The Circle Game; A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfic
by Kitty Woolfson
First draft of The Circle Game, 5/2000.

Chapter 2:  Memories, dreams and fantasies

 

Aoshi woke to a small noise outside his door. He quickly pulled on his pants and undershirt and hurried out into the main house with his shirt half-buttoned.Misao was standing in the kitchen, finishing an apple and reading the paper. She wore her newly altered school uniform and a yellow ribbon in her hair.

The first thing to pop out of Aoshi’s mouth was, "Where’d you get that ribbon?"Misao looked up and smiled at him cheerfully. "Good morning, Aoshi-kun! Did you sleep well?""Yes. Where did the ribbon come from?"Misao shrugged and dropped her apple core into the garbage. "It’s part of my dance outfit. I just hadn’t bothered to put it on yesterday. I have to leave," she pause and glanced at her watch, "now. I have an appointment with my tutor."She looked up with a warm, sad smile on her face. "Aoshi-kun, I’d like to thank you. I don’t know what would have happened to me if you hand’t been there, but at the very least you saved me from something horrible. Thank you very much." She bowed deeply. Aoshi stared at her in surprise. Her formal phrases seemed archaic, but somehow they fit her like an old dress. "If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just look for me and I’ll come to you."‘I’ll come to you’

The words echoed strangely in Aoshi’s mind. "You’ll come?" Aoshi repeated in a whisper. Misao was at the door, her hand on the doorknob. She looked back at him over her shoulder. Aoshi shook his head, a dull throbbing building behind his eyes. "No that’s not right… I’m suppost to come to you No There’s something missing"

‘Aoshi-kun, I’d like to thank you’

‘Aoshi-kun’

‘Aoshi-KUN’

‘No!’ Aoshi thought wildly. ‘That’s wrong! That’s not what she calls me!’

"Aoshi-sama, what’s wrong?"

 

The young man looked up in surprise. In front of him stood Makimachi Misao, first year student at Yakihata High school in Tokyo, but another girl stood there too. This girl was a little more muscular. Her hair was longer and a braided tail hung behind her almost to her knees. She wore an old fashioned blue shirt with dark blue cords holding the shoulders in place. Shorts of similer color and fabric were on her legs and she wore worn sandals on her feet.Behind her, the mirror in the hall bounced Aoshi’s reflection back at him. A man stared back at him with a blank cool expression. He wore a black, there was no other word for it, ninja’s outfit. Aoshi looked at Misao again and saw her in a similer outfit.

"A- Aoshi-kun? Is something wrong?" Misao stammered. Aoshi blinked and the vision faded."You aren’t seriously going back to your house tonight are you?" Aoshi asked brisquely."Well, yeah.""You can’t." Aoshi said firmly."Why not?" Misao asked with a small pout.Aoshi fumbled for a moment with the reasons why he wanted her to stay. ‘There’s something about you.’ ‘For some reason I can’t bear to see you hurt.’ A small voice inside whispered, ‘I want to remember you!’"It’s too dangerous. And besides, you shouldn’t be alone after an attack like that."Misao smiled and said, "You’re right; I don’t want to go, but I didn’t want to impose." She walked over to him and looked him in the eye. Aoshi returned her searching gaze. "But," she said softly. Her fingers drifted to his cheek and lightly trailed down his jaw. Aoshi felt a shiver go down his spine. "But you make me feel safe, Aoshi-sama," she whispered. Her hand dropped back to her side and her eyes closed gently. As if in a trance, she lowered her head to Aoshi’s chest and sighed deeply.‘I want to remember you, Misao!’ Aoshi wanted to scream. ‘Why can’t I remember you!?’ The weight of her head on his cheast, the smell of her skin, the shade of her hair all rang familier.

From far across the city the 7:00 whistles on all the trains wailed at the same time. Misao and Aoshi jerked apart and Misao’s hands flew to her lips. "Oh-no! My tutor!" She turned and ran to the door, stepping into her shoes as she left. Just before the door closed she stuck her head back in hastily and said with a grateful smile, "By the way Aoshi, if there’s any way I can pay you back, just tell me!"Then she was gone. Aoshi stood in the middle of the floor feeling cold and empty. Normally when he felt cold and empty he welcomed the feeling. But now he wanted Misao with him. He wanted to feel her head against his cheast and her arms around him.

