(A/N) Wow... sorry I didn't update for like... 4 months. I lost my first version of this chapter out of sheer stupidity and then I had finals and school and yadda yadda, but Linay's update with "Broken Pieces" inspired me to put my heiny into gear and finish this chapter. Thanks to everyone for being patient and I hope you enjoy this chapter, it's what you've been waiting for the entire story. Sorry also for not having anymore reviewer responses, I feel kinda dumb when I do them cuz all my comments are stupid and useless.
A Bittersweet Elegy
Chapter 9: Doves and Pigeons, Ravens and Sparrows
"And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, and the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor, and my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted nevermore."
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven"
The knob seemed made of poison, the basic design woven around the frame's edges a hypnotic insignia that wished to fray his calm and unnerve his sense of being. But it was just a door. Just a door. A door. Nothing more, maybe less. Yet it was still his threshold between relief and pain, his materialized limbo staring him squarely in the eye and refusing to back down. The metaphorical gate to heaven or hell, deliverance or damnation.
But he was already damned.
So he turned the knob and eased his way inside with as much stealth as a wounded hitokiri was capable of managing, closing the door softly behind him. Two candles were lit acutely in the sizable room, one standing on a low platform beside an unrolled futon and the other atop a western desk uniform to the one decorating his own housing. From the dim light he found the room to be immaculately clean, nearly sparkling in the playful glow of the duo candles and illuminating his barren path toward the desk as he crept over to where a sparce number of papers and thin books were settled in an organized fashion upon the smooth table.
He recognized a few English children's titles among the literature ranging from "Cinderella" to "Sleeping Beauty" and he grinned at the folklore remembering her love for foreign fairytales. His fingers absently brushed the covers moving them to reveal more juvenile fantasies. And then his fingers found a cover devoid of illustration or any form of iridescence throwing the candle's light into an eerie glow as it alighted on the cool, black leather of a hauntingly plain face, the kanji of a single name etched crudely across the plane: Kamiya Kaoru.
"Forgive me," he whispered in a breathy shudder, grasping the book tenderly and grazing his fingertips across the frayed and slightly burnt edges. Obviously this memorabilia had barely survived the fire, relishing itself in cindered scars and blackened pages.
He flipped to a page relatively early in the diary, recognizing the familiar calligraphy with ease and the annoyed manner in which it had been scribbled. There was no date, only digressed notes and text written orderly in the middle of the page bordered with comments and inscriptions. With a nostalgic smile lighting his features and dazed eyes, he read:
-- Yahiko better be ready for tomorrow's lesson after the way he talked to me today in front of Kenshin!! How dare the little runt embarrass me by pointing out my drying underwear while Kenshin did the wash, it's just short of being mortifyingly cruel. He knows very well that I never allow Kenshin to touch my underwear. EVER! Then Megumi just had to stop by to hear all about Yahiko's underwear tirade. That brat is definently going to get a beating tomorrow in the form of Kamiya Kashin ryu ultimate brat disposal attack technique. Then I might just hit him a few more times while he's on the ground to drive the message home. I only hope Kenshin doesn't think any less of me because of this, I dunno if I could live with that. --
Kenshin smiled, in the corner of the page was a stick figure sketch of an angry Kaoru whacking Yahiko soundly across the head. Her caricatures always were of the amusing and self righteous sort. Absently he skimmed a few pages ahead reading random lines and texts while admiring the occasional illustration, he continued in this way for a moment, taking in the heady feeling of hoarse sickness that welled at his temple, jaw, and chest.
-- Sano actually said my cooking was edible today. I must be improving then. I'm so proud!--
-- The tofu dealer dropped my purchase today and refused to give me a refund or new tofu. I was so mad, but luckily, a nice old lady paid for some new tofu and gave it generously to me, empathizing with my distress. I hope I can be like that when I get old.--
-- Yahiko knocked me hard in the ribs today with his shinai in the middle of one of his drills. He said it was an accident and he was sorry, but it still hurts like hell. --
-- I don't know what I did, but Kenshin gave me the warmest smile today. I wish he would always smile at me like that. It makes me feel special and all giddy inside. --
-- Sano got drunk last night. It was hilarious. He decided to go to the clinic and tell Megumi that when they got married she'd have to stop calling him rooster-head. Apparently then he just stomped out and went home. Crazy. --
-- Kenshin's been acting strange lately. --
Amber eyes narrowed taking in the text as though a foreign memory were threatening to burn the already tattered page the text settled against.
