Note: This came out of a call for drabbles on my LiveJournal - an anonymous fan of mine very politely asked for a Heihachi story, nothing overly gushy or anything, just simple and sweet. This story, set before the series begins but after the Great War, is the result. I'm quite pleased to admit that my fan was VERY happy with the story.
Heihachi was whistling as he walked along the open road that led westward toward Shinomen Mori, enjoying the sun on his face and the wind in his hair. On a moment of impulse, he pulled his cap from his head and let the long reddish locks blow around his face, drawing in a deep breath and feeling good about life in general. As he passed a few peasants working in the fields, he smiled and bowed politely to them. After the initial surprise of seeing a samurai bow to a peasant, most of them smiled and bowed back to him.
A giggle caught his attention, and he looked up to see three children come dashing out of the woods nearby, darting across the road toward the fields where the others were working. Unfortunately, they were so busy laughing that they failed to notice him, and before he could get out of the way, the four went down in a heap.
"Oh, no! Oh, we're so sorry!" one of the little girls wailed, immediately scrambling backward and bowing, pressing her head to the ground while the other children with her followed suit. "Please don't hurt us, great samurai, we didn't mean it!"
"Hey, it's okay," he reassured them. "Are you three all right? Apart from being a bit dusty?"
They nodded, but didn't look up.
"Come on, now, it's okay. Look at me." Cautiously they peeked up, but when they saw the cheerful grin on his face, they sat up.
"So what were you three laughing at?" Heihachi asked, and immediately the children started giggling again, covering their mouths with their hands as they looked slyly over at the woods. Then the little girl leaned forward and in a loud whisper said, "Sister is in the woods… being silly as usual."
"Being silly, huh? What's she doing that's so silly?"
The three children leapt to their feet and caught him by the hands. "Come on, come see… but you have to be quiet!" Although how they could chastise him to be quiet when their giggling and whispering was so loud, he had no idea. They dragged him off the road and into the woods, tugging him along until just before they reached a clearing.
"There," the little girl whispered, pointing. "There's Sister."
He looked closer, and saw a young woman of about seventeen or eighteen years of age, holding a fan, going through the graceful steps of a dance.
"So… what's so silly about that?" he asked the children, who giggled again.
"Well, why not?" he asked, and all three children looked at him as though he'd just announced that the sky was orange. "What's wrong with a peasant learning to dance?"
"That's a samurai dance, not a peasant dance," one of the other children hissed. "But Hitomi once saw this troupe come through, and ever since then, she's been sneaking off to practice."
He looked back at the girl, who was smiling and humming to herself as she danced.
"Actually, she looks pretty good."
The children rolled their eyes again, but stopped when they heard a chorus of voices calling them home for dinner. At the sound, the young woman in the clearing stopped dancing and also turned toward the call, and he saw her sigh and fold up her fan sadly before walking toward the edge of the woods.
"You're good, you know."
She stopped abruptly and gasped, whirling around. "Who's there?"
Heihachi stepped forward from where he'd been crouched behind the tree, watching her with the children. "Just a friendly traveler. So where did you learn the Dance of Autumn Leaves?"
She was about to answer when she saw the sword on his back, and her eyes went wide with horror. Immediately she fell to her knees. "Forgive me, great samurai, I meant no disrespect!"
"Whoa, whoa, hold on there! I'm not yelling at you or anything, I was just wondering where you'd seen it. You were doing a really good job there, at least until you stopped."
"Still, it's not proper that a peasant should be studying that dance," she said anxiously, not lifting her eyes, wringing her fan in her hands. "Oh, I wish you hadn't seen… I am going to be in the worst trouble if my parents find out!"
"Don't worry, I won't tell them," he reassured her. "Now, come on, you'd better hurry or you'll be late for your supper."
She looked up at him, her eyes pleading. "You mean… you're not going to kill me?"
"Hey, not all samurai are like that. Just a few, and I'm not one of them."
The young woman got to her feet, still fidgeting with her fan, sidling around him as though he were a snake in her path and she had no other way around him. When she was around him, and the road was just before her, she bowed against hastily, then dashed across the road toward the village. He chuckled, rubbing the back of his head ruefully, and set out along the road again. But he didn't get far when one of the peasants he'd bowed to earlier called out to him.
"Great samurai! Great samurai!"
He turned around, and saw a young man running toward him. The peasant bowed low before him and murmured, "The hour grows late, and if you desire food, you need only ask. We don't have much, but what we have is yours."
