|From Every Limb the Leaves are Cast
Author: Desi PM
Aoshi & Misao discovering themselves and each otherRated: Fiction K - English - Drama - Chapters: 5 - Words: 16,121 - Reviews: 23 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 03-02-01 - Published: 02-13-01 - id: 208911
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Paris, France 1884.
He often thought it odd; the insignificant things that so many times served to mark the defining moments in one's life. An errant breeze drifting across bare skin, not cool. Not fragrant. Not remarkable in any sense; it was simply air drifting into a room and wafting by. Still he could recall with perfect clarity the feel and scent of that zephyr, noticeable only because he felt it, was distracted by it… He who was never distracted by anything could no longer keep his concentration focused against the merest intrusion.
She had done this to him. She made him notice life and all its distractions. She had shown him that he was still alive. She had been his first distraction… and how he had hated her for it. He had relished the stark emptiness of what he'd become after death had come calling. Not his own death, the death of others, the death of his honor and the death of his soul as he relinquished every human emotion from his being and began his ill-fated quest for the title of 'the strongest'. The title belonged to another however; it always would, he had accepted that fate and moved on… into emptiness.
He was content then, he would have gladly spent the rest of his life in such a state of emptiness, no dark, no light, almost… nonexistence. Aware but uninvolved. She however, with the light of her soul burning so bright, would soon diminish the contented nonexistence he had found. He would never forget the sound of her voice, twinkling musically as it reached his soul and pulled him from that nothingness the first time.
And now? He lifted his eyes to the letters above the window, reading with some difficulty the foreign words pieced together out of the western alphabet 'Paris School of Fine Art & Gallery. The sun's reflection off the glass almost blinding in its brightness, the feel of his black hair growing warm as it absorbed the rays, no different than moments before, yet it was. Now, like then, what was insignificant was made indelible as the painting displayed behind the glass, unmistakably revealed… he had found her.
"Monsieur! Monsieur!" The young boy bolted up the narrow stairwell leading from the gallery to the studio above. He dashed past the open area, normally alive with a sea of students, himself included; easels and half finished or barely begun attempts at what would some day be a masterpiece. It was quiet now, no sign of the students who had all but this morning been chatting, sipping coffee or tea as they contemplated their creations. Considering the effects of maybe a different color here, another brushstroke there or starting completely fresh with a new canvas all together.
"Monsieur!" He called again as he pounded down the hall, his loud steps no doubt announcing his arrival before his words as he raced with barely contained excitement. He had the most exciting news and wanted to be the first to tell his favorite, everyone's favorite, resident artist and teacher.
"In here, Edouardu-kun!" The distinctly foreign voice called him quietly into the small, private studio at the end of the hall. He had grown used to the heavy accent of his favorite teacher over the last several months, had even learned some of the more frequently spoken Japanese words, as had many of the other students at the school. One thing that did continue to startle him however, no matter how often he saw him, no matter how much time he spent in his company he could never get used to how small and fragile his teacher looked. Even now, he stopped in the doorway staring at the petite frame of his back as he worked on a painting across the room, the small hands, moving delicately, creating magic on an ordinary sheet of paper with the brush he held. The trademark beret he never seemed to be without only served to add to his youthful appearance, as did the vest that accentuated how small he was under his shirt.
Rumor had it that he had been sickly in his youth and never recovered, although his knowledge of life in Japan was limited, Edouard knew that this was common enough here in France and imagined that life in Japan mirrored life all over the world in many ways. Children from all walks of life were scattered over the earth; rich, poor and sick as well as healthy. He, being one of the more fortunate ones had grown up in a household of above average means, educated better than most and certainly he had never suffered a lack of good health. He often wondered what sort of upbringing his teacher had, often on the verge of asking, something had always stopped him, something in his eyes, a silent pleading that foretold of a unbearable pain and guilt and whispered 'do not ask'.
"Nani yo, Edouardu-kun?" He snapped out of his reverie at the question, only then realizing that his teacher had turned around and was waiting for an explanation for his boorish intrusion, albeit with a smile.
"Pardon Monsieur." He stepped further into the room unable to keep himself from smiling at the kind, blue eyes that met his. "I just came from the gallery. Your painting has sold!"
