Okay, I've decided to try my hand at writing a Kaze Hikaru fic. I'm trying to stay as IC as possible, but some critiquing would be nice.
Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I do not own Kaze Hikaru. The characters and story are the property of Taeko Watanabe. I do own this storyline.
Retrieving Stolen Hearts
"Osei-chan, I'm going to get Mabo from Yagi-san. I'll be back soon."
"Kamiya-san is late!" Harada sighed impatiently, clearly annoyed.
Shinpachi laughed, "Cut the kid some slack, eh? He's spending time with his woman," he teased.
Harada pouted childishly, "Yeah, well, I miss that sweet little face of his. Can you blame me?"
Todo grinned, "Nah, can't argue with you there."
"And it looks like Soji is missing his wife as well." The entire troop laughed.
Soji was too lost in his thoughts to even notice them. He sat, leaning against the frame of the door, looking out at the road that led into the campsite.
'Where is he? Kamiya is never this late. What's keeping him?' Soji was starting to get worried.
Suddenly, a figure came rushing through the front gate.
"Akesato-san, what's the matter? Where is Kamiya-san?"
"Gone!" she gasped as she reached him, bending over to catch her breath. The entire room went silent.
"What do you mean Kamiya's gone?"
"I went to pick Mabo up from Yagi-san's house earlier this morning. I thought he was still asleep, even when I got back. I pulled the blanket away and there were pillows covering the futon!"
The troops broke out into hushed murmurs.
"Where did he go?"
"Why did he leave?"
"We have to find him!"
"Let's send out a search party!"
During all of the commotion, Sato handed Soji a folded piece of paper, "This was on the futon."
As Soji opened it, neither noticed a smaller, crumpled piece of paper fall to the ground. His eyes scanned the page, widening with each word.
Thank you so much for everything you've done for me. You don't know how much I appreciate it.
Unfortunately, I can no longer stay with the Miburoshi. The pain is just too great, I can't handle it. I'm being torn in so many different directions. I'm so confused, it's driving me insane. I don't think I would be able to function much longer if I were to stay.
I'm sorry if this is putting you in a difficult position, but it must be done to preserve whatever little sanity I have left.
Thank you again for everything.
Angrily, he crushed the paper and stuffed it up the sleeve of his haori. "I'm going after him." He tied a bandana around his forehead and began jogging towards his horse. He called back over his shoulder, "Don't let the vice-captain catch wind of this. He'll have a field day if he finds out."
"If I find out what?" Everyone lowered their heads, unwilling to answer. "Come now. I'm in the mood for some good news. Now, what happened?"
One of the newer, younger recruits spoke up, "Kamiya-san is gone- OW!"
Todo bashed him on top of his head, "Baka!"
Hijikata smirked, "So, Kamiya has deserted the troops, has he? I'm surprised that it's taken him this long to leave. But I knew it would happen sooner or later," his face suddenly turned serious, "Todo! Harada! Saito! Okita! You will all leave tomorrow and find him. I want you to bring him back by any means necessary."
"But, sir, he's just a kid-" Shinpachi started, but Hijikata cut him off.
"He has been living with us for two years. He knows the rules, and he broke them. No excuses," he barked.
Soji looked the vice-captain straight in the eyes, "Understood, sir!"
The recruit from earlier piped up for a second time, "Why are you waiting until tomorrow? Why not go get him now? OW! Hey!" And, for a second time, Todo, along with Harada, punched him in the head.
Hijikata smirked again, "He's a seventeen year old boy. How far can he get?"
As soon as the troops were dismissed, Soji stalked off to his room, not knowing that Sato was a few steps behind. He began pacing next to his futon, "Why now? I've given him every opportunity to leave, but he refused. Now that he's finally improving he decides to bail? What was Kamiya thinking?"
Sato, not one to get upset easily, raised her voice angrily, "That's the problem! Kamiya! Kamiya! Kamiya! You're always talking about Kamiya Seizaburo! What about-"
"Soji!" Harada stormed into the room with a scowl on his face. He glared at his friend, "What is this?" he growled. He thrust a piece of paper into Soji's hands and crossed his arms over his chest.
