Title: Building From the Ground Up
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.
Summary: When Mika wakes up in the hospital, Ryan's there. Raizo isn't. 2700 words.
Spoilers: Ninja Assassin (2009)
Notes: Written as a treat for lalaietha in Yuletide 2010, and posted there in December. Title from an excerpt from the Book of Five Rings: "It is important to remember that all things can only be built from the ground up and in one stage at a time."
When Mika wakes up in the hospital, Ryan's there. Raizo isn't.
She understands. He's achieved his goal, and really, they'd only known each other a few days. He'd told her from the beginning that he'd shielded her because he wanted Lord Ozunu dead; and though she can't recall much of what happened after the old ninja ran her through, she knows how the showdown must've ended. Raizo had survived, hadn't he? She does remember that much.
One in maybe twelve thousand people are born with dextrocardia, or so the doctors have told her, and maybe a third that many suffer no complications from it. If not for that remote quirk of fate, that hundredth percent chance of her heart beating in the 'right' side of her chest, Raizo would have been alone in his survival. Hell, she'd even expected it, when she'd lifted her gun and charged into his battle. Maybe it's strange that she'd risked her life to defend him on such short acquaintance - but it wasn't just for him, his dry-as-bone humor and the lengths he'd gone to in order to protect her. It's what he was fighting for, it's what he was fighting against; it's the line she drew, that she can never cross back over. All things considered - Mika doesn't regret anything that happened.
He'd said her heart is special. But she wonders - what are the odds of anyone, much less a forensic researcher, meeting a ninja as savior rather than assassin? Less than one in thirty thousand, she's certain. His heart must be at least as special as hers. She thinks on that, on forgiveness and freedom and that kiss she'd pressed to his cheek, and wishes that they'd had more time together.
Ryan advises her to go home and heal, once the doctors release her; to take all the vacation time she has coming and not return to Berlin until she's completely recovered. Mika suspects that's polite-speak for 'I got them off my back by playing along, but things will be a little more complicated where you're concerned.' There are eight more clans, after all, even if Ozunu is the only one that had taken a kill order for her, and all of them probably have fingers in the diplomatic pie. So she nods, and tells him all the expected things.
She'll be a good girl, she says; and she really does plan to. After all, standard advice for a relatively uncomplicated stab wound to the chest is to refrain from strenuous activity, including airplane travel, for at least six weeks. That's more than ten times as long as she's known the shape of Raizo's cheekbones, or the color of his eyes, or the way the corner of his mouth curls up in approval when she surprises him, as bizarre as that might seem given his outsized impression on her. It ought to be more than enough time for Mika to figure out what she wants to do next.
She leaves the hospital a few days later, the richer for a set of luggage Ryan had brought her from home, and checks into the nearest hotel with clean sheets, an internet connection, and room service. She sleeps a lot the next week, healing and taking her scripts - wondering if Raizo could teach her how he'd recovered from his injuries so quickly, or if a lifetime's worth of harsh training was necessary to master it. She feels fragile, thinking about the fresh scar on his chest that she'd watched him pull a shuriken from hours earlier; she doubts, for a few moments, that she is doing the right thing. But she has to know. Was his goal the only thing between them? She hopes not, but then, they're from such different worlds.
A bird may love a fish, or so the saying goes, but where would they live?
But at least they'll live.
When the pain fades enough for her to move around again, if a bit stiffly, she sends a message to a friend back home to pack her apartment for temporary storage. Regardless of what happens, she won't want to live there again; she'd see assassins behind her eyelids every time she turns the lights off. Then she orders a GPS receiver and feeds in the coordinates she'd memorized. The Ozunu compound was Raizo's home for most of his life; she doubts he'll have left it yet.
Getting there is a challenge. But she has her life savings to work with; she manages. And when she arrives, she finds him as she'd left him: looking down on her from above.
"Mika," he says; or she thinks he does, she can't hear him at that distance. Not the way he can probably hear her. Then he drops down from the peaked tiles of the clan compound roof and approaches, holding out a welcoming hand. "What took you so long?" he asks, smiling that quiet, pleased smile of his.
She presses her other hand over her aching wound. "Traffic," she replies, smiling back.
He leads her into the compound. And that is that.
A good half of the buildings had caught fire during the attack, and every structure standing has some type of damage, from various projectiles or bodies crashing through screens. Blood still stains the ground at the foot of the post he'd been tied to, but most of the rest has been washed away. There's a stark form of beauty to the place, though, even as gutted as it is; in the cool morning light, with the main courtyard swept to pale stone and faint green buds frosting the bonsai in its stone bowl, it feels hollow, but waiting - like Mika herself. Scraped clear of the past; ready to heal and grow toward a new future.
She doesn't let go of Raizo's hand until he settles them for dinner: a simple noodle dish, eaten with chopsticks. She's had some experience with them, but she fakes a little more awkwardness than she feels; he obligingly lays his hands over hers to demonstrate, then dips an amused gaze toward the waistband of her jeans. He obviously knows she's lying; but he's playing along, and that warms her with hope.
That's about all he warms her with, though, that night - or the next day, or the next. If Mika hadn't been expecting it, she would have wondered; he's been tactile enough with her, but clinically so, fingers never lingering where his eyes wander. She can't help but wonder if he's had any prior romantic experience, growing up in this place; he'd lived in the modern world for awhile, and he's intelligent, so he can't be clueless. But while he may know, he doesn't seem to comprehend; it's as though it doesn't occur to him to connect desire with action. She doesn't want to push him, though. The compound is so peaceful; she's still healing, and she has the time to wait.
