Kyoshiro was dead. Onime no Kyo towered his sprawled body feeling something between satisfaction and mild regret, instead of the triumph he'd supposed he'd feel. It was not that he regretted killing him. Hell no, the man had stolen his body! On top of that, he'd forced Kyo to live inside him in an almost comatose state before he'd realized he could control Kyoshiro! No, the man –the Mibu copy deserved what he got!
And yet he couldn't shake that odd of feeling loss. Standing below the hissing rain, he realized with sudden lucidness what was bothering him. He'd finally achieved his goal. The path he'd been following for so long had come to an abrupt end. For the first time, Kyo was unsure what to do. The sole purposes of his life –to kill Kyoshiro and recover his body- had been fulfilled. So now that he was free of that commitment, what to do?
After some hesitation, he took Kyoshiro's medicine box. He figured he could at least make use of it, given that its former owner could not. That in mind, he spared a last paring glance at Kyoshiro's crimson figure. A smile of satisfaction tugged at his lips. Allowing it to form in that field of death, he turned on his heels and walked away. He supposed he could return to how he used to live before his Mibu copy's meddling had cost him his body. Naturally, Akira would no longer be with him. The last he'd heard, the warrior had found himself a new life. Then again, he was in need of no one. He was fine on his own. Just like the good old times…
Kyo found her tending to a vegetable field almost a year later. He scowled as he studied her. The picture was… wrong. But why? Perhaps it was the fact that she seemed at peace without him -a thing that was unsettling because part of him –for some unknown reason- had hoped to see her in a mess. He'd expected to find her unhappy because it was obvious that she needed him; that she'd missed him... Naturally he –on the other hand- didn't need her, of course. No, that was an unquestionable fact. So then, what was he doing here?
Kyo deluded himself into thinking that he'd returned only because he was bored. He'd tried returning to the ways of his old life. He'd tried for an entire year and yet… the satisfaction that was produced in the past left a void in the present. It wasn't until this moment that he understood what was missing. Maybe that was the real reason for his scowling? Perhaps she hadn't missed him like he had –not that he would ever admit it?
Wiping his scowl and presenting an impassive front, Kyo shrugged off the medicine box. The sound of the wooden article hitting the ground prompted her to look up and finally acknowledge him. Though he wanted to scold her for being so oblivious to her surroundings –what if he'd been a murderer?- he appraised her in cold silence. Feigning indifference, he noticed her eyes widened and her face pale. Was it acrid shock or pleasant surprise what flashed in her eyes?
She stood straight and -before he could say or do something- she closed the distance. Most probably forgetting who he was, she hugged him tightly without an ounce of either fear or doubt. Now, it was his turn to feel unbound surprise at her open display of affection, which left him ruthlessly torn. Part of him felt a jolt of pleasure at the reception –warm waves traveling through his system when he felt her body pressing against his. But another part of him was troubled. When had the woman developed such confidence so as to approach him like this?
It was wrong! She needed to learn her place! So then… why was he hesitant to insult her? Why couldn't he just grope her and piss her off as he often used to do? Why did her arms around him make him feel… extremely pleased?
He clicked his tongue with irritation as the gears of his mind worked on theories that would explain Yuya's sudden hug and his even stranger reaction –or lack thereof. Suppose she had missed him too…? Damn right! A servant should never forget or forsake her master, after all. Yes, it was just that –only that. He hadn't missed her. He had just missed having someone to comply to his every whim!
Keep telling yourself that, a voice inside him sneered, making him clench his jaw in irritation. Kyo didn't hug her back or speak when he felt her tears passing through the fabric of his kimono. He did wince inwardly at the idea of her crying. He hated people who cried. It was nothing short of an outlet of weakness. Naturally, if seeing tears had bothered him, feeling them perturbed him to no end! To have his servant shedding tears before his very eyes was something close to despicable!
Kyo felt doubtlessly annoyed now. The strange thing was that he was annoyed with himself! Why? Perhaps it had to do with the fact that for a second there, her tears had threatened to break his resolve so as to hug her back? Thankfully, he'd stopped himself in time and, shortly after realizing this, he shrugged her off.
"Damn it, woman," he said harshly before his lips parted into a crooked smirk. "I know I'm irresistible and it's hard for you to keep your hands to yourself…" The glare she sent through her tears deepened his smile, "but you're soaking my outfit. Tears are disgusting, you know? They make you look even uglier and that should worry you."
He could almost hear her molars girding as she locked her jaw. Yes, he liked her much more like that; angry, exasperated and sending murderous glares his way. At least the year of separation hadn't erased those expressions. It would've been quite a shame if she had forgotten how to scowl.
