It was strange being back in the Crab lands, though he never would have admitted it. Although his travels had by no means made him soft, he was no longer used to having his every waking moment filled with physical exertion.

In the mornings he went to the dojo, where he practiced kata with the dai tsuchi or the katana for hours on end, until he thought his arms would fall off. His sensei was not pleased with his progress. His strikes were never fast enough, his feet never reached the mark in time.

In the afternoons and early evenings he drilled with his unit, where he felt that he was learning more from them than they ever would from him. He knew all their names now, and was beginning to get a sense of their individual strengths and weaknesses.

At night he fell into bed, exhausted, and free of nightmares for the first time in months. Which was ironic, because for the first time in as many months, he slept in a room alone, with no need to worry that his screams would wake the others.

During one particularly frustrating morning at the dojo he pushed himself harder than he ever had, only to find himself even slower than before. He tried again and again, never able to match the speed Hida Taichi demanded. Finally his sensei stopped him, and had him lay down his weapon. They began again, but this time his sensei’s movements were slow, almost dance-like. As he moved with him, his sensei began to emphasize his own breathing, and Nakamuro followed his lead. An inhale here; a forceful exhale there; holding the breath with tension deep in the abdomen; slow controlled exhales that would not give anything away in the heat of battle. Nakamuro struggled with this at first, but as the seconds stretched into minutes, the rhythm sank into his bones. Until, finally, his sensei gestured for him to pick up his weapon again.

Nakamuro, moving slowly at first, swung his dai tsuchi through the forms. He felt as though he were in a trance. He moved faster, and faster, and faster still, matching his sensei’s pace with ease. A feeling of triumph welled up in him, and he immediately stumbled, panting, his arms suddenly feeling like lead. Hida Taichi regarded him gravely, and nodded slightly. “Better,” he said, and walked away.

That feeling of elation stayed with him throughout the day. He had avoided drinking with the other officers since that first disastrous night, but that evening he sought them out. He came back to his room a little unsteady on his feet, but not unpleasantly so, and feeling that all was right with the world.

He dreamed of Kaito. She came to him in a red and black kimono, carrying a fan and wearing the ebony hairsticks he had given her. Smiling, she opened her arms to him. “I have missed you,” she whispered, and he fell into her embrace.

He woke in the dark, tears streaming down his face. With an effort he wiped them away. He deliberately brought Kaito’s face to mind again, examining every feature, savoring the pain it brought him. And then, with infinite care, he locked her image away in his heart. He could not forget her, but he could not continue to pine for her if he wanted to stay alive long enough to see her again — now where had that thought come from? He shook his head, frowning. She would be his secret treasure, to be taken out and examined only on special occasions. He nodded firmly to himself. Yes, that was how it would be. How it must be. Composing himself, he began a meditation exercise, and within minutes, he was asleep once more.

These are the last tears I’m gonna cry for you
My cryin’s through
I’m moving on
I don’t regret and won’t forget
A single thing that we went through
But these are the last tears
I’m gonna cry for you

— Indigo Girls (Last Tears)


L5R : Jade Winds kugelblitz