Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The Choices We Make ( Chapter 51 )

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

* * * * * * * * * *
Note: After all the excitement, chaos, and heartbreak of the last several chapters, writing "The Choices We Make" was surprisingly cathartic. Yes, the samurai have won, and Kanna Village is safe... but the cost was much, much higher than any of them ever dreamed. And yet, somehow I truly believe that if given the choice, Nasami would do it all over again.
Some of you may recognize the poem that Nasami quotes to Kambei from Chapter One of my story "Dancing with Snowflakes."
It was that ideal that led me to the music for this chapter - "The Confession" from James Horner's exquisite score for "The Name of the Rose."
* * * * * * * * * *
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Fifty-One: The Choices We Make
"We'll need to take her to the Metal City in the Shikimoribito's caverns," Kambei told Shichiroji as they carried Nasami up the path back to Kanna Village.
"Are you sure, great samurai?" Rikichi asked, taking care not to jostle the makeshift litter they had created to carry the samuraiko. "Travelling that far might do her more harm than good."
"With her injuries, she'll need more medical treatment than Kanna Village can provide," Shichiroji said grimly. "It's a chance we'll have to take. As it is..."
The blond samurai glanced down at Nasami, who had mercifully fallen unconscious. "Even if she survives... she may never walk again."
As the three came up the path that led into the village, most of the farmers came running, offering to help.
"Shichiroji, you and Rikichi get that transport ready to go," Kambei ordered. "Yohei, Gozaku, take over for Rikichi and Shichiroji." With great care, the two farmers took hold of the ends of the litter and followed Rikichi and Shichiroji to the transport that the Shikimoribito had lent to them. Just then, Shino came running over, calling Nasami's name, but she skidded to a halt at the sight of her sensei so bruised and battered. She turned pleading eyes to Kambei.
"Will she be all right?"
"I don't know, Shino. It is in Amaterasu's hands now."
"I'll come too, great samurai," Kirara offered, and she climbed up onto the deck of the transport.
All of the villagers gathered around to help, some bringing extra blankets to cover the deck with, others offering clean bandages or water. Glaring around her, as though defying one of them to stop her, Shino pulled herself up onto the deck and stood beside Kirara, then Shichiroji and Kambei clambered up into the transport as well.
"Just hold on, Nasami," Kambei murmured to her as Yohei and Gozaku gently laid her down on the deck. "You'll be fine..."
Nasami's eyes opened, slightly unfocused from the painkillers that Kambei and Shichiroji had given her a little while earlier. "Wait... where... is Komachi?"
"I'll fetch her, great samurai," Kirara said softly, climbing back down from the transport to get her younger sister. A minute or two later, the two girls arrived, and Komachi knelt beside Nasami, who gently stroked the child's hair. For a moment, her gaze rested on the scroll that Komachi still held to her chest, and her eyes misted with tears, then she lifted her gaze to meet Komachi's.
"I... I'm supposed to give you... a message," the samuraiko murmured, swallowing hard. "From Kikuchiyo..."
Komachi's eyes went wide, and she sniffed back tears. "From Kiku? For me?"
Nasami nodded slowly, and her eyes drifted shut again, but she forced them open so she could see Komachi's face.
"I want you to know... how he died. He died like a samurai, Komachi. He took up that Zankanto... all by himself... took on the Capital alone... to give me more time."
Nasami took the girl's hand in hers and squeezed it.
"Then he said... 'You tell Komachi that I love her, okay? Promise me that...' And I did... I promised him... that I would tell you."
Tears slowly began to trickle down Komachi's face, but she never took her eyes from Nasami's. "Kiku... Kiku said that he loved me?"
"Yes," the samuraiko whispered, her eyes closing once more as exhaustion overwhelmed her. "That samurai... loved you, Komachi... never... ever... forget..."
Then she sank into unconsciousness.