"Is that all?" He chuckled with indifference as he set the paintbrush aside, Edouard's smile faltered as he watched the young man move to retrieve his wool coat from where it lay carelessly thrown across a chair. Slipping his arms into the sleeves, appearing even smaller folded within the bulky fabric. "With that much excitement I had thought maybe lady Dion had fallen into the mud again."
"But, monsieur…" Suddenly at a loss for words Edouard hesitated, shaking his head incredulously at the artist's response, or lack of one. "Your painting; it sold for a great deal of money!"
"What do I care for more money?" Edouard heard the other man whisper an almost melancholy note to his voice as he walked past him and into the hall, shaking his head sadly, his eyes downcast as he continued. "It serves only to reveal evil in the hearts of man; provokes them to steal, commit murder and seek revenge."
The boy followed him down the hall, stopping at the top of the stairwell watching the other descend. Lifting his hand, he reached out without any hope of catching the one who was now exiting through the door.
"Monsieur Hanya…" Edouard dropped his hand to his side as the other man stepped out into the streets of Paris below. "… I'm sorry."
The words were heard so often now that the person to whom everyone associated them almost believed it to be nothing but the truth, almost. Lost in the blue eyes that gazed back in the window's reflection, lips moving as they uttered the lie that had become the truth, 'Hanya'. Small fingers clutched at the windowsill, staring intently, waiting, willing for the heart that remained so troubled for so long to be as the painting was… disposed of.
Kyoto, Japan 1880
Two years had passed since the Oniwabanshu had welcomed the former Okashira back into the folds of their forgiving embrace. Misao, forever faithful to the dream of Aoshi-sama's happiness, of seeing him smile and able to forgive himself, was beginning to lose faith in that dream. On several occasions she was certain that she'd seen something… something, but was that merely wishful thinking on her part? His cool demeanor replaced any flashes of emotion he might have displayed so quickly that she was beginning to think that she had imagined it. She no longer cared if he smiled; that wasn't true, she'd never stopped caring about that, she'd simply given up trying to make him, now she just wanted to know that there was something within him other than regret.
"Aoshi-sama." She called quietly, following down the hall toward his room where he returned in silence each night after joining her and the others for dinner. She noticed the immediate straightening of his shoulders and stiffening of his back at the sound of her voice, it was almost enough to send her scurrying away to her own room but she'd grown used to this obvious display of his. She stepped closer. "I promise not to take up too much of your time."
He sighed heavily, nodding in resignation before turning around to face her; Misao nearly gasped, the same reaction filling her every fiber as she looked at him, so beautiful and so frightening, she could feel herself start to tremble. Misao gave herself a mental shake, reigning in her overactive feelings for her former leader and took another step closer, surprised when he matched her with a step back.
Why would he do that? She wondered, her brows coming together in a frown, meeting his, seeing something flash in their sea blue depths and then disappear. She took another step toward him and her frown deepened when this time he did not move and after a confused look at his stoic face she moved to stand in front of him.
"What is it Misao?" He demanded in his cold, lifeless voice when she'd been about to ask him what was wrong, what was troubling him and if she could do anything to help.
"I… I… I wanted to give you this." Her words came in a rush after she stammered over them and embarrassed she thrust the carefully wrapped package at him to which he only stared. She thought it must be an odd picture, the two of them standing in the narrow hall, the firelight from the lantern casting a warm, golden glow around them. She with her hand outstretched, offering him a gift, he merely staring back, stiff and unmoving and making no attempt to take it. He was refusing her and she was dying inside, drowning in sorrowful tears; would he make no attempt to save her, would he not offer his hand and pull her free of the violent waves crashing around her, pulling her under, filling her lungs, stopping her from drawing a breath? She was resigned to her death; she let herself drift below the surface, only to find herself being pulled to safety as he took the gift from her. "Aoshi-sama…"
"Why have you bought me a gift Misao?" He asked, examining the package he now held in his hand, it was very obviously a book, which would no doubt surprise him coming from her.
"It's your birthday Aoshi-sama." She smiled indulgently at him as she realized he had most likely forgotten, just as he had the year before when she'd given him the painting she'd worked so hard on. "It's to celebrate your being alive."
