Hello everyone! I've become obsessed with Hakuoki lately and decided it's time for me to write a fic for it. This story is starting from the same place as the series and game, but I am bringing in additional plotlines that will make the end result quite different from the canon plot. I'm using the episode titles as the chapter titles so that it's easier to keep track of where my story is in relation to the series. If you haven't played the PSP game, there may be eventual spoilers for some of the paths, which I will try to remember to point out when they occur (but you could fix by playing the game, it's awesome ^_^).
The usual disclaimer: I don't own Hakuoki. If I did each of the guys would get their own series. Only the OCs are mine.
Most importantly, please review! My muse feeds on your reviews, and right now her tummy's rumbling ;)
Snowflake Capital / 雪華の都
yuki yami ni furi
yami ni yamu
first snow -
begins in the darkness
ends in the darkness
The snow fell silently in the moonlight, clinging to the naked branches of the cherry tree in the courtyard, clothing the roof tiles in brilliant white. They were the big flakes that only form when the temperature is just below freezing, drifting lazily to earth on this windless night. Shoko took a tentative step into the courtyard, the raised wooden surface of her geta keeping her feet above the new-fallen snow. The flakes swirled around her as she moved, melting quickly on her dawn-gray kimono but lingering in the brown hair that fell loose around her shoulders. The young woman raised her face to a sky black as ink, feeling the flakes brush her face with feather-light touches and marveling at the way the snow seemed to just appear out of the darkness high above.
"Come back inside before you catch a cold, Hidaka-kun," a voice called softly from the engawa. Shoko smiled as she turned to face him, knowing his use of her family name was meant to remind her that she was doing something stupid. They had gone beyond those formalities months ago.
"Just a minute more, I love the snow," she replied, before a playful light kindled in her eyes. "If you're so worried that I'm cold, Sannan-san, why don't you step out here and keep me warm?"
He sighed, catching the inflection that emphasized the name so little used between them, and stepped out into the courtyard. Shoko's way with words was one of her best qualities, though she kept it well-hidden behind her quiet manner. Even more cherished was the teasing demeanor that she seemed to save for him alone.
Sannan reached out and took her in his arms, watching the snow catch in the hair that framed her face. Where the trapped snowflakes caught the moonlight they twinkled like tiny stars. "You are so beautiful tonight," he murmured, running one hand through her hair as his other arm pulled her against him. "Even if you are a crazy woman with no regard for her health."
Shoko smiled again, gray eyes sparkling as she rested her arms on his shoulders. "If a woman is crazy, what does that make the man who loves her?"
He laughed softly, the sound reverberating against her body. "Such a man must be a great fool indeed."
"Mm, my mother always said I would fall in love with a fool," she whispered as he bent his head and kissed her.
At that very moment out in the darkness, only a few streets away, a girl in boy's clothing was running breathlessly from a pair of would-be thieves.
Chizuru hid behind a barrel in the alley, her heart pounding so loudly after the chase that she was almost surprised that the men searching for her didn't hear it. She barely dared to breathe, fearing her warm breath steaming on the cold air might give her away. The steps advancing down the alley were drawing ever closer to her hiding place, and Chizuru gripped her sword hilt tightly, expecting at any moment to be forced into a fight she could not hope to win.
A short swish followed by the wet collision of blade and flesh marked the demise of one of her pursuers. The other turned, confused, to be met with a gale of insane laughter. Chizuru peered around the barrel just enough to see two white-haired men in pale blue haori further down the alley – if they could truly be called men, their vacant eyes an impossible red and inhuman grimaces twisting their features. A moment later, one of the strange intruders bit down hard on the ronin's katana, and Chizuru suppressed a gasp as the steel shattered.
The ronin tossed away his useless sword and drew the smaller wakizashi at his waist. He landed a vicious cut across his attacker's chest, deep enough that the blue-clad warrior should have been bleeding on the ground a moment later, but he seemed unfazed by the assault. Chizuru clasped both hands over her mouth to keep from crying out as the strange creature overwhelmed his stunned opponent, his path bringing him even with her hiding place.
Before the ronin even hit the ground, the white-haired creature had turned to Chizuru, a mad hunger gleaming in its devilish eyes. The girl was rooted to the spot by fear; she knew she should at least draw her sword and go down fighting, but her arms would not obey. The fearsome stranger raised his katana high, about to bring it down in a killing blow, and Chizuru closed her eyes, unable to stare any longer at her certain doom.
A wet squelch followed by total silence ensued, and feeling no pain, Chizuru opened her eyes. Another warrior in a blue haori stood behind her attacker, his katana thrust cleanly through the other's heart. A heartbeat later her savior withdrew his sword from the creature's chest, purple hair fluttering as he turned to shake the blood from his blade in a single smooth motion.
As he sheathed his katana, footsteps echoed down the alley. "What a pity. I wanted to kill both of them myself," said the newcomer as he stepped into Chizuru's line of view. "You only finish your work fast in times like this, Saito-kun." The girl marveled at the teasing tone in his voice with so much blood around them.
