flowers falling in the wind like snowflakes
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin was created by Watsuki Nobuhiro,
published by Shueisha in "Jump," and produced by Sony
Entertainment. All rights are theirs. I have no money to speak
of, so suing me will not make you rich. This story contains
spoilers for...I'm not quite sure what...up until the Kyoto Arc
and the OAV's, I think (plus corresponding manga volumes).
Quiet summer days
The entrance of a cricket
In the final throes of winter the last cold breeze swept soundlessly across the dusty streets, and the trees, their naked branches scraping impatiently against each other, stretched longingly toward the cloudless sky. And in the seamless transition of one season to the next, the soft caress of morning sunlight promised warmer days ahead.
The breeze tugged at the hem of my hakama as I submerged my arms to the elbow in lukewarm water turned gray with dirt from the day's laundry. The cloth was heavy and dense between my fingers -- at least there was a good wind for hanging the washing out to dry -- and my thoughts began to take flight as my hands swirled idly around the bottom of the tub.
I'd stayed at the dojo for longer than I'd anticipated, longer than I knew I should. But I though my mind whispered incessantly that it was time to move on I couldn't deny that I felt as though I belonged somewhere again. Somehow I'd regained that elusive feeling of purpose, a feeling so firmly imprinted in my mind that it couldn't simply be an illusion I'd imagined. After ten years of wandering, ten years of constantly changing scenery, ten years of futile searching for atonement, I longed for that certain intangible feeling of "coming home." Perhaps it was this sensation that held me back from the open road. Somehow the journey's calling simply wasn't as urgent as it had been before.
I sighed as I leaned forward against the washtub's wooden rim, half lost in thought and recollection – I jumped in surprise as small hands clamped themselves over eyes, and water sloshed onto my pants, my feet, the thawing ground. My first 'attacker' seemed not to notice. Predictably, a second set of hands caught my wrists and pulled my dripping palms from the water, cupping them until they closed firmly around... something.
"Surprise!" The energetic voices exclaimed simultaneously as Ayame and Suzume in a coordinated attack dragged me unprotesting to the ground. "Look, look what we caught, Ken-niisan!" I landed on one knee and teetered from side to side as two young girls proceeded to use me as their human climbing-tree.
"Well now, you two, what do we have here?" I separated my fingers slowly, drawing out the suspense, and when the girls realized that I was deliberately teasing them, they reached up impatiently and pried my hands apart, blunt nails digging into my skin. I surrendered without a fight.
:cheep: The cricket, small and brown, sat limply -- looking perfectly miserable (if it's possible for a cricket to look miserable), and I could almost imagine a tiny cricket-sigh emanating from its damp form. The poor insect hardly noticed that its prison walls had lifted.
"Is this for me?" I asked hesitantly, staring at my hands and not entirely sure of what I could say to rectify the egregious sufferings of the dripping insect. The two girls nodded vigorously in eager affirmation, and I continued to flounder for words. "Thank you, but..."
"But what?" Suzume tugged upon my left arm, using her weight to send me tipping in her direction, but just as I was about to lose my balance, Ayame tugged equally upon my right arm. It was like being tossed around by a storm at sea -- and the cricket looked as it were about to be sick.
"...he doesn't seem to be too happy, euh?" An awkward silence fell upon us, a silence not even punctuated by a single 'cheep', and I blinked several times, not wishing to offend either the girls or the cricket. "Do you think he'd enjoy living in the bushes by the gate? He might enjoy watching everyone's comings and goings..." I couldn't recall whether crickets were sociable insects or not.
Ayame and Suzume glanced at each other in rapid consultation then threw their arms up into the air with youthful enthusiasm. "Yay! Into the bush, into the bush!" Again, they clamped themselves onto my elbows, pulling me abruptly to my feet and...managing to send the washing tub crashing onto its side in the process. :cheep: The cricket, apparently reinvigorated by its flight through the air (for it had dropped from my hands as water drenched my feet), hopped from tabi to tabi across the expanding mud-puddle, eventually disappearing from view. Hands flew to the mouths of the two girls, and their eyes widened in realization of what they'd done. "Uh-oh."
