Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Honoring Death, Honoring Life ( Chapter 23 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

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AUTHOR'S NOTES: Here it is at last... and by the way, this was one of my favorite chapters to write. (`Honoring Death, Honoring Life' was actually begun much earlier when I found the perfect piece of music for the chapter, more on that in a second.) It underscores the similarities between Kambei and Nasami, and yet at the same time, shows just how profound their differences are, especially in how they view Katsushiro. I had toyed with actually including this idea as part of the story, saying to myself, 'Nah, don't do it,' but when I heard the music, I knew I had to do it.
The rest of the chapter was inspired by the 'Legend of the Five Rings' session where Nasami was confronted once and for all with the dual heartbreaking truths of her love for someone, and the knowledge that it would never be returned.
And after watching Volume 5 on DVD (like 3 times in a row), all I could think was, 'If Kambei manages to survive this, Nasami's going to kill him.' Absolute kudos to ALL of the FUNimation voice actors on this DVD.
The music for this chapter comes from my pleasantly surprised discovery of the painfully beautiful "The Day, Too Far," from the anime MADLAX. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to take a moment, go to my website, get the Playlist for this story off the Multimedia page, and listen to it while reading this chapter.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty-Three: Honoring Death, Honoring Life
Katsushiro knelt morosely in Rikichi's small house, holding his katana close with his head bowed and his shoulders shaking.
"A samurai is one who kills," Kambei had said, and Katsushiro had thought he knew what that meant, but three nights ago, he realized just how wrong he was. It was not the first time he had killed, in all truth, for he had cut down the two assassins who had tried to abduct Kirara in Kogakyo. But that seemed almost surreal, lost in the moment of satori that Nasami had taught him about, so that he could almost imagine that it had never happened.
"You'll need your strength to kill again." Kambei's words seemed to echo in his head, until he dropped the katana and clapped his hands over his ears.
That was how Nasami found him soon after.
"Katsushiro?" she said softly, and he started and whirled around, his sword in his hand until he saw who it was.
"Oh… Nasami-dono. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-" he stammered, then he trailed off and turned away again.
"Are you all right?" she asked in concern.
"I'm fine. You don't need to worry about me."
"Liar," she said quietly, stepping around him to face him. She knelt down and lifted his chin with her small hand, forcing him to look her in the eyes.
He tried desperately to turn his eyes away from hers, but she saw the tears shimmering in them before he could do so, and she sighed deeply.
"Come with me," she told him, rising and moving toward the door.
He remained where he was, staring blankly into space, and Nasami turned and grabbed him by the back of the obi, yanking him backward until he fell over. "Hey, what are you-"
"I said, come with me." Dragging him along, Nasami left the house, Katsushiro cursing and tripping behind her.
"Let me go, Nasami-dono! What in the world are you doing?"
"Teaching you a lesson that Kambei has apparently forgotten, and one that I will not let you kill again without learning," she replied without looking back. She may have been shorter than he was, but she was clearly a lot stronger than she looked.
To his profound gratitude, she did not lead him along where the villagers could see, but instead she seemed to be heading for the sacred grove at the edge of the river.
"Please let me go, I can walk on my own!" he pleaded, and she glanced over her shoulder to see if he was being sincere, then she released him.
"Follow me, then. And don't ignore me again."
They walked in silence through the forest until they reached the riverbank. The moonlight sparkled on the water, and the night breeze felt delicious on their skin. Nasami breathed deeply and closed her eyes, tilting her head back to let the moonlight fall on her face.
"What are we doing here, Nasami-dono?" Katsushiro whispered.
"You have taken a life. While a samurai is one who brings death, you must also remember what it means to be alive."
To his astonishment and extreme embarrassment, she removed her swords, and began pulling off her clothes. "Wait, great samurai..."
"I'm not about to go into the water fully dressed if I don't have to," she replied practically. But then she saw the blush searing Katsushiro's cheeks at her half-nakedness, and she smiled crookedly.
