Tsukikage Ran: Promises Kept
The morning sun warmly touched the tall, brown haired woman as she stood in front of the house, the street deserted at that time of morning. Her traveling coat flowed around her gracefully as Ran drew her sword, moving swiftly through her morning drills, her concentration utterly focused on what she was doing, her sword a blur.
As Ran's sword finally returned to it's hilt with a steely hiss a young man's voice softly said, "That was marvelous, Lady samurai."
"Thank you," Ran answered him simply, turning to meet the eyes of the lanky eldest brother of the Bonsai clan. He looked better than he once did, dressed in simple robes and not as a false ronin, and his smile was welcoming.
His expression became serious as he said, "My sister Sakura... she is very happy that you've come back here."
"As am I," Ran admitted.
He tilted his head to the side, "But I fear that she might be heartbroken if you leave her alone once more."
Ran looked up to the sky, the clouds drifting by on a blue background. "I'm a ronin," she said, "a wandering samurai with no master and nothing to offer someone like Sakura."
"Oh, but I think you have something very precious to offer her," the brother countered her argument firmly.
"Oh?' Ran looked at him in surprise.
"Your heart," he shrugged as he continued, "I think that's all that Sakura wants."
Her eyes widened slightly, then she nodded. "Thank you," she said thoughtfully, "I'll think about what you've said."
The door to the house slid open and Sakura emerged, the black haired young woman giving her brother a gently scolding look. "What have you been up to?" she asked. Ignoring his stammered denials she smiled at Ran, "Breakfast is ready, are you hungry?"
Ran walked forward, taking the hand that Sakura extended to her. "Is that a trick question?" she asked. A pause, "And sake, too?"
"Of course," Sakura chuckled, tugging Ran inside.
Breakfast was a surprisingly intimate affair, even when the three brothers joined them at the table and they chatted together happily as they ate. The boys watched with fondness as Sakura and Ran talked and ate away, clearly approving of the two of them being together. Reluctantly they all left to attend to the rive bowl restaurant, Ran reassuring Sakura with the promise that she wasn't leaving town anytime soon.
Surprisingly Ran was eagerly welcomed as she walked through town, many people mentioning how they had seen her battles in town. Of course most of it was from stories that the few real witnesses had spread, but Ran found it pleasant none the less. Of course the tales had grown in the telling, with her and Meow facing off against over a hundred goons rather than the twenty or so, but Ran didn't mind a inflated reputation.
"Welcome," the young man at the bar nodded to Ran, pouring out a saucer of sake for her with a steady hand.
"Thank you much," Ran tossed it back, sighing happily. They talked for a bit about the town, then she frowned as the young man passed on some disturbing news.
"Yes, the bandits tried to attack previously," he agreed with a sigh, "one of the Bonsai brothers was hurt helping the few fighters in town drive them off."
"And the local lord hasn't sent any help?" Ran raised her eyebrows as she finished off another saucer of sake.
"I'm not sure he's had any help to send us," he noted as he poured more, "he's had problems with other lords to deal with."
Ran frowned, "Sakura didn't mention it to me."
"Many people in town are aware of her regard to you," the bartender said diplomatically, "I think she didn't want to pressure you to stay here."
"Or to see me get into trouble," Ran nodded thoughtfully. She finished her sake and paid, despite his protests, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he nodded as she left.
Ran walked to the edge of town, her thoughts wandering far from the men and woman who called out greetings to her. The bridge was older, the wood marked by sword cuts and she could easily imagine the battle that had been fought here, the town's few defenders versus bandits. Inexperienced but brave the defenders had won with good luck as much as skill, and she was certain the next fight would be far more dangerous.
Standing there Ran knew she was at a crossroads, and she could clearly see both roads stretch out before her. She could leave this town, return to her life as a wandering ronin until she finally faced someone better with a sword than her. Or she might stay here, protecting this small place and stay with Sakura while facing whatever fate awaited her.
'So what do I do now?' Ran silently wondered, closing her eyes in thought. A breeze stirred her hair and a familiar scent made her open her eyes once more... as a rain of cherry blossoms fell around her, spinning in the air with a lovely rose color. Catching on in the palm of her hand Ran gazed at it, murmuring softly, "Sakura." Mind made up Ran was off, moving with a determined step.
"Thank you for coming," Sakura bowed to her last customer, then she and her brothers closed up the small restaurant.
As they walked back to the house her chubbier brother smiled at her, "I don't think I've seen you this happy in a long time."
Sakura smiled back at him, the folds of her simple kimono swishing around her legs. "I think so too," she agreed.
"Do you think that Ran will stay?" the youngest brother asked softly.
With that Sakura shook her head, a hint of sadness touching her eyes. "I don't know," she admitted, "but for as long as she's here I will cherish that time."
"Maybe we can talk her into staying?" the lanky eldest asked, frowning slightly.
Sakura smiled gently as she shook her head firmly, "No, please. If she's going to stay I'd like it to be on her own."
Coming around a corner they saw their home.. then blinked in surprise. Ran was sitting in front of the house, a group of younger children gathered around her as the brown haired woman told a classic fairytale to them. She finished up to the sound of the children's cheers, then looked up and smiled at Sakura's approach as the kids scattered.
"Welcome home," Ran said simply, her eyes only watching Sakura.
"I'm home," Sakura agreed, taking Ran's hands in hers.
They talked happily as they prepared dinner, the five of them eating then the three brothers discretely disappearing to leave the two women in peace. Ran held Sakura in the curve of her arm, breathing in her sweet scent as they sat together quietly, looking up at the starry sky as crickets chirped in the background.
"I was wondering," Ran said as Sakura rested her head on Ran's shoulder, "if there might be room in your house for another?"
Sakura twisted a bit to look up into Ran's eyes. "I think we could find room," she smiled, "but... are you sure?"
Ran squeezed Sakura gently, kissing the top of her head lightly. "I think this town could use my sword," she said, "and I don't want to leave you again."
Sakura shifted until she faced Ran, "And I don't want to lose you, too."
Seeing the invitation in Sakura's eyes Ran took the lead this time, kissing her lingeringly on the lips. "I'm not going anywhere," she vowed, "I promise."
Notes: Sakura is another word for cherry blossom, I believe, so it's fitting Ran would think of her when seeing them. This second chapter is dedicated to Sueric, who nagged me to write another one.