Teaser: Soujirou questions Aoshi's motive in sharing his journey. Aoshi/Soujirou. Sort of a dark sequel to Aoi Kaze.
Warning: Sou is a little passive in this one. And some shounen-ai (boy love). Oh, yea, and a touch of waffyness. Just a bit.
All respective rights belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki-sama.
Aoi Ame (Blue Rain)
It was raining. Again. Once again the huge raindrops fell from the darkened sky and drenched anything which had no sense to shelter from the weather. Relentless. Uncaring. The rain continued to fall despite the wishes of those beneath the heavy downpour.
Aoshi liked the rain, or at least didn't seem to mind it. It was the way he seemed to just stare off into the distance, his face blissfully calm, his chest slowly raising and falling, in almost a state of meditation.
Or, that's what it reminded Soujirou of.
Soujirou and his companion had found shelter underneath a canopy of branches shortly after the first drops began their descent. There was no lightning, no fear other than being drenched. As the rain continued to fall, they rested against the rough trunk. Soujirou watched as Aoshi placed his sheath at his side, stretched out his long legs, and closed his blue eyes to mere slits. He seemed almost content.
Soujirou, on the other hand, did not like the rain. He couldn't remember ever liking it. As a young child, there was no one to calm his fears as lightning crashed outside. When he was sent to his brother's home, the rain brought mud which found it's way inside the house which, in turn, called for another beating. Shishio-san was always able to tell when a storm was coming and sought shelter. Empty time lead to additional lessons, building upon the belief of survival of the fittest. Performing his shukuchi in less than perfect conditions only begged for disaster. Soujirou could remember one time when he stumbled after such a storm, traveling at god speed, and ending up with a mouthful of mud, friction burns down his arms, and a destroyed outfit. Shishio was not happy. Cho laughed. Soujirou remembered smiling at them and rubbing the mud from the side of his mouth.
"Scowling at the weather will not make it go away."
The young man blinked, quickly drawn back to the present by his companion's words. "Ahh," he breathed half-heartedly, a small smile appearing on his lips. "I…I just don't like the rain."
Aoshi made a soft noise, seemingly acknowledging the other.
The rain continued to strike against their shelter, creating an almost rhythmic sound to the random raindrops. A soft beat against the foliage.
Soujirou felt his eyelids slowly close, stop, then suddenly he stole a glance at his companion. Shinomori Aoshi had never really said why he had joined him. Why he had treated him so kindly. Why he had insisted on sharing Soujirou's burden. Why he was still there. Every morning, Soujirou would wake, fearing the tall ninja would be gone. Yet, every morning as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he was greeted with a soft "Ohayou".
In a fight with this man, Soujirou knew he was in little peril, even weaponless. He had watched Aoshi intently, studied every vivid detail he could from afar, from the ninja's kendo to his kodachi. For Shishio-san, he told himself. If Shishio-san ever had to fight him he wanted to know everything about this man. He tried to convince himself he was watching him only for Shishio-san's benefit. And, yet, even after all this time, the man who sat next to him was still a complete mystery. His motivation, his reasoning was beyond Soujirou's comprehension. This man had a family, or at least people who cared for him, people who would give their lives for him. Yet, here he was, waiting for the rain to stop, sharing shelter with a fallen former enemy.
Soujirou scratched underneath the new, pressed white collar. Aoshi had insisted on new clothes even though Soujirou admitted, a little sheepishly, that he had nothing to purchase them with. He picked out the least expensive cloth he could find, a mix of plain un-dyed browns, fretted over the inflated price, and found Aoshi staring intently at an opulent blue material. Aoshi took one look at Soujirou's selection, shook his head, and gathered the blue fabric into his arms.
The material was made into a long gi and a hakama, now covering his body, along with a matching haori with thick lining now carefully folded in his pack. Aoshi had gone out of his way to search Tokyo for a western style white undershirt much like the one Soujirou had worn when they first met. Soujirou knew the clothing he now wore was extravagant, much too splendid for a rurouni. Yet, Aoshi had remained firm, just as he insisted on a bath and an inn during their entire stay. It had been months since Soujirou's last real bath, and he soaked up every bit of heat as relaxed in the steaming water. It had been even longer since he slept with a roof over his head with people who brought him his meals.
Why is Aoshi being so kind? There's no reason for it. No reason at all.
Sometimes, Soujirou thought as the rain beat down upon them, Shinomori-san's actions confused him as much as Himura-san's words.
Aoshi stared at the boy resting against the same tree trunk. A boy who, barely a year ago, held a promising position at the side of potential ruler. Now, he was fleeing from the government, from his past, not knowing even where to start.
