Disclaimer: Watsuki's, not mine. With the exception of the original characters and the (nonexistent) plot, which are mine. :-P
Summary: A fallen doctor. A forgotten spy. Under the power-hungry businessman Takeda Kanryuu, two lonely souls begin to forge a strange but delicate relationship.
Pairings: Aoshi/Megumi... sort of.
Rating: Mostly K+, ranging occasionally to T, for violence, language, adult themes, drugs (opium)... Not so much for sex. If at all for sex. (Read: Go away, people looking for the smut. You won't find it.) I try to label specifically T chapters if I remember to, but that's probably just me being overly anal.
Notes: This is version 2 of the story, first uploaded summer 2004. I think. Or maybe 2005. (The first three chapters are reworked from version 1 posted way back in 2003 -- the remaining chapters are "new" material original to this current version.) YES, I HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THIS FOR A RIDICULOUSLY LONG TIME. (With little to show for it. Snerk.) And there are also obvious stylistic shifts between certain chapters due to the long pauses in updates in between.
Also, there is homosexuality in this story. Eventually. Though the only obvious case is Kanryuu, really, and even that is subtle, and very much open to interpretation. I mean, obviously nothing graphic at all. But this is just a warning for those who are squicked by even the merest idea of the slightest possibility of homosexuality. (I know you're out there.)
Edit (10/18/06): stripped chapters of miscellaneous unnecessary notes and review replies. (some notes I kept, but edited, or just plain rewrote. for example, see above.) Warning -- earlier chapters, and possibly even later chapters, include fangirl Japanese. That will be edited out someday.
Chapter One - Heaven's Tears
Always they return to him, gentle as the rise and fall of the ebbing tide. Memories of a swiftly passing dream, a silent dream of all that could have been, and all that has passed, and all that has wilted over the years, crumbling into dust upon the barren plains of his heart. He watches the dark clouds gather in the distance. Once more, the rain comes. Washing away the blood. The joy. The pain. Once more he falls, losing himself within the savage beauty of the storm, the insanity, the truth and the lies.
It is all that he has left.
- - -
It was raining. It was always raining. He hated the rain.
He drew his kodachi from its sheath, stroking the cold blade absentmindedly.
The rain pattered incessantly on the glass window at his back.
The rain, pattering incessantly on the dusty streets of edo. running down his back in icy trickles. across the road in muddy streams. edo castle looms before his eyes in all its glory, a ghost castle rising from the mists. and then, just as suddenly, he is swept away in a sea of umbrellas, floating down the street in a somber parade.
rain drips down his face in rivulets. like tears, falling from the sky. the wind whips at his soaking clothes and at his hair, pulled back in a high ponytail.
okashira, okashira, calls a voice in the distance. okashira, okashira
"Okashira!" His eyes fluttered open. His head was pounding with the sound of the rain hammering against the window at his back. He hated the rain.
"Okashira," came the man's voice again. It was Hanya, he realized. "Takeda is ready to see us now."
"Aa," he replied. He stood up, sliding his blade back into its sheath.
He nodded at the masked man in the doorway and at the three others standing behind.
"Let's go," he said.
As they left the room, he reached up, running his fingers through his hair, cropped short against his neck.
okashira, the castle has fallen
Takeda Kanryuu's room was glaringly tacky. A sickening clash of the West and the Orient. There was a brightly woven Persian rug lying on the wooden floor before the thick oak door. In the corner stood a marble statue of a nude man, which he quickly averted his eyes from. An oil painting of two gaijin women dressed in fancy ruffled gowns hung on one wall. From the wall facing it hung a yellowed scroll on which was written a single black character: "prosperity."
And Takeda Kanryuu himself was lounging in a velvet moss-green chair behind an elaborately carved desk. There was a fat imported cigar clenched between the businessman's teeth.
"My dearest Aoshi!" exclaimed Takeda Kanryuu in broken English as he removed the cigar from his mouth. "I am so glad that you could make it!"
Aoshi fought back a sudden urge to pace back and forth across the room, feeling very much like a tiger trapped within a jeweled cage. Behind him, his men shifted uneasily.
"Takeda," stated Aoshi coldly. Slowly but accurately. He too had studied the gaijin language. "My men do not understand English."
A dark flash of something passed swiftly over the businessman's face before it disappeared again. "Of course, of course!" said Takeda Kanryuu before switching back to their native Japanese. "Please, just call me Kanryuu."
