"ONE"

Blanket Disclaimer: I own nothing, just the DOAU game.

NOTE: This is a DOA AU story. Ayane definitely knew of Ayame in the original story line, but was taken care of by another guardian, a regular old man as seen in the game intro.

Also, an enormous Thank You goes to the reviewer who spotted the HUGE canon mistake in the original draft (therefore ruining the point for the rest of the story!). It's all fixed now!

-x-

The sun shone down on the village. The sounds of men about their work filled the surrounding area. The distinct sound of clashing swords could be heard closer to the boundaries of the clan, where the younger adults were sparring some participating in more intense training.

But in the midst of all this, a small child by the name of Ayane was setting out to fulfil a request. It was a simple one: take the list, head to the supermarket and purchase what was on the list.

Unfortunately for Ayane, something like that would never be simple, because it involved doing something she tried to avoid as much as possible: stepping foot outdoors.

Especially by herself.

She knew that the moment she entered the main vicinity of the village, she would be vulnerable to the numerous taunts and jeers. Being only six years old, she was quite defenceless, unable to retort back even if she wanted to. It would accomplish nothing. Particularly when they ganged up on her in groups of four or five.

Sometimes she would get lucky, and a somewhat sympathetic villager would take reluctant pity on her and scold the boys. However, it didn't happen very often at all, and most times, Ayane would have to try and fend off the attacks. The result was normally that Ayane would usually end up on the ground, nursing her wounds.

After many attempts to do a simple thing such as purchasing grocery items, and having little success without being teased and injured, Ayane finally pleaded with Kasumi to do the errands.

"Sure," the older girl agreed with a smile. "You're my friend after all."

But then the day came when Ayame presented the list to her, and Kasumi was not around. Ayane felt panic overtake her thoughts, but agreed, with hesitance, to complete the task. After all, Ayame had been her caretaker for as long as she could remember, and this was one of the ways in which the young girl felt she could repay the kind woman.

Ayane tucked the list into her pocket and took a nervous breath, heading outside. Maybe she would get lucky today and they would not be outside. Maybe she would not have to endure the usual taunts. Maybe they would be preoccupied with something else and would not even notice her.

No such luck.

As soon as she came across the center of the main district – the supermarket was right across from her – the usual group of boys spotted her small form.

"Hey look, it's the bastard child!"

"The whore child."

"Half-breed!"

Just once, she wished they would get tired of teasing her and she could continue on her way in peace. Just once. But of course that would never happen, therefore she continued to make her way through. She kept her head low so as not to meet their gazes.

Unfortunately, they seemed to have other plans. One boy stepped right in her path.

"Going somewhere?" he demanded, readying himself into what Ayane could quickly classify as a fighting stance. The other boys crowded around her. There was no way for her to escape, that is, without going through some sort of pain.

"Excuse me," she said, trying to remain calm.

The boy grinned at her. "Oh, but we've missed seeing you outside," he said, making a threatening approach in her direction. "How long has it been, about a week or so?"

"I really need to get through," she insisted weakly, backing away. She hoped her tone was not coming out as frightened as it sounded to her. "So if you could just -"

In her attempt to try and get away from the threat, she had backed into the group behind her. She felt someone roughly push her forward, right into the oncoming path of a fist.

As usual, the 'fight' was over in a matter of seconds. Ayane lay facedown on the ground, blood dripping from her nose and several cuts among her limbs. She could hear the sound of the boys' laughter fading into the distance. Not one person came to help her up, but that fact didn't surprise her.

For as long as she could remember, she had always been the outcast. She slowly sat up to regain her surroundings, trying to stop the bleeding and looking rather pathetic. Her kimono was covered in dust, and a part of the shoulder was ripped. She knew Ayame wanted her to get the task done today, but she was aching too much to continue her trip. Wearily she picked herself up and headed back to the main building to nurse her wounds.

-x-

Ayane sat in her room. Well, it wasn't actually her room, as Kasumi was generous enough to share it with her, but it was the only place where she could rest in solitude, away from the taunts and accusing stares of the villagers.

A bucket of lukewarm water rested beside her, and a slightly worn cloth was clutched in her fingers as she tried to wash away the blood. She would have asked Ayame for help, but then the woman would have told her husband Shiden about the incident, and the last thing Ayane wanted to do was ignite his already short temper with her.

She put the cloth into the water, allowing the material to soak through, then wrung it out. The cloth absorbed some of the blood, but it was quickly becoming stained.

Uh-oh. There's no way Shiden won't notice this. Especially if he sees me like this…

"I'm back!" Light footsteps accompanied the swift sound of a door closing, and a cheerful high-pitched voice broke through the calm atmosphere. The footsteps came closer, and the door to the room opened. A young girl no older than seven bounded in, her gentle brown eyes full of excitement, her brown hair bouncing up and down in its custom ponytail.