Aoshi could not guess at the boy's history and Soujirou was not forthcoming with details about his past. There was so much confusion in those eyes, such doubt over the smallest things.
Even the rain. Why would the boy be afraid of rain?
The tall man shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position against the hard trunk, and his eyes stopped on the other's troubled expression. Soon, he knew, the nightmares would begin. Every night the nightmares would come, without exception. And those dreams seemed to drain the boy. Sleep even took him in the middle of their discussions, in his sentences and questions, in his search to discover truth. It seemed Soujirou was always tired. And troubled, as if some thought or worry gnawed away at him.
Aoshi's own nightmares had slowly faded, until they became an infrequent occurrence. He found himself regretting the past, but not obsessing about it. There was nothing he could do for the four men who gave their lives for him. Nothing but to live his life as fully as possible, to honor them. Presently, he could protect those closest to him.
He almost laughed with his thoughts. Protect the boy? With a sword in his hands, Aoshi knew power hidden inside that lithe body just from secretly watching the boy perform his kata. The strength and power in his thrusts was matched by the grace in his movements. A lack of emotion making him impossible to predict when he had that smile on his face and a blade in his hands.
Physically there was very little Aoshi could do to protect the boy.
Emotionally was a different matter.
There was a different smile that seemed to appear every time Soujirou felt any sort of emotion. Or the times he wished he didn't.
It was that same smile Soujirou wore when they entered shops in Tokyo, looking to buy suitable replacement clothing for the boy. The very first shop they entered, the shopkeeper greeted Aoshi enthusiastically, but, almost immediately, noticed Soujirou. It was at that moment when Aoshi realized Soujirou had lost his commanding presence of the strongest of the Juppongatana. The young man timidly looked around the shop, touching some of the less expensive fabrics, a slight pink under his dust covered cheeks. The shopkeeper excused himself from Aoshi's presence and proceeded to order the boy to leave, perhaps afraid he would scare his wealthier customer away. A gracious smile appeared on Soujirou's face as he quietly apologized and hastily left without a glance back.
Yet, when Aoshi found him moments later, staring at his beaten reflection in a rain-barrel, Soujirou's lower lip trembled. Nonetheless, the smile was still on his face.
It was the blue material in the shop window that caught Aoshi's attention, which seemed to match Soujirou's eyes. Inside the cozy shop, Aoshi could not stop stroking the soft blue, trying to imagine how it would look on the boy. Then, Soujirou was there, a deep blush across his face, an apprehensive smile on his lips, and plain brown cloth in his hands, seeking approval. Aoshi studied the boy's blue eyes for a moment, glancing down at the cloth and finding a perfect match. He quickly shook his head and brought the blue material to the merchant, even as Soujirou protested behind him.
The seamstress did a very good job in such a short period of time, he admitted, and paid accordingly. Soujirou insisted on keeping his old clothes, saying he could not clean fish in such a brilliant outfit. Soon after, with the addition of the collared shirt, Soujirou actually looked like the Soujirou of little more than a year ago. The smile seemed genuine and, for the first time, Soujirou threw his arms around Aoshi's waist in a quick embrace of genuine gratitude. Nothing more was said of the incident, but the boy could not stop blushing for the remainder of the day.
Aoshi affectionately thought back to that day.
He would have liked to stay in the city for a while later -his contacts had finally found him and began to pass information- but circumstances seemed to change. Soujirou, in his new outfit, walked at his side one bright sunny day, smiling at complete strangers, looking at the sights in Tokyo. A man, obviously a gaijin with wide eyes, pale skin, and hair on his face, approached them and addressed the tall ninja with a deep bow. In broken Japanese he asked, how much for the boy at your side?
How much for Soujirou?
Not for sale, Aoshi remembered replying curtly to the foreign man, restraining his primary urges to either kill the man or wrap his arms protectively around the boy. Not for sale. With those words, the foreign man quickly excused himself and disappeared into the crowd.
Aoshi turned to Soujirou, only to see him staring at the ground.
Soujirou hastily looked up and smiled at his companion. "When you grow tired of me, you'll sell me to someone nice, ne?" He let out a small laugh, scratched the back of his head, and continued down the road without another word.
They left Tokyo the following morning.
As the time slowly passed beneath the tree branches, Aoshi could not understand why the boy's words seemed to trouble him so. He examined his thoughts until, he realized with a start, the rain had stopped.
Soujirou slowly rubbed the sleep from his eyes and felt a smile appear on his lips. "Ohayoo."
He froze, eyes growing wide, the smile gone. "Sh…Shinomori-san?"
It had been like a dream. Such a beautiful dream. But, now, the tall ninja was gone. He wrapped his arms around himself, feeling the softness, the only remnant left of his companion.
