Time To Heal
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters herein and am making no financial gain from this work of fiction.
A/N: Beware: there are spoilers in this story for the film, Maihitoyo. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. I wanted to give Akane and Suefumi a happy ending…..
Akane, the Ryuujin no Miko, was walking down the familiar path that led away from the old temple. She had made frequent visits to the old structure after sealing away Oono Suefumi; it gave her some comfort to be there. She knew the Hachiyo and Fuji-hime were all concerned about her and she was grateful. She also knew she would be on the receiving end of another lecture about venturing out alone once she returned to the city. It was a small price to pay.
Sitting on the steps, watching the last of the fireflies, Akane smiled at the approach of Tomomasa and Takamichi. "Kombanwa," she greeted them.
They both bowed to her, "I hear you went out today." Tomomasa said coming up to her.
"Hai." The affirmative was drawn out.
"Miko-do…." Takamichi began but at her look he stopped. Smiling, "Akane-dono." When she smiled he went on with his censure. "You know you are not supposed to venture out without a guard."
"Hai, demo….I needed time alone."
"We understand that. If that is what you require, none of us would intrude but please allow someone to accompany you." Tomomasa requested, going down on one knee. "We all know how to keep a discreet distance," he winked at her.
"Tomomasa-san." Her giggles rang out softly.
"Maybe she'll listen to you. "Tenma's voice joined in as he approached them. "She hasn't listened to either Yorihisa, Shimon or I about her little adventures."
"We just want you to be safe." Tenma replied, ruffling her hair.
"It is as Tenma-dono says, Miko-sama." This coming from Fuji-hime as she joined the growing assembly.
"Mou, I feel harassed," the Ryuujin no Miko pouted.
"We just don't want to see you hurt." Yorihisa added, joining the group.
Several days later, Akane was walking on the bridge where she first met Oono Suefumi; she ran her fingers over the railing, lost in thought. A movement out of the corner of her eye made her smile. True to their words, Yorihisa and Tomomasa were keeping their distance but were still close enough should something happen.
"Should we move closer?" Yorihisa asked.
"Iie, we promised to give her some space." Tomomasa answered, tapping his fan against his strong chin. He laughed softly at his companion's sour look. "She'll be fine, Yorihisa."
The two observed their charge as she made her way down a path and then veer off to begin climbing some crumbling stone steps. They were discussing some matters when they heard Akane call out. They ran up the remaining steps and stopped in astonishment. Laying near the broken down temple was Oono Suefumi, unconscious, Akane kneeling next to him.
"Miko-dono!" Yorihisa tried to stop her from touching the omyo.
"It's alright. I already touched him and nothing happened." She assured him. "Tomomasa-dono?"
The jade-haired Hachiyo knelt and scrutinized the supine man before him. "We need to get him back to Kyou."
"Arigatou," Akane laid a hand on his arm in thanks. She watched as they managed to maneuver Suefumi onto Yorihisa's back. They did not want to waste time going back to the city to get a cart.
"If you get tired, I can carry him." Tomomasa assured the samurai.
On their way back, a light rain began. It was enough to rouse Suefumi, who turned to Akane walking alongside, "You'll get soaked." He whispered.
"Suefumi-san!" She turned to him and reached up to take the hand he held out to her. "How….?"
"Sleepy." Was the response she received before he closed his blue eyes once more and returned to his slumber.
Seeing Akane's worry and disappointment, Tomomasa laid a supportive hand on her small shoulder. "We will have him back shortly and have a healer sent for….and I think we'll need Yasuaki as well."
"Have you ever heard of such a thing happening?" She asked.
"Only in legends and folktales. Don't worry, we'll find out what happened."
Before long, the trio was entering the grounds of Fuji-hime's house. Tenma ran across the yard when he saw who his Hachiyo partner and friend was carrying.
"How? What? Where…?" He got out, reaching out to help carry Suefumi inside to Akane's rooms.
"All in good time, Tenma." Tomomasa turned when Fuji-hime entered. "Can you have someone run for the healer and also go for Yasuaki?"
A few hours later, all the Hachiyo, Fuji-hime and Akane were gathered together. "Well, Yasuaki?"
"I cannot tell much without having spoken to him, but there are legends concerning people returning from the other side. The healer did confirm some slight burns and such that are consistent with such an event." The mostly unemotional, bi-color eyed man told them.
"Do you know of any other instances where someone has come back from the dead?" Shimon asked.
"There are one or two references which I have heard about."
"But he's been dead for ten years?!" Tenma cited.
"Tenma-sempai." Shimon implored with a look towards Akane.
"Gomen ne, Akane."
"Iie, you're just stating fact."
"It is the work of the Gods." Eisen stated and when everyone turned to Yasuaki, he nodded in agreement.
"I shall do some research into it."
"As will I," Takamichi added.
A court lady knelt by the open doorway, "Gomen ne, Miko, but Suefumi-dono is awake." The Hachiyo smiled at their young friend, "Go on," Tomomasa encouraged. "There will be time for us to speak to him later."
"Arigatou, minna." She quickly left them with the servant following.
"She looks happy." Inori said, wistfully.
"And we, as her Hachiyo, will see she stays that way." Tomomasa stated, flatly.
Akane, knelt next to Suefumi who was laying on a futon. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm not sure." He replied, taking one tiny hand in his own. "I don't understand….." His voice was weary.
"We're trying to figure it out." She reassured him, reaching out to brush the hair from his eyes. "You have some slight burns and are suffering from exhaustion."
"How did I….?"
"Yorihisa-san carried you. And a healer has examined you. Don't worry about things right now. Just rest."
"Akane? Will you stay?" He tightened his hold on her hand.
"Always." She watched him sleep all the while her mind running every which way. How did he get here? I placed a seal on him…..She looked down at his peaceful face; all that matters is he's here now, with me. She could not stop herself from staring at the up and down movements of his chest as he breathed: it was proof he was alive and with her.
"Is there anything you need? That I can do?" He asked, kneeling next to her and studying the sleeping man laid out before them.
"Iie, arigatou. I…..we….just need some answers." She laid a tender hand on his.