The ride to the caverns of the Guardians went much faster than Kambei and Shichiroji had originally thought, now that there was no need to hide from bandits or the Capital. Nasami was in a daze during most of it, although Kambei had insisted that Kirara and Shino talk to her the entire time, concerned that the samuraiko's injuries might be more than they appeared.
As they approached the mouth of the caverns nearest to Kanna, however, they were startled to see several of the Shikimoribito standing near the entrance.
"We had deployed scouts to watch your battle with the Capital," one of the Guardians said when he saw the puzzled expression on Kambei's face.
"We were hoping you could provide medical assistance to Nasami-san," Kambei explained, carefully leaping down from the transport. "She was badly injured during the battle, and I fear that... her injuries may be more serious than we can tell."
Two of the Guardians climbed up onto the deck of the transport, where Shino immediately shrank away from them in fear. Kirara and Shichiroji, however, stayed at the woman's side while the two Shikimoribito carefully studied Nasami's wounds.
"We will do what we can for her, but it will take some time," one of them told Shichiroji, who nodded.
"We understand. We'll stay as long as it takes."
"Very well. Follow us, then." The Guardians jumped down to join their comrades, and they turned to enter the caverns. Kambei climbed back up to stand beside Shichiroji, who steered the transport in after them. After several minutes' flight, they arrived at the Metal City, and the Guardians called out directions to Shichiroji to dock at the City. Several other Guardians approached and unloaded the litter on which Nasami lay, and then bore her toward a large structure.
"Our medical facilities," one of the Guardians explained as he, Kambei, Shichiroji, Kirara, and Shino followed. "Here, we treat those who are injured during our work with the energy cells, as well as cybernetic enhancement on those who have suffered loss of limb." The Guardian glanced down at Shichiroji's right arm. "In the meantime, what can you tell us about her wounds?"
Kambei and Shichiroji quickly filled the Guardians in on what they already knew, as well as what they suspected, while Nasami was taken into an operating room. While they had wanted to remain with her, her friends knew that there was little they could do besides get in the way, so they waited outside, pacing anxiously as the hours crept by.
Finally, after what felt like forever, the Guardians' doctors emerged.
"How is she?" Kirara asked anxiously.
"Her injuries were far more extensive than we had initially suspected," one of the doctors admitted. "Your original assessment was correct. Her pelvis was shattered during the fall, and her spine seriously damaged. Additionally, both legs were broken in several places, as well as three of her ribs. Unfortunately, there was also significant hemorrhaging-"
Shino's face went ashen, but Kambei had only one question.
"Will she survive?"
"We do not yet know," one of the other doctors said quietly. "The next twelve hours will decide her fate."
"Even if she survives," Shichiroji asked after a long pause, "will she... will she be able to walk again?"
The Guardians said nothing.

The next twelve hours seemed to last an eternity for Kambei, Shichiroji, Kirara, and Shino. They had been allowed to take turns sitting with the samuraiko as she lay unconscious.
During her turn, Kirara had tried to use her crystal as she had so long ago in Kougakyo, but no matter how hard she prayed, or how much she sang, there was no miracle like there had been before, and finally she gave up, rested her head on her arms, and cried.
During his turn, Shichiroji had sat holding Nasami's hand in his metal one, wondering if she could even feel the pressure of his touch, wondering if Nasami would accept cybernetic limbs like he had. And he wondered if it turned out she would never walk again, if the samuraiko would even want to live.
During her turn, Shino had sat beside Nasami and just watched her, as though trying to give back to the samuraiko all of the strength and power she had gained during her training with Nasami.
During his turn, Kambei had sat beside Nasami, holding her hand in his, stroking her forehead, and praying like he never had before in his life.
"Blessed Amaterasu, save her," he whispered over and over, unaware of the tears in his eyes as he watched the woman asleep on the bed. "I love her..."

Sometime in the middle of the night, Kambei had fallen asleep by Nasami's side, but he slowly came awake when he had the feeling someone was watching him.
Turning, he looked over his shoulder, and to his considerable surprise, saw Honoka and Mizuki standing in the doorway.
"We didn't mean to intrude, great samurai," Honoka said softly, "but we had heard about what happened, and we wanted to see her."
"Of course, please come in," Kambei replied, and the two women approached. Honoka drew in a sharp breath when she saw the samuraiko. "I-I had no idea. Oh, great Kambei, I'm so sorry..."
"Don't... be..." came a faint voice, and Kambei looked down to see Nasami's eyes were open, and a faint smile playing around her mouth. "I'm... still alive... I think..."
"Yes, love, you are." The relief in Kambei's voice was evident, and Nasami's gaze went to Mizuki, who was watching the two of them with wide eyes.
"You... must be... Honoka's sister. Pleasure... to meet you... at last," the samuraiko murmured.
Just then, Shichiroji, Shino, and Kirara came in, drawn by the sound of voices, and immediately they joined the three others around Nasami's bed.
"So you decided to hang in there, huh?" Shichiroji teased, ruffling Nasami's hair. "Good thing, too. He'd have been hell to live with otherwise." He tilted his head to indicate Kambei, who shot him a look.
Nasami's attention, however, was on her legs, and she was frowning. Then she looked up at Kambei. "What... exactly happened to me?"
"Your injuries were quite extensive, samurai," came the voice of one of the Guardians, and the group turned to see one standing in the doorway. "However, you were lucky that you did not lose both of your legs after the injuries you sustained."
"Will I be able... to walk again?"
"In time, perhaps. For now, your body has much healing left to do. We are confident that with your... determination, you will soon be on your feet. But... you will never again be able to move as freely as you did before."
For a moment, the samuraiko's head fell back against the pillows, and she closed her eyes to blink back the unexpected tears. But she drew in a deep breath, and with her eyes still closed, reached out for Kambei's hand and squeezed it hard.
"A small price to pay... for my life and my heart," she whispered. "But I want to recuperate... in Kanna Village."
"We suspected as much," said the Shikimoribito, and Shichiroji would have sworn he heard amusement in the Guardian's voice. "Supplies are being prepared for you as we speak. You will be free to leave the day after tomorrow."