The tall ninja would no longer walk at his side, shading him from the bright sun, answering any question with a vague response. Aoshi would no longer calm his fears with only a logical statement or observation. No more greetings in the morning, the calm voice affirming everything was alright without saying more than that single word.
Soujirou shook and squeezed his eyes shut, drawing his knees to his chest and slowly rocking himself. It was the same feeling when he discovered Shishio-san had died. Loss. Sadness. Pain. It was so hard to sort all of these emotions into something he understood. For years he stubbornly refused to admit to his feelings, hiding them behind an empty smile. It took a single man's resolve and unshakable belief to break his heartless façade.
That was something both Aoshi and himself shared. It was the same man who forced them both to see the errors of their thinking. A man who, even after their defeat, saw something worthwhile and refused to kill them.
Instead, they searched for their answers. Soujirou had hoped they would find their answers together. No matter what Aoshi would ultimately…
Soujirou shook his head and forced his eyes open, away from such thoughts. Aoshi was gone. That was a fact. Feeling strange emotions would not change anything. He had to concentrate on surviving the present.
Taking a deep breath, he came to his feet and felt the familiar smile slip onto his face as he hefted the pack over his shoulder. Taking a single glance back to where he and Aoshi had shared the previous night, Soujirou turned and continued down the path, gaze lowered.
Soujirou's eyes snapped up, only taken less than two dozen steps. In small clearing to one side of the path knelt the tall ninja before a smoldering fire, black smoke billowing into the gray sky. "Sh…Shinomori-san…" he sputtered. "…wh…why…?"
"The wood is wet," the tall man spoke without looking up. "Any closer and the smoke would have disturbed your rest." Aoshi carefully turned the wooden skewers sizzling over the fire. "I hope you like frogs."
Any other time, Aoshi's words would have brought a radiant smile and a heart-felt laugh. Any other time…
The smoke would have disturbed you…
Why is he concerned about me? What…what does…what is he expecting? What does he want…? His thoughts were interrupted with Aoshi's voice.
"We have to hurry. It is going to rain again, very soon."
They ate in relative silence, Soujirou's attention only on his meal. Only moments after he had finished his repast, large raindrops once again started to fall. Soujirou let out a soft sigh before gathering both his and Aoshi's packs and rushing under the canopy. He only watched as Aoshi calmly picked up his sheath, almost unaware of the droplets falling against his hair and down his long coat, and methodically followed where Soujirou had taken shelter.
They stood, watching as the random drops became a roaring downpour.
Why does he look at me like that? "Sh…Shinomori-san?" he spoke in a halting manner, half wanting to ask the question mulling around his mind for days, half fearing the answer.
The ice blue gaze fell to his face. "Hmm?"
Soujirou swallowed. "W…why?"
The tall ninja blinked. "Nani?"
"Why…why did you buy me this?" He gripped the edge of his gi.
Aoshi stared at him. "Yours was frayed."
He doesn't understand! Soujirou swallowed. "Why are you wasting your money on me?"
"Kanryuu was a fool, but he paid well. You need it more than I." He blinked. "I do not see it as wasting."
Soujirou's look unexpectedly changed to desperation, his eyes wild, and his face pale. "Why?!" his gentle voice almost yelling. "What do you want from me?!"
An unfamiliar expression appeared on Aoshi's face a moment before he turned back to the raindrops, his long bangs covering his face.
Soujirou just stood there, eyes wide, hands in tight fists, not believing the words and disrespectful tone in which he had spoken. "Sh…Shinomori-san?" He visibly shook. "I…I'm sorry. Please." He took a step back from the other man. "I'm sorry, okay? Please, Shinomori-san?"
Aoshi slowly sat, his back against the tree trunk, attention caught in the far distance.
The young man took another step back, away from the sitting figure. "I…I am in your debt. Please? I'll give you…anything. Anything you ask…" He shivered. "Anything. Shinomori-san?"
And, still the older man would not respond to his words, his ice blue gaze trapped once again in the falling rain.
Soujirou quietly moved to the edge of the canopy, and, watching the rain plummet, felt the tears fall down his face and drip onto his gi. He knew his companion would be gone as soon as the rain stopped. And…he would be alone. Yet, again. Alone. The ache inside his chest constricted and, watching the rain continue to fall, he quietly whispered, "Please…please…don't go..."
*What do you want from me?!*
*Why are you being so kind to me?*
Why am I doing this?
*What do you want from me?*
What do I want? For being kind to you?
*I'm sorry. Please. I'm sorry, okay?*
*I'll give you anything. Anything.*
*Please don't go…*
He slowly turned from the rain to the hunched figure, as far from him as the boy could get without resting in the rain.
Has he never been shown unconditional kindness? Compassion without motive? There was no one just to care for him? Just because of who he was?
