|The Circle Game; A Rurouni Kenshin
Fanfic by Kitty Woolfson
First draft of The Circle Game, 5/2001.
Chapter 10: Intentions
Enishi grabbed Aoshi's sleeve. The older boy, oblivious of everything except Misao's fear in the back of his mind, nearly tore his sleeve in his haste to reach her. He turned angrily on Enishi to berate him. Enishi jerked his head towards the door just to their right.
"Gisuke," he said softly. Aoshi hesitated a moment before nodding curtly.
He turned to the door and threw it open.
It was a chemestry room. The walls were lined with sinks and gas taps.
Beakers, measuring implements and a Bunsen burner were set up near each sink. Animal skulls sat on top of glass cabinets that held several unidentifiable things in jars, boxes and tubes. At the far end of the room, Gisuke turned from tending the flickering yellow flame of his burner in surprise. A pair of glass goggles were pertched on his head and a long dark smock covered him from shoulders to knees.
"Aoshi-kun, Enishi-kun," he said, taking a few steps toward them. "Is something the matter?"
"Chiho-san and Misao are in trouble," Aoshi said shortly. Gisuke drew a sharp breath.
"No way! I just left them a few mintues ago! They were fine!"
Enishi hurried across the room and grabbed Gisuke by the arm. "Well obviously something's changed since you were last there! Let's go!" He began to drag Gisuke out the door. The teacher, standing next to a confused looking student, raised a hand in protest. Gisuke jerked away from Enishi.
"At least let me shut my burner off. I won't blow up the school because I'm too worried about Chiho to think straight." He hurried to his burner and turned the flame off, then shut off the gas. As he was pulling the smock over his head, Aoshi felt something wrong.
"Gisuke, get down!" he shouted. The command in his voice was too much to resist. Gisuke dropped like a rock and half of the rest of the people in the room did also. Enishi grabbed two kids nearest him and threw them to the ground, then reached for the next closest to him. Just as his hand closed around the arm of a wide-eyed girl, something exploded. A wave of heat washed over the room, forcing Aoshi back. He saw flames erupt from the wall, and a Bunsen burner flew past his head.
'Fool!' Aoshi bereted himself. 'Bungling idiot of a fool! It was GAS! The GAS was what seemed wrong!' Cursing himself, he dashed into the flames.
Kids were already crawling out on hands and knees, gasping and burned. The few that were unable to move themselves were dragged out by their peers.
Gisuke was one such person. Aoshi fell to his knees next to his friend and checked his pulse rapidly. Alive. Stunned, but very much alive. He would be up and running about in a matter of moments. It was Enishi he was the most concerned about. He got back to his feet and forged on. Toppled desks impeded his process, and he smelled chemicals burning. Occasionally something would burst in foul-smelling plume of color and smoke. The fumes became to much to bear and Aoshi finally sank to his knees and scuttled along the ground.
'Why are you spending so much time looking for him?' he asked himself. 'You know he's perfectly capable, and he's a jerk after all. Besides, he wants Misao!'
Something caught his ankle. Aoshi kicked it away irritably, but it clung.
A chill ran down Aoshi's spine. The room didn't explode on it's own; somebody made it explode. Was that somebody trying to burn Aoshi alive in this inferno with him? Aoshi lashed out with his free foot. His sole connected and there was a grunt. The hand grasping his foot jerked and he was tumbled to the ground. Trying to break his fall, the ninja threw his hands out behind him. Aoshi winced as broken glass cut into the palms of his hands.
"Jeez, lay off!" a hoarse voice wheezed. "It's me, you bastard! Give me a hand."
Aoshi grimaced. Enishi. What a fool to let his emotions get the better of him like that! He grasped Enishi's hand and followed it to the young man.
He was stretched out under a table, the girl he had been trying to force to the ground next to him. The glass of broken lights was scattered all around them. Enishi's back and shoulder were bleeding through his shirt and the girl had a bruise growing above her eye. She seemed dazed, though concious.
"What's going on?"
Enishi winced as Aoshi began to drag the two of them back the way he had come. "When you told them to get down, I started yanking kids to the floor. This little idiot was too surprised to move, and nearly got squished by the light."
