Note: This story was written as part of a bonus challenge for the 31 Days LiveJournal community. The quote that spurred the story was "My right arm is complete again." From the moment I saw this on the bonus list, I knew I had to write for it... and I knew who it had be about. And as the summary states, this story is a double spoiler:
First, for what happens in Episode 25.
And second, for what happens just before the end of Chapter 48 ("Kanna's Last Defender") of my S7 novel, The Sword of the Soul.
CLOSE ENOUGH TO HOLD
Kyuzo opened his eyes, his mind automatically assessing his surroundings. He was lying on his back in a trench, covered in blood, his right arm feeling numb, countless cuts and abrasions covering his body.
For a second, he closed his eyes, trying to reconstruct what had happened.
Heihachi and Katsushiro heading for the engine gallery.
The Nobuseri trying to stop them.
Leaping from machine to machine, carving them a path to safety.
The explosion of a gunshot.
Kyuzo opened his eyes once more, remembering watching the shot approaching, and throwing one arm up front of his face in a vain attempt to shield himself. By all accounts, he should be dead.
But he was alive.
Then he became aware of a weight pressing him down into the earth, and ignoring the painful protests of his body, he lifted his head and saw Nasami lying on top of him, breathing hard as though she had run miles. The samuraiko was covered in blood - although he suspected some of it was his own - and looked as though she had been through the wringer herself, but here she was.
On the battlefield.
And as foolish as the idea was, he was oddly gratified to know that he had been right, and Kambei wrong, about the samuraiko having survived being captured.
As though aware of his gaze, she raised her head and shook it to clear her vision, and then she looked at him, a crooked grin lighting up her face. "I'm thinking we're even now, wouldn't you say?"
For a moment he was puzzled, then he remembered the sneak attack by bandits using explosive grenades, and saving Nasami's life at the near cost of his own. Oddly enough, it was not the satisfaction of protecting her he remembered in those confused, hazy moments after the explosions... it had been the feel of her beneath him.
"So you're still alive," he said as she rolled off of him to lie on her back, pulling air into her lungs with a relieved sigh.
"Yeah, for now. Although truth be told, I've been better." She ran her hands over her face, leaving it even dirtier than before, pushed her hair back out of her eyes, then she struggled to her feet with a curse and a wince. But as she turned to help him up, her eyes went to his right arm, and her breath caught in her throat in horror. "Kyuzo-sama... your arm..."
He shrugged, but then immediately regretted it as the numbness vanished in a wave of fire down his arm and he bit back a cry of pain. Nasami quickly crouched down behind him, bracing her arm across his shoulders to help him sit up, taking care to avoid moving too fast. For once, he didn't pull away from her, but welcomed the help.
"Don't mention it," she said quietly, not looking at him, her eyes instead on his injuries. "As I said, we're even now." Her face grim, the samuraiko tore strips of cloth from her own leggings and started binding the wounds on his arm. But Kyuzo put his left hand over the injury on his right arm, and she looked up at him in confusion.
"What's wrong?" she asked, but he shook his head.
"Kyuzo-sama, don't be an idiot," she snapped at him. "Stop being stubborn and just let me-"
"I can't feel my hand." Her voice died in mid-protest and her dark blue eyes went wide.
Following his gaze, her eyes dropped to his right hand, covered in blood where it trickled down his arm. Letting the makeshift bandages fall into her lap, she tore away the remnants of his sleeve, but one glance told her what Kyuzo already knew - the damage to his right arm was irreparable. Not even surgery would be able to save the limb, and her eyes filled with tears.
Kyuzo was stunned. Why in the world, of all people, did she have to care about him? It made the fact that he cared for her that much harder to bear.
"No... no, no, no..." she whispered, gently placing her small hands on his arm and closing her eyes. For a second, he was confused, but then he realized what she was about to do.
Once before, when he'd been injured, Nasami had given him the strength to keep going... but at great cost to herself.
He couldn't let her do it again. Not when Kanna needed her.
Kyuzo covered both her hands with his left hand.
Her eyes flashed up to meet his.
"Save your strength, you'll need it yourself."
At the startled expression on her face, Kyuzo knew he'd been right in suspecting that she would have once again surrendered her strength to him.
"This isn't just a graze gunshot wound, and you're in no position to turn me down," she argued. "They need you up there, Kyuzo."
"And they need you down here," he replied quietly, not moving his hand away. "You're the only one left to defend Kanna."
Moving slowly and with great care, he got to his feet with Nasami's help, ignoring the twinges of pain that shot through him. His eyes were on the crater a few feet away where the shot had blown a hole in the ground.
Unbelievable... he really should have died from that Nobuseri blast, but Nasami had dived directly at him just before the explosion and together they had rolled into one of the trenches left behind by an earlier stray blast.
That she'd avoided taking more of the damage herself was a miracle. But then he turned to face her, his eyes taking in the blood and dirt on her face, the exhaustion and pain in her eyes, and he could see that she was not as fine as she was making herself out to be.
Not for the first time, he wondered at the strength and courage and selflessness of this woman, wondered how far she would go before giving in, if ever.
Wondered why Kambei had ever believed that Nasami was dead.
Wondered at what might have been, had things been different.
Wondered if she'd ever wondered the same things herself.
Self-conscious beneath his stare, she lowered her eyes to the ground, and Kyuzo abruptly realized that there was no more time for wondering.
"I need your help," he said at last, looking away and searching the battlefield. "I must return to the Capital."
