Songs in Red and Grey
Well, it finally happened. I finished the sequel to Devotion.
I think I actually like it. ::Giggle.:: But... The boys got old! They're still pretty - Jeez, don't worry about that! - but they're older. You'll see!
The title of this story - and the story, as a whole - comes from a song by Suzanne Vega of the same name. It's a wonderful song - the whole album, which is also called Songs in Red and Grey, is just fantastic. Suzanne Vega has a wonderful voice, and the songs... Well, suffice to say that the album has an almost perfect unity to it, both musically and lyrically.
So. In any case. This is kinda long, and there are so notes at the end, and it might be kinda sad, too, but never fear!
Much love, and please enjoy,
Kaoru-chan, this is Sagara-san.
His daughter's hair is a dark grey-brown, like weather beaten wood when it is wet, a colour that you usually associate with old women. Her eyes are the same blue as her namesake's, with thick, black lashes. Her bottom teeth stick out a little, pushing her small, pale lips into an eternal pout. It gives her the air of a girl from the country, like her father never managed to get her the proper medical care when she was younger. But, then, I'm no one to talk about having a hick's teeth... My upper teeth stick out a little, so I can clamp them well over the bottom row of teeth. No one in Nagano had ever visited a dentist, at least not that I know of. This girl's watery eyes are narrow with suspicion, and her pouty mouth is curved into a scowl. She doesn't like me... I get the feeling that I know why, too.
I say, smiling.
she says sullenly, hiding behind her father.
The man laughs softly, a tired sound. For the first time since arriving here, I take a really good look at this man. He has changed so much...
The hairs at the base of his neck, the ones that always came loose from his ponytail, curling away from that smooth, white skin, have turned grey. The rest of his hair is still that vibrant red. He's cut his hair, the ponytail gone altogether. It is loosely layered, the longest, wispy bits almost down to his chin. But beyond his hair, and the few wrinkles around his eyes and the deep hollows of his cheeks, he hardly looks like he's aged at all. Time has been kind to him, it seems, at least physically. Still - He looks tired, pale, thinner... Frail. That's the best word I can think of for it - frail.
he says, why don't you go to Makie-chan's house - they're expecting you, aren't they? She gives him a tiny nod. He smiles down at her, exhausted, but with an endless amount of love for his daughter. He reaches into his kimono and hands her a few small coins, with the air of a man giving away the last of his money. I recognize this action because I've done it so many times. Once you know you're going to broke soon, anyway, the last few sen don't really matter any more. Take this and buy something sweet for you all. And don't forget to get enough for her brothers. The girl takes the money, and puts it away. He puts his hand on the top of her head. I'll see you tomorrow, Sparrow.
Bye, Daddy, she says, and runs away. I can see why he calls her Sparrow.' She's small, and light, with those bird bones of his, and, when she runs, her two, dark grey braids fly out behind her like half-spread wings.
Once she is gone, he turns to me, a sad, almost pained smile on his face. he says.
The water is clean and calm, and there are fishing boats out at a distance from the shore. The fishermen's shouts and fractured bits of song are just audible from the beach, where we are walking, There isn't another soul out on the white sand.
What brings you here, Kenshin? I ask. It is the first that we have spoken since leaving the dojo where I found him.
Goza is a nice place.
It's hardly a speck on a map, I protest, a little distasteful. Kenshin is so - classy. He's simple, true, but a nowhere fishing village in Mie-ken is hardly where he belongs. He was never meant to be a peasant, no matter what he says.
Are you too good for little villages now? He is only half-kidding, as far as I can tell. His tone is soft and light, almost teasing, but he also sounds a little hurt.
You deserve better, I say.
He shakes his head. I don't deserve anything, he says softly, looking out at the clear water. The sky is grey today, but I can imagine, based on past experience, how beautiful it would be, out there over the water, if the clouds were to part.
I am so tempted to protest this, to tell him how important he is, but I swallow the urge. I haven't found him again, after all these years, to grovel at his feet. So what are you doing here on Bum-Fuck Peninsula?
