Disclaimer: They are not mine, and never could be. Oh the cruelty of the world.
A/N: Sorry, had some trouble uploading the second chap and all kinds of hell broke loose. Revamped chapter and did light editing that simply had to be done. Please review. I write as a hobby and I work really, really hard for it.
Please review if only one letter to let me know that my time and effort is worth it.
Quote of the day: Sorry, you are way too sane to be interesting.
The Insanity of Us.
The night was cold, sharp and bitter. Spring was rearing its head, but as of yet it was still subdued by the firm foot of winter.
The tea I consumed was thick and sweet. The normal bitter tang of green tea muted heavily by the distinct and now familiar coiling sweet taste of fresh honey.
It was strange to note that Kenshin, soon after both of us earned a steady and decent income, made it a point to procure fresh honey at every chance he got. The man had a sweet tooth the size of a small country and only recently indulged himself in it. He also felt the need to inflict it upon those around him.
I find myself smiling into the nearly too hot tea.
The moon hung like a cruel grin in the sky, its crescent shape gave only enough light to create darker shadows and bleed all colors to a uniform grey.
It was an ideal night to awaken dead ghosts…or to put them to rest.
Beside me, leaning against the half shadowed wooden pillar of the house verandah, Sano chortled to himself. Lanky as ever, he tucked his arms around his one bended knee and smiled through his ever present fish bone.
"Darn it Jou-Chan, never knew you were a poet! A morbid one at that."
Sano was in Mongolia or some other equally exotic land and has long since given up writing. As far as I knew he was still wanted in Tokyo, and Saito is nothing if not determined to nail him into prison.
"Hey it's the thought that counts! I am with you in spirit! And don't diss my writing k, you try sending mail on a ship constantly being dunked by water. Paper and water don't go ya know!"
I nodded and blinked. I tried my best not to answer out loud to these conversations. I was already considered eccentric by the townspeople, if I started sprouting off to invisible people I had no doubt I will be labeled insane and my currently bustling school would die.
Before me Yahiko ran like an enraged chicken after a certain little boy with flaming red hair. They both were alternately screeching and giggling as they chased each other around the yard for some perceived insult or other. It was another twisted parody of the past re-enacted in my loneness.
Loneliness in the end was my bitter companion.
Yahiko was no longer a boy. He was a tall and handsome man. A master of Kamiaya Kassin Ryu. He has long since earned the title of warrior. Like any warrior, he left to find himself. He left to find the greatness that lives with him. I harbor no doubt that he will find it.
Kijin my son. He, like his father before him felt the need to prove himself. Leaving home to be 'worthy' of a legacy he hated to begin with. I prayed everyday that the path he chose would not be the eco of guilt and blood that his father carried.
Their echoing footsteps and laughter seemed to be louder than humanly possible. Then again, there was nothing truly human about them.
From a familiar corner of the yard, before the wooden frame of the Kamiaya well, Kenshin continued his lifetime quest to put a dent in the laundry pile. Snickering to himself, Kenshin made no attempt to hide the fact that he heard Sano's words. The man's hearing was legendary, and after living with him for as many years I have merely subscribed myself to ignoring the fact that he always knew what anyone was talking about at any one time in this house.
"Ma Ma Sano, my Kaoru has a great many talents, the least of which is poetry." Kenshin continued through the motions of laundry as though two boys were not running circles around him shouting insults at each other.
Kenshin. My love and husband has long since left me. Not for a battle or for duty or guilt, but he left from a weakness within himself. His heart, weakened from long exposure to impossible odds, and battles no man should survive, gave way not two years ago. I became his widow at the age of 32.
For some strange reason, he never appeared close to me on nights like these. He came either to the well or the kitchen, never standing by me or speaking directly to me. I feared the meaning behind this so I avoided thinking about it too much.
I believe I was already disturbed enough, I did not need to ponder facts that could disturb me further.
"Once again Tanuki you somehow manage to make the world revolve around you! I honestly wonder how you and Ken-san managed to be together at all! It must have been a constant match of who can one up the other on guilt."
Megumi once again managed to be both my savior and bane. The woman knew me too well and subsequently always knew exactly where to strike with her sharp tongue. .
She snorted, and gracefully glided her way to the verandah. Coolly settling herself down, she waved a beautifully packaged bento before my face. "Despite fact that you seem rather proud of your limited, and I mean limited, skills in the kitchen, I have taken it upon myself to ensure that you do not starve or choke on the burnt edges of whatever meat you have at hand."
True enough, I was no grand chef like Megumi or even Kenshin but I could feed my husband and son without killing them.
It took years and years of patient training from Kenshin himself even for that.
"Stuff it Foxy! And gimme the grub, I am starving here!" Sano smirked at the doctor and dully patted his stomach. "A man's got to eat!"
