|The DualEdged Blade
Author: Syngen Segumi PM
Kenshin returns from Kyoto and has an Epic religious experience. AP, and spiritual themes (Continuing) A little Lime, no Lemon.Rated: Fiction M - English - Supernatural/Fantasy - Chapters: 7 - Words: 46,579 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 09-25-02 - Published: 09-17-02 - id: 971849
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer Notice: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin or any of the characters created thereof. I did create Hikari all on my own, though.
When the passageway opened into the cavern, she could see that they had interrupted something serious. She raised one of her swords and called out to her creator as she bore down on the small crowd of oni and their commanders. White light shot out from the ceiling to her upraised blade, surrounding her and her friends in a flaming nimbus of divine protection. A black withering cloud swept toward her, and staggered her back. Thousands of voices screamed in her head, begging for control as her skin burned where the foulness touched her. She continued forward, magic firing in every direction, ignoring the burning and pain. She had to close the gap.
Something moved to meet her. She raised her arm again, turning the blade sideways and aiming her metal-covered fist at it. The word escaped her lips and a blue wave of force knocked the thing back. She charged on, smashing into it with the power and speed her purpose gave her. As she overran the beast, she took advantage of the added height to leap upward and forward, planning to land in the middle of the largest group of demons. Right before she landed, she snapped her wings out wide again, and spoke the word He had given her. Her voice rolled through the air like distant thunder, the divinity snapped like lightning, and in a flash, the ring she landed in was cleared.
She turned to continue, black hair whipping around her in ribbons of razor-edged midnight, her eyes a rabid balefire green as they locked on to her next target. Finally, she thought, some real action.
The nimbus around her flared in an attempt to protect her from another magical assault, but it fell, buckling around the force that pushed through it. Everything went white.
The purple curtain of sky was spotted with sparkling stars as the silence of the night seemed to breathe in time with the sleepers in the dojo. Kenshin leaned inside the doorway, barely asleep, his sword on his shoulder, his breathing becoming slower. He never quite saw the depth of sleep, as the sky suddenly flashed white with lightning and he heard the dull thud just outside. He sprang forward in his crouch, sliding the shoji to the side just enough to peer around the edge.
What he saw stopped his heart in his chest. More out of surprise than fear. White fires were dying around a sort of human form crumpled in the courtyard. Two wings, colored with pointed feathers ranging from blood red to brilliant yellow arched from her back, one of them was clearly broken, snapped nearly in two near the top, where blood seeped its way down toward the ground. It was female, the shape of her as she struggled to stand gave that away. Kenshin stuck his hand out to the side, stopping the inslaught of Kaoru, Yahiko, and Sanosuke. "It may not be safe Miss Kaoru," he whispered quietly, nodding toward one of the blades on the ground near her hand.
The creature tucked her knees under her, trying to get the leverage to stand, and after a couple of tries, managed to get upright. It did look human, sort of. It was tall, with delicate aquiline features. It's green eyes seemed luminous in the moonlight, and its ears were pointed, and stuck out of the black locks that now tumbled down around her face in disarray. She wore armor of some sort on certain parts of her body. Her chest was covered with a plate, but it looked like a fabric made from metal, that extended from her throat to a few inches below her navel. It fit tightly, but didn't seem to restrict her movements as she nudged her toe beneath her sword. She had another sword in a metal hand. Her entire right arm was covered with obviously heavy armor. Her left arm had a metal cuff that extended from wrist to elbow. She wore shin guards which looked to be black trimmed with gold, tight fitting trousers in black and high boots. She flicked the fallen sword up in the air and caught it deftly with her left hand, though the movement of her arm caused her to almost fall down again in pain. A fresh stream of blood trickled from her broken wing.
"Fetch Miss Megumi," Kaoru said, forgetting to whisper. The green eyes blinked, and she jumped in surprise. She swung her less armored arm out and the air filled with a shrieking louder than fireworks. She said something. Yelled it actually, but it couldn't be understood. Kenshin batted away the projectile with his blade, and stepped out of the house.
"What are you and what do you want?" He kept the blade up, pointed at her. That was when he saw her blades. They were edged on both sides, and their sharpness gleamed in the moonlight. Four blades to his one?
She answered. Again, incomprehensibly. When she saw Kenshin stare, his intention to cut her down, she looked up at the sky and said something again, this time different. While Kenshin couldn't understand what she said, it sounded musical, alive. It sang inside him and he felt an itching inside his head. The white fires around her finally died away, drifting between the two like wisps of smoke.
"Do I have to kill you?" She said plaintively...he understood her!
"Not unless you want to." He answered.
"I never want to kill anyone. Things, sometimes; people, never. Who are you, and where are we?"
"I am Kenshin and this is Miss Kaoru's house. Who are you and why are you here?" He watched her put both blades away at her hips. Somehow the need for formality seemed pointless. She had touched something in him to be able to understand him and so that he could understand her, but he sensed that she was truly unsuited to be here, and wouldn't understand the formality if it were offered.
She bent over a bit, her face contorted in pain, "Listen, this really hurts. Is there anything anyone here can do about it?"
Kenshin looked at those swords, still within easy reach of someone who was probably a skilled swordsman..er..woman..er...thing. "Miss Kaoru was kind enough to send for a doctor. If you can promise you're not here to hurt anyone, then I'll let you thank her yourself."
She understood, and unfastened the belts that held her swords in place. These she tied with a thong, peace bonding them. He could hear her whisper as she did so, and when she dropped them at her feet, they were neatly tied in their saya, not to be removed. His own violet eyes widened again in surprise. No sword master would surrender their weapons so easily. He looked back at her, her head hanging against her chest as the pain obviously was trying to win over her consciousness. He started to speak.
Her voice was strained as she interrupted him, "Anything to make you feel safe. My pride does not need to be protected. My wounds need to be tended. I will answer anything if I can be put to the air again." She tried to crane the wounded wing around to see the damage, but the attempt only elicited the most horrible cry from her throat. Kenshin felt her pain for just an instant, and his eyes teared up briefly in empathy. He realized that she was painfully beautiful, and something in him stirred. He understood that she wasn't an evil creature. She meant no harm to him or anyone. He felt her confusion, and her abandonment. Something had abandoned her. But why? He blinked, realizing that he was sensing her thoughts beyond hiten mitsurugi.
"Don't be afraid Kenshin. You were closest to me, so you were chosen. I can't understand anyone else, and no one else can understand me. Our languages are so different that thought had to be included in the gift. I can feel your intentions as I hear you talk. And the same goes for you. If that doesn't make you feel safe, I don't know what would. That you will be able to feel my intentions, and you will know if ever I mean harm."
She raised her eyes past his shoulder into the depths of the dojo where Sano stood, waiting to see what would happen. Beyond him Yahiko came with Miss Megumi and Kaoru. Megumi stepped down in the courtyard and stopped dead cold. Her hands flew to her mouth.
"Tell her not to be scared Kenshin," the creature's frantic voice sounded like bells in a storm, "If she screams it will only draw more attention."
"Miss Megumi, have you not met my new friend? She needs help and is hurt badly. I assured her that you were the very best and that you would have her well again in no time." Kenshin led Megumi to the creature, who dropped to one knee as a courtesy, and tried to angle herself in such a way that the wound was easy to reach.
"Kenshin, what is this?" Megumi whispered, gingerly touching the feathers of the wing presented in front of her, "is it real?"
"I don't know, and quite so. She's nice, just in trouble I think," Kenshin turned a concerned eye to the front, where the creature's head was bowed. "You should tell me your name," he whispered, "If you have one."
The whisper was barely audible, but he saw a brilliant ray of light breaking the night sky and realized that she was trying to convey the name to him with the meaning.
The exchange went on for a while as Megumi ministered to the wound. At her instance, the creature removed the armor over her right arm and chest. Kaoru came to pick them up with the swords and she touched the girl on the hand, Kaoru couldn't understand the voice, but seemed surprised by its gentleness and the way it seemed to reach in at the heart.
Kenshin looked up from where he sat beside her, keeping vigil, he didn't raise his eyes as he said, "She says that those things are very precious to her. She says her.." he stopped, he knew the word was kami-sama, but that wasn't the image he received. He felt tenderness, a fatherly warmth, the tickle of a lover's breath against the ear, and overwhelming love and consumption for this being, and yet, there was a distance between them. He raised his eyes at Kaoru, "She just wants to know they are safe."
Kaoru looked at the creature, who, through the pain seemed beautifully vulnerable and weak, though she looked strong. "I will put them where I keep my own father's sword. They can be no safer."
Even before Kenshin could translate, he saw her bow her head, in thanks.
Megumi eventually finished tending the wound and left the creature sleeping in a quiet room while she spoke with Kenshin and Kaoru, "Kenshin, have you had any bad dreams lately? Any regrets that have surfaced and been eating away at you?"
Kenshin looked at her confused. Images from the creature still seeped into his mind, beautiful things, terrible things, and it was difficult to hear through the barrage of dream images he was taking in.
"Because I think that's a Kami. A lesser one, sent here for a purpose. Judging by the way she is dressed, I would think her a kami of vengeance, which means she is very likely after you, Kenshin. Someone must have called her down on you and she must have gotten hurt during the calling."
Kenshin nodded. "She feels alone. As if she were torn away from her home and her family. I know how she feels."
Kaoru pulled at Kenshin's sleeve, "Kenshin! Didn't you hear her? How can you feel sorry for someone or something that was sent here to kill you?"
Megumi nodded, "You're the only person who can understand her when she speaks. She looks like some kind of sword master. It's a reasonable conclusion."
Kaoru looked at Megumi, "Is there a way to stop it?"
Megumi looked down, "If the kami could be defeated or killed, then it would not come after Ken-san. But is very bad luck for someone to harm a divine agent; even if they are not here of their own will."
Kaoru nodded, "Well then I guess we'll just have to deal with the run of bad luck." She stood up and moved toward the door where the kami was sleeping, "I can't let her kill Kenshin." She slid the door back and fell on her back in surprise as the tip of a sword protruded out of the opening. The kami stepped into the room, one of the double edged swords pointed at Kaoru's throat.
"Tell her that it takes a low breed of dog to kill someone in their sleep. Tell her that I thank her for her hospitality up to the point she decided I had to die. Tell her also that her death will be quick and merciful, and that I wish her no suffering." The kami's voice was hard and merciless.
Kenshin saw the regret. He felt the pain in her as she prepared her mind to kill Kaoru. Her bandaged wing bled under the wrappings, bleeding red into white bandages. He saw into her mind clearly as his hand closed around his own sword. He saw a whirling motion as the second sword rose and focused its point on him.
Kenshin stopped the blade with his own. "Don't do this. She won't kill you. She's only protecting me. If you are here for me, then you'll have to fight me. Just leave her out of this."
The motion she made as she turned her head and raised her brow at Kenshin were like water. Her loose smile was like the breeze, wanting to kiss him, but dancing away, "My pride may not need tending but yours does. Pardon me Mighty Himura as I step to a side to allow room for your vanity."
Her singsong voice only enhanced the taunt, and Kenshin bowed his head in embarrassment, "Forgive me, Kami-sama."
She shrugged at him, "Listen, this is not going to get any of us anywhere. You can't translate for me while they're talking to you, and frankly, they probably wouldn't believe me anyway. Can we get out of here? I promise no harm to anyone in this house as long as I am in it."
Kenshin relayed the words of the kami to the rest of the group. Their protests rose up in a cacophony of protectiveness. Kenshin raised a hand to still them. "I don't think this is everything we think it is. And I can't listen to you and her at the same time. Please. I'll be safe, she promises."
A few more minutes of cajoling got them alone, and the pair walked back outside.
"Tell me Kenshin Himura. Why do you think I came for you?" she asked him, not looking at him, but letting her words pierce him.
Kenshin looked at the path as they walked, "Megumi thinks you are a Kami of vengeance and that you were coming to take vengeance upon me."
