Note: Sorry for the lengthy chapter. I spent months revising this, removing and adding in scenes. I tried to cut back on the dialogue, but still keep enough to convey the atmosphere of a scene. Part of the length is due to a scene that lasted longer than I thought it would, and I briefly thought about removing half the chapter to the next one, but then decided that a certain scene really belonged in this chapter instead. This chapter was extremely difficult to edit because of all the changes, but still keeping with the [assumed timeline based on Itagaki's cut-scenes.
Hope you guys still enjoy it, and Merry Christmas.
"Want to go sparring with us, Ayane?"
"Come on. It'll be really fun. You haven't been out in a while."
"Are you deaf? I said I didn't want to."
"Kasumi." Shiden's voice cut between the two girls, and as he entered the room, the atmosphere seemed to shift from an uncomfortable silence to awkward intimidation. Ayane unconsciously withdrew back. "I don't want you bothering her. She's got chores to do, and she needs to do them before stepping out of the house. Besides, Hayate's getting ready to leave now."
The older girl immediately leaped up. "Okay!" Then she calmed herself enough to ask, "But what about Ayane? Can she join us later?"
Shiden's gaze passed over Ayane, giving her the impression that he was scrutinizing her like always. The younger girl kept her gaze lowered at the wooden doll she was fidgeting with. The tension in the room was almost palpable.
"I doubt she'll have time," he said carelessly. "She's got enough to do. You go on ahead with your brother, Kasumi. It's important that you keep improving your sparring tactics."
"Oh. Well… sorry, Ayane." Kasumi glanced between her father and half-sibling, clearly torn between defending her half-sister but not wanting to upset her father either. "Maybe… maybe next time you can come with us." She hesitated for a moment longer, perhaps on the verge of saying something else, but after a meaningful look from her father, she bowed and left the room.
Shiden moved closer to Ayane. "You heard what I said. Don't waste your time with stuff like this." In one fluid motion he reached out and snatched the doll from her fingers. "This isn't yours, is it."
The girl kept her gaze down, her lack of response confirming his suspicions.
"It's not enough we kept you in this house and provided food for you, is it? It's not enough we had to put up with the gossip in the area that I had to raise a bastard's child. You can't even keep your hands to yourself. This is Kasumi's. Why do you have it?"
Ayane stiffened, unwilling to face him. After several seconds of silence, she finally answered, her voice flat. "She gave it to me."
"Sure she did." The sneer in his voice was unmistakable. "You probably stole it while she was out with Hayate. You should be helping Ayame out. Besides, if it weren't for her, you wouldn't even allowed to step inside this house. You should be grateful."
"I am grateful," Ayane finally said, although her voice trembled slightly. "I help her out all the time."
He knelt down, keeping his voice very soft. "Not from what I see. You're always in this bedroom playing with things. Hayate's even told me you've been rude to my daughter at times. You keep this up and you'll end up out in the wild."
Ayane said nothing. Shiden seemed to think he had won the argument; he stood back up and turned to leave. But not before managing to insult her.
"The only reason you're here is because of Ayame. The elders always warned me you'd be nothing but trouble if I took you in, especially since you're that bastard's child. You'd always just be a waste of time and space anyway. Don't know why I bothered to let her convince me about raising you."
The words cut into her, but she was determined not to show it. She kept her downwards until she heard the door closed. Then she stood up and went over to the mirror, glaring at her reflection.
I'm nothing but a waste. Just a bastard's child.
"Hey, look! It's Ayane!"
"Ha! She still hasn't got any friends. What a loser."
"The only one who'd ever want to play with her is Kasumi-san, and that's just because she has to live with her."
The usual insults and taunts assaulted Ayane's ears as soon as she entered the vicinity.
Ayame had specifically requested for Ayane to get some fruit for a pie she would be making in celebration of Kasumi's latest improvements at sparring… but she'd have to pass by the other children to get to the fruit vendor.
A group of boys not much older than her were standing in the middle of the area, pointing at her and grinning, making sure their voices were loud enough to be heard by everybody. Ayane quickly glanced at the side, where some of the elder clan members were standing, collecting goods from a vendor. Didn't they see?