Okashira? what have you called me here for? he asks.
he already knows the answer.
ah, shinomori-kun. you have arrived, replies the old man.
he waits. outside, the rain drums upon the roof. a solemn tolling.
i am dying, shinomori-kun.
he bows his head in the deep, long silence, marked only by the sound of the pattering rain.
i am dying, withering as the flower of the tokugawa wilts, as our country and our people and the ideals we have fought for crumble into dust. i fall as the old era falls, with the coming of the new age.
as spring comes at winter's end, is his reply.
the old man smiles. i have taught you well. you are fifteen -- a man now. a flower that has only just begun to bloom. spring shall come soon, heralded by the winter rains...
lead our people into the light of the new era, shinomori. for i am weary, and i have outlived my time. and perhaps okina was right -- perhaps, in the end, it is in the hands of tomorrow's youth that our future lies. do you understand, shinomori?
"Do you understand?"
"I understand," he replied tersely.
"Good, good," said Kanryuu. Light from the oil lamp on the desk glinted off of the businessman's spectacles. "I shall speak to you again tomorrow with more details -- alone, please. For now you and your men may retire to your rooms. I trust you have all found them comfortable so far?"
and please, take care of Misao for me
"And the money?" asked Aoshi quietly.
"Tomorrow, tomorrow -- we shall discuss all of that tomorrow."
"Then -- I should prefer a simpler room. And a futon. A futon is all I require."
"Are you sure? I made certain to save the finest rooms and the most luxurious beds for you and your men, my dear Aoshi... Ah, very well. The room where you were waiting in will do, I suppose? I shall arrange for futons to be brought there."
Aoshi bowed stiffly and left. His men followed.
"Okashira..." came a deep, low rumble. He looked up to see the scarred, muscular figure of Shikijou at his side. "Be careful."
He inclined his head slightly and continued walking.
"Because..." There was a strange tone in the large warrior's voice. "I saw... the way he looks at you..."
Watch out, aoshi-sama! she squeals, soaked with rain and mud, as she bounces into his lap.
you will catch a cold, he admonishes. he sits there, watching the rain trailing down from the sky in gossamer strands. water from her braid and her clothes drips down his front.
she pouts. you aren't gonna tell on me to jiya, are you?
of course not, he answers. and the rain continues to fall.
It seemed as if the rain would never end.
His men had already decided to settle down for the night. But he himself could not sleep. The sound of the rain drilled itself relentlessly into his mind. He sat at a side door of Kanryuu's great white mansion, watching the water pouring down.
It was cold. The harsh winter days were fading already into calmer, gentler weather, speckled with the occasional bursts of rain. Still, spring itself had not yet arrived. The world outside remained dark and grey and misty. Almost as if it were a world existing only in his dreams. A world untouched by sunlight or stars.
Movement flickered in the corner of his eye. He caught a sudden glimpse of a figure, slender and feminine, drifting aimlessly through the rain. It was a young woman. A ghostly specter with long black hair, a girl no older than himself. Ethereal, save for the aura of bitter sorrow about her that weighed her down, anchoring her to the ground.
"What are you doing out here?" he demanded, standing up. Perhaps he was dreaming. Perhaps he was living. Perhaps he was dying.
The woman whirled around, startled by his voice. Water dripped, streaming down through her long black hair, over her lavender kimono and haori.
Her lips were redder than freshly spilled blood. She glared at him, but her dark mahogany eyes were empty.
"You," she said. Her voice was smooth and calm, with an underlying fire he was able to detect only from years of listening. "You're one of Kanryuu's cronies, aren't you."
It was a statement, not a question. He winced at her words, feeling a strange frigid fury rise in his heart.
"You will catch a cold," he said at last, ignoring it.
She threw back her head and laughed, long and bitterly. "I like the rain," she retorted.
"Because the rain is like Heaven's tears..." And the rest of her sentence faded and was lost in the patter of the pouring rain as she swept past him, back into the cold white mansion.
you aren't gonna tell on me, are you
of course not
(10/18/06) Was originally experimenting with tense changing and time shifting. Quite a few people have found it confusing -- the point is that past/present are blurred in his head. Luckily for you, this doesn't last through the entire fic. At any rate, it works better with formatting as on my site (check profile for links), but I have to admit this is probably not the best method in the world... If I ever get around to a version 3, I'll try to see if I can come up with a better way to convey this. Or you can just continue to suffer.