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Plum Blossom (Blue/Green)

[Prince of Tennis] Et Cetera: Pairwise - 02. Kikumaru

Posted on 2013.12.29 at 10:28
Current Mood: blahblah
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Second part of the backstory subarc, Pairwise. How Oishi and Eiji met. This part of the story takes place 25 years before the main storyline begins. Rated G for this part. Subtitled “Red Threads of Fate.” 2,568 words.

Et Cetera: Pairwise by Shiraume

02. Kikumaru

He has very few memories of his mother.

In some of them, she's telling him how much she loves him, and how precious he is to her. She always looks sad in those memories, her voice quiet and sweet. In the last memory of his mother, there are tears in her eyes as she murmurs to him.

"You're a good child, Eiji, so you will be all right. You will be all right, even without mama," his mother whispers, but then her voice breaks, and she holds him tighter. He does not say anything, just stays in the warm circle of her arms, the side of his face pressed against her breast, listening to her irregular heartbeats.

He never finds out what happened to his mother.

In the small rural town of Mirhea, growing up as a stray is not difficult. It's a small village, and the folks are friendly. Most of the families are willing to feed an extra mouth once or twice a week, and to spare some hand-down clothes that their own children have outgrown. The young mothers enjoy teaching him how to cook, and are especially charmed when he helps around the house. The husbands are also indulgent with him, but he is really the wives' favorite.

Nevertheless, one of the first things he learns, even before he learns to read, is that he cannot depend on the kindness of others if he wants to survive. Instead, he learns how to get what he needs, whether by his own effort, trading, charming, or wheedling.

All his life, he knows he's different. Everyone in the small village knows him, and has long since accepted him the way they accept the turn of seasons, the dark, rich earth under their feet, the forbidding presence of the Eastern Greenwood, and the gleaming ridges of White Mountains. His presence is something unquestioned for the villagers, even when he remains a teenager long after the young mothers' children grow and have children of their own. But whenever strangers come to town, he hides in the forest or the lower valleys of White Mountains; his vivid red hair and red eyes are unmistakable, and his appearance gives him away even before his natural grace or startling flexibility and speed. No matter how high the fall, he always lands on his feet, for which the villagers tease him; good-naturedly, but it's still another reminder he does not truly belong.

The once-young mothers are now grandmothers with grown grandchildren, and they are still fond of him as ever, like a pet no one asked for but is adorable enough that nobody minds keeping. It is about this time another stranger visits the village: a Mage from a large city to help stop the sickness spreading across several villages. He is curious, of course; curiosity has always been a part of his nature. But he is not curious enough to wait and see what this stranger makes of him, so he goes off to his favorite playing spot on the mountainside.

Late afternoon, he is taking a nap amidst the wildflowers in the lower valley when he senses someone's presence nearby. He soundlessly springs to his feet, and is shocked to find that someone standing right behind him; no one has ever been able to sneak up on him this close without him noticing. This one is a young man with a funny hairstyle and eyes as green as the summer grass. What interests him, though, is that there is no surprise or invasive curiosity in his eyes.

"Ah, forgive me for disturbing you," the young man says mildly. "I didn't want to wake you, but I really need to get the biethel growing here."

"Sure," he replies, and the young man smiles at him gratefully before crouching down to collect several roots of biethel. "There are better ones growing higher up," he offers after a minute, "if you follow that marked path for another twenty minutes."

"Oh! Thank you so much for telling me," the young man beams. "Good biethel is difficult to find, where I come from."

He frowns slightly. "It's a common weed in any mountain."

The young man smiles, and explains. "Biethel is a very important herb for potions and salves, but it only grows in the sunny mountain range. I was born in the Village of Caesis, in West Hyrrha."

"Oh," he says, but doesn't know what that means. He has never been outside Mirhea, and doesn't even know where West Hyrrha is, except it's far in the west, beyond the River Colcis.

If the young man notices his confusion, he does not say anything. "It's a small village, and the Southern Greenwood is between the village and White Mountains. It takes several days to make the trip, and there's only so much I can carry, you see." The young man straightens. "Thank you for you help, ah -- " he flushes a little. "Forgive my manners. I am Oishi Syuuichirou."

"Eiji," he says slowly. "Kikumaru Eiji." Kikumaru is the surname the neighbors gave him when he was little, and he thinks it may have been his father's. "You can call me Eiji," he adds. No one ever calls anyone by the last name in the village, except in legal contracts, so it's a very natural thing to say. But Oishi blinks.

"Oh, ah. I see," Oishi stutters and blushes rather cutely. "Please call me, um, Oishi."

