Disclaimer: Characters Odago Hayuko and Kurobashi Atime are (c) Dendraica. Koinosuke, Jubei, Jiyu and Sai Nanohana are (c) Bandai. This fic was written after watching season 1 of Jubei Chan, so there may be some spoilers. Read with caution. :)

He Loved to Watch the Stars
by Dendraica (dendraica@california.com)

Night cast its shadow across the sky, extinguishing the last rays of sunset and ending another day for Jiyu Nanohana. The girl stretched, popping the stiffness out of her back. Two hours of homework while sitting on a hard kitchen chair wasn't the preferred way to spend an afternoon, but now she could enjoy the rest of the night and cook dinner for herself and her father. And of course, Koinosuke, who always enjoyed her cooking immensely. The way he carried on over the simplest courtesies she paid to him . . . it was endearing, but a little embarrassing. Surely microwaved Ichiban noodles weren't that great of an honor.

"Hey, Jubei . . ." Sai's tired voice carried down the stairs. "Did you finish your homework?"

"Yes, Papa. I'm just about to start dinner. How's the story coming?"

"I'm stuck. I could use some advice. Do you know where that weird samurai guy is? If he dresses that way all the time, surely he's more of an expert on samurai than me."

Jiyu giggled. "Koinosuke might be outside in his house. I'll look for him. Oh, what do you want for dinner?"

"Ah . . . do we have any tekka maki left over?"

"Papa!" Jiyu scolded. "I want to cook for you! You can't eat sushi for dinner. How about yaki soba?"

"Hai, hai, that sounds better. I could use something hot. Ah, before you start, can you find Koinosuke-san?"

"Sure." Jiyu, who had tied an apron on, removed it and hung it back on the peg. She walked outside and walked straight to his house. As soon as she saw a piece of paper hanging on the closed door indicating he was out, she stood there, puzzled. A gust of wind bent the grass around the little hut and ripped the piece of paper off and away into the sky. Jubei followed its ascent with her eyes. "Aha," she said, as part of Koinosuke's robes hanging over the edge of the roof caught her attention. "So there you are."

A quick trip up the stairs and into one of the rooms led her to the round patio on the upper floor. She climbed up the ladder and saw him sitting at the roof's edge, head tilted back to look at the evening sky. His face was wistful, eyebrows furrowed as if he were trying to remember some far away thing.


He gasped softly and stared at her unfocused for the briefest of moments. His eyes were blank. Then with another gasp, he shook his head as a dog might if its fur was wet. "Jiyu-dono! H-How long have you been calling me?"

"It's okay. I didn't interrupt you did I?"

"Ah . . . uh . . . Jiyu-dono, that's not important . . . Did you need me?"

"No, Koinosuke-san. I just . . . What do you mean, it's not important?" Jiyu climbed up the rest of the way and sat next to him. "It looked important."

Koinosuke regarded her gravely for a moment then shook his head, smiling softly. "Miss Jiyu, you truly are a thoughtful and loving person to care about me so much. You care about a lot of people. It's for that reason I'm happiest that I finally found you."

Jiyu was still puzzled and haunted by the desperate emptiness she'd seen in his eyes. "Koinosuke. What was your master Yagyu Jubei like? Did he care for you?" Did he know it would take 300 years for you to find me? Did he care what effect it would have on you?

"Yes. He did, very much. I knew Yagyu Jubei since I was a child. He . . . he was my sensei, and then my friend." Koinosuke's eyes were growing distant again. A hand on his arm brought him back to the present.

"Tell me about him. What was he like? How did you meet him?"

"How did I meet him?" the young samurai echoed. "I suppose . . . I have my father to thank for it. Odago . . . Hayuko. Miss Jiyu, I'm ashamed to say I'm not the best of fighters. I never was . . . I don't think. My father was a great samurai. He . . . he would take his sword down at night and sharpen it. I'd always watch him, and feel a special sense of pride to be able to say that such a strong warrior was my father. But I never wanted to fight . . . I was too afraid."

* * *

"Koinosuke-kun, don't be a coward! Step forward bravely!" Hayuko Odago urged his son, raising his bamboo sword.

A boy of seven years stood before him, his own bamboo sword trembling in his hands.

"Come on! Make the first move! You will grow up to be a samurai, not a weakling!"

"F-Father . . ." whimpered the boy, lowering his sword. "I don't want to . . ."

"If you will not make the first move, I will. Defend yourself, Koinosuke! YAAAAAH!"

