Disclaimer: Nothing below belongs to me blah blah blah
"I can't believe we're finally here! I mean, first Kenshin loses the map, then Sano got us lost in the woods, and finally Yahiko had to fall into the river and was nearly swept away by the torrents. After all the mishaps I was beginning to think that we'd never get here! Who would ever imagine that a winter vacation to the hot springs could get so stressful!" Kaoru exclaimed, burrowing her head onto Misao's shoulder, who then pat her head comfortingly.
"There, there. You're here, and that's what matters. Although I must say I was getting quite worried when the sky turned dark and you guys haven't reached us yet. Even Aoshi-sama frowned when the clock chimed 6.00 pm. But I must say it was quite silly of you guys to actually let Himura keep the map, you know how he's always losing things when we go on a vacation. And to actually trust that Rooster-head to lead you guys…." Misao's voice trailed off with a disbelieving shudder.
"I know it was thoughtless of me but I thought that Kenshin at least deserve another chance, and that stupid Rooster-head insisted he knows the way, and ran off without giving us a chance to object. What else could we do but follow?" explained Kaoru.
"Sometimes I wonder if Himura was really the Hitokiri Battousai. How did he accomplish his missions when he keep losing things?" Misao wondered aloud.
"Forget Hitokiri, I even wonder how he became a rurouni. I mean, how can he wander about the country for 10 years without a map when he keeps getting lost?" Kaoru retorted.
"That's why he was a rurouni for 10 years! Because he kept getting lost and never reached his destination!" giggled Misao.
"Misao! That was mean and uncalled for! Although I must admit that I quite agree with you," Kaoru relented and burst out laughing, and Megumi joined in as well.
Next door, the guys sweatdropped as they listened to the conversation between the girls, which carried over to the next room where they were clearly.
"Che, these onnas just don't appreciate what we do for them," grumbled Sano.
"I'm not sure anyone would appreciate being lost, Sano," sighed Kenshin, wincing at the girls' comments and laughter.
"You should talk, you were the one who lost the map in the first place! Otherwise we'd never have gotten lost in this f***king blizzard! No wonder the girls doubt your capabilities as the legendary Battousai and a rurouni!" retorted Sano.
There was a long silence, and everyone turned to look at the rurouni with worried expressions. Even Aoshi stopped his meditation to send a concerned glace at Kenshin.
Finally, Kenshin raised his head and replied in a quiet voice, "Sessha……"
Before he can say anything, there was a loud knock on the door and Kaoru's voice could be heard clearly, "Hey guys, aren't you done yet?!? Mou, you guys are even slower than we girls. Well, come and join us when you're done, we'll go on ahead for dinner first. Don't blame us if there's nothing left!"
"Hey, wait for us!" the panicked yells from Yahiko and Sano could be heard, as they scrambled to join the girls, and only Aoshi noticed Kenshin's somber expression as he followed them slowly.
Dinner was a light and enjoyable affair, with occasional scuffles breaking out. After dinner, they were lounging at the garden, enjoying the scenery with the rest of the guests staying at the inn.
"Heavenly," sighed Misao dreamily, "a cold, snowing winter night at the hot springs with full moon. What more could you ask for?"
At this remark, an old man raised his head and looked at Misao "Heavenly? Tragic is more appropriate…."
"Tragic? Why?" queried Misao, while the others wore similar puzzled expression.
"It's just a legend of the locals, of a Snow Fairy who was betrayed by her lover. It's a very old story." The old man tried to brush it off, but Misao persisted "How does the story go?"
The old man was silent for a long while, and only the howls of the wind could be heard. They thought that the old man was not going to tell them and Misao was about to pester the old man again when he suddenly spoke.
"You know, the locals believe that the howling of the wind is actually the cries of the Snow Fairy, who till now is still crying for her lover."
Again there was silence, then Kenshin requested gently, "Would you do us the honor of sharing the story with us, Jiya?" The old man considered a long while, almost as if he's debating with himself before finally agreeing.
"The Snow Fairy is, as the name suggests, the fairy in charge of the snow, and appears in the form of a lovely young woman dressed in an all white kimono. Throughout the year she sleeps in the mountains and only during winter does she appears to bring snow to the land and to ensure that humans do not lose themselves in the snow she brings forth. This she has done unfailingly throughout many centuries, and there are occasional reported sightings of her by travelers who claimed that they have been saved by her.
Then one day, a traveler fainted out in the wilderness during a severe blizzard and nearly froze to death. In fact, he truly believed that he had died and gone to paradise when he awoke and found a lovely lady by his side, taking care of him. Of course this was not so. Apparently the lady found him half dead in the woods, buried under the snow and had brought him to her hut to warm up. The lady urged him to stay at her hut till he regained his strength and till winter had abated when it's safer for him to travel. Needless to say the man did not hesitate to agree. After all, which man wouldn't agree to stay alone with a beautiful woman in her house?
