A/N: This was supposed to be a short one-shot but then I got carried away. I was inspired by an old drama called 'The Snow is Red'. There will be a little OOCness so ignore them. ;)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Rurouni Kenshin, they rightfully belong to the great Nobuhiro Watsuki.
Requiem of the Firefly
It was a cold winter's night and the foreboding clouds have finally taken mercy on a waiting woman, revealing the brightness of the pregnant moon that was once held captive by the shadows. Snow, cold and forlorn, continued to fall; effortlessly covering the ugliness of the world. Alone and lamenting, the young woman stood protected under the roof of the pavilion. She was the only soul foolish enough to climb the mountains on such a night. Waiting. Contemplating.
A sigh escaped her cold lips as she pulled out her jade flute. Her sapphire eyes never left the moon as she placed the flute between her lips and blew. The melody was summoning in nature—beautiful yet flawed. The night wind carried the sorrowful melody to the west of the mountains and down into a prosperous city ruled by a benevolent shogun. Despite the great distance, the music sounded clear as a bell within the compound walls of the castle—it was as if the melody was coming from one of the rooms and not miles away. Out in the courtyard, a small group of five sat around a small fire, sharing late night snacks and warm sake.
Eyes of amber narrowed, hidden behind the bangs of fire. He was the first to hear and recognize the music. And how could he not? It was after all calling to him, summoning his presence to the snowy mountains. He closed his eyes and tried to drown out the music and zone in on the chattering voices around him. He needed a distraction, anything to keep his senses from being intoxicated by the melody.
A warm caress on his scarred cheek broke his hypnotic state and he turned to meet a pair of warm, chocolate brown eyes smiling at him. All the weariness and anxiety earlier seemed to have melted under her gaze.
"Is something wrong Kenshin?" she asked her voice gentle and filled with worry.
He reassured her with a smile reserved only for her and leaned into her touch, a ghost of a sigh parted his lips. "You worry too much, Tomoe. Everything's fine." He lied. Everything was wrong—wrong from the very beginning. "I was just thinking about tomorrow."
From her expression, Kenshin knew she was not convinced. Before she was able to utter another word, a thump and a clatter diverted their eyes to their three companions.
"Damn it, Aoshi! What's your problem?" hollered a tall lanky man who was laid sprawled out on the ground. He dusted his hair which oddly resembled a rooster's head.
"Invasion of my personal space is intolerable," replied the stoic man, eyes closed as he calmly sipped his cup of green tea.
"I don't see you complaining when the weasel girl attaches herself to you like sticky rice," he retorted as he took a seat beside Kenshin.
Aoshi only glared at him from behind his bangs, the cup concealing any twitch his mouth could have made.
"Speaking of Misao, where is she? I am quite surprised that she's not here to break the ice", teased a voice with subtle sarcasm, earning a grunt and a glare from the usually emotionless Aoshi. Not completely satisfied with the reaction, she flicked her midnight tresses back and turned to the two silent couple. "At least Ken-san is lucky to have a warm futon to go to on this cold night. Isn't that right, Tomoe-chan?" She winked at the two and tried to stifle her laughter.
"Oro!" Kenshin exclaimed, cheeks reddening.
"Megumi-san!" Tomoe cried, trying to hide her embarrassment. Despite what others may think, Tomoe and Kenshin respect one another's morals and principles. They're engaged, not married…yet.
The rooster head ignored the three and stuck a toothpick between his teeth, leaning back against the pillar of the porch and commented, "It is such shame that the weasel girl's not here. But then again, I might not be able to enjoy this lovely music without her voice pounding in my ears".
All four pairs of eyes exchanged glances before staring at him as if he grew two horns and a tail. "Umm…Sano", Kenshin spoke first but was unable to put his thoughts into coherent words as the music tugged at his heart strings to find the flutist.
Megumi laughed into her hand and gave a mocking smile. "Rooster-Head, since when do you appreciate such music? Has all the sake gone to your head and filled in the gaps?"
