A/N: Well…long time no see. Ahem. I suddenly had the urge to pick up my pen and write again and this story has been poking at me ever since I finished my last Samurai Champloo fanfic. This is a JIN/FUU one-shot. Post series. If you don't like this pairing then don't come to me and whine about it. There is always the "back" button for you to press. For the rest of you, ENJOY!
IMPORTANT! This story is a follow-up (a sequel of sorts) to my other fic "Sweet Nothings". Although it is not imperative for you to have read "Sweet Nothings" to understand this, it is highly recommended that you do so, for this story has some allusions to the previous tale.
ALSO! This is told in their daughter's P.O.V., so whenever the speaker refers to her "Mother" and "Father" it is implied Jin and Fuu.
Disclaimer: Samurai Champloo belongs to Manglobe. Duh. Otherwise if it belonged to me, my fanfics wouldn't be fanfics, now would they?
The Sunflower Princess
By Youkai Yume
At one day old, Himawari had already heard her first lullaby. Even if she didn't quite remember how it happened, it didn't matter; her Mother sang it to her everyday after that so that it was engraved into her memory anyway. At three years old, she had tried to sing it herself, and was sorely disappointed that her voice wasn't as soft and pretty as when her Mother sang it. But being as determined as she was, she practiced until her throat burned and her voice became hoarse and for the next two days, she was unable to sing at all.
For that, she got scolded by her Father; teased by her Uncle; then lulled to sleep by her Mother's gentle song. She decided then that her Mother had the most beautiful voice in the entire world, and didn't quite mind that her own voice wasn't just as wonderful.
At three and a half years old, she had memorized every word to her Father's bedtime story before she dreamed. She'd crawl into his lap, snuggle against his blue haori, and always ask him to tell her about the Sunflower Princess.
"Once upon a time, there was a Princess," he would always start, "who lived in a castle on top of a hill. But although she was well loved by her people and had a peaceful life, the Princess was cursed from birth to always be weak and ill, and eventually die early. She could never play outside with her friends for long or else she would collapse, and sometimes at night, she coughed so hard that there was blood."
"How awful…" she'd whisper against her Father's chest. She couldn't imagine what it must be like to cough up blood—nor could she imagine what it would be like not being able to play outside with her friends. Her father nodded somberly.
"The only way that the Princess could be free of her curse was if every inch of the hills around her castle was blooming with sunflowers."
"Can't she just plant them?" the little girl inquired.
"No," he chuckled.
"The sunflowers will only bloom when the Princess finds true happiness."
"That's when the Hero comes in, right?" she grinned excitedly.
"Mm," her Father sighed. "One day, a Traveler accidentally bumped into the Princess while she was at market and knocked her over. However, she was not offended and offered the stranger hospitality at her castle when she learned he had no place to go.
"They became fast friends and enjoyed each other's company very much. Eventually, the Traveler had to leave the Princess and continue his journey. You see, he had already promised another Princess that he would marry her and become her Emperor."
"Was the Traveler a Prince?"
"He's more of a Samurai."
"However, just when he was about to leave, the Princess collapsed due to her failing health, and it was then that the Samurai learned of her curse and the burden she had to bear. He decided to stay and care for her a little while longer. He worked as her bodyguard and caretaker.
"During that time, the Samurai sought other means to release his friend from the curse. He tried all sorts of methods. From giving her good medicine to giving her one thousand paper cranes. He even became so desperate as to wish on stars—even though he didn't believe that they could grant wishes; but to no avail. It seemed that it was the Princess's fate to live out her short life cursed for all eternity—and there was nothing the Samurai could do about it."
This was the part where her Father always grew quiet and contemplative, if only for a moment. She noticed of course. People had always told her that she was wonderfully observant.
"Does the Samurai leave then, since he couldn't do anything?" She asked, tugging at his sleeve curiously. He would always smile then, with the most tender expression that she'd ever seen—besides the ones that he gave to her Mother when he thought they were alone of course.
"No, my little imp. He stays."
