|Disclaimer||See Author Intro.|
|Author Intro||Back with my favourite character! It feels good…Well, I suppose that in this introdution I could say a lot of things about my particular vision of Yukishiro Tomoe… but I don´t want to intrude on readers. So I´ll just say that the characters and the story belong to Watsuki Nobuhiro, and that Margit Ritzka betaed this.|
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::: OAV 1
by Maeve Riannon ::: 26.Dec.2003
It was a peaceful evening. A soft, whispering breeze was cradling the trees, lulling them into falling in a daze together with the rest of the world, while the chirpings of the last birds heralded the soon inevitable disappearance of the ball of fire that painted everything in bright shades of red. Water flowed quietly, and the world moved slowly, not insensible to that special quality of early summer afternoons, neither summer yet nor spring anymore, and in possession of the attributes of both. Far in the distance, on the farm next to the river, small figures were returning home after having finished the work of the day, walking leisurely now that there seemed to be no reason, either in their minds or in the quiet scenario they had found themselves into, to fret over.
Such a contradictory scenario, Himura Kenshin said wryly to himself, as he changed the water bucket from one of his hands to the other. He seemed to be the only one in the whole world who was not affected by the mood of nature. His stiffness gave the impression of standing defiantly against softly cradled trees, quiet rivers and contented workers, even if, in all honesty, there was nothing he was defying as much as his own wishes. Relax, rest, use this opportunity to live in peace for a while…oh, that he would like to be able to! Apart from hiding him away, this had been Katsura-san´s other main purpose, after all. But that was as utopical as it was impossible, for the only way to achieve it would be forgetting about everything else, and that was certainly denied to him. Nightmares of the past, rage at the impotence for the present, and anxiety about the future, together with a load of doubts and confusions brought in with the woman who had been made to share her life with him, that was all his heart was filled with. He knew he would spend his days in uneasiness, yearning to return and to be able to do something to avoid the debacles he could only hear of, while feeling guilty for having these thoughts because of her…. and he could not help but cringe at the bitter irony of his whole situation. Of course, it was not the bloodshed he craved, but he desired to make it stop, for once and for all, - as he had told Tomoe, only to receive her deep, silent and disapproving stare -, though, and maybe that was what she had thought all along, in the end everything boiled down to the same thing. Want it or not, please her or not, he had to kill. And the sooner it was over, the better… but it was difficult, even if necessary, to stand being shafted and told to relax and take it easy in the company of a woman who despised his very thoughts about the matter, while everything was still far from over. He felt as if everything they had been doing and standing for was lost to the wrath of the storm. It was an irrational yet powerful feeling, the same which told him that, while he was there, with them… nothing could go wrong.
Oh, but it did. And royally., he chided himself. Stopping in front of the door of their new home, the small cottage Katsura had given to them, he set the bucket on the ground and snorted in exasperation. The Hiten Mitsurugi had been enough to kill individuals, but not to prevent all those catastrophes from happening. In fact, for a style that was supposed to give the victory to the people it sided with, as his Shishou had said the day they quarrelled and he had left, it had proved itself surprisingly ineffective. All those months, slaughtering people in the shadows… and, for what? For the Bakufu to win once more? For her to be proved right?
Cease thinking about it. Now.
Forcefully snapping away from his agitated thoughts, Kenshin´s head jerked back to the direction of the soft voice. As he saw that she retreated three steps back, however, he supposed he had been too brusque, and cursed to himself. If there was a problem that could haunt him and contribute to his stiffness even more than the future of the Choshuu han, if that was possible, it was standing in front of him now, and he didn´t want to make it worse.
“Here is the water”, he said, adopting a gentler air. The woman, who looked as beautiful as a porcelain statue even when covered by several layers of dust, immediately regained her distant expression and nodded. “I see you´re still busy cleaning the dust. I´m going to cut some wood now.”
“Please, do so”, she answered. Then, as silent as always, she bowed her head slightly, and turned her back on him.
Kenshin gave a deep breath, and followed her through the open shoji of the cottage to fetch his katana. A cloud of dust welcomed him as he did so, getting inside his nostrils and making him sneeze a couple of times.
“Is there anything you need?” Tomoe asked.
The woman´s face showed a sign of shocked surprise.
“Your… katana? What for?”
