Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Bittersweet Reunions ( Chapter 42 )

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

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Note: And the fertilizer hits the ventilator... for all of you who freaked because of The Cost of Pride's cliffhanger ending, I'm not-so-sorry to tell you that the next several chapters have cliffhangers, too! (Including this one.)
Watching things fall apart from the inside was a heartwrenching experience, and kudos all the way around to the FUNimation voice actors for the entirety of the episode "The Divide." But the line that really knocked me out was the last line of the episode, when Katsushiro is standing alone in the desert, staring out into the distance with empty eyes, and thinks to himself, "I've been calling the wrong man 'sensei.'" And also full marks to J Michael Tatum as Rikichi. I liked him from the outset, but his whole scene of his reunion with Sanae was wonderful.
The music for "Bittersweet Reunions" came while I was looking for something else. John and I were looking for music to use in our Champions: Dark Guardians campaign and going through the music files on my computer when I opened "The Branded Curse" from the anime SPIRAL. And I had my music for this chapter...
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Two: Bittersweet Reunions
Ukyo, Tessai, and the Imperial Minister were in the middle of a private conference in the Emperor's chambers when a guard's voice came discreetly through the screens.
"Pardon me, Amanushi... may I interrupt?"
Ukyo set down the model he had been idly toying with on a table beside him. "Yes, yes... go ahead."
"We've received word the assassination attempts on Kambei Shimada and your father have both failed."
The young man growled in frustration and glared at nothing in particular. "Why must those two be so difficult?" He raised his voice once more so that the guard could hear him. "Understood... keep after them."
"Yes, my lord." The guard bowed and turned to leave when suddenly a thought came to Ukyo.
"Wait a moment," he called out, and the guard halted and turned back once more. "What about the group sent after that samuraiko?"
Just then, he, the Minister, and Tessai saw the silhouette of a second guard approach the first, kneel down, and murmur something in his ear, then depart. The first bowed toward the screen, and replied, "Forgive me, my lord. Our scouts have just reported that the assassin team sent after the samuraiko Nasami was successful."
"Excellent!" Ukyo crowed in satisfaction, and Tessai frowned to himself. "Keep me informed about the attempts on the other two."
"Yes, Amanushi." The guard bowed once more and departed.
"You do realize, young Master, that the woman's Clan will not be happy when they learn about this," Tessai reminded Ukyo in a low voice.
"Remind me again... who's in charge here?" Ukyo said petulantly, and Tessai lowered his gaze in chagrin.
"You are, my lord."
"Good. Don't forget that. Her Clan doesn't have to like it. They just have to accept it. Now go - the assassin team should be reporting back soon. Greet them personally and then bring them directly to me."
"Yes, my lord," Tessai said softly, bowing low, then he left.

The following morning, Komachi and Kikuchiyo stood on the dock, going through a series of stretching exercises while Masamune finished his morning ablutions nearby.
"One, two, three, four!" Komachi chanted.
"Here we go, stretch it out!" Kikuchiyo answered, huffing and creaking as he moved.
"One more time, other side!"
"All right, sprout, all right... are we done now?" the big machine samurai groaned as Komachi kept going. Suddenly Masamune glanced up toward the mouth of the caves that bordered the edge of the Firefly House's property and saw a boat approaching... along with a Yakan combat shell.
"Hey, Kiku, look over there!" he called, and Komachi and Kikuchiyo stopped and turned around to look.
"It's a Yakan!" Komachi yelped, and Kikuchiyo immediately dove for his sword. But just as he began swinging his huge sword around and shouting, he was brought up short by a grinning Shichiroji standing on the deck of the boat, his naginata staff casually balanced on his shoulder.
"Good morning, everyone!" he sang out cheerfully, and Kikuchiyo laughed.
"Momotaro, hey!" he greeted him, advancing down the dock to where Rikichi was guiding the boat.
"What is this?" Masamune asked in surprise, when the Yakan shell opened to reveal a sheepishly grinning Heihachi.
"I know... kinda sloppy," he admitted, rubbing the back of his head, while Komachi waved hello to Rikichi and Shichiroji.
Just then, Yukino emerged from the rear doors of the Firefly House carrying a basket of trash for the compost heap, but she stopped when she saw Shichiroji leap easily over the side of the boat to land gracefully on the dock with a lazy, "Hey..."
