These three chapters are the first part of a trilogy about how my character, Hikaru, fits herself into Kenshin's youth. (Yes, Kenshin fans, I'm finally going to write about him ~ but only about "li'l Kenshin", as I call him.)
These first three chapters, "Meeting", deal with their first meeting (duh). The second part, when it gets posted, will be "Holiday", about a day Kenshin spends with Hikaru, and the third part, "Leaving," will be about one of Hikaru's and Hiko's rare arguments, after Kenshin has left Hiko to join the Revolution.
This follows my other Hikaru stories, "Teahouse" and "Sake, Tea, and Cherry Blossoms", and it helps if you've read them first, if for no other reason than that you will know who Hikaru is!
I am aware that I don't own Seijuro Hiko and Kenshin Himura, no matter how much I'd like to. All other characters are my own.
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"Hikaru?" Toshiro Kimiyama set his teacup down and stared at his wife. "You're going out? This early? The sun's barely up."
Hikaru laughed. She understood his bafflement. Rising early was something she almost never did. "Seijuro said he was on his way to look for that little boy, yesterday," she explained. "I want to see if he found him. I won't rest well until I know."
He nodded his understanding. "If he did, bring the child back here. I know we can find a home for him. If he hasn't made other arrangements already, that is."
By "he" in that last sentence, she knew he meant Seijuro, not the little boy. Toshiro avoided saying Seijuro's name whenever possible. "I was going to. I knew you wouldn't mind." She frowned. "I just hope he found him. I still can't believe he left that child there, alone. He explained it to us, but I still can't believe it." She saw Toshiro hide a smile, and her expression cleared. "I'm glad you didn't laugh at him to his face!"
"I wouldn't dare. But it was amusing to see you raking him down like a poorly-behaved servant."
"I shouldn't have lost my temper," she sighed. "I know the boy was only a short walk from a village. I know Seijuro probably saved many lives that might have been lost if he'd delayed. But I don't care, I simply can't understand leaving a little child on a battlefield, alone, in the dark. That's... barbaric."
"He is a barbarian in many ways," Toshiro said.
"Not really. But he definitely doesn't measure things on the same scale that we do." She shook her head. The Hiten Mitsurugi principles sounded well in theory, but a man had to be strong to follow them. They emphasized humanity over humans, and she simply couldn't comprehend how anyone could count humans as if they were radishes and decide that four strangers were better to be saved in a few hours than a little child looking up at you, needing your help right then. "At least he started looking for the boy as soon as he got back."
"Probably only to please you."
"No, it was his own idea, oddly enough. I think he felt it was an obligation. And he isn't completely heartless." She bent and kissed her husband over his breakfast. "I'll be back in a few hours."
She took one of the menservants with her, because she wanted to get up the mountain quickly, and she could too easily outpace her maids. Leaving the man in the usual place, she continued just as quickly for the remaining distance, despite the steep climb. She was becoming concerned. She could see no smoke, smell no breakfast cooking. Either Seijuro was still out looking, or he'd slept very late, and either one might mean he'd been unsuccessful.
She saw him, however, as she entered the clearing. Only the back of him, for he was heading for the well to wash up, towels flung over one shoulder. She bit her lip. He didn't find him. I just know it. Bracing herself for a painful disappointment, she didn't call out to him, but instead went to the house. He would need consoling, and that would best be started with a solid breakfast, which she could have begun for him by the time he returned. Keeping busy would keep her from worrying about that child's fate.
When she opened the door, she thought for a moment that Seijuro must have been too exhausted to walk the night before, because it looked as if he'd dropped a bundle of rags on the floor. Then she realized she was looking at a pile of blankets made into a makeshift bed, wrapped around a small figure topped with a mass of brilliantly flame-colored hair. The boy. Seijuro had found him and had brought him home.
She put fingertips to her lips, trying to contain her joy so that she didn't say something and wake him. But the very act of opening the door and letting in the sunshine had done that. The boy stirred and moaned, turned over, opened one eye, and looked at her uncomprehendingly. Then he blinked, realizing he had company, and struggled out of the blankets and to his feet. The red hair wasn't the only unusual thing about his coloring, she saw. The eyes he was sleepily rubbing with one hand, as he impatiently pushed away the clinging blankets with the other, were a clear and beautiful lavender.
She was so surprised, she sat down there on the step. She'd been expecting a rough, sturdy peasant's boy, not this exquisitely delicate child with his heart-shaped face and eyes that studied her with such solemn sweetness as he bowed. He was so small that, even when she was sitting, he was barely taller than she. He couldn't be more than six years old, if that. How could Seijuro have just left him?
He tucked his chin and peered up at her through long lashes, respectfully waiting for her to speak first. She got her breath back somehow. "Hello. I'm Hikaru. What is your name?"
Still charmingly solemn, he informed her, "My name was Shinta, but it is now Kenshin, Hikaru-san."
She refrained from smiling at him and matched his gravity. "Why did you change it?"
"I didn't. Master Hiko did."
She should have known. But why would he do such a thing?
"Are you Master Hiko's wife?" he asked, hunching his shoulders a little.
She wondered what made him do that, as if he expected a blow. But she gave him her warmest smile. "No, just a good friend. And I'll be your friend, too, if you wish."
He considered it a moment. Then, making up his mind, he smiled at her, a clear and innocent smile which first lit the incredible eyes and then curved his mouth. "I'd like that, if Master Hiko permits."
"Master Hiko will permit anything I ask," she promised rashly. At that moment, had Kenshin wanted the moon, she would have plucked it from the sky and handed it to him. She had always loved children, but there was something special about this child that reached right into her heart.
His smile had faded, and his expression changed. She couldn't quite read it, but it worried her. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
He lowered his eyes at once. "I'm sorry, Hikaru-san. I didn't mean to be rude."
"No, it's all right, I'm not offended. But what's wrong?"
After a second, he said, "You remind me of my friends."
"Kasumi-san, Akane-san and Sakura-san."
Maybe he did have a home to which they could return him. "Where are they, these friends of yours?"
"They are dead now." He spoke it in a soft monotone of dulled acceptance.
The pity which flooded her was so strong it hurt, but she kept her voice even. "I am so sorry. They were with you when you were attacked?"
He nodded. "I tried to protect them, but I couldn't."
She struggled for words. Nothing in her life had ever prepared her for something like this. Finally she just said, "I'll be your friend now, Kenshin. And Master Hiko will protect you."
He looked up again, and she thought, No child should ever have to see what he's seen. She couldn't bear what was in his eyes. Instead, she opened her arms and reached for him, and when he came to her, she pulled him into her lap and held him, rocked him, wrapped herself around him as if she could somehow drive out the bad things with her own feelings. She wished he would cry, and give her a chance to soothe him, but he didn't. He simply held onto her neck as tightly as he could, and trembled in her arms. She laid her cheek against the soft bright hair and murmured meaningless words of comfort. Not even by Seijuro had her heart ever been so pierced.