Hayoko rushed toward his son and Koinosuke jumped back, trying desperately to block the blows with his sword. He moved backwards with astonishing sure-footedness, though his sword was jarred so violently in his hands that he could barely hold onto it. Koinosuke gasped as he was cornered at last against a tree trunk, his vibrating sword the only shield between him and his father.

"Father, that's enough!"

"You think you will frighten off an opponent that way? By saying 'That's enough?'" The older man's voice was incredulous and full of disgust. "BAKA!" Hayuko drew back his sword and struck Koinosuke's with a considerable amount of strength. The practice katana went flying out of the boy's reach. Koinosuke shrunk down against the tree, unable to move.

Hayuko's face was reddened with frustration and fury at his son's cowardice. "Why was I cursed with you for a child?" Koinosuke winced at the harsh words. "You will bring no honor to the Odago family unless you learn to be brave when you face your foes."

* * *

"My father thought it best to employ me as a servant to Kurobashi Atime, a teacher of the Ryujoji technique. Father left me with this man who I had never met before. Atime grew tired of my unwillingness to fight much quicker than Father. He beat me with the bamboo practice sword more than he taught me with it."

"Man . . . what a miserable character to be left with," said another voice on the roof. Koinosuke and Jiyu turned to see Sai sitting behind him.

"Ah! Papa! Gomen, I completely forgot . . ." .

"Nevermind, Jiyu. I could use some fresh air anyway. Go on, Koinosuke."

"Ano . . . hai, Sai-sama. Where was I . . . ah. At that time, the Edo Yagyu had politically disposed of all the other schools and forbade the practice of any other technique beside that of the Edo Yagyu. The Ryujoji were angry at this as were other schools. Because Yagyu Jubei was known as the top swordsman, everyone wanted to duel him in the hopes of winning and gaining that title for themselves. Kurobashi Atime was plotting to defeat Jubei-sama as well, however . . . he planned to trick Yagyu Jubei to his demise. What he was planning was cowardly and unbefitting of the code of honor, but more than the honor, he wanted Jubei-sama dead. Unfortunately, his plan was to involve me."

* * *

"You will do it, boy! If I cannot bend you, I will break you!"

"I-I cannot, Atime-sama! My family honor will not allow---" Koinosuke was brutally cut off as Atime struck him across the mouth.

"Lies! You are not concerned about your family honor! You are merely afraid to die!" Atime mocked him. "Baka child, even if you die in combat with Yagyu Jubei, death by his blade is higher than any honor a coward such as yourself could hope for."

"I am not the coward. Hiding behind bushes to attack him from the side? Using me as a decoy? You are the coward, Master Atime! For not challenging him like a decent warrior!" the young man burst out. Atime snarled and kicked Koinosuke in the ribs, doubling the boy over. Koinosuke's frail body tensed as he heard the sound of the bamboo stick just before it descended upon his back. It struck him over and over and over again until his cries for mercy ceased to be coherent.

The beating stopped, allowing Atime to catch his breath, and at the same time for young Koinosuke to recover the ability to talk.

"O-Onegai," he gasped, crawling forward to Atime on his hands and knees. "The Odago family . . . has always fought with honor. You want me to be a decoy for Yagyu Jubei . . . to stand in place while he charges, so that you can attack him from the side and strike him down. That is dishonorable . . . that is cheating. I can't do that . . . I won't do it! It's wrong and I won't shame my family name!"

Atime gave a sharp bark of laughter. "You have already shamed your family name, little girl." Koinosuke flinched at the old familiar insult and tried to swallow his remaining tears.

"I am your master, boy! I am the reason you are not out in the cold, exposed and helpless like the infant you are. I would congratulate your father on getting rid of such a weak creature, if he had not done so by selling you to me. You will do as I say, Koinosuke Odago, or you will suffer until your early death."

Koinosuke shuddered, tasting blood in his mouth. It was only a beating he had suffered, just like any other beating, but he was afraid . . . always afraid. He heard the swish of the bamboo stick as it raised up again and cringed. "I will do as you say, no more, please!"

Atime chuckled lowly and his hand dropped back to his side. "Always the coward, ne Koinosuke-kun? Can't even stand by your arguments. Pathetic."

Kurobashi Atime left the young man with his tears and his self-hatred, alone in the darkness.

* * *

"To think that my cowardice would have led Jubei-sama to his death . . . it is something I have never forgiven myself for."

"Koinosuke," said Jiyu, her dismay clearly showing on her face. "Koinosuke, why blame yourself for something you didn't even do? Just because you almost did it doesn't mean anything. You made the right choice in the end, Koino-san. Isn't that what matters the most?"

