Note: So if you've noticed, I deleted Beneath the Cherry Blossom Tree. Why ? Because I didn't like the way the story was running beforehand, it just didn't work out. Nothing was lining up right, (i.e. Neji can't be a shinobi and a businessman) and I want to restrict this to just a geisha world, incorporating shinobi aspects as little as possible. After a long hiatus, I finally feel motivated enough to rewrite this. I am terribly sorry to everyone who was expecting something different, but the story would have died if I left it at there.
Note: Based on Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Not too much.
Disclaimer: The series, Naruto, nor any of the characters, belong to me.
001. Losing Obaachan
She lived with Obaachan until she was seven years old. Then, her name had been Mai, which meant ocean, because Obaachan always said that she was a lot like water. The older woman liked to call her Mai-Mai, because it was common for young girls to repeat the character of their names like so, or at least, girls from where Obaachan came from did. Obaachan had white hair that sat atop her head like a crown, and her face was full of wrinkles that her eyes only formed crescents when she smiled. She had a scratchy voice and Mai needed to yell for Obaachan to hear. She moved very slowly, even when getting up from bed, and she was always coughing.
They lived poorly but happily enough in the outskirts of a very poor district. Obaachan always said that they were poor because in a past life, they had done something bad, so all they could do was be content with this life, and then in the next life, they would be reincarnated into something better, like a princess. Mai had taken this to heart, and did many of the chores, because Obaachan was too old and too weak to. She cleaned, cooked, washed the clothes and made tea for Obaachan to drink. Mai told herself that she was happy when her bones began to hurt, because that meant Obaachan would be proud of her hard work.
One time, Obaachan brought her into the center of a town called Konoha. They stood in the shadows of the sidewalk, gazing out at the bustling people, ignoring a little wide-eyed girl and a poor old woman. It was there that Mai saw them, the shockingly graceful women that seemed to glide as smooth as a boat floating over water, rather than walk the way she and Obaachan did. Their complexions were as white as blank canvas and beautiful smiles formed on their red lips. Their hair were bound tightly in an intricate knot and decorated with bells and flowers, and the silk garments (Obaachan called them kimono) were all the magnificent colors of the world. They laughed and chatted, shooting glances at men who only stopped in their tracks when they saw them. Obaachan said that these were geisha. These were beautiful women who wore pretty silks and danced a mesmerizing dance, they went to parties and did silly things and were praised for them.
Mai told Obaachan afterwards that she will work hard and be happy the rest of her life, in hopes that in the next life, she will be a geisha, and be just as beautiful as those women who could entrance any man just by glancing at them. Obaachan had smiled at her with a lost expression and said that was a fine idea.
Then, two months after Obaachan had brought her to see the geisha in the center of Konoha, Obaachan had died in her sleep. She had been sick for a long time, as long as Mai could remember, and sometimes at night, long after Obaachan died and Mai was no longer called Mai, she could still hear the whooping coughs as if Obaachan was still sleeping in the straw bed across the room in the one bedroom of their tiny shack.
It was a rainy, spring night, the night after Obaachan's burial, that the door of the tiny shack was kicked down, and a violent gust of wind rattled the weak foundations of the home. Voices filled the doorway, loud and forced, and Mai could hear shuffling stifled by the heavy rain.
"Find the girl."
The men had come, and Obaachan had once warned her that if any men came in when she was not there, Mai needed to leave as soon as possible. If she didn't, the men would do something bad and ruin her chances of her being a geisha in the next life.
The sky was an ominous color, and the rain was cold on her skin. She shivered, wearing nothing but her tattered robes. She stood in the yard, staring back at her home, and hot tears pricked behind her eyes. Her feet were glued to the wet dirt underneath her, and she stared out at the field where Obaachan was buried.
That was when one man looked through the window and saw her.
Mai finally turned and ran. Feet pounded against the grass, slipping between her toes until she reached the dirt path, where the stones were slippery from the dew. Her hair was damp and heavy in her eyes, and then there was the yell of the men over the rain, chasing her. If they found her and took her, she could no longer be a geisha.
She ran off the pathway, but the men had ran past her, huddled behind a large oak tree, and pain shot up her leg as something sharp cut deep into her foot. She cried out in pain, revealing her hiding spot, and the men had turned and were coming back.