They don't talk much, but there's a quiet understanding between them, all the same. Raizo gives her small tasks to keep her hands busy, when she feels like working, and lays her sleeping pallet out in the courtyard for her to rest on when the pain flares up. But always, always he works within visual distance of her, whether rebuilding walls or clearing debris away or finally tearing down that damn post. Sometimes, he goes to the nearest village to pick up supplies or place orders; when he returns, he always checks on her before doing anything else. Mika finds herself feeling - bound by him, absorbed in a way she's never experienced with another human being. It's as though he's an entire forensic research project in one person, and every new word or gesture is a feast for her inquisitive soul.
He is Ozunu now, she soon realizes, a clan entire unto himself; and she can read in the small uncoilings of his muscles with each day that passes that it is an unspoken relief to him to no longer be alone. Being that for someone makes her feel powerful in a way her job at Europol seldom has. But the freer she feels to admit that, the more she begins to worry that she was wrong to come here - that in the long run, their differences will matter more than that connection.
It isn't just her complete lack of martial arts talent. Raizo has instincts she'll never fathom, and speed she can never match; he sees things she'll never notice, and hears sounds she can't detect. He can be patient far beyond her newfound contentment, crouching in one position for hours when he's not working; sometimes watching the river valley from the roofs, sometimes studying the bonsai, one morning crouching over her when she wakes as though he's been there all through the night.
It's time, she thinks then, looking up into his inscrutable face; and hesitantly tries to speak with him about it at last. Why she came. Why he's let her stay. What he sees in his future - and whether he wants it to be theirs.
Raizo cuts her off with a smile: a fragile curve of lips, the slightest crinkling at the corners of his eyes. But behind his expression, there is a well of joy she can almost touch. He leans forward, pressing a lingering, butterfly-light kiss against her mouth, then leans back again, satisfaction in every line of his posture.
"You offered me water when I was thirsty," he adds, holding out a hand as he stands. "You found a way to help me when you thought I would not thank you for your methods, you saved my life at the risk of your own, and you came back when it would have been safer not to. Why would I send you away now?"
She can read between the lines. For better or worse, he's anchored himself as deeply to Mika as she has to him. And all he asks of her is that she be who she is. Can she do anything but return that gift?
She puts the question aside, then takes his hand and follows him out into the courtyard.
She doesn't object when Raizo begins practicing his skills again, spending hours of every day honing his body like a tool to be sharpened. She doesn't flinch when she hears the song of a kusarigama whistling through the air; doesn't reprimand him when he forgets to be careful of her still-chary nerves and drops down on her unexpectedly from the roofline. The first time he slides in next to her at night, body straight and contained as though still wrapped on a separate pallet, Mika spends long moments gently tracing his scars with unhurried fingertips, acclimating him to expect simple, pleasant touch.
And when on a morning she finds him curled over her torso, ear pressed against her chest in his sleep ... it feels as significant a victory as the day they'd destroyed the man who'd stolen his childhood. She decides, then gently strokes his hair until he wakes, and smiles into his dark, intent eyes.
"So I was thinking," she says. "Do you think you could get a satellite receiver for this place, so I can get my phone and email up again?"
Raizo furrows his brow, but nods, sitting up cross-legged on the pallet. "I have access to the Ozunu vaults. Cost is not a problem. Why do you ask?"
She bites her lip, momentarily distracted by the implications. One hundred pounds of gold per mission over how many centuries, funding this Spartan lifestyle? He must be filthy rich; but - the money means nothing without a purpose for which to spend it. This vacation can't last forever; he's used to living with a cause, just like she is. And along those lines, there are several possibilities she's been mulling over.
"How many of you are there? Ninja who've left the Nine Clans? You can't be the first one to run away; or the last."
Raizo stares at her, thinking it over. "A few; there was a network of others who helped support me outside. That's how I discovered that you were a target; they gave me your name and address."
Mika nods, suspicions confirmed. "So - have you thought about what you're going to do next? I mean - you're amazing. But there's only one of you. And when you don't take any more assassination commissions in the Ozunu name - are the other clans going to let you get away with that forever?"
His eyes widen a little, though he does not seem surprised. "You think I should rebuild the clan."
"Voluntarily," she stresses. "Only people who want to join. No more children, unless the ninja who live here have their own." Her cheeks heat a little, but she refuses to look away. "And as long as you're keeping the secrecy and maintaining the kind of reputation they prize - could you take defensive missions instead? Like what you did for me, only - for someone who would pay a hundred pounds of gold for counter-ninja protection."
He mulls that over a moment longer, then grins appreciatively. "I like you more and more," he says, and reaches out to gently tug at one dark curl. "But I have a condition."
"And what's that?" she asks, mouth going dry with anticipation.
"You must be the first to join," he replies, solemnly.
Mika takes a dazed breath. She can see he means it; and oh, it's the sign she hadn't known she was waiting for. She'll miss her job, but - with the ability to work remotely, she'll still be able to take independent research commissions, and she'll be able to help Raizo pursue his goal. He can't rebuild alone. "What do I need to do? I mean - I doubt I could pass an initiation test right now ..."
"No tests," Raizo chuckles. "You don't need to do anything, but stay. It is for me to say." He takes a breath, then closes his eyes, and opens them again to repeat a phrase that seems to echo with history:
"You are Ozunu. You are part of me, as I am part of you. This is the truth of your life. And it will remain true after death."
The words sing in the air like rung chimes; Mika feels their resonance in her bones, and shivers a little at the phrasing. If she didn't know better, she'd think she just got married.
...And maybe she has? Or the next best thing, in his culture? She takes a shaky breath. "Now I really need to email that resignation letter to Berlin," she replies, lightly.
"You are staying." There is delight in Raizo's voice as he leans in for another tentative kiss.
By the time it ends, her heart is pounding, and for the first time in weeks Mika feels no pain. She hesitates no longer: she tugs him down onto the pallet with her.
And then, in the shadows' embrace - oh, and then.