"Oi, Fox! You don't need knowledge to appreciate some things; all you need is a heart and understanding", Sano replied as a matter of fact, ignoring the looks from his companions.
The group remained silent as the ki hidden in the melody shook with the flutist's emotions. Even the soft, soothing sounds of the stream and the whispering of the wind were muted by the summoning music.
It was difficult to not notice the music flowing through the castle, weaving in and out like a continuous cycle of the four seasons. First there's hope of a new beginning—the cleansing rain of spring. Then there's the excitement and bliss of being alive—the rejuvenating afternoons of summer. A fruitless wait and a change of heart follow through in a haunting pattern—the dying winds of autumn. The final set became a chorus and repeated, like the beats of a failing heart. The freezing snow of winter echoed an ocean of tears that continue to flood but never reaching the desert sands.
The melody then wavered and slowly faded into a regretful silence. Kenshin quickly downed his cup of sake and kept his eyes hidden. He remained silent and displayed no concern toward Aoshi's accusing eyes.
"How pitiful", Megumi muttered softly under her breath as she stood up. "Tomorrow is the beginning; all of you should get some rest. Who knows when we'll be able to sleep peacefully after tonight?"
Tomoe followed suit after bidding them good night. Before she disappeared behind the corridors, she gave Kenshin a meaningful glance and turned to sigh at the direction of the snowy mountains. Others may not realize, but her silence spoke of many untold secrets—of many things she should not know.
Not outwardly acknowledging something does not mean she's unaware. Rather because she's aware that she's silent.
Some things are better left unsaid.
Once the women were gone, the music was heard once again. This time it was a different melody, it was much softer, much gentler—as if the dragon within the flutist's heart was subdued by the compassionate Buddha. The music swirled and sounded almost pleading—begging even—for the intended ears to listen and the intended heart to open—to sway the intended feet to run up the mountains for the rendezvous.
Silently, Aoshi strode to the little stream that encircled the courtyard and watched as a winter blossom fell into the water and carried away by the current. "The fallen flower purposefully follows the flowing water, but the flowing water cares not for the fallen flower".
Kenshin combed his fingers through his bangs and breathed in deeply as he felt the ki embedded in the music flare from rage to sadness. His toes curled and his stomach clenched as if to fill a non-existent void. "From the dawns of time, the flowing water cannot be stopped, flowing in one direction, flowing before the flower has fallen. It cannot flow back," Kenshin commented as his eyes met with Aoshi's.
"In time, the fallen flower falls deeper and deeper into the water, buried under the riverbed while the flowing water continues to flow, never stopping, and always moving. Laid forgotten beneath the riverbed, the fallen flower accompanies the flowing water in eternal darkness." Aoshi closed his eyes and listened intently to the melody.
Guilt ridden and speechless, Kenshin stood up and glanced at the mountains. Swirls of amethyst laced his eyes with many unspoken emotions. If the situations had been different, he would not be standing there in the compounds any longer, but things had changed—for the worse.
"Against all forces of nature, the flowing water timely directs the fallen flower to a place where its beauty can be cherished and appreciated in its entirety." Kenshin looked up as Aoshi remained silent.
"Both of you are giving me a headache! What fallen flower? What flowing water?" exclaimed Sano as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked from Kenshin to Aoshi and threw his hands up in frustration. "I guess staying out on such a cold night was a bad idea after all. The cold has definitely reached forbidden territory." Sano turned to leave and walked pass Kenshin, slapping him on the shoulder as a sign of reassurance.
Staring into the stream and watching his dark reflection, Kenshin contemplated between two options, though in his heart he knew what the decision was, he was just too stubborn to acknowledge it.
Reflections in the water may be distorted unlike that of a mirror, but they could be clearer than anything. Distortions of what the eyes see are the absolute truths.
"Expecting an answer to appear in the water is the same as trying to draw in it," commented Aoshi plainly, waiting for Kenshin to make his move.
Kenshin looked up and gave a subtle smirk. "A little reflection gazing can truly help you see answers that you cannot and refuse to see, that they do. You should try it sometimes Aoshi, it would do you good".
