I'll Do My Crying in the Rain
Chapter One -- Mushrooms and newlyweds: A pleasant and peaceful vacation
By Gabi (email@example.com)
It was the height of October's Indian summer and the day was uncomfortably warm. It was so warm, in fact, that common sense directed those outside that it would be to their benefit to stay in the shade. One such fellow who almost always listened to what the logical part of his mind asserted was lounged comfortably in a crook of a large water elm branch that bent gracefully towards the swift water in the large river nearby. His tabi, sandals, and gi were all folded neatly in a small pile at the base of the tree. Clad in only his hakama, the boy would have easily passed for a fourteen-year-old playing hooky from his chores or lessons were it not for the healed-over sword scar on his right shoulder. Still, at first glance, he did look like a regular boy spending a warm fall day devoted to nothing more than fishing, because he was indeed dangling a line into the water. However, even if the less observant watcher would not have failed to notice the pair of swords hung from a cloth obi and draped over another branch less than twelve inches away from the boy's free hand.
The obi was knotted around the branch in an odd loop, one certain to keep the swords from coming loose accidentally and dropping into the river, but also one that could be released swiftly if one knew which part of the belt to pull. The sheaths also hung at a peculiar angle so that both of the swords could be drawn at a moment's notice, provided the boy was willing to let go of his fishing line and let it drop into the water.
Still, despite the fact that he was apparently prepared for all comers, the boy in the dark blue hakama did not look in the least bit worried. He had straddled the branch and was leaning backward against a gnarl, playing with the fishing line absently as he drowsed with a half-smile on his face. The birds were singing pleasantly in the trees, the sun was warm and the breeze was nice and cool in the shade. It was the perfect time to let go of his worries and nap . . .
"Soujiro-kun?" called an anxious voice from the base of the tree, "Have we caught any fish yet?"
The boy opened one eye and then shifted his position so he could peer down through the branches of the tree. The girl who stared up at him anxiously had large green eyes, their color so clear and unmistakable that he could judge it even at this distance. Her hair was sleek and brown, bound in a low ponytail that the breeze lightly played with. Like the boy, she had shed her sandals and socks, but some modesty kept her from throwing off her dark green gi, despite the temperature. She was carrying some small bundle in her hands that she fidgeted with as she waited for his response.
He smiled pleasantly as he shook his head and called down to her, "Iie, Kuri-san, we haven't caught any yet."
She crossed her arms and looked suspicious, "Are you sure that you're really fishing, Soujiro-kun? You promise you're not napping?"
Soujiro scratched the back of his head a little guiltily as he continued to smile, "Of course I'm fishing."
"I hope you remember that we're not just having a good time. That's our meal ticket," she lectured, pointing at the deep blue river.
He sweatdropped, "Hai, hai, Kuri-san. I know. I'm trying very hard to catch as many fish as possible."
The girl who peered up at him still seemed somewhat skeptical, so he attempted to distract her by changing the subject, "What's that you have in your hands?"
She seemed confused for a second and then glanced at the small bundle in her hands. She visibly brightened and he was pleased to see that his diversion had worked, "I gathered up some mushrooms for us to cook with the fish!" she replied cheerfully.
Soujiro was more than a little skeptical, "Mushrooms? Where did you find them?"
She waved her arm in a vague manner that more or less designated the whole riverside stand of trees they were now in, "Over by that tree."
Soujiro sweatdropped. He was in no mood to suffer mild poisoning from Kuri's wishful thinking, "Ne, Kuri-san, can you toss one up to me?"
The girl at the base of the tree planted her hands on her hips and looked indignant, "Soujiro-kun! I was raised on a farm! I know what mushrooms are bad and which ones are good!"
"Maa Kuri-san, I know you were raised on a farm. If you were telling me which turnips were safe to eat I wouldn't be worried. Ano Kuri-san," he leaned out farther over the branch, "You didn't grow wild mushrooms on the farm, did you?"
Kuri's brows furrowed and Soujiro wondered if he had said the wrong thing, but then she sweatdropped and laughed nervously, "Well, I guess not, but this is one of the things I'm supposed to know about. Remember! I knew to dig for wild onions just from the shallot tops!" she offered triumphantly in her defense.
"Hai, I remember. I'm very impressed with your wilderness survival skills, now please throw up one of those mushrooms, Kuri-san," he remarked pleasantly, apparently not connecting wild onions and wild mushrooms at all.
