|The Circle Game; A Rurouni Kenshin
Fanfic by Kitty Woolfson
First draft of The Circle Game, 6/2001.
Chapter 11: Let's take it from the top...
The hallways were silent. Crisp cream-colored walls reflected the March sun off the walls. Simple white tiles were buffed and shined impossibly bright. At every doorway was a sign; 1-B, 2-B, 3-B... Footsteps moved slowly down the hall toward 4-B. The shined black leather shoes slowed with a final tap at the door and paused. A tanned hand reached up and pulled the door open.
The room was simple and clean with few embelishments. The desks were in neat rows and the windows were sparkeling clean, open to the early spring breeze.
A teacher stood at the front of the room. She was young and cheerful with permed hair and flourescent nails. Enishi closed the door behind him as she approached.
"And who are you?" she cooed.
"Yukishiro Enishi," he replied stifly.
Slowly, Enishi settled himself into the chair behind the brown-haired boy.
To his left was a boy with pale spikey hair. It looked like he had a droopy eye, but his smile was pleasant enough, though the eye was creepy. The blonde boy leaned over the arm of his desk and smiled in a friendly way at Enishi.
"Hey, there, Yukishiro-san. I'm Sawagejou Chou. Nice to meet you!"
"I'm Higashidani Sanosuke. Call me Sano."Enishi glanced up at the boy. He had a slim face with a cut jaw and warm brown eyes with thick eyelashes. His hair was a bit long and the gel combed through it made it stand up in an interesting way. Chou was a little bit lighter than Sano and had a thinner face, but they looked similar enough to be brothers. Chou's eyes were a light brown with a touch of grey around the edge. The two of them grinned rougish smiles at Enishi.
"Well, I guess you already know that I'm Yukishiro Enishi. It's nice to meet you."
Misao walked away from the front office with her schedual and a small handfull of papers. Her mind whirled from all the information that had been shoved into it in the past few minutes. She had gone straight to the office with Aoshi, Chiho and Gisuke to get their room assignments and the basic school briefing.
She heard the chimes of eight-o-clock go off and gave herself a swift mental kick as she began to dash towards her room. Her new leather shoes tapped loudly on the impecable tiles of the hall. She came to a set of stairs and dashed up two at a time. Another footstep sounded behind her. With a gasp of surprise she whirled around.
Behind her on the stairs, one landing below her, stood an out of breath girl in the Inshin-bashi uniform. She was smiling a little and panting at the same time. Her hair was in a long ponytail high on her head. An ice blue ribbon was looped in a bow at the base of the ponytail, though it was beginning to fall out from her mad dash. A few stands of hair danced around the girl's face she as she climbed up to where Misao stood.
"Hi there!" the girl said, grinning widely. "Are you new here?"
"Oh, yes!" Misao nodded emphaticly. "I just transferred from
Yakihata. Uhm... I don't suppose you can tell me where room, uh... room..."
Misao glanced desperately at the top sheet of paper. Five different classrooms were
highlighted in yellow ink. "Oh crud..." she muttered, realizing she had it
upside down and flipped it.
"Makimachi Misao. Just Misao, if you don't mind."
"Not at all!"
They clasped hands and held on all the way to the classroom door.
Aoshi placed his hand on the door and opened it. His eyes immediately fell on the pale-haired boy from the train. Their eyes locked from across the room. Aoshi didn't even hear the soft oohs of the girls that were immediately love-struck or notice the door close behind him.
"Well well, who are you?"
The young ninja looked up at the cool and amused voice in surprise. Nobody was EVER amused with him! He had been the butt of a few jokes, but never AMUSING! Aoshi looked into the face of the man that stood at the front of the room and decided that this was one of the times it would be good to keep his mouth shut.
The man was tall and lean. Not just skinny but lean like a wolf or a hunting
dog. His face was sharp yet handsome in a way. His hair was long enough to
touch his collar but kept neatly out of his face except for a few strands that hung in his
eyes. And those eyes... golden and sharp as a blade, wolfish and preditory, staring
out keenly at the young intrusion into his territory from under sharp brows."Sh-
Shinomori Aoshi," the young man supplied.