With a slight bow, he turned and walked away, leaving Aoshi slightly stunned with a frown marring his face. He narrowed his eyes and turned to stare at his own reflection in the stream, hoping to gain some enlightenment.
The hesitation that was once tugging at him was finally defeated by a sense of new determination. Once Kenshin stepped out of the castle doors, he caught sight of a young woman excitedly bouncing his way. Upon closer inspection he realized that the woman was Misao—a sparkle in her green eyes and the sway of her long braid told him mischief was nearby.
"Himura!" she greeted, trying to be as quiet as she could be, not wanting to wake the sleeping guards. He acknowledged her presence with a nod and before he took another step, she whispered, "It's not nice to keep a lady waiting."
Like a whirlwind, she winked at him and hurried off into the castle. Without a doubt, locating her Aoshi-Sama was her first priority. Kenshin frowned and wondered if everyone he knew was aware of the bizarre arrangements between him and the banished beauty of the Koga Clan. Shaking his head to rid of such thoughts, he spared a glance at the mountains and listened to the music that was slowly fading.
Snow continued to fall and the higher up the mountain, the colder it became. As the music finally died, Kenshin reached the little clearing where a petite figure stood under a pavilion. All he could see was her back and the flowing white kimono that adorned her lithe form. Once he was in the vicinity of her ki, he stopped as he watched her shoulders relax and white mists coming in puffs from her warm breath.
"You're late." She stated in an almost seething tone.
"Kaoru-dono", he began as he slowly walked towards the pavilion, "we cannot go on like this."
"Is that what you wish for?" Kaoru slowly turned to face him, her expression was calm but her sapphire eyes were in turmoil. 'Do you wish to end this?' A storm was brewing within.
Beautiful. She was undeniably beautiful. Her white kimono was lined with fur while red blossom petals stained the edges of the sleeves and skirt—like blood splattered onto virgin snow. Her raven tresses were free from its usual ponytail—free to flutter in the wind without restraint.
In his eyes, she epitomized an ethereal being and all the chains she once wore so proudly were shed. She has found enlightenment. Found her truth.
A defeated smile graced her lips when he did not answer. He knew what she meant and there was no answer that was perfect to please them both.
Eyes of amber sparkled under the moonlight as it engaged in a silent interaction with eyes of sapphire. His crimson locks swayed in the breeze like flickers of fire attempting to spread its warmth; silky like the red threads which binds two lovers for an eternity—strong yet delicate. In the whiteness of the mountains, he was that rare bloom, warm and gentle to the touch.
"I did not intend to come here tonight".
"And yet you are here", she answered with a smug look.
Kenshin heaved a sigh and asked, "What is it do you want, Kaoru-dono?"
The defeated demeanor disappeared as Kaoru's eyes sparkled and her lips twitched between a smile and a pout. She sauntered towards him and leaned forward. "I'm here for my last wish".
Kenshin paled, he was expecting anything but that. Who would believe that the feared Battousai granted a supposed enemy three wishes? Unwilling on his part but, no one needs to know that. Her first two wishes were outrageous on their own and unto this day, her second wish remains just that, a wish.
"Kaoru-dono, your wishes thus far are impossible to fulfill. I am afraid that whatever you wish for now will never be granted in this lifetime." Kenshin looked away and tucked his cold hands into his sleeves for much needed warmth.
Wordlessly, Kaoru took his hands and warmed them with her nimble fingers and callous palms, the cold spots slowly dissipated like fog. "My wishes are not that difficult to fulfill, you just refuse to see the simplest ways to accomplish them. Kenshin, you try too hard to please everyone and often neglect the one person you should care most for. Yourself." She looked up with a smile and pulled him forward, beckoning him to follow.
Kaoru held onto Kenshin's hand tightly, almost as if he would suddenly disappear if she were to let go. Despite whatever conclusion she came across, her heart could never let go—would never let go of him. Not being with him does not mean she would stop loving him. No. She would continue loving him and he would never know.
