Years have passed since he last came to Kanna village, Katsushiro realizes as he stops in his tracks just out of sight of the farmers’ village.
Years have passed since he and the other six samurai have fought to save the village from the bandits.
Right now, he can still turn back, can still pretend nothing had happened and he hadn’t been here at all—that’s what he thinks, at least, until he hears steps behind himself and a voice speaks up hesitantly.
“Katsu-noji, is that you?”
He slowly turns around to face the girl and is surprised to find her nearly flying into his arms.
Komachi is nearly as tall as him now—while Katsushiro himself hasn’t changed too much in both his looks and height, she must have had a growth spurt in all that time.
She looks a lot more like a young woman now.
“Welcome back, Katsu-noji!” she exclaims happily, even though her voice shakes just a tiny bit, and buries her face in the crook of his neck. “I missed you. Nee-sama did, too. Come with me, will you? We’ll give you food—you look way too thin.”
Indeed, Katsushiro is quite hungry, and so he finally decides to follow the girl into the village.
He is welcomed warmly by everyone, but despite all that, it feels kind of suffocating to be here.
Even when he’s sitting in front of bowls full of rice and other food, surrounded by those who are happy to see him again, he feels somewhat guilty.
Katsushiro winces when someone puts a hand on his shoulder gently. “Wha—oh, Kirara-dono. Thank you very much for providing me with this delicious meal. The rice from your village is as good as always.”
Kirara smiles softly, and her eyes show a tiny shimmer of sadness. “This sounds like something Heihachi-sama would have said,” she starts, but then changes the topic. “I hope your way here was not too hard.”
“No, it was fine. I just happened to pass by,” he replies, and he’s sure Kirara knows just as well as he does that this is a lie. “I do not plan on inconveniencing you for a long time, Kirara-dono. If you could spare me a futon to sleep on for two or maybe three nights, I would greatly appreciate that and I shall leave here again after that.”
The girl—no, she’s a young woman now—shakes her head slightly. “You are never an inconvenience to us, Katsushiro-sama. Not after what you did for us.”
They remain silent for a while, and Katsushiro takes that time to take a closer look at Kirara.
She has grown a little as well, her hair is a little shorter, and she looks more mature.
But at least it seems like she can smile again, and this is the greatest difference between her and Katsushiro himself; his smiles look more forced now, after he has killed one of his own comrades and seen three others of them die, than hers ever could.
Komachi sits down at his other side and looks at him intensely. “Say, Katsu-noji,” she starts, and being called that way makes his heart ache a little because it reminds him of Kikuchiyo.
The younger of the Mikumari sisters generally does that.
“Will you come to see the others with me later?” Komachi continues, and Katsushiro remembers the reason why he has come here in the first place for the at least tenth time this afternoon.
Slowly, he lowers his head. “If you don’t mind, yes, I will do that. Thank you for the offer.”
Komachi smiles, and only when she does that does Katsushiro realize how similar she looks to her sister.
He takes his time eating, for he hasn’t been able to do things at his own pace for a while—travelling from one battle to the next is an exhausting thing to do—and he wants to think about what he wants to tell the others, the four samurai buried here on the cliff above the village.
The sisters wait for him patiently, and while Kirara busies herself gathering the dishes and starting to wash them, Komachi motions for Katsushiro to follow her.
Katsushiro obliges after Kirara has assured him that it’s fine to leave her here, and together, he and Komachi walk through the forest in silence, both of them carrying two small bowls of rice.
After a while, the girl speaks up. “I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you,” she says slowly. “Kyuuzo too, you know. Back then… did you even properly mourn for any of them?”
Katsushiro hesitates. “There was no time for that,” he replies, but his voice sounds hollow and it’s a very lame excuse.
It’s the truth, though—his attempts at mourning for Kyuuzo have all been stopped by Kanbe telling him it had been necessary; when Heihachi died, Katsushiro was too busy fighting to even properly understand what was happening until Heihachi loudly voiced his desire to eat rice. When Gorobe has died, he has been too invested in helping Kanbe plan more strategies for defending the village to visit his grave as often as he would have liked. Kikuchiyo’s death has been dragged out for too long, Katsushiro still doesn’t know how the mechanic samurai could even still move with all the bullet holes in his armor—maybe that’s one of the advantages of not being human.
Katsushiro has visited Gorobe’s grave more often than any of the others, but never has he allowed himself to let out everything on his mind.
Komachi shakes her head slightly. “There is time now,” she points out quietly. “If you want to.”
And after remaining silent for a few more seconds, he replies, “It’s what I’ve come here for.”
“That’s good, then.”
Only when Katsushiro looks over to her now he sees the two crystals dangling from her wrist. “Did Kirara-dono…?”
“Huh? Oh, that. Yep, she passed her crystal on to me,” Komachi answers solemnly. “I’m the new Mikumari priestess… well… ‘new’ might be the wrong word, though. I’ve been that for a few years now. She passed it on to me directly after you left.”
