Author Notes: Eventually – or not so eventually, perhaps – an Aoshi/Misao pairing … not a child/guardian relationship. With Secret Garden undertones. Or overtones. Just … loosely based on 'The Secret Garden,' and so I have to disclaim both that and Rurouni Kenshin … which I do …
Never made it as a wise man.
It was raining. Again.
It was always raining in this infernal country, in her opinion. She used to like rain back home in Japan, but it was different here. This rain beat down everywhere, all the time, making the skies dark and the air oppressive. It weighed down on her, on everybody, making the people in the train snappy and irritable and the conductor direct glares at her feet, which she had hitched up on the seat opposite her.
God, it was always raining.
The train slowed to a stop, great clouds of steam billowing around the scratched windows as the engine whined to a halt. The conductor began to usher people off, and she scrambled out, pulling her cloak well over her head to stop herself from being soaked through and through. The platform was like the last one she had stepped off on – dark, wooden, slick with rain and a number of other liquids she didn't like to think about. Ignoring the way the rain soaked her stockings, she walked a little to the side, wondering how whoever was going to pick her up was going to find her in this shadowed, deserted place.
"Miss Makimachi?" said a voice off to her right. She turned, seeing a woman with dark hair swept back in a bun and holding a wide umbrella over her head.
"Yes," she said, bowing slightly, then looking uncomfortable. She wasn't supposed to bow, not in this country, but old habits died hard …
"My name is Omasu," said the woman, returning the bow with a slight smile on her lips. "I have been sent by Mr. Shinomori to receive you. If you will follow me, please." She turned and began to walk towards the ticketing booth at the opposite end of the platform, and she followed hurriedly, wishing she could stop and wring out the water in her shoes and socks.
There was a carriage waiting for them there. She was motioned in, and she seated herself a little self-consciously, aware of how the water dripping from her cloak seeped into the plush upholstering of the carriage seats. The woman stopped outside to talk to the driver for a minute, and then followed her into the coach, presumably having handed her umbrella to the driver as her hands were now empty.
The woman sat primly in the opposite corner of the carriage, her hands neatly folded in her lap and her dress, though slightly spattered with rain, not clinging to her body. She herself was painfully aware of how the skirt of her own dress was a little shorter than the skirts that everyone else wore, reaching mid-calf instead of covering her ankles. It was not her fault; she didn't have many Western clothes, and no one had been able to buy her anything since her arrival. This was the only thing that fit her now – her mother had bought it for her almost four years ago, when Western clothing had been all the rage. It still was, back in Japan …
She felt a sudden wave of nostalgia, sitting here in the dim interior of the carriage, and pushed it down resolutely.
She stared out the window, but could see nothing more than raindrops splashing against the carriage windows. It was dark outside, so any other scenery she might have been able to make out was also effectively invisible. She wished the woman would say something; the silence was pressing in on her, and she was not the sort who was used to being silent for hours on end.
The rain pattered incessantly against the roof of the coach as they drove on into the night, not ceasing even when they themselves came to a halt. She wiped her hand ineffectually against the glass pane, but it was useless. Screwing herself up, she asked, "Are we there?"
The woman smiled as she responded, "Yes, Miss Makimachi, we are. I'm sorry you could not see the manor on our way up, for that is really a great sight. As it is, I doubt you will even be able to make out the entire house standing where you are."
Manor? Jiya had never said that her guardian lived in a manor. She knew that he was wealthy, yes, but she hadn't expected a mansion, not the way this woman spoke. The woman got off, and she followed, pulling her cloak around her again as she alighted. The rain hammered down, and she was forced to bow her head a little as she walked. She had been right; she could see nothing but the raindrops hitting the ground, rebounding off the brick-paved driveway and soaking the hem of her skirt. The driveway seemed long, as far as she could see, but they were parked right at the end of it. Just a few more steps and she could see a wide stone step in front of her, and – raising her head a little – an enormous wooden door with a carved handle.
The woman smiled at her encouragingly as she used the brass knocker to bang on the door. It was pulled open by a heavyset man dressed in a dark jacket, much like the woman's dull, dark clothes. She followed the woman in, bowing to the man as he held the door open for her, and then checking her reflex action with a mental shake.
The hall they now stood in was huge. The floor was bare, except for a wide strip of carpet that led towards a broad staircase opposite them. Numerous doors opened off the hall, but most of them were shut. The heavyset man ventured out into the rain, presumably to get her luggage, which had automatically been transferred from the train to their carriage, as the conductor had said it would be. The woman, motioning for her to follow, started up the stairs, with Misao close on her heels. Several twists and turns later, they found themselves standing before a fair-sized wooden door, which looked exactly like the other doors lining the corridor.
"This is your room, Miss Makimachi," said the woman, holding the door open for her. It was in the dim light of the corridor that she suddenly noticed the slant of the woman's eyes and the true meaning of her dark silky hair.
"Why, you're Japanese too!" she exclaimed, unable to keep it in, then blushed furiously at her outburst. She should have noticed it long ago, and the woman's name should have made it obvious, but … she had been preoccupied, or perhaps she simply did not want to see.
The woman seemed amused. "Yes, Miss Makimachi," she said, in her usual unaccented English. "I am surprised you did not realise sooner. Will you be all right by yourself? Your luggage will be brought up in a few minutes."
"Oh, I'm fine," she said, smiling and taking care not to lapse into Japanese. Her English was not perfect, but she was fluent enough not to flounder for words. "Thank you!"
The woman looked a trifle surprised at her gesture of appreciation, and she inclined her head slightly before taking her leave. Misao stood there until the heavyset man brought her small suitcase up, then changed into her nightclothes – a white frilly nightdress to which she would prefer a yukatta any day. She looked around at the carpeted room, the bare dressing table next to the chest of drawers on one side, and a fully curtained wall on the other, and finally at the four-poster bed with velvet hangings pushed against the last remaining wall. It wasn't a young girl's room, perhaps, but it was a lavish enough room anyway, a room she should be thrilled to be sleeping in. But instead she found herself wishing for her sparsely furnished bedroom back home, with the futon in one corner and the paper door on the opposite wall, longing to see the sakura trees blooming outside the window.
Grabbing one of the overstuffed pillows that lay on her bed, she threw it on the floor beside the bed and cast herself down on it, burying her face in the silky material of the pillowcase. For the first time in several years, Makimachi Misao cried herself to sleep.