"Yasuaki has gone to see his master, Abe no Seimei, to see what he can learn. He said he would return in the morning." He informed her. "Takamichi has gone to see what he can find along with Tomomasa."
"I'm sure with everyone researching and all, we'll have the solution soon enough."
"Though I'm not sure how much research Takamichi will get done with Tomomasa around." Tenma joked. Everyone knew how much the oldest member of the Hachiyo loved to tease the vice minister. The general was forever trying to get Takamichi to lighten up and enjoy life more; they also knew how serious Tomomasa could become when it came to his friends' well being.
Akane laughed, thinking of how many times Tomomasa had relieved the tension with his humor. "I'm sure they will be fine."
Tenma noticed the fatigue in his friend, "You should get some rest. It's been a long day." He advised. After arriving with Oono Suefumi, the day had gotten busy for everyone in Fujji-hime's household. From the runners delivering messages to writing replies and making arrangements for the new guest. Not to mention once the Emperor had learned of Suefumi's apparent resurrection, he had sent a court observer which made everyone nervous.
"I suppose," Akane hesitated. "I just don't want to leave him. All he asked was if I would stay."
"So you should."
"Tenma-kun?" Akane was surprised by his attitude. She knew of his love for her and this change was unusual.
"I'll sit outside….Just in case you need something." He explained with a smile, reaching over to cup her cheek in his strong hand.
It was well after midnight when Tenma was roused by Suefumi calling out softly like he was in pain. Tenma lifted the bamboo curtain and saw Akane trying to gently rouse him. "Akane?"
"Gomen ne, I was trying to calm him before he woke you."
"Is he alright?"
"Hai, I think he's having a nightmare. He's calling out his brother's names." After she had released his spirit, Akane, with Takamichi's assistance and some questions posed to Tomomasa, learned everything she could about Oono Suefumi. Her heart broke anew as she became aware of his history. She had even gone to the Oono School of Dance to speak to his remaining relatives. She had come away from the meeting completely disgusted; she didn't understand how anyone could treat another person let alone a child the way that family had treated Suefumi. It was a wonder to her that he had been and was such a kind and understanding person having grown up in such a hostile and unloving environment.
"I'll go to the kitchens and bring some tea." He told her getting to his feet and quickly but silently leaving the room.
She turned back to Suefumi, "Suefumi-san? Wake up; it's all a dream. You're safe now." She whispered to him, combing the hair from his forehead, fingering the silky strands. She was leaning down to him when he suddenly opened his eyes. "Daijoubu?"
He blinked, took a deep, calming breath and smiled warmly, "Hai, I think so." He tried to sit up but failed. Akane moved behind him and helped him so he could rest against her. He gave a tired sigh, "Did I wake you?"
"Not really." When he turned his head, she saw an apology in the sapphire depths. "Don't worry about it." Just then Tenma entered followed by a servant carrying a tray with tea and snacks. Akane felt the apprehension coming off in waves from her love. "Suefumi-san?"
Tenma, wanting to put the man at ease, knelt and laid a hand on one covered knee; he felt a jerk in the muscles. "No one here wants to hurt you; no one blames you either."
The Ryuujin no Miko could feel Suefumi trying to inch back against her. "It's alright." She reaffirmed; she could now feel the hammering of his heart beneath the hand she laid against his chest. "Calm down, onegaishimasu." She implored him. If he could not, they would have to send for the healer to medicate him.
It took a few minutes, but Suefumi finally quieted down. Akane held a cup of medicinal tea to his lips and watched as he sipped at it. "Are you feeling better?" She asked when she felt him go lax in her arms.
"Hai, gomen ne. I don't know what happened." He apologized with a sigh.
"You've had a shock to your system." Tenma offered. Seeing the tea was working and that Suefumi was getting drowsy, Tenma helped Akane get him settled into the futon once more. "Rest; we'll have your answers soon. You are among friends."
"Arigatou, Tenma." Akane told him. "He should sleep the rest of the night. I just hope his body can handle all this."
"He'll be alright. The Gods didn't send him back just to let him die again."
It was early morning when Akane lifted her head from the pillow bolster, Suefumi not in sight. She reared up, the covers falling around her; frantically she turned her head searching for her wayward guest.
"I'm right here," he called out in a soft voice. "You were sleeping so well, I did not want to disturb you." He was sitting against one of the columns, sipping tea. "Tenma brought tea," he gestured at the tray. "He's very protective of you."
Akane straightened her robe, sat next to him and poured tea. "Mmmmmm, we've been friends for a long time." Akane sipped her tea and watched Suefumi out of the corner of her eye as he took in the gardens. He had not changed much since the night she had freed him. She blushed when he turned his head to catch her watching him. "How are you feeling?"
Suefumi dropped his eyes to his lap, thinking. "I'm still not sure." He ran his long fingers over the rim of the teacup. "It feels strange knowing I was dead and now I'm living, breathing….." He shook his head.
Akane, seeing the confusion in his gesture and the fear, scooted over to him. "You feel confused and that's to be expected. We're all perplexed by what's happened." She laid her hand against his cheek. "But I know I am so glad it has happened. You are not alone anymore." She let out a small breath when he raised his eyes to hers and she saw tears in his wonderfully blue eyes. "Suefumi-san." She leaned into him to press her lips gently to his cheek.
He lifted his hand to cover her smaller one, "Arigatou, Akane."
They sat together for several minutes until Akane felt him lean against her. "You should rest."
"Mmmmmmm…." Was the unintelligible reply. Akane smiled and urged him to his feet. It took a bit of effort but she soon had him tucked into the futon. "Gomen ne," he whispered, eyes half closed. "I can't stay awake."
"Sleep. Your body needs it. We'll have time later." She assured him.
In the afternoon, the Hachiyo, Fuji-hime and Akane assembled to discuss Suefumi and his return. Yasuaki had spoken to Abe no Seimei while Takamichi had scoured the library archives for information.
"Shishou informed me there have been tales through the ages of people returning from the other side." The onmyouji related.
"Did Seimei-sama know how long before Suefumi-san regains his strength?" Akane asked.