Okita's eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
You probably know why I can't stay here any longer, Osato-san. Just please don't tell Okita-sensei that I'm leaving because of him.
"Harada, I'd like to speak with Akesato-san alone for a minute, please."
Harada didn't move, "No, I want to know what's going on. Why is it your fault that Kamiya-san left?"
"I'd like an answer to that myself," Shinpachi agreed as both he and Todo entered the room.
"Guys, this is a private conversation."
"I don't care," Harada snapped, "I want to know the truth."
Soji sighed. There was no way to get around it. Saito walked in just before Soji slid the door shut.
"You all have to promise not to tell another soul."
He glanced at Sato for a moment, who nodded, before staring back at the expectant eyes of his friends, "The truth is that…Kamiya-san is really…a…girl…"
He held his breath as he looked at their dumbstruck faces.
"I don't think I heard you correctly. Did you just say that Kamiya is a girl?"
Soji sighed again, "Yes. Her real name is Tominaga Sei."
"Well…um…that explains a lot," Todo offered, trying to ease the stifling tension.
"Like why he…I mean she…was so skittish around us at first."
"And how she's so orderly and organized."
"Not to mention that lovely face of hers."
Saito's cool, calm, and collected façade nearly cracked from his inner turmoil. He had known Sei's older brother. All he ever talked about was his sister. Not once had he mentioned having a brother. He was a fool.
There was still one unanswered question.
"But what does that have to do with Soji?"
"Yeah, what did Soji do to make her leave?"
All four men looked at him, waiting for a response of some kind. Soji just looked at them blankly. After five minutes of just staring at each other, Shinpachi spoke up.
"Well, what did you do, Soji?"
Soji tilted his head to the side in confusion, "What do you mean?"
Harada groaned in annoyance, "Baka, the note said that Kam- I mean Tominaga-san left because of you. Why is that?"
Soji held up his hands defensively as he responded, "I have no clue."
Sato crossed her arms and let out an exasperated sigh. Soji was wearing on her nerves, "Okita-san, tell me, who wrote this letter?" she questioned, holding up the crumpled, stained piece of parchment.
Soji looked at her like she had grown a second head. "What kind of question is that?"
"Just answer it please."
"Kamiya-san, of course."
"And who is missing right now?"
"Okita-san, what have we been talking about for the past ten minutes? There is no Kamiya! Kamiya Seizaburo does not exist! There is only Tominaga Sei, something that you seem to have forgotten.
"Now, what exactly have you been telling Sei for the past two years? Have you or have you not been drilling into her head that she needs to put her feelings aside? That a true Bushi does not make decisions by doing what his heart tells him to do? Well, that's impossible for a girl to do. Especially one as young as Sei. I'm shocked that she was able to bottle up her emotions for as long as she has."
Soji huffed and crossed his arms, still not comprehending the situation, "I still don't understand what that has to do with me."
Saito walked over to him and smacked him upside the head, "She cares about you, baka." It hurt Saito to say that. Not only had the object of his affection lied about her gender, but there was no possible way for them to be together. How could he even compare to Soji if Sei had been harboring feelings for him for the past two years?
"She's in love with you," Sato corrected, staring at Soji, whose cheeks were flushed a light pink.
The room was silent for a while.
Finally, Todo spoke up, "So…what do we do now? We can't very well bring her back here to be killed."
Okita's face went blank as he responded, "Why not? It's still as the vice-captain said. She knew the rules and she broke them. She must accept the consequences of her actions."
"No. She wanted to act like a boy, then she shall be treated as such," his tone was cold and hard, but his eyes were filled with a turmoil that discredited every word.
Soji did not sleep well that night. He woke tired and conflicted, his emotions rolling around in his stomach so fast that it was making him ill. He sat up and looked around the room; everyone else was still asleep. He stretched and stood, then scratched the back of his head, yawning all the while. After dressing quickly and silently, he meandered towards the door, slid it open, and stepped out into the overcast morning.
Soon, the only sound in the encampment was that of a horses hooves fading into the distance.
