I do not own Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto.

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Pairing: Sou/Kotoha, Shiranui/Kotoha, Aki/Koku, Sou/Aki.


Carrying It On

Version 3

"Shiranui never got her," Kakunojo had laughed, when Akizuki asked after Kotoha. "I guess... Sensei's death was a real blow to her heart..."

Akizuki frowned.

"I know..." The Troupe's Chief smiled. "He was evil and ruined our lives but..."

There was always that but...

"She might have gone back to Katsu-sensei - where the real money is," pointed out Zagashira wisely.

"Don't say things like that," wailed Shiranui comically.

"Well... someone will be happy when we head back to Yokohama." Kakunojo laughed. "It's been so long... you won't be leaving us so soon, right Akizuki-kun? Not after just arriving! It's been eight years!"

"Of course - I will stay as long as you wish -" Akizuki smiled.

After all... what do I have to do now that my mission is complete? Being here brings fond memories... along with the sad...

When he shut his eyes that night, he saw firm lips lowering to meet his - but when the kiss deepened, the mouth softened and changed into full, soft sweetness.

Sensei...

Kakunojo...

-

Three months later, the Yuyama Troupe finally reached Yokohama. It was a hectic time - but well spent in Akizuki's mind. He was able to drop by the temple to pick up his few belongings -a nd there was Ibaragi's sword to ponder on.

But he decided on the most obvious and painful choice.

It would go to Kotoha - when he (or Shiranui) found her.

As it should have all those years. I've been selfish, Ibaragi-sensei. To want at least that piece of you...

"AHHHH!" Kakunojo's wailing jerked him out of his melancholy thoughts. "Akizuki! This banner ripped - AGAIN!"

He rose, stowed the sword away and smiled.

I've no need for this - another love is here... and running to find myself was good, but... this is where I belong... this is my home now - this is a dream made into reality.

"I'm coming," he called.

-

Shiranui looks smug," whispered Kakunojo. "Do you think he found her?"

Akizuki, watching Shiranui float down the street, frowned.

"Perhaps..."

-

"I found her alright," Shiranui smiled, with excitement and pride.

"She's still -"

"No," the woman-charmer shook his head, lit his pipe ruminatively and shrugged. "Well... maybe sometimes but no... more of a Mistress, you know - the brothel's manager... taking care of the girls, training 'em - raising up a new generation of Kotoha's no doubt."

"I see..." Akizuki blinked.

She's never married...

-

Unlike Shiranui, Akizuki felt no qualms approaching the brothel and its mistress.

"Kotoha?" The man at the door blinked. "Oh - well - that is - you have money for that kind of woman?"

Akizuki sighed.

"I knew her - well, an acquaintance of hers - would you take this note to her?"

"Very well..." The man peered at the small scroll suspiciously. "Wait here..."

Moments later, the man returned with eyes large as saucers. He bowed and said, "She says for you to make haste - come this way..."

-

She was at her desk, putting away scrolls - covered with blotchy ink.

Writing lessons... Akizuki wondered.

"It's been awhile, Akizuki-kun."

"Kotoha-sama," he bowed. "Too long."

"Hmmm... I trust you are keeping well. Wine? Or some buns? Just made new from the kitchens."

"Thank you."

He watched her curiously - trying to understand what the enigmatic playwright saw in her - to wield her as a pawn.

What did she have to offer?

The obvious answer was dismissed. Sex could be had anywhere. Akizuki could easily see some of the rumors as true - Hijikata - Enomoto - men of the battlefield - who lacked time or desire to pander to the weak flesh of women. Relief could be found on the battlefield just as easily with that companion who you turned your back to in trust. Understandable why so many men found comfort in the quiet darkness of their tents.

Soutetsu, he was sure, was no exception.

But Kotoha -

Soutetsu then wasn't an instigator? He didn't take the lead...

Akizuki could see the playwright still - lying there on his back - but he wasn't bleeding, nor was he clothed -

He was naked, pale skin flushed as -

Akizuki blushed at the thought.

No. He had died for dream. For that dream, he would bend for those over him - but never break. But Kotoha - what was it about her - and why should his memory fall to her -

He could feel her eyes on him too. She was no doubt wonder as well.

Let her wonder.

"I heard... you were there with him at the end?"

A delicate question.

"Yes."

A simple answer.

"I see... and he did not mention me... You would have told me earlier otherwise..."

"He said - it was for a dream - a butterfly dream..."

"A... butterfly dream..."

There was a silence.

"So you..."

"Yes..."

"I see. It wasn't open to debate -"

"He was possessed. There was no other way."

"I understand."

"I'm sorry."

"I miss his presence more than ever - even after eight years. No matter what he was - what he became - what he did..." She paused. "Forgiveness is hard."

"That's it then -"

You were that immovable piece. The only one always there - unchanging - a role you could play with no sword in your hand.

"Eh?"

"Nothing. It's alright - I was the one who ended his life, i can save the whole world but -"

"Not one man. Here."

She poured some more sake for him.

"It happens. We move on. Japan has become great - it is now more solid then ever before - just as strong. In a way, it all worked for the good... One day, I am sure Japan will be the strong, important country he dreamed it would be. A flower among the Europeans."

"Yes."

"But -"

"I came... to give this to you... that is all..."

He held the loosely wrapped katana up for her, and she took it reluctantly.

"It's... heavy." She said with surprise.

"... yes..."

He could still see the playwright twirlig his weapon expertly. The sword had turned into a spear...

Amazing that such a quite demeanor had hidden such great expertise. Not that it had saved him...

Akizuki jolted back to the present at the sound of a gasp.

"Kotoha-sama?"

"It's nothing," she said - and rose up. "I thank you, Akizuki-kun."

"You are welcome."

He rose as well.

"I appreciate this visit, and thank your courage. I wish you well in the future," Kotoha bowed with a soft smile. "And if you plan to stay, be sure to come around one night - you do plan to stay?"

"Well..." He paused, then blushed. "It all depends on Kakunojo, really."

Kotoha smiled, understanding almost immediately.

"She is a good girl. You can't get any better, Akizuki-kun."

He blushed a deeper red.

"Yes... I know."

She opened the door - and he trailed after her, barely glancing at the short, long-haired figure dressed simply in a very neat, white kimono. When he turned to bow he paused - mid-bow, at the sight of her standing in the doorway, backlit by yellow, red and orange lamplight, arms wrapped around the sword.

And beyond her - stood a spindly, eleven-year-old... a young boy to be sure. With long dark-chestnut hair, a firm jaw and Kotoha's bright eyes.

Soutetsu -

Soutetsu's dark chestnut hair, firm jaw and straight posture...

And behind the eyes lurked wariness.

There was a silence - Kotoha's fingers tightened around the sword.

"Is that all?" she asked, breathless.

He rose with a quiet, "Yes."

He turned away.

"I am... content."

Did you see that - plan that as well, Soutetsu-sensei? In Kotoha, did you see this bright future?

He smiled.


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