Aoshi eyed the boy next to him. There was no need to explain further.
Rather than try to keep his own skin whole, Enishi had thrown himself on top of this girl he didn't know and protected her. 'Bear those scars with pride, Enishi...'
The young man was muttering to himself. Aoshi strained to catch the words as they dragged themselves into the hall. "... so sorry, Nee-san... ...protect you... ...never let it happen again... ...snow, plum blossoms, blood... ...watch your back!"
Enishi twitched and his eyes rolled back in his head. Aoshi heaved him up before his head could hit the tiles. 'A vision... of his own memories? Or one of ours?' Rising, Aoshi slung an arm around Enishi's waist, and one of Enishi's arms over his shoulder. He staggered out into the hall and dropped his burden with a groan. He ached...
A bundle of emotions in the back of his head cried out to him plaintively.
Without thinking, heedless of his own self-indulgent weariness, Aoshi rose to his feet again and began to run to Misao's call. Somebody behind him hailed him and he turned, irritated. Enishi was pushing himself to his knees, Gisuke already walking unsteadyly toward Aoshi.
"Aoshi-kun," Enishi gasped, his eyes still slightly unfocused, "let us help you. Misao-san, Chiho-san... they're our friends too."
Aoshi hesitated. Neither was in very good condition. Enishi was still unsteady on his feet from his vision. Gisuke was slow and dazed, but both wore identical expressions of determination. 'Would you like it very much if somebody kept you away from Misao? Would you let them say no?' Aoshi asked himself. He nodded and ran off, calling over his shoulder, "I'll meet you at the clinic. Come as soon as you can."
The young ninja raced through the halls, his friends quickly forgotten.
Misao was all that mattered. She needed him, needed his help. He could feel that pain of the heat as the flames licked across her skin. His throat stung with the smoke of burning cloth, plastic and medicines. His eyes watered with more than just irritation. Misao's fearful tears rolled out of his eyes. He dashed them away irritably when they obscured his vision.
Students began to stream past him, some crying in panic. A smell of smoke drifted to Aoshi as he pressed on, finally turning into a roiling cloud of smoke just short of the clinic. A small group of students and teachers were clustered around the clinic, trying to peer inside or be of some use. Aoshi grabbed the nearest student by the collar and jerked him around to face him.
"What's going on here?" Aoshi demanded.
"Two girls are trapped in there. The teachers think it was one of the bombs," the student replied shakily. Aoshi glanced at the doorway to the clinic. The door had been blown off it's hinges from the force of the blast. The bent and twisted edges of the door sent a chill of fear down his spine. A reassuring burst of annoyance from Misao soothing him slightly, but the irritation was tinged with fear. Aoshi didn't have much time left if he wanted to get Misao and Chiho out in one piece, preferably not well-done.
Pushing the students out of his way, Aoshi made a dash for the doorway. An arm was thrown across his path, and the young ninja reached up a hand to brush the obstacle aside. To his surprise, the arm was solid as stone. He smashed into the person's arm and was thrown to the ground. His breath knocked out of him, he looked up dazedly at the firm face of the principal.
"I can't allow you in there, Shinomori," the thin-faced man said, reaching a hand down to help Aoshi to his feet. Aoshi grasped the hand and let himself get hauled to his feet. "Don't worry about it. We've called the fire department and there should be a rescue crew here in a matter of moments."
The principal patted Aoshi's shoulder firmly with a slight push towards the growing croud of kids.
"But, sir," Aoshi protested, resisting the push. He felt the man's hand tighten on the jacket of his uniform. A strange feeling similar to the ninja senses seeped outward from that bunched fabric. Aoshi quickly turned to look at the pricipal. "I might be able to help. Can you tell me nothing to do so I can help?"
The principal slowly shook his head with a weary expression. "I'm sorry, Shinomori. You'll just have to wait. I've sent some people to get fans so we can clear away some of this smoke." He pushed again, and this time Aoshi stumblej forward into Enishi's waiting arms. He glanced up and saw from Enishi's expression that he had heard the exchange too.