As her gaze passed over them, one of them seemed to notice her presence at last, and gave a half-hearted attempt to stop the teasing. However, the boys were too busy jeering to pay attention. The clan member shrugged, gave an apologetic look in Ayane's general direction, then turned back to the vendor, presumably acting as though the teasing was not happening. A dull anger settled inside her stomach, and she forced herself to look away. Why couldn't they all just leave her alone for once?
"Hey, Ayane. Come over here," one of the eldest boys suddenly called out, as if she were a puppet at a freak show. "We want to show you something."
"Ayane!" another boy shouted, turning to whisper something to a boy beside them, which made them both burst into laughter. "Are you deaf? We said we wanted to talk to you."
She finally looked directly at them, her voice cold. "Get out of my way."
"She's not worth the time," mocked another.
Ignore it ignore it ignore it.
"Look. She won't even look at us. "
"Are you dumb and deaf?" One of them had trotted up to her and given her a little shove. She stumbled and averted her gaze. "She is dumb. Won't even defend herself. Aw, this isn't fun."
Just words only words.
"Ayane-the-freak…. Aren't you going to say anything?" the eldest boy said in a sing-song voice.
I've had enough!
"Leave me alone," she hissed. "You're all just jerks!"
With that said, she seized the opportunity to shove past them and run into the market, breathing hard. Various customers stared at her and a flush crept up her neck as she forced herself to avoid their gazes and collect the fruit. Her hands shook as she pulled out the coins to pay for the groceries, and she left the vendor as quickly as she could.
The boys still looked slightly surprised, due to her outburst just minutes ago, she supposed. The stares seemed to follow her all the way back to the house, but for once, not a single taunt was heard.
Tonight was special.
Not for Ayane. Oh, no…. not Ayane. Never her.
It was for the golden-haired, brown-eyed, spoiled little brat sitting across from her.
Ayane thought she may as well be invisible.
"Congratulations… to the newest fighter in the family and her amazing accomplishments!" Shiden announced, raising his glass to her. Hayate raised his glass and Ayame followed suit. Ayane just sat there with her fists clenched in her lap, not daring to meet anyone's gaze. Especially that of the girl sitting across from her.
Shiden cleared his throat. "Ayane? Why aren't you raising your glass? Kasumi has achieved a wonderful achievement. You should recognize her accomplishment. She sets a good example."
A good example for who? Not like you'd ever let me learn how to spar.
Silence fell around the room. Ayane peered up. Although Kasumi appeared to be smiling and accepting the toast with ease, her expression seemed to falter as she took in Ayane's envious expression.
Finally, she reached out and took her glass, reluctantly raising it to meet Kasumi's. It was so much more tempting to throw the glass across the room, or better yet, at the "I'm so perfect and everyone loves me" girl sitting directly across from her.
Friendly times for Ayane became distant memories, and she was desperate in her loneliness. Her only defence was to strike back, and in turn separate herself from the very few she had once been able to trust, if only to a certain degree. Things would never go back to what they once were.
She was now nine years old, but no longer able to trust anyone, even Kasumi. Especially Kasumi. That girl had stopped given up on the notion of trying to be her friend about months ago, at least for the time being, and was simply polite to her younger half-sibling whenever she had the chance. Ayane was slowly becoming self-destructive, always withdrawing into her shell and keeping everyone else at a distance.
The problem with this is that no one ever tried to penetrate that shell.
Until Genra came.
She had first been approached by him when he discovered her lying face down in a forest. The rain pounded the forest floor, but the rhythmic noise somehow seemed to soothe her senses. Blood stained her outfit, mixing with the pouring rain. She had cried earlier, although silently, unable to suppress the aching wounds all over her body, and although she knew she should get up and head back to tend to her injuries, she just couldn't.
Somewhere along the way, she had stopped caring. After all, if no one else gave a damn about her, why should she bother to go back? Besides, she knew in her current condition she wouldn't be able to walk anyway. She would rather lie there and listening to the sound of steady rain pattering the ground than go back and have Shiden criticize her again. She was just so tired of him that sometimes she even found herself thinking that being tossed into the wild to survive would be better than living under his roof.
Of course, she would never dare tell him that. It would only give him the excuse to brag to the neighbouring villages about how he'd finally managed to drive the "bastard's child" away. She would never give him the satisfaction of being able to do that.