Her hands reached up to clench against the arms of the tree, her feet were climbing up the rough bark, and the cuts in her feet opened up, the stinging pain forcing her vision to be blurry with tears. She reached for one of the branches, missing the bark, and she slipped and fell.
She heard the sound of what must have been her bones breaking and she reached up to feel warm blood gushing from her temple. Her body was paralyzed on the ground, and she was losing consciousness fast. She laid on her back with her face to the ash gray sky overhead, mud smeared on her face, and sobbed.
I'm going to die, Obaachan.
The feeling, pain mixed with sheer terror, filled her panicked, broken body beyond coherent thought, and monsters were clawing at her from everywhere, and she was screaming bloody murder.
Then, warm hands touched her shaking shoulder, instantly stilling her. Rain was no longer pounding over her body, and Mai lifted her head, wiping at her eyes with grimy, bloody, palms to see a beautiful woman holding an umbrella over both of them. She stared up at her, unable to lift herself off the ground, entranced at the soothing aura that emitted from the woman. Long blonde hair plaited down her shoulders framed her face, thick eyelashes revealing soft brown eyes. Her scarlet lips curved in a smile, her complexion as white as the moon and her features elegant and lucid, even in the rain. She wore the most stunning kimono Mai had ever seen, even better than the colorful garments of the geisha from Konoha, a dark crimson color with gold insignias. The sleeves trailed to the ground and were becoming wet and muddy in the rain. The silk hugged the woman's body, emphasizing her curves, a gold sash tied in a complex bow in the back (Obaachan said it was an obi, Mai recalled) emphasizing her well-endowed chest.
Mai had never seen anyone as beautiful. This was a beautiful queen, bending down to help a poor useless child.
"Tsunade-sama!" a male voice that sounded familiar called towards their direction, the volume muffled in the rain.
The blonde woman stood up, and her voice was rich and tender, "Gai-san, will you please carry this child?"
Mai sighed, allowing her eyes to droop as this time, strong male hands lifted her shaking body from the mud. She could feel the warm, callused skin that now held her shivering, broken body through the drenched fabric, and the man's sturdy arms rocked her against his chest fondly. The beautiful woman smiled once more at them, the umbrella still keeping her dry. Mai expected it to be so, because she did not want this woman to have even the slightest drop of rain mar her beauty.
She snuggled closer to the man's chest, as the rain washed the warm blood down her cheek. It stung, but her whole being ached.
"We won't let you waste your youth, young one," the man's voice was a deep baritone yet calming nevertheless, and Mai allowed herself to embrace the weariness in her limbs.
When Mai woke up, she was clean, wounds bandaged, one arm in a sling and her clothes changed into a comfortable cotton robe. It was a plain canvas color but it was the richest clothing she had even worn, snug on her lithe form. The room smelled of incense and the lamps illuminated the paneled walls. It was much different that the damp, smelly, little shack she lived in. Her thoughts travelled to her grandmother, and she rocked her arm, bringing her knees as close to her chest as she could manage, resting her chin on her knees.
The door slid open and it was the woman named Tsunade-sama. She wore a silk robe that was looser than the beautiful crimson kimono, but a pale blue color that seemed to match the sky. Her skin was no longer white and her lips were no longer red, but Mai thought that the woman was still as beautiful as before. She carried rice and salted fish in a tray, and Mai suddenly felt hungry. The muscular man (Mai figured his name was Gai-san) appeared after, carrying a large, leather-bound book in his hands.
Tsunade-sama smiled, kneeling by Mai's side and tucked a strand of her brown hair behind the young girl's ear. She placed the food on Mai's lap, and allowed her to eat. Then, she spoke to Gai-san about something incoherent to Mai's hungry and young mind. When the girl finally finished, the woman lifted the tray from her, handing it to her companion.
"Thank goodness your injuries are not fatal. If you are healthy enough, they will heal properly. Do you have a home?" the voice was the same soothing tone, and Mai felt her stirring heart relax as Tsunade-sama spoke.
"N-No," she finally answered.
"Where are your parents?"
"I don't have any."
"What is your name, child?"
"I don't know."
It was a lie. Mai figured she was ashamed of herself, her name, and ultimately, her Obaachan. She wanted to leave her old life behind, and that would require her to leave her old name behind as well. She was a pathetic child for abandoning the only person who cared about her like so.
