Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Matters of the Heart ( Chapter 40 )

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

* * * * * * * * * *
Note: I actually enjoyed writing this chapter a great deal... (although admittedly, Kirara does still occasionally set my teeth on edge). What surprised me the most, however, was how the whole exchange between Kambei and Katsushiro could be taken on an entirely different level of meaning. The chance to do it was just too good to pass up.
One image in particular haunted me for a long time, though... the scene of Sanae sitting by the window with the fireflies. I don't know why... but I was disappointed that Sanae didn't play a larger role, so this was my chance to make up for that.
I was ecstatic to find the perfect piece of music for this chapter - "Corynorhinus" from the BATMAN BEGINS score, by two of my favorite composers of all time - Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.
* * * * * * * * * *
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty: Matters of the Heart
Kambei, Kirara, and the others wearily made their way to the Village of Respite and arrived at the Firefly House, where they were greeted by a smiling Yukino. Glad to see them all alive and well, albeit disappointed that Shichiroji had not come with them, she arranged for food, hot baths, and rooms for them all.
Sanae, however, barely touched her food, and didn't speak at all, preferring instead to remain in the solitude of her room, sitting by the open window and staring out into the night, watching the fireflies dance.
"They're so beautiful," she murmured to herself. "So bright..."
A firefly left its companions and drifted its lazy way past her, and she reached out one hand. The firefly landed there and blinked at her a few times as she gazed at it.
"Have you lost your way, firefly?" she asked the firefly, and the firefly blinked again.
For a moment, Sanae smiled, letting the ache in her heart recede. "I've caught a little falling star," She held it up closer to her face with a childlike wonder. But as its light brightened and faded, then brightened again, she saddened.
"I envy you, little firefly... I've forgotten how to glow." She blinked back sudden tears. "I wonder... if I'll ever remember again."
Then she set it free again, just as Kirara entered and knelt beside her.
"I've made your bed for you," she said softly to the older woman, "so it's ready whenever you want to turn in. You must be exhausted."
Sanae didn't respond, her eyes still on the firefly as it danced in the evening air, and abruptly the tears in her eyes spilled over, and her shoulders shook while she sobbed quietly.
Kirara could only watch helplessly, afraid to even touch her for fear that Sanae would fall apart completely. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, feeling painfully inadequate to the task of helping Sanae, and when Mizuki arrived to keep an eye on her, Kirara gratefully fled.
In a nearby room, she found Yukino pouring tea for herself, Kambei, Katsushiro, and Masamune. Katsushiro sat off to one side, his sword resting on his shoulder, occasionally throwing glances toward Kambei, who pointedly ignored him. In the next room, Komachi was sleeping soundly while Kikuchiyo was stretched out beside her, watching her sleep. Kirara took a seat beside the geisha, who handed her a steaming cup of tea.
"How is she doing?" Yukino asked.
"Mizuki is with her right now, but I'm worried about her. I think we're going to take turns looking in on her tonight to make sure she's okay."
"You won't get much sleep that way. If you'd like, I would be more than happy to take turns with you."
"Oh, we'll be all right. But thank you anyway, Yukino."
The water priestess stared moodily into her tea, abruptly feeling the weight of everything at once.
"How could everything have turned out so badly?" she asked the group at large, wondering if maybe any of them could help her understand. "How can she honestly believe the man who held her hostage is worth mourning over?"
Kambei, however, understood far better than Kirara would ever know. Ever since that moment in the audience chamber where Sanae had knelt at his feet and begged him to spare the Emperor's life, he had been haunted by what he had seen in her eyes. Not only because of the shock that Sanae had fallen in love with the Emperor... but because he finally realized that he had seen that same light in Nasami's eyes the night he had left Kanna.
"I saw the truth in her eyes," he murmured, for a moment uncertain if he referred to Sanae or the samuraiko, but then he shook himself out of his memories. "She truly loved the Emperor."
"You stormed the Capital all by yourself, and that's all you have to say?"
Katsushiro was on his feet, staring at Kambei in absolute disbelief, and as the older samurai looked up at him, he was stunned to realize that Katsushiro had been thinking the same thing he had. This was not just about Sanae, or him leaving Katsushiro behind to rescue the women by himself. This was also an unspoken accusation of Kambei's treatment of Nasami, and Kambei knew it.
