Title: Amber Horizons
Authors: Buffybot76 and profiler120
Email: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Any and all characters belong to Watsuki-sensei. We own nothing but the plot of this fic. We also do this not for profit, but to show my appreciation for the wonderful anime/manga that is Rurouni Kenshin. Please don't sue.
Summary: Leaving the Aoyia was a life changing event. Waking up at a shrine many months later after wandering was another. But encountering Saitou Hajime after several years would prove to be earth shattering.
Author's note: This is a collaboration between myself (Buffybot76) and my friend (profiler120). Please go easy on us and please, no flames.
Chapter 1: Gone
So that was it, she thought despairingly. She was losing everything she loved in one fell swoop. Her beloved Aoiya, her friends. Okina. Aoshi. Even her ridiculous place as the 'Okashira'.
Hot, bitter tears stung her eyes. 'Okashira'. She'd never really been the leader, just 'cute little Misao-chan'. 'Let her think she is really our leader while we plan and keep information from her'.
Everything should've been perfect, but instead her life was crumbling in ruins around her. She'd been awake since the previous night, rooting through her possessions, deciding which to take and which to discard. She'd decided after hours of heartache to leave all the sentimental things. Everything that didn't have too much of heartwarming memory attached.
Today. She was going to tell Okina that she was resigning her place today. They would be okay without her. Aoshi had returned, he could very easily take her place. She obviously wasn't good enough. How had she ever expected to play the leader when Aoshi, her former Okashira wouldn't even acknolwedge her as a member let alone good enough to lead. Her anger and hurt pervaded everything. She was leaving the only home she'd ever known, and the people she loved. But she wasn't a little girl anymore. She wasn't 'Miaso-chan' anymore, and she wouldn't live in her own childish shadow.
She was leaving her heritage and home because of pride and hurt. Deep, throbbing wounds that hurt her more each day. Wounds that none of the others could see, but that slowly ate away at her sanity. She was leaving her heritage and home because of pride and hurt. Deep, throbbing wounds that hurt her more each day. Wounds that none of the others could see, but that slowly ate away at her sanity. Her grandfather had been the Okashira here, but she had to go. Discovering that Okina had been planning missions with Aoshi behind her back was the last straw. Let him have it. Let him take over again. She wouldn't stay and be made a fool of. She wouldn't.
She would make something else of her life. No matter how much it hurt her to walk away from her, it was hurting her just as much to stay.
6 Months later.....
Saitou stared down at the report with a frown. The assassinations were becoming more frequent. The first had been several months ago...Beginning with Ryuta Shiiki, an officer of the interior.
Since then five others had been struck down causing a panic in the government offices. He couldn't even begin to fathom a pattern from the list of names and profiles in front of him. They were all minor officials, they held no major posts or power. The only connection he'd found was to a group of ninja's from the Edo period called the "Taiga" Clan, even then he couldn't connect all of them to the disbanded ninja goup. Letting out a long sigh of frustration Saitou sank into the chair behind his desk and ran a hand through his already tousled hair.
"Come," he called gruffly. A small group of four or five men filed in. "Koji." Saitou greeted the young man, glancing over his haphzard appearance. Perhaps a word about dress code was in order, he thought annoyed.
Koji Tsuji bowed respectfully at his commanding officer before beginning to report what he and the other men had learned.
"We didn't find much, mostly stuff we already knew. We have discovered Ryuta's father was a member of the Taiga Clan however." Koji reported.
"That's it?" Saitou's frown deepned at the lack of information his men had returned with. This case was really beginning to piss him off. He was just about to comment on his lacky's attire when the door was slammed open.
"Sir! There's a young woman in the lobby who says she can give you information about the assassinations. She claims they are connected to the Nozomi Shrine!"
He'd breathed a silent 'Finally! Some progress', he stood and quickly took leave, abandoning Koji to interrogate his new witness.