'Did I just stutter?! I NEVER stutter! I've made a fool of myself!' He felt a faint blush rising in his cheeks. He waited for the titters of amusement from girls and the smothered chuckles of the boys. There wasn't a sound in the room except for the faint whir of the air system.
"Hmm. Shinomori, eh? That makes you my only Yakihata sstudent for this
class. Sit next to Himura." He jerked his chin towards the pale haired
boy. The boy smiled at Aoshi and his violet eyes crinkled. Aoshi made his way
across the room and sat down to the boy's left.
"Himura Kenshin," the boy whispered to Aoshi as the latter seated himself.
"You handeled the Ishin-bashi Wolf surprisingly well. Our
'Our congratulations?' Aoshi wondered. Then he noticed that everybody in the classroom was giving him admiring stares. 'I guess this guy's pretty tough. Ishin-bashi Wolf, huh?' When Himura had said the name it had sounded proud and familier, though respectful and wary.
"Himura! Attention to the lesson at hand!"
Himura smiled again (he seemed to do that an aweful lot) and shook his head. "No, no. Fujita Goroh."
'Fujita?' Aoshi thought quizzicly. 'Can't be! That's wrong. What was it again? I'm sure I know this... What was it? Ah! Yes... Saitoh!'
"Did you say something, Shinomori?" Fujita snapped at him. Aoshi snapped to attention. Fujita never seemed annoyed even when upbraiding a student. His face never altered from its sarcastic smile except by degrees.
"No, sir," Aoshi assured him.
Fujita regarded him then said in a clear voice, "Is anybody in this room named Saitoh? No? Thought so." He faced Aoshi squarely and glared at him with a very small tip to his lips. "In the future, Shinomori, you will want to keep your day dreaming to a minimum and try not to open your mouth in class unless you have good reason." Fujita turned away and began to write something up on the chalk board. "Seeing as nobody in this class is named Saitoh, I assume you were thinking of somebody not here and therefore irrelivent to the lesson."
As Fujita continued class with a sharp tongue and sarcastic wit Aoshi watched him carefully. 'Somebody not here? I think not...
"Will you come with me and meet my friends?" Kaoru asked eagerly. Misao had long ago given up on the papers provided by the office since Kaoru was in all of her classes.
"Sure. I'd like to find MY friends when I get the chance, though," Misao added.
"I'm sure we'll be able to find them."
Lunch was a welcome relief. The day had dragged on forever. Due to the bomb Misao was a little bit behind the rest of her classmates and completely lost. With Kaoru's help, however, she was hoping to muddle her way back to a decent grade before the first term was over. A sudden jerk on her hand pulled Misao along behind her new friend.
"Kenshin! There you are!" Kaoru gushed. A smiling red-haired boy stood just in front of Kaoru. His face was round and pleasant with a sad and gentle expression. 'It's the boy from the train!' Misao realized with a shock.
Her heart leapt in her cheast, then leapt again when she saw the person standing just next to him. 'How could I miss seeing HIM?' she wondered.
"Ah, Misao. I was wondering where you were."
Misao tried to force down her blush and smiled up at Aoshi. "Right here, with Kaoru-san! Have a nice day so far?"
Aoshi's face changed infantismally in what Misao knew for a small smile.
"The same," she replied with a shrug.
"Aoshi-kun! We've found you at last!"
Gisuke, Enishi and Chiho came running up with a pair of unfamiliar boys with
them. Introductions were made. The red-haired boy way Himura Kenshin, the
blonde boy was Chou and the rake was Sano.
"You got the Wolf? Us too."
"The Wolf?" Misao asked.
"Fujita Goroh," Kenshin explained patiently. "He's famous for being really nasty, but he's not all that bad. You understand what the study hall is?" At the negatory shake of Misao's head Kenshin continued. "After lunch we have a study hall. The teacher supervises what is basicly a social hour.
It's really fun. You can get homework help and stuff if you want. It's mixed grades, so you can ask upper classmen."
