Fandom: Samurai Deeper Kyo
Warnings: swearing; some violence; very mild kink; girls kissing
Disclaimer: Samurai Deeper Kyo characters and situations belong to Akamine Kamijyo
Spoilers: serious spoilers for vol. 32 onward
Notes: Set after the fall of the Red Tower, but before the events of the final issue. Inspired by a comment from xskadi and with a nod to kittycatbone and her story "Amidst The Flowers." Thanks to sanada for doing the beta read.
ETA: The pictures I meant to use in the first place.
This place, with its towering ceiling and huge statues in niches about the walls, is Yuan's dojo: not the friendly room with huge windows where the youngsters of the Mibu learn from the master nowadays, but an old, cold stone chamber used by his own family. Yuan picked it out in one of the older remaining buildings because it looked liked the one they'd all used in the Red Tower for so many years. Mirrors have recently been added along one wall, because training has taken a different turn since the fall of the Red Tower.
Step forward, nukitsuke, shift forward, kirioroshi ...
And this is Angelica, weilding a katana, working to make up for lost time. In the past, Yuan had actually gone easy on his younger brothers and sisters, not wanting any of them to gain enough skill and ambition to bring them to the attention of the other Taishirou, to become targets in the deadly game played by the leaders of the Mibu. But those days are past. Now all of them are working harder than ever before, specializing in whatever their master warrior brother has determined as their strengths. Angelica has been told that she might - just might - be able to become what her mother once was.
Turn completely, rising cut, step forward right, downward cut ...
When she thinks of that, she can always summon the strength to practice 5 minutes - 15 minutes - half an hour more. This is her mother's sword, made by her father Julian, and it feels light and deadly in her hands. She means to make it her own. She wants to be worthy of her mother's legacy, her brother's teaching, her father's smith-craft. And sometimes, as she turns past the mirrors, she thinks she can see another figure behind her, shadowing her moves, showing her the way: Ian, former Taishirou of the Mibu, Angelica's mother, falsely accused of treason and killed by one of her own colleagues, when Angelica was still a little girl.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tokito was at loose ends again. This was nothing new. No one seemed to know what to do with her, including herself. An attempt to live as one of Julian's children had ended in hurt feelings and anger all around. Solitary and unchallenged in her own choices all these years, she did not have what it took to live as part of a large family who were used to inhabiting close quarters and sharing everything. So it was back to living in her own rooms - well, the rooms she had been given. They weren't her rooms. Her rooms were rubble, under the rubble of the Red Tower itself. Her rooms had been spacious and gracious, like Fubuki's.
I shouldn't have thought of his name ... .
She pressed her lips together and breathed fiercely though her nose. No more crying.
Abruptly she turned and left the new apartment. It was easier not to cry in public, where her pride would keep her eyes dry. But it was hard to walk purposefully, when she had no purpose. The only thing she had left was tending the Cavern of Time - and she could get there from anyplace. Scowling, she headed westward across the courtyard. And there - of course! - was Kirian, one of Julian's quintuplets, with a classful of tiny monsters, taking a break or exercising or something. She didn't care what they were doing. A year ago, the little monsters would have been kept out of her sight. And was there anyplace she could go where she wouldn't run into the people who had wanted to become her brothers and sisters?
Probably not - there are so damn many of them.
Away from here, completely - that's where she wanted to be. She wanted to leave, to go after Akira - she knew where he was, the Mibu still had agents everywhere - but thus far, Shinrei had managed to talk her out of it.
She hated the pity she thought she saw in his eyes, and in the eyes of others.
She headed across the Mibu city as fast as she could, avoiding the places where people were busy: the laboratories, the classrooms, the building sites. Some of the older buildings that were being refurbished had turned out to have connections to the Red Tower's tunnel system, and exploring underground was as interesting as anything she had found to do. As she stepped into the old hulk that was traditionally called the Tengu's House - no one was sure why - she heard a familiar sound: feet on tatami matting, moving in a measured rhythm. Someone was practicing a kata.
