Note: It was not until AFTER I started writing this story that I found the perfect music for it. Literally sitting breathless at my desk at work, my whole body frozen as I sat and listened in awe, and then having my friend lean over to ask me, "Are you all right?" At first, I didn't know what he meant, then I felt the tears on my face. And I just KNEW that it was the song for this story. Anyone who has not heard Disturbed's achingly wonderful song "Darkness," get it. Just go get it.
But you have to wonder... who is the song for? Kyuzo? Or Nasami?
Even more eerie was how this story changed from what I had originally intended to write... into what it finally became. There is a reason this story is rated M - this story will not be for the faint-hearted. Everything I never thought I would put in a story will be here... eventually.
You have been warned.
The Black and Awful Chaos of the Night
Prologue - The Coming of the Night
The first stars of the evening were just beginning to appear in the sky when she climbed the small hill where four graves lay, ever watchful over Kanna. In one hand she held a basket, in the other a single lit lantern. On silent feet, she made her way to the top of the hill, coming to a stop before the mound with two swords crossed, forming a graceful arch.
For a long, long time she stood there, staring down at the swords with an unreadable expression on her face, until the sun finally disappeared below the horizon and the lantern light touched her face with a faint glow. Then with a long sigh, she placed the lantern and the basket at her feet, and sank into the familiar zazen position before the grave.
Moving slowly, reverently, she began to empty the basket's contents on the ground in a circle around her - a bowl of rice, a small flask of water, another of sake, some fruit, until she was nearly surrounded by a circle of food. Then she lifted the basket and placed it outside the circle, neatly folding the cloth that had covered it, before turning to face the grave. Then she placed her hands in her lap, slightly bowed her head, and closed her eyes.
I will not move until I find another way, she thought to herself. I will sit here as long as it takes, but I will not leave you... and I will not let you succeed.
Four nights earlier, while staying at an inn on her way back to Kyuden Shiden'issen, she had woken from a sound sleep with the eerie sense of being watched. As she cautiously opened her eyes, she became aware of someone standing in the room near the window. To her astonishment, she had recognized that fair hair, piercing eyes, thin face, and slender build.
"You..." she whispered, sitting upright and pushing her hair back from her face.
He had said nothing, but instead went back to staring out the window, his face troubled in the pale moonlight. She had reached for her robes and wrapped them around herself before approaching him.
Her dark blue eyes wide, she had stared at him, fervently thankful that he once again appeared whole, and not as she had seen him last... his body broken and bleeding, shattered by gunfire, his face filled with an ineffable peace and sorrow. But then she realized that this was no dream, and that this was not him standing before her...
... but rather, his spirit.
"Kyuzo." Her voice had been barely louder than a breath, but he turned toward her once more, his eyes moving over her face.
Slowly, he reached out with one hand to touch her face, tracing the curve of her cheek, and she saw his lips form a single, soundless word.
Without thinking, she reached out for him, but he slipped through her fingers like mist and disappeared, leaving her alone in the moonlight, her eyes filled with tears and her heart with questions.
The next morning, she had risen early from troubled dreams, and prepared for her return to Kanna Village.
She doesn't know.
She can't know.
But somehow, someway, I will find a way to make her understand.
No matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes.
I will not rest until I find a way...
"Great samurai!" Rikichi and the others were startled at the samuraiko's arrival, so shortly after she had bid them all farewell. "What... why...?"
Kirara appeared a few moments later, her eyes wide at the sight of Nasami's pallor and almost haunted expression.
"Nasami-sama..." Instinctively she reached out for the older woman, but Nasami shook her head and waved her back.
"I'm... I'm all right... I'm just... tired. I apologize for imposing again, but is there somewhere I might rest?"
"Of course, great samurai," Sanae murmured, moving her husband to one side and bowing. "Our home is yours for as long as you require."
"Thank you, Sanae," Nasami replied, but as she turned to follow the peasant woman, she managed to take three steps before collapsing to the ground, unconscious.
Instinctively Rikichi leapt forward to catch her as she fell, aghast at seeing the samuraiko so weak. Lifting her into his arms, he carried her toward his house, Sanae and Kirara walking before him to shoo the curious and concerned farmers out of the way.
As he lay her down on a pallet, Kirara knelt beside Nasami, her brown eyes filled with worry. "What do you suppose is wrong with her? And why would she come back, so soon after leaving?"
"Maybe she's ill," Rikichi answered, sitting back on his heels. "I don't think she's been injured in any way."
Sanae filled a ladle with water and carefully brought it to the samuraiko's mouth. "Whatever her reason, she looks as though she hasn't slept in days."
Rikichi looked out the door. "And I wonder... where is Kambei-sama? He and Shichiroji-sama left with her, but only she came back..."
Kirara shook her head. "I don't know."
"Well, we can worry about that later," Sanae said, her voice soft but firm. "Nasami-sama would have said something if something had happened to either of them, so most likely she left them wherever they were and came back here on her own."
"I don't think it would be a good idea to leave her alone, though." Kirara caught her lower lip between her teeth, wishing that she knew what to do. "We don't really have a healer here, and Komachi is still too little to truly call upon the power of the water. Sanae, will you take turns with me?"
"Of course," the older woman replied, gently stroking Nasami's hair back from her face. It would not be the first time she had helped to care for the samuraiko. During Nasami's convalescence over the winter, she had stayed with Rikichi and Sanae while learning how to walk again, and the two women had become close friends.
"I will stay with her as well," came a voice from the doorway, and Kirara, Rikichi, and Sanae all glanced up to see Shino standing on the threshold. "If there is anyone who should protect sensei as she sleeps, it should be me."
So weary... so weak...
And yet still so strong in spirit...
