|Hiruma Ameno ooi
Chapter 3: “Reunion”
The smell of warm sake made Katsu peek inside the kitchen before leaving for work. Yukari seemed busy on the stove, so he didn’t consider speaking a word before walking out the door.
Yukari: Do you enjoy sake Togakuchi-san?
Katsu entered the kitchen, standing beside Yukari, watching her stir a white mix inside a large pot. She turned to him and extended a cup of sake for him to drink.
Katsu: Thanks, but I can’t drink this early in the morning.
Yukari: Oh but you do drink?
Katsu: I like to, but not so often.
Yukari smiled and took the cup back, adding the sake to the mix in the stove.
Katsu: What kind of pastry is that mix for?
Yukari: Cupcakes with white chocolate and sake.
Katsu: You won’t sell those to children, right?
Yukari let out a small laugh, turning off the stove as she looked at Katsu.
Yukari: Of course I won’t.
Katsu: Just checking. Then I’ll be off. Hope you have a pleasant morning Momonari-san.
Yukari: Thanks. Have fun at work.
He walked out of the kitchen into the hall to the front door and out to work. Yukari watched his silhouette walk behind the window of the store, and then continued to add the warm mix into a bowl filled with another mix of eggs, honey and milk. She continued stirring and then added that mix to a new bowl filled with flour and sugar. Taking out a pair of cupcake tins, she spooned them fill and pouched them into the oven. Fifteen minutes later a sleepy Kenta appeared next to her, drawn by the smell of the cupcakes.
Yukari: Honey, you can still sleep a little more.
She raised him in her arms, as he embraced her neck and yawned before lying his head on her chest.
Kenta: No… I want to help you bake today…
Yukari: You’ll help me bake a batch of cookies?
Kenta: Yes mommy.
He stretched out still in his mother’s arms, opening his little dark eyes and scratching his fluffy-blonde hair. He was the exact same image of his father, thought Yukari to herself, smiling and kissing him on the cheek.
Yukari: And what kind of cookies do you want to make?
Kenta: Let’s make maple cookies!
Yukari put Kenta down and took out the cupcake tins from the oven. Kenta smiled when he sniffed the sweet aroma coming from the table too high for him to reach. Yukari quickly drizzled the cupcakes with melted white chocolate and set them beside the showcase.
Yukari: And now…
Yukari reached for more ingredients from the kitchen shelves, and drew a high chair for Kenta to sit on; pulling him up and sitting him beside her.
Yukari: Let’s start on those maple cookies.
Kenta gladly started cracking eggs merrily inside a bowl he had reached for himself.
Katsu opened the door to the house, crossing the hall into the living room, where Kenta laid spread on the floor filled with papers, drawings and crayons. Yukari lifted her gaze from the newspaper she was reading, smiling at him.
Kenta: Katsu-kun, you’re back!
Katsu: Yeah, today I was a bit delayed.
Yukari: You missed dinner again. Like last week.
Katsu: It’s alright. I ate something on the way here.
Katsu sat down on the floor next to Kenta, escaping from Yukari’s concerned gaze, and taking a look at his drawings. He could only smile and chuckle as his eyes went through all the crayon doodled paper. He saw colorful landscapes, he recognized the red bridge from the entrance, he also saw a portrait of the child and his mother; and right beside it, Kenta was working on a tall, dark-haired figure that looked like Katsu. Kenta noticed him peering over his drawings, and quickly finishing the drawing he was working on, he stood up and showed it to Katsu.
Kenta: Guess who?
Katsu: I would have to guess his name is Katsu-kun, right?
Kenta: Right. Do you like it?
Katsu: It’s great, I love it. Can I keep it?
Katsu: Thanks Kenta. But now, I wish you’d excuse me, I’m exhausted. It’s best if I go to bed now.
Yukari: Of course Togakuchi-san, please go rest.
Yukari closed the newspaper she was reading and started picking up some of the drawings Kenta had done during the afternoon. Kenta gladly gave him the drawing and Katsu held it in his hands, as he got up from the floor and bid them goodnight. Yukari and Kenta followed him upstairs shortly, and he heard a bedtime story that helped his troubled mind doze off.