The light sound of footsteps upon the soaked ground caught her attention, although she didn't shift her head to face the intruder. She hoped it wasn't Kasumi (although she doubted Kasumi would be out in this weather) or Ayame. And she hoped to whatever gods that actually bothered to watch over her that it was not, of all people, Shiden.
She was in no mood to deal with any accusations, justified or not.
"My goodness, child, what has happened to you?" she distinctly heard a deeper voice say. At first she tried to ignore the stranger's voice, burying her face back into the ground. He would see the pain in her eyes if she allowed him to see her face; he would take her back to them, and once again, she would be severely chastised for running off into the woods only to "cause trouble". Punished would be more like it, but Kasumi's father was always quick to blame her, and therefore no punishment was too harsh.
"Go away," she mumbled. It hurt to move, and at this point, she didn't care what he thought of her. She had no strength to defend herself. She just wanted to succumb into darkness, into oblivion where she could rest and not worry about being discriminated, about being hated by the rest of the world.
Gentle hands lifted her up from the ground. She was in too much of a pain-filled daze to bother focusing on the owner's face, and after a few half-hearted attempts to shove away, she went almost limp, breathing hard and trying to ignore the dull ache in her body. Despite her effort to hide her injury, she could not help but let out a small whimper.
"Your condition doesn't look good to me," the voice observed softly. "I think I need to do something about that."
"Go away," she repeated, although her response lacked any real threat. The warmth emanating from the stranger's body was quickly becoming a comfort, and despite the fact that her natural instincts were telling her he'd be having a good laugh at her state when she could open her eyes and sit up without feeling as though her body had been through hell, she felt herself curling closer into his chest, desperate for warmth. "Whoever the hell are you, I don't need your help."
He was not fazed by her attitude. "It seems to me that you do."
After being taken care of, Ayane had fallen asleep. She woke up in an unfamiliar setting. Her first suspicion was that she was being lured into some sort of trap. Why, she didn't know, but it was not like anyone (with the exception of Kasumi and Ayame) had ever tried to befriend her. The warm fireplace and the soft blankets did not settle her suspicions. She sat up as the sound of the footsteps drew closer and the door opened.
A man entered the room. A faint smile overtook his worried expression as he approached her. "You're awake. Good, good. How do you feel?"
She eyed him distrustfully. "Where am I? Who are you?"
"This is my home." He strode further into the room and sat down beside her. Instinctively she shifted away, not wanting any sort of contact. "I am the leader of the Hajin-Mon sect, branch of the Mugin-Tenshin. Forgive me," he continued, bowing his head slightly towards her. "My name is Genra. What is yours?"
She looked down at her hands, where they fidgeted with the hem of a blanket. "I don't see why you care," she said bluntly. "And I don't see any reason to give it to you."
"Child, I am a little concerned as to how you ended up by yourself in that condition in the middle of the forest," he explained. "If you would please explain that, then I will ask no further questions until your condition improves."
Her shoulders tensed. She could sense his gaze lingering on her, expecting some sort of reply, but she could not look up to meet his gaze. After a pause, in which she felt some of tension draining from her tired body, she finally responded with, "It's nothing. The two boys down in the village snuck up on me. It's not a big deal. Happens often whenever I stay by myself."
He shook his head, perhaps in disbelief. "Unnecessary behaviour. Who did this to you?"
"I told you, it's not a big deal." She hadn't meant to sound so sharp, especially when he was taking care to keep his own voice gentle and polite, but his insistent prompting was beginning to irritate her.
He frowned. "Child, what is your name?"
She looked away, her voice raw with the pain, and her fists clenched on the blanket. "No one else cares about who I am. Why should you?"
"Because I am concerned with how you ended up like that." She glanced quickly at him, a flash of surprise entering her eyes. "No one should be treated like that, and all behaviours should be closely monitored. How is it that you…" The rest of the question went unspoken. She did not know if he knew what the rest of the clan thought of her, but she was not about to tell him herself.
"It doesn't matter. I've always been treated like that -" She broke off, fear coming into her eyes at the realization of what she had just admitted out loud. It wasn't much, but it was probably enough to give him the impression that there was more beneath the surface than what it seemed. She did not want pity. Not even sympathy, as it had been used when she was a very young child just to lure her into more trouble when it really hadn't been her fault in the first place. She looked away again, biting her lip.
