Chapter 1: Entrance of the rabbit girl: What the rain brings
By Gabi (email@example.com)
I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me in the RKRC Awards from the bottom of my heart ^_^ I was a total dark horse candidate in that and the fact that I won first runner up in Fanfic of the Year really warms my heart ^_^. I love you all! That having been said, onto the fanfic ^^.
The road was deserted. He'd passed no one the entire day. Now, as dusk drew on, he wondered if he would be sleeping out in the open again. There was a faint rumble of thunder and he glanced at the sky to see ominous clouds, dark on the horizon.
"It looks like I'll be sleeping outside in the rain again," he observed aloud to himself. Some things would never change.
Still, despite the threat of rain, the boy travelling along the lonesome road was smiling in a peaceful, relaxed manner. He looked travel worn, but the miles he had walked did not make him look any older. His gi was a little worn around the sleeves, and his tabi were becoming quite thin over the heels, but his face was still that of a boy's. His hair was gray black and cropped close to his head, and his eyes were a clear and unclouded blue. With his benign smile, and slight figure, he looked no older than fourteen.
Travelers he passed often wondered how a boy his age had become a ronin. Even this far into the Meiji Era, he still carried a katana thrust through his obi. He had no wakazachi, but the katana alone was enough to warn most people away from him. He didn't travel in major cities, so he had yet to have a dispute with the police, but he knew very well that the presence of a sword on a non-officer was a punishable offence. Still, he carried a katana anyway, unwilling to relinquish this tie to his past. He would need it, after all, if he were to keep the promise that had started him out on the journey in the first place.
The rain started lightly, a gentle patter on the top of his head. He accelerated his pace somewhat and was rewarded by the faint glow of lights ahead of him. There was a lone building in front of him, likely a roadside inn. He had a little money, and it had been a long time since he had slept in a bed. He decided that if it were an inn, he would stop there for the night. A warm meal and shelter from the storm would be worth more at this point than the few coins rattling together inside the pouch in his gi.
A much more menacing roll of thunder urged him on, and he hoped that at least the inn, if it were an inn, would provide a rest for his weary bones, if not for his weary mind.
The building was an inn, and a very comfortable one at that. He shared the common room with only one other guest, who did not seem particularly talkative. The boy sat by the fire, in a spare robe, while his own clothes dried out. He had been provided with a plate of food and a jug of sake sat on a table near him. He ate, but did not drink the sake. Instead, he asked for water, and the innkeeper replied that it would be a few moments because it had to be drawn from the well in the yard.
He was only paying cursory attention to the innkeeper, and was instead studying the fire. His attention was attracted when the innkeeper began cursing. He turned back to see the innkeeper, a burly, middle aged man, shaking his fist at an adolescent girl dressed in a filthy oversized smock. Her hair was knotted back into a ragged bun and she was barefooted. She was dirty, and looked underfed, but the most noticeable feature on her face was a large blue-black bruise on the left side of her head. Despite the threatening gestures the man made, she looked defiant. She stood stock still in front of him and outright ignored the fact that he had just demanded she fetch water from the well. The storm was fierce and she had no desire to go outside in the maelstrom, especially since she wasn't allowed near the fire to warm or dry herself.
Finally frustrated with her defiance, the innkeeper opened the door and physically threw her out into the rain and lobbed the bucket after her. He warned her not to come back until she had drawn fresh water from the well, and slammed the door, locking it after him. He turned back to the two men beside the fire muttering something about stupid servants.
"You have to teach them that way or they won't learn at all," he observed to his two guests.
The other man beside the fire nodded, wetting his lips against the dryness of the room. He had sharp, sly little eyes and a weak mouth.
The innkeeper moved to return to the kitchen, but the boy stopped him with a softly intoned question, "How did she get that bruise?"
Eyeing the katana that lay inches away from the boy's hand, the innkeeper nervously smiled,
"She's a clumsy oaf. She fell down the cellar stairs the other day. Spilt a jug of my nicest sake too. She's more trouble than she's worth."
