Standard Disclaimers Apply.
I did not know what came over me to kiss his hand but it certainly felt right at that moment. He just knew how to make everything better for me that I just want to show my appreciation for everything. I knew words would never be enough so, perhaps, a chaste kiss would convey everything I felt.
He was able warm my heart to the extent that I wanted to burst.
I just felt so good about myself.
Noon came and we went back to the Aoiya for lunch. After that, we went back to the market for the groceries. Jiya told me that this was going to be our daily chore but we were free to help out in the Aoiya after we had finished our task.
As always, while we were doing our task, Soujiro and I would talk.
I never thought chores would be so much enjoyable if you had someone with you.
At this point, I realized how similar Soujiro and I were. We both had our stories to tell and we loved to tell them. I guess, this is what it does to people after journeying across Japan alone.
I had been alone most of the time I was looking for Aoshi and even when I was with Himura, he wasn’t much of a talker back then. I couldn’t blame him though. The Shishio incident really bothered him.
As for Soujiro, I was thinking that he was just learning about the basics of socializing.
Of course, not everything we talked about was about doom and gloom since I was relatively happy in the Aoiya and he had experienced a lot during his wandering days.
I had to admit that in the past couple of days since I had met him, I had learned a lot from him. I guess, it worked— I mean, us, together. We learned from each other. He was truly an interesting man and at this point, I was certain that this man beside me was truly a good man.
That was why I wondered so much what could have happened to him in the past that he turned into a cold-blooded, unfeeling assassin.
It was still early in the afternoon when I asked him to accompany me to the cliff. I brought a book along with me so that I would have an excuse to go out. I knew this was just a set-up for me to know about his past but I couldn’t help it. I really wanted to know. He already knew so much about me and I felt that I wouldn’t know him as much if I did’t know the one integral thing that made him him.
Truth be told, I just wanted to understand him more. To get to know him better.
We sat down under that same tree, in that same position. He sat on my right, his left hand holding my right even as I held a book.
When had we become so close and comfortable to each other? Why did I feel as if he were my childhood best friend and that what we were doing right now was the most normal thing to do?
It didn’t really matter. What matters was that I had him, he was my friend— my best friend even— and we were at peace.
I decided I was going to read my book for an hour or so before I asked him about his past. That way, my intentions wouldn’t be so obvious.
Only about thirty minutes had passed when I felt something fell on my shoulder.
Soujiro’s soft snore brought a smile to my lips.
Maybe he really didn’t get enough sleep during the night. Did his nightmares plague him that much?
I brushed his bangs with the back of my hand as I watched his sleeping face. I touched his cheek briefly, fighting the urge to squeeze them. He looked so handsome!
I continued to watch him for a while before I returned to my reading. I could talk to him later, but at that moment, I was going to give him his much needed rest.
I open my eyes languidly, waiting for reality to sink in.
“I am glad you woke up already. The sun is about to set.”
“Ara! I fell asleep?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. You seemed really tired,” she replied in a nonchalant tone. I guess, surprise was still written on my face that was she rolled her eyes and retorted, “Why do you sound surprised? Sleep is a natural thing, you know.”
I slapped my forehead with my palm as I chuckled. “It’s just that I had never fallen asleep in the presence of anyone before.”
“Oh,” Misao blushed. “Is… is that supposed to be a good thing or am I that boring?”
Misao looked cute when she stammered.
I gave her a reassuring smile before I replied, “It means I trust you with my life.”
I didn’t know if it was only to hide her blush that she rested her head on my shoulder but it didn’t really matter. At least now, we could watch the sunset without tears in her precious eyes.
Protecting her happiness.
These three simple words changed my life.
For the next couple of weeks, everything became a domesticated routine. Every morning, Misao would don her kimono and I would accompany her to the temple to serve Aoshi tea. After that, we would go back to the Aoiya for our usual chore in the market. We’d help there until late afternoon and then we would go to our usual spot beside the cliff to watch the sunset.
It was so different from the two lives I had already lived— murdering and wandering—
that it all seemed like lifetimes ago.
Not that I was complaining.
For this span of time that I had spent with Misao, I had gotten to know myself more. Strange, wasn’t it? But true, nonetheless.
I had never been closer to anybody as I was with Misao. She was my light. She showed me how to find happiness in the littlest of things. Because of that, I would remain steadfast to those three words I had engraved in my heart.
“Can’t sleep?” a voice came from behind my shoji door.
I opened my door, careful not to make any noise as I beckoned her to sit beside me. We both stared at the moon peering outside my window, admiring the view.
Just then, she broke the silence. “What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing in particular. Just how my life changed ever since that rainy afternoon.”
Ever since you.