He swallowed hard. "It is... I found my weakness there." Kambei looked away, staring into the distance, remembering that moment in his jail cell when he had awoken with the feeling of Nasami's tears on his fingers. "What I found... I could not kill with a sword."
Katsushiro could not believe what he was hearing. The thought that his sensei would deliberately throw away a chance at happiness out of pride nearly took his breath away for the sheer arrogance and callousness of it.
"Then I misjudged you, sensei," he said, his voice cold.
"That's enough, you two," Yukino said warningly, and Katsushiro turned away from Kambei in disdain.
Kirara, however, while aware of the undercurrents to Katsushiro's remarks, did not know exactly what was being said beneath the surface, and she turned to Kambei. "I feel so bad for Rikichi. What can we do to help them, Kambei?"
Kambei frowned, but Katsushiro answered first without turning around. "There's nothing we can do for them," he told her, his voice flat and empty.
"How can you be so heartless?" Kirara cried, and Katsushiro whirled around to face her, pointing in the direction of Sanae's room.
"Then you tell me! What can we do?"
"You just don't get it, Katsushiro!" Kirara snapped, her eyes bright with anger, startling Katsushiro with their intensity. "You don't understand how we women suffered while the bandits bled us for rice all those years! We were beasts of burden, giving them our lives just to avoid giving them our bodies!" She closed her eyes, forcing back the memories that threatened to overwhelm her. "Sanae sacrificed herself willingly so the rest of us would be allowed to stay in the village with our families! She gave her life for us!"
Abruptly, however, she opened her eyes again as a truth hit her with the force of a blow. "But I didn't... I didn't do anything to stop her. If I'd had any kind of courage at all, then she and Rikichi would never have been apart."
"That's enough." Kambei cut her off before she could say anything else. "It's all in the past."
"Well, listen to you, great samurai!" came Kikuchiyo's derisive laughter as he entered. "Some female tricks you into putting your head on a chopping block and you go all mushy on us! Oh, she did a number on you, didn't she?"
"Why don't you put a lid on that can of yours, Kiku?" Masamune snapped. "That woman needs some time to put her life back together, and in the meantime, she needs our support! Rikichi's the one who can help her now, and your cracks aren't needed!"
"Why don't I crack your face? That might be needed!" Kikuchiyo shot back, but Masamune just smirked and leaned over the table at him.
"Then who's going to repair you?"
Kikuchiyo started to reply, then realized that Masamune was right, and subsided.
"Anyhow, you rescued the women like you said, and I guess that's all that matters," Masamume went on. "You completed your mission... isn't that right, Kambei?"
All at once, Kambei took his sword in his hand and rose to his feet. He stood completely still, his eyes closed for a moment, and then in a single swift move, he drew it, reversed the blade, and dealt a swift blow to Kikuchiyo's head and Katsushiro's shoulder while the others looked on in disbelief.
"YOU FOOLS!" he shouted.
"Hey, that hurt!" Kikuchiyo bellowed, getting to his feet. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
"Simple," Katsushiro ground out through gritted teeth. "Sensei's upset with us for coming to the Capital to save him."
"Wha-? That's ridiculous!" the big machine samurai protested, turning to Kambei. "You never told us not to come!" He growled angrily, clenching his fists. "Oh, you think you're so much better than us, Mr. 'I've got to do everything myself!'"
Katsushiro also got to his feet, his frustration and resentment finally spilling over. "Well, I for one am not going to take any more abuse from someone who lost to the Capital!"
The anger in Kambei's eyes flared at that, but Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro both ignored it. "Are you kidding?" Kikuchiyo laughed. "Losing battles is his specialty!"
Katsushiro took a step forward to confront Kambei directly. "If we had been there with you right from the start, this whole mess could have been avoided! Why did you think you had to do this alone? Did you think that none of us would want to help rescue Sanae, or absolve Nasami? Did you honestly believe that you were the only one who could help them? You didn't even give Nasami the chance to defend her own honor!"
"This was not about Nasami's honor, this was about her life," Kambei hissed, tightening his fingers around the pommel of his katana. "If she had gone to the Capital, she would have been killed!"
"She doesn't need you to protect her!" Katsushiro said derisively. "You didn't stop her from fighting to save Kanna, so why bother trying to shelter her now? And for that matter, when you were captured, why didn't you accept your death with honor? No true samurai could ever live with such disgrace!"
"Do not value death so highly," Kambei warned, his voice low, but the young samurai ignored him.