"Look at me, Katsushiro."
He resolutely kept his eyes away. "No. It's not proper."
"I told you not to ignore me. Don't disobey me, either."
"I can't face you, Nasami-dono."
"Are you afraid of me?" she asked quietly, and he shook his head. "I see no lust in your eyes, either, so tell me, Katsushiro, why will you not face me?"
His blush intensified, and suddenly she understood.
"Oh," she said softly."I see… you have never lain with a woman, have you?"
Katsushiro shook his head. "No, great samurai," he whispered miserably.
She stepped closer to him, and placed her hand on his shoulder. "I am not trying to seduce you, Katsushiro-san. I give you my word, in Amaterasu's name." She placed her other hand over her heart.
Finally he looked at her. "Then why are you doing this?"
"Your soul cries out for absolution. I know this because I have felt the same way in my life. And if Kambei-san will not teach you how to make the burden you carry easier to bear, then I will." She stepped closer to him. "The water knows no guilt, no sorrow. It can wash away the anguish in your soul as it washes away the blood on your hands."
At last, Nasami moved away and finished removing the last of her clothes, so that she stood naked beneath the moonlight. Bowing once to the river, she waded out into it until the water reached above her breasts.
"Come, Katsushiro… the water is waiting," she called quietly.
Still he hesitated, and she sighed, then turned so that her back was to him. "Is this better?"
"Thank you," he said gratefully, finally pulling off his own clothes and setting his katana carefully upon the pile. He stepped into the river, wincing at its chill, until the water came to his stomach.
Nasami turned back to him, the end of her foxtail trailing in the water behind her. Try as he might, he could not help staring at her, but she had been right - there was no desire in his gaze, merely admiration for the samuraiko before him.
She planted her feet carefully on the riverbed, then lifted her hands to the sky. "Blessed Lady Sun, honored Lord Moon, kami of the wind and water, hear our prayer," she called quietly, her voice carried on the wind so that the hair on the back of Katsushiro's neck stood on end. "Cleanse us with your grace and blessings, as we fight in your name and that of honor."
She slowly swam to stand beside Katsushiro, and cupped her hands together. Gathering water within them, she lifted them and gently poured the water over Katsushiro's head. He stared at her, eyes wide in the moonlight. "Grant us peace within our souls, so that we may continue to fight with honor."
Nasami made to fill her hands with water again, but Katsushiro cupped his hands together and filled his with water, then poured the water over the samuraiko's head. "Grant us peace within our souls," he repeated in a hoarse whisper, "so that we may continue to fight with honor."
Together they turned and in the same moment, dove beneath the surface. For a long moment, Katsushiro drifted in the water, feeling its coolness over his entire body as his hair moved around him. He started as a pale shape swam over to him, but then he felt the warmth of Nasami's fingers entwine with his own.
A simple reminder that he was not alone.
And slowly, he felt the ache in his soul began to fade.
Then together, Katsushiro and Nasami broke the surface, gasping for air, holding their hands to the sky. Instinctively, he echoed her words as she called out, "We thank you, Lord Moon and Lady Sun, we thank you, kami of the wind and water. In your name, and in your grace, our souls are cleansed once more."
Then all at once, he was crying, and she was holding him as his tears mingled with the river flowing past them.

Later that night, Kambei returned to Rikichi's house to find Nasami there, also going through the ritual of purification with her katana.
"You're up late," he commented, taking in her damp hair and change of clothes. With Rikichi's permission, the samuraiko had been borrowing some of Sanae's clothing, the two women being of nearly the same size, to replace the armor she could no longer wear openly. Although Kambei had to admit that Nasami looked good in armor, seeing her in more feminine clothes was quite attractive.
Nasami said nothing until her katana had been cleansed and sharpened to her satisfaction, then she turned and looked over her shoulder. "No later than the rest of you. And I wanted to do this first." Holding the blade carefully in her right hand with a cloth, she slid the edge of the tang into the pommel with a soft click, then replaced the pins and rewrapped the tsuba. She held the katana upright, her eyes carefully assessing every inch of the sword. Then she rested her cheek against the gleaming blade, her eyes closed, her love of the weapon evident.