Koinosuke sighed. "I came so close to obeying Kurobashi Atime out of fear--"

Jiyu put a finger to his lips, silencing him. "You didn't want to do it. That tells me enough."

The young samurai looked at Jiyu and felt a surge of love toward her. Miss Jiyu was so compassionate and understanding; even to others who were less than that to her. She reminded him indefinitely of his master Yagyu Jubei.

"So . . . what did happen, Koinosuke?" Sai asked, interrupting his thoughts.

The samurai looked back to the stars and continued. "I spent most of the night awake, thinking.Yagyu Jubei was the top swordsman, much better than Master Atime. Like my father, I had always admired Jubei's legendary skill. The thought that I was to be involved in his assassination tormented me, but I feared Atime too much to argue with him directly. All I knew for certain was that his plan would fail and it would get both of us killed."

* * *

"Y-Yagyu Jubei . . . sama . . ." The ten-year old child stammered. He raised his katana, forcing his hands not to tremble. "I challenge you!"

"So," chuckled the bemused swordsman. "You wish to duel me?"

"H-Hai, Jubei-sama."

"You do not appear as if you wish to." Yagyu Jubei put his hand on his sword's hilt, making as if to draw it.

Koinosuke-kun swallowed dryly. No, he did not want to be here . . . not in the least. But it was too late to turn back now. "I challenge you! F-Fight me already!"

Jubei still did not draw his sword.

"If you do not want to do this, then don't. Nobody can make you do what you don't want to do. Grow up, marry, live a long peaceful life. My, you are so young for a challenger . . . "

Koinosuke's sword wavered.

"What is your name?"

"O-Odago . . . Koinosuke," the boy replied, bewildered. He lowered the sword.

The boy could feel Atime's eyes on him, but for the first time in a long while Koinosuke had the feeling that things were going to turn out allright. Jubei suddenly relaxed and smiled at him. "Allright then. Since you are the son of a samurai, I suppose a sparring match wouldn't hurt. I'm sure you could do with the practice, ne, Koinosuke-kun? I'm sure you're very skilled to challenge me."

"A-Ano . . ." Koino choked, confused at the sudden change. Jubei winked at him and inclined his head ever so subtly toward the bushes. Koinosuke caught hte motion and understood. Yagyu Jubei knew of the man waiting to ambush him and was planning on luring out his true attacker. "H-Hai!" Forcing himself not to glance at the bushes himself, he raised his blade.

"Haaa!" Jubei cried and raced toward him.

Before their blades made contact, Atime sprang out of hiding intent on cutting Jubei as he ran past. Yagyu Jubei was ready, however. He pivoted rapidly to counter Kurobashi's katana, but was not prepared when Atime threw a handful of dirt into his eye. "Gyah!" Jubei cursed and stepped rapidly to avoid a widely overconfident swing of his opponent's weapon. Koinosuke watched in shock and dismay. This was not how samurai were supposed to fight.

Fighting blind, Jubei was forced to rely on his other senses to anticipate Atime's next attack. Atime's blows kept his hands too busy to rub the stinging particles from his eye. His opponent took full advantage of this and concentrated on forcing Jubei back to unstable ground. The ground was slippery with mud and sloped treacherously. Mudstone and loose shale slid from beneath Jubei's sandaled feet, denying him traction and causing him to lose his balance.

"HAAAH!" Atime yelled in triumph, but as Jubei fell, his leg came up and kicked Atime in the stomach. The man flailed backwards and fell down, giving Jubei time to wipe furiously at his streaming eye. Atime was on his feet sooner than Jubei, and rushed forward with a yell of fury. His sword came down heavily upon Jubei's blade, sending it flying out of reach.

Koinosuke cried out in denial. No, this couldn't be . . .

Jubei flipped out of the sword's next blow. Atime grunted in annoyance and swung again. He missed a second time as Jubei ducked and rolled. Koinosuke clenched his fists, glad Jubei had escaped death, but dreading the outcome. The man could not hope to win against Atime without a sword.

The boy's eyes rested on Jubei's katana, lying uselessly on the ground. He ran for it.

"Jubei! Your reign as top swordsman is almost over, Yagyu Jubei!" laughed Atime as he continued to slice at Jubei. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small figure running towards them, blade gleaming. Atime too saw the boy and laughed. "He comes running to share in the glory . . ."

"Jubei-sama!" Koinosuke-kun yelled, turning the blade around in his hands and thrusting it, hilt-first, into Jubei's grasp.

