Petals flew where the wind carried it. Time flows, ebbs and bends; but the tree remains stalk still. A cherry tree may creak or bend against the maelstroms of weather and time, but its roots run deep into the ground; forever stubborn as it refuses to be denied of its existence.
A Buddhist philosopher once spoke that even as the petals fall, the flower endures.
Perhaps, this was how she saw him. Or perhaps, this was why she followed him. Or even still, why she would never leave him.
Her lidded eyes opened and found herself leaning against the sturdy trunk of the cherry tree. She looked up and see the former Shinsengumi captain casting a shadow over her. Was it the warmth of the sun or was it the cool breeze that lulled her to the sands of sleep? She didn’t know, nor did it matter.
“I knew it,” he gave an exasperated sigh. “I should’ve let you stay inside.”
“Don’t worry about it, Toshi,” Chizuru yawned. “It’s a good day today. I wanted to see flowers together.”
“By the looks of it, you look like you’re too exhausted to take another step.”
“Mugh, Toshizou-san. You worry too much.”
“I have a right to worry. What if you collapse, or something happens to you? At least give me the right to worry for you and our child.”
He sat himself down beside her, shaking his head with a wrinkled forehead. Though others came for the flower viewing, Chizuru and Toshizou were lucky enough to find a less populated area for them to settle in. He raised his hand and reached for her abdomen, stroking her womb like she was a fragile thing.
“Toshi,” she assured him. “The weather was nice today that I fell asleep. That’s all there is to it.”
Though his lips remained in a tight, thin line, his eyes softened a little as he watched his hand rest on her stomach. May it be a miracle or some unknown force of nature, but to conceive a child between a fury and an oni was unheard of. At least, as far as they were made aware of. To know that his body may turn to ash at any given moment, giving them the impression that their union wouldn’t allow them the privilege. And yet-
“Thank goodness,” she let her thoughts slip.
“Thank goodness for what?”
She giggled. “I never wanted to give up hope, even though I thought it would be impossible. I’m glad. Thank goodness, I never gave up on it.”
“You’ve been odd lately,” he leaned a little to the side to let their shoulders touch. “Speaking to me in riddles when it comes to these things. Although,” -a small chuckle escaped his lips- “it's not hard to figure you out.”
His big hand left her stomach and landed on the side of her face to let his thumb caress her cheek. She leaned against his touch; his skin warm against the cool of her cheek.
"I never asked for much,” he muttered. “But there are days when I worry about leaving you behind. That’s why the least I can do is pray for a safe delivery. That way…”
He stopped himself from speaking and closed his eyes.
“Don’t say such sad things,” her voice now quieter than usual.
It didn’t take her a while to figure out what he meant. The words unspoken between them.
That way, when I’m gone, you won’t be alone.
She leaned in and touched her lips with his. A little melancholy came with the gesture.
He gasped in his wake; his lungs demanded mouthfuls of breath. His back drenched and his clammy hands twitched. The moonlit room brought a sigh of relief, made aware that he was back in the present, in bed next to his pregnant wife.
He could confide in her company, tell her the troubling dream he had of those desperate days of Shinsengumi’s twilight. Instead, he pulled the covers away from him to leave the room for a night of fresh air. Sliding the screen door to the courtyard open, he leaned against the frame and watched their small garden bathe under the moonlight.
It’s only been two years, since Ezo. Since his sword had pierced through Kazama’s flesh. Though his days are numbered and resigned himself to that fact, a part of him remained too stubborn to accept his death. Not when he knows he’d be leaving Chizuru behind. Not while she is with child. Not when there was a slew of things, he needed to do to guarantee them a life without having to starve.
And yet in dreams, he misses them. Those days in that run-down dojo, or days when the Shinsengumi was still in operation in Kyoto. And all that remains of them are no more than a whispered memory among naysayers or those who secretly mourned for their loss.
The shuffling of fabric from behind made him aware of her presence. He didn’t need to turn his head to know his wife was now wide awake. Instead, as he expected of her, she would approach him to sit by his side.
“Mm,” he hummed. “Did I wake you?”
She bit her lip.
“Sorry,” he straightened himself in his posture. “I’ll close the door if it's too cold for you.”
“No, it’s alright,” she shuffled closer, now letting her legs hang from the edge of the floorboards. “I don’t think I could sleep well tonight.”
“…Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m fine,” she gave a small smile.
Chizuru was still in the early stages of pregnancy, so it was easy to forget that their child was growing within her womb. As much as he hoped not to trouble her, her perception over him never seemed to fail her these days. He would might as well give in to stave off her worries.
“Back then, we had so much time in our hands that we’d go flower-viewing at night and find ourselves wasted the morning after.” -the memories of Shie-hall tumbled in his mind as he spoke- “After we moved to Kyoto, I’ve had my hands full with affairs of all the daimyos and the shogunate, turning down their invitations for the yearly flower-viewing.”
He raised his gaze to the moon, moments that seemed so mundane now shined like fragments of stars. When the fighting was done, or when raids and patrols came to an end; at the end of the day, he’d expect the merry faces of Kondou, Shinpachi, Harada and Heisukei waiting for him. Okita making a jab at him in any given chance, or Saitou sitting back silently as he listened to what others had to say.
“Well,” he shrugged off the sentiment in favour of keeping his composure, “With all that’s said and done, there’s no use dwelling in the would haves and could haves.”
Chizuru stretched out her hand and tugged the corner of his sleeve. His line of sight now followed her hand to the sombre expression that he knew so well. He released her grip on his sleeve, held her wrist and drew her into his chest.
The gesture took her by surprise.
“Sorry,” he let out a long breath, his fingers now combing through her hair. “I just need a moment. I’ll let you go back to bed soon.”
“…It’s fine. Take as much time as you need.”
A relentless spirit. Even when the petals fall, the flower remains. To him, she was the enduring blossom who stood against the test of time. Like the blossoms that scatter in the wind, his closest friends left him behind; entrusting their torches onto him. All that remains was her presence who bear witness to the rise and fall of their legacy.
Toshizou lifted her chin and planted a kiss on her lips. He let it linger there, cradling the back of her head to draw her closer. He then set the distance between them, his eyes lingering at her starry-eyed gaze.
“You should go to bed now,” he said. “It won’t be good for both of you if you stay up so late.”
“No,” she leaned against his solid frame, her hand resting against his chest. “Just let me stay here for a while longer.”
He ought to have known her by now she wouldn’t back down on things like this.
“Alright,” he wrapped his arms around her, leaning against the door frame. “Just for once.”
The night wind blew softly against their skins. Fingers entwined with a little playfulness and affection. To choose words that define what they had was incomparable to everything they have been through. With the miracle they had in their hands, the bond they shared could only rival that of the cherry blossom tree that remained after they shed its petals.