Kuri almost scowled. She felt like throwing a rock at him, not a mushroom. Here she had spent the last hour gathering up wild mushrooms for their dinner while he slept in the top of that tree! Oh, he had some nerve to question her ability to identify simple plants. Mushrooms were plants, weren't they? She thought so. Anyway, that was beside the point. She knew for a fact that the mushrooms that she had gathered were not some bubbling reeking poison. She was not that much of an idiot. Still, he expected her to chuck one of her handpicked mushrooms at him so he might decide whether they were fit to eat or not so she might as well keep him happy.
She put the rest of the mushrooms down and chose a nice fat one for their posterboy. After making sure Soujiro knew her intention, she tossed the mushroom at him, aiming the oddly shaped projectile as best she could. It went a little high, but he had no difficulty in catching it, she was pleased to see. That at least meant the thing wasn't wasted, provided he didn't come to any fool conclusions about its edibility.
"Baka," she muttered to herself and then she spied a small marble sized stone on the riverbank at her feet. Remembering her earlier momentary urge to chuck a rock at him to knock some sense into him, Kuri bent to pick it up, pretending that she was picking something off the bottom of her foot. Soujiro was apparently so engrossed in testing the mushroom's edibility that he paid her no heed. She smiled impishly as she took careful aim and then threw the pebble at his exposed back, knowing it was sure to ping him. That'd teach him to question her obvious wood sense, she thought smugly as she let the little stone go.
It whizzed true to its mark, but then at the last second, Soujiro shifted absently to the side and the pebble flew past him. After a moment, she heard a very unsatisfying splash. Unable to contain her disappointment, Kuri cried out.
"Hey! No fair dodging!"
Soujrio glanced back at her and raised an eyebrow, "No fair throwing rocks in the first place."
"Well, you started it," she said indignantly, sticking her tongue out at him, "Baka," she added under her breath and waited his appraisal of the mushrooms with a less than pleasant expression.
"Hai," he sweatdropped nodding in that unassuming way of his, "I started it."
He could almost see the little storm clouds gathering over her head. When Kuri got emotional she was not subtle.
"Hey! Now don't you be that way!" she cried and she shook her fist at his dangling feet.
"What way?" he asked, sincerely baffled. He had no idea what she was talking about. He had after all, just taken all the blame onto himself.
"That 'I know it's really Kuri's fault but I'm going to pretend it's mine so she'll shut up' way!" she retorted.
"Well, if you knew it was your fault then why did you say it was mine?" he asked curiously, peering down at her again. He turned just in time to dodge another rock that she had lobbed at him in retaliation to his latest innocent observation.
"Stop dodging!" she cried angrily, "I didn't say it was my fault. I said I wanted you to stop pretending that it was your fault even though you think it was my fault just to shut me up! I'm not so stupid that I don't realize that you're just pretending to think it's your fault while it's really my fault. Do you really think that you're such a good actor that I can't tell when you're just pretending that it's your fault? I never think that you believe that it's really your fault when you tell me that it is. I know you really think that it's my fault!" she finished, waving her arms irately.
He tried to digest the gist of what she had said. It was sometimes difficult to understand her when she talked in such a roundabout way. Still, he was fairly sure of her message, and her irate hand motions did more than get the point across. He was happy that he was safely in the tree where he could dodge both the irrational comments and the rocks thrown at him easily. However, as funny as she seemed gesticulating and ranting angrily on the ground, he still preferred her happy and calm, so he once again sought a way to distract her.
"Good job on picking the mushrooms, Kuri-san," he offered her his most peaceful and non-combative smile. He had learned that this smile either put her off completely or triggered her nurturing 'eat-your-vegetables' side.
As he had hoped, Kuri grinned brightly, "I told you so! I told you I know my mushrooms!"
Soujiro nodded pleasantly, "Now you can go and wash them. Maybe if you wrap them in wet leaves they'll stay nice and cool until dinner time."
"Hai hai!" she responded obediently and gathered up her mushrooms again. The riverbank where they were currently situated was mostly quite steep, however there was one smoothly inclined slope of clay that seemed like a perfect place to wash the mushrooms. She bounced as she walked, and she was not prepared for the slickness of the clay when she stepped easily onto the slope. Her bare foot slipped completely out from under her and she landed on her side, losing her bundle of mushrooms as she tumbled awkwardly down the slick muddy slope and made a loud splash in the water.
She didn't have time to grab for the bank before the powerful current swept her away from the shore. She tried her best to stay afloat, but the current was strong and the undertow fierce, and this being her first time swimming, it was not altogether surprising that she panicked.
"Taskute!" she cried, as the water swept her along out into the deep middle waters and away from the safety of the shallows.