She followed her ears, and found herself at the doorway of a huge chamber, floored with fresh mats. The person moving purposefully across them was one of the five girls who might have been her adoptive sisters: Julian's second daughter Angelica. In her hands was no bokken, but instead a beautiful live steel katana.
Since when does Angelica know anything about swords?
All of Julian's children were competent martial artists, but as far as Tokito knew, only Yuan had mastered the sword - and even that had been a surprise to everyone on that horrible day when the Tower fell. But here was Angelica, armed. She was doing a pretty basic kata, thought Tokito, as she recognized the pattern of steps, cuts, and turns. A real novice, then. Angelica's mass of curly black hair was severely knotted at the back of her head, but a few rogue tendrils had escaped to curl around her face, and her skimpy blouse left her arms and midriff bare, so that one could see her white skin flushing rose with exertion. Those girls are always showing themselves off, thought Tokito scornfully. I could show her something here!
But really, Angelica was doing awfully well. Of course these were simple moves ... but her cuts were beautifully clean, parting the air with an audible slicing sound. Her steps and turns were precise without stiffness, and her parries had real strength behind them. In fact, she was a pleasure for a knowledgeable budoka to watch. And although her huge, dark eyes hadn't shifted at all from where they should be, Tokito knew that Angelica had detected her presence the moment she had appeared in the doorway.
It would be interesting to have a little practice bout with her. How much of that sort of exercise had Angelica done? She couldn't be much of a challenge to someone like Tokito, but the former Taishirou found herself curious about how much the other girl actually knew.
Angelica was finishing her kata, sheathing the sword, kneeling and bowing to the front of the dojo. Then she pivoted on her knees, suwari-waza, and bowed to Tokito as well. Tokito was taken aback, even though it was very proper, junior student to master.
Tokito bowed in return, standing.
"You looked pretty good out there," she said, kindly. "I guess Yuan-san's been teaching you - for how long?"
"Just since ... well, you know," Angelica answered, cautiously.
She doesn't want to upset me, thought Tokito angrily, Like I'm one of her stupid sisters.
"Since after the Tower fell," she said, bluntly stating what the other girl had avoided saying. "And the battles that day, and the deaths. Yeah, that was a real surprise, when we found out that your bastard of a brother could use a sword. I guess your mother taught him. But she was out of the picture years and years ago, ever since she got herself killed for sticking her nose in what wasn't her business, so I don't know how he could have kept in practice enough to have been much of a challenge. But Hishigi-san was pretty tired by then, anyway, and sick with the disease, and Kyo-sama was there to defend his allies. So that dog Yuan survived. He was lucky."
The color had been draining from Angelica's face during this little speech, but at those last words, patches of red appeared over her cheekbones. She spoke very quietly, but quite clearly.
"You weren't there, Tokito-san. You didn't see the battle."
"Neither did you, Angelica-chan!"
"Onii-san told me. He went through the whole thing with us. What moves he did, what moves Hishigi-san did. And the special techniques, too. All of it. He made us memorize it. And he got Hotaru-san and Shinrei-san to tell us what they witnessed. And our father told us what he saw as well. No one cares enough to look after you at all - even if you would let them. So I bet you only know what you've overheard other people say. You didn't show up until your father was dying. You were too busy getting beaten by Kyo-sama's blind student."
Now Tokito was the one to turn pale. She had thought that nothing was worse than the pity of the other Mibu, but this furious scorn was like knives scraping her nerves. And she couldn't do anything about it.
Or could she?
She wouldn't have to do much. Angelica was such a novice. And Tokito needed some practice herself, after all - that's what she could say, anyway, if anyone asked. Not that it was likely anyone would.
Because it's quite true that no one cares to enough to look after me, she thought bitterly.
She calmed herself, at least on the outside. Now that she had a plan, it was easy enough to do.
"Well, I'm sorry if I was rude, but it was a pretty big surprise - after all, Yuan-san was supposed to be one of my colleagues in the Taishirou. And the other two died in that battle, too ... Hishigi-san and - my father."