The innkeeper was happy to see that the boy was still smiling as he turned away. He had apparently been satisfied with the answer. The boy simply settled a bit farther back into his chair and stared into the fire.
He woke early, earlier than any of the members of the household, or at least he supposed. He gathered his things swiftly and quietly, and was glad to be back in his own clothes despite how worn they might be. The storm had cleared over night and he could see the pale dawn through a slit in the window covering. He had few belongings, so packing was easy. He had only to pocket his small purse and tuck his katana into his obi. This accomplished, he padded silently down the stairs.
He wanted to be clear of the place as soon as possible. It stirred memories and feelings in him that he had locked away in a box and thrown into a deep well long ago. Despite his promise, despite his journey, he had no desire to open that box ever again.
He had paid the night before, and although he had been promised a cold breakfast, he did not want to stay to wait for it. Briefly he wondered about the girl, but then pushed her from his mind. This was not a road he was ready to travel. She would have to fend for herself. If she knew what was good for her, she would run away and never come back.
He slid the outer door open quietly, not wanting to disturb the rest of the household. He was just about to set off on his way when he heard a muffled cry from around the corner of the house. He felt a chill run through him, although the smile never left his face. He closed his eyes briefly, as if making a decision, and then silently slid the door shut.
He was not surprised by what he found behind the house. The big innkeeper had his hand over the girl's mouth, and although she feebly squirmed, she couldn't get away from him. The innkeeper was cursing at her lowly, but not so softly that the boy couldn't make out what he was saying.
"You're lucky you're still alive! When a man like that tells you to do something for him, you do it! It's not like you're delicate and frail! You should have given him what he wanted!" he shook her so that her teeth rattled, "Do you realize how powerful and important he is? He's a member of the government!"
The girl struggled against him pitifully. He held her off the ground so there was little she could do to fight him.
"Girls all over this prefecture would jump at the chance to give him favors, but you! You! He could have me jailed for this! You stupid worthless piece of shit! How could you bite him? I own you and you're going to learn to do what I say or I'll kill you."
The innkeeper shook the girl again so hard that she went limp like a rag doll. He threw her down and she landed on her head and was very still. He was apparently not satisfied with this punishment though, because he bent to pick up a board from the yard.
When he straightened, he found the
boy standing in front of him, smiling pleasantly.
"Please don't touch her again."
The innkeeper twitched and he looked nervous at being caught in the act by the samurai boy, "I'm just disciplining a servant, sir. Nothing to see here. I'm sure you'd find you room much more comfortable than the stable yard at dawn," he wet his lips but he made no motion to throw down the board or stand down.
The boy's smile was still as serene and pleasant as ever, "You don't understand," his voice was soft and polite as moved his hand over the hilt of his katana, "If you don't stop, I'll kill you."
The innkeeper's eyes widened, "Y-you don't understand what she did. She deserves this, the wretched thing. She bit the commissioner! He'll probably have me thrown in jail! She has got to learn her place! She's mine, and she has to learn be a receptive girl who doesn't sauce back," this brought the sour look back to his face and he kicked her prone form.
The boy moved in an instant, without thought. Even if he had been looking, the innkeeper would not have seen him move. The boy did not allow himself to be that sloppy, even against someone who posed as little threat to him as the innkeeper did. He drew the katana and stuck in one smooth motion, covering the distance between them in less than a blink of an eye. He left the innkeeper where he fell in the mud, as he preformed a matter-of-fact chiburi, flicking the blood from his katana before resheathing it. Even as he did, he wondered to himself about his actions. They certainly didn't seem to fit him, but perhaps this was the first definite step on his new journey. Perhaps.
He scooped the small waif girl up and shifted most of the weight of his new burden to his left shoulder before setting off, back around the building, to the road.
As the morning came into full light, any who passed him would see that he was still benignly smiling.
