Drifting on a Wind
by Andrew Huang
Homepage: A Leaf in Winter
Shizumaru woke early.
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He always woke early, just as the sun was beginning to rise. Unless he
was completely exhausted the night before from training, fighting,
traveling--whatever it was--he would be up as dawn was breaking. The young
man didn't know why it always happened that way. It just did
The same couldn't be said of his traveling companion. Sometimes she would
rise about the same time he did, other times...not. As he sat up and
surveyed the clearing in which they had camped for tonight, he saw this was
one of those not-times. Across from the ashes of the small fire they had
built last night, what appeared to be a large bundle of cloth lay rather
still. The only sign that it was something other than that was a faint rise
and fall indicative of breathing. Somewhere in there lay Rimururu, as she
continued to sleep.
Shizumaru smiled faintly. They had been traveling a couple of weeks
now, after meeting near a village destroyed by some evil force. He had
thought it was the demon he'd been seeking, she had thought it was Amakusa
Shiro Tokisada, the power-mad sorceror aligned with strange forces beyond
their understanding. After a small series of misadventures, including some
bullheadedness on his own part and then a chance encounter with Amakusa,
the two had decided to seek out their goals together. After all, they
seemed to understand each other.
Wait. Why was his hand reaching toward her?
Shizumaru found himself crouching right next to Rimururu, right by where
her head emerged from her blankets. She had her face buried in the cloth,
leaving only her mop of hair visible. His fingers were scant inches away
from touching these short brown locks. He blinked, face burning a bright
red. What was he doing?
In an instant, he had snatched his hand back, an apology already forming
on his lips. He stopped, though, once he realized that she was still
asleep. The blush was still hot on his cheeks, now compounded with the
foolishness he felt. He groaned softly, put a hand to his forehead. "...I
must still be tired," Shizumaru muttered to himself.
At this point, Rimururu mumbled something unintelligible in Ainu, and
rolled over. Shizumaru's ears pricked slightly; she'd been trying to teach
him her language, and he was naturally curious what she was saying. That,
however, was very quickly forgotten as her face came into view. A faint
smile was on her lips.
She was really cute.
And his hand was reaching out again, this time to touch her cheek.
The boy leapt backward, bowed, and blurted out, "Excuse me, Rimururu-
san! Forgive my rudeness!" heedless of the fact that she still hadn't woken
up. He then turned around and headed off toward the nearby stream to wash
his face and regain his senses with a couple splashes of cold water.
Behind him, Rimururu raised her head, blinked muzzily at the form of
Shizumaru's retreating figure, then went back to sleep, blissfully ignorant
of this whole affair.
"Shizumaru, is something wrong?"
"Hm? What, Rimururu-san?"
"You've been acting strange this morning, ever since I woke up. And your
face is turning red again. Are you sick?"
Shizumaru suddenly found a hand touching his cheek. He froze.
"You're a little warm. See, you're sweating! We'd better take a rest."
His mouth open and closed soundlessly, until Rimururu finally took her
hand away--eliciting a sigh of relief, but also faintly of disappointment--
and gently but firmly steered him toward a large fallen log by the side of
the road. "Sit," she commanded. He did so.
Rimururu sat down right next to him and dug around in her pack before
extracting a waterskin. "Here, have some."
Shizumaru accepted and took a sip of water. His mouth was remarkably dry.
"Thank you, Rimururu-san," he said, glancing toward her.
She smiled. He had to look away before his face flushed yet again.
The two of them sat in relaxed silence, watching the leaves of the trees
lining the road flutter lightly. The sun shone, birds chirped. The air was
"It is a perfect day," murmured Shizumaru softly.
"Yes, it is." Were the log high enough off the ground that Rimururu's
feet could dangle in the air, she would have been swinging her legs idly.
"Ah. Where were we going again?"
Rimururu turned to Shizumaru, looking slightly peeved. "Toward Edo, of
course! You heard the rumors of strange attacks around there, too."
"Right," answered Shizumaru. He fell silent, looking downward. "But...I
thought Edo was to the east. I believe we have been traveling west."
"I mean, we have been heading away from the sun this morning. Well, now
we are going toward it, as it is now afternoon. So that means--"
"Why didn't you point this out earlier?" interrupted Rimururu, suddenly.