She could feel her eyes stinging again, but at least this time it was useful - maybe Angelica would forgive some of the earlier rudeness if she thought Tokito was still terribly distressed by Fubuki's death. She plunged ahead, carefully polite.
"You're right that no one's looking after me. In fact, I'm really out of practice. Please spar with me a little, Angelica-san."
Angelica seemed to be calming down: her face was returning to its normal rose-tinted ivory, and her big eyes were no longer shining dangerously with temper. She bowed again, touching her forehead to the floor.
"It would be an honor, Tokito-san."
She rose and started to cross to the rack of practice weapons, but Tokito gestured for her to stop.
"That's a beautiful sword you have. And I have mine here, of course. You really did look pretty good out there, Angelica-san. I'm sure you wouldn't have any difficulties with a short bout with live steel."
Tokito was pleased to see that Angelica was swallowing the bait. The initial flattery, followed by the mild doubt implied by that "short" ... the lure had been cast, and now the hook had been set. The dark-haired girl nodded.
They walked to the center of the mat, knelt with the proper space between them, bowed to the shomen, then to each each other, and at least rose to their feet and faced off.
Tokito started easily, carefully using only the most elementary moves, attacks for which Angelica would surely know the counters. And it was actually rather pleasant, even without the anticipation of what she was planning: as Tokito had noted earier, Angelica was fast, and quite competent at these basic moves, so the two moved as though they were dance partners completely in harmony each other's rhythyms. Tokito had plenty of time to see how the exercise and the tension were raising a light sheen of sweat on the other girl's exposed skin, and how the muscles were moving in her arms, shoulder, and bare midriff. Another tendril of hair was working loose from the knotted bun on the back of Angelica's head.
Half a dozen more moves, thought Tokito, And then I'll show her what's what. That hair, and probably that stupid excuse for a blouse, next ... .
She should be able to do it without shedding a single drop of blood, too. She was, after all, one of the Tashirou. Even now.
Tokito parried an upward cut and pivoted easily, confident that she knew Angelica's next move - this was just part of a sequence from the second basic kata -
And suddenly she saw, from the corner of her eye, off to the right, that beautiful katana coming straight for her neck - and it should not have been there at all!
Tokito, once one of the most deadly warriors of the Mibu, reacted without thought. The unexpected cut was easily parried, and it was only as her return stroke was headed toward her opponent's unprotected abdomen that Fubuki's wayward daughter remembered what she was doing, and whom she was fighting.
Horrified, Tokito attempted to pull the blow. But a bright freshet of blood was spraying off her blade, and Angelica was stumbling backward, her left forearm clutched to her belly, the point of her sword drooping toward the bloodspattered mat. There was a moment's appalled, frozen silence.
"That move's not in the first set of katas!" protested Tokito, at last, trying not to stare at the blood seeping from beneath her opponent's arm. Seeping, not gushing: her own blood started to move again.
"One-step sparring," Angelica answered, faintly. "Onii-san said he thought that cut would suit me, with Mother's sword. I saw the opening ... ."
She had indeed, and that had been Tokito's fault entirely. She watched helplessly for a moment as Angelica tried to sheath her sword, one-handed. The dark-haired girl was starting to tremble with shock. Tokito swore, wiped her own blade on the tail of her jacket and sheathed it, and then grabbed Angelica's scabbard, steadying it for her. Then she seized the other girl's arm and urged her toward the wall. "Sit, damn it. Let me look ... ."
She knelt, unwinding her sash. Angelica was paper-white as she leaned back against the wall, but the set of her mouth was angry rather than frightened. Reluctantly, she pulled her arm away to let Tokito view the damage she'd caused.
It was an ugly cut, lividly red across Angelica's beautiful white skin, blood welling instantly at the release of the pressure, threatening to drip in rivulets down to the waist of the girl's drawstring silk trousers, but it wasn't going to kill her. Still, Tokito winced as she pressed the folded sash to the cut for a couple of moments.
"So how bad is it?"
Angelica's voice sounded a little stronger: she'd also figured out that the wound wasn't fatal.
"Looks like it'll need to be stitched."
