What had you expected to happen when the battle between the Ends and the Drifters was over? It made you come off as dim-witted to say that you hadn't thought about it, but to be fair, thinking about the outcome of a supernatural war between two factions of historical figures that took place in a fantasy world was not a situation that even the most learned of scholars would have taken the time to mull over.
The result was going to be a surprise to you no matter what. Equally surprising was when the battle had ended. One second the demihuman and nonhuman races were clashing on the field while otherworldly warriors fought to kill each other, and then the next, the Black King had been taken down, his cloaked head cut off by Toyohisa. With the loss of their great leader, the Ends and nonhumans faltered, and that momentary confusion was enough for the Drifters to turn to tide from stalemate to a clear victory. Rasputin, Mitsuhide, Yoshitsune, Anastasia, Jeanne d'Arc, Hijikata... All of them fell, crystallizing before crumbling into mounds of salt on the ground. Most of the nonhuman army surrendered after that.
You stumbled through the obstacle course of bodies and smouldering pits created by explosives, frantically looking around for one person. Normally he was easy to find with his bright red armour, but the current scenery made quite the camouflage for his attire.
At last you saw him, standing on top of a small hill, sword still out and gleaming in the sun's light.
"Toyohisa!" you shouted, and he spun his head in your direction. His face was smeared crimson and his hair somehow managed to be even messier than normal, but he wore a wide grin that overwhelmed all the gore and mess on him. He shouted your name happily and waved his sword hand at you.
You broke into a dash to reach this laughing warrior, this ruthless samurai that you had come to love. Yes, it was love, because you certainly wouldn't have jumped uncaringly into his bloodied chest to get your own clothes printed red for just a friend.
"You're okay," you said breathlessly, pressing your hands into his back to keep him close. 'Okay' was a relative term in this case, since Toyohisa had more than his fair share of war wounds that would land others in intensive care--if they were lucky. But it was hardly something he hadn't experienced before, and if your time with Toyohisa had taught you anything, it was that he was incredibly hard to kill.
He gave a confident chuckle. "Of course I'm okay--I can't leave this world without claiming at least one worthwhile head!"
"Arguably the most worthwhile head of all time," you said dryly.
"At least now I can hold my head high when I go see my father."
Your breath caught in your throat. Iehisa Shimazu had died over four hundred years ago, the same as his son, who you were embracing right now. In an attempt to rid yourself of the panic that was creeping over, you tightened your grip on Toyohisa and buried your face into his chest. His scent, tinged with sweat, blood and smoke, filled your nose.
"Hey, what's the matter with you?" Toyohisa said, not that he minded the intimacy at all. He gently stroked the back of your head with his hand. Such a simple gesture, but it brought you such comfort.
You pulled back and looked into his eyes. He saw your fear and worry, causing him to bristle with protective instinct. "What is it?" he hissed.
You were reluctant to speak at first, but steeled yourself and confronted the Damoclean question.
"What happens now?"
Toyohisa's brow contorted into an extreme example of disbelief. "What do you mean, 'what happens now'? Now Nobunaga and Saint-Germi can look after the demihumans and help them settle new homes, and we go off to kill any remaining followers of the Black King that still want to pick a fight while seeing what the rest of this world has!" He spoke with unshakeable resolve, as though there were no other possibility to consider.
"'We'?" you repeated.
Toyohisa snatched your hand in his and began leading you away from the battlefield. He personally didn't mind holding a conversation while standing around corpses, but he knew that it was far from the most appropriate place for what he was about to say to you.
"Yes, 'we!' Yoichi told me he'd want to stay and help the elves, and that Naoshi guy seemed happy to be Lord of the canids and felids. Butch and Kid are going to do the same thing, but they were talking about going west, so we'll go east. The important part is that you're with me." He stopped once you were both well distanced from the carnage, standing in unmarred green grass.
Blinking, you concentrated to make sure you hadn't misunderstood. Toyohisa had spoken to the others about the future--his future--that included you. You didn't want to prematurely celebrate only to get your hopes dashed, though you were squealing inside. "What about Nobunaga? He kept saying he intends to make you a king."