"Being alive…" He whispered, so quiet she barely heard him. He seemed lost in thought for a moment and Misao could only wonder at what was racing through his head, she was worried that he was going to give the gift back to her and so she remained still, pensive, holding her breath… waiting. She stiffened when he stepped closer, fought the urge to cry when she saw his hand raising, knowing that he was going to hand the gift back to her. She gasped when she felt the light touch of his fingers as he brushed back one errant lock of hair that seemed to always want to fall across her face. Her eyes widened to resemble saucers as they met his, reading clearly, for the first time since his return something other than emptiness and regret, reading… solace maybe? A far cry from happiness but it was at least comforting. "Arigato Misao."
The moment was lost, coming to an abrupt halt as a resounding crash and the protesting scream of a woman echoed throughout the Aoiya. In unison Misao and Aoshi turned and bolted for the restaurant where the sound originated, entering through the kitchen to find three strange men facing Okon, Omasu and Shiro. Okina stood to one side, assessing the situation from his viewpoint just as she and Aoshi did from theirs.
As Okashira it was her duty to take action; she had determined that the three men held no advantage and were most likely cowardly bandits who thought they'd wandered into a quick way to make some money from an unprotected proprietor of a restaurant. Without hesitation or fear Misao stepped through the doorway and between the bandits and her three friends, she sensed Aoshi joining the others behind her.
"I believe you have wandered into the wrong establishment." She offered them the chance to leave peacefully, without incident or injury and certainly without drawing any attention to the band of ninja that still lived there. "I suggest you leave here before you regret your actions."
"I've been looking for you quite some time little girl." The one who was obviously the leader stepped forward, sword drawn, a sinister smile appearing on his face. "I am not about to leave until I get my revenge for the two years of hell in that rat infested jail."
She frowned, turning slightly to look at Aoshi out of the corner of her eye, a slight negative shake of her head at the question she could see in his eyes. She turned back to the leader, meeting his hate-filled eyes with her own steadfast gaze, still determined to end the confrontation without resorting to fighting Misao took one step forward, putting her hand out, signaling Omasu to stop upon hearing her advancing from behind.
"You have apparently mistaken me for someone else ojisan." She spoke calmly but with a commanding tone. "I am Mikamachi Misao, Okashira of the Onmitsu Oniwabanshu and I am quite certain we have never met."
"You may have forgotten little girl but I will never forget the time I spent in Odawara." He ground out bitterly taking another step toward her. "You took the money my comrades and I stole from the Tamura Money Exchange, then tricked us and left us in the woods where the police caught us. We were imprisoned in that stinking rat hole town, living on rotted rice and filthy water for nearly two years."
Misao gasped her eyes widening as realization dawned, on her way home from searching for Aoshi and the others; she'd run out of money before reaching Kyoto, she'd taken the money they'd stolen only to be stopped and forced to return it by Himura.
"Yakuza." She whispered acknowledging her recollection to the leader whose bitter smile grew as he nodded. She had taken them easily enough by herself two years ago and was positive that she could do so now, the corners of her mouth lifted in an arrogant smirk. "Are you certain you want to suffer humiliation at my hands a second time? There are only three of you now and I'm a much better fighter than I was then."
"Misao." She turned slightly at the warning in Aoshi's voice. A frown creased her brow at the look he gave her; did he still think her so incapable? Still a child who could not make decisions as a leader should? She turned her back angrily on Aoshi, she would show him that she was no longer a child and facing the yakuza once more the arrogant smirk appearing on her face again as she proclaimed. "I can take them, the rest of you stay back."
"Kisama!" The leader charged and Misao's smile widened as she stood and waited for his approach. She evaded him easily at the last possible moment, ducking low then launching high, landing directly behind him brandishing her kunai in each hand.
"Kansatsu Tobikunai!" She shouted and released both sets of daggers, piercing each of the bandits in several places, none of them vital but it is enough to bring them down, whimpering in pain. She vaulted again, just in time to avoid the slashing sword of the leader. Landing well out of his sword reach she leapt and came down smashing the back of his hand with one of her metal guards making him drop the sword. His eyes grew wide and his mouth is left agape as she landed directly in front of him, he took a swing at her, which she evaded and then countered with a powerful kick to his face, sending him to the floor.