They walked towards the ledge, overlooking the mountain side. The sound of crunching snow echoed as Kaoru went down on her knees, facing the moon and tugging at Kenshin's hand to follow suit. With a questioning expression, he obliged; their fingers still intertwined.
"Before I ask for my last wish, we must first deal with my second", she said with an almost teasing tone to mask the sadness seeping through her voice.
"Kaoru-dono, I…" Kenshin began softly, not knowing how to respond. Her second wish was the most difficult to fulfill and he still does not understand how he agreed to it. "I'm engaged".
Blinking a few times, Kaoru simply stated, "I know. You're engaged to me." She knew what he really meant but all she wanted was just for him to think of no one else but her. Just for once. He was about to say more but she placed a finger against his lips, silencing him. "Now shut up and let me do what I need to do. Afterwards, you may do as you wish."
Biting back a growl that threatened to escape, he concentrated on the coldness attacking his knees. He watched as she finally—but reluctantly—release his hands and clasped her hands together in a silent prayer.
"Tsukiyomi-Sama, one year ago, this very night on this very mountain, I, Kamiya Kaoru..." she paused and looked over to Kenshin.
"Himura Kenshin", he said softly to the moon.
Kaoru took a deep breath as her eyes glistened with unshed tears, trying to maintain her composure. "One year ago, with Tsukiyomi-Sama as our witness, we swore a promise of marriage, to become husband and wife in the future. And it would be disrespectful to not honour that promise." Through the corner of her eyes, she saw Kenshin tense up and she knew that he was unsettled.
No one would believe that Kamiya Kaoru was able to con the Hitokiri Battousai into a promise of marriage. Anyone attempting such a stunt would definitely regret ever laying eyes on him. But she did not con him, no she did not. It was her second wish and he complied.
"However, that would be deceiving Tsukiyomi-Sama. This is why…which is why we will annul that promise of marriage. Marriage is a sacred ritual to bond two souls together and for it to work, the two souls must love one another. Unfortunately, that is not the case for us. Only one person would be happy with this marriage, and even then, guilt will plague that person unto death. Please forgive us for our fickleness. We hope that we have your blessings for the future that is to come." Kaoru blinked back the tears and turned to face Kenshin who wore a surprise look on his face. He was beyond shock.
"Why, Kaoru-dono? I do not understand", he muttered softly as they stood up from their kneeling positions.
Kaoru licked her dry lips and smiled softly, the gaze in her eyes were so tender it caused his heart to ache. "I want you to be happy Kenshin. That is my last wish. Will you grant it for me?" Her voice was so soft and gentle; filled with great depths of love reserved only for him.
Others may not be able to tell, but he knew she was struggling to keep her tears from escaping—she never did allow anyone to see her weak side, the little girl inside that was forced to grow up too quickly. Kenshin could not bear to look her straight in the eyes; the hidden emotions that were trying to break free were much too strong.
They were never supposed to meet in the first place.
She was not supposed to fall in love with him.
He was not supposed to get attached to her.
Everything was wrong.
"That wish is much too easy—much too simple. Are you trying to insult my abilities?" he asked teasingly as he raised an eyebrow, trying to ease the growing tension. If one listened carefully, one could sense a hint of melancholy in his voice.
Kaoru sensed it but chose to ignore it. Her determination could not waver because of something she misheard and misconceived. She knew who he loved and that person was not her.
With a light giggle she responded, "Sometimes the simplest things in life are what we need the most."
Kenshin heaved a sigh as he brushed away the light snow from Kaoru's bangs. It was a simple gesture but it warmed her heart greatly. "While I wasn't looking, you've matured".
'That's because you never looked my way. I am always the one looking—always staring at your receding back, hoping upon hope that you'd look my way, even if it's just a glance'. Tilting her head to the side, she gave a pout, "I hope that's a good thing."
Moments like these never lasted and she wondered if it was a form of divine punishment for the path she walked nearly her whole life.