"Why would anyone want to take vengeance upon you? Kindness is not something to be punished." She sat down upon a large rock. Her wing was bound in a folded position, but she stretched the other one out to a side.
Kenshin found a similar rock and sat facing her, "Things weren't always like this." Thoughts of the Hitokiri Battousai surfaced in his mind. Tomoe and blood and rain. He felt a sudden warmth, and realized that the kami was there with him, searching through his mind. They seemed to be walking together in a garden of images.
"You did some pretty dumb stuff," she said. She looked over the images that preoccupied his mind. Her face, delicate and strong at once, screwed up in a scowl. He could understand her name. She was the Lightseeker. "Why?"
"Because I thought it was the right thing to do."
"Oh. I can see the argument where killing is necessary to protect. But killing never preserves anything. Death brings change, no matter whose death it is. You have to find the foresight to understand what changes are coming because of the death that you are about to cause."
"I don't kill now. Even for my own safety."
The Lightseeker kicked at a passing memory, a fast kill, amber eyes, blood, "These are the actions of a child. This Battousai you fear isn't so much to be afraid of. He's a child. He's pouty and whiny and insistent. Just because he's violent is no new reason to fear him. As they are the actions of a child, they are in the past. Why do you fight with your past so much?"
"I'm afraid that the Battousai will take over again."
"You're afraid of a child?" Her tone was almost mocking, though her touch was warm and gentle as she pushed one of the locks of red hair from his face. She turned the coppery locks around in her hand studying them intently. "Himura, the Battousai can no more return than you can go back and erase his existence. Because there is no him and you. You are both the same person. Your denial of that fact is what makes your life so difficult."
He looked up at her, the harsh green of her gaze seemed a little softer. Her features, which were so sharp and severe a moment ago had softened to something warm and comforting. "Your talk makes it sound easy. But it isn't."
"My talk is just that. Talk. You're right. It's not supposed to be easy. It's not like you are a child anymore, doing what you are told and not having to take responsibility for your actions. Childhood was simple. Adulthood is useful." She draped an arm around his shoulders casually, "How useful has your maturity been Himura? Because your immaturity was a leach on the world."
He hung his head, he didn't know how to interpret her touch. It was gentle and comforting, The skin on the underside of her wrist where it touched his shoulder was hot and dry. He could feel the life pulsing there. Was she just toying with him before she tried to kill him? The thought surfaced before them both, as he had forgotten they were in his mind.
"Now that's a mean thought. Have I shown you anything but tenderness? Have I attacked you once? Since you showed yourself to me and didn't try to kill me right away, have I given you anything but the love I have for something I separated from? Excluding that little bit back there where I was trying to keep your girlfriend from killing me."
The scenery switched, and they were in a dank cavern where sulphur stank up the air. Then they were in a place were all was white and a deep voice said, "Where you go, I will not follow. My child, I can not carry you forever. You must find your own way home."
There she was, in the white, whole and vibrant, her hand outreached toward something, "I can't bear the pain of separation from you. Ease the agony that will be my existence. It will not keep me from finding my way into you again"
A face merged from the light, and thin lithe body not unlike the Kami's. His hands reached out to her and touched her face. He folded her into an embrace. "My child, I have loved you as well as any other, and better than most. You must find your own way."
The man kissed her, with both the tenderness of a father and the passion of a lover. He was her creator. Kenshin understood that. He looked at the battered kami beside him.
"I understand vengeance now less than I ever did. How could vengeance have such love? How could vengeance not relish its work?" Kenshin's voice broke the reverie and pulled them both back onto the rocks in the garden.
"Has it ever occurred to you that you are not sitting here with Vengeance? Though if you would like to know about the misery of vengeance, I will be happy to relate the story."
"You are not the kami of vengeance, come to punish me for my inhumanity?" Kenshin peered at her through the red fall of hair over his eyes. Her response was only to shake her head.
He sighed, "That's good then. Which Kami are you?"
The Lightseeker shrugged, "I guess it's a sort of guardian. I protect people who can't protect themselves." He could feel her struggling for a way to explain herself. trying to find words that would make sense to him.
"So you're here to protect me?" Kenshin pondered the idea.
She shrugged again, "But that's not why I came. I came because someone called my name, I think. It all happened so fast. I was fighting, defending, and then everything went bright white and I didn't have any ground under me. Which explains my fall and my broken wing. It was a bad calling though, and I'm not pleased to answer it at all. Someone's going to pay for this."
"So where is home?" Kenshin asked, just as his mind filled with a wild untamed landscape of spiring trees and jagged mountains clawing at the purple and blue sky. He saw verdant fields rippling in distant foreign breezes. And he saw the people, her people, the Kami who walked in the trees and danced in the sunlight.
"It's a wonderful place," He smiled, a little envious of the peace she could enjoy.
"Here's not so bad, for a mortal," she looked around.
Kenshin looked at her and shrugged.
She curled her knees to her chest and hugged them there. She was looking at Kenshin, studying his face. He realized that she had withdrawn from his mind, and he could only hear the words.
"How can we get you home?" Kenshin asked, his longing for her return genuine. He ached to feel the love and connection the Kami brought with her.
She shrugged again, shutting herself off from him. The reality of her situation was starting to sink in. She was really very stuck, and it would take some time. "If I can get my wing healed, I can hide them. I also can think a little more clearly without the interruption of the pain." She still stared at Kenshin, hard.
It was a strange feeling of disconnection. Her cadences were like music, and her voice naturally portrayed her emotions, but without the mental link between them, he felt as though he could only see her reflection. The words sounded hollow, not resonating with the brilliance and color that he was fast becoming accustomed to.
"That would be handy to help you walk around in public. You may find your answers out there." He forced complacency into his voice and his gaze, not daring to break eye contact with her. She was unsettling enough when she was trying to be friendly. This was just plain disturbing. She was still staring at him. Hiten Mitsurugi apparently only works when faced with the like-minded. He had seen inside her mind, felt her pain and desolation. She did not think like him, and he could not read her.
She had shut herself off from him because she had seen the answer. She didn't like it, didn't agree with it, and wasn't ready to try and explain it to him yet. She tilted her head to one side, letting the knee-length locks fall over the edge of the stone, "Is there a river or something like that around here?"
"There is. Why? Night time is hardly the best time to fish," He still held eye contact. Her green eyes fairly glowed at him.
"I need a bath. I was in a messy battle before I landed here, and there are very likely places on me that are still hurt and need cleaning." She turned her wrist over and tried to peer up under the bracer that was there. She was in a half state of undress, her metal arm had been put away. So had the swords, but she had apparently found those, and they lay across her lap, folded up in her knee-hug so that the hilts stuck out on one side of her hips and the blades stuck out on the other. She had taken off her shoes and had not bothered to put them on when they came outside, so bare toes curled over the round surface of the stone. She still wore the bracer and the chest armor, and he had just now noticed a small satchel at her hip. It was brown and hooked onto yet another belt. He stared at that, deciding that it was easier than having to look into those ancient and frightening eyes.
"You bathe in the river?" He sounded surprised. "It's cold and wouldn't you be afraid someone would see you?"
"Yes, yes it is, and I've never really cared about that anyway. If someone has nothing better to do with their time than to watch me bathe, then I guess it's better than them doing nothing." She watched him watching her hip. "Something wrong? Did I get hit?" She turned a bit and sent both blades clattering to the ground. She looked back up immediately to see Kenshin going for the swords. He felt the connection flood open in his mind as he reached forward to catch the blades. She didn't trust him, he knew it. She was rifling his mind to search out his intent.
He caught them both before the hilts touched the ground, and in hefting them, was surprised by their lightness. The tsuba of the blades were not plain discs or coins, but elaborate tongues of flame that reached part of the way down the blade and arced up to the pommel in a spiral of reddish gold flames reaching for the silvery crescent moon in the pommel. There were markings down the blade, delicate curling and curving lines that he could not understand. He raised his eyes to meet hers, and focused on her. He could feel himself taking control over the link, and saw the images of her mind. Not the ones she wanted to show him, but some of the dirty laundry too. He saw the blood running down the blades, he saw them clashed together and shattering into millions of tiny shards as they ripped the flesh and powdered the bone. He saw the raw power of destruction that she could be. He saw her fighting style, a combination of speed and strength. She overpowered her foes, and drove them down before her. She could hit several times in very rapid succession, but he saw that she lost accuracy with each swing.
She felt him in her mind, going after the things an opponent would go for. He couldn't be allowed to see those things. If Kenshin and his childhood were her key to getting out of this place, she was not going to feed either one of them any more advantage than necessary. She leapt to her feet and picked up both the blades. She scowled at him, "What's the matter Battousai? Still trying to glean secrets from me? Which one do you want? My deepest regret? Take it, then, I'm not the hiding sort."
It looked to Kenshin like a black bolt shot across the space to hit him in the forehead, and he staggered forward onto his knees as he saw the image drawing to life.
It was a room, vast and wide, lit by many open flames. He looked back to see other Kami, maybe four of them, getting back to their feet. He realized he was in the Lightseeker's mind as it had been on this day. The room was filled with horrid monsters, Oni, they had to be. In the center of them was a kami, who rallied the oni to flight. He felt the rage inside her at the profanity of the act. There was a horrible feeling of betrayal and hatred. He felt the strength roiling within him. He crawled up and crouched onto the ledge of the opening, and could feel his brain calculating the distances between him and the betrayer.
He knew that with his strength, he could push out from the wall and have enough momentum going to not lose much altitude when he opened his wings. A couple of solid flaps, and a turning down of the fronts to account for the slight decline between him and the target, and he could interrupt her and knock her prone.
Thought became action, and the ground was rushing beneath him as he focused in on his target. She looked at him in surprise, throwing her hands up defensively a breath before the two collided. He wrapped his arms around her and brought her down hard on the ground. The two tumbled and he found himself on top of her, knees pressed into her shoulders, the blade, one of those twin blades, laid across her bare throat.
"I surrender," the betrayer said, her voice flat and meaningless, "Take me to the authorities."
He felt the rage inside him, a roiling mess of unadulterated anger and hatred, "How could you." He heard the Lightseeker's voice say. It was not a question.
"I don't believe you." Kenshin felt the hatred, an all-consuming kind of thing. He genuinely didn't believe the Kami pinned beneath him, but the emotion was overriding the logic.
Before he could comprehend what was happening, he saw the steel of the blade slide across the throat, and a spray of blood stung his eyes. He rolled away, leaving the lifeless body of the kami behind him as he tumbled down.
Then he felt it. The ripping. There was a rending inside that tore his heart into pieces. He felt the ripping pain in his back as his wings fell away, and he was struck to his knees in sorrow for the abandonment he felt. He had been asked for quarter, and he had denied.
It was the sin that was the regret, not the death. Somehow, he understood the death, the change it would bring. It was the sin he was not prepared for, that the Lightseeker had not been prepared for. She had angered her creator, and his wrath had torn her apart in pain and grief for his separation from her.
Kenshin felt the pull from this scene of grief and loss, and blinked his eyes as he turned around into the light.
He rolled over onto a side, the throbbing in his head dulling out. He squinted through glaring moonlight to see a shape coming up the garden path.
He blinked some more of the pain away and when he opened his eyes, he was staring at a bare foot. The foot led to a bare ankle, which led to a bare shin, which led to the realization that he was lying on the ground.
Kenshin rolled onto his back and looked up into the face of the kami, "Do you feel that regret now?"
She shook her head, wet tendrils of black dripping cold river water into his face, "No. I feel cold and wet now. Do you trust me?"
Kenshin thought it over. She hadn't actually tried to hurt anyone deliberately. When she had acted, it had been out of fear and pain. He sat up slowly and held a hand out to her, "Help me up, please."