He was now running, running as fast as he could through the woods; stumbling and regaining his pace as best as he could. His heart raced and pushed him onward, he could taste the sweat dripping from every pore on his face and body; the cold night air went inside his mouth into his lungs and was exhaled in evanescent clouds. He stumbled again, going face down into the ground. He tasted blood. And then someone grabbed him from his hair, painfully, pulling his face up. Then he was violently turned over, facing the sky. But all he could see was her eyes. Shining bright with madness and rage. Her fingernails, tearing his skin apart; diving deep into his chest and stomach. And then her lips, soft as silk, almost a relief from all the pain. But it wasn’t over yet, he could read it in her stare. Her fingernails dived again into his chest, through the muscle and flesh, destroying veins and fibers, to grasp his aching heart. He could feel the tip of her nails every time his heart beat. As her eyes spoke of pleasure, joy, and satisfaction; he could only wish for death. He yearned for his heart to be crushed at once. But the fingernails did not move, they stayed in the most painful position possible. She wanted him to have a slow and painful death, as the tips of her fingernails tore his heart little by little, as it continued to beat. He could only wish for death. And then he woke up. Sitting up straight in the little bedroom, his face soaked in sweat. He had the same dream every night. Only each night he was tortured or dead in a different way. He got up feeling drowsy and opened the shoji window to get some fresh air. The air was chilly and rainy, so he closed the window again. He decided to go down and see if the kitchen was empty to make breakfast, since Yukari had politely declined his offer to help her cook. Unfortunately, Yukari got early as usual and was already making breakfast. She told him to sit in the table and wait to be served, and he reluctantly obeyed. He still felt sleepy and a bit drowsy as he waited for Yukari.
Yukari: Here you go Togakuchi-san… Togakuchi-san?!
Yukari quickly put the tray on the table and rushed to the unconscious Katsu lying on the floor. His face was pale and sweaty, as Yukari checked his breathing and pulse. Suddenly Katsu opened his eyes, wide and frightening, sitting up and starting to choke Yukari. Only when her nails dug deep into his arms, did Katsu snap off and awoke, breathing hard and trembling.
Katsu: Momonari-san… I’m so sorry… I… I…
Yukari: Togakuchi-san, It’s alright, I’m okay… Did you had a really, really bad nightmare?
Yukari asked, still caressing her throat and looking terrified at the pale and trembling Katsu.
Katsu: I’m so sorry. It was totally unconscious…
Yukari: It’s all right Togakuchi-san. You should rest, I’ll let Shin-sama know you won’t be working today.
And as she said this she put her hands softly on Katsu’s shoulders, giving him a reassuring smile that made his trembling and shivering stop almost immediately. She then got up and walked to the kitchen, taking back the breakfast tray along with her. Katsu could barely keep himself sitting up, and now had an urge to throw up. He couldn’t believe his master’s words were coming to life in those moments.
Katsu: Don’t let your fears take control over your body, and most importantly, over who you are…
He muttered as Yukari came back quickly, still looking worried and concerned about Katsu’s state. She knelt next to him, starting to feel his temperature by putting her hand on his forehead.
Yukari: You’re burning up. What did you eat last night before you came here?
Katsu: Some udon at the inn…
Yukari: And did you eat anything else?
Katsu: No. Momonari-san, it’s nothing I ate, it’s just…
Yukari: It must be exhaustion from working late all these days.
Katsu: Momonari-san, please…
He took Yukari’s soft hands and put them carefully on her lap, while sighing and trying to maintain his balance when he still felt drowsy.
Katsu: It’s these nightmares that are starting to get to me; don’t worry.
Yukari: But if they’re affecting your health it is something to worry about!
Katsu: I’ll just rest it off, please relax Momonari-san.
Yukari: But Togakuchi-san…
He felt the anxiety in her voice and saw her eyes water, so he decided to speak no more of his nightmares and walk upstairs to his bedroom. He spent the rest of the morning with the window open watching Kenta depart for school and all the busy people in the narrow street; children running back and forth from the pastry shop, old people bargaining with the owner of the antique shop across the street, the boy handing out newspapers, and all the deliveries of ingredients Yukari needed daily, like flour, eggs and milk. He didn’t go down for lunch, afraid he might throw it up in his queezyness. He continued gazing out the window, and realized most of Yukari’s sells where after lunch. Crowds and crowds of people arrived and filled the narrow street in order to buy her pastries. After the mass drifted off to continue their routines, peace settled back again in the neighborhood. He heard a knock on the door, and hurrying he opened and let Yukari in.