Saito turned to face the other man. "I only did as my duty required," he murmured. Chizuru was too absorbed calming her racing heart to catch the subtle undercurrent of reproach in his words: unlike you, I take no pleasure from killing.
As the russet-haired warrior stepped closer to his companion, his green eyes fell on Chizuru where she still crouched behind the barrel. He flashed her a small smile, and the girl let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
Suddenly there was a third figure stepping forward from the darkness, his sword already drawn and pointed at Chizuru's throat. Shadows hid the man's face from view, but his voice rang with a note of command. "Listen, don't try to run. If you try to run, I'll kill you."
As Chizuru looked up along the gleaming edge of his blade, a cloud passed from the surface of the moon, throwing the man's features into sharp relief. Long black hair blew around his face, and deep violet eyes fixed her with a calculating stare. There was a predatory beauty to his features, fierce and sharp like a bird of prey, yet with the snowflakes drifting around his face all Chizuru could think of were cherry blossoms falling out of season.
She had only a few heartbeats to appreciate the sight before the shock of her ordeal finally caught up to her, and Chizuru felt the darkness rushing up to claim her.
Somewhere not too far away, Sannan lay quietly in the dark, one arm draped protectively over Shoko's waist. He looked beyond her sleeping face to the single window facing the courtyard, seeing only a blank square of moonlit sky. With his glasses safely folded beside the futon, he couldn't tell if the snow continued or had stopped. It was one of the ironies of nature that he had been given a strong body and quick reflexes, and yet such weak eyes.
Shoko mumbled something inaudible in her sleep and turned on her side, her face nearly level with his own. Sannan slowly moved his hand to brush a stray tendril of hair from her cheek, careful not to wake her. Her lips twitched upward at his touch, as though she were smiling in her sleep. The sudden realization hit of just how much his life had changed in a little over a year, and he cast his memory back to the cold November night when it all began.
Sannan had lingered in the small restaurant until long after dark, having nowhere in particular to go. He had pretended to read at his table in the back corner since late afternoon, but he found he couldn't keep his attention focused on the neat columns of characters for very long. He had studied at the Shieikan dojo for two and a half years, and considered many of the men there good friends. What troubled him was the nonchalance more than a few of them displayed toward the obvious crisis brewing in the country. The Emperor was beginning to take an active role in politics for the first time in centuries, and attacks against both foreigners and the shogunate itself were increasing. If the situation continued on this path, open war could well be the result.
Only a month before, a Satsuma daimyo had killed a wealthy British merchant on the Tokaido road [the major route between Kyoto and Edo at the time] for some imagined insult. The British ambassador was angrily demanding outrageous sums of money in compensation, and had gone so far as to threaten attack on Edo itself if reparations were not made. While Sannan did not doubt that the bakufu would submit to the foreigners' demands, he had no such illusions about the notoriously proud Satsuma. Incidents like these only fueled the fire for those who would seek to replace the shogunate with a government more willing to take a stand against the Westerners. Sannan could not shake the feeling that war was coming, yet so many men who should share in his apprehension were indifferent.
It was well after dark when the serving girl approached him warily, reluctant to disturb a man clearly so deep in thought. "Excuse my intrusion, honored guest," she began formally, her eyes never leaving the floor, "but it is late and..." catching sight of his surprised expression through lowered lashes, her voice trailed off.
"Of course, my apologies," Sannan said, setting out his payment and standing to give her a slight bow. "I lost track of time. Thank you for letting me know."
He had paused on a bridge only a short distance away, in no hurry to return to the dojo. The moon was nearly full, and bright moonlight reflected over the water below him. The river was frozen at the edges, but the fast-moving water in the center resisted the ice. Sannan stared into the rippling current for a long time, still lost in his thoughts.
His musings were interrupted by a sharp cry of alarm. Turning toward the sound, he saw the girl from the restaurant backed up against the wall of a nearby shop, her eyes wide with fear. Three ragged-looking men surrounded her in a half-circle, blocking her escape. The street was nearly empty and the few who watched from the shadows were not coming to her aid. Sannan rushed forward, his hand already tight on the grip of his katana.
"Leave her alone!" he shouted as he closed the distance between them. "Don't you have anything better to do than harass young women in the street?"
The three turned as one to look at him, but only their apparent leader spoke, a big man who was clearly used to getting his own way. "It's no business of yours, ronin. We're just looking for a little entertainment." His lips curled into a cold sneer on the final word that left little doubt as to his intentions.
Sannan said nothing, but his left thumb moved to loosen the katana in its scabbard.
The other man laughed in response to the silent challenge. "In case you haven't noticed, there are three of us and only one of you."
"Those are still less than even odds for you," Sannan said softly, and drew his blade. The hiss of metal as it left the scabbard seemed loud as a battle cry in the deserted street.
Predictably, the leader was first to engage, testing him with an opening cut that Sannan parried almost lazily. The brown-haired ronin held back, letting the larger man attack while he gauged his opponent's defenses. His technique was solid, but his narrow repertoire of moves soon fell into a definite pattern of attack. A small smile played on Sannan's lips as he parried his foe's advances.
