Four years. It would be but a blip in the history books had it not been for her. Four years feels like an eternity when every moment of it is spent in what feels like suspended reality. Sasuke dreamt of her face, those eyes… He could even hear her voice at times. Four years he wondered if he was hallucinating, somehow going mad as he searched, hoping and praying that he would find her again. The others knew nothing of this silent quest. They knew nothing of his origins. Four years is a short paragraph in a history book unless you are living it.
Seemingly endless calculations. Numbers symbols flowing onto paper. It was for her, all for her. She had been tossed back in time without warning, no preparation, no knowledge, Duty fueled his obsession she is his responsibility. He had to find her.
Fire. Scorching heat and acrid smoke the crumbling remnants of a place of worship. For just a moment the smoke parted like a veil and he wondered if Buddha answered his prayers. It was only a glance but he was certain he recognized that figure. Could it really be? Why now? Why here?
Questions upon questions caused him to question himself. As he returned to his Lord to give his report, he realized the vision was real. He wasn’t wrong! She was here! A flood of relief washed over him. Four years of worry washed away in the instant their eyes met.
“I found you.” He whispered.
There are many sayings; “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away”, “Easy come, easy go.” all were apt. For the briefest of time, Sasuke felt light, relieved, accomplished. She was here! She was safe! She was alive. And with the thundering of hooves, all that was trampled into dust. The Oda had her. They scooped her up as if she was nothing more than a prize at a fair. Even as a man of science, he cursed them. His only consolation was he knew where they were headed.
“I will get you back.” His promise was carried on the wind.
Kenshin taught him well. There was no faulting the lessons and Sasuke vowed to use all his skills, to push past the boundary of his abilities, just to be where he wanted to be; closer to her. To bask in that radiant smile, talk about all the things they couldn’t share with anyone else.
The same Gods he called upon to place a curse, he silently thanked from the bottom of his heart. Sneaking into the enemy the castle and hanging upside down like something from a spiderman movie felt surreal but it made her smile. Their time spent reminiscing felt like they were in their own little world and while the sands of time passed them by, new oddities caught his attention.
She was so alive. So full of expression. The four years searching once again seemed to vanish replaced by the melodic sound of her voice and laughter that could put an angel’s song to shame. The sight of her eyes as they twinkled and danced like the stars in the velveteen night sky. She was scared but her strength of character and determination overshadowed that. She was beauty in all its resilient and best possible ways. Sasuke thought science could explain everything, and in truth is can explain the cause, but not all the symptoms or the effect. It only took one night. One night after four years of searching to prove him wrong. He had never been happier to have a theory disproved in all his life. A tight coil of agitation sprung up in him as she told him she was ok in Azuchi. Three months was such a short time to wait. She would be fine.
It was not Kenshin who made the order to bring her to Kasugayama, it was Shingen’s.
After her arrival at Kasugayama, a weight lifted from Sasuke’s chest. He could breathe. Just the sight of her daily was enough to cast out the fears and worries. Sharing time together, watching the stars talking about memes and vines they remembered, laughing and talking about something and nothing until the sky began to lighten. He wondered if she knew how brightly she shined?
“In three months you’ll be back home looking at the stars,” Sasuke said, making conversation.
“Yes.” She smiled lifting her gaze skyward, a melancholy look on her face. “Three months, but the stars will not be like this.” The faint smile on her lips looked so lonely. He wanted nothing more than to comfort and reassure her. Unable to think of how he would do such a thing, he settled for remaining in her company and casting his own eyes up to the heavens.
Kasugayama Castle changed. It was her. She did little things that tumbled and set off a chain reaction of other small things in their wake like dominoes. As transformative as Spring was to the outside world, she was to all those within the castle, her natural warmth and compassion countering the chilly sometimes freezing winter countenance of Kenshin. The hope she generated acted like a salve to Sasuke’s weary soul. He wondered if she realized how valued she was to the whole castle, to him. He longed to tell her but the words never came.
He should have seen it coming. It was predictable knowing what he did of the man. Shingen Takeda. His reputation precedes him, yet Sasuke failed to consider him in his calculations. He would play with her, that Sasuke knew. Shingen was a master manipulator. Gripped by a wave of fierce protectiveness, Sasuke wanted to save her from the pain he knew was coming. He didn’t know how to stop it, so he stood back as Shinge approached his “Angel” and watched it happen.