Of course, it was just at this single moment of utmost confusion that another figure appeared at the scene. Shinai in one hand, wooden bucket in the other, she carried herself with a confidence typically uncharacteristic of a young unmarried woman, and as she swung the bucket freely at her side, she hummed softly under her breath. But as she came around the corner she stopped dead in her tracks, music dying on her lips. "Good grief, can't I even leave this place for a minute without everything falling apart?"
"I'm terribly sorry, Kaoru-dono," my voice called from the tangle of legs, arms, laundry, and small bodies. "There was this cricket, you see..." My head raised itself from the hopeless mess, red hair flying everywhere and gooey mud dripping from my nose. "...yes, a cricket, of course."
Kaoru, seemingly torn between laughing hysterically and protesting the state of the (once again dirty) laundry, tucked the shinai into her obi and lifted the lid on the bucket. "Look Kenshin, it's a fish! Ryuhei Yoshidaof the Makita Dojo gave this to me in return for helping his sempai practice today." She blushed slightly with pride, smiling warmly despite the chaos spread across the ground before her.
"Yeah, for once, even Tanuki no Onna didn't mess everything up." A boy, ten years in age, appeared out of nowhere, shinai strapped across his back and dark hakama slightly muddy from the trek home. "Even she has her good days every once in awhile," he admitted, voice all but dripping with sarcasm.
"Yahiko! Oh you little brat -- why do I even bother trying to beat manners into that thick head of yours?" Temporarily forgetting about my laundry debacle, Kaoru dropped the bucket to the ground and began to advance toward her deshi, shinai brandished menacingly in both hands before her. "Hey, where are you going? Come back here! Yahiko, I'm not finished with you yet!" But her threats were to the wind, as not even the boy's shadow had stuck around to listen.
"Oro..." Having disentangled myself from the girls and the laundry, I reached up to brush the dirt from my gi even as mud dripped sporadically from the ends of my ponytail. "Fish, you say? That's very generous of Yoshida-san." I nodded, picturing the aging master with his easy smile and gentle nature. We hadn't exchanged more than a dozen words when I'd met him before, but I could sense that he was a man of honesty and respect -- a good man to act as a mentor for Kaoru-dono.
"Yes..." Kaoru stared off into the general direction of Yahiko's escape route. "...and it's so pleasant to work with students who don't talk back to you every other second." Her gaze traveled over to where Ayame and Suzume were rolling about in the mud, then drifted to the heap of dirty laundry, and finally came to rest on my dripping form. "Busy afternoon?"
"It's nothing, no need to worry Kaoru-dono...your bath should be ready by now -- and I can see to the fish once I finish the laundry --" My voice trailed off as I met her gaze, and somewhere in the background a lone cricket chirped.
Her eyes narrowed slightly, and I could sense her mind working, could almost see her thoughts flowing from suspicion to decision. Bucket and shinai in one hand, she grabbed onto my arm with the other. "Come, you look like you need a bath more than I do," she replied, dragging me out of the mud and back toward the dojo.
"Oro? But...Kaoru-dono, please --" Caught off-guard by her sudden benevolence, I stared uncertainly at her, debating whether or not I should reach up and feel her forehead for fever. It wasn't like her to forego a hot bath after coming back from practice... But I didn't want to drip mud onto her nose, so I had to content myself with knitting my eyebrows together in worry.
"Listen, you can take a nice bath, and I'll cook dinner tonight! The laundry can wait until tomorrow." Kaoru, obviously pleased with her decision, dropped the fish on the porch with a thud and continued onward, muttering to herself about a certain fantastic recipe for fish (courtesy her grandfather) that she just had to try, and still dragging me in tow.
"Err, thank you -- but it's really unnecessary, Kaoru-dono. I'd rather finish the laundry tonight," I protested halfheartedly, trying to free myself from Kaoru's iron-grasp but without success. I had been witness to her stubbornness many times before (and had been on the receiving end more often than not), and I knew that once she made up her mind, arguing wasn't going to get me very far at all. Nonetheless, it behooved me to try.
The steam from the bath rose as if on tiny wings, swirling upward and disappearing into the open sky. Kaoru sighed and let her arms fall to her sides. "Kenshin, I'm doing you a favor -- just get in the bath will you?" For a moment I could see concern in the lines around her mouth, worry in the shading of her eyes -- then she grinned, and with a light chuckle, the previous seriousness dissolved into habitual teasing. "If you don't get in I'll have Yahiko and Sanosuke throw you in, clothes and all!" Ah well, she was only 17, after all.