"A samurai's honor is worth dying for!" Katsushiro shouted.
"What good would my corpse have done those women?" Kambei shot back.
"I would gladly have given my life trying to save theirs!"
"With your skills, you would have died in vain!" The older samurai's voice was harsh, but Katsushiro drew himself up to his full height and stared Kambei in the eyes.
"The thought of dying doesn't scare me," he said coldly.
"Hey, Katsu, don't go talking like that," Kikuchiyo said uncomfortably, and Katsushiro stepped back away from Kambei.
"Now I understand why you're always on the losing side of a battle. You have no faith in your own allies, sensei." Then he lowered his voice so only Kambei could hear him. "And Nasami deserves better than you."
Everyone stared in shock as Katsushiro reeled backward, his cheek livid from the force of Kirara's slap. And as he turned back to Kirara, his eyes went wide as he saw the crystal on her wrist was glowing brightly. In an instant, all of his anger drained away, leaving behind a pain and betrayal so strong that he almost choked on it.
"I won't go chasing after him like some lovestruck child."
"You mean like Lady Kirara... That's what you were going to say, isn't it, Nasami-dono?"
"Yes... I'm sorry, Katsushiro."
Even then, he hadn't wanted to believe it, but the truth was there in the dowsing crystal's glow.
Unable to bear the sight of Kirara, he turned and dashed out of the room.
Shoving past startled patrons, ignoring the shocked stares and whispers, the young samurai fled down the steps of the Firefly House, only dimly aware that Kirara was following him.
"KATSUSHIRO, COME BACK!" she cried desperately, sprinting after him, horrified at what she had done. The need to defend Kambei had just come up out of nowhere, and before she had been able to stop herself, she had struck Katsushiro full across the face. But more than anything, she would have given the world to spare herself the look of betrayal she had seen in the young man's eyes.
Katsushiro ignored her, and praying for strength, Kirara increased her stride and caught him by the arm.
"Don't run away from me!" she pleaded, and as her fingers closed around his arm, her crystal flared brightly, even brighter than it had when she had slapped him.
While she succeeded in stopping him, he turned on her with such anger and hurt on his face that she instinctively let go and backed away. As soon as she released him, he turned on his heel and stalked off, Kirara trailing disconsolately behind him.

"Well, that could have gone more smoothly," Masamune said bluntly as he poured a cup of sake. He offered it to Kambei, who had seated himself once more, but the samurai shook his head. Yukino had gone to fetch food, and then to check on Sanae, leaving Kambei, Masamune, and Kikuchiyo alone in the room.
The mechanic leveled his gaze at Kambei. "You're as much at fault as he is," he pronounced, and downed the sake in a gulp, setting the cup down on the table. "You may be the experienced samurai here, but you have to remember, he's just an amateur." Pouring himself another cup, he glanced over at Kikuchiyo who was busily scarfing down food. "And speaking of amateurs, this one wasn't much help, was he?"
Kikuchiyo belched, then glared at Masamune. "Oh cram it, you old goat!"
"You know, if anyone was going to self-destruct, I thought for sure you'd be the first, Kiku!"
"Oh, yeah?" Kikuchiyo said challengingly, but then he frowned. "To tell you the truth, so did I. I guess the kid showed us both, huh?"
"Katsushiro draws a great deal of strength from his passions." Kambei's voice was quiet. "But he has not learned to control it, or them." He sighed to himself. "I did not realize that he cares for Nasami as much as he does."
"I thought he was in love with Kirara," Kikuchiyo said in confusion.
"Oh, he is. But he respects Nasami a great deal, for she has always treated him as both a man and a samurai."
Kikuchiyo nodded at that, knowing it was not only Katsushiro that Nasami had treated as such, nor was Katsushiro the only samurai who valued the samuraiko's friendship.
"So what do we do about Katsushiro?" Masamune asked Kambei softly.
"That is entirely up to Katsushiro himself," Kambei replied stoically, and Kikuchiyo looked at him.
"Damn! That's harsh!"
"Life's harsh," Kambei replied, his eyes on the sake in front of Masamune, remembering a starlit night behind the mechanic's workshop, the taste of sake... and dark blue eyes, silvered by moonlight.
He lifted his gaze to meet the mechanic's. "Pour me a cup."

