A/N: I own nothing! I just like happy endings and wanted one for this show. Enjoy!
ooo LL ooo
Benawi reclined against the trunk of an old tree, its wide branches sprawling over the green on which Eruruu sat doing her mending work. Aruruu and Kamyu were playing with Mukuru nearby, laughing and rolling around with the great white tiger as though he were no more harmless than a kitten.
He clenched and unclenched his fingers around the halberd that was never beyond his reach. There had been no threat in sight for months now, but that did not mean that the captain of the guard ever relaxed his watch.
It was a peaceful time in the land of Tusukuru. The wars were over; no Kannekamun or army of men had charged over the borders since Emperor Hakuoro's death. Oboro had taken over the emperor's duties with more calm and reason than Benawi had expected, and he was glad of it. The young emperor had gone to the fields beyond the palace to oversee the planting, remembering what Hakuoro had taught his people about the seeds. He left in Benawi's care the ladies of the court, ladies who never donned finery or jewels, but lived as simply as they always had in the village where they were born – Eruruu and her little sister Aruruu.
Karura and Touka were sparring in the courtyard. Kurou had gone to watch, ever intrigued by Karura's charms and strength. Benawi smiled at the thought. His companion-at-arms had never been a one-woman sort of man before meeting the former slave turned fighter. He's changed, he thought. We all have, because of Hakuoro-sama. Well, he reconsidered as he eyed Eruruu bent over her mending with a placid smile on her face, perhaps not all of us.
He had known how much she had loved Hakuoro-sama, how even his transformation into a repulsive monster with godlike powers had only strengthened her love and loyalty towards him. Losing him had to have been the hardest thing she had ever endured, yet if she wept, no one saw or heard it. She always wore that smile, just as the emperor had always worn his mask, as if she was unable to remove it…
"Is something wrong, Benawi?" Eruruu looked up at him, tilting her head to one side. "You're making a strange face."
"Of course not, Eruruu; sorry if I disturbed you," he murmured gruffly, mentally shaking himself for having been momentarily vulnerable.
"You never disturb anyone," she replied sweetly, her face once again looking down at her lap. Her stitching never missed a beat.
Take care of her for me. A stab of guilt plagued Benawi's chest as he recalled Hakuoro-sama's words. The masked emperor had said this to him privately in his last day at the palace, knowing the end had come for him, even if he could spare his people. Benawi had believed his leader was merely uncertain about the future and wanted to make sure he'd protect Eruruu and her sister in the event he could not. With his liege-lord's death, however, Benawi had to realize what those words really meant. And they frightened him.
Not that there was anything wrong with Eruruu. She was pretty and kind and helpful, her heart simple, always eager to please, and she had an inner strength about her. He watched her hands now, long-fingered and delicate, weaving a needle through a garment with hardly any effort. Those should have been the emperor's hands, he thought as he observed her movements, massaging away his troubles when they were alone, winding through his hair to make him feel loved, holding his child...
But they had no child.
Take care of her for me.
Perhaps he should have asked Oboro, Benawi thought then, waving away a bee that flew at his shoulder, passionate Oboro-sama, who... He shook his head as he contemplated that further. Oboro-sama, who would have broken her heart a hundred times over with his womanizing escapades – not to mention that I cannot imagine her sharing a bed with him and the archer twins. He briefly considered Kurou, or a few other men he knew, but immediately he realized Hakuoro-sama's conundrum. There was no one - not a single man in Tusukuru he could think of would do for the woman the emperor had loved. Hakuoro-sama must have realized that also.
And Eruruu isn't the type of woman to go seeking a man, Benawi recognized silently. Hakuoro-sama came to her and she cared for him; that was their beginning. Now that he is gone, I can see her being the type to be faithful to his memory – but a memory will not protect her, or keep her warm, or give her company when she is old and Aruruu has gone her own way. Inwardly, Benawi cursed. I see his intentions clearly now. But why did he ask this of me?
Eruruu finished the last stitch and put aside her mending. She stood, stretching as simply as a child would. "I'm going to take a walk," she announced softly, waving to the girls and Mukuru.
"I should go with you," Benawi offered. "Touka is busy, and -"
"I'm fine," she interrupted the captain, the smile never leaving her face, "really. I won't go far."
Benawi bit his lip. He wondered if he'd annoyed Eruruu by getting Touka to accompany her on her journeys to various villages in Tusukuru to heal the sick. Touka had mentioned that a few times, Eruruu had given her the slip. "Are you angry with me for trying to keep you protected?" he asked quietly.
Eruruu blushed slightly. "I'm not angry with you, Benawi. But… sometimes I want to be alone."