"Bring him back by any means necessary."
"He knows the rules and he broke them."
"She cares about you, baka."
"She's in love with you."
"We can't very well bring her back to be killed."
"…to be killed…"
"…to be killed…"
Soji's throat tightened as he spurred his horse on faster.
"Not if I have anything to say about it."
He arrived in town in the late morning. His Mibu clothes obviously garnered some unwanted attention, but he ignored the blatant stares. After a few hours of fruitless searching, he tied up the reigns of his horse and headed into the closest tavern. While waiting for his sake, he overheard a couple of men talking a few seats away.
"Hey, did you see that young boy kneeling outside the old physician's office?"
"Oh, yeah, the building that burned down a few years back. But it looked like a girl to me. She was pretty enough."
"Naw, the top of his head was shaved off. Women don't shave their heads-"
Soji was out of his seat and out the door before the man finished his sentence.
The young man bolted down the streets, weaving in and out of the crowd, pushing and shoving people out of his way.
Soon, he arrived at the building, still singed and half collapsed. Sure enough, not ten feet away, a young girl was kneeling on the ground with her head bowed and her hands clasped in front of her. Her pale blue kimono was tattered and slightly torn. He could barely make out what she was saying.
"Ani-ue, I'm so sorry. I tried, I really did. I wanted to become Bushi in your honor. I wanted to make you proud of me. But I just had to leave. My heart was being torn between you and him. I love him, big brother. But he didn't even pay attention to me. I didn't exist to him. All he ever saw was the boy I was pretending to be.
"Perhaps…perhaps I could go somewhere else? I could start fresh, begin again…"
"Sei! What the hell is wrong with you?"
Sei's head snapped up and turned slowly, her eyes falling on a very angry Soji.
"O-Okita-sensei? Wha-what are you doing here?" she stuttered, wiping tears from her eyes.
Soji sighed and grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet, immediately dropping his hand afterwards, "We need to talk. Follow me," he ordered as he turned on his heel and headed back towards the pub. Sei followed behind dutifully.
However, before they reached the building, he grabbed her arm and pulled her down a side alley, making sure that no one was watching.
"What the hell were you thinking, leaving like that?"
Sei was still too stunned to respond. Her heart was pounding so hard that it was becoming painful.
Soji crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her expectantly. The look she was giving him was making him uncomfortable; he was becoming lightheaded and his chest was starting to hurt. He had never really noticed how lovely and delicate she was until that moment. It was the first time he actually looked at her - not as a little girl pretending to be a boy, but a young lady who deserved to be treated with love and affection. Something that he had neglected her for years.
After a few minutes of silent staring, Sei's eyes dropped to the ground. Soji hooked a finger under her chin and forced her to meet his gaze, "Sei, you shouldn't have left. Hijikata is out for blood. He isn't going to stop until you are severely punished, preferably by him."
Sei remained silent as tears began to prick at the corners of her eyes.
Soji took a deep breath before continuing, "I read your note."
"Wh-what?" the young girl's voice was soft and hoarse from her constant crying.
He nodded slowly, "Yes. At first, I didn't know what to make of it. Expressing your feelings like that…I wasn't expecting it," he mumbled, scratching the back of his head.
But Sei didn't hear a word.
I read your note.
I read your note.
"B-but how? Why?" Her cheeks were flaming with embarrassment. She buried her face in her hands and shook her head. The seventeen year old girl peeked up at him through her fingers.
He was definitely angry. He growled, "Akesato-san just happened to run into camp yesterday, practically in hysterics. She's worried sick about you. So she came to us."
"I wrote the letter so she wouldn't worry," she murmured, then added, "You weren't supposed to read the note."
"Yeah, well, it kinda fell on the ground." There was another awkward pause. "Well, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"What? What do I have to say for myself?" she snapped, "There's nothing else to say! You've read everything already! I love you, okay! I love you…I've loved you for the past two years! And I couldn't take it anymore! No matter how hard I tried to suppress my feelings, I couldn't do it! When I was attacked and almost raped by Yamashiro, I tried to stay strong and not cry. But I did cry. I was almost raped, for Kami's sake!"