Toyohisa snorted callously and rolled his eyes. "I couldn't stand being in a role like that--even if I like the idea of seeing you as a queen. I figure we'll just sneak off in the night while everyone's sleeping." His cocky demeanour then softened into one of heartfelt adoration. "Will you come with me?" he asked with a smile. "Years from now, decades from now, you're the one I want to see myself with."
Initially Toyohisa had been frustrated beyond belief that he would never see Satsuma again, and that his family and fellow soldiers would only be alive in his memories now. This world had hardly anything familiar to him, just magical creatures, animal-human hybrids and people that he wasn't sure if they were men or women. As far as he was concerned, you were included in that group of bizarre, inconceivable things; despite your insistence that you and he were from different eras and countries of the same world, you were still so unlike anyone he had ever met that you were just as alien as the elves here. But that was why you had fascinated him so much and caught his attention in the first place, sending him careening down the path of falling for you. If he knew when he was still in Japan that it would take being brought to the brink of death to meet you, he might have been even more daredevil in his methods on the battlefield.
Your face felt tingly and your knees were suddenly unstable. A burst of overjoyed laughter escaped you as you grabbed Toyohisa's face and kissed him deeply. In the back of your mind there was the consideration that you would never see your home again, but that was an ache that you could easily get over. Out of everything you had gone through, the people you had met, the places you had seen, this was the best part of it all. This was what had made it worthwhile.
You loved Toyohisa, and he loved you. There wasn't anything else to ask for.
Sighing into his mouth, you pulled apart to say something, but when you opened your eyes there was nothing but white all around.
So fluorescent bleach white that it stung your eyes. You took a staggered step forward and your shoe echoed with a clack on hard, smooth floor.
Raising your head, you now saw a long corridor that stretched beyond what your eyesight was capable of. On either side were doors of various styles, some modern and metal with a push-bar handle, others made of heavy, worn wood and possessing large skeleton keyholes.
A whisper of paper rustling caused you to turn around slowly, and a messy office desk cluttered with books and forms slid into view.
You shook your head at the bespectacled man whose name you never learned, wanting to scream but limited to a childlike gesture of begging denial.
Don't take me away from him.
Then you were pulled into one of the now open doorways, and the world went from white to black.
When you came to, you were back home in your own room, in your own time and world. From what you could tell, only a few minutes had passed here, even though you had been in elsewhere for months. Looking down at yourself, you saw that your clothes were pristine and free of battlefield blood and mud, as if you had never been in the midst of a war or hugged a samurai.
You didn't know what time or day of the week it was, and frankly it didn't matter since you spent it and the many days that followed in bed, hiding under the covers.
You should have known better. What had grown between you two was something that was never meant to be. Your love was a paradox. Besides their radical perspectives and approaches, another thing the Drifters (excluding yourself) had in common was that they had been brought to this world on the day they died. And with the Drifters' purpose now served, what was askew had to be restored.
Toyohisa might have stayed behind in the other world. He could also have been returned to his time and lived out his days; or would his time have been rewound back to when he was on his last legs and dragging himself back to Satsuma, and died alone in the forest? You had no way of knowing.
There was no one you could contact, you couldn't think of any way to go back to that white hallway, and the one you loved simply did not exist where you were now. You didn't even have a single memento of him. There was no physical proof of your relationship. If you were in anyone else's shoes, you would have concluded that it was all just a dream.
But you remembered it so clearly. The wary glare he had given you when you first met. How his sword glinted in the moonlight as if it gave off its own illumination, and the whiteness of his teeth that showed frequently during battles. The way he spoke--often shouted, actually--and how boyish he could look when he smiled and laughed, contrary to the spine-shiver-generating allure his voice took on when it was just the two of you in later instances. The textures of his clothes and armour, his rough-skinned hands and broad fingers, the dark, almost black colour of his eyes that somehow often looked midnight blue. His thick mass of short hair that you loved to sink your hands into. How his body gave off heat like a furnace after a long day of fighting. His chapped lips and aggressive tongue that left you in chaos every time. The impressive, scar-riddled muscles of his unclothed form bunching while he drove into you. How your name sounded when uttered by him.
