Title: "A Smile"
Story by: decorera
Contents: © August 26, 2011
Series: Samurai 7
Pairing: Kambei/Shichiroji
Rating: PG
Summary: This is written from the perspective of Yukino; her thoughts during the night Shichiroji left the Firefly Inn and other scene of the series.
Disclaimer: This story is a non-commercial work of fiction based on the anime/manga Samurai 7. Original copyright of Samurai 7 belongs to Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, MICO, GDH, GONZO.

AN: Yukino politely refers to Shimata Kambei by his last name because she does not know him and she just can't bring herself to be friendly to him just yet.

"A Smile"

I knew he was going to leave, as soon as I saw him smile.

He never smiled, not really. My employees would tell you that wasn't true. They say Shichiroji smiles at every one. He grins at the girls, smiles politely to the customers, he even had a sad little tip of a smile for me; but I know him better than most. None of them were real. None of them brightened his empty eyes.

The closest thing to a smile I ever saw him make was the little crooked grin he wore whenever he broke up a fight. His eyes would sparkle just a bit; revealing a hint of the fire that had been smothered one horrible day, five years ago. For those few moments, Shichiroji was more than just a shell of a man going through the motions of life. He was samurai.

So that's how I knew he was going to leave. I saw him smile, for a moment truly full of life and happiness. And not at me. He smiled for an old man who appeared from nowhere, asking for a favor. Even though I had sheltered him, cared for him, and even (despite my best efforts) loved him for five years, one request for Shimata Kambei made him smile more than I ever had.

I admit that I was jealous. I didn't let it affect me as Shichiroji and I greeted then took care of Shimata and his followers, but I am sure that Shimata could sense my eyes on him that night as I tried to see just what it was about him that had my Shichiroji so ensnared.

I laugh at myself. Shichiroji was never mine, no matter how much I pretended he was. He was always Shimata's. It took two years for the Shichiroji's nightmares of the war to diminish to an occasional occurrence. But even now, five years later, he will wake up from those nightmares crying out for his Kambei-sama. The worse nightmares were never about the horrible things that happened to him in the war, but were his treacherous mind's imaginations of what fate had befallen Kambei.

He had remained with me for five years and never made any mention of leaving; in fact several times he said he would stay with me forever, the liar. I knew that he stayed because he was didn't wish to find out if his Kambei was dead or alive. I knew that if Kambei came for him, then Shichiroji would follow him without question. I knew I was living on borrowed time.

I swore I would not fall in love with him and he never gave me any hope in that regard. But as the years went by and he did not leave, I guess I let my guard down. I fell in love and began to dream that he could love me in return. I pretended that he stayed with me because he loved me. I played his devoted wife and he played a perfect husband; a little innocent charade that never went further than a dream.

When Shimata finally came, I left them alone together. I did not want my suspensions confirmed any sooner than was necessary. I know that Shichiroji would not leave without speaking to me. His honor would not allow it. So I let the dream continue as long as I could. But then those horrible men came and we fled down to the waiting boat. Even when all of the others had boarded the small boat, Shichiroji lingered beside me. I could tell he was searching for the words to say to me. I decided to make it easy for him. What can I say, I'm a fool.

"You're leaving aren't you?"

"I'm sorry."

He knew it wouldn't make me feel better, but I'm glad he said it anyway. I couldn't resist saying I told you so. I don't know whom I wanted to punish: him or me.

"There. I knew it. You can't give up being a samurai."

"I hope it doesn't put too much strain on the Firefly Inn."

"I'll do what ever I can to see to that."

What a civil and business-like goodbye this is. But as he turned to look at me, I could just barely keep my face. His face was filled with purpose and life. His burning eyes told me more than his lips ever could.

I am grateful to you. You saved me. I found some peace with you.

The mechanical samurai's interruption reminded Shichiroji of their limited time. As he stepped onto the boat, I knew that this was my last chance to tell him all the things that were in my heart. I threw him his spear as I caught his attention.

"You forgot something."

"Thank you."

I was about to tell him everything, but his penetrating blue eyes paralyzed my mouth again with their eloquence.

I do care about you, but I know where I belong. This is goodbye.

As he pushed off the boat, ugly hurt words spilled out of my lips. "You can just go and get yourself done in by those bandits!"