"You're always alone," he gently argued, "always watching over Aruruu, or doing some kind of work so someone else doesn't have to. The only difference is…"
"What?" she pressed when he did not continue.
"Nevermind," Benawi murmured, "I should not have said that. Walk alone if you wish, but stay close."
Eruruu nodded and walked away, staying close to the shade grove as she promised. Benawi folded his arms across his chest and sighed deeply. How can I keep my promise, Hakuoro-sama, he thought sadly, when, even though you're gone, all she can think of is you?
ooo LL ooo
Eruruu made sure she was out of eyeshot, then leaned against one of the trees for support. The young woman shivered. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms, feeling somehow cold despite the warmth of the late spring day. "What's wrong with me?" she whispered aloud.
You know what's wrong, her conscience admonished as though scolding a little girl, you were about to betray Hakuoro-sama's memory! She hugged herself, not wanting it to be so, but she couldn't deny it. One more minute in Benawi's kind, unassuming company and she might have been weak enough to lean against his leg, or reach for his hand. Eruruu gave a loud exhale. She hadn't realized it - how much she had longed for Hakuoro's gentle touch, his arms pulling her near, the warmth of his body pressed against hers in the night, even the tug on her tail that he'd been afraid to give her again since the day they met - and now she would never have those things. He wasn't coming back. He couldn't. And she couldn't go to him.
Even so… to think of Benawi that way? Eruruu shook her head. In theory, she could find no reason for it to be wrong to think of Benawi. He was gentle, quiet-natured like herself, and certainly handsome; an honorable man who had no wife or lover of his own. We are both alone, she reasoned. Still… I don't think he would think of me that way. He's a warrior, and he would probably prefer a warrior woman, if he had to choose someone to love - someone like Touka, or Karura perhaps, if he wouldn't be stepping on Kurou's toes there. No, he would not think of me, surely...
Slowly, tears began to slide down Eruruu's cheeks. She had valiantly fought back the loneliness she'd felt when Hakuoro went away by throwing herself full-fledgedly into her healing work, but she had to recognize that even this would one day offer little or no comfort. And to whom would she pass on the medicine that her grandmother had taught her? She had no daughter of her own. Aruruu had shown no interest in the healing arts. Kamyu was too flighty - literally - to learn such an earthy skill. If I don't find someone to teach, Tusukuru's knowledge will die with me, she realized, a new wave of tears refreshing the stains the first had left.
Eruruu gasped; it was Benawi's voice. He called out her name again. Clearly, he was searching for her. She desperately wiped at her cheeks, hoping she could hide the evidence of her unhappiness and her shame from him.
"There you are." He was standing beside her then, his eyes full of worry. "You were gone a long while. I was concerned."
"Sorry," she apologized quickly, her head lowered in a meager sort of bow, "I didn't mean to worry you."
"Are you all right?" he asked softly.
"Yes! I'm fine," she lied, smiling broadly.
"You're not," he pointed out. "I should have realized why you wanted to be alone. I'll leave you now. I won't be far."
"Wait!" As if it had moved of its own volition, her white hand had gripped the crimson of his tunic.
For a long moment they stood and stared at one another, hearts racing, too afraid to speak. Finally, Benawi managed, "You want me to stay?"
Silently, Eruruu nodded. "Please."
ooo LL ooo
Benawi hesitated, unsure of what to do. Give him a battle and that uncertainty would disappear in an instant - he'd be sizing up his enemy, figuring out instantly the best way to defeat him, then springing into action. But here Eruruu stood, the last charge of his emperor, and he was all hesitation and doubt. It would have been easier to ask him to singlehandedly take on a kannekamun.
What would Hakuoro-sama do, if he were here instead of me? The answer came to him, and after a moment he laid the halberd down and opened his arms, inviting Eruruu to come to him. He gulped, hoping she didn't see his fear at being this vulnerable. Apparently, she was too caught up in her own helplessness to notice his. She leaned into him, weeping, grieving openly for the first time since Hakuoro had passed into his sleeping death. Benawi observed this and suddenly understood the gesture's purpose - his offering of physical strength at this moment gave her permission to be emotionally weak before him. She would not be alone and defenseless in her weakness. He only began to falter when her arms wound about his waist, and he caught the scent of her hair, with its strangely fragrant mixture of wild herbs and flowers. That was when his body turned traitor against him.
No words were spoken. None were needed.
He tilted her face upwards, steadying her tear-soaked chin with his thumb. And then he was kissing the tears from her cheeks, gently, reverently.
Eruruu's eyes slipped closed at the touch. Oh, how she had hungered for such a soft, warm touch on her skin… to be comforted… And then all rational thought was gone as his lips brushed against hers. Their embrace tightened as the intensity of the kiss swelled. But the growling of a tiger brought them back to their senses, as did the calling voices of Kamyu and Aruruu. They reluctantly parted, their eyes still smoldering with the heat of a moment lost.