"Because he hadn't counted on falling deeply in love with the Princess," her Father explained softly. "When the Princess found out about his feelings for her, she became distraught and sad. She told him that she could not give him her love that he so badly desired, because she knew they couldn't be together due to her condition. She also pointed out that the Samurai was still betrothed to the other Princess. He realized that as long as this was so, she would never be happy and the sunflowers would never bloom.
"The Samurai decides to leave in order to break off the engagement to the other Princess. He swore that once the task was done his heart and soul would belong only to the Sunflower Princess—On the condition that she promised him her love would belong only to him as well. The Princess agrees."
"Was the other Princess mad that the Samurai broke up with her?" She asked excitedly. It was then that she realized she loved a little drama in her stories. Her father would chuckle again.
"No. Surprisingly, when the Samurai explained that he wised to be with another, she understood and broke off their engagement easily. She herself, decided to give up her life as royalty and become a Priestess."
"How boring," the little girl sighed, but quieted when her Father gave her a slightly patronizing look.
"The Samurai then quickly returned back to the Castle on top of the hill, anxious to finally be with his true love. When he arrived there however, he found that the entire castle was quiet. He found his Sunflower Princess lying in her room, cold and still.
"Believing his beloved to be dead—finally succumbing to the curse, the Samurai held her to his body and cried into her hair. And as he touched his lips to hers in a mournful kiss, the Princess's eyes fluttered open and she awoke from the seeming dead."
"It's a miracle!" the little girl piped, becoming quite excited. The next part was her favorite.
"As promised, the Princess gave her love to the Samurai and became his wife. From that day forward, whenever the two of them looked outside their castle, all they could see was an endless ocean of sunflowers."
"Did they live happily ever after, Papa?" She added. Her Father would smile faintly, then tuck her into bed. His lips would brush her forehead like a light feather and for a moment, she wonders why he looks so sad.
"They lived happily, Himawari. They lived happily," he would always answer.
Himawari never asked her Father why he never said the words "ever after."
At four years old, her hair had grown long enough to tie into a bun. Her mother gave her the pins from her hair and put them in her own. Himawari vowed to take care of it always and never lose them. A few days after receiving them, she noticed that her Father liked to touch and run his fingers through her Mother's hair more often now that it was loose and hung around her shoulders. Then he would kiss her. He does that a lot.
As much as she enjoys hearing about kissing in stories, seeing it is a bit icky. Uncle Mugen thinks so too whenever he sees them together.
Uncle Mugen was Himawari's favorite Uncle (her only Uncle, but that's not the point). He was always saying such weird things that she'd never understand. Perhaps one day she would, but for now she just thought his sentences sounded extremely funny.
Her parents get angry sometimes about the things he says. She wonders why. Uncle Mugen also lets her ride on his shoulders and tells her such interesting stories—not the kind that her Father usually tells her before bed. The ones that Uncle Mugen always tell are full of sword fights, adventures, and pirates.
He tells her stories about three travelers that get into all sorts of trouble and excitement that sometimes she finds it hard to believe that they're really about her own parents. But when she sees the three of them together, whenever Uncle Mugen invites himself over for dinner, they argue and talk as if it's always been this way.
Himawari hopes it will always be this way. When she voices this thought to them, they stop they're joking and their laughter and the room suddenly grows quiet. Then her Mother would reach across the table, touch her cheek gently and smiles.
"So do I, sweetie."
In the summer, their cats, Jin-Jin and Fuu-Fuu, gave birth to more kittens. Himawari thought they were small and disgusting yet surprisingly cute at the same time. But the birthing had been hard, and when the little girl turned to the female cat, she saw that it had grown very still.
The new kittens mewled loudly and suckled their mother for milk, even if there was none.
"Fuu-Fuu's tired, right Papa? She's just sleeping, right?" She wasn't asking…she was almost pleading. Her father looked away and she saw that his eyes settled on her own Mother sitting across the room, quiet and sad.
"No, I'm afraid Fuu-Fuu is gone. She won't wake up ever again."
That was the first time Himawari learned about death. And she decided she didn't like it.