“Surely you would like to see more of Kasaguyama than these walls, princess. Would you like to go to town with me?” Shingen’s smooth voice carried on the wind.
“You would allow such a thing?”
“It would be my pleasure to accompany you, angel.” He extended his hand. When she accepted he lead her from the castle.
Shingen invited her to town on a whim, hoping lower her guard. It did, but he was the victim. The way she looked at the fabric, he assumed she wanted clothes and baubles like other women. When he learned she enjoyed creating, she longed to make things, something inside him called out to her. Did she like to create because she could leave something of herself behind? Did she make things to prove she existed? Was she like him?
The moonlight viewings were a perfect metaphor for the two of them. She watched that heavenly orb and Shingen watched her, each of them getting their fill of what astounded and amazed them. He kept his word and gave her the peace of staying on the territory she allowed him, but the room seemed smaller, more intimate to him every time they met. Every viewing brought a modicum of peace and calm to his heart.
The morning she came to him in the courtyard, he was making a bookshelf.
“Would you like me to make something for you, Angel?”
Her eyes and smile were melancholy as she shook her head in denial. “Your works deserve to be cherished and well cared for.”
Her words echoed in his soul, but when he studied her, the answer to his unspoken question remained elusive. Shingen never wanted someone to remember him as much as he wanted her to, but her words could have spilled from his mouth. Once again he was struck with how like him she seemed. Pure fancy, he told himself. Everyone seeks someone who understands their plight. That was a truth he manipulated all his life, and yet with her, he wondered. Something inside him hoped.
At the feast, when Kenshin poured for her, something in him shifted. The same man who swore off women acknowledged her, accepted Shingen’s goddess. The realization was enough to steal his breath as he looked at her lovely flushed face, her serene smile. She was his goddess. Making excuses he took her out of the feast hall to the river.
They talked about many things, the times, his illness. He assured her he was better. Shingen promised her he was well. He watched as she turned her face to the moon and smiled a sad smile, blinking her eyes.
“I’m glad you’re better, Shingen. The world deserves you, deserves your heart.” Her voice cracked.
Her wistful gaze and mournful tone ripped at his heart. He longed to tell her the truth of it but refused to chain her to himself. He vowed long ago he would not leave anyone broken and alone with his passing. And so Shingen, the man who made his reputation from a web of lies, became a casualty to the biggest one he ever told.
He denied himself. He denied her. Every time his tongue sought to betray him, whenever their words wandered a bit too close to confession, a swift change of subject, a suave complement and the conversation was back on safe ground. Back where Shingen could control it, where it would not tie a goddess to a dying man. He took note of the time she and Sasuke spent together. He told himself it as the best for everyone. Shingen tried to foster that connection. Every time he did, something inside him howled in rage.
When the princess asked Sasuke about the man they call the Tiger of Kai he felt powerless. He wasn’t one to lie and he wouldn’t lie to her. His only option was to speak honestly and answer her questions.
He could see with each word spoken, they took another step closer. This performance, this dance between them was as beautiful as it was tragic. For all the joy she projected Sasuke knew the truth. Under the surface of a blissfully serene oasis in this war-torn era, each step was another closer to a face he never wanted to see. Her smile gone, her sweet face twisted in torment, in grief. Shingen was dying and he hid it from her. She would march on not knowing what her fated love interest would do to her.
Sasuke lost sleep. The person he searched for, the one he saw in his dreams, the one that laughed and smiled freely. That face... Her face, he couldn’t stop thinking of the rivers that would flow. And yet for all that he knew, he was rendered powerless. How could he take her happiness away when all he wanted was to see her smile?
She promised. She promised she wouldn’t fall in love. But Sasuke knew with painful clarity that promises do precious little to prevent the heart from acting. He found himself watching from the shadows willing her to fall for anyone but him. Seeing with his own eyes his wishes were futile.
Two months into their time traveling experience Sasuke noticed the first changes. He didn’t know if it was because they were staying in such close proximity or due to a deeper feeling. He found himself unable to ignore even the faintest of details about her, he noticed the changes.