Mukuru appeared then, carrying Kamyu and Aruruu on his back. Eruruu's little sister slid down and ran towards her.
"Eruruu," Aruruu said, embracing her sister. "All of us, go home?"
"Of course," she smiled, taking her little sister's hand.
Benawi mentally cursed. I was so close to fulfilling the promise I made Hakuoro-sama! But it was more than that. When I kissed her, it felt… right. It wasn't only the promise. I wanted her. His body was insistent in telling him just how much.
She glanced back at him once, riding on Mukuru's back with her arms clasped around Aruruu, and he could have sworn by the way she looked at him that she wanted him too. But the moment had passed, and who knew if she would turn to him again - or if she did, if it would only be out of grief?
ooo LL ooo
That night, Benawi removed the armor plates he always wore and placed the halberd in the corner of the room. He shrugged off the long crimson tunic he always wore and traded in the sweaty clothes beneath for lighter garments of white. He had no sooner changed and laid out his bedroll than the screen opened, and behind it was Eruruu. His eyes widened beneath the stormy grey film of his hair as he admired her simple brown-haired beauty, appreciating it now in a way he had never thought to before.
"I brought you some tea, Benawi-san," she said brightly, indicating the tray beside her.
"Thank you. Will you stay and have some with me?"
"If you like." She came in and shut the screen behind her, then served tea for both of them. They sipped slowly, neither of them speaking. Both were lost in their thoughts. Finally, Eruruu spoke again. "I need to ask for your forgiveness."
"For what I did today," she explained softly, turning her cup in her hands nervously. "I should never have asked you to… and then I…"
"I see," Benawi murmured, hanging his head, "you did not want me to kiss you."
"No, it's not like that!" Eruruu immediately corrected. "I did want your kiss, and I liked it. It's just… I feel guilty, as though I'm betraying Hakuoro-sama. I know we spoke no vows, and I gave him no promise, but…"
"You?" Eruruu echoed. "You made him a promise?"
Benawi nodded. "I promised him if anything happened to him, I would take care of you. It was what Hakuoro-sama wanted."
"Then… it's not what you want. You are doing this because Hakuoro-sama asked it of you." The cup shook in Eruruu's hands. "It isn't because you want me."
"That's not true." Benawi took the trembling cup from her and set it on the tray, putting his own there as well. Then he took her hands in his and steadied them. "I do want you, Eruruu. I've spent most of my life in battle, so I don't know how to show my feelings well, or the words to say that would make you happy. But, if you should want me, as I want you, I will be yours…only yours."
Eruruu was overcome. His words were few and simple, but his eyes and the feeling in her heart conveyed all that was necessary between them. She took their joined hands and lifted them so that she could kiss his sword-scarred fingers, giving him her unspoken answer.
Benawi's breath caught in his throat. Unable to restrain himself, he clasped her to him, continuing the kiss Aruruu had so inopportunely interrupted before. This time, he held back none of the passion he felt. Eruruu clung to him, winding her fingers into the dark grey of his hair as his tongue slipped between her lips.
In a flurry their clothes were gone, discarded on the floor beside the tea tray. Self-consciously, Eruruu blew out the lantern, but there was still the white tinge of moonlight to guide their hands. They touched and explored bare skin in the darkness, learning each other, pulling one another closer.
But as he pressed into her for the first time and heard her cry, he realized that Hakuoro-sama had not been her lover any more than he had been her husband. Their great love had never even been consummated. He stopped instantly, holding still inside her. "Are you all right?" he murmured.
"Yes," came her whispered reply. But her hands gripped at his forearms, exposing her nervousness.
"The pain will pass," he softly promised, lifting one hand to caress her cheek. "Don't be afraid."
"I'm not. I trust you, Benawi."
"Sweet, sweet Eruruu." He stroked her hair, her tail, whispered words of comfort in her ear.
Slowly he began to move, and Eruruu's legs wound around him. As she leaned upward to kiss his throat, Benawi could have wept. At that moment, he knew he was the luckiest man in Tusukuru, and possibly the world. He had been given the greatest of gifts. His emperor had entrusted him with caring for the woman he loved - and in so doing, given Benawi the only love he had ever known, one he would never have sought for himself. For that, he would be forever grateful.
Later as they lay entwined, Eruruu's soft breath tickling his neck as she slept, Benawi realized that in all his life, he had never been so happy as he was at that moment. And I'll make you happy, Eruruu, he promised himself as faithfully as he'd given his word to Hakuoro-sama. I'll take care of you, for the rest of my life.