At four and a half, she awoke once in the middle of the night due to a nightmare and toddled down the hallway to seek her parents' comfort. She hears coughing from their room and soft murmurs inside and peeks in between the crack of their doorway to find her Father holding her Mother tightly against his body.
He strokes her hair and whispers in her ear; even though Himawari could barely hear his words, she knows his voice sounds sad. Her Mother reaches to clutch his white yukata specked with little red dots and the little girl hears her apologize for something she doesn't know.
Then he moves down to kiss her forehead…then he kisses the tears that begin to trail down her cheeks, and for some reason Himawari begins to cry too. She decided to go back to her own room after that and pretend she never saw them.
The next day, her Mother makes her a doll made out of rags and she absolutely adores it. But it wasn't her birthday, and she hadn't done anything good as of late. So when she asks her what the gift was for, her Mother simply said that she wanted her to have something to remember her by. At night, while Mother sings to her the lullaby, Himawari clutches the little rag doll to her chest and wonders why she feels such horrible dread.
At five-years-old, she saw her Father cry for the very first time. It was a cold winter day, and she had run to wake her Parents up. It was already getting late. When she slid open the door, her Father didn't even look up. He held her Mother's head in his hands, pressed his forehead to hers, and cried for a very long time.
His tears rolled off his cheeks and dropped onto her Mother's, but she lay very still. Himawari wondered why she didn't wake up and comfort him? Why didn't she wipe his tears from her face?
"Momma's tired, right Papa? She's just sleeping, right?"
Her Father finally looked at her and the words became choked in his throat. He got up and wrapped his powerful arms around her and Himawari realized that he was trembling. The little girl had instantly regretted asking, because she knew…just KNEW that his answer was going to be just the same as before.
At five-years-old, Himawari had already lost her Mother.
At eight years old, she had already grown tired of all the pitying looks that the grown-ups gave her, and even from her own friends too. She can hear the whispers and murmurs in the hallway from the dojo students when she walked by.
"She must miss Lady Fuu."
"It must be hard, losing a Mother at such a young age."
"Poor child. Poor girl."
She wanted them to stop. What did they know about losing a Mother? She didn't need to be reminded of it all the time. She knew. And yet they talked to her like she was glass—about to break any second. She could do all the house chores (most of them anyway) and make onigiri for lunch all by herself. She can put up her own hair and dress herself in her own little kimono and she certainly didn't need anyone's pity.
The only ones who seemed to understand were her Father and Uncle Mugen. They were a lot quieter now; even Uncle Mugen, who used to shoot his mouth off all the time. She sees them sitting side by side sometimes at night, drinking sake and conversing little because they already knew what the other would say.
Even when they did talk, Himawari knew just exactly what they were talking about. Or rather who. She wonders if they still cry about her Mother. She knows that she still does and she always does it alone because she doesn't want them of all people to see. It would mean more pity, and she didn't want to seem weak in front of them.
She also wonders if they don't cry in front of her for the same reason.
Still, she has learned to continue smiling. Even if she doesn't mean it. She smiles because her Father cannot. She smiles for the both of them.
One day, Himawari sits in one of her Father's dojo lessons to watch the students train. Satoru, a nineteen-year-old boy who's been one of her Father's students longer than the rest, sat down beside her during his break. She likes Satoru because he's not like the others. He doesn't walk on eggshells around her and he talks to her almost in the same way Uncle Mugen does.
Satoru is the best student in there, but he still can't beat her Father…or Uncle Mugen. Still, he never gives up and always pushes forward no matter what anyone says. Himawari supposes that's why she admires the older boy so much and wishes she had the kind of strength that he has.
"Why'd you join the dojo?" She had asked him.
"To become a strong warrior," he answered, giving her a 'duh!' expression.
And the older boy pauses for a moment, thoughtful. Then he answers:
"Because when I hold a sword in my hands, it's like nothing can touch me. It's like I have the ability to do something worthwhile—even though I can't do anything at all. Because I can protect something…precious." Satoru looks at the younger girl, her eyes now full of curiosity and wonder. She doesn't know exactly what it is he is trying to say, and yet at the same time she understands completely.