"Nani?!" Atime shouted, stopping his attack on Jubei. "Traitor!" Koinosuke was not quick enough to dodge Atime's vengeful blow. The boy screamed and blood sprayed, soaking his clothes and the ground as he fell. Stray crimson droplets spattered on Atime's shoes. He turned back ot Jubei, just in time to see death approach.

Jubei was already charging. His weapon flashed once and time stood still. Atime stood as if suspended forever in the last moments of his life, blood seeping from the wound and dripping down to mingle with Koinosuke's. Slowly, like a great tree cut from its roots, he crumpled into a lifeless heap. Jubei stood over him, eyes smoldering.

From his position on the ground, Koinosuke smiled weakly up at him. "You . . . you were magnificent," he whispered.

Yagyu Jubei was at his side in a heartbeat. He rolled the boy onto his back and tore away the blood soaked areas of clothing to better inspect the wound. After a moment of tense observation, the man smiled and chuckled in relief. "You're going to be allright, Koinosuke-kun." He laid a gentle hand on Koinosuke's forehead. "You're going to be allright."

Instead of relief, Koinosuke felt shame flood his heart. He turned his face away, weeping silently. "G-Gomen nasai. Your kindness is more than a coward such as myself deserves." Jubei's eyes widened in surprise.

"How do you call yourself a coward, Koinosuke Odago?"

"O . . . oro?"

"You did not wish to fight me, yet you stood before me with your blade raised, prepared for death. You brought me my sword when you saw I was in need of a weapon, leaving yourself open to attack. What reason is there to think of you as a coward?"

Koinosuke dared to look back at Yagyu Jubei.

Jubei's gentle hand smoothed back his hair. "Koinosuke-kun. You are a brave and honorable young man. Don't let anyone make you believe otherwise."

The boy blinked, eyes shimmering with surprised tears. "You . . . really think I . . . was honorable?"

The older man regarded him with a kind smile. "Hai." Carefully, he lifted Koinosuke in his arms. "I want you to stay with me from now on. We'll look after one another. And I will train you how fight, if that is your wish."

"J-Jubei-sama! A-Ano . . . demo . . . I'm not a fighter at all. I can barely hold a sword properly. I never wanted to. G-Gomen."

Jubei regarded him with some surprise then laughed pleasantly. "No matter. You can still be my assistant, Koinosuke-kun. You have a good heart, and that's more important to me than having a strong swordsman. I think I am swordsman enough for us both anyway, ne?"

Koinosuke nodded solemnly. Jubei's laughter rang out once more, coaxing a smile to the young boy's face.

* * *

"I was with him from that day on. Jubei did not teach me how to fight, because he knew I didn't want to learn. I wasn't a fighter at heart. And for the first time ever . . . I felt that it was nothing to be ashamed of."

Koinosuke's eyes were glistening as he looked at the night sky.

Jiyu was silent as she watched the stars alongside him, and Sai was looking thoughtful.

"Ne, Koinosuke. He seemed to care for you so much, even when he barely knew you. I bet you miss him a lot . . ."

Koinosuke smiled. He was about to answer her, but then Sai sat up and announced that he had to get back to writing.

"Papa? Don't you need to ask Koinosuke some questions?"

"He already answered them," Sai replied while stretching and popping his back. "Arigatou, Koinosuke. You're practically my live-in muse." He clambered down the ladder and disappeared back into his room.

"Ano? Muse?"

Jubei smiled at him. "I'll explain to you later, Koino-san. I better get dinner started." She squeezed his hand and smiled at him, causing him to blush endearingly. "I'll call you when it's ready, ne?"

"Hai!" Jiyu nodded at him and followed her Papa down the ladder.

Koinosuke started to get up when by chance he caught a glimmering sparkle in the night sky. "Oh?" He looked up higher and for just a moment, saw the face of his beloved master. Jubei-sama smiled and winked at him before becoming indistinguishable once more from the stars.

"Jubei-sama? Was that really you?" The young samurai asked. He settled back down, willing the vision to come back. Jubei-sama was all he had lived for the past 300 years. It was all he knew. All other events of his life were so far beyond his reach that he barely realized he was missing anything. But sometimes, an ache would appear in place of a memory that he did not understand. Koinosuke would be painfully aware of those empty spaces and long more than ever to see his master again. "Jubei-sama . . ." he whispered again. "Just once more . . . onegai . . ."

He sat out there, watching the stars for a long time.

"Mr. Koinosuke! It's ready!" Jiyu called from inside the house.

"H-Hai!" Koinosuke turned his forlorn gaze back to the heavens, lingering for just a moment longer. Then, sighing, he climbed down the ladder and walked through the patio door to join Sai and Jiyu for dinner.