|*Warning: MAJOR spoliers for the Revenge
story arc in the manga, and the OAVs (though I tend to use the manga as
my primary source).
The Snow Raven, Chapter 3(a)
For the hope of warmth
- excerpt from the private diary of Yukishiro Tomoe
As if being under the same roof as their young hitokiri was not enough...
I care nothing for their causes... their wars -- these men who do not desire to honor the old ways, and cause so much bloodshed because of their discontent...
I remember quite clearly how my father felt about these men. Too old and frail to fight with the rest of the Shogunate army, Father railed against these rebels loudly and often, in the privacy of our home, as if his words alone were strong enough to reach across distances and strike them all dead. He seethed over their lack of respect for the old ways of honor and glory; of their hatred for Japan, that they should dare to reject its divine heritage and desire to embrace the ways of the very foreign invaders who would rob us of our pride and identity...
And when the news of Akira-san's death reached us, Father's rants increased in frequency, even as they lessened in volume. Rather than shouting his hatred of the Ishin Shishi to the sky, he whispered it to the walls with such intensity that it seemed to charge the atmosphere like lightning before the fury of a thunderstorm.
I am still not sure which of his methods of expressing his wrath was more disturbing.
Perhaps Father's quieted version of his rage was out of reverence for the dead; perhaps out of respect for me, and my flat-eyed, white-faced grief. But I payed him little heed. After all, it was not the Ishin Shishi cause that killed my beloved. It was a single man...
Ah, so many things have changed... so many of my preconceived notions have been shattered ever since I found him, though it has been little more than a few hours...
I check the rice pot, stirring it a little to see if the rice is tender and sticky enough to serve. Yes, nearly done...
And as I begin to press the rice into the serving bowls with a wide wooden spoon, Okami-san's words from only a few minutes previous fill my head. He wasn't always the Hitokiri Battousai... but a boy only barely a man, warm and quiet and full of life, only wanting to help people...
...taken because of his talent with the sword, and stripped of his soul to become a weapon more sharp and cold and deadly than any mere blade alone.
Perhaps it is not the Battousai I should hate for the murder of my fiance, but the cause that wields him...
But if I hate the cause, must I not also hate the weapon?
A killing sword can be forged of harmless metal... and, once destroyed, the sword can no longer hurt anyone else...
Is it possible to take the weapon from the hand of the wielder?
I can feel Okami-san watching me as I place the food on the trays, then carefully stack the trays, one atop the other. She comes up behind me and lays a withered hand on mine, stopping my work.
"I'm so glad you came," she says. "The other men... most of them have women to soothe their hearts in these terrible times, but... Himura-san has always been so alone..."
I know what she is implying - what she must assume from my very behavior. That, because he saved me last night, and because I myself am alone... I have chosen to be his.
Well, it is true enough, I realize. Amidst all my turmoil, it is the one thing, the single course of action of which I am certain.
I belong to him now, whether he wants me or not. He decided that himself, when he killed Akira-san. And when he foolishly... kindly... brought me, a complete stranger, into his own home, rather than leave me on the bloody streets...
My heart is torn between these two inexplicably opposite actions. And I need time... time to sort through my confusion...
So I will stay with him for a while.
I pause, startled, as I hear his voice, which has already become so familiar though I have only heard him speak a few times, calling urgently from down the hall. And... there is a trace of panic in his tone that surprises me.
Okami-san looks up at his shout. "Ah, it seems your young man is awake at last." Then she turns and raises an eyebrow at me, even as a smile quirks at the edges of her thin, wrinkled lips. "And missing you already, from the sound of it."
I am determined not to blush.
He is coming. I can hear his footsteps drumming swiftly down the long hallway.
And suddenly my heart is pounding. Out of nervousness? Fear?
"Okami-san, where--!" The door slides open and he freezes, his mouth hanging open in mid-word, his eyes wide with shock as he sees me.
"Why, good morning, Himura-san," Okami-san says cheerfully in the face of his stupefaction. "I must say, this girl you brought home last night isn't at all what I first thought. She's a big help." And so saying, she turns to me, handing me the stacked breakfast trays. "Please take these to Matsu's room."
I force myself to be calm, and try to ignore the fact that he is staring at me. A brief glance at his face reveals in his expression a mixture of astonishment... and annoyance.