Lord Kenshin was having one of his feasts. This in itself was not unusual but she grabbed his attention. She was sitting alone with food hardly touched. For as long as Sasuke knew her she was sociable and enjoyed food... Usually, she enjoyed it anyway.
“Princess, are you not hungry?”
“Sasuke!” She smiled at him though it seemed to be a little forced and dim. “No, I’m feeling a little under the weather is all. I’m not up to eating.”
“Let me escort you to your room, Princess.” Shingen caught his attention as we left the hall that night. Sasuke shook his head to say it was nothing, but when he took her arm, she seemed frailer than she did before.
He wanted to do more than simply escort her back at that moment. He wanted to wrap her up and protect her from everything. To him, she was fragile as glass. Her luminous skin looked to have lost some glow even if it maintained its luster. He found my mind wandering as we walked slowly to her room.
“I’m sorry to put you out. A good night’s sleep and I’ll be right as rain.” She apologized casting a soft smile in his direction.
“It’s never a bother to look after you, Princess.”
“You could use my name, Sasuke.” Her eyes sparkled like the stars as she smiled up at him.
No, I couldn’t. If I did, I’d risk forgetting you’re not mine.
“Princess suits you,” He replied, pushing his glasses up. “Sleep well.”
He waited for her door to close, safe in the knowledge she was inside and returned to the hall. Shingen intercepted him on his way to Yukimura asking about his Angel. Sasuke’s foolish heart sunk as he informed Shingen the Princess was feeling a little unwell tonight. The Tiger’s face showed a look of concern.
“You need to let the princess sleep from time to time, My Lord.” one of the vassals who was deep in his cups announced.
“I allow my angel to sleep.” Shingen hid his smile behind his cup.
Sasuke assumed things had progressed that far between them, but to have it confirmed so starkly was like a bucket of ice water hitting him in his face.
“It doesn’t count if she’s passing out from loving, My Lord!”
“Can we not talk about you and your perverted tastes?” Yuki piped up a deep blush coloring his cheeks.
The hall erupted in laughter again and both men passed off the illness as minor, nothing to be concerned about. It was new love. Sasuke assumed it was the long nights in a lover's arms. Shingen believed it to be overwork with all the commissions coming. The answer didn’t sit well with either man. Sasuke rested easy in the knowledge she would be safely home in two months.
A week later Sasuke was leaving the training grounds after a full morning sparring match with Yukimura when Shingen stopped him.
“Have you seen our Goddess?”
“Have you checked her room, Shingen-sama?”
“No, she’s always up and around by breakfast.”
The two of them went to her room and found her curled in her futon still asleep. Shingen knew in his heart that something was wrong, but he didn’t know what. She was pale, drenched in sweat, nightclothes clinging to her small frame with sweat. Her hair splayed out across the pillow.
“Call a healer,” Shingen ordered. His face now deadly serious. Sasuke did not have to be told twice, without waiting to see what else would transpire between the two lovers, he willed himself to leave the room.
But panic filled him with those three words. There was so much in this time they couldn’t treat, so much they couldn’t cure. Sasuke was so consumed with what the limitations of this time were, he didn’t move. His eyes locked on her trembling form in the blankets as she fought whatever internal battle she waged.
“Sasuke!” The pain in Shingen’s voice pulled him back. “The Healer. Please.”
Shingen’s world shattered. He believed her dead as he knelt beside her. Terror has a way of stretching heartbeats into hours and he knelt praying for some semblance of life. Then her chest rose, shallow, but moving.
The healer insisted she was overworked. She was tired, nothing more. Both men accepted the words even as their souls denied them. This was more than fatigue, this was more than overwork. Still, they did what they could to ease her workload. Shingen begged her to take on less work and even refused some who came offering commissions. Both men spent what time they could with her to distract her.
Shingen recognized every change in her frame. Her sunken eyes, her pale cheeks, her frail form. Every single change screaming at him there was something more, something she refused to tell them. But how could he demand she confide in him when he was lying to her? How could he demand the truth, when he covered his heart in layers of lies? His soul screamed in agony. He wanted to lay it all bare, wanted to beg she do the same. The words he needed most failed to come from his lips in her presence.
