Water on a Glass House By: ChiisaiKo (formerly CL)
Original Publication:March-May 2004 Second Publication: June 2005 Spoilers: Tokyo Arc, Kenshin Kaden Part One The rain sounded like an unrelenting onslaught of darts, trying to break down the ceramic defenses of the rooftop.
He remembered his commander's lessons on meditation. Okashira Makimachi used to say that the hardest thing to do is to just be quiet. It may sound simple, but that is the nature of life. And to achieve a state of absolute silence was a task of near impossibility. Aoshi had to train himself to listen to the silence. He found that it was about control and about creating a space of absolutes. In meditation, breathing is an absolute. Within the lung, there can only be absolute emptiness and absolute fullness. For Aoshi life fell into sets of similar binaries. Hunger and fullness. Emotion and logic. Day and night. Within these categories, there is an order, a process of moving from one pole to the next. Because of this, Aoshi became very good at listening. He could sit for hours and follow the progression of the world around him as it swung from one pole to the next: always in perpetual motion. He was a good ninja because he learned how to listen to the sound of silence and sit in the stillness of the shadows. During his time at Edo Castle, Aoshi could pick out the sound of each individual raindrop as it fell against the ceramic tiles.
The sound of rain was unbearable against the unglazed tile of this western-style building. Aoshi squeezed the bridge of his nose and stood up, and gave up on meditation. He hadn't tried meditation in a long time. Sometimes Aoshi found it impossible to think in Kanryu's mansion. Mostly though, Aoshi simply could only think about how much he hated this place.
He stood up and decided to retire to his room. He usually had a cup of tea at this time, for it always calmed his nerves.
He could still remember the taste of the celebratory tea on his sixteenth birthday. Delicate and bitter, it had tasted so similar to the ceremonial sake that he had sipped months before for his ordination as the Okashira. Aoshi's life was marked by the taste of bitterness. But he knew that the bitterness of his sake would never again be cut with the sweet flavor of optimism and success. He will be twenty-six soon but that meant very little to him. At fifteen, he became a man, a protector, a successor and a warrior. At sixteen, his world ended with a politican's words.1 It wasn't fair, but it didn't matter. After all, he still had his men, the four whose loyalty came unquestioned. Their pride and loyalty as Oniwabanshu was peerless. This devotion is all that he would need. He was still the Okashira. His world did not end at sixteen. His life did not end at sixteen. But he could not help but think that perhaps it would have been easier if it had ended then. If he had went out in a blaze of glory. After ten years, everything begins to fade away. The life he had as Okashira, as a part of the Oniwaban, that life was no longer relevant. And the vibrancy of his life had began to etch away as each member of the Oniwaban began to leave him.
Four remained. Four remained to remind him that he still had a purpose in life. That it was not all in vain. For that piece of mind, he owed them more than he could ever articulate. He stalked down the corridors, eager to return to his room. Thus, he didn't pay much attention to her until she nearly collided into him. He spun quickly a split second before she would have ran into him. Looking up, she gasped and jumped back, dropping the rough woven satchel that she had been carrying. The satchel fell to the floor with a loud, dull thud. Instead of following the dropped satchel, her eyes fell immediately to the kodachis that he had been holding. She had a glint of fear in her eyes, as if she expected him to strike her down without another word. He watched her for a second, surprised that she was so blatantly staring him. He broke the gaze and flicked his eyes towards the cloth-wrapped bundle on the floor. Dirt spilled out of the bundle and sprayed in a fan-like pattern across the pristine marble.
Nervously, she retrieved the packet. Her desperate, shaking fingers hastily returned the spilt dirt into the cracked ceramic pot. As her hands clawed at the floor, opening of the satchel fell open to reveal a poppy plant. Aoshi narrowed his eyes and took a step back to observe the young woman as she finished cleaning up.
Without a word, she placed the poppy plant back into the satchel glared at him angrily. "Poppy?" She eyed him defiantly until her eyes fell onto his weapon. Almost immediately, her eyes lowered as she turned and quickly away. Aoshi's gaze returned to the trail of spilt dirt on the floor. Interesting. That night, he sat on his windowsill staring blankly into the courtyard and lost in his thoughts. He didn't even remember what she looked like, but as he sat at his window, the past seemed to sink down around him like the evening mist. All of a sudden, he felt as if the very air thicken, becoming dark, heavy and ominous. Those eyes. Those beautiful, defiant eyes. She had eyes that held a smoldering flame. He felt as if he was being pulled into her world. It was his world too. And for a moment, he was scared of all the possibilities in his life and all different men that he could have been if his life had headed a different direction. Maybe he would have even met her, known her, loved her under different circumstances. She must have bewitched him. She must have done something to him because he was powerless against his thoughts now. He thought only of her. Her eyes. Her gaze. Her distant familiarity. It wasn't as if he had seen her before, but something about her was so hauntingly familiar. He knew why, too. In her, he saw himself: the prisoner of his own circumstances. And to forget the look of desperation her eyes was like trying to fit the ocean in the palm of his hand. He couldn't forget that castle fell under his command. He alone could not protect it. No, he was robbed of the chance to protect it. He was robbed of his duty as an Okashira, and robbed of his purpose in life. He dug his fingernails into his palm in frustration. And he wondered if the great fire of Tokyo that he would have set across the city in order to defeat the Ishin Shishin was somehow contained within his body, eating away his stomach with the fire that had not manifested itself in real life. He wanted release from the fire and from himself. He wanted release that came only from the blade. He could hear his own hungry voice ringing in his ear. Release your fury. Raze the city. Recapture your glory. This world quiet world. This world of disgusting opulence. It is not worth living in. He took a few cooling breaths, trying to quell the fire which burned incessantly in his body. He exhaled. In one fluid movement, he struck his kodachi into the wall. And there it was. A scar on the wall. His release. He had left an ugly, thick, jagged indentation in the plaster. It was something real. He felt his breathing slow as he relaxed. The pressure around him seemed to release a bit. Aoshi's heavy breathing slowed to a normal pace as he sheathed his weapon. He didn't know who she was, or what she was doing here, but he knew that already that he hated her. Behind his closed eyelids, her eyes continued to watch him. Defiantly. And the fires in their eyes continued to burn.