“It´s easier for me to cut trees down with it. (1) I´m not going to fight anyone”, he added, slightly incommodated at her reaction. Tomoe gave a sigh.
“I thought it wouldn´t be used again, at least for a while, that´s all”, she muttered as if to herself, looking distractedly at the farthest corner of the cottage with hazy eyes. “To...live in peace. Forgive me.”
The red haired adolescent stared at his wife, not even sure he had heard correctly. But yes, there was it, again. She had the same forlorn, disapproving and deep glance that he had found there when she had told him those things in Kyoto, and that never failed to made him feel deeply uneasy.
You cannot even sleep without a sword at your side…
He couldn´t understand it. As much as he had tried, he couldn´t. Since he had met her, there had been plenty of occasions where he should have just ignored her, but instead of this he always ended up pondering her words. Even if sometimes, like now, he could not see any apparent sense in them, something of that despair hidden behind the veil of her mute expression got to him and managed to shake the foundations of his soul. Still worse, she made him feel ashamed.
“What?” he snapped curtly. Tomoe sighed, lowering her eyes.
“I… am sorry.”
And, the worst of all…
“Don´t be.” he said, picking up the axe and stepping outside to the clean air of the mountain.
* * * * *
Kenshin was cutting wood until the last spark of the sunset glow definitely faded away and the day became night, and then he collected several pieces of wood and brought them inside the house. Tomoe was there, but her greeting was such a low whisper that he had to do a great effort to hear it.
“I have brought some, for this night´s fire”, he commented, placing them in front of her. She shook her head regretfully.
“I´m sorry, but I haven´t been able to finish the cleaning. I don´t know when I will be able to start preparing dinner…”
“Leave the cleaning to me, then”, he proposed, and noticed her blink. “You have cleaned the kitchen part already, haven´t you?”
“Uh…yes”, she nodded, handing Kenshin the brush hesitantly. “Thank you.”
Kenshin just gave a nod to that. Taking the brush into his hands, he wrinkled his nose and walked towards the end of the house, bracing himself to stand the fierce onslaught of the dust.
* * * * *
“So… what´s the matter, then?”
Kenshin swallowed the last mouthful of rice, and put the bowl and the chopsticks away to look at his new wife face to face. Noticing this, she lowered her eyes as if she was suddenly too busy with her own plate to pay attention to anyone else, a gesture which made the adolescent sigh.
“With you. What´s the matter with you?” Once again, he took a terrible effort to sound less aggressive, and succeeded only partially. Since he had been a young boy of eight, he had lived surrounded by warriors, and the truth was that he had no idea about how to encourage a woman to tell him about her troubles. He only had the vague idea that whenever he would make a step forwards she would make one backwards, which made him wonder if he would have to corner her somewhere. Or maybe… maybe he should just try harder to reassure her.
Reassure her. What an irony. He had met that woman on the scene of a crime, covered her with blood, had almost killed her for being a witness, then almost killed her again because she had touched him when he was asleep, and finally killed five men in front of her, and she never had shown any sign of being frightened. She was so reckless, so… so full of contempt of her own life, that sometimes she could seem almost like a corpse, but whenever they had talked at the inn, and she had looked at him with those dark eyes full of sadness and the most adamant censure, he had almost been able to feel how deep her passions truly ran behind that porcelain exterior. Sometimes, her words had even had the power of making him disgust himself, and evoke for moments the childish wish of proving to her that she should be frightened like everyone else, that she should be afraid of him and stop talking in that strain. He was the strongest and most dangerous of the Ishin Shishi, he had corrupted his own soul to bring salvation to the country they both lived in, and she was just a woman who knew nothing and understood nothing about his purposes and his sacrifice. How could any young lady who had escaped from her samurai family on a whim….
…who wandered the bloody streets of Kyoto at night, drunk and alone…
In the end, of course, he only ended up by feeling still more ashamed about his attitude. There was no way of fooling himself: she was evidently a soul who for some reason knew what suffering and loss was, and who, maybe just because of that, was not afraid of dying anymore. Even more, if there was something she needed, it was a reason to live for; comfort, company, or even a little warmth that none could give to her in that cruel city where she had met the most terrible of assassins. Such a woman had left fear behind long ago, the reason why he could not tell. And he did not ask, either, though every night he had started to be haunted by her image and the veiled reproach in her glance, to the point that it had been rumoured and even reported that his blade had lost part of its ruthlessness in his sinister secret assignments.