"You jerk," she snarled, brushing at her tears furiously, "Why'd you come-"
"Let's go," he interrupted, taking the medicine box and walking down the road without another word.
Kyo lost his stride when he heard her move towards the house instead of following his command. He lowered his pace as his mind tried to come up with a solution to his new problem. Perhaps he should simply force her to follow him? He could also threaten to tear her apart limb by limb –though he doubted he would be able to do it if she called his bluff.
Yet, just as those fears rose, he heard her shuffling towards him. He cast a glance over his shoulder and smirked when he saw her there; a pack on her back and a smile –which she was vainly trying to hide- on her face. Relief flooded him, but he kept it contained. Wordlessly, he resumed walking, knowing that she would follow. If not… well, he would just not think about that.
They continued to travel as they used to. He would taunt her and she would react in the most satisfying way –by glaring, fuming and throwing lively insults. Yes, everything seemed back to normal -as normal as their lives could become when not threatened by a mad-man wanting to destroy the world. Of course, to make up for the lack of fighting and excitement, Kyo helped Yuya with her bounty hunts.
Though they'd gone after the most dangerous on the list, he was disappointed when he'd found that they were the most pathetic bunch of criminals in existence. He still wondered how they even made it to the wanted list. Naturally, he gloated every time he read his name. And even if he was 'the most wanted' criminal, no officer seemed inclined to point that out when he brought the bodies in–sometimes alive, sometimes dead—and demanded his pay.
One day, however, something felt terribly amiss. He noticed it as soon as they had set out that day. As they walked towards their next destination –a small town near where the Mibu territory stood deserted—his servant had become unnaturally quiet and somber. He'd tried taunting at first. When he'd gotten half-a-glare as a response, however, he knew for sure something was not right. In the past, every time he'd made a comment about her non-voluptuous body, Yuya had yelled at him and called him a vast number of loathsome names. Now she seemed out of it. It was as if she heard him but didn't listen. A thing which only raised, not his concern, but his scorn!
Stupid woman! She was not allowed to ignore him! He was about to remark upon something that had to do with her weight when she finally spoke, her voice low and almost hesitant.
"Kyo… could we… not stay in that town?" He turned to her intrigued and arched a perfect eyebrow. Her eyes, however, trailed away from his steady gaze. "I mean…," she blushed furiously and he could see that she was having trouble continuing, "I…I could use the exercise."
That did it! Did the woman seriously think he would believe that coming out of her lips? How dense did she think he was?! Whatever it was she was trying to avoid he would make sure she faced. Why? Because he was the only one allowed to remind her that she needed the exercise, why else!
"Glad to know you have finally faced the truth," he said with a smirk and added quite coldly, "But we're staying. I don't wish to have my outfit soaked again."
Though he didn't say anything else, there was another thought lingering in his mind. If they were caught by the rain, she would most probably –frail as the darn creature was- get sick. And it was not that he cared about her health. No, it had more to do with the fact that she would slow him down and what a nuisance that would be! If she got sick, then she would be the one needing care and she was his servant. She should do things for him, not the other way around. Hell, she was already a bothersome burden being healthy!
Mildly amused, he saw her raise her gaze towards the sky through the corner of his eyes. The clouds loomed above them, grey and somber. Rain was about to pour down at any minute. His amusement doubled when he saw her glaring, as though trying to dissipate the clouds by the sheer rage held in her emerald orbs. After a while, she sighed dejectedly and continued to follow, slipping into that grim silence again. A silence that was unusual in her.
Kyo's attention switched back towards the town ahead. He couldn't help but wonder what jewel held the small town that would make her want to skip it at all costs. He shrugged and allowed himself a smile. Whatever it was he was curious now.
The first stop they made was in the tavern. He bought two bottles of sake before heading out. Kyo was aiming to get into the inn before the sky dropped on them. To his surprise, he realized that this time Yuya was leading. Not once did she ask for direction and yet she did not look lost at all. Far from it, she seemed fairly confident about where she was taking them.
As they rounded a corner, Kyo frowned as a sense of déjà vu broke through his thoughts. He scanned the place with his eyes, intensifying the feeling yet not clearing it at all. He felt like he'd been here before. But if he had, he certainly didn't remember it as he should. No, something wasn't right. Kyo would never have come here of his own volition. When he'd traveled, he made it a point to always keep away from the surrounding areas of his clan's territory. It simply brought too much unwelcomed trouble. Yet, the familiarity he felt –though odd- was too strong to ignore as a slip of the senses.
"We're here," Yuya's voice broke through his thoughts. He welcomed the distraction since trying to figure out when –no, not when but if- he'd visited this place was giving him a headache. Silently, he followed her inside, noticing her tension. Every muscle on her back was strained, making her pace stiff and unnaturally brisk. Her hands were balled into fists by her side, her knuckles pearly white.