All throughout winter he stayed with the lady, whose name she said was Yuki. Although a strange name, the young man thought nothing of it, smitten as he was by the lady's beauty. In no time at all, the young man gained access to Yuki's heart, as well as her bed, since the man is indeed a handsome young man himself.
Upon the approaching of Spring, the young man noted that the lady became increasingly depressed, but she would never reveal why when asked. And just as Spring was around the corner, he announced his intention to leave, claiming family obligations and promising to come back again next winter. Sure enough, the next winter saw the young man spending the entire season with Yuki. And the following winter, as well as the next several winters. However, in time the young man grew discontent with this arrangement for in truth, he had proposed marriage to Yuki several times, who never say yes or nay. And the young man grew angry, as he began to doubt her love: why would she never talk about herself and would not agree to marry him? Finally, the young man decided to follow his family's instructions and married a "suitable" lady from a reputable house, and since he could not find Yuki (as it was summer when he married) he left a note explaining his marriage and that he will never be seeing her again. That year was the first winter they spent apart since they met.
However, Yuki refused to accept the fact that their relationship is over and continued waiting for him all winter, crying as she waited. Even when winter has passed, she persisted in waiting for him. In truth, Yuki was the Snow Fairy, and Snow Fairies could not stay under the sun. If they do, they will perish and be no more. The God of the Mountain, who was in truth the father of the Snow Fairies, came down and persuaded her to return to the mountains when winter passed. Still she persisted in waiting, crying throughout the wait, as she slowly withered.
Finally the Mountain God could take it no longer and decided to pay a visit to the young man. What he saw saddened him, for the young man was as a zombie, walking around without life. The Mountain God knew then that the young man was truly in love with the Snow Fairy, and decided to tell the man the truth: That Yuki was a Snow Fairy who could not tell any human her real identity, much less stay under the sun when winter has passed. Then the Mountain God further revealed that Yuki is still waiting for the young man, and would soon perish and be no more. The young man, upon hearing this, then rushed like a madman to Yuki. However, despite his best efforts and the Mountain God's help, he arrived only in time to see Yuki's form disappearing. And in her place was snow. The young man could only cry upon the pile of snow that was once Yuki. And then a miracle happened: although it was already summer, snow began drifting down all over the country, as if the heavens are weeping for Yuki and for their accursed love. The Mountain God then told the young man that Yuki's spirit has disappeared, and will only exist in the snow, for she can no longer take form. Since then, every winter, the young man would return to these mountains, for that is the only way he can ever see Yuki again: in these snow.
"And till today, the man still visits these mountains in the hope that maybe one day the Gods will relent and let him join his beloved Yuki" ended the old man hoarsely.
There was a long silence, only sniffles coming from Misao and Kaoru could be heard.
"Aw, c'mon, what a load of sappy crap! It's obviously a very bad romance story for lovesick girls like busu and weasel over there!" yawned Yahiko.
But before Misao and Kaoru could whack him, the old man replied "Only a story? Maybe, but the real meaning behind the story although simple, is what most people failed to do. As in most truths, they are simple and obvious, but most people fail to accomplish it."
At this Kenshin and Aoshi stiffened, although no one noticed it.
"The real meaning?" questioned Yahiko, frowning slowly.
"That when real love presents itself in your face, never question it. If you truly love, you would fully trust. And never, ever, turn away from real love." The old man said simply.
"Che, well that's of course! As if we needed a bad romance story like that to teach us that!" scoffed Sano, obviously in agreement with Yahiko. And then he yelped in pain, as Megumi twisted his ears.
"My apologies, these ruffians have yet to learn civilized behavior" apologized Megumi. And everyone sweatdropped, watching Sano curse in pain as Megumi refuses to release her hold as she dragged Sano inside the inn.
"Another simple truth: Never cross a woman," advised the old man, and Yahiko had to agree with him.
"Well, I'm off to bed!" said Yahiko and he ran in before Misao and Kaoru could remember to whack him. And since it was late, and most guests had already turned in for the night, the rest decided to follow Yahiko's lead and went to sleep.
It was much later, well past midnight, when Kaoru decided to give up on trying to sleep and went for a walk. The story had affected her too strongly, and she felt a deep sympathy for Yuki. She picked the flowers from the vase in her room and made her way to where Yuki's hut was reputed to be. Deep in thought she failed to notice a figure following her and when she reached the place, Kaoru stopped and stared fow a long moment at the hut where the tragic couples had spent the happiest and saddest moment of their life at.