She drifted now when she walked. Illness and loss of sleep seemed to be etched into her body. Yet she still smiled and laughed, always pushing forward same as always. She was walking down the hall carrying a vase of flowers she’d carried a hundred times before. This time it slipped from her fingers. Sasuke caught it before it hit the floor.
“Sasuke,” He realized she was breathless. “I’m clumsy these days. That vase is heavier than I thought it was.”
It’s no heavier than any of the others you’ve carried before. His mind chided, but he schooled his expressions. “I’ll carry it for you, princess. Where is it going?”
They finished setting the flowers and she was winded. It was as bad as Shingen on one of his worst days.
“Let’s go back to your room so you can rest.” Sasuke held out my hand and she took it. He knew He wasn’t imagining. She was frailer, colder. “You’ve lost weight princess.”
“Have I? I hadn’t noticed.” He wanted to scoop her up in his arms and prove his theory. He wished to carry her to the wormhole and away from this place before she faded away. But he knew if he did, he would break her heart. He was powerless to save her from that pain.
“How are you eating?” He asked to distract himself.
“Well enough.” she smiled at him, “Thank you for walking me to my room. Have a good day.”
Sasuke stood outside her room for a time. He hadn’t missed the perspiration on her forehead, the breathlessness as she answered His questions. He knew her smile wasn’t as bright as it used to be, but he ignored it because she wanted him too.
In a month, only a month, she could go home. Please just a little longer. Please…
Sasuke found himself taking up nightly vigils when Kenshin didn’t have him on a mission. It became part of his routine. He promised to protect her and get her back to the future safely, but there was something she wasn’t telling him. How can you protect someone when you don't know the enemy? A small voice lurking in the dark recesses of his mind fueled his anxiety. Something was wrong, something was happening and she was fading. They were losing her.
She rarely left her room anymore. She would try and sew but her workload became lighter and lighter as she struggled and failed to cope with full commissions. Since they last spoke she started a new haori which Sasuke felt certain must have been for Shingen, it was in his colors, after all. He made it a point that no matter how busy or tired he was, he would stop by her room every day if he could. She smiled, always welcoming and happy for the company.
The joy he felt in his heart was now bittersweet as he watched her movements. Like a clockwork running on its last turn. They chatted as usual and he tried to maintain a cheery disposition. She still did not bring up her obvious failing health and he did not push the subject. Sasuke kept his visits short, it was the least he could do for her.
Because of his vigils, Sasuke saw her slip from her room the night of the full moon every step a challenge. He wanted to go to her, to help her, but something stopped him. He watched. He followed, always in the shadows lest she need his help. She used whatever she could for aid; walls, banisters, trees, in her quest to reach some point unknown. He followed her, determined to be what he always was, her silent and protective shadow. When she reached the gardens, she sat on the stone bench and turned her face to the moon.
On silent footsteps, he moved closer. He needed to be closer to her but didn't want to startle her. Sounds reached him through the still of the night. As he drew closer, he recognized the sound, weeping. She sat alone, on the cold stone bench, bathed in moonlight, crying. He couldn't stay away. He was powerless to do anything other than move to her side.
Sasuke gathered her close, her frail form so small. “Don't cry, princess. Two weeks. You'll be home in two weeks.”
She turned to him with a sweet, mournful smile and she shook her head. Her denial so sure, so firm. The truth we refused to acknowledge was laid bare.
“I'm dying, Sasuke.”
“No…” it was a strangled whisper. A begging denial. She nodded, the smile never falling.
“I can… we can… You, You can get home. They can help. A short stay in the hospital. That's all. Just a short stay.” Her too frail hand rested against his cheek wiping away the tears he didn't realize were falling.
“No.” The princess’s breath was labored. Tears and the journey to get to the garden taking what little strength she had left. She leaned into him and it was sweet torture to finally hold her.
“I was. On my way. For treatment. When the wormhole hit.” she gasped through tortured breaths.
Surprise shocked him into speechlessness. The realization that his actions, however indirect, led to her death here rendered him numb. His mind spun a never-ending mantra. She was dying. He killed her. It was too late to help. Too late. Too late. Too late. But still, he hoped.
