SECRET ADMIRER, NOT-SO-SECRET HEARTACHE
Nasami woke up and stretched with a long yawn. Her sleep had been vaguely restless the night before, as she'd awoken briefly with the sensation that someone had been watching her. But as none of the other samurai seemed to be reacting, she'd shrugged it off and gone back to sleep.
Then she turned her head and saw something next to her pillow, and her eyes widened in surprise.
"Nasami-dono?" Heihachi asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes as she rolled over and picked up the small object beside her head.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" she murmured, and the others glanced over to see the samuraiko smiling in delight and holding something up in her cupped hands.
"What's that?" Shichiroji asked, looking closer, and the others saw that it was an elaborate and beautiful origami figure, made from elegant crimson paper, done to look like the kanji for 'love'.
Laughing, she turned to the other samurai. "All right, which one of you was this from?"
They all looked at each other, then back at her, and her smile faltered. "What, wasn't it one of you?"
"Not me," Kikuchiyo said, looking slightly shamefaced. "Wish I'd thought of something like that, though."
Heihachi also shook his head. "Not me... not that I don't like you, Nasami-dono, but I'd just as soon tell you."
She looked over at Shichiroji, who held up his hands. "Don't look at me, Yukino would kill me!"
Gorobei laughed. "And it wasn't me, either, Nasami-dono!"
Everyone looked at Kyuzo and Kambei, who were both staring at the origami in her hands.
"So it must have been one of you two!" Kikuchiyo declared cheerfully. "Come on, 'fess up! Which one of you was it?"
Kambei and Kyuzo looked at one another.
"Did you give her that?" Kambei asked him, and Kyuzo shook his head.
Kambei also shook his head.
Katsushiro, however, was absolutely pale.
"Hey, Katsu, don't tell me that was from you!"
The young samurai finally found his voice. "No, I didn't give her that." Although it was clear Kikuchiyo didn't believe him, the other samurai somehow sensed the young man was telling the truth... just as they also knew there was more to this than he was saying.
"Well, SOMEONE gave this thing to me!" Nasami said, exasperated. "It didn't just spontaneously create itself and appear next to my bed!"
"Maybe... it was one of the peasants," Gorobei said hesitantly.
"Would any of them know how to make something like that?" Shichiroji said, his voice filled with doubt.
"Stranger things have happened," Heihachi admitted, scratching his head. "But I guess that's why they're called secret admirers."
"But I would at least like to know who to thank!" the samuraiko said, holding up the origami and studying it.
"Great samurai?" they heard, and the eight of them turned around to see Komachi, Okara, Tetsu, and Kirara enter, each carrying a plate of rice balls. "We've brought breakfast for you..."
"Great!" Kikuchiyo shouted, snatching up two rice balls and happily munching away.
"Would any of you happen to know who might have given me this?" Nasami asked, stepping down off the raised platform and holding out the origami.
"It's lovely!" Kirara said, staring at it, and Katsushiro winced.
"You mean, you don't know who gave it to you?" Tetsu asked, and Nasami explained how she'd found the origami beside her bed when she'd woken up.
"And all the samurai say that they weren't the ones who gave it to me."
Suddenly, Komachi and Okara began snickering, and putting down the trays, the two girls made a mad dash for the door.
"You've got to be kidding," Gorobei said flatly. "You mean one of those two-"
"I don't think they made it, but I think we've just figured out who actually slipped this thing to me. But the question is... which one of you gave it to THEM?"
The samurai again all looked at one another, but no one could tell if it really was one of the samurai, and Nasami let out a sigh of exasperation.
"Come on, would whoever did this just admit it?"
None of them spoke, and she gave a half-laugh, half-growl.
"Well, I'm going to make my usual rounds on guard duty." She carefully set down the origami figure, smiling, and picking up a rice ball, she nodded her thanks to the four farmers, then headed toward the door. But before she left, she turned and looked over her shoulder, a thoughtful frown on her face as she studied each of the men, then she smiled and walked outside. The peasants left soon after that, leaving the samurai alone in the house.
The moment they were gone, all of them turned to Katsushiro.
"All right, out with it," Shichiroji said. "Why didn't you just tell Nasami-dono that-"
"I didn't make it for her!" Katsushiro blurted out, and the others started.
"What?" Kambei asked in confusion. "Then, how did-?"
"Komachi and Okara must have stolen it before Kirara saw it, snuck in here, and put it beside Nasami's bed." He blushed as red as the origami kanji. "I... I wanted to give it to Lady Kirara, but was too embarrassed to give it to her in person, so I... left it for her."
"But now Nasami thinks that one of us..."
The samurai stared at each other, aghast.
For the rest of the day, it was an almost painful sensation for any of the samurai when they saw Nasami around the village. Although she didn't mention the gift again, each of them could tell she was thinking about it, and wondering who had given it to her.
It didn't take long for the samurai to catch Komachi and Okara, not when Kikuchiyo openly threatened to never speak to either girl again if they didn't meet with the samurai.
"I know you girls think that what you did was amusing," Shichiroji said firmly, "but in truth, what you did was cruel. Not only did you steal from Kirara, but you've deceived Nasami-dono."
"We weren't trying to be cruel, Momotaro, honest!" Komachi wailed. "We just..."