As he gazed at her hands, he noted two small drops of blood sliding down from between clenched fingers. Her nails had probably dug into her skin with unconscious force because she didn't seem aware of the cuts. Kyo didn't say anything –though the urge to scold her for being so stupid so as to draw her own blood was there. Still, the curiosity ignited by her reluctance to arrive had now tripled.
They checked in for the night and followed a man to their room. It was small, but cleaner than some of the places they'd slept in the past, so he didn't complain. The fact that Yuya –who to complain was almost a second nature- didn't once voiced displeasure did not go unnoticed.
Just as Kyo settled on the floor and was ready to indulge in a well-earned treat of sake, Yuya stood up and moved towards the door; the crisp movement catching his undivided attention. "I am going for a walk," she announced blankly, a hint of pain and sadness dwelling in her eyes, "I'll be back before nightfall."
Though he felt the urge to order her to stay, he didn't. Instead, Kyo shrugged and watched her go a bit annoyed. Damn it! What the hell was wrong with the woman? More importantly, why the hell did he even cared?!
His crimson gaze moved towards the window. It was still daytime, so he told himself that his worry was unfounded. Because, certainly, it was the fact that someone –a thief, a mad-man, a ronin- could mess up with 'his property' the sole source of his concern, wasn't it? It had, thus, absolutely nothing to do with the look she'd given him before she'd left… right? Indeed! Why would he possibly care about what she felt…!
He forced his mind away from the issue by focusing on his sake. Vainly, he tried to wipe all thoughts from his mind –or at least those that concerned the idiotic woman. As hard and as much as he tried, however, his mind ended up clinging to the mental picture of her. He hated it! He hated the fact that he was well aware as to why he'd felt the need to find her –to return to her after killing Kyoshiro. Just like he knew that emotions could easily be denied but never ignored.
Fact was, he felt comfortable with her. When he'd tried living on his own –like he'd used to- he realized that something was missing. At first, he thought it had to do with the lack of adventure –of excitement. So he'd gone looking for trouble. He'd fought two entire clans and wiped the leaders out. Had he not broken a sweat, he would've assumed the missing excitement was due to the unchallenging battles. But he had attained horrible injuries after those fights. He even had the scars to prove it.
It was then he realized –not without a dose of annoyance- that the missing excitement was of a different kind. He didn't have an uncontrollable factor altering his life anymore. Even the fights –which he'd thought would be the solution to fill the sudden void- he had chosen and therefore controlled. So it hit him. There was just one person that –hard as he would deny it- he could not control.
Yuya. She was his 'wild card'. She was that odd factor that made his life much more exciting for the simple fact that he could not figure out how to read or control her. And –there was no more point in stating otherwise- he liked that. No, not quite that… He liked her. And he did so a lot, or he wouldn't have gone through the trouble of trying to get her back.
The downpour hitting the window finally pushed him to his breaking point. Irritated, he stood up –tucked his half-filled bottle of sake inside a paper bag which he left on a table- and stormed out the room. Still trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with him, he took an umbrella which stood forgotten near the front desk and stepped outside.
Stupid woman! Knowing her, I'm sure she didn't even take a damn umbrella with her! He thought irritated. Once outside, he deliberated how best to proceed with his search. "What a nuisance," he muttered under his breath, setting off on his task of finding her and bringing her back to the inn with him –by force if it was necessary! Because Kyo was certain she was going to get sick! And then… what? Would he have to take care of her? And why… oh, way did that not bothered him as much as it should?
How very troublesome! Perhaps he should consider finding a replacement? His jaw clenched when he realized the –until then- inconceivable idea that he truly wish for no one but her! Yes, damn it, he truly did like her. And as he set down the muddy path, he cursed the witch for casting her unbreakable spell!
When he found her, he sighed with relief and then cursed her under his breath for making him worry. Slowly, he took in where she was sitting. They were in the small cemetery of the town. White marble statues marked the names of the people that had passed away. The stones seemed almost to glow in the eerie atmosphere.
Yuya was sitting on a bench before a particularly clean stone. Even from afar he knew she was suffering, the arms folded across her body seemed to serve the sole purpose of trying to hold her insides from breaking. He saw the slight movement of her shoulders rising and falling and knew –even if her face was downcast and a blond veil of hair hid her features- that she was crying. For some reason, the idea of her crying –like it had done before- perturbed him in an alarming way. This time, unlike last time, the feeling was much stronger. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she was shedding tears of pain and not of happiness?