"When she watched me, it made me feel alive. I felt so alive." He chuckles. "That baka…"
There is such rapture in his voice then…such sadness. But he is hopeful and strong and he is a burning ember in the rain and all Himawari wants to do is to be just like him. Because she watches Satoru challenge her Father and it is like watching a dance of gleaming swords and nothing but pure fire; pure emotion.
Even behind carefully placed masks that her Father wears, it is the only way he can cry without tears. The only way he can scream without his voice. He mourns with every strike of his blade—he is alive when he dances.
Momma's watching, isn't she?
She sees the fierceness in Satoru's eyes and the smoldering flame in her Father's, and behind her she feels Uncle Mugen and knows that it's there in his too.
At dinner that evening, Himawari boldly told her Father that she decided she wanted to become a samurai.
When she turns eleven, Himawari is given her first wooden sword. She holds it proudly, if not somewhat nervously as she stands amongst the other younger students. She realizes right away that she is the only girl there. When she first fumbles her weapon and trips on her own feet, she learns that her Father is not her Father when they are in the dojo, and she is not his daughter.
He is Shishou. She is student.
He is a strict teacher with a sharp and cutting voice—the same voice that she knows can be as gentle and soothing as a summer breeze. But she doesn't hear a drop of it, because she is no different from the boys that are right beside her, trying to get the technique just right so that he does not look at them with those cold, cold eyes.
By the end of the day, she is tired and weary, and her arms and legs are mysteriously bruised. She tries not to wince from her aching limbs as she crawls over to her little small chest of treasures that she keeps in the corner of her room, and when she opens it, there is a thin box that she gingerly takes out with little fingers.
Her hands are trembling when she pulls out her Mother's pins and hold them against her chest. She dares not wear them often because she fears damaging it. Even though it is already worn, the gold metal of it fading from years of use. The red orbs that decorate them shine from the candlelight, shimmering in her hazel eyes.
She wonders if she can stand seeing her Father with those cold eyes again.
She hears the shoji door open from behind her and strong arms pull her small body into familiar warmth.
"I'm sorry for being so tough on you today, Himawari," her Father apologizes, and his voice is like a summer breeze once more. She sighs softly and leans against his protective embrace.
"It's okay, Papa."
"You don't have to continue with the lessons if you don't want to."
Himawari pulls away from him and turns to face his contemplative dark eyes, her brow furrowed in determination. "I'll do better, tomorrow! I promise!"
Because as much as she is unaccustomed to seeing her Father with such a cold demeanor, she can't stand the look of pity in his eyes now. And she'll face him again and again if she has to. She'd prove herself to him…that she could be just as strong. Just as enduring as Satoru.
His lips curve into a smile and his large hand brushes a stray lock of brown hair from her hazel eyes. "Of course you will, my little imp." Before she knows it, he has taken the pins that were previously clutched in her hands and cradles it in his palm. She wonders if it was more precious to him than it is to her.
"Tell me a story, Papa," she asks, lying on her stomach on her futon. It was the one time she didn't mind being a bit childish—even for a girl of eleven.
"The Sunflower Princess."
"But you've heard it a hundred times," he smiles warily. "Aren't you tired of it?"
"Never," Himawari grins.
And they'll live happily, right?
When she is thirteen, she stands at the front gate of the dojo alongside her Father, gazing up at Satoru, no longer the nineteen year old boy she knew but a young man of twenty-two, with a bag slung over her shoulder. Two weeks before, Satoru had managed to defeat Uncle Mugen in a match, much to the pirate's disdain. Then, five days later, he defeated her Father.
Before he leaves he calls her a twerp and tells her not to cry. She tells him that she wasn't crying and that when he comes back she'll be strong enough to beat him in a match. He tells her she can try.
He is like the big brother she never had.
Then Satoru leaves and as much as her eyes begin to burn and the weight of her Father's hand resting on her shoulder grows heavier by the second, she does not cry. She had promised him that she wouldn't.
Himawari remembers seeing his back as he walks down the road and she realizes that he isn't going down the one that leads out of town. Instead, he is on a more familiar path that she takes often with her Father and Uncle Mugen. He is going to say goodbye to her Mother one last time.