“My life also changed because of that. I found myself an indispensable friend and from then on you were always stuck with me!” Misao’s eyes held a mischievous glint as she grinned.
“I really wouldn’t use the word stuck, Misao.” I shook my head in amusement. I knew she already knew the things I was about to tell her, but she still wanted to hear them from me. Pinching her cheek teasingly, I punctuated every word, “You had also been a wonderful friend to me.”
She opened her mouth in mock surprise.
Pausing for a moment, I caught her nose between my fingers, squeezing it. “You are my only friend.”
She chuckled out loud, slapping my arm. She gave a cute pout as she threatened to pinch my nose the same way I did to her.
Upon seeing her red nose, I couldn’t help but laugh along.
“So what do you think of your new home?” she suddenly asked, staring into my eyes, her smile widening upon seeing shock on my face.
“New home?” I almost spluttered, raising both my eyebrows.
“Yes, silly.” She raised her hand to my forehead, easing the wrinkles that appeared as she pinched both my cheeks, mimicking what I did to her earlier. “I don’t know about you but I had considered you a part of the family a long time now.”
“Of course! I wouldn’t treat my dearest friend like a stranger.”
“Unusual.” I voiced out my thoughts.
“That was not the response I was looking for.” Hurt was so apparent in her voice that I fought an urge to hit myself.
Immediately, I answered back, “No, don’t get me wrong. I meant unusual in a good way. I never expected any of my former adversaries to take me in. I know I had been staying with you for a while now but I still can’t help but ponder on that matter.”
“What you must always keep in mind, Sou-chan, is that people are naturally good.” She rested her hand on top of mine as she faced me to search my eyes.
“Not all people.” My comment sounded cold and bitter even to my ears but I couldn’t help it. Somehow, it had stirred up unwanted memories.
“What do you mean?” she asked. At this point, she took both my hands in hers as an encouragement for me to continue.
I took a deep breath.
I guess, it was time for me to tell her about my past.
As I began, I gave her a small smile. “So this is one of the ironies of life isn’t it? My family turned on me and my enemies let me in.”
“Sou,” her face darkened. “Are you alright?”
“I never thought that I would be able to talk about it again.”
“If you don’t want to then—”
“Shh… it’s okay. It’s about time I tell it to my… best friend.”
Misao’s lips curved up into a small smile at what I had said.
It had already been a couple of weeks since she told me that I was her best friend. I never really knew how I should respond to that. I didn’t even think I was worthy of being called that. I mean, what have I done in order to gain that privilege?
Until now, I did not know if I deserved it but one thing was sure in my heart. She was my best friend.
Honestly, I really did not get what it was with titles. These formalities that defined relationships seemed like boundaries to me. For me, these titles did not really matter, but I knew that it mattered to her.
And that reason alone was enough for me to tell her.
Even if it would never change the fact that she was the most special person in my life.
Taking a deep breath, I began with my narration. “I was a bastard son of my father with a whore. When he died, his brother kept me, not even because of pity but to save face. They own a rice business so they had to keep a good name. They wanted to be known as the virtuous people so they let me stay with them… as a slave…”
“Then, Shishio came along. I met him while he was running away from the police. He was supposed to kill me as well but I guess my smile disconcerted him. I took him in and cared for him, in return, he taught me the words I had lived by for the past ten years or so of my life.”
“The strong live and the weak die.” Misao murmured, looking into my eyes. “Kenshin told me about that.”
“When they found out that I was taking care of a criminal, they were furious. They almost killed me back then! All because they wanted a good name. My life was that worthless to them!”
Pain coursed through my being as that bitter memory returned. I couldn’t smile at this memory anymore.
I closed my eyes, swallowing a lump that formed in my throat.
Just then, I felt myself enveloped in her embrace as I rested my forehead in her shoulder.
I heard her whisper to my ear. “But your life isn’t worthless, you know that right?”
I could only shrug.
“Well, it isn’t to me.” Her voice was determined when she pulled me closer for a tighter hug.
Suddenly, the tears wouldn’t fall anymore.
How could she affect me like that?
Once again, I closed my eyes and pressed my lips on her shoulder. I felt her body tense up in shock but it relaxed moments later. I kissed her on the same spot once again before I whispered my gratitude.
“Sou, can I stay here with you tonight?” she whispered back.
“Sure. We can talk all night.”
She pulled back from our embrace, took my hand and led me to the futon.
My eyes widened in surprise. “Misao… What are you…”
“For everything that you have done for me, can you at least let me chase away your nightmares? Even for tonight?” She smiled at me warmly, taking my arm over her, spooning herself against me.
She held my hand as I drifted off to dreamless sleep.
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