-- He's gone longer during the day and I hear him creeping out at night when everyone's asleep. I wish I knew what he was doing, but the only sense I can make of the matter is to say he goes out to patrol the neighborhood. Perhaps there's a dangerous criminal on the loose here in Tokyo and he's just trying to keep his friends and neighbors safe. I hope it's something like that. I don't dare to guess about some things. --
He lifted a long, thin eyebrow high upon his head tracing the words through his mind again trying to place the series of events to his own time frame and succeeding with only one option. He had done several odd jobs for local merchants and artisans when he was saving money for Kaoru's ring, some of whom required his services during the night for one reason or another. He hated it, but he had earned the required cash needed to buy Kaoru her ring. His fingers traced their way to the chain around his neck and the golden loop that strung itself about the chain. In a way, it had been palliatingly worth the effort. Coincidentally, he thought, this was also around the time of the fire and the series of fourteen suspicious letters sent to him by the Meiji asking his assistance. He read on, turning the page.
-- Kenshin is still continuing to sneak off after over a week of this nonesense. I hate to admit it, but something is definently not right. I think he's found a mistress or something of the sort. It's almost too obvious what with his disappearances being so conveniently at night and occassionally during the day around the times he does his errands. All the same though, I want to wait until I'm sure before I confront him. I feel ill, both neaseous and noxious. All this worrying is tolling on my health deplorably. I think I'll have a terrible fever soon, if not tomorrow. Already I feel sick. --
-- It's happened: I think I'm dying. All this worrying is eating so thoroughly at me that I can hardly concentrate or move without an ache. I'm so sick I feel I'll never wake up if I go to sleep. Megumi said I was being childish and of course we began to argue. I was probably about to win but then I tried to stand so as to no longer look up at her. I felt so weak that I collapsed. Megumi didn't say anything to me after that, just told Kenshin what to do to keep me from dying and left. I heard him doing the laundry a little later and he finished after Yahiko left to go work at the Akebeko. I felt so happy at first, I thought he was going to stay home and take care of me in my time of need. No more insane disappearances during the day. But awhile later as I was finally starting to doze off into a nap, I heard footfalls beside my door and wondered if he would look in to check on me, but he didn't. Moments later I heard him open and close the gate as he left. I guess my being sick doesn't change much. I'll take a nap until he gets back. --
That was the day of the fire, his mind cried and wept all at once as his hand unconsciously grabbed at the jewelled ring sitting idly against his breast. She thought him adulterous, too, capable of loving any random woman when he had only vied for her. To this day she was the only woman he longed for, his guilt over Tomoe remaining sedate to his new searing grief.
The sound of softly padding feet barely registered in his consciousness as they strolled casually down the hallway, a dull echo vibrating in the high vaulted ceiling. His fingers flew turning pages quickly as they cut and licked thinly at his skin that hardly felt the pain, hardly knew it was moving. Several blank pages passed until finally an inscription was made halfway through the book. The handwriting was crude, each word sketched with obvious difficulty. He read, the sound of drums thrumming in the corridor beyond.
-- It's been two months and finally I can hold a brush again. There is so much to tell and yet I feel I needn't write it all down at once for future recollections of past horrors I'd rather forget. Then again, how do you forget something so terrible? I dream about it every night and can't help but flinch when I hear people moving outside the clinic talking in even amicable voices. It reminds me too vividly of the men that lit the fire. I believe they were after only Kenshin, trying to coax him out of the house. Thank kami for Sano, I will never be able to repay my debt to him for saving me from the blaze. If only he could have saved Kenshin too. I passed out in Sano's arms with only a momentary vision of an officer raising a sword above his head while two other men restrained his arms. That above all else is something I will never forget, even if amnesia struck this very second. I could never forget it, nor the way he struggled against them at first before seemingly just giving up. I've never known Kenshin to give up on anything, but perhaps his guilt of past sins was wearing too heavily on him.