"Look what the tide dragged in," she said with a soft smile, barely managing to hide a wider grin at the site of the blond samurai.
"Missed you, too," he said dryly, winking at her.
"So Momotaro, where's your pile of treasure?" she asked, one eyebrow raised, studying from head to toe as though he had it hidden in his pockets somewhere.
"Oh, for crying out loud, I knew I forgot something!" he yelped, slapping himself on the forehead. "To make it up to you..."
He advanced on her, and just when Yukino thought he would take her into his arms and kiss her right there, he lifted the basket from her hands.
"... I'll take out the trash." With that, he strolled off around the back of the inn, leaving Yukino shaking her head and laughing, while Komachi watched the two in puzzled confusion.
Kikuchiyo turned back to where Rikichi stood on the deck. "Rikichi, how's your wound?"
"I'm feeling much better now, thanks." He lightly rubbed the sore spot on his side where his ribcage still twinged sometimes, but he was alive and on his feet and not complaining. "And Kikuchiyo... look."
He picked up a wrapped bundle, and drew away the cloth to reveal a familiar-looking katana.
"This is Gorobei's old sword," he said softly, holding it with far more confidence than he had the last time he had held a sword. "With his fighting spirit at my side, I know I can help..."
His words died away as a sudden movement at an upstairs window drew his attention. It had only been for a moment, but his heart stopped in his chest at the sight of Sanae's face. Dropping the katana, he lunged over the side of the boat, dashed inside, nearly knocking down Kirara, Kambei, Mizuki, and Kyuzo, and ran straight to the room where Sanae was.
"Don't open the door!" came her hurried and desperate plea.
"Sanae, it's me, Rikichi! Your husband! Sanae!"
"I'm sorry, Rikichi... but I can't... I can't go back to being your wife," he heard through the door, and his fingers tightened almost convulsively on the wood of the sliding door. He wanted more than anything to rip down the doors and take Sanae into his arms, but he forced himself to stay where he was. He was only vaguely aware of the others coming up behind him, lending him their quiet support, but the rest of his attention was focused on Sanae, willing her to open the door, to accept him once again.
"I know about what happened... I don't care!" he pleaded, oblivious to the tears on his face. "You're alive, and we're together again... that's all that matters to me! Now please, let's go home!"
"I can't," came Sanae's despairing voice, and Rikichi bowed his head, forcing back the sobs that threatened to overwhelm him. All the years that Sanae had been gone, he had imagined how it would feel to see her again, but he had never dreamed it would be like this... never once imagined that he could be this close to her and yet farther away than any word, any touch could ever bridge.
"Come home," he begged, clenching his fists to keep from tearing the walls down around them both, but no matter what he said, no matter what he did, Sanae refused to open the door. Finally, he gave in to the urge of his heart and slid the door open, revealing Sanae sitting in the sunlight near the window. Moving as cautiously as he could, he approached her and knelt down several feet away, holding something out to her.
"Do you remember this?" he asked her quietly, and she turned to look at what he held in his hands.
Her comb.
She lifted her eyes to his and nodded once.
"Please, for me... wear it again."
"I can't," she said again, turning away once more. "I belong to the Amanushi-"
"I won't accept that!" he cut her off. "You are my wife, and no matter what you say, I am taking you home!"
Sanae didn't turn around.
"If you want, I'll even build them a grave," he said desperately. "Right next to our house, a grave for the Amanushi and the infant, and I'll pray for them with you. Please, just come home!"
Sanae sank to the floor, hid her face in her arms and sobbed, giving in at last to the tears she had been holding inside since she had left the Capital. Dimly she was aware of Rikichi weeping with her, and as much as each wanted to hold the other, the pain and suffering they had both been through kept them apart.

Unable to watch anymore, Kambei turned and left the room, heading for the open courtyard in the middle of the Firefly House. He stared down at the koi pond, but his eyes weren't seeing the fish that glided gracefully through the water. Instead, he was seeing pale violet eyes filled with love and pleading... and dark blue eyes filled with despair and betrayal.
Morosely he wondered if the same thing would happen when he saw Nasami again... whether she would accept his feelings toward her as she had before, or if she would shut him out...
... wondered if she would even forgive him once she learned what he had done, betraying her and her trust not once but twice - first when he left her behind in Kanna Village, and again when he condemned both her and himself because of Sanae.
As he leaned against the railing, his head bowed in exhaustion, he became aware of Shichiroji's approach, and the blond samurai leaned against the railing beside him.
