|One's Own Sword
Author: Khrysalis PM
[Repost, vers. 2] To save one life, just one person, how far beyond the beyond is Kenshin willing to go?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Words: 4,717 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 13 - Published: 03-26-06 - id: 2861657
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Dragons returning from all sides, or so it would seem.
The reason for a rewrite in this case is because of some "help" I received from my cousin in writing a few chapters a few years ago, where I found out that the ideas she gave me weren't exactly her own. She borrowed an idea or two from our late grandmother's saucy novel collections. A fact I didn't like when I found out, which spawned a bit of fight between us that's ended by now, though not without a very long lecture on the importance of giving credit when you "borrow" ideas, and a thorough grilling to determine if it ever happened in the past. Nonetheless, while the relative "damage" to my fanfic wasn't so very bad, and could have been adjusted without too much of a fuss, it was becoming too much of a headache to sort through the papers and bits I'd written the original on, so I decided while I was going to edit it a bit anyway, to reorder things a little. The story will be essentially the same, but there are a lot of differences, beginning with the fact that this time, little Thursday decides not to sneak away from Kenshin on the night he met her, and I've widened out in the middle and the end to give the rest of the Kenshingumi more involvement than they had in the original. They had plenty to do already, I just decided to drive them a little more crazy.
So, once again: Heavy involvement of an original character. Thursday Shaw/Taura is an incarnation of Kenshin's adoptive older sister from my AU Brother of Dragons, to be blunt instead of vague for once. And, again, updates for this one are fairly low priority, and is still being written for my own indulgence. Rating still high for major violence and adult situations. Traditional pairings.
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin was fashioned by Nobuhiro Watsuki-sensei. There are a few evil corporations that also have a hand on the beloved rurouni, however they may harm or benefit him. I make no profit in my strange little hobby of writing about him
Acclaimhold, with all its characters, victims, and horrors does belong to me. It's a twisted thing, but it's my twisted thing.
An Early Year
Kenshin eyed the pile of wood with a little touch of dismay. It was certainly a lot larger than he had expected, and he was already weary from his travels, making the task seem all the more daunting.
He glanced up at the darkening sky. There wasn't exactly time to find a suitable place to camp and find material for a fire as well. And it was, he knew, going to be another cold night. It would be nice to spend at least one of these nights under a roof, with perhaps more nourishing fare than he'd had in a while warming his insides…
It did still seem to be a bit much for one night's hospitality, but his chore wouldn't get done with him just staring at it, so Kenshin slipped off his travel-stained hoari, tied back his sleeves and reached for the axe.
It was truly getting dark before he paused to re-tie dampened hair, coming loose from the seemingly unending labor. He was half-finished with the pile, and it seemed like it would never end. But he'd finish. He'd do as promised.
He leaned down to lift another chunk of wood when the voice of his host float to him on the light, chilly breeze. It was soft, a bit regretful, which surprised him, since he'd found the man, even offering grudging generosity, to be terse and gruff.
"Sorry, Child. I had no way of knowing you'd be coming by today. I already gave your work and food away…"
Kenshin frowned, a bit of sinking feeling in his stomach as he moved away from the woodpile and turned the corner of the house.
Standing on the porch, Kenichiro-san stood, as gritty and stern as when Kenshin had first met him and asked if he might work for his stay of the night. His eyes had softened only slightly as he gazed down on the strange child standing on the ground below him.
She was very young, possibly just gracing the beginning of adolescence, if even that old. She seemed too thin for her short, stocky frame, and was dressed oddly, wearing pants of a tough, blue material Kenshin had a time or two seen westerners wearing. An ragged hoari entirely too large for her hung over shirt that looked to be held together in the front with shiny, translucent buttons. Kenshin wondered idly what they were made of, the buttons.
She turned her head to see him, and he had time to observe a pale, sad face that looked like it never had a reason to smile. She was a pretty little girl, nonetheless, with a heart-shaped face, a gentle, wide mouth, and large, round, oaken-brown eyes. But perhaps most striking about her was her hair…
It was not an unusual color, a simple dark-brown, just a shade away from being black, and it looked to be soft and wispy. It was unusual in how very, very long it was. She'd plaited it into two long, thick braids, the ends of which hung nearly to her ankles.
