Note: "No Choices" is a LiveJournal story, written originally for the 30 Romances challenge for "Heads or Tails, You Lose." This references (and places a slightly different focus on) the events in Chapter Twelve ("The Price of Honor") of my story THE SWORD OF THE SOUL. Nasami, having given her word to Kirara to join the farmers' cause, had temporarily split up with the others to draw away some of the Magistrates' men while the rest fled Kougakyo. She rejoins them at last in the Shikimoribito's caverns, but Kambei is oddly troubled…
Nasami found Kambei staring morosely out over the water in the Shikimoribito's caverns, his eyes on the Metal City. The only hint she had that he heard her was the slightest tensing of his body, but he did not turn when she called his name, or even when she came to a stop just behind him. For a while he just stood there and said nothing, and at last, Nasami sighed and moved to stand beside him.
"You were hurt."
She glanced up at him, startled. "What?"
"Your wound. I saw the blood on your arm."
Nasami looked down at the bandage that Yukino had wrapped around her right arm. "Oh. A reminder of my duel with Kyuzo-sama."
"You fought him?" It took a supreme act of will for Kambei not to turn, take her by the shoulders, and shake her. Even knowing that the samuraiko was enough of a swordsman to hold her own against the fair-haired assassin, the idea of her taking on Kyuzo was enough to nearly drive him mad.
"I had to," she said softly. "It was the only way I could enter the City of Respite and warn the rest of you."
Kambei continued to stare into the distance. "You shouldn't take such risks with your life."
"'Live every day as though you have forever, live every day as though you have no tomorrow.'"
"Always quoting," he said tiredly, rubbing his eyes and letting his shoulders slump at last.
"Please, Kambei-san, tell me what's wrong? This isn't like you," she said softly, hesitantly placing one hand on his arm.
For a long time, he didn't reply, and she had just given up on ever getting an answer when he finally turned and looked at her.
"You have to go back," he said at last.
"What?" she exclaimed, drawing back from him.
"You cannot come any farther with us. You have to go back."
"No," she said harshly. "I will not go back."
"I gave my word, Kambei, you know that. I can't go back now – once given, a samurai's word is inviolate."
Kambei gestured angrily toward the entrance of the Shikimoribito caverns. "Out there, do you really think they give a damn any more about samurai honor? Do you honestly believe that the merchants or the farmers or anyone else in this world cares?"
"I care," she said through gritted teeth. "That is, after all, the definition of honor. And I… gave… my… word!"
"Please," he begged, but she shook her head and turned away from him. Now she was the one staring out over the water.
"You are still samurai," he insisted, walking around to face her once more, but she would not meet his eyes. "Gorobei, Heihachi, Katsushiro, Shichiroji, Kikuchiyo, and myself, we are all ronin. We have no daimyo, no families, no lands, nothing. We have only our swords and our pride. But as such, we owe no loyalties, have no one to mourn us or bear the weight of our actions."
He placed his hands on her shoulders. "But you… you are different, Nasami-san. You are still one of the true samurai caste, the daughter of a daimyo, well-respected and honored. If you come with us now, if you travel to Kanna to fight the Nobuseri, and if the Emperor learns of your involvement, all of that will be destroyed, and your Clan and your honor will pay a high price indeed. Not even your musha shugyo will save you."
"I have no choice any more," Nasami whispered brokenly, at last lifting her eyes to his. "If I go with you, I risk my honor and my life. If I turn back now, I live forever with the burden of breaking my word, of running away." She shook her head sadly, and he looked at her more closely. At first, his eyes roamed over her face, then they dropped to her injured arm, and at last to her hand where it rested on the sword, her fingers unconsciously touching the long strands of his hair that she'd entwined in the guard of the katana.
"There's more to it than that," he said at last, once again meeting her eyes, "isn't there?"
She nodded, but she did not look away, and Kambei suddenly found it very hard to breathe.
"Are you saying… are you saying that you're going to Kanna… because of me?"
Nasami said nothing, but in that instant, he knew he was right.
"No," he whispered, even as his fingers tightened on her shoulders. "You are samuraiko, you cannot-"
"One cannot dictate the desires of one's heart, Kambei-san," Nasami murmured with a sad smile. "In that, as in this, I have no choice." She lowered her eyes. "And it is a heavy burden for me as it is."
Slowly she took a step forward, and bowed her head so that it rested against his chest. Kambei was so stunned he couldn't move away.
"If I go to Kanna," Nasami said softly, "I face dishonor and death. If I turn back, I dishonor myself. If I go to Kanna, I risk losing you. If I turn back, I will lose you. So tell me, Kambei-san, what choice do I have?"
Kambei closed his eyes. Everything in him was screaming at him to send the samuraiko away, to force her to return home or at least not follow them, but he could not make himself do it. Not when his own heart had already betrayed him.
"No more than I do, I suppose," he replied at length with a heavy sigh, and she stepped back to look at him. He smiled bitterly at the look in her eyes. "You look surprised."
"What choice was taken from you?" she asked curiously. "You, who just admitted you had no loyalties, no ties..."
He did not reply, but instead reached into the folds of his robes and drew something forth. Her eyes widened when she saw what he held.
The length of hair he had won from her during their duel at Masamune's.
"You… did keep it," she whispered, her eyes flashing to his.
"To remind me of you," he said simply. "At first, I told myself that it was to honor your courage, your skill, your absolute adherence to honor. But later, I realized that it was to be my consolation for never being able to have you. If you came to Kanna with us, you could potentially be killed, either in the fighting or executed if discovered there. If you turned back to save your honor and your family, I would never see you again. So you see, Nasami-san, we are the same."
For a long, long time, neither of them spoke. All they could do was stare at one another.
"I will not turn back, Kambei," Nasami said at last. "Not from my word… not from my own death or dishonor… and not from you."
"Then we travel to Kanna… together," he whispered, wrapping his arms around her tightly before he could change his mind.
"Together," she whispered in reply, before reaching up to pull his mouth down to hers in a fierce kiss.