He had spent half the night replaying every moment of their time together. When he lifted her into his arms how she had clutched at the fabric of his shirt. The split second when she had thrown her arms around him left him feeling overwhelmed. His parents hardly ever touched him; they knew how touching other people bothered him. His friends would sometimes pat him on the back, and in kendo he was of course coming into contact with other people. But never like Misao had touched him. He had never been held that close by anybody before. Their bodies had pressed together for just a moment, but he remembered every inch of her too-skinny body and every inch of her bare arms.

His alarm clock began to beep at him from his room and shook his head to clear it of non-essential thoughts. He quickly turned off the alarm and finished getting dressed before picking up his own school bag and heading downstairs, lost in thought.He walked to the train station and waved as Gisuke came into view. "Hey, Aoshi!" he called cheerfully."’Ey," he replied.Gisuke gave him a sideways glance. "Aoshi, what’s up with you?""Oh, just got to bed late, that’s all," he explained, rubbing a hand over his eyes. The train came a moment later and they rode to school in companionable silence. While they stood, squished among the other people riding to school or work, Aoshi thought about Misao some more.He recalled the strange vision-like image he had seen of Misao and himself. ‘Those other-us seemed so real,’ he mused, staring blankly at the back of Gisuke’s jacket. ‘I wonder why I’ve been seeing these things. Ever since I found Misao’

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The bell rang out in the halls, muffled by many bodies. Misao pushed her way through the crowds towards the stairs that led down to the cafeteria. At the head of the stairs she paused to let the gasping Chiho catch up with her. The other girl was clutching two books and an assortment of papers to her chest desperately.She caught sight of Misao and raised a hand to wave over the heads of the other kids in the halls. As she stuck her hand above her head another student bumped her, spilling papers and books all over the floor. With a cry of regret, Chiho sank to her knees and began to scramble after the papers. Misao hurried over and began to help.

"Oh, here," a kind voice said nearby, "I’ll help." An older boy got down on his knees and began to chase the papers around the hall too. The bell rang again and the hall was suddenly clear except for a few stragglers. Misao glanced around as Chiho and the boy got the papers back in order. A few papers several feet away caught her eye and Misao walked on her knees to them.As she reached for the last one she bumped into somebody’s knees. Slowly, Misao glanced up worriedly. Aoshi stared down his nose at her blankly. "Oh, hi Aoshi-kun!" Misao said, standing up."What are you doing?" Aoshi asked cooly. Misao felt herself shrink in his eyes."My, my friend Chiho dropped her books. I was helping her gather them back up."Not you, Misao," he told her. His voice had thawed a little bit. Misao looked up in surprise. "Him."

"Sorry, Aoshi," the boy said with a sheepish smile. "But I couldn’t just leave her here. The papers and the books were going to get lost and""Shut up, Gisuke. And get to class," Aoshi snapped with what Misao was beginning to understand was faked roughness.Gisuke grinned and pushed himself to his feet. He was of medium height, a little on the skinny side, and had a gentle face that hadn’t yet lost its boyish charm. He turned a winning smile on Chiho and said, "I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.""Oh no, I appreaciate it a lot, Gisuke-kun!" Chiho replied with a blush."Stop flirting and get to class," Aoshi sighed. Gisuke bowed to Chiho, who bowed too, and dashed through the door that led to the next hall over. Both Aoshi and Misao spoke simultaniously.

"Misao"

"Um, Aoshi-kun"

Misao grinned and said, "Let’s try that again. You first."

"I figured out what you could do to repay me," Aoshi told Misao.

"Oh? What is it?"

 

"You told me that you always made lunches to bring to school. Why don’t you make me a meal?""Really? Oh, but that’s nothing to compare to what you’ve done for me!"Aoshi reached a hand out and placed it for a moment on Misao’s head. "It’s enough for me."They stood for briefly like that, both silent. Misao stared up at Aoshi with a strange look on her face. Aoshi returned her gaze until a spontanious giggle broke through their silent exchange."You’re so cute, Misao-chan!" Chiho tittered, holding a hand against her mouth to smother her laughter. "You and him look so perfect together!"Aoshi quickly snatched his hand away and and stuffed it into his pocket. Misao turned to Chiho with a glare."And just what do you mean by that, huh?"Chiho waved a hand in Misao’s face dissmissively. "Nothing, nothing! I swear!"The three of them stood in the hall uncomfortabely for several long moments. There was a moment of silence, then a small rustling sound. Misao glanced at the windows out of the corner of her eye. A thin film of rain was beginning to sprinkle the city."Look," Chiho blurted out, startling both Aoshi and Misao, "I’ll go. You two obviously have something you want to talk about. Misao-chan, I’ll see you in biology, okay?"