"This is bad, Aoshi-kun."
"He's hiding something. I'm sure of it."
"That's a pretty harsh accusation to make without any proof," Gisuke commented.
"Me too. Now we have to get them out of there," Aoshi said, retreasting to the far side of the hall and folded his arms in thought.
"We couldnt just storm the door?"
"No, he's too strong. I think he's a reincarnation of somebody we knew."
"Really! I wonder who? Maybe we could go in through the window..."
"Too high up."
"True, but maybe through an adjacent room..."
"Um, guys?" Gisuke said hesitently. Aoshi and Enishi looked at him strangely. "What are you two talking about?" Enishi glanced at Aoshi out of the corner of his eye. The taller boy nodded slightly, and Enishi grinned widely.
"Hey, Gisuke-kun, I've got an idea. Wanna help? First, how good are you at fighting. Yeah, fighting!"
A few moments later Aoshi was in the ranks of students milling worriedly around in the hall in an arc open to the doorway of the clinic. He glanced at Enishi who gestured swiftly to Gisuke, who was further down the hall. At the signal, he came tearing toward the crowd.
"Hey! What's going on here?! Where's Chiho?! Where is she?" He began to shove his way to the door. Enishi grabbed him and held him back.
"Cool it, Gisuke-kun!" Enishi said, gasping as Gisuke struggled. "There's nothing you can do!"
The principal was watching silently as fans were set up to blow the smoke away and make it easier for the rescuers to get in. There was a comotion behind him.
"...Chiho! She's sick! She's gotta be hurt! She won't be able to move! You don't understand! Let me go! I've gotta save her! She needs my help!"
He turned and saw Aoshi's friend, the Imazaki boy, struggling with some teachers and helpful students. He was putting up a good fight. Annoyed and the noise, the principal strode over and glared at the scene.
"What's going on here?" he demanded. Imazaki froze for a moment and the teachers grabbed him tightly.
"My girlfriend is in there! And my other friend too!" he snarled. "I've got to go to them! Why won't you let me help!?"
"It's too dangerous. Now just sit and wait for..."
Imazaki threw himself against the restraining arms again. "No! I can't wait! I have to go to them!"
Enishi dashed over and began to grapple with the distraught Gisuke.
"Gisuke-kun! Get a hold of yourself!" he shouted, trying vainly to hold him back. A crowd of students began to gather, cheering the boys on. The teachers began to tighten up. In the fuss, nobody noticed Aoshi slip into the nurse's office.
As soon as he was hidden by the smoke, he tied her handkerchief around his nose and mouth tightly and began to pick his way swiftly through the debris of the explosion. He reached the bent door to the back room, twisted out of shape but still miraculously on its hinges. When he pulled it forcefully open a fresh wave of medicinal-smelling smoke hit him. The young ninja was forced to back up and regain his breath. Through the bounding of the blood in his ears he could hear shouts in the hall.
'How long can those two keep it up?' Aoshi wondered. 'I've got to hurry.'
He pressed on. The infirmary was a wreck. The beds were strewn around the room as though tossed by a careless, massive child. Glass bottles were shattered and plastic ones contorted out of shape by the heat. There was a smell of burned cotton, nylon and polyester. A pipe had burst somewhere in the miniature warren of rooms in the clinic and a thin sheet of water covered the floor.
"Misao!" Aoshi called as loud as he dared. "Chiho-san? It's Aoshi.
Shinomori Aoshi. Where are you? Answer me!" There was no reply. Not a whisper of sound. A chill ran down his spine at the thought that, for all his planning, he had been too late. A small trickle of laughter touched his head.
'Aoshi-sama, of COURSE you're in time! Now hurry up and get us out of here.
It's hot and uncomfortable, and I want to see your blue eyes again.'
The words came from the bundle of Misao's emotions in the back of his head.
He whirrled around desperately. Aoshi's eyes scanned the gloom of the smoke for her familier petite figure. "Misao? Misao, where are you?!" He could hear the panic in his voice. That was bad.
Iriitation now from Misao. 'Right here, you fool! At your feet! C'mon, c'mon! I'm-'
"I know, I know," Aoshi gasped outloud. He sank to his knees and began fumbling around. Something soft brushed his hand and he latched on to it.