He doesn’t know if he really wants to know that, but he listens to her anyways. “Did anything important happen while I was away?”
Komachi gives him a skeptical glance, stopping in her tracks for a moment. “Are you planning on staying here, if you’re asking that way?”
“N-no, I just…”
Her laugh sounds a little sad when she gently elbows him, careful not to drop any of the rice. “I know, Katsu-noji, I know.”
Then she picks up pace a little, walking ahead of him for the last meters until she steps out of the shadow of the trees onto the cliff.
She kneels down first, placing her bowls of rice in front of the tombstones adorned with Kikuchiyo’s and Heihachi’s swords, and then starts talking. “Look who came visiting today, Kiku-noji! Katsu-noji hasn’t come here ever since the battle with the capital, and I’m glad to see him again. Nee-sama and I really missed him—and I miss you,” she adds more quietly, but Katsushiro hears it anyways.
He places his bowls down in front of the tombstones with Kyuuzo’s and Gorobe’s swords, kneeling down next to the girl. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, not even knowing who he’s directing his words at, and lowers his head deeply.
They stay there for quite a while; Katsushiro doesn’t even notice the fact that the sun is setting until he thinks he has said everything he wanted to say—which has become so much more than he has initially planned once he knelt down here—and when he lifts his head, his eyes widen with the realization that they must have spent hours here.
Komachi reaches out to stroke over Kikuchiyo’s tombstone with a soft smile, and then turns around to Katsushiro with a solemn expression. “Don’t worry,” she starts, “I often spend hours here. You probably had a lot of stuff to tell them, huh? That’s fine, if it made you feel better.”
Katsushiro tilts his head to the side a little, but finally nods. “…yes, it did. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity.”
He would have gone to visit their graves anyways, but even if he doesn’t admit it, he feels a little relieved that he isn’t alone.
Eventually, they get up and bow towards the graves once again.
“See you tomorrow, Kiku-noji,” Komachi says, still smiling gently, and then turns away from the graves. “Let’s go, Katsu-noji.”
They’re walking next to each other again, and it feels like there’s some kind of solemn consonance between them until they reach the village again.
Kirara greets them with a happy expression when they return to the Mikumari family’s house. “I take it you were able to properly tell them what you wanted to say, Katsushiro-sama?”
Katsushiro nods slightly. “Yes. I finally got to make up my mind about everything I did—or was not able to do, back then.”
She smiles in relief. “That’s good. Would you mind joining us for dinner? I prepared enough for you to eat properly.”
Katsushiro lowers his head thankfully. “I can’t thank you enough for all you’re doing for me, Kirara-dono.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” she chuckles quietly. “I’m glad I can be of help. I couldn’t help enough during that time, so… I’m glad to be able to make up for that, even if it’s just a little.”
“No, you did plenty—”
“Katsu-noji,” Komachi interrupts him, placing one hand on his forearm. “Let’s go inside and eat.”
After they have finished dinner and the Mikumari sisters have finished doing the dishes together, Kirara leaves her house and sits down on the ground next to Katsushiro who has been waiting for her.
“Do you mind if I sit here, Katsushiro-sama?”
His head shoots up in surprise, but he quickly shakes it. “No, that’s fine. Please sit down, if you’d like.”
She sits down next to him, a small smile on her lips. “I’m glad you came back and went to visit them, Katsushiro-sama. You do seem… relieved, in comparison to the afternoon when you came here today.”
“Right. It’s good to be back… I feel better, now that I could properly think about everything,” he admits. “I hope everyone here in the village is well. The bandits didn’t come back, did they?”
Kirara shakes her head. “No, everything has been peaceful. You really saved us back then, Katsushiro-sama… and now you came back—I’m glad you did. I kind of… missed you.”
She whispers the last words, but Katsushiro can hear her just fine.
He raises his arm to put it around her shoulders, but stops himself just before he can actually do that. “I’m glad to have come back as well, Kirara-dono.”
“Please, stop calling me that way… just Kirara is fine,” she mutters, a slight blush creeping up her cheeks, and Katsushiro flinches.
He’s not that good at talking to girls, especially not when they’re alone in the dark and even less when he’s talking to a girl he’s been liking for years.
“Then… Kirara-san?” he questions, and when she nods in agreement, he adds, “Then, please, don’t call me Katsushiro-sama anymore either, if that’s fine with you…”
Kirara tilts her head to the side slowly. “Katsushiro… -san?” she says, sounding just a little insecure, and Katsushiro relaxes a little.
While this still doesn’t feel like they were actually very close, it feels a lot more comfortable already.
After a moment of silence, Kirara leans over and gently rests her head on Katsushiro’s shoulder. “Thank you for coming back, Katsushiro… -san. If you don’t mind, please… stay here for a while.”
And even though his brain wants him to say something along the lines of, I’m sorry, I have a different place to go to, what leaves his lips when he starts speaking is, “As you wish, Kirara-san.”