He makes an indignant sound. I'm a warm-up teacher at the local dojo.
I blink. Warm-up teacher?
he says simply. The calm water is licking at his bare feet - His tabi are in some pocket in his kimono, and he holds his zori in one hand. I start class with simple warm-up exercises, before their sensei teaches. Surely you've been in enough dojo to understand that.
Yeah, I got it. I realize that I sound sullen. I wonder why.
What about you...? he asks. What have you been doing?
I stop, and turn, looking out, over his head, at the ocean. A larger wave - although the surf at Goza beach is so calm, compared to other beaches I've stood on - comes up, washing past Kenshin's feet and licking its way around my ankles before retreating. My feet, too, are bare, my Western-style, leather shoes held under my arm.
I've been around the world... Four times, now, I add, counting them up in my head. True enough, I've come full-circle four times now, and I find myself, once again, in Japan.
he asks, an almost childish look of wonderment on his face.
He seems at a loss for words. He looks out at the ocean. I'm glad for you.
I sigh. I looked for you, I say, softly, looking at the back of his head. Did you ever come back to Tokyo?
Yes. For four years. He still refuses to meet my eye.
I am trying to work out the math. Four years... How did I never find him? Did I really spend that long...? Did you...
Did I what, Sano?
Wait, wait... 188-... No, wait... How...? Four months looking for him there, then six months up the river... Another several back down and up that tributary, and that other... I hadn't realized, but maybe it's true... Nearly four years spent looking... All over the country, following that river every which way it could have gone... It seems impossible. I sigh. I guess I just missed you.
he says, now, looking out at the water.
So, the little girl is...
Yes, she's Kaoru's.
And yours, I amend.
So where is she? At home? I can't imagine why Kaoru would leave Tokyo, her dojo, her friends, everything she ever knew, really, behind. Kenshin was always more restless, but Kaoru, she was flighty like a rock is flighty.
No, Sano, Kenshin says quietly, his eyes now fixed on the white sand, the water lapping near his feet. He pauses a moment. Kaoru died. In childbirth.
I... Oh. It feels a little like the wind has been knocked from my lungs... Only it hurts more than that, in my heart it hurts. It hurts because he hurts. I'm... I'm sorry, Kenshin.
He looks up at me, and I have to fight against the urge to get lost in those soft, purple eyes. He shakes his head a little, looking... He doesn't look sad, I realize. Resigned, maybe a little melancholy, but... peaceful. Don't be sorry, Sano... It wasn't anyone's fault, really. I can almost hear him add, For once.
It's natural for women to die giving birth, Sano. Kaoru - She had two miscarriages in the years we were married. The first... was a little boy. Gensai-sensei said Kaoru was too active during pregnancy, and it was a stillbirth... He sighed softly. I saw him, Sano... This little... human- a fully-formed baby boy, who just missed his chance at life... It happens... But it left Kaoru considerably weaker. She couldn't handle the twins she was carrying after that... She lost them early...
You don't need to explain this to me, Kenshin, I say quietly. Do I really want to know about this? About the number of times that Kaoru suffered?
Just give me a moment, Sano, he replies. After another pause, he continues. Kaoru-chan... Was born nearly a month early, and I suppose... Well, Gensai-sensei believes that the strain was too much for Kaoru... And after she was born, she- Kaoru's body just gave up...
For a long time after she lost the twins, I didn't want to try again... I... It took me so long after we- after I got back to Tokyo... For almost two years, I waited for you, Sanosuke. But there came a time when I realized that I was only breaking Kaoru's heart by waiting... So I married her. When you never came back, I figured it had probably been - for the best... But- I- After she had the second miscarriage, I didn't want to try again, he repeats, and I wonder whether he even really knows what he's saying.
After she died, he continues, I blamed myself... For giving in, for trying again, for never... for never loving her as much as I loved- But that simply isn't the case. I may have done all those things - I may not have given her everything I had to give - but that isn't why she died. It was nature. And that's no one's fault.
