The sun rose and cast its golden light directly on Oedo Castle. Goemon and Ebisumaru admired its magnificence from afar, just to the side of the front gates, where two vigilant guards stood watch.
"Hey, I think I see Sasuke and Yae coming," Ebisumaru said suddenly, pointing down the streets of Edo, which were practically deserted due to the early hour.
Sure enough, Sasuke was walking straight towards Goemon and Ebisumaru, and Yae wasn't far behind. She looked over her shoulder periodically as she walked. When she had moved closer to her three companions, they could see that her eyelids looked heavy. It was clear she wasn't well-rested.
Goemon opened his mouth, but Yae had already predicted what he was going to say. "My home was ransacked while I was gone. It wasn't safe for me to stay there, so I've been moving around a lot. And it was difficult to sleep, as you can probably tell."
"Do you think the Lord can help you with this? I'm sure he'd be happy to," Goemon said.
"I don't want to trouble him. Anyway, let's go inside."
The ninjas walked up to the gates of the castle and were just about to step through when the guards crossed their spears over the entryway. "Halt!" one of them shouted. He took a look at the four people standing in front of him and quickly moved his spear back to his side. "Oh! Goemon. Are you here to speak to the Lord regarding yet another disaster that has befallen Japan?" The slightest hint of sarcasm could be heard in his voice, and his partner snickered to the side.
"As a matter of fact, I am," Goemon said. No matter how many times he had gone into Oedo Castle, these same guards always seemed skeptical of his intentions.
"Oh...umm, very well, then. Wait in the courtyard, somebody will come down to escort you to the throne room shortly."
"And that's what happened."
The Lord of Edo and his daughter, Princess Yuki, stood at the front end of the throne room. Goemon and the others had just finished telling the story of their latest adventure to them. "Well, I'm relieved to know that my people are safe from those foul creatures," the Lord said. "Once again, I'm extremely grateful to all of you."
"I don't know what we'd do without you, Goemon," Princess Yuki added. "And of course, I can't forget Ebisumaru, Sasuke and Yae. Each of you plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of Japan, and we can't thank you enough."
"There must be something we can do to repay you for all you've done."
"I need no reward, Lord. Although..." Goemon's eyes shifted towards Yae. He nudged her softly.
"No, Goemon," she whispered to him.
"Yae, is there something you'd like to ask of me?" the Lord asked with his warm smile.
"Uh, no, sir. Nothing at all."
The Lord continued to stare at Yae, who just looked away nervously. Suddenly, the doors burst open and the kunoichi cringed as she heard a familiar and unmistakable voice. "My Lord, there's something I need to...Well, perhaps there will be no need to bother you after all, Lord. Hello, Miss Yae."
A visibly irritated Yae released a heavy sigh. "Hello, Master Hideyoshi."
"I see you insist on continuing to consort with this misguided vigilante."
Goemon knew Hideyoshi was referring to him, but restrained himself from leaping forward and squeezing the life out of this hideous rat. Goemon had never met him personally, but he could already see that Yae's descriptions of him were frighteningly accurate.
"And now, you face the consequences," the rat continued. "Come, you need to learn to use all the office equipment."
"Y-Yes, master," Yae said. Her posture was slumped, and a dejected frown was now painted on her face.
Goemon grabbed Yae's arm as she took a step towards the door. "Yae, don't let this guy push you around. It's not too late to fight against this."
"Yes, it is, Goemon. This was the only thing I could think about over the past three nights. I realized that there was no point in resisting, and there's nothing any of you could do to help me. It would be best if I just gave in."
"Listen to yourself, Yae. Do you really want to live the rest of your life as some miserable, hollow shell of a person? What kind of an existence is that? You deserve so much more! Think about the things you've accomplished as a ninja, and then think of what you would do as a secretary. Don't you think it's worth it to put up a fight for something that important? I'm certain of how the Yae I know would answer, but what do you really want?"