Yukari: How are you feeling?
Katsu: Much better. Not so drowsy, the trembling stopped completely, but I still feel a bit queezy.
Yukari: Then you should breathe some fresh air. Would you care to join me and go pick up Kenta from school? If you don’t feel so tired.
Katsu: I guess some walking would be good. Shall we?
She smiled and led the way downstairs to the door. She took off her apron and put it in the kitchen, before walking out the door before him. They walked slowly through the narrow street, looking for an alley that would lead them to the main street. The air was still chilly, but small rays of sunlight that cut through the gray clouds promised a warmer dusk. Katsu followed Yukari down to the enormous tree in the park that ended the main street. She then leaded the way cutting through the park and walking deeper into it; after a while of slow and muffled footsteps between the trees, he could make out a building with a round roof that looked like a mushroom. The loud laughter and noise of children on the playground soon irrupted the quiet in the midst of the park. He hadn’t noticed the little school when he had come to train. It was very well hidden between the trees. And then, out of nowhere, Kenta gladly jumped into his mother’s open arms; as she lifted him and filled his face with kisses.
Kenta: Mommy, I missed you!
Yukari: I missed you too. Did you have fun today?
Kenta: Yes mom!
He answered as she put him again on his feet, only to be swept again by Katsu’s tickling hands and on to his broad shoulders. The boy giggled as he held from Katsu’s neck.
Katsu: Your feet must be tired from running on the playground all day, don’t you think?
Kenta: Yeah, a little, because today I played a ninja game!
Yukari: Another ninja war at school?
Kenta: Yeah, and I was on the good side. With shurikens and smoke bombs, and everything!
The three continued their chatting as they returned to the main street.
Kenta: Katsu-kun, Katsu-kun, did you know my dad was a ninja?
Katsu: Really? And you’re gonna be just like him when you grow up?
Kenta: I hope so! Right mommy?
Yukari smiled and nodded, before covering her eyes with her hand from the shinning sunlight that broke the gray clouds apart. Kenta and Katsu did the same, laughing at the warm sunshine that almost blinded them.
Katsu: Is your weather this contradictory all the time?
Yukari: Yeah, it changes to its own will. It’s always been like this in Tottori.
Katsu: Have you lived all your life here?
Yukari: Yes, my family was one of the eldest in the village.
Yukari smiled sadly to herself, and Katsu saw her eyes shine for a split second, as if she was reliving memories inside her head.
Yukari: They died in the ninja war 6 years ago.
Katsu didn’t expect that answer at all, and an awkward silence fell for a few seconds that lasted an eternity.
Katsu: I’m sorry. If it helps, I might know how you feel. I lost my parents too. Not so long ago.
Kenta: I’m sorry for your loss Katsu-kun!
Kenta had been quietly paying attention to their conversation, and Yukari smiled proudly at her son’s kind words.
Katsu: Thanks little guy.
They passed by the noisiest part of the main street, the entrance to the market place. In the midst of all the swaping, bargains, vegetables, clothes and spices; two female figures rushed quickly to the doors at the sight of Katsu with Kenta on his shoulders.
Female1: That man. He looks just like…
Female 2: Yes he does, but please lets go eat something! I’m starving!
Female1: Go get your snack, I’ll wait here.
Female2: Relax. You know it can’t be him, don’t be so paranoid.
The second female went back into the crowds of people, as the first one stood there, watching Katsu laughing as he was passing by. She heard his voice, his laugh, and her eyes filled up with tears. It was him. But she had to be sure. So she ran out the market doors into the main street, but he was lost within the multitude in a few seconds. She cursed under her breath and dived into the multitude as well.
They were now walking down the lonely alley of the neighborhood, enjoying their placid conversation on how Yukari had met Kenta’s father, Nobu.
Yukari: And then, he had to cut my obi with his kunai so I could get down from the tree. It was so embarrassing.
Katsu: And what were you doing up in the tree in the first place?
Yukari: I was trying to pick some peaches for a recipe. I still remember him laughing at me for my silly effort, and then when he tasted the cake I made with those peaches… His face, literally, lit up. He said he had never tasted anything so delicious in his life, and offered to pick the peaches himself so I wouldn’t get stuck again.
Kenta: And that’s how he fell in love with you? With your cooking, mommy?
Yukari: If you put it that way, I suppose so.