Nasami... you have to be strong...
Strong enough... to save us both...
That night, while Sanae, Rikichi, and Kirara slept, Shino was keeping watch over the sleeping samuraiko when she saw Nasami toss and turn in her sleep. Concerned, she rose silently from her place near the fire and leaned over the other woman.
Nasami's lips were moving silently, repeating something over and over again.
Then Shino started and nearly fell backward in surprise as Nasami's eyes opened, and she rose from her pallet without a sound, staring unseeing at the world around her. Moving on pure instinct, Nasami stepped past the others, opened the door, and walked outside. Shino stared for a moment, then snatched up her naginata and followed her sensei.
As though lost in a dream, the samuraiko followed the path that wound through Kanna Village, up toward the small hillside where four graves had been dug, one for each of the samurai that had fallen during the Battle of Kanna.
Shino watched in astonishment as Nasami came to a stop before Kyuzo's grave, where she sank to her knees, reached out with both hands, and gripped the pommels of the twin swords, one in each hand.
Then the farm girl barely managed to hold back a scream as an indistinct figure appeared before Nasami, kneeling on the other side of the swords, its hands resting on hers.
"I had to." Nasami lifted her head to stare Kyuzo in the eyes, but then abruptly she shuddered and closed her eyes involuntarily. "My dreams... for the last four nights, they've been hellish... tortured..."
She had never told him the truth... that since the night she had lent him her strength and helped heal his wounds, her life and his had become inextricably tied together. Although not quite the same as the bond that existed between herself and Shimada Kambei, in those long minutes when she had called upon the favor of Amaterasu and given her own strength to him so that he might continue to fight, something of her soul had passed into him... and something of his, into her.
Then she opened her eyes again, and once again her gaze met his. And for a moment, her eyes went wide.
"You did know..." she whispered as the truth crashed over her like a wave. "You knew what had happened between us that night in the sacred forest."
Kyuzo nodded. "Why do you think I never stopped believing you were alive?"
Nasami frowned. "Then... why did Kambei-"
"- stop believing?" The red-clad samurai shrugged. "Because he prefers guilt."
The samuraiko let out a heavy sigh. "That's certainly true..."
"Where is he?"
"On his way to the Firefly House with Shichiroji... I told him that I needed to come back here. I didn't tell him why, but I suspect that he knows."
Now it was Kyuzo's turn to frown. "What do you mean?"
Nasami's hand drifted uneasily to her chest. "I saw you in my dreams... and he sensed my pain in his. We thought that given enough distance..." She shook her head to dispel the memory of her nightmares. "Anyway, I couldn't leave you... not when you so clearly need me."
"But why me? Why not-?"
"He cannot help me... only you can."
Nasami sighed and lowered her eyes. "What do you need from me?"
"A samurai will not rest until a promise is kept. You know that... better than any of them."
She nodded, and the ghost paused for a moment.
"I still have a score to settle."
The samuraiko went absolutely ashen, and the power of speech seemed to leave her completely. All she could do was shake her head, unable to look away from the ghost who was staring at her with an expression as close to pleading as she had ever seen on him.
"How can you ask me to do that?" she whispered, horrified.
"You are the only one strong enough," he replied. "The only one capable of besting him, as I could. The only one-"
"NO!" she cried. "No, I won't do it!"
She released his swords, staggered to her feet and turned away, but did not leave. The ghost rose to follow her, walking around to stand before her.
"I know you love him. But I cannot rest until this is done."
Nasami shook her head again, unable to speak, and Kyuzo sighed.
Nasami had not been there when Kyuzo had died in Kambei's arms on the Capital airship, his life cut short by accident when Katsushiro had opened fire on one of Ukyo's guards about to shoot Kambei in the back. But in those terrible moments after the battle, when she herself had lain dying amongst the wreckage of the Capital, she had held Kyuzo's body to hers, willing her life into him in a vain attempt to keep death from claiming the samurai.
Had she known that Kyuzo's only reason for living was to kill a man she loved...
... but how could she have done any less for a man whose life she had saved once before, whom she respected and admired?
As though reading her thoughts, the former assassin's features hardened. As rigidly as he had controlled his feelings in life, he had never once dreamed that a woman could get past all of his defenses in the name of friendship and companionship. And while he had secretly savored the comfort of knowing that Nasami had indeed cared for him, shared some part of her soul with him even if she did not love him as she did Kambei, the knowledge that she would have to choose one of them over the other left a bitter taste in his mouth.
But some things are stronger than friendship, stronger than even love...
... one of which was a samurai's honor.
And with cold eyes, Kyuzo could see that Nasami was thinking the exact same thing.
"You cannot deny me this."
"GO AWAY!" she shrieked, shutting her eyes tight, turning her face away, and covering her ears, sinking to her knees and sobbing as though her heart were breaking.
"No." Kyuzo's voice was angry, and his frustration was evident at not being able to actually grasp hold of the samuraiko. "I need you... please-"
But he got no farther, for just then, the sun rose over the far mountains, and Kyuzo vanished like morning mist, leaving Nasami alone by the graves.
"Sensei," Shino whispered, running over the other woman and wrapping her arms around her. "Sensei, are you all right?"
Nasami lifted her eyes to Shino's, then she turned her gaze toward the rising sun.
"Help me back to Rikichi's," she said hoarsely. "And... tell me when the next Tortoise Express rider is due through Kanna."
"I don't understand," Shino said in confusion as she helped Nasami rise, horrified at the ragged expression and tearstains on the samuraiko's face. "Are you going to ask Kambei-sama here to help you?"
"No... I'm going to warn him..."
Nasami drew in a deep breath.
"... to run for his life."
To be continued...