Katsushiro walked blindly through the Village of Respite's streets, oblivious to the lights and the cheer, and trying resolutely to ignore the girl walking behind him. Kirara, however, was not willing to give up, and clutching her crystal in one hand, tried to talk to him.
"Just apologize to Kambei..." she pleaded.
"I can't do that," Katsushiro replied, not breaking his stride, and Kirara was so startled that she stopped walking, and then she had to hurry to catch up to him.
"Katsushiro, what's wrong with you?"
Not wanting to talk to her, Katsushiro turned down an alleyway, but still Kirara followed him, and he finally stopped.
"The scent of war is everywhere now, and I've fulfilled my duty to Kanna Village," he said at last, and Kirara gasped.
"So you're just going to leave us to fight another battle somewhere else?" She'd had no idea that the idea of Katsushiro leaving would be so painful.
"That's what samurai do," he told her, but then he turned back to face her, took her wrist in his hand, and backed her up against the wall of the alley. Kirara gasped again, too startled to move away, and stunned at what she saw in the young man's eyes.
"You could come with me, Kirara," he whispered, part invitation and part plea, his eyes never wavering from hers.
Half-covered by Katsushiro's hand, her crystal flared once, but neither of them paid it any attention, having eyes only for each other.
Giving in at least to the urges of his heart, Katsushiro closed his eyes and brought his mouth down on hers, putting all the words he could never hope to say into a kiss laced with heartbreak and need and longing. But as inexperienced as he was, it was several moments before he realized that the water priestess was not responding, and he opened his eyes.
To see Kirara's wide eyes staring at him in shock.
And he felt his heart shatter inside of him.
He pushed himself away from her and turned away, half-staggering down the alley before coming to a halt.
"I'll be fine on my own," he hissed, and vanished into the crowd before he said or did anything that he might regret.
Behind him in the alleyway, Kirara stared after him, her eyes filled with tears, one hand on her lips, and her heart heavy with the realization that she might have just lost the most precious thing she had ever known.

Much later, Kambei was returning to his room from the baths, lost in his own thoughts and remembering what Katsushiro had said to him earlier. He leaned on the railing and looked up at the stars, thinking of Nasami.
"Perhaps Katsushiro was right," he murmured to himself. "What right do I have to protect her? She is indeed a samurai... am I denying her what is her right because she is a woman? Or have I truly let my own feelings for her cloud my judgment?"
Then he saw Kirara approaching the Firefly House, looking lost and confused. On the stairs below him, however, he saw Yukino approach the girl and invite her to sit. At first Kirara hesitated, but then she took a seat beside the geisha, who drew her into her arms much as a mother would hold a child.
"You thought you could save him," he heard her tell Kirara. "We always think we can save them from themselves."
"But it's all my fault," Kirara whispered, and Yukino released her and leaned back to look at her more closely.
"Don't you think you're being too hard on yourself?"
Kirara glanced at her in surprise. "Too hard on myself? But I-"
"He picked up the sword because he wanted to, long before he met you," Yukino said gently, and unseen above them both on the landing, Kambei flinched. While the geisha was talking about Katsushiro, Kambei had the eerie sensation that she was addressing him as well.
"Yes, I am Sasuraitsuru, the Wandering Crane, bearer of Mamorimasu. Yes, peasants and courtiers alike sing songs about me. Yes, I have fought and bled and damned near DIED for my lord and my emperor!" The samuraiko's defiant shout echoed in his ears, and he groaned silently. "But I am still NASAMI!"
Yukino went on. "And think about all the women you freed, what you did for your village. Sure, things aren't perfect yet, but you accomplished what you set out to do. Right?"
"Yes," Kirara agreed faintly.
"Then you should have no reason to feel any shame. I said you should put yourself first sometimes."
"No buts!" Yukino said warmly, taking Kirara's hands in hers. "You're always so stubborn!" Then she lowered her voice. "Besides, that boy isn't the one you're drawn to..."
Kirara gasped, but her crystal flared brightly.
"Well, at least your crystal can be honest," Yukino said in satisfaction.
But above them, Kambei's hand tightened on the railing, the irony of it nearly making him laugh. Katsushiro was in love with Kirara, Kirara with himself, himself with Nasami... the only difference was that he knew Nasami returned his feelings. Or rather... at one time, had. He had no idea what would happen when he saw the samuraiko again...
All he could do was hope.
