Title: First Song

Author: Veronica

Rating: G

Spoilers: Brief mention of things that happened in Acts 1 and 6.

Pairing(s): Takeru & Kotoha

Summary: The first time Takeru heard Kotoha play her flute.

Takeru awoke with a start and shot forward in bed, visibly shaken. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead and his breathing was erratic. It was that nightmare again. Recalling the dream, he could see again the Shiba clan mansion under siege by Doukoku's forces.

All around the Shiba clan compound there was fire and smoke. Servants and nobles alike ran from the compound that was now set ablaze in the dark night. Sparks flew in all directions and wooden beams crashed to the floor in many a room, feeding the fires insatiable appetite for destruction.

In the midst of all this chaos, a young Takeru stood facing his wounded father. Smudges of soot brushed the troubled young boy's face as he watched his father limp towards him with the use of a katana as a cane to help him stay upright. Arrows had been shot through the man's chest and he was in great pain, his breathing labored.

"Don't forget. From today on, you are Shinken Red! No matter what, do not run away! Protect this world from the Gedoushuu!" the man gasped out, as he stumbled and fell to his knees right in front of his son. With burnt hands he pressed the Shodophone into Takeru's small hands before breathing his last.

Takeru was pulled out of his memories by the sound of soft music playing just outside his window. He listened intently for a few minutes, the sad notes of the flute speaking to his troubled heart. He closed his eyes and could once again see the memory play out, this time with the flute providing background music to the tragic scenes in his mind. His eyes fluttered open once more as the sound of the last note being played faded away into silence. Takeru took a breath and exhaled slowly, releasing his grief in that one breath.

Standing up, his blanket fell to the floor at his feet and he stepped over it with the intent of discovering who was playing that music and why they were still up at this time of night. The same flute started up again, but this time the music was less sad, more hopeful, like the musician had just purged themselves of their sadness and was now intent on healing themselves by playing a sweet and soothing song full of hope. It's like magic, he thought in awe, as he quietly made his way towards the door that led outside. He soundlessly slid the door open so he could exit his room and now stood, hidden in shadow, and watched as the musician played her sweet melody.

Kotoha Hanaori, the current Shinken Yellow, stood facing away from the Shiba mansion dressed in a pale yellow yukata. Flute to her lips and eyes closed, she was completely unaware of her audience. It was a picture that Takeru dearly wished he could capture on film.

Beautiful trees, bushes, and flowers dotted the grounds. The mansion itself, which was cast mostly in darkness since the hour was so late, stood in the front of this beautiful backdrop. The only light was the moon and the stars overhead, which lent a soft, magical glow to it all. Completing this beautiful picture was the lovely young vassal playing her flute and her lord watching her from the shadows, entranced.

He had been surprised, at first, when he had walked out there to find her playing her flute. He couldn't see her expression, but he knew how he himself felt as the music touched his ears. At peace, he thought, as he listened and he could see her face in his mind, her eyes closed with an untroubled expression on her face.

Earlier in the day, Hikoma, affectionately known as Ji by the Shinkengers, had said that Kotoha couldn't do anything well besides swordplay. Takeru, not knowing any better at the time, had agreed. But now, he could safely say that both he and Hikoma had misjudged the youngest member of the team. Her sword-fighting skills and her skill with the flute were both straightforward and cut deeply to the core of its target. Takeru silently promised himself that he would never again underestimate her.

Coming out of his trance just as she played the last note, he was filled with conflicted feelings. His nightmare was now completely forgotten and he felt at peace. He was also grateful that he'd had this chance to hear her play. However, he also felt the loss of the music that had held him captive, if just for awhile, and wished that she would continue playing.

Kotoha removed the flute from her lips and paused for a moment with her eyes still closed. She had needed this outlet, especially after dealing with the Gedoushuu who had been inflicting pain on her comrades and civilians using words instead of a physically damaging weapon. She sighed.

So cruel! She thought, remembering the words he had used to inflict on them, especially Takeru. Her eyes fluttered open and she lifted her troubled gaze to the moon, deep in thought. Her grip on the flute at her side tightened unconsciously and a defiant look came to her face as she thought, there's no way that tono-sama could be a liar. No way at all!

While Kotoha was still deep in her own thoughts, Takeru was just watching her. He watched as she went from a relaxed to a tensed posture, obviously upset over something. Takeru debated with himself whether he should interrupt whatever thoughts were troubling her, but in the end decided against it. There's a line that should never be crossed between Lord and vassal, he thought, with no small amount of bitterness.

She was bound to him and he was bound to her, though for different reasons. Kotoha was bound to him by familial duty in the form of an ill elder sister who couldn't take on her role as Shinken Yellow. He was bound to her and the others as their lord because of circumstances beyond his control.

The difference is, he thought, she performs her duties and hides her pain and insecurities behind that smile and I hide mine behind a mask of cool indifference. Who is the greater fool, the one who smiles and accepts their fate or the one who lies and only pretends to accept theirs? Takeru couldn't help believing that he, not Kotoha, was the greater fool.

His face, which was initially blank at the beginning of these thoughts, was no longer expressionless. Takeru's eyes were dark and troubled-filled with pain, helplessness, and anger at things beyond his control. While his jaw was tight in repressed anger and his right hand balled was in a fist tightly to the point where his nails bit into the flesh of his palm and drew blood.

Takeru unclenched his fist and looked down at it. In the dark he couldn't see the wounds that his nails had inflicted on his palm. He could feel the stinging pain though. Turning away, he quietly headed back into his room. In the morning he would get some antiseptic and some band-aids on the wounds, but for now he'd leave them uncovered.

Lying down on his futon, he closed his eyes and tried to fall back to sleep. The operative word, of course, is 'tried'. The silence was deafening, and he couldn't help but hope that Kotoha would somehow feel his distress and with all the sweetness of her nature decide to alleviate his pain and play for him once more.

Meanwhile, Kotoha herself was feeling distressed because of where her thoughts had gone and the only cure, for her at least, was to play. She lifted the flute to her lips, moved her fingers along the holes in the flute, and played another song to try to soothe her own heart. She didn't know that by doing this that she was also soothing her lord's heart as well.

Takeru smiled as the music of her flute washed over him. This one was unlike the first and the second songs. The first had fit his mood upon waking with its tragic notes. The second lifted his spirits by lifting the veil of misery around him and giving him hope. This third one though was like finally being free or like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. This song freed him from under the heavy weight of a lie.

Takeru's last conscious thought was one of gratitude to the young girl playing her flute unknowingly outside his window.

Thank you, Kotoha. Please allow me to hear you play again.

The End.