Aoshi's jaw clenched. He thinks I'm doing this for…
Was that the reason Soujirou seemed so terrified with every act of kindness, fearing what Aoshi would eventually demand of him in return?
*When you grow tired of me, you'll sell me to someone nice, ne?*
But, his words were not a witticism, were they? The tone of his voice was absolute seriousness. Even the soft laugh afterwards had a ring of significance.
*You'll be gentle, okay?*
Anything I would demand from him, anything I would ask of him, and he would give to me without complaint?
No wonder he's so afraid. I've asked for nothing.
Is this how he survived for so long? Relying on no one? Owing no one?
The strong survive, Soujirou had once told him in Mount Hiei. The weak die. But it's okay, he spoke with an empty smile, I am strong.
No. The boy was accomplished with the sword, a master of the blade. But his knowledge of life, of living, he was oblivious. There can be kindness without want. That was something the boy was unaware of.
However, Aoshi realized with a start, he did want something from the boy. That smile, the true smile on his lips, the blush in his cheeks, the joy in his eyes. Watching the boy's reaction to the smallest act of benevolence. That, he recognized, was what he wanted and would do anything for, give up everything for.
Aoshi could feel Soujirou stir against his chest and he took a deep breath, his arms not moving from around the boy's back. Soujirou's body suddenly froze, instantly realizing what the warmth was that he clung to.
"Ahh." Soujirou's voice cracked. "A…arigatou." Taking a shaky breath, Soujirou tensed. "I'm sorry. Before…I didn't mean to demand-"
"You were right. I want something from you."
"Ahh." He buried his face deeper in the other's gi. "I…said I…" He trembled. "I'll give you anything you want from me," he spoke in a rush, and braced himself for the other's response.
"I want your trust."
Soujirou's movements ceased with the words. His face quietly emerged from the tangle of arms and cloth and he slowly looked up. Blue eyes met blue. "You…you want…"
Aoshi slowly nodded.
"My…trust?" It seemed like such a simple thing, yet…
Again, Aoshi nodded.
He looked away. "I'm sorry. I…I've never…except myself…" His eyes wide and pleading, trying to make the ninja understand. "...I just couldn't…Not then…I couldn't trust anyone…" The words just tumbled off his lips, almost frantically trying to explain himself.
Aoshi's embrace tightened, pulling the young man even closer. "I understand. Not right now. One day." He felt Soujirou's head gradually nod against his chest. "One day, soon. That is what I want from you."
"For…everything? Everything you've done for me? Everything you bought for me? I-"
"But…" Again, he trembled.
"You owe me nothing. I want nothing more from you."
Aoshi didn't answer, only
nodded his head and slightly tightened his embrace. Amazed at the level of trust the boy was already displaying,
Aoshi relished the feeling of the warm body in his arms and the soft breath on
"Anyone…anyone else would demand-" A calloused hand touched his lips, silencing him.
"Right now, this is all I need." With his words, the small body resting against him suddenly relaxed, tension draining.
"You'll be here…?"
Is this what has been troubling him all these long weeks? "I will be right here."
Aoshi listened as the downpour slowed, watching the sheet turn to a slow dripping. The feeling of the young man against him, the feeling of being needed, was something he had not felt in such a long time. The boy wanted him to stay. Soujirou wanted his companionship. Yet, he suddenly realized, he wanted to stay at the boy's side, answering his questions if he could, providing as much comfort as he could. And, perhaps, one day, they both might share in something more. But, it had to be something they both desired. Maybe…
The rain had stopped and the bright sun had begun to peek through the gray sky, sending tiny fingers of light to the forest floor.
"Sou?" he asked, his voice hushed. He looked down to find one side of the boy's face pressed against his chest, eyes closed, hands tightly clenching Aoshi's gi, a small smile on Soujirou's lips.
Aoshi pulled the fallen blanket up, covering the boy's shoulders. Then, he stared at the contently sleeping face nestled against him.
Perhaps, he thought, that day isn't so far off.
Above the dripping canopy of leaves, far beyond the view of the two figures, a radiant rainbow stretched its arms across the sky in a tender embrace.
Sorry it took so long. It has been playing around in my head for months. I hope it met your expectations.
Again, thanks Akai! I'm so glad you're back! Thank you Midori, Susan (hope things get better for you! ^_^), Deena, Kuroiyousei, Beautiful Dreamer, and Hoshiko Saitou for your Aoshi/Sou work! There are still not enough stories for this pairing! Thanks Jefcat and XD for your support! And a big Thank You to anyone and everyone who leaves a review. *hands out virtual Aoshi *heart* Sou T-shirts*
Bla bla bla…Okita is mine…bla bla bla…