She had made him feel again. Thoughts, glances, words, shame… that was where everything boiled down to: that a reckless woman had woken up his soul. And now, strange and ironic as it might seem, the reckless woman who had woken up the soul of the hitokiri Battousai was frightened.
“Excuse me, but there´s nothing wrong, Himura-san. I´m… fine.”
What could be the matter with her? During their trip to Otsu that same morning, and though he could not see her face, he had felt that the quiet presence who had started to walk behind him as calm and composed as ever had begun to feel uneasy and hesitant as they had got farther away from the violent Kyoto, and nearer to the village where they were going to live from then on as a peaceful farmer couple. She had acted jumpy and nervous whenever he had talked to her, and after she had expressed her wish not to see him wield the katana while they were there, things had got even worse. Her mask was crumbling down in some way, and instead of satisfaction, he felt worried.
Did she think he had been waiting to be alone with her to do her harm?
No. Definitely not. Even if she had accepted to go to Otsu with him, he would not be surprised if she thought him totally capable of doing something like that, but that total disregard of her own safety that made her say “yes” in that circumstance was exactly the reason why she could not be afraid of it… wasn´t it so?
Maybe she was not so unattainable, after all?
“Uh?” Kenshin snapped away from his reverie once more, and met Tomoe´s slightly concerned expression.
“It´s nothing”, she calmed him once more, with an almost soothing voice. Her lips curled in a small smile. “Changes… they usually do this to me.”
Though Kenshin could read ki like a true master, he could have sworn that nothing in the world was so complicated as the apparently simple task of reading Tomoe. He still had his doubts, but he was getting tired of asking, and somehow he knew that he wouldn´t get another answer even if they stayed there for the rest of the night. And so, he gave a nod and got up from the table, almost able to hear her soft breath of relief as he did it.
“I understand”, he sighed, sitting down at the fireside and starting to spin the top between his legs. She got up too, and picked up the bowls to wash them.
Definitely, Kenshin thought ruefully to himself, in those next months he was going to need the soothing of his toy more than ever.
* * * * *
The next hour passed away in total silence. As soon as she had finished with her menial duties, Tomoe got dressed in her yukata, unpacked her faithful diary that she had carried all the way from Kyoto, and settled down at the small table of the corner to write under the light of a candle. Kenshin never ceased to watch her, her movements and poses, even while his hands still worked distractedly spinning round the old top. In some way, when he was not facing her but just saw her from a distance, her quietness, gracefulness and serene beauty could be even more soothing to him than the toy. When he had known that he would probably live alone with her for months, that was what he had thought, and that had been his hope, to be able to have the solace of her quietness instead of her cold censure. Of course, nothing could ever happen as he wished, but wasn´t it even allowed to him to look at her from behind now and then, and have hopes for the future?
I wonder why she came here, he whispered to himself maybe for the hundredth time. I wonder why she married me…
He did not hold many illusions about the true nature of her willingness; though he had tried to temper Katsura´s command by offering her other options, they probably had sounded as false and utopic to her ears as to his. Resuming a great deal, she could have received some money, maybe a place to work, and then be left alone once more in the horrors of Kyoto. Kenshin assumed that she had thought that even a killer was better than no one… if she wasn´t going to be killed herself sooner or later for knowing so many secrets, anyway. But, still… did she have to marry him? Katsura had spoken of feigning, but he did not like to feign, and so he had proposed to do it in earnest. And she… she had answered “yes” as she would have answered any request for food at the dining room of the inn. She only spoke with the heart whenever there was blood involved, and it appeared that marriage hadn´t mattered so much to her. But now, their first night by themselves arrived… and she had started to tremble!
Maybe it was not the killer in him she was fearing now?
“It´s late”, he announced, walking next to her and spying her countenance for any signs of confirmation. She closed her diary immediately and protectively, as she always did, and stared at him as if dazed. “We should be going to bed soon.”
“As you wish”, she bowed. Just about to conclude that his theory had been proved wrong, in the last moment Kenshin could spot a slight trembling of her hands that were holding the small book. “The screen has holes.”
“Well, I suppose we aren´t going to peer at each other”, he joked as clumsily as ever. Turning back, he took his yukata to change himself behind the screen, slowly so he could have some time to gather his wits.