Brushing her hands together as if dusting them off she stepped over the fallen bandit and stood directly in front of Aoshi, placing her hands on her hips she smiled up at him gleefully. "See! Piece of cake." She told him and he nodded slightly. She noticed his eyes suddenly growing wide and could feel her own doing the same at such an expressive gesture coming from him. Quicker than she could process any movement being made she found herself against him, she heard shouting and then realized that she was now in the exact spot occupied by Aoshi moments ago and he was now where she had stood.
"Unnnghh." She heard Aoshi groan and looked up to see his eyes squeezing shut in pain, her arms came around his waist as she felt him grow heavy against her. She lowered herself to the floor taking him with her, as gently as she could.
"Leader huh?" She looked up into the eyes of the yakuza, his sword drawn, blood dripping from the end… Aoshi's blood. What had she done? "If by that you mean you lead your people to death, I would say you are right. You should find a new line of work little girl, you're not fit to lead."
Misao could only stare at the bandit, his words playing on her every insecurity; she looked down at Aoshi who had taken that sword for her. Guilt filled her at the pained expression on his face, shame washed over her as he groaned again. What had she done? She wondered again at what her foolish arrogance had caused, the continued shouts of the yakuza as Kuro dragged him off. In shock and unresponsive she didn't even feel him being lifted away, didn't even realize she was no longer holding him until Shiro had already carried Aoshi away.
"Misao!" Okina's sharp voice made her jump as she looked up from where she still sat on the floor. "Go get the doctor!"
She nodded numbly and ran out the door to the doctor's house down the street; he came willingly enough. The old man had grown used to their late night calls over the years, although he grumbled every time, tonight being no exception as he lectured Misao all the way back to the Aoiya. Reprimanding her about being more careful, about taking chances with her own and with the lives of others. If he'd but known that these were the very things that were eating away at her this very moment, his words compounding those of the yakuza, the guilt she felt over not heeding Aoshi's warning, the shame of being the cause of his injury. Aoshi had been right to doubt her abilities, the yakuza was right; she was not fit to lead these people in anything. Once they arrived at the Aoiya the doctor was led away by Okon and Misao crept hastily away to her room where self-doubt continued to eat away at her, growing and metamorphosing into that ugliest of monsters, worthlessness. She was… unworthy. She had no business trying to lead the Oniwabanshu, she was not of their caliber, she didn't belong among them at all.
"Tsumara nai." She whispered pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them the darkness of her room surrounding her, hiding her. "Gomen ne Aoshi-sama."
For the next two days she wandered around the Aoiya in a daze, she barely touched her food at meals, sleep continued to evade her and she'd grown so ashamed that she could not even raise her eyes to meet the others. When Okina suggested that she bring Aoshi his tea she flat out refused, shocking everyone when she did so. Okina had gone to her room when she'd disappeared shortly after their morning meal, he told her that she owed it to Aoshi to, at the very least check on his well being, he had been wounded on her behalf and her attitude appeared anything but grateful.
"I am not grateful Okina." She turned her pain-filled blue eyes to him, her words surprising but not so much as the torment he could read in her eyes. "I wish it were me, I deserve that wound, not him."
"Misao." He whispered sympathetically reaching out to squeeze her small hand in his own. "Go see him, you'll feel better if you do."
Okina had been wrong, if anything it only served to make her feel worse seeing Aoshi lying there, pale and still, his brow furrowed in pain even as he slept. She had run from the room without saying a word, unable to bear the weight of the guilt she felt upon seeing him.
That night after writing a note to Aoshi she carefully folded her Oniwabanshu uniform and left the Aoiya, she would never set foot in it again. Along with enough money to buy passage to Europe and food she had taken the letter addressed to Okina that one of his connections had sent, inviting his ward to study art in Paris after seeing several of her watercolors. She had exchanged her kimono for boys clothing along the route to Osaka where upon boarding the massive ship, Mikamachi Misao became… Hanya.
Paris, France 1884
If only one could buy their release from guilt and heartache, if only one's self-worth could be bought with money. The way someone had given money for the painting of Okina's garden that was now absent from the empty display. Four years and still there was to be no release, four years of living as someone else and still, nothing but the same sense of dishonor and anguish.
She lowered her eyes against those that reflected back at her what she did not want to see; turning away from the image of what she still was… a lie. Just like then when I called myself Okashira; that was a lie. She thought silently as she walked away, becoming lost in the waves of people who ebbed along like the tide into the shore and then out to sea.