The peeved look returned, but stronger. She sprang up and loomed over
Shizumaru, who instinctively leaned back.
She wasn't nearly as cute this way. Well, actually...maybe she was. In a
different manner. Kind of scary, though.
"Because I...was following...you...and...." Shizumaru stopped, hung his
head. "I do not know."
The girl let out a heartfelt groan. "Argh. Why didn't I realize it
myself?" she muttered darkly. "Get up. We have a lot of distance to make
up." With nary a further word, she reached for her pack, spun on her heel,
and marched back down the way they had come. Shizumaru stared at her
retreating figure, then jumped up and hurried after.
"We should have passed the site where we'd camped by now, but I didn't
see any sign of it."
"But we did follow the same road. We had to have."
"Stop just nodding and say something!"
Shizumaru nodded. So Rimururu whapped him.
"Ow! Rimururu-san! Why did you do that?"
Rimururu grumbled in frustration. "Because you're not helping! We have to
find our way again...this forest is too thick." Her eyes scanned the
region. None of this looked familiar.
"Perhaps we missed a turn somewhere farther back?" Shizumaru suggested,
still rubbing his head where Rimururu had hit him.
"I'm telling you, we're still following the same way we came!" she
snapped, spinning to face him.
He shrank away slightly from the outburst, feeling her glare start to
burn into him. "You need not yell, Rimururu-san," he said, scowling a bit.
She stared at him, then softened. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done
that.... I'm not used to being lost." She sighed. "I'm not used to being so
far away from home--I know my way around there, but not here."
Shizumaru smiled back at her. "It is all right," he answered. "I
Rimururu blushed. Shizumaru wondered why, until he looked down at his
hand. It had developed a mind of its own again, and had reached out to
take hers in a gentle grip. Now he blushed, and let go, stepping away.
"Ah. Um. I suppose we should...try to get our bearings," he quickly said.
"We need to see our way farther from this point, somehow."
"I can...I can go climb a tree and take a look, perhaps?"
Rimururu nodded. Then she realized what she was doing, and finally spoke.
"I'll climb with you. Uh, let's go up that tree." And she was off toward a
large oak, dropping her pack on the ground before starting upward.
"Wa...wait for me!"
The ascent was quick, as both of them were rather agile. They soon found
themselves near the top of the tree, and looked around, straining their
eyes for familiar landmarks. It was quite tall, and they could see for
miles, it seemed.
"I cannot see that clearing...."
"I can't either. But...wait, is that the stream that ran next to our
"Over here. Let me show y--Shizu!"
As Rimururu turned, she had accidentally elbowed him, knocking him badly
off balance. He windmilled slightly to regain his balance; she almost
managed to grab his hand, but just barely missed. He fell off the branch.
Rimururu looked very panicked, Shizumaru decided, as he pitched off the
tree. Much more than was warranted. But then, she'd never seen him use his
umbrella this way quite yet.
That is to say, after the second it took him to reorient himself,
Shizumaru whipped his bamboo umbrella off his back next to his sword where
he'd strapped it earlier, snapped it open, and caught the air with it.
Instead of plummeting like a rock, as Rimururu apparently had expected, he
drifted down almost like a feather.
He could only imagine her wide-eyed look as she stared down after him, as
his view of above was blocked out by the wide span of oiled cloth. As he
floated, he kicked himself away from the lower branches that grew out from
the tree. Eventually, he touched down on the ground, where he closed the
umbrella and looked up.
Rimururu was already scrambling back down the side of the tree.
"I'msosorryareyouokay? Shizu!" She leapt down from the lowest branch,
panting not out of exertion but rather from relieved fear, and was by his
side in a moment.
"I am fine, Rimururu-san. Do not worry." He managed to smile at her.
Rimururu was not so easily calmed, though, and looked near tears. "I'm so
sorry! I'm not usually clumsy like that, but...oh, you scared me so much! I
didn't want to hurt you!" she almost wailed.