"She's in study with me," Kaoru said, placing a hand on Misao's shoulder.
"Aoshi is with the Wolf, too."
"So's Enishi," Chou said.
Gisuke and Chiho were iin different classrooms, but thankfully together. The group of them headed to lunch together, chatting and laughing.
"Do you like SMAP, Misao-chan?" Kaoru asked cautiously. Misao's ninja senses began to kick in. She could hear the tiny nuances in Kaoru's voice and, better yet, read them. The way her eyes rested ever-so-cautiously on Misao's and the carefully calculated distance between them were all warning lights to Misao.The ninja girl shrugged. "More or less. Some of their songs are okay, but I prefer Luna Sea and Pizzicato Five really. Tokio is good, though. I like Ayumi, too.""Aah?""So what do you do for fun, Kaoru-san?" Misao asked bluntly. Kaoru blinked at her for a moment, then smiled slightly embarrassedly at Misao's frank gaze."So, you found me out, huh?" She paused and stared into space while she thought. Misao took a moment to study here. Kaoru seemed familiar to her. She was taller and more refined-looking than Misao was. The ninja spared an envious glance for Kaoru's more mature curves and long elegant hair. Her face a a true heart-shape with a slightly pointed chin and round, rosy cheeks. Misao glanced down at her feet with a sigh. Kaoru was SOOO much more pretty than her!"Well," Kaoru murmured, "I really love kendo."
Misao felt a thrill, though she couldn't explain why. "Really? Kendo? How cool!"You do kendo, too? Kenshin, Chou and I all train at my families dojo when we get the chance.""All three of you? Wow!"Well, Sano tags along, but we haven't really decided if he does kendo or Sano-style." Kaoru laughed at the face Sano made at her over his shoulder."Aoshi-kun, Enishi-kun and I are all like Sano. Well," she amdened, "Aoshi-kun and Enishi-kun are really good at kenpo, and I just make it up as I go along.""Kenpo?! No way!" several voices cried in disbelief.
In front of her, Misao saw Aoshi freeze. A heavy hand came down on her shoulder. She looked up into Enishi's aquamarine eyes sheepishly. "Sorry," she whispered so softly she knew only Enishi would be able to hear. "I guess I should have kept my mouth shut, huh?" Enishi just glared at her hard, but with a hint of amusement in behind his glasses."Perhaps," Aoshi added as he appraoched her from the other side. "We don't know what involvment, if any, these people have in our past."
Misao looked silently at her new friends. She stared at Kenshin particularly hard. He was short and round-faced, but with a harshness to his features that spoke of past pain. His red hair was cut in a loose and heavy fringe just past his ears. His violet eyes opened a little wider as he noticed Misao staring at him.
"Sorry!" she said with an appologetic laugh. "I'm just not used to seeing red hair. It's kinda surprising."
Sano turned and walked backwards so he could quirk an eyebrow at her.
"Y'know, Misao-san, your face is surprising enough."
With an exagerated angery yell, Misao threw herself at Sano, leaping with feigned ungainliness at Sano. He artfully dodged her as he continued to taunt her. Kaoru chided Sano's bad manners while Chou goaded him on. Aoshi watched stoicly and Enishi laughed loudly.
"You take it back! That's so rude!"
"Hey! I meant it as a compliment!""You ought to learn to give better compliments! You're miserable at it!
"Sano! You've only just met her!"
"Well your attitude is pretty miserable yourself, kid."
"KID?! I'm only a year younger than you!"
"A year can make all the difference!"
All action in the hall stopped. Aoshi and Enishi glanced swiftly at each other; they had both heard the story about the red-haired man with violet eyes, a ready smile and the tendancy to use 'dono'. Misao's hands clutched at the lapels of Sano's jacket convulsively, her eyes wide. Kaoru's hand was held over a bashful-looking Kenshin's mouth while Chou and Sano shot accusing and worried looks at Kenshin.
The silence stretched to the breaking point. Misao's hands began to tremble.