"It's alright, truly it is. There's no need to call them...but are you certain about dinner...?" I was slowly backing into the steam, its delicate embrace brushing temptingly against my senses. I had become accustomed to the lumpy tofu and soggy vegetables, but I wasn't sure how my stomach would react to Kaoru-dono's attempts at cooking fish.
"Of course I'm certain," she replied cheerfully, head tilted slightly to the side while dimples formed at the corners of her mouth. "My grandfather may not have been a fantastic cook, but he could make the best fish in all of Tokyo." She brought her hands together underneath her chin and let her eyes close in contented remembrance. "Mumm...I can taste it now, absolutely wonderful --"
"-- as wonderful as your weird-shaped rice balls, Tanuki no Onna?" Yahiko called, poking his head around the corner. He always seemed to have impeccable timing when it came to making use of every opportunity to tease his Assistant Master. "If I were that fish I'd run away as fast as I could!"
"Yeah, Jou-chan, what are you thinking? It's fish...there's some real potential here. Can't your grandfather's recipe wait a few years?" The tall form of Sanosuke materialized behind Yahiko, and as he too joined the debate, I began to wonder if perhaps it would be best if I just took the poor fish and prepared dinner while the three of them raised their voices in debate. Meanwhile, the argument continued in the background.
" -- not true! Anyway, how would know what the Emperor eats?" Kaoru's voice drew me from my scheming, and I had to smile as I watched her stand her ground before Sanosuke, yelling as if her very life depended on it. "Anyway, why do you think that you're going to ea this fish? Shoo, go away you freeloader. Scat before I have to get the broom." I opened my mouth to protest (knowing how lethal she could be with her broom), but Yahiko stepped in before I could speak.
"Awe, not only is she ugly, but she's mean too. Ugly, ugly, mean old witch!" He jumped from foot to foot, barely pausing in his endless barrage of insults to breathe, and as I stood there, surrounded by the comforting familiarity of good-natured chaos, I smiled.
"Now, now Yahiko..." He turned his glare in my direction, as if to warn me not to get involved, but I blinked, pretending to ignore his seething hostility. "...Kaoru-dono's cooking has improved greatly, that is has. You should be grateful that you don't have to prepare dinner for yourself." I nodded, recalling all the meals I had cooked for myself and Hiko-sensei -- ah, well they do say that practice makes for perfect, don't they?
"Grateful, schmateful, I bet you anything that the only thing she can do is turn it into an old shriveled black twig!" Yahiko was holding his stomach and laughing, Sanosuke too for that matter -- and somehow I couldn't just stand by and allow them to gang up on Kaoru-dono's cooking. After all, I had been truthful when I'd said it had improved (somewhat).
"Oh, I'm certain that Kaoru-dono's fish will be more eatable than that," I protested, smiling in her direction. "She has an old recipe, ne?" Not that I had ever seen the recipe (or even heard of it before), but it was that certain look in her eyes that appeared whenever anyone criticized her, um, culinary expressiveness, that caught my sympathy.
"A recipe for disaster, more like it," Sanosuke retorted, still standing behind Yahiko (i.e. using him as a shield). His mouth opened in that characteristic smirk of his. "What do you think you doing, Kenshin? Trying to poison us?"
"I - no, of course not," I replied quickly, my gaze flickering between the three parties before me. Six expectant eyes drilled into mine, and I held my hands up in the air, at the same time stepping back toward the bath, as if the steam offered me a small amount of protection. "Everything will be fine, you'll see."
"Awe, I'd bet you anything that we'll be eating rice and tofu again tonight," Yahiko grumbled, kicking at the dirt with his sandal. I knew what was coming next, and tried to inch myself away from the combat zone.
"You little brat! How dare you insult me like that - you'll give me the respect your Assistant Master deserves! I'll, I'll... Sano, come back here! Why does everyone always run away from me?" The shinai was swinging wildly through the air, and as Kaoru threw herself at the other two, I once again found myself nodding in amusement. No, it certainly didn't pay to get on her bad side.
"Kenshin, are you just going to stand there looking dumb? Come on, help me nail these two freeloaders --" She twisted to glance back in my direction, not easing off on her attack, and I wondered where she got all her energy from. Hadn't she just come home from practice...?