You wanted to see him again so badly. The wish consumed your mind like a cloud, but like a cloud it never solidified into anything. There was no one you could tell about this--everyone would think that you were crazy--so you kept your heartbreak locked up and repeated all of those memories over and over in your head.
They were all you had left of him.
Eventually the hurting became a little less, and Toyohisa didn't prey on your thoughts as vividly. He was always there, but over time he faded, the way posters on windows desaturated as they aged. Your life went on with the rest of the world, and you went on dates, some of which turned into relationships, though none had ultimately lasted.
One day you decided to take a trip. Friends, family and colleagues alike thought this was a good idea, since you had been so absorbed in your work and hardly ever took time out for yourself. You figured it was as good a time as any to visit Japan; after all, you'd heard from many people that it was definitely a bucket list destination.
They were right; there wasn't a single moment that you didn't spend being wide-eyed and in awe of the totally different world around you, where the buildings, speech, culture, aesthetics and food were all so unique. The flashing rainbows of nighttime neon lights, cutesy cartoon mascots for everything, eclectic fashion styles and loops of pre-recorded female voices politely saying some announcement or message to customers in shops and at train stations.
Traveling solo had its own merits--but you could not deny deep down that you would have loved it more if you were accompanied by a certain red warrior.
Intending to take in some more civilized culture and history, you went to a major museum that was listed high in the ranks of places to visit.
Since it was a weekday, there were not as many people around. The exhibits all had information plaques written in English, which you were grateful for. You hadn't bothered to take a map or audio guide, opting to walk around as you pleased, and soon found yourself in the current, brand new exhibition of recently-discovered artifacts from the Kyushu region.
You browsed the impressive collection, admiring the craftsmanship of the Satsuma porcelain pieces and the detailed lacquerware. Tension seized you a little when you saw the suits of armour and Tanegashima muskets, some of them matched with ukiyo-e woodblock prints that included the samurai who used them.
Behind the glass display case, a daisho that had blood-red lacquered scabbards, black silk wrapping on the hilts, and dark blue cord tied to the pommels. You didn't need to read the plaque to know who they belonged to. A hot stinging pinched the back of your nose.
You stared at the set of swords as you stepped to the case next to them, where there were numerous prints of Toyohisa. His face was not all that accurately represented due to the adherence to the specific art style, but the red armour was a dead giveaway. Not to mention that while some samurai could be depicted reading a scroll, riding his horse or giving commands while seated, every single print of Toyohisa had him actively throwing himself into the mad storm of battle. He was poised to strike like a coiled snake, so eager to fight that he might burst from the paper at any moment.
Your gaze fell towards a large plaque in the middle that gave a detailed description of the subject:
Toyohisa Shimazu (July 1570 - 1640). The fourth son of Iehisa Shimazu, Toyohisa participated in his first battle at the age of fifteen, showing great promise as a warrior when he claimed an enemy's head on his own. While it had been widely believed that he had perished in the Battle of Sekigahara in order to allow his uncle Yoshihiro to escape, this most recent expedition has uncovered evidence that proves Toyohisa in fact survived the battle and managed to make his way back to Satsuma almost a year later. Somewhere between the battle and his return to Satsuma, he appeared to have met a foreign woman and fell in love with her, but for reasons unknown they became separated. Though he did not speak of her at great length or detail, what little he did made it obvious to anyone that she was always in his thoughts. He was fatally wounded during a battle to quell an uprising from the Ryukyu Kingdom, and a vassal heard him say "maybe now I'll see her again" before he died with a smile on his face.
His daisho remained behind the glass case, but you would have sworn the blades had flown off of their racks to bury themselves in your chest. Your lips flattened, then quivered as your vision blurred, and your legs gave up.
It would be a first that the museum experienced a visitor breaking down in tears in an exhibit.