He entered the room which held a young woman who was, at the moment, staring intently at her nails. She glanced up as Saitou shut the door firmly behind him. He stood over her intimidatingly - just staring for a few moments of silence before taking a seat at the table.
"Your name?" He asked, trying his best to not seem too eager to hear what she had to say.
She paused. "Mia... Masako Mia. I-I shouldn't be here. She'll... if she finds out... There's something strange going on at the shrine. The Nozomi Shrine just... just north of here."
Saitou noticed the girl's almost reluctant demeanor. Something told him that if he had just had a very vital clue land directly in his lap.
"Uh huh," he said reaching for a cigarette. "What's going on at this shrine and why do you think it's important?"
She folded her hands in her lap. "Um... I... went to the shrine a couple of afternoons ago with some friends to get our fortunes read. I left them for a few minutes to help a lady with her grandson, and on my way back I passed by this room. The door was partially open and I heard them talking about a man. 'Ryuta' was the name, I think. I think they heard me though because they abruptly switched conversation to some 'kunai throwing ninja girl', and then they laughed. I walked on."
Interesting enough, although he failed to understand why such an innocent thing would rouse suspicion in her. The last part though, about a kunai throwing ninja girl brought a clear sharp image of Makimachi Misao, the weasel girl, to mind. Shaking his head as if it would dispell Misao's image, Saitou turned his attention back to the witness.
"Can you relate the location of this Nozomi shrine?" He asked to validate the woman's information, though he already know the location of said shrine. She meekly relayed a set of instructions and he ushered her off after several more questions.
Returning to his office, Saitou immediately put into motion an order for a raid on the Nozomi shrine. He called on his best officers to participate and, despite his better judgement, he allowed the new man, Koji, to come along. The young rookie was ecstatic at being allowed to go on such an important mission, which irritated Saitou for some reason. The boy was just too damn cheerful. That was another thing that reminded him of the little weasel. He cut that thought off abruptly though; he had no time to be wondering why his thoughts were lingering on a girl he'd only met briefly in the past. If everything cleared with his superiors, by tomorrow he would be staking out the little Nozomi Shrine and ending this case, or at least getting some new, much needed, leads.
Omasu sat on the futon that resided in the center of Misao's room. She had her legs tucked beneath her and her head was bowed low as she watched her hands play across the fabric of the kimono she held. Slowly, tears made thier way down her cheeks as she folded the kimono once more, then left it lying on her lap. It had been Misao's. Omasu had bought it for her friend herself in hopes that she would wear it to the Tanabata in an attempt to impress Aoshi-sama. Smiling sadly, she remembered the fight Misao had put up before finally resigning to wear it.
That night of the festival Misao had been so excited, everyone could see it. The happiness shining in her eyes, the hope that Aoshi-sama would finally see her as something more than the little girl he'd cared for so long ago....just not in the way Misao hoped for. His response to her change of attire had been virtually non-existant. It might have been a small miracle Misao even got the icicle to attend the festival. Although Misao had put on a brave front, Omasu had easily been able to detect the flicker of sadness that had appeared in Misao's green eyes every time Aoshi overlooked her.
That night had seemed a bit worse than the others, a tad bit different than the other times Aoshi-sama had ignored her. Maybe she was hoping too much, or maybe she'd gone through so much trouble and irritation with that kimono... maybe one of Misao's favorite nights had been ruined by both the kimono and Aoshi's reaction. They had returned from the festival encompassed in a cloud of silence. Misao had not even bid Aoshi goodnight. Instead, she had retreated to her room quietly, Omasu assumed, to cry out her frustrations in solitude.
With a sigh, Omasu wiped the tears away and rose from the futon to place the kimono back in the chest in which it had been stored ever since that night...never to be worn again. Or so she presumed, the thought they would see Misao again seemed far off, especially given the circumstances under which she left. No one could blame her if she wanted to avoid the place for a while, maybe a long while. As she closed the chest she could hear the distinct shatter of dishes as Okon presumably chased Okina out of the kitchen once more. The old man hadn't been as lively with Misao gone, but every so often everyone picked up only to fall back into a quasi-depressed state.