Misao waved vaugely at her and said good bye. Alone, she and Aoshi stood, staring at their feet. Misao shifted uncomfortabely and slowly tipped her head up and met Aoshi’s downcast eyes.‘He’s so tall’ she realized. She had a crazy urge to go to him and lay her head against his chest.Slowly and carefully, Aoshi said, "About this, um, dinner thing"Misao hurriedly replied, "Oh, no! Don’t worry about it at all.""Well, I was thinking maybe, if you want to that is, we could go off campus and get some lunch?"Misao smiled broadly at Aoshi. "Sure. Sounds great."

---------------

 

Tokyo streatched out all around like a giant kit of children’s blocks, scattered on the bedroom floor after the cat knocked over all the laboreously made towers. A few were spared, though, and stood proudly out of the jumble of smaller buildings, private houses and misceleneous structures. In the rain, the tops of even the smallest buildings were shrouded in spectral shreds of mist.Walking down the street, Misao paused to tip her head up and stare into the endless depths of the clouds. Beside her, Aoshi paused too. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him look up at the sky."Sometimes, when it gets all misty like this," Misao said in a dreamy voice, "I like to go out and sit on my porch and just look at it."

"Me too," Aoshi said softly.

They stood on a small, narrow street. On either side of them bright signs advertised books, food, toys, clothes and an odd assortment of other things. Misao wore a dark jacket that fell almost past her knees. Aoshi had just pulled on a sweater over his uniform’s jacket.He watched Misao pause and glance at the books propped up in a store window. On the ends of her long, curling lashes, small drops of mist had gathered. Tiny jems of rain rested in her short hair and on her coat. Her rosy cheeks were dampened by the rain and fog, and a single wet curl of hair lay pressed against her cheek.‘I don’t know why I’m so attracted to this girl,’ he mused for the millionth time since leaving the school with her. ‘She’s not perticularly pretty, I haven’t known her long enough to be attracted to her personality, I know nothing about her.’Misao turned back to him and apologized, blushing. Aoshi felt his heart give a little jump in his chest. ‘Then why the hell am I so smitten with her!?’They walked a little longer in silence. Beside him, Misao suddenly stopped."What is it?""Y’know what would be really good right now?" Misao tipped her head toward Aoshi with a timid smile. Aoshi looked at her blankly. "A deli sandwich," she informed him with a sideways glance towards the end of the street. Aoshi followed her gaze and saw a small, locally owned deli and grocery.He looked back at Misao with the cool blank face he used on everybody. He knew he was pushing her away, unintentionally perhaps, but he couldn’t get the stony fašade to drop. Even under his dark, unblinking gaze, Misao’s hopeful smile didn’t waver. Finally, Aoshi felt his face change. His eyes softened, his perpetually tense shoulders lowered a little and a tiny, tiny smile softened his lips."Sure."Misao beamed at him and grabbed his coat sleeve. Aoshi followed her into the store with what he was sure was a bemused look on his face.

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Misao glanced up from the crumbs on her plate and over Aoshi’s shoulder to the clock on the wall. She gasped and checked her watch. "Oh-no!" Rising hurriedly, she pulled her coat back on and dropped a tip onto the table. "Aoshi-kun, if we don’t hurry, we’ll be late getting back to class!"Aoshi stood too, though more gracefully, and lay a hand on Misao’s shoulder. "Misao, it’s okay.""But, did you see what time-!""Misao, that clock’s stopped," Aoshi pointed out. Misao glanced at the old-looking clock and noticed the hands actually weren’t moving. "And I think your watch may be a little fast." He held out his own wrist and showed Misao his watch. It read about twenty minutes slower than hers."Well, I guess we’ve got while to get back," Misao said cheefully, buttoning her jacket with a grin at Aoshi. He pulled his sweater over his head and headed out the door with Misao.

As they walked down the street, Misao shifted and stuffed her hands into her pockets. The rain had lessened, but a wind had picked up. Above them, patches of blue-grey sky appeared between shreds of fog that blew past. She shivered and cramed her hands deeper into the soft felt lining of the coat."Are your hands cold?" Aoshi asked."Not really," she replied. A shiver ran down her back. "How can you stay warm?""I just don’t think about it." A gust of wind rushed down the street and flipped Misao’s bobbed hair around her eyes. She shook it back into place with a muttered comment about crazy winter weather.

Without saying anything Aoshi reached down and withdrew her fist from her pocket and folded her slender fingers in his large ones.

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