"How was your day? I went out to spar in the fields with Nii-san!" she chirped. Then her smile faded as she took in the sight of Ayane sitting down by the bucket, trying to treat her wounds. "Ayane-chan… what happened?"

"It's nothing," Ayane said quickly, fumbling for a statement that would momentarily distract Kasumi's attention.

Before she had the chance to think of one, however, Kasumi's gaze narrowed suspiciously as she observed Ayane's faltering expression. "Were they picking on you again?"

"No," she said, but her reply lacked confidence. The older girl frowned and Ayane hung her head. "I'm sorry."

Kasumi let out a sigh and sat down beside her. "Ayane-chan… here, I'll help you." She dipped the cloth back into a bucket of lukewarm water that was resting beside the girl, and after washing the rest of the cuts, gently bandaged the rest of Ayane's various cuts and scratches.

Several seconds of silence passed between them, then Kasumi spoke again, her voice quiet, quite uncharacteristic of the enthusiastic girl she normally was. "So they were teasing you again, weren't they?" It was more of a statement than a question and Ayane avoided her gaze, but Kasumi persisted. "Why don't you tell someone so they'll stop doing it?"

"I don't want to cause trouble," the smaller girl protested, still refusing to meet her friend's gaze.

"Cause trouble? Ayane-chan, they're being mean and they have no reason to be that way, especially to you!" Kasumi said indignantly.

"But if I tell -"

"They'll stop," Kasumi interrupted. "They might be acting like jerks, but they have to listen to the Elders. They can't show disrespect if they're ordered to do something."

"But the Elders won't believe me."

Silence once again filled the room as the realisation of that statement sunk in. This time it was Ayane's turn to look up, only to find that Kasumi had put the cloth back in the water and shifted her gaze. Kasumi felt deep pity for her friend. She didn't come right out and say it, of course, due to the fact that it would result in embarrassment and awkwardness, but she didn't have to; Ayane could tell. The younger girl didn't know much, if any, detail about the circumstances regarding her birth. The statement "bastard child" spoke volumes in itself, as it placed a discriminating label upon her and drove an insult into her heart at the same time.

Ayane did not fully understand the term "half-breed" either.

From the way that they taunted her, she knew it was definitely meant to hurt her – and it did… but the tone of their voice struck her more harshly than their words. She wanted so badly to make friends. She was even willing to forgive endless bouts of teasing, just to see a friendly face instead of the leers and smirks that greeted her the moment she decided to step outside the house. But even at her young age, she somehow knew it would never happen that way.

Kasumi was the only one willing to be her friend, and that was most likely because the brown-haired girl was the daughter of Ayame. However, she was still grateful for the offered friendship, especially since she felt rather lonely at times, and she valued it most dearly. The two had quickly become close friends, and after a few months, Ayane even began to consider Kasumi as her big sister.

"I'll go put this away." Kasumi's voice broke into her thoughts, and the older girl took the cloth and bucket and stood up to leave. Ayane simply nodded and stared back down at her hands. The sounds of light footsteps against the carpet faded away for a moment and Ayane stood up as well, taking a moment to examine herself in the mirror.

Bright crimson eyes stared back at her, accompanied by soft purple hair. Her face was a contemplative mixture of sadness, regret, and the slightest hint of loneliness. Even though she was only six years old, already she was having to deal with prejudicial matters. Only she had no idea why.

A rip on her kimono caught her attention, and she bit her lip. It wasn't a big rip, but its location happened to be on her right shoulder, and it would catch Shiden's attention. And once again, she would have no choice but to take the blame for something that was not her fault. Maybe she could sew it up.

Just then Kasumi entered the room again. "Are your injuries feeling better?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Thank you." Ayane did not seem to be happy, though, and Kasumi asked her what was wrong. Ayane glanced at her, then back at the tear in the material by her shoulder, a worried expression on her face. "It's just that… if your daddy sees this…"

"Oh… you mean…" Kasumi's voice trailed off as she, too, noticed the rip. Ayane saw a flash of uncertainty in her eyes. Kasumi must have realized how unsettled she was at Ayane's unfinished statement, because she quickly covered up her unease with a smile. "Well, I can try and help… but… I haven't been taught to sew or anything like that. I can try, though," she offered.

Ayane shook her head. "No, I think I should do it. Maybe if I try and fix the material… he won't be angry at me."

Kasumi could only manage a nod. She knew, as well as Ayane, that Shiden loved to blame the younger girl on everything that happened. If Ayane was injured, he would say that it must have been her fault. Even if she was not actually at fault (and she rarely was), he believed that she was the cause of everything, and that her blood would taint the name of the clan.

A few hours later, after many attempts to try and sew up the kimono, Shiden had heard what had happened earlier. He entered the room where she sat, the kimono lying on her lap and a needle on the floor where she had thrown it in frustration. Not a word was exchanged between the two, but when his gaze shifted from the piece of clothing in her lap to her flushed face, she felt like he had just scolded her in the worst way possible – by simply standing there and glaring at her. He didn't say anything – he didn't have to. She could sense how angry he was just by the accusing gaze in his eyes, and her face heated up even further with embarrassment and helplessness for her predicament.