Two days later, the small group returned to Kanna Village, where with the help of Kambei and the rest, Nasami began the long, hard road toward recovery. Many times, Kambei or Shichiroji had to carry her if she needed to get anywhere in a hurry, a fact that she loudly complained about. To everyone's surprise, however, the samuraiko could often be found sitting by the window beside Sanae in peaceable companionship, neither woman saying anything, but simply enjoying the fresh air together, a fact that Rikichi was grateful for, for it showed that his wife was slowly coming out of her shell of pain and loneliness.
Kirara often came by with books for Nasami to enjoy, but to the water priestess' surprise, Nasami soon began teaching Shino how to read. Shortly after that, Sanae asked to learn more, then Komachi and Okara, and after a while, the samuraiko was teaching classes to anyone who wanted to learn.
Then came the first snowfall, and Nasami insisted on going outside to enjoy it, so Kambei lifted her into his arms and carried her outside.
"'Snow drifts around her
Frail and fragile winter flowers
That die as they fall
Nasami's voice was soft, and her eyes wistful as she watched the whirling and dancing snowflakes, and Kambei caught the faint sadness there. "What is it?"
"Oh... I was just remembering something. A few years ago, I was at Winter Court along with my companions. It was a beautiful day, the sunlight sparkling on the snow like a million scattered diamonds." Her eyes became softer with the memory. "I was outside, practicing kata in the snow, and a friend of mine was there, watching me. She later described it in a poem, that I was dancing with the snowflakes, never touching a single one with my blade."
Her face fell. "And now here I am, unable to even walk, let alone dance."
"Give it time, anata. You've been trying every day, pushing yourself, and every day you've been getting stronger." He held her a little closer. "Besides, how can I argue when I get to hold you like this?"
She lightly whacked him in the arm. "I was kidding about that whole 'waiting on me hand and foot while I convalesce' thing."
"I wasn't," he said simply.

A few days later, Kirara was seated inside her home, preparing the evening meal when she heard her grandmother enter the main room from the small shrine room they kept separated from the rest of the house.
"Are you certain of this? Passing the dowsing crystal to Komachi?" Tetsu asked, taking a seat beside her granddaughter, her eyes going to the girl's bare wrist. After the battle against the Capital, Kirara had surrendered her position as Mikumari, and the dowsing crystal now rested in front of the family shrine, to be handed down to another.
"You've seen it, too... my days as priestess are over," Kirara said softly, stirring the soup and then covering the kettle to let it simmer for a while. As strange as it felt not to wear the crystal at her wrist like she had for so long, she knew that as long as the waters within her were tainted and cloudy, she could not serve as she wished to, or as the water spirits deserved.
"You mean the tainting of the water," Tetsu remarked, following Kirara's train of thought. "Yes... I've seen it."
"It symbolizes my impurity, my sins from this war." Kirara looked away, remembering a long-ago afternoon in the rain and blood on her hands... remembering a moonlit desert and footsteps walking away... remembering a shadowy alley and warm lips on hers.
"My dear girl, it's not your fault. Stop blaming yourself and think!" Tetsu urged. "Do you really want to make this decision?"
Unable to sit still, Kirara rose to her feet and walked to the window, but even the peaceful sight of Kanna Village draped in snow did not bring her ease. A loud shout drew her attention, and she saw Katsushiro practicing in the snow not too far away, going through a series of training maneuvers while Nasami sat nearby, offering instructions and gentle encouragement. On the other side of Nasami was Shino, her naginata in her hand, moving through the graceful steps of the kata Nasami had taught her.
Leaning against the window, Kirara stared at the young samurai, her eyes moving down his bare chest to rest on the bandage that encircled his ribs where he'd been injured during his rampage against the Nobuseri. The muscles on his body were becoming more evident as he trained most of the day and sometimes half the night, honing his skills under the samuraiko's instructions, and even the roundness of his face was giving way to a firmness of strength that reflected his growing confidence and character.
"You could come with me, Kirara..."
Do not wait for me..."
I hope that one day I will find someone who looks at me the way Katsushiro looks at Kirara."
Be true to your heart, Kirara..."
More confused than ever before, Kirara yanked out the dowel that kept the window open, and it slammed shut with a bang, sending snow cascading off the roof onto the ground.