The rest of her rant fell on deaf ears as the memories of that night crashed down around Soji. He was finally hit with the real severity of what could have happened that night.
Soji had gotten so good at making believe that Kamiya - or Sei - was really a boy, he never stopped to consider how that would have affected her because she was a girl. Every time she was put in a dangerous situation, it never even occurred to him that she was in more danger than he had originally thought.
Looking back, Soji felt sick to his stomach at just the idea of Sei being injured in any way, shape, or form. But…where had these sudden, powerful emotions come from? He didn't know, and frankly, he didn't care.
Okita Soji looked down at the small, frail girl rambling on in front of him, and his heart overpowered his mind.
The next thing Sei knew, Soji's lips were firmly pressed against hers. He pulled her to him, snaking his arms around her waist. The young girl gasped, giving the older man the perfect opportunity to slip his tongue skillfully into her mouth. He then gently coaxed her tongue to meet his; she tasted sweet - a mixture of honey and vanilla - and it was intoxicating.
It took Sei a moment to recover from her initial shock and kiss him back. She tentatively wrapped her arms around his neck and tugged. He quickly complied, leaning in lower and tightening his grip on her petite form. He held her so close that her feet left the ground.
He pulled back slowly and pressed his forehead against hers. Both had their eyes closed and soft smiles on their faces.
Soji set Sei on the ground, catching her as she stumbled a bit, and took her hand, threading their fingers together.
"He has to be around here somewhere!" Harada crowed, yanking at his hair in frustration as the crew walked out of the fourth inn. Sanosuke sulked as they meandered down the busy streets.
Shinpachi slapped him on the back and grinned. "We'll find him." Since Soji had been gone when they woke up, Shinpachi had been ordered to go in his place.
The sun was beginning to set in the distance, and the men had yet to find Soji or Sei.
Todo sighed, "Let's make this inn the last one for the night. If he's not here, we'll get a room and start the search again in the morning." The four men agreed and trudged into the fifth inn. The warrior with the scar on his forehead spoke to the keeper, "Excuse me, ma'am, but is there a man with the last name "Okita" staying here?"
The older lady gave a faint smile, "Why, yes. He's down the hall, the last door on the left. But I'm afraid he has -" the men were gone before she could finish her sentence, "- company…"
The door slid open with a bang, revealing Soji laying down on a futon, his hands resting behind his head and a pensive look on his face. The young samurai jumped at the noise and bolted upright, staring at the intruders.
"Soji! What the -" A loud crash in the corner of the room drew all eyes to a small figure.
A young girl, wrapped in a deep blue kimono and lavender obi, was crouched down with her back to them as she picked up the pieces of the shattered tea cups.
Harada grinned lecherously, "So this is why you left early, hmm? She's a cute one. Maybe I'll have a go later."
The girl spun on her heel and glared at Sanosuke. "Can't you ever keep your mind off of women, Harada-sensei?"
Sei gasped and covered her mouth with her hands, eyes wide with terror. 'They know my secret!' She felt a large, warm hand on her shoulder and looked up into Soji's kind, brown eyes.
"They know." He scratched the back of his head sheepishly and grinned guiltily, "There was no other option. They read the note. It was too late to hide anything."
Her face flamed red from the base of her neck to her hairline. Before she had time to react, she was pulled into a bone-crushing hug by Harada.
"I always knew you were too cute to be a boy! You look so adorable in this kimono!"
Sei shoved him away and scowled. Crossing her arms, she growled, "What are you doing here anyway?"
Todo sighed, "The vice captain sent us to find you. He wants us to bring you back to perform seppuku."
The young girl gasped. Her face paled and she backed up against the far wall of the room, her whole body shaking. They were going to take her back to die? But…this was her family. Ani-ue, Todo-sensei, Shinpachi-sensei, Harada-sensei…
Okita-sensei…the love of her life…the man she would do anything for…
The man she would die for.
Sei straightened her posture, swallowed her emotions, and looked directly into Soji's eyes, "Alright, then. I'm ready to go back," she declared, lifting her chin and striding past the five gawking men. She almost made it to the door before Soji grabbed her wrist tightly and yanked her back.