Standing in a nervous and slightly defensive posture, head ducked and fingers laced in front of her stomach, the child had a very exotic and vulnerable look to her--which suddenly made Kenshin very nervous. She looked so alone…and there were those who would be more than to take advantage of that kind of defenselessness.
He blinked from his brief lapse into thought, realizing she was staring at him. Her wide eyes lingered over his face for a moment, her head cocking slightly to one side. A look passed over her face, one that he could only describe as…tenderness.
Then she looked away, nodded to Kenichiro-san, completely accepting of the situation. The situation, Kenshin realized with a start, that she had come for the same thing as he had, to work for a place to stay for the night. From the old man's words, she had probably done this a few times, and now, because of him…
She turned, obviously preparing to seek shelter elsewhere.
"Wait!" Kenshin called out. He looked to the old man. "Please, if there's nothing else she might do, this one would not mind to share what he's earned with her."
The old man's mouth twisted, but he didn't really seem annoyed. In fact, he actually seemed a little relieved. "Whatever you want. It's your portion." He turned and stamped back into his house. "Dinner will be ready when you're done."
"Thank you, Sir," Kenshin said after him.
Once Kenichiro-san was gone, he turned back to the child, who was standing in the same place, her dark eyes staring at him uncertainly. He smiled at her, hoping to put her at ease.
"This one will hurry and then we can eat," he promised.
He bowed to her briefly then moved swiftly back to the pile. She was probably hungry. He'd like to talk to her, but he could do so after his work was done and they had eaten their meal.
He reached for a chunk of wood, and was surprised when two small hands with stout little fingers got to it first.
She had followed him. He watched as she hesitantly placed the piece of wood on the block and then stood back. The message was clear: she wanted to help.
He smiled encouragingly at her, and her own mouth quirked slightly at one side, eyes smiling shyly.
He cut a few logs in silence, with her gathering the split sides to stack, and setting another chunk before him between swings.
"This one is Kenshin," he offered, keeping his voice cheerful. "What's your name?"
She fumbled the next log, her mouth opening to answer. She hesitated.
"It's all right," he said softly. "This one would just like to know what he should call you."
She carefully set the log on block. "I-I'm sorry. I just don't like telling someone my name for the first time."
"Oh. Is it a strange name?" Kenshin had a feeling it would be. The girl had an unusual accent that he couldn't quite place. Japanese was not her first language.
"Yes, it's a strange name," she said with another small smile. "I don't think you'll have an easy time pronouncing it."
He listened to her speech with interest, still trying to think where she could be from. She spoke well, with excellent diction, but there was still a very obvious accent. He didn't mind; it wasn't unpleasing to the ears. Her tones were low, the vowels smooth and flat instead of high and sharp like the speech patterns of the English.
"This one will certainly try to say your name correctly," he assured her gently.
"Thursday November Shaw." He watched as her mouth slowly and carefully formed each syllable of what was indeed a very strange-sounding name.
"That is much more like a western date than a name," smiling again to show he meant no offense by the statement.
"Yes, but it is my name, nonetheless. My brothers named me. They…had a strange sense of humor." A shadow passed over her face, but she seemed to force it away. "You, um…can call me Taura if that's easier for you to say."
"If you don't mind, Taura-dono. That's a very pretty name."
He wished he hadn't said that the moment the words came out, actually biting down on his tongue a little. She had suggested an alternate name, and he had suggested that it was nicer than her real one. It was true he thought "Taura" was pretty, and it was easier to pronounce, but that didn't mean he had a right to…
He opened his mouth to apologize, but the words died when she suddenly smiled. She real smile, not at all like the small ones she showed him so far. "One of my brothers didn't like the name the others chose, so he called me that. I'm glad you like it."
Something rang unsaid within those words, but Kenshin was only relieved he hadn't affronted the girl with his careless words.
They finally finished the pile in another comfortable silence before Kenshin collected his things and lead her inside.
Kenichiro-san's home wasn't much, but there was at least two rooms to it. The old man grumbled at Kenshin for taking so long, gestured to a pot of stew set out in a blatant indication they should serve themselves and announced he was going to bed.