"Always, hm?" He let silence come between them. The light patter of rain against a wooden roof could still be heard. After a considerable amount of time passed, he spoke again, more to himself than her, it seemed. "Would I be correct in presuming that you're the child they've been talking about recently…?"
"Did they tell you what a horrible child I am, too?" she suddenly found herself shouting at him, her gaze whipping around to glare into his. There was a fiery anger in her deep crimson eyes as she dared him to answer. "Did they tell you how pathetic I am? Did they tell you what I really am?"
He looked startled at her outburst, apparently not expecting to have heard what she said. They stared at each other for a long moment, then she hung her head and looked away again.
Silence inside the small room seemed to stretch.
"It's alright," he said calmly, putting a hand on her shoulder. She whirled around, eyes wide with surprise at the gesture. "Just tell me your name. That's all I want to know."
A long silence passed between them as her gaze locked with his. His hand remained on her shoulder, making her feel uneasy. She hesitated, her mind full of doubt.
"But if I - what if -"
"I promise you," he began, speaking very softly and slowly to make sure she caught his words, "that I will listen to whatever you have to say."
She stared at him in confusion. He closed his eyes for a moment, apparently thinking hard, then opened them, meeting her gaze with his own.
"Please don't worry about anything else right now," he said. "Just tell me your name. I promise I will be there to listen."
She opened her mouth, unsure of what to say at first. But then she remembered how easily trust had seemed to come for her when she was just a child, how easily it was betrayed by those she thought she could consider friends, and the old mask started to slide back into place as she deliberately avoided his gaze. "I have nothing to say that would interest you."
Her tone was without malice, without anger, but she could tell that he understood her unspoken message: You're no different from the others. Why should I bother to trust you?
He removed his hand, kneeling down and shifting closer to the mat, barely touching the side of her face so she would have no choice but to look back at him. His words were firm but still gentle as he locked gazes. Her eyes were full of reluctance. "I will not leave you, child. Anything you tell me will remain in strict confidence."
It was the first time she had ever been shown kindness outside of the immediate clan. She hesitated for the briefest of seconds, wondering if he spoke the truth. Maybe it was all just a trap, to make her go back to her caretakers. But even if it was, she would have no choice in the end but to obey… and he was an adult. That meant he would be less likely to do such a thing. After all, he had not given her any reason to distrust him yet.
But then again, neither had any others who had tried to 'gain' her trust, taking full advantage of her naivety, making it seem like it was always her fault others teased her.
She scowled and ducked her head, mumbling something indistinct. Genra waited patiently, to see if she would say anything further, but when it seemed as if she wasn't going to, he rose and left the room.
However, just as he exited the room, still within earshot, he barely managed to hear the softly spoken words.
"Ayane. My name is Ayane."
She entered the building, her hair slightly windswept and sweat covering her brow. Small streaks of dirt covered her ninja outfit. Genra was already there; he was seated at a table, a bunch of papers in front of him, and a writing implement in his hand. He was writing something on a piece of parchment but ceased the movement and looked up upon seeing Ayane arrive.
"Welcome back," he said, giving her a faint smile before returning his focus to the papers still in front of him.
She approached him, kneeling down and giving a brief bow as a sign of respect. "I apologise, I went out earlier to -"
"That's fine. It's been months since you started," he informed her, his gaze narrowed in concentration as he resumed writing. "You know you are not under obligation to inform me of where you are training unless you seek my assistance, although at this point you should not need my supervision for the basics of sparring."
She knelt, keeping her gaze fixed on him, although he did not glance back up at her. "I saw… Kasumi." She made sure to keep her voice vacant of any emotion that would betray her feelings regarding her half-sister.
This caught his attention, and his tone sounded only mildly curious. "Did you speak to her?"
"No. She spoke first."
"And?" he prompted, after a moment of silence.
"Hayate and… Shiden -" she practically spat the word out " – know I've been in your watch for some time." She could recall quite clearly the day he had informed them all of his decision to become her legal guardian, as well as her teacher.
She sat next to him, kneeling in the formal way. The rest of the main clan were gathered there expectantly, including Hayate and Kasumi. Ayane's gaze casually drifted over to Hayate, watching him. He was exchanging smiles with his sister, who seemed to be slightly apprehensive. If Genra had thought it necessary for all the Elder clan members to hear, including the main family of the clan, then that must mean it was significant.