"Since things have taken this unexpected turn, I guess I should return this to you." He reached into his gi and pulled out a black, jade stone—which fitted perfectly in his palms.
He held it out to her as she slowly reached out to trace the carvings of a condor soaring over the ocean—a symbol of her clan. Pulling back she said, "Keep it."
"But it belongs to your clan. You said…said that it represents a token of marriage and now…it's only proper that I return it." His voice was soft, almost in a whisper.
"I lied." She said it with a straight face but the slight blush betrayed her. "I…I wanted to give you something so you wouldn't forget."
With a soft chuckle, he placed a hand on his cross-shaped scar. "Even without that, I could never forget."
During one of their unexpected meetings and her unruly moments, she marked his face and declared him her property—bounded to her for life.
Kaoru tried to hide her amusement from the memory as she moved to cradle his face in her hands. "It will eventually fade away", she whispered, more to herself than to assure him. "Please keep the token and once all of this is over and you start your new life, break it."
Kenshin stared at her with wide eyes, not believing her words. Instead of demanding for an explanation he nodded, "I promise."
It was a mistake on her part when she stared into those pools of once-amber-now-amethyst eyes, drowning in its warmth and hidden truths. Lightly biting her bottom lip, Kaoru tried to purge any sudden burst of emotions she felt. Kenshin's gaze was not helping one bit, it elicited emotions that were never there.
There were many things she wanted to ask him but she was afraid of the answers.
'If I were just a peasant and you an ordinary swordsman, will we be together?'
'If I were elegant, reserved and more lady like, will you look my way?'
'If the Daimyo had not decreed a marriage proposal between you and Tomoe, will you still wish to marry her?'
But most of all, she wanted to ask: 'Do you love me?'
With a shuddering sigh, Kaoru leaned forward and rested her forehead against Kenshin's. Instead of asking the questions assaulting her mind, she requested for one simple thing.
"Kenshin, will you say my name?"
There was a moment of silence before he answered, "Kaoru-dono."
Her lips quivered slightly that she had to bite down hard to keep a sob from escaping. She didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. What was she expecting? She knew the answer before she even asked the question and yet she could not help but hold a glimmer of hope that perhaps she was just as important to him too.
Burying her face in the crook of his neck, she settled between a laugh and a cry. Her shoulders shook from light laughter but silent tears streamed down her face, tears he would never see. The damn she built ages ago have finally broken, the tears she had trap were finally freed. Tears soaked his gi but his heart was torn.
If she had watched him carefully, she would have seen the look in his eyes and that single tear which refused to fall. Kenshin's arms snaked around her body, soothing her like a mother to her child.
Laughter evolved into silence and what was wet became as dry as the desert sand.
After a while, Kaoru spoke up, her voice a ghost of a whisper. "Whatever happens tomorrow, you have to stay alive because there's someone waiting for you." She didn't know whether she was referring to herself or to Tomoe.
Kenshin stroked Kaoru's ebony tresses and soothed, "Then you must do the same. You are not alone in this world."
Sometimes he could be right. And sometimes he could be wrong, just so wrong. Who is that someone waiting for her? If only he knew how much she sacrificed for him. If only he knew how much she loved him. But for now, she's content with staying in his warm embrace, the world no longer mattered.
"Kaoru-dono, will you play your flute? I would like to listen to you play, even if it's for one last time."
She looked up and smiled, "Anything." 'For you, I'll do anything.'
After retrieving her flute, she began to play her favourite melody—a special connection she created with him. It was a haunting melody filled with nostalgia, plucking threads of memories and weaving them with emotions. Unconsciously, Kenshin wrapped his arms around Kaoru from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. The warmth they shared was evident in the melody.
The light in my palm grows weary,
It flickers; it sighs,
It laments of faraway skies,
And despite the heart's decree,
I gave it wings and set it free.
Tsukiyomi - the God of the Moon
A/N: I mentioned all three wishes though the first one was subtly hinted. I will post the last installment (explaining the first wish) after I finish writing it. Comments and Criticisms are appreciated.