A Series of Unforgettable Events
By Shin Sankai
Authors Notes: So far this is a four part ficlet series, not sure if they are at all related since the other three are only partially written up in notes. Well this is for my Oneesan, who I haven't written anything for in ages. I hope I get a knack for writing again soon.
Stage One - Ikebana
He'd been sent a message of war, of a duel between ninjas' and Shinomori Aoshi – though not exactly the Okashira of the Oniwabanshuu anymore – would answer this threat accordingly. It had after all, been addressed to him. As he stood within his quarters, removing his yukata and replacing it with his purple onmitsu uniform, Aoshi recalled what happened merely minutes ago.
An extremely frightened young girl had delivered it with shaking hands and puffy red cheeks. He'd been standing on the porch at the front of the Aoi-ya, waiting for Misao to finish up in the restaurant so he could take her to get extra supplies. She had pestered him so much that he'd actually agreed as she had hopped from one foot to the other in front of him – with that adorable pleading look on her face. It had been many months since his return and Misao had grown considerably before his very eyes. However, she could still place on the pouting face and the dewy eyes to make him cave like he was 15 again.
As Aoshi gazed over the front yard of the Aoi-ya, as unemotional as ever, he watched the frazzled girl, no more then 14 run towards the Aoi-ya gate with a parchment in hand. Instantly, Aoshi knew there was something alarming her. He first felt it within her ki. She scrambled down the path entrance to the porch and stopped dead in her tracks as she gazed big green eyes up at his tall frame, one of his arms situated above his head as he rested it on the frame of the porch roofing while the other was tucked into the front material of his yukata, palm resting flatly against his abdomen.
Her lip had quivered and Aoshi crouched down, hand silently beckoning the girl to come forward, to not be afraid of him. On shaky legs she had done just that. Her hands held out the parchment to him and Aoshi took it while cupping her hands silently within his larger ones. Her greens eyes spilled out tears that ran down her flushed cheeks as she made soft hiccup sounds. Tucking the unknown letter within his yukata Aoshi stood up, moving behind the girl and guided her into the relatively quiet Aoi-ya. His eyes sought out Misao dashing about and observed her stop instantly, feeling his ki. Blue met green and with a jerk of his head, Misao came instantly over to take the sobbing girl from him.
He'd headed off to the office upstairs, where he and Misao worked side by side. He sat at a side table and read the message, eyes darkening and narrowing. Several questions swam in Aoshi's mind instantly as he tied the parchment closed. Who in their right mind would want to challenge the ex-Okashira of the Oniwabanshuu? What was their connection to him? And Why start fighting now within this peaceful era?
The final swishing sound of material being tied together meant the last of Aoshi's uniform was in place. Heading across to the other side of the room, with no emotion showing on his face, Aoshi looked up at the weapon he had used months ago mounted on his wall. Since his full return, after taking care of business regarding Yukishiro Enishi, he'd not picked up his weapon. With both hands Aoshi brought his swords down and looked over the blade of his longer kodachi. His eyes were staring back at him and just when he sheathed it, running footsteps stopped at his open shoji. Once again, green met blue as Misao stared up into his face, then moved over his uniform and then across to his kodachis'.
"Where are you going?"
"To answer the parchment."
"I'm coming with you!" Her eyes blazed passionately at her response.
"You will remain here." He headed for the shoji, observing Misao block his way out as she glared up at him.
"I have a right to fight this just like you do. I'm not a child anymore and I don't need you to protect me!" For a mere second Aoshi's eyes grew wide. For a moment within the deep recesses of his dark heart it was as though Misao was blocking off the small amount of light that he thought was slowly breaking through.
"What if…I wanted to?"
"Eh?" That had caught her off guard as much as it did Aoshi. He had not meant to say such a thing. Shaking his head, Aoshi pushed past her and headed down the stairs, not listening once to her yelling his name.