"He was healthy before his death; it should not take long."
"Did Seimei-sama have any details as to why he was chosen to come back?" Shimon asked.
"It seems those who are chosen are deemed to have earned the privilege through severe hardship during their lives."
"That would make sense after the childhood Suefumi-san had…if one could even call it that." Tenma added.
"Then his so-called brothers murdering him." Inori finished, a disgusted look on his face.
"There may be a problem," Takamichi interjected. When all eyes focused on him he went on. "I found several accounts of behavioral changes in those who returned." Tomomasa, concerned, asked for more details. "It seems they have attacks where they cannot catch their breath, feeling intense fear, but nothing violent." He finished, knowing that was utmost on everyone's mind: the safety of the miko.
Akane mulled this new information over. "Ano….did you find anything saying how long those people suffered from those symptoms?" She did not want Suefumi to suffer needlessly.
"I am still going through the books and scrolls. Gomen ne." Takamichi apologized, pushing his glasses up.
"Don't worry, Akane-dono." Tomomasa said with a smile. "We're all here to help."
"Arigatou, Tomomasa-san." She knew of the friendship between himself and the dancer.
"Is there anything would should be doing ,or not doing, that would help him?" This coming from Yorihisa.
"Iie, it is best to let him be." Yasuaki answered.
Afterwards, Tomomasa accompanied Akane back to her rooms to visit Suefumi. "Ano…? Before….did Suefumi-san have panic attacks?" She asked as they neared her rooms.
Tomomasa stopped and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Panic attacks? As Takamichi described?" He asked, concern spreading through him.
"Hai, last night…He was having a nightmare and when he woke he couldn't calm down. Tenma came…."
"Did it start before of after Tenma came?"
"It may have only been fear and nothing to worry about." He said. At her perplexed look, he went into further explanation. "He woke in an unfamiliar place with a stranger close. Most people would find that unnerving. The simple fact he woke at all would frighten most people. I'm sure once he settles back into life, he won't suffer from them."
As they turned the corner they saw Suefumi sitting up, holding his head. Akane quickly knelt next to him, putting her hands over his. "Suefumi-san?"
"Heki desu." He assured her. "Just a bit dizzy. I sat up too quickly." He looked up when Tomomasa came to stand next to the kneeling Akane. "Tachibana no Tomomasa." He greeted the general.
"Oono Suefumi-dono." The teal haired Hachiyo returned the salutation. When the Ryuujin no Miko left to get an afternoon snack for them, Tomomasa studied his friend. "It has been a long time."
"Just so you know, no one here blames you for what happened."
Suefumi's eyes widened in surprise and disbelief. "Why? I'm responsible for the fires. I fought all of you, I almost hurt Akane….."
"And we all understand, especially Akane-dono." Tomomasa went on to explain Akane's knowledge of his past and how she had wept upon learning of his harsh childhood. "So you see, we all understand and because of Akane-dono."
"You protect her." It was both a question and a statement.
"There are eight of us as you know. We protect her as the Ryuujin no Miko but care for her as a friend. And in caring, protecting her is part of that." Tomomasa sat and watched the man across from him digest his words. "We all have feelings ,to some extent, for her; whether it is love or cherished friendship."
"Hai, we all have a devotion to her. She is our guiding light, has made each of us better men." He watched as Suefumi cupped his hands together and studied them. "Love can come in many forms, Suefumi-dono. Romantic, platonic, passion---it is all love."
"And what would you know of platonic love, Tomomasa-dono?" Suefumi asked with a sly grin and a look out of the corner of his eye at the man in question.
"Now that is the man I remember." Tomomasa laughed, eyes dancing merrily.
Suefumi grew serious, "How much trouble am I in?"
"…..I burned down several imperial dance stages…the Emperor's property…."
Tomomasa reached over and covered one hand with his own. "You are not in trouble. You didn't realize the consequences, my friend. Believe me."
"I don't know what to believe."
"Then believe this: Akane-dono loves you." Seeing the beginnings of hope in the sapphires of Suefumi's eyes, he went on. "After she released your spirit, she was extremely melancholy, spending time alone. She ventured to the old temple often in search of some peace. Now you've returned and we can all see her light returning." Tomomasa said with all seriousness.
Just then Akane returned with a tray laden with tea and snacks; the rest of the afternoon was spent talking and catching up for Suefumi. He learned of Tomomasa's promotion to an advisor to the Emperor, what had happened to his brothers and other events of the past ten years. During the evening meal, he was properly introduced to the other Hachiyo which made him nervous until Akane had whispered everything was going to be all right and not to worry. Suefumi found everyone to be good company and finally relaxed a bit. He studied the men and found it interesting who was partnered with whom. He was amused when he learned Tomomasa's associate was Fujiwara no Takamichi. He thought it was a good match as his friend needed someone to keep him in line and he told him so.
"Oi! I have changed in ten years." Tomomasa grumbled good naturedly while everyone laughed.
The hour was growing late when Inori and the others bid Akane and Suefumi a good night, promising to return the following day. Tomomasa, Takamichi and Yasuaki remaining behind. Akane could feel the apprehension growing in the man next to her. "It's alright. They have some information for you." She ran her hand up and down his arm to calm him.
"Daijoubu desu ka?" Tomomasa asked gently.
"Hai." The dancer replied, laying a hand over his frantically beating heart.
"Calm yourself. No harm will come to you." Yasuaki told him.
"Akane…." Suefumi reached out a hand to her and gripped her fingers when she laid her hand in his.
"Breathe. Take a deep breath." Akane implored him. Like the night before, it took several minutes for him to catch his breath. Akane gazed into his eyes, "Do you want to wait for morning for this?"
"No," Suefumi gave her an apologetic smile. "No, I…we… need to know now." He turned to the three men studying him. "Gomen ne. I don't know…."
"As long as you are feeling better." Tomomasa interrupted. "This should not take long. Everyone is still searching for information." Yasuaki and Takamichi related what they had learned and promised to keep investigating. After Yasuaki took his leave, Tomomasa turned to Takamichi, "Tell him."