He felt her stare piercing his back, saw the dim rays of light from the hall drift languidly against the shadows of the room, but he couldn't move. His hands fastened themselves stiffly to the journal he clasped possessively in his hands as they shook with a sort of violence virgin soldiers experience in the instant before their first battle. And he couldn't face her, though he heard her quietly step closer to him until she was in the center of the room, her movements jagged and uncertain.
Dr. Genzai received a telegram a few days ago from Yamagata-sama expressing his greatest condolences for our trouble. He sent some statesman to come check on us and pay for my hospital bills. Apparently he's also in Tokyo for business and political matters which makes it convenient for him to help us instead of Yamagata-sama himself, whom I understand is a very busy man. He visits me often trying to eat his meals with myself and my respective family as much as he can. I think he likes our company, not being accustomed to such familiarity among people. His name is Iwasaki Akato, a close friend of Katsura Matsuyo, nephew of Kenshin's old employer Katsura Kogoro. He never told me much about him though, only that they are good friends with a few important, conflicting views. He also said that there was a wrong Katsura had made that he felt he needed to right. It's touching how adament he feels about it and what passion he uses to express his plight. Tomorrow Iwasaki-san plans to take me out of the clinic for the first time and take me on a carriage ride around the city with Megumi's supervision. I'm so excited! --
"Kiyosato-san?" she asked curiously, a small edge of fear tinging her voice as she spoke.
He shook his head slightly so that his hair swept lightly across the plain of his back before silently settling.
"Kiyosato-san," she began again, courage suddenly forcing her to be more bold. "What are you doing in my room?"
At first he didn't answer, opting instead to stare dazedly at the words etched so clearly on the open page. He also said that there was a wrong Katsura had made that he felt he needed to right. When he heard her take another hesitant step forward, he spoke, "They lied to me." His voice shook with suppressed emotion as his eyes flew once more across the page rereading certain text until it was singed into his memory like an omen he prayed to be false. "They lied to me, and I believed them so easily, so surely."
Behind him, he heard her shuffle nervously on her good foot at a loss of what to do or say.
"They told me you were dead," he breathed, each syllable barely containing its consonants causing Kaoru to strain to hear him. He slammed the book closed nearly breaking it between his hands as they continued to shake. The warmth of her stare penetrated him as she stood still, perplexed by his words and in awe of the situation.
"They told me you died." His throat constricted and he felt his bloodlust fighting for control as his inhibitions fought valliantly to keep his calmer side in control. "They told me you died in that goddamned fire!!" He flung his body sideways throwing the book at the opposite wall with a vehemence rarely achieved by men of sound minds. The book slammed headlong into the barrier, splintering at the binding and fluttering to the ground with little hesitation leaving a fair sized dent in its wake.
And then he stood there, so quiet and serene that his heaving breaths hardly countered his image.
When he heard her shift uncomfortable between her feet, he continued, "It's my fault you got sick, too. It was always my fault everytime something went wrong one way or another no matter how much I wished to protect you and my friends."
He felt her scan his silhouette briefly, eyes trying desperately trying to identify his odd profile in the scarce light. "Who are you?"
Glancing at her, his chin twisted against his chest so that only his vibrant, amber eyes shone against his face. "I'm the ghost of the man I once was, once tried to be."
Kaoru straightened herself under his gaze, his cryptic words offering little reason to her befuddled mind and instincts. She'd seen those eyes before, whether in a dream or nightmare she didn't know, but the familiarity struck her with a cold chill numbing her nerves slightly. She asked again, her voice offering a forceful tone, "Who are you?"
"Who are you!!" she screamed at him, her nerves coming to life once more as the extremity of the situation dazed her to a point of flightiness.
"Don't say that! Don't you dare ever call me that!!" she yelled, her limbs shaking and her mind racing as she braced her hands against her ears to block out his voice.
His tone became pleading, his slight form standing against the desk for support. "Sessha only wants-"
"Stop it!!" she cried out falling to the floor in desperation, her knees no longer able to hold her up as she covered her face and wept. When it seemed he had relented at the sight of her tears, she asked, "Why?"