Tsunade-sama nodded, taking the almanac from the man, and flipped through the pages, contemplating. After a long while, she looked up, and asked, "How do you feel about the name Tian? It means heaven, since you seemed to have fallen from the heavens."
"I fell from a tree."
The woman smiled, "We were looking for you, and that tree was so tall that I felt like heaven had answered my prayers and sent me an angel."
"Heaven sent you me. I am not an angel," Mai said, a small frown on her lips. She should not be able to live with the most beautiful geisha of all geishas.
"You need a name, blossom," Gai-san interrupted, already settled next to the beautiful woman. He grinned, a goofy smile on his face. Mai only glanced from him to Tsunade-sama again. The comparisons between the two were great, while Tsunade-sama was elegant with a womanly figure; Gai-san was muscular and out-of-place in an awkward way. His jet-black hair was cut in an odd bowl-cut and his eyebrows looked like two black, fuzzy caterpillars had crawled above his eyelids when he was asleep. They were waiting for an answer.
"I like the name Tian," Mai said quietly, looking down at her hands.
"Tian it is, then."
Mai shook her head, thinking of her Obaachan. "Tian-Tian," she breathed. "Tenten."
"Tenten," Tsunade-sama repeated, nodding approvingly. Tenten closed her eyes and she could feel the smile as Tsunade-sama leaned over to kiss her forehead.
"Welcome to my okiya."
The man with the large eyebrows was named Maito Gai, but he assured her that Tenten should just call him Gai-sensei, deciding to be her self-proclaimed tutor. He told her that, Tsunade-sama, was the owner of the okiya. She was to be called okaasan, or "mother".
Tenten asked what an okiya was.
Gai looked at her surprised, and said that an okiya was a house where geisha lived.
Tenten's eyes had widened at this; she would be living with other geishas, Tsunade-sama in particular. Her heartbeat increased significantly, and her world began to spin. She huddled, trying to catch her breath once more. Gai waited until Tenten's physical shock lessened.
"Tsunade-sama used to be a very successful geisha in Konoha. She retired a long while ago and opened this okiya, but sometimes men still ask for her presence at teahouses."
Gai told her that there were two other active geishas, Shizune-san and Mitarashi Anko-san. Shizune had her name changed when she became a geisha, while Anko had kept hers. He said that the two women were polar opposites except for the fact that they were both beautiful. As much as Shizune was tender and graceful, Anko was brash and passionate.
She had stopped him mid-rant and asked him if Tsunade changed her own name.
Gai nodded, and Tenten smiled quietly to herself. It was one similarity between them, at least. Then, Tenten asked what he did.
Gai beamed at her and gave her an over-exaggerated thumbs-up pose, "I am this okiya's kimono dresser!"
Tenten looked puzzled, "Isn't it possible for geishas to put it on themselves?"
"Of course not! Under the beautiful first layer is yet another, and another, and the obi tied around the waist is usually as long as least one room's width and must be tied correctly in the back and of course…"
There was a knock on the door and Gai's face brightened.
"Oh Tenten-chan! That is probably Anko-san!"
The man scrambled up, practically sprinting to the door, sliding it open. It revealed a woman wearing a silk robe much like Tsunade-sama's, however; she wore hers immodestly, revealing slender, pale shoulders and a curve of her breasts. Thick, dark raven hair skimmed her shoulders, a constant smirk plastered on her round lips. She had prominent cheekbones and sharp features. Her eyes were darker and larger than Tsunade-sama's, that Tenten could not even see the pupils. The mysterious eyes were trained on her, seemingly staring into her soul, and Tenten could feel her blood chill.
Anko was just as beautiful as Tsunade-sama.
"Anko-san!" Gai greeted happily.
She raised two fingers at Gai, glancing at him and flashing a grin, before her eyes returned onto her. The look was so intense that Tenten felt her heartbeat speed up, realized she was staring, and instantly lowered her gaze.
"Is this the new addition?"
She was talking about her. Tenten forced her eyes up and was surprised by the amusement filling the woman's features. She lifted Tenten's chin, pulling the younger girl's face into her hands. Dark eyes peered into her lighter ones, and Anko's hand trailed up, touching the scar on her temple. Goosebumps ran down Tenten's spine.