Yae flipped through the pages of her life's story. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't reminisce for long about her life before she met Goemon without such memories being pushed aside by more recent thoughts of the various escapades she participated in with him and the others. She remembered following Bismaru into the future. She remembered going to Planet Impact, the giant robot's original home, to save it from Seppukumaru and the four Tsujigiri. She remembered going into outer space with the intent of stopping the pompous Spring Breeze Dancin' from turning Japan into a stage where he could put on his unusual musical. She remembered venturing into the Underworld to destroy the Wise Man's first ghost summoning machine so it couldn't be used to revive another monster as horrible as Dochuki.
And then her mind settled on the most recent quest. The Mt. Fuji fiasco. The conflict with her boss. The battle with Daichi. Finally, she came to Zazen Town, late at night, on the balcony connected to their lavish room. "So, what's bothering you, Yae?...I think you'd be a lot happier in the long run if you're willing to open up and let others know how you're really feeling...What made you decide to come with us after all?...Just live for today. Live your life the way you want it. That is the destiny for many..."
The inundation of thoughts from Yae's memory was interrupted by a growling voice. "You would listen to the mindless ravings of this fool? I would think you'd have more sense than that. Or, rather, I did until you defied my orders."
Yae's heart thumped furiously against her chest as a single tear rolled down her cheek. She swallowed hard as she forbade her eyes from shedding any more. This was no time for that. Now was the time to display true strength. "You're right. I'm not going to listen to the mindless ravings of a fool."
"Well, then come along. I'm growing impatient," Hideyoshi said, his voice becoming more threatening with each syllable he uttered.
"Didn't you hear me? I said I'm not going to listen to the mindless ravings of a fool." Hideyoshi stared at her with a raised eyebrow. "Do I have to spell it out for you? To put it plainly, sir, I'm not going anywhere."
As expected, Hideyoshi's rage was practically pouring out of his ears. A vein in the upper right section of his temple began throbbing at an unhealthy rate. After several deep inhalations, each of which was paired with an extended exhalation, he had finally calmed down enough to speak again. "I'm sure I don't need to remind you of your lifelong commitment to this organization."
"Then I'll hide. If I could evade your grasp for this long, I can continue to do so. No matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to find me."
"On the contrary, I will make sure that every agent employed under me scours the entire world to find you. There will be no rest for any of them until they return with your head.
"I will ask nicely only one more time. Come with me. NOW! There's no point in resisting, and there's no escape for you!"
"Actually, there is one," the Lord interjected. "Remember that I, the Lord of Edo, have jurisdiction over everything in this fair town. That includes the SSIN. If you would so cruelly mistreat this agent, one of the most talented people to ever hold that title, then I'm afraid I will have no choice but to terminate her employment with the SSIN. All ties she has with the organization will be severed."
"You--You can't--I mean, you wouldn't--" Hideyoshi stammered.
Yae was also surprised by this, but not in a good way. "My Lord, with all due respect, perhaps that's not the best--"
"Silence, both of you! I will have to implement several changes in light of this situation.
"First, Yae will be transferred from the SSIN to this castle and become the leader of every guard posted here. If there is any indication that you or any SSIN employee is causing her harm, or intending to cause her harm, then it will be your head that will be sought out so fervently, Hideyoshi. Of course, she will be free to accompany Goemon any time she feels it will help Japan."
Hideyoshi fell to his knees and clasped his hands together. "Please...no. Y-You can't take her away from the SSIN," he whimpered. Yae was so used to seeing Hideyoshi act like an arrogant bastard, she couldn't help but snicker at this pathetic display. "Yae, please, I beg of you. Just come with me so we can forget this ugliness, this humiliating experience."
For the first time in three days, Yae felt like smiling. "Well, I don't know, the Lord has made a pretty nice offer. And he said that I have to severe all ties with the SSIN. But I suppose I could ask him to reverse his decision if you let me be an agent again, and only an agent. Why don't we forget all that ugliness instead? And of course, you have to apologize to Goemon and allow me to accompany him on all of his future journeys. You have to at least match the Lord there." By this time, a large grin was planted on Yae's face. She had no idea negotiating with her boss would be so much fun.