He had no answer, merely stared acutely at her sad face while she cried into the palms of her hands. With a heavy conscience, he stepped over to her, his movements slow and calculated as he carefully stooped down beside her sitting cautiously on his knees. She failed to respond only seemingly crying harder into the comfort of her hands, her slumped, defeated posture shivering from the force of her feelings. Reaching out solicitously, he brushed a stray length of hair back behind her ear only to find to his dismay that it drifted quite adamently out of place once more. He obliged, this time securing it with his fingers, the tips caressing behind her ear in a bittersweet gesture and he allowed them to linger.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, the heat of his breath burning her hands so that they fell away from the sanctuary of her face to reveal swollen, red eyes not yet rid of tears. "This wasn't what I wanted at all. Not for you, never for you."
Kaoru stared at him, her blue depths stained an odd purple hue by her harsh weeping. "Why are you doing this to me? You're dead."
"I know," he sighed, the defeat in his tone obvious. "I know."
She sniffled, releasing a sigh of her own. Tentatively, she raised a hand leaning it towards his face and slowly allowing it to rest against his cheek, her thumb running along the smooth, trimmed hairs that lay there until she felt the long outline of a vertical and horizontal scar brush against her skin. He cupped her hand leaning his face into the warmth it offered and repressing the strength of his golden orbs behind the veil of his lids, giving her a moment's solace as she cautiously scooted closer to him, her eyes all the while studying each feature of his face her mind had learned so painstakingly long ago.
It was him, her mind screamed glancing over the defined cheekbones, long nose, and thin eyebrows only to rest on the smooth, delicate lips slightly parted as he breathed and took in her comfortable presence. Warily, she retrieved her hand from his grasp, opting instead to wrap it around his waist as she fell into him, her fatigue forgetting propriety as she pressed herself against him nearly sitting in his lap. Almost instantly, his arms slid about her holding her close as he leaned his head upon hers, taking in the sweet floral scent of her hair and the warmth of her aura. He leaned against the desk behind him, taking her unprotesting form with him as he felt the front of his gi become slowly saturated with renewed tears.
And he let her cry, even as the sound of hard footsteps raced up the stairs and down the hallway throwing open the door to see the pair waiting in their intimate embrace, her small hands desperately clutching at him, and his arms encircling her waist tenderly. She cried all the harder when she heard Iwasaki gently call her name from the doorway, baffled by the string of events as he found the source of her distress to be no more than a supposed lover's quarrel.
But he had proposed to her not more than an hour ago, and she in turn had accepted. So why was their wayward guest holding her so dearly in his arms and comforting her the way he, her fiancee should? He couldn't speak he was so lost, and not once did she look up at him, even glance in his direction as she cried solemnly into the rurouni's shoulder. A small pang echoed against his chest as he felt his throat constrict and a dull pain gather at his clenched jaw.
"Kao-chan?" he softly gestured, his tone imploring.
She only seemed to cry harder at the sound of his voice, her hands tightening in the folds of the red-head's gi and a lock of his hair that had meanwhile been placed in her grasp.
"Just go away," she whispered, her voice barely audible to her fiancee whom stood entreatingly in the doorway with three guards he had acquired on his rush to her room upon the sound of her shouting standing anxiously behind him.
"Go away!!" she screamed into Kenshin's chest feeling his arms tighten around her at her sudden outburst.
Iwasaki looked at her dubiously, the shock in his expression evident as his eyes looked to Kenshin pleadingly unable to understand what the cause of her obvious pain could possibly be. "Kiyosato-san?"
He sighed. "I'm afraid I have deceived you, Iwasaki-san. My name is not Kiyosato Akira." He sighed hearing the short catch in the other man's breath thoroughly. "My name is Himura Kenshin, better known by most as Hitokiri Battousai."
The guards behind Iwasaki instantly tensed, stepping in front of the stateman to protect him from the impending danger, but their efforts were quickly brushed away when their charge shoved them unceremoniosly aside to stare astounded at the assassin, his bewilderment obvious.
"That's impossible," he denied his brow furrowing as he stared at the shorter man still embracing his fiance.
"Apparently not," Kenshin retorted, the malice in his voice evident.
"But Katsura-san..." He looked away turning about as his eyes flew across the room searching for an answer. "Katsura-san told me they executed you years ago." He stared into the cold eyes he never thought he'd see settled upon him in a way many deceased men had seen long before him. "He told me that the government ordained it. That's why I came to see Kaoru-can that first time; to make sure that your friends were well cared for." He peered mournfully down at the girl in the other man's arms, her whimpers slowly giving way to deep, even breaths. "I accidentally fell in love with her though."