"You two can sleep here by the fire. And you," he said, pointing a finger at Thursday. "You eat the damn stew slowly and don't choke on it this time. I'm not going to change my mind and take it away from you, all right?"
She ducked her head and blushed.
Kenshin thanked their host, who only grunted and vanished into the next room, leaving Kenshin to take two bowls and serve the stew.
It wasn't a great amount, but it smelled good and his mouth watered. He made sure Thursday had a larger portion without it really being noticeable that he had done so.
Once the girl had the bowl in her hands, she seemed to try to comply with Kenichiro-san's wishes to eat slowly, but as Kenshin watched with a growing tightness in his gut, she seemed to lose whatever control she had when the broth hit her mouth, shaking as she tried to shovel as much in her mouth as she could at once.
"Taura-dono! Easy, easy!" Kenshin reached out and stayed her hands, easing the bowl to rest in her lap. "This one won't take your food from you either. It's okay. Just eat slowly."
Shaking even more now, her face was red as she stared at her bowl.
Kenshin swallowed hard. "How…long as it been since you last ate?"
Her jaw tightened. "Must be about four days now, I think," she whispered roughly, as if the words were dragged unwillingly from her lips.
Kenshin nearly choked. Four days? If he'd known that, he'd never have let this child run around hauling wood!
Still unable to look at him, she went back to eating her stew, at a more temperate pace this time.
Kenshin ate very little of his, and slowly, keeping an eye on Thursday's bowl until it was empty. When she set it aside, he held his own out to her. She blinked at it, her forehead scrunching as she looked up, mouth opening to refuse.
"You take this," Kenshin, eyebrows raised, ordered quietly but firmly. While she had been eating, he had considered trying to trick or beg her to eat his portion as well, but somehow, he sensed she might respond better to the gentle command.
He was right. She didn't look exactly happy as she took his bowl, but she really needed the food. He didn't mind giving up his meal at all.
After the second bowl was empty, Kenshin stacked the dishes aside for washing later. He glanced at Thursday, who was leaning with her back against the wall, looking sleepy.
He hesitated, then asked, "Where are your parents, Taura-dono?"
"As far as I know, I don't have any," Thursday answered, rubbing one brown eye with the heel of her hand. "I was raised by my brothers."
"Where are they?"
"All four dead." The same shadow he had seen earlier crossed her features again.
"I'm so sorry." What else could he say?
"You look like one of them."
"One of…your brothers?"
"Yes. I have a picture. Would you like to see?"
There was such a look of hope on her childish features that he might like to look at her picture that he couldn't refuse even if he wanted to. He nodded, and she crawled closer to him. Kneeling at his side, she reached into her shirt and pulled out a circular pendant that hung from a chain around her neck. Her fingers caught a latch in the side, and the pendant opened, separated into two connected halves.
Inside were two intricate little paintings which she held out closely for him to see. The left half portrayed three young men, all obviously brothers. Two looked nearly identical, with sandy hair and matching, manic grins. The third had lighter hair than they, with a more subdued smile. In the right half was another young man, the brother Thursday had said Kenshin resembled.
And she was right. The young man in the portrait had a sharper jawline than Kenshin's, a broader face, and his eyes were a deeper shade of blue, but only a little more so on all accounts. His hair was exactly the same hue and luster of red as Kenshin's, though. He even wore it tied back into a low, shoulder-length tail.
And Thursday herself was also in the portrait, held closely by her red-haired brother. Several years younger than she was now, she also looked vastly different by the happiness shining her large brown eyes. Her long brown hair was in one braid instead of two, her head tucked under the chin of the young man.
Sadness filled Kenshin as he looked up from the girl's locket. But she was mostly expressionless as she closed it and tucked it away into her shirt again. "How old are you?"
"Thirteen. How old are you?"
"You are the same age they would be," she mused, sitting back on her heels. "They were all the same age. They were quadruplets."
"Where are you and your brothers from?" He had given up on trying to tell by her accent.
"United States. State of North Carolina."
"That is…very far away," Kenshin breathed.