He slipped into his shoes and made his way out the back shoji, passed the bathhouse and over the stone fencing, heading calmly into forest. Misao had watched him go from his sleeping quarters window and once he was out of sight she dashed into the office and ripped open the parchment he had left behind. She found the location and the time and was ready to throw the parchment aside until her eyes caught sight of something peculiar.'You cannot protect your women'
Misao's eyebrows furrowed as she dashed out of the room and into another, shedding her summer kimono and dressing quickly in her blue uniform. Grabbing a set of kunai, Misao rushed down the stairs and slipped on her shoes. By now Okina had come to see what was going on and couldn't get a single word in as Misao ran out the back shoji much like Aoshi had down and jumped the stone fence, sprinting blindly into the forest.
Just as Misao was heading in, Aoshi was standing in a clearing facing a man hidden by a thick black cloak.
"Its been quite sometime Aoshi-kun."
"Hotaru!" To say Aoshi was surprised was an understatement. He moved into a defensive stance, both kodachi released from the same sheath and grit his teeth. "Kisama…"
"Ho, you use two kodachi now? My that is interesting." The cloak fell away to reveal a man in the exact same uniform Aoshi wore. His hair was just as black as his and his eyes just as green. Aoshi watched Hotaru draw out his two kodachi and move into the exact stance he was in. "Do you still harbour such ill feelings towards me Aoshi-kun?"
"You nearly had me hung for a murder I never committed!" Aoshi's hands clenched against the hilt of his kodachis'. He knew he was loosing focus and knew just how tricky Hotaru could be. They were the exact same age, the exact same height and build and had been taken in by Makimachi-sama at the exact same time.
"If it weren't for that bitch siding with you, my plans would have worked. The downfall of the Oniwabanshuu was coming and she ruined it all!" There was a clash of swords as Hotaru took the first strike at Aoshi. Of course Aoshi deflected it away and jumped out of range as the other ninja took a swing to try and slice open his abdomen.
"That 'bitch' knew I would never kill a fellow member of the Oniwabanshuu and especially not her husband!" This time Aoshi advanced, but his attack was blocked as well.
"Like the true lap dog you are. Did you run and hide between her legs Aoshi-kun?" Aoshi caught Hotaru by surprise and punched him square in the face, splitting his lip open at the corner. He fell to the ground but quickly rolled away from Aoshi's kodachi as it stabbed into the fallen leaves on the ground instead of his body.
"I'd rather be a lap dog then a murdering traitor like you!"
"Ho, now that's interesting. After all, wasn't it you who nearly murdered one of your mentors?" This struck Aoshi dead cold in his tracks. Too slow he had been to dodge the slash of Hotaru's kodachi blade against his left forearm. Jumping away and crouching to the ground, Aoshi grit his teeth. The bastard was playing with him and he was stupidly falling into the trap. Ripping part of his white ties, Aoshi swiftly tied it to his forearm and picked up his weapons again.
"I may have strayed from my path, but I was never so twisted like you as to kill those that made me who I am."
"And what of Hannya-kun and the others hmm? Did you not get them killed as well?"
"They died, serving their Okashira like the loyal comrades they were!" Aoshi charged Hotaru.
As the battle waged, Misao rushed through the forest, her sensitive ears picking up the echoing sounds of steel clashing together. She jumped from branch to branch, coming to a halt to see two men, looking very much like twins battle it out within a clearing.
"Two Aoshi-sama's, how can that be?" Misao voiced in surprise, but quickly narrowed her eyes. "Iie, there is only one that is the true Aoshi-sama." As Misao watched the battle from above, it wasn't long before the small hairs on the back of her neck stood to attention. She jumped from the branch, looking behind her to see shuriken and kunai imbedded in the branch she'd been resting in. She landed in the clearing, surprise coming over Hotaru and Aoshi at seeing her there.