She gripped his hand firmly, and pulled him to his feet. He saw that she was wearing a long cloak and not much else, the satchel and her clothes were in her hand. He had never been this close to her physically, and he looked up into her face. Her eyes spoke volumes, though the link between them did not.
"If you are going to trust me, you have to do it blind," she whispered.
"Are you going to trust me?" Kenshin whispered in reply.
She blinked slowly, thinking. "My choices in that are few. If I don't trust you, I wander this world in the hopes that a new answer will present itself. I will not understand anyone who speaks to me, nor will anyone understand me. If my wing doesn't heal properly, I will not only no longer be able to fly, but will probably be kidnaped and put in a circus freak show as some sort of fallen angel."
She touched the scar on his cheek, and his first impulse was to recoil, but her eyes stopped him, "If I do trust you. I can help you as you help me. I will know companionship. And my wing is more likely to heal with proper care. Kenshin, all scars fade with time," She turned his jaw a little to see the cross-shaped scar better, "I only regret that you can't live long enough to see these fade away to nothing."
She leaned in and kissed the scar gently. Kenshin felt the warmth of her breath and the brush of her eyelashes against his cheek. He almost jumped away, but realized that it wasn't an amorous kiss. It was almost motherly in its tenderness.
"I trust you Kenshin Himura."
He looked at her again, a mixture of surprise and relief in his eyes, "Then I trust you Hikari." He used Japanese word for her name slowly, so that she could learn to pronounce it.
She tried it, "Hi-ka-ri. I like it. What does it mean?"
"Light," Kenshin replied. "If we have to explain who our visitor is, I will tell them that our friend Hikari Sogasu has arrived for a visit."
Hikari, nodded in approval, "I like that. Can we sleep now? I'm very tired and very much in pain and very much not able to stand up for much longer."
Kenshin nodded and offered his hand, "I think I can explain this to Miss Kaoru and Sano and Yahiko."
She shook her head, "I said I trust you. Not them. I'll find a tree or a mossy spot or something. But I won't risk anyone killing me in my sleep."
"I'll protect you," he said. It was a strange thought to him. The idea of protecting a kami, one that might be trying to trick him for revenge for something, someone else... Despite his nagging doubts, he couldn't look at her and believe that. There was an air of rightness to her, her supreme confidence had been shaken, but she seemed to find comfort in her actions. "If you like, you can sit up with me while I explain, but you have to keep quiet. It's very hard for me to talk to them, listen to you, and have you thinking so loudly in my head all at once. You can speak if you need to, but think carefully. My mind isn't like yours, and its hard for me to comprehend everything you say."
Hikari cocked her head at him, "I didn't think about it like that. I'm sorry. I will sit with you and help answer questions." It was a strange thought sequence to her as well. The idea of submitting to a human, surrendering to him when his mind wasn't strong enough to communicate with her in the way of things divinely joined, still, she was wounded, and this Kenshin was her connection point. Whatever it takes.
She stuck her hand from the cloak and took his, letting him lead her back to the building. It would soon be too late for sensible sleep, but no one would be able to sleep with the discord she had caused. She freed her hand from his as they walked, and fished the toga like dress from her satchel. She threw the cloak over Kenshin's head, "Hold this."
She shrugged the short dress over her head, it's open back accommodating around her wounded wing. She pulled the cloak from Kenshin's shoulder, and dropped her things into it, balling it up to make it easier to carry. She then reached ahead of her and took his hand again, "Lead on, mighty warrior."
Kenshin raised a brow. He had never heard of someone dressing or undressing as openly as she did. She must truly not care about social propriety. Then again, she had dressed before going into the house. He nodded, realizing that she cared less about his discomfort than the discomfort of the people they were going to see.
When they made it into the house, Kenshin kneeled on the tatami in front of Kaoru, Sanosuke, and Yahiko. Hikari the kami sat down unceremoniously, crossing her legs in a sort of relaxed lotus position.
He bowed and said to them, "I think we have come to an understanding." The trio looked at the kami suspiciously, eyeing her up and down. She looked at the tatami, then closed her eyes, to better listen to Kenshin.
"The Kami is named Hikari Sogasu, the Seeker of Light. She is not here of her own will, but of someone else's and is trapped for time being. She told me that she didn't mean to scare anyone and is usually a very careful person. She says that she is sorry to have frightened you or led you to believe that she meant any harm," Kenshin spoke gently, his voice seemed to soothe the mood of the room.
"Miss Megumi was mistaken. Hikari-dono is a guardian spirit, protecting warriors from the influences of bad spirits. In the course of a great battle, a dark priest sent her away, and she landed here. The reason I can understand her is because I was the first person she saw, and she did not want to start another fight. She respectfully asks Kaoru-dono for her hospitality until she is healed and can go home."
Kaoru watched the kami, "That sounds very convenient for her. Are you sure she isn't lying? She could be taking advantage of you."
Hikari could only feel the suspicion that Kenshin detected, she pulled back further, staying quiet. Then she felt his attention focused on her, and she looked up. Whatever humility there was, it was not in her eyes. She spoke, holding back the floodgates of empathic emotions and imagery that were instinct to her.
Sano listened to the kami, her voice was soft, and truly sounded like some distant musical instrument. She had a singsong quality to her voice that was soothing and lively. She spoke to Kenshin, and he seemed to understand her. He seemed relaxed around her, which was strange for him.
"Beside the fact that we've agreed to trust each other, Hikari says that even if she were here to hurt anyone, she can't hurt anyone in a house that offers her its hospitality. So logically, if we help the Kami, it can't hurt anyone." Kenshin's left eye snapped shut briefly, winking at Hikari. He brushed at his face, but saw that she had seen it, and she nodded at the trio.
Kaoru shook her head, "How am I supposed to feed you three, myself and a kami? What do Kami eat anyway?"
Hikari smiled, feeling the relief in Kenshin's mind as he asked her the question. "Hikari-dono, what do kami eat? And can you help to ease Kaoru's mind about taking in another wanderer?"
Hikari's gentle smile warmed him, and she couldn't resist letting him feel the warmth in her reply, "Kami eat things that taste good. Also, I would think that a kami would never leave herself indebted to a hostess. Assure Kaoru that not only am I an excellent fisher, but the good fortune that will be visited on her house will bring her much luck."
Kenshin chuckled, the warmth of her mental embrace relaxing him further, he smiled at Kaoru and said, "The kami says to not worry. She would not leave herself in your debt. She also says that kami eat things that taste good."
Yahiko, unable to resist, the Kami's chi spreading a warmth through the room, looked at her with very serious brown eyes. He blinked at her and said, "Then get out of here while you can. Nothing Kaoru makes tastes good."
Hikari couldn't understand him and only blinked at him in reply. Kenshin looked back at her, a look of happy helplessness on his face as Kaoru rose up from behind Yahiko and popped him in the head with an open hand. The strike at the child, and Hikari's lack of understanding, caused her to draw Yahiko up in her arms protectively, and glare at Kaoru.
The action didn't help Yahiko at all, who nestled happily into the protective embrace and stuck his tongue out at Kaoru. Kaoru railed back to hit Yahiko again, only to feel the steely grip of fingers around her wrist. The Kami had reached out and grabbed Kaoru's wrist to keep her from hitting Yahiko.
Kaoru pulled away, knowing that the kami had released her voluntarily, a little surprised at the strength. Kenshin laughed and waved his hand to get Kaoru's attention, "I told you it was a guardian spirit. She won't let anyone get hurt."
Hikari rubbed the back of Yahiko's head, and finding no lump, pushed him out of her lap. "Tell him that I may be protective, but sometimes he has to fight his own battles."
Kenshin relayed the message, and Yahiko, realizing what it meant, took off out of the room, Kaoru hot on his heels.
Sano still leaned against the wall, studying the kami. He was turning a smooth metal disk over in his hand. He held it up in two fingers for the kami to see its sharp edges. "If she's some kind of protector, why did she try to take someone's head with this?"
Kenshin looked at the disk, "What is that?"
Sano flipped it like a large coin, "You stopped this from hitting Yahiko or Kaoru earlier tonight."
Hikari recognized it right away and fished her bracer out of her cloak. She held it up to Sano, splaying it open so that he could see the row of disks inside and the slit in the top. He looked at the set up. "Not bad. She's got a trick up her sleeve, literally." He reached for it and she handed it to him. He turned it over in his hands, looking at the designs and engraving on the outside. He turned it back over to her, "You'll have to show me how it works sometime."
The act of her baring that secret was enough to convince Sano that she was at least being sincere. She looked over at Kenshin who was scratching the back of his head. She said something, sounding expectant. Kenshin repeated what Sano had said.
She looked at Sano, and Sano realized this was the first time he had ever looked her in the eye. She stood up, comfortably taller than he, and smiled at him. She took the bracer from him and took a lock of his dark hair in her hand and tugged at it gently.
She then looked imploringly at Kenshin, who just in that moment, she realized was an attractive young man. "Sleep now?"
A short exchange explained that she still wanted him to stay in the same room with her. She still didn't trust everyone yet, and that the problem would fix itself in time.
Kenshin agreed, if for no other reason, than to get some much needed sleep, and led the way to his room.
He rolled out the futon for her, and found some extra covers in case she got cold. "You question my manners and civility and you people sleep on the floor." she mumbled. She extracted her swords and other belongings from her cloak and laid them out carefully. She then blew out the lantern, "Sleep well Kenshin Himura. Thank you for everything."
She watched him settle into his spot near the door, sword resting on his shoulder. She slipped out of the dress and under the covers, shutting her eyes in the hopes that this had not been taken from her as well.
Kenshin opened his eyes sleepily, looking over at the kami asleep on the futon. He blinked a couple of times and then shook his head. She didn't wear anything to sleep in. She slept on her stomach, head cradled in her folded arms. The moonlight limned the soft curve of her back down to the top of the covers, which only half-covered the swell of her hips. He could see the outside curve of a breast, bathed in the shadows of her body. Painfully beautiful hadn't been the word for it. He was truly unworthy.
He walked over to pull the covers up a bit, and couldn't resist the urge. He knelt beside her as she slept and ever so gently touched the wing that wasn't hurt. It was soft like a cloud and warm. He turned his hand, catching a couple of downy feathers on his fingertips. They were blood red, and molded over the ends of his fingers. He leaned in closer, to see where the wing connected with her body. There, the feathers faded and thinned and gave way to skin. He touched there, and felt her stir. The feathers there where ghostly and thin. He followed the line from her shoulder blade into the wing, feeling the feathers develop under his fingertips.
Then he looked at her ear, for the first time seeing it clearly, not hidden in her hair. It was not just a little pointed. The tip swept up and back toward the crown of her skull. In the moonlight, her skin looked translucent with a pearly glow. He leaned even further forward to see her face in the moonlight. As he strained over her, her face changed into a smile and she blinked at him.
He yelped and slipped on his hands, landing across her back. She yelped in pain, and bit into the futon hard to keep from screaming. Kenshin corrected himself quickly and apologized desperately.
Her eyes turned bright trying to withhold the tears. She blinked them back, breathing through her nose heavily, still biting down on the futon. He reached out to touch her shoulder, "Hikari-dono. Please forgive me, I didn't mean to hurt you."
She looked at him and forced the pain down. She released to futon to tell him, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have scared you. It's my fault not yours." She sat up and saw the pain and regret in his expression. She opened an arm to him, "Come here..what do you call yourself, Sessha? What does that mean?"
He couldn't argue with her warmth, and soon found himself nestled in her embrace. His head rested in the span between the hollow of her collarbone and the swell of her breast. If he had thought about it, he felt nothing but safe where he was. He was protected and warm and surrounded by love. He wrapped his arms around a narrow waist and closed his eyes. He sighed into the flesh, which smelled not of flowers or things feminine, but like a distant orchard in a rainstorm. She smelled of earth and air and water and warmth. This primal motherhood, this supreme sense of comfort and safety was totally new to him. He closed his eyes and for just that instant, he knew why Hikari's heart had been broken.