We stand here, next to each other on this quiet beach, snatches of fishermen's songs occasionally filtering through on the sea breeze. Moments pass, long moments, and I wonder if he will speak again.
Finally, I reach out, taking his smaller hand in my own. It's okay, I say, tightening my grip for just a moment. I understand.
He smiles up at me, his eyes a little sad. I'm glad... I didn't...
I know, I answer. He sighs quietly. Kenshin, I've-
Don't, Sano... Not right here... Come, we'll go home, and you can have a little time to make sure you mean what you say, hmmm?
Always a little condescending, even if it's rightly so, Kenshin. I make a sound of assent and follow him back towards town. Behind us, past the white sand and over the clear water, the dark clouds are thickening, roiling. A storm is gathering over the sea. Soon, I know, the wind will pick up, the thunder will start to roll, and the rain will fall - heavily, by the looks of it.
At some point just before the sand gives way to plant life, we stop to put on our shoes. I pull on my shoes easily, and watch as Kenshin pulls his tabi out of his kimono, and bends to put them on his feet. I can't help but be impressed by the smoothness of his movements, his grace, the subtle rolling of the muscles of his back beneath his clothes. Time - it really hasn't changed him much. Thinned him out more, greyed his hair a little, but he's still as elegant as he always was. Still as beautiful.
He straightens, his zori on his feet now, and he smiles at me a little, probably, for the most part, unaware of my eyes on him. Don't look so sad to leave, Sano, he says lightly, his smile sweet. The beach is always here. You can always come back.
I can always come back... This sentiment... Is it a promise, Kenshin? A prophecy? There is a roll of throaty thunder, and I look out to sea again. The clouds, low and wispy and dark grey, are trailing across the sky quickly, heading towards us, heading towards the island.
Kenshin insists quietly. His hand hovers near my arm for a moment and then drops back to his side. I don't see it, but I know - I can feel it. I'll make you some dinner. And, besides, it's going to to rain soon.
There is lightning now, out there over the ocean, an almost purple colour in the darkening sky. And the clouds... ... It's like they're dancing...
His voice is still soft, but as commanding as it ever was in any battle. It's supposed to rain - hard. I'd rather not get stuck in it. Let's go home.
Finally, almost sadly, like he said, I turn away, noting, as I do so, that the fishing boats are moving in towards shore, too. He is already moving, and I follow him loyally, like I have done so many times before.
By the time we reach his neighborhood, it's almost pitch black. The trees are bending and swaying, subservient to the ocean breeze. The lightning has been all but swallowed up in the thick clouds, and I'm following his pale skin and little else.
Kenshin's home is small - not tiny, but humble. He shuts the door, and goes about lighting a lantern or two. The house is immaculate - one can only expect as much from the likes of Himura Kenshin. There is little decoration.
The main room, the largest room, is mostly a dining room, although it seems that one could easily receive guests here, too. Adjoining, there seems to be a kitchen - into which Kenshin disappears after bidding me to take a seat - and two other rooms. There's a porch out back, and probably a bath house, too.
The rain has just started to fall, heavy, almost torrential, which can only be expected in this season. I sit down on a cushion at the table, and then rise again a few moments later, going to the kitchen. I don't feel comfortable at the low dining room, knowing that Kenshin and his daughter probably never eat there, anyway. He's treating me too much like a guest, like a stranger... And it hurts.
He turns around, his expression inquisitive. What would you like for dinner, Sano?
I shrug. I know why this distance between us hurts... It feels like he's given up on me, on us - Us? I have to wonder, is there even such a thing anymore? Kenshin... He's... He's older now. Forty... Forty-something. I never did know exactly how old he was, back in those days in Tokyo. Not that it really mattered. He was beautiful, and he still is, now. Age makes no difference.
You must be in the mood for something, he prompts when I don't answer.
I dunno. Not very hungry, really, I admit, distracted by the sound of the rain.
He sighs. All right. It'll be a while, in any case. So, honestly, Sano, just make yourself comfortable.