He shrugs, becoming increasingly puzzled when Oishi's discomfort does not abate. Oishi finally stammers he has to go collect more herbs, and thanks him again before continuing on his way, leaving him to stare after Oishi in confusion. Moments later, he shrugs and settles down to resume his nap, but sleep eludes him. Frustrated, he goes into the forest.

The Eastern Greenwood is not a friendly place. The children of Mirhea, as soon as they can walk, are warned to keep clear of the forest. That never keeps him out, however – it's the only place he feels at home. He thinks it might have something to do with his mother, whose memory is always linked to smell of fresh leaves and rustle of dry grass.

He finds his favorite tree and curls up on one of the branches near the top. Up this high, the only intruders are birds, so he can safely take a nap. After at least half an hour of fidgeting, he finally falls asleep, and continues his nap in peace until a shrill whistle of birdcall startles him. Momentarily forgetting where he is, he jumps up, and promptly unbalances himself. Quickly he twists and readies himself to grab a bow and vault himself back on a sturdier branch, as he has done countless times. Before he can do that, vines close around his body with nary a whisper and catches him midair, and he forgets all about his plans. When the vines lower him to the ground, he is still too shocked to speak, but one thought rings through his head. Magic.

"Are you all right?"

He looks at the intruder -- Oishi -- and at the leaf-green eyes, and his heart skips a beat. "I can take care of myself," he says testily, annoyed at Oishi for probably having caused the bird to call and startle him in the first place, or something.

Oishi, to his surprise, lets out an embarrassed laugh. "Yes, I know. When I saw you fall, I just reacted without thinking."

"You know?" Oishi does not know him, or that he can jump from a thirty-foot tree and land on his feet unharmed. How can he? They just met today.

"Yes, of course. You are one of the Chisu."

"What's a Chisu?" he asks curiously. Oishi is quiet for a moment, surprised. He decides he really likes Oishi's eyes. They show everything: surprise, happiness, embarrassment -- everything.

"Chisu are Sprites that live in the forest," Oishi explains. "They can take the form of a Human or a large mountain cat, although their distinct eye and hair colors set them apart. They are graceful and shy, preferring to stay deep within the forest. Excellent climbers, and most use the trees to hide or to sleep."

"I'm a Chisu," he says, and Oishi nods. "Is that why I'm different from everyone else?"

Oishi nods. "Vivid red eyes probably come from your Chisu side of the family. And your hair."

Chisu side of the family...? "You know I'm a half-Chisu and half-Human." It is not a question. He's always known his father was human, someone from the village, a long time ago. But how does Oishi know?

"I've met Chisu before, once," Oishi says. "They carry a unique Magical signature, which I don't feel from you."

"Oh." So he does not belong with the Chisu, either. Less than five minutes after finding his other people, he has already lost them. "...I see."

"Is something the matter?" Oishi asks kindly, and he frowns at the concern in Oishi's eyes. Oishi is a stranger – well, not quite a stranger now but close, but something about Oishi's honest gaze makes him want to trust him.

"Fine," he says, and is both warmed and annoyed when Oishi's smile turns understanding, looking more like an older brother. "You came here to do something, right?" he asks pointedly, and Oishi blinks.

"Oh, yes, I did. Thank you for reminding me." Oishi sounds so sincere, he almost regrets being annoyed. Oishi smiles again, and pulls out a flower. "Here, take some heartease. I think I took too many today. They always help me sleep better."

"...Thanks," he replies, accepting the handful of pale pink flowers. Oishi smiles at him before disappearing deeper into the forest. It is not until Oishi is gone from the sight that he realizes Oishi must be the Mage visiting his village.

When the evening falls, he makes his way back to the village, and sneaks into the village's only inn, to the east-side room that no one ever takes. He does this whenever he comes back late and doesn't want to disturb anyone. The innkeeper is fond of him, as is his plump, good-natured wife, and they always welcome him, but he still makes it a point to help out in the inn the next day.

Tonight, though, he's in for a surprise. As soon as he opens the window and slips inside, fire appears out of nowhere, lighting up the room, and to his surprise, Oishi is standing near the bed, the flame dancing over his open palm.

"Oishi," he says, surprised.

"Eiji," Oishi says, equally surprised.

They both laugh. Oishi tells him about his journey to Mirhea, and he tells Oishi about his life in the village. They spend the most of the night talking, and eventually fall asleep in the room together. The next morning he tags along when Oishi goes to examine the patients, and to their great relief, it is not the epidemic that has been spreading through the surrounding villages. Oishi's potions and salves are very effective, and where those fail, his gift of healing readily assists him.