At noon he stopped to rest underneath a large tree beside of the road. There was a stream nearby so he gathered a palm full of water and brought it to the girl, who was still out cold. He splashed a little on her face and she stirred slightly, bringing a hand to her brow. All of the sudden, she went rigid and curled up into a ball reflexively. He kept a gentle grip on her shoulder and shook her lightly while he assured her that she was safe. After a few minutes of coaxing, she uncurled slowly and rolled over to examine her surroundings and new companion.
"Where am I?" she demanded, rubbing the new bruise on her leg gingerly, "And how did I get here?"
"You're about half a day's journey north from that inn," he answered pleasantly, "I carried you here because I'm afraid the innkeeper would have killed you if I had left you there."
She was a bit perturbed by his smile, but tried to ignore it, "You saw what he was doing to me? The last thing I remember, he was shaking me . . . I was sure that he was going to kill me," she added quietly.
"I stopped him," he answered simply.
Her brows furrowed, "Why did you help me?"
He tilted his chin upwards slightly, and looked a bit puzzled, although he continued to smile, "I wasn't exactly sure when I did it, but now that I've had time to think about it, I've decided that it's because you remind me of someone."
Her eyes widened, "Are you?" she halted and blushed, "Are you?" she couldn't seem to be able to finish her thought out loud. Finally she squealed, "I'm not that kind of girl!"
He looked blankly puzzled.
She stabbed an accusing finger at him, "I know why you brought me out here to the middle of nowhere!"
He seemed to catch on finally, but he simply shook his head, "Maa, I just thought you were in trouble and needed help. You can leave whenever you want."
She blinked and looked a bit incredulous, "Really?"
"Hai," he smiled pleasantly.
"You helped me just because I was in trouble? Just 'cause I needed help?"
"You don't want anything in return?"
He sweatdropped and wondered what she had to give, "Iie."
"No one 's ever done that for me," she thought soberly. She felt a bit sheepish for harassing and accusing him. She bowed her head in both apology and thankfulness, "Arigatou gozaimasu."
He turned away, "Now you're free. You can go wherever you like," he said, making a vague gesture with his hand that was supposed to encompass all of the surrounding countryside.
She blinked, "But, I'm coming with you! That's why you brought me along, isn't it? You said you wanted to help me when I was in trouble!"
He looked over his shoulder, smile as pleasant as ever, "You can't come with me. I'm on a journey."
She stood up and faced him, hands on her hips. "I don't have anywhere else to go!"
He looked at her curiously, "Don't you have parents? A family?"
"Who do you think sold me to the inn in the first place!" she snapped.
"Then go to the city. I'm sure you could find work there," he offered helpfully.
She balled her hands up angrily. He didn't care about her at all. He just sat there listening to her troubles and kept smiling. "That bastard," she thought, seething. She'd like to kick him in the teeth!
"Do you know what kind of jobs homeless girls my age get in the city?" she fumed, "I've heard horrible stories from men at the inn!"
For a moment she looked as if she were going to tackle him in an attempt to convince him. He raised his hands in defense, "All right," he relented, smiling blandly, "You can travel with me until we can find some place else for you to stay."
She was apparently satisfied with this response, because she smiled brightly and nodded, "Fair enough. I'm Kuri," she said, formally bowing.
The boy's smile was continuous, like a light some one had forgotten to turn off. He bowed in turn, "Seta Soujiro."
She bounced on one foot, "Now that introductions are over, Soujiro-kun, let's get going. I want to be as far away from that place as possible," she set off at a quick march.
He paused briefly at the breach in respect but decided to let it slide. It didn't matter that much. People were always misjudging his age. He wondered, for a moment, if he had made the right decision, then turned to see her bouncing up and down about fifty feet down the road.
"Haiyaku Soujiro-kun!" she called, waving her arms, "Haiyaku!"
Then he realized that there had been
no decision to make.