"But you did not hurt me! I am all right--please, stop, you need not--
umf." Thud. The young man was presently interrupted in mid-handwaving-
reassurance by a sudden tackling hug. Rimururu threw her arms around his
midsection, and hence threw him to the ground on his back, where he landed
with a light bump of his head. "Ow. Rimu...ruru-san, now you are hurting
She didn't seem to hear him at first, instead simply burying her face in
his chest. "I'm sorry!" she continued to say, somewhat muffled.
She is overreacting, thought Shizumaru. His arms instinctively wrapped
back around her, and he tried to pat her comfortingly. Hmm. This was kind
Rimururu finally lifted her head up, looking straight at Shizumaru. Their
eyes met, and time froze for just a few moments.
"Are you okay, Shizu?" she said, quietly.
Shizumaru started to nod, then said, "Yes."
Another moment passed, then both laughed nervously at the same time.
Instead of a sudden springing away from each other--or rather, Rimururu
jumping off of Shizumaru and him then scrambling away--they slowly picked
themselves up off the ground. Both were blushing badly, neither exactly
sure why. In silence, they brushed the dust off and reassembled their gear.
"So," said Shizumaru, finally, "you saw the stream that we had followed
"Yeah, I think so," Rimururu answered, softly.
"Let us go that way, then."
The stream had turned out to be a bit farther than Rimururu thought. Even
after an hour's walk, there was no sign of it from ground level. No choice
but to continue on, though.
"Yes, Rimururu-san?" He noted that she was now calling him by an
"Can you show me how to float on your umbrella like you did back there?"
Shizumaru frowned slightly, and glanced at said object. "Well...it is not
as easy as it might look. You need to learn how to balance while hanging on
to the handle. Otherwise, you might tilt badly and then fall."
"Oh." Rimururu didn't sound too disheartened, but didn't say any more
"How much do you weigh?" he asked, before he could stop himself.
Oddly enough, Rimururu didn't seem to mind the question. "About six
stone," she said. "Maybe a little less. Why?"
Shizumaru nodded. "I weigh a little more than seven." He held up his
umbrella, regarded it carefully. "I am not sure how much weight this can
hold at once. It is strong, but it may not be that strong."
"Mm? Are you thinking of carrying me on it?" Rimururu grinned.
He smiled back at her, and nodded. "But again, I do not know if it could
bear both of us at once. Or, for that matter, how well I could balance with
you along for a ride."
Her face fell. "Oh well."
They continued walking a little longer.
"You don't have to call me -san. Just call me Rimururu."
He paused, then nodded. "Okay...Rimururu."
"Anyway," she continued blithely, "how much farther do you think it is to
There was another silence. Then, he answered, "I do not know. I did not
get a chance to see the stream when we were back there on the tree."
"...oh yeah." Twitch. "Um. Then maybe we should climb another tree and
look again?" A faint note of embarrassment could be detected in her voice.
Both stopped, looked at each other. Shizumaru nodded slowly. "Why not?"
They found another tall oak, and carefully made their way up, Rimururu
first. She seemed to move with an extra measure of caution, often glancing
downward as if to check on Shizumaru as he followed. Soon, they were once
again in the canopy of the forest.
"There it is." Rimururu pointed.
Shizumaru sighted down her arm from behind her, leaning against a leafy
branch to steady himself. After a few seconds of peering through the
greenery, he said, "Ah, yes. I can see it. Hmm...once we get there and
follow it, it should lead us to Edo."
"Sounds great." She turned her head to speak to him over her shoulder.
"Can we rest first, though? We've been walking a while."
Shizumaru nodded once, then began the descent. When he had almost reached
the bottom, about the jump down to the ground, he glanced up, and found
Rimururu moving out onto a large branch just above. "Rimururu? What are you
"I like it up here. I think it'd be nice to take a break right in this
tree." She settled herself down on the branch, then beckoned. "Come on. I
promise I won't knock you off again."
She grinned, and he smiled back at her, after a moment. "All right." It
was not difficult for him to clamber back up and settle down, to her right.
They were close enough that their hips almost brushed against each other.
The branch was quite wide, so there was little worry about falling by
accident. Not too much, at least.
Now, Rimururu swung her legs freely, while humming a soft tune. Shizumaru
relaxed, and looked out into the forest. He could actually see a bit of the
stream from here.