The green haired Hachiyo pushed his glasses up to sit on the bridge of his nose and cleared his throat. "I have found several mentions of behavior changes in those who have come back from the other side."
"Changes?" Suefumi asked, worry creeping into his eyes.
"Hai, what you just experienced just now is one of them. Trouble sleeping is another. These changes are not of a violent nature however." He looked directly into Suefumi's eyes.
"How….how long…will I have to endure them?" He felt Akane's hand tighten on his in support.
"I am still going through the material. Gomen nasai."
"No, that's fine. Arigatou gozaimas for going to all the trouble." Suefumi smiled at the vice minister. "At least we have some answers." He smiled down at Akane, who had turned her head to look up at him.
"We shall say oyasumi for now. You should get some rest, Suefumi-dono." Tomomasa ordered, getting to his feet.
"A bit early for you isn't it?" Suefumi teased.
"I am ten years older now…and for that matter, so are you." Tomomasa smiled, old habits are returning quickly, he thought. "And who says I am going straight to bed?" He added, eyes twinkling.
"Tomomasa-dono!" This coming from Takamichi, who got to his feet and looked at his friend in mock indignation.
"At least not your own." The dancer countered.
"Suefumi-san!" Akane laughed. This, too, is another side of you, she thought happily.
"Ah, there he is again." Tomomasa reached out and tapped the miko's love on the shoulder. "It is good to have you here." He turned serious in an instant.
Suefumi took a breath, "Honto ni arigatou, Tachibana no Tomomasa-dono."
Takamichi smiled in agreement, "Dewa. We shall see you tomorrow. Hopefully we will have more answers for you."
The following afternoon, Suefumi was strolling the gardens with Akane, enjoying the late autumn weather. His strength was slowly returning and he felt something he had only once before: peace. The only other time was the night the lady beside him had freed his tormented spirit. It's a wonderful feeling. Another thought came to him and he laughed softly.
He looked down into eyes so green it took his breath away. "Heki desu." He assured her. "I was thinking 'it's not raining'. It used to rain whenever we met." He smiled and guided her to a bench underneath a spray of branches colored in reds and gold.
"They said the heavens wept for us the night I sealed you. Maybe the Gods are happy for us now." Akane suggested.
"Mmmm….that's a lovely thought." He replied watching the birds gathering material for their nests. "Akane? What do you really think about all that's happened?"
Akane found herself caught in his cobalt gaze. "I'm happy you're here."
"My being here won't cause you problems, will it? I don't want to disrupt your life."
Akane turned to face him fully, taking his hands into her own, rubbing his fingers. "Never think that. You are not a burden to me or anyone here. We all welcome your return to us." She said emphatically. "You are loved and wanted here." She finished softly.
Suefumi let out a tiny gasp; I'm loved and wanted. Love. Someone loves me. He pulled his hand away from Akane's grasp and lifted it to cup her soft cheek, raising her face to his. "Honto?"
"Hai," she replied tenderly. "Aishteru, Suefumi-san, aishteru." She covered the hand on her cheek with her own as she watched a single tear track down his cheek. Her eyes widened as he leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her lips.
Suefumi smiled affectionately when he pulled away. He watched as Akane lifted her fingers to touch her lips in wonder. "Gomen ne, perhaps I was too forward?" He mused. He became anxious when he saw tears in her own eyes. "Akane?"
"Heki desu," she replied, wiping her eyes with a smile. "I'm so glad my first kiss was with you." She admitted.
"I'm glad too."
"Can we…?" She asked hesitantly.
At this he leaned down once more and pressed his lips to hers in a sweet caress. Her eyes were closed when he lifted his head. "Alright?" He asked breathlessly. He was not without knowledge of male-female relations but sharing kisses with the miko was creating sensations he knew he would not experience with anyone else. He also acknowledged he would never kiss another woman but Akane. Like the Hachiyo, she was his light. Now that he was among the living, he would make the most of this second chance with her. He remembered feeling the instant connection when they passed the other on the bridge the first day and how it had grown so much that it forced him to seek her out again a few days later on the same bridge. His one regret in being sealed was not having the chance to explore the possibilities with her; now he had that chance. "Koibito?" He smiled when she opened her eyes and drowned in the green he saw. "I want to court you. I know things are chaotic now and I'm not sure what will happen to me….."
"Suefumi-san, I would be honored to be courted by you. It matters not to me what will happen. As long as we are together."
"Are you sure?"
"Very." She told him with a firm nod.
"You can change your mind any time. I will understand."
"Are you trying to dissuade me?" She asked him, a smile on her face.
"Not at all. I just want you to be sure. I don't want to limit you." His eyes turned down to stare at the ground.
Akane reached up and lifted his head so she could look him directly in the eye. "You will never hold me back. You will support as me everyone has." She promised him.
They sat in silence, enjoying the day. As the sun was setting, they made their way to the main rooms to join the others for the evening meal. All the Hachiyo had gathered and were surprised to see Suefumi at the entry, Akane holding onto his arm in support. After a bit of arranging, a spot was made for him next to Akane and he was greeted warmly. He smiled at everyone and offered his thanks to Fuji-hime for allowing him to stay to which she replied she was glad to have him in her home.
Akane helped set out the food for him and noticed he looked a bit tired. "Let me know if it all gets to be too much for you." When he nodded, "You haven't had much rest today."
As everyone sat together afterwards, Suefumi was asked how he was faring. "I'm feeling stronger, but there are still doubts…." he sighed.
"Not to worry," This coming from Tomomasa sitting directly across from the couple. "That shall pass along with time."
"Cryptic as ever," Suefumi said with a quirk of his lips.
"But true," Tomomasa retorted.
Yasuaki informed the group that his master, Abe no Seimei was planning a visit. "He would like to speak with you." He said to Suefumi. "And he would rather do it where you are comfortable and can rest when you need to."
"Suefumi-san?" Akane tilted her head to study his now wan face. "Daijoubu desu ka?"
"Hai," he sent her a tender look. "Just wondering why Seimei-sama would want to talk to me." At the last, he looked to the onmyouji.
