May I kindly remind you that this chapter was beta'd by the ever-fabulous, right honourable: Sueb262.
Petrichor: The smell of rain, or after-rain. The scent is unmistakable, and it is most pronounced after a rain that comes at the end of a long dry spell. Many people appreciate those fresh, earthy and powerful post-rain smells. The word has Greek roots for stone and the blood of gods.
The fog that had blanketed them before had slowly fallen away, peeling back to reveal the city in blurry layers until the large expanse of rain became crisp to the eye. The rain showered the city, each droplet a needle piercing the ground. It hit the floor, splitting the puddles to produce a rebound, and it sprang back up to spit into the air. A million ripples like this made the ground seem crawling. But the roar of the rain was simmering lower, the splash-back of the water didn't fly as high. Even the air didn't seem as cold.
And the numbness in his fingers was subsiding.
Himura Kenshin sat awed into silence: the rurouni lost for words, and Battousai lost for breath. Shinta searched his master's face, not sure what to do or what to say. Whether he was supposed to do something. All he had ever known was that hulking man's strength, and now—
"What? You gonna space out again? Rude, Kenshin." Hiko rolled his eyes.
"Shishou…I don't really understand. I was just…a child."
"You might as well still be one, boy." He scoffed into the rain. "And I hate repeating myself, have you learned nothing from my training? I. Am. Right. So, take my word for it."
Kenshin didn't move. Hiko's sterness faltered.
"Baka-deshi…what did I tell you that night, what did I teach you? Let your survival become your saviours' memorial." Until it doesn't have to be. One day, you won't have to live for dead. You will learn to live, for the living. For yourself.
"There's no expiration date on that." He said slowly.
"That is why you can't give up, you cannot be a coward now. Or you slander them. That day in Otsu, Lady Tomoe gave you another chance at living your life right—and you will not sully her. To all those that were slain by your hand—Kenshin, prove to them that their lives weren't spent in vain. "
Kenshin furrowed his brow, watching Hiko with an intensity in his eyes. But he was swallowing every word his shishou said, taking in its full meaning.
"You created this era, and you can choose to safeguard it. Never again will this world feel so miserable that I'd want to leave it."
Hiko rolled his hand into a fist. Slowly, he outstretched it, making sure Kenshin could see, and struck him square in the chest.
"Be strong, Kenshin. Be brave, like Tomoe." He rested his fist there, pressing into his skin: as if showing him the weight his next decision would hold. Hiko withdrew. He closed his eyes, doing nothing but listening to the rain fall. It was peaceful, for a while.
Something shifted around him, making water lap against his sandals, and Hiko opened his eyes. Kenshin had moved, and now he was detached from the muddy wall. He was staring with his neck arched against the skies, katana comfortably at his side in the middle of the street. He stood there, a stillness possessing his figure, and he looked to the grey clouds with a reckoning. Rain trailed down his face, washing away the blood from his scar. It bled no more.
"I repented." He croaked.
"I've being doing so all this time…I still am." He said, a little clearer. But now there was a conviction in his voice, the timid quiver gone. "Give me time. I've a lifetime to atone."
And with one, last exhale into the storm, his eyes trailed to the floor, his head dipping forward with them. In a short, deft movement, Kenshin gripped his katana in his left hand, tensing his entire body. A passing civilian might have witnessed the cascade of rain around him react with a tremor: the droplets almost suspending in the air before being jolted backward from the swordsman in the epicentre. It left a second-interval where the rain ceased to hit him, and when it did again, the man wouldn't be weighed down anymore.
To Hiko, Kenshin's ki was flaring throughout that little body: a newfound power circulating in his veins with a vigour that was almost harrowing to behold. If Hiko weren't Hiko, he would be marvelling at the presence before him. But, still, the master was captivated by his show of—whatever the baka was doing—promising, flaunting, or pledging. Hiko almost wanted to chuckle at the curious boy before him. It seemed somehow so hilarious, that someone who couldn't manage to reach his shoulder in height, could be capable of such a power. What am I thinking? He's my baka, isn't he? Well, my genius shows in everything I try—the baka-deshi no less. The haughty smirk curled back on his lips, and he felt the ki emanating from Kenshin pulse out, stopping the rain for a moment.
The boy turned to him, smiling gently.
Kenshin ambled two paces forward, stopping before Hiko. He dropped to one knee, fists and katana splashing the water on either side of him. Kenshin lowered his red hair into the ground, bowing.
"Shishou. You're ri—iiiiiight…" He flinched lower, realising what kind of fuel he had just given Hiko.
Kenshin made a face to the ground, swallowing his rather dry throat.
"Miss Sakura, Miss Akane, and Miss Kasumi. My late wife, Tomoe. Her late finance, Kiyosato Akira…All the people I've hurt…all the other's I've affected. I won't cheapen their sacrifices by ending myself."
He dipped lower a tad, bangs skimming the puddles before looking up.
"I know what I have to do now."
As long as I don't ever have the pleasure of burying you, do whatever the hell you want, boy.