Soujiro, who had once again been idly daydreaming in the haze, snapped to attention the second her heard the splash. Assessing the situation in a split second, he leapt out of the tree with no second thoughts, leaving his katana and iaitou tied securely to a branch. He could always come back for them later. He landed on the ground lightly, taking most of the impact in the natural shock absorbers of his bare feet.
He moved his body in one smooth motion and prepared to dive into the swift water himself when suddenly he heard another splash. His attention immediately snapped to the cause of this second splash, a dark, sleek head and shoulders that were making there way swiftly to Kuri's aid. Soujiro sighed with relief as the swimmer latched onto her and began to tow her back to shore. There was no reason for him to throw himself into the water now, he'd only hinder the person who was bringing her in, but still his protective nature flared and he had to stop himself twice from going to help. The most he allowed himself was to wade out into the shallows of the river and help the man bring her on shore. Doing so got him covered in the same slick mud that Kuri had fallen prey to, although he managed to retain his balance.
Kuri was a little water-logged and filthy from her tumble down the muddy slope, but other than that, she was none the worse for wear. Despite all her yelling and flailing about, she seemed to have swallowed very little water, likely due to the fact that she'd been rescued so quickly. Still, despite the fact that she seemed all right, he immediately put a protective arm around her and drew her slightly behind him at the same time bowing formally to the tall stocky man who had pulled her out of the river.
He was an amiable looking man, not particularly handsome, but with pleasant features and a broad face. He returned Soujiro's bow.
"Arigatou gozaimashta," spoke Soujiro, in his soft musical voice, "Seta Soujiro desu. Hajimemashite."
The man grinned pleasantly, "Mataemon Shinji desu. I'm very happy to make your acquaintance and even happier to do you a service. I was just lucky enough to see her when she slipped. That's why I was able to get to her so fast," he peeped at Kuri, who in turn peeped out from behind Soujiro.
Soujiro smiled absently and then feigned embarrassment, "Forgive me, let me introduce my wife, Seta Kuri," he remarked casually, gesturing to the girl behind him.
Kuri froze absolutely stock still and blinked several times. She knew that he had not just said what she thought he had said. She knew it. It must have been a hallucination from swallowing too much water. She'd never known anyone to have hallucinations from swallowing too much water, but she did not doubt for a second that this had just happened to her. After all, there was no possible way that he would have said what she thought he had just said.
"Newlyweds?" the man asked, grinning broadly
Kuri almost swallowed her tongue when Soujiro nodded.
"Hai, we're going on a walking tour and I was fairly certain that there weren't any inns nearby, so we decided to set up camp by this river. That was apparently not a good idea," he sweatdropped, apparently for his 'wife's' inability to take care of herself.
Shinji winked at him, "Well then it's certainly a lucky thing that I came along to check my nets just now. My house is just over that ridge. You're welcome to come and stay with us, I'm sure my wife won't mind. After all," he remarked, gesturing to their clothing, "You're going to need baths after that tumble in the mud and I wouldn't suggest another dip in the water just here," he laughed at it was a friendly sound.
"Well, we wouldn't want to impose, Mataemon-san . . . " Soujiro began.
Shinji cut him off, "I insist! It'll be nice to have company and you look like respectable folks."
Soujiro bowed again in acceptance of the proffered hospitality, "Thank you, that's very nice of you to say."
Kuri was completely dumbfounded by the two men smiling and laughing at each other. She continued to be dumbfounded while Soujiro packed their belongings back into their small travelling sack and convinced her to put her dry tabi and sandals back on. The most frustrating part of this was the fact that Shinji was never out of earshot long enough for Kuri to question Soujiro. She wanted to whack him over the head with his fishing pole. He never told her anything. He always did things without asking. She never knew what was going on. Still, considering their current situation, she decided it was best to just meekly follow his directions until she could get him alone somewhere and figure out what the heck was going on. Not that she found the prospect of being his wife, even for just pretend particularly repulsive. In truth it excited her and made her extremely nervous at the same time, however, she was content to let her anger completely roil those emotions over because she was finally fed up with him never telling her anything. Plus, she was fairly sure he'd fed the pleasant man who'd dragged her out of the river that story just so he wouldn't ask questions about the two of them travelling together. She knew that he'd done it before on numerous occasions, but this was the first time he'd ever claimed her as his wife. That somehow made it very different. That somehow made it much more important. Especially since he was generally as affectionate as a lamppost. For all his wonderful logical calculations and machinations he really seemed completely clueless as to why she desired his attention most of the time. He really could be a total idiot.
"Baka," she muttered again, under her breath, but when Soujiro turned to glance behind, his comfortable smile in place, she smiled sweetly and followed the two men quietly along a path that lead south, over the ridge.