[identity profile] alexander.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] shinomori_seta
Title: Aries Rising
Author: ME :D
Summary: AoSou fic. After the series a bit. Soujirou is a rurouni, Aoshi is... Aoshi. Angst and love to ensue.


Aries Rising

Himura Kenshin who had been known as the Battousai vowed never to kill again. Shishio Makoto, the Battousai's successor had been killed. Saitou Hajime, one of the Mibu Wolves was still creating justice in his own way, wielding a policeman's sword. The powers of the Bakumatsu were fading. Which didn't make the world a safer place. Something that worried people particularly was the existance of the Juppongatana.

Or what was left of them, anyway. Shinomori Aoshi couldn't help but to think of the chaos, and almost ruin that was brought to Japan, partially on the blade of the boy in front of him. It was hard to believe... until one saw Soujirou in motion. He had learned to curb himself, very rarely did he ever show true shukuchi. But very rarely did he show himself either. There was always that smile, which Kenshin may have broken once...

But Aoshi had yet to shatter it.

"...Shinomori-san..." Soujirou turned on his heel, rotating around to gaze at the other man, one hand remaining on his sword hilt, "...We should be stopping for the night." Yes. They should be stopping for the night. It was odd to hear the 'we'. Because he had seen a glimmer of Misao, maybe. Or because Aoshi had wanted to see the strongest man for himself. Whatever the reason he had agreed to accompany Seta Soujirou in his wanderings, offering his skills as a guide.

"...Aa. There is a village nearby."

"I know," And the boy smiled his funny little smile, head tilting to the side slightly, "...I grew up around here." Which was a surprise in itself. Aoshi had never heard about the boy's past, only in the glimpses which Kenshin had seen fit to drop to him.


"Do you know of an Inn we can stay at?" It was not the question he wanted to ask, but Aoshi had learned very quickly that Soujirou was very good at protecting himself. Mentally, verbally and physically. He was the perfect fighter when at his peak. Sometimes Aoshi wondered if there were any other sides to Soujirou. And then he was treated to a moment like this. The boy looking down at the ground, smile trembling, eyes half shut.

"...I'd prefer we not enter the village, Shinomori-san."

"Then we'll camp here." He didn't bother to protest the fact. The response earned him mild shock from the boy, and the smile slipped for an instant. It was the first time he had seen a non-smiling Soujirou. The blue eyes wide with a bit of surprise, his jaw slack with the same emotion. Then it was gone too quickly, smothered by that damned smile.

"Aa. I'll get firewood," He tilted his head in a bit of a bow of jogged off. Aoshi watched his back retreat into the nearby woods, putting the puzzle of Seta Soujirou into the back of his mind. It would do no good to obsess right now.

"...ne, Shinomori-san..." The fire had died down, and despite their meal's meager contents, Aoshi felt no need to consume more. He didn't ask Soujirou, but the boy had barely touched the food, so there was no reason to assume he was hungry. The questioning statement sought his ears in the darkness, sounding like it came from his left, even when he knew the boy was clearly to his right.

"...yes?" He didn't want to sound impatient, but somehow the words came out far more clipped than he wanted.

"You ever wonder if the sky could swallow you up?" There was a rustle of cloth, and Aoshi could imagine Soujirou holding his hand up to the sky. To look at the stars from between his fingers, "...or if death is just as dark?" This was certainly a change from the sanguine that surrounded the boy. Almost...melancholy.

"No," He replied honestly, shifting to lay more with his face towards Soujirou. He could barely make out the outline of the other's body.

"Neither do I. Sometimes I wonder if it hurts more to die by suffocating or a sword...though..." And he laughed nervously, "...I bet you never have these thoughts, Shinomori-san."

"Aoshi."

"..huh?"

"...My name is Aoshi." He could see the outlines of Soujirou's shoulders tense slightly, then relax.

"...Aa.... Aoshi."

~!~

~!~

"...the best way to the shore is through the pass at the head of the village," Camp had been taken down with a surprising amount of conciseness. Soujirou had hummed, some tune that Aoshi couldn't put his finger on, but it was haunting. Perhaps it was a lullaby.

"I know," Soujirou replied, looking down at the travel bag in his hand, the worn and patched surface gray with dust, "Lets go, shall we?" Too much cheer was added to the statement. While Aoshi had just recently gotten on first name terms with the boy, he was already getting used to his odd moods, and being able to read them. Soujirou was terribly nervous, he was guessing. There was a tenseness that hadn't left his shoulders since this morning, and he was walking stiffly.

The village was old, and it had seen better days, Aoshi observed. Soujirou paused in the back gates, hands feeling for the grout between the stones. His eyes were fixed on the burned remains of a building. Aoshi supposed that it had been an important house, or a rich person's house, judging by the size and stone foundation that was still left.

"...There's a well around back, there," Soujirou pointed, and jogged over to it, hastily skirting the charred remains. He slowed while near them, as if they could yield to him some comfort, and then hurried along. Aoshi followed at a more subtle pace.

"Was that your home?" The shinobi asked, leaning agains the wall of a nearby newer house, watching the boy draw water from the well, "...I'm sorry for your loss." The words carried no compassion, but he felt obligated to say them. Soujirou laughed his nervous laugh again.

"Iie, Shino-...Aoshi-san. I'm glad the house is gone, it was rather blood stained last time I saw it!" The last couple of words were said with cheer and his smile was on full force. There was no hint of a melancholy Soujirou, and Aoshi cursed his fumbling mouth. The boy had completely distanced himself again, taking four steps back and hiding behind his smile.