"You're hot and uncomfortable and you want to see my eyes." It was the blue pleated cotton of a junior high uniform. Aoshi followed the curve of the girl's body up to her face. Chiho. "Misao, you fool! Where are you?! No, wait. No need to be nasty." Aoshi heaved Chiho into his arms and made a silent appology to her for searching her pockets, pulling out a flowered handkerchief which he tied around its owners face.
"...I had no... intention... of being nasty..." a soft voice whispered hoarsly from under the bed. Aoshi shoved his head under the bed and found himself pressed nose-to-nose with Misao.
"You..." he murmured, dragging her out from under the bed. "Hurt badly?"
"Nope. Sprained ankle is the worst," she said shortly, though with a definite cheeriness. "Just let me put my arms around your neck and I can hold on."
Aoshi felt her arms encircle his neck gently, then fasten themselves to each other. Her legs went around his waist and he stood up, balanced himself, and began to hurry out of the room. As he reached the door he felt something wrong. His ninja senses prickled along his nerves. Aoshi made a break for the door. "Hold on ti-" he began to say to Misao, but it was already too late. His shoes slipped in the spilled water and with a gasp of surprise she tumbled from his back onto the floor.
Then the third bomb exploded. The force of the blast hurled Aoshi, with Chiho still grasped in his arms, into the hall. Aoshi twisted around in a desparate attempt to shield Chiho and soared through the doorway of the clinic. He skidded along the floor and stopped at the feet of the crowd.
Enishi and Gisuke were at his side in a moment, taking Chiho from him, and Aoshi let her be pried from his tense hands.
"Watch after her," the young man shouted to Enishi and Gisuke, pushing himself to his feet and dashing back through the door. His back disappeared into the smoke.
Out of sight of the students, the principal turned his back with a curse.
His eyes bugged and his face flushed a furious red. 'Shinomori Aoshi.... damn you! Will I never get my vengance?!' Swiftly regaining his composure, he turned back around to survey the scene. His secretary hurried up to him. A scarf had been tied around her neck, hiding the line of blood. Whisps of hair escaped from her tight bun and floated around her flushed face.
"He's gone back in to get her," the principal muttered out of the corner of his mouth. The secretary stiffened and hung her head. Her fingers flicked along the folds of her skirt as she brushed sulfer-smelling ash off the fabric.
"I guess it's lucky that Yamada-san did that installation for the chemistry rooms. We nearly got your old boss," she commented softly.
The principal looked at her sharply. "What are you talking about?"
Yoko galnced up and blinked in confusion. "The biologoy rooms, you remember?" He nodded sharply. "Well, while you were hurrying down here I noticed that Shinomori and Yukishiro were in one of the chem rooms, so I-"
"Enough. It didn't work."
Yoko sniffed in her prim way and returned to examining her clothes.
Aoshi suddenly emerged from the room, Misao draped limply in his arms.
There was a gasp and murmur from the gather people. He staggered over to where Gisuke and Enishi were sitting with the now conscious Chiho. The three of them looked up expectantly. When Chiho saw her friend she nearly burst into tears. Misao was a wreck. Her hair was singed badly, half of one of her eyebrows had been burned off and her clothes were blackened beyond repair. Her skirt and shirt were both burned through in places, and on her cheek was a vicious scrape plus a reddening mark on her neck that spread down to her chest and across one shoulder.
"Misao-san!" Gisuke and Enishi cried, the latter half-rising to his feet.
Aoshi sank to his knees with Misao in his lap and tipped her head up towards his. Her breath was faint. He leaned his head down to hers and didn't feel a rush of air on his neck. He stared straight ahead in horror. Enishi saw the look in his eyes and shivered.
Aoshi clutched Misao against him and screamed her name. Tears began to leak out of the corners of his eyes. 'Not again, not again, not again...' he thought over and over. 'I lost her in the Bakumatsu, I lost her in the Meiji, and now I'm losing her again. Not again...' A sudden blow brought him back to attention. He fell half-way over, his jaw throbbing dully from the punch Enishi had landed squarly there.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!?" Enishi shouted, glaring at him.