"Welcome to all," he began. "Today I have something I wish to inform you. It has been about a week since Ayane has been in my care. I hereby request that Ayane immediately be moved to the Hajin-Mon village to help the Hajin-Mon clan from the shadows and that she assist me in my duties."
A rush of gratitude filled her heart as she glanced at him. Finally she would not be underneath the roof of one who hated her blood. She would no longer be teased on a daily basis because of her birth. Kasumi would not have to act so generous towards her, just because she had no friends. Ayame would no longer have to defend what little there was of her daughter's honour at the present moment to her husband.
The low sound of murmuring filled the room, and at last Shiden himself stood up.
"Surely you do not need to take such measures for that child?" he inquired as politely as he could. Genra's gaze met his. "Is it not just more trouble for you?"
"Certainly not," he replied calmly, and Shiden faltered. "She has potential to become a great ninja, and at this age, it is essential for her to learn as much as possible so that she does not fall behind her peers. I will gladly take on the task, for it is my job to see that the children succeed in the branch of the Hajin-Mon as much as possible."
Ayane looked up at him, appreciation filling her eyes. She wanted so much to thank him for his kind words, but knew now was not the time for that.
Shiden gave Ayane the briefest of glares, which did not go unnoticed.
"Shiden," Genra continued in the same calm manner. "I understand your concern for the girl… if she does not meet expectations. However, I am the leader of the Hajin-Mon branch, and if she is in my care, I guarantee her potential will strengthen her skills to become a ninja."
The man nodded curtly, before sitting back down. "I…approve," he said at last, although his words still sounded reluctant.
Ayane smiled up at Genra. "Thank you," she whispered. He did not appear to hear her, but nevertheless he returned her smile with a faint one of his own.
Her thoughts returned to the current moment, and she remembered the brisk conversation which had taken place earlier when they had seen her for the first time in the past few months since her training began. Bitterness filled her voice and she shifted her gaze to the floor. "They are glad… I no longer spend so much time with the clan."
Recognising an inner turmoil mixed of hate, regret and anguish, he set down his writing implement, got off the chair and knelt down across from her. She was still staring intently at the floor, seemingly afraid to look at him.
"Ayane, there is no reason for you to be so angry. I have taken it upon myself to be your guardian -" At this, he could have sworn he saw her shoulders tense, but he continued nevertheless. " – and what has been done is done. You do not have any reason to worry about them. I want you to concentrate on your training for now."
The girl said nothing.
"Please look at me." It was not a request, but a gentle command, and slowly her gaze lifted from the carpet to meet with his. Her crimson eyes were still filled with pain and anger.
"Genra-sama," she began quietly, her tone sounding just the slightest bit desperate. "You must understand, I have all the reason to worry about my position. They have never accepted me as part of the clan, and after all this time, they will certainly not welcome me back into the Mugen-Tenshin clan, especially when Shiden himself hates my blood… and his son, my half-brother Hayate, is just as eager to seek punishment on their behalf." She took a deep breath. "Hayate is also next in line to become leader of the clan. I won't be… I did not plan on…"
"What will happen if you lose legal rights to me? What will happen if you cannot remain as my guardian? None will want me there. I will have nothing left to go back to."
He decided to try something, to see if she had already blocked out a connection, however minimal it was, to those whom she had been living with for so many years. "There are still people who care about you, Ayane. What about Kasumi? She is your sister, is she not?"
"Half-sister." Ayane seemed to find the floor rather interesting once again, the slightest hint of loathing underlying her tone.
"She accepted your friendship. Why do you continue to resent her?" he inquired softly.
Her fists clenched and her entire body seemed to tense up. Over the past few months he had noticed it occurring more and more, although she had not previously mentioned it and he purposefully avoided asking her about it. This time, however, she continued, more from the need to release her pent-up anger than to actually seek reassurance. "She's… she's always been better than me."
She seemed to realize just how childish the words sounded as soon as she'd spoken them. She gave him an uneasy look, then averted her gaze again.
"She's always been better than me… at everything."
"What is she better at, Ayane-chan?"
"She… she's good at sparring. She has many friends. Everyone likes her. No one wants to be around me. Everyone thinks she's better. Everyone thinks she's just so special. Somebody who's perfect. No one likes me because of her."