So. Surprised that I haven't run away, are you? And yet irritated to see that I have already made myself at home?
And yet, I am surprised as well. In the light of day, in these strange, awkward circumstances, he is so different. His eyes are still pale amber... almost colorless. And, standing next to him now, I can see that he is barely taller than I am... But the look on his face...
He closes his eyes and presses the tips of his fingers through the tangle of his scarlet hair to his forehead, as if to ward off the stirrings of a headache.
"... Errr..." he says.
I cannot possibly imagine what he might have to say to me at this moment.
Perhaps he cannot imagine either, for nothing else seems to be forthcoming.
And, looking at him now, so completely flummoxed, I feel something flicker within me... something that seems almost like ...muted amusement.
Ah... Perhaps Okami-san was being truthful about him blushing and stuttering last night...
The thought fills me with a strange, warm calm.
Mm. Well, I might as well let him know what has developed while he was sleeping.
"My name?" I say presumptuously, knowing even as the words come out of my mouth that I am about to cross the boundaries of familiarity. But what better way to let him know where I now stand with him? "You may call me Tomoe."
He blinks, stunned. Yes, he is taken aback that I have given him my most intimate name as the means of addressing me.
"Um... Tomoe-san," he says finally, emphasizing the far less-intimate honorific with barely veiled exasperation. "What in the world do you think you're doing?"
So he doesn't want to play along willingly? Very well then.
"Can't you tell?" I say, turning away from him to walk down the hall with the breakfast trays.
He falls into step behind me. "... Helping around the kitchen?"
"You're very observant."
"Look," he says, and I can tell from his voice that his patience is wearing thin. "I need to talk to you right now."
"I'm busy, so you'll have to talk to me later."
"This can't wait."
"Is this Matsu's room?" I ask, stopping outside a screen door.
Frustration flares across his face as he realizes that any further conversation would probably be overheard by the men on the other side of the door.
"Yes," he replies tightly.
I nod my thanks, then kneel down on the mat outside the door, placing the trays in front of me.
"Please excuse me," I say to the men I am about to serve, sliding the door open with both hands. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting."
Apparently, my presence here is a surprise to no one, for I am met with a literal wall of men, all trying to get a good look at me.
"So this is Himura-kun's woman!"
I blink. Ano... has Okami-san been here before me? Or are they already assuming, since he brought me home last night...
And poor Himura. His head is swivelling back and forth between me and the men, a faint look of panic gleaming through his confounded demeanor as the men continue to comment loudly, oblivious of his discomfort.
"She's a beauty!"
"And she's so polite, just like Himura."
And now he is looking only at me, his pale eyes almost desperate and pleading, as if waiting for me to do what any innocent young woman would do in such a situation, and politely deny their rash assumptions about our relationship.
But I will do no such thing.
"I'm Tomoe," I say, bowing towards the men. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Hey, hey, hey!" Himura shouts at me in dismay, shedding all pretense of courtesy in that moment. "What are you doing?!"
I only glance at him for a moment. He is angry, yes.
He is blushing.
For some reason, I feel inexplicably pleased.
And the damage is done, for a tall, lanky man, with a thin mustache and droopy eyes, has already draped one arm around Himura's shoulder in a gesture of male camaraderie. "Hey, why so shy, you big stud, you?"
"Iidzuka-san..." Himura growls, his voice gaining a dangerous edge even as his blush deepens another shade.
Hm, from the mischevious grin on Iidzuka-san's face, it would seem things are about to go beyond the boundaries of politeness, so I think I'll take that as my cue to leave...
And not a moment too soon, for as I pad quietly down the hallway, I hear Iidzuka-san's roguish question: "So, kid... how was it?"
His reply is the instant snap of a sword being loosened from it's scabbard for unsheathing--
--and I hear a startled yelp from Iidzuka-san.
"Careful, careful! Easy, kid, I'm just kidding!" And then, softer, "Sheesh... I forgot that he's the Battousai."
I freeze in my own steps.
Yes. For a few moments there, as I was with him... teasing him... I... forgot who he was.
And I feel my own eyes widen slightly as I realize that, if only for a little while, the haze of grief and pain that has clouded my heart for so long... was also forgotten...