"Yes," Thursday agreed, with a look that suggested to Kenshin that home was perhaps farther away than he knew.
"Who taught you to speak Japanese?"
"We were taught to speak Japanese, Scots-Gaelic, and English. And I know maybe five hundred words of Spanish that I learned on my own."
"Could I…ask you something?" she whispered, eyes half-closing.
"Of course, Taura-dono."
"May…may I hug you?"
He blinked, a little taken-aback by the unexpected request. As she asked the question, she had risen up with one knee, turned, ready to move away from him if he refused. Her face was downcast, shadowed by her wispy bangs.
But part of Kenshin already understood. Almost before the words were completely out of her mouth. He understood a feeling, deep longing he hadn't felt since he was a child, and something he had learned to live without a long, long time ago.
Smiling gently, Kenshin spread his hands, palms out, in his answer. No sooner was the gesture complete when Thursday all but collapsed into his embrace.
It had been a long time since he had held anyone, or been held by anyone like this, but he remembered what he had liked. He held her gently, but closely, completely. He relaxed his body as she leaned her face against his shoulder, bent his body away from the wall to give her small hands room to circle around his back, letting her know, without saying, that he did not mind if she stayed there as long as she needed to.
Moments passed. He had wondered if she'd cry, but she didn't. She only kept still, and so did he. She would move away first, he decided.
The same sadness as before filled him again, as he sat there, hugging the young stranger. This child had been protected and cherished and well-loved once. He could see that in the locket she wore at her heart, feel it in the way she clung to him, because he resembled a big brother that could no longer hold her this way.
The shadows swayed a little longer before she began to slowly, reluctantly extract herself from his arms. He let her go just as slowly, steadying her as she sat back again on her heels.
She had a more peaceful look on her face, looking back at him with sleepy gratitude. "Thank you," she whispered.
He smiled gently, then watched as she crawled away from him, curling up near the fire.
What could he do to help her? Kenshin watched her breathing turn easy and deep as she sank deeper into sleep.
If she were one of his own people, it wouldn't be so difficult. He could have helped her find someone to take her in, care for her. But it would be much more difficult for the outlandish little girl to fit in here, even if she could speak the language fluently. Perhaps it was best that she go back to the United States, to…North Carolina, she said?
It was uncomfortable to think that even if he could find a way to get her onto a boat and on her way, quality of life might not improve much for her. But at least she'd be with her own people, in more familiar surroundings and customs. It was difficult enough being an orphan without being in a strange land as well.
But then, what was she doing here in the first place?
He would talk with her more in the morning, he decided. He really had no idea what to do with her… But with a little more information, he would think of something. She was only a child, she needed help. He would do what he could.
He was glad he'd picked a small, out-of-the way restaurant to feed her, where there weren't so many eyes. Already he'd found himself looking up to glare once or twice at anyone who was smiling a little too obviously, snickering a little too loudly at a half-grown foreign girl who didn't know how to use her eating utensils.
For her part, though, Thursday didn't seem to notice if anyone thought her ignorance was funny, her concentration fully on learning how to eat with the sticks.
She wasn't especially adept at learning. Her hands were clumsy. Little, but far more boyish than feminine, with nails that were square rather than oval. Even Kenshin's own hands held much more grace. But she was determined, and that in itself was admirable, especially when she eventually was able to maneuver the sticks in her own fingers instead of holding them out again for assistance.
He was unconscious of the muscle that worked in his jaw while he watched her. This was far more worrisome that he first thought. She had the language almost perfectly--he'd only made minor corrections here and there, always small things like the emphasis on the wrong syllable or adding an extra syllable onto words that only required one (which she had explained was simply a catch of her natural accent called a "southern diphthong", whatever on earth that was). But that was pretty much all, the language. She didn't really know anything more about Japan, was only somewhat aware that the country was still trying to find its way after a long and bloody revolution, was not versed in any way about customs, how different manners and dress were, and, perhaps most distressingly, she couldn't read.
Or more accurately, she could read, but only Latin characters, which did her no good here.
"Taura-dono--" he began, and she lifted her head quickly, a slight smile pulling at her lips that suggested that she knew what he might be about to say.