Aoshi blinked at him blankly. "What the hell are you doing? Do you want her to die!?"
"But, she's stopped breathing..." Aoshi mumbled indistinctly.
Enishi grabbed his lapels and jerked him hard. Aoshi head snapped around painfully and he pushed at the other boy's chest instinctually. "So give her mouth-to-mouth, you moron!" He paused, then half-smiled and added, "or should I?"
Aoshi glared violently at him and shoved him off, then looked down at Misao. 'Mouth-to-mouth... Don't think too hard,' he reminded himself, 'you know how to do this...'
He bent over Misao's still form and fixed his mouth over hers. He exhaled into her lungs and waited for a count of three, then pressed over her heart. He heard the crunch of her breast-bone break and winced, but breathed into her once again when his previous effort showed no results. He repeated this for what seemed like hours, but was actually no more than a few moments.
Finally, Misao choughed violently, her back arching in pain. She rolled over and retched. Everybody stared at her in shock. She continuted to cough, her hand held over her mouth. Her shoulders shook and finally, when she had spent herself, she colapsed onto the cool tiles, panting. Black something from her lungs covered her hands.
Aoshi touched her shoulder and Misao pushed herself back up. There was a moment of pause before both of them grabbed each other in tight hugs. Misao was crying in pain and relief, and Aoshi felt tears on his own cheek.
Suddenly Chiho was hugging them too, and Gisuke had thrown an arm around Chiho and Aoshi. Enishi put his arms around Aoshi and Misao and rested his forehead on top of Misao's black hair. All of them were crying and laughing at the same time.
A cheer went up in the students and teachers. Everybody wanted to help.
Cell phones flashed as students broadcast the news across the entire city.
Aoshi felt Misao being lifted out of his arms and clutched at her. She grabbed onto his hands and refused to let go. A moment later she was returned to his arms. A siren blared from the front of the school. With Enishi and Gisuke to clear the way for him and to assist the weak Chiho, they made quick progress to the doors.
A gurney was rolled out of the ambulance. Aoshi gently laid Misao down.
"Aoshi-sama, don't leave me," she whispered as she was hoisted into the rear of the vehicle. The doors began to close behind the medics. Before he could think any further, Aoshi leapt into the ambulance and let the doors close behind him. The medics gaped at him.
"Hey, you can't be in here!" one of them shouted.
Aoshi silently knelt by Misao's head and placed his fingers lightly on the back of her hand. "If you kick me out I'll take her with me. I refuse to leave her."
The ambulance rumbled into life and pulled out of the school. The medics hardened their faces and began to hook Misao up to an IV.
Aoshi sat alone in the hall outside Misao's room. A pair of nurses bustled by in their matching uniforms. They chatted light-heartedly. A doctor rushed by with his white coat flapping behind him. A little girl squealed in delight as she tore out of a nearby rooms and down the hall.
"Nii-chan! Nii-chan! You came!" she cried joyously. The young man scooped up the girl. He ruffled her bobbed hair and swung her around, grinning and laughing with her. The scenes that surrounded him were all so happy. Even as he looked at the girl's smiling face he couldn't dredge up a shard of positive emotion.
The ninja turned toward the sound and rose swiftly. Okina was hurrying as best he could down the hall, his cane still tapping along on the floor.
"Okina-san," Aoshi said slowly, holding up his hands wanringly.
"Where is she?! What happened?!"
Aoshi sighed and pointed at Misao's room. A nurse emerged from the room with a clipboard and bowed to somebody in the room. Okina rushed to the nurse and bowed hastily before beginning to harry her. The poor nurse looked so distraught she could barely speak. Aoshi placed a hand on Okina's arm and drew him slightly away.
"Okina-san, I wanted to tell you this before I forget," Aoshi said calmly.
Hearing Aoshi's composed tone the old man seemed to relax. "Because of the bomb, they closed the school. You'll need to buy new uniforms for Misao-san."