Leaning against the doorjamb, Kambei watched as she gently touched the blade, whispering a soft prayer, then sheathing it with a careful movement. She rested the sword in a stand she had brought with her, bowing momentarily to the katana, then she got to her feet and stretched.
"Did you douse yourself as well?" he asked, indicating her wet hair, but she shook her head.
"No. I took Katsushiro down to the river for a while. It seems that he needed some purification as well."
"I wish you had told me," he said ruefully, pulling off his shoes and stepping up onto the platform beside her. "I would have gone with you."
"I think it was better that you weren't there," Nasami replied, seating herself again and drawing her wakizashi as Kambei joined her on the floor. "He was embarrassed enough as it was with me."
She grinned. "Well, let's just say that he's never seen that much of a woman before." Kambei raised his eyebrows, and she laughed.
"He'll get over it," the samurai said finally. "Where is everyone else?"
"Shichiroji is helping Heihachi work on the ballista, Gorobei and Kikuchiyo are taking guard duty, and Kyuzo is still training the farmers."
Nasami carefully dismantled the wakizashi and began sharpening the short sword, softly chanting to herself as she worked. Kambei sat cross-legged beside her, watching her work. It was not often he saw a woman who could care for her swords with such skill.
For a while, the only sounds were the scrapes of the blade against the sharpening stone, and Nasami's quiet chanting over the wakizashi. Occasionally she would pause and hold up the blade, examining it closely in the firelight, and then begin again. Finally, she was satisfied, and gently scooped some water over the blade, then dried it with a soft cloth. The wakizashi shone in the firelight, and Nasami replaced it in its saya beside her katana, bowing again to the weapons.
"You hold your swords in high regard, don't you?" Kambei asked softly.
"Yes," she whispered. "Mamorimasu has never let me down. Ever."
Nasami bowed her head, suddenly exhausted. To her surprise, Kambei moved behind her, removed his gloves, and gently began massaging her shoulders. For a moment she stiffened, but then let herself relax.
"You're always so guarded," he murmured. "Even as emotionally open as you appear, there are always walls around you."
She was silent for a time, but then sighed. "It's easier to keep people away... I've already lost so many who were important to me."
"Such as?"
She drew her knees up to her chest. "My brother..."
Kambei frowned in thought. "He was a duelist, if memory serves. Yoshio, I believe, was his name."
The samuraiko nodded. "My elder by a year. We looked so much alike that many mistook us for twins. When he died, I..." Nasami blinked back tears. "At our gempukku ceremony, we were each gifted with a sword. I was entrusted with Mamorimasu." She reached out and reverently touched the pommel of her katana where it rested on its stand
"And your brother was given Sememasu," Kambei breathed. "A rare gift, indeed."
"Yoshio was worthy of it. Like myself, he distinguished himself greatly while wielding Sememasu. When he was killed during a skirmish with an enemy clan, however, Sememasu was returned to the daimyo of our Clan, to be held in trust until I returned home to claim my brother's sword." She looked over her shoulder at Kambei. "I have not been home in over five years."
"A shame that such a magnificent blade sits in waiting," he mused.
"I've not found another yet worthy of carrying it. As such, I would rather it remain with my daimyo until the time comes when I can reclaim it."
They sat in silence together for a while, listening to the sounds of the night outside and the crackling of the fire. Finally, Kambei's hands stilled against her shoulders, but Nasami reached behind her to take one of his hands in hers. Gently she turned it over, studying the tattoo inked into the back of his hand, and traced it with her fingers.
"It's beautiful," she murmured.
She reached for his other hand and began tracing that tattoo as well.
"Odd... I would never have guessed you were hiding these. But I suppose I'm not the only one with walls, am I?" Then she tilted her head back to look up at him.