"It's a trap!" She yelled and ran to the one true Aoshi she knew and dove into his chest, making the man grunt as they tumbled on the ground and rolled away from the spray of kunai that had been meant for Aoshi. The small cry from Misao meant she'd been hit and Aoshi grit his teeth and got to his knees, deflecting the throwing knives with his swords.
"BASTARDS! HE'S MINE!" Came the yell from Hotaru. Aoshi watched as the man who was once like his brother cut down his own comrades, blood staining the ground.
"Hotaru…" Aoshi murmured as they faced off once more.
"Still cannot protect your women I see." Aoshi swung his head over his shoulder to see Misao getting shakily to her feet, three kunai imbedded into her skin. One in her hand, another in her leg and the final lodged within her shoulder.
"Misao!" Aoshi yelled, watching her stumble on her feet before collapsing once more. Turning back to face Hotaru, Aoshi's eyes narrowed and his voice practically dripped acid. "You will pay for this with your life." Aoshi moved into another stance, blood boiling as he watched Hotaru grin gaily at him.
"My, my, sounds very much like déjà vu to me. Didn't you say this when you saw me murder her mother?" Aoshi heard the soft gasp from Misao, as she was still conscious and listening in on the conversation. "Do you remember how we battled then? Much like we were dogs fighting over a bone. As I recall, that old fool Makimachi interrupted our dual. You were fatally wounded and needed medical treatment immediately or you would have surely died. I was beaten to an inch of my life, banished and left to die in the forest while they worried over you! YOU!"
"Makimachi-sama is no longer here to stop us, so quit with the past tense and lets get it on."
"Ho, now that is the Aoshi-kun spirit I love the most. Your aura has death written all over it."
"Aoshi…sama…" Misao kept fading in and out of consciousness. Her blurry eyes couldn't focus properly on the purple images of two men clashing swords, swinging punches and practically clawing it out on the forest flooring.
Years ago Misao had been far too young to remember anything. She was merely several months old and hadn't been told a single thing about Hotaru and how her parents had truly died. Ever since she was six months old all she had been told was that Aoshi had sworn on his life that he would protect her. Her body jerked in realisation on the grass as her voice rang out telling Aoshi she didn't need to be protected by him. Her blue eyes peeled open to watch one of the ninjas collapse to the ground with a loud thump.
"Aoshi…sama…gomen ne…" Misao murmured and felt her body rise slightly and arms move around her.
"Its time for us to leave Misao." Her eyebrows furrowed as she peered up at the man crouching over her injured body, green eyes staring intently down at her. Her breath came out raggedly as her hand fingered the kunai still imbedded in her thigh.
"No…" She murmured lightly and watched his head tilt slightly. She grit her teeth, pulling the kunai from her thigh. "You could never portray Aoshi-sama. The man I love…is not you!" And just as Misao was stabbing the kunai into Hotaru's eye, she watched as a smaller kodachi came flying towards them, slicing through the skin on Hotaru's throat, raining blood down upon her face. There was the echoing sound of a half scream and a half gurgle as the now deceased ninja fell over Misao, trapping her underneath his heavier body.
"Misao? Misao!" Her eyes shot open as she found another pair of green eyes looking down at her. Instantly her shoulders shook as tears fell down her cheeks.
"To think…you could have been just like him. I couldn't ever handle Aoshi-sama having no feelings, no emotions within his eyes at all. It's too scary." Aoshi gazed down at Misao's crying form, blood covering her from head to tow. "Even if guilt is all I can see hidden deep within your eyes, at least I know you are still alive and not the walking dead like him."
"Misao…" Aoshi murmured and lifted her into his arms, his face falling between her shoulder and neck area on her uninjured side. "Let me hold you…just for a moment." Tears still fell from Misao's eyes from the pain she was feeling, to the pain she knew would be flowing through him. She could not hug him, nor could she say anything that would ease his troubled soul. He'd witnessed blood coming from her and then having to kill someone that had been very special to him for doing it. For his promise, the one he'd obviously made to her dying mother, he would protect her no matter who harmed her – even if that person – was one that he had called 'brother'.