She felt the tear slip down her chest, but ignored its tickling as she held him close to her. She stroked his hair, red like sunsets, poppies, things molten and smoldering. She touched his face lightly and buried her nose in the top of his head. He smelled faintly of sandalwood and sweat and water. She clasped him to her, letting him know what it was to be protected. Just once. It would be just as painful, she thought, to be separate from this one as it is from the other.
Slowly and gently, she pushed open the link between them, letting him say what he wanted and feel what he wanted. His closed eyes led him into sleep, deeper and quieter than he had ever known, and her past became his dream world. Here he flew and played and hunted and fished and lived fully and completely in the comfort and safety she had always known.
Eventually, she closed her eyes and slept, resting her head on top of his and breathing in his hair.
The light in the room woke Kenshin with a start. He found himself entangled in the futon and covers, though he didn't remember lying down. He was alone, and briefly he wondered if last night had all been a dream.
He disengaged himself from the covers and saw that last night had not been a dream. Hikari's belongings were still carefully laid out near an interior wall. Kenshin cleaned up as best he could, smiling to himself as he did so. He felt so very awake and rested. The smell of something cooking led him to the door, and there on the porch sat Kaoru, Sano and Yahiko eating breakfast.
"Kenshin!" Kaoru waved at him, her smile was bright and cheery. As he walked over he saw a fourth tray had been set out.
"They were sitting out here when we woke up. I wonder where they came from?" Kaoru scooted over to make room for Kenshin who sat down next to a steaming bowl of rice with fish mixed in it, a slice of bread or cake brimming with fruits and nuts, and a tea cup filled with cold well water.
"Well, Miss Kaoru. Hikari-dono promised you good fortune." Kenshin picked up his chopsticks and tasted the food, which was good. Not professional chef quality by any means, but certainly edible and made with great care and consideration.
"Where is the kami?" Sano asked around a mouth full of food. He craned his neck around the corner and shrugged.
Yahiko swallowed, "Wherever she is, she's not a bad cook. Maybe we should keep her Kaoru? It would give Kenshin a break."
Kaoru's hand swung back out of habit more than anything. Kenshin tapped her on the wrist, "Miss Kaoru. Remember what happened the last time you hit him."
Yahiko stuck his tongue out in glee. Sano kicked at him, "And don't you forget what happened to you when you got yourself in trouble last either."
Both heads bowed in humility and went back to eating their breakfast. Kaoru mumbled, "Besides, who said the kami cooked anything? Who ever heard of such a thing? She probably just summoned it up or enslaved someone to do it for her or something."
Kenshin frowned at the resentment in Kaoru's voice, "Miss Kaoru. This is certainly nothing to be jealous of. We've all had better meals at the Akabeko. I'm sure this is just her attempt to thank you for your hospitality."
"Is that so?" He heard from behind him. The singsong was cheerful, but accusing, "I could only prepare what I was given to work with; and I still had to go out for the fish."
Kaoru, Sano, and Yahiko all looked up at Hikari, who was looking down at Kenshin from behind. Her wing was bound tightly against her back, and she wore a long white shirt over her black pants. The large shirt was accommodating for her form, and she almost looked normal. There was a bucket hanging from her fingers, from which stuck out even more fish, and a basket on her shoulder held other foodstuffs.
"Have you been to the market?" Kaoru asked. Kenshin translated for her.
Hikari shook her head, "The world provides, if only you know where to look. I found some mushrooms, and some okra," she set the basket down and began rifling through it, "Potatoes, onions, a few carrots that had gone stray from a garden, and oh! Something just for us girls."
Kenshin struggled to keep up with her as he translated for Kaoru and was as surprised as everyone else when the Kami produced a small cloth pouch and placed it in Kaoru's lap. When she opened the pouch, four round ripe plums tumbled around in her lap.
"An older man was kind enough to give them to me after I helped him put a wheel on his cart."
Kenshin didn't interpret, "Someone saw you?"
She nodded pleasantly, "His name was Mr. Nishihaba. He has a small farm well outside of town. He said that he's grateful that I was only there to help him, and not to take his spirit away. He paid me in plums. Which I thought a fine trade for a hard morning's work. I kissed him on the cheek and told him that he would make it home just fine today, with no further interference from Oni who split wheel pins."
Kenshin shook his head, "You need to be careful."
Kaoru poked Kenshin with her chopstick, "What is she saying? Who saw her?"
Kenshin relayed the story in short time, "A man broke a cart wheel outside the dojo and Hikari-dono stopped to help. That's how she got the plums."
Kaoru looked up and over her shoulder, "As long as she didn't steal them."
Kenshin didn't have to translate. Kaoru's tone said quite enough, and Hikari stiffened. Kenshin looked at Hikari imploring her not to react. Hikari sat down crosslegged with a thud and looked hard at Kaoru's back., she said very quietly, "I find it very hard to believe that she can be so rude just because she thinks I can't understand her."
Kenshin blinked. That's right…how had she known what the old man with the cart had said? "You speak Japanese now?"
"Badly," Hikari said. "I learned a little last night while you were sleeping. I can apologize for my ignorance of Japanese, and I can pick up a few words. Mostly it comes from tone though. I'll teach you about that later. How it doesn't mater what language you speak, tone is universal. And the contempt in her voice always seems to appear when I'm there and she's saying something she wouldn't say if I could understand her. I can tell because of the way you and the other two will look at her when she sounds like that."
Kaoru had stiffened when she heard Kenshin's question to the kami. She hid her relief when Kenshin turned to her said, "You are fortunate that Hikari has not learned enough Japanese to understand what you say. But she does understand how you say it. You cut at her feelings instead of thanking her for her generosity, and I know you to be a much more gracious person than that Miss Kaoru, that I do."
Kaoru again hung her head under Kenshin's gentle reprimand. She saw a long slender hand reach around her hip to pick up the tray left beside her. Yahiko handed his tray off, and Sano pushed his tray behind Kaoru. Kenshin handed his tray to the kami behind her and said, "Thank you very much for the lovely breakfast. And as I see you've done the fishing for today, I guess that means I'll have to actually work around here and do some laundry."
"You're welcome," Hikari said, balancing the trays on the basket and hoisting those with one hand while she lifted the bucket of fish with the other. "Kenshin, would you please tell her that I would like to see the doctor today. I need my bandage changed and I need instructions on how to deal with this. I've never broken one of these before, and I didn't realize how inconvenient it was."
Kenshin nodded and translated for Kaoru.
Kaoru nodded quietly, "I'll bring her back with me when I get back from town."
Kenshin translated for Hikari, who said, "Tell her thank you."
Most mornings were like that. For several weeks. Hikari would apparently do a day's work by the time everyone else was dressed, and would then retire. She and Kaoru would exchange some tense tones, then Kaoru would leave and Hikari would retire to rest. Her wound prevented her from doing very much, and she didn't want to risk any trouble being seen in the daylight.
After a couple of weeks, Hikari would stay out most of the day helping around the Dojo after Kaoru left to give lessons. Hikari was found to enjoy the domestics of daily life and helped Kenshin with the laundry, making a grand watery mess of herself, but having the best time doing it. She didn't tell anyone to do anything, she asked, and if someone said no, she shrugged with a smile and did it herself. Kaoru would be coming back to piles of fresh laundry, a well-cleaned dojo, and a hot meal.
Kenshin couldn't help but think of how adorable Hikari looked with her hair tied back in a kerchief wearing a pair of hakama she had borrowed from one of the old student lockers, and her big flouncy western shirt, sleeves rolled up past her elbows.
Getting her into the Hakama had been funny. After figuring out that you have to tie the waist of the hakama into place, she tangled herself up in the cords trying to tie them on. Then she wrapped them improperly, so they kept falling down around her ankles. Finally, Kenshin had taken pity on her and help her into them properly.
"These aren't too uncomfortable once you figure them out," Hikari said proudly. She took a step forward and caught her foot in the front of the hakama and took a rather undignified spill onto her face.
"For a kami, you sure do have Western manners," Kenshin remarked, helping her to her feet.
"Of course I do," she said. "I fill a lot of Western ideas of what a spirit is because I was Western in times ancient and forgotten. I'm both progressive and regressive at once. By Western standards, I'm a huge throwback to days of superstition and smoke, not the highly practical today of starched collars and steam engines. By Japanese standards, I'm very progressive, playing on those legends of European lore and seeming very new."
Kenshin looked at her, utterly confused.
She picked up the laundry and took smaller steps to keep from tripping herself again, "Ages past, in days when shadows held magic and good and evil were embodied by different creatures, angels and demons, spirits of the forest and seas, I thrived with the rest of them in the west. As long as belief held true in us, we could hold true to the world and continue in our otherworldly battles of good versus evil. Eventually, someone decided that all spirits were evil, and that any otherworldly battling should be done by people. It was hard for us to find ourselves shut off like that. We thrive on our base emotions, love or hate, violence or creation, which explains our need for empathy. Or, why I keep getting into your head."
She dropped the laundry near the wash basin and sat down. Kenshin listened, enjoying the sound of her voice as he started to work.
"So here we are, shut off from almost everyone, and people we weren't shut off from we had a tendency to drive insane for trying to foster them. It was getting pretty bad. One day, someone hears a call, way out past the Dawnspire, which marked the boundaries of our world. So we started answering. The nature spirits were growing old here, and were no longer interested in helping mankind. So we took over, sort of. We do the dirty work, while homage is paid to the familiar spirits. But we don't need recognition to survive, just a sense of being. Which explains the West meets East."
She passed clothes off to Kenshin and hung up the wet laundry on poles since she was taller and could reach higher. He watched her stretch her arm over her head, creating an incredibly long lean line.
"So Hikari-kami," deciding the kami as a suffix was a perfectly acceptable honorific, "Why can't you speak to anyone but me?"
"The gift mostly. But also, I can make myself understood just fine, if my wings are in tact. Since one is broken, I can't disguise myself or speak any language I want or use any of my divine gifts. The gift is between you and I. I lets me feel you and lets you feel me. It's a sort of taste of the divine for you. I'm glad it was you. I don't have to sense people's intentions and feelings to read the other girl or the boy. The other girl is jealous of me, because of you, I think. The boy has things on his mind that even I would be embarrassed to mention. The little boy might be fun, but I'm an old spirit now and don't have the energy to play with children like I used to. I love them dearly, I just can't keep up anymore."
Kenshin blinked, "Miss Kaoru is very territorial. You are in her house. She doesn't want to be outshone by you. This is her house. She should be in charge."
"Especially of you," Hikari said, turning around to face him.
"I don't know about that," Kenshin said, shrugging and scrubbing.
"You make your choices Kenshin Himura. I'm not here to order you around. I can't tell you what you should or should not do, especially in matters of the heart. I can tell you that doing nothing is not going to do anyone any good."
"Hikari-kami, in Japan, it is impolite to be so forward."
"Kenshin-sama," Hikari put the higher honorific behind his name, drawing his attention upward in surprise, "The trees do not bow for your passing. Neither will I." The musical quality of her voice sounded positively primal. The cadence beat out a deep rhythm in his heart. He could only smile at the pride that filled him.
He flattened his, sounding more serious, and for that moment, sounding very much his age, "Hikari-kami, I wouldn't dare to presume such a thing. I was just pointing out my discomfort with the direction the conversation was taking."
She strung the clothes on the pole, "Maybe your friend with the dark hair will be more amusing?." Her head was tilted downward and her eyes peered at him through her lashes, taking on a particularly wicked gleam.
Kenshin looked at her, both horrified and fascinated. She sounded playful, but wicked playful, as if she wanted to do something bad because it was fun. She continued to string up clothes as if she had said nothing, stretching yet again to hang the last pole. One leg lifted from the ground, the other stretched positively to the very tips of her toes. The Hakama rode up to her ankles in the motion, and he could imagine the tightly trained muscles in there straining to keep her balance. She turned her hand out and balanced the pole on the very tips of her fingers, finally jumping a touch to get the pole in place.