"A man?" She asked, arching a hoity brow, "I see no man here, as for pet roosters, I believe corn is the preferred feed."
On that thread they continue. Pushing barbs back and forth between them like a shared toy. They insult everything about each other from taste to clothing to pots.
I laugh, I could not help myself. The both of them have been in this constant state of 'somewhat relationship' that caused them both to snipe at each other for no logical reason.
Well, being in love is rarely logical and both of them were tragically, stupidly, blindly in love.
Megumi was practicing medicine in Aizu, her home town. She left soon after Sano. News of some family that survived the fire came to her and she was determined to return to them. I truthfully suspected her leaving to be cemented by Sano's own journey and her loneliness without his hounding.
She wrote occasionally.
"Oh great! You now give points to the fox for writing!" "Sano cried out, "I told you, I want to, but water and paper man!"
"Don't blame the sea for your absolute laziness. I highly doubt that those chicken scratches you call writing qualify as a written form of communication anyway." Megumi replied, trusting the bento at him.
Her words settled into their final echoes when I noticed an ill and chilling silence. An unnatural sort of stillness in the air, that throughout my life has proven to be the harbinger of challenging times.
For an instant, a second in time that I was certain could not have existed in reality, I was sure that Kenshin glanced back at me with eyes the color of molten gold.
The hair at the back of my neck promptly stood in attention.
My two boys seemed to recognize the situation and stared at Kenshin then me in the adorably blank way that only children could do.
"Kaoru-donno, might receive a guest soon." Kenshin smoothly got up and wiped his soapy hands on the apron he religiously wore when doing the laundry. "I shall go make the tea."
With those words and a quiet shuffle, he promptly faded away into shadow.
I blinked, stunned. Kenshin, memory or otherwise had never in his married life suddenly up and leave. He knew that his first attempt at it has scared me for the remainder of my life far too deeply to react well such acts from him.
Oh, not to say that he didn't leave. He just gave ample warning beforehand.
Megumi on the other hand seemed to expect this and only sighed.
"Yeesh, you'd think the guy would grow a pair of balls when it comes to this, but NO. Still the wuss he ever was. He knows as well as we do that this has to happen."
I glanced at Sano, my voice still sealed away in my head, I am tempted for once to break my own silence and ask.
"Yo Busu! I'm gonna drag the stinky beast to the river to see if it can unstink him. We'll be safe so don't come hounding us ok!" Yahiko blasted, clenching his hand in the collar of Kijin's Gi.
Kijin himself seemed to struggle in the grip in the desperate way children did when in the grasp of someone taller. "Don't call Okasan Busu you no-brain! And I'm not the stinky one, You are!"
Not waiting for my approval, Yahiko muttered darkly to himself as he dragged the protesting redhead behind him towards the front gates before they too faded away like diluted ink.
As they left I could have sworn that the cool, nearly chill breeze, dropped in temperature. I shivered and dully rubbed my arms. I was not manic believer in omens, but I was having an ill feeling about what was yet to come.
Feeling worried, I glanced at Megumi and Sanosuke, both of whom seemed to be rather tight lipped about the ongoing events. For the first time, in a long time I questioned the true reality behind my 'imagined' companions.
"Oh come on Jou-chan, it aint gonna bite you or anything. She just wanted to talk. Ken is just being a wus."
My mind grasped at the thread and slowly begun to unravel it into a sensible picture. Kenshin for all of his wondering had limited experience with women. He was a good looking man, but as a Hitokiri he caused fear not passion, as a rouroni he triggered pity not love. There were few women that he would know well enough to anticipate, and only one he would fear.
The air around me cooled even more.
"I think she's got it." Megumi said idly, running her fingers through her long black hair. To a passer by she looked calm and collected. Anyone in our little family knew that when Megumi fussed with her hair, she was agitated.
"Tomoe-san?" I ask, wishing that what I suspected would be proven untrue.
"Bingo, always knew you were a smart one Jou-Chan. But don't fret, there really isn't any point to it now." Sano leaned back and rested his weight on his elbows in his trademark slouch. "All you can do now, is hold on and enjoy the ride."
His words were nearly muffled completely but a sudden, rough wind that shook the empty branches of the sakura tree in the garden. It was so sudden and violent that I instinctively thrust both my arms up to shield my face. It was an instinctive gesture brought on by years of martial arts training.
As sudden as the burst comes, it fades away.
It is more training than brawn that forces me to glance around the garden for potential threats. As I said before, there is a history of ill omens and chills in my life.
I find myself nearly too afraid to look.
The first thing I note is that I am alone again. Sano and Megumi have faded off to wherever these figments of my imagination go to when they leave. I curse them to be all kinds of bastards.
It wouldn't have been so unnerving if I was not alone.
It was a ripple that finally caught my attention. The shadows blow the barren sakura tree moved and rippled like water in the ocean. the darkness shifting and arching in ways that were wrong. It was unnatural and disturbing.