"You are the only example still living of someone who has returned from the other side. He wishes to gain knowledge from you."
"There's not much I can tell him."
"Then consider it a diversion." Tomomasa supplied.
"Tomomasa-dono! Seimei-sama is not a diversion." Takamichi told him.
"A change of daily activities then."
"Mou! What are you thinking?" Takamichi groaned.
Akane laughed at the two's antics and still giggling, turned to her love. "He may have some answers for you. At least think of it as gaining a new friend, ne?" Akane laid a hand on his arm when she noticed a slight trembling in his hand and knew he had overtaxed himself during the day. "Are you sure you're alright? Maybe we should get you to bed."
"Iie, heki desu. It feels good to be up and about."
Eisen then told them of his brother's, the Emperor's, wish to make a personal visit as well. "He remembers your dancing." He told Suefumi. "He knows you are not up to visiting the palace."
"Honto?" Shimon asked with delight, practically vibrating in anticipation in the hopes of speaking to the Emperor.
"Hai," the monk replied with an indulgent smile. He turned back to the dancer, noting the exhaustion beginning to make itself evident. "He wishes to know when you feel up to seeing him."
Everyone was shocked to say the least; the emperor was asking instead of just coming. Suefumi stared at Eisen for what seemed like hours. "Would it be possible for him to wait another few days? I still tire easily, not to mention Seimei has already expressed his desire to see me….." Suefumi trailed off as the last of his strength finally gave out and he toppled against Akane.
"Suefumi-dono!" Several of the Hachiyo called out. Tomomasa and Tenma reached out to him and managed to get him to his feet. Akane made their excuses to the rest and they followed her out. In no time, they had him settled into his futon in Akane's room. Everyone had agreed she should stay close as she seemed to be able to calm him and he was not so restless with her nearby.
"Gomen ne, Tomomasa-dono, Tenma, Akane…." Suefumi apology was soft as sleep was claiming him.
"Not to worry, my friend. You have had a busy day and need your rest." Tomomasa knelt next to him. The general tapped his fan against Suefumi's knee. "Especially if Seimei-sama is visiting soon."
"I remember the talk of him in the city…."
"An interesting man, I must say." Tomomasa agreed. "Ne, Akane-dono?"
"Hai, he's interesting but somewhat unnerving." Tomomasa laughed at her comment. "Well he was." She pouted.
"I shall take my leave of you." The teal haired Hachiyo said, getting to his feet. "I'll see you both tomorrow." With that, he and Tenma left the couple.
As soon as Tomomasa's footsteps faded, Akane turned to Suefumi. "You overdid it today."
"I did not mean to," he turned his head on the bolster to watch her. "I have not spent such a wonderful day in a long time." He reached out to take her hand and brought it to his lips, pressing a kiss against her knuckles.
"We'll do it again. We have time now." Akane turned her hand to take his and returned the gesture. "Sleep now." She gently ordered, brushing his hair back, soothing him to slumber.
Suefumi tried not to squirm under the scrutiny of Abe no Seimei. The onmyouji had come, along with Yasuaki, and now they were all seated in Fuji-hime's audience room.
"You have been through an interesting occurrence." The well known priest stated. "Can you tell us what happened? What you saw?"
"I don't know how much you can learn from me….it's all a clutter in my head."
"Speak how you will. There does not need to be continuity now. It will all come in time. I hope to help you." Seimei told him.
Suefumi turned his head to look at Akane when he felt her squeeze his hand. He smiled in thanks and took a breath. "I remember a light then nothingness. I think time passed and someone called out to me, I could not see who it was…..he told me I had gained favor…..there was more light….I felt a burning and then I woke being carried by Minamoto no Yorihisa….it was raining lightly….." He finished. "Gomen ne, that's all I can recall. There are other images that are just beyond my recognition….."
"Hai, this sounds like what I have read about." Seimei nodded. "You were granted a boon from the Gods. When one lives a harsh life not of their choosing and that life is cut short through no fault of their own, the Gods may grant a chance to live again. This is what has happened to you."
"Seimei-sama?" Akane began, uncertain. "Suefumi-san has been suffering from behavior changes. Do you know how long this will last?"
"Have you now?" He turned serious eyes to the dancer. "All I have read and heard says it depends on the person. In some of the scrolls and texts, there are observations of those whose symptoms disappear in a short time and others who suffer the rest of their lives. I think it is all dependant on how strong the person is and how they cope with returning to the living, ne Yasuaki?" He looked to his student.
"Mondai nai," The bi-color eyed man replied.
Suefumi lifted a hand to his forehead as if in pain; Akane raised her own hand to brush away his hair so she could look into his face. "Nani? Daijoubu desu ka?" Her voice full of concern and love.
"Hai," he began. "I….I remember a bright being…." He closed his eyes, trying to bring the memory into clarity.
"Being?" Seimei asked, intrigued.
"He was glowing or looked to made of light." Suefumi told the onmyouji. "He was talking with someone….saying 'she was sad, that she was deserving….'….Gomen, it's all still a jumble in my head." He finished ruefully.
"Iio," Seimei reassured him. "This is something new." He turned to his protégé and nodded. "The being you saw may have been the White Dragon. He could have gone to the Gods on the Miko's behalf to plead your case." He contemplated.
"Akane?" Suefumi looked at her. "When you sealed me, I hurt you?"
"I missed you so much." She began softly. "We never got the chance to know each other then….and I wanted to so badly. I felt connected to you…there was a connection. I felt it that day on the bridge." She finished.
"So the Dragon spoke on your behalf, Miko. But the Gods had to make their decision based on Suefumi-dono's life before he died and how he was cheated of it. It is not unreasonable, this meeting of the Gods you witnessed." He told the dancer.
Suefumi squeezed Akane's tiny fingers, "Arigatou, koiishi."
"You can call on me whenever you need to, Oono Suefumi-dono." Seimei smiled. "I would enjoy speaking with you again."