As the winter passed, although most of the villagers were enjoying the peace and the idle time between planting and harvesting, Nasami continued to keep herself busy, whether exercising to regain the use of her legs, or instructing Shino and Katsushiro in the way of the warrior. Whenever she could, Nasami would escape outside to enjoy the air, sometimes astonishing the villagers by remaining seated or kneeling while still practicing the slow graceful motion of kata. At Katsushiro's insistence, she taught him the art of iaijutsu, the fast draw technique, and soon he was able to slice through the stands of bamboo that Okara and Komachi had set up for him with barely even a thought.
But on many a night, Katsushiro and Shino would visit Rikichi's house where the samuraiko was staying during her convalescence, and sit beside her for hours at a time as she told stories of the wars she had fought, or listened intently as she shared some of what she learned during her years of wandering the Empire.
Only once did Kambei ask Nasami why she had taken up the challenge of formally instructing Katsushiro, and she had quietly shrugged and replied, "If not me, then who? And if not now, then when?"
But as casual as her answer had been, the samurai had seen the flash of pain and regret in her eyes, and suddenly, he understood that this was Nasami's way of coming to terms with the fact that she might never again truly wield a sword... but if she could not, she would leave behind others who could.
Kambei had not asked again.

Slowly, the gentle touch of winter began to fade away, giving way to the first subtle hints of spring. While snow still occasionally dusted the ground, occasionally flowers could be seen blooming on a tree branch or near the river. As the weather began to warm, Katsushiro found himself tossing and turning one night, unable to sleep. For the last several nights, he had been haunted by dreams, and try as he might, he could not banish them from his thoughts, so he rose from his pallet, dressed, and walked outside.
As if drawn there, he approached the cliff where the graves of Gorobei, Heihachi, Kikuchiyo, and Kyuzo lay. But then he gave a start as he found Nasami seated there in quiet meditation, her head bowed and her hair silvered in the moonlight.
She lifted her head at his approach and smiled. "You couldn't sleep either, hmm?"
"No." He stood beside her, looking down at the graves, and she patted the ground beside her.
"Come sit by me." As Katsushiro sat, she turned to face him. "You're thinking of leaving, aren't you? Now that the snows have begun to melt and the roads are clear."
He nodded somberly. "Yes... now that the village is truly safe, and the bandits are defeated, there's nothing for me here anymore. It's not that I don't appreciate your instruction... you've taught me so much more than I can ever begin to express, but..."
The young samurai lifted his gaze to the moon, his eyes filled with a sudden longing.
"... there's so much more out there I want to learn, to understand." He looked at her. "Something like... what you did when you spent all those years travelling the Empire. I want to see different places, learn the lessons that I can't learn here."
The samuraiko smiled and rested her hand on his shoulder. "I understand. There always comes a time when the student outgrows the teacher, and you have done remarkably well in these few short months, Katsushiro. So I will only wish you well." Then she reached into the folds of her robes and drew forth a piece of rice paper. "Which reminds me... this is for you."
"What is it?" he asked, taking it and peering at it in the moonlight. Meticulously inked in Nasami's strong calligraphy was a map and some names, plus the mark that he recognized as her personal seal.
"Something that might help you on your way," she said simply, then she grinned. "Speaking of which, do you mind helping me up?"
Katsushiro realized that beside Nasami on the ground were a pair of crutches. "Nasami-dono, you mean you can..."
"Walk? No, not yet," she said, her voice slightly sad. "But hopefully soon. And it's not that far to Rikichi's from here, and thankfully it's all downhill." Katsushiro stood, and then crouched down and wrapped one arm around the samuraiko's waist, marvelling at how light she was. Cautiously she balanced her weight on the crutches, her feet barely touching the ground.
"I won't say goodbye, though," Nasami told him. "For something tells me that we will be meeting again, and soon."
"I hope so, Nasami-dono," Katsushiro said sincerely. "I truly do." Then he sank to his knees, and bowed low before her, as he had before Kambei so long ago in Kougakyo. "You have taught me more than I ever dreamed, shown me so much. Thank you for all that you have done for me... sensei."
Tears came to the samuraiko's eyes at Katsushiro's words, and she was unable to speak, but as Katsushiro lifted his head and his eyes met hers, he knew what words she would have said, and he smiled at her.
She turned and made her faltering way toward the trees, pausing only long enough to look back at him. When she was gone, Katsushiro rose to his feet, and turned back to face the graves once more so that he might bid farewell to his fallen friends, when he became aware of another presence behind him.