"Oro? Kaoru-dono...I'm not certain if this is such a good idea--" Her violence had always struck me as being rather paradoxical; wasn't the Kamiya Kasshinryuu 'the sword that protects'? But at the same time, I couldn't say that I was a stranger to the scenario of the 'abused deshi'. Perhaps to become a Master one had to learn how to deal unmercilessly with stubborn-minded pupils...
"And why, may I ask, is that?" Her eyes narrowed, gaze becoming as cold as the crispest winter morning. Ah, her ki -- if only she'd been a young man before the Meiji Era, she might have been one of the best swordsmen of her time. Surely she possessed the focus and the determination.
"Er -- the fish, yes remember the fish? I have a bet with Yahiko, that I do," I replied quickly, groping for any excuse to end the skirmish. Usually the good-natured bedlam didn't both me, but somehow, today, I would welcome a little peace and quiet with open and eager arms.
"A bet, what bet?" She caught Yahiko by the front of his gi, pulling him toward her while he squirmed like a hooked fish. "Don't you know that gambling is illegal? I'll have no student of mine --"
"Nothing illegal, Kaoru-dono," I interrupted quickly before she could try to haul Yahiko into the air. "It's about the fish. If your ojiisan's recipe has survived the test of time then he'll clean the dojo for you, floor to ceiling."
"Survived the test of time...?" From his captured position Yahiko frowned in puzzlement, his hands freezing over Kaoru's wrists. "When did I say that I'd clean the dojo, Kenshin?"
"Yahiko, you idiot, what Kenshin means is that he has faith in my cooking! At least someone's a believer." The shinai fell crashing to the ground as she spun away from Yahiko and beamed at my with unguarded admiration. "You're so sweet to believe in me when all the world's turned its back --"
"-- and for good reason too, Jou-chan. Say, what does Yahiko get if Kenshin loses?" I'd forgotten Sanosuke was still hanging around, and as I pivoted to see him leaning casually against the wall, ever-present fishbone dangling from his mouth.
"Anything I want, of course!" Was the female reply. Jumping toward Kaoru, Yahiko grinned excitedly -- like a person so sure of victory that it was hardly worth going through the motions of competition. "I'll win, you'll see!"
"Oh really, you think so? Why, I'll show you..."
- - - - - - - - - -
And so another afternoon passed... and how could any afternoon be complete without the ringing of argumentative voices resounding from the dojo walls? Fortunately, the conflict had moved off to the kitchen, and as I settled up to my chin in steaming water, I could almost image that the air was calm and that the breeze swept gently by, stirring the tree branches in peaceful swaying rhythms -- almost. I closed my eyes, letting layer upon layer of inhibition fall away as dead skin does from the body of a snake, and I think I might have drifted off into slumber had not a familiar :cheep: disturbed me.
"Back again, are you?" The cricket seemed to nod in affirmation (or perhaps it was only my imagination). "You should stay out of trouble, that you should. You'd live a longer life..." Speaking of life, what was my life coming to? Sitting in a bath, holding a conversation with a cricket -- Tomoe, if you could see me now, what would you say? Would you find it amusing? They never gave us a chance together. We never had the time we deserved.
"Ooh, what did I say, what did I say? I knew it, I told you so!" The exclamation was loud enough to send my pensive mood crashing into premature oblivion, and when I realized what the result of Yahiko's boasting would be I couldn't help but groan. Oh Kaoru-dono, why couldn't it have worked...just this once?
end of part 1
- - - - - - - - - -
Note 1: Here's the first part of my first multi-part Rurouni Kenshin piece! Please tell me
if you like it... the next part isn't going to be as humorous, I don't think. The plot
for the story (as I foresee it) -is- rather serious in nature. I'm not certain how
long it's all going to end up being, but I'm going to try to finish it before school
begins again in the Fall (and if you've witnessed how sporadic my writing is, that's
a fairly ambitious deadline).
Note 2: This is a really ancient story that, for some reason, I've decided to go back and
edit and perhaps finally finish. Wow, I must be crazy. If you're reading this in 2008,
keep in mind that it was originally written seven years ago. This first chapter is, for
better or worse, quite different from most of the rest of the story -- which grows
progressively darker chapter by chapter. Think of it, perhaps, as a the beginning of the
anime series and the later chapters as more akin to the style of the OVA's. I actually
like the later chapters better, but that's just me...