Suefumi stood as the elder onmyouji got to his feet as well. "Domo arigatou gozaimashta, Seimei-sama." He bowed deeply in respect. He felt Akane take his elbow as he watched Yasuaki follow his mentor away. He smiled down at her when she pulled him gently into a stroll along the walkway. "At least we know more now." He sighed, enjoying the slight breeze through his red hair.
"You'll be fine." She said with certainty.
"Do you really think so?"
Akane stopped and Suefumi was forced to stop and turn to face her. "You are strong. It took so much strength to ask me to free you. You are so strong, believe in yourself." She reached up to push a lock of his hair behind an ear. "Believe in me."
Suefumi leaned down and brushed a kiss across her lips, smiling into her eyes when he lifted his head. "Aishteru, koishii."
They were lost in each other when they heard someone clear a throat. Akane saw Yorihisa standing a few feet away. "Gomen ne, Yorihisa-san."
"Iie," the blue haired samurai replied with an understanding smile. "Suefumi-dono has a visitor." He turned serious.
Akane looked to Suefumi, neither could think of who the person could be. The only one they had expecting was Seimei. "Who is it?" Akane asked.
"….Suefumi-dono's otousan." Yorihisa said with much trepidation.
Akane let out a quiet gasp and looked up at her love who had tensed. She could feel the trembling start in his muscles. "Suefumi-san?" She took hold of both of his arms and could feel the apprehension coming off him in waves. She turned to Yorishisa, "Did he say what he wanted?"
"He wishes to speak to his son."
"….I…..I can't…" Suefumi finally got out.
"Can you ask him to return another time?" Akane asked of her Hachiyo. "Tell him Suefumi-san is not up to seeing visitors."
As Yorihisa turned to leave, Tomomasa turned the corner of the house. He saw the agitated state his dancer friend was in and hastened his approach. "Suefumi?" He looked into Akane's worry filled eyes. "What happened?" He asked, resting a hand on Suefumi's shoulder.
"His otousan is here; he wants to talk," the miko replayed.
"Like hell," Tomomasa ground out.
As they all turned to head back to Akane's rooms, they heard Yorihisa let out a shout and then quickly approaching footsteps. "I want to see him!" A voice demanded. "I want to see this man who claims to be my son."
Akane turned and saw the one person she could actually say she despised: Suefumi's 'father'. She let go of her love's arm and looked to Tomomasa, who nodded. She went to the steps where the man waited. "You are not welcome here." She barely acknowledged Fuji-hime who had come to see what was causing all the commotion. "Please leave."
"Girl, you have no right…."
"She speaks for this household." Fuji-hime stated, anger coloring her words. "You have been asked to leave, I suggest you do just that." The tiny princess looked to Yorihisa who took a step forward.
"I demand to see my son."
"Your son?!" Akane barely got out. "You never treated him as a son and he has never claimed to be your child! You never even said his name!" Her body almost trembling in rage. "All he was to you was a servant. You allowed your own blood to treat him shamefully and stood by while it happened. You never showed any kindness to him."
Tomomasa, Yorihisa and even Fuji-hime were worried about Akane's distress. In her state she could call forth the dragon residing within her. "Akane-dono? Calm yourself. Suefumi needs you." Tomomasa called out to her.
Akane, hearing this, took a deep, cleansing breath. "Hai," She then turned back to the dance school master. "Leave." She then went to Suefumi's side and took his arm, looking at the general. "Arigatou, Tomomasa-san."
"Get him settled. I'll be along." He watched as the young couple moved down the corridor with the purple haired princess leading the way. He turned back to see his subordinate taking their visitor's arm to lead him away. "Do not return. If you have one kind bone in your body, leave him in peace."
The elder man shook off Yorihisa'a hand. "I took him in. His mother would have abandoned him. I gave him a home, a life." He argued.
"A life?" The general scoffed. "A life of toil, of servitude. Your sons and wife treating him worse than a slave. As for a home--his home is here, with us. He has had more love in the last five minutes than you gave him in all the years he stayed with you." Tomomasa was livid. "You have nothing he wants. I highly suggest you take the Miko's words to heed." With the last, he nodded to Yorihisa and started for Akane's rooms.
When he got there, he was shocked at the sight before him. Suefumi was huddling against a wall, breathing as if had run from the sea all the way to Kyou. Akane and Fuji-hime were trying to calm him, calling out to him softly. He heard a gasp come from Akane when Suefumi recoiled from her outstretched hand. He slowly made his way to the smaller of the girls. "Fuji-hime-sama, send for the healer, onegaishimasu." At her look, he told her he would try and help the Miko.
"Suefumi-dono?" Tomomasa knelt a little away from the anxiety-ridden man. "The man is gone, you are safe here." He could hear the dancer's breathing change. "Calm down and let us help you." He, too, reached out and was taken aback when he heard an almost growl-like sound come from his friend. "Has he been like this long?"
"Just before we got him here." Akane turned grief stricken eyes to him. "This is the worst episode."
"His father triggered it," he informed her. "Takamichi found more information. In an ancient text written by a healer, it told of these attacks being more intense when caused by someone or something close to the original event. His becoming an Omyo was caused by his so-called family and their heartlessness towards him."
"A….Aka….Akane?" They heard Suefumi call out softly. "Help me." He reached out a shaky hand to her.
"Suefumi-san." Akane took his icy hand in hers, bringing it up to her neck so her could feel her warmth. When he gently contracted his fingers, she crept closer and took him in her arms. She hugged him closer when he collapsed against her. "Shhhh, it's alright. You're safe, among friends." Running her small fingers through his thick hair, she whispered her entreaty.
Several minutes later, the healer entered, followed by Fuji-hime, Takamichi and Shimon. He did a quick examination and ordered a sedative laden tea for Suefumi. When it arrived, Akane helped him sip it, he laying on her lap. As the tea took effect, Tomomasa and Takamichi helped get him settled in a futon, all the while brushing off his apologies. "Just rest. It's not your doing."
"Tomomasa-dono is right," Takamichi added in his calm voice. "Rest, do not worry."
When the others left, Akane sat next to Suefumi. "Gomen ne…." He tried to apologize.
Akane put a finger to his full lips. "Shhhhhhhh, sleep."