I can't help myself. My hand reaches out and brushes the wisps of hair at the base of his neck. Some are a pale grey, some are bright red. Regardless, they look beautiful against his smooth, pale skin. He shudders a little and then tenses under my touch. I can feel the tightness of his muscles beneath my fingertips.
he murmurs. He isn't looking at me anymore.
It occurs to me that I haven't thought about it, like he suggested. But I know that I'll say it, all the same, because it's become so much a part of me that I don't need to think about it anymore. I've always loved you, Kenshin, I whisper.
He shudders again. His eyes are fixed on the kitchen window, the waxed paper over the lacquered frame splattered with water.
I missed you so much, I say, taking a step towards him. His back is almost against my front now. I can feel his back move with his breathing, inches before me.
I thought... I thought you were dead - that you'd drowned... I... His voice is choked. I couldn't wait anymore for you, Sano... It was killing her, I-
I whisper, tracing tiny patterns over the skin of his neck. I understand...
He turns to me, looking up at me, and I am struck by how young he looks, even now. Is this why you came back, Sanosuke? he asks softly.
I'm honestly taken aback, if only a little.
His smile is a little wry, a little melancholy. To seduce me? Is that why you searched me out?
He laughs quietly. Don't act so surprised... You're all of - what...? - thirty-three, now... We can talk about seduction' now, can't we?
I flush slightly, a little embarrassed. I didn't think that's what you called this, I say, turning away. All right, maybe I'm a little angry, too. Why is he acting this way?
He sighs - a sad sound. The levity of the moment has drained away... It's probably mostly my fault. Sano... Things change...
I know!' I want to shout at him. How can he, this man who I love so much, make me so irrationally angry sometimes? This isn't how it's supposed to turn out! Instead, I say nothing, my arms crossed over his chest.
I have a daughter now... I'm a widower.
The anger is rising in me. How can he hold this over my head? Is that my fault?! I don't care-
How can I explain that to my daughter, Sano? How do I tell her that... in all time I was married to her mother, I was in love with someone else? That that person is you?
Fuck that, Kenshin! I growl.
So excitable... Sano... I...
You what, Kenshin?! I hiss, tense like a bowstring, ready to snap. The pounding of the heavy rain against the roof is slowly driving me crazy. I wonder, briefly, if I would hit him, given the opportunity. I'm about that angry, but... Did you invite me into your home to turn me down? I turn around, glaring at him. Did you?!
He sighs again. I can feel my anger seeping away now that I'm looking at him, if only a little. He is biting his bottom lip, apparently deep in thought.
She knows, in any case, he says softly. I know my mouth has fallen open. She must. I've never spoken of you to her, but she knows... Your shadow has been cast over me, Sanosuke. Me and my family. He sighs for what feels like the thousandth time. It's like... living under Mt. Fuji, he says finally, and I feel the urge to balk at this comparison, strange as it is. But he cuts off anything I might say. It's - this constant shadow. I always know you're there, somewhere, this powerful, almost spiritual, presence. The promise of this, I... I knew it would come to this, like those in Gotemba know that Mt. Fuji will, in time, erupt again.
It hasn't since the Houei-jidai, I say, almost automatically, a little sullen.
He lets out a breath that is almost a laugh. That's not what I meant, Sano.
I know. A long pause, no sound in the small house but the driving rain. I don't know what to say, anymore. How does he mean, I've shadowed him?! Is it a good thing? I can hardly imagine such a thing being a compliment.
You... You affect everything I do.
Then lie to her, I snap, sick of this talk. I didn't come back to bicker with him about his daughter. If she can't handle the fact that her father's in love with a man, well, then, that isn't my problem! I didn't come here to have him make me feel guilty, either! All this shadow' talk - how's that supposed to make a man feel? Like he did something wrong! I looked for him, didn't I? I longed for him just as much as he longed for me - of course I did! He can't just-
I blink, and look down at him, focusing again, realizing that I haven't been watching him for some time now. He seems so small, almost weak, although I know that can't be so. His dark, thick eyelashes, the purplish tint the fragile skin of his eyelids. He's so beautiful, so delicate. It's strange, the things you notice when you actually pay attention. Please, Sano... I don't want to fight with you... He reaches out a thin, gentle hand, and touches me. His hand slides down my upper arm and settles in the crook of my elbow. I don't want to fight, he repeats.