As though echoing his thoughts, Yukino went on, and for a moment, Kambei thought she was agreeing with him. "You're still young, with your whole life ahead of you!" But then her next words dashed those hopes. "And when a woman is in love, she must declare it! Now, come with me. There's a kimono I want you to try on!"
"But, I really shouldn't-" Kirara protested as Yukino drew her to her feet.
"Hush, I think it'll look great on you! And this time, I'll do your makeup-" But as the geisha turned, she saw Kambei standing at the top of the stairs, and Kirara blushed a bright red. "We have an audience... have you been there long?" Yukino asked casually.
Kambei's sad smile was hidden by the shadows. "No..."

Far away in Kanna Village, Nasami was kneeling beside the window in Rikichi's house, looking up at the stars, momentarily distracted by the irresistible feeling that someone had walked over her grave. She sat still for a moment, listening, but the feeling didn't return, and she sighed.
"You're thinking of him again." Nasami glanced over her shoulder and saw Shino standing in the doorway, holding a tray of food and watching her, and the farm girl flushed slightly. "Of that samurai. Kambei-sama."
"Shino..." Shichiroji said, a faint warning in his voice, but the samuraiko gave Shino a faint and rueful smile.
"Is it so obvious?"
Shino shook her head. "Not really, no. It's just that... well, you had the same look in your eyes that Katsushiro-sama has whenever he looks at Kirara."
"Yes," Nasami said softly, her eyes wistful. "I suppose that I do."
"You can't think that he doesn't care about you as well, sensei," Shino protested, setting the tray down on the platform and kneeling beside Nasami, placing her hand on the older woman's shoulder without thinking.
Then Nasami stunned the peasant girl by lightly patting her hand, and then getting to her feet. "Thank you, Shino. But it doesn't really matter in the end."
"Where are you going?" Heihachi asked her as she began to carefully gather her few belongings.
With care, she placed her katana and wakizashi in her obi, then turned to look at him. "I have to leave."
"You're going after Kambei-sama, aren't you?" Shichiroji said softly.
She hesitated, and then nodded. "I'm sorry, Shichiroji. I tried so hard just to let him go, the way he asked me to, but..."
"Then why leave now?"
Nasami said nothing, but both men had seen how hard she had been driving herself ever since Kambei had left. Day and night, she had been forcing herself to keep busy, and as soon as the harvest had been completed, the samuraiko had once again begun training the farmers in the art of warfare. Although she never said why, many of the peasants had picked up on her concern that the battle was not yet over, and so once the harvest was finished, more often than not, Nasami and most of the able-bodied men and women were training all day and half the night.
"I can't explain it," Nasami replied at last. "But I can't just stay here and do nothing any more."
"You haven't been 'doing nothing,'" Shichiroji reminded her. "Because of you, the peasants are once again at a fighting readiness, and Kanna is even more defensible than before. It's not like you've been wasting time since Kambei-sama left."
"I know," she said softly.
"So why leave?" Shichiroji asked her.
"Because I can't help you in rebuilding, I don't have skills for that sort of thing. And because if this whole thing falls apart the way that I think it will, we are all going to find ourselves going through six kinds of hell," the samuraiko said quietly, turning to Shichiroji and smiling wanly at him. "Besides, you and Heihachi have just about finished the reconstruction, so I'm..."
She waved her hands helplessly, then sighed.
"It's because of that dream you had the other night, isn't it?" Heihachi asked her quietly. "That nightmare you had..."
Nasami flinched, her face slowly going pale.
Shichiroji and Heihachi looked at one another, and then the blond samurai sighed. "I understand. We'll be done here by tomorrow at the latest anyway, so leaving one day ahead of us shouldn't be a problem. You go on ahead, and we'll catch up with you and the rest at the Firefly House."
She smiled gratefully, and took his hand in hers, gently squeezing it, then she picked up her pack and walked outside, only to find the Elder standing there.
"We farmers are not always good at showing our gratitude, but we are grateful for all that you have done, great samurai," he told her somberly. "But I must confess that I am worried that the bandits will return."
Nasami straightened and rested her hand on her katana. "If that should happen, I will return to Kanna Village. You have my word, Elder... I will come back."
The Elder bowed to her. "Thank you, Nasami-sama. May Lady Sun's light shine on you during your travels."
"And on us all," Nasami whispered. "And on us all."
With that, she set out toward the Village of Respite, her eyes on the stars and her thoughts already far away.
To be continued...