"Will this go away?" she said, referring to the scar.
"It should," Gai replied behind her, his voice suddenly solemn. Anko's smirk widened and she let go of Tenten's chin. She turned her attentions back to Gai.
"Is she going to be a geisha?"
Gai nodded, "It'll be effective as soon as her wounds heal."
"So not in a while, I assume."
"Depends on how fast they heal."
"She'll experience shikomi under Tsunade. That's enough to send the girl back under medical care."
Tenten was shocked at the lack of honorific after Tsunade-sama's name. She expected that this was Anko's personality, but it was somewhat rude. Gai chuckled, patting Anko's shoulder half-heartedly, "I think Tenten-chan can handle it. You did, to say the very least. Tenten-chan should be more worried about what you would do in response then what Tsunade-sama would put out for her to do."
Tenten stared at them, straining to catch their conversation. Her heartbeat was so loud she was sure both of them could hear it, since it was throbbing in her ears.
Did she say I was to be a geisha?
"Where's Shizune?" Anko yawned, stretching her hands overhead.
"That's unladylike, Anko-san," Gai smiled, watching the way Anko yawned like a cat. "Shizune-san has some business to attend to outside Konoha. She should be back in a few days."
"You know I don't care when we're in the okiya," Anko replied, sticking her tongue out at Gai. "And let Shizune take a look at the girl, she can do it better."
"Anko-san has the sharpest eyes in all of Konoha."
"Shizune knows her way with words; she can break it to the girl better than I can."
"Tenten-chan suits the requirements to be a geisha, Anko-san," Gai replied, brows furrowing.
"What I'm saying is that she's too plain to get anywhere that Tsunade would invest in."
"Don't listen to what Anko has to say. She doesn't get to choose whether you become a geisha or not-"
Tenten gazed at him through wide eyes, "I have the chance to be a geisha?"
Gai's eyes softened and he nodded, settling down by her side again, "Tsunade decided that since you do not have a home or family, she has allowed you to live in the okiya, under the pretense that you will become a geisha and someday pay this okiya back."
Tenten's eyes dazed, as she stared at a spot on the wall, "My… Obaachan said that if I was content with my life and listened to rules, I would definitely be able to be a geisha in my next life. If I try to be a geisha now, I am not following rules…"
Gai chuckled, "But what if, in your next life, you become a bird? Then you definitely can't become a geisha!"
Tenten turned to look at him, and he gave her a thumbs-up, "If you have the chance in this life, Tenten-chan, you should go for it."
Tenten felt tears trickle from her eyes, and Gai had pulled her into a hug as Tenten cried into his chest.
Obaachan, I know that this is your doing, wherever you are. You have bartered with fate to give me this chance. I'm sorry, Obaachan, for not coming after you so we can start a new life together.
Shizune was slender, not as much as Anko, and had long black hair that framed her face. Her features were less sharp than Anko's, but she held a reserved, elegant air that made her beautiful in her own way. She wore a smile as often as Anko wore a smirk, and as Gai said, she was the polar opposite to Anko's personality. She smiled at Tenten and touched her face just as Anko had, but she had caressed the younger girl's cheek and told her that everything was going to be all right. Anko always scared off potentials that were too weak, and advised Tenten to not fall into this trap.
Shizune looked thoughtful, and mused that Anko wasn't jealous of any competition; she was just eliminating those that would fail horribly later on. Her eyes were impeccable, and she was able to scout out a winner long before anyone noticed them.
Tenten realized that Anko's eyes had seen her unsatisfactory. Shizune could feel Tenten's thoughts in her solemn silence, and her eyes softened, gently running her hands through Tenten's unbound hair.
"But it's not like Anko's eyes are perfect," Shizune murmured, "After all, she was wrong with me."
Tenten's eyes widened. How could Anko not pick out Shizune's elegance as a sure and reliable investment?
"We grew up together," Shizune had left it at that, and Tenten could see she did not have the place to bother her for more.
When Shizune had left, planting a kiss on her head, Tenten had stared at the screen walls for a long time. There were many secrets in this okiya that she was not privy to, secrets she wondered she would ever be able to know.
Notes: So it's a new beginning. I apologize to anyone who liked the other one. I promise I won't give up on this one. Please review.