"Sleep. There will be time later." She leaned down to press a kiss to his cheek. "Aishteru, anata." She felt his sleepy smile against her own cheek.
"Aishteru koibito." Softly spoken as sleep finally claimed him.
When she was sure he was in a healing slumber, she went outside to find the Hachiyo and Fuji-hime all waiting with concerned looks on their faces. "How is he?" Tenma asked.
"He's sleeping." She looked down at her feet. "Minna, gomen ne…." That was as far as she got before the whole of the group spoke out, quietly so as not to wake the still healing man.
"There is no need for apologies, Akane-dono." Eisen spoke for the group.
"Agreed," Tomomasa, who was closest, reached a finger under the Miko's chin to raise her face to his gaze. "If anyone owes us an apology it is Suefumi-dono's so-called father." He was still bristling over the man's visit. He felt Takamichi lay a calming hand on his shoulder and gave a slight nod of thanks.
"I made sure he knew his presence was unwelcome and would be dealt with appropriately should he decide to return." Yorihisa reassured them with a slightly evil gleam in his violet eyes.
Akane could not help but giggle at him, "Arigatou, Yorihisa-san."
"The healer left more of the sedative should we need it." Fuji-hime informed her.
"I hope we won't. I really don't want to keep him medicated all the time." Akane sighed.
"It most likely will not come to that," Tomomasa said. "Hopefully this was the worst it'll ever get and it won't happen again."
"Tomomasa-san is right, ne, Akane-chan?" Shimon said. "Suefumi-dono is strong. He has all of us supporting him and you." He encouraged.
The sun had set when Suefumi began stirring; Akane knelt next to him and softly said his name. She smiled when he opened his brilliant blue eyes. "Feeling better?"
"It's alright. You're feeling better, that's all that matters." She helped him sit up and then ran her fingers over his hair when he rested his head against her shoulder. "I won't let that man come near you again." She promised.
A few afternoons later, Akane was waiting outside the bath house. Suefumi had finally been allowed to have a hot bath and soak; when the healer had visited that morning he had pronounced the burns healed enough to permit it. When Tomomasa had come to visit along with Takamichi, the two Hachiyo had escorted him to the bath house, promising to watch over him. Suefumi had smiled tenderly at her, leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her waiting lips. "I'll be fine. Tomomasa won't let me drown." He teased her.
"Promise you'll let them help if you start feeling weak?"
Suefumi gave a little sigh; he had been growing stronger with each passing day and the panic attacks were practically non-existent. But no matter how he tried, he could not stop Akane from worrying. "Hai, I promise."
How long are they going to be in there?The miko thought as she started pacing; I never take this long. She turned and stared at the doors to the bathing rooms, willing Suefumi to come out. When he didn't materialize, she huffed and leaned against the wall, arms crossed.
"Would you like me to go in and check on him?" Tenma startled her, asking the question in her ear. He laughed when she jumped. "I'm sure he's fine; Tomomasa and Takamichi are in there with him." He leaned against the wall next to her. "He's doing much better."
"Hai," she replied and then took one of his hands in hers. "Arigatou, Tenma-kun. You've been a big help these past days. I know Suefumi-san really appreciates all the time you've given him." She knew Tenma had put aside his feelings for her to help the man she did love; knew he wanted her to be happy and if that meant being with Oono Suefumi, so be it. It made Tenma more a man in her eyes and she hoped he would find the same happiness she now could grasp.
Yorihisa came looking for Tenma, "We need to go." He addressed the orange haired young man. "Miko-dono." He greeted and seeing the question in her eyes told her his and Tenma's assistance was requested by Eisen and Yasuaki and they were meeting with them.
As she watched the two Hachiyo cross the courtyard, she heard laughter from inside the bath. She knew Tomomasa's and Takamichi's and now she knew Suefumi's. It was a wonderful sound and warmed her heart. He was healing and learning to live again, maybe even for the first time. She knew he had devoted his life to dance but they had not discussed what he wanted to do now. The doors opened and Suefumi followed by his escorts stepped out; he was in a loosely belted yukata, a towel around his neck and a smile on his face.
He looked up and saw Akane waiting, "Gomen ne, it felt so good….." He looked abashed.
Akane let a smile lift her lips, he looked like a small child being scolded. "Iie, I was worried something had happened. You were taking so long." In mere minutes she had all three men seated before a fire and was toweling Suefumi's soft hair dry as he ate the small snack she had made. "Are you warm enough?" She patted his head when he nodded, still listening to the tale Tomomasa was telling.
After the evening meal, Suefumi and Akane were strolling in the gardens, the moon illuminating their way. She reached up to pull the sides of his hanten together to ward off the evening chill. He covered her hand with his and bent, placing a butterfly kiss to her lips. "Arigatou."
They had reached one of the bridges when Akane stopped, "Have you thought about what you want to do?"
Suefumi was silent and then looked her in the eye, "I want to dance." He reached out and took her offered hands in his, squeezing them lightly. "I want to dance for you….for everyone."
"Are you sure?" When he looked at her with a puzzled look, she went on. "You can do anything you want to do. I know dancing was your way to gain acceptance, but there's no need for that. We all respect you….I love you."
"Hai, I know." He cupped her cheek in his hand. "Dancing was a way for me to belong but it was also a way to find peace. I truly enjoy dancing, koiishi. I like to think I'm good at it."
"Everyone said you were." She reached up to play with the ties of his clothing. "As long as you're sure…?"
"I am. I will need to practice." He lifted her face to his. "You are so beautiful in the moonlight." He traced her features with a gentle finger.
He laid that same finger against her lips, "You are." He leaned bent forward and kissed her to seal his vow.
Akane sat in the large, cleared room watching Suefumi go through the movements of a dance. His strength was returning and practicing was helping. He had spoken with Sensei and was given permission as long as he rested and did not overdo things. She smiled at him when he stopped mid-step and walked over to her and sank down, accepting the water she offered. "That was so wonderful."
"Timing is still a bit off." He argued.