"What do you mean you're 'ready to go back'? Are you crazy?" he hissed.
The young girl shrugged her shoulders and answered, "You guys came to take me back. I'm not going to let you get in trouble on my account."
"You honestly expect us to take you back where Hijikata is waiting to kill you?" The hurt was clear in Todo's voice.
A few minutes later, the group of men sat in a circle on the floor, Sei settled comfortably in Soji's lap.
"So, Shinpachi started, "What if we say that we couldn't find her?"
"No, Hijikata would just get angry at us and send out another search party," Soji responded, shaking his head.
Harada snapped his fingers in triumph, "I got it! We'll say that we found her, but she was already dead when we got there!"
"You know, 'she' is sitting right here," Sei huffed, crossing her arms.
"Aw! So cute!" Harada squealed. He tried to pull Sei into a hug, but Shinpachi was able to grab the back of his hakama before he could do anything.
"That wouldn't work anyway," she continued, "the vice captain would want to see the body as proof."
After a few minutes of silence, Saito spoke up, "Drowning." The others just looked at him. He sighed, "Kamiya was knocked into the river. We searched for him but couldn't find the body."
Todo smiled, "Great idea!"
"Yeah, but there's one problem with it. How does it explain my disappearance?" Soji questioned seriously. The rest of the group looked at him like he had gone insane. "What? I'm not going to leave Sei by herself."
Sei shook her head adamantly. "No, Okita-sensei. You are the greatest swordsman of the Miburoshi. You are Bushi. You can't leave them. I won't -"
Soji gently pressed a finger to her lips to silence her. He then rested his forehead against hers, "Sei, I love you. I'm not leaving your side ever again. You can't get rid of me now," he grinned and kissed her nose sweetly, to which she blushed a bright red.
That was the first time he'd openly admitted that he loved her, and it gave her a warm feeling that spread throughout her entire body.
He waved her off carelessly and smiled, "That's way too formal for us, don't you think?"
Sei smiled back shyly, "Soji-kun."
The young man grinned, "Exactly, Sei-chan."
Todo coughed uncomfortably. The couple turned to see the rest of the group staring at them. The both blushed, but couldn't stop smiling.
Two days later, the Mibu camp echoed with the clamor of horse hooves. Four members of the search party stampeded through the front gate and dismounted within seconds.
All of the troops surrounded them instantly, Hijikata and Yamada in the lead.
"Well, where is the traitor?" the vice captain barked.
Todo, Harada, Shinpachi, and Saito all dropped their heads.
"He's dead," Todo responded. Whispers erupted among the warriors.
"Show me the body, then," he ordered, just as Sei had predicted.
"We couldn't recover it," Shinpachi explained, "We had him tied up and on the horse, ready to go. He put up a fight and somehow jumped off, breaking his leg bindings, then ran off. We were able to catch up to him at the river, but just as we were about to grab him he went over the edge of the bridge. He never resurfaced and we couldn't find the body."
"And Soji?" Yamada prodded.
Harada responded, "There was a struggle on the bridge. He went over with Kamiya and we couldn't find him either."
Hijikata growled and shook his fist angrily, "That's unacceptable. We've got to -"
"There's nothing else we can do but move on. It's a great loss, but we must push through," Yamada cut in. All of the men dropped their heads in silent prayer…
All but four, who grinned conspiratorially at one another.
"So, Oki- Erm, Soji-kun, where are we going?"
Soji smiled down at his woman. She was riding sidesaddle on the horse in front of him, his arms holding the reigns on either side of her. Her head rested against his shoulder as the horse trotted along the road at a leisurely pace.
Sei was still wrapped in her blue kimono and purple obi. So as not to raise suspicion, Soji wore a navy nagajuban under a light blue haori, and navy hakamas instead of his Mibu garb.
"There's a small town up north that's famous for their sweets and - ouch!" He feigned hurt and rubbed his chest where the young girl had slapped him.
"You're impossible," she said, grinning up at him.