellowed forward, as if reaching for his retreating form. Is this it? Is this all he came for? After everything they'd all been through together, it didn't seem right. There were so many things she wanted to know, so many things she wanted to tell him, and all he was doing was walking away.
She found her voice again, calling out loudly, "You can't leave!"
He stopped, but said nothing. She felt obligated to explain herself. "We haven't seen you in so long, everyone would…" she swallowed, feeling rather tense with this unfamiliar aura around him. "We still talk about you, all of you. The children, those who've been born since, they know everything of what happened. They even help with tending to the graves site."
He startled her when he spoke, but she recovered quickly. "Elder…our new elder says that it's important that they understand. They'd love to meet you, I know. They call you Katsunoji," she added with a hint of humor in her tone, "because Komachi insists on calling you that still, no matter how much I ask her to be more polite."
"Is that so," he said, but there was no conviction behind the words.
She hesitated again at his lack of response, before continuing on a different track. "And…you too. Where you are, what you do. I…we never know. What has life been like for you since we last saw you?" Are you happy? Do you think about us too? Do you regret ever saving that barrel of rice from that thief? Her stomach rolled.
His back still faced her, but this time he turned his head slightly. "I fight when necessary, and go where protection is needed. I live life as a samurai should. I live…"
She waited, but he didn't continue; he hadn't meant to.
"Good. I'm glad. It's what you've always wanted."
She felt that perhaps she had no right to say that to him, when instead of responding to her, he said, "I should go." He moved to leave again.
She wanted to go to him, to grab his arm and make him stay. In the past, doing so had been almost instinctive. Now, however, she couldn't lift her feet from the ground. There was something about his manner, something hard and alien that had frozen her in place. She forced her voice to act where her legs would not.
"You're still going to leave without coming to see us?"
He stopped, standing so still that she though perhaps time had stopped as well, before his even voice cut through the silence. "I've seen everyone that I need to see."
"No, you have not," she insisted, shaking her head fiercely. "Rikichi, he would be upset if he knew you had come and not visited his family. And Komachi, too. She has grown up so much since you last saw her. Do you not want to at least pay your respects to the water priestess of the village you defended?"
"I have already paid my respects to that water priestess," he told her frankly, with enough emphasis that she understood his meaning.
It made her hesitate before she began again, softly, "And what if I hadn't come? What then? What would—" her sentence hung unfinished as a particularly strong gust of wind over took her words, and her shaky hands. The cloth escaped from her shoulders, running away from her with the wind currents. She gasped in surprise as the cold hit her, and moved forward to try and catch the wayward shawl before locking her feet in place.
An arm shot out from its concealment in the folds of his robes, stretching directly in the path of the fabric; he caught it securely in his fist without turning his head.
And in what couldn't have been more than a few seconds, he was standing in front of her, so close that she had to make a conscious effort not to lean towards the pull of his body. "But you did come," he whispered, stretching the fabric out and then around her, holding it tight at her chest, "and isn't that all that matters?" She was warmer than she could attribute to just the shawl.
She wasn't sure if what happened next was real, or another illusion created by her subconscious, but she felt the warmth of his mouth pressed against the inside corner of her cheek, right below the junction of her eye and nose. It was an awkward place to kiss, except that it wasn't awkward at all. The unfamiliar aura she'd sensed around him wasn't jadedness, it was maturity. She closed her eyes, leaning against the sensation.
She hadn't asked him, and he hadn't told her, but with his action, she finally understood. She may have been a catalyst, but she wasn't the cause. He didn't hold her responsible for what he struggled through. He placed no blame on her; she'd placed it on herself. He became what he became because he was a samurai. He lived without regret. He lived.
When she opened her eyes again, he was gone, save for the warm imprint still on her face. She stood staring into the distance as the cold wind beat around her. The samurai-boy whom she'd tried to protect had flown from her again.
This time, however, he left no unease in his wake. Her stomach had calmed, the negativity had vanished, and she felt only affection inside herself.
"Take care, Katsushito-sama, until we next see each other."
And she was sure they would see each other again. Her instincts told her so.
Turning, she walked back down the path she'd used earlier. The white flag waved gently behind her.
Comments and Criticisms always welcome. This is an un-beta'd piece, so I know it could probably use more work.