Several weeks passed by and that incident was never spoken of. Aoshi had returned to the Aoi-ya with the others rushing out to tend to himself and Misao who had been unconscious within his arms. The best doctor had been sent for and over the weeks Misao began to recuperate. Even the Himura's, Megumi-san and Sano had come to visit. Megumi had looked over Misao's wounds, prescribed different sorts of medicines and made sure the agitated Misao remained in bed. Aoshi had escaped with several cuts and bruises and a slash across his chest, but it wasn't deep enough for him to remain in bed, not that anyone could get him to stay there for long enough. When Megumi was satisfied with Misao's wounds beginning to heal, the four Edo residents left the Aoi-ya and promised to return in the near future.
Misao awoke late in the morning to the sound of birds chirping outside. She rose from her futon and limped to her opened window to peer outside. Though her wounds were still healing, the harsh pain of them had faded slightly. Her shoulder wound was the one that ached the most though. Her wound on the thigh had all but healed, but she still limped slightly because of it. Misao slumped against the window frame and gazed down at the overly quiet man strolling about Okina's garden.
"Aoshi-sama…" Misao murmured as she looked down at his form. He was dressed in a plain black yukata and moving quietly about the garden in bare feet. His head was downcast as his thick black bangs fell over his still pained green eyes. Misao tilted her head as she observed Aoshi crouch against several flowering bushes and bring out a pair of shearers and cut several of them away. He placed them in a basin of water before returning to the porch where she could no longer see him.
Misao limped out of her room, dressed in a crisp white yukata and down the stairs and towards the back shoji. She slid it across to see Aoshi sitting on the porch, the basin of flowers obstructed from her view by his slumped form.
"Aoshi-sama…?" Misao tentatively called and watched his head jerk up and turn over his shoulder to look back at her. At the way he was positioned as she drew closer she could see he still had his bandage covering most his chest.
"Should you be up Misao?"
"I'm feeling much better these days. And you?"
"I'm fine…" Her eyes saddened as he turned away from her and gazed down at the purple and blue flowers resting in the basin.
"What are you doing?" Misao shuffled closer and peered over Aoshi's shoulder, watching as his skilled hands began picking up several flowers.
"Ikebana…" Aoshi replied curtly as though that would explain everything.
"Ikebana…?" She repeated and quietly watched as Aoshi arranged the flowers.
"Its very soothing." His deep voice murmured once more as he picked up some iris.
"Aoshi-sama, look at me?" She watched his hands stop and ever so slowly, with batted breath Misao found green orbs staring quietly up at her. Without even thinking Misao leaned forward, her forehead knocking lightly against his as she mumbled mainly to herself and yet right to Aoshi as well. "Thank you for choosing to live Aoshi-sama, for being here to protect me all this time." Having Misao this close to him was more then enough for Aoshi as he closed his eyes. His hands cupped her face softly and slowly tilted it down so his lips could be pressed against her forehead.
"As long as you remain safe, I feel a small bit of redemption for not being fast enough or strong enough to save your mother."
"You loved her." Misao softly voiced and opened her eyes as Aoshi drew away from her.
"She loved us all, even Hotaru after all that he did. He was just too blind to see it."
"Are you blind to it Aoshi-sama?" The question surprised him slightly as he calmly gazed into Misao's ocean blue eyes. There was a small twitch at the corner of his lips.
"Will you stay with me Misao?"
"I'll teach you all about Ikebana, just like your mother taught me." She knew he was diverting away from her question, but for now she would let it slide. With a soft 'mm' and an affirmative nod, Misao moved closer to Aoshi.
The beginning of something new was just starting as the two of them sat together, Aoshi teaching Misao the calming art of flowering arranging, his arm resting around her, allowing her to lean against him as she listened to his deep throaty voice begin to teach her once again.
(End)Next Chapter – Stage Two: Waterfall Meditation