In the kitchen below Okon stared over her creation. She had been so intent on preparing the food that she had been doing it almost automatically. Now that it was all done, she sadly realized that she had made Misao's favorite dish. Nothing was the same without her. The entire Aoiya seemed darker. She wasn't sure what had faciliated her leaving, no one was for certain except maybe for Okina, Misao and Aoshi-sama, but they weren't talking about it. Okon shook her head sadly. She really missed Misao...everyone did, actually. But she figured the one who missed her the most would have been Okina. The elderly man had been mopey for weeks, months even. He tried to pass it off, getting drunk with the others during their impromptu parties but it wasn't the same. The light in his eyes had dimmed. It was awful. Misao... they needed Misao back. Or at least to know where she was, safe and happy, and not just... missing.
She could see him from where she stood, standing by the window again looking out. He did that a lot, as though he expected Misao to come running up the path any day now. It was heartbreaking sometimes to see him there. It was even worse since she never did. No letters... nothing. Just gone. Swept out of their lives one day leaving them all bereft and lost. How would anyone have guessed just how much that girl was the center piece of their lives? Sure, life went on, but never the same. Okina turned, casting his gaze upon her as though he sensed her stare. She quickly looked back down at the food and busied herself. He didn't like to be stared at. He was picky about that these days.
Okina turned back to the window as Okon's stare fell back on her food preparations. Everyone was always staring at him as though they expected him to fall apart these days. It was irksome. Misao had been gone for a while now, something he knew had to have been caused by Aoshi, directly or indirectly. He couldn't be certain of the specifics, Aoshi wouldn't say even if he'd asked and Misao was no longer around to ask at all. He hung his head, turning his gaze to the window. Just beyond the glass he could see the shadowed form of Aoshi returning from the temple. In Misao's absence the former Okashira had continued with his routine was though the girl had never been there.
An unspoken resentment of his lack of emotion over Misao's leaving had grown but he did his best to keep such feelings at bay, preventing an outburst that would result in more hurt feelings. Everyone at the Aoiya was hurting, there was no point in making it worse than it already was. He frowned as the door slid open. He watched as Aoshi climbed the stairs wordlessly and stepped out of his sight. What a depressing day it was.
At the top of the stairs, Aoshi paused, his feet taking him to stand in front of her door. Misao. His little Misao was gone now. He pressed his hand against the wooden frame sliding open the door and stepped inside closing it behind him. He'd finally done it, convinced her she was wasting her life doting on him. He wanted her to be happy, but he didn't want her so heartbroken that they couldn't even live under the same roof together. This was the girl he'd raised. The girl he'd loved as his own family and she'd abandoned him.
Hung from a string attached to the top of the window frame was a line of origami cubes. He frowned. He reached capturing the delicate paper box in his hand. It was so long ago he'd sparked her interest in origami. He'd noticed her fiddling with plain rice paper some weeks before the Tanabata festival. When he's spotted a stand that night with the beautiful paper he hadn't thought twice about buying it for her.
The simpliest things had always made her happy.
As much as he regretted it for her sake, she would always be a child to him. She would never grow up. No matter the age a child never grows to a parent and that was the love he had for her. Eventually he hoped she would understand, and perhaps forgive him and come back to him. He'd come back for her - to soothe his little one's heart, but he'd only hurt her again. Maybe it was inevitable, but she was growing up now. She'd gone off on her own and he had faith in her. He'd raised her to be strong and he knew she wouldn't disappoint him. He dropped the cube watching as it dangled on the string, causing the others to bounce.
She would be okay, hopefully she would return home.