"It seems that Katsura has deceived us all like little, idiotic pawns," Kenshin seethed, holding Kaoru's waist firmly. His eyes softened as he gazed upon her face, her eyes closed peacefully and her breathing slow, deep in sleep. When he spoke again, his tone was controlled, humbled by the information he had recently acquired. "I must thank you, however, for taking such good care of her and my friends. I know they appreciate it as well."
"It was my honour to do so," Iwasaki responded, his tone sincere as he gazed jealously down at the sleeping woman held securely in the other man's arms. "They have been good to me in turn."
Kenshin nodded. "I would think so. They're good people, all of them."
"Will you do me a favor then, Iwasaki-san?" he asked, his eyes almost beseeching in their consternation. At the other's nod of acceptance he continued with a quiet sigh to himself. "Take care of them for me. They've all had hard lives. Yahiko, Sano, Megumi... Kaoru. They've earned a good life, by all means. Please give it to them, I never could."
"Of course, I would do it even if you never asked me."
Standing with a grace Iwasaki instantly envied, the small rurouni nodded to the futon in the corner and the young man complacently fetched it, unrolling it in the middle of the room and waited for Kenshin to gently place his precious cargo thereupon, tucking her in tenderly so that only her face was visible in the dim, glowing light. Together the two men padded quietly out the room, closing the door with a soft click.
"I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon after I've dealt properly with Katsura," Kenshin stated once the door was closed and the two were left to themselves.
"But why? Kaoru-san will be devastated to hear of you doing such a thing. For over two years she's thought you were dead and now that you've suddenly reappeared into her life you're going to disappear again? I don't understand it."
"She'll have a better life here with you than she ever would with me. Make her a good husband, ok?" he said squeezing the younger man's shoulder before walking briskly past him toward his own room, the limp in his injured leg less obvious in his stride.
"Why are you doing this?" Iwasaki asked, the wonder in his voice showing through his eyes. "You could be with her again, and you're willing to just give it all away. I don't understand, I thought you loved her."
"Yes, I love her. Very deeply in fact. That's why I am willing to recognize my own unworthiness of her," he sighed looking away as his voice dropped a doleful note. "And that's why I'm willing to realize your worthiness."
"I know she'll accept you whether you think yourself worthy or not. It's you she wants, not me."
"It sounds almost as though you don't want her anymore," Kenshin jested peering stiltedly over his shoulder.
"I could say the same of you," Iwasaki smiled before taking a serious expression once more. "Why are you really doing this?"
Kenshin stared at the wall a minute collecting his thoughts, not sure whether to reveal his ulterior motives or not to this practical stranger. "She lied to you. That day you found us both on the road outside the General Defenses Building. I wasn't her savior, I was the hitokiri trying to kill her. Katsura ordered me to, but I hadn't known it was her until I saw her. Then I thought she was a ghost come to mock me. I almost did kill her, and I can't forgive that. Even when I saw and recognized her, I was willing to kill her."
"But your leg-"
"I hit my leg with my own sword in a moment of confusion when I felt I couldn't kill her. The swing was supposed to be for her, but I hit my leg instead trying to avoid her. Thank whatever deity that reigns above I didn't hit her, or I think the mayhem in this country would have increased tenfold."
Iwasaki stared dumbly at him, grasping for words he wasn't aware he was mumbling. Then finally: "That fucking sonofabitch," he hissed suppressing his own sudden rage. "I'll wring his bloody neck for doing such a thing."
"Please, leave that to me," Kenshin unconsciously smirked watching the other dig his fingers angrily into his hair and scalp.
"How could he? Why would he?" he questioned the air, turning and leaning heavily against the wall, his face buried deep in his hands out of frustration. "He knew that I loved her, that I was planning on proposing when she arrived this week."
"Katsura mentioned to me that he wasn't even aware she was alive," Kenshin brooded, his gaze shifted to a window far at the end of the hall. "He said that somebody screwed something up in the information department, but I don't think that's really what he means."
Iwasaki stood still, a transfixion on his face that introduced the formation of a sudden epiphany. "I think I finally understand now," he quietly said turning his gaze to his feet. "After all these years I thought...but that fire wasn't really meant for you at all."
