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This is another of those stories which haunted me until I was forced to write it. It was sad for me. Hikaru loves children, and she always wanted them, but she was barren, and in this story she accepts this truth at last. Unexpectedly, for me, this turned out to be as much about Hiko as about Hikaru, specifically his terror that she might have died in childbirth.
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He knew when she awoke. And he knew, too, that whatever troubled her sleep had followed her into wakefulness. He always knew. He explained that knowledge as a simple matter of observation heightened by experience and his own superior, trained senses; she, of course, said it meant that they were linked by fate.
She hadn't moved. As in sleep, she was curled on her side, her back against his chest, her pretty little butt tucked into his groin. Her legs moved around a lot, sometimes tangling with his and sometimes, as now, curled up against her body. He put an arm over her, marveling, as he often did, at how delicate her body was to hold so strong a spirit. He put his nose against the nape of her neck, breathed in her scent. She was his. He didn't understand it, but he was eternally grateful for it. "What is it, Hikaru?" he asked softly.
She curled her hand over his, against her breast. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"You never do. A dream?"
"No. Not this time. I just realized..." She stopped. Whatever this was, it was something important, probably bad. She always drew a shaky breath like that, when she was going to say something she didn't want to. "Seijuro – I will never have a child."
Oh. That again. But she sounded so small, so despairing, almost broken, that he didn't voice this immediate reaction. "Perhaps not," he murmured.
"No. I will not. I know that now."
He thought this had taken her a long time to accept. She was 52 years old, after all. But this, too, he didn't voice. He stroked her fingers between his. "I'm not unhappy about that."
"I wanted a child," she went on in a soft, toneless voice. "I wanted your child."
"Then why aren't you unhappy?"
"I would rather have you. Hikaru, you are a slender woman. Your hips are narrow. Any child might have killed you, and one of my begetting – I don't even want to think about it. I can easily be happy without children. I can never be happy without you." In all the years he'd known her, he had always felt this conflict in his mind, knowing how much she wanted children and knowing the birth would probably kill her. He wanted her to have everything she desired, but the many terrible, painful ways a woman could die in childbirth were unbearable to consider when thinking of Hikaru.
She turned in his arms, snuggled against him, but he felt the wetness of tears on her cheeks. "I would have loved to have borne your baby."
"That wasn't your fate. And you do have children to love. Plenty of them, and more on the way, I'm sure. You had Kenshin to love, as well. In a way, he is a son of our making." Had I known how everything in our lives would turn out, I would have given you more time with him.
She smiled, as he knew she would at any mention of Kenshin. He felt the curve of her cheek move. But her voice remained that small, despairing one. "That's not the same. There is a place in my heart that wants to hold a child I have brought into the world. To have him in my arms, to nurse him, to raise him all his life. That place will always be empty. It can't be filled with any substitute."
"I'm sorry." What else could he say?
"When you and I die, all that we are will be lost. Nothing of our blood will continue on. No one will call on us as their ancestors."
"I don't really care about that. I only care about now, about you. I've tried to give you what you want..."
"I know," she interrupted sadly. "It isn't you. It's me. I'm barren."
She said it as she might have said she was a leper, which angered him. He lifted his head. "I am not trying to assign blame here. I am saying that, although I have tried because I know it is your greatest wish, for my own sake I am not sorry that wish remained unfulfilled. I only need and want you." He settled back down. "Besides, I would not make a good father, I don't think."
A soggy gurgle of laughter greeted that. "You would be a terrible father. Always yelling at the poor boy for the least little thing, and wanting him to be a swordsman."
"While you, on the other hand, would spoil him, and make him fat with treats, and turn him into a gardener."
"Probably." Her small flash of humor had already died. "I still would want it. I used to daydream about it. How it would feel to have him in my arms, to feel him feeding at my breast. How we would teach him to walk, one step at a time. How we'd guide his steps through life and watch him grow. I always saw him as looking like you, tall and strong."
"Why not a girl? Then she could look like you. Much better."
"Your child would definitely be a boy," she said firmly.
"I've never had a child either," he reminded her, "even before I met you. I think our fates are the same, there."
"You don't believe in fate."
"I should have said, our destinies." He held her a little closer. "We have each other. Can't that be enough for you?"
"Not even that can fill this empty place inside. Nothing ever will. Don't you understand?"
"Yes. I believe I do. No one ever gets all happiness."
After a moment, she said, "Perhaps that is it. I have been so fortunate in my life, so blessed with people who loved me, maybe I am forced to pay for that by being denied this one particular love."
"Perhaps. But I don't like the idea of you being punished because you can love."
"I said, I have been loved."
"That is why you have been loved, Hikaru. Because you give love."
"Oh." She sighed, a slightly happier sound. "I will live with this little grief. I can."
"I know you can."
"Just as you can live with your choice of apprentice, and how that went wrong."
"Which is why I know that it isn't easy for you."
"It makes me feel a little better, knowing that we suffer together."
"I am very glad to oblige."
She giggled, and he relaxed a little. After a moment, she said, "Did you really worry that I would die in childbirth?"
The mere mention of it brought the familiar hot flash of panic. "Yes," he snapped.
"Would you have blamed it on the child?"
"Hikaru, I don't even want to think about it."
"What would you have done with him? Raised him?"
"No. Don't be a fool. I would have found someone else to raise him."
"If he would."
"You disappoint me."
"I am telling you the truth."
"Yes. You always do." She said those words as if they were a comfort to her. "But I would gladly have given my life for your child."
"I don't want it. I want you to give your life to me."
"Selfish beast," she said fondly.
But he was in no mood for teasing. "Do you have any idea how I would feel if I lost you? And because of something that I helped to do to you?" He thought about Kenshin, accidentally slaying Tomoe – it would be like that, a scar that would never heal.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. Her hand caressed his chest, where his breath had quickened. "In a way, that helps. If I am going to be denied something I want so very much, at least it may be so that I can continue being happy with you, and making you happy."
"You do make me happy," he said, more calmly. "I have had you for such a short time. To talk about risking your life for something so...." He bit the word off.
Too late. She sat up, her hair spilling all over her shoulders and down her stiffened spine. "So unimportant?"
"I don't even like children. Nor do I have any urge to have my blood carried down through generations. I only want you . The only reason I would place any importance on the birth of a child of my own, assuming that you were not harmed by the birth, would be that it made you happy." He gave her hair a gentle tug. "You're important to me. Little else is."
To his relief, she smiled, the moonlight glancing off her cheekbones as they rounded. She draped herself onto his chest. "You're a horrible, tactless man."
She lay there, silent now, stretched over his chest, her fingers idly stroking his arm. When they stilled, he said, "Are you all right?"
"No. I never will be completely whole, Seijuro." She drew a deep breath, let it out. "But it does make me feel less forsaken, to know that you value my life so highly."
"You should know that without being told."
A small fist thumped his chest, but not hard. "It is still good to be told sometimes!"
He rubbed her back. "The next time that empty place in your heart troubles you, tell me, and I'll tell you again how much I need you."
She made a soft murmur of agreement. But she didn't sleep again that night, and neither did he.
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