"How much longer until sundown?" he asked, after a while.
"We've got several hours, I think. Plenty of time. It's summer, after
A breeze suddenly gusted through, bringing with it a few stray leaves--
and some dust.
"Rimururu? Are you all right? What is it?"
"Something got in my eye," she said, clapping her hand over her face.
Shizumaru reached out, taking her shoulder so as to steady her. "Here,
let me see." She lifted her hand away, revealing a slightly reddened eye.
He reached up and brushed the tear away, and peered into it. "Hmm...I
think your tears washed it away. You will be fine."
"Th...thank you, Shizu."
Now he realized how close he was to her. He could see his own face
reflected in her large, liquid brown eyes. It was only with great presence
of mind that he prevented himself from jerking away suddenly, because that
might have unbalanced one or both enough for a spill out of the tree.
"Ah...um." In fact, he wasn't moving away at all. And neither was she. They
Another gust of wind flowed through, momentarily breaking the spell.
Shizumaru quickly (but carefully) took the umbrella off his back and opened
it, holding it out in front of both of them to create a shield. When the
wind passed, he did not close it, but simply moved it upright, above the
two of them.
They simply looked out over the forest, not speaking.
It was awkward, yet not awkward. The slightly tense air was in a way
expectant and exciting. One waited for the other to speak, but was bursting
to say something first. In the end, as such situations tend to go, they
turned to each other at the same time.
And both stopped, of course. Then laughed, easing that tension just a
bit. Shizumaru's left hand, the free one, reached for Rimururu's right,
clasping it. She entwined her fingers in his and squeezed gently. Each was
blushing furiously at this point, but neither seemed to care, or even
"Rimururu? Have you ever...."
Shizumaru couldn't work up the courage to ask it out loud, but Rimururu
somehow caught on.
"No...the boys back at Kamui Kotan always thought...always thought that
my sister and I were kind of strange. And I guess, before now, I never
really thought about...." She shrugged, and smiled weakly.
He nodded, fell silent, before responding. "And I...well, you know that I
have kept myself apart from other people my entire life." He chuckled
softly. "I am glad that I met you."
Words ceased once more, and they just looked into each others' eyes,
"Do you want to kiss me?"
Rimururu shifted on the branch nervously. She looked about as surprised
as Shizumaru was at her own question. "Um. Do you want to kiss me?"
Shizumaru stared at her. Her eyes were wide open, inquisitive, uncertain.
But they also held a sparkle of expectation. She unconsciously licked her
lips, and he reflexively did the same. While continuing to study her face
and this possibility before him, he found himself suddenly unable to speak.
So he decided not to, and instead, slowly leaned toward her. She did
likewise, tilting her head slightly as he neared.
Their lips met, hesitantly. She felt soft, warm, moist. They drew apart
for a moment, as if slightly stunned by this tingling touch, then moved
forward again to press more firmly against each other. Shizumaru closed his
eyes, as he felt the warmth spread from the kiss throughout the rest of his
body. Her hand tightened around his, and he squeezed back in response. His
heart hammered, his blood pounded, and yet, a part of him was at such
The wind picked up once again, buffeting the umbrella slightly. With
reluctance, they finally pulled away from each other, blinking slowly.
Before he could even open his mouth to say anything, though, Rimururu
leaned against Shizumaru, nestling her head on his shoulder. He let go of
her hand, wrapped his arm around her waist, and drew her against himself,
resting his cheek against the top of her head. She smelled of earth and oak
and pine and frost; she felt like a cloud that had drifted into his
They stayed like this for a while longer. Minutes? Hours? Seconds?
Whatever. He couldn't tell, he didn't care. How foolish of him to have
wanted to say something earlier; this was all that was necessary.
A brush against the base of his neck. She had slowly moved her arm up and
across his back, and her fingers faintly tickled him there.
"Shizu?" she murmured.
"Do you want to kiss me again?"
Shizumaru laughed softly. "I do, but...."
"It would kinda ruin the first one to do it again so soon?"
Rimururu just nodded.
"We really should resume traveling, though."
"I know. I do not want to move either."
And more silence. Only heartbeats, soft breathing, and the rustling wind.