"What do we do now, sir?" Yoko asked tremulously. Her fingers leapt to her throat and fumbled with the scarf at her neck nervously. Her boss sat in a chair in a well furnished office. Everything was neat and tidy to a point of being too perfect. One had the impression that the person that conducted their business from this office was not one to be triffled with.
"We have a little chat with a few people, and then we move on," the principal of Yakihata said darkly. "There are ways to get what I want that have nothing to do with my being principal of a secondary and high school," he added derisively. Yoko swallowed hard and felt the scab strain around her throat.
The door suddenly opened smoothly with barely a noise. A prim seceratery let in a man in an expensive gray suit of flattering cut. He was tall and thin, not muscled, but fit. His face was thin and smooth with a squared chin. His sleepy eyes were currently amused and his thin lips curved in a satisfied smile.
"Aah," he said smoothly, "my gracious benefactor that has led me so far. My master, that has taught me so much. My patron that has reawakened in me all these wonderous memories... of the injustices that have now been repaid!"
He approached the desk and made to bow.
"Shut up, Takeda," the principal said shortly. "You call that little stunt justice? Ha!" From the man's hand something flashed towards Takeda. With a cry Takeda collapsed backwards onto the floor, blood running run the thighs of his pants and a long cut across his cheast from shoulder to hip. Yoko gasped.
"Kanryuu nii-san..." Yoko began, starting forward. A simple 'no' from the seated man froze her in place.
"You can't treat my sister like that!" Takeda shouted, starting forward with a fist raised. A slow, quiet chuckle escaped the principal.
"Yessir, Iwanbou-sama," both of them said, rising. Yoko assisted her
brother to his feet and let him lean on her as he left the room. Iwanbou watched
until the door had closed behind them before rising and slipping through a small door
concealed in the shadows. As it opened a smell of decay wafted out. He picked
up a bundle of papers and checked them as he entered the room, for the first time in a
long time feeling almost completely happy.
"For all the Yakihata students, I am Fujita Goroh, you're study hall teacher. You've all had our study hall system explained to you I'm sure, so go do something."
Misao and Enishi didn't even hear him. Misao was nursing what was turning into a killer headache while Enishi was trying as hard as he could to focus on the desk in front of him and keep his glasses firmly against the bridge of his nose.
Aoshi touched Misao's shoulder lightly and sat down in the seat next to her. "Misao, what is it?"
"Too many memories," she muttered fiercely, squinting her eyes closed.
"They're getting jumbled up... confused... it hurts..."
Enishi groaned as his glasses slipped. Aoshi touched his shoulder and the younger boy started with a gasp. "You, too?" Aoshi asked softly. Enishi shook his head.
"I see dead people."
Aoshi made a small sound. Misao recognized it as Aoshi's scornful laugh.
"Wasn't that the catch phrase from that American movie a while back? With Bruce Willis, right?" Enishi glared murder at him.
"Shut up, asshole. I'm serious. I see these strange silver people.
There's this tall guy with a ponytail on you..."
"Overlaid, sorta. Like seeing two things at once. And Misao-san has a girl with long hair on her. There's one on me too. A lot of people have them, but the stronger the memories of the past life, the stronger the connection, the more solid the vision is. Every time I see one or I'm near somebody that has a silver shadow I get this feeling... like an electirc shock. It hurts a little, but more of a tingle." He shook his head. "There are so many people with Shadows in this room it really hurts." He tapped the bridge of his tinted glasses. "I found the color keeps me from seeing them."
Aoshi looked around. The students that surrounded him all seemed perfectly normal. They were a good strata of the student body. All grades were more or less equally represented and there were the same number of boys as girls. To Aoshi there was nothing out of the ordinary in the room. Then one detail jumped out at him; all of the people he had met earlier that day were in the room. Kenshin, Kaoru, Sano, and Chou were all there. They stuck close together and though a few students chatted with some of them, the quiet and polite exculsion was there and accepted.