"So she's good at sparring and she has a lot of friends. Why do you think that makes her better than you, Ayane-chan?"
She went silent, concentrating on the floor.
"Because… because she is. No one bothered to care about me."
"Because she's been forced to live with me! She probably pities me because she knows I have no other friends!" The words burst out of her before she could stop them. "I hate that!"
She jumped to her feet, and went to a nearby window, unable to meet his gaze. Her body was trembling just slightly as she gripped the windowsill, staring outside at the forest but not really seeing it. An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
"She pities me. That's all there is. That's the only reason she bothered to be a friend to me. It was an obligation because her father hates me." Her voice shook just slightly.
Genra just knelt there, watching her closely, waiting for her to calm down. Finally he spoke, his voice soft. "Her father doesn't hate you, Ayane-chan. He hates your father. There is no reason for you to take the blame of what happened at your birth."
"But I was the illegitimate child," she spat out, her entire body rigid. It wouldn't surprise her in the least if he already had an idea about the circumstances of her birth, even though she had never spoken with him about the issue. He was, after all, one of the leaders of the Mugen-Tenshin clan and supervised the Hajin-Mon fighting style. He would have heard about the events surrounding her birth from the other clan members. "Just because of that, Kasumi will always be better than me. Shiden hates me because of my existence. I was just a mistake. Nothing can change that."
"If you really knew the truth, you would hate me and disown me, just like Shiden wanted to do so many times. I'm nothing but a waste of time and effort. Just like everyone else says."
"Ayane, I would never -"
"Don't lie to me! It was like all the Elders had to be informed that I was nothing but a disgraceful child. They probably told you I have bad blood, just like… just like him." Her voice broke and she refused to look at him. Refused to let him see the tears in her eyes.
He hadn't made a single move towards her, but his words were clear and she could hear a distinct honesty in them.
"I have never lied to you."
She didn't respond.
"Why did you take me up, Genra-sama? Why did you bother to train me? I'll never be as good as them. You must have known who my father was. Why did you waste your time?"
Finally she heard him approach her, coming closer to where she stood, but still not making contact. "You learned how to fight. You aren't any lesser than your peers, Ayane. You learned the value of Hajin-Mon."He paused for a moment, apparently giving her time to absorb those words "And you know why I took you up."
She hastily wiped her eyes before half-turning to face him, so that he could only see one side of her face. "Why?"
"Because I felt you had potential."
"You pitied me too, didn't you." There was a hint of raw pain that could barely be heard in her voice.
"No. I never did this out of pity for you, but compassion." He placed a hand on her shoulder, just as she flinched. He chose to ignore it. "You are a smart girl, Ayane. I saw that in you. You've shown more courage than the rest of them. You should be proud of that."
She shook her head, staring back at the window. She was ashamed at how emotional she'd gotten, that she had so easily allowed him to try and understand her. Her status had become a kunoichi-in-training, and she could not be seen having such weakness. Especially in front of Genra, she told herself. But somehow it seemed as though she could not keep from spilling her fears. He was the one person she had really been able to talk to without fear of being discriminated.
"All I ever wanted was someone to care. Someone that noticed me for once, and not Kasumi. Just recognition for being a person."
He drew her closer, even as she half-resisted, wrapping his arms around her. For the first time in months, even years, she felt that someone truly did care for her. Finally her struggle lessened; her tears dampened his shirt as he held her, even as she tried to hold them back.
"I consider you as my daughter, Ayane," he said, moving his hand through her short hair in an effort to calm her. "You are my family. That's what matters."
They sat there in silence, and eventually she was able to collect herself. She drew back, a slight flush on her cheeks. It was, she realized, the first time he'd held her like that – like a parent who holds a child they care for.
To be continued…
Note: Except for the "I hereby request that Ayane immediately be moved to the Hajin-Mon village to help the Hajin-Mon clan from the shadows and that she assist me in my duties" quote from the game scenario, Genra's entire personality and characteristics were completely made up. I don't know how accurately his character will be portrayed, as Code Cronus probably won't be released until late 2009/2010. Therefore, any scenes that feature him are merely a product of my overworked information.
(P.S. In the Dead or Alive Ultimate introduction, viewers never even saw his face. It was covered by a mask. :grins:)