"...I see, shall we?" He took the waterskin from the boy's hands and headed towards the front gate of the village. Soujirou didn't move, a hand still on the crank for the well.

"They were weak...afterall....I was just...stronger than them..." The boy murmured, smiling down at the well, and his hands. That day they had bled from all the work he'd done, and then again because he had been unused to using a wakizashi. But the memory was far from melancholy in his mind, "...Am I still strong, Shishio-san?"
~!~

The beach was far nicer than Soujirou had expected. He'd even taken off his shoes and just stood, ankle deep in water, eyes gazing out to the horizon. Aoshi had declined to walk in the water, and instead had seated himself on a rock.

"Have you been to the ocean before?" Soujirou asked, turning to face Aoshi, even in his fun he hadn't abandoned his sword. Now that Aoshi thought about it, he had never seen the boy without his sword. The katana was always at his hip, even when he slept.

"...Once or twice," Aoshi replied, hearing his voice and wondering why he had to sound so dull.

"Me too," Soujirou laughed, "...Last time though it was on one of Shishio-san's boats..." There was a darker side to that comment. Aoshi knew well and good what 'Shishio-san's boats' had been trying to do. Or, had almost done.

"...I'm sure the view is far better from here,"

"I didn't know you had a sense of humor, Aoshi-san," The boy was laughing, but Aoshi couldn't help but feel on edge. There was just no breaking down of Soujirou's barriers.

"...Hmph," There was no talking for a while. Soujirou waded out a bit more into the water, eyes trained downward now. Aoshi supposed that the boy was looking at the tiny sea animals or something. It wasn't his concern. Instead he was concentrating on the subtle curves in the young man's spine, the way his shoulders tilted when he bent down to inspect something in detail. He saw the bare tightening of the jaw muscle and knew that the boy was going to turn to talk to him.

"Ne, Aoshi-san..." Soujirou's smile was still there, Aoshi thought, but it was hard to tell with the sun's glare, "We're almost done with our travels, aren't we?" They were coming back down to Kyoto soon. Where Aoshi had originally said he would depart from Soujirou and let the boy wader on his own.

"...Almost," Aoshi agreed.

Soujirou's smile vanished under a sunspot, "...I think I'm almost done too."

~!~

Kyoto was changing seasons when they arrived. Soujirou fell behind Aoshi as they walked, eyes meandering across the stands set up for the festival. Aoshi strode forward, heading for the Aoiya. The boy had been here before, and he knew that the gawking wasn't to see the wares, but to see if there were any enemies. Even Aoshi felt himself checking the Aoiya's foyer for enemies, even though it was supposedly safe.

Old habits die hard. He just had never realized how hard, especially for children. That brought his gaze back to Soujirou who was removing his shoes and greeting Misao. A proper bow, but it was easy to tell that she was partially spooked by him. Her muscles were too tense and she spoke too rapidly, even for her.

"...Energetic, isn't she, Aoshi-san?" Soujirou asked when she had left.

"...yes," Aoshi agreed, "...tea?" That set Soujirou off balance, yet again. For the second or third time, while they had been traveling together. Aoshi had to admit that he liked seeing the slight shock travel across the boy's face. If only because it was an emotion other than happiness.

"Aa...tea would be...good," Soujirou laughed, "...Very good, actually." He had been planning on leaving as soon as they had entered Kyoto. Except he had taken off his shoes and was now accepting an offer for tea. How odd.

Aoshi comandeered a back room, something that had Okina muttering things under his breath about. They had welcomed the ex-Hitokiri Battousai far fonder than this ex-Tenken. Aoshi noticed, but chose to ignore it. He wondered if he would have been so accepting of the boy had he not also betrayed Japan for revenge under Shishio's banner.

Soujirou cupped his hands around the tea cup as soon as it was placed before him. He sat awkwardly, as if trying to figure out if he should relax of stay sitting proper. Not only that, but his right hand slipped away from the warmth to rest on the hilt of his sword. And he was still smiling.

"...how long are you planning on staying?" Aoshi asked, sipping his own tea. It was rare that he intiated conversation, and there was a shiver of surprise resting on Soujirou's shoulders.

"Ah... I don't have any money for an inn, so I will be departing soon," The boy chuckled a bit, "Though it is tempting to stay, if the tea is always this good." It was a superficial comment. Just space filler, something Soujirou excelled at in conversations.

"The Aoiya can provide, if you are staying for an extended period of time," Aoshi bit down on the psuedo-diplomatic words. It was unlike him to beat around the bush, but it was also unlike him to cut to the chase in matters like this. Soujirou offered him a smile.

"Aa, I think that would be unwise, Shinomori-san,"

"...Then do as you wish." Aoshi replied shortly, and drained his cup of tea. There was just the sound of the windchime for a while. Soujirou looking down into the green liquid, waiting for it to cool sufficiently. He'd never been good at drinking hot liquids fast.

"I am sorry to have imposed," The boy stood slowly, the cup left on the tabletop. His fingertips lingered on the mug's rim, as if trying to steal the last traces of heat from it.

"If the Aoiya does not meet your needs, then perhaps the Sakura will," Aoshi said suddenly, naming another inn in town. Soujirou blinked, and once again Aoshi was treated to a look of mild confusion.

"Ara?" The boy asked, voice hedging on a laugh. Something, Aoshi began to suspect, that was used to get rid of his nerves.

"The Sakura would be willing to offer you temporary shelter." Aoshi stated. Soujirou sat back down, legs folding under him gracefully. He was relaxed now, and there was no confusion in how he should sit, he picked up the tea and took a deep drink.

"...Aa, I might take you up on that offer, Aoshi-san."
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