Kenshin frowned when he saw Kaoru stop and just stood there staring.
He was unable to go to sleep after the story, and although he was aware that Aoshi was similarly affected, he did not feel like sharing his thoughts with anyone at the moment. Hence he had went to the garden and sat in the shadows, staring at the moon. The old man's words had been playing in his mind the whole night "That when real love presents itself in your face, never question it. If you truly love, you would fully trust. And never, ever, turn away from real love."
Had he doubted Kaoru's affection for him? He was well aware that Kaoru had certain feelings for him which crossed the boundaries between "just friends". But he was not certain of the depth, thinking her too young to be capable of real love between a man and a woman. But is such the case? Or is he just doubting Kaoru's love? If he continue to keep her at a distance, would he be turning away from real love, like the man in the story?
He was pondering on these questions and on his own feelings for Kaoru when Kaoru surprised him by coming out. He was even more surprised when she made her way out of the inn. Worried as always for her safety, he had followed her discreetly. When he saw her stopping at the supposedly Yuki's hut, he frowned and wondered what was she doing there so late at night. And then he nodded in sudden understanding: of course, Kaoru's nature was such that she feels emotions strongly and freely. Her generous heart had been affected by the story, and knowing her, she must be here to console the poor spirits of Yuki and her young man. He then smiled tenderly, for the girl whose heart is larger than her small form, and knew then, what his true feelings were.
Kaoru finally snapped out of her daze and placed the flowers on the doorstep. She then knelt down and prayed silently for Yuki's spirit, hoping that she had been reunited with her lover.
When she opened her eyes, she was startled to see legs in front of her. Fearing some supernatural beings, Kaoru stifled a scream and leapt to her feet, nearly falling down in her haste. Before she could reach the ground however, she felt a pair of strong arms encircling her waist, steadying her. When she looked up, she found herself staring into a pair of violet eyes. Kenshin, she thought in relief.
"Daijobu, Kaoru-dono?" Kenshin asked in a husky voice, causing her to shiver slightly, which did not go unnoticed by Kenshin, who smiled a little at the telltale sign.
"H..hai," Kaoru replied a little shakily. Regaining her composure, she asked Kenshin what was he doing there.
"Sessha saw you leaving the inn and decided to follow you, just in case something happens," explained Kenshin, still not releasing her.
"Why didn't you say something then? You nearly frightened me to death! I thought you were a ghost or something! After all, I am at Yuki's death place, you realize!" scolded Kaoru.
"Sumanu, sessha thought you might
not like it if sessha follows you, hence sessha decided to keep quiet."
apologized Kenshin, and before Kaoru could get mad at the sentence, he quickly
added, "Sessha was doing a lot of thinking when you came out."
Kaoru waited, knowing that there is obviously more that he's going to say. And sure enough, Kenshin added, "Sessha could not help but keep thinking of the story and of the old man's words. He is right, the truths are often simple, yet they are always what a man realizes last."
Kaoru frowned, not understanding his words, and seeing her confusion, Kenshin gave a soft chuckle before explaining further.
"Sessha has just realized sessha's truth tonight. Actually, sessha knew it all along, but sessha would not admit it."
And Kaoru froze at that, hardly daring to believe her ears. Is he saying what she thinks he'' saying. Will he finally return her feelings tonight, after all the long wait and the longing she had undergone?
Kenshin gave a small grin, before finishing his explanation is a whisper "And it is very simple. Sessha's truth is…. that sessha has loved you all along, and that sessha is no longer hitokiri nor rurouni for sessha has found a home, with Kaoru-dono if she will allow."
Tears coursed its way down Kaoru's cheek as she threw her arms around Kenshin's neck tightly when she heard his confessions. "Kenshin no baka! Of course I'll allow you! It's what I wanted most!"
And the couple continued embracing each other under the moonlight, oblivious to all others except for themselves.
And in a distance, the old man smiled. "Well Yuki, at least one couple found their happiness here. I'm sure you'll be happy for them too. Maybe one day soon I'll be able to see you again."
Author's note: I know, it's sappy and cliché etc, but I just thought what the heck, I'll try my hands at waffy romance for once and see how it turns out. Am thinking of writing a part 2 for Aoshi & Misao, or maybe even a long sequel where Yuki's spirit comes back, and contrary to what the old man believes, she's not happy for the couple. Have yet to decide. Let me know what you think, if you tell me not to, I'd drop the idea and stop torturing you guys. If you'd like me to, let me know and I'll get to work right away. Am contactable at email@example.com if you want. Maybe you can even come up with some suggestions as to how to proceed with the story?