"What a shame... what a crying shame." Shichiroji didn't know if he should cry or curse for how everything was turning out. The Nobuseri had been defeated, the women had been rescued, they were all safe - at least for now - but the sick feeling in his heart would not go away.
"I'll never forget my shock." Kambei's voice was quiet, and faintly recriminating. He could still remember the exact moment his heart had stopped beating when Sanae had begged him to spare the Emperor... and he had been unable to act, even to save Nasami's life.
Shichiroji frowned. If nothing else, Kambei was always reliable in his ability to set emotional reactions aside and just act. "Doesn't sound like you, Kambei."
"I couldn't kill him. I saw a light in her eyes... a light that shone out of love for her Amanushi. And so help me, when I looked into her eyes, I couldn't do a thing." He closed his eyes, trying to shut out the memory, and his mouth twisted in a bitter smile. "Pitiful, no?"
"Not really," Shichiroji replied, staring up at the clouded sky, watching the beginnings of a storm begin to form overhead. "We do strange things for those that we love."
He felt more than saw the other samurai flinch, and he glanced sidelong at Kambei, who would not meet his gaze.
"What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Kambei said softly.
"Mourning Shiori for the rest of your life won't bring her back, Kambei," Shichiroji urged him, refusing to be dissuaded by the other samurai's glare. "Surely by now you've realized that there was nothing you could have done to save her." Then abruptly he stopped, his eyes wide with realization. "That's why you were so desperate to save Nasami. That, more than anything, is why you left Kanna... you love her."
Kambei's silence was all the answer he needed, and Shichiroji sighed.
"Still determined to keep everyone at arm's length... at least that hasn't changed about you." He sighed again. "This weather brings back memories. Back then, the sword was everything... we lived and died by the blade, and that was it."
Kambei flinched again. He knew at least one person for whom that ideal had never changed.
"Listen to me, carrying on about the good old days. Guess I'm showing my age," Shichiroji said ruefully, then he looked over at his former commander. "I'm sorry I can't be more help, Kambei."
With an effort, Kambei dragged his thoughts back to the present. "Since you and Heihachi are here, I assume the village is secure?"
Shichiroji nodded. "We rebuilt all we could, made Kanna more defensible, trained the farmers some more, too. Their attitudes, on the other hand... well, give them time."
"Katsushiro has left," Kambei said, his voice a mixture of sadness and disappointment.
"I'd wondered why he wasn't here," Shichiroji replied. "What happened?"
"Words were said, accusations, actually," the other samurai admitted.
"On whose part?"
"Both," Kambei answered. "He was right, however. And I can't blame him for leaving."
"Do you think he'll be all right?"
"I don't know... I wish I did."

Much later that night, Shichiroji and Yukino were sitting side by side at the top of the stairs, a bottle of sake at their feet, and Yukino's head resting on the samurai's shoulder.
"It's so good to have you back... even if it is just for a little while, Momotaro," she murmured, but just then Shichiroji sat bolt upright, jostling the geisha's head off his shoulder as he slapped himself on the forehead.
"Oh, geez, I almost forgot!" He began rummaging through his pockets one after another, searching for something while Yukino watched him in amusement. Finally he came up with a sealed letter and handed it to Yukino with a sheepish grin. "This arrived right after I did, when I was taking out the trash for you earlier. I was supposed to give this to you."
"What is it?"
She took it and studied it - on the front was her name in graceful calligraphy. Carefully she broke the seal and drew out two pieces of paper. As her grey eyes skimmed over the first page, they became puzzled, and then her eyes became enormous as her face went pale. "This... can't be..."
"Hmm?" Shichiroji paused in mid-sip and glanced down at Yukino, then he did a classic double-take and nearly dropped the cup. "Yukino? What's the matter? What's wrong?"
All Yukino could do was shake her head in mute denial, staring at the page she held in her hands, before suddenly breaking out in peals of laughter.
Shichiroji nearly tore the rice paper in two snatching the pages away from the geisha, who could only lean against him as tears ran down her face while she laughed.
In his hand was the contract that Yukino had signed when she first purchased the Firefly house, indicating the loan she had taken out to pay for the inn. Neatly inked across the bottom were three words.
The blond samurai's mouth fell open. "What the..."