Fear became a led brick on my tongue.
The ripple became more violent, lashing out in waves of inky blackness as though someone or something was trying to tear through it.
My head was gleefully going through every story I have ever heard about Oni's and Yureis and their need to feed on human flesh.
These stories only got more vivid with age and boredom.
The rippling darkness was finally pierced by a pale, nearly glowing hand. Around me the howling wind started to resemble unholy shrieks.
The artic chill that shot through my body at the sight makes my hair stand on end.
She was there.
Hand made way for arm, arm for shoulder, shoulder for head and finally her whole torso was revealed.
It was all truly a graceful production. If one didn't take into account the morbidity of it.
Though half draped in shadow, she looked stunningly delicate and otherworldly.
What I could see of her kimono was as pale as the grim moon, with only a suspicious crimson bloom over the left side of her chest. She stood just at the edges of the dark ring of shadows below the sakura tree and stared at me with dark knowing eyes.
Once again the wind howled its disapproval.
When she spoke I felt strangely like weeping.
For a moment I was sorely tempted just to get up, go to my room and pass out. If I could have moved, I probably would have done it. Her voice was soft, not annoyingly so, but delicate like thin ice on a leaf. I nearly expected to hear the chimes of tiny bells along with the haunting sound.
I had the sudden, irrational need to dig my own grave and lie in it. Get it all over and done with once and for all.
All said and done, this woman was the figure that haunted the steps of my husband for so many years. It was her in her eyes and image that I judged my merits and failures as a woman.
That lead brick on my tongue promptly gave birth and raised a family. I couldn't make a sound and part of me didn't really want to.
My mind was running around in unhelpful circles switching between saying "Oh Kami-sama" and "I want my daddy!"
She strained forward but was unable to move. It seemed as though she was held back in whatever place she was in but was needy for something.
I was terrified that that 'something' was my life or extensions of it.
"Save him. Please! Save him!" She tried to raise her voice, but the protesting wind still muffled most of it. It was this blast of cold wind, rushing past my face like a bucket of mid winter well water that finally awakened me from my mental holiday.
Ok, my brain stopped running around and actually took a listen. Him? Save him? As far as I know the only him that she and I both shared (shudder) was Kenshin.
And I am pretty sure that my late husband was definitely closer to her at this point than I was. Both of them being dead of course.
"Who? Save who?" Not the first time, I both thank and curse God for my less than smart temper and impatience. I dislike puzzles and mysteries. They all lead to great tragedy and I was fully done with them.
"He comes" She answered with a distracted glance behind her "He comes broken, teach him, fix him, save him. I cannot." Her voice wavered and it sounded almost like her very words were weeping.
"You are the last one."
Her final words nearly completely muffled by the violent wind tugging at her. In a firm graceful sweep she thrusts something into the air, as though throwing a paper ball at me before the inky night and wind once again robbed me of my sight.
And then blinked again. Nothing. There was nothing below the empty sakura tree other than dull shadows. There was no one beside me for company. And defiantly no hint of long dead specters.
Then why was I shivering as though someone not only walked, but was dancing on my grave?
It was winter. Of course I was shivering. I probably slept off thinking odd thoughts and was sting outside in the cold for hours.
It had to be a dream.
No God was cruel enough to hint otherwise.
Shaking like frightened rabbit, I gave myself a sound mental smack for not only sleeping outside like a sneaking child but dredging up ghosts that were best left lone. With a forced steady hand I grasped a hold of my now dim lantern and reached out to grasp the ice cold tea tray to return it to the kitchen. It has been along night and I was weary.
For some strange reason, my mind was still going on in its odd mantra of "I want my daddy." I pushed it aside.
A tiny slash of pink caught my eye.
On my lap, resting on my plain blue, winter house robe was a tiny blossom.
I recognize it on sight.
I always liked the plant, it was pretty and it smelt nice. But for obvious reasons Kenshin avoided such trees like the plague. As a result, it was not present in my own garden, out of respect for his peace of mind.
It was a delicate, pink, plum blossom.
My shaking returned with a vengeance.
My hand instinctively reached for it and unfortunately proved to me that this was the real thing.
I could not touch my imagined specters and yet the petals of the flower were cool, smooth and undeniably real.
My mind forces me through the logic of this discovery.
It was late January, not even the toughest weeds dare to peek their head out of the ground and tempt spring. The petals were cool smooth but also soft in the way that paper flowers, even the most exquisite ones, were not.
Plum trees bloom in August.
This bloom should not exist. Not here and definitely not now.
I lean over and try my best not to throw up.
My stretched sanity did not need this.
A/N Next chapter will be up on Friday next week.
Thank you to Stubbs101, the upcoming chapter is all for you because you took the trouble. I probably would have given up otherwise. You are much appreciated.