After that day, she keeps her promise and strives to be better. She beats the other students in her class easily, and when she first advances ahead to the more difficult classes, her Father is smiling because he is so proud—even when he doesn't tell her directly.
Her Father's always been proud.
And when she holds a sword in her hands, it's like nothing can touch her. It's like she had the ability to do something worthwhile—even though she couldn't do anything at all.
Himawari feels so alive.
Momma…are you watching me?
In the summer that she turns fifteen, Himawari meets her first love. His name is Shouta and he came into the dojo one day, dirty and beaten, and without a home or family. He asks to be her Father's student and pleads on his knees, muddy hands pressed to the clean floor and head bowed down low. He promises to pay for the lessons by cleaning the house, cooking the food, and doing the laundry.
When her Father accepts, they quickly find out that Shouta is a terrible housekeeper. But when he's in the dojo, he's the best opponent that she's ever had in years and when he wins the very first time that they spar, he is arrogant and rude and everything she doesn't expect from dark sable hair and soft brown eyes.
But then he apologizes later after days of her silent treatment, and he is so hesitant and sincere as he stands nervously amongst the sunflowers in her backyard that she forgives him anyway.
Later on, Himawari learns that he is also kind and gentle, and she also notices that he is only that way when he is with her. When he shyly admits that she is his first friend, she blushes and blushes and she was sure that her Father noticed too, because he frowns whenever he sees the two of them together. He tells her to be careful around boys like him and then says nothing about it after.
The first time that Shouta asks her to spend time with him outside of the dojo, she takes out the pins from the little box in her treasure chest and puts them in her hair. She looks at herself in the mirror, and for an astonishing second, she swears that her Mother is staring straight back at her.
Before she leaves the house, she lies to her Father and tells him that she is going to go shopping. But he has always been able to tell when she's lying, and this time was no exception. He confines her to the house and works Shouta extra hard the next day. She wonders how the boy ever managed that training session.
He's moved Shouta to a different class level separate from her own and asks the Naritas down the road if they will take him in temporarily.
Himawari had never been angry with her own Father before, but she was then. She refused to speak to him for days and began to ignore his orders whenever he's trying to teach her. She knows she's being immature, throwing her own little tantrum and acting childish. But she doesn't know what else to do.
A week later, she wakes up in the middle of the night to a light streaming down the hallway and finds her Father sitting in a room that hasn't been opened for years and years. She walks among the paper cranes and tries not to step on the scraps as she approaches the man sitting in the middle of the floor.
He can sense her; she knows he can. He is holding a paper crane in his hand as if it were a living, breathing bird and his hair hangs loosely around his face. The candlelight flickers against their forms and Himawari notices for the first time—the strands of gray in his hair, the lines on his face…the weariness in his eyes.
And of course, there was the sadness. It has never left them since that cold winter day.
"Papa?" She calls out to him meekly, her hand touching his shoulder. It is the first time she has spoken to him in days.
"You look just like her you know," he says suddenly. His voice almost a whisper in the air. "I loved her more than anything, but she still went away…my beloved Fuu…" he turns to his daughter, his eyes dark and searching and sad.
"You're all I have left of her, and you looked just like Fuu when I first met her with her pins in your hair. I couldn't stand to watch you go because it's like losing the last piece of your Mother that I have." He drops the paper crane and she sees him bring his hands to his face, covering his sad, weary eyes. "And once you're gone, what is there left?"
He begins to speak as if it's more to himself…or to a certain woman who had long ago left this earth rather than to her. "I promised that I'd stay as long as I had our child to look after. But if she doesn't need me, what's the point in being here any longer?"
And she clutches to his haori for the first time since she was eleven. "I'm not gone, Papa," she tells him. "And even if I go away, I'll always come back. I promise." Her knuckles are white because she's clinging so tightly and Himawari leans her forehead against her Father's strong back. "So please stay," she cries. "Please still be here when I come back."
Because as much as she grows up, Himawari still wants her Father to be there. And for all the fears that she's conquered in her years, she's still afraid that he would follow her Mother. Ever since she walked in on that winter morning and saw him crying, crying, crying over her body as if his tears alone could bring her back.