"Oh, Roji, you are hopeless," Yukino gasped as she wiped away her tears. "You didn't really have to do this for me."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you," he protested, waving the rice paper around. "I didn't."
Suddenly Yukino stopped laughing. "You... you didn't? Then..."
Together they glanced down at the second page where, inked in the same strong handwriting as the outside of the letter, they read:
'The best love stories donot involve Momotaro forgetting something so important as a mountain of treasure, so I'm sending it along for him.'
"Huh?" Shichiroji stared at the note in confusion, scratching his head. "What in the world is that supposed to mean?"
Yukino, however, was remembering the night that Shichiroji had first left with the peasants and samurai, fleeing the Magistrate's patrols...
Be brave, Yukino-san. He will come back.”
But how can you know, great samurai?”
Isn't that how the best love stories end?”
And suddenly the geisha's eyes glimmered with tears. "Nasami-sama..."
"You're saying she did this?" Shichiroji was startled for a moment, then he quietly chuckled. "Yeah, now that I think about it, that does sound like her. And that explains what she was doing when that Tortoise Express rider passed through Kanna a couple of days ago. She wouldn't say why, but she was laughing to herself for hours afterwards."
"Yes... when I met her, she was most kind. I don't think I'd ever met a samurai like her before, or a woman like her before, for that matter," Yukino mused.
You don't… disapprove, then? Not many samurai look favorably on one of their own living in such fashion with a woman who is not his wife, even in times such as these.”
Life is too short not to love.”
The geisha sighed. "I do wish she had come with you... I would have liked to thank her in person for this."
"What do you mean?" Shichiroji looked at Yukino, concerned. "Nasami left Kanna Village the day before we did, and she was supposed to come directly here. Didn't she already arrive?"
Yukino shook her head, her eyes filled with concern. "No, she hasn't been here." Her eyes met his, and suddenly they both had the same troubling thought. "Oh, Roji, no... you don't suppose..."
"We shouldn't panic," the blond samurai replied with a calm he didn't quite feel. "It may be that she just had to take a longer route to arrive. With any luck, she'll turn up here in the next day or so."
"Do you really think so?" Yukino asked anxiously.
Shichiroji's silence did nothing to reassure her.

Alone in the desert, Katsushiro sat staring into the distance, oblivious to the heat and the howling winds around him as he mechanically chewed on one of the riceballs he had packed for the trip across the sands. His mind was not on crossing the desert, however, or on the dangers he might encounter along the way.
Over and over in his mind, all he saw were Nasami's eyes filled with horror and desperation, how he had felt the strength in her grasp fade as the poison took hold of her, heard her choked gasp as she fell to her knees...
"Katsushiro... run... get back to Kanna... Protect them for me..."
Even as her captors had closed in on her, she had ignored them and focused all of her attention on the young samurai, her gaze pleading.
"Please... do it for me... I beg you..."
In all the time he had spent travelling with Kambei and the other samurai, he had been told to do things, asked to do things, offered to do things... but never before had he had someone beg him. For a brief moment, he wondered if he would be able to protect the peasants nearly as well as Nasami herself could have if she had been able to return, but then he banished the doubt from his mind. Angrily he packed up the remains of his food and shoved the rice back into his pack.
"I swear it, Nasami-dono," he said aloud. "I'll return to Kanna as you asked... and I'll protect them, or die trying. Not because you told me to... but because you asked me to."
Only then, there amid the whirling desert sands, did he realize just how deep his resentment toward Kambei and the other samurai ran. All at once, he was sick and tired of being ignored, patronized, or taken for granted. Now he really had a chance to make a difference, and was being counted on.
And as he got to his feet, he wondered for a moment how things might have been different if instead of Kambei, he had chosen Nasami as his mentor. In his eyes, the older samurai had always been so willing to give up, to remain untrusting, to keep his distance, but not her.
"I've been calling the wrong person 'sensei,'" he whispered.

Kambei looked grave at Shichiroji and Yukino's news. "How long before you did Nasami leave Kanna Village?"
"Just a day or so," Shichiroji replied, his elbows resting on his knees and his chin in his hands. "But it's not like Nasami to take detours or anything. I know she was pretty anxious to get here."
The blond samurai flushed slightly. "Well... I'm not even certain I should be discussing this, but a few nights ago, she had a dream... more like a nightmare, actually. Remembering the last night of the Battle of Shinomen Mori."