Misao stared out the window of her room, a look of boredom on her face. She had been staying here for going on two months now and she had begun to grow restless. The group of young women, most who seemed no older than herself, had been gracious enough to allow her to stay with them for a time. But now she felt it was time to move on. Ever since she had left the Aoyia, Misao had never stayed in one place too long. Always roaming...always leaving when things became to comfortable. It made her think of Himura, and the memory caused a pang of sorrow to enter her heart. She missed her friends. This shrine had been her longest stop yet and she knew it was the inhabitants' graciousness and acceptance of her and her skills as a ninja that had been the deciding factor in her remaining for so long.
They were skilled fighters, as their mock battles and training amonst themselves had proven. Misao appreciated the chance to practice with them, and they had even succeeded in teaching her a thing or two in her time here. This had surprised her a bit. She had only had Aoshi-sama and the other members of the Oniwaban as teachers. But this group, being all women, had taught her something that Aoshi and the others could not. That to be a good fighter, she didn't have to ignore her femininity. That she only had to believe in herself .
Misao stood lazily glancing over her room and her few belongings. Most of the things she'd brought with her from the Aoiya were now gone, having been lost or discarded. She had few things to call 'her own' these days. The few things she did have were already gathered in a bag, all ready to begin traveling again. For a moment, her thoughts lingered on all the friends that she had made during her stay here. She was saddened by this, but. not as sad as she had been when she'd left the Aoyia and her friends there. It was always painful to say goodbye, even moreso when the ones you were saying goodbye to had helped you in more ways than they could possibly imagine.
She grabbed her small bag and headed to the door stepping out into the quiet hall. That was one thing she didn't like about this place, it's ever present serenity. She missed the loud clatter of the Aoyia's kitchens and customers. She shifted her bag onto her left shoulder and proceeded to walk down the long hallway, her footsteps echoing eerily off of the stone walls. As she approached the shoji she knew led to the leader of the group, Daiani's room, she heard the soft sounds of a hushed argument going on inside.
"Why not? The girl is good - we could use another member, we still haven't replaced Kira!" Misao recognizied the smooth voice of Daiani, the appointed head of the shrine and leader of the small group of women who lived here.
"No! Misao is a sweet girl, granted she's skilled, but she doesn't have the heart for this kind of work. She wouldn't understand our quest!"
Misao froze as she recognized Sachi's voice. She and the older girl had become close during her stay at the shrine. She felt as close to Sachi as she felt to Omasu and Okon, if not more.
Intrigued, Misao crept closer. What was all this talk of replacing someone and quests? She felt a shiver run down her spine. She suddenly had a bad feeling. Inside the room, the argument continued.
"Misao is too headstrong to be one of us! That's how we lost Kira, Daiani! I don't want that to happen to her too!"
Misao could hear the sadness in Sachi's voice and she wondered what had happened to Kira. She recognized the name, though a face eluded her for she had only seen the girl once or twice during training.
"Kira was lost because she persisted on charging ahead. Misao follows orders much better." Daiani protested. "We can use her on our next mission. With her kunai throwing abilities I am sure that she could take out our target without getting as close to him as we normally would."
Kunai? Her hand unconciously tightened around her bag strap. That could only mean killing, she thought a slight tremble passing through her frame. Killing? They were... killing people? She shifted suddenly the way she was standing as their argument seemed to abruptly end. She lifted her head, straining her ears as she heard Daiani's voice once more.
"Well, we could always ask her ourselves, right Misao?"
Misao was caught off guard when Daiani's voice addressed her through the closed shoji. Eyes widened in shock, Misao had no other alternative than to reach out and slide the door open. Stepping inside, an ominous feeling sank deep into her soul as her eyes locked with Daiani's.
Misao slid the door closed uneasily, thus leaving her alone with Daiani and Sachi. She swallowed hard staring into their intense faces. This wasn't going to be good.
Okashira - leader
kunai - little throwing knives
Tanabata - festival
shoji - sliding door of paper on wood frame