Katsu: Any man would. And not just the cooking part, right Kenta?
Kenta nodded, smiling at his mother. Yukari smiled back, with her cheeks burning a little. She continued walking forward, and was about to ask what they wanted for dinner when she noticed Katsu wasn’t walking along with her. He had stopped a few paces behind, staring at the alley with a confused expression on his face. He put Kenta down on the ground, holding his hand and walking to Yukari. She couldn’t understand what was going on, until after taking Kenta’s hand she could clearly see what had caught Katsu’s eye. He was now walking towards a woman, standing in the center of the road, who looked shocked and frightened at every step he walked.
Female1: It is really you Katsu… But you’re supposed to be dead! Katsu, you’re…
Katsu: What are you doing here Maki?
He stopped at a short distance from the blonde woman, who was clearly shaking and crying. Yukari could only wonder what such a disturbed woman would want with such a good man as Katsu.
Maki: Katsu… you… you… killed them! And then ran away…
Yukari’s insides froze. She was scared at the though of Katsu being a murderer. What if a blood thirst was really hidden behind his nobility and kindness? Katsu stands in front of Yukari and Kenta, looking defiantly at the girl. Yukari holds Kenta tightly next to her, frightened before the scene that suddenly irrupted their pleasant walk.
Katsu: That’s what Asuka told you? Listen to me, please Maki!
Maki: No, I won’t. I’ll take my own revenge. You’ll pay for their death!
The girl takes out of her back a large sword, aiming directly at Katsu. He disappears from Yukari’s sight, and a cling of metal cuts the terribly tense atmosphere. Katsu was struggling against the girl with his own sword.
Katsu: Please don’t do this, and hear me out…
Maki: Shut up!
Katsu: Listen to me or I will hurt you, Maki. You know I can and I will.
Maki: Shut up! Shut up!
Another cling of metal and a hard thud made Yukari hold onto Kenta more tightly. Yukari opened her eyes, and was relieved to see Katsu putting his sword away as he watched the blonde girl lying on the floor.
Yukari: Togakuchi-san are you okay? Is she…
Katsu: She’s okay too. Just knocked her out by touching her chakras.
Yukari: Chakra? You know how to manipulate chakras?
Kenta: What’s a chakra?
Katsu turned back to see her, securing his own sword in his back.
Katsu: Yeah. I forgot to tell you, I’m a ninja.
Yukari looks at Katsu in disbelief, still holding Kenta inside her arms.
Katsu: I’m sorry for not telling you.
Yukari: It’s okay…
Mumbled Yukari, still trying to work out what was going on.
Kenta: Who did you kill Katsu-kun?
Yukari quickly covered Kenta’s mouth with her hand, but Katsu was too busy to have heard the little boy’s question, as he was lifting the woman and putting her on his back; but still she changed the subject.
Yukari: Isn’t she dangerous?
Katsu: No. She’s just confused.
Yukari: I’m confused as well.
Katsu: Momonari-san, I’ll explain everything… but could I please ask you an enormous favor? Can she stay with us until she wakes up? I promise she won’t be of any harm. And I’ll take full responsibility for her actions.
Yukari bit her lip in doubtful thought. Now she didn’t know if she could trust someone with such a complicated-looking past haunting him. But after thinking a few seconds about the Katsu she had lived with for the past month, she decided to give him a shot. After all, he was going to explain everything to her.
Yukari: Alright, let’s take her home.
Katsu then leads the way to the house, carrying the woman without any problem; as Yukari follows with Kenta in her arms as well.
Kenta: Mommy who’s that lady?
He whispered to his mother’s ear, and she gently stroked his hair, whispering back to him.
Yukari: I don’t know sweetie, but Katsu will let us know when we get home.
Katsu opened the door and went straight upstairs to his bedroom. Yukari walked to the living room and putting Kenta down, she turned back to the kitchen and started making some tea. Katsu appeared a few moments later from the kitchen with a cup of tea, followed closely by Yukari.
Katsu: I’m so sorry for this inconvenience Momonari-san.
Yukari: It’s alright. As long as you explain why did she say those things.
They sat down on the table, as Kenta looked them sip from their cups for a few silent moments.
Kenta: Well? Won’t you explain Katsu-kun?
He irrupted, peeking from the edge of the table, which was also too high for him to reach. Yukari let her cup down on the table, and she focused on the worried expression Katsu had on his face.