"What?! I have to apologize? To him?" Despite the playfulness in Yae's voice, Hideyoshi could see in her eyes that she was completely serious. As expected, this was the hardest term for him to agree to. "F-Fine. You can come back as an agent, and remain an agent for--"
"I'm afraid I can't allow that, either," the Lord interjected once again. Yae was quite annoyed with this interruption. She was extremely grateful the Lord had helped her gain leverage over her slimy boss the first time, but she couldn't believe he'd stop him when he was just about to give her exactly what she wanted. "At least, not under the current management."
"What?!" shouted both Yae and Hideyoshi at exactly the same time.
"The second change that will be implemented regarding the SSIN," the Lord continued, "is your demotion, Hideyoshi. I can't let such a talented young agent remain under the control of such an ineffective leader. It baffles me how you could view someone like Goemon in such a negative light, but now you must face the consequences of such thoughts. I think the SSIN needs a new janitor. Of course, before you accept your new position, you have to put yourself on good terms with Goemon, and stay there, on pain of exile. An apology, as Yae suggested, would be a good place to start. I'm sure Goemon would be willing to forgive you, but if one or both of you does not accept an apology as a suitable resolution, then you will have to find some other way to earn his goodwill. Perhaps a gift? Do you understand, Hideyoshi?" The former head of the SSIN was now crying into the floor, which contrasted with Yae's overwhelming glee. "I take it by your tears that you do.
"Now Yae. There is still the matter of your career. I'll give you two choices. You can either accept the position that I have offered you as head of the guard here, or you can go back to the SSIN, which will of course have a new leader. I believe it would be unwise to put you in charge because the number of opportunities for field work will be significantly reduced. Instead, you'll be the top agent in the organization. I'll even let you be in charge of delegating all missions of a more...supernatural nature. Either way, you will essentially be your own boss. The choice is yours."
"Wow...I--I don't know what to say. Thank you, my Lord," Yae said as she went into a low bow. "But if it's all right with you, I'd like to return to the SSIN. I did make a lifelong commitment, after all."
"Ha ha, of course. It shall be done. Yuki?"
"Yes, father?" The princess stepped forward at this sudden mention of her name.
"Yuki, I'd like you to make sure Hideyoshi does as I commanded and performs some action to promote goodwill between himself and Goemon. I must go to determine a suitable candidate to take over Hideyoshi's former position. Excuse me." The Lord didn't acknowledge the sniveling man on the floor as he left the throne room.
"See? I told you things would be okay for you in the end, Yae," Goemon said.
"I never imagined the Lord would go to such great lengths to help you, Yae," said Sasuke. "But it is fortunate for you that he did."
"Yeah, it is fortunate," Goemon thought to himself. "But I knew he would. I'm glad this meeting ended just as I had hoped, Yae."
Goemon's thoughts were interrupted when Ebisumaru whispered to him excitedly. "So, Goemon, you're not going to accept just an apology, are you? Come on, I'm sure we can get something really good from this guy!"
"Hmm..." Goemon placed his hand under his chin in deep thought. "I've got it!"
The following night, everybody gathered in Iga. Goemon knew the Wise Man would be more open to the idea of having a party after learning what he had demanded of the former SSIN leader.
"I still can't believe Hideyoshi gave us all this food," Yae said before biting into a cookie. "And alcohol. So much alcohol."
"Oh, this, this is nothing, um...Yae." The Wise Man stumbled up to Yae. Whereas she was still sipping at the contents of her first glass, the Wise Man had single-handedly finished an entire bottle of nihonshu in about ten minutes. "Why, when I was yer age, I, I used to drink, umm..." The Wise Man mumbled as he counted slowly on his fingers. He put up four fingers on his free hand and held up two fingers on the hand holding his glass, which tipped suddenly and forced a good portion of his drink to spill on the floor. "...this many glasses of rice wine a night. Those were good times, heh heh heh." The Wise Man chuckled before moving his hand up and towards Yae. "Mmm...yer so pretty..."
Yae grabbed the Wise Man's wrist and squeezed it tightly. "Don't even think about it, old man." She released his hand and threw it down to his side.