Aoshi glanced at Okina and saw the signs of righteous raqe beginning to appear. He allowed himself a small private smile. 'That'll get him back to his old self no matter how upset he is about Misao.'
"Kashiwazaki-san?" the doctor said, sticking his head out of the door. "You can see her now, if you'd like."
The young ninja turned away from the scene and began to slowly walk down the hall towards the parking lot. In the back of his head he could feel the pain in Misao's leg as the painkillers took affect. He felt Misao's joy as Okina burst into her room and began to talk to her. He heard the laughter, felt the fabric of the bedclothes, smelled the freshly-set cast. He also felt her wondering.
'Aoshi-sama?' she called out silently. 'Aoshi-sama, where are you?! I'm not angry! Where are you? Why won't you come and see me?!' The pain grew. He heard her send the doctors away, and felt Okina's understanding pat on her head as he left her too. Her voice continued to echo through Aoshi's mind.
In the gloom of the parking structure, Aoshi sank against the side of his car and hung his head.
The train platform was crowded as usual, but never before had Misao felt apprehension when getting ready to take the train. She wasn't afraid of getting groped, because all the people that rode this line knew what happened when you groped Makimachi Misao. She wasn't self concious in her new uniform, and she wasn't scared about the new school. She wiggled her toes in her new leather shoes and rocked on the heels of the shiney slip-on clogs. The silver buckles glistened at her.
"Stop fidgeting, Misao-chan," Chiho chided next to her. "It's not very mature."
Misao made a face at her friend. "Speak for yourself. You're about to wear a hole in that corner of your skirt if you twist it around your finger any more. Besides, even high schoolers fidget," she added loftily. Gisuke made a rude noise and turned his face away. Misao pointedly ignored him.
Aoshi watched the three of them talk as he lounged against the side of a pole. He wore the Ishin-bashi uniform just like Misao, Gisuke and Chiho.
Enishi had been transferred to Ishin-bashi as well, but his train line was half way across the city. The jackets were a pale ash grey with dark blue collars, cuffs and a thin cord of grey running around as trimming. The pants were the same grey as the jackets. Aoshi felt washed-out in the pale colors, but Gisuke seemed totally at ease. Misao and Chiho wore blouses with ash-grey and navy blue sailor collars and skirts with a triple band of blue-grey-blue around the bottom that ended well above their knees. High socks covered their knees and a few inches above. Identical silver buttons marched down the fronts of the boys' jackets and the girls' blouses.
Aoshi cocked his head and regarded Misao as she turned in a mock huff away from Gisuke. Her skirt swirled teasingly. Aoshi glanced away, trying to hide what he was positive was a glowing blush. 'She looks far too good in that uniform. I almost wish they were less flattering. Almost...'
A train pulled up suddenly and Aoshi pushed his way towards the doors along with the rest of the people around him. Squeezed into the train, Aoshi found himself pressed against Misao on one side and a short pale-haired boy on the other. As the train pulled away the boy stumbled against Aoshi and trod on his foot hard. Aoshi didn't actually feel any pain, but the boy turned to him and bobbed his head in an appologetic bow.
"Sorry!" he murmured in a pleasant voice.
Aoshi nodded back and the boy flashed an angelic smile before turning his eyes back into the sightless subway stare. From behind Aoshi felt a pair of hands grasping his waist. He glaned down in surprise to find Misao clutching his jacket in a death grip. "You'll wrinkle it," he muttered at her.
She didn't hear him. Misao's eyes were fixed on the pale-haired boy with clumsy feet. Her gaze never left his face. Aoshi looked at the boy again, but he could only see the very side of his face. There seemed to be nothing that would distinguish the boy from many of the other on the train. Patient as a spider in its web, Aoshi waited for the boy to inevitably move. When the train took on more passengers and expelled others, the boy's face turned towards Aoshi.
"Aoshi-sama..." Misao muttered in a vicious, low whisper. Her hands tightened on his jacket. Aoshi rested his hand lightly on her head.
"I know," he whispered. "I know."
END CHAPTER TEN
NEXT CHAPTER: Misao, Aoshi and Enishi are back in school! New friends, new enemies, and a new teachers. They're gonna learn more than they ever expected!