"I could have gotten the hook for that Hikari-kami," Kenshin said, brushing the dust from his hakama.
"So?" She wheeled on him suddenly, causing him to take a step back. She leaned in frighteningly close to him, and he could feel her breath, against his face. "I could kiss you now," she whispered.
Then she was gone. Kenshin spun around to see her dashing off toward the dojo where Sano was sitting on the porch, leaning back against the wall. She leapt up beside him, and spoke to him, "Come dust a floor with me. It'll be fun!"
Sano looked at her, pleasantly helpless, as he still couldn't understand her. Kenshin eventually walked up and said, "She asked you to dust floors with her."
Hikari grabbed Sano's wrist and pulled him to his feet. He staggered, surprised by how strong she was. "Hey there missy! Let's not get to happy about working."
Kenshin shrugged at Hikari, and said to Sano, "It's not dusting floors that she says will be fun Sano. I'd run now before she makes you regret the day you became a man." Sano spun his head to look at his friend, who only looked at his feet, his shaggy red mane hiding his face, and his smile.
The kami made things seem lighter, easier. He felt as though he could lift a carriage if he had to, because she would be there to help. She had been only partially right about Kaoru. He'd spent most of his days unsure of what they should be doing, and Kaoru wasn't helping. He cared for her very much, but their connection had only been brief, and purely coincidental. He preferred not to tip the pot to see what was inside, in case it all came spilling out on him.
Hikari was being such a friend. She spoke and moved with familiarity and comfort. She loved openly and was honest to a fault. She loves this world, and that same unbounded love shows in everything she does. Kaoru doesn't have that. She's still so much of a child.
Kenshin sighed and went to get his fishing pole. He never caught anything anyway, so it wouldn't matter.
Hikari grabbed Sano by the collar and put her face close to his. He could see the laughter in her eyes the instant before she planted a kiss on his forehead. The room she took him to had no tatami on the floor, just smooth polished wood. She took a running start into the room, and skid on her tabi across the floor. Her hair streaked out behind her in windblown ribbons and when she squealed and laughed, it was the happiest sound Sano could have imagined.
He followed suit, losing his balance and falling on his backside. She laughed at him, but it didn't hurt his feelings and she offered him a hand up. He held out his hand, then switched quickly, realizing that with her strength, she might hurt his hand again, like Shishio had. She saw this and instead grabbed his wrist, pulling him to his feet. Before he could run out for another try, she grabbed his injured hand, and kissed it gently. She looked at him and somehow he knew that as long as she was around, nothing like that would ever happen.
They continued to play on the slick floor, skidding around in their socks until they were completely disheveled and covered in dust bunnies. Sano got pretty good at it after a couple of tries, and didn't notice when the kami left the room, he was having so much fun.
She found Yahiko struggling at the well, trying to get water for the bath. She snuck up behind him and covered his eyes. He yelped and dropped the rope, swing for whoever had him. When his punch connected, the kami hit the ground, rubbing her jaw as if he had struck a serious blow. He put his hands on his hips and said, "Serves you right, sneaking up on me when I have to get all these stupid chores done before Kaoru gets home."
Hikari stood and hoisted two buckets, she began to walk to the bathhouse with them. She was back a few minutes later, and as Yahiko filled the buckets, she sighed and tapped her foot at him, looking impatient.
"Oh yeah?" he said, "Better watch what you ask for, you just might get it." He pulled harder and faster, trying to keep up with the pace the kami set. She would run buckets to the bathhouse and two full ones would be waiting for her. Yahiko eventually forgot the monotony of his task and concentrated only on beating the kami at the game they were playing. The time flew past, and the chore was done, leaving Yahiko and Hikari breathless and staring at each other. She smiled and winked at him, and he grinned broadly at her.
She waved him off to go have some fun while she went wandering again. She found a shady spot and fished a plum from her sleeve.
She could see the love some kami have of the material. It could be a beautiful place, and laughter and joy are priceless gifts that heal wounds. She felt the happiness of the day knitting her bone together, easing the pain of her fall from grace. She smiled in contentment and bit into the plum.
Kenshin was such a strange little man; it made him fascinating. He carried around so much sadness, but wanted so much happiness, and was completely capable of it. It made her sad to think of what she would have to do to get back to her world.
He was so beautiful, and could be so fulfilling as a companion. She liked his hair, it made her think wicked things. His eyes were so expressive you couldn't possibly believe that they were masking anything, but he was always masking something. He seemed one thing and was another. How utterly dishonest. How delightfully appealing.
It was going to be hard getting home. He was a skilled warrior, it took fast hands to bat her disc out of the sky like that. She had seen some of his battles in his mind, and he moved like wind, touching your cheek only after he had already passed you. She would have to get accustomed to his fighting style in order to defeat him. She looked down at the pit of the plum, and tossed it away. She would have to kill him; and his blood would set her free.
Those were the conditions of her being bound here. Something had used her name, her real name, the name she had carried in Eire as a Sidhe and in Alfheim as one of the great warrior elves. It gave her the terms and bound her to the earth. Lying to Kenshin, who had been so kind to her was hard, but if she couldn't explain how she got here to herself, how would she ever be able to explain it to him?
"His hearts blood mixed with water and poured over stone will open the gate to send you home."
Dammit. She wasn't some hitman for mortals. She was the hand of divine justice, the actor of divine will. He thought, she acted, and justice was done. That was it, end of story. Stupid stupid men.
"Hitokiri Battousai hides behind a false face, he has killed cruelly and heartlessly. He took my son from me, and now I will make him suffer. You will deliver his life into the great cycle, and free him from his mortal coil. His hearts blood mixed with water and poured over stone will finish your task and send you home."
She ground her teeth to mask her fury. If she could, she would rip his heart out and see how close to home it brought her. Stupid men doing stupid things. Jackasses full of pride and hubris calling on things they cannot comprehend or imagine.
Why him? Why did he have to be so nice? It would violate every tenet of her being to kill that fox-furred creature. He had so far to go, and such a willingness to get there. She shook her head in frustration. I could love him, as much as the Divine Will, but in a different way. He would be my child, my joy to watch as he grew and developed and lived his life. And when he died, because all men must die, I would guide his spirit in service beside me, and show him the love of the Divine Will.
The face wasn't false, the act that called down such a wrath on his was. She knew Justice. Hell, she was Justice. She knew that it would be unjust to kill Kenshin.
She toyed with the waist cords of the hakama she wore, sighing helplessly. She was Justice. And Justice knows that the truth shall set you free. There had to be way around this. Stupid men word their requests in stupid ways. There had to be something in the wording.
She got up and headed for the dojo. She couldn't think like this. She wanted to act, so she must be acting. Kinetic thought only comes with a kinetic body. She moved into Kenshin's room and found her swords. Justice was divinely swift, strengthened by righteousness. Justice is the guardian of the weak, protector of the small.
She walked outside and found an open area where she could move. She mentally talked herself into a cadence, a rhythm that was soon followed by her body.
Justice breaks down walls and opens doors.
Justice is the gateway to freedom.
Justice rides on the wings of death, and strikes with the blade of revenge.
Death brings change, know the change you bring with the death you cause.
Life is an exercise of free will, so too, is death. The criminal punished by death chose his fate. He dies freely, and has paid his debt with his blood.
As the thoughts strung together in more complicated ways, her movements became faster. She was a whirlwind of blades and feet and death and song. The rhythm was insanely quick, one sword moving out of the way for another, one blocking, one striking, both striking, both blocking. Everything moved naturally and eventually the rhythm of her thoughts was gone, replaced by the rhythm of her body. Her heartbeat took over her head, pounding its ever-quickening rhythm in her ears.
Kenshin finished preparing dinner and went to find Hikari. Sano had emerged disheveled and dust covered, but no worse for the wear, and seemed to genuinely like Hikari. Yahiko's chores had been done quickly, and Sano even swore that he had done them all himself. The kami only held a bucket for him sometimes.
He went to find Hikari, wondering where she had wandered off to. Kaoru would be home soon with Megumi, and Hikari needed to get her wing in a fresh bandage.
A whirring sound caught his attention, and he stopped, narrowing his eyes as he heard the sound of steel in motion. He picked up his sword as he passed his room, following the sound. When he rounded the corner, he saw Hikari in motion, her whole body moved in careful timing with the two swords. She had to be very good at what she was doing to avoid hurting herself; and at the speed she was moving, she could cut off a limb. She was beautiful in the sunset, limned out in orange light, a whir of steel and feathers and hair. He could smell her sweat and saw her legs in motion. She had discarded the hakama, and moved in her own way. Her body moved so quickly and so easily.
Kenshin had to try. He closed the distance between them, and chose a moment to connect with one of her blades.
The clang didn't surprise her, she just slowed down and faced him fully, "Dance with me," she said.
He tried to match her, and she gently guided him where to go. Thrust, parry, duck, spin, lock, close, strike, counterstrike. Eventually he felt it. She moved in a rhythm, without thought or strategy, she just existed. He understood. He would have lost to her in battle. There were no emotions to read, no way to predict, unless you knew the rhythm. She did not feel or think or analyze. She moved with the rhythm, she made a song with her blades, and whatever it was fell in front of her. They moved in closer, and struck faster, each meeting the other as they began to match rhythms. He began to feel the song inside him, and the two moved together in synchronism, the sunset was their harmony, and their hearts were the percussion of their dance.
He watched her eyes, distant and calm, defy the flurry of blades inches from her face. He tried to relax like she did, but almost lost step with her.
She loved his eyes, they narrowed in concentration as she set the pace for them. They watched her and met her with impunity. She saw the killer. She could do it now. She was in control of the rhythm. One change, and his heart would be still beating in her hand. She could do it. She was eye to eye with the killer.
But why rush things? She slowed the rhythm, letting him match pace with her and closed in on him further. They were very close now, the steam rose from their bodies in the cool night air as they slowed and then stopped, locked blade against blade against blade. They breathed into each others faces, their shoulders heaved, their eyes locked in this deadly embrace.
To ask either one of them who started it, they would both point at the other, but somewhere in that stare, their foreheads were only inches apart, and a slight tilt of the head, a shift in position, and they met at the lips. Just briefly, but wantonly. More was conveyed in that kiss between two people than in hours of talking or years of marriage.
They would each claim that they were the one to break the kiss. But when each saw the other, they knew they had been happier before they had been separated.
"Dinner's ready, Hikari-kami. Kaoru will be here soon with Miss Megumi." He broke the silence first, his voice husky and breathy. She had pushed him hard, and he liked it.
She nodded at him, "I hope not too long. There is something I have to do when night falls and I can go outside."
He looked at her, the question on his lips, but her gaze told him to leave it be. He felt that she was hiding something, and now she wasn't even bothering to hide that she was hiding something. It gnawed at him and he turned from her.
"I see," he said, "Will you be late?" He put his sword into its saya, and loped it over his shoulder.
"No." her answer was flat and lifeless, as if she were still disconnected and in her sword dance. He could feel her watching him. Her gaze had a way of making the hairs on his neck stand on end and his skin crawl with apprehension and anticipation.
"Good. There is always a great deal to be done here, and I understand you have been very helpful today," he answered, slowing down so that he could walk beside her.
She shrugged, "I only helped a little. I do have to earn my keep."
Kenshin offered her his hand as they took the steps onto the porch. She ignored his offer, and left him confused. Something was bothering her. He tried again to open his mind to her, to see if she would respond. It was like meeting cold steel. He set his sword down and watched a tree outside as she changed clothes. "I don't think its very fair."
He felt her shift and stop, "What don't you think is fair, Kenshin?"
"You talked about the openness and love you have where you come from, how nothing is hidden and the truth is always laid bare and open. But this thing between you and I," he paused, turning his head to look at her in her state of half-undress, "you only let me in when its convenient for you. You don't let me see the truth, only the truth that you want me to see. It's not fair for you to belittle me about it one minute, and deny me the opportunity to know it the next."