And she gasped at the look on Kambei's face.
"I have to leave," he said roughly, getting up and heading toward the door. As he started to walk out, though, Nasami lunged forward and grabbed the back of his robes.
"Wait!" she cried.
"Let me go, Nasami." His voice was hoarse, almost angry, and he refused to look at her.
Nasami went absolutely pale, her hand unconsciously opening and letting him go. "Kambei..."
At the agony in her voice, Kambei turned back to face her, and recoiled at the expression on her face. Her dark blue eyes were filled with a despair and betrayal so great that his heart nearly stopped in his chest.
Nasami's voice shook with a terrible sadness. "If the idea of my affection offends you that greatly, then I will kill that affection as easily as I would kill any enemy." Her mouth twisted in a bitter smile, but the searing pain behind her eyes burned brighter than her anger. "After all, it wouldn't be the first time."
And she was on her feet and out the door before he could stop her, running as though hell itself were after her.
"Nasami, wait!" he called after her, but she vanished into the night.

Nasami ran almost blindly through the trees, not caring who saw her, running until her knees ached and her breath caught painfully in her chest. When she finally slowed, she realized that she had reached the waterfall, the rushing water sparkling in the moonlight. It felt like it had been years, not hours, since she'd found solace in the water, felt cleansed and whole.
She sank to her knees, wrapping her arms around herself, as agony consumed her and stole her breath away.

Kambei searched through the woods, looking for Nasami. She'd disappeared into the darkness, and even with her white hair and pale clothes, he had no idea where she had gone.
He turned and saw Shichiroji approaching, a wrench in his hand.
"Listen, Heihachi has this idea for improving the range of the ballista, but we wanted to..." His voice trailed off at the look on the other samurai's face. "Kambei-sama, are you all right?"
"Have you seen Nasami?"
Shichiroji thought for a moment. "Actually, I haven't seen her since dinner this evening. Why?"

Years ago, she had felt her heart break and her hopes shatter when she had stood silently by and lost the only man she had ever loved. It had only been her duty as a samurai that had kept her from sinking into utter despair.
Her brother had been right, Nasami realized, pain searing through her. While the sorrow she'd endured at the loss of Kuroshin had been terrible, she had still survived it.
But now, without that duty to sustain her, and facing the same heartbreak all over again, the pain was more than she could bear, and her anguished cry filled the night.

Gorobei and Kikuchiyo heard it, and immediately clapped their hands over their swords.
"What the...?" Shichiroji whirled around.
Heihachi heard it, and paused while tightening the bolts on the ballista's support beam.
Kyuzo and the farmers heard it, and the farmers dropped their bows in fear, while the blond samurai narrowed his eyes and stared into the woods.
Katsushiro and Kirara heard it, while sitting quietly by the fire with Rikichi and some of the other peasants, and leapt to their feet, startled.
Kambei's first reaction was an overpowering gratitude that Nasami had left her swords behind when she fled. His second was to turn in the direction of the sound and start running.
"Kambei-sama, wait!" Shichiroji called, sprinting after him.
A few minutes later, the other five samurai caught up to them in the woods.
"Sensei, what was that?" Katsushiro asked, breathless from running, when the cry echoed again, sending chills down their spines.
"Is that... is that Nasami-dono?" Heihachi whispered as the sound faded away.

Nasami knelt with bowed head and hunched shoulders, her body shaking as she cursed herself for a fool. Her eyes burned with unshed tears, but she could not cry no matter how badly she wanted to. For what felt like forever, she knelt on the rock above the waterfall, pouring out her sorrow until at last she fell silent.
Slowly, she began to withdraw into herself, willing every last ounce of hope from her soul until there would be nothing left... only emptiness.
Her body grew cold, her hands and feet turned icy from shock, but she never moved.
That was how the samurai found her an hour later.

"Oh, God," Katsushiro whispered. He had never seen Nasami look like this, not even when on the brink of death.
Kambei nodded. "All of you, leave now. This is... between Nasami and myself."