The Wise Man released a few more chuckles and pointed at Yae. "Feisty. Just how I like 'em." He clawed clumsily at the air and made a slurred growling sound before putting the glass up to his mouth and turning it nearly upside down. Most of the remaining sake flowed down his cheeks and ended up getting stuck in his beard. The Wise Man belched loudly before examining the inside of his glass. "Huh. Looks like I need su'more already." The Wise Man hiccuped and moved to another table, where several bottles of various kinds of alcohol rested in a bucket of ice.
Ebisumaru, Sasuke and Yae watched from afar as the Wise Man struggled to remove a cork from one bottle. "Well, you've gotta admit it's kinda funny," Ebisumaru said.
"Sasuke, don't you think you should stop him before he gets hurt?" Yae asked. "By me, in particular."
Sasuke shook his head. "I'm not detecting a dangerous level of alcohol in his body yet. The Wise Man must have developed quite a tolerance when he was younger." He took a sip from his cup. Unlike the others, Sasuke had opted for green tea instead of sake, and had once again demonstrated his naiveté.
The Wise Man, meanwhile, had ripped the stubborn cork out with his teeth. Some of the foamy liquid shot up slightly and dripped over the rim. "Hey, do you know what we need now?" the Wise Man asked, hardly able to contain his excitement. "We need a toast. Yeah, a toast fer the ninjas that once again saved this place from de-destruction! Where's Goemon?"
"You know, that's a really good question," Yae said while looking around. "Where did Goemon and Omitsu run off to?"
Omitsu held her glass perfectly still under the opening of the bottle and smiled as she watched the colorless liquid pour out of it. "Okay, that's fine," she said just before the bubbles reached the rim of the glass. She watched Goemon pour some into his own glass with great interest.
Goemon placed the bottle to the side and stared affectionately at Omitsu. "Cheers." The rims of the two cups tapped lightly against each other and made a small clinking sound. Both Goemon and Omitsu took a sip of their drinks and sighed as they looked up at the night sky. "Well, it's no Kai Highway, but it's still nice isn't it?"
The light of the full moon shone down on the couple as they relaxed on a hill just a short distance from the Wise Man's home. The stars also seemed to be smiling down on them, as the few that were present glistened brightly against the pitch black backdrop.
Omitsu leaned towards Goemon, who placed his arm gently around her shoulders after moving the glass to his other hand. "I think the company is what makes it great. So, both Iga and Kai are perfect in my mind," she said.
"True. I could be happy anywhere as long as you're here with me."
"But are you sure you don't want to be down there with the others? I, um, I just needed a minute away from all the excitement...I didn't mean to drag you here with me."
"Omitsu, there's no one I'd rather spend my time with. There's no need to apologize for anything right now. Not for tonight, and definitely not for before."
Omitsu bit her lower lip. The time of her possession was a subject she didn't particularly enjoy talking about. When she had recovered enough of her strength, she spent most of her time apologizing profusely to Goemon for hurting him and the other ninjas. However, when asked by Goemon or Ebisumaru about her experience as a host for Makurayami, she would start crying before she said anything particularly interesting.
"It's over now, and what's done is done," Goemon continued. "I don't blame you for needing some room to breathe, and I certainly can't be upset at you for something you did when you weren't even in control of your actions. So, I--"
"Goemon, can we please talk about something else?" Goemon felt Omitsu shake from head to toe, for no more than a second, under his grasp.
Goemon gulped down a bit of the sparkling liquid. "Of course we can. I was just going to say I'm willing to drop the subject and never bring it up again if you are. No more apologizing for this, okay?" There was a pause. "I'll love you no matter what happens or what you do to me." Omitsu looked up quizzically at the man she adored. "The real you, I mean. Because I know that you would never do anything to intentionally hurt me or any of us."
Omitsu straightened up to give Goemon an affectionate peck on the cheek. "All right, it's a deal. But I can't help it, I missed all of you so much, and when I finally did see you again, I just ended up--"
"Shh, what did I just say?"
"Oh, right. Well, why don't I just say 'I love you' and leave it at that?"
Goemon smiled and nodded. Neither person spoke for some time, though Omitsu finally sipped at her drink again. Eventually, Goemon broke the silence. "Well?"
"Didn't you just say you were going to tell me something?"
Omitsu smiled deviously. "Well, now I'm not so sure. I'm not feeling as generous as I did a minute ago. You've gotta earn it now, Goemon."