Even as she said it, Tokito realized that she felt revolted by the idea, by the thought of needles insulting that fine, white skin even further.
What's wrong with me? I've chopped up dozens of people, killed them outright, left them dying, guts all over ... .
She pulled the cloth away from the wound carefully. The blood was seeping more slowly now. She still felt weird as she looked at it - dizzy and angry. There was something so wrong about this.
She bent her head to look at the cut more closely, even more closely - she could smell the blood so strongly, Angelica's blood. Impulsively she dropped a kiss at the end of the wound, where the cut began and the skin had barely parted, and now she could taste that blood, there on her own lips.
"Tokito! What did you ...?!"
Tokito quickly pressed the cloth back into place and sat back on her heels, her head still bowed. She could feel her cheeks flaming, and Angelica's question was echoing in her head, in her own voice.
After a moment a hand grabbed her shoulder, a white hand with its palm not yet hardened by the hilt of a sword. "Tokito. Tokito-san. Look at me."
Reluctantly, she picked up her head. Green eyes met dark ones. Angelica searched her opponent's face for a moment, and then smiled slowly. Tokito's heart was in her throat. All the clan elders said that Ian had been the most beautiful woman among the Mibu in her day, and that Angelica looked just like her. Now, suddenly, Tokito believed it.
Without warning, Angelica rocked forward to grab Tokito's other shoulder firmly, pulled the shorter girl toward her, and kissed her full on the lips. Hard.
Tokito had seen her opponents freeze helplessly as she came toward them. She had never experienced such a thing herself, but now she knew how it must feel. All her strength seemed to fade from her muscles, like ice melting the the heat of the sun, and it was not all that strange, because the flush from her face was spreading over her entire body. Now she was tingling, as if she were at last fully wakening for the first time in her life.
It was just occurring to Tokito that she couldn't breathe when Angelica released her, and settled back to lean on the wall again, looking a little warm herself. She reached down absent-mindedly to take the blood-stained sash from Tokito's limp fingers and hold it to the wound herself, her eyes on Tokito's face. The fair-haired girl raised her fingers to her lips, which felt bruised. Her eyes were unfocused, and she looked completely lost and very young.
Angelica's smile deepened. She busied herself with winding the sash around her middle, with the end double up over the cut, and at last rose gracefully to her feet.
"I'm going to the lab to find Akari. I bet she can heal this so it doesn't leave much of a scar," she said, calmly.
Tokito winced and covered her eyes for a moment. It was bad enough that she had to see the evidence of her own idiocy now. The idea that it was going to be engraved on Angelica's flesh permanently - and given the way the other girl dressed, always on display - was horrifying. Finally, she made herself meet Angelica's gaze once more.
"Angelica-san - why ... ?"
The girl who could have become Tokito's foster sister raised her elegant eyebrows.
"Tokito-san, forgive me for saying so, but you must spend an awful lot of time thinking about hateful things. I thought I'd give you something else to think about."
She smiled again, devastatingly, bowed deeply, retrieved her sword, and left, a graceful figure despite the gore-spattered bandage about her belly.
Tokito stayed where she was on the floor, chilled once again.
Am I that transparent?
She shifted to sit with her arms wrapped around her updrawn knees, head tilted and one cheek leaning against them, and brooded, remembering the glances everyone gave her nowadays. Pity was not the only feeling that showed in their eyes. She just hadn't wanted to think about it.
She sighed, turned her head - and froze. A strange and yet familiar face looked at her from the mirrored wall.
No. It was her own reflection. But had she ever seen that expression on her own face? She looked softer. Not weaker, but ... less brittle. She lifted her chin and snarled at the face in the mirror, then smiled faintly. At least that snarl had looked like her own.
I thought I'd give you something else to think about ...
Scowling, she stood and stalked to the door. Tomorrow, she would do something else. She wasn't sure what, but she was tired of doing what she had been doing, of being what she had become.
As she left the dojo, and the bloodstain on the mat, it suddenly occurred to her that although she had won their first bout, Angelica had won their second.
She found herself wondering whether the other girl was interested in a rematch.