The very next day, her Father permits Shouta to come back to the dojo and the boy does not ask why. But Shouta does ask proper permission to court Himawari and she was surprised that her Father had consented. Of course, with that consent came death threats and promises of torture if any harm—emotional or physical were to befall on her by his hands.
She knew Uncle Mugen, who later found out about her new boyfriend, was all too serious with his threats. But afterward, the pirate laughed and teased and told them both that if they were going to do anything, they should be more clever about it than before if they want to hide it from her Father.
"Uncle Mugen!" She had blushed furiously then. "Your so--!"
"Eh? You used to think it was funny when I said stuff like that."
"But that was before I understood what they insinuated! You're nothing put a dirty old man!" She bit back. Behind her, Shouta blushed just as hard. Uncle Mugen had regarded her for a second then with dim, narrowed eyes, as if seeing something that he had not seen in a very long time. Then he smirked and ruffled her hair.
When she is seventeen she stands beneath a large tree with branches that seemed to stretch all the way to the stars. It is a place that she goes to often, and she closes her eyes to feel the cool breeze the plays with her hair. When she opens them once more, a giggle could be heard and she turns to see her Mother sitting underneath the familiar shade with her legs spread comfortably in front of her and a smile on her face.
"Feels nice, doesn't it?" she asks, her brown locks loose and also fluttering on the wind.
Himawari nods and moves to sit down beside the woman, studying her hazel eyes so much like her own.
"I love days like this," Himawari admits, looking to the sky.
"Your hair has grown longer," her Mother observes, and she can feel her fingers tugging at the strands as if it weren't possible. "They must get in your face sometimes. Do you use those pins that I gave you?"
"Sometimes," the girl answers, lying on her side so that her head rests in her Mother's warm lap. "Only on special occasions."
"Sou ka," she whispers, now stroking tenderly through her locks. "I wonder what your Father thinks."
"He says I look like you," Himawari mutters, her eyes closed. She wonders why there aren't more days like this, and glances up at her Mother who has begun to hum softly to herself. "Momma?" she whispers, not sure why her voice is cracking. "Can you sing to me?"
She laughs then—a sound that the girl has nearly forgotten in all her years of growing up.
"Just a song?"
"I dunno. A lullaby," Himawari suggests.
Her Mother shakes her head, her smile still kind and tender and sweet. How she misses her Mother's smiles.
"Hima-chan," she chides, "Seventeen years old and still pining for lullabies."
"Just one more time, I promise I won't ask for more," the girl pleads. "Your voice is just so pretty."
And when the soft melody reaches her ears and brings tears to her eyes, Himawari wakes up to a warm, summer night beneath a large tree with branches that seemed to stretch all the way to the stars, and realizes it was just a dream.
At nineteen, Shouta asks her Father for her hand in marriage. The wedding was scheduled for the following spring and Himawari remembers a time when she thought boys were icky and always thought it funny that she was now marrying one. They had both decided that even after becoming husband and wife, they would stay at the dojo, because her Father had told her he would give it to her once he retired—which is soon.
She wears a white kimono that her own Mother wore when she married her Father and walks through the same sunflower field that she sees everyday. Her Father stands to the side, and even though he is now older, grayer, Himawari still thinks he is stronger than the rest. She has confidence that no matter where she goes in life he would still be waiting for her when she returns.
While she is accepting congratulations from the villagers, she sees her Father and Uncle Mugen from the corner of her eye. For a moment, she manages to catch just a whisper of their conversation.
"Reminds me of your wedding, eh?"
And then, her husband's hand in hers distracts her and she hears no more.
When she is twenty-one, her Father comes down with the flu, and even though he assures her that he will recover in no time, Himawari isn't so sure. After all if she is twenty-one, he is forty-five and no longer the young man he used to be. Shouta takes over the classes during the day while Himawari looks after the children and tend to her Father when he needs her.
At night, he falls into heavy fever and fitful dreams. Himawari stays by his side all night and when he begins to thrash in bed, she tries to hold him down. Shake him awake.