“Two weeks. We can get to a hospital. I'll take you home.”
“So I can die among strangers? Sweet Sasuke. I'd rather be here, among friends.” She took his hand and held it within her cold, much smaller one. She was the one dying and she was comforting him. Sasuke held her the way he wanted to so many times before. They cried until she fell asleep in exhaustion. He lifted her feather-light form and carried her to her room.
As she slept he begged forgiveness. Hundreds of apologies fell from his lips hoping somehow she could forgive him for bringing her here. As the first light of dawn dusted the horizon, he brushed a tender kiss across her brow.
Shingen watched from the shadows as Sasuke held her in the garden while she cried. He wanted to be there. He needed to be beside her. He should be the one kissing her tears away. Shingen waited while Sasuke carried her back to her room. It hit him then how small and frail she had truly become. Everything in his being screamed to take her from Sasuke, still he waited. When Sasuke left her room, Shingen was waiting.
“How’s the Princess?” he slid the door closed.
“Homesick Shingen-sama.” The Tiger of Kai studied the ninja and knew. For all his impassiveness, Sasuke couldn’t hide the red in his eyes.
“Aren’t you, Shingen-sama?” Sasuke’s eyes flashed in a rare show of temper. “You’ve not told her the truth. You’ve actively denied it. You’re going to stand there and demand all her secrets while keeping your own? No, you’ll get nothing from me.”
Shingen don’t know which realization struck him dumb; the fact Sasuke was right, the need to unburden his soul to her like she was the goddess he called her or the jealousy that she confided in Sasuke before him. Whichever it was, Sasuke was gone before he could speak again.
Three days before the wormhole was to appear, a terrible storm opened above Kasugayama. The thunder and lightning rattled the whole castle. But in one room the fury was ignored. Four men kneeled around a futon.
The night of the storm Shingen held her. He begged, he cajoled and in the end, he offered himself in her place. He held her and buried his face in her neck. The last three months played through his mind. Vignettes of her smile, their talks, the river, her soft touches, and gentle gaze. Shingen knew now why she wouldn’t tell him her secrets. He felt her fading with every breath and the tears he never wanted her to cry fell shamelessly down his face.
“Don’t leave me,” He begged. As her hand fell from his arm, he uttered the truth they denied each other. “I love you.”
Kasugayama mourned. You cannot know the soft caress of spring and not lament its loss. But Shingen was different. He'd lost his soul. The bright flame that snuffed out the darkness that tortured him was gone. Those shadows seemed even darker for its loss. In private he grieved. We all noticed. We saw the shift. We felt it. Shingen Takeda, the Tiger of Kai, was lost. The bravado was gone, the facade cracked. Even the use of his silver tongue had been tarnished with her loss.
In his grief, his health faltered. The ailment he battled so long sunk its claws deep into him. As he was, he lacked the strength - the very will - to fight it. The hollow light in his eyes mirrored the emptiness he saw in the world around him. The colors were gone. He was forever in shade, surrounded in depths of grey.
Without her by his side, the world lost all color and meaning. The most basic of daily chores became too much. The loss seeped into his body and soul. The simple task of taking a breath was too much. The rattle in his lungs was a constant companion now. The heaviness that accompanied the episodes was heavier. He didn’t have the strength to fight anymore.
As Shingen lay on his futon bathed in sweat, his mind turned to her, always to her. He knew she was a rare one. In her short time here, she touched those within Azuchi and thawed Kenshin’s cold heart. Everything she did seemed so effortless. He was the master manipulator and yet he didn’t feel the fall until he was in the palm of her delicate hand. The foolish and manipulating part of him believes had he known then what he knew now, he could steel himself to her charms. His heart knows, he never could.
Shingen casts his gaze around the room, smiling when he realized Yuki or Kenshin left the window open. The pale moonlight bathed the room in an ethereal light. It was her touch. She softened the edges of darkness and kept the shadows at bay. Moonlight. His goddess was here with me, watching it as he watched her.
“Forgive me for keeping you waiting, goddess.”
Yukimura was woken by a panicked knocking at his door.
When they got to his room, Shingen Takeda was gone. A peaceful smile bowned his lips, one awash in the joy he had not known since her death.