"You don't have to do that," he began, but the peasant looked so stricken that he sighed. "Yeah, why not?" He followed the peasant back to the village, where the Elders offered him rice and what little sake they had. It was one of the things he almost hated about being samurai – the peasants always felt compelled to give you everything, even you hadn't done anything to deserve it.
After dinner, he went outside to watch the stars come out, when he noticed the young woman he'd seen dancing in the glade earlier. "Hitomi? That's your name, right?"
She nearly jumped out of her skin when he addressed her. "Y-yes, great samurai?"
"Walk with me for a bit? I need to digest before going to sleep, otherwise I'll be up all night."
"O-of course, great samurai." She walked beside him, but a half step behind him with her eyes downcast as was proper.
"Would you stop doing that?" he said in exasperation, and she looked up in surprise. "Look, I hate it when people keep going on about how great we samurai are. You're people, too, you know."
"I-I'm sorry, great samurai," she stammered, but he groaned, cutting her off.
"And stop calling me that. Heihachi is fine, okay?"
He sighed to himself, figuring that was as good as he was going to get, and began walking once more. This time, Hitomi walked beside him in a peaceable silence.
After a while, he glanced over at her. She was actually quite pretty, with long dark hair and grey eyes. It was almost a shame she was born a farmer, he thought to himself. With her talent, she'd have easily been asked to join one of the performance troupes if she'd been born samurai, but there was no point in telling her that.
"So how long have you been a dancer?" he asked, and she blushed.
"Almost since I was old enough to walk. I just… love how it feels to dance. I feel like my feet are hardly touching the ground."
"I could tell when I saw you in the woods. You really are good, you know."
She shook her head. "I still have a long way to go. But I only saw the Dance of Autumn Leaves once, so I can never really understand it, I guess."
"You've only seen it once?" He was astonished. "But you were doing it so well!"
"It really is kind of you to say so," she murmured, but he stopped walking.
"You're telling me that after only seeing the Autumn Leaves dance one time, you were able to remember the whole thing?"
She stopped walking, turned around, and nodded. Then she gasped as he seized her hand and began dragging her toward the woods. "Wait… great samurai, what are you-?"
He didn't stop until he reached the clearing where he'd first seen her, then he pulled a flute out of his travelling pack. "I want to see you dance."
"Now?" she said in dismay.
"Yes, now." He lifted the flute to his lips and prepared to play, but then stopped when he saw her just standing there, wringing her hands. "Come on, you have your fan… I want to see you dance."
"But it's not right," she protested. All he did was look at her, and eventually she sighed. "All right."
"And I want you to dance like you did this afternoon," he told her. "You were smiling then. So smile now."
"But I didn't know anyone was watching me!"
"Pretend I'm not here…" he suggested, lifting the flute to his lips once more. "Now…"
With that, he began to play the lilting, haunting tune that went with the Dance of Autumn Leaves, and in that moment, Hitomi could not resist the call of the dance. Her posture changed, becoming demure and graceful, and as the notes trilled in the night air, she slowly unfolded her fan like a blossoming flower. Then she began to dance, her feet moving lightly across the grace, her fan rising and falling with the music.
Slowly, the song told the story of the changing of the leaves, of the wind rustling through the forest, and how the leaves danced and soared on the wind like colorful birds. And with each note, Hitomi's fan moved, recreating the dance of the leaves.
Heihachi was astounded as he watched her. Every step was almost perfect, each turn of the wrist a study in grace. She did falter once or twice, but considering she had only ever seen the dance done once, those mistakes were easily forgivable.
But what really held him entranced was the rapturous smile on Hitomi's face in the moonlight. She looked as though she were lost in some delightful dream, swaying and turning with the music as though it were her partner.
When the song finally ended, and Hitomi's fan was lying at her feet like the autumn leaves it represented, she let out a low sigh of contentment.
"That… was wonderful," he said softly, putting the flute away, still transfixed at the wistful smile on her face.
"Yes, it was," she murmured, then she lifted her eyes to his. "I can never thank you enough, Heihachi-sama. Even if I never dance that well again, having heard you play that song for me will content me the rest of my life."
She picked up her fan and tucked it into the sash at her waist, then she bowed deeply to him. Then, almost shyly, she looked up at him. "Actually, Heihachi-sama…"
He was startled when she suddenly leaned forward, took his hand, and placed a kiss against his palm, then she closed his fingers into a fist as though he were holding onto the kiss. Then she dashed off into the shadows, leaving Heihachi there with the memory of her dance and her lips against his palm.