The net of ninja senses pulled at Aoshi. He took and deep breath and pulled the net into the visible vield. Small silver-grey lines criss-corssed the entire room, connecting everybody to everybody else. The heavier the line, the stronger the connection, Aoshi realized. His new friends were almost one giant blob of silver, the connections were so strong. "I think I'm starting to see what you mean," Aoshi said to Enishi.
Something caught his eye. There was a thick connection running from the group to somebody else that wasn't already in the group. Aoshi slowly and carefully followed it with his eyes. It touched on each of the other people in the room, and he wanted to be sure he didn't end up with the wrong person.
It led to the desk at the front of the room.
Behind the desk sat the Ishin-bashi Wolf, Fujita Goroh.
"I think I'm beginning to see how this works," Aoshi said. Misao and Enishi looked up in surprise at the excitement in Aoshi's voice. "They're all reincarnations. Enishi-kun, take off your glasses and look at Kenshin and his friends. Tell me what you see."
Enishi obediently removed his glasses and looked. The man on Kenshin looked oddly familiar, but he put it aside. Kaoru's Shadow was exactly the same as she looked now. Sano's shadow was scruffier and wore an open jacket and bandana. Chou's hair stood nearly on end in a style that was reminesent of a broom. His eye still drooped, and there were a pair of worn sword handles jutting above his shoulders. The blond boy described what he saw to his friends.
"And Himura's Shadow?" Misao asked. Aoshi noticed that they were beginning to put stress on the word Shadow, almost like it was a title.
"Short, girly, long red hair..."
"... and an X-scar on his left cheek, a longer stroke on the vertical one, the horizonal shorter but more deep," Misao finished for Enishi. "He's the one. The one from my dreams!"
Aoshi felt a sinking feeling. He remebered his conversation with Enishi in the halls of Yakihata what felt like years ago.
'Enishi looked up at Aoshi and said darkly, "She has to chose one of us, you know."
"Not nescesarily," he corrected, straightening his jacket. "There is another boy."
"Oh?" Enishi sneered.
"The man with red hair. He's coming to her in dreams. If we're not careful we could both loose her."'
She was slipping away. Aoshi could already see the connection beginning to form between Misao and Kenshin. 'What if he was her lover at some point? She treats him awfully familiarly in all my memories of the two of them.' A stab of guilt reminded Aoshi of his years of absence while Misao was growing up. 'It IS entirly possible she was something special to him when she was younger. Maybe a role model? No, it's too much to hope for.'
"And I had a memory of him, too," Enishi added breathlessly. He suddenly stepped over to the cluster of his new friends. They looked up expectantly at his approach. "Are any of you in the Ishin-bashi kendo club?"
Kenshin smiled. "I'm the leader of the kendo club. We won't be meeting for a while, but if you'd like to stay in practice, you're free to stop by at Kaoru-dono's family dojo."
"Kenshin!" Kaoru gasped, worried about something.
"Your family owns a dojo?" Enishi asked politely.
"My uncle, actually. My father gave it to him rather than spend all the time and money on it himself. My father is an adjunct master, and I'm almost one myself." She perked up a little as she continued. "But I'm going to inherit it. My cousin says he'll do something else rather than manage the dojo."
While Misao nursed her headache Aoshi sat by her and listened to the conversation. He could tell what Enishi was doing. 'Approch the enemy on their own ground. They don't suspect an attack that way, and will let their guard down. You can also learn more that way.' In his head he saw countless successful infiltrations led by him of enemy compounds. He knew all the steps, all the disguises, all the words, and they were all a part of him. He knew them better than he knew the tracery of lines on the palm of his hand.
"Can Makimachi and Aoshi-kun come along?" Aoshi heard his friend ask. "I'm sure they would like to keep in practice too."
"Of course!" Kaoru said enthusiastically. "You can meet my cousin, and if you'd like you can come whenever you want to practice. Now that your normal practice space has been taken away," she continued understandingly, "it'll be really hard to find a new place. Until then, you can use one of our do's."
Aoshi turned to Misao to ask how she was feeling, but found himself talking to an empty desk. "Ooh, Kaoru-san, when can I begin?" Misao said enthusiasticly.
"Right away. Will you come after school?"