"It's okay, it's only a dream," she recalls the words that he used to tell her all the time when she herself had nightmares when she was younger. He looks up at her with clouded eyes and a fever-induced mind…hallucinations dancing in front of him.
"Fuu…" he croaks, tears running down his face and it is the second time that Himawari has seen her Father cry. "Fuu…you're here. Oh God, where did you go? I've missed you…" he brings his hand up to her face and she can feel him caress her cheek. Even through his hazy eyes she sees the tenderness, love and devotion there that she hadn't seen since she was a little girl. The love reserved only for her Mother after so many years. She clutches her Father's hand and realizes for the first time how thin it had become. "Don't cry, love…Onegai, I hate it when you cry…"
And it was then that Himawari realized that she had tears running down her flushed cheeks herself. But no matter how hard she tries she can't stop crying. She cries for the childhood she should have had and the happiness her Father lost so early. She cries for their tragic love and she cries for the unfairness of it all.
How must if feel, she wondered, to love someone so much that it felt like being born and dying at the same time.
"Fuu…daijoubu…Fuu," her Father continues to whisper.
Himawari shakes her head mournfully and holds his hand tightly to herself. "No, Papa. It's me," she tells him shakily, as if apologizing to him. As if wishing for one second that she could bring back her Mother for him so he would never be sad again. "It's me. Himawari."
He blinks once. Twice. Then takes his hand back to cover his face, as if to rub away the veil of delusion from his mind.
"Hai. Don't you remember, Papa?" she takes the old cloth from his forehead and dips it into the cool water before wiping away the sweat off his brow.
"My daughter…that's right," he groans and turns away, his dark eyes searching through the blackness of the room. "How did you get so big? Did you have a nightmare?"
"Where…Where's your Mother? She was just here a minute ago." He looks expectantly to the side of his futon, as if his wife would be there, dozing beside him.
"She's gone, Papa," Himawari manages to choke out, trying her best not to tear up again.
"But that can't be right…I just saw her. She must be out…with that cat again," he mumbles incoherently, and the young woman wonders how long his fever will last. She hears a baby's cry across the hall and ruefully gets up to comfort her fussing child. Her father hears the wail too and looks confusedly up at his daughter.
"It's your grandson," Himawari answers sadly from the doorway.
"Grandson? You're much too young to have a baby, Himawari."
"I'm twenty-one, Papa." She contemplates for a second if she should tell him that he has two grandchildren actually—and older girl and a baby boy.
"Twenty-one?" She watches as he turns blank eyes to the ceiling. "Where has the time gone?"
A smile crosses his face all of a sudden, and for a moment she swears she sees a glimpse of happiness light his features. But it was only for a flickering second. "You look just like her, you know. I always knew that you would."
She allows a bittersweet smile to grace her own lips before closing the shoji door behind her. "I know."
When she rocks her child comfortingly and sings him a lullaby that she's known ever since she's been one-day-old, she notes that her singing voice is still not as soft and pretty as her Mother's. Then she holds her baby boy just a little bit tighter and buries her face in his little tufts of hair and wishes that she were here to tell her everything would be all right.
By the time Himawari is twenty-five, she feels guilty because admittedly she is waiting. Her Father had grown thinner, weaker over the years and she can see that even the tiny spark that used to be in his eyes was now close to fading completely. The doctors say that he is getting old, and his body is getting sickly. Himawari thinks otherwise. She believes that he is dying of a broken heart. Has been for twenty years now.
And now, both of them are just waiting for his imminent death. For that, Himawari feels guilty. She wonders if this was how her Father felt when he watched her Mother wither away, and if it did…how in the world he lived with it for so long.
She is brought out of her thoughts when she feels a tug on her kimono and looks down to see her son, his face and hands muddy while he held a frog to his chest.
"Kaa-san, can I keep him?" he asks.
"You know how your sister feels about frogs, Toji."
He pouts and looks dejectedly down at the frog before nodding his head slowly and moving to free the creature.
"You'd better clean up for supper, and tell Fujiko and your Father to get ready too. I'll go get Grandfather."