Gorobei started to move forward, but Kambei waved him back. "No, Gorobei-san."
"But we can't leave her there like that!" Heihachi protested.
Kyuzo just stood there, his gaze moving back and forth from Nasami to Kambei and back.
"You know why she's like this, don't you, Kambei-sama?" Shichiroji said softly.
Kambei said nothing, but looked away.
Shichiroji sighed, but first he stepped over to Nasami to place his hand on her shoulder. "If you need us," he said quietly, "we'll be here for you, Nasami."
Heihachi came over to her other side. "It'll be all right, Nasami-dono," he murmured.
The two moved away, and Gorobei came forward to stand beside her. "You're not alone, Nasami. Never forget that."
Katsushiro also came near her, and for a moment didn't say anything. Then he lightly touched her hair. "If only I could heal your soul, as you did mine..." he said, his voice full of regret, before walking away.
Kikuchiyo stood awkwardly to one side, then he knelt down beside the samuraiko. "We'll be waiting for you," he said, his voice hoarse, then he left as well.
Kyuzo said nothing, but came to stand behind her and rested his hand on her shoulder for the briefest moment before turning and walking off into the darkness.
Then at last, it was only Kambei and Nasami left by the falls.
For a long, long time, he just stood there, with no idea what to say.
"Please... Nasami, I'm sorry..." he whispered. "Don't... don't do this to yourself."
At first he wasn't certain that she had even heard him. But then she turned away from him, holding herself even tighter. "You need not concern yourself with me," she whispered, her voice breaking. "I do understand, after all. There is another who loves you, one to whom I cannot compare, and who is not bound by the rules of samurai."
"Kirara," he said quietly, and she nodded.
"Yes. She is young, she is beautiful..." Her voice trailed off sadly, and she clenched her fists.
The samurai looked confused, but seeing the guarded tension in Nasami's posture, realization slowly dawned... the realization that she had misunderstood his earlier response of pushing her away. And with it, a silent hope that maybe his dream wasn't as far out of reach as he'd thought.
"But she is not you," Kambei said at last, his voice low, so faint that the samuraiko almost didn't hear him.
Nasami's head came up and she turned to him, her dark blue eyes empty and sad, but behind that sorrow was a faint spark of hope she had never dared to feel again.
Kambei saw that hope, but spread his hands wide in a gesture of defeat. "I have nothing to offer you. No wealth, no lands, no name, no honor..."
Slowly, as though afraid he would leave, she got to her feet, until she was standing in front of him, her head back to look him in the eyes. And yet, she kept her arms wrapped around herself, as though protecting herself against what he might say.
"When I... was in the Village of Respite," she began, "I met a woman... a geisha. Yukino."
Kambei started, and Nasami nodded. "Yes. Shichiroji's lover. She asked how I could not condemn them for their relationship. I told her that 'life is too short not to love.'"
She reached up and gently brushed his long hair back from his face. "So tell me, how can I condemn you... or myself... for doing the same thing?"
The samurai went completely still at her words. "But... why?"
She stepped even closer so that they were barely a handsbreadth apart. "I am weary of being alone. I am weary of sorrow and solitude, and wish to forget the pain of my past."
And then she smiled, not the bitter and twisted smile she'd worn before, but a sad and beautiful smile that took Kambei's breath away. "And for the first time in my life, I dare to believe that someone might truly care for me, as I do for him."
At last, Kambei moved forward to close the last of the distance between them and traced his fingers down her cheek. "But how can you care for a broken and empty shell of a man?"
"I know you don't really believe that, Kambei. If you did, you would have died long ago. I know that in here" - she rested her hand over his heart - "you believe in something, and that is what keeps you going."
"Not until recently," he admitted. "But I did find something to believe in."
"And what is that?" she asked, the moonlight silvering her dark blue eyes.
The samurai gathered her into his arms, rested his cheek against her pale hair, and whispered, "You, anata. I believe in you."
To be continued...