Nasami nodded, her eyes sweeping across the battlefield as well. "Unfortunately, Heihachi's already gone with that Yakan shell of his. Unless..."
Kyuzo's gaze, however, was resting on another Zankanto that one of the bandits had dropped earlier. She turned to face him, clearly thinking the same thing. "Can you fly one of these things?"
"Good, let's go." She strode over to the swordship and clambered up toward the cockpit, Kyuzo following her more slowly. "You stay down there for a few minutes, get your breath back while I check her out. I'm hardly the mechanic that Heihachi is, so I can't make any promises on how well she'll fly, but hell, you could always just slam this thing into the underside of the Capital."
Wearily, he leaned against the hull of the ship, watching the Capital as it continued its approach toward Kanna. He glanced back over his shoulder toward the village, and saw the farmers releasing salvo after salvo at the approaching airship, ferrying the wounded, manning defenses. Then he looked up at the samuraiko, who was rummaging around in the cockpit.
"Why what?" she called back as she tested the controls.
"Why did you leave Kanna to help me?"
Her hands went still, and for a long moment, she didn't answer him.
Trying not to flinch at the pain, Kyuzo climbed up onto the Zankanto and sat beside the cockpit, looking in at her.
"I..." She sighed. "I couldn't just stand aside and do nothing and watch someone else die... not when I had a chance to save him. Not again."
"Because you couldn't save Kuroshin?" he asked her quietly, and Nasami's face went pale, but she nodded, and went back to her work.
"I wasn't aware that you knew," she said, her voice low.
"I knew," was all he said.
Kyuzo had also been at the Battle of Shinomen Mori with the rest of the Dragon Clan contigent, watching samurai fight and die by the hundreds of thousands. He had heard of the feats that Nasami, Kuroshin, Kaminari, and the others had accomplished... and it had only taken a single moment outside the Village of Respite, facing down the white-haired samuraiko, to remember the Night of Dark Fire, and the woman who had become a legend that night.
"Back in Kanna..." she said at last. "The night before the bandits attacked, you said... do you really think that Kuroshin would be proud of me?" Her eyes met his, and the fair-haired samurai could see how much his answer meant to her.
"Yes," he said simply and without hesitation, and she nodded to herself and went back to her work.
Suddenly Kyuzo's mind felt as though it was whirling as all the pieces finally dropped into place.
Nasami had not just been a companion and friend to Kuroshin... she had loved him. Loved him with all the fierce passion that he knew beat within her heart... but had never had that love returned.
No wonder she had undertaken a musha shugyo after the Night of Dark Fire. It had not just been to seek enlightenment, or peace within herself after the Great War. It had been to come to terms with losing the man she had loved.
Kuroshin - the stoic, quiet Dragon samurai... so much like himself.
No wonder Nasami had been shaken the first time she had met him, Kyuzo realized. To the heartbroken samuraiko, it must have been as though Kuroshin had returned from the dead.
Did she care for him because of his resemblance to Kuroshin? Or did she care for him on his own merits?
He snorted derisively to himself at that - as though he had merits that would attract a woman.
He glanced in at Nasami again, remembering that unique resonance between them the night he and she had danced before the bonfire in the Dragon's Flight kata. That was not something that could have stemmed from her memories... that had been here and now... and him.
Nasami made a few quick adjustments, and the engines began to hum.
"There," she said in satisfaction, pulling herself out of the cockpit to stand beside Kyuzo on the hull. "Unfortunately, the maneuverability is shot to hell, and with only one hand, you won't really be able to steer worth a damn anyway. But she'll fly."
"Thank you," he said quietly, but he didn't move from where he stood. Instead, he stood beside the samuraiko and just stared down at her.
Giving in to impulse, he lifted his left hand and gently touched her cheek, then he moved his hand to let the strands of her hair slide through his fingers. In astonishment, she turned to him, but before she could speak, he placed his fingers over her lips.
"Kambei thinks you're dead," he murmured. "When I see him again, I will let him know that you still live."
And with those words, he knew that he would never be able to kill the other samurai, for Kyuzo had caught the brief flicker of joy that had flashed in the samuraiko's eyes at learning that Kambei was also still alive.
With that, he swung himself into the cockpit and fully started up the engines.
"Kyuzo!" she shouted over the sudden roar, and he looked up at her. She started to speak, but then closed her mouth again and settled for kneeling beside the cockpit, holding out one hand to him. He lifted his left hand and clasped her hand in his. Neither spoke, but a world of understanding seemed to pass between the two of them.
Deep inside his heart, he knew, as surely as he knew anything in this world, that this was going to be the last time he ever saw her.
And he would be damned if he would leave her behind without leaving her with something to remember him by, as he would always remember her.
He yanked back his arm, pulling Nasami into the cockpit on top of him. Her mouth opened with a cry of surprise as she landed on top of him, but Kyuzo caught her with his left arm, pulled her close, and kissed her.
And in those moments, he could taste tears in the kiss... but he was never certain if they were hers or his.
Thinking that she would never hear him over the roar of the Zankanto's engines, Kyuzo at last whispered the one thing he had been aching to tell her for months.
"I love you, Nasami."
But then he got the shock of his life when Nasami's hand hooked around the back of his neck to kiss him even harder, and she whispered into his mouth:
"And I love you, Kyuzo."
He tangled his left hand in her hair and brought her lips down to his once more.
But with a mighty effort, he managed to lift his right arm enough to wrap around the samuraiko and pull her close.