"What's so funny, ronin? You haven't even attacked me yet. Are you even going to fight?"
Sannan merely kept up the smile, sidestepped the predictable downward slash and ran his blade along the man's right arm from wrist to shoulder, a thick line of blood springing up in its wake. The would-be attacker fumbled his weapon as his sword-arm lost its strength, clearly out of the fight. Sannan's gaze shifted rapidly between the remaining two troublemakers, silently daring them to attack. After a few seconds, both men sheathed their blades and grudgingly led their leader away.
With the men gone, Sannan stepped toward the woman who had been the focus of the conflict. "Are you all right?" he asked, pitching his voice soft and low in an effort to soothe her. She was younger than he had thought at first; he was probably close to ten years her senior.
She smiled up at him, hesitantly at first, then like a sunrise the expression spread over her face. "Thank you so much," she cried. "I didn't know what to do." He saw the slight tremor in her shoulders as she bowed to him in thanks, and for the first time noticed that her right hand was closed tightly around the hilt of a kitchen knife.
The young woman caught the direction of his gaze. "I always carry this with me when I close up the restaurant. After dark the streets can be unsafe." Something in her tone told him this wasn't the first time she'd run into trouble.
"Let me walk you home," Sannan said suddenly.
"Thank you," the girl replied as she tucked the knife into the knot of her obi. A clever place for it, Sannan reflected, since it was kept hidden and could be easily reached without drawing attention. Still, the small blade would have been little help against the three men that had accosted her. She might have managed to wound one of them, but that would only have made the situation worse for her.
The walk was short and uneventful, though Shoko surprised him with her pointed questions about what he had been reading all afternoon. The girl was better educated than most, and widely read, with a thoughtful demeanor that was unexpected given her age. Sannan found that he actually enjoyed talking to her.
When she stopped in front of a modest samurai residence, Sannan's surprise must have shown on his face. "I am the third daughter, so my father asked me to work for my dowry." She smiled mischievously at him, already comfortable enough in his presence to make an attempt at humor. "I considered becoming a nun to save myself the trouble."
"What made you change your mind?" Her expression turned troubled for a fleeting moment, and Sannan worried that the question had been too forward. She hesitated before flashing a small smile.
"I still believe in love."
After that night Sannan had gone to the little restaurant more frequently, his halfhearted excuses never quite enough to convince himself that he wasn't there just to see her again. Before long he made it a point to arrive late, so that he could walk her home after she closed up, telling himself it was to ensure her safety. From there it was only a few weeks before he abandoned these mental pretenses altogether and began spending time with her outside of their evening walks. Everything had been going perfectly until the Roshigumi had formed and Sannan had moved with them to Kyoto. Gods, what a mess that had been. The forest-haired ronin counted himself lucky that their relationship hadn't been utterly destroyed in the process.
Sannan sighed into the darkness, unwilling to dwell on those troubling memories any longer. As he pulled her close again, Shoko nuzzled sleepily against his chest with an inarticulate murmur of contentment. He relaxed into the cocoon of warmth under the blankets, breathing deeply the spicy ginger scent of her hair, completely at peace in this moment.
In that perfect silence just before he drifted off to sleep, Sannan imagined he could hear the unseen snowflakes falling onto the roof above their heads.
The same storm front that gently blanketed Kyoto in snow was taking a very different form one hundred miles to the north, over the Sea of Japan. In the colder temperatures over the water, the giant snowflakes became freezing rain, and high winds whipped the ocean into treacherous waves.
The sea was a vicious obsidian black, and the sky nearly as dark as the storm descended upon the clipper ship Kestrel. The foul weather seemed to have come out of nowhere, and at Captain MacAllister's command the crew was struggling to trim the sails to slow their mad dash into the heart of the storm.
Gareth fought to keep his footing as the ship listed heavily to port, black hair plastered to his face by the freezing rain. The ship slid down a forty-foot wave at breakneck speed, then the deck gave a sickening lurch as the sea lifted them once again onto a fresh wave's back. The empty rigging above glistened with a coat of ice, the few sailors who had stayed aloft long since tossed into the sea. Gareth was working the ropes, trying to rein in the mainsail before the wind tore it to rags.
"Turn the bow into the wind!" His father shouted, his rich brogue swallowed up by the gale as soon as the words were spoken. The helmsman struggled to comply, fighting with the wheel, but the monster waves had damaged the rudder and the ship did not respond.
A sudden gust snapped the sail to fullness, and the rope in Gareth's hands came alive, tossing him backward like a child's discarded toy. He heard the sails tearing as he flew to the deck, and looked up just in time to see a giant wave cresting over the ship. His last sight was of his father clinging to the rails, gripping the wood so tightly that his knuckles were white -
And then the water hit him like a cold fist, and the world went dark.
I've noticed that Sannan-san doesn't get a lot of love in the fandom, and I feel that's unfortunate. So yes, lots of Sannan fluff in this chapter, also partially to make up for the fact that things are about to get a lot worse for him.
Don't forget to feed the muse, she's hungry for your comments...