I didn't mean them and Shichiroji knew it, but Shimata Kambei flinched at my words. Good. I hope he understood what he was taking from me. It would be too great of a sin if Shimata did not appreciate just how good a man followed him with such loyalty. Shichiroji said nothing, but his eyes wrapped me in forgiveness for my cruel words and the sorrow he at hurting me.

It was the girl's promise about returning Shichiroji to me that finally undid me. Shichiroji was not coming back. Not now that he had found his role in life again. Not now that he could smile. Tears streamed down my hidden face and I slip limply down, as I finally let go of the fragile dream I had been clutching to me; a beautiful dream that I had wanted to last forever.

It was just a brief little dream.

The next time I saw Shinata Kambei, I was a bit more prepared. I always kept abreast of the news in the city and Shimata's arrest, execution, and pardon were big news around town. I expected Shimata to take refuge here, but I was very surprised not to see Shichiroji with him. I thought that nothing would be able to part him from Shimata's side. When Shimata told me where Shichiroji was, I knew that Shimata had purposefully left him behind. On one hand, I felt grateful to Shimata that he had kept Shichiroji out of such danger, but on the other I felt indignant on his behalf that Shimata would abandon Shichiroji so soon after being reunited. I hide my confusion behind some jokes about making Shichiroji pay, but was perversely pleased when my comment about left-behind-Shichiroji roused a flicker of something in Shimata's eyes.

During their second stay at the Firefly Inn, I could tell that the relationships in the group had undergone a huge shift. The young samurai had lost some of his innocence and had bonded somewhat to the clumsy mechanical samurai. There was great tension between the youngest samurai and Shimata, tension that resulted in a full-blown argument. I was astonished to see the young peasant girl slap the young samurai in defense of Kambei. I sat in shocked silence after the two of the fled into the night. I had been so sure that the young girl felt something for the young samurai. I let my eyes rest on Shimata. What was it about him that caused people to follow him so easily, to fall in love with him so hard?

To my pleasure, Shimata looked as uncomfortable and uneasy as I did. He was quite obviously aware of the young girl's feelings and was disturbed by their intensity. I decided to test him. I encouraged the young girl to express her feelings to Shimata. She was embarrassed but I was persistent. I knew I had planted the seed of courage in her as I saw her watching Shimata the next day. I felt a little guilty about using the young girl like this but in the end I knew that expressing her feelings would do her more good in the long run that not. I wanted Shimata to turn the girl down. I wanted him to prove his love for Shichiroji. I had now come to terms with Shichiroji's affections but I wanted Shimata to prove himself worthy. It was a manipulative thing to do, but I do not regret it.

When Shichiroji arrived in the morning, I was able to greet him with a smile of friendship instead of love. The joyful smile he gave me as he came laughingly towards me was worth all my efforts. Our eyes communicated with each other as we bantered back and forth as if he had never left.

I'm glad you're back. I know it's just for a visit.

Thank you for understanding.

I missed my friend.

I missed you too.

Shichiroji spent much time by my side, as if to make up for his absence. Shichiroji was full of life and purpose and true smiles came easily to him. It was clear to see that being with Shimata was good for him. It didn't even hurt to see the small loving smile that Shichiroji bestowed on Shimata, and I was pleased to see a flicker of love in Shimata's eyes as they greeted each other. My opinion of Shimata rose even more when I accidentally overheard part of a conversation between them later that day,

"Kanbe-sama, I need to apologize to you."

"If you're here, then the village must be safe and sound, right?"

The trust that Shimata had in Shichiroji was obvious in that simple sentence. I felt my heart fill with contentment. The man I loved was happy and, alone in a nearby room, I smiled a true smile for Kanbei, who had given Shichiroji happiness. When Shichiroji and I said goodbye, everyone interpreted our joking farewells as lover's banter. I was annoyed to see Kanbei watching Shichiroji unhappily as the others laughed. That he would doubt Shichiroji's affections made me annoyed enough to encourage the young peasant girl one last time before they left again. It couldn't hurt to keep Kanbei on his toes. I gave all of them a fond farewell, even Kanbei, and sent Shichiroji off with a smile on my face. As they sped off, I knew that Shichiroji was going to be fine with Kanbei by his side and so was I,

Even without Shichiroji.