He sighs. That sound... It makes me sad, a little. I'm just tired, Sano. I'm sorry, that's selfish, but... It's... Kaoru-chan knows... His voice his soft, and he looks down, his eyelids following so that those black lashes shade his violet eyes. She knows I love you, even if she's only just met you... She's known for years, I'm sure. I think that he's looking at the floor. Or maybe he's looking at his hand on mine, as I am, their contrast stark - his fair skin against my sun-darkened arm. But... I don't want to fight it anymore...
I murmur, unsure. Should I assert myself here, or let him continue? It's hard to tell, sometimes, just how much more Kenshin will open up, especially when he'll bring his walls back up if the silence stretches on too long. But maybe he's changed...
All these years... Longer than the ten years I spent wandering Japan, Sano... Fourteen years - it's a long time to spend telling yourself that you can't love anymore, that your last hope floated away with the current... And that the second best, even she's gone. So... I know it's selfish. But I don't want to tell myself that anymore. He pauses.
I unfold my arms and reach out, tentatively, putting my hands on his hips. Good Lord, it feels like coming home... The cloth of his kimono and hakama are slightly warm from the heat of his body. I can't help feeling like I just want to hold him close to me.
I'd do anything for you, Kenshin... I whisper, leaning closer to him.
That's what you've always said, he replies gently. But the truth-? The truth is... I don't want to escape anymore, Sano. I'm tired of trying to. Escape - it's just a fantasy...
And I know he's right. All the years I spent abroad... I couldn't get rid of him, couldn't shake his ghost from my heels, no matter how much water I crossed. So... What, then? I ask softly.
I want to stay here, Sano... Here, in Goza. He smiles a little. Here, on Bum-Fuck Peninsula,' you know?
I let out a deep breath, understanding washing over me. My hands loosen and then tighten again on his narrow hips.
He looks up at me. If those terms are agreeable to you... Then I'm more than happy - More than happy to do anything you want... as long as there's no trying to escape anymore.
I smile, this... warmth spreading through me, a happy, comfortable feeling - much like how I remember contentment feeling. I say. That's how it should be, I think.
He smiles sweetly, his hands going to my shoulders. I take it as a sign - a wonderful, blessed sign - and pull us together, so that his cheek is pressed against my chest, his chin resting in the V formed by the lapels of my kimono. He sighs, and this time it's a happy sound. Oh, this is so comfortable, so peaceful... I could spend the rest of my life like this, with him... I don't even want to leave, not now, not when he's here with me.
I never thought this could happen, he murmurs. I'd given up everything but...
I love you, I whisper, lowering my lips to the top of his head. His hair is soft against my mouth, and I can feel him rub his cheek contentedly against my chest.
he replies. That's the only thing I could never give up... Hope fled, eventually, memories started to fade, bit by bit... But I always loved you... And I always will.
Goza?! Wha-?! Where? Goza is a fishing village in the Mie prefecture of the Kinki region. (For those of you who are still sorta confuzzled, Kinki-ken is between Chugoku-ken and Chubu-ken. Tokyo is in Kanto-ken, which is the next over from Chubu-ken. Kinki-ken is home to both Osaka and Kyoto, as well as Ise Shima, the Ise Peninsula. Goza Shirahama is on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan. Go to [http://www.yamasa.org/japan/english/destinations/mie/goza.html] for more information (and a few pictures) of Goza Shirahama Beach.