"Don't be so hard on yourself." She retorted. When he gave her a look, she sighed. "Maybe you should ask Tomomasa and Takamichi to play while you practice." She suggested. "The music and it's rhythm may help you."
"Mmmmmmmm," Was his reply as he got to his feet and began again.
The Ryuujin no Miko kept an eye on the man she loved as he continued to push himself to perfection. She nodded at the Hachiyo members as they started to arrive; everyone was awestruck at his fluid movements. Fuji-hime had come to see for herself what had caused some of her household staff to disappear and was speechless at his graceful steps. More than an hour passed when Suefumi faltered; Akane moved to his side where he knelt, Tenma, Tomomasa and Takamichi beside her. "You should rest; you've been at this for hours."
"Iie, I just need a minute."
"Enough." Tomomasa's voice was emphatic. "Akane-dono is right."
"You need to rest." Takamichi's calm voice carried the order.
"Why do you always do this?" Tomomasa asked. "Your habits haven't changed: you still push yourself to exhaustion. And you are still recovering."
Akane touched his damp cheek, "Onegai, you've done enough today." She made a sound of relief when he nodded and fell back against the floor. She moved closer and took a cloth to wipe the perspiration from his face and neck. "Do you need some help?" She asked softly.
"Give me a minute." He replied, reaching up to run a finger along her cheekbone.
"You are in fine form, Suefumi-dono." Eisen said from where he was seated.
"Could be better," the dancer countered.
"Here we go," the eldest Hachiyo sighed. He rapped his fan on Suefumi's foot. "There is no need to force yourself."
It was several minutes before Suefumi sat up and shaking his head, looked at Akane, "I think I could use some assistance." He told her ruefully. She smiled tenderly, patted his knee and looking at Tomomasa and Tenma, silently asked for their help. They managed to get the dancer to his feet and everyone followed the group out and to the dining hall where the evening meal was laid out. To their extreme surprise the Emperor was there waiting. He smiled at the group and gestured for them to sit; he even asked Yorihisa to join them which stunned the samurai.
Tomomasa felt his friend stiffen and quietly asked if he was alright. Tenma could feel Suefumi's pulse start to race. "Suefumi?"
Seeing the beginnings of his distress, Akane moved swiftly to his side. She laid her caring hands against his chest. "It's alright. Breathe, Suefumi-san."
The Emperor looked to his younger brother and Eisen explained the episodes that had been plaguing Suefumi ending that this was the first in more than a week. "Do not worry, Akane-dono will calm him."
Akane raised her hand to Suefumi's neck and was pleased when she felt his pulse calming. "Better?"
"Hai," he then looked to the man seated at the head of the table. "Gomen nasai…."
"Iie, Ototou-san explained. Do not worry, Oono Suefumi-dono. I do not place any blame on you." He motioned for him to sit. "I was very glad to hear of your return and that you are recovering from your ordeal."
"Domo arigatou gozaimashta," Suefumi replied, sitting.
As everyone was eating the conversation covered the events in Kyou to plans for the winter. "Suefumi-dono?"
"Hai?" He looked to the Emperor with apprehension.
"Will you dance for my court and I soon?" The question was accompanied with a petitioning smile.
"The honor would be mine."
"Good, but only when you are completely recovered and are ready." The Emperor advised. The others had revealed the afternoon's events.
Akane was following Suefumi back to his rooms; having healed enough, he had been given rooms of his own near Akane's. She felt his tension, "Anata?"
Suefumi stopped and leaned down to brace his hands on the railing along the walkway; he dropped his head and sighed. "Everyone it telling me to slow down, to rest."
"It's out of concern."
"We all care about you….I love you. It's what friends do."
"Friends?" He lifted his head to look at her.
Akane could feel her heart breaking, he's never had any real friends, except Tomomasa-san. He's always kept himself closed off, not wanting to risk being hurt….abandoned; that last thought made everything clear. He pushes himself so hard so he won't be abandoned, to feel accepted. "Hai, friends. You have many friends now." She told him, coming to stand next to him.
"They are your friends."
"Akane-dono is right. We are all your friends." This came from Yorihisa who was approaching with the others.
"You were never alone, Suefumi-dono." Tomomasa began. "You blocked everyone before. Akane-dono has opened your heart."
"Friends are always there for one another, care for each other." Shimon added.
"You ever need us, we will be by your side." This from Inori.
"Time to take a risk." Tomomasa urged.
"We won't let you down." Tenma said honestly.
He looked at each of the eight men before him, saw their sincerity. "Minna, arigatou."
Suefumi laughed softly when he heard Akane mutter once again that the formal kimono she wore was getting in her way. "But you look so lovely in it." He told her as she was tying part of his dance costume. They were in his dressing room inside the Imperial palace, giving in to the winter which had finally settled in Kyou.
"It's so confining." She whined watching as he picked up the mask.
"Hmmm?" She was reaching out to adjust his costume.
"Will you wear another for me?"
"Another?" She looked up into his shining, sapphire eyes.
"Another kimono." He set the mask aside and took her face in his hands. "Honor me…be my wife?"
Akane's emerald gaze filled with tears; the past few months had been the most wondrous in her life. She and Suefumi had begun their courtship under both the teasing and sincere watch of the Hachiyo and Fuji-hime. They had learned so much about one another including how she had come to Kyou. Suefumi had listened with rapt attention to her descriptions of the modern world and she had reassured him she was staying with him. "Hai," she replied softly, a single, happy tear trailing down her downy cheek. She accepted his kiss as a seal to their engagement.
They were lost in each other, when a small voice interrupted, "Akane-chan? Suefumi-dono? Everyone is waiting." Kotengu-chan said from behind the door.
"Hai, we're coming." Akane replied, smiling at her soon-to-be husband. She reached for the door as the first notes began from the musicians and stood to the side as Suefumi took his first steps to the stage and their future.
A/N: This turned out much longer than I had planned. It seemed to take on a mind of it's own. I have no idea if there are any writings concerning legends of people returning from the dead. This work is all from the fantasy in my mind. I dislike sad endings in anime and wanted to give Akane and Suefumi a chance and a happy ending. I hope you enjoyed this story.