Kambei frowned, remembering a nightmare of his own while in the Shikimoribito's caverns, and then his mysterious dream while imprisoned at the Capital. "Do you remember exactly when she had the dream?"
"Five nights ago," Shichiroji said quietly. "How come?"
The older samurai looked away, shaken. For whatever reason, Nasami's nightmare had come to her the same night as his dream of her in the Capital. "Do you know why she finds that night so painful?" he asked.
"I have my suspicions," Shichiroji replied, watching his former commander intently. "From all the stories I've heard, that battle was nothing short of hell on earth. Thousands upon thousands died that night, from all the Great Clans, many of the lesser ones..."
"And the night that Nasami lost several close friends in battle... samurai that she was unable to save," Kambei finished. The thought was like a knife twisting in his guts - the harder he tried to keep her at a distance, the more he realized that she understood him and his past far better than he had ever given her credit for.
"We share a bond, you and I... As long as we both live, neither of us is ever truly alone." She had been more right than she knew.
"So... Nasami-sama dreamed of that night because she was afraid of losing you as well," Yukino murmured thoughtfully. "It does make sense..."
"But the question remains - where is Nasami now?" Kambei frowned again, rubbing his chin with his hand. Then he lookd over at the geisha. "Lady Yukino, please ask Kirara to come here... and ask her to bring her crystal as well."
Yukino bowed and left, but no sooner had she gone than Kyuzo appeared in the doorway.
"More likely, Ukyo's men found her first."
"What do you mean?" Shichiroji said, startled.
"Assassin teams were sent after Kambei and Ayamoro. I killed them. But another group was sent after Nasami."
"Why didn't you speak of this earlier?" Kambei said, his voice low and more than a little angry.
"My only interest is in fighting you, not saving her," Kyuzo said simply. "Katsushiro volunteered to go after her when I saw him."
Kambei and Shichiroji looked at one another in dismay, but just then Yukino arrived with Kirara, who bowed politely to the samurai.
"Yes, great samurai?"
"Kirara, we need you to use your talents to try and locate Nasami," Kambei said quietly. "Can you do it?"
She nodded, her eyes concerned. "Did... did something happen to her?"
"She left Kanna Village before Heihachi and I did," Shichiroji told her, "but she never arrived here. We need to know why."
"I see," Kirara replied. "I'll need water, a bowl will suffice."
Yukino clapped her hands, and when one of the serving girls arrived, ordered her to bring the water priestess a bowl of water. A few moments later, Kirara was kneeling at a low table, her crystal hanging free, her eyes closed as she cast her mind into the spirit realm...
Nasami and Katsushiro fighting back to back, surrounded by assassins... the samuraiko's blade flashing as assailant after assailant was cut down... Katsushiro's sword slicing open anyone who came near them...
"She... and Katsushiro... were attacked by assassins," Kirara said faintly, her eyes still closed. "Together they fought them..."
"What else?" Shichiroji urged her. "Is she all right?"
The last assailant falling to the ground... Nasami whirling in horror... something striking her from behind... falling into Katsushiro's arms... more shapes closing in... Nasami's eyes pleading... sinking to the ground... Katsushiro running...
"Katsushiro..." she whispered. "Nasami was ambushed... Katsushiro ran..."
Nasami collapsing... the assassins moving in... one raising his sword...
"No," Kirara gasped, her head snapping up and her eyes wide. "NO!"
Her voice was practically a shriek as she pushed herself away from the table, knocking over the bowl and spilling the water everywhere. Her eyes were wide with horror, and in an instant, the samurai were on their feet. A few moments later, Komachi, Masamune, and Kikuchiyo arrived from where they had been sleeping in the next room, drawn by the water priestess' cry.
"What was it? What did you see?" Kambei demanded, but all Kirara could do was shake her head. He crouched down beside her and took her shoulders in his hands, shaking her. "Kirara, tell us! What did you see?"
Kirara lifted her eyes to Kambei's, and tears spilled down her cheeks. She tried to speak, but couldn't make herself say the words, and Kambei went pale, a terrible despair chilling him to his very soul.
As if in a daze, he let the girl go and rose to his feet.
"Kirara, please..." Yukino begged, moving to kneel beside Kirara and taking the priestess' hands in her own. "You have to tell us..."
"Nasami-sama... Nasami-sama is..." Kirara abruptly covered her face with her hands. "Nasami-sama is dead..."
To be continued...