Well, it was good if one of them did. He had no idea himself. Would you like to be shipped back to the States now?
"…why did you come to Japan?" he decided finally.
Somehow, the answer didn't surprise him. Disconcerted him. Made him begin to feel just how hard this job he was undertaking would be. But surprised, no. It made sense, in its way.
She laid the chopsticks down, absently massaging at her fingers with her other hand. She frowned, dark eyes growing both hard and distant.
"Nossir, you shouldn't worry about it. It's not for you to get involved."
He found himself fighting his own smile. In spite of the seriousness he sensed in the situation, there was just something funny about such words in her youthful voice, the rise of her chin and the set of her soft, childish jaw.
When he was certain he had won his battle against the smile he said, "This one doesn't know how not to get involved, Taura-dono. It would be easier to protect you than not be involved."
Thursday managed to maintain silence until they left the restaurant. In another person, he might have thought it stubborn, but there was a tremor that went through her each time he verbally persisted. Like she wanted to tell him, to give into the help and protection he offered--and was actually forcing herself not to.
Otherwise she was remarkably compliant to any other suggestion he made. She stayed with him when he asked, following him away from the little town and back onto the road.
Such was she at his side for the next day, and as he observed her, he found her not only adept at traveling, but at roughing it also. She didn't seem to find it uncomfortable to sleep on the ground, didn't complain of any of the distances they walked.
She was, he could admit easily, a pleasant travel companion. While not overly talkative (he had to initiate all conversations), she was articulate and sweet, and the more hours he spent in her company, the more of a shy but warm personality he began to uncover in her.
With a little patience, she began to open up a little.
It began with the sentence, "I like the weather here more than Scotland."
They were walking along a hard-packed path with strictly-manicured fields on either side, the lines of civilization blurred over the rises of the land. Kenshin, who had began the conversation talking of weather, latched onto the small piece of information.
"Oh. You've been to Scotland?"
She nodded, absently twirling the end of one of her braids around her fingers. "My brothers were born in Scotland. I thought they might have some family there, but no. It was nice; Scotland's very beautiful. So green. But it rains so much. All the time. That country doesn't have many wanderers."
Kenshin felt his mouth thin. There was one question answered at least: she didn't have any other family to care for her. She had already been looking, but there was none.
The night of the third day he had been looking after her, he was nearing his wit's end. She remain reticent when it came to her troubles, but she had at least given up the name of the one she feared the most.
She said the name, with a cold shiver passing through her, shrinking back away from the shadows around her as if his very name might evoke him right at their little rest site. Linton. Linton Acclaim.
"What does…Rintonu want with you, Taura-dono?"
But she only shook her head and looked away, looking so white with suppressed emotion that he reluctantly let it go. His touch-and-go method was yielding results. There was no need to push it. But…
She didn't want to go back to America because she was afraid of this mysterious man. The four older brothers who had raised her were dead and she had no other family. She seemed to have ways of getting around, especially amazing distances from her home such as Scotland and Japan, and who knew where else? She was only thirteen years old and had no way to support herself in any country.
He hadn't the vaguest idea what to do with her.
Leaving her alone wasn't an option, either. So, then, what? Let her continue to tag along with him? For how long?
He allowed a fourth day to pass as they skirted along the last of the farmland and headed toward town. In a hopeful conversation, another new name came up.
"Doctor Satterthwait," she said. She rubbed the back of her neck, looking at the ground. "He works for Linton. He hurts me."
Such was not entirely an unusual thing for a child to say of a doctor, but Thursday wasn't young enough not to know better.
Still… "What is Doctor S-satsuterufuait a doctor of?"
"He's a…geneticist. He breeds people until he gets the traits he's looking for."
Kenshin stopped walking. "He…what?"
She stopped too, looking up at him. "He breeds people. There was another doctor who did this for the Acclaims too, before his time. And one before that, of sorts. They breed for strength, intelligence, temperament, and other such things."
He watched her face. Pale, smooth, unblemished by even so much as a freckle, dark eyes wide with seriousness and the fear that he was finally coming to understand.
"Taura, did he…did he want to try to breed you?"
"I'm not old enough yet, but in a couple of years, yes, Sir."