"You've put all of us in a very uncomfortable position," Kambei said quietly, kneeling down to look the two peasant girls in the eyes. "Eventually Nasami will realize that the gift was never meant for her at all. Have you stopped to think how much that will hurt her feelings?"
The two girls stared miserably at the ground.
"Why did you take my present from your sister?" Katsushiro said, also kneeling down beside Komachi.
"We thought it would be funny..."
"When I finally got around to asking Lady Kirara what she thought of my present and she said she had no idea what I was talking about?" He groaned and shook his head. "Not to mention she's probably wondering why I didn't give her anything today."
"So... what do we do now?" Okara mumbled, scuffling her feet on the ground. "And we wouldn't even be talking about this if one of you had given something to Nasami-sama in the first place."
"What?" Heihachi said, startled.
"I know!" Komachi said brightly. "All we have to do is go to Nasami-sama and say that we gave her the wrong present, and that she was supposed to get a different one. Then we can give Katsu's back to Sis, and everything will be fine!"
"But then someone would really have to have a gift for Nasami-dono," Gorobei explained.
"Well, don't any of you like her?" Okara asked bluntly.
For a moment, none of the samurai spoke, but Kambei faintly reddened.
"Well... you do have all day," Komachi said, her smile fading. "M-maybe one of you can think of something before the end of the day and Nasami-sama finds out."
Later on that evening, all of the samurai met up at Rikichi's house again for dinner. None of them said anything, but from their slightly gloomy expressions, it was obvious that none of them had thought of a way out of the quandary that Komachi and Okara had created.
"So... are we going to tell her?" Heihachi finally asked.
"We should," Kikuchiyo said reluctantly. "I mean, I know if I were her, I'd want someone to tell me the truth."
"And she's a strong woman, I'm sure she'll understand." Shichiroji's sigh, however, didn't seem all that confident.
"Understand, yes. Find it amusing, no," Gorobei said.
"Well... there's no much we can do about it now but hope." Katsushiro rested his chin in his hands.
"Uh-oh," Kikuchiyo said abruptly, and they all looked at him.
"What is it?" Kambei asked, puzzled, and Kikuchiyo pointed to Nasami's pallet. They all looked over there, at first confused, until they remembered that earlier that morning, Nasami had carefully left the origami there.
It was gone.
"Oh, no..." Shichiroji groaned. "There's no way she's not gonna find out about it now."
All of them were startled when a few minutes later, Kirara arrived, looking sad.
She was holding the origami figure.
"Nasami-sama... said that this was actually for me. And that... she had received it by mistake."
Katsushiro swallowed hard, but nodded.
"I wonder..." Gorobei began.
"-how she knew?" Kirara asked, and he nodded. "She... she said that... she couldn't think of anyone who would have made this for her... but knew who would have made this for me."
Looking embarrassed, Kirara approached Katsushiro, then quickly gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you..." she murmured.
They were silent for a moment after she was gone, most of them looking miserable.
"Poor Nasami-dono," Shichiroji murmured. "I wish there were something we could to make it up to her."
But then Nasami walked in, her eyes slightly red but otherwise her usual composed self. She nodded to the rest of them, then removed her shoes and took a seat between Heihachi and Shichiroji. Without a word, she poured herself a cup of tea, reached for a riceball, then walked over to her pallet, sat down, and began to eat.
"Nasami-dono, I'm so sorry," Katsushiro said in a rush, and everyone but Nasami looked at him in surprise. "If I had never made that for Kirara, this whole misunderstanding would never have happened."
Nasami swallowed her food, then shook her head. "Don't worry about it, Katsushiro." She went back munching on her riceball, not meeting his eyes.
"Why would you think that no one would have made that for you?" Kambei's voice was quiet, but seemed to fill the room, but the samuraiko still did not lift her gaze.
"Why would you think that someone would?" she asked softly.
After she had finished her food, Nasami pulled out a few sheets of paper and idly began folding them while the others talked about the progress the villagers were making. Every now and again, one of the samurai would glance over at Nasami, but the samuraiko ignored them, continuing to fold the paper with intense concentration.
When she was done, she carefully set her creation down on her pallet, picked up her swords again, rose, donned her sandals again, and walked toward the door.
Kambei and the others all looked at one another, then they looked at Nasami's pallet.
Like Katsushiro earlier, Nasami had created a kanji in beautiful origami. But unlike his, hers had been fashioned from paper that was a stark, cold white.
And hers was the kanji for 'alone.'
To everyone's astonishment, however, Kambei reached down and picked up the origami kanji and stared at it for a moment.
Then he methodically tore it to shreds, and turned to follow Nasami outside. The samurai still inside heard the samuraiko give a single startled yelp, then there was a thump against the outside wall of the house.
Katsushiro started for the door, but as he glanced to one side, he went bright red and stepped back inside.
The other five approached, and peered over Katsushiro's shoulder, and after seeing Kambei and Nasami half-hidden in the shadows, the samurai stifling Nasami's every protest with one kiss after another, they grinned and went back inside.
"Do you think she'll be all right now?" Heihachi asked, picking up the riceball that Kambei had left behind and taking a satisfied bite.
At that moment, they heard the samuraiko laugh briefly, then the sound was cut off once again.
Shichiroji grinned. "All right? They'll be fantastic."