Sometimes, when he watches Oishi focused and intent, he feels an irrational urge to step between Oishi and his work, so the green eyes would focus on him and only him, but those impulses are few and far in between. One evening, he comes over to Oishi's room, and just outside the door, hears another voice in the room.

"...picking up strays again, aren't you, Oishi? Every time you are away..." The voice is soft with an amused lilt, and he frowns.

"That's not it," Oishi protests, and he can imagine exactly what expression Oishi would have on his face. There is a pause, then Oishi speaks again. "He seems happy here. The villagers are fond of him." It hits him then that Oishi and the stranger are talking about him. He narrows his eyes and steps closer to the door to listen. "I never expected any place could be this accepting to a half-Sprite. It's a very encouraging sign." He frowns. It never occurred to him that aside from the annoying, curious stares, other people might not be so accepting about those like him.

"So, when do I get to see your stray kitten?" the voice asks, amusement clearer in the tone.


His impatience gets better of him, and he opens the door without knocking, but stops short at the threshold. Where is the person Oishi was speaking to?

"Eiji," Oishi says, mildly surprised. "Did you need me for something?"

"I, um," he stammers in response. "I just wanted to see you," he blurts out, regretting the words the moment they leave his mouth. Oishi looks half flustered and half pleased, and they spend the next few seconds smiling at each other awkwardly until the mirror speaks, drawing both their attention to it.

"Oishi, aren't you going to introduce me to your new friend?"

He blinks at the talking mirror, which has a face in it. It is a young face, about Oishi's age, with a pleasant smile and measuring eyes. Oishi murmurs an apology, moving aside so the young man in the mirror has a clearer view of him.

"Fuji, meet Eiji. Eiji, this is Fuji," Oishi says, indicating the young man in the mirror. "He is a good friend of mine."

He finds himself wondering crossly, 'How good a friend?' What he says instead is, "Pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure is entirely mine," Fuji replies with a sparkling friendliness that can only be false. "I do hope I will have a chance to meet you in person in the future." The tone is so laden with meaning that he cannot help wrinkling his nose, although to the side he can see Oishi shrugging good-naturedly.

"In that case, I hope you will be less creepy in person," he retorts back; Fuji's overly cheerful smile is beginning to grate on his nerves. To his displeasure, Fuji's smile does not diminish, although it might have become less artificial.

"It's been lovely speaking to you both, but I'm sure Oishi had an exhausting day. I will leave you to yourselves," Fuji says, and Oishi laughs and bids Fuji good night. As soon as the mirror goes blank, he turns to Oishi.

"He's your friend?" he asks, disbelief plain in his tone. It seems unnatural that an open and sweet person like Oishi could be friends with someone so closed and measured. And weird.

"He's been a very good friend to me for many years," Oishi replies firmly. "He has a habit of testing people he meets for the first time, but he isn't a malicious person." He blinks, realizing he has underestimated Oishi. Just because Oishi is kind and trusting, it doesn't make him any less perceptive. "At least that I know. So please refrain from making the same judgment that most people make of Fuji at the first glance," Oishi finishes.

"Why?" he asks, petulant, stung by Oishi's unshakable defense on Fuji's behalf.

"Because you are far too perceptive and kind to make that mistake," Oishi replies without hesitation.

It takes him a moment to process that, and when he does, he cannot help a pleased smile. "Fine." Then, he adds, "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

Two weeks later, when Oishi leaves Mirhea, Kikumaru Eiji accompanies him to Moltania. He never looks back.

Notes: Cetera-influenced cultures, including Oishi's home village, place a special importance on given names. For the Cetera, Family name is a birthright, but given name is a gift from the parents, an acknowledgment of the child's place in the family and society. Only family members, close friends, or lovers (also, in some cases, mentors and pupils) would call an individual by his given name. Inviting someone to use one's given name is often used as a euphemistic way of expressing a desire for intimate relationship, hence Oishi's embarrassment when Eiji invites him to call him by given name. Eiji's village is relatively uninfluenced by the Cetera culture, and Eiji of course has no idea.

Chisu have a strong belief in fate. A Chisu legend has it that if two people meet three times in a single day by complete accident, they are fated to be together forever. Many Chisu are known to marry for that reason alone, though Eiji, not having grown up among them, doesn't know about it. The Chisu are famous for having harmonious and happy marriages, so much that when one of the pair dies, the other often follows very shortly.

Crossposted at http://shiraume-fic.dreamwidth.org/29150.html.

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