She shook her head at him, "That's not so. This thing is different, and its hard to maintain." The lie was flimsy and she knew it. She had never been good at lying.
He saw right through her, "Then tell me what's wrong. Why are you bothered? Why won't you open yourself to me?"
She looked down, fishing out the short Roman dress that gave room for her wings. "Because you'll hate me. And I want to enjoy this just a little bit longer. Besides, I only want to tell you about it when I find a resolution for it."
Kenshin's eyes narrowed in suspicion, and he saw her cringe under his scrutiny. "Who are you really?"
She straightened the dress at her waist, "I never lied to you about that. I am a guardian. The idea and concept are complicated, though I suppose the best word for it is Justice. Though please don't call me that, it's a job, not my name."
"Justice," he repeated the word, unsure of its implications.
"Please, Kenshin, I swear to you on my own name, the one you gave me, I will explain everything to you tomorrow evening. Please, trust in me this once, and keep silent. It has been a beautiful day so far, and I would not see it ruined now. Let's got to dinner, and then you can fall asleep against me like you did last night. Let me be your guardian tonight." Her voice actually sounded pleading.
He took a deep breath, his hesitancy making her all the more nervous. "What do I call you now?"
"Hikari." The word was still thick on her tongue, her Japanese left so very much to be desired. "I love the name. And I will wear it for eternity."
"Let's go to dinner. I imagine we are being waited upon." He walked through the room, and felt her follow him. Her steps were slow and there was a slight shuffle to them.
The room was boisterous and laughing as Sano told Kaoru about their new method of dusting the floors. Sano, Yahiko, and Kaoru sat together, and Miss Megumi was sitting beside an older man who chuckled along with the group, "Kami are spirits who thrive on new ideas, even if they have to come up with them themselves." he said.
Kenshin put his hand out behind him to stop Hikari from entering the room. He felt the air grow very still behind him. "Mis Megumi, I'm glad you came. I didn't know you would be bringing a friend along."
Megumi smiled lightly at him, "Ken, this is Isao, a priest at the shrine in Asakasa. He is well versed in the ways of Kami, since he is in the business of ensuring their blessing upon new shrines."
Kenshin bowed, "An honor to meet you. It sounds as if you have been brought up to speed as to our situation."
The old man bowed in return, "May I meet her? I am quite curious to see a kami embodied, as it doesn't happen very often."
Kenshin looked back over his shoulder at the shadow behind him, "That would be her choice. I am only her translator."
The priest's eyes grew wide and large as Hikari appeared over Kenshin's shoulder. Her eyes were narrowed at the priest, suspicious of him, and Kenshin felt her breath quicken in her nervousness. She stretched out her good wing, he could hear the rustle of feathers, to fill the doorway, trying to look as imposing as possible. She spoke, and filled her voice with the cadence of her origins.
"She asks what you want," Kenshin said, moving to sit beside Kaoru.
"I only want to meet her," the priest said, touching his forehead to the floor in front of him, "and to help her if I can."
His show of submission moved Hikari to relax and find a seat on the floor. She studied the priest as Megumi got to her feet to remove the bandage from the kami's wing.
Isao looked at Kenshin and Kaoru, "She's not Japanese, you know. That's the language of an England long forgotten, or Nordic, it's hard to tell."
Kenshin felt the link between he and Hikari open again, and she spoke to him, the link making the translations easier, "She says it is both, though Welsh would have been the best guess."
Isao nodded, "I apologize, Can you tell me how you came to be here?"
Kenshin translated again, "She says that she was called. She was forced from her home and is stuck here now."
Isao spoke again, "Do you fight the great war?"
Again, Kenshin was surprised by her answer, "She says that she does. She says that because she is the embodiment of an ideal, she is a player in the war of spirits to protect the Divine Will?"
Isao nodded, "The Divine Consciousness is thought to be both created by and the creator of all mankind. Everything that lives contributes to it, and these kami are actors of the will of that consciousness. They tend to be representations of ideals like truth and love. But what creates the divine also births the infernal. The darker sides of our nature, greed, hatred, jealousy, that ilk. they are represented by Oni, and are actors of Infernal Will."
Kaoru leaned forward, interested if skeptical, "So there is this great war of wills between good and evil, and this is one of the soldiers?"
Isao nodded, "That's right, Miss. Has she told you her name?"
Kenshin shook his head, "I named her because I couldn't understand her name. We call her Hikari Sogasu."
Isao raised a brow at Kenshin, "The Lightseeker. Interesting choice. And she accepts the name?"
Kenshin nodded. She spoke again and he translated, "She wants to know what we are saying. If you don't mind, I'll tell her."
He summed up the priest's explanation of the battle for Human Will and she confirmed it with a nod.
"Is he asking who I am?" she whispered at Kenshin, who nodded in reply.
"Tell him I am Justice, Child of Truth, the Divine Guardian and Actor of the Divine Will. Tell him that I do not take this calling lightly, and that I will visit the house of the one who has wasted my time."
Kenshin relayed the message, and Isao sat upright, masking his fear. Kaoru looked at Hikari with disdain, and Sano and Yahiko cringed a little bit at the thunderous cadence of her message. Isao pressed his forehead down again and said, "I am sure that you will. But you must understand that it was not any rite of Shintoism that called you. Some other practitioner has called you and in his stumbling has wounded you. Please let me tend your wound and help you to find the man who would dare to call on Justice."
She cocked her head to one side to look at Megumi who was flexing a partially healed wing in her hands. When Kenshin finished translating She looked back at the priest. "I know to whom I answer when I am here. My hand is that of the Divine Will, but the responsibility of Justice is mine. Your offer is noted in your favor, and you make a good point. The caller had to be Japanese though, to stumble through what used to be a fairly simple rite bad enough for me to fall the way I did."
Isao's eyes glittered with wisdom, "No. Your wing was broken on purpose. The Divine Will knows the purpose of your calling, and has called upon you to use your judgment. If you think about it, your wing is healed now. You have heard this side of the story. You are now free to hear both sides of the story and make your own choice. Though I think when you go to hear the other side of the story, the opposing party will be very surprised."
Kenshin answered before Hikari could, "Why wold you say that? What is going on?"
Isao answered, "I think they spoke the wrong name. I can't say more, I see the pleading her eyes for me to allow her judgment to reign here, not yours Mr. Himura."
Kenshin turned to Hikari, the questions in his violet eyes broke her heart. She could only look at him apologetically, "Kenshin, thank the priest for his time and insight. Do not pressure him for any more information. I beg of you to trust me. I will be back when it is time. Thank your doctor as well. My time as the wounded bird is done. I have been healed to finish my job. Be ready for me just after midnight."
Kenshin offered Hikari's gratitude to everyone as he felt her stand up and turn to go. He turned to look at her, and saw her wings fade into wisps of smoke. She picked up the long gray cloak that she had brought with her, and then was when he noticed she was as they had seen her when she landed. She was dressed for battle, her weapons and armor all in place. He watched her throw the cloak over her shoulders and step off the porch.
He looked back at Kaoru and the others, his uncertainty showing in his eyes. He looked down at his hands and said, "If you will al excuse me, I am going to go to sleep. I am afraid if I stay here, I will ask questions that Hikari wants to answer herself. Thank you again for your help, Isao. She is grateful to you. I could feel her relief at your saying what she could not say."
Isao nodded, "The only advice I give you Mr. Himura is that she cannot lie. Justice is an agent of Truth, and lies have no place with her. She will omit things, but she will never lie."
Kenshin nodded, and turned for his room, leaving the group in silence. He was so frustrated. He knew he cared deeply for Kaoru, but the bond with Hikari was new and exciting to him, and he found himself feeling much the same for her. Which was completely ridiculous because he couldn't ever actually fulfill his love with a kami. Kami are spirits, she had said herself that she is just the embodiment of Justice. Maybe Kenshin's love of protection for the weak and oppressed was manifesting in his affection for Hikari.
It was all so confusing. And what was that about being an agent of Truth? She had called herself a child of Truth. Was truth the man in her mind, the Father and Lover?
The old priest was right. The path was laid out for her now. There was no way around it now. She had finally found the path, and her wing had healed with the knowledge of her task. She must fulfill her role as Justice. She must evenly hear both sides of the story and must mete out judgment. She would be the enabler and enactor of Justice, and as so often set before, the truth would set her free.
She appeared in the room with a flash of white, staring down at an older man whose gaze widened in terror.
"You called me," she said, making herself understood. One of the powers that had been taken from her when her wing had broken was the power to be understood and to understand all she spoke to or who spoke to her. Justice has to understand the witnesses.
"I-I-I" he stammered, bowing himself up, "You are Revenge? How terrifying!" His demeanor changed as he recognized what he was seeing, "The book said that you would be, but I wasn't expecting this! The ancient English must have needed a good scare in those days, hmm?"
Her face screwed up into a scowl, "You idiot. You mispronounced the name. Wrong spirit. Release me and send me home."
It seemed to take a moment for the information to sink in, "If you are not Revenge, then who are you?"
She crossed her arms in front of her, "Revenge is infernal, by the way. I am Divine. Were you calling upon the divine or the infernal?"
"The divine," he answered, fishing an old brown leather book from under a pile of bedding, "The book said that if a great wrong had gone unanswered, that I could call upon divine vengeance to bring justice down upon the unjust."
Her eyes widened and she snatched the book from him, "Japanese from Gaelic and Welsh translates terribly. You brought justice down all right. Literally," she flipped through the pages of the book and eyed him over the top. "This is a book of Druidic rites. No wonder you messed it up so badly. Everything's backwards and literal. Without an understanding of Druidic practice and philosophy, you couldn't understand what you have done. Either way, release me and destroy this book."
His eyes shone with the realization of what he had done, "I will not, Brehon of Justice. You will fulfill the requirements and then you will be set free."
She scowled at him again, Who do you think you are? Who do you think you're dealing with? I don't make bargains and I don't follow orders from mortals. I'll say it once more, release me, or know the price of your actions."
He laughed with delight, "Oh you are quite good. But if you kill me, you are trapped here. I have to release you. The rite says so. I set the rules."
She flipped the book at him, "Fine. But we do this my way. I am Justice, after all. So give me your side of the story. Why do you want this man dead?"
The man told the tale of how his son had been working for the Shogunate in the days of the revolution. He had worked as an apprentice to the minister of finance of the Tokugawa. He said that the Hitokiri Battousai, who now calls himself Kenshin Himura had slain his son in the dark of night in an alley and left his family orphaned with no father to care for them. The Battousai walks free while his son is dead.
She cocked her head, seeing the man's sadness, "And you hold this Battousai responsible for your son's death because he struck the blow."
The man nodded.
"Who ordered him to strike the blow. This revolution was what? Ten years ago? The man you accuse was a child then. While he may have been a fine swordsman, he did not act on his own. He followed orders."
The man looked down, "I don't know. It was Battousai who struck the blow that killed my son."
Hikari shook her head, "But you don't know who killed him. You did call on the wrong Kami. I am not an instrument of blind revenge. Battousai is responsible for his actions, and pays his penance for them every day, but he was like a sword. It is the sword that strikes the blow, but the killer is he who wields it. Battousai was the sword. Who struck the blow?"
"I only want to see justice."
"She stands before you. You want to see closure. And you must understand that this man's death will not bring it to you. It will be an empty death. I will not kill him for you. Send me home."
The man looked at her, desperation in his eyes. For nearly a decade he had dreamed of the release the Battousai's death would bring him. He would not believe her if she had shown him the truth. He shook his head, "I called you down. I set the conditions. That is your release. I will not speak the words to release you. You will do as you are called upon to do."
"But you ask me to defy the Divine Will, you idiot!"