Seconds after he left, she burst into silent tears, burying her face in the clothing.

-x-

Seeing as Ayane had been prevented from going into the market last time, and Kasumi had been practising some sparring techniques with her brother in the fields, the girls decided to head off the next day and acquire the items on the list.

"Maybe if I'm with you they won't bother you," she said, sounding optimistic and attempting a smile. Ayane could only offer a weak one in return and pray that she was right.

Then again, Kasumi was Shiden's daughter, and he was the leader of the Mugen-Tenshin clan. Maybe she would be right – they were more likely to show respect to her and ignore Ayane than to tease the purple-haired girl and risk getting scolded in the process.

As it was, that statement was only half-accurate.

They never dared tease Kasumi; they had no reason to, and besides, they knew the clan leaders would disapprove of such an action. Especially with her being next in line to claim the position as the Mugin Tenshin leader when she grew up.

But Ayane was free bait for their taunts, and unfortunately for her, they were well aware of that fact.

"Hey, it's Ayane!" a particularly mean child shouted. "And look, she's finally found a friend!"

The others faked gasps of astonishment.

"Oh wait," he continued, the sarcasm evident in his tone. "That's just because Kasumi's mom takes pity on her. She's got no one else to play with."

Ayane glanced at the girl beside her. Kasumi was frowning, something she did rather often when she was getting irritated. "Will you leave her alone?" she hissed in Ayane's defence. "What did she ever do to you?"

"She's just a half-breed," another mocked. The usual group that harassed Ayane knew better than to encircle them. After all, Kasumi was with her, but that didn't mean they had to step aside and let them pass. In fact, they formed a sort of barrier between the two girls and their intending location.

"She's my friend! Why do you have to pick on her?" Kasumi persisted. Ayane was huddling close to her, a sign that she was feeling rather intimidated. Considering the circumstances, she had good reason to be.

"She's a half-breed," one of the boys behind them repeated, placing emphasis on the word half. "It's not like we're making things up, Kasumi-chan. She's not like the rest of us. I don't know why you bother with her, because no one else will."

Ayane lowered her gaze to the ground. Obnoxious as he was, the boy had a point: she was a half-breed.

An angry flush appeared on Kasumi's benign expression and she grasped Ayane's arm, pulling her through the crowd. The boys had no choice but to move; it was either that or be collided by a frustrated Kasumi.The sounds of the boys' teasing disappeared into the distance once they were inside. Ayane tugged her arm out of Kasumi's grasp.

"They're right, you know," she said, sounding slightly mournful. She still hadn't lifted her gaze from the ground.

Kasumi, who had grabbed an empty bag and was putting fruit into it, paused and looked at her. "What do you mean?" she asked in a puzzled way. She didn't like it how her friend had to endure such cruel taunts on a daily basis, but once they were inside and away from the teasing, she figured there was no need to dwell on it. "They're just trying to upset you, Ayane-chan."

"But what he said was true. I am a half-breed." Self-loathing filled her tone, and she practically spat out the words. True, she did not quite fully understand the meaning of the term "half-breed", but she knew it was meant to be an insult of some sort, and she was starting to become extremely frustrated about the entire thing.

Kasumi, sensing her friend's inner turmoil, set the plastic bag down and moved over to her, putting her hands on the younger girl's shoulders. "Ayane-chan, it doesn't matter what they say. They want to make you feel bad, but -"

"I heard your mommy and daddy talking about me late at night. They're always arguing about I was just some sort of mistake, that I'm not really their responsibility. They keep saying I don't have the same blood. I am a half-breed, Kasumi."

"You're not a half-breed," Kasumi insisted. "You're my friend, and that's what counts."

Kasumi accepted her, and as she said, that was what counted, but Ayane could not keep her thoughts about the boys' comments from lingering within her mind. However, she could tell the older girl was growing impatient at her lack of focus for the task at hand, and she shoved her doubts to the back of her mind, at least for now.

It didn't take them long to gather the items that Kasumi's mother had requested, and soon they were back on their way home, their hands full of shopping bags. The boys glared accusingly across the district but said nothing this time. Ayane kept her gaze averted and she and Kasumi presented the groceries to Ayame. The woman thanked the both of them with a smile, and Ayane retreated to the bedroom.

The children had no right to tease her constantly. She knew that much. But was there some sort of truth to their words? She had never been told who her father was, and she didn't even know who her mother was. The only thing she knew was that Ayame had taken care of her ever since she was a baby, but even then any affection had been toned down for fear of Shiden's temper.

Maybe it was her fault.

Maybe she really was a half-breed.

And yet, he still placed the blame on her whenever she didn't do anything. She knew she couldn't have been as bad as he said she was. True, she did not have their blood. But why did that have to make such a difference in the way she was treated?

All she wanted was an answer.

-

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To be continued...