"Elating. Now that it seems you've gotten over your idiocy, look, you're free to do more. I'm not remotely interested in how you dole that out."
"Haah. Yes. Shishou."
They lingered there a couple of seconds, letting silence reign between them.
"So? Where is Lady Tomoe's resting place? Go and see her." I will come with you.
Kenshin withdrew a little, sitting back on his heels.
He seemed almost surprised at his own words, but once he got them out, he straightened up. His resolve hardened.
"I should never have come back here. I'm not ready to…but one day…"
He paused, collecting himself. "One day—I will return to see her."
Hiko regarded him for a long moment. Then he nodded, wordless.
"Shishou…I must leave now."
Hiko Seijuro scoffed. The burly man unfolded his crossed legs. With one great lunge, Hiko kicked the kneeling swordsman just as he picked himself up, sending him wheeling backwards into the mud. In an impulse, Kenshin planted his right hand down while his left flew to clasp his katana. He shifted his weight onto a knee and an ankle, bracing for a skid to a stop. But the street was narrow, and he slammed into the opposite building. The redhead crumpled onto the floor again. When Kenshin bobbed up, his expression was of one of annoyance. He was mashing his lips, as if he were tasting something particularly unpleasant. "Nghh—shiSHOU?" He spat a little.
Hiko raised a brow. "Well. Eat dirt. For real."
Kenshin glared at him. "Peh-heh, Baka-deshi, it's a miracle how you got that little reputation of yours—you're pathetic."
Kenshin sat back in the mud, resting his head on his shoulder. "Oro?"
What the? Didn't kick him too hard, did I?
"Fine. It doesn't matter if you never never come back to this place. Now you've made your decision, get out."
Kenshin furrowed his brow. "You don't own this place. This is a public street."
"Look, the sooner you get lost, the sooner I can go back to my hermit life on my mountain. And you can go back to…your angsting—or whatever it is kids do these days."
The twenty-two year old cringed into his smile. He rose, sliding his katana snugly into his obi, wringing a little water from his patchy gi.
"As you wish, Shishou."
Kenshin shrugged his shoulders, his heart a ton lighter, conscience a little clearer. And he fell forward once more, bowing his head.
"Shishou. Thank you. Thank you for everything."
His baka-deshi turned and left, leaving Hiko alone to watch his back, until he was less than a speck in distance.
The skies rolled like the sea: the clouds whirling like waves, lapping at the horizon as the storm drew to its close.
The killer waded through the place of his heyday, sloshing through the half-flooded streets with an earnestness. Once, it was blood. But today, it was water. Those days were behind him. Each step carried him further from the upheaval, bringing him closer to the new era he'd always dreamed of. There was no more need to remain here, in the past.
So he forged on, stance against the current, savouring the peculiar feeling of what saving lives felt like. Like saving him. Amazing. Worth living a lifetime for.
He carried on, the rain moving as he moved; and bit by bit, little by little, the pitter patter simmered into a drizzle. Then a spitting. Then, it ended. Rippling puddles began to still with a finality.
The petrichor was sharp in his wake, but the smell was crisp, new. The haze of the sky mellowed out as well, and the clouds broke apart, promising heaven.
Battousai was gone.
Never to return.
A haggard man burst open his door, his surly expression examining the water damage before him. "Kami—Just what I needed."
"GUEH!" The man startled back, bumping into the doorframe. "What the hell—what are you doing here…so…early?"
"Sake." He grunted shortly.
"Ah. Righht, Hiko-san. Should'a known, only you'd run up here in a rainstorm for saaaake."
The master's hair was slicked to his face, his usually billowing coat too drenched to do so—and it flapped languidly as he turned to leave, jugs of sake snagged to his belt.
"Well, you're my star customer. You know the drill, I have to ask whether you'd like to buy one of those drawings?"
Hiko stopped, jerking back to squint.
"Oh…well. Very..very much appreciated, Hiko-san."
Didn't the storm do wonders for you?
Hiko produced another soggy note, and the sake-seller accepted it with a shrug.
"Take your pick, sir."
"Do you know the way to the city cemetery? Pray tell, give me directions."
The sake-seller pursed his lips, curious.
"Jus' down two, three streets that way—walk to the end until you see the stone shrine. Then take a right. Can't miss it."
Hiko shuffled in the direction he motioned to.
"And this ink-drawing—your daughter's not half bad…anymore."
"Ha! Well, things are finally changing, huh?"
"Took long enough, didn't he?"
The cemetery was sodden, a forlorn calmness enveloping it. But before one, small headstone upon a mound, there was a generous offering of sake. A child's drawing was laid before it, adorning the grave with a hint of colour. It brightened up the girl who changed everything.
Obi- a broad sort of belt (it holds Kenshin's sword)
And that concludes the story! Thank you so much for reading, I had a great time writing this. It's a sweet ending, I think. It makes that part at the end of the (manga) Kyoto arc- where Kenshin and Hiko are visiting Tomoe- that much nicer. Years on, Kenshin does return to see Tomoe, and they complete this trip together.
Yeah, hope you enjoyed. I would love to hear your thoughts on anything.