She found him in the forest, at an Inari shrine flanked by moss-covered fox statues. He’d curled up right there by the ancient stone base and fallen asleep, though she could see it wasn’t restful. Whatever solace the Ghost had been looking for here, he clearly hadn’t found it.
Yuna lit a candle and placed it on the shrine, then sat. Not too close. Closer, maybe, than she should. And she waited.
The sun drifted towards the horizon and the shrine’s shadow stretched until it joined the shadows of the trees, until the whole of the forest floor was dark. Yuna pulled out some cold rice and fish and began to eat. She should have made a fire. If Jin was going to sleep all night, she’d need the warmth.
His eyes were red-rimmed, puffy, still blinking away sleep. Dried blood dotted his face. Things had not gone well with Lord Shimura, then.
“Jin. Have some food. You must be hungry.”
She watched him slowly push himself up until he was sitting, but instead of his normal straight-backed samurai posture, he hunched… as if the effort to be upright was almost too much.
“Are you injured?” she asked.
He looked down at his own body as if he didn’t yet know the answer. After a moment, he said, “No.”
Yuna nodded. There was no sense prodding further. She held out her bowl of rice and fish. He took it, but only stared down at the food blankly.
His wounds were deep, even if none of them were physical.
“Your uncle did not wish to make amends?” Yuna asked.
Jin stared off into the trees. “No.”
A thief knows when to act, and when to sit silently and watch. Yuna had once been an excellent thief, and so she waited. Even though every part of her, every muscle and string of sinew, wished to reach out and comfort him.
Eventually, Jin spoke again, his voice monotone. “Clan Sakai has been disbanded. I am a traitor.” A pause. “The shogun ordered my uncle to kill me.”
Yuna did not allow her reaction to reach her face. Inside, she cursed. Damn the Shogun! He owed the safety of the mainland to the Ghost, and rewarded him with a death sentence. And to task Lord Shimura with the deed was cruelty masquerading as honor. Disgusting.
She could say none of that to Jin, of course.
“Does… your uncle still live?”
“Yes,” Jin said.
Yuna felt a little of the tension in her shoulders release. But Jin seemed less than happy about the fact. Once again, she waited.
“We dueled. Fortune favored me. My uncle asked for an honorable death.” Jin looked down at this hands. “I… couldn’t do it.”
“Of course you couldn’t,” Yuna said. “He’s all the family you have left.”
Jin looked up at her, surprised. Perhaps...grateful? He said, “If I had not become the Ghost, I would now be his son.”
Other people thought samurai were emotionless, but Yuna knew better. Jin said more with the silence around his words than most people said with a thousand epic poems. And right now, she could feel his pain and loss as if he been speaking of nothing else for days.
She wished she could touch him. Hold him. Lend him her strength. But despite everything they’d been through, everything they’d confessed in coded messages and stumbling steps, they did not yet have that physical ease with one another. Oh, she’d stripped the clothes from his unconscious body and tended his wounds more than once. But this was different. So very different.
If she could not offer him comfort in that way, then she would find another.
“You did the right thing, Jin,” she said firmly.
“Yes. I’m certain of it.”
For whatever reason, her approval seemed to matter to him. The strain in his face lessened slightly.
“My uncle will hunt me now,” he said. He put the bowl of rice, untouched, on the Inari shrine. “His honor demands it. He will never stop.”
Yuna shrugged, trying to show more ease than she felt. “Then the Jito of Tsushima will hunt us. I’ve lived on the run my entire life, Jin. Taka and I faced far worse. I’m not afraid.”
Jin’s eyes clouded. “Yuna, you’ve already been through so much. I can’t ask you to go through this with me.”
Anger swelled inside her. Anger at the Shogun, at the Jito, at the Mongols, and even at Jin. “You are not asking, because you don’t get to ask!” Yuna said. “This is my choice, Jin. Mine.” And then she did take his hand, because dammit, he needed to hear her. “Jin Sakai, after Taka died, you told me that I was not alone. You told me that I have you. Well, you have me as well, do you understand? Neither of us is alone. And it doesn’t matter if the Shogun himself comes to Tsushima to chase us down. Together we will be the wind and the leaves, and he will never find us.”
Jin’s eyes. His eyes. They blazed as if she had taken the almost-dead embers within and breathed them back to life.
“You’re right, Yuna,” he said. “You have always been right.” He lifted her hand, still gripped gently in his own, and stared down at it. The image seemed to amaze him. “It is hard to imagine the force strong enough to break such a bond.”
Her anger ebbed in the wake of his soft voice wrapped around such steel conviction. “Such a force doesn’t exist,” she said. She did not pull her hand away. She might leave it there, in his, forever. “You are my family now, Jin Sakai.”
Jin took his free hand and touched her face. His palm was warm and callused. He brushed his thumb over the small mark on her cheek, just one of the many scars she’d collected through the years.
“How is this possible,” he said aloud, though it seemed like something he would say only to himself. “How are you possible, Yuna.”
She pressed his hand to her face. How long had she waited to feel his touch, freely given? “If you don’t kiss me soon, Jin, I will find myself another samurai.”
Yuna had wondered if she’d ever hear that sound again, and it made her happy to know that she was the one who had summoned it. She was about to say as much, but then, shock of all shocks, Jin was kissing her.
The nephew of the Jito. The Ghost. The man she’d dragged, half dead, from Komoda beach.
And she was kissing him.
If Lord Shimura had found them in that moment, found them and struck them down, Yuna would never have noticed.
The blanket of night draped around them and when Yuna finally pulled away — reluctantly and only for a moment, Jin’s warm hand still in hers — she noticed the foxes. Half a dozen of them sat in a ring around the shrine, a red circle of emissaries, ready to lead them wherever they wished to go.