"Of course! I'd love to see your family's dojo! And meet your cousin!"
"Shinomori," a hard voice said from behind Aoshi, "I need to see you for a moment." The Wolf of Ishin-bashi stood behind him, glaring down at Aoshi with that quirked smile. He gestured towards a small office at the back of the room and followed Aoshi in, shutting the door behind him.
Aoshi stood nervously in the middle of the room. He could feel the other man's cold, golden eyes on his. In fact, he could see Fujita even in the dim room. "Is something wrong, sensei?" Aoshi said. his voice sounded meek and sharp as glass in the silence of the office.
"Shinomori, I know that you're no fool," Fujita said. "The name you said in class, do you know who that is?"
Aoshi hesitated. 'Do I say what I think? That he's the reincarnation of a man that I knew, or claim to have known, over 150 years ago? He'll think I'm mad! I'll fail his class. But to lie to him... I couldn't! He'd know!'
"Attack of consciousness, Shinomori?"
The younger man shook himself. "No sir, more like a feeling of doubt."
"Doubt?" Fujita's voice had changed. The transformation was
unnamable, but it was there.
Fujita nodded slowly. Aoshi could see his smile deepen, as though laughing at him. "Alright, then. Tell me what you think is true."
"Saitoh Hajime is your other name, the one that you were born with. Due to an accident," Aoshi purposfully put an emphasis on 'accident' that implied that it wasn't, "you moved away from this area, changed your name, and later moved back with a mission in mind." Fujita, or rather Saitoh, was silent.
Aoshi continued. "You are also the reincarnation of a police officer from the Meiji era also of the same two names, who knew me, or more accurately my Meiji-self, and several mutual friends."
Saitoh was still silent. "You've recovered more memories than we had thought."
"We who?" Aoshi interrupted, but Saitoh plowed on.
"And did you realize that you've also recovered many of your skills from your past life? You can see me in the dark, you've kept your voice so low I can barely hear it, yet you obviously can hear me very well. All of the people in this study room have the same, shall we say condition, that you and I have. They are all reincarnations of somebody from the Meiji. Some are more influential than others, but we've gathered them here just the same. Something dramatic is about to happen, and the rest of our group is scattered. We need to gather them all together, here in Tokyo, before all that we fought for then will become nothing more than rubble; a short chapter of peace in the book of history."
Aoshi snorted. "I never fancied you for a poet, Saitoh," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
The door was flung open and Saitoh stalked out. Aoshi followed, beginning to get confused. "Make the right friends," Saitoh advised in a low voice.
"And find the others."
Aoshi stood silent for a long time to ponder what Saitoh had said.
'Everybody here is like us. But what is it about me and Misao and Enishi that separates us from the rest? Is it that we recover our memories and others don't? Maybe we have a part to play in this big dramatic thing that Saitoh was talking about. I KNOW that I've felt something. It's nothing apocolyptic, is it? Ah, now you're letting your imagination run away with you. This isn't like an anime! This is real life! Things like that don't really happen in Tokyo; hell, they don't happen anywhere else on Earth either!'
A pair of hands grabbed his jacket. "Aoshi-samaa~!" He looked down into Misao's worried face. "Is something wrong? What did he talk to you about? You were in there for AGES! Study hall is almost over!"
The ninja looked around. Students were packing up their bags, chatting.
Everybody was in an orderly bustle except for a small cluster of students.
Enishi stood just behind Misao, the same concerned expression on his face.
Kenshin, Kaoru, Sano and Chou all stared at them expectantly with politely blank expressions. Aoshi felt a tug on his ninja senses and shiver run down his spine. He placed a comforting hand on Misao's head, and stepped forward. Misao didn't let go of his jacket, and followed as he approached his new friends.
"I couldn't help but overhear your offer, Kaoru-san. Would you mind if I came along, too?"
Kenshin smiled widely. Something about the smile was pleased and smug, as though he knew that Aoshi would say that.
"Of course we wouldn't mind, Aoshi-kun," Kenshin said.
END CHAPTER ELEVEN