Only when he thought to inspect the stone she was facing, did he realized why the place had seemed familiar! He had been here and at the same time he hadn't! Not physically, anyways. The one who had visited this cursed place had been Kyoshiro. Kyo had seen the place through the eyes of the Mibu puppet. The image of Kyoshiro killing a man with a quick move of his wrist, flashed before his eyes with baffling detail. He scowled, unsure as to how to proceed now that he knew what her reasons for not wishing to come were.
Damn it! This was the town where her brother –the same one she'd been fighting to avenge- had been killed. In a way, he figured he'd fought Kyoshiro to avenge the man too. Perhaps it had been an unconscious decision, but there it was. He had avenged them both –himself and Yuya.
His eyes moved again to the silently suffering figure of the woman that unknowingly held so much control over him. Shit, he hated seeing people cry! It showed so much weakness but in her… well, he didn't like it for an entirely different reason. He'd never ever consider he would hate to see her crying -not because it was aggravating but- because she was 'suffering'.
Gripping the umbrella all tightly, he approached her. He stood just in front of her, covering her soaking body with the umbrella. Almost hesitantly, she lifted her gaze to meet his. Biting her lower lip so as to muffle the sob that threatened to leak past her lips, she brushed furiously at her eyes.
"I am sorry, Kyo," she said, trying to switch her attention back to the stone without success. A deep blush was tainting her porcelain cheeks and he wondered if she would get sick after today. The idiotic woman was soaked to the very bone!
Kyo tilted his head ever so slightly in silent query. His face, however, remained impassive, his eyes showing just a tiny bit of concern.
"I know you said you don't like it when people cry," she mumbled, barely suppressing a sob, "I know it shows weakness… but…"
Kyo flinched inwardly at that. Sure enough, he'd told her that. But how could he reassure her that it was okay to cry –for this time at least- without having to take back his words! It was certainly not like him to openly recognize when he'd said something wrong! Damn her! How come she paid attention to every single thing he said?!
Slowly, he closed the umbrella, earning a surprised look from her which he didn't acknowledged. Great! Now I'm going to get sick too, he thought grimly.
Unceremoniously, he sat beside her in the bench leaning the umbrella near his legs. Her brother's tomb stared right at him, marble fighting against the rain. His eyes trailed towards the sky, feeling as the tears of nature slid down his skin. Fact was, he didn't really disliked rain all that much. It had more to do with the memories that rain produced. Perhaps it was a trick of nature or maybe just mere coincidence, but almost every tragic event in his life had been marked by rain.
"I…I'm sorry, Kyo," she insisted and, somehow, that made him lose the last restrain in his composure.
"Why the hell are you apologizing for, woman!" he snapped, his crimson eyes meeting hers.
"You said… you didn't like crying," she explained weakly. He could tell she was trying very hard to cage the restless tears inside her eyes.
He smirked, closed his eyes and simply said, "I know! Sadly, the fight against nature is one I cannot win. The weeping sky doesn't count."
He opened one eye lazily. Surprise and thankfulness was written all over her face. He turned his attention back to the clouds above scowling. Sure, it wasn't all that bad. But the rain was still mostly unwelcomed.
"Thank you, Kyo," she whispered in such a hushed tone that he barely heard it. He heard a soft sob following that and knew she understood what he was doing. Relief -and something that resembled a mixture between pride and care- flooded him. He was pleased to be beside her now, in a time when she needed him. Or perhaps what made him happy was the fact that he was needed; that despite their awkward relationship, he could bind her broken heart together with so simple an action.
Without hesitation, she leaned slightly against him, placing her head on his shoulder. Kyo felt it and didn't move –though the urge to answer her touch was strong. Against his will, his pose relaxed as he allowed her to borrow his strength for the time being.
When he sensed that she was better, he shrugged her off –though not as tersely as he should have- and stood up. "We should go or 'I'll' get sick," he stated blankly, opening the umbrella despite the fact that they were already wet.
Yuya stood up and was surprised when he waited for her to get under the umbrella. Stupid woman, did she think he had all day!
"The hell are you waiting for, woman!" he snapped, "An invitation?"
She blushed deep red but –perhaps ignoring his harsh words- she smiled as she moved to his side. Before he could stop her, she took his arm and leaned against him again. Kyo scowled but didn't attempt to shake her off. Given some time, he could get used to it. Hell, he was fairly sure he didn't mind one bit how her touch made him feel.
As they walked back to the hotel, he wondered about what Akira had told him a long time ago. He had conveyed to him the words spoken by a great warrior who had cast away his sword for the love of a woman. Kyo recalled thinking the words were stupid, but now he felt like he was beginning to understand what he'd meant.
The warrior had said:"Though I hate to do so, though constrained, though sad and sorrowing, I love nonetheless, and I feel in my miserable self the meaning of the well-known words: 'I will hate if I can; if not, I will love against my will'.(1)"