Yukari: Earlier you said… you were a ninja.
Katsu: Yes I am. And she is my cousin; she came all the way from Togakuchi village.
Yukari: Togakuchi… that means your family founded the village, right?
Katsu: Yes, I’m the son of the Togakuchi leaders and heir to the village.
Yukari was silent, finishing her cup of tea. Katsu saw her again lost in thought, but he continued to sip from his cup quietly.
Yukari: You also told me your parents had died not so long ago… did you… kill them? Please, be honest.
Yukari’s gaze was now on the table. Kenta was now looking frightened.
Katsu: No. Someone else killed them and framed me. That’s why I had to run away from my village. That’s why Maki said those things.
Yukari looked up from the table, to see Katsu’s eyes shining with sincerity and painful regret. She sighed of relief, and offered him a smile, holding his hands inside hers.
Yukari: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude like that but…
Katsu: No, no, it was your right to know. To keep your family safe.
He smiled, stroking Kenta’s hair and then pulling him to sit on his lap.
Kenta: So you’re a ninja too? Can you teach me how to be one?
Katsu: Of course, only if your mother gives us permission.
They both turned to look at Yukari with pleeding eyes. She could only chuckle, and taking away Katsu’s empty cup along with hers to the kitchen, she replied.
Yukari: I don’t know.
Kenta: Mom! Please, please, pretty please!
Katsu: I don’t have any inconvenience on starting the weekends and training him after school. He even used a pretty please Momonari-san.
Yukari came back from the kitchen, this time no chuckle and no joking, she was dead serious when she spoke.
Yukari: It’s too dangerous. I know what the training’s like. I don’t want Kenta to come every occasional day with something broken!
Kenta wanted to reply, but Katsu stopped him by putting his hand on his shoulder.
Katsu: Okay Momonari-san. Well just play and pretend, okay? No painful or bone-breaking training, right Kenta?
The boy nodded and responded to his high-five, as Yukari turned back into the kitchen, still serious at them.
Katsu went to check on Maki before dinner, and she still hadn’t awakened. After dinner he finally got Yukari out of the kitchen and could help her with the dishes along with Kenta. Yukari sat furious in the dinner table, having been tied up with kitchen cloths and her own apron. When they were done, Kenta released his mother, afraid of how she would react. But she remained sitting and started to laugh. Soon Kenta and Katsu joined her and started joking about Katsu’s strategy on putting her out of the kitchen. Katsu climbed up to his bedroom, and closed the door carefully, since Kenta had already fallen asleep on the room in front of his. He walked to the futon where Maki still lied unconscious, kneeling right next to her and starting to press the chakras in her forehead and neck. She opened her eyes, surprised to see Katsu and the room they were now inside.
Katsu: Maki-chan… I’m sorry for running away…
The girl raised her arm and smacked him right across his face. Katsu remained with his face against the wall, as she heard Maki sob.
Maki: You have no idea what we’ve been through Katsu! Since you’ve left… Asuka has taken control, and has exiled anyone who used to be close to you.
Katsu: And told you that I killed my parents! I wonder what other lies she has told you.
Rage filled in his voice, still not looking at her, as his cheek burned. But he turned his gaze from the wall quickly with his eyes watering.
Katsu: And what pisses me the most Maki, is that you believed her!
Maki: What else would you wanted me, or anyone else to believe after you disappeared?
Maki: Why did you run away and leave us behind?
Katsu: Because I was scared!
His voice had reached the top of his lungs. He was breathing hard, not only his burning cheek was red, but his entire face and neck. Maki watched him as tears fell from her purple eyes into her lips. Katsu sat down, and covered his face with his hands.
Katsu: I faced death Maki-chan. It laughed at me. It pierced through me. And mom and dad… I couldn’t stand it Maki, their blank stares… And she was wielding dad’s sword!
Maki: That’s how she framed you…
Maki muttered, cleaning her tears and sitting up with slight difficulty. She embraced him softly, as Katsu let his forehead rest on her chest. He felt warm again. He felt like the pain and fear that haunted him had melted away when he confessed it. “Realizing who your enemy is, is half the battle ahead of you”, the wise words of his master echoed in his head. He had to stop running away, and start deciding when would he face his enemy, when would he take his rightful place as the heir of Togakuchi village.