SnM, were you on crack when you did the math in this fic? Well... Have I ever been? No. So, there's your answer. (Kinda frightening when you realize how much weird shut without the influence of anything...) Here's the math I figured out for the ages. Fuck me if it's wrong. Kenshin was born in 1850. Sano was born in 1859. This may be contrary to everything else, but that's where I'm setting it, for the sake of my own sanity. If you know the God's honest, absolutely, certainly correct dates (fuck you grammar hounds, I know that sucked, OK? I'm a little crazy right now), please let me know! It's confusing the hell out of me! Anyhow - Rurouni Kenshin takes place over the course of two years - I'm just gonna say that it does, cause that's what I've always heard. (Please, please, please correct me if I'm wrong.)
So. RK begins in 1878. In 1880, when Kenshin is over, is basically when my timeline breaks from the canon storyline. As from the events in Devotion, Kenshin and Sano get swept down the river in that year, 1880. Kenshin comes back, Sano... doesn't - not immediately. Kaoru dies in 1884, which is a year after the RK Kaden would have taken place, if I weren't such a piece of shit. (Kidding. Uhm, mostly.) That year is Meiji-17, FYI. So, the story takes place when Kenshin's daughter, Kaoru-chan (the -chan to differentiate from Kaoru, the mother), is around 8. That means the year in 1892 (Meiji-25). Kenshin is 42 (gasp!), and Sano is 33. Christ. Old men! Ugh! Whyyyy? Kidding, kidding. The Seishou Hen takes place when Kenshin's something like 45, and he's still pretty damn hot. So is Sanosuke, for that matter. So it can't be all that bad. ::Giggle.:: But, yes, my Kenshin's hair is already greying. Don't forget that 42 was a lot older in the 1800s than it is now. Kamishimemoemon (that's Sano's dad, in case you didn't know - I just love it name! What a mouthful!) is (I believe) 45 during the series, and he's all scraggly. Hiko's 40-some, I believe, during the series, but... But they say that the inheritors of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu all age well, so maybe Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu has a secret facial mask... (Erk?! I think Hiko just died. ::Kicks the corpse in the corner.:: Yeah, I just shocked Hiko to death. Whoops.) But that would explain Kenshin's relative lack of wrinkles. Besides, any premature aging can be attributed to grief and exhaustion and stress. Grief over who... Well, that's up to you to decide.
What's all this shit about Mt. Fuji? Huh? Huh?! Yeah, well...
Gotemba is - presently, I don't know about how things were in the 1890s - one of the populated areas near Mt. Fuji. Also around there are Fujinomiya, Fuji, Kambara, Susono, Fujiyoshida, and, if I'm not mistaken, Jukai, in no particular order. Fujiyoshida is really closest to a lot of the lava flow from past eruptions, as is Jukai, but I rather felt like saying Gotemba' instead of repeating the word Fuji' so much in one paragraph. (Thank you, National G.)
The Houei-jidai (Houei period) lasted from 1704-1710. The last time Mt. Fuji had a proper eruption was in 1707, which would, as Sano's historical know-how (who would've pegged him as a scholar?! Well, we'll just pretend it's common knowledge... Or close to it...) proves, would fall in the Houei-jidai - Houei-4, to be exact.
Uh... What's all this Who-eh and May-gee + a number crap? OK. Yeah, I know. Weird, weird. In Japan, they don't follow the Gregorian calender, like Westerners do. Well, they do now, to some extent, but they still use a traditional dating system. This system is based on the rule of the emperor - When an emperor takes the throne, his jidai begins, and the dating begins at one from that year, going on until he dies (or whatever else) and a new emperor is crowned. For example, when Emperor Akihito took the throne in 1989, his period (jidai, whatever), the Heisei-jidai, began, and things were dated Heisei-1, -2, -et cetera ad nauseum. It is now Heisei-14.
The Meiji-jidai began at the end of the Bakumatsu no Doran (which I'm not going anywhere near explaining! You can't make me!), in 1868.
Uhm... Are you done yet? Yeah, I am. That was your history lesson for today, lovelies. Hope you enjoyed. I certainly did. (Yes, I put myself through this sort of thing for fun.)