"Grandpa says that he's going to visit Grandma!" Toji tells his Himawari brightly before toddling off to the washroom.
The young woman frowns as she looks outside to the darkening sky…the horizon was tinged with pink and orange hues. She sighs and sets off on the familiar path that she has memorized so perfectly in her head that it could have been pitch black and she'd still be able to find her way.
Sure enough, at the site of her Mother's grave sat her Father. His old, callused hands traced the characters of her Mother's name, and she saw his lips move…whispering sweet nothings to the wind. She wonders if her Mother can hear them. She's sure that she can.
"Papa," Himawari touches his shoulder gently and he turns his tired eyes to meet her concerned hazel ones. "It's suppertime."
"Ah…" he mumbles, and she helps him to his feet.
"Let's get you out of the cold."
He allows his daughter to lead him by the hand against the darkening night sky and she is surprised when he stops all of a sudden.
"Nani?" She asks him, looking back to see that his eyes are wandering to the distance.
"Take me to the big tree, Himawari," he says with a dream-like look on his face. "I want to wish on the stars."
She swallows a lump in her throat and feels her heart constrict painfully at the request and she feels the familiar dread creep upon her soul just like the day her Mother gave her a rag doll to remember her by.
"Okay." But she complies anyway. It is, after all…his last wish.
He lies on his back as she sits beside him…watches as he gazes almost longingly at the stars. She recalls for an instant, a saying that her Mother once told her.
When a lovebird loses its' lover, it will wither away and lose its' ability to fly, and longs to die soon so that it will be reunited with its' mate.
Above them, a silver light streaked across the expanse of black and she smiles sadly at the glimmering stars. "What did you wish for, Papa?"
Her Father slowly closes his eyes and for a moment, Himawari is tempted to tell him not to, because he won't ever be able to open them again. But she stops because she's never seen him look so happy in so long.
"For the Samurai and his Sunflower Princess to live happily ever after…" he answers her, his voice like the summer breeze, just like always. And she can't help but let a trembling smile curve her lips too as she begins to cry. She tries to keep her voice calm, try to keep it from breaking.
"And…And do they?" She asks, reaching for her Father's hand. Himawari can see tears streaming down the sides of his face through his closed eyelids, trickling past his ears and melting into his gray and silver hair as his hand becomes limp in his daughter's grasp. He has never looked more at peace.
"Yes," he whispers in what could only be described as pure rapture.
And they lived happily ever after.
A/N: Yes, implied that Jin died at the end. For some reason, I felt emotionally drained after writing this. You know, I've always wanted to end a story with "And they lived happily ever after…" It seems sort of ironic that my happy ending seems a bit sad. But I still think it's very…I don't know, liberating in a way. Like everything is finally released.
I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it. PLEASE READ AND REVIEW! Yes, that means from you lurkers too. It's the only thing I ask after having sweat and bled for this fic ; No flames though—especially if it's just to complain about the pairing. Constructive criticism is welcome.
If you already haven't, please drop by and read "Sweet Nothings," and leave a review there too.
THANK YOU! And Ja ne!
Translations and Notes: (Most of these are references to "Sweet Nothings")
Himawari's name means "Sunflower"
The lullaby that Fuu and Himawari sing is "Shiki no Uta."
Of course, if you hadn't figured it out by now, "The Sunflower Princess" is the story of how Jin and Fuu fell in love during "Sweet Nothings".
Fuu died due to Heart disease, genetically passed down from her Mother.
Lady Fuu" is a nickname the dojo students gave Fuu due to her kindness and the fact that she is their teacher's wife.
The Paper Crane room alludes to "Sweet Nothings" when Jin and Fuu work together to make one thousand paper cranes to grant Fuu health and good luck.
Haori is the upper part or shirt of a kimono—most of the time, male garments.
'Kaa-san—is short for Okaa-san, which means "Mother" in japanese.
"Hai" means 'yes' or 'okay' in japanese.
"Sou ka" means 'I see' in Japanese.
"Daijoubu" means 'are you alright?' or 'it's okay.'
"Nani?" means 'what?'