"I know," Kenshin responded nonchalantly, his expression stoic and unyielding.
"It was meant for her." He paused, his fists clenching and unclenching as his jaw ground itself tensely between his teeth. "It hadn't been an accident, he really did mean to kill her. I thought it was just a mistake she was inside the house at the time. I never even mentioned her by name to him when he asked about your friends."
Kenshin nodded stiffly.
Iwasaki sighed leaning his tall, weary body against the wall and slowly slidding down to the floor in a defeated display. "I'm a damned fool. I never even asked him who the new hitokiri he hired was. A damned fool indeed."
"Who were the men that were supposed to escorted Kaoru-dono here?" Kenshin suddenly asked, his eyes slitting minimally with a sudden realization.
"I dunno," Iwasaki mumbled, his head leaning into his hands on the floor. "Just policemen from Tokyo I think."
"Do you think they might have been Fujita Goro's officers?"
A dumb look passed the younger man's face as he looked up at Kenshin with wide, confused eyes. "Yes, I think they probably were."
"And you told him that you you planned to propose to Kaoru-dono."
"I never really talked about her much to him, only that there was a girl I planned to marry being escorted up to Kyoto from Tokyo this week."
"He told me to kill those men quietly so as not to disturb 'the woman', as he so put it, travelling with them." He paused thinking. "But Katsura also mentioned that if she was to become alerted to the activities, to kill her. Obviously she saw me."
"I don't understand," Iwasaki mumbled squinting oddly at the calculating visage of the man in front of him.
"The men I killed coming here were the men at the fire, particularly the ones involved in causing the mess." He spun on his heel looking around to see if anyone was coming or possibly listening before continuing, "Lately I've been assassinating rather low profile and standard people opposed to the various statesmen and popular leaders I'm ordinarily assigned. He wouldn't normally employ people so high up to help him with disposing of a single girl though. It's too risky." He turned, giving Iwasaki a pointed look, the gold encircling his eyes seeming to dance and burn with anger. "Katsura's slowly killing everyone off involved with the so called 'accident'."
"Then why would he tell you not to kill her as well?" the statesman asked trying desperately to understand the complex nature of the crime.
"For one you told him you wanted to marry this girl and as your friend he probably wanted to honor that." He glanced out the window, his mind churning with ideas. "It would also seem a bit suspicious, most assassins don't bother with women even if they're seen commiting the crime. But the beauty of it is: he thought she wasn't in the least involved with the fire and was completely dumb to it all. Why kill an innocent after all?"
Iwasaki nodded, understanding aching at the base of his skull as he mulled over everything he'd been told.
"I can't believe Katsura would do such a thing," he said, his head slumped forward against his shoulders. "I've always looked up to like an uncle almost. It's inconceivable to me." He sighed brushing a hand stiffly over his face to wipe the small collection of perspiration from his brow. "What do you propose we do, Himura-san?"
"He's bound to come after her again, probably with a different assassin. She knows too much and she's a risk for him to keep alive. He's probably still counting on my being confused about everything to be able to get to her while keeping me as his 'prized assassin'," he stated, spitting out the last bit with palpable disgust.
"Yes, but what do we do about it?"
Kenshin glanced down at Iwasaki sitting forlornly at his feet. The edges of his small mouth twisted and his eyes glinted with a deviousness hell itself envied. When he spoke, his voice was so sweetly smooth it seemed he was crooning to a grieving child.
"We wait, Iwasaki. We wait."
As Easy as Life
(A/N) I estimate one, maybe two more chapter before this baby is finished and Katsura Matsuyo is definently in for some punishment I think. Hopefully my next update will be realtively soon; otherwise, please bear with me and love me until I can kick myself hard enough to finish it. Thanks and please REVIEW!!
Instead of doing another RK fic right away (I think I'm just gonna delete Faithless and Fallen since I'm too bored with it, it's kinda been done alot), I'm gonna do a fic about Troy. I'm in love with Hector now, not just Eric Bana as Hector, but Hector in general. I've seen the movie three times just to watch him and I cried the last time when he died. Also Josh Groban sings the theme song and I love him, so the movie rocks on all levels for me. If you liked the movie or whatever, please look out for my new fic, I have an idea that's a bit different from what everyone else is doing.