|The Circle Game; A Rurouni
by Kitty Woolfson
First draft of The Circle Game, 5/2000.
Misao shook her head. "No, I'm going to worry about you no matter what happens. You've helped me so much and I'll never forget that. The least you can let me do is help you."
"But I-" he began. He stopped abruptly; he couldn't bring himself to say "I don't need your help."
Giving up, he wrapped his arms around her too and rested his cheek in top of her head.
A sudden chill ran down both their spines. They glanced up at the street. A few people were walking along, heads down. They released each other and stood up slowly, looking around. Nobody stood out at them.
"Misao, did you just," Aoshi said. Misao nodded vigorously.
"I think it might be another person like, like us."
They scrutinized every person within sight, but neither of them felt another chill. Misao sighed and sat back down on the bench. She dropped her hands onto the back of the bench and hung her head.
"This is totally pointless!" she said in exasperation. "I mean, this is Tokyo. I'd be hard enough even we were only looking in Yakihata alone!"
Aoshi stood next to the bench with his arms folded. He was silent for a while before murmuring, "A car. They must have been in a car or something."
"I guess," Misao muttered.
Aoshi patted her shoulder. "It's okay. There are probably a bunch of people like us. We'll find them again."
"But this is Tokyo!" Misao drooped to her left until she was lying flat out on the bench.
"I noticed." Aoshi glanced at Misao and a thought occurred to him suddenly. "Misao, why do you care so much that this is Tokyo?"
She mumbled from under the arm thrown across her eyes, "I'm no good in big cities."
"You seem to do fine to me."
Misao sighed in irritation. "I'm not a real city girl. I'm kinda, well " she trailed off to mutterings. "Look, let's just say that I don't have your confidence that we'll find this person again," she almost snapped, removing her arm and sitting up.
"Misao," Aoshi said in a teasing, challenging sort of way, "where are you from."
"Kyoto, and don't say it!" She held up a hand in Aoshi's face to forstall any words. "I know it's a back-water and I know that, now
that you think about it, I've got a little accent. My parents lived in Kyoto and when they died in the plane crash I moved here with Jiya because he couldn't afford to rent my parent's place. I'm still not comfortable in a city this big," she said, hunching her shoulders. "Tokyo's just so, so "
"Big," Aoshi filled in, easing both her shoulders down from behind by kneading the back of her neck. "Believe me, there's no other word for it. And don't worry about not feeling comfortable here. Some people spend their whole lives here and are never quite at ease."
Misao sighed and dropped her head in exaustion. "Let's just get back to school. We'll figure this out later."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Aoshi said. He and Misao walked out of the park and back towards the school. The snow was falling again in large, fat flakes that were half-slush. The sky was a light shade of grey, overcast and gloomy. Aoshi shaded his eyes and looked up.
"Penny for your thoughts," Misao asked softly.
Aoshi was silent for a long time before answering. When he did his voice was strangely alive and tender. "I used to like days like this. They made me feel peaceful and rested. I think it might be because my sister died on a day like this and when the sky is grey and it's raining "
"But it's snowing."
"Oh, you know what I mean," Aoshi muttered back. "Just the snow, and the wind, everything. It jut reminds me of my sister." He turned away from the sky with a slightly bemused expression. Misao gave his hand a quick squeeze but pressed her questions down.
'I feel like I'm a second girl,' she thought unhappily. 'He always talks about his sister like she's still around. I wish he knew,' she considered with a sigh, 'I wish he understood how much he means to me.'
She glanced at Aoshi out of the corner of her eye. He was walking along next to her like she wasn't really there. His eyes were focused far away and he didn't seem to notice she was there.
Misao felt a prickle at her eye and wiped it away carelessly. 'I may just be a friend to him, but he's the world to me. I just know he understands more than I do!'