"I swore I'd protect you, but for a long time, I was the one being protected," he murmured without turning around, and he heard the girl's faint gasp. "You told me that we'd fall together, and you will never know how much strength that gave me."
Kirara could hear the goodbye in his voice, and suddenly it hit her all at once that she didn't want him to go, but he went on.
"The scent of battle... to please you, I yearned for it." He turned around to face her, his voice calm, but inside, his heart ached at the sight of her beloved face. "But to get it... I had to deny my heart." It was true - to become the samurai she had needed him, wanted him to be, he had been forced to discard the passions and yearnings he had carried for so long. And while in the end, it made him a better samurai for having done so... it made loving her no easier to bear.
And she knew it. Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her face, and one lone tear fell on her wrist where her dowsing crystal used to rest. The realization of what she had lost broke Kirara's heart within her, and she bowed her head and wept.
Katsushiro's eyes, however, were drawn past her to movement near the edge of the woods, and saw Kambei and Shichiroji approaching.
"Are we interrupting?" Kambei asked softly.
Katsushiro shook his head, while Kirara turned away and rubbed the tears from her face, embarrassed at being caught crying.
"All this time, sensei, I've wondered what it was you saw in me. What made you choose me as the fifth samurai. And with every battle, every wound, I got a little closer to the truth."
He was staring up at the moon, but in his mind, he was seeing a lamplit room in an inn, with warm shadows on the walls and fireflies dancing beyond the open doors. Katsushiro and Kambei had not truly spoken with one another since the night they had argued in the Firefly House, when truths had been thrown at one another and words spoken that could never be taken back. But after months of thinking about all that he had learned, not only from Nasami but from Kambei, Katsushiro thought he finally understood the intention behind the words.
"You told me once not to value death... you told me to live on and to finish what I'd begun. And yet..." He looked down at the graves at his feet. "These brave men who had nothing to gain from this war, who did give their lives in the defense of Kanna... aren't they the most noble samurai of us all?"
"Do you feel ashamed for surviving?" Kambei asked him softly, and Katsushiro turned to look at him.
"Do you?"
Kambei thought that one over. A long time ago in Kougakyo, when he had first met the young samurai and the peasants who had dared to fight the Nobuseri, he had originally turned them down because of the weight of his past - the battles he'd lost, the death of Shiori, the life he'd been forced to lead.
"Every battle I've fought in, I've lost. If I did go to your village, I would only lose again... I'm merely an empty shell, a shameful remnant that lives long after it has served its use."
But one thing, more than anything else, kept him going, and without realizing it, his hand moved to the inside of his robes where a long tress of white hair rested against his heart.
"No," he admitted. "Not any more."
"Neither do I," Katsushiro replied. "It means I can fight new battles, find more chances to honor their names..."
His eyes dropped, and he knew what it was that Kambei was holding, and what the other samurai was thinking.
"... just as you have, and as you will, sensei."
Like Nasami before him, Kambei bowed his head at the title. Then, driven by a sudden urge he could not explain, he stepped forward and lifted his katana from his side, holding it parallel to the ground as an offering to the young samurai in the ancient gempukku tradition.
"I pass this to you," he murmured, and Shichiroji gave a faint gasp.
Katsushiro was no less stunned at the honor he was being given, and all he could do was lift reverent hands and accept the katana with a deep bow. Then with great care, he hung it at his side as he had seen Kambei do so many times.
"I'll use it well," he vowed softly, and with bows to Kambei, Kirara, and Shichiroji, he began to walk away. In his mind, he was already travelling the open road, following the idea that Nasami had set before him, wondering what new chances were before him...
... and trying not to think about what he was leaving behind.
Shichiroji watched Katsushiro leave, silently wishing the young man well.
Kirara watched Katsushiro leave, her heart calling out to him and her steps half-poised to follow him.
Only Kambei did not turn, his eyes instead on the four graves before him, but he sensed Kirara's motion and shook his head.
"Let him go, Kirara."
"But I-" Her right hand covered her left wrist, still instinctively seeking comfort from the dowsing crystal that she no longer wore, and her body trembled from unshed tears. "I..."
She held her hands out imploringly, as though reaching for Katsushiro, calling out to him silently. She prayed with all her heart that like so many times before, he would somehow sense her gaze, hear the words she didn't speak, but the young samurai never looked back as he disappeared into the shadows.
To be concluded...