So this was the matter. Was it really that easy? So she could still be a woman, after all, feel the emotions of a woman, and her heart could beat faster because of him. Even if she did not want him, he didn´t feel offended, but relieved to know that there was at least fear, and therefore life, left inside her still. Maybe, he couldn´t help to think, he would even be able to discover some love in her someday…
“It´s true”, he commented when he stepped outside of the screen again, just because he felt he had to say something to calm her. “There are holes in it.”
“But I didn´t peer.”
“I´m sure you didn… uh?”
“What´s the matter?” Making a mildly surprised face at his involuntary exclamation, Tomoe looked up, and narrowed her gaze. She was already sitting on the unrolled futon, her feet tucked under her, and her long black hair falling down her back without ties. Her pale beauty glowered in the faint light of the candle, that same unattainable, mature, womanly beauty that never failed to make Kenshin feel like a little child deep inside, but more radiant than ever, probably because of her state of relative undress. A soft scent of white plum flowers reached his nostrils, inebriating his senses as he got closer.
She was, definitely, the loveliest woman he had seen in his life. If it had been any other situation, he would have even dared to state without the slightest hesitation that there wouldn´t be any man that wouldn´t wish to be in his place. However, as he had looked at her closer, he hadn´t been able to do anything but gasp, and that gasp hadn´t been a gasp of admiration, but of pure, raw consternation.
All the fear was gone. Evaporated, smothered, he did not know which… and in its place, there was her old mask, this time showing behind its veils a subdued, but deep, deep sadness, and a complete resignation. He had seen that expression before, though not quite on her... as he thought a bit longer, he realized that not anywhere else than in the face of some, not many, of his victims.
She had come to terms with her fate.
“Himura-san”, she said, crawling to the left end of the futon. “You may catch a cold if you stay there.”
As if to confirm her statement, he shivered, not precisely because of the cold, but of some deeper chill that ran through his innards. He didn´t feel it when he killed, at least not after he had been killing for a while, but now, facing that woman who did not care at all, who did not love or fear, who did not live… he felt somehow as if his last hope was gone.
She was dead. Both were dead.
“Do not worry about that. I am used to it.” he said, realizing only belatedly that his words had come out with the cold edged voice that he used to have back in Kyoto. Then, he turned around, and, with a decided stride, he went to the corner where his daisho rested and picked up his katana. Maybe she even blinked when he did that.
Or maybe she didn´t.
“Please blow off the candle.” he muttered from the corner where he sat, closing his eyes and cradling his weapon as he had done every night since he had become a hitokiri. No answer came to him, though the sound of her movements told him how surprised she was at his unexpected reaction. Insulted, even, as he added to himself when she threw the blanket over herself more brusquely than what was necessary.
Ashamed, hurt, he realized, surprised, as he felt air escaping from her mouth in a strained sigh, and her body trembling slightly against the sheets. This actually made him open his eyes in alert, and stare at the darkness even more confused than before.
What had he done wrong now?
“Good night”, he whispered in the kindest and most reassuring tone he could muster, pressing the hard and cold hilt of the sword to his face and feeling more lost than ever.
Otsu, twenty-fifth of June,
Last night, Himura-san chose to spare me. Even if I was positive that I had been able to train myself to look willing, his eyes suddenly turned cold and unreadable, and he turned back on his heels to sit in a corner where he stayed all night without even shifting position. I do not understand why he did that, or why he bade me goodnight pretending not to be angry. I knew for sure that he was, and my guilt and my shame were so great that I even tried repeatedly to open my mouth and say something to him. No words came, however… only tears.
I know very well that I shouldn´t feel what I was feeling. Maybe… maybe that was what I had feared all along, to be actually soiled in soul and not only in body. But no! What am I saying? I am not a person anymore, I´m a tool of revenge, and I have no feelings of my own. If he bedded me, I would not be soiled, since I´m not myself anymore and I won´t ever be… isn’t it so? He already killed me once, and now I´m doing all this for a purpose, ever since the very beginning, no matter what it takes or what I´m forced to do. In fact, maybe that was even what he saw when he looked at me last night.
Only that, then… why was I crying?
|Endnotes||(1): It´s assumed that, normally, it´s impossible to cut a tree with a katana. However, we saw what Kenshin did in the chapter of the train, didn´t we? It´s remarked in the anime too (and proved) that his strength with his sword is far greater.|
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