He shrugged, "What care I for the affairs of spirits in ways that do not give me peace at night? Go Spirit, and do as you are called upon to do. Your release is in the death of the Battousai."
He quickly called upon a dismissal chant and Hikari found herself out in the street. He was right. She could pass judgment all she wanted. The conditions had been set, and she had to answer them. She went back to the Dojo, her heart heavy, knowing what she would have to do. She walked into Kenshin's room and willed her belongings away. She saw his silhouette staring out into the night.
"You came back earlier than I thought," he said plainly.
"I know," she said.
"Since you're healed, you don't need me to stay with you."
"Yes, I do."
"Will you tell me everything?"
"In the morning. I promise. Send everyone away, and you and I can talk about all of this."
"And for now?"
"For now," she sighed, "I want to forget about judging, being judged, and just be. I love my job, I hate what I have to do."
He moved from beside the door and sat down in front of her, "Why?"
She shook her head at him, "Lay down on your stomach."
He didn't want to repeat the question, and did as he was told. He felt her pull his shirt from his shoulders and bare his back. He started to push himself upright, but felt her hand in the small of his back, stopping him. She moved, and he felt the press of her knees below his ribs. The insides of her feet pressed against his thighs, and he felt her hands on his back, so hot that they almost burned him.
She kneaded his back, the heat of her hands penetrating deep into muscle that had hurt for so long it had been forgotten.
"You have many scars Battousai," she whispered.
"I've fought many battles," he answered, relaxing under her touch. She had a healing effect on him, and something in him forced himself to let go and appreciate that.
"I know," she whispered. There will only be another one tomorrow. She felt the muscles of his back, drawing out the tension into her hands. The motion relaxed her as well, the rhythm of it sinking in and releasing her from her thoughts.
She continued until she felt him sleeping beneath her, then she rolled off of him and lay down beside him, facing him. His head was turned so that she could see the scar. This she touched like she had before, gently, and with the tenderness of maternity.
If I kill him, it will not be justice, but it will be my only way out of this deal. But if I do something unjust, I defy the Divine Will. I'll certainly be punished. Perhaps its better to be punished where I am supposed to be.
She eventually closed her eyes and feigned sleep. Being healed meant that she didn't need to sleep anymore, since the passing of time was only a shadow. She listened to him breathe, and her heart ached to stop that breath.
When dawn broke, Kenshin woke and found Kaoru getting ready to leave.
"You're taking Yahiko and Sanosuke with you, right?" he asked.
"Why would I do that?" she asked in reply.
"Because I'm asking you to," he answered.
"It has to do with that kami, doesn't it?" She sounded suspicious, though Kenshin had proven himself to her time and again.
He nodded, "She asked that no one be nearby today."
"Then let her leave," Kaoru answered.
It sounded like a reasonable request. Kenshin nodded, "I'll ask her. You go. I think things will resolve themselves tonight."
She looked at him quizzically, but nodded. She looked back at Kenshin as she left, not sure of what was happening, only the sense that something was going to happen.
Kenshin walked back into his room, and found Hikari there, dressed, and covered in her gray cloak. "We're leaving."
He nodded in reply, "How did you know?"
"I'm not deaf."
He picked up his sword, just in case something happened, and followed her as she swept from the room. She kept a quick pace, turning away from town and moving out beyond the protection of the city. He continued to follow her, noting the seriousness of her demeanor.
"I'm sorry it has to be like this," she said, as they passed into a grove of trees.
"Sorry for what? It's been nice having you here, you make everyone so happy. Are you leaving now?"
"Yes," she said, her voice sounding very small and sad.
"But you promised me an explanation," he said.
"And you shall have it," she stopped in a clearing where the trees were tall around them and dappled the sunlight of the morning across the grass that was still wet with dew. "Hitokiri Battousai. What I am commanded to do is unjust, and will cost me dearly in the realm of spirits who serve the Divine Will. But my act of defiance will send me home."
He stopped, confused and dismayed at the lack of joy in her voice.
"The father of a man you killed over a decade ago acquired a book of rites and rituals used by the Druids of ancient England. One of my previous manifestation was as a guardian or Brehon of the Druids. He used one of the rites to call down the spirit of revenge, not understanding the differences between infernal and divine and most especially, the difference between revenge and justice. He believes that what he has commanded me to do is justice. He is wrong, but by the terms of my arrival, I am bound to finish the command he gave me. If I can complete it, I can go home. If I fail, then I find oblivion. Either way. This moment was inevitable and I can't stall it anymore."
Though he already had an idea, he asked anyway, "What exactly are you charged to do?"
She looked down in shame, "I have to rip your still beating heart from your chest and let its blood flow over a stone nearby. The act will be testament to my completion and will send me home."
"You know if we fight, you will lose," Kenshin said, "Your heart is not in this battle."
"I know," she answered, "Either way it goes, I am released from this bondage."
He shifted his stance, seeing and hearing her determination. He didn't cross his hand over to the sword just yet, hoping that she would back down.
"I'm sorry Kenshin. But look upon this as something that does not violate your vow to never kill. I was never actually alive."
He heard the song of her swords as she drew them, and felt the breeze stir as she spun them around. He watched her eyes first, and saw the sadness in them. Then she closed them and breathed. When she opened them again, he no longer saw his friend. He saw Justice bearing down on him, and he knew that in his heart he deserved this. This was Justice, even if Justice couldn't see that. Neither of them wanted this, but duty was a cruel mistress, Kenshin waited for her to move.
She shifted her stance and punched at the air with her guantleted fist, the sword turned sideways from the motion. A blue shockwave rolled from her shoulder across the glen and barely missed Kenshin as he stepped to the side in surprise. His hair ruffled in the wake of the blow and he completed his turn to face her once more.
She was closing in on him, a terrible reign of black hair and fury. He brought up the sword in defense, and warded the flurry of blows away. Just as he thought she was pulling away, he felt the sting of a cut into his thigh. He yelped in pain and surprise, realizing that she was truly serious about this.
The wound wasn't deep, but it stung painfully, He brought the sword around again, and again they locked together in a flurry. He broke away from her strikes and made an attack swing, only to encounter the metal of her guantleted arm. The impact rang out and shook all the way up his arm, jarring him to the teeth. He felt her shift to strike at him again, and moved, leaving her only a sapling behind him to cut down.
Her blade whipped through the sapling as though it were paper and she spun around. She brought her blades over her head just in time to stop the attack from above. The force of the blow brought her to her knees, and Kenshin could see her muscles straining to push him away.
They both had the speed of the gods. Their steps were matched in real dance of death. Kenshin fought for his life, and he knew it wasn't going to be easy. her fighting style was so different from any other that he had experienced. She did not think, she moved. He couldn't predict where she was going because so many parts of her moving all at once kept her from telegraphing what she was doing.
The only thing that will stop her is my final attack. He thought to himself, dismayed at the fury she showed. If her heart wasn't in the battle, something was fueling her swordsman's spirit to protect her. She may not present the opportunity.
She wheeled on him, and he noticed that she had heard his thoughts, and that he could hear hers.
If I can breach that final attack, then the rest is silence. He saw her the instant she wheeled on him, and he saw that she was going to give him the opportunity. He prepared for it, his will to live overriding his longing for her survival.
A breath caught would have taken too long. In an eternal instant, she closed on him. He drew for the anakakeru ryu no hirameki. As he finished the attack, he saw that he had struck at thin air. She had stopped herself not half an inch away from the arc of the sword. But what isn't caught in the teeth and captured by the wind and ripped apart with the claws. The force drew her in to him and he finished the spin. She almost countered, raising her mailed fist to stop his blade and ducking at the same time.
Hikari knew that he could never have made this decision, nor would he have consented to the action. She had to make him use the second part of his final attack, which brought his sword in level and which weakened his body so that his grip was slightly compromised. She tapped down on the blade with the tops of her knuckles and felt it turn over. She dove under the blow, snapping her wings straight up from her back.
Blood stung his eyes. Blood? He stopped and turned to see Hikari fall in a spray of gore. Her wings fell from her back. When he looked down at his hand, his blade was reversed. He dropped the blood covered blade in horror.
She fell face down, unceremoniously. Blood now oozed from the two wounds in her back. He rushed to her side and turned her over onto his lap. Her eyes were closed and there was something of a smile to her lips. "Hikari." he said, trying to wake her up. he felt her move for just a moment, and her eyes fluttered open.
"Himura," she whispered.
"I'm sorry Hikari-kami," his eyes welled with tears of self-loathing.
"Don't be. You have not broken your vow," she linked her arms around his neck and pulled herself up to him. "You did not kill me." her lips closed over his and he felt the breath leave her.
The hot blood that flowed over his hakama suddenly became very cold. He broke away from her face to hug her tightly to him, and saw that she did not bleed red gore. It was water that flowed from her wounds. He continued to hold her there, willing her to live, and knowing he would fail.
When even the water stopped, he noticed that she was no longer armored and dressed for war. Those things had faded from her. The remains of her wings were gone as well as the blood on his hakama. He held only the very cold body of the kami.
He wrapped her in the cloak and as the day died, he carried her back to the dojo where Priest Isao, Megumi, Kaoru, Yahiko, and Sano were waiting.
The cacophony of horrified cries greeted him as he carried the body of the kami. Megumi and Isao rushed to his side to relieve him of her weight, as he had not noticed the dozens of small cuts that covered him and bled freely. He dropped to his knees and buried his face in his hands, "I killed her Kaoru. She said she had to kill me, and I killed her."
Kaoru reserved her judgment and shock, and put an arm around Kenshin to help him inside. She held his head in her lap as Megumi came in to tend his wounds.
"What does the priest say we should do with the body?" Kaoru asked, stroking Kenshin's hair.
"What body?" Megumi asked.
"The body of the Kami," Kaoru answered, a little surprised that Megumi didn't seem to understand her.
"Well, I think she would be offended if we cremated it, since she's still using it."
Kenshin's eyes flew open like shoji screens being pushed aside by an angry lover. "What?"
"The priest says that you only cut off her wings. You didn't kill her. You made her mortal. She's sleeping now."
Kenshin sat up, "I have to see her."
Megumi pushed him back down, "No, you don't. Though I hope that this will make Kaoru think twice before she insults a kami."
"Why would I do that?" Kaoru asked, "She tried to kill Kenshin."
"No she didn't," said Isao's voice from behind. He came in and sat down to their questioning looks. "Hikari was bound here by a command to kill Mr. Himura. But when she was trapped here, her wing was broken to separate her from her divine powers. She was trapped here with you, and learned about Mr. Himura. Last night, she left to meet the person who had summoned her to hear his side of the story."
"What she didn't think about was that it didn't matter what decision she made, the command still bound her to earth. The command, I imagine, had something to do with taking Mr. Himura's life. When presented with the option of defying her own judgment or being trapped here for eternity, always tortured by the divine empathy that she would never be a part of again, she decided that it would be better to sacrifice herself and become mortal. There is an ancient story that says that if an angel cuts off his wings, he becomes mortal. Hikari is, in some cultures, considered an angel. But she couldn't reach behind her with enough force to cut off her wings. That was the irony of the legend. Angels can't touch their own backs, and can't cut off their own wings. She obviously forced Mr. Himura to do it for her. Quite clever of her I would say."
The stunned looks from around the room dissipated after several minutes, Kenshin broke the silence, "So she's alive."
"Quite," answered Isao, "And she will need your help to adapt to her life here. She speaks Japanese now, which is good. I would suggest you let her keep the name you gave her, and help her to learn about being Japanese."
"Will she remember any of this?" Megumi asked.
Isao nodded sadly, "Regrettably, it is the fate of the fallen to remember the life they once had. But she can live and die as a mortal, not bound here by someone else's will. Remember, she chose to fall. And I will leave you so that she and all of you can get some sleep."