Goemon sighed before bringing his head closer to Omitsu. His beloved girlfriend also moved closer to him, drawn to him like a moth to the flame. Their eyes were closed, their mouths opened slightly as they slowly drew closer, close enough to feel the other person's warm breath on their faces. Their lips were now nearly touching.
Goemon's and Omitsu's eyes shot wide open, and they both remained completely motionless at the sound of this new voice. "Yae?! Couldn't you wait another two seconds?!" Goemon whined.
"Sorry, Goemon. But the Wise Man looks like he's about to pass out, so I think it's time to bring this party to a close. Come on, we're gonna take a quick picture, and then you two can go home to do whatever it was you planned to do up here." Goemon's back was turned to Yae, but he could hear her and Ebisumaru giggling as they walked back to the Wise Man's house.
Goemon gulped the rest of his drink down and wiped his mouth with his sleeve, to which Omitsu clicked her tongue disapprovingly. He picked up the bottle and sighed heavily. "Why do I always get interrupted when I'm about to do something important?"
Omitsu scoffed, but later shook her head and smiled as she linked arms with Goemon. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before whispering in his ear, "I love you, Goemon."
Goemon, Ebisumaru, Yae, and Omitsu stood patiently in front of the back wall of the Wise Man's house, while Sasuke helped a heavily inebriated, but still unbelievably stubborn, Wise Man set up the tripod and the camera.
"Okay, Sasuke, now how do you set the time...thing?" the Wise Man asked as he swayed unsteadily on his feet.
"It's this button here, sir."
"No, I'm pretty sure it's this one. This big white one here." The Wise Man held the big white button on the camera down for a second, which resulted in a bright flash that took the four people standing in front of it by surprise. "Oh, does that mean we're finished already? Was I even in the stupid thing? I can't remember..."
"You weren't, sir. You just took a picture of those four. Here, this button here will set the timer. No, not that one. I'll do it. No, it's okay, I'll do it. Now then, I think ten...err, no, better make it thirty. Thirty seconds should be sufficient. Come on, Wise Man, let's go join the others." Sasuke grabbed the Wise Man's arm and helped him hobble over to the four other subjects waiting to get their picture taken.
"Finally. Another one to add to the collection," Yae said quietly.
"Huh? Collection? What collection?" Goemon asked.
"Oh, it's nothing, Goemon." Yae's eyes wandered to one of the nearby mountains, where she noticed something strange. It was a figure, looking down at the group from its position on a jutting plateau. It seemed normal enough, except for what looked like...
"A tail? Could it be? Is that...Suzaku?" Yae mumbled.
"Suzaku?" the Wise Man shouted suddenly. "Where? The more cuties the better! Whoa!"
"Wise Man, be careful!" Sasuke yelled.
And that's when the bright white light came from the camera.
Yae smiled as she looked at the two newest additions to her photo album. She had managed to fit two pictures on one page. The first featured Goemon, Ebisumaru, Omitsu, and herself, all caught off guard as a drunk Wise Man accidentally took a candid photograph of them. The second still had the four from the first picture standing, most of them with expressions of shock on their faces, while Sasuke was kneeling next to a groaning Wise Man, who had just tripped from excitement. After this photo was taken, every sober person present had agreed that it wouldn't be worth it to attempt one more picture, so they had parted ways for the evening. At the top of the page was the title "Celebrating Darkness's Defeat", underlined and written in a beautiful script.
The kunoichi sighed as she closed the book and slid it back into its place on the shelf. "Until next time, when even more memories can be made. I can't wait to see what the future holds."
"What the future holds..." she whispered to herself. Whatever waited for her, and for Goemon, Ebisumaru and Sasuke, she looked forward to the next great challenge. The four ninjas, the heroes of Japan, would patiently await its arrival and answer its call.
Author's notes: And there you have it. The (hopefully) final version of the first fanfic I was able to complete in over four years. I hope you guys enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Feedback, of course, is still greatly appreciated. I will, eventually, be coming back to Goemon. I can't provide any kind of a guess as to when that will be, but hopefully it'll happen.
Thanks again for reading.