With that he left, followed later by Megumi. Kaoru and the others eventually fell asleep, leaving Kenshin to find Hikari. He found her the way he had found her two nights ago. Asleep on her stomach, the covers barely covering the swell of her hips. He shut the door behind him and sat down beside her where he could see the wounds he had caused. Two angry red scars striped her back, but they looked as though they had been there for years. He touched one, lightly, and she stirred. She was asleep, deeply so.
He lay down and rested his head in the small of her back, letting his tears puddle there as night passed.
Morning, or maybe afternoon, Kenshin couldn't tell. He awoke with his arms around Hikari, who still slept deeply. His face was still damp, and his clothes were rumpled. He extricated himself from the tangle and pushed open the shoji door just a bit to see who was still there.
Everything was deathly still, even the breeze had ceased, leaving a hanging oppressive silence to the air. He knew they were alone together. Everyone else must have left for the day.
Kenshin brushed out his clothes and went to fetch some well water. He found the pail filled near the porch and brought it inside to Hikari. He sat down beside her and lightly brushed her cheek with his hand, "Hikari?" he asked softly.
She stirred beneath his touch and her eyes fluttered open. He gasped, horrified at the mossy banality of those green eyes. She was mortal, and she was looking it. "What?" she slurred at him.
He shook his head quickly, "Nothing. How are you feeling?"
She reached for the cup of water he offered and sat up. After taking a sip, she looked at him thoughtfully and said, "As though I were dead."
"Why?" It was the only question he could ask, and it choked out of him in a whisper.
"Because, Kenshin. I would rather live only the brief flicker of an instant without than to spend eternity knowing I took you away. Because I would rather be separated from the Divine Will by my own choosing than to defy it or violate it in any way. That Divine Will is a part of you, and you of it, though you can't see it like I can....could. To preserve you and it, I made my decision. Besides, mortal existence is short, and then I can leave this place in death and truly join with the Divine Will, become a part of it, as you will when you die," the tone in her voice broke his heart again, and he felt the burning of tears.
She looked at him, and her eyes softened more, "Oh sweet Kenshin. Don't mourn for me. I did this for you. Let me give you this. You don't let anyone give you anything. Let me give you this." Her hand touched his cheek, covering the scar with her soft fingers.
"But Hikari, how could you let me take this from you? It's not a gift in a box, it had to be ripped from you. Why make me do it?"
She took another deep breath, "I promised you honesty."
"That you did."
"I breathed you in. I felt you, and knew you. You touched me, and stirred me up inside. You stole the breath from my lungs. I knew, for these days, the joy and beauty of the mortal world, and all of it, everything good about it, I found in your eyes. I did this because I love you, and because I trust you."
He hung his head, "Hikari-kami. I am not worthy of this."
She smiled sadly at him and lifted his chin, "Kenshin Himura Battousai, whoever, and whatever you are, I used to be Justice. Don't you think I have a reasonably good basis for making judgment calls? Besides, when I saw your final attack against the burned one, I knew that the second strike would do the job."
He shook his head, "I never meant for the anakakeru ryu no hirameki to be used in such a way."
"The strike of the dragon can fell angels," she whispered, "Now go, Kenshin, and leave me be. I have a great deal of sadness and a void inside me. I can not let you attempt to bear it. Your load is heavy enough."
Most mornings went like that. For several weeks, Hikari would refuse to see anyone or talk to anyone but Kenshin. Then only briefly, to assure him of her choice and his lack of guilt. Kenshin would not be consoled, and truly felt that he had killed something that should never have known death. Eventually, Hikari sounded the same each day, and would encourage him to leave with the others. When they arrived home each night, the dojo had been cleaned, and dinner was prepared for them. Hikari never ate with them, and with time, she became as a ghost to Kaoru, Sanosuke, Yahiko and Megumi. Only Kenshin sat up nights watching her shadow against the shoji screen, doubled over and sobbing from the grief she bore.
He longed to go to her on those nights, to hold her and offer her comfort. In a strange way he longed to love her, but he knew that he would only meet her rejection of him. She had told him that she loved him, but how? Sometimes she seemed motherly, other time she seemed passionate. She confounded him terribly, and left him to sit beside the shoji, listening to her sobs, wiping away his own tears of remorse for what he had done. Her grief paralyzed him.
More time passed, and Kenshin seemed much like his old self. He was cheery and pleasant for the most part. Still, he would sit at night next to the shoji and listening to Hikari's tears, which softened with time. Her sobs were his lullaby.
One morning, There was a fierce knock at the gate. Kenshin jumped to life and picked up his sword, not sure of who would be visiting at this hour. Kaoru stumbled out in her robe and Yahiko emerged looking bleary-eyed.
They approached the gate together, and Kaoru called out, "Who is it?"
A voice on the other side answered, "I'm sorry to disturb you at this hour. I'm looking for someone, and a priest said that you might be able to help, Miss Kamiya?"
Kenshin pulled open the gate to stand nose-to-chest with a tall radiant looking man. His coppery golden hair was tied back loosely at the base of his skull. He looked very European, but had delicate, almost feminine features. He smiled easily, and his eyes shone like liquid gold at Kaoru, "Again, I apologize for the hour. But I brought breakfast with me to make up for it."
She practically melted at the sight of him, "Such a considerate man! Certainly we will try to help you in any way we can. Please do come in!"
As Kaoru took him by the hand and led him to the porch, Kenshin lagged behind, thinking there was something familiar about that man and the way he talked.
They sat down to breakfast, and Kenshin immediately put some aside for Hikari, in case she woke up. Once they were eating, Kaoru asked the man, "What's your name and how can we help you?"
He stopped briefly, then answered, "Angelo Inomine," Kenshin knew as soon as he said it. He was another kami, and Hikari was the reason he was here. The name he gave was "In the Name of Angels" reversed in Latin. Isao had said that Hikari couldn't lie. This one might not be able to either.
He continued, "A friend of mine was traveling through Edo recently, and I haven't heard from her in several weeks, which is unusual for her. I asked a few people in town, described her, and a priest said that perhaps you and a Kenshin Himura could help me find her. He said that you had a guest recently who sounds like her."
He saw Kaoru make the connection and watched her inhale, "What does she look like?"
He smiled at her again, "Almost as pretty as you, with long black hair and green eyes. She doesn't speak Japanese very well at all, and I'm concerned for her safety. She's very tall, also."
Kaoru bowed her head at the flattery, "We might be able to help you. If Hikari is willing to answer your questions. You see, she's well versed on Europeans in this area, and would have noticed her. Kenshin will be happy to go ask her."
Kenshin saw the look Kaoru gave him and hopped to his feet, "With your pardon, I'll do just that, now."
He does tell the truth. He had to be a friend of Hikari's. But why would a Kami come after her? She was mortal now. Kenshin hopped up to the shoji leading into the room where Hikari was and slid the door back, "Hikari-dono?"
She stirred and sat up, clutching the covers to her chest. She looked breathtaking as the morning light broke over her, her black hair was tousled around her shoulders and pooled around her on the floor. She smiled at him taking in his disheveled red hair and hesitant violet gaze. He had such beautiful hands, "What is it Kenshin?"
"There's someone here to see you. It's a kami." He moved into the room and shut the door behind him, "He's not here to kill you, is he? Because he will have to go through me."
The look of surprise on her face was a new expression, "No. Are you sure he is here for me, and not for you to offer you something to repay your troubles with me?"
"Quite sure," He sat down across from her, "If he is here to take you away, then I want to talk to you first."
She shrugged, "I don't know why he is here." She got to her feet and began to get dressed. She had never worried about Kenshin or anyone being in the room with her as she did so, and Kenshin took what he felt might be his last chance to absorb every inch of her into his memory.
"Hikari-dono. I have hated your sadness for so very long. It has kept me awake at night listening to you cry. Suddenly, though, the idea of you going away has me scared, and feeling very selfish. I want to love you. I do love you." He didn't think the words would be so difficult for him.
"I think it has you feeling very brave," she said, raising her arms to pull on her big white shirt that Kenshin had cleaned so many times.
"Please, Hikari," He closed the distance between them, "Even if you leave us, will you still feel the same."
She let him wrap his arms around her waist and put her palms on either side of his head. "Kenshin, it's very likely that I am not going anywhere. He may have just wanted to ensure I made this choice and that it wasn't taken from me by force. Please understand that before you commit yourself."
He turned his face toward hers, and in a moment of boldness brought on by cowardice, he pressed his lips to hers. He tried so desperately to say in that kiss what had been said between them in the garden so long ago. He hoped that he could reawaken the link between them, and they could dance through each others minds.
When he finally released her mouth, he breathed her in. Her exhales were his inhales. He felt her fingers tangled in his hair, and realized that he had her locks twisted in his clinging fist. "I can't let it happen again," he whispered huskily, "I can't let you slip through my fingers."
She did just that as she pulled away from him. "You're serious?"
"Then lets get this over with and see what happens now," she reached for her tight black breeches and pulled them on, then sat outside and tugged at her boots.
Kenshin followed, a little dazed by his own actions, until Angelo's voice rang out "Cairys!" She didn't look up from her boot as he approached, "I am called Hikari now."
"So I am led to believe, Oh my little one, what happened?" He knelt in front of her, and placed his hands on her knee. A wave of possessiveness filled Kenshin as he shifted position.
"I made my choice," she said.
"I know, we all know. I've come with an offer."
She tilted her head at him, "I'm listening."
He stood up, "Precious Cairys, You made your choice under duress. And the Divine Will was pleased with your choice. I have been permitted to bring you home, and let you resume your position. That you were willing to sacrifice yourself to preserve your obedience to the Divine Will was astonishingly loyal, and worthy of some recognition. The least that can be done for you is to not make you face mortality without knowing the love of the Divine Will."
She looked at him, tears welling up in her eyes, "But with freedom comes consequences of the choices we make. I asserted my free will, and severed myself by my choice. I could just as easily killed this man and dealt with the punishment as an actor of the Divine Will. I doubt my punishment would have been this severe."
Kenshin interrupted, confused, "Why does he keep calling you Care-is?"
She stopped and pulled her gaze from Angelo's to look at Kenshin, "Cairys is Gaelic for Justice. It's one of my oldest names."
Kenshin nodded thoughtfully, "Cairys. Go with him. I can see the joy in your eyes at the thought of it. Please go."
She furrowed her brow at him, "A moment ago you wanted me to stay." She stood up on the porch and took Kenshin's hand. "You confuse me terribly."
Kenshin smiled at her, "Because I want my last memory of you to be as you were meant to be, not this shell of what was taken from you. Please Cairys." Her name sounded thick on his tongue, "But in my heart you will always be Hikari."
She smiled, a tear welling up in her eye, she touched his scar again, "What is your oldest name, Himura?"
"Shinta," he whispered, bowing his head. He looked at her fingers tangled up in his. Two swordmasters hands. Hands that had killed that belonged to hearts that only wanted to know right.
"Shinta," she answered, "Go to Kaoru, and love her with all your mortal fiber. But do not forget me. When your day comes, I will stop you on the road after death. Be prepared to answer for your actions today. Spend your mortal life here, but consider spending eternity with me. Justice should always be tempered with mercy. Consider it."
Kenshin nodded, then threw his arms around her in the tightest embrace he could manage. She felt so warm and safe, it was all he wanted to go with her or to make her stay. He shut his eyes tightly breathing her in for the last time. When he released her, he saw the kami. She was just as tall and glorious. Her wings were whole and where they belonged. She had her armor and swords and her hair was in a neat topknot from which her hair draped like ribbons to the middle of her thighs. She leaned forward and kissed him again on the cross-shaped scar on his cheek. She whispered to him, "You know my name. If you ever need me, call on me. Besides, someday Battousai will have to be slain. But you will be the one to do it."
He blinked as she pulled away and he saw her take the hand of Angelo, who had transformed like her. Soft golden